Until 1814, Norway was under Danish rule, and the story of Luther’s reception in Norway is included in the story of Luther’s reception in Denmark (cf. Niels Henrik Gregersen’s article on Luther in Denmark). The Reformation was introduced in Norway in 1536 along with Danish rule and loss of Norwegian national sovereignty. Most pastors—some Danes, but gradually also more Norwegians—were educated at the University of Copenhagen and were strongly influenced by the training they received there.
In the period of national awakening in the 19th century, national identity and Lutheran identity were more difficult to combine in Norway than in neighboring Lutheran countries like Denmark, Sweden, or Germany. This period lasted quite long after 1814 until a specific tradition for Luther’s reception was established in Norway. Along with the Luther renaissance in Germany and Sweden in the 1920s and 1930s, a new interest in Luther and the Reformation also emerged in Norway. Luther texts (primarily texts from his early career) were translated into Norwegian, a Luther Society was established, and the first academic dissertation dealing with Luther’s theology was published. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in Denmark/Norway, a comprehensive collection of essays was published in 1937 in order to reintroduce Luther and Reformation topics into religious and public debate. After World War II, scholarly research on Luther gradually increased in importance, and several Luther dissertations were published in international languages during the second half of the 20th century. In 1979 to 1983, six volumes of Luther’s writings were translated into Norwegian.
Pietism, the major Protestant renewal movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, sought to bring the head into the heart, to recover an experiential-expressive faith, to continue Luther’s reform of doctrine with reform of Christian living, to complete justification by sanctification. Hence Pietism understood itself as “the Second Reformation,” as the “church always reforming.”
The leading figures of Lutheran Pietism understood themselves as true followers of Luther. Johann Arndt’s True Christianity (1605–1610), one of the most influential writings of early modern Protestantism, appealed to the young Luther’s esteem for late medieval mysticism, and emphasized Christian religious experience. Philipp Jakob Spener, “the Father of Pietism,” wrote the programmatic tract for Lutheran Pietism, Pious Desires (1675), as a “foreword” to a collection of Arndt’s sermons. Spener, who had extensive knowledge of Luther’s writings, called for improved pastoral formation and increased lay participation in the church (priesthood of all believers) through gatherings for prayer and Bible study (collegia pietatis). He supported his program by appeal to Luther’s emphasis upon living, active faith in Luther’s “Preface to Romans” and “Preface to the German Mass.” Unlike “radical Pietists,” who despairing of renewal separated from the established church, Spener was convinced that God would provide “better times” for the church as it was renewed from within (the ecclesiola in ecclesia).
Spener’s call for spiritual and ethical renewal, praxis pietatis, was sharpened by his follower, August Hermann Francke. Francke’s struggles with doubts of God led to his conversion experience in 1687, his so-called Busskampf, experienced as a rebirth. From this Francke introduced into Pietism the concern for a once-for-all datable conversion or rebirth that would initiate a life of progressive sanctification. Francke’s new emphasis upon progressive sanctification toward perfection departed significantly from Luther’s dialectical theology, which understood the Christian as sinner and righteous as the same time (simul iustus et peccator). On the other hand, Francke continued Luther’s emphasis upon the Bible and strove to make the Bible as accessible as possible to the laity. A professor of biblical languages at the new University of Halle, Francke corrected the Luther translation through his own highly skilled historical-philological exegesis and in the process influenced succeeding generations of biblical scholars.
A third-generation Pietist leader, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, one of Francke’s students at the University of Halle, created a vibrant Pietist community on his estate when he welcomed Protestant refugees from Moravia in 1722. Although not a trained theologian like his predecessors Spener and Francke, Zinzendorf followed the Lutheran emphasis upon atonement as the basis for justification before God. He supplemented Luther’s theology of the cross with his experiential “heart-religion” (Herzensreligion); Christians must have Christ in their hearts, not just their heads.
Lutheran Pietists used Luther selectively to advance their understanding of the practice of piety.
From the outset, Catholic interest in the life and work of Martin Luther stemmed from ecumenical inquiry as the 19th century ended. The Catholic research concerned with Luther that followed in the 20th century is one of the driving forces of the international ecumenical movement and arose as Catholic theologians made their first hesitant approaches to international ecumenical efforts surrounding the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam. At first restricted essentially to Germany and German-speaking regions, a specific methodology for approaching the Reformation developed which gradually began to determine ecumenical methodology in international Lutheran–Catholic dialogue. The methodology of differentiating consensus, ultimately developed and applied in today’s Lutheran–Catholic dialogue, frees the approach of dialogical theology when applied to each particular confessional theology to overcome the effect of inherent confessional distinctions and to prepare the way for mutual understanding of the message of justification in the gospel of Jesus Christ, without eliminating particular confessional aspects and emphases.
As a result, neither the theology of Martin Luther nor that of the Council of Trent proves to be an insurmountable impediment to dialogue. Surprisingly, the results of this research have not been restricted to theology and ecumenical dialogue; rather, they continue to be at least implicitly received by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the popes since the Second Vatican Council.
Today, Catholic doctrine can speak of Martin Luther as a witness to Jesus Christ, a teacher of theology, and a Catholic reformer, without the 16th-century condemnations having yet been revised. The reconsideration of Martin Luther by Catholic theologians demonstrates a capacity for reform and points the way to overcoming the contentious theological gestalt of Catholic theology altogether. In this respect, the shape of Catholic theology today shows the influence of Martin Luther’s Reformation.
Carl Axel Aurelius
In the Swedish history of Christian thought there are various interpretations of the Reformation and of Martin Luther and his work. In the 17th century, Luther predominately stood out as an instrument of God’s providence. In the 18th century, among the pietists, he was regarded as a fellow believer, in the 19th century as a hero of history, and in the 20th century during the Swedish so-called Luther Renaissance as a prophet and an interpreter of the Gospel. This does not necessarily mean that the interpretations of Luther merely reflect the various thought patterns of different epochs, that whatever is said about Luther is inevitably captured by the spirit of the time. The serious study of Luther’s writings could also lead to contradictions with common thought patterns and presuppositions. One could say that Luther’s writings have worked as “classics,” not merely confirming the status quo but also generating new patterns of thought and deed, making him something rather different than just a name, a symbol, or a flag, which sometimes have been assumed. And one can only hope that his writings will continue to work in the same way in years to come. Anyway the reception of the Lutheran heritage in Sweden is well worth studying since it in some ways differs from the reception in other Evangelic countries.
Luther was a point of reference in all three of the confessional cultures during the confessional age, though this was not something he had intended. His theological “self-fashioning” was not meant to secure, canonize, or stabilize his own works or his biography. Rather, he believed, and was convinced, that the hidden God rules in a strange way. He hides himself in the course of the world and realizes what we would have liked to realizes. Apart from this theological viewpoint, historiographic differentiation is needed: Luther had different impacts on each of the three confessions. Furthermore, one also has to differentiate between a deep impact and the unintended effects of Luther’s thinking. Luther was an extremely polarizing figure. From the beginning, he underwent a heroization and a diabolization by his contemporaries. Apart from this black-and-white reception of his person, it was, and still is, extremely difficult to analyze Luther, his work and medial effects. Historians have always been fixated on Luther: he was the one and only founder of Protestantism. His biography became a stereotype of writing and was an important element of Protestant (or anti-Protestant) identity politics. For some Protestants, his biography became identical with the history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte). For his enemies, his biography was identical with the history of the devil.
In all historical fields, one has to differentiate between the different groups and people who protected or attacked Luther or shared his ideas. The history of Luther can only be written as a shared history with conflict and concordances: the so-called Anabaptists, for example, shared Luther’s antihierarchical ideal of Christian community, although on the other hand “they” were strongly opposed toward his theology and person. Luther or example, had conflicts with the humanists and with Erasmus especially; he argued about the Lord’s Supper with Zwingli, he criticized the Fuggers because of their financial transactions in an early capitalist society; and, last but not least, he was in conflict with the Roman Church. The legitimization of different pictures of Luther always depends upon the perspectives of the posterity: either Luther was intolerant against spiritualists, Anabaptists, or peasants who were willing to resort to violence; or he was defended by humanists like Sebastian Castellio for defending religious tolerance. During his lifetime Luther was an extremely polarizing figure. Hundreds of pro-Lutheran and polemical anti-Lutheran leaflets or texts were published. The many literary forms of parody, satire, caricature, the grotesque, and the absurd were cultivated during the confessional age. Luther’s biography was often used by Lutheran theologians as an instrument of heroization and identity politics in public discourse.
Historically, one can differentiate between the time before and after Luther. The political and religious unity of the Holy Roman Empire was strongly disturbed, if not broken, through the Reformation. The end of the Universalist dreams of universal powers like theology and politics (pope and emperor) were some of the central preconditions for political, cultural, and theological differentiation of Europe. Religious differentiation was one of the unintended effects of theology and the interpretation of the scripture. Decades after Luther’s death, the Holy Roman Empire slowly and surprisingly turned into a poly-, multi- and interconfessional society.
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
It is by now a well-established fact that Martin Luther never intended to start a new church. He grounded his reforming and theological claims in the universally acknowledged canon of Scripture and decisions of the Early Church. Despite the fundamentally ecumenical intention of the Augsburg Confession and many overtures toward reconciliation, Luther and his colleagues were unable to reverse the divisive impact of their reforms. In the 20th century, however, the twin processes of establishing a worldwide Lutheran fellowship and participating in the nascent ecumenical movement after 1910 prompted Lutherans toward a fresh appreciation of Augsburg Confession, Article 7 and the universal quality of Luther’s theology. This can be seen already in the constituting assembly of the Lutheran World Convention in 1923, where Bishop Ludwig Ihmels made a case for Lutheran ecumenism on the grounds of Lutheranism’s cultural adaptability, commitment to the dogmas of the Ancient Church, and Christocentric focus. Lutherans were accordingly significant figures in the multilateral process during the first half of the 20th century, with Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom serving as head of Life and Work, and American Lutherans pushing for confessional rather than national membership in the World Council of Churches. The newly constituted Lutheran World Federation undertook its first theological study in the 1950s on the topic of “The Unity of the Church,” continuing to affirm a double commitment to Lutheran confessional identity and ecumenical reconciliation. Ecumenism underwent a dramatic change as a result of the new involvement of the Catholic Church following Vatican II, a change that suited Lutherans well. The new focus was on bilateral dialogue, resolving the specific difficulties between two churches. While ecumenical efforts have mostly been directed toward outlining areas of doctrinal consensus and removing obstacles to visible and structural unity, in certain dialogues the person and work of Luther himself has been at the center of the conversation. This can be seen most clearly in the dialogue with Catholics on the Reformation legacy, with the Eastern Orthodox prompting a reassessment of Luther’s teaching on union with Christ, and with Mennonites in narrating the painful history of Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists.
From late 1517 into early 1521 Catholic theologians and church officials examined Luther’s publications for erroneous doctrines and to weigh the gravity of his heterodoxies. Pope Leo X issued on June 15, 1520, the official censure, in Exsurge Domine, of forty-one positions Luther had advanced, under qualifications as “dangerous,” “erroneous,” or “heretical.” The ranking academic body of Europe, the University of Paris, added on April 15, 1521, its Determinatio that Luther was advancing erroneous or heretical positions in 104 positions lifted from his works.
On the way to these judgments, the Dominicans Johann Tetzel, Sylvester Prierias, and Cardinal Cajetan played roles, as did the university theologians of Louvain and Cologne, while Johann Eck contributed significantly to Exsurge Domine. The censures, however, lacked clarity in presenting Luther and his doctrine, since they listed his errant propositions unsystematically and with little precision on their gravity. From them remained the fact of Luther’s condemnation.
German Catholic pamphleteers of 1518–1530 sketched Luther as subverting authorities, both civil and ecclesial. Eck’s handbook of Catholic defenses (1525) added traits of Luther’s revival of Manichaean heresies and opening the doctrinal field to the frenzied Karlstadt, Zwingli, and Anabaptists. Johannes Cochlaeus chronicled Luther’s life and works amply, with readings in the worst light, from which Catholics for centuries were schooled to perceive Luther as ever-changing but thoroughly pestilential in his impact on both church and world.
The Age of Enlightenment made an epochal paradigm shift in the assessment of Luther. This upheaval is exemplified in brief case studies from the literature, historiography, and theology of that period. These studies show that the German Enlightenment overcame the fixation on Luther’s theology, which was limited to its own time, while it formed a structural discipleship—doing in that context what Luther had done in his—of Luther. In this way, it could recognize its own historical responsibility with critical autonomy while still invoking Luther’s spirit and character.
Adam S. Francisco
The geographical extension of Islam into Christian lands generated a wide variety of responses and a tremendous amount of consternation amidst its subject and neighboring populations. This was the case in the early centuries of Islam as well as the age of Ottoman expansion into Europe at the time of the Protestant reformation. Just as the conflict between Martin Luther and the papacy was beginning, the issue of how Europe should respond to the military campaigns of the Turks in Hungary became increasingly paramount. Luther was initially aloof to the matter. But the farther the Turks moved up the Danube River basin toward Vienna, and the more he heard about the pope clamoring for a crusade and German preachers expressing ambivalence toward and sometimes preference for the Turk, the more he was pressed to address the issue of war with the Ottomans. Unsurprisingly, given his view of the secular realm, he came out strongly in favor of war, for in his mind it was just. He continued to support every preparation for it so long as it was not construed as a crusade. He also believed that physical warfare was not enough. It had to be accompanied by the spiritual disciplines of prayer and repentance. About the time of the siege of Vienna, Luther also began to view the Turkish threat as an apocalyptic threat. He was convinced that the rise of the Turks was foretold in the eschatological prophecies in scripture, especially Daniel 7. He also believed that, while the Turks would be successful for a time, their days were numbered as the last days were soon approaching. Until then, Christians needed to be warned about the dangers of Islam. He had heard and read that many Christians who ended up in the Ottoman Empire eventually became Muslims. So he spent most of his energy in writing about and inquiring into the theology and culture of the Turks for the purpose of encouraging and equipping Christians to resist it. Some of his work was practical and pastoral. His later work was polemical and apologetical. Throughout it all, he remained committed to making as much information on Islam available as possible. This culminated in his involvement in the publication of a Latin translation of the Qur’ān in 1543, a work that was included in the first collection of texts relating to Islam to ever be printed.
Martin Luther was engaged with the topic “Jews and Judaism” all his life, from his earliest works until his last. The main context for his preoccupation with this topic was interpretation of Holy Scripture, particularly in his many and ample lectures on books of the Old Testament, starting with the “Dictata supra Psalterium,” his first lecture on the Psalms (1513‒1515), down to his “Lecture on the Book of Genesis” (1535‒1545). In addition, he wrote several treatises on the question of how Christian society should relate to the Jews living in its midst, most important, “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew” (1523) and “On the Jews and Their Lies” (1543). These writings were, however, to a large extent also exegetical works. Altogether Luther’s attitude toward the Jews and Judaism is characterized simultaneously by continuity and by radical change: (1) continuity is obvious in his theological statements on Judaism which were based on a certain hermeneutics of the Old Testament centered in the Messiahship of Jesus Christ; and (2) change in his demands regarding the treatment of contemporary Jews which in earlier years followed his conception of the Two Kingdoms whereas in later times he came back to the traditional ideal of corpus Christianum. This change led to contradictory receptions of his statements on the topic in the course of history. All this is reflected in the research on the subject since the beginning of modern historical scholarship.