Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

II

The Preacher of Wittenberg
(1522–24)

Luther had returned to Wittenberg because the wolf had broken into his flock, the Wittenberg congregation.1 During the next two years he usually identified himself in letters and in the titles of his publications as the "Ecclesiast," the preacher at Wittenberg. To be sure, he had occupied the position of preacher at the city church since 1514, but now more than ever he considered it his proper office. He did not resume his activity as a professor until the summer of 1524, ostensibly because of his task of translating the Bible, but political reasons very probably also played a role in this; as someone under the ban, he refrained from pursuing his public teaching office. As an "ecclesiast," or evangelist by the grace of God, he faced his opponents in the church and claimed a higher authority than that of the bishops, one derived directly from Christ.2 In his exposition of 2 Peter at the beginning of 1523, Luther expressed it thus: "Now every preacher should be so sure of having and preaching God's Word that he would even stake his life on this, since it is a matter of life for us." As a witness to Christ he possesses the same quality as the prophets.3 Jerome Emser tried in vain to dispute Luther's effective claim to the title of preacher.4

Albert Burer, who was then a student at Wittenberg, depicted Luther in the pulpit: "His facial expression is kind, mild, and good-natured. His voice is pleasant and sonorous, and one must marvel at his winsome gift of speech. What he says, teaches, and does is quite pious, even though his godless opponents claim the opposite. Whoever has heard him once—unless he is a stone—would gladly hear him again and again, for he drives home his points, like nails, into the minds of his hearers. In short, in him nothing is lacking that belongs to the perfected piety of the Christian religion… "5 Between 1522 and 1524 Lucas Cranach painted one of the most impressive portraits of Luther (Plate IV).6 It depicts him still wearing the monk's cowl, but without the tonsure, with one hand on a Bible and the other on his heart. The firmly closed mouth and the hint of a wrinkle in his brow reveal an intense concentration, and the strikingly lively eyes are fixed on a definite object, perhaps somewhat distant. The person the artist has captured is no fanatic zealot, nor a shrewd tactician, but someone permeated through and

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