Martin Luther was born to poor but honourable parents November 10, 1483, on St. Martin’s eve. He was the first-born child. While still a baby, his father and mother moved from Eisleben to Mansfeldt. His parents were very poor and at first could find no work but to be woodcutters. Both Luther’s father, Hans or John, and his mother, Margaret, were very hard workers and the children of the family learned to value work.
Hard Work and Piety at Home
Eventually his father got work in the copper mines and was later able to establish two smelting furnaces. He was well-respected in his community and was made a town councilor. John Luther valued education and often invited learned men, teachers and priests, to the family home. He hoped that he, too, could someday provide his children with a good education.
Luther’s parents were devoted Christians. John taught Martin to kneel and pray beside his bed and he himself prayed aloud that little Martin would always remember God and would some day spread the truth.
As was the custom in those days, children were harshly disciplined. Luther remembered being so severely beaten with a cane by his mother over one stolen nut that he bled. On another occasion, his father whipped him so badly that Martin felt estranged from his father and John had to work at rebuilding the boy’s trust. School was not much different and Martin recalled being whipped fifteen times one morning by his teacher.
Little wonder that Martin came to think of God as being a harsh, offended judge. The only religion he understood for many years was the religion of fear.
Martin Leaves Home to Attend School
At the age of 14, Martin was sent to Magdeburg to attend school at a Franciscan monastery. Although hungry for learning, Martin was afraid of his teachers and this hardship was only worsened by the fact that he had to spend his after-school hours begging for food because his parents could not support him.
Begging for Food
Later, Martin recalled singing Christmas carols in four-part harmony from house to house with other school boys. They sang one day at a small house on the edge of Magedeburg, hoping the farmer would give them some food. But they were so fearful, that when the farmer came out, they ran away and hid. They were thankful when farmer patiently called them back and gave them food.
When Luther’s parents learned of the hard times he was having supporting himself, they sent him to Eisenach where they had many relatives. But things were no better for Martin there.
The Pious Shunamite
On one particularly difficult day, Martin had been turned away empty-handed from three homes and as he was contemplating returning to his lodgings without any food, a woman opened the door and seeing him standing there downcast, she invited him in and fed him. It was Ursula Cotta, the wife of Conrad Cotta. She was somewhat familiar with young Martin, as she had heard him sing in the church and had noticed the harshness with which he was treated by his schoolmasters. Ursula came to be known as the “pious Shunamite,” after the woman of Shunem who cared for God’s prophet, Elisha.
Conrad and Ursula enjoyed Martin’s company and after getting acquainted with him over the course of a few days, they invited him to stay in their home until he had completed his studies. As a result, Martin was able to devote his energies to his studies and complete his education.God ordained a kindly woman to care for Luther, as He had done for Elisha.
Being musically gifted, Martin learned to play the flute and the lute, a stringed instrument like a guitar. He often delighted his adoptive parents with music.
It seems Luther never felt bitterness over his severe poverty and trials in his early years. He didn’t blame God. In fact, he learned to be grateful for his trials. He saw God’s hand in the compassionate care extended him by the Cotta family and gradually came to trust God as a result.