Luther’s position on the duties of rulers to preserve social order and on the obligation of subjects to obey them for the sake of civil tranquility is scripturally grounded, principally in Romans 13:1–7, and presupposes an anthropology in which humans are so sinful as to need worldly government. The foundations of Luther’s thought about politics can be located in two sources: his doctrine of the Two Kingdoms and his understanding of the Pauline precept in Romans 13 to obey worldly authorities. Woven into each of these positions is a theological anthropology that holds that fallen humanity is too sinful to survive without divine aid. In the political realm, this aid takes the form of civil government; as a correlate, the authority of the church for Luther is limited to spiritual matters only and has no influence in the governance of the people. Luther’s defense of the social order and civil government set him in sharp opposition to the leaders of the Peasants’ War and led him to support the Protestant princes in their opposition to the Holy Roman Empire (founded on the spurious authority of the Roman Catholic Church in political affairs) after the 1530 Diet of Augsburg. In his defense of obedience to worldly powers and his grounds for justified resistance to impious rule, Luther left a seemingly ambiguous legacy that manifested itself after his death in a division over advocates of obedience to a conciliatory ruler (who wished to reintroduce elements of Roman worship) and purists who insisted that such obedience was a violation of Luther’s intention.
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.
Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer
Although born in the territory of the Counts of Mansfield, Luther’s connection to Saxony began early. He attended school in Eisenach (1498–1501), located in electoral Saxony, and enrolled in university (1501–1505) and later entered the Augustinian monastery (1505–1508) in Erfurt, an independent city with close economic and political ties to Saxony. Luther’s association with Saxony and its electors, however, was sealed with his 1508 arrival at the University of Wittenberg, followed by his return to Wittenberg in 1511, where he was to reside for the most remainder of his adult life. His relationship with the rulers in Ernestine and Albertine Saxony and their reaction to his reform movement proved fundamental to Luther’s life and career, just as Luther has become inextricably linked to the history of Saxony and Wittenberg. Scholars have concentrated on Luther’s interactions with the elector of Saxony Frederick III, “the Wise” (1463–1525, r. 1486–1525), during the early Reformation. Less scholarly attention has been paid to the relationship between Luther and the electors of Saxony during the reign of Frederick’s brother John the Steadfast (1468–1532, r. 1525–1532) and nephew John Frederick (1503–1554, r. 1532–1547), despite the vital role that these rulers played during the development of the new confessional identity. Discussions of Luther’s interaction with these Saxon electors were featured in 16th-century publications and art as well as early histories of the Reformation and of Saxony. Over the course of subsequent centuries, the relationship between Luther and the Ernestine electors has become central to the story of the Reformation and to Saxon history.
Though it is well-known that Martin Luther stood in some connection to the late medieval theologians of his Order and that he intensively studied Augustine’s works in the mid-1510s, the exact nature of the influence either or both exercised upon the development of his theology is disputed. Arguably his adoption of advanced anti-Pelagian convictions aligns him with Gregory of Rimini contra pelagianos modernos in the realm of scholastic theology, while the pastoral theology he imbibed from Staupitz places him in a living tradition of “Augustinian Frömmigkeitstheologie” within the O.E.S.A. (the Hermit Order of St. Augustine). However, the most important impetus Luther received from late medieval Augustinianism was its determination to do theology in conversation with Augustine’s own works. Probably in 1514, Luther read the anti-Pelagian writings contained in the 1506 Amerbach edition of the Opera Omnia, and made his own both the iustitia passiva from sp. litt. 9.15 and the nexus of doctrines associated with residual “sin” in the baptized, which was increasingly emphasized in Augustine’s later works against Julian. Though young Friar Martin’s “Augustinianism” shifted in several respects, it possessed an enduring significance in Luther’s evangelical theology.
Erik H. Herrmann
Martin Luther’s exposition of the Bible was not only fundamental to his academic vocation, it also stood at the very center of his reforming work. Through his interpretation of the New Testament, Luther came to new understanding of the gospel, expressed most directly in the apostle Paul’s teaching on justification. Considering the historical complexities of Luther’s own recollections on the matter, it is quite clear that he regarded his time immersed in the writings of Paul as the turning point for his theology and his approach to the entire Scriptures (cf. LW 34:336f). Furthermore, Luther’s interpretation of the New Testament was imbued with such force that it would influence the entire subsequent history of exegesis: colleagues, students, rivals, and opponents all had to reckon with it. However, as a professor, Luther’s exegetical lectures and commentaries were more often concerned with the Old Testament. Most of Luther’s New Testament interpretation is found in his preaching, which, following the lectionary, usually considered a text from one of the Gospels or Epistles. His reforms of worship in Wittenberg also called for weekly serial preaching on Matthew and John for the instruction of the people. From these texts, we have some of the richest sustained reflections on the Gospels in the 16th century. Not only was the substance of his interpretation influential, Luther’s contribution to exegetical method and the hermeneutical problem also opened new possibilities for biblical interpretation that would resonate with both Christian piety and critical, early modern scholarship.