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A Documentary History of Lutheranism, Volumes 1 and 2: Volume 1: From the Reformation to Pietism Volume 2: From the Enlightenment to the Present

A Documentary History of Lutheranism, Volumes 1 and 2: Volume 1: From the Reformation to Pietism Volume 2: From the Enlightenment to the Present

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A Documentary History of Lutheranism, Volumes 1 and 2: Volume 1: From the Reformation to Pietism Volume 2: From the Enlightenment to the Present

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Dec 1, 2017


This unique collection of excerpts from Lutheran historical documents--many translated here for the first time--presents readers with a full picture of how the Lutheran movement developed in its thought and practice. Covering not only theology but also church life, popular piety, and influential historical events, the primary documents include theological treatises, confessional statements, liturgical texts, devotional writings, hymns, letters and diaries, satirical polemics, political documents, woodcuts, and pamphlet literature.

This first volume covers the chronological period from Luther‘s first calls for reform to the development of Lutheran Orthodoxy and Pietism during the seventeenth century. The judiciously selected and carefully translated texts as well as the contextualizing information provided in each chapter‘s introductory essay acquaint readers with the turbulence and fervor of this revolutionary Christian movement, its struggles for survival and consolidation, and its further evolution up to the dawn of the Enlightenment.
Dec 1, 2017

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A Documentary History of Lutheranism, Volumes 1 and 2 - Fortress Press

A Documentary History of Lutheranism

From the Reformation to Pietism

Eric Lund, editor

Fortress Press



From the Reformation to Pietism

Copyright © 2017 Fortress Press, an imprint of 1517Media. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Email or write to Permissions, Fortress Press, PO Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209.

Cover images, from left: Baptism, Lucas Cranach the Elder; The Last Supper, Lucas Cranach the Elder;

Penance, Lucas Cranach the Younger. All public domain, wikimediacommons.

Cover design: Joe Reinke

2-Volume Set

Print ISBN: 978-1-5064-1664-9

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Abbreviations and Short Titles

The Life of Martin Luther: A Chronology

A Chronology of Lutheran History (1517–1750)

1. Crises and Controversies during Martin Luther’s Lifetime (1483–1546)

2. The Dissemination of the Reform Message

3. The Implementation of Reform Proposals

4. The Church’s Struggle for Survival (1546–1648)

5. Factionalism in the Late Reformation (1546–1580)

6. Theology in the Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1700)

7. Seventeenth-Century Devotional Literature and Hymnody

8. Lutheran Pietism (1670–1750)

9. The Reformation in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe (1523–1738)


Bibliography of English-Language Resources

Sources and Acknowledgments

Permission Acknowledgments



The year 2017 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Celebrations worldwide will prompt people to reflect on the Reformation as one of the major turning points in the intellectual and social development of Western civilization. Since Martin Luther, more than anyone else, initiated the rise of Protestantism, numerous new publications will analyze his fascinating life and his influential thought. The fact remains, however, that anyone seeking to acquire an accurate understanding of the long-term effects of Luther’s reforming efforts cannot confine attention to the early decades of the Reformation or to the events of Luther’s lifetime. Some of the most distinctive and durable features of Lutheranism, the ecclesiastical tradition he founded, had not yet been fully worked out by the time of his death, and Luther himself was not the only significant force in the formation of the religious identity of his followers. There is a need for resources that facilitate the acquisition of a wider perspective, and so, in this book, I have brought together primary source documents from the first two and a half centuries of Lutheran history, illustrating how it evolved from its start in the Reformation up to the next major period of revolutionary change in Europe: the Enlightenment.

It is my hope that both theologians and historians will welcome the broader scope of this volume. For those who are interested primarily in issues of religious thought, the book covers not only the theology of Luther but also the further clarification of the confessional stance of Lutheranism achieved by the consensus reached in the Formula of Concord of 1577 and the important debates about doctrine and ethics that took place between Orthodox Lutherans, Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutheran Pietists during the seventeenth century. The wider focus of this document collection also fits with a trend among historians of early modern Europe toward study of the long-term transformations of society that took place between 1500 and 1750. It is common for historians today to speak of a process of confessionalization, which involved a gradual shift of attention within Protestant movements from the goal of removing burdensome religious and moral strictures toward the reassertion of social discipline and the enforcement of conformity to certain norms of belief. Some of the documents in this book are also relevant to the investigation of this process.

Unfortunately, historians and theologians who analyze the extended evolution of early modern religious movements often diverge considerably in the kind of documents they study. Some historians see little enduring significance in the subtle theological debates among Lutheran clergy and focus instead on changes in social structures and popular attitudes. Some theologians concentrate attention on the development of ideas with little awareness of or interest in the social circumstances that exerted pressures on those who contributed to the formulation of Lutheran doctrine. To bridge the gap between these discrepant preoccupations, each of which offers only a partial picture of Lutheranism, this anthology provides a wide range of documents that show what was happening simultaneously in the development of thought, ecclesiastical institutions, and popular piety.

The documents in this anthology fall into the following general categories:

texts providing biographical information about influential Lutheran leaders in their own words or those of their contemporaries;

documents presenting firsthand accounts of major events and trends in the institutional development of the Lutheran tradition;

significant statements of theological beliefs, including both official confessional documents and excerpts from influential treatises or books by individual theologians;

primary source materials illustrating features of popular religious life, including information about the experiences and perceptions of the common people and the ways they participated in the Lutheran churches through worship, personal devotion, and the administration of church discipline; and

texts describing how outsiders viewed the Lutheran tradition in its various stages of development and how the Lutherans viewed other religious groups with whom they coexisted.

I had two general criteria for the selection of texts. First, I sought to highlight developments that promoted cohesiveness among Lutherans and a common sense of identity across the centuries. Second, I wanted to acknowledge the presence of significant diversity within Lutheranism, in any given period and across the successive stages of its development. Certain theological topics will appear repeatedly throughout the chapters of this volume, revealing a perennial Lutheran preoccupation with issues such as the authority of the Bible, the proper distinction between law and gospel, the benefits of the saving work of Christ, the relation of faith and good works, the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, and the appropriate roles of clergy and laity. Readers will perceive much continuity in the treatment of these themes by writers across the centuries but will also see that these same issues have been perennial causes of sometimes mild and sometimes fierce conflicts among Lutherans. In the current day, when dealing with diversity in both church and society has become so central an issue, it is interesting for historian and theologian alike to observe how Lutherans have wrestled with this issue in the past both among themselves and in their relations with other Christian church traditions.

There is a basic chronological order to the organization of the chapters of this volume, although there is some overlap of time periods from chapter to chapter because of an additional thematic division. Some chapters are quite clearly theological in focus, while others are more oriented toward the description of historical events and the evolution of religious institutions. Although the complexity of historical development will be discerned more richly by reading these chapters together, anyone who is looking more exclusively for texts related to religious ideas or the role of religion in social life can fairly easily discern which chapters are most pertinent to his or her interests and focus just on those.

A focus on primary source materials is essential for the work of historical analysis, but often such materials are opaque and fragmentary until they have been interpreted and integrated by secondary sources. Therefore, each chapter in this volume begins with an essay intended to provide necessary background information and explanations of how all of the primary source documents on a particular topic relate to each other. Read together, these nine essays also provide a concise overview of the history of Lutheranism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment for those who are approaching the topic with little prior knowledge.

Because so many different kinds of material are included and so broad a period of time is covered in one volume, it has been necessary, more often than not, to provide excerpts rather than complete documents. There is, of course, a danger that selectivity of this sort will distort the reader’s impressions of the available historical evidence. Nevertheless, there is a justifiable trade-off in the adoption of this method. For general readers and for most students, many excerpted documents make it possible to gain an appreciation of multiple facets of the history of Lutheranism without being overwhelmed by less important details. For those who are inspired to read the complete texts (and have the skills to do so in the original languages), references to where the full documents can be found are provided with each selection, and a bibliography of secondary sources has been supplied at the end of the volume to facilitate further research.

Chapter one, which concerns Martin Luther and the early decades of the Lutheran movement, contains texts that are, with a few exceptions, available in the fifty-five-volume American edition of Luther’s Works (jointly published by Fortress Press and Concordia Publishing House). This chapter has the greatest overlap with already existing anthologies about the Reformation and Luther’s theological writings, but I have tried to organize the material in a different way. The chapter more or less condenses the whole corpus of the American edition of Luther’s works in order to show the full range of challenges that contributed to the development of his religious ideas and the reforms he proposed for church and society. A few of the best-known Luther texts, such as the Ninety-Five Theses against Indulgences and the three reform treatises of 1520, have been excluded or very minimally excerpted because they are so widely available in other document collections. In their place, the reader will find several lesser-known texts that cover some of the same topics. In addition to primary source materials revealing Luther’s personal development and the gradual emergence of his reform proposals, several documents reveal the perspectives of his many opponents.

Chapters two and three direct attention to the many individuals besides Luther himself who were responsible for the successful development of his reform movement. I have included texts that show how Luther’s close associates, such as Philip Melanchthon, Johann Bugenhagen, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Justus Jonas, Johannes Brenz, and Urbanus Rhegius contributed to the implementation of reform proposals in various localities in Germany. Supporters of Luther, ranging from well-educated scholars to simple laymen and women, used a wide range of genres to disseminate evangelical ideas and refute criticisms of Luther’s intentions or the implications of his beliefs. In the chapter on the dissemination of reform ideas, the reader will be able to see interesting contrasts between the subtleties of formal academic theology, the simpler messages contained in widely circulated pamphlet literature (Flugschriften), and the crude visual propaganda produced to leave an impression in the minds of even the illiterate. The chapter on the implementation of reform proposals consists primarily of excerpts from a variety of church orders (Kirchenordnungen). By providing English translations of some of the more interesting passages from these generally neglected resources, I wish both to draw attention to the fact that Lutheranism was embodied in several independent territorial churches and to give readers a feel for the kinds of issues that came up in local parishes during the formative period of Lutheranism.

Chapter four sets the stage for study of the developments that took place after Luther’s death by reviewing a hundred years of political events from the Schmalkald War to the Thirty Years’ War. The documents reveal an often-troubled social context that needs to be kept in mind in order to understand the attitudes of Lutherans and their religious rivals during the Late Reformation and the Age of Orthodoxy. Chapter five shows how these political struggles exposed differences of opinion and reforming strategy among Luther’s followers and prompted a series of intense theological debates that were finally resolved by the creation of a new, more elaborate Lutheran confession: the Formula of Concord.

The next two chapters cover roughly the same time period but show two very different aspects of Lutheranism. Chapter six concentrates on the scholarly Lutherans who continued the process of clarifying and defending true doctrine on into the seventeenth century, and chapter seven focuses on practical religious writings from the same period that offered guidance to a wider audience about the implications of Lutheran teachings for conduct in daily life. The juxtaposing of texts from seventeenth-century dogmatic theologians and devotional writers reveals the diversity of orientations that coexisted within Lutheranism during the Age of Orthodoxy. This should also raise questions about some of the caricaturing that still prevails in the all-too-brief summaries historians often provide concerning post-Reformation religious life.

The eighth chapter shows how tensions developing within Lutheranism during the Age of Orthodoxy led to the Pietist reform movement. The chronological cut-off point for this collection is the deaths of Johann Albrecht Bengel, the Württemberg Pietist, in 1752, and of his Orthodox critic, Valentin Löscher, in 1749. During the period of Pietism, advances in philosophy and science were also creating the first steps toward the development of the Enlightenment. The second volume of this documentary history will pick up the story again with the Enlightenment and show how that intellectual movement had a longstanding impact on the further evolution of Lutheranism.

Students in a course I taught for several years at St. Olaf College, The Lutheran Heritage, were exposed to ever-expanding versions of this book during the years it was in preparation. Much of this material was then published by Fortress Press in 2002 as Documents from the History of Lutheranism 1517–1750.  However, this first volume of the broader project to create a documentary history of five centuries of Lutheranism is different in several respects. A few documents have been dropped and others have been added. Some reviewers of the old version wished for more attention to the role of women in the development of Lutheranism, and I have made an effort to honor that request by including some new texts by or about women. The most significant change has been the addition of a chapter on the spread of Lutheranism into the Scandinavian kingdoms and the states of the Baltic. Readers will see the influence of Germany on these regions but also the local circumstances that produced different features in Scandinavian Lutheranism.

Many of the documents in this volume, except for those in the first chapter, have never been available before in English translation. In a few cases, nineteenth-century translations already existed, but I replaced them with new versions because their style was too archaic to appeal to students of the current generation. In all, there are ninety-four new English translations. I tried, as a general rule, to stick closely to the actual wording and syntax of the original texts, but there were many times when I felt it was necessary to subdivide long sentences and follow the spirit rather than the letter in order to make the text more readable. I am grateful for the willingness of several of my colleagues at St. Olaf College to give me advice on matters of translation. In particular, I wish to thank Karl Fink and William Poehlmann for reviewing some of my German translations, Anne Groton and James May for helping me with difficult Latin passages, and Solveig Zempel for offering suggestions about the translations from Norwegian and Danish. I take full responsibility, however, for any defects that remain in the final versions.

Abbreviations and Short Titles

The Life of Martin Luther: A Chronology

A Chronology of Lutheran History (1517–1750)


Crises and Controversies during Martin Luther’s Lifetime (1483–1546)

The Lutheran church is one of the few branches of Christianity commonly identified by the name of its founder. This was not as Martin Luther wished; he did not set out to create a new church. Soon after his reform efforts had produced a separate organization outside of the Roman Catholic Church, he even stated: I ask that men make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine (doc. #18). Nevertheless, Luther’s personality was so forceful and his ideas were so innovative for his era that the early development of this religious movement cannot be understood without a careful study of how this one individual responded to a series of crises and controversies during his lifetime.Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, the chief town of the territories ruled by the counts of Mansfeld. His pious parents, Hans and Margarete, presented him for baptism at their parish church on the following day and named him after Martin of Tours, the saint who is traditionally commemorated on that date. Although his ancestors were simple peasant farmers, Luther’s ambitious father spent his life working in the copper mining industry, for which that region was especially noted. Within a year of Martin’s birth, Hans moved the family to the town of Mansfeld, where he became a respected owner of mining shafts and smelting furnaces. Hans Luther, who apparently had never attended school himself, wished a better life for his son and sent Martin to schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Eisenach. In 1501 at the age of seventeen, Martin matriculated at the highly respected University of Erfurt, where he earned his baccalaureate in the liberal arts and his master’s degree in four years.

After graduating second in a class of seventeen, Luther followed his father’s advice and began to study for an advanced degree in law. On July 2, 1505, while he was returning to Erfurt from a visit to his parents, an incident took place that drastically redirected his life. Caught in a thunderstorm near the village of Stotternheim, Luther was terrified by the possibility of sudden death and prayed for help to Saint Anne, the patron saint of miners. Attempting to strike a kind of bargain with God, he also vowed that he would become a monk. To the great disappointment of his father, Luther followed through on this impetuous promise, abandoned his plan to become a lawyer, and entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt within two weeks. He took his monastic vows in the fall of 1506 and committed himself wholeheartedly to the challenging regimen of monastic life. In addition, he prepared to become a priest and was ordained, at the age of twenty-three, on April 3, 1507.

Luther developed a reputation as an exemplary monk, but severe fears and doubts about the state of his spiritual life repeatedly tormented him. His response to the thunderstorm was only one example of his perpetual anxiety about death and the prospect of facing the judgment of God. His decision to become a monk was predicated on the commonly held belief that this mode of life offered a safer path to salvation, yet all his ascetic practices and devotional activities failed to assure him that he was measuring up to the standards of holiness demanded by a just God. When he celebrated his first mass, he was overwhelmed by a sense of how unworthy he was to make Christ present in the Eucharist. He was also tortured by the thought that his decision to devote his life to serving God as a monk and a priest was in fact a violation of the fourth commandment that called for obedience to one’s parents. Frequent recourse to the sacrament of confession brought no lasting relief to his troubled mind. It even seemed to have the effect of intensifying his consciousness of moral imperfections.

Despite these symptoms of almost morbid sensitivity, Luther impressed his superior, Johannes von Staupitz, by his dedication and his intellectual gifts. In 1508, he was sent to the recently established University of Wittenberg in the duchy of Electoral Saxony to spend a year lecturing on Aristotelian ethics. At Wittenberg and Erfurt, he continued his studies toward a doctorate in theology and received the degrees that qualified him to lecture on the Bible and the standard medieval text for the study of doctrine, Peter Lombard’s Book of the Sentences. During the winter of 1510, Luther was sent to Rome to participate in negotiations prompted by a dispute between two branches of his religious order. In addition to defending the stricter standards commended by the Observant Augustinians, he took advantage of the opportunity to perform meritorious acts of piety at the holy places typically visited by pilgrims and to say mass in some of Rome’s most famous churches for the sake of his relatives in purgatory. Shortly after his return, he was sent once again to Wittenberg, which would remain his home for the rest of his life. In 1512, at the age of twenty-eight, Luther received his doctor’s degree and in the following year began his work as professor of biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg. He would continue in this role throughout all the tumultuous events of the following years and serve, in addition, as regular preacher at the city church.

Luther’s intense involvement in the study of the Bible for the sake of his lectures on Psalms (1513–15), Romans (1515–16), Galatians (1516–17), and Hebrews (1517–18) was both an enlightening and a disturbing experience for him. He continued to suffer his spiritual trials (Anfechtungen) as he struggled with the passages that spoke of the righteousness (justitia) of God revealed in both the law and the gospel. His despair over his own lack of righteousness drove him to feel anger toward God for setting such unattainable standards of holiness (doc. #5). As he studied the letters of the apostle Paul, however, he gradually developed a different understanding of how God relates to sinful humanity. Struck by the phrase, He who through faith is righteous shall live (Rom 1:17), Luther came to believe that the righteousness of God is revealed not in God justly giving sinners what they deserve but in setting things right by offering the gift of mercy and forgiveness through Christ. His personal spiritual crisis was resolved when he reached the conclusion that those who trust in God’s saving activity and live by faith find favor with God even though the influence of sin persists in their daily lives. The focus of Luther’s attention shifted from what God expects of humanity to how God has graciously rescued sinners who cannot save themselves.

Fig. 1.1. Portrait of Martin Luther (1528) by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Although Luther in later life sometimes spoke of a moment of breakthrough, seemingly around the time he began to lecture on Psalms for a second time in 1518 (doc. #5), there is evidence that he was on his way to his so-called Reformation discovery over a period of several years. It gradually dawned on him that there were discrepancies between the presuppositions of the scholastic theology he had been taught and the primary themes that caught his attention in the psalms and in the letters of Paul. In his lectures on Romans, Luther emphasized the depth of human sinfulness and disputed the common late-medieval claim that a person can, by his or her own power, love God above all things. He began to speak of the Christian as a sinner who is, nevertheless, at the same time righteous through faith by God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness (doc. #1). By September 1517, the foolishness of the pig-theologians so agitated Luther that he arranged for a public debate about the scholastics’ teachings concerning human nature and the process of salvation. In his Disputation against Scholastic Theology (doc. #2), he contended that the nominalist theologians of his day were deceived by the philosophy of Aristotle and simply wrong in their estimates of human ability to avoid sin or prepare for the reception of God’s grace. Despite the bluntness of Luther’s critique, this challenge to prevailing opinion did not get him into any immediate trouble.

Quite the opposite was the case with his effort in the following month to stimulate discussion about the church’s practice of offering indulgences for the remission of the penalty of sins. This issue more than any other stirred up the controversies that led to the eventual formation of a separate Lutheran church. In 1517, Pope Leo X had issued a bull authorizing an indulgence campaign to raise money for the building of a new church in Rome dedicated to St. Peter (doc #3). Those who made a donation to the church for this cause were promised the benefits of the treasury of merit, which the pope as holder of the keys of the kingdom felt authorized to dispense for the sake of both the living and the dead in purgatory. Archbishop Albrecht (Albert) of Mainz was persuaded to allow the indulgence preachers to circulate in Germany by being offered a share of the revenue, which he welcomed to help pay off the debts he had incurred when he had gained a papal dispensation allowing him to serve simultaneously as bishop of more than one diocese. When Luther became aware of how the Dominican friar Johann Tetzel was conducting the indulgence campaign in the villages near Wittenberg, he reached the conclusion that the sale of indulgences was detrimental to the encouragement of true Christian piety (doc. #4). As a professor, Luther’s first response was to call for an academic debate about this practice. He prepared ninety-five theses in Latin for this purpose and also brought them to the attention of Archbishop Albrecht in a letter he sent on October 31, 1517 (doc. #6). The archbishop and other church leaders became especially concerned when they learned of the circulation of the theses in German translation—printed in Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Leipzig, and Basel—among a wider lay audience. They suspected Luther of heresy and called for a more thorough investigation of his beliefs.

Pope Leo X ordered the head of the Augustinian order to make inquiries about this young monk, so Luther was asked to travel to Heidelberg in April 1518 to conduct a disputation for his monastic colleagues. The theses he prepared for this occasion (doc. #8) did not directly address the indulgence controversy. They focused instead on some of the same issues he had raised earlier in his Disputation against Scholastic Theology (doc. #2). In the next few months, Sylvester Prieras and several other theologians published defenses of church practice in response to the Ninety-Five Theses, prompting Luther in turn to elaborate on the reasons why he questioned the motives of the pope and doubted the pope’s authority to offer indulgences (docs. #7, 9, and 10). In October 1518, Luther journeyed to Augsburg for an interview with Cardinal Cajetan (doc. #11). He was asked to declare his loyalty to the pope, but he asserted his belief that the popes were not infallible teachers of theology and morals. He would not acknowledge that their decrees were as authoritative as the Bible. In July 1519, Luther addressed similar issues in a public debate in Leipzig with the Dominican theologian Johannes Eck (doc. #13). Informed of Luther’s stubborn defiance, Pope Leo X repeated his defense of the papal right to offer indulgence in the bull Cum Postquam and, finally, in June 1520 in the bull Exsurge Domine threatened Luther with excommunication if he failed to recant within sixty days (docs. #12 and 14). This ultimatum did not reach Luther until December 1520. In the meantime, he had boldly pressed forward with his efforts to reform the church by publishing three major treatises addressing the deeper issues that had surfaced in the debates of the past three years. In his Appeal to the German Nobility, published in August 1520, Luther attacked the hierarchical polity of the church and presented a long list of abuses he wanted to see corrected (doc. #15). Frustrated by the response he was getting from the pope and the clergy, Luther proclaimed the priesthood of all believers and justified the involvement of the laity in efforts to reform the church. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520) thoroughly addressed issues of sacramental practice, and The Freedom of a Christian (November 1520) clarified Luther’s objections to the synergistic theology of the scholastics and explained the role of faith and good works in the Christian life (doc. #31).

In April 1521, the emperor, Charles V, offered Luther a final hearing at the Diet of Worms. Refusing to violate his conscience by denying what he firmly believed to be a correct interpretation of Christian teachings, Luther defied the threats of both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, at the age of thirty-seven, he was declared guilty of treason and excommunicated from the church (docs. #16 and 17). Luther, however, escaped the usual fate of heretics and outlaws as a result of the intervention of his prince, Elector Friedrich (Frederick) the Wise, who hid him away in the remote Wartburg castle near Eisenach. For the next year, Luther occupied himself with the task of preparing a German translation of the Bible.

Fig. 1.2. Portrait of Friedrich III (1463–1525), the Wise, Elector of Saxony by Lucas Cranach the elder.

Although the most powerful church leaders felt threatened by Luther’s reform proposals, many people in Saxony and other regions of Germany welcomed his new vision of church and society. While Luther was in hiding, individuals who believed they were acting in accordance with Luther’s wishes advocated a rapid reorganization of religious life. Luther’s university colleague, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, abruptly changed the mode of worship in the churches of Wittenberg. Prophets from the town of Zwickau, claiming direct guidance by the Holy Spirit, arrived in Wittenberg and began to strip the churches of religious artwork. Disturbed by this violence and the possible confusion generated by hasty change, Luther came out of hiding in 1522 and attempted to impose a measure of restraint on the reform process. He disassociated himself from the activities of the insurrectionists and in his Invocavit Sermons called for the use of persuasion rather than force to change people’s minds (docs. #18, 20, and 21). Continuing to stress the Bible as the foundation of the church’s teachings, he charged that the revelations claimed by the prophets were actually from Satan and condemned their indiscriminate iconoclasm (docs. #19 and 22).

Having checked the influence of these radical reformers, Luther proceeded to introduce changes more slowly and cautiously. In 1523, he restored the custom of distributing both bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper but waited until 1526 to make German the language of the liturgy (docs. #75 and 76). Although he had rejected the value of monasticism as early as 1521, he continued to wear his monastic habit until 1524. Luther had spoken out against the requirement of clerical celibacy since 1520, but he did not marry until 1525, when at the age of forty-two he wedded Katharina von Bora, a twenty-six-year-old former nun.

Fig. 1.3. Portait of Katharina von Bora (1529) by the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

The problem of radical reformers who used force to implement religious and social change surfaced once again in the Peasants’ War, which affected several regions of Germany in 1524 and 1525. Extending the implications of Christian freedom about which Luther had often spoken, the leaders of the peasants demanded greater political rights and economic privileges (doc. #23). Some of them, such as Thomas Müntzer, a former associate of Luther, viewed the uprising as a holy war ordained by God and appealed to the Bible to justify the use of force against oppressive landowners (docs. #24 and 25). Once again, Luther counseled restraint. In his Admonition to Peace, he acknowledged the legitimacy of some of the peasants’ complaints about tyrannical lords but completely rejected their violent tactics and their use of religious rhetoric to support their cause (doc. #26). When the strife continued and worsened, Luther abandoned his initial, moderate approach and called upon the ruling authorities to use every means necessary to punish the peasants (doc. #27). He feared for the future of his religious reform movement if it got the reputation of stimulating social revolution. His sober estimates of human nature also convinced him that chaos was a greater danger than tyranny. With Luther’s blessing, the princes suppressed the rebellion and put several thousand peasants to death.

During this tumultuous period, Luther also engaged in a battle of words with one of the great intellectuals of his day, the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1469–1536). Although Erasmus had initially felt sympathy for some of the reforms Luther sought to introduce, he was offended by the reformer’s confrontational personality and increasingly disturbed by some of his theological teachings. For several years, Catholic church officials had urged Erasmus to speak out against Luther, but he had tried to avoid being drawn into a public debate. Finally, however, in 1524 he published his Diatribe on Free Will after reading what Luther had written about this issue. In Latin and German refutations of the papal bull Exsurge Domine, Luther had denied that the human will had the power to cooperate in any significant manner in the attainment of salvation (doc. #28). Erasmus claimed that Luther failed to recognize the complexity of this issue and could not reconcile his position with the presence in the Bible of many moral exhortations (doc. #29). In 1525, Luther vehemently responded to Erasmus in his lengthy treatise On the Bondage of the Will. He attacked the humanist for trying to avoid taking a clear stance on this important doctrinal issue, questioned his interpretation of many biblical passages, and argued that each individual’s salvation is solely determined by the hidden will of God (doc. #30).

During the 1520s, the interpretation of the Lord’s Supper also became a topic of extended debate. Luther had rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation but was alarmed by his encounters with other reformers who went further and denied that Christ was really present in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper (docs. #31 and 32). This was one of several issues that had led to a falling out between Luther and his colleague Karlstadt in 1523. Efforts to promote cooperation between reformers in Germany and Switzerland were also stymied by this issue. Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich and Johann Oecolampadius in Basel argued for a figurative or symbolic interpretation of the words of institution. In their minds, it was impossible for Christ’s body to be present with the elements of the Lord’s Supper because he had ascended to heaven. It was also inconceivable to them that Christ’s body could be present in more than one place at the same time, which Luther’s view seemed to require (docs. #34 and 36). In several polemical treatises written during the 1520s, Luther attacked the arguments of these fanatics and castigated them for making reason the criterion for deciding what God could and could not make happen. He argued for a more literal interpretation of the eucharistic phrase Take, eat, this is my body and asserted that, by virtue of the union of Christ’s divine and human natures, it was possible for his body to exist in both circumscribed and ubiquitous modes (docs. #32, 33, and 35). A final meeting between Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in October of 1529 failed to produce an agreement on this issue, thus dashing any hopes that the German and Swiss reformers could form a united front to face their Catholic enemies.

In the same year as the Marburg Colloquy, the second Diet of Speyer took place. The emperor, Charles V, had returned from a seven-year stay in Spain and, having emerged victorious from his war with France, was finally beginning to devote his attention to the religious divisions that had developed in the Holy Roman Empire. At the first Diet of Speyer of 1526, dealing with the threat of a Turkish invasion had seemed more urgent than enforcement of the Edict of Worms. In 1529, however, the emperor persuaded the majority of the estates to annul the recess of the preceding diet, thereby requiring the Lutherans to conform to Catholic theology and church practices (doc. #37). The Elector of Saxony, the Landgrave of Hesse, and the other princes who supported Luther’s reform movement sent a strong statement of protest to the emperor and made a secret agreement to form a Protestant union for their mutual defense (docs. #38 and 39). The use of the term Protestant to identify the churches that grew out of the sixteenth-century reform movements derives from this new development in 1529. Luther expressed reservations about the formation of such a union, especially if it included parties with divergent theological views (doc. #40). The need to raise money from the princes to finance a new war against the Turks prompted the emperor to summon the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, at which he gave the Protestants another opportunity to work toward a religious settlement. The Elector of Saxony asked Luther and his associates to prepare a document for this diet, summarizing the Lutheran position on various disputed issues (doc. #41). Luther’s closest colleague, Philip Melanchthon, carried out this assignment on their behalf and produced the so-called Augsburg Confession, which emphasized the similarities between Catholic and Lutheran beliefs more than the differences (doc. #42). Despite its conciliatory tone, the emperor and the Catholic estates pronounced this confession of faith unacceptable and demanded that the Lutherans return to the Catholic church by April 1531. Faced with new indications of the emperor’s readiness to crush the reform movement, the Lutheran princes took the additional step of banding together with Strassburg (Strasbourg), Ulm, and some other south German cities to form a defensive military alliance, the Schmalkald League. In this new and dangerous situation, Luther modified his opposition to armed resistance and argued that it was not sedition or rebellion for the princes to defend themselves against the murderous and bloodthirsty papists (doc. #43).

The future looked grim, and Luther in his final years often felt that he was living through the troubles that the Bible associated with the end of the world (doc. #44). Already struggling with a number of chronic illnesses, he now confronted new quarrels and complicated problems that seemed at times to wear out his patience and impair his good judgment. There were encouraging moments of progress such as the Peace of Nürnberg of 1532, in which the emperor made temporary concessions to the Lutherans, and the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, an agreement between the south and north German reformers about the Lord’s Supper and the other sacraments (doc. #45), but Luther was angered and frustrated by controversies involving some of his closest theological and political allies. Influenced by the distinction Luther made between law and gospel (doc. #46), Johann Agricola, one of his colleagues in Wittenberg, began to argue that it was no longer necessary to preach the law to people who had been converted by the gospel. Beginning in 1537, Luther conducted several disputations on this question and stressed that as long as Christians lived in this world they should hear the preaching of the law in order to prevent the rise of complacency (docs. #47 and 48). Luther worked to block Agricola’s appointment as rector of the University of Wittenberg and was permanently alienated from him because of this antinomian controversy. Shortly thereafter, in 1540, Luther faced the dilemma of deciding how to counsel the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who felt caught in an unhappy marriage and was carrying on an affair with another woman. Considering bigamy preferable to adultery, Luther gave his approval to a second marriage between this influential ruler and his mistress, as long as it was kept secret. Later, however, he regretted this action when the arrangement came to the attention of the emperor and raised questions about the moral values of the reformers (doc. #49).

Throughout all these troubled years, Luther maintained some hope for an eventual reconciliation between his reform movement and the Catholics. The pope repeatedly postponed the general council that Luther had long requested, but delegations of Catholic and Protestant theologians resumed discussions of disputed issues. In 1541, the most conciliatory participants at the Colloquy of Regensburg, including Philip Melanchthon, the representative of the Lutherans, thought they had produced a statement on the doctrine of justification that spoke of faith and works in a manner acceptable to all sides, but both Luther and the pope considered the formula too ambiguous and rejected it (docs. #50, 51, and 52).

Luther’s deep mistrust of the church leaders in Rome reflected his growing conviction that the pope, the Turks, the Jews, and the radical reformers were all enemies of God, being used by Satan in a final battle against the true church of Christ (doc. #55). He condemned the Muslims for honoring Muhammad above Christ and argued that the true god of the Turks was the devil (doc. #53). Luther had expected that his efforts to reform the church would remove the obstacles that stood in the way of Jewish conversions to Christianity. When this did not take place, he became convinced that the Jews were hardened in their ways. In 1543, in his worst display of intemperance, Luther responded to rumors of Jewish proselytizing among Christians by recommending the destruction of their synagogues and the silencing of their rabbis (doc. #54).

At the age of sixty-two, Luther described himself as old, decrepit, [and] bereft of energy. Nevertheless, he kept up a hectic schedule of teaching, preaching, and consulting with his associates in order to advance and stabilize the reform movement he had created. In the middle of the winter and despite his frail health, he traveled eighty miles to Eisleben, his birthplace, to help settle a feud between the two counts of Mansfeld. There, on February 18, 1546, he died of an apparent heart attack. His body was returned to Wittenberg and buried in front of the pulpit in the Castle Church.

The Call for Reform

1. Luther: Lectures on Romans (1515–1516)

Luther’s lectures on Romans were not published during his lifetime. They are known from his own handwritten manuscript and from a number of student notebooks. Luther dictated explanatory comments on words and phrases (glosses), which the students wrote into their copies of the biblical text. He occasionally added more extended discussions of passages (scholia) such as the following, which shows some of his early criticisms of scholastic theology.

From LW 25:260–63, trans. J. A. O. Preus; cf. WA 56:274–75.

Scholia on Romans 4:7, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.

. . . Therefore, act of sin (as it is called by the theologians) is more correctly sin in the sense of the work and fruit of sin, but sin itself is the passion, the tinder (fomes), and the concupiscence, or the inclination, toward evil and the difficulty of doing good.......

Experience bears witness that in whatever good work we perform, this concupiscence toward evil remains, and no one is ever cleansed of it, not even the one-day-old infant. But the mercy of God is that this does remain and yet is not imputed as sin to those who call upon him and cry out for his deliverance. For such people easily avoid also the error of works, because they so zealously seek to be justified. Thus in ourselves we are sinners, and yet through faith we are righteous by God’s imputation. For we believe him who promises to free us, and in the meantime we strive that sin may not rule over us but that we may withstand it until he takes it from us.

It is similar to the case of a sick man who believes the doctor who promises him a sure recovery and in the meantime obeys the doctor’s order in the hope of the promised recovery and abstains from those things that have been forbidden him, so that he may in no way hinder the promised return to health or increase this sickness until the doctor can fulfill his promise to him. Now is this sick man well? The fact is that he is both sick and well

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