Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

Synopsis

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed a transition in the history of Western Civilization, during which the world of medieval Christendom began to give way to a new world order. Western medieval civilization-a synthesis of classical humanism and Judeo-Christianity-was overseen by the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. People of the day believed in an orderly universe created by God and a great chain of being. This secure hierarchy was shattered when scientists, philosophers, and theologians began to explore the world around them with new eyes. Meanwhile, a number of national monarchs sought control of the church within their territories in order to secure a strong, unified nation-state apart from the influence of the Roman church. One avenue to control was provided for these monarchs by the Reformation, begun in 1517 by the obscure German monk Martin Luther. Because of his personal experience, reflection, and study of scripture, this religious scholar revised his Catholic faith to the alarm and contempt of Rome. Before long, Luther was accused of heresy, and the Reformation was underway.

In this concise and thoughtfully prepared volume, Paul Waibel introduces readers to Luther with a brief biography followed by chapters that address why Luther chose to risk his life by challenging the authority of the papacy. Next, Luther's most important Reformation writings are considered in chronological order. Among the writings discussed are his The Ninety Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Concerning the Reform of the Christian Church, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, The Freedom of the Christian, and The Bondage of the Will, as well as his two most controversial publications, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants and On the Jews and Their Lies, which some books on Luther gloss over or ignore.

In this highly readable and thoughtfully prepared volume, Dr. Waibel provides a brief and accessible introduction to one of the most influential persons in European and church history, making it an ideal supplement to wide variety of courses including World and Western Civilization, European History, Renaissance and Reformation, and, naturally, the History of Religion and Christianity. The appendix provides an annotated list of Luther's extensive writings.

Excerpt

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a period of transition in the history of Western Civilization. Some historians have chosen to see it as the waning of the Middle Ages, while others see it as the birth of the modern world. However understood, it was an era during which the universal, yet very provincial, world of medieval Christendom was giving way to a wider world in which the individual was shaping a new world order. Like the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, during which the new world order begun in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave way to the global village, it was an exciting time in which to live.

Medieval civilization was a synthesis of classical humanism and Judeo-Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic church kept alive the classical notion of a politically and religiously unified world. The individual lived in an orderly universe created by God. Each thing God created, including the individual, was assigned a place in the great chain of being. Humans were above plants and animals but below the angels and heavenly hosts in an ascending order of purity. So too were those created as rulers above those created as workers in an agricultural economy. God, it was believed, had created some to govern, some to pray, and some to labor. The individual possessed rights, but they were the rights of the estate to which he or she belonged. A peasant or a burgher, for example, enjoyed certain rights and privileges, as well as obligations, by virtue of being a peasant or burgher. The concept of inalienable and natural rights belonging to the individual was foreign to the Middle Ages.

This very secure hierarchy of the Middle Age world in which everything had its place and function, was forever shattered in 1543 by the Polish astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus. By asserting that the sun did not revolve around the earth (the medieval model of the universe), but the reverse . . .

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