Hans Luther's Pension Plan

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
Hans set his son on the path to greatness.
Hans and Margaretha Luder
It remains the case, in some cultures, that parents educate their children with the full expectation that there will be a financial return. Wherever the son or daughter travels, money will be despatched home to help support those who cradled, nurtured and educated. When exposed to this attitude recently, particularly among Chinese people, I was struck with the high expectations placed upon the young person and the noble manner in which those expectations were shouldered. This is far removed from the demands (or lack of them) that are placed upon young people by parents, in Western society. Yet it is true to say, as parents, we are happy to see our children make their own way, provide for themselves; and we have no expectation that they will use their income to support us.

Hans Luther, the father of Martin, had been moderately successful. Martin described his father in earlier years as a wood cutter, and his existence at that time was desperately poor. After a move to Mansfeldt, in Saxony, when Martin was only a baby, Hans began to advance in the world. He became a tin miner, eventually owning as many as half a dozen foundries. Despite this moderate success, his family remained peasant stock, and Margretta still had to make her trips into the forest to bring home wood.

Money in those times belonged to the educated classes, and only the privileged few could afford education. At what would have been great personal expense, Hans set his son on the path to greatness, paying for his education first of all in Mansfeldt where he was now town councillor, as well as being as being an entrepreneur. Recognising the promise of brilliance in his son, Hans sent Martin to a Franciscan school at Magdeburg. At fourteen, the future Protestant Reformer was deprived of home and family in order that he might one day bring home a return for Hans' investment. It seems, however, that while Hans paid Martin's tutors, he neglected to ensure his promising boy was fed. Luther would later describe the deprivations he experienced in the harsh environment of Magdeburg:

"I used to beg with my companions for a little food that we might have means of providing for our wants."

At Christmas, Luther travelled with other students through neighbouring villages singing carols and looking for some who might take pity and provide a little money for food. After a year, he was moved to another school in Eisenach, where, it was hoped, friends would help provide for him. Here, however, as in Magdeburg, he struggled with poverty and hunger. Luther's later writings, however, would indicate that these early difficulties helped to mould him into a man of compassion:

"Do not despise the boys who go singing through the streets begging for a little bread... I also have done the same. It is true that somewhat later my father supported me with much love and kindness at the University of Erfurt, maintaining me by the sweat of his brow; yet I have been a poor beggar."

It would appear from this quote that Hans could little afford to send Martin to school and that he had not the means to pay for his son's food. Therefore, begging became essential. It cost Martin's father a great deal to both send his son to and support him at the University of Erfurt where Martin studied at the age of eighteen. Yet he did so, because his son who excelled in academics was his pension plan.

Hans Luther harboured great hopes that his son would become a lawyer and be able therefore to support both him and Margretta in their old age. He was not investing in a future Reformer of the Church. He was investing in one who could provide for his parents after the mines were closed and the flame of the furnaces were extinguished.

God, however, was moulding the boy Martin through all of his experiences into a divine instrument who would change his world by his discoveries and writings. For the humble peasant miner, this was something that never could have been envisaged. Instead of supporting his elderly parents, Martin Luther would mine the riches of the Gospel out of the treasury of Scripture. Millions have since benefited from his treasure trove, and many others will do likewise.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth , where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"
(Matthew 6:19-21)

References: "Here I Stand" by Ronald Bainton, History of the Reformation by D'Aubigne.
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