Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Martin Luther

born Nov. 10, 1483, Eisleben, Saxony [Germany]
died Feb. 18, 1546, Eisleben

German priest and scholar whose questioning of certain church practices led to the Protestant Reformation. He is one of the pivotal figures of Western civilization, as well as of Christianity. By his actions and writings he precipitated a movement that was to yield not only one of the three major theological units of Christianity (along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) but was to be a seedbed for social, economic, and political thought. For further treatment of the historical context and consequences of Luther's work, see Protestantism.

Early life and education

Martin Luther's parents, Hans and Margarethe Luther, had moved to Eisleben from Möhra. They soon moved on again to Mansfeld, where Hans Luther worked in the copper mines, prospering enough to be able to rent several furnaces and to obtain a position among the councillors of the little town in 1491. Luther's few recollections of childhood that have survived reflect a sombre piety and strict discipline common in that age. His schooling seems to have been unremarkable: the Latin school at Mansfeld, a year at a school in Magdeburg (run by Brethren of the Common Life, a medieval lay group dedicated to Bible study and education) and at Eisenach in his 15th year, where he made valued older friends. In the spring of 1501 he matriculated in arts at the University of Erfurt, one of the oldest and best attended universities in Germany. There he talked long and seriously enough to be nicknamed “the Philosopher,? and played the lute. He took the usual arts course and graduated with the B.A. degree in 1502. He took his M.A. in 1505, placing second among 17 candidates. In an age when few students got as far as the master of arts degree, he had fulfilled his parents' hopes. Like many other parents of his time, Hans Luther intended his son to become a lawyer, and he paid cheerfully enough for the expensive textbooks when Martin began legal studies. He was chagrined to learn that his son, without consulting his parents, had decided to enter religion and had sought admission to the house of Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt.

Brother Martin Luther

Evidence on the reason for his decision to enter the religious life is scanty. In his later, not always reliable, Tischreden (“Table Talk?), it is related that on July 2, 1505, he was returning from a visit to his parents when he was overtaken by a thunderstorm near the village of Stotternheim and cried out in terror, “Help, St. Anne, and I'll become a monk.? In his De votis monasticis (“Concerning Monastic Vows,? 1521) Luther says “not freely or desirously did I become a monk, but walled around with the terror and agony of sudden death, I vowed a constrained and necessary vow.? He sold most of his books, keeping back his Virgil and Plautus, and on July 17, 1505, entered the monastery at Erfurt.

Augustinian Order at Erfurt

In joining the eremitical order of St. Augustine, Luther had joined an important mendicant order, which by the middle of the 15th century had over 2,000 chapters. As a result of reforms carried through in 1473, the house at Erfurt, to which Luther went, accepted the strict, observant interpretation of the rule. Under Johann von Staupitz, Luther's mentor and vicar general to the order, a revised constitution was made in 1504. Luther made his profession as a monk in September 1506 and was then prepared for ordination. He was ordained priest in April 1507 and his first mass took place at the beginning of May. He had studied a treatise on the canon of the mass by a famous Tübingen Nominalist Gabriel Biel (d. 1495), who, like other “modern? Nominalists, claimed that only named particulars exist and that universal concepts are formed through intuition, and he approached the ceremony with awe. To this occasion his father came with a group of friends, and Luther took this first opportunity to explain personally the imperious nature of his vocation. His father's disgruntled retort, “Did you not read in Scripture that one shall honour one's father and mother?? struck deep into his memory.

Wittenberg University

Luther was selected for advanced theological studies; some of his university teachers were Nominalists of the “modern? way of the English philosopher theologian William of Ockham, whose views undercut the prevailing rationalism of Scholasticism, the school of thought founded in the 11th century in an attempt to reconcile revelation with reason. In 1508 Luther went to the University of Wittenberg (founded 1502), where, though Ockhamism had a foothold, the school of Realism that claimed that universals exist and can be known by reason was championed by scholars such as Martin Pollich. The little town was a contrast to Erfurt, but at least the university was young and forward-looking, and to its comparative remoteness Luther would one day owe his life. The Schlosskirche (Castle Church), called the Church of All Saints, was closely connected with the university, and the elector of Saxony, Frederick III the Wise (1463–1525), lavished generous patronage on both. In March 1509 Luther took the degree of baccalaureus biblicus at Wittenberg, returning to Erfurt for his next degree, of sententiarius, which involved expounding on the Sentences, a medieval theological textbook by Peter Lombard. He had begun his teaching with a course on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and now began his career as a theologian with lectures on the Sentences. Some of his notes have survived, and if their theology is unexciting there is apparent an acid vehemence at the intrusion of philosophy and above all of Aristotle into the realm of theology.

Johann von Staupitz, vicar general of the German Augustinians, was very important in Luther's career as his teacher, friend, and patron. Staupitz seems to have been theologically trained as a Thomist (Realist) and was also influenced by the Augustinian tradition of his order, though his theology shows elements derived from the conflation in the late 15th century of the devotio moderna (modern devotion, a term used to describe the spirituality of the Brethren of the Common Life) with German mysticism. His attempt to revive stricter discipline and to unite the observant and conventual Augustinians in Germany led to dispute, and Luther was one of two monks chosen to go to Rome to present the appeal of some dissident houses. He made the journey, the longest of his life, probably late in 1510, and his earnestness was shocked by the levity of the Roman clergy and by the worldliness so evident in high places. The appeal failed, and Luther returned to become a loyal supporter of Staupitz.

Staupitz became interested in his gifted pupil and, perhaps alarmed by his introspectiveness, encouraged him to proceed to his doctorate and to a consequent public teaching career. Luther took his D.Th. on October 19, 1512. The degree was important for Luther, with its implications of public responsibility. He soon took on the duties of a professor in succeeding Staupitz in the chair of biblical theology. This was his lifelong calling, and the exposition of the Bible to his students was a task that called forth his best gifts and energies, one that he sustained until ill health and old age made him relinquish it at the end of his life. In between lectures, in a manner of speaking, he began the Protestant Reformation.

Religious and theological questions

Meanwhile, Luther's own religious and theological difficulties were becoming acute. He had entered into the search for evangelical perfection with characteristic and serious zeal, and sought exactly to fulfill the rule of his order. Nonetheless, he soon found himself in problems difficult for him to understand, struggling against uncertainties and doubts, unhappily bearing a crippling burden of guilt, which neither the sacramental consolations (e.g., the Lord's Supper and penance) of the church nor the wise advice of skilled directors was able to assuage. This distress, which had its centre in his unquiet conscience, brought him into states of anxiety and despair. Nor were his difficulties lessened by the emphases of the Ockhamist theology, which encouraged an extroverted moralism, stressed the human will, and left aspects of uncertainty at the very points where Luther needed most to be reassured. “Temptation? (Anfechtung) was to become an important word for Luther's theology, a term that suggests the fight for faith, of which Staupitz could say that such experiences were meat and drink to Martin Luther. These inward, spiritual difficulties were enhanced by theological problems.

Discovery of “the righteousness of God?

At the entrance to the world of the thought of St. Paul, Luther was halted—the road blocked by a word that intensified his difficulties to an almost intolerable degree. This was the conception of the “righteousness of God.? His sombre childhood piety had made him intensely aware of God's judgment, and as a lecturer in the arts faculty at Wittenberg he had had to expound the Hellenic conception of justice, as he found it in the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Encouraged by the use of justitia (“righteousness? or “justice?) in the works of several Nominalists, he came to think of God's justice as being primarily the active, punishing severity of God against sinners—i.e., in particular actions. It was for him a final aggravation of his trouble that in Rom. 1:17 it is asserted that the justice of God is revealed in the gospel. Thus, Luther concluded, the divine demand was shown as extending beyond outward obedience to the Law, revealed in the Commandments, to purity of heart, to inward motive and intention, so that grace itself became a demand and an exaction. Such a God could be feared but not loved, could be obeyed out of constraint but never with that happy spontaneity that Luther felt to be of the essence of Christian obedience.

Luther's inner conflict

To Luther's sense of failure to obey the Law was added the feeling of hypocrisy, which drove him to the edge of what moral theologians described as “open blasphemy.? In 1545, in a celebrated autobiographical fragment that he prefaced to his complete works, he thus described his feelings:

"Thus, the dilemma. Illumination came at last, as in prayer and meditation he pondered the text, examining the connection of the words."

There has been great controversy about this inner conflict, but it seems certain that there was for Luther just such a crisis as he later described and that it was resolved in the manner he narrates. There has also been argument about the novelty of this discovery. There is in fact a profound difference between the Hellenic conception of distributive justice and the biblical doctrine of the righteousness of God as a divine, saving activity displayed in the field of history and of human experience, and Luther had penetrated deeply into the Pauline vocabulary at this point. The accuracy of Luther's memory about this and, indeed, his integrity have sometimes been impugned, but the verdict of a modern Catholic historian, Joseph Lortz, may stand: that if the discovery were not new, it was at any rate “new for Luther.?

Salvation as grace

Had Luther not written this account, it would have been necessary to conjecture something like it to account for the new importance that he gave to justification by faith, a priority it retained in the new theological framework of Protestantism. This became for him the nerve of the gospel, that salvation is to be thought of primarily in terms of grace, and of a divine gift; that God's free, forgiving mercy is displayed in Jesus Christ; that the conscience, forgiven and cleansed, may be at peace, and that the soul, free from the burden of guilt, may serve God with a joyful, spontaneous, creative obedience. In his translation of the Bible Luther came to add “alone? after the word “faith? (sola fide) in the verse “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law? (Rom. 3:28) because he felt it was demanded by the German language. The word alone or only was retained by the Reformers after him because it seemed to safeguard this important doctrine against such perversions as might seem to make salvation dependent on human achievement or a reward for human merit.

Evaluation of Luther's experience of justification

This experience ought not to be isolated, for Luther speaks of other problems of vocabulary (e.g., the conception of “repentance,? poenitentia), and it cannot be assumed that this was for him a catastrophic personal experience such as befell St. Augustine, who had a mystical experience of God in the garden at Milan, or the 18th-century founder of Methodism John Wesley, who had a conversion experience at Aldersgate Street, London. About the date of the occurrence there has been much controversy. The publication of Luther's early lectures led naturally to the examination of these firstfruits of the young professor. Though an early view that it must have occurred during the period of Luther's first lectures on the Psalms (1513–15) has been damagingly criticized, Luther's use of the many-sided allegorism of the Middle Ages, which often found three or four levels of meaning in a single text, his concentration on the one historical meaning, and the Christ-centred core of theology of justification have led some scholars to believe that the illumination must have come to him before his lectures on the Letter to the Romans (1515–16).

Something depends on how the discovery itself is assessed: if it was a discovery that justification is a gift, that it is to be taken passively rather than actively, then (as the reference to Augustine's De spiritu et littera—“Concerning the Spirit and the Letter?—suggests) Luther was hardly moving beyond the Augustinian framework and it is probably from an early period. If, on the other hand, it was the more mature discovery of the relation of saving faith to the Word of God, then it must be placed later, perhaps in 1518–19. Many scholars now tend in this later direction, and they emphasize how Luther's thinking was stimulated and redirected by the urgent pressure of the church struggle that began in 1517.

The net gain of this chronological discussion has been to demonstrate how important is the whole period of Luther's development from 1509 to 1521, and that his technical vocabulary and the categories of his theology were in movement throughout the whole of this period. Certainly his great courses of lectures on the Psalms (1513–15), on Romans (1515–16), Galatians (1516–17), and Hebrews (1517–18) reveal the growing richness and maturity of his thought.

Luther as preacher and administrator

Meanwhile, his other duties had accumulated. From 1511 he had been preaching in his monastery and in 1514 he became preacher in the parish church. This pulpit became the centre of a long and fruitful preaching ministry wherein Luther expounded the Scriptures profoundly and intelligibly for the common people and related them to the practical context of their lives. Within his order, he had become prior, and, in April 1515, district vicar over 11 other houses. Thus he became involved in a world of practical administration and of pastoral care that gave him valuable experience, standing him in good stead in later years when a large part of his vast correspondence would be concerned with the care of the German churches and the cure of needy souls.

The new University of Wittenberg found it must take sides in an academic crisis that faced the European universities of that day, the tension between an old and a new academic program. Before Luther's advent Martin Pollich, a leading professor at Wittenberg, had shown himself hospitable to Humanist influences, despite his preference for the older Thomism. Now Luther took the lead in inaugurating a new program, involving the displacement of Aristotle and the Scholastic theologians by a biblical humanism that turned to the direct study of the Bible, using as tools the revival of Greek and Hebrew and a renovated Latin and as a dogmatic norm the “old Fathers? (the early Church Fathers, or teachers) and especially St. Augustine. Such a program Luther planned with the help of his senior colleague, Karlstadt, and his young friend Philipp Melanchthon. In February 1517 he penned a series of theses against the Scholastic theologians, which he offered to defend at other universities. Though this attempt to export the Wittenberg program met with no success he could write in May that the battle was won at least in Wittenberg—“our theology, and that of St. Augustine reign.? But if his theses remained dormant, a very different fate awaited those that he wrote later in that same year. He could hardly have thought that these would fire a train that would explode the Western Christian world.

Luther as reformer

The indulgence controversy

The nature of indulgences

The nature and scope of indulgences had been more and more defined during the later Middle Ages, but there was still an element of that dogmatic uncertainty that has been called a theological weakness of the age. Indulgences were the commutation for money of part of the temporal penalty due for sin, of the practical satisfaction that was a part of the sacrament of penance, which also required contrition on the part of the penitent and absolution from a priest. They were granted on papal authority and made available through accredited agents. At no time at all did they even imply that divine forgiveness could be bought or sold, or that they availed for those who were impenitent or unconfessed. But during the Middle Ages, as papal financial difficulties grew more complicated, they were resorted to so often that the financial house of Fugger of Augsburg had to superintend the sacred negotiations involved in them.

The way was open for further misunderstanding when in 1476 Pope Sixtus IV extended their authority to souls in purgatory. The appeal to cupidity and fear, the pomp and circumstance with which these indulgences were attended, the often outrageous statements of some indulgence sellers were a matter of complaint. Luther himself had frequently preached against these abuses, for his patron, the elector Frederick, had amassed a great collection of relics in the castle church at Wittenberg, to which indulgences were attached. But the immediate cause of Luther's public protest was an indulgence that Frederick had prohibited from his lands, though it was available in nearby territory. This was a jubilee indulgence, offering special privileges, the ostensible purpose of which was the rebuilding of St. Peter's basilica in Rome. By a secret arrangement, half of the German proceeds were to go to the young Albert, archbishop of Mainz, who was deeply in debt owing to his rapid promotion to and payment for a number of high ecclesiastical offices.

The Ninety-five Theses

Of this Luther knew nothing until some time afterward. For him, the provocation lay in the extravagant claims of an old, tried hand at this kind of thing, the Dominican salesman of indulgences Johann Tetzel. With these claims in mind, Luther drew up the Ninety-five Theses, “for the purpose of eliciting truth,? and may have fastened them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints' Day and of the great exposure of relics there. (See Researcher's Note.) These were tentative opinions, about some of which Luther himself was not committed. They did not deny the papal prerogative in this matter, though by implication they criticized papal policy; still less did they attack such established teaching as the doctrine of purgatory. But they did stress the spiritual, inward character of the Christian religion, and the first thesis, which claimed that repentance involved the whole life of the Christian man, and the 62nd, that the true treasure of the church was the most holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God, showed the author's intention. The closing section attacked the false peace, that “security,? which as a young lecturer Luther had so often attacked, of those who thought of divine grace as something cheaply acquired and who refused to recognize that to be a Christian involved embracing the cross and entering heaven through tribulation. Luther sent copies of the theses to the archbishop of Mainz and to his bishop. And here the invention of printing intervened. Copies were circulated far and wide, so that what might have been a mere local issue became a public controversy discussed in ever widening circles.

Reaction to the Ninety-five Theses

The archbishop of Mainz, alarmed and annoyed, forwarded the documents to Rome in December 1517, with the request that Luther be inhibited, at the same time reprimanding the indulgence sellers for their extravagance. At the time, it seemed to many that this was simply another squabble between the Dominicans and the Augustinians. Colour was given to this belief by the counter-theses prepared by a theologian, Konrad Wimpina, that Tetzel had defended before a Dominican audience at Frankfurt at the end of January 1518. When copies of these reached Wittenberg in March they were publicly burned by excited students. At Rome the pope merely instructed Gabriel della Volta, the vicar general of the Augustinians, to deal with the recalcitrant monk through the usual channels, in this case through Staupitz. Luther himself prepared a long Latin manuscript with explanations of his Ninety-five Theses, publication of which was held up until the autumn of 1518; it is a document of some theological importance, and shows how far from superficial Luther's original protest had been. Meanwhile, the chapter of the German Augustinians was held at Heidelberg, April 25, 1518. Luther was relieved of his extra duties as district vicar, in the circumstances a great relief and intended as such. He found great comfort in the support of his friends, and was himself in great form, winning over two young men, Martin Bucer, a Dominican, and Theodor Bibliander.

At this period Luther's theology was most especially a “theology of the cross?; i.e., a theology that stressed the revelation of Christ on the cross. According to Luther, the “theology of the cross? seems foolishness to the wisdom of the world and is opposed to the natural theology of divine power and majesty, which he attacked as a Scholastic “theology of glory.? Important for him at this time was the inward religion preached by the 14th-century German mystic Johann Tauler and a short 14th-century mystical tract, the Theologia Germanica, that he himself edited and published (1516–18). In these months, therefore, he lay great stress on the need for the Christian to share the cross of Christ, in suffering and in temptation. Though these stresses were to recede into the background of Luther's developing theology, they were to remain important for the radical Reformation, for which the Theologia Germanica would be an important and seminal document.

Involvement of Johann Eck

During Luther's absence, and perhaps catastrophically, his senior colleague, Karlstadt, had taken action that was greatly to widen the scope and publicity of the controversy. The scholar Johann Eck (1486–1543) of Ingolstadt, a man of some learning, and with a zest for disputation, with whom Luther was already in friendly contact through a common friend, became involved in the controversy. He had written some observations on the Ninety-five Theses for his friend, the bishop of Eichstädt, and these manuscript observations, the so-called Obelisks, reached Wittenberg shortly before Luther went off to his chapter at Heidelberg; Luther himself replied with a few “Asterisks,? but Karlstadt, concerned to defend the Wittenberg program, sprang into the fray with 379 theses, adding another 26 before publication. In some of these Eck was impugned. The Dominicans continued to press for Luther's impeachment, and proceedings against him for heresy began to move slowly in Rome. Luther himself did not improve matters by publishing a bold sermon on the power of excommunication that made it clear that here was not a man who would accept unquestioned whatever might be decided by the pope in terms of some undefined plenitude of power.

The Augsburg interview, 1518

Luther before Cajetan

A papal citation summoning Luther to Rome was sent to the cardinal Cajetan (1468–1534), a renowned Thomist, at Augsburg. But at this perilous moment politics fatefully intervened, and the period during which the Luther affair might have been swiftly, drastically disposed of without wider disaster to the church was eroded by considerations of policy. The elector Frederick, as one of the seven prince electors of the Holy Roman Empire, was most important to the pope, in view of the imminent choice of a new emperor, and the pope could not afford to antagonize him. The result was that Luther was bidden to a personal interview with Cajetan at Augsburg. He arrived there on October 7 with an imperial safe-conduct. The discussion had moved from indulgences to the discussion of the relation between faith and sacramental grace (the unmerited gifts of God in such acts as Baptism and the Lord's Supper), when an argument developed between the two theologians about the meaning of the “treasure? of merits that the papal definition of Sixtus IV said that Christ had acquired, and the incensed cardinal dismissed Luther from his presence, telling him to stay away unless he would unconditionally recant.

Luther's flight from Augsburg

While Luther waited uneasily, the Saxon councillors reported rumours that he would be taken in chains to Rome. Eventually, bundled through a postern by his friends, he fled the city. Now he wrote an appeal from the pope to a general (or ecumenical) council and a full defense of his actions to his prince. Cajetan, meanwhile, lost no time in denouncing Luther to Frederick, who was in something of a dilemma, though it counted much for Luther that he had the admiring friendship of the elector's secretary, the Humanist Georg Spalatin. At this time, too, the Wittenberg theological faculty addressed the prince on Luther's behalf, pointing out that the fate of the university and its reputation would be involved in Luther's disgrace. At one moment, it seemed that Luther might have to depart, perhaps for France or Bohemia. There then appeared Karl von Miltitz, a papal diplomat, who applied “stick and carrot? tactics to the elector, dangling before him at one moment threats against Luther and at the next the signal compliment of the golden rose, symbol of high papal honour and recognition. The diplomat promised more than he could possibly perform, and after an interview with him at Altenburg, in January 1519, Luther sensed this and came to distrust him. A papal definition about indulgences, issued at Cajetan's request, seemed to show that Luther had indeed put his finger on some fatal ambiguities.

The Leipzig disputation, 1519

Debate between Luther and Eck

At Augsburg Luther had been in touch with Eck and arrangements were made for a public disputation at Leipzig in the summer. This was to be in the first place a debate between Eck and Karlstadt, though Luther was Eck's ultimate objective, but the hostility of George, duke of Saxony (the elector Frederick's first cousin), toward the Reformer raised difficulties about Luther's participation. Eventually it was arranged that Eck should debate with the two Wittenberg theologians in turn, in the castle of the Pleissenburg, Leipzig, at the end of July. There was a preliminary pamphlet skirmish. The issue between Eck and Karlstadt was the Augustinian doctrine of grace and free will, and Karlstadt wished to meddle neither with indulgences nor with papal authority. Among the preliminary matters, the origin of the papal power was raised and so Luther turned to a study of church history and Canon Law in the fateful weeks before the debate. A large contingent from Wittenberg attended, and in the presence of theologians from both universities, Duke George and notables of church and state, the debate began. Eck showed some skill in manoeuvring Luther into a position in which he cast doubt on the authority of the great General Council of Constance (1414–18), and also defended some of the propositions of Jan Hus, a Bohemian Reformer who had been declared a heretic at Constance and burned to death at the stake. Leibzig was a part of Germany with a strong feeling against Bohemia, and the admission was received as damaging, giving ground for Eck's loud boast that the disputation had been his personal triumph. Luther, who had earlier said of the debate that it had not begun in God's name and would not end in his name, left Leipzig somewhat shaken and disturbed by Eck's verbal manoeuvring.

Luther's questioning of authority

Eck was able to go off to Rome with new prestige to give sharpness to the process of Luther's official condemnation. Luther had now to examine the further implications of his actions to date, in relation to the authority of the church, of councils, and of Scripture; his correspondence shows that he was reaching something like a crisis in his attitude to papal authority. There had been a small pamphlet war after the disputation that made it plain that there was strong support for Luther among the Humanists in Germany and Switzerland. Luther himself became involved in controversy with diverse theologians of Leipzig, and if he now wrote in the vernacular with increasing power and violence, his polemical writings reveal also his deep perceptions of the issues between himself and contemporary theology. Two Catholic universities, strongholds of tradition, Cologne and Louvain, next condemned Luther's teaching. But polemic was not Luther's main concern, and his Sermon von den guten Werken (“Sermon on Good Works?), issued in June 1520, is an important exposition of the ethical implications of justification by faith. As a tract it deserves to be associated with Luther's more famous tract on Christian liberty issued in the next months. On June 15, 1520, there appeared the papal bull (a decree issued under the papal seal) Exsurge Domine or “Lord, cast out,? against 41 articles of Luther's teaching, followed by the burning of Luther's writings in Rome. Eck and the Humanist diplomat and cardinal Girolamo Aleandro (1480–1542) were entrusted with the task of taking the bull to the cities of Germany.

The Reformation treatises of 1520

Eck and Aleandro were alarmed to discover how swiftly German opinion had moved to Luther's side. In contrast to his treatment the year before, Eck had to seek refuge in Leipzig from physical violence. Aleandro did what he could in agitated correspondence to shock the Curia (papal administrative bureaucracy) into realizing the grave danger facing the church in Germany. Luther's friends, aware of how precarious his position was, sought to moderate his violence, but he now moved well beyond their horizon. In Luther's own opinion of himself, he was far too temperate in view of all the ecclesiastical hypocrisy and offenses. The result was the defiant tracts of the summer of 1520. The first, the real manifesto, was his An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (“Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation?), addressed to the rulers of Germany, princes, knights, cities, under the young emperor Charles V. It argued that in the crisis, when the spiritual arm had refused to take in hand the amendment of the church and the often expressed grievances of the German people against Rome (i.e., the papacy), it was necessary for the secular arm to intervene and call a reforming council. The document was ill arranged and tailed off, but it found deep response among sections of the nation, and in the next months Luther was carried along with the tide of national resentment against Rome.

His second treatise, De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium (“A Prelude Concerning the Babylonian Captivity of the Church?), intended for clergy and scholars, was an act of ecclesiastical revolution. It inevitably estranged many moderate Humanists, for it reduced to only three (Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and penance) the seven sacraments of the church, denied mass and attacked transubstantiation (the doctrine that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper), made vehement charges against papal authority, and asserted the supremacy of Holy Scripture and the rights of individual conscience. The third work, dedicated to the pope, was, as a still, small voice after the uproar, a minor classic of edification, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (“Of the Freedom of a Christian Man?), which made clear the ethical implications of justification by faith, and showed that his thought and his public actions were connected by a coherent theological core. On December 10, 1520, the students lit a bonfire before the Elster Gate in Wittenberg, and as they fed the works of the canonists to the flames Luther added the papal bull (Exsurge Domine) against himself with suitable imprecation—“Because you have corrupted God's truth, may God destroy you in this fire.?

In January 1521 the pope issued the bull of formal excommunication (Decet Romanum Pontificem), though it was some months before the condemnation was received throughout Germany. Meanwhile, the imperial Diet was meeting at Worms, and there was a good deal of lobbying for and against Luther. In the end, Frederick the Wise obtained a promise from the emperor that Luther should not be condemned unheard and should be summoned to appear before the Diet. This enraged Aleandro, who asserted that the papal condemnation was sufficient and that the secular arm had only to carry out its orders. It also alarmed Luther's friends, who did what they could to dissuade him. Luther was firm in his determination to go, and began the journey in April 1521, undeterred by the news, on the way, that the emperor had ordered his books to be burned. What was meant to be the safe custody of a heretic turned out to be something like a triumphal procession, and when Luther entered Worms on April 16 he was attended by a cavalcade of German knights and the streets were so thronged as to enrage his enemies.

The Diet and Edict of Worms, 1521

Luther's defiance of the Diet

In the early evening of April 17, 1521, Luther appeared before the notables of church and state and faced the young emperor Charles V, whom he found cold and hostile. A pile of writings lay before him, but when he was formally asked whether he acknowledged them, his legal adviser insisted that the titles be read. In view of the gravity of recantation, Luther asked for time to think, a request that may have taken his enemies off guard. A day's respite was granted, and the following afternoon, in a larger hall, and before an even more crowded assembly, Luther reappeared. This time he could not be prevented from making a long speech. He distinguished between his writings: for the works of edification he need not and ought not to recant, for the violence of his polemic he would apologize, but for the rest he could not recant; and, as he went on to explain why, the demand was brusquely made for a plain, simple answer. This he now gave in words of unyielding defiance. He would recant if convinced of his error either by Scripture or by evident reason. Otherwise he could not go against his conscience, which was bound by the Word of God. Though evidence is now tilted against the authenticity of the famous conclusion, “Here I stand. I can do no other,? it at least registers the authentic note of Luther's reply in a moment that captured the imagination of Europe. There was a moment of confusion with Eck and Luther shouting, and then the emperor cut short the proceedings. Luther strode through his thronging enemies to his friends, his arm raised in a gesture of relief and triumph.

There followed a diplomatic flurry. It was evident that Luther had powerful friends; there was some sabre rattling from the knights and the peasant emblem appeared in the streets. There is evidence to support Luther's boast that had he wished he could have started such a game that the emperor's life would not have been safe. The radical Reformer and social revolutionary, Thomas Müntzer, later asserted that had Luther recanted the angry knights would have killed him. At any rate, Luther was now given what he had long asked for in vain, something like a real hearing before reasonably impartial judges, while he was kindly handled by the archbishop of Trier. But he could not now make even minor concessions, and the discussions broke down on the fallibility of councils. He was formally dismissed and departed under his safe-conduct.

Despite his spectacular moral triumph, Luther's enemies, nonetheless, achieved something important at this point when a rump Diet passed the Edict of Worms. It declared Luther to be an outlaw whose writings were proscribed. The edict was to shadow him and fetter his movements all his days. It meant also that his prince must, for a time at least, walk delicately and could not publicly support his protégé. The result was the pretended kidnapping of Luther who was lodged secretly in the romantic castle of the Wartburg, near Eisenach.

Luther at the Wartburg

In this aerie among the trees Luther remained until March 1522. Known as Junker Georg, or Knight George, he dressed as a layman, grew a beard, and put on weight. The lack of exercise and the unwontedly rich diet brought on physical distress, whereas his mind, flung back on itself after months of crisis, knew intense reaction in a period of acute depression of the kind that Luther ranked high among temptations. But he was far from idle. He finished a beautiful exposition of the Magnificat (the song of Mary, the mother of Christ, in the liturgy) and prepared an edition of sermons on the Epistles and Gospels at mass, which he thought was perhaps his best writing. Although away from books, he wrote his ablest controversial piece, Rationis Latomianae pro Incendiariis Lovaniensis Scholae sophistis redditae Lutheriana confutatio (“Refutation of the argument of Latomus?—who was a member of the theological faculty of the University of Louvain), containing a luminous exposition of justification. Most important of all, he began to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into German. He did not believe that such work should be left to one mind, and soon enlisted his colleagues, notably Melanchthon, in the enterprise. But Luther's was the controlling genius, and the resulting New Testament (published in September 1522), like the Old Testament, translated from the Hebrew, which followed later (1534), was a monumental work, which had deep and lasting influence on the language, life, and religion of the German people. He had now to deal with some of the practical implications of his revolt. Private masses, celibacy of clergy, religious vows were no theoretical questions, but were themselves entangled in a network of legal, financial, and liturgical affairs. He wrote about these things forthrightly, and Spalatin tried in vain to hold up their publication, for in Wittenberg there were growing difficulties, and the prince, the university, and the cathedral chapter were all, for various reasons, anxious to go slowly.

Commotion in Wittenberg, 1521–22

Radical reform

There was a lively section of the town and of the university, however, that was determined to force the pace, and there were violent scenes in the streets and churches early in October 1521. Yet Luther, on a secret visit to his friends early in December, was not alarmed, and it was his influence that led the Augustinians to decide, in the new year, that those of them who wished might return to the world. Two radical leaders now appeared, the incorrigible troublemaker Karlstadt and Gabriel Zwilling, an ebullient spellbinder from the Augustinians. When Karlstadt announced his betrothal to a girl of 16, and at Christmas administered Communion in both kinds (bread and wine) while dressed as a layman, attacked images in a violent tract and in innumerable theses denounced vows and masses, and demanded a vernacular liturgy, it was evident that here was a program that in timing and method differed from Luther's. Moreover, its appeal to Scripture was legalistic and made matters of necessity things that for Luther lay within the option of Christian liberty. In the new year, the town council issued a notable and pioneering ordinance regulating religion, public morals, and poor relief, a document that owes much to Luther's teaching and perhaps something to the initiative of Karlstadt. At the end of 1521 confusion was increased by the arrival of the so-called Zwickau prophets, radicals on the run from the town of Zwickau, who spoke impressively of revelations given them through dreams and visions, claiming that the end of the world was near and that all priests should be killed. A flustered and outmanoeuvred Melanchthon wrote urgently for advice to Luther, who sent wise and calm counsel.

Restoration of balanced reform

In the next months the situation worsened and in March 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg, explaining the reason for his disobedience to instructions in a justly famous letter to his prince. Then, deliberately habited as an Augustinian monk once more, he took charge of his town pulpit and in a powerful series of sermons redressed the balance of reform. In these important utterances, the difference between Luther's conservatism and the radical pattern of reform is made plain. Luther deplored the use of violence, for the Word of God must be the agent of reform. He believed that revolt could not take place without destruction and the shedding of innocent blood; that the real idols are in the hearts of men and if their hearts are changed the images on church walls must fall into disuse. Moreover, the pace of reform must take into account the unconverted, weaker brethren. From this time onward Luther fought a war on two fronts, against the Catholics and against those whom he lumped together as Schwärmer (“fanatics?). One result of the Wittenberg crisis was to slow down the practical reforms, and though Luther introduced a reformed rite (Formula Missae or “Formula of the Mass,? 1523) it was not until 1526 that he provided a vernacular liturgy (Deutsche Messe, or “German Mass?). Throughout Germany the evangelical movement continued to grow, and it was apparent that the Edict of Worms would not be everywhere enforced. A Diet at Nürnberg, 1522–23, refused to suppress the evangelical preachers and demanded a reforming, national council; though Catholic pressure was stronger in the following year, the Diet again pressed for a council and would consent only to the enforcement of the edict “as far as possible.?

The Peasants' War

Activities of the radical Reformers

On his journeys to and from Worms Luther had been dismayed by the evident social and political unrest. In the next months he wrote open letters, warning the rulers of Saxony and the councils of such cities as Strassburg of the danger that the new radical teaching would provoke revolution. In 1523 he made his own views of secular government plain in an important treatise Von weltlicher Obrigkeit (“Of Earthly Government?), in which he firmly asserted the duty of a Christian prince and the place of secular government within God's ordinances for mankind; he distinguished between the two realms of spiritual and of temporal government, through which the one rule of God is administered, and stressed the duty of civil obedience and the sinfulness of rebellion against lawful authority.

In Saxony the radical teachers posed a problem for their untheological rulers. In Orlamünde, after having been rebuked at Wittenberg, Karlstadt had converted the community to his own brand of mystical quietism. Luther made a preaching tour of the area at the request of his prince, and was greeted with hostility and ridicule. Luther himself denounced such social evils as usury, but in Eisenach the fiery preacher Jakob Strauss conducted a violent campaign against usury and tithes. Most formidable of all, in the little town of Allstedt, Thomas Müntzer, an unruly genius, combined his own ingenious liturgical reforms with a program of holy war. Himself a former “Martinian? (or follower of Martin Luther), he not only shared Karlstadt's enthusiasm for the mystics but added an explosive element (perhaps influenced by Hussite teaching) that gave point to Luther's worst fears. Müntzer threatened revolution and claimed that God would rid the world of its shame. Luther's warnings and events themselves forced the rulers to take action, and in the summer of 1524 Müntzer fled and Karlstadt was exiled. Müntzer wrote in a pamphlet that Luther was nothing more than a shameless monk, “whoring and drinking,? and called him Dr. Liar. Karlstadt also wrote a series of tracts against his former comrades, denouncing, among other things, the corporeal presence in the Eucharist. Luther replied in a devastating and profound treatise, Wider die himmlischen Propheten, von den Bildern und Sakrament (“Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments?). He claimed that the radical Reformers sought glory and honour, not the salvation of men's souls.

Luther's response to the Peasants' War

In the summer of 1524 the Peasants' War had broken out in the Black Forest area. Their program was variously motivated. Their demands were for concrete medieval liberties connected with the game and forest laws or with tithes. Some of them drew on Catholic teaching, others on the theology of Zwingli and of Luther, who had set an example of successful defiance of authority, had been no respecter of dignities, and whose teachings about Christian liberty and a priesthood in which all believers shared were plainer than his subtle distinctions between two kingdoms. Thus, both where he was understood and where he was misunderstood, Luther's influence in the Peasants' War has to be taken into account. Some of the moderate peasants included Luther among possible arbitrators. He himself published in May 1525 the Ermahnung zum Frieden (“Exhortation for Freedom?), an analysis of the “12 articles? of the Swabian peasants, sympathizing with just grievances, criticizing the princes, but repudiating the notion of a so-called Christian rebellion: “My dear friends, Christians are not so numerous that they can get together in a mob.? Luther also claimed that the worldly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons.

In the spring of 1525 the Thuringian peasants rose, with Thomas Müntzer among their leaders, and at first seemed likely to carry all before them. Faced with imminent political chaos, Luther wrote a brutal, virulent broadsheet, Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der andern Bauern (“Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants?). The writing was less violent than Müntzer's hysterical manifestos, but it was bad enough. It appeared, however, as an appendix to his moderate tract about the “12 articles.? Moreover, words written at the height of the peasant success read very differently after their collapse at the Battle of Frankenhausen, May 15, 1525, and in the bloody reprisal that followed. It was typical of Luther that he refused to climb down, to regain lost popularity, and neither thereafter nor at any time can he be accused of subservience to rulers. As he had once refused to become the tool of the knights, so he had never “taken up? the peasant cause. But he confirmed many peasants in their preference for the radical ideology, which was soon to find more peaceful coherence in the Anabaptist movement.

Watershed year, 1525

Luther and Erasmus

In other ways, too, 1525 was a watershed in Luther's career. At the height of the Peasants' War in June 1525, “to spite the devil? he had married Katherina von Bora, a former nun. He certainly needed looking after, and she proved an admirable wife and a good businesswoman. His home meant a great deal to him and was an emblem for him of Christian vocation, so that he included domestic life among the three hierarchies (or “orders of creation?) of Christian existence in this world, the other two being political and church life. In the same year there came his open break with the great Humanist Erasmus. The differences between the two men had long been apparent, and Erasmus, who found in Luther the type of violent, dogmatic mendicant theologian he had always detested, liked what he saw of the Reformation less and less. Nonetheless, both men had a common band of admirers and friends and entered the arena with reluctance. Erasmus, in his De libero arbitrio, or “Concerning Free Will? (1524), attacked Luther's doctrine of the enslaved will and provoked a resounding reply in Luther's De servo arbitrio, or “Concerning the Bondage of the Will? (1525), a one-sided, violent treatise that, nevertheless, includes profundities still fruitfully debated. In that year, too, Frederick the Wise died. The two men had met only once, but Luther owed much to this prince. The new ruler, the elector John, and his successor John Frederick were Luther's devout supporters and with other princes, notably Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and Albert of Brandenburg, formed a coherent group in the imperial Diet.

The Diets of Speyer

The hostility of Charles V to the Reformers and his devotion to the Catholic faith never altered, but he had to take account of political exigencies, his quarrels with the Pope and with the king of France, and the need for support against the Turks. At the Diet of Speyer in 1526, the Edict of Worms was suspended, pending a national council; in the interval it was ruled that each prince must behave as he could answer to God and to the emperor. Luther stated that there was no fear or discipline any longer and that everyone did as he pleased. As a result, it was possible to plan the reorganization of the Saxon Church, and a visitation was carried out by jurists and theologians (1527–28). Some scholars have seen a tension between Melanchthon's Instruktion für die Visitatoren, or “Instructions for the Visitation? (1528), and Luther's comments, which may reveal his distrust of secular intervention in spiritual affairs; and though he thoroughly approved of the development of the evangelical Landeskirchen (“territorial churches?), there were to be aspects of Lutheranism that blurred rather than reflected Luther's theological distinctions. At the second Diet of Speyer in 1529, renewed Catholic pressure led to the reversal of earlier concessions, drawing from the evangelical princes, and from a number of cities, a protest that won them, for the first time, the name Protestant.

The eucharistic controversy

Doctrinal differences among the Reformers

Doctrinal differences about the Eucharist broke the common evangelical front. Though all the Reformers repudiated the sacrifice of the mass, they were deeply divided about the nature of the divine Presence. Luther, with simple biblicism, insisted that Christ's words “This is my body? must be literally interpreted, because allegory is not to be used in interpreting Scripture unless the context plainly requires it. Karlstadt's fanciful argument (that the word this referred not to bread and wine but the Lord's physical body) was soon dropped. Zwingli won many to his view that “is? must be taken as “means,? and his learned friend, the Humanist John Oecolampadius, brought support from the early Church Fathers for a spiritual Presence and stressed the idea of the 2nd-century Tertullian that “body? meant “sign of the body.? Thus, the initial debate was about interpretive principles, about the words of institution, though the scriptural argument moved to the relevance or irrelevance of the Gospel According to John (e.g., “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life? [John 6:54]).

The debate turned to the intricate matter of Christology (i.e., doctrine of Christ). Zwingli insisted on the distinction between the two natures of Christ and that because it is the property of a human body to be in one place, Christ's human body was not here but in heaven. Luther, on the other hand, stressed the indivisible unity of the one Person of Jesus Christ, the mediator. Without going into a metaphysical doctrine of “ubiquity,? or Presence everywhere (which was developed by other Lutherans), he asserted that Christ is present wherever he wills to be and that we are not to think of him in heaven “like a stork in a nest.? Martin Bucer and the Strassburg theologians echoed the more positive stresses of the Swiss, and Bucer used the Realist language of the early Church Fathers to support a true, spiritual Presence. Luther's treatise Dass diese Worte Christi “Das ist mein Leib? noch fest stehen wider die Schwärmgeister (“That these words of Christ ‘This is my Body' still stand firm against the Fanatics,? 1527) showed that in three years of controversy he had not budged. Zwingli's Latin tract Amica exegesis (“A Friendly Exegesis? 1527) was far less amicable than the title suggests and brought a great outburst from Luther, the impressive Vom Abendmahl Christi, Bekenntnis (“Confession of the Lord's Supper,? 1528). This convinced Bucer that he had misunderstood Luther, who did not mean a local, confined Presence; and from then on he intensified his awkward, well-intended attempts to make peace.

The Marburg Colloquy and the Diet of Augsburg

The political advantages of a common front were obvious, not least to the vulnerable Zwingli and Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and the prince invited theologians of both sides to a private colloquy at Marburg in October 1529. Luther began by saying that in his opinion Zwingli did not know much about the gospel. When Zwingli asked if it was permissible for a Christian to ask how Christ could be present in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, Luther replied that if the Lord commanded him to eat crab apples and manure, he would do it because it was a command. After three days' debate, there was no agreement about the Eucharist, though the air had been cleared of many misunderstandings. But if the conference failed, there were agreements on other issues, and these might have been fruitful had not the coming imperial Diet caused the Wittenberg theologians to draw away from the Swiss. As an outlaw, Luther could not attend this fateful Diet of Augsburg and had to fidget in the castle of Coburg, leaving the care of the gospel to Melanchthon, who did very well and produced in the Augsburg Confession (1530), one of the great documents of the Reformation as well as a normative confession of Lutheranism.

Luther used his influence to stiffen the elector against compromise, though from this time onward he could not refuse his consent to political Protestantism as it took a more and more military shape in the Schmalkaldic League, which was established by Protestant princes in preparation for armed resistance to Catholic aggression. The political situation again changed swiftly, however, and, confronted with the Turkish invasion, the Emperor agreed to a truce with the Protestants in the Religious Peace of Nürnberg (1532). This was a valuable breathing space, and its effects are evident in Luther's writings in the next years. Now, more and more, Luther left matters to the action of Melanchthon. Opponents attempted to break up the friendship of the two. Luther said, regarding this matter, that if Melanchthon would allow himself to be won over by their opponents, “he could easily become a cardinal and keep wife and child.?

Growth of Lutheranism, 1530–46

Melanchthon's leadership

Luther acquiesced in the eucharistic agreement—by which the south Germans reached agreement on the Lord's Supper—that the triumphant Bucer brought off with Melanchthon in 1536 (the Wittenberg Concord), though Bucer was unable to widen the agreement and bring in the Swiss. When an English embassy from Henry VIII arrived to discuss joining the Schmalkaldic League, it was Melanchthon who drew up the theological agenda (the Wittenberg Articles, 1535) with an ambiguous statement of justification of which Luther wrote, “this agrees well with our teaching.? But he would not follow Melanchthon when he thought he wrote too irenically about the papacy, and as the papal council loomed near he penned his own uncompromising Schmalkaldic Articles (1537).

Melanchthon's great work in the field of education was to earn him the name preceptor of Germany, but Luther too was important in this matter. His open letter to the councillors of Germany about the need for schools (1524), and his published sermon Dass man Kinder zur Schulen halten solle (“On Keeping Children at School,? 1530) show how wise and forward looking was his concern for education. He himself composed two important catechetic documents, the lovely classic, Kleiner Katechismus (“Small Catechism?), and Grosser Katechismus (“Large Catechism,? 1529), for teachers and pastors.

In Wittenberg Luther had a group of able colleagues: Justus Jonas, Johannes Bugenhagen, and Feliks Krzyzak (Cruciger). In scores of cities his disciples and friends spread the evangelical teaching that formed the Lutheran pattern of church life. Luther, though not pre-eminent as a liturgist, provided orders of worship from which numerous other Kirchenordnungen (“church orders?) were derived. The influence of Luther's writings was everywhere felt in the Western Christian world. It was in Scandinavia that the Lutheran Church struck its deepest roots and won its most complete ascendancy, but it also had deep influence in Austrian and Hungarian lands. Luther realized the importance of hymns and encouraged his friends to write them. He wrote a score of fine hymns, four of which appeared in his first Protestant hymnbook in 1524. The famous “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott? (“A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still? or “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God?) became almost an event in European history. During the last decade of his life, John Calvin (1509–64) was the rising portent in Switzerland, though Luther's personal contact with him was slight. He continued to attack bitterly the Schwärmer (“fanatics?), who then included besides the Anabaptists a number of radicals such as Kaspar Schwenckfeld, a Reformer who tried to mediate between various groups. Although he maintained to the end his view that error can be conquered only by the Word, Luther came to accept the punishment of the Anabaptists.

The affair of Philip of Hesse

In 1540 Bucer and Melanchthon took the initiative in conniving at the deplorable bigamy of Philip of Hesse, but Luther was involved and had he willed could have stopped it. It would have been easy for Philip to remedy his incorrigible incontinence by taking a mistress, but this he refused to do, though his guilty conscience kept him from the sacrament. The desperate device, as a lesser of evils, was to grant him a secret dispensation to take a second wife. When the affair became public, Luther angrily threatened to expose the whole story. He himself was so far from lowering moral standards that in the next years he threatened to leave Wittenberg because public morals there were a shame on a city that had known the evangelical teaching so long. After a serious illness in 1537, he was an almost chronic invalid, prematurely aged, seldom free from discomfort, often in pain, and he brought his teaching career to an end with lectures on Genesis. In the last decade of his life, he had to witness the recovery of the papacy, which he thought to have been mortally wounded, in the preparations for the Council of Trent (1545–63), and the growing menace of Catholic military might. His last outstanding controversial treatise was Von den Conciliis und Kirchen (“Of Councils and Churches,? 1539). Among his last writings, Against the Anabaptists, Against the Jews, Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil, the most violent is the last, coarse and angry but still defiant.

Luther's last activities

Early in 1546 Luther was asked to go to Eisleben to mediate in a quarrel between two arrogant young princes, Counts Albrecht and Gebhard of Mansfeld. He was old and ill, but they were his Obrigkeiten (“authorities?) to whom he owed obedience, and he set off in the snowy winter, leaving his wife stiff with anxiety. His letters to her teased her, comforted her, and spoke at last of a mission successfully accomplished. But he had overtaxed his strength, and in a few hours the chill of death came upon him. He died in Eisleben, where he was born, on February 18, and his body was interred in the Church of All Saints, Wittenberg. The great funeral orations by Bugenhagen and Melanchthon, who knew him so well, are not simply panegyric. They witness that his intimates regarded him as a really great man, standing within the historic succession of prophets and doctors of the church, through whose life and witness the Word of God had gone forth, conquering and to conquer.

Luther as theologian

Luther was no systematizer, like Melanchthon or Calvin, though the dissensions among Lutheran theologians after his death, each appealing to one aspect of his thought, testify to the width, coherence, and delicate balance of Luther's own teaching. The basis of his theology was Holy Scripture; and, though the differences between his own and Augustine's thought are important, Augustine must stand next to the Bible among the influences upon his mind. The doctrines of salvation were of prime importance for him, and here the two great, many-sided complex conceptions of the Word and of faith are important. His often subtle doctrine about civil obedience was not always understood by his later followers, and nontheological factors in German history perpetuated and, to a certain extent, even perverted this misunderstanding. His doctrine of Christian vocation in this world and the importance of human life in the world became part of the general Protestant and Puritan inheritance. In other matters—in the room allowed for Christian liberty, in his conception of the part played by law in Christian life, and in his insistence on the Real Presence in the Eucharist—his theology differs from the patterns that emerged in the Reformed (Presbyterian) churches, in Puritanism, and in the sects such as the Anabaptists.

Major Works:

In Latin

Theological works

Epistola Lutheriana ad Leonem decimum summum pontificem. Dissertatio de libertate Christiana per autorem recognita (1519; “Concerning Christian Liberty?); De votis monasticis (1521); De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium (1520; “A Prelude Concerning the Babylonian Captivity of the Church?); De servo arbitrio (1525; “Concerning the Bondage of the Will?).

Controversial writings

B. Martini Lutheri theses Tezelio, indulgentiarum institori oppositas (1517; Ninety-five Theses); Rationis Latomianae pro incendiariis Lovaniensis scholae sophistis redditae Lutheriana confutatio (1521).


Enarrationes epistolarum et evangeliorum, quas postillas vocant (1521).

In German

Theological works

Von den guten Wercken (1520; “Of Good Works?); Von welltlicher Uberkeytt, wie weytt man yhr gehorsam schuldig sey (1523; “Of Earthly Government?); Das diese wort Christi (Das ist mein leib etce.) noch fest stehen widder die Schwermgeyster (1527; “That These Words of Christ ‘This is My Body' Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics?); Vom Abendmal Christi, Bekenntnis (1528; “Confession of the Lord's Supper?); Von den Conciliis und Kirchen (1539; “Of Councils and Churches?).

Controversial writings

An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (1520; “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation?); Widder die hymelischen Propheten von den Bildern und Sacrament (1525; “Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments?); An die Radsherrn aller Stedte deutsches Lands: Das sie Christliche Schulen auffrichten und hallten sollen (1524); Ermanunge zum Fride auff die zwelff Artikel der Bawrschafft ynn Schwaben (1525); Wider die mordischen uñ reubischen Rotten der Bawren (1525); Wider Hans Worst (1541); Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft (1545).

Translations and exegesis

Das Newe Testament Deutzsch (1522); Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Scrifft Deudsch (1534); Das Magnificat verteuschet und ausgelegt (1521).

Other works (liturgical)

Deudsche Messe (1526). (didactic): Der kleine Catechismus (1559; “Small Catechism?); Deudsch Catechismus (1529; “Large Catechism?). Among his hymns the most famous is probably “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott? (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God?).

Additional reading

Luther's writings

Collections are the Works of Martin Luther, 6 vol., Philadelphia ed. (1915–32, reprinted 1982); and Luther's Works, American ed., edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, 55 vol. (1955–76), henceforth an indispensable tool for English study. In German the definitive edition is D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe (1883– ), known as the Weimar edition. There is a single-volume anthology edited by John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (1961); also useful is E. Gordon Rupp and Benjamin Drewery, Martin Luther (1970). The following are important volumes in the Library of Christian Classics: vol. 15, Lectures on Romans, ed. by Wilhelm Pauck (1961); vol. 16, Early Theological Works, ed. by James Atkinson (1962, reprinted 1980); vol. 17, Luther and Erasmus, ed. by E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson (1969); and vol. 18, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. by Theodore G. Tappert (1955). Another important work is A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, ed. by Philip S. Watson (1953).

Biographical and critical studies

Peter Manns, Martin Luther: An Illustrated Biography, trans. from German (1982), emphasizes the religious context. John M. Todd, Luther (1982), is a popular biography. Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther in Mid-Career, 1521–1530, ed. by Karin Bornkamm (1983; originally published in German, 1979), examines Luther and his thoughts at midlife. Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Luther and the False Brethren (1975), details the years between the Diet of Worms and Luther's death. H.G. Haile, Luther: An Experiment in Biography (1980), concentrates on the last 10 years of his life. David C. Steinmetz, Luther and Staupitz: An Essay in the Intellectual Origins of the Protestant Reformation (1980), studies the influence on Luther of his early confessor and friend. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand! (1950, reissued 1990), is a respected study. Also of interest are Franz Lau, Luther (1963; originally published in German, 1959); and W.j. Kooiman, By Faith Alone (1954; originally published in Dutch, 1946). Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther (1911, reprinted 1968), is the best of the older studies. A broad survey is E.G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times (1950). Robert Herndon Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (1957), portrays the young Luther. A brief account is E. Gordon Rupp, Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms, 1521 (1951, reissued 1964). Walther Von Loewenich, Martin Luther: The Man and His Work (1986; originally published in German, 1982), is an introductory analysis. Gerhard Brendler, Martin Luther: Theology and Revolution (1991; originally published in German, 1983), is a biography written from a Marxist perspective. A scholarly and readable interpretation of Luther is found in Eric W. Gritsch, Martin—God's Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (1983). James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (1986), makes Luther accessible to readers with little background in the history of the Reformation. Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work (1986; originally published in German, 1981), is also of special interest. The development of Luther, the man and the theologian, is assessed in Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (1989; originally published in German, 1982). Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 vol. (1985–93; originally published in German, 1983–87), is an in-depth portrait of the man and his times. Luther and his era are addressed in James Atkinson, Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism, rev. ed. (1982); A.G. Dickens, Reformation and Society in Sixteenth Century Europe (1966, reprinted 1979); Joseph Lortz, The Reformation in Germany, 2 vol. (1968; originally published in German, 1939); and Wilhelm Pauck, Heritage of the Reformation, rev. ed. (1961). Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Luther's Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531–46 (1983), explores the influence of politics on Luther's thoughts, especially in his later years. Luther's politics are appraised in W.D.J. Cargill Thompson, The Political Thought of Martin Luther, ed. by Philip Broadhead (1984). Critical studies on Luther's theology include Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (1970; originally published in German, 1964); Philip S. Watson, Let God Be God! (1947, reissued 1970); E. Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God (1953, reissued 1963); Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther's World of Thought (1958; originally published in German, 1947); B.A. Gerrish, Grace and Reason (1962, reprinted 1979); Regin Prenter, Spiritus Creator (1953; originally published in Danish, 1944); and Ian D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther's Doctrine of Christ (1970). Alister E. McGrath, Luther's Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther's Theological Breakthrough (1985), focuses on the evolution of Luther's theology from 1509 to 1519. Luther's influence is traced in Ernst Walter Zeeden, The Legacy of Luther (1954; originally published in German, 1950); and Edgar M. Carlson, The Reinterpretation of Luther (1948), a survey of Scandinavian Luther studies. Important studies written in languages other than English include Karl Holl, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, 3 vol. (1921–28, reissued 1964); Emanuel Hirsch, Lutherstudien, 2 vol. (1954); Rudolf Hermann, Gesammelte Studien zur Theologie Luthers und der Reformation (1960); Ernst Wolf, Peregrinatio, 2nd ed., 2 vol. (1962); Johannes Heckel, Lex Charitatis, 2nd ed. (1973); Ernst Bizer, Fides ex auditu, 3rd ed. (1966); Otto Herman Pesch, Die Theologie der Rechtfertigung bei Martin Luther und Thomas von Aquin (1967, reprinted 1985); Reinhard Schwarz, Fides, Spes, und Caritas beim Jungen Luther (1962); and Bernhard Lohse, Mönchtum und Reformation (1963). Two psychological studies are Paul J. Reiter, Martin Luthers Umwelt, Charakter und Psychose, 2 vol. (1937–41); and Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1958, reissued 1993).

The Rev. Ernest Gordon Rupp

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