Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation

Article excerpt

The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation. By Berndt Hamm. Translated by Martin J. Lohrmann. (Grand Rapids, Ml: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2014. Pp. xx, 286. $36.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8028-6924-1.)

A cottage industry of twentieth-century studies of Martin Luther was the reconstruction of his Reformation "turn" (Wende) or "breakthrough" (Durchbruch). In the preface to the 1545 edition of his Latin works, Luther described a sudden insight into the active righteousness of God, after which he felt that he had "entered paradise itself through open gates." Unfortunately, his references to the date of this discovery are unclear, and his description of what he discovered does not easily mesh with his early writings. The scholarly task has thus been twofold: to describe what was the new discover}' that transformed Luther from late-medieval monk into Protestant Reformer and to date just when this discover}' occurred.

Berndt Hamm of Erlangen University has been at the forefront of the rethinking of this problem in recent decades. Rather than seek a single breakthrough, he traces the complex development of Luther's thought from his earliest notes from 1509 through his tracts of 1520, by which time the essential elements and form of his Reformation theology are set. There is no single breakthrough or turn in Luther's thought but rather a complex, interrelated series of shifts and breaks. Driven by his engagement with scripture in the classroom and by his own spiritual and theological problems, he developed a different way of thinking about Christian faith and life. This volume, although a collection of essays mostly printed elsewhere over a twenty-year period, constitutes a comprehensive and careful analysis of the most important of these shifts. Each essay can be read independently, but together, they constitute the most up-to-date and detailed analysis in English of Luther's development during these decisive years. …

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