in The Personal Luther

In 2006, at a Washington, d.c. meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Lyndal Roper and I sat down after a session devoted to her book, Witch craze. Terror and fantasy in Baroque Germany.1 We each desired to know what the other was working on now. She gasped when I said that I was writing about Luther’s body. It quickly came out that we shared similar interests and comparable intentions. As mature historians and congenial colleagues, we quickly realized that the results of our researches would be entirely different. Her labors of a decade have resulted in a full-fledged biography of great length. It has been published in Great Britain and will appear in America in March 2017. At my initial drafting of this manuscript, I had not yet seen it. I acknowledge, nevertheless, the stimulus and model of her scholarship. For my part, I tended to steer away from producing a book that focused as closely as I had thought on Luther’s physicality, and images of physicality, per se. I had thought about Luther for forty years, and each time I read in—one hardly reads the whole of D. Martin Luthers Werke—the definitive Weimar edition, I found my attention drawn to topics that constituted recurring themes throughout the great Reformer’s massive opus, or should I say corpus. Beginning in the 1980s, I began to write in a desultory way, as conference papers and lectures, inasmuch as I working on other subjects for book-length treatments: Luther’s sexuality, his relationship with his wife, his practice of fatherhood. These papers in extended and modified form are included here with the kind permission of their original publishers. Owing to historiographic currents around me, I increasingly thought about other themes that were, I realized, all at least obliquely related to Luther’s emotions as well as other dimensions of his personal existence. During 2015–2016, when I was on sabbatical leave, a series of further essays emerged from my word-processor. This small book is the product of those explorations of Luther’s mentality against the background of his times and the events around him that engaged his attention. It draws very much on that cultural history that has grown up around me in the historians’ profession. I share the effort of many Anglophone and other colleagues to place even abstruse thought within a context of broad cosmic view and social practice. We have all drawn some inspiration from other disciplines. I salute my predecessor and late colleague in the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies, the eminent Heiko A. Oberman, for his insistence that the year 1500 marked no break in European history, before which allegedly lay Catholic uniformity and ahead of which lay all the praiseworthy marks of modernity: respect for the individual including womankind, universal literacy, democracy, enlightenment, and capitalism. Luther was a late medieval man. Most of the changes that he may unwittingly have helped to shape entirely got away from him in successive generations and would have been hateful to him. They violated sixteenth-century values. Insofar as it is possible for a twenty-first century person to wrest herself free of her own value system, this is a ten-segment depiction of a man from another era. Luther was not from Mars, however. We can all relate to his profound humanness as he desperately sought ultimate truths for his own wellbeing and then to make these available to his contemporaries for their consolation too, he was sure. Along with his faults, he possessed distinct intellectual, spiritual, and social gifts.

I have not shunned the first-person singular pronoun. Its avoidance in the past was meant to enhance the claims of the author and the publisher to objective authority. We have now abandoned those claims in favor of authorial subjectivity; we cannot escape that reality.2 When my own experience has borne on a matter under discussion, I have not hesitated to include it.

I did not have to wander from archive to archive in preparing this study, in marked contrast to the preparation of others of my books. I thus owe fewer debts of gratitude to institutions: to Portland State University Library for early research on female sexuality in Luther’s thought; to Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, which owns the only hard copy of the Weimarer Ausgabe in the Portland area (there was no internet then); to the University of Arizona Libraries, including the Special Collections Library; to the Herzog August Bibliothek, whose staff know what scholars need and provide it; to the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, in whose reading room on Unter den Linden I wrote and wrote while on leave; and to the library of the Theologische Fakultät at Humboldt University, Berlin.

I extend my deep personal thanks to Ute Lotz-Heumann and Maria Luisa Betterton, who create an incomparable work environment by all that they do and are; they make me happy to come to the office.

The Personal Luther

Essays on the Reformer from a Cultural Historical Perspective