The Psychology of Martin Luther: Part 2

Who was Martin Luther

In the last section we focused on Luther's publication of his famous 95 theses. Next we will look at the rest of Luther's biography.

Luther's publication of the 95 theses exceeded all possible expectations. The newly invented printing helped to spread the ideas, for it was now much cheaper to print books or pamphlets than to do it by hand. Dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church was evident in all walks of life.

What was Luther's motivation? By publishing the theses, Luther was expressing his protest, though usually at an earlier age, and Luther was already 34 years old when the theses were published. It is believed that the prerequisite for protest is an initial belief in something. Luther initially believed in the divine authority of the church. He believed that God himself had given the church authority.

Perhaps he would not have reached the 95 theses if he had not had the experience of total attachment and devotion. Only strong affection could have produced an equally strong anger at the fact that things were not as Luther thought. One might say it was also anger at himself for his naiveté and blindness.

Speaking out against the church was dangerous and psychologically difficult. At the very least, Luther risked being deprived of his ministry and looking like a fool, even though he was not. At worst, he could be executed. He is to be commended for his extraordinary courage. But where did it come from?

Let's remember that his parents originally wanted him to become a lawyer, but Luther chose the spiritual path. We do not know exactly how Luther's parents reacted to his plans. However, we can assume that even if Luther's father was not an authoritarian tyrant, he still did not accept Luther's decision. His father sought to rid himself of his family's provincial reputation. A church career probably did not seem to him a worthy alternative, and he insisted on his own.

In earlier times his parents' authority had been even higher, it had been almost absolute. To oppose them was psychologically very difficult. Luther stood up to them, and there were no serious consequences. This successful experience of standing up to someone stronger than he was gave him the confidence and courage he needed to speak out publicly against the Catholic Church.

The Invention of Printing

The experience of confronting his father probably changed Luther's personality in another respect as well. There is reason to believe that Luther was not originally a rebel by nature. It was the conflict with his father that changed him, and this was superimposed on his rage against the Catholic clergy.

There is what is known as an identity crisis, also known as an age crisis, such as a midlife crisis. Luther apparently experienced an identity crisis between the beginning of his church career and the publication of his manifesto in the form of the 95 theses.

An identity crisis is when a person feels uncertain about his future. He is also unsure of who he is. A person feels uncertain about the future also because he cannot decide on his life path. The person cannot decide who he or she is to others.

An identity crisis can arise for a variety of reasons. It can be caused by a conflict between one's inner beliefs and external expectations, for example, when a person feels pressured by society or close people and does not live up to their expectations. An identity crisis can also arise from a lack of self-understanding or a sense of loss of meaning in life, when a person cannot find his or her place in the world or understand his or her goals and values.

In other words, an identity crisis can be caused by disappointment in oneself, a sense of loss, or disloyalty to one's own beliefs and values. This state is often accompanied by emotional distress, doubts about one's abilities, and a lack of understanding of one's true desires and goals in life.

One indication that Luther was experiencing an acute identity crisis was his regular cries of "This is not me." This is known from the testimonies of nuns who served in the same place as Luther. These exclamations were spontaneous. An alternative interpretation is that the lack of sexual fulfillment made itself felt and Luther was visited by sinful thoughts of sex or masturbation, they overwhelmed him and he could not get rid of them, causing him to feel guilt and fear for having sinful thoughts.

It is known that once a person goes through an identity crisis, they often become rebellious against certain social norms, groups, etc. A person may go into a subculture or become part of a counterculture.

It is important for society to give young people time to find themselves and reclaim their identity. If they don't have free time to deal with depression, anxiety, and a shattered identity, their psyche will remain crippled. These people will adopt the wrong identity to live with. They will become comfortable and passive to society. Because of this passivity, they will avoid expressing themselves.  

The time spent in the monastery was precisely the opportunity to reflect for a long time and find just the right ideas, beliefs and values, and goals in life.

That Luther suffered from intrapersonal conflicts is evidenced by the fact that even at the height of his fame, he continued to write to his father, trying to justify his choices.

Luther was originally a reactionary, but he changed over time. His rebellion apparently subsided because, in addition to purely psychological reasons, it was caused by hormones and lack of sexual satisfaction. It is scientifically proven that lack of sexual satisfaction leads to nervousness and irritability. Luther had the opportunity to vent his irritability by criticizing the Catholic Church, but having achieved success, Luther calmed down and loved comfort.

This is often the case with successful people. At first they come out of poverty or lead an ascetic lifestyle. Eventually they begin to love comfort. By publishing the 95 theses, Luther didn't just want to protest and make a difference. He also wanted to restore justice, but in the last years of his life he justified the deplorable situation of the German peasants and urged them to accept the status quo. This can hardly be called justice.

95 Theses: Original

There is an expression: "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Luther became one of those whom power corrupted absolutely, and there was no trace of his former desire for justice. Perhaps through comfort and hedonism Luther was trying to cope with the crisis of adulthood. One begins to wonder if he has lived his life correctly, if it was all worth the effort and time spent.

For Luther, the answer may seem obvious. He hardly thought he would achieve such success, but he did. The power he gained was certainly enjoyable, but one gets used to everything, and Luther at some point got used to that power and stopped enjoying it. Judging from his letters to his father, he was not convinced of the rightness of the life he was living, because trying to convince his father was not the main purpose of these letters. Luther subconsciously convinced himself that he was doing the right thing, because if he was completely sure of his actions, he would hardly find it necessary to justify himself to anyone, and even to such an important person as his father.

The first crisis in Luther's life was an identity crisis. The second was a crisis of identity integrity. For various reasons, identity problems are never fully resolved. Luther was not rid of his doubts. They were not necessarily doubts about the right choice of profession. They may have been doubts or regrets about what he did not do to achieve even greater success.

Perhaps Luther regretted not having a sex life. Perhaps Luther felt guilty for misbehaving with people close to him. Failure to correct these mistakes only intensifies the negative emotions, and the fear of imminent death and God's judgment makes the psyche even more vulnerable and further destroys the emotional stability and integrity of the psyche.

For the rest of his life, Luther struggled with the crisis of adulthood because he could never live up to the ideal lifestyle in terms of the prescribed commandments. He always realized and said that he was not such a person.


Martin Luther always had serious psychological problems. At some points in his life, the negative phenomena of his psyche and negative emotions would subside and Luther would feel relatively calm. At some points in his life he was inevitably overcome by serious identity crises. First it was a crisis of personality, or, in other words, the crisis of a young man, then the crisis of middle age and the crisis of adulthood.

Luther, for various reasons, was unable to fully cope with these problems. In the first part of his life, his problems were fueled by his lack of sexual satisfaction and related physiological problems. In addition, the sexual fantasies and urges that inevitably arose were painfully perceived as being sinful.

His manifesto of 95 theses was a direct result of having gone through an identity crisis. People who go through such a crisis always come out of it rebellious, and Luther was no exception.

Like many great men, Luther was a contradictory figure. He not only made contradictory decisions and acted in adulthood contrary to his early views in persuading the peasants to accept their plight. He harbored internal contradictions that prevented him from ever experiencing a sense of inner peace.

Key Findings:

  • There were certain contradictions in Luther's psyche that he was never able to resolve;
  • While in his early years Luther was a reactionary and a rebel against the prevailing injustice, in his old age he defended the unjust socio-economic order;
  • One of the fundamental contradictions in Luther's psyche was his desire for a perfect sinless life, but this was impossible. He was constantly tormented by sexual fantasies, etc.


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