In the history of the German language, hardly any other author’s linguistic work is as closely associated with the German language as Martin Luther’s. From the start, Luther as a linguistic event became the embodiment of German culture and was even elevated as the birth of the language itself; his style was emulated by some, scorned by others. Luther forces one to take a position, even on linguistic terms. The Bible is at the heart of the argument, being the most important work of Luther’s translation. However, it is only one particular type of text in the general work of the reformer. The role that the Bible plays both on its own and in connection with Luther’s other works, as well as the traditions Luther drew on and the way he worked with language, will be examined within the matrix of Early New High German, with all its peculiarities.
Michael P. DeJonge
Contemporary political theology often defines itself against Lutheran social ethics, which is portrayed as politically disengaged and overly deferential to state power. At the same time, contemporary political theology often embraces the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an exemplary political theologian. This incongruity is generally resolved by distancing Bonhoeffer from his tradition, at least on matters of political theology. But Bonhoeffer’s political theology was thoroughly Lutheran. Throughout the years of his political-theological engagement, from the Nazi rise to power in 1932–1933 to the drafting of Ethics and related writing in 1940–1943, he participated in ongoing conversations within Lutheran social ethics on the issues of, among others, the two kingdoms and the orders. In the process, he critically appropriated these elements of Lutheran thinking into an especially dynamic and christocentric framework that in turn informed his positions on various issues such as the church’s proclamation against the Nazi state and the ecumenical church’s witness for peace. Bonhoeffer is an example of Lutheran political theology, one that suggests the need to revise at least the more sweeping judgments about Lutheran theology as inherently incompatible with political engagement.
Curtis L. Thompson
In relation to Martin Luther, the topic of “history and its meaning” is necessarily imprecise. It can refer to his personal understanding of history and its meaning. It can refer to the history and meaning that Luther himself made as a result of especially his theological work. And it can refer to the history and meaning that came after Luther and was influenced by him. Therefore, some nuance and refinement are called for in dealing with this complex topic.
Luther in his own way was immersed in the topic of history and its meaning. He did not devote much of his writing and speaking explicitly to a kind of “philosophy of history.” However, he wrote and spoke much about the dynamic affairs of God, human beings, and the world, and he could not have done so without conducting his discussion of such events within a comprehensive theological framework that provided an ultimate horizon of meaning. Some explicit claims that Luther made on history and its meaning can be identified, e.g., that it provides lively examples by which the common person could more readily grasp truths that were less effectively communicated by discursive language. From these claims can be articulated a general overview of Luther’s stance on why history and its meaning were to be taken seriously.
Besides the knowledge that can be gained about this topic by marshalling Luther’s explicit claims, additional insight can be garnered through a more indirect approach. Much more awareness can be gained into Luther’s view of this topic by turning to the implicit claims that can be discerned within Luther’s theological formulations. This can be done by considering Luther’s theology from various vantage points. Taking different perspectives on his theological understanding can result in obtaining further knowledge into his view of history and its meaning, e.g., that it is marked by paradoxicality, sacramentality, complexity, intensity (of meaning), and totality (of scope).
The meaning of history is never completed in the past or the present; past and present meanings continue to be brought into fuller form in the future. Therefore, this theme has not been treated thoroughly until it has included an account of Luther’s impact in this area on future thinkers. The legacy of Luther’s view of history and its meaning is expansive. A report on this aspect of the issue must necessarily be limited. Even a selected narrative, however, can provide a sense of the truth that history’s meaning is an ever-unfolding affair.
Across the theology of the 19th century, Martin Luther came to represent not only the Reformation but also what it meant to be Protestant—and, more than occasionally, what it meant to be modern, German, and Lutheran, in particular. Much of the modern theological interaction with and “return” to Luther occurred in the context of the various Luther or Lutheran Reformation jubilees; these religious, commemorative occasions were themselves more often than not heavily politicized affairs: for instance, 1817, 1830, 1867, and 1883. In addition, neo-confessional movements and attempts at both retrieving and “repristinating” the theology of the Reformation confessions and the highly developed systems of Protestant orthodoxy, as well as debates over what constituted the key “principle of Protestantism,” had a significant impact in the reception and formation of Luther’s image (Lutherbild) in theology across the modern era. Certain aspects of Luther’s theology, such as his doctrine of the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) from his landmark treatise De servo arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will, 1525), played particularly important roles. A few basic approaches to Luther emerged in the second half of the 19th century, spearheaded by such figures as Albrecht Ritschl, Theodosius Harnack, C. F. W. Walther, and Charles Porterfield Krauth. Some, like Ludwig Feuerbach or Søren Kierkegaard, constructed idiosyncratic images of the reformer. Many of the interpretations arose from polemical concerns, whether political, ecclesiastical, or theological. Conflicts over the proper appropriation of Luther’s thought increasingly resembled the battles between Protestants and Catholics in the late Reformation over who could claim the authority of the church fathers and other patristic voices. In many respects, the story of Luther’s theological reception is also a struggle for authority.
Mark D. Chapman
Luther’s impact on Anglicanism, especially on the Church in England but also in Scotland, is difficult to gauge. The English and Scottish Reformations moved in ways that were more influenced by Reformed theology than by Luther himself. Nevertheless, there were many relationships between Luther and Britain that began during the time of Henry VIII. There was a correspondence between Luther and Henry, and the Reformer was even consulted on the King’s Great Matter (his attempt to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled). The king also wrote a treatise on the seven sacraments attacking Luther’s theology, to which Luther responded with his usual vitriol. During the 1520s there were efforts to ban Lutheran ideas under Cardinal Wolsey and John Fisher, although a number of early English evangelicals, including William Tyndale, Robert Barnes and John Frith, adopted many of Luther’s key doctrines even though they blended them with other sources. During the 1530s there were several efforts at forging diplomatic alliances between Henry and the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League, which in turn meant that Lutheran theology received a more sympathetic hearing in England. There was a significant although contested influence of Lutheran formularies on Anglican statements of faith and to a lesser extent on the liturgy of the Books of Common Prayer. What has been described as the “death of Lutheran England” began toward the end of the 1530s and early 1540s with the conservative backlash that led to the execution of Barnes. Later, after the death of Henry, there was a gradual acceptance of ideas, especially on Eucharistic presence, that stemmed from elsewhere in the Continent and that departed significantly from Luther’s views. As such ideas rose to prominence in Anglican theology, especially during the reign of Edward VI, Lutheran theology came to be regarded as increasingly conservative. Although there were further efforts to revive Lutheranism in the Elizabethan period, in general he was understood more as a pastor than a theologian. Although several later British figures promoted Luther, in general it has been more Calvinist or pietist positions far removed from Luther and his teachings that have dominated: for Anglican theology, and with rare exceptions for Britain in general, Luther remains a distant figure who for the most part is unread and seldom taught.
The reception of Luther in central Europe has been influenced by the Counter-Reformation and re-Catholicization more than anywhere else. Protestantism was so widespread in this area throughout the 16th century that it largely reduced the Roman Catholic Church to a minority confession, but 500 years later it comprises a majority. The diaspora situation did not leave space for academic research in Luther’s theology. This article focuses on just two regions of central Europe that can serve as typical case studies: parts of the lands of the Bohemian crown, and of the kingdom of Hungary. Similarities could be found in other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, but particular historical complexities make it difficult to speak about central Europe as a whole.
In its early phase, Luther’s thought spread primarily in regions where the population was able to read Reformation texts in German: Silesia, North Bohemia, Moravia, Upper Hungary, west Hungary, and Transylvania. From about 1520, it was predominantly the cities along the routes of German traders that contributed to the spread of Luther’s writings in central Europe. In addition, the strong political position of the estates influenced the reception of Luther’s theology in certain areas more than in others. Moreover, the catechetical work done in schools under humanistic influence supported the idea of reformation and religious tolerance. Luther had a much more lasting impact on piety and spirituality through his Small Catechism and hymns than through theological reception, for example in Slovakia. In Bohemia, in contrast, Luther’s works were first translated into another national language, and there occurred theological reflection from various angles, yet no lasting tradition of Lutheranism was established.
Reformation in Slovakia, as in like in Hungary, Austria, and Poland, was dominated by Lutherans, whereas in Bohemia and Moravia the Hussite reformation and religious freedom allowed the development of various other confessions, such as Utraquism and the Unity of the Brethren. In central Europe, the Reformation started earlier but was broadly established later than in western Europe. In the first half of the 1520s, the impact of Luther was sporadic and not connected throughout larger areas. After the battle at Mohács and the Diet of Augsburg, the call for ecclesiastical reform was more broadly accepted, first in the cities with predominant German populations, then by the nobility, and by the 1540s by Hungarians, Slovaks. The Letter of Majesty in Bohemia (1609), and the Peace of Vienna and Diet of 1608 in Hungary constituted legal recognition of the evangelical communities. The Reformation in Bohemia and Hungary was more diverse than anywhere in western Europe. The confessionalization of the Reformation reflected and accentuated ethnic differences throughout the region.
Niels Henrik Gregersen
In Denmark, Martin Luther was initially seen as a humanist reformer on a par with other humanists, but during the 1520s he increasingly became a divisive figure separating those wanting only to reform the Roman Catholic church from within, and those working for a break with Rome. Ways of understanding Luther differed widely within the evangelical camp too. Early “Lutherans” in Denmark, such as Hans Tausen and the drafters of the Confessio Hafniensis of 1530, presented legalistic and spiritualistic elements. In 1536, however, King Christian III announced the Reformation of Denmark, using robust Wittenberg theologians such as Johann Bugenhagen and Peder Palladius to reform the church, the university, and the society at large. Since then Denmark has been an unusually homogeneous Lutheran country, compared to Lutheran areas of Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries, including Luther’s own Sachsen. Yet Danish views of Luther have changed significantly over the centuries, especially after the national awakening in the 19th century. Thereafter, Luther was seen as a church father, though also as a somewhat remote figure. In 20th-century theology, N. F. S. Grundtvig and Søren Kierkegaard served as mediating figures between premodern Lutheranism and contemporary theology. After World War II, the Reformation is still widely regarded as formative for Danish history, albeit in combination with other inspirations. A secular mindset grew stronger both within and outside the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, with some promoting a liberalist interpretation of Luther’s two-kingdoms doctrine, and others challenging the Evangelical-Lutheran Church’s status as the “People’s Church.” By January 1, 2016, 76.9 percent of the Danish population were tax-paying members of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark.
Alister E. McGrath
Following the deep and unsettling questions raised about the legacy of German Protestant theology as a result of the Great War (1914‒1918), a new interest emerged in returning to the fons et origo of Protestant theology in the writings of Martin Luther and other reformers. This was given additional impetus through the work of Karl Holl, who is widely credited with shaping the “Luther Renaissance” of 1919‒1921. Dialectical theology was a movement focused on Karl Barth that arose within German-speaking Protestantism in the aftermath of the Great War. The reception of Luther within the dialectical theology movement is complex and not easily reduced to simple categorizations. The diverse theological and confessional commitments within the movement led to various readings of Luther, generally mediated through secondary sources or channels. The movement portrayed itself in terms of a theocentric new reformation, breaking free from the cultural compromises and entanglements of German liberal theology in the first two decades of the twentieth century, particularly in relation to anthropology, Christology, and the understanding of sin. The movement presented itself as both the heir and reinterpreter of the theological legacy of the Reformation, particularly the theology of Martin Luther, most notably its emphasis on divine revelation. Yet its leading representatives—Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Friedrich Gogarten—understood Luther in somewhat different manners. It is therefore important to consider the use made of Luther by each of these figures individually, rather than try to collapse them into a single generic approach which is held to be representative of dialectical theology. The high profile these four writers accorded to Luther unquestionably stimulated Luther studies in the postwar period and contributed significantly to the current appreciation of Luther in contemporary theological debate.
Martin Luther’s thought has had strong influence on the religious and churchly life in the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as in Finland. Its impact has not been restricted just to the Church but also has had deep social and political aspects. However, the role of Luther’s theology has been quite different in the Baltics and in Finland, mostly because the Reformation occurred in a totally different ways in each area. In the Baltics, the biggest towns had already turned to the Reformation by the 1520s, but in Finland the change was part of King Gustav Vasa’s work for strengthening the state. In the Baltics, the Reformation took place in direct contact with Luther and his colleagues, whereas in Finland the first influences came through some of his writings and the theologians who had studied in Wittenberg. During the 17th century, almost the whole area, except Lithuania, belonged to the Swedish kingdom. Theologically, this was the time of the Lutheran Orthodoxy, which was based on the Confessional Books of the Lutheran Church. From Luther’s works, the catechisms were known and used. In the Baltics, the time of Confessional Lutheran theology lasted until the 1910s. In the 19th century, certain Baltic German theologians, especially Theodosius Harnack, practiced remarkable Luther research. Harnack opposed the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation and strongly influenced the understanding of Luther’s theology of the cross. Only in the 1910s did the Neo-Protestant Luther interpretation of Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf von Harnack get some support. In the 20th century, the Baltic theology was not very much concentrated on Luther, though some presentations of his person and thought were published and a clear consciousness of his thought was present. The Soviet time from 1940 to the beginning of 1990s was difficult for all types of theology. Nevertheless, for example, Elmar Salumae managed to translate international Luther research into Estonian and maintain the knowledge of Lutheran theology. In Finland, the 19th century did not produce academic Luther research, but Luther’s theology was important for the pietistic revival movement, and it played a central role in the disagreement of the revival leaders, which led to a division of the movement. Academic research on the Reformation began in Finland at the end of the 19th century, first as a historical study of the Finnish reformer Mikael Agricola and the Reformation in Finland. Research on Luther’s theology followed the German Luther Renaissance and began in the 1920s. The fruits of this research were published in the 1930s by Eino Sormunen and Yrjö J. E. Alanen and some years later by Lennart Pinomaa. After Pinomaa, Finnish Luther research played some role at the international level. It was first attached especially to the Swedish Lundensian approach and later, from the beginning of the 1980s, became more distant from it. Today Finnish Luther research refers above all to the work of Tuomo Mannermaa and his pupils. This theology, which stresses the real presence of Christ in faith and the participation in the Divine love, is not only academic research but also it has been applied to many churchly and ecumenical questions.
What does Martin Luther mean for Germany? Formulated in such a way, this is an impossible question, due in no small measure to the existence of many “Luthers” and many “Germanys.” But it also invites historical investigation. Luther has long held a privileged position in the writing of German history, stretching back to his own lifetime, even if the exact nature of that position has hardly remained static or uncontested. Luther’s position in the annals of German historiography testifies to the influence of social and political upheavals on the way in which historians understand the past—and vice versa. Each era’s critical events have encouraged certain aspects of Luther’s person and work to be remembered and others to be forgotten.
Like swapping between telephoto and wide-angle lenses, historical perspectives have moved between a narrow concentration on the German reformer’s biography and theology and a broader focus on the Protestant movement he launched in Germany. Historians have regularly enlisted Luther in an expansive, sweeping vision of the German Reformation and the emergence of the modern German nation-state with Otto von Bismarck. Indeed, contemporary ideas of nation and nationalism have had a determining influence on interpretations of Luther. This is true as much for German historians like Leopold von Ranke, writing toward the beginning of history’s professionalization as a full-fledged, independent academic discipline in the first half of the 19th century, as it is for those surveying Luther in the midst of the First World War, in the aftermath of Hitler and the Nazi era, in the postwar German Democratic Republic in the East and Federal Republic of Germany in the West, on the cusp Germany’s “turning point” (die Wende) of 1989–1990—and even for historians now situated in the 21st century.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Global Pentecostalism encompasses three distinct waves or movements: the Classical Pentecostal denominations inspired by the Azusa Street revival in the early 20th century; the Charismatic renewal in historic mainline churches starting in the 1950s; and independent Neocharismatic congregations and networks that began to multiply dramatically starting in the 1980s. Early Classical Pentecostals tended to have a positive attitude toward Luther as the beginning of the “restoration” of the lost doctrine and practice of the apostolic church, but only Jonathan Paul and his Mühlheimer Verband in Germany engaged in any meaningful way with Lutheran theology. Faced with fierce opposition within their denominations, Lutheran Charismatics such as Theodore R. Jungkuntz saw a need to correlate their spiritual distinctives with the Lutheran Confessions, which reached its most detailed expression in Welcome, Holy Spirit, edited by Larry Christenson. The Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in Ethiopia responded most positively to Charismatic renewal of all Lutheran churches in the world with its 1976 statement, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” While contemporary Classical Pentecostal theologians have only begun to engage with Luther, notable examples include Frank D. Macchia, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, and David J. Courey, who deal primarily with the doctrine of justification and the theology of the cross. The encounter of Lutheran theology with Pentecostalism suggests that both sides need to develop more comprehensive accounts of Christian experience and its role in doctrine, piety, and church life.
Paul R. Hinlicky
The topic of Luther in Marxism is vast and too diffuse to be useful to define issues and orient future research. However, the more limited topic of Luther in Marx is definite, manageable, and useful. If the framing of the relation between Luther and Müntzer first created by Müntzer and then adopted and popularized by Engels can be bracketed, and if the comparison of Luther and Marx is carefully controlled by Marx’s encounter with Luther texts, the result is a tacit but surprising claim by Marx to have found in Luther a predecessor in the analysis of capitalism. This surprise, however, entitles Luther to be heard afresh in his own voice in making his theological-ethical critique of mercantilism and monopoly finance in the 16th century. This new listening to Luther yields a concurrence between Luther and Marx regarding Marx’s claim that, in distinction from historical Christianity, the Marxist revolution brings an earthly, not otherworldly salvation; Luther, however, states just this difference differently, in terms of the Augustinian ordo caritatis. The double love commandment drives his own analysis of the proper Christian use of temporal goods. Beyond the exposé by Luther’s Augustinian theology of the false loves moving the civitas terrena, however, we discover the descent of critical social thinking to both Luther and Marx from the apocalyptic tradition of Second Temple Judaism. Recognizing this family resemblance makes visible the messianic divergence between the two. With this divergence clarified, new questions for Luther research arise.
Latin America has not been a well known field of Luther reception. Historic Latin American interpretations of Luther respond to ideological issues as well as historical circumstances. The manner in which he has been portrayed in these very large regions of Spanish and Portuguese inheritance during the last 500 years has derived mainly from the interest and perspective of the Roman Catholic Church. The interpretation of Luther derived from the Council of Trent (1545–1563) prevailed in Latin America for, at least, 400 years. Then, only a defaced delineation of Luther was transmitted. He was the synonym of evil, transgression, defiance, immorality—the archenemy par excellence—and held responsible for causing disorder and unsteadiness in Europe. particularly named as the culprit for the broken unity of the Western church. This portrayal continued well into the 19th century, when religious confessions other than Catholic penetrated and extended. Then the figure of Luther grew in importance and was revaluated, even from within Catholicism. So, from the 16th to the early 20th century, he moved from the paradigmatic heretic to a Christian theologian and historical figure. Today, the developing Lutheran tradition has reflected upon theological, ethical, and political issues in a hemisphere increasingly marked by confesional plurality, diverse Christian denominations, Pentecostal churches, charismatic groups, and mixed Hispanic, indigenous, Asian, and Afro-American influences.
Simon D. Podmore
Principally, Luther defers from philosophy’s authority to the authority of theology owing to an intense recognition of theology’s ultimate foundation in revelation. Allied to this is a suspicion about philosophy’s intellectual hubris and speculative neglect of the individual coram Deo (“before God”)—the “God” who is only known as revealed pro me (“for me”). As it transpires in modern philosophy’s emergence from its “service” to theology, variations of such concerns come to shape a new philosophical horizon which, for better or ill, come closer to Luther’s own in important and underexamined ways. Under implicit or explicit influence from Luther, key figures in modern European philosophy reconfigure critical new modes of philosophy which can be read to reflect Lutheran concerns about the nature of philosophy and reason itself. This story is related through key figures in modern philosophy (Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Heidegger), leading from the birth and apotheosis of the modern, through to the critical emergence of the postmodern. Through the critical reception of Luther in these philosophers, it is shown that modern European philosophy regularly deals with Lutheran tensions but often produces visions of the role of reason and selfhood which would have deeply troubled Luther himself. Nonetheless, there are also signs of a recovery of Luther’s suspicions about the possibilities of knowing which also bring into question the parameters of postmodern philosophy itself.
Martin Luther is intimately interwoven with the history of New Testament scholarship. Histories of modern biblical interpretation often begin their treatment with Luther and other Reformation currents, suggesting a direct genealogical relationship between the Reformer and modern criticism. Indeed, Luther’s frank criticism of the theological utility of certain books in the New Testament—James, Hebrews, Revelation—were to prove a warrant for the later development of historical critical approaches to Scripture that would also entail judgements about the authenticity of biblical texts. Later scholars increasingly came to use historical, philological criteria rather than material, theological criteria to reach these judgements, but they relied on the possibility Luther established of criticizing sacred scripture while remaining within the institutional church, even if certain tensions with ecclesiastical authorities were inevitable.
In the 20th century, the decisive influence of Luther can be found on a series of influential New Testament scholars and their interpretative efforts. To consider only an exemplary few—Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard Ebeling, Ernst Käsemann, and Martin Hengel—one can begin to grasp the enormity of the Reformer’s imprint on modern New Testament scholarship, due in part to the outsize influence of the German Lutheran theological academy on the development of the discipline.
In recent decades, Luther has been invoked above all in the lively debates surrounding the so-called “New Perspective on Paul,” and the question of whether Luther fundamentally misconstrued the Pauline message by unconsciously conforming it to his own experience of and reaction against late medieval Catholicism. While Luther has often been asked to shoulder the blame for a host of exegetical problems in this regard, more sophisticated recent approaches have allowed him to be an interpreter in his own right, with justified contemporary concerns that motivate his actualizing exegesis of Paul.
In the end, with the turn toward reception history and the reinvigorated retrieval of the theological tradition in contemporary biblical scholarship, more of Luther within New Testament study is likely to be seen in the years ahead.
Mark A. Granquist
The United States as a country was religiously formed by Reformed Protestants, who were later joined by substantial numbers of immigrant Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Jews. The role of Martin Luther in this religiously varied and pluralistic society has often changed over time, and has depended greatly on the context of those who have written about him. In some periods of time, especially the 18th century, Luther was little noticed or commented about, generally a figure solely in the distant past. In the 19th century, many American writers and scholars took notice of Luther, but often as a past symbol of some reality the author wished to address. Thus, Luther was seen essentially as one of the first modern individuals in the West, standing for religious and personal liberty against the reactionary forces of church and state. Some Protestants noted him for his stance against the medieval Western church and the papacy, which mirrored their own anti–Roman Catholic positions; American Roman Catholics saw him as the cause of the splintering of the true church and the author of all that was religiously problematic. After the Civil War, scholars began to access modern German scholarship about Luther, and the Luther birth anniversary of 1883 was perhaps the high point of his reputation in America. In the 20th century, there were positive and negative developments. On the negative side, two world wars soured Americans on things German, and some saw Luther as contributing to the rise of the Nazis and of the Holocaust. On the positive side, many of Luther’s works were translated into English, and many new historical and theological studies of the reformer were produced in English, along with translations of European works. American Lutherans began to produce substantial contributions to Luther studies, and newer works, even among Roman Catholics, sought to put Luther into his historical and theological contexts.
Until 1814, Norway was under Danish rule, and the story of Luther’s reception in Norway is included in the story of Luther’s reception in Denmark (cf. Niels Henrik Gregersen’s article on Luther in Denmark). The Reformation was introduced in Norway in 1536 along with Danish rule and loss of Norwegian national sovereignty. Most pastors—some Danes, but gradually also more Norwegians—were educated at the University of Copenhagen and were strongly influenced by the training they received there.
In the period of national awakening in the 19th century, national identity and Lutheran identity were more difficult to combine in Norway than in neighboring Lutheran countries like Denmark, Sweden, or Germany. This period lasted quite long after 1814 until a specific tradition for Luther’s reception was established in Norway. Along with the Luther renaissance in Germany and Sweden in the 1920s and 1930s, a new interest in Luther and the Reformation also emerged in Norway. Luther texts (primarily texts from his early career) were translated into Norwegian, a Luther Society was established, and the first academic dissertation dealing with Luther’s theology was published. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in Denmark/Norway, a comprehensive collection of essays was published in 1937 in order to reintroduce Luther and Reformation topics into religious and public debate. After World War II, scholarly research on Luther gradually increased in importance, and several Luther dissertations were published in international languages during the second half of the 20th century. In 1979 to 1983, six volumes of Luther’s writings were translated into Norwegian.
Pietism, the major Protestant renewal movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, sought to bring the head into the heart, to recover an experiential-expressive faith, to continue Luther’s reform of doctrine with reform of Christian living, to complete justification by sanctification. Hence Pietism understood itself as “the Second Reformation,” as the “church always reforming.”
The leading figures of Lutheran Pietism understood themselves as true followers of Luther. Johann Arndt’s True Christianity (1605–1610), one of the most influential writings of early modern Protestantism, appealed to the young Luther’s esteem for late medieval mysticism, and emphasized Christian religious experience. Philipp Jakob Spener, “the Father of Pietism,” wrote the programmatic tract for Lutheran Pietism, Pious Desires (1675), as a “foreword” to a collection of Arndt’s sermons. Spener, who had extensive knowledge of Luther’s writings, called for improved pastoral formation and increased lay participation in the church (priesthood of all believers) through gatherings for prayer and Bible study (collegia pietatis). He supported his program by appeal to Luther’s emphasis upon living, active faith in Luther’s “Preface to Romans” and “Preface to the German Mass.” Unlike “radical Pietists,” who despairing of renewal separated from the established church, Spener was convinced that God would provide “better times” for the church as it was renewed from within (the ecclesiola in ecclesia).
Spener’s call for spiritual and ethical renewal, praxis pietatis, was sharpened by his follower, August Hermann Francke. Francke’s struggles with doubts of God led to his conversion experience in 1687, his so-called Busskampf, experienced as a rebirth. From this Francke introduced into Pietism the concern for a once-for-all datable conversion or rebirth that would initiate a life of progressive sanctification. Francke’s new emphasis upon progressive sanctification toward perfection departed significantly from Luther’s dialectical theology, which understood the Christian as sinner and righteous as the same time (simul iustus et peccator). On the other hand, Francke continued Luther’s emphasis upon the Bible and strove to make the Bible as accessible as possible to the laity. A professor of biblical languages at the new University of Halle, Francke corrected the Luther translation through his own highly skilled historical-philological exegesis and in the process influenced succeeding generations of biblical scholars.
A third-generation Pietist leader, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, one of Francke’s students at the University of Halle, created a vibrant Pietist community on his estate when he welcomed Protestant refugees from Moravia in 1722. Although not a trained theologian like his predecessors Spener and Francke, Zinzendorf followed the Lutheran emphasis upon atonement as the basis for justification before God. He supplemented Luther’s theology of the cross with his experiential “heart-religion” (Herzensreligion); Christians must have Christ in their hearts, not just their heads.
Lutheran Pietists used Luther selectively to advance their understanding of the practice of piety.
From the outset, Catholic interest in the life and work of Martin Luther stemmed from ecumenical inquiry as the 19th century ended. The Catholic research concerned with Luther that followed in the 20th century is one of the driving forces of the international ecumenical movement and arose as Catholic theologians made their first hesitant approaches to international ecumenical efforts surrounding the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam. At first restricted essentially to Germany and German-speaking regions, a specific methodology for approaching the Reformation developed which gradually began to determine ecumenical methodology in international Lutheran–Catholic dialogue. The methodology of differentiating consensus, ultimately developed and applied in today’s Lutheran–Catholic dialogue, frees the approach of dialogical theology when applied to each particular confessional theology to overcome the effect of inherent confessional distinctions and to prepare the way for mutual understanding of the message of justification in the gospel of Jesus Christ, without eliminating particular confessional aspects and emphases.
As a result, neither the theology of Martin Luther nor that of the Council of Trent proves to be an insurmountable impediment to dialogue. Surprisingly, the results of this research have not been restricted to theology and ecumenical dialogue; rather, they continue to be at least implicitly received by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the popes since the Second Vatican Council.
Today, Catholic doctrine can speak of Martin Luther as a witness to Jesus Christ, a teacher of theology, and a Catholic reformer, without the 16th-century condemnations having yet been revised. The reconsideration of Martin Luther by Catholic theologians demonstrates a capacity for reform and points the way to overcoming the contentious theological gestalt of Catholic theology altogether. In this respect, the shape of Catholic theology today shows the influence of Martin Luther’s Reformation.
Carl Axel Aurelius
In the Swedish history of Christian thought there are various interpretations of the Reformation and of Martin Luther and his work. In the 17th century, Luther predominately stood out as an instrument of God’s providence. In the 18th century, among the pietists, he was regarded as a fellow believer, in the 19th century as a hero of history, and in the 20th century during the Swedish so-called Luther Renaissance as a prophet and an interpreter of the Gospel. This does not necessarily mean that the interpretations of Luther merely reflect the various thought patterns of different epochs, that whatever is said about Luther is inevitably captured by the spirit of the time. The serious study of Luther’s writings could also lead to contradictions with common thought patterns and presuppositions. One could say that Luther’s writings have worked as “classics,” not merely confirming the status quo but also generating new patterns of thought and deed, making him something rather different than just a name, a symbol, or a flag, which sometimes have been assumed. And one can only hope that his writings will continue to work in the same way in years to come. Anyway the reception of the Lutheran heritage in Sweden is well worth studying since it in some ways differs from the reception in other Evangelic countries.