The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

By Donald K. McKim | Go to book overview

11
Luther's political encounters
DAVID M. WHITFORD

In 1517, Martin Luther did not intend to start a revolution, but start one he most certainly did. By the time of his death, the religious, social, and political map of Europe was unalterably changed. Luther erupted on to the scene at a decisive moment. The Holy Roman Empire in the early sixteenth century was a society in flux; old orders were giving way to a yet-to-be determined new order. Economically, northern Europe was recoveringfrom the decimation of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its recovery, however, was dramatically different from what had preceded it. It was now more urban than rural, more based in manufacturingthan agriculture. Politically, the greater nobles and the Free Imperial cities tried to stave off attempts at centralization by the emperor, while lesser nobles and rural towns tried to maintain their status as the economic world changed around them and thus marginalized them. Socially, the urbanization brought both a new middle class and at the same time a more entrenched poverty. Meanwhile, peasants had been chafing under the bit of serfdom for more than a century and a half. They were in search of justice and desperate for hope. Religiously, people both resented and depended upon the church. They resented the church because it controlled so much of the land and took too much in tax. They, however, depended on the church as the only avenue to salvation. It is little wonder, then, why Luther's religious message struck chords on many levels. Many people heard the religious message, but could not miss its social and political import.

For the great lords and the imperial cities the reformation was linked, by virtue of its fight against the centralized religious authority of the pope, to the fight against centralization politically. At the same time, the peasants heard in Luther an exaltation of Christian freedom, a sharp criticism of the church, and a nationalism that fed their desires and became a political manifesto.

In 1996, Bernhard Lohse wondered (only half in jest) if the Luther presented by some scholars would recognize the Luther described by others. 1 This would be especially difficult when trying to recognize the“political”

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The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Notes on Contributors xi
  • Preface xv
  • Chronology of Martin Luther xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Part I - Luther's Life and Context 1
  • 1 - Luther's Life 3
  • 2 - Luther's Wittenberg 20
  • Part II - Luther's Work 37
  • 3 - Luther's Writings 39
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Luther as Bible Translator 62
  • 5 - Luther as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture 73
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Luther's Theology 86
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Luther's Moral Theology 120
  • 8 - Luther as Preacher of the Word of God 136
  • 9 - Luther's Spiritual Journey 149
  • 10 - Luther's Struggle with Social-Ethical Issues 165
  • Notes 175
  • 11 - Luther's Political Encounters 179
  • Notes 190
  • 12 - Luther's Polemical Controversies 192
  • Part III - After Luther 208
  • 13 - Luther's Function in an Age of Confessionalization 209
  • 14 - The Legacy of Martin Luther 227
  • Notes 238
  • 15 - Approaching Luther 240
  • Notes 252
  • Part IV - Luther Today 257
  • 16 - Luther and Modern Church History 259
  • 17 - Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance 272
  • Notes 286
  • 18 - Luther in the Worldwide Church Today 289
  • Select Bibliography 304
  • Index 313
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