Translated by Katharina Gustavs
With Martin Luther a partingof the ways is inevitable. To some he was a religious genius or German hero, others saw in him the destroyer of the Western church and with it the associated inseparable unity of empire and nation. Curiously enough there is no firm historical verification of Luther's self-understandingthat could possibly be condensed into one characteristic keyword—despite a multitude of self-statements and a deep reflection on his own thoughts and actions going far beyond the usual measure. Luther pictures himself in various positions and taking on many different tasks. 1 Thus the programmatic change of his name already reveals a fundamental insight behind it: Luder—in late medieval High German bearing the connotation of such words as“dirt” and“garbage”—is changed into eleutherius or Luther—“the liberated and at the same time Christ's servant and prisoner.” 2 This gives us a hint of his future insight—extensively formulated in a style of paradox later on—into God's justifyingaction and the resultingknowledge of the complete inability of humans to act independently in accord with a requisite obedience to God and love for one's neighbor. At the same time Luther stresses over and over again his dignity and position as a Master of Holy Scripture, which to him embodied the ultimate authority and therefore also served him as the unquestionable basis for any theological argument. 3 From 1521 another title takes center place: Luther refers to himself as ecclesiast, preacher, or even evangelist. 4 All three self-designations have this in common, they make central Luther's self-awareness of beingan interpreter of Holy Scripture as well as a preacher of the promise of God's reconciliation with and redemption of humanity through Jesus Christ. In Luther's understandingthis task is rooted in baptism, manifestingitself in his own individual person as the common priesthood of all believers.
In our quest for a systematic key to Luther's theology, these selfdesignations may serve as guides. Luther saw himself as a preacher, as a Scripture interpreter. All that can be summarized in one single term,