Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

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

Foreword

In 1903 the fifth edition of the two-volume Martin Luther: Sein Leben und Seine Schriften by Julius Kostlin and Gustav Kawerau was published. To the present day it remains the single major scholarly comprehensive presentation of the subject and is justly valued because of the authors’ solid knowledge of the material. In the course of the last decades, however, a comprehensive new Luther biography has understandably become desirable, one that takes into account new sources and changed viewpoints on Luther and the Reformation in general. Because they have not dealt with all the sources, and their interest has been more in the young Luther than the old Luther, recent presentations have treated the last two decades of his life more or less cursorily. Until now, therefore, the old standard work has only partially been replaced. Heinrich Boehmer’s Derjunge Luther was published in 1925 (ET: Road to Reformation: Martin Luther to the Year 1521, trans. John W. Doberstein and Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress (Muhlenberg) Press, 1946]). Despite the long period that intervened, Heinrich Bornkamm’s intention was to continue Boehmer’s work. His book, Martin Luther in der Mitte seines Lebens: Das Jahrzehnt zwischen dem Wonnser und dem Augsburger Reichstag (ET: Luther in Mid-career, 1521–1530, trans. E. Theodore Bachmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983]), appeared posthumously in its uncompleted form in 1979. At the end of 1986 Beinhard Schwarz published his fascicle of Die Kirche in ihrer Geschichte, a cooperative work that deals with Luther. That condensed presentation competently demonstrates the current status of Luther research. Nevertheless, it, too, concentrates more on Luther’s beginnings. The time after 1531 is treated relatively briefly. One of the intentions of the anthology edited by Helmar Junghans, Leben und Werk Martin Luthers von 1526 bis 1546: Festgabe zu seinem 500. Geburtstag, 2 vols. (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Buprecht, 1983), was to fill the gaps in the biography of Luther. By working together, the several contributors were trying to accomplish what almost no author could do alone. In my opinion, however, the individual facets of such a joint work, as competent and qualified as their authors definitely were, cannot be a substitute for a full biography written from a unified point of view. As is always apparent, one cannot separate the necessary overview from a considered evaluation. At the same time, one must accept the fact that an individual author’s field of view is necessarily limited.

-xi-

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