The Multi-Faceted Luther image

The Multi-Faceted Luther

What am I to do with Luther? He was so many different things to different people at different times!

He was thoroughly German, fervently eschatological, very unmodern and strongly medieval in his thinking. He was on a rapid trajectory away from the monastic towards a priesthood of believers in a context of an ordained clergy. Luther was mystical in the very best sense of the word, drawing from the work of Johannes Tauler (1300 – 1361) and the Theologia Germanica (c1450). He was Augustinian, not only in the literal sense that he was an Augustinian friar, but theologically in his view of a big and sovereign God, his awareness of the power of original sin and his rejection of the semi-Pelagian tendencies of his day. Yet he was also less Augustinian than he realized in imagining that he had rediscovered Augustine on justification but, in reality, going way beyond him in completely separating justification and sanctification.  Luther was a “medieval heretic”. He reached his views without ever having read John Wycliffe or Jan Hus but admitted, when backed into a corner by John Eck at the Leipzig Debate of 1519 that “We are all Hussites without knowing it” because there was a distinct coincidence of his questioning of Papal authority with the ideas of Hus. Luther was a champion of marriage, a loyal friend, a devoted husband and a loving father. However he was also a virulent anti-Semite, a supporter of the execution of Anabaptists and a hater of “fanatics” such as Andreas Carlstadt and Ulrich Zwingli who were, in fact, fellow evangelicals.
To sum up, Luther was an extremely complex figure. Thirty years after first encountering him, I am still discovering him in his own writings and in the many biographies available. Without doubt, however, HA Oberman is the pick of the bunch. Last time I looked the hardback was £325.91 on Amazon. The paperback at £10.31 is probably better value!

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