The Life and Letters of Martin Luther

The Life and Letters of Martin Luther

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The Life and Letters of Martin Luther

The Life and Letters of Martin Luther

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Excerpt

It can hardly be denied that the men who have most changed history have been the great religious leaders. "Priest, Teacher,"says Carlyle, "whatsoever we can fancy to reside in man, embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do." Among the great prophets, and, with the possible exception of Calvin, the last of world-wide importance, Martin Luther has taken his place. His career marks the beginning of the present epoch, for it is safe to say that every man in western Europe and in America is leading a different life to-day from what he would have led, and is another person altogether from what he would have been, had Martin Luther not lived. For the most important fact in modern history is undoubtedly the great schism of which he was the author, the consequences of which are still unfolding and will continue to unfold for many a century to come. In saying this we do not attribute to him the sole responsibility for the revolt from Rome. The study of history, as of evolution in other forms, has shown that there are no abrupt changes, --appearances to the contrary, --and that one epoch follows another as naturally and with as gradual a development as one season follows another in the year. In a sense the Protestant revolt, and the larger movement of which it was but the chief symptom, the expansion of the human mind, was inevitable. In another sense, equally true, it was the courage and genius of a great man which made it possible. If some such crisis was inevitable, he at least determined its time and to a large extent its direction. Granting, as axiomatic, that essential factors of the movement are to be found in the social, political, and cultural conditions of the age, and in the work of predecessors and followers, in short, in the environment which alone made Luther's lifework possible, there must still remain a very large element due directly and solely to his personality.

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