Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

I Am a Christian: The Nun, the Devil, and Martin Luther

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

I Am a Christian: The Nun, the Devil, and Martin Luther

Article excerpt

I am a Christian: The Nun, the Devil, and Martin Luther. By Carolyn Schneider. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010, Pp. vii, 184. $30.00.)

This intriguing book belongs to a narrow genre, the "biography of a sermon illustration." In truth it is about Luther's use of a story (in several forms) in sermons, lectures and in recollected conversation at least nineteen times over twenty-four years (1520-1544). He may have used it more often. It was always the story of a woman-sometimes young, sometimes old-who was often described as a nun, and sometimes as a German nun named Mechthild. After indentifying all Luther's recorded uses of the story, Schneider devotes a perceptive second chapter to unpacking its pastoral theology. The story was inevitably about a devilish trial in which the accuser himself attempts to persuade the believer that she is beyond the love of her creator. In the story, the heroine always meets the temptation and sends the devil packing by recalling the reality of her baptism, in which she was declared to be a child of God by Christ's redemption. It was a story meant to strengthen all Christians who heard it; though Luther observed that more women than men (though he was one of those men) were likely to succumb to Anfechtung, the despair of being outside God's providential love.

Luther's scatological language is well-chronicled; for Schneider, Luther's recalling of the story was an act of courage and supported his advice to scorn the devil's attacks with such pungent (but not gratuitous) rebuttals as, "Master devil, find out something new. I know that I am a great sinner. But I believe in Christ and in his grace; if that is not enough for you, I confess that I have also shit and pissed; you can smear your snout in it" (39). The devil was only a rebel angel for Luther-and the life, death and resurrection of Christ revealed the triumph of the fully incarnate son of God over a being who could never be incarnate, and who was above all always caught up (in spite of his destructive malice) in the greater purposes of God. …

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