How did Martin Luther, a simple monk, become a key figure in history in the 15th century? Luther managed to unite and divide Germans. Martin Luther started out as a simple monk, a doubting theologian in constant conflict with himself. But he became an epochal figure, both uniting and dividing the Germans and splitting the Roman Catholic Church without actually intending to. "The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" had been the name of the state at the heart of Europe since the late 15th century. It was the era of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V, who, according to ancient tradition, saw himself as a ruler by God's grace and defender of Christian unity. The sun did not set on his empire, he said in 1521 - it stretched from Latin America to Central Europe to the Philippines. The German territories formed only one of many kingdoms, and powerful electors defended their own interests there. Secular and spiritual power at that time was still based on Roman Christianity. But be they princes or estates, peasants or city dwellers: during the Reformation, many sensed an opportunity to distance themselves from Rome and the Emperor and to bolster their status within the power structures of their day. Unlike Charles V, who did not even speak German, many identified with Luther, who became extremely popular. The reformer was one of the first to explicitly play the German card and appeal to national sentiment: "How would the Germans put up with robbery and oppression from strangers?" he wrote in one tract. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German spread the language and laid the foundations of a growing German identity. People should be able to enjoy "being spoken to in German," he said. But the religious conflict led to a military one. To restore peace, it was decided that each sovereign could decide for or against the Reformation according to the formula "Cuius regio, eius religio" ("Whose realm, his religion"). The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 strengthened the independence of the princes. But the Germans remained divided in faith.
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