Summary and Keywords
Luther’s life in the years after 1525 was relatively placid in comparison to the turbulence he experienced between the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses and his marriage to Katharina von Bora in 1525. To be sure, there were events and controversies aplenty, and many of them impacted the circumstances of his daily life, altered or sharpened the focus of his theological work, and influenced the shape his movement would take after his death. He remained to the end a central figure in both church and civil affairs, supporting the evangelical reform of the European churches and offering his advice—and his criticism—to any who would listen. Limitations on his travel resulting from the Edict of Worms made him a sideline player at the Augsburg Diet of 1530, but he contributed crucially to Evangelical identity through his two catechisms of 1529, as well as the Smalcald Articles he wrote to define and defend Evangelical faith and practice. The elder Luther also assumed a leading role in Wittenberg’s university. He was its most famous professor as well as its most powerfully creative thinker. In 1535 he became dean of its faculty as well. As dean, he presided over a number of important disputations dealing with such issues as ecclesiology, Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity. He also remained little Wittenberg’s most famous and influential person, eclipsing in many ways even his own prince electors. People of low status and high sought out Dr. Luther for advice of every kind. Informally, he became a powerful patron. Luther continued as well to lecture and publish theological works during this period, notably biblical “commentaries” (typically based on classroom lectures), a treatise on the church and one on the papacy, and a harsh series of treatises against the Jews. He remained the most influential contributor to Evangelical self-understanding, opposing, for example, both the Anti-trinitarian thinkers outside his movement (Servetus, Campanus) and the antinomian thinkers within it (Agricola). The German Bible translation project he had begun at the Wartburg resulted at last in the complete “Luther Bible” (1534). Together with a team of colleagues he dubbed “my Sanhedrin,” he continued to work on this project, with the last revised edition appearing in 1545. Notwithstanding the abiding apocalyptic angst and increasing world weariness that frequently marked the works of his later years, his theological vitality continued largely unabated. The elder Luther was not content merely to repeat the settled truths he had discovered in his youth, but continued to “shake every tree” in the great forest of Scripture in his quest to know God rightly and serve him faithfully. As Luther moved into his fifties and sixties he also suffered from a steadily debilitating complex of interrelated health issues. His death at age sixty-two on February 18, 1546, left his movement without its charismatic leader and thus vulnerable to both external political attack and internal theological division. Contrary to Saxon legal practice, he designated Katharina his sole heir.
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