Skip to comments.Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther [book review]
Posted on 04/28/2008 11:44:42 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
Its no mean feat tackling a biography of one of the most important figures in all of history.
Wilson was attempting to navigate on ground that was already well trod by biographers and historians and pamphleteers for the past four centuries.
How do you present the same information in a fresh and relevant way? Wilsons approach was unique in that his point of view was that of the post-modern, secular reader.
As he so aptly elucidated, most previous biographies approached the story of the German monk with some sort of bias, usually broken down along sectarian lines.
Wilson throws all this out, and approaches Luther from the perspective of someone who is neither rabidly Protestant nor Catholic. It is actually written for someone with no particular religious bent, meaning the book us unencumbered by too much dogma.
While it is evident that there is great research and scholarship involved on Wilsons part, the book is most accessible. In fact the narrative is far from dry, and is indeed quite dramatic. Which makes sense because Luthers life was one big drama.
The book looks at the intellectual, spiritual and familial forces that shaped Luthers ideas and behaviours. We get a sense that, while he may not have been marked for greatness at birth, he certainly was a unique young man for his age.
We also look at the significant relationships in his life, from his wealthy aristocratic, and indulgent patron, to his father, to his enemies and opponents to his wife, and the impact that they had on the decisions he made in his life and the ideas he put forth.
Luthers story is awe inspiring in that he was basically one man taking on the most powerful institution in the world, the Catholic Church.
Wilson does a good job of showing just how revolutionary Luthers ideas and methods were, and how remarkable it was that he actually made headway, leading a schism from the monolithic structure of the church that has a legacy today in the interdenominational nature of the Christian Church.
But it is interesting to note that it was never Luthers intention to create a splinter church. He loved the church and wanted to see it reformed, not dismantled.
But one of the truly interesting things about Luthers story is that he is very quickly shunted aside by more radical elements within the Reformation movement. There were those who agreed with Luthers ideas on the nature of the Trinity, and that the church was not the only way one got Salvation, and other doctrinal issues, but who did want a complete uprooting of the status quo, and who advocated for a sharp, even violent break with the mainline church.
Luther abhorred violence and social disorder. Far from being a radical, he was actually quite Conservative and a traditionalist. He wanted the Catholic Church to go back to its first-century ideals, not drag it kicking and screaming into some amorphous future.
When looking at the legacy of Luther, Wilson shows how his ideas shaped the entire Protestant ethos, but also how it did eventually bring a spirit of reform into the Catholic Church.
We also see how Luther became a touchstone for German nationalism, as many of his adherents saw him as a political leader, rallying the small German states looking for a freeing of the shackles from a Church based in Italy.
This is a wonderful book for those looking for a comprehensive, but not oppressively dense, examination of the life of one of the most polarizing and fascinating people in the annals of recorded history.
The most powerful institution in the world in 1517 was far and away the Ottoman Empire.
If the Ottomans had suceeded in their 1529 siege of Vienna - and only a miracle prevented them from doing so - Christianity, whether Catholic or Reformed, would have become an academic question.
I’ll check this out but I doubt it will change my opinion that Bainton’s “Here I Stand” is the definitive Luther biography.
“Luther abhorred violence and social disorder”?
With a stroke of a pen didn’t he have a few thousand peasants put to death? I was under that impression but I could be wrong. It seems also he didn’t exactly care for Jews.
That's overstating it. He never condemned the way the Prince put down the bloody peasant's rebellion which Luther never sanctioned but was being carried out in his name. The rebellion was ruthlessly snuffed out and good thing given what happened in France a couple hundred years later when a similar rebellion succeeded.
“Let all who are able, cut them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. “
Seems like the guy didn’t have much problem with violence afterall.
Usually in historic context of the 16th Century and before, when speaking of Europe, “World” meant Europe...and Turkey and the Middle East is not Europe.
Far and away the most powerful institution in Europe in 1517 was the Roman Church, powers from outside notwithstanding. And it took a hammer like Luther to break Rome’s corrupt iron fist.
Luther wrote a famous track urging the nobles to destroy the peasants (and certain minor nobles) in their rebellion. This was the first “liberation theology” movement which used (or really in his opinion misuesed) Luther’s works calling for Church reform to call for societal political reform...something Luther never intended.
He has been probably falsely accused by historians for causing the slaughter of the peasants however, because as a professor of mine H.O.J. Brown found, his book on this was published some 6 weeks AFTER the decisive battle in which the peasants were cut down. Luther may have contributed in his speaking toward the attitude and plans of the Nobles who destroyed the peasants in rebellion, but, historically, his book on it was not available until well after it was done.
I’ve done quite a bit of reading about Luther, and there is no doubt he was a very bombastic, tough, rigorous man, one whom you did not want as your enemy. To be fair though, he was equally brutal in his words toward the Papacy, the radical Protestants (Anabaptists), and the Jews, as he was toward the peasants who rebelled.
The 16th Century was really still pretty medieval, and it was a brutal harsh time—and scholars were much more harsh in their rhetoric than is acceptable today, however, Luther was considered extra-harsh even for his day...
I believe it took a hard-headed hammer like him to break the icy grip of the nearly entirely corrupt leadership of the late medieval Roman church.
I think Luther would later come to regret writing that track on the peasants.
HOJ Brown just passed away, didn’t he? You were fortunate to sit at the feat of such a giant!
Is Romania in Europe? Bulgaria? Serbia? Croatia? Hungary? Austria? Italy? How about France?
Clearly you don't know too much about European history in the 16th century. Oxford University Press has an excellent series that I would recommend unreservedly.
Far and away the most powerful institution in Europe in 1517 was the Roman Church, powers from outside notwithstanding.
If the Church was so vastly powerful, why did the King of France conclude an alliance with the Ottoman Empire against the Papacy? Surely the Church should have been in complete control of a nominally Catholic country like France.
Again, if the Church was so vastly powerful, why did a league of Italian states - including Venice and led by the Duke or Urbino - encircle Rome with its armies? Surely the Church should have been in complete control of a nominally Catholic country like Italy.
And it took a hammer like Luther to break Romes corrupt iron fist.
The only hammering Luther helped with in his own lifetime was the widespread slaughter of hundreds of thousands of German peasants who wanted to throw off the yoke of monarchy.
As far as corruption is concerned, Luther was the one who - in exchange for royal favors - gave Prince Philip of Hesse his blessing in committing bigamy, but sneakily urged Philip to keep his bigamy secret so as not to damage Luther's reputation.
Luther was as corrupt as any Catholic prelate he railed against. The Reformation was not about piety: it was about power politics and the creation of an Erastian theology that allowed monarchs to assume complete control of the Church within their own borders - a control that allowed them to confiscate lands and tithes for their coffers to further their military ambitions.
In other words he was a little different than Saint Francis of Assisi.