Renaissance and Reformation Martin Luther
by
Hans Hillerbrand, Wladyslaw Roczniak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0057

Introduction

There is no arguing the centrality of Martin Luther (b. 1483–d. 1546) to the story of the Reformation. Though other reformers both preceded and followed this Wittenberg monk and theologian, Luther’s personal stamp on the course of events left indelible marks that have been the province of spiritual and intellectual pursuit and research since the time of his death. At first a servant of the Catholic Church, then its most unflinching challenger, Luther’s stand became a watershed event that defined an era and still defies easy interpretation. Loved for his vision, originality, and courage, hated for his deference to princes and seeming intolerance, exalted and condemned alike, his life a parable or a parody of one individual’s unyielding stand against authority, the story of Luther, illuminated by his vivid experiences and provocative theological insights, has provided substance for a thorough and ongoing analysis by both historians and theologians. As one of the great historical personages of any era, Luther towers over the course of the Reformation.

Bibliographies

A number of bibliographic tools are available for Luther researchers and scholars, ranging from straight bibliographies to more advanced research tools that approach the Wittenberg reformer’s works from varying methodological perspectives. For an example of the former, see Aland 1996. As for the latter, Danz and Leonhardt 2008 offers a listing of publications analyzing the reception of Luther’s thought from the 18th to the 20th century. This reception is also the subject of Beutel 2005. For a listing of major themes in Luther’s output, look to Beutel 2006 and McKim 2003.

  • Aland, Kurt. Hilfsbuch zum Lutherstudium. Bielefeld, Germany: Luther-Verlag, 1996.

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    A comprehensive listing of all of Luther’s writings arranged chronologically with indication of editions.

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  • Beutel, Albrecht, ed. Luther Handbuch. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.

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    An introduction to current scholarly emphases on Luther’s life and thought. Discusses the historiography of Luther’s reception throughout the years, as well as particular questions relating to his life and work: his thoughts on Jews, women, Turks, institutions, and fellow reformers.

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  • Beutel, Albrecht. Martin Luther: Eine Einführung in Leben, Werk und Wirkung. Leipzig, Germany: Evang. Verlags-Anstalt, 2006.

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    A general introduction to the biographical, religious, and theological aspects of Luther and his literary production.

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  • Danz, Christian, and Rochus Leonhardt, eds. Erinnerte Reformation: Studien zur Luther-Rezeption von der Aufklärung bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008.

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    An analysis of the reception of Luther’s writings from the time of the Enlightenment to the 20th century.

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  • McKim, Donald K., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Historians and theologians present Luther’s major themes and the ways in which his ideas spread and continue to be important.

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Historiography

It would appear almost self-evident that the image of Martin Luther and the meaning of his reform underwent great changes and reimaginings in the eyes of both theologians and historians. Depending on one’s political or religious preference, the historiography of Luther runs the gamut from condemnation to adulation, from seeing him as restorer of the true Christian church to a disturber of public peace, from a man steeped in purely medieval traditions and superstitions to a proud progenitor of modernity. Lately historians have analyzed the disparate portrayals of Luther, bringing to the forefront the spiritual and social reasons behind such disparate interpretations. Vinke 2004 offers an analysis in line with a particular school of 20th-century historical thought that holds Luther never broke fully with Catholic theology. Neuhaus 1984 looks at the question of Luther’s centrality in the story of the Reformation, while Arnold 2001 lists the major trends in scholarly literature about Luther in modern Germany and France.

  • Arnold, Matthieu. “De l’hérétique Allemand au témoin œcumenique de Jesus-Christ: La biographie de Martin Luther au XXe siècle, a la croisée des ecoles historiographiques Françaises et Allemandes.” Revue d’Allemagne 33.4 (2001): 395–412.

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    An analysis of the changes Luther’s historiographical portrayal underwent in French and German biographies from the beginning to the end of the 20th century.

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  • Neuhaus, Helmut. “Martin Luther in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Neuerscheinungen Anläßlich des 500. Geburtstages des Reformators.” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 66.2 (1984): 425–479.

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    A general historiographic review of mid- to late-20th-century publications about Martin Luther and his importance to the story of the Reformation.

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  • Vinke, Rainer, ed. Lutherforschung im 20. Jahrhundert: Rückblick, Bilanz, Ausblick. Mainz, Germany: P. von Zabern, 2004.

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    A summary of the main theological trends in contemporary Luther scholarship, which consider the reformer’s production as more of a “breakthrough” rather than a “breakaway” from traditional Catholic assumptions.

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Journals

In addition to serials focusing on the Reformation, several journals are exclusively devoted to Luther and the Lutheran tradition. Lutheran Forum is a popular publication aiming to connect Luther to his Catholic roots. Luther: Zeitschrift der Luther-Gesellschaft and Lutherjahrbuch offer compilations of essays and reviews of scholarly work being done on all aspects of Luther studies. Lutheran Quarterly is an English-language journal that covers all aspects of Luther and the Reformation.

Editions of Luther’s Works

An edition of Luther’s writings began to be published during his lifetime, and from then on his writings were periodically republished, sometimes in their original languages, sometimes in German translations. The Weimar Ausgabe (Luther 1883–2009) is the best multivolume edition of Luther’s works, and now available online. English translations of individual writings of Martin Luther were published as early as the 16th century. A more systematic effort to translate Luther’s works into English occurred in the 20th century, beginning with Luther 1915–1932, which offered an early compilation of some of the more important translations. Luther 1955–1986 is the most comprehensive of the English versions, though still incomplete. Additional compilations focus on more particular themes in Luther’s opus. Rupp and Watson 1969 presents the important Luther/Erasmus debate on free will, Luther 1961 makes available Luther’s lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, a pivotal document for understanding the early Luther. Luther 2005 concentrates fully on Luther’s theological thought, while Krey and Krey 2007 presents his devotional output.

  • Krey, Philip D. W., and Peter D. S. Krey, eds and trans. Luther’s Spirituality. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist, 2007.

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    This nice anthology of Luther’s devotional writings concentrates on the reformer’s works that critique Catholic spiritual practices and move to improve them. A wide cross-section of Luther’s writings is employed, including his thoughts on the Psalms and select hymnals.

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  • Luther, Martin. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesammtausgabe. Weimar, Germany: H. Böhlau, 1883–2009.

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    The definitive scholarly edition of Luther’s writings, known as the “Weimarer Ausgabe” (Weimar edition). Supplementary volumes have been issued since the late 1970s. The edition includes four sections: Luther’s writings (cited as WA, with seventy-three folio volumes), Letters (cited as WA Br, with seventeen volumes), Bible translation (cited as WA DB, with twelve volumes), and Table Talks (cited as WA TR, with six volumes). Reprinted in 1964 (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt). Publication details of the Weimarer Ausgabe and other of Luther’s works, as well as the texts themselves, are available online.

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  • Luther, Martin. The Works of Martin Luther. 6 vols. Edited by Eyster Jacobs Henry and Adolph Spaeth. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman, 1915–1932.

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    An early 20th-century scholarly version that was an attempt to introduce American readers to Luther’s original thoughts and writing. These volumes offer adequate English translations of the most important of the Wittenberg theologian’s writings. Reprinted in 1943 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg).

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  • Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works. 55 vols. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann, Hilton C. Oswald, and Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1955–1986.

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    The authoritative English edition of most of Luther’s writings, subdivided into exegetical and theological writings, with the latter further segmented into detailed subsections (for “Word and Sacraments,” for instance). Additional materials not included in the original fifty-five volumes are scheduled for release. This translation is also available on a CD-ROM (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2002).

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  • Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans. Edited and translated by Wilhelm Pauck. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961.

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    A well-done translation of Luther’s key exposition that is at once instructive as to how the great reformer dealt with source material and constructive as to how the material affected his theological interpretation.

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  • Luther, Martin. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. 2d ed. Edited by Timothy F. Lull. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005.

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    Extensive excerpts from Luther’s major writings speak to the core of the reformer’s theology. The collection includes many full pieces as well as excerpts, and concentrates on Luther’s writings in the Reformation canon, as opposed to personal letters or commentaries. As such, this volume is better suited for theological analysis of Luther’s positions than an inquiry into his life or career.

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  • Rupp, E. Gordon, and Philip S. Watson, eds. Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969.

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    The classic contest between Luther’s De servo arbitrio and Erasmus’s De libero arbitrio. One of the highlights of the Catholic/Protestant debate, and a definite theological breaking point for Luther, the Free Will controversy was a defining moment in the creation of the Lutheran movement.

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Biographies

Luther biographies have tended to reflect the confessional orientation of their writers, with a pointed distinction between Catholic and Protestant authors. Also, most biographies have traditionally tended to end their narrative in the middle of the 1520s, for the understandable reason that after this Luther essentially lived the life of a professor. Bainton 2009 is a classic, and still readable. Brecht 1985 offers the most detail available on Luther’s life in three well-researched volumes. Brecht is also one of the few who gives Luther’s later years their due (the third volume of Brecht 1985 is fully devoted to later Luther). Marty 2004 offers a brief introduction to Luther, and the story of a man conflicted by doubts. Marius 1999 is the most negative of the portrayals, singling out Luther’s inconsistencies, his penchant for intolerance, and hatred of compromise. Oberman 2006 is a modern favorite, treating Luther as a child of his age, warts and all, while Kaufmann 2006 treats Luther’s life and work in the context of his “newness.”

  • Bainton, Roland Herbert. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009.

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    Still a favorite sixty years after its original publication (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), this solid, well-written study focuses more on Luther’s life rather than his theological thought. A good introduction.

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  • Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. 3 vols. Translated by James L. Schaaf. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

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    Though showing surprisingly little engagement with scholarship, these three volumes constitute the most detailed biography of Luther in English. The three volumes are His Road to Reformation, 1486–1521; Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521–1532; and The Preservation of the Church, 1532–1546.

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  • Kaufmann, Thomas. Martin Luther. Munich: Beck, 2006.

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    A brief and insightful introduction to the life of the great reformer that focuses on the “newness” of Luther’s thought.

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  • Marius, Richard. Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

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    A highly critical albeit well-written biography that argues Luther was marked by an unsettling fear of death that negatively affected his character and his life. Emphasizes the negatives in Luther’s work, namely his anti-Semitism, and his proclivities for pigheadedness and conflict as opposed to compromise and debate, and the effect they had on future generations.

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  • Marty, Martin. Martin Luther. New York, NY: Penguin, 2004.

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    A brief and readable biography that treats Luther as a man of extremes who struggled all his life with doubt and salvation.

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  • Oberman, Heiko A. Luther: Man between God and Devil. Translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2006.

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    Concentrating more on some of Luther’s more overlooked aspects as a theologian, like his invectives against the Jews, this is a somewhat idiosyncratic psychobiography that posits Luther squarely in the Middle Ages at the cusp of his imagined struggle between God and the Devil.

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Luther’s Thought

Luther’s writings are of immense variety, ranging from devotional to popular, and from commentaries to diatribes. They all hold a variety of insights and pronouncements that captivated his generation, whether positively or negatively, and clearly affected the course of history. Especially prominent is his theology, including his discourses on the doctrine of justification by faith. His thoughts on monasticism and the sacraments have been well recorded as well. Ethics is another important topic. Additionally, the topic of whether Luther’s life and work contributed to the rise of German self-awareness or protonationalism is covered by Heinz 1985. Watanabe 1987 discusses Luther’s relations and dialogue with the German humanists. Kleinert 2003 reexamines Luther’s thoughts on 16th-century astronomy. Estes 2005 compares the thoughts of Luther and Melanchthon on the role of civic magistracy.

  • Estes, James M. Peace, Order, and the Glory of God: Secular Authority and the Church in the Thought of Luther and Melanchthon, 1518–1559. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

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    A major work by a seasoned scholar that shows the commonalities in thought between Luther and Melanchthon pertaining to their very similar treatment of the role of lay magistrates in promoting and protecting God’s true religion.

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  • Heinz, Thomas. “Die Deutsche Nation und Martin Luther.” Historisches Jahrbuch 105.2 (1985): 426–454.

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    Speaks to the novel usage in Luther’s discourses of the term “German nation,” which became a cornerstone in the development of later German self-identification.

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  • Kleinert, Andreas. “‘Eine handgreifliche Geschichtslüge’: Wie Martin Luther zum Gegner des copernicanischen Weltsystems gemacht wurde.” Berichte Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 26.2 (2003): 101–111.

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    A revision of the opinion that Martin Luther was hostile to the developing scientific theories of the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

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  • Watanabe, Morimichi. “Martin Luther’s Relations with Italian Humanists: With Special Reference to Ioannes Baptista Mantuanus.” Lutherjahrbuch 54 (1987): 23–47.

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    Traces the spread of German humanism and its conversation with and influence on the thought of Martin Luther.

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Monasticism

Martin Luther’s spiritual journey began as a monk, yet his later challenge to that vocation became a defining moment of his break with Rome. For the influence of monasticism on Luther’s later career, see Bultmann, et al. 2007. Lexutt, et al. 2008 compares Luther’s monastic experience to those of others.

  • Bultmann, Christoph, Volker Leppin, and Andreas Lindner, eds. Luther und das monastische Erbe. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

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    Having been a monk himself, Luther’s approach to monasticism presents a complicated issue ably discussed by this work.

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  • Lexutt, Athina, Volker Mantey, and Volkmar Ortmann, eds. Reformation und Mönchtum: Aspekte eines Verhältnisses über Luther hinaus. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

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    The essays in this volume focus on the similarities and differences between the monastic experience of Luther and those of traditional, contemporary, and later voices.

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Sacraments

It was in the realm of worship and sacraments that Luther made one of his biggest breaks with Rome. For the development of Luther’s theology on the Sacraments, see Schwab 1977. Simon 2008 discusses recent scholarship analyzing Luther’s particular approach to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Theology

Luther was not a systemic theologian but rather a thinker whose work was based on his ability to rationally penetrate the often murky domain of scholastic assumptions that constructed his world. Because his were in many ways ad hoc resolutions, they were later often seen as argumentative or even self-contradictory by those who came afterwards. Scholarly summations of his theological reasoning have often been clouded by the scholars’ own religious propensities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Althaus 1966; nevertheless, this work is an adequate reading of Luther’s theology. For a long-ranging look at the development of Luther’s thought throughout his lifetime, see Lohse 1999. Kelling 1983 explains Luther’s theological break from Rome in terms of practices and ritual, not dogma. Kolb 2005 seeks to explain Luther’s position on the doctrine of the bound will and its reception among his contemporaries. Finally, Bayer 2008 seeks to show the relevance of Luther by locating his thought within the existing theological debates of today.

  • Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966.

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    Though Luther never wrote a systematic theology himself, this work provides a somewhat outdated, though still readable, systematic summary of Luther’s theology. In many ways this work reflects the author’s own “Lutheran” theology, though it is well supported with meaningful quotes from the source. A companion piece to The Ethics of Martin Luther (Althaus 1972, cited under Ethics).

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  • Bayer, Oswald. Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    The work of a German systematic theologian, this book presents Luther’s theology on the basis of key texts that form a conversation between Luther’s position and key 21st-century theological controversies.

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  • Kelling, Hans-Wilhelm. “Martin Luther: The First Forty Years; In Remembrance of the 500th Anniversary of his Birth.” BYU Studies 23.2 (1983): 131–146.

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    Although at its heart a summation of Luther’s importance to Reformation studies, this article also stresses that the reformer’s rebellion against the Catholic Church was not motivated by differences in doctrine, but rather by objections to ritual and practices.

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  • Kolb, Robert. Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

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    A theological and historical discourse on how Luther’s most famous concepts on the bound will and divine and human responsibility found expression and controversy among the reformer’s flock, and how the apparent contradictions within the theory were handled until the Formula of Concord.

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  • Lohse, Bernd. Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development. Edited and translated by Roy A. Harrisville. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999.

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    Written from both the historical and systematic perspective, this study provides a most useful summary of Luther’s thought and the developments in his positions from his Augustinian days all the way to his final debates with the Antinomians.

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Justification

One of the major points of contention between Catholicism and Luther was the reformer’s emphasis on the Augustinian doctrine of justification by grace or faith alone, as opposed to the more common and (at the time) more prevalent justification by good works. Bachmann 2005 traces how the doctrine of justification by grace alone could develop out of certain readings of the Apostle Paul. McGrath 1985 offers the development of such a theory in the context of Luther’s thought, while Hohenberger 1996 shows how such a theory showed itself in German religious pamphlet literature. Recently a so-called Finnish school has connected Luther’s theology of justification to Orthodox Christian theologies. Mannermaa 1989 and Mannermaa 2005 offer the basic principles of that approach, with Vainio 2008 and Laato 2008 both elucidating them and covering the major difficulties of the theory. Braaten and Jenson 1998 give a general overview of the Finnish school’s methodologies and findings. Kärkkäinen 2005 laments the fact that Luther’s original position on justification by faith, now finally recovered by the Finnish school, has been dormant for centuries due to it being misunderstood by Luther’s contemporaries.

  • Bachmann, Michael, ed. Lutherische und neue Paulusperspektive: Beiträge zu einem Schlüsselproblem der gegenwärtigen exegetischen Diskussion. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.

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    Martin Luther’s understanding of justification presupposes a particular reading of the Apostle Paul. The book summarizes Pauline scholarship and its importance in Luther’s thought.

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  • Braaten, Carl E., and Robert W. Jenson, eds. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids, MI: Eeerdmans, 1998.

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    A collection of essays by the leading scholars of the Finnish school of Luther studies and their American interpreters that concentrate on the central tenet of the Finnish school: that Luther’s position on justification follows closely the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis, or deification, which philosophically combines the believer’s act of faith in Christ with an actual becoming of the same substance as Christ.

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  • Hohenberger, Thomas. Lutherische Rechtfertigungslehre in den reformatorischen Flugschriften der Jahre 1521–22. Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1996.

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    A thorough study of how Luther’s understanding of justification by faith found expression in the pamphlet literature of the 1520s.

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  • Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005.

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    Presents the chief tenet of the Finnish school: that Luther’s doctrine of justification followed an Eastern Orthodox model of a mystical union of believer and Christ that was then misunderstood and misused by Luther’s followers.

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  • Laato, Timo. “Justification: The Stumbling Block of the Finnish Luther School.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 72 (2008): 327–346.

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    A brief discussion of one of the key topics, and a chief difficulty, of the Finnish Luther interpretation, which focuses on theological similarities between Luther’s thought and Eastern Orthodox concepts.

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  • Mannermaa, Tuomo. Der im Glauben gegenwärtige Christus: Rechtfertigung und Vergottung zum ökumenischen Dialog. Hannover, Germany: Lutherisches VerlagsHaus, 1989.

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    The key publication of what has come to be called the “Finnish Luther Renaissance,” the effort of Finnish scholars to offer an interpretation of Luther’s theological thought as in harmony with Eastern Orthodox theology.

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  • Mannermaa, Tuomo. Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005.

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    An English summary of Mannermaa’s chief argument in Mannermaa 1989, this work explains the major tenet of the Finnish school of Luther studies, which portrays his doctrine of justification as a mystical restatement of the Orthodox-patristic doctrine of divinization (theosis).

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  • McGrath, Alister E. Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough. Oxford: Blackwell, 1985.

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    Shows the progression of Luther’s theology from the medieval-inspired one that focused on humility and repentance to one centered strictly on God’s grace alone.

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  • Vainio, Olli-Pekka. Justification and Participation in Christ: The Development of the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification from Luther to the Formula of Concord (1580). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.

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    An article on a major issue in Luther studies that reflects the Finnish school of interpretation, which focuses on theological similarities between Luther and Eastern Orthodox conceptions.

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Ethics

Besides constituting a theological break, the works of Luther also covered ethical ground, particularly in their characterization of marriage, state, and especially vocation. Though influenced by his own Lutheranism, Althaus 1972 presents a thorough discussion of Luther’s ethics, while Suda 2006 is especially strong on Luther’s all-important concept of vocation.

  • Althaus, Paul. The Ethics of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972.

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    A companion piece to The Theology of Martin Luther (Althaus 1966, cited under Theology). Though both books tend to reflect the theology of their (Lutheran) author as much as that of Luther himself, there is still enough meaningful discourse here on Luther’s conceptions of marriage, vocation, the Church, and the state to warrant a careful analysis by any student or scholar.

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  • Suda, Max Josef. Die Ethik Martin Luthers. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2006.

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    Alongside Althaus 1972, the best short introduction to the concept and study of Luther’s ethics. This work concentrates on the idea of vocation as something transcending its purely secular implications, which was all-important to Luther.

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Luther’s Media

The Reformation was not only about the message but also about how the message was conveyed. Luther and his followers utilized three distinct media that, when applied together, nearly guaranteed the success of their efforts: preaching, printing, and the arts.

Preaching

Preaching was perhaps the most basic form of theological communication, given that no small percentage of the public was illiterate, and it thus acquired a great deal of importance in Luther’s strategy. Leroux 2002 is a detailed analysis of the various hooks and techniques Luther used to make his sermons available and understandable to the general public.

  • Leroux, Neil R. Luther’s Rhetoric: Strategies and Style from the Invocavit Sermons. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Academic, 2002.

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    An analysis of Luther’s most important series of sermons, this often technical work (it includes almost four chapters of line-by-line textual analysis of form and content) presents the reader with what was at the time perhaps the most versatile of the Reformation’s strategies of reaching its public.

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Printing

The Reformation would not have been as successful as it was without the use of the relatively new medium of printing. The printed text visually appealed to the senses, was easy to create and promulgate, and could reach more people than sermons and preaching alone. Wieden 1999 explores how Luther’s sermons were printed and disseminated, while Edwards 2005 explains the astounding success of Luther’s vernacular pamphlets.

  • Edwards, Mark U., Jr. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005.

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    Discusses the use of vernacular pamphlets as a medium perfectly adapted to the spread of Luther’s message. Argues that the general public, generally ignorant of more sophisticated political tracts and religious pronouncements, would be very open to the simple images and language of the pamphlet literature.

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  • Wieden, Susanne bei der. Luthers Predigten des Jahres 1522: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Überlieferung. Cologne, Germany: Böhlau, 1999.

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    A fascinating account of the history of the printing and dissemination of Luther’s sermons of the crucial year 1522.

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The Arts

Preaching and printing were the most immediate ways of disseminating Lutheran ideas, but works of art were the longest lasting. Both visual representation and musical production were utilized in Luther’s campaign to convert and discipline, art becoming a representative medium for Lutheran ideas and theologies. Brown 2005 is a case study of the successful use of Lutheran hymns that mixed high and low cultural approaches. Leaver 2007 sees in Luther’s musical production a successful example of social and religious discipline enforcement, rather than an outlet for individual religious experience Markschies 1991 analyzes the use of the Paschal Lamb in Lutheran symbology. Noble 2009 looks at the pro-Lutheran message of Lucas Cranach the Elder. Posset 1996, on the other hand, shows how Luther’s displeasure with certain artistic portrayals, here in particular with the presentation of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist as intercessors on behalf of humanity with Christ, eventually led to the disappearance of such motifs from Lutheran-inspired artworks.

  • Brown, Christopher Boyd. Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2005.

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    A historical analysis of hymnal singing in the early modern mining town of Joachimstal in Bohemia (modern Jáchymov in the Czech Republic) that shows that the triumph of the Reformation in that particular community depended to a large extent on Luther’s successful mixing of high and low culture within the hymns themselves.

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  • Leaver, Robin A. Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

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    This analysis of Luther’s use of music and liturgical hymns in his sermons sees such melodious productions more as an assertion of the congregation’s confessional discipline than an expression of individual spiritual experience.

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  • Markschies, Christoph. “‘Hie ist das recht Osterlamm’: Christuslamm und Lammsymbolik bei Martin Luther und Lucas Cranach.” Zeitschrift Für Kirchengeschichte 102.2 (1991): 209–230.

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    Based on analysis of Luther’s printed texts such as his liturgy and hymnology, and on material art such as altarpieces, this article analyzes the symbolic use of the Paschal Lamb to spread the Lutheran message.

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  • Noble, Bonnie Lucas. Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Reformation. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2009.

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    This work analyses how the Bavarian painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of the most famous and versatile artists of the 16th century, well-known for his striking nudes, became an ardent partisan of Luther’s cause during his stay in Wittenberg and used his art to promote the reformer’s message.

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  • Posset, Franz. “Martin Luther on Deësis: His Rejection of the Artistic Representation of ‘Jesus, John, and Mary’.” Renaissance and Reformation 20.3 (1996): 57–76.

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    Shows how Martin Luther’s theological displeasure with the deësis motif in art, which depicts the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist as intercessors on behalf of mankind at the side of Christ, eventually led to the removal of the motif from Lutheran inspired artwork, including from the productions of Lucas Cranach.

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Luther and the “Other”

Throughout his life and work, Luther always found an opportunity to set himself and his beliefs in terms of opposites. Salvation and damnation, the True Church and the Reign of the Antichrist, men and women, Christians and heathens, were dichotomies that not only opposed each other but also defined each other. Although at their simplest, social, political, and religious identities thus depended only on the theoretical existence of their opposites, the social and historical realities of the time often presented Luther and his followers with the real presence of the “Other”: women formed an integral part of society, the Jews were living among the Christians, the papacy actively sought to reconvert the masses, while the Turks were militarily knocking on the Empire’s doors. In such an environment the descriptions of the “Other” found a readymade outlet in some of Luther’s most important and controversial writings.

Luther and the Turks

The military advances of the Ottoman Empire in the first half of the 16th century created a real panic among the population of Central Europe. Most often the Turks were presented as heathens and barbarians, one more scourge of God sent to punish Christian sins. However, in Reformation Germany the Turks served another purpose as well, and their image became a symbol for that of the opposing side in the great theological debates of the day. Ehmann 2008 shows precisely how Luther participated in such a reorientation and used the images of the Turks’ advance in his struggle against the papacy. Isom-Verhaaren 1996, on the other hand, shows how the Turks did not simply remain passive but instead attempted to utilize Luther’s challenge to imperial authority for their own ends.

  • Ehmann, Johannes. Luther, Türken und Islam: Eine Untersuchung zum Türken- und Islambild Martin Luthers (1516–1546). Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2008.

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    A timely examination of Luther’s views of Islam and the Ottoman Turks that shows how the reformer appropriated preexisting images of the Turks already present in the Christian culture of Germany and reimagined them in a novel fashion in a theological polemic that included the papacy, as opposed to Islam or the Qurʾan, as its chief target.

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  • Isom-Verhaaren, Christine. “An Ottoman Report about Martin Luther and the Emperor: New Evidence of the Ottoman Interest in the Protestant Challenge to the Power of Charles V.” Turcica 28 (1996): 299–318.

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    Outlines a Turkish intelligence report on the spread of Lutheranism and its implications as a possible foil for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Shows a high level of Ottoman involvement in and knowledge about political and religious events in central Europe.

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Luther and the Papacy

At first a servant of the papacy, later its chief nemesis, Luther staked out theological positions that took him on an odyssey from simply disagreeing with Catholic rituals and practices to an outright denunciation of the pope and papacy as the biblical Antichrist. Whitford 2008 shows how such a final identification was augmented by Luther’s awareness of the work of Lorenzo Valla. Russell 1994 follows Luther’s developing ideology step by step.

  • Russell, William R. “Martin Luther’s Understanding of the Pope as the Antichrist.” Archiv Für Reformationsgeschichte 85 (1994): 32–44.

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    Based on the theology inherent in Luther’s “Smalcald Articles” of 1438, this work traces and explains the reformer’s developing identification of the papacy and the pope with the Antichrist.

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  • Whitford, David M. “The Papal Antichrist: Martin Luther and the Underappreciated Influence of Lorenzo Valla.” Renaissance Quarterly 61 (2008): 26–52.

    DOI: 10.1353/ren.2008.0027Save Citation »Export Citation »

    An analysis of the influence of Lorenzo Valla’s argument against the veracity of the Donation of Constantine on the development of Luther’s identification of the pope and papacy with the figure and persona of the Antichrist and Antichrist’s reign.

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Luther and the Jews

The question of Luther and the Jews has triggered considerable debate among scholars of Luther and anti-Semitism. At first an early defender of Jews against Christian violence, by the end of his life Luther had become their vehement enemy. His 1543 diatribe “On the Jews and Their Lies,” in which he advocated drastic means to suppress the economic and religious life of Jews, including expulsion, had a tremendous negative impact on Christian-Jewish relations of his time. Up to this day his anti-Jewish tracts are open to debate and raise the question of whether the later Luther’s hate for the Jews was motivated only by his frustration at their resistance to conversion, was strictly religiously motivated (anti-Judaism), or was a precursor for later German racial discrimination (anti-Semitism). For an introduction to Luther’s anti-Jewish polemic, see Kaufmann 2005. Detmers 2001 sees Luther’s response to the Jews as part of a general trend also involving other reformers. Osten-Sacken 2002 analyzes all of Luther’s writings on the Jews from the perspective of certain anti-Jewish texts available at his time. Brosseder 1972 attempts a synthesis of historiographical approaches relating to Luther’s anti-Semitism. Guicharrousse 1995 traces the use of “On the Jews and Their Lies” by various groups, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Kremers, et al. 1985 attempts to answer the question whether Luther’s attacks should be construed as simply anti-Judaic or anti-Semitic as well.

  • Brosseder, Johannes. Luthers Stellung zu den Juden im Spiegel seiner Interpreten. Munich: M. Hueber, 1972.

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    A work that offers a survey of the various proposed interpretations of the late Luther’s anti-Judaic pronouncements.

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  • Detmers, Achim. Reformation und Judentum: Israel-Lehren und Einstellungen zum Judentum von Luther bis zum frühen Calvin. Stuttgart, Germany: Kohlhammer, 2001.

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    A wide-ranging analysis of the Reformation’s complicated interaction with the Jews from the time of Luther through Calvin.

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  • Guicharrousse, Hubert. “Luther Instrumentalisé: Les écrits antijuifs de Martin Luther aux XIXe et XXe siècles; Quelques rémarques bibliographiques et critiques.” Revue d’Allemagne 27.4 (1995): 451–463.

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    Discusses the use of Luther’s anti-Jewish writings, like his 1543 “On the Jews and Their Lies,” by various German individuals and entities in an attempt to promote an anti-Semitic agenda in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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  • Kaufmann, Thomas. Luthers “Judenschriften” in ihren historischen Kontexten. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2005.

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    One of the major issues in Luther studies is the avowed anti-Judaism of Luther’s declining years that led to the production of his “The Jews and Their Lies.” The present book constitutes one of the best introductions to Luther’s anti-Judaic (or anti-Semitic) writings.

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  • Kremers, Heinz, Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz, and Bertold Klappert, eds. Die Juden und Martin Luther, Martin Luther und die Juden: Geschichte, Wirkungsgeschichte, Herausforderung. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1985.

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    A series of essays on Luther’s polemic against the Jews that includes important discussions present in key texts, as well as possible answers to the question of whether Luther’s diatribes constituted a purely religious or also a racial attack.

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  • Osten-Sacken, Peter von der. Martin Luther und die Juden: Neu Untersucht anhand von Anton Margarithas “Der gantz Jüdisch glaub” (1530/31). Stuttgart, Germany: Kohlhammer, 2002.

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    This impressive study examines all of Luther’s comments about Jews and Judaism, not merely the always-mentioned tracts of 1543, in light of the convert Anton Margaritha’s anti-Semitic work, which had much influence on Luther’s interpretations.

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  • Thompson, Mark D. “Luther and the Jews.” Reformed Theological Review 67 (2008): 121–145.

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    A very brief introduction to this much-discussed topic, showing the developments and changes in Luther’s thought from his friendliness toward and defense of Jews to his outright condemnation of them at the end of his career.

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Luther and Women

A topic of considerable recent debate, Luther’s position on women has been scrupulously analyzed. Was Luther a trailblazer who, through his insistence on individuality, actually liberated women from their medieval bounds, or did he simply add another paradigm to the established patriarchy? Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks 2003 is the best attempt at a synthesis, shedding light on both sides of the debate. Thompson 2004 explains how female spirituality could find an ally in Luther’s theology. Classen and Settle 1991 brings into focus women within Luther’s social circle. Siggins 1981 concentrates on elucidating the importance of Luther’s mother and her kin on the reformers upbringing. Finally, Matheson 2008 depicts a rather patronizing Luther in correspondence with an important early female supporter.

  • Classen, Albrecht, and Tanya Amber Settle. “Women in Martin Luther’s Life and Theology.” German Studies Review 14.2 (1991): 231–260.

    DOI: 10.2307/1430561Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Tracing the roles various women, including Luther’s mother and wife, as well as his female correspondents Argula von Grumbach and Katharina Zell, played in the development of Luther’s ideas of women in social and spiritual life.

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  • Karant-Nunn, Susan C., and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds. and trans. Luther on Women: A Sourcebook. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2003.

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    This collection of important texts by the reformer presents Luther’s views on the role and activity of women clearly and methodically.

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  • Matheson, Peter. “Martin Luther and Argula von Grumbach (1492–1553).” Lutheran Quarterly 22.1 (2008): 1–15.

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    An account of the epistolary relationship between the famed Wittenberg reformer and the Bavarian noblewoman Argula von Grumbach. Though Luther never took Argula’s theological aspirations seriously, she nevertheless became one of the more important Protestant apologists in her own right.

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  • Siggins, Ian. Luther and his Mother. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981.

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    Traces the influence on Luther of his mother, previously neglected, but who is shown here to have originated from a cultivated patrician family of higher social rank than his father’s, and of his maternal kin, with whom Luther resided and worshiped during his years of secondary education.

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  • Thompson, Deanna A. Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004.

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    A book that finds common ground on issues of suffering, abuse, atonement, and the importance of Jesus, and formulates a feminist theology of the cross.

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The Later Luther

Most biographers and scholars of Luther concern themselves with the reformer’s most important and formative early years. Very few works concentrate on the older Luther. Among those that do, Edwards 1983 talks about Luther’s “politicization” in his later years, while Russell 1995 concentrates on Luther’s 1537 Smalcald Articles as the most definite statement of his faith.

  • Edwards, Mark U., Jr. Luther’s Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531–46. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1983.

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    A work that attempts to draw out the “mature” Luther by emphasizing the productions of his last fifteen years, which saw the considerable growth of approaches born out of political expediency rather than heartfelt conviction.

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  • Russell, William R. Luther’s Theological Testament: The Schmalkald Articles. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995.

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    The first book-length study of the document in English, presenting Luther at his most essential in what was to be the definitive statement of his faith in view of the reformer’s declining health.

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Luther Behind the Iron Curtain

In the works of Marxist-inspired historiography penned by scholars in Socialist countries, especially in the German Democratic Republic, Luther’s place in the revolutionary pantheon of reformers was secondary to that of the more radical Thomas Müntzer. Beginning in 1983, the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s birth, however, more and more scholars in Socialist countries began to advocate his centrality. These changes were noted by Western historians and soon became available in English translations. Vogler 1983 traces Luther’s portrayal in Marxist historiography all the way to the watershed year of 1983. Mork 1983 notes the paradigm shift in East German historiography of Luther and attempts an explanation. Bartel 1981 is an East German precursor to Luther’s “rehabilitation,” arguing that only the victory of the working classes would allow the construction of a true appraisal of Luther’s life and importance. Brendler 1991 is an English-language translation of the author’s 1983 East German work initiating the shift from the privileging of Müntzer to Luther. Brinks 1995 encapsulates and explains the by then already-completed historiographical change of focus. Székely 1985 is a work by a Hungarian scholar that follows the parallels between Luther and his Czech predecessor, Jan Hus.

  • Bartel, Horst. “Thesen über Martin Luther: Zum 500. Geburtstag.” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 21.10 (1981): 879–893.

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    Argues for the politicization of Martin Luther from a revolutionary Marxist perspective, which, because of the victory of the working classes, finally allows for the formation of the “correct” interpretation of his life and times.

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  • Brendler, Gerhard. Martin Luther: Theology and Revolution. Translated by Claude R. Foster Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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    A major work in the East German historiographical shift from Müntzer to Luther as the central figure of the Marxist-inspired “Early Bourgeoisie Revolution” (the Reformation), this biography from a premier Communist historian was originally issued in East Germany in 1983, the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s birth.

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  • Brinks, J. H. “Einige Überlegungen zur politischen Instrumentalisierung Martin Luthers durch die deutsche Historiographie im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert.” Zeitgeschichte 22.7–8 (1995): 233–248.

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    The figure of Martin Luther has been used by different entities and people to support various agendas, both political and religious. This article focuses on such characterizations of Luther, especially ones coming from Communist historians of the German Democratic Republic (1945–1989). The study shows how the image of Martin Luther in East German historiography changed over time from having negative connotations to having positive ones.

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  • Mork, Gordon R. “Martin Luther’s Left Turn: The Changing Picture of Luther in East German Historiography.” History Teacher 16.4 (1983): 585–595.

    DOI: 10.2307/493722Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Traces the 1980s shift in the East German understanding of Martin Luther from a negative to a more positive portrayal.

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  • Székely, György. “Das Erbe von Jan Hus in der Reformation Martin Luthers.” Annales Universitatis Scientiarum Budapestinensis De Rolando Eotvos Nominatae: Sectio Historica 24 (1985): 3–21.

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    Follows the parallels in the anti–Catholic Church revolts of Martin Luther and his 15th-century predecessor, the Czech Jan Hus.

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  • Vogler, Günther. “L’historiographie marxiste et Martin Luther.” Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Réligieuses Strasbourg 63.1–2 (1983): 155–166.

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    Discusses the changing role Martin Luther and his “revolutionary” impact on the Reformation played in Marxist-inspired historiography.

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Luther Today

Martin Luther’s relevance to contemporary affairs is clearly marked. More than just the scholarly province of academics, the reformer’s thoughts and ideas still resonate and are central to many of today’s discussions of theology, jurisprudence, and politics. Kolb 1999 presents the survivability of Luther’s meaning and his images through the centuries. Witte 2002 shows how Luther’s doctrines of the two kingdoms affected German jurisprudence. Leppin 2008 addresses the place and meaning of theology in modern Luther studies. Kaufmann 2006 undertakes to expound theories surrounding Lutheranism’s formation and survivability, and Precht 1993 offers the Americanization of Luther and Lutheranism.

  • Kaufmann, Thomas. Konfession und Kultur: Lutherischer Protestantismus in der zweiten Hälfte des Reformationsjahrhunderts. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.

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    Essays propounding the thesis that Lutheranism gained its identity in crisis situations. The author uses pamphlets, sermons, and briefs as sources for his thesis.

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  • Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520–1620. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999.

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    An analysis of how the memory and writings of Martin Luther were utilized by his followers to establish new modes of authority within the developing Lutheran confession.

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  • Leppin, Volker. “Luther Studies in Germany—The Presence and Absence of Theology.” Dialog 47 (2008): 105–113.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6385.2008.00376.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    A well-designed work that discusses, briefly and ably, the place of theology in current German Luther studies.

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  • Precht, Fred L., ed. Lutheran Worship: History and Practice. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1993.

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    A wide-ranging series of essays, written by pastors and theologians, representative of conservative American Lutheranism of the 20th century.

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  • Witte, John, Jr. Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    An account of how Luther’s theological theory of the two kingdoms affected the development of official jurisprudence in the German lands under Protestant control.

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