Luther's function in an age of
Like a storm wind, the words and images of Martin Luther swept across early sixteenth-century central Europe, decisively alteringpublic life in German, Scandinavian, and Baltic lands, and even among peoples in Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, where the Counter-Reformation later diminished his influence considerably. Luther's enemies viewed the currents aroused by his writings and his popularity among common folk and intellectuals as demonically destructive; his supporters experienced them as divine intervention for a beleaguered society and a tyrannized church.
HERCULES—TEACHER AND PASTOR
Historical personages always take on a new life in the traditions that convey their personalities and thought to succeeding generations. Twentiethcentury scholars sometimes complained that the images of Luther and the summaries of his theology which have helped shape Western culture and Christian thinkingdo not accurately reflect the“real” reformer, but such is always true. Intensifyingthis commonplace in Luther's case is the fact that already during his lifetime his contemporaries experienced him as“larger than life.”
None of his German contemporaries could remain neutral in regard to Luther. Few individuals have aroused so much and such many-faceted and strongly held passion and antagonism so quickly as did the monkprofessor from Wittenberg when he penned and posted an invitation to debate the nature and impact of the practice of indulgences in late October 1517. His“Ninety-five Theses” that propelled him rapidly to center stage in German public life slowly came to command the attention of the papal court and launched yet another movement for ecclesiastical reform which, unlike earlier calls for change in the church, created a public persona through the use of the new public medium of the printing press. The cultural, social, political—to say nothing of religious, theological, and ecclesiastical—ripples