Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

Foreword

A new, thorough biography of the young Luther, prepared on the basis of the sources, has not been published in Germany for decades. Research continues to be based on the works of Otto Scheel (1921–30) and Heinrich Boehmer (1925). In addition, we must pay tribute here to E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (1950). Each generation, though, must concern itself anew with the image of the reformer and ascertain its own knowledge about him. The 500th anniversary of Luther's birth offered an obvious opportunity to address ourselves once again to the material which has been treated so often. Boehmer s excellent presentation was in many respects the model for this present volume.

A Luther biography has the dual task of serving scholarship on one side, while on the other mediating its research to the public. Since World War II, international Luther research has produced a myriad of studies with new questions, theses, and results. For example, these studies have dealt with Luther's socioeconomic background, his psychic constitution, the influence of late medieval theology, the historicity of the posting of the theses, the date and nature of the reformatory discovery, and the significance of political factors for Luther's cause. These matters, which previously were considered or treated superficially or not even at all, must once again be unified into a cohesive picture, so that it may become apparent which elements from the new insights can stand the test and be correlated with it. A description of Luther's life which deals with his figure in its entirety has to summarize the research. Finally, the biographical task furnishes important orientation and criteria for Luther research, which is sometimes problematically fixed onesidedly on the history of theology.

At the same time, the historical discipline owes the wider public an understandable presentation of the great themes of history. Unless it wishes to encourage the historical amnesia which it so often laments, it may not simply withdraw into specialized studies, but must make its results accessible to a wider audience.

Although it is really self-evident, let it be expressly emphasized that the description of the life of such a figure as that of Luther, as manifoldly interesting and controversial as he still is, is always conditioned by one's own standpoint, no matter how willing one is to listen to others and above all to

-xi-

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