Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

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

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The Reformatory Program

The public had known Luther since 1517/18 primarily as a critic of scholastic theology, the church's practice of indulgences, and the papacy. Despite all that, however, he was not yet the Reformer, even though closely associated with his criticism was a new understanding of norms and authorities, of salvation, of the piety of confession, and of the church. At first his negations stood in the foreground. In them Luther directly accomplished very little because of the resistance offered by the church and theology. The reform of theological studies and the university, which was already under way, might indeed in the long run have extraordinary consequences, but at first it affected only a narrow sector of ecclesiastical life. Here we must still remember that the monk Luther had become caught in a severe, all-encompassing crisis which at first he could not master, but was able only to endure. It affected his entire existence before God, his faith, his piety, his prayer, confession, the practice of the mass, his entire ethics. This crisis was fundamentally solved by the reformatory discovery of the gracious justifying God, a discovery which radically changed Luther's relationship to God. But sooner or later this had to result in decisive changes in all of religious life and lead to new sorts of constructive solutions in the practice of piety, especially because Luther the theologian could not be satisfied with solving his personal problems and because the church did not accept his demands for reform. Thus it happened that Luther step by step applied his new insight to wider and wider areas, transforming it into concrete proposals and solutions. This did not simply take place in his ivory tower, but it emerged for Luther as a professor, preacher, and pastor (Seelsorger) in a close connection between theory and practice. Only when his proposals for renewing piety and the life of the church, which soon took shape as an integrated and significant program, were presented and began to be realized did Luther become the reformer. Thus, next to the reformatory discovery, the understanding of the nature and significance of this program plays a key role in the interpretation of Luther's life and work.

The program was presented between 1519 and 1521, especially from the end of 1519 through 1520. In this connection only the work To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate is a programmatic writing in the strict sense. Otherwise, his program

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