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Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

ISBN: 978-0-88295-231-4
139 pages
January 2005, ©2005, Wiley-Blackwell
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The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed a transition in the history of Western Civilization, during which the world of medieval Christendom began to give way to a new world order. Western medieval civilization—a synthesis of classical humanism and Judeo-Christianity—was overseen by the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. People of the day believed in an orderly universe created by God and a great chain of being. This secure hierarchy was shattered when scientists, philosophers, and theologians began to explore the world around them with new eyes. Meanwhile, a number of national monarchs sought control of the church within their territories in order to secure a strong, unified nation-state apart from the influence of the Roman church. One avenue to control was provided for these monarchs by the Reformation, begun in 1517 by the obscure German monk Martin Luther. Because of his personal experience, reflection, and study of scripture, this religious scholar revised his Catholic faith to the alarm and contempt of Rome. Before long, Luther was accused of heresy, and the Reformation was underway.

In this concise and thoughtfully prepared volume, Paul Waibel introduces readers to Luther with a brief biography followed by chapters that address why Luther chose to risk his life by challenging the authority of the papacy. Next, Luther’s most important Reformation writings are considered in chronological order. Among the writings discussed are his The Ninety Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Concerning the Reform of the Christian Church, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, The Freedom of the Christian, and The Bondage of the Will, as well as his two most controversial publications, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants and On the Jews and Their Lies, which some books on Luther gloss over or ignore.

In this highly readable and thoughtfully prepared volume, Dr. Waibel provides a brief and accessible introduction to one of the most influential persons in European and church history, making it an ideal supplement to wide variety of courses including World and Western Civilization, European History, Renaissance and Reformation, and, naturally, the History of Religion and Christianity. The appendix provides an annotated list of Luther’s extensive writings.

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Foreword vii

Chapter One Martin Luther, 1483-1546 1

Reformer 7

Church Leader 22

Summary 25

Key Events 26

Chapter Two Salvation in the Late Middle Ages 27

Salvation in the Early Church 27

Salvation in the Medieval Church 28

Salvation in the Late Medieval Church 30

Luther’s Understanding of Salvation 33

Summary 35

Key Events 35

Portraits 36

Chapter Three The Ninety-Five Theses 37

Background 37

The Ninety-Five Thesis 41

Content of the Ninety-Five Thesis 42

Significance 46

Summary 47

Key Events 48

Chapter Four The Three Treatise of 1620 49

To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Church (1520) 52

The Babylonian captivity of the Church (1520) 56

The Freedom of the Christian (1520) 61

Significance 65

Summary 65

Key Events 66

Chapter Five The Bondage of the Will 67

The Battle of Wills 72

Luther and The Bondage of the Will 76

Significance 79

Summary 80

Key Events 81

Chapter Six Against the Peasants and the Jews 83

Luther and the Peasants 84

Luther and the Jews 93

Assessment 100

Summary 101

Key Events 102

Postscript

Martin-Luther: An Assessment 103

Appendix

Annotated Chronology of Luther’s 109

Reformation Writings

Bibliographical Note 133

Index 135

Maps

Town’s of Luther’s Germany, circa 1530 xii

Divisions of Religions, circa 1560 108

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Paul R. Waibel is professor of history at Belhaven College. He is the author of Politics an Accommodation (1983), Quick-notes: Christian History (2000), and with Michael D. Richards, Twentieth-Century Europe: A Brief History, (1999, 2005) as well as numerous articles and reviews in scholarly journals, periodicals, reference works, and anthologies. Professor Waibel holds degrees in history from Lynchburg College, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University. He was a Fullbright-Hayes Scholar at the University of Bonn, Germany, and an NEH Fellow at UC Berkeley.

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