Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg: Exploring Luther's Life with Melanchthon as Guide

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg: Exploring Luther's Life with Melanchthon as Guide

Article excerpt

The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg: Exploring Luther's Life with Melanchthon as Guide. By Franz Posset. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing. 2011. Pp. xxii, 195. $39-99 paperback. ISBN 978-0-7586-2685-1.)

Throughout his career, Roman Catholic Reformation scholar Franz Posset has worked to recover the crucial role that St. Bernard of Clairvaux played in Martin Luther's earliest theological development. Luther's initial insights into the nature of justification came from within the broader catholic tradition and especially from Bernard. The present volume makes this claim based on the work of Luther's closest colleague in Wittenberg, Philipp Melanchthon, who shortly after Luther's death penned a preface to the second volume of Luther's Latin writings, in which he sketched Luther's life. Apart from a confused discussion of the much-debated reference to the posting of the Ninetyfive Theses on the Castle Church on October 31, 1517, Posset argues convincingly, although disjointedly, that Melanchthon's account contains other useful and accurate information about Luther, especially Luther's recollection that an old Augustinian friar in Erfurt assured him that God expected him to believe that his own sins were forgiven and showed him a reference in Bernard's first sermon on the Annunciation. Posset's thesis needs be taken seriously.

Historical analysis has two sides: a strong thesis and proper evidence. It is here that The Real Luther falls short. Factual, logical, grammatical, and translation errors litter the book. The author seems unfamiliar with the latest and most important scholarly work on Melanchthon and consistently misdates documents.Thus, in a single section from pages 139 to 145 (where he tries to prove Melanchthon's increasing respect for Bernard from 1521 to the 1530s- itself questionable), he misdates Melanchthon's German translation of the Loci communes and his lectures on 1 Timothy, claims that Melanchthon preached on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1544 (he never preached), and leaves the impression that Melanchthon's 1546 theses attacking Petrus de Malvenda centered on Bernard's sermon. …

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