Luther's spiritual journey
JANE E. STROHL
From Luther's own day to the present, critics have raised questions about the distinctively personal stamp given by the reformer to his theology. Despite its claims to biblical fidelity and universal validity, they suspected that Luther's legacy was the projection of one man's neurosis on to the whole of human history and at the expense of the relative tolerance and unity of the Western church. There is no denying that Luther was himself a prime example of the desperately bound sinner whose terrified conscience, hungry for the assurance of God's grace and the experience of its transforming power, became the test case for Lutheran proclamation.
Without lionizing Luther as some spiritual“Everyman” for all generations, one can conclude that in the course of his spiritual journey he spoke persuasively to and for many of his contemporaries. Luther boldly articulated and responded to the acute anxieties of the age through his campaign for the liberation of the church from its latter-day Babylonian captivity, his demand for the freedom of the individual believer's conscience and the free rei¨gn of the Scriptures among the people, and his rejection of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in his appeal to the judgment of the common believer, that is, the baptized person who emerged from the waters of baptism the spiritual equal of priest, bishop, and pope.
Historians are fascinated by such fundamental shifts in the religious sensibilities of a society. Peter Matheson has suggested that the changes of the sixteenth century would be more fruitfully understood as a re-forming of the imagination, rather than as primarily a matter of doctrinal or structural innovations. Images, he points out, can and do burn out and have to be renewed continually, and in the imaginative architecture of the Reformation, the divine becomes more intimate and the human more earthly. 1 This essay will explore Luther's spiritual journey, recognizing that in its historical particularity it both reflected and shaped this new development of the life of faith.