Martin Luther, History, and Its Meaning
- Curtis L. ThompsonCurtis L. ThompsonThiel College
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.