LUTHER: A Life by John M. Todd


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A bland, badly written, slow-moving popular biography. The tolerant atmosphere of this ecumenical age has made it possible, as never before, to do justice to the contradictory, hotly controversial figure of Luther (see, for example, H. G. Halle's Luther, 1980). But Todd's approach to the great Reformer is so uncontroversial, so perfunctory and fiat, that the reader may wonder what all the fuss has been about in the 465 years since Luther posted--or, more likely, didn't post--his 95 theses on the castle church at Wittenberg. Todd (who did a better, more scholarly and specialized study of Luther in 1964) begins with the casual remark that Luther ""changed the face of Europe as radically as Napoleon."" But then without explaining how this was so, he wades into a dutiful, dullish retelling of Luther's life (even the Diet of Worms becomes a throwaway scene), lamely concluding in his very last paragraph that ""Of Luther himself it is impossible to speak summarily."" Luther, it seems, was a complex character (loved by some, hated by others, etc.) who somehow started a revolution by reworking what Todd calls, in an impossible phrase, ""the European Myth."" (Why not just ""Christianity""?) Bothersome as this blurry focus is, Todd's prose is worse. He speaks of ""the crucial semitic dimension of the Psalms,"" of the Emperor Maximilian's ""getting iller and older,"" of Abraham, ""the great originating Jew-hero."" Finally, though this is doubtless not Todd's fault, the text is littered with misprints, especially in Latin. Newcomers to Luther would be best advised to steer clear of Todd and try Roland Bainton's Here I Stand (1950)--a partisan work, to be sure, but with a much livelier, flesh-and-blood sense of its turbulent subject.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1982
Publisher: Crossroad