The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

15
Approaching Luther
JAMES ARNE NESTINGEN

THE PERSON AND THE SYMBOL

Martin Luther the historical figure assigned to teach biblical studies at an obscure university in the eastern part of what is now Germany and Martin Luther, cultural symbol, parted company on or about October 31, 1517, and have had an unpredictable relationship ever since. Assessingthe differences is the critical task in approaching this compellingly attractive and equally repugnant man.

The historical dimensions of Luther's life follow a familiar pattern. The son of an upwardly mobile miner, Hans Luder or Ludder, and of the daughter of a fairly prominent family, Margarethe Lindemann, 1 he was set aside for a career in law. In the course of his studies, Luther believed himself to have been redirected toward a religious vocation—a crossover well known to law and theological faculties. When he took orders as an Augustinian monk, Luther attracted a mentor, Johan von Staupitz, who promoted his career, movinghim forward in the order. 2

Luther's academic career was also fairly routine, at least in its outline. Upon completion of the doctorate, while takinghis share of pastoral duties, the young monk was assigned to teach courses in Old and New Testament at the University of Wittenberg, a town of 2,000 that was the capital of Electoral Saxony. As a teacher, he was caught up in an occupational hazard of academic life: academic, churchly, and political polemics. Though his personal circumstances changed—most dramatically in being excommunicated, outlawed, and for all of this, marrying 3 —Luther continued his vocation until his death, in February of 1546. If events had not combined to put him in a symbolic spotlight, the story would have ended right there.

The beginnings of Luther's career as a symbol, in which he was taken as a representative of somethinglarger, beyond himself, are also touched with the common. Like many a young theologian, as he worked with the assigned sources, he came to the conviction that the Catholic tradition had missed the heart of the biblical witness. Livingin a daily monastic rhythm of the Psalms,

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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