An engaging study of a short but explosive period in the life of the great reformer and translator of the Bible.
Woodrow Wilson International Center senior scholar Reston (The Accidental Victim: JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Real Target in Dallas, 2013, etc.) immerses himself in the life of Martin Luther (1483-1546) with a contagious energy, drawing readers into the complexities of this fraught period of religious conflict without getting lost in the research. Luther’s role as a “contrarian” gave impetus to the movement that would take his name, and his many revolutionary actions included abandoning his legal studies to become a monk (thereby alienating his father) and nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Imperial Church in Wittenberg in 1517. The act of publicly denouncing the sale of “indulgences,” among other venal policies of the Catholic Church, caused an immediate counteroffensive from the pope, who tried to lure him to Rome and excommunicated him. Nonetheless, Luther hardened his positions, questioning even the validity of Catholicism’s sacraments, the demand of celibacy from priests and the need for good works in attaining heavenly salvation rather than “by faith alone.” After a bruising interrogation by Charles V’s minions at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther was quietly removed from peril and sheltered by pro-reform sympathizer Elector Frederick the Wise at his Wartburg Castle, where Luther lived in disguise and wrote prodigiously. His correspondence to fellow scholars and advisers would help hone his ideas and inform his translations of the New Testament. While he was wrestling over these months with Satan, as he wrote, his radicalized rival Gabriel Zwilling and others took the rebellion to violent levels, prompting Luther to re-emerge and re-establish control of his flock with new clarity. In a swift-moving narrative, Reston examines all of the aspects of this tumultuous time for the reformer.
An intensive journey inside Luther’s thinking as it was forming in opposition to the church.