Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 28 April 2017

Martin Luther’s Understanding of Earlier Reformers

Summary and Keywords

Throughout his career as a reformer, Martin Luther often framed his critiques of the institutional Church and his original doctrinal formulations with references—both implicit and explicit—to earlier reformers. Whether turning to medieval German mystics for the terminology to describe true penitence or Bohemian heretics for proof that others had identified the papacy as the seat of Antichrist, Luther consistently embedded himself within a tradition of religious reform as he elaborated his theology and ecclesiology. Both Luther himself and many contemporary scholars have primarily understood the earlier figures whom Luther invoked as “forerunners” whose initiatives and theological insights only reached their culmination with Martin Luther’s reformation. Such a characterization of the individuals and movements that Luther invoked as precedents for his reforms, however, potentially limits our understanding of the myriad, evolving categories that Luther employed in describing his fellow reformers, and it also obscures our understanding of the specific rhetorical uses to which they were put. It is therefore time to re-examine the multiple ways in which Luther understood his relationship to earlier reformers, and especially how that relationship came to serve as a key foundation for the construction of a counter-history of the Christian church by Martin Luther and his followers. The most significant individual for Luther’s reorientation of sacred history was Jan Hus (d. 1415), the Bohemian preacher and professor who was burned at the stake by the Council of Constance. From the Leipzig Debate up until the sermons preached on Luther’s death, Hus served as the most proximate and spectacular example of the risk and reward that came from opposition to the papal Antichrist. Over time, Luther’s numerous references to Hus reflected an evolution in his perception of the Bohemian martyr; in short, Hus graduated from a predecessor and saint to a prophet of Luther’s reforms, and his death served as a pointed warning that reformers ought not trust church councils. Jan Hus was exceptional in terms of how substantially and often Luther engaged with his theology and death. Luther’s eventual conclusion that Hus embodied the broader history of God’s faithful followers on Earth was, however, ultimately emblematic of his conception of church history as founded upon the proclamation of divine truth by individuals who refused to countenance its suppression.

Keywords: Martin Luther, reformer, saint, Jan Hus, martyr, councils, heretics, church history

The Notion of the Forerunner

When approaching Luther’s understanding of religious reformers who came before him, no concept is as important, if potentially misleading, as that of the forerunner. For the past half-century, scholars have followed Heiko Oberman’s lead in casting doubt on, but carefully employing, this category to describe medieval theologians and religious dissidents whose thought shared certain attributes with that of Martin Luther.1 On the one hand, the search for such antecedents has been focused on discovering individuals or groups who articulated some aspect of Luther’s theology, with particular attention paid to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. On the other, more critical hand, modern scholars also sought out predecessors who had opposed the papacy’s claims to sovereignty in the Church or voiced critiques of the Church’s moral degeneracy.2 This historiographical search and rescue mission for “Vorreformatoren” represented a fundamental continuation of Luther and his earliest followers’ own efforts to discover an underground ecclesiastical tradition to which they were the heirs. In the 16th century, such an “invention of tradition” proved a necessary rejoinder to opponents who leveled accusations of novelty against Luther and wondered if God would ever have allowed his Church to fall so far away from divine truth.3 The reformers therefore asserted their legitimacy through continuity, a stance that has been complemented in more recent times by the desire to expand our understanding of Luther’s thought by discovering its roots in the piety and theology of the later Middle Ages.4

The results of this research have significantly broadened the range of thinkers now understood to have influenced the emergent German reformation, but the search for forerunners also poses several heuristic problems. First and foremost, this language implies that medieval reformers and dissidents fashioned only incomplete formulations of proper doctrine and critiques of the Church, both of which required Martin Luther to synthesize and complete them. To speak of forerunners thereby downgrades such figures by judging their efforts against the ahistorical standard of Luther. On a second, related note, to speak solely of forerunners potentially distorts our understanding of how Luther interacted with the contemporary scions of medieval traditions of dissent. Certainly Luther came to see the Bohemian Brethren, for example, as potential precursors for his reform.5 He was also, however, actively involved in dialogue with their leadership in the 1520s and 1530s, and their extended back and forth only yielded a partial and grudging rapprochement between the groups on issues ranging from Eucharistic theology to clerical celibacy.6 Is it sufficient, then, to speak of the Brethren as forerunners, or must a more capacious concept be found?

The title of this essay suggests an alternative. Rather than creating an implicitly teleological narrative with the idea of the forerunner, we can speak instead of Luther’s interactions with, and appreciation of, his fellow reformers who had previously sought the melioration of the Church. In Gerhart Ladner’s influential formulation, Christian reform can be defined as “the idea of free, intentional and even perfectible, multiple, prolonged and ever repeated efforts by man to reassert and augment values pre-existent in the spiritual-material compound of the world.”7 This definition, with its emphasis on repetition and persistence, helps to situate Luther within a lineage of reformers that he chose for himself, even as it highlights all these reformers’ efforts to reaffirm essential values and offset the “ineradicable terrestrial imperfection” of the Church in order to achieve a “relative perfectibility” within the Christian community on Earth.8 A shift in focus to the aims (rather than explicit theological content) of reform therefore enables us to comprehend Luther’s fundamental acknowledgment of earlier reformers’ exemplarity, even as he recognized that their efforts had fallen short and required his labor to be completed.

Formative Influences

It would be quite easy to define Luther’s emergence as a reformer solely by the gradual expansion of his attack on the institutional Church. What began with his questioning scholastic theology grew into a critique of indulgences, which evolved in turn to become a wholesale denial of papal legitimacy and the rejection of the Church’s sacramental and penitential theology. Subsequently, Luther came to see the cult of saints, Purgatory, and even church councils as illegitimate accretions or distortions on true (read: apostolic) Christian practice. This progressive casting off of the institutional and theological hallmarks of the medieval Church did not, however, mean that Luther found nothing of worth in the tradition with which he had been raised. On the contrary, much of his early formation as a student and monk synthesized elements of the monastic and mystical traditions that were percolating in early 16th-century German universities. This synthesis helped arm Luther with both a set of thematic emphases that spurred his development as a theologian and a group of intellectual authorities that convinced him of the legitimacy of his nascent reform campaign.9

Other essays in this collection treat the influence of mysticism and monasticism on Luther more extensively than is possible here, but for the purpose of understanding Luther’s broad attitude toward earlier advocates of religious reform, it is essential to note that Luther recognized many individuals within the medieval ecclesiastical “establishment” as models to be emulated. A number of scholars, for instance, have perceived St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s (d. 1153) fingerprints on Luther’s theology of the cross, as well as on the image of the soul wedded to Christ the Bridegroom in Luther’s seminal tract, The Freedom of a Christian.10 Others have highlighted the deep impact that the German mystic Johannes Tauler (d. 1361) made on Luther early in his studies, drawing particular attention to the medieval mystic’s influence on Luther’s changing definition of true penitence and its centrality for salvation.11 There has also been a lively debate spanning forty years on the relative influence of the “new” Augustinian tradition represented by Gregory of Rimini (d. 1358) on Luther, a controversy that Volker Leppin has recently sought to adjudicate by describing the parallels, rather than continuities, between the two Augustinians’ notions of predestination and justification.12 Along with these potential influences, it is also possible to cite Nicholas of Lyra’s (d. 1349) literalist biblical hermeneutics, Thomas Bradwardine’s (d. 1349) discussion of justification by faith alone, and William of Ockham’s (d. 1347) distinction between two kingdoms as potentially influential on Luther, but the specifics in these latter cases matter less than the impression they collectively make; namely, that Martin Luther was profoundly, if selectively, shaped by the intellectual and visionary traditions of the medieval Church during his formative years.13

Luther revealed these debts in his earliest writings. Articles 19 to 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation (1518), for example, contain explicit praise for mystical theologians who both recognized the crucified Christ as the heart of “true theology” and condemned a “theology of glory” that sought to eschew suffering.14 This implicit callback to Bernard’s theology was made more explicit with Luther’s utilization of bridal imagery just two years later, but the focus in this text on suffering was complementary to a letter Luther wrote in 1518 that served as the dedication to his Explanations of the Theses Concerning the Value of Indulgences.15 This letter was addressed to Johannes von Staupitz, whom many scholars consider to have been the conduit through which Luther became acquainted with both Augustinian and late medieval German mystical thought; its content concerned Luther’s discovery that real penitence derived from neither rituals nor indulgences, but from an internal transformation within the Christian.16 Again, Luther did not explicitly cite Tauler’s influence as decisive in his conclusions in this matter, but both Tauler’s and Bernard’s influence can be seen in the text’s emphasis on the love of righteousness, the contemplation of Christ’s wounds, and the internalization of penitence.17

More explicit from the earliest years of Luther’s reform career was one of the first prefaces he wrote for another author’s work, the anonymous Theologia Deutsch. In 1516, Luther had written a preface to a partial edition of the text, but in 1518 he wrote a second for a complete version of this vernacular treatise, which he attributed to a student or collaborator of Tauler.18 In his foreword, Luther praised the Theologia Deutsch for its simple, vernacular language, and he reveled in the text’s demonstration “that German theologians are the best theologians.” Further, Luther asserted that this book contained insights that “have not been discussed in our universities for a long time,” which proved to him that his teaching, which cohered with this book’s, was “ancient.”19 The discovery of the Theologia Deutsch therefore proved to Luther that his theology was embedded within a native tradition of theological discourse that was both distinguished and long. Luther continued the search for other individuals who belonged to this tradition throughout the 1520s, and he readily acknowledged earlier reformers whose language and ideas overlapped with, or amplified, his own. This period also witnessed, however, Luther’s discovery (sometimes forced) of earlier critics whose hostility toward the papacy and the ecclesiastical hierarchy seemed to mirror his evolving doubt regarding the source and location of authority within the Church.20

The Process of Discovery

In the years immediately after the dissemination of the Ninety-Five Theses and the ensuing controversy between Luther and ecclesiastical authorities at Heidelberg and Augsburg, no figure proved to be as pervasively associated with Luther, for good or for ill, as the Bohemian preacher Jan Hus.21 Hus had been burned at the stake at the Council of Constance on July 6, 1415, for defending the teaching of the English heretic John Wyclif (d. 1384), supposedly denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, and refusing to submit to his ecclesiastical superiors who had forbidden him to preach and demanded that he cease in his criticism of the contemporary clergy.22 At the root of his refusal and critique lay Hus’s ecclesiology, which was explicitly predestinarian and denied any inherent link between clerical office and religious authority. Rather, Hus only recognized the authority of priests, bishops, and even popes whose moral conduct and fulfillment of their responsibilities signaled that they were part of God’s true, invisible Church. Hus had expounded upon this ecclesiology in his magnum opus, De Ecclesia, which he had written while in exile from Prague during the years 1412–1414.23

Ironically, Luther was initially horrified by Hus’s ideas, but was brought face-to-face with them at the Leipzig Debate in 1519, when his opponent Johannes Eck accused him of denying the pope’s supremacy in the early Church and the inerrancy of general councils.24 In making these accusations, Eck likened Luther’s positions to “the pestilent errors of Jan Hus” that had been condemned by the Council of Constance. This argument clearly caught Luther flat-footed; he offered only a hasty denial of this accusation in the moment, a statement he almost immediately qualified by asserting that some of Hus’s teachings were in line with those of Augustine and Peter Lombard, and were therefore “most Christian and evangelical.”25 Even this partial admission had potentially negative consequences, as Luther’s identification with the heresiarch Hus could link him to the outbreak of the Hussite Wars (1420–1431), which Hus’s condemnation had touched off (at least indirectly) and had resulted in the death of the Czech king, Wenceslas IV; the Czechs’ rejection of his heir, Sigismund of Hungary; the utter defeat of five crusades sent against the Hussites; and the ransacking of German territory up to the Baltic Sea during the Hussites’ so-called “Glorious Campaign.”26 Certainly Duke George of Saxony made this connection, and he consequently became the leading patron of the Catholic polemicists who wrote against Luther in the following years and made his “Bohemianism” a central component of their attacks against him.27

Luther’s embrace of Hus also, however, gained him allies from among the Utraquists and Bohemian Brethren, the two churches that had emerged from the Bohemian reformation during the previous century. Specifically, Luther received two letters from Utraquist priests and a copy of Hus’s De Ecclesia in the autumn of 1519. These letters expressed the Czechs’ support for Luther, declaring him “a valiant hunter of pseudo-apostles” and expressing the hope that “what once Jan Hus was for Bohemia, you, O Martin, can be for Saxony.”28 After reading De Ecclesia, Luther famously averred, in a letter to Georg Spalatin, that “without knowing it, we are all Hussites!”29 Certainly this declaration of affiliation went too far. Although much of Hus’s Augustinian ecclesiology cohered with Luther’s developing belief in the distinction between the institutional and the true, hidden church, De Ecclesia also maintained that the papacy was a legitimate institution that could and should exercise authority within the Church. Furthermore, Hus consistently defended the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the doctrine of transubstantiation, and he also held a high view of the essential difference between the laity and the clergy. Luther’s enthusiasm for his newly discovered affinities for Hus in 1520 must therefore be tempered by an understanding that the two men’s ecclesiology and sacramental theology still differed substantially.30

Luther himself perceived this distance, noting in 1521 that Hus “only began to present the gospel” to the world, but “did not deny that the pope is sovereign in all the world.”31 More pithily, Luther asserted that he had already done five times as much damage to the pope as Hus (and he later claimed to be ten times the heretic that Hus had been), largely because the Bohemian preacher had never identified the papacy as “a human invention of which God knows nothing.”32 These specific acknowledgments of difference should not, however, obscure the extent to which Luther came to identify with Jan Hus. The fundamental ground of that identification was that both men had been persecuted by the Church for their proclamation of evangelical truth, and Luther came to see Hus’s death as definitive proof that the Church had been subverted by the Antichrist. Or, as Luther wrote in his response to the bull excommunicating him in 1521, “the pope and his followers acted in this matter like the true Antichrist. He condemned the holy gospel along with Jan Hus, and replaced it with the teaching of the dragon from hell.”33

One piece of evidence that Luther cited for the papacy’s identity as the seat of Antichrist concerned the popes’ willingness to usurp the political prerogatives of secular elites. This concern animated Luther’s tract, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and there again Hus’s execution served as evidence for the Church’s diabolical subversion.34 Given these events, Luther asserted that “it is high time to take up earnestly and truthfully the cause of the Bohemians to unite them with ourselves,” and he further stated that the Bohemians had been enraged by Hus’s execution because it resulted from the breaking of “God’s commandment.”35 Luther then reaffirmed that he could find no errors in Hus’s teachings, defended the Czech practice of administering communion in both kinds to the laity as apostolic, and called for the peaceful reunification of the Czechs with the Church, while rejecting any attempts to impose “Romanist tyranny” over the former dissidents.36 In this text, Luther also referred explicitly to the Bohemian Brethren, whom he described pejoratively as “Pickards,” in the context of discussing their Eucharistic theology.37 Luther thought that the Brethren denied the true presence of Christ in the elements, and this error led him to write The Adoration of the Sacrament in 1523. This tract, which was addressed to the Brethren, expressed Luther’s fundamental ambiguity regarding the Brethren. On the one hand, he considered them “much nearer to the gospel than any others,” but, on the other, he worried about their defense of clerical celibacy, the seven sacraments, and their sacramental shortcomings.38 This text represented the culmination of a multi-year dialogue between Luther and the Brethren’s leadership, which helps to explain his mixed feelings toward them. With the Brethren, Luther was not merely discovering forerunners to his own reform (like Hus), but engaging in a theological debate with living interlocutors whose experience and tradition clashed with Luther’s.39

At the same time that Luther was delineating the extent to which his teachings were in line with those of the martyr Hus and the Bohemian Brethren, the Saxon professor was also beginning to grant his public imprimatur to other medieval authors who had articulated critiques of the institutional Church. Luther’s approbation typically came in the form of prefaces that he attached to these authors’ works, and beginning in 1522 he wrote forewords to a collection of letters by the Dutch adherent of the devotio moderna, Johannes Wesel Gansfort (d. 1489); a series of text fragments by the Augustinian critic of scholasticism, Johannes Pupper of Goch (d. 1475); and a meditation on Psalms 51 and 31 by the Florentine Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (d. 1498).40 In describing the work of these men, Luther compared them to members of the 7,000 faithful Israelites whom God had preserved in the time of Elijah (1 Kings 19:18), and Luther further noted that discovering these men’s teaching had relieved him of the feeling that he was alone in his critique of false theology.41 He also noted that the discovery of Gansfort and Pupper, alongside his earlier reading of Tauler and the Theologia Deutsch, had revealed how the “treasures of Germany are coming forth into the light,” which was only fitting since that nation “‘germinates’ magnificently with the Lord’s seed and abundantly brings forth the best fruit of the earth [Isa. 4:2].”42

This explicit association with past German theologians was perhaps unsurprising, but it did not exclude foreign figures like Savonarola, whom Luther sought to rescue from the papal Antichrist’s “hope that the memory of such a great man would be eradicated, yes, eradicated under a curse.” Conversely, Luther considered that Christ himself was “canonizing” Savonarola;43 this focus on the contrast between the Church’s false condemnations (or canonization of false saints) and Christ’s acknowledgement of true sanctity characterized much of Luther’s engagement with earlier reformers, even if he rarely used the explicit language of sanctity for post-apostolic figures.44 Indeed, it was only Jan Hus who merited this language alongside Savonarola, as Luther referred to Hus’s canonization in a letter from 1524 to the Strasbourg schoolmaster and botanist Otto Brunfels.45 This letter came to serve as a preface to the second book in a three-volume collection of Hus’s works that Brunfels edited and had published in 1524–1525, and in it Luther rejoiced that Hus had “emerged in our age to be rightfully canonized, and so the papists might be destroyed.”46 Regarding Savonarola and Hus, Luther’s use of the language of sanctification served as a rebuke to the condemnation of evangelical teachings by the Church. Such an idiom also tapped into the traditions of the cult of saints while reorienting that cult around a series of figures whose teaching and death constituted a counter-history of God’s people on Earth.47

Although Luther was most effusive in his praise for Jan Hus as a forerunner to his mission in the first half of the 1520s, his public embrace of the Bohemian heretic was of a piece with his broader search for, and acceptance of, earlier voices who had spoken out against the theology, devotional practices, and moral degradation of the medieval Church. In some specific cases—such as the identification of the papacy as the seat of the Antichrist—these earlier figures’ critiques of the Church and their subsequent persecution for them played a decisive role in ratcheting up Luther’s own rhetoric.48 More generally, Luther’s perception during these years that others had voiced critiques of the Church similar to his own strengthened Luther’s conviction that while God had given him a divine mission to expose and reform the corruption of the Church, he was also not the first person to receive such a prophetic call. Luther therefore praised his predecessors in a preface written for a Wycliffite commentary on the Apocalypse in 1528, stating that such texts had convinced him that “we were not the first to interpret the papacy as the kingdom of Antichrist.” Rather, Luther now realized that many had previously done so “with such great spirit and courage that they were driven out to the farthest ends of the earth by the fury of the papistic tyranny and endured the cruelest forms of torture.”49 Luther went on to note that these earlier critics of the Church had been limited by their “ignorance and captivity” to medieval traditions, but reiterated that they should be praised for their bravery. It was this balance between sincere admiration and the conviction that none had gone far enough that ultimately characterized Luther’s initial attitude toward those he claimed as his predecessors.

Toward a (Pre)History of the Reformation

In 1527, Martin Luther composed a preface to a book of astrologically based predictions called The Prophecy of Johannes Lichtenberger in German, Carefully Edited.50 In his preface, Luther distinguished between predictions based “on the course of the heavens and natural science of the stars,” like Lichtenberger’s, and those “impelled by the Holy Spirit.” In Luther’s mind, the former could only foresee political events that were devoid of soteriological significance, while the latter had a higher aim: “This kind of prophecy is directed to the end that the godless by chastised and the righteous redeemed.”51 Throughout the second decade of his reform movement, Luther became aware of such Spirit-impelled prophecies that had been spoken by his chosen predecessors and seemed to speak of his efforts to renew the Church. In writing about the reception of prophecy during the Reformation, Jonathan Green has argued that its appeal derived from the fact that it “resituates the present moment in a narrative that includes the past and the future” and “could place the present moment in a new relationship to a foundational narrative.”52 As such, Luther’s discovery of prophets who foresaw his movement became a crucial building block for the construction of a more comprehensive historical framework for the German reformation.

Just as Jan Hus had initially proven to be one of Luther’s most significant precedents for reform, so too did he become Luther’s foremost prophet in the 1530s. Thus, in his response to Emperor Charles’s decision to reinstate the Edict of Worms in the wake of the 1530 Diet of Augsburg, Luther wrote:

St. Jan Hus prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia [sic]: “They will roast a goose now (for ‘Hus’ means ‘goose’ in Czech), but in a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will have to endure.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills it.53

Here, Luther’s belief that he had been the subject of a divinely inspired prophecy translated into his greater certainty that his reforms would survive imperial attempts to roll them back. There was, however, a problem with this prophecy: it was apocryphal. It was actually a conflation of a letter written by Hus in 1412 with the final words spoken by Jerome of Prague, a second Czech dissident executed at Constance in 1416, upon his pyre.54 Given Luther’s recognition of Hus as a reforming model and even saint, though, the fact that he never spoke these words did not entirely matter in 1531. Rather, this utterance exhibited a degree of verisimilitude that confirmed and enhanced Jan Hus’s status as a figure whose mission and death presaged the triumph of Luther’s reform.

Luther reaffirmed Hus’s prophetic gifts throughout the 1530s, and particularly in the context of the debate over the convocation of a general church council to address the religious schism in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1536, Pope Paul III issued a bull to convene a council at Mantua, but the bull explicitly stated that this council would address the growth of heresy in the German lands. This language alarmed Protestant elites, both secular and ecclesiastical, and Lutheran authors turned to the history of Jan Hus at Constance as an admonitory precedent for what they might expect at Mantua.55 As part of the campaign against the council (and despite his past pleas for such a gathering to implement his calls for reform), Luther wrote a series of tracts against church councils in general and Constance, in particular, as well as authoring prefaces and an afterword to two collections of letters written by Hus from his prison in Constance. In these paratexts, Luther reaffirmed Hus’s centrality to both the prophetic foundation of the German reformation and the arguments that Protestants were mounting against the impending council.

The first collection of Hus’s letters to appear was translated by Johannes Agricola and published as Three [sic] Letters Written to the Bohemians from Prison at Constance.56 In his preface to these letters, Luther noted explicitly that he had had them translated and published as a warning to those who might put their trust in councils. Further, he noted that Constance had tried to suppress divine truth and replace it with false teaching, but asserted that “now the truth is victorious and lifts her head,” revealing the tyranny of the council.57 In an afterword appended to a second, German edition of these letters, Luther expanded on his critique of Constance and praise for Hus; in this text, he identified Hus as a great martyr whose condemnation of sinful prelates and refusal to acknowledge the inerrancy of the pope had resulted in his death. Luther also celebrated the recognition of Hus’s sanctity that was taking place in his own day, observing that in spite of the council fathers’ efforts to silence Hus, his critique of the Church had resurfaced and become part of a more thoroughgoing attempt to reform the Church. In speaking of this revival, Luther finally concluded that Hus had “prophesied” its occurrence, “and it has come to pass through many others and in part even through myself.”58

The notion that the truth espoused by Hus was essentially irrepressible animated a preface written by Luther in 1537 for a much larger collection of Hus’s letters published with a hagiographic account of his trial and execution.59 In this preface, Luther emphasized how Hus’s teachings and willing embrace of martyrdom had marked him as a true saint, rather than one of the “new gods” (i.e., historically dubious saints) whom the pope created as a means of fleecing the laity and luring their attention away from the evangelical witnesses who had opposed him. Further, Hus’s martyrdom had demonstrated to Luther that “the day of visitation has come [Jer. 46:21], or, as Daniel prophesied, the wrath is past [cf. Dan. 8:19] and God … has begun to send his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that offend.”60 In this passage, Hus’s death became more than just a mark of his sanctity and assumed a larger eschatological meaning as a tipping point in the campaign to overthrow the papal Antichrist. For Luther, Hus’s death became the beginning of the papacy’s end, and by linking that fulcrum to his own reforms through the vehicle of prophecy, Luther reinforced the idea that the German reformation represented a crucial, final step toward the second coming of Christ and the vindication of his faithful followers on Earth.61

Luther fleshed out the historical framework that he hinted at in these prefaces in other writings from this time period. In a preface written in 1538 for a confession of faith prepared by the Unity of Brethren, for instance, Luther reflected on his previous hatred for this group “when I was a papist,” observing that now he praised them “as saints and martyrs.”62 For Luther, the Brethren’s collective sanctity derived from the fact that the pope had condemned and persecuted them, but “having set aside the teaching of men, as much as they were able, they were meditating on the Law of the Lord day and night [Ps. 1:2].” As in the previous decade, Luther’s praise of the Brethren did not offset his concerns with their contemporary theology; their suffering, however, validated them in Luther’s eyes and enabled him to accept the evangelical foundations of the Brethren’s theology.63 In another preface for an anonymous poem decrying the clergy’s neglect of their pastoral duties, Luther also observed that “before our age” faithful Christians were afraid to voice their critiques of the Church openly, “since the Church at that time had been driven into the wilderness by the dragon.”64 In a more substantial foreword to Robert Barnes’s Lives of the Roman Pontiffs, Luther elaborated on this bleak vision of earlier Christian history, again arguing that Christ’s “faithful witnesses” from the apostolic period had been relegated to the margins by a “new christ” who raised up false saints in their places, “darlings of a new divinity” falsely adorned with gold, silver, and indulgences.65 For Luther, his age had opened up the possibility of rejecting these diabolical lies and replacing them with new, true histories that would demonstrate “how marvelously he [God] rules the children of men and how very wicked the devil is and all his.”66 Such histories could then serve as templates for the ongoing work of reformation in the 16th century.

Luther composed a history in this vein in 1539, entitled On the Councils and the Churches. This work combined a detailed analysis of the history of the four church councils that Luther considered legitimate (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon) with a more general discussion of the marks of the true church. For Luther, the ancient councils had served only as consistories for the Church, not formulating new doctrine, but only eliminating illegitimate accretions on that teaching.67 By way of contrast, later councils had, under the sway of the papacy, authorized new teachings and practices that were geared toward elevating the papacy to unholy heights. In doing so, they had become a bulwark to the false church that the devil, whom Luther called “God’s ape,” had built up to mimic and ultimately supersede the true church, which Luther defined by its possession of seven distinctive marks. These included: the preaching of the Word of God, the proper administration of the Eucharist and baptism, the suppression of sins within the community, the calling and consecration of ministers to serve (not rule) the community, and the collective worship of God.68

It was with the final mark of the true church, though, that Luther’s stance toward earlier reformers became integrated into his ecclesiology: “The holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution … in order to become like their head, Christ.”69 Further, Luther noted that true followers of Christ “must be called heretics, knaves, and devils,” but reminded his audience that “when you are condemned, cursed, reviled, slandered and plagued because of Christ, you are sanctified.”70 Luther’s valorization of sanctification through suffering served here as a codification of the specific considerations of earlier reformers that he had authored throughout his career. Through their defense of these marks of the true church and rejection of anti-Christian alternatives to them, they had suffered persecution and thereby affirmed their leadership of “the holy Christian people.”71 Thus, Luther’s forerunners became the forebears of the Lutheran Church that had taken shape as the institutional outgrowth of the public proclamation of evangelical doctrine.

As with many other aspects of the German reformation, Luther’s writings set forth an agenda that his friends and followers took up in his wake. With regards to Luther’s historical thought and the place of earlier reformers within it, the tasks of expansion and systematization fell to scholars such as Ludwig Rabus, Philip Melanchthon, and Matthias Flacius Illyricus, all of whom undertook extensive historical research and began to publish substantial martyrologies and historical narratives that sought to illuminate the history of God’s church on Earth. For these Lutheran authors, that church was constructed upon a foundation of true doctrine that had been preserved by an unbroken “chain of witnesses” that stretched from the biblical past to the Lutheran present.72 Most extensively displayed in Flacius’s Catalogue of Witnesses to the Truth (1556) and the Magdeburg Centuries (first volume published 1559), the twin emphases on a select group of people who boldly professed their faith despite persecution were the hallmarks of 16th-century Lutheran Church history.73 They also demonstrated the extent to which Luther’s gradual (and only partial) incorporation of earlier reformers into a broader historical narrative had become a truly “constitutive discourse” that elaborated upon the medieval roots of Luther’s reformation and provided an intellectual framework for its persistence into the modern era.74

Review of the Literature

For more than a century after the publication of Carl Ullmann’s magisterial Reformatoren vor der Reformation in 1841–1842, the question of Martin Luther’s relationship to medieval Christian thinkers was centered on the question of whether or not any medieval “forerunners” of the German reformation had articulated a suitably Lutheran concept of grace and justification.75 In some cases, such as with Albrecht Ritschl, modern scholars rejected the notion that any medieval thinkers had, thus emphasizing Luther’s radical disjunction with the theology of the Middle Ages. Other scholars, however, such as Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeberg, did find seeds of Luther’s central teachings contained within the writings of particular theologians or the more general contours of Augustinian and German mystical thought. No matter which position these scholars took, however, all of them approached this question from the perspective of evaluating medieval theology in an explicitly teleological framework. All roads must, as it were, have led to Wittenberg.76

Perhaps it is not necessary to note that this early 20th-century scholarship was limited by its confessional orientation, but it is worth noting that much of it also labored under the influence of nationalist ideologies that sought a distinctly German heritage for Luther. Such rhetoric, of course, mirrored Luther’s own, but also added another layer of ahistorical qualifications that were used to determine who, or what ideas, counted within the genealogy of Luther’s reform. Such obvious limitations seemed to discredit the enterprise of searching for antecedents to Luther, at least until the work of Heiko Oberman and Gustav Adolf Benrath in the mid-1960s.77 These two scholars edited collections of relevant medieval texts that both illuminated the potential sources of reformation theology and offered explicit disavowals of the confessional and teleological biases that characterized earlier scholarship. As Oberman put it in his introduction to his Forerunners of the Reformation, he wanted to highlight the essential continuity of the German reformation with late medieval piety and practice by identifying individuals and groups as “participants in an ongoing dialogue—not necessarily friendly—that is continued in the sixteenth century,” rather than as the mouthpieces of ideas that “‘point beyond’ themselves to a century to come.”78

In the wake of these collections, and particularly under the influence of Oberman’s emphasis on the continuity of the Reformation with the Middle Ages, a number of scholars sought to re-examine the linkages between Protestant and medieval Catholic thought. Their studies tended to focus on theologically specific comparisons and to take seriously the historical contexts within which medieval thinkers had first explored topics that would surface again in 16th-century debates. Whether in Steven Ozment’s study of the changing conception of human nature, Scott Hendrix’s early studies of medieval and Reformation ecclesiology, or the enormous florescence of scholarship on Luther and medieval mysticism, this body of scholarship expanded the contemporary sense of how deeply Luther was embedded in, and indebted to, the medieval intellectual and spiritual traditions of the Church.79 These relatively early studies have also inspired a host of more recent scholars (many of them cited in the notes to this essay) that continue to enlarge the contemporary sense of the range of orthodox Catholic thinkers that influenced Luther, while also seeking out the medieval dissidents whom Luther himself identified as the forebears of the German reformation.

The elaboration of the relationship between Luther and earlier heretics represents the other major strain of scholarship on Luther’s medieval roots, and again this echoes the polemics that accompanied the outbreak of the Reformation in the 16th century. Both early modern Catholic and Protestant authors tied Luther to medieval dissidents, and those associations continue to animate historical and theological scholarship today. Certainly the most studied of these relationships is that between Martin Luther and Jan Hus, and scholars such as Hans-Gert Roloff, Gustav Adolf-Benrath, Scott Hendrix, and Heiko Oberman himself have sought to discern the extent to which the two reformers agreed on issues of ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and eschatology.80 But Oberman, in particular, spurred scholars to move beyond issues of specific doctrinal (dis)agreements in order to investigate how an identification with earlier dissidents shaped Luther’s self-consciousness as a divinely called reformer, while other recent works have sought to situate Luther’s invocation of earlier reformers within the specific circumstances and controversies in which they gained rhetorical and historical meaning.81 Both of these impulses have untethered, to some extent, the study of Luther’s antecedents from explicit questions about how closely their teachings matched up with his, and instead focus on the way in which Luther’s expanding consciousness of his reform’s belonging within a larger tradition of dissent served to legitimize the formation of an alternate church order in the 16th century.

Further Reading

Bagchi, David. Luther’s Earliest Opponents: Catholic Controversialists, 1518–1525. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Benrath, Gustave Adolf. “Die sogenannten Vorreformatoren in ihrer Bedeutung für die frühe Reformation.” In Diefrühe Reformation in Deutschland als Umbruch. Edited by B. Moeller, 157–166. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998.Find this resource:

Benrath, Gustave Adolf. Wegbereiter der Reformation. Bremen: Schünemann, 1967.Find this resource:

Cameron, Euan. “Medieval Heretics as Protestant Martyrs.” In Martyrs and Martyrologies. Edited by D. Wood, 185–207. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993.Find this resource:

Frank, Günter, and Friedrich Niewöhner, eds. Reformer als Ketzer: Heterodoxe Bewegungen von Vorreformatoren. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 2004.Find this resource:

Haberkern, Phillip. Patron Saint and Prophet: Jan Hus in the Bohemian and German Reformations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt. The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety. Edited by R. Bast. Boston: Brill, 2004.Find this resource:

Hendrix, Scott. “‘We Are All Hussites’? Hus and Luther Revisited.” ARG 65 (1974): 134–161.Find this resource:

Kaufmann, Thomas. Der Anfang der Reformation: Studien zur Kontextualität der Theologie, Publizistik und Inszenierung Luthers und der reformatorischen Bewegung. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert. For All the Saints: Changing Perceptions of Martyrdom and Sainthood in the Lutheran Reformation. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert. “‘Saint John Hus’ and ‘Jerome Savonarola, Confessor of God’: The Lutheran ‘Canonization’ of Late Medieval Martyrs.” Concordia Journal 17 (1991): 404–418.Find this resource:

Leppin, Volker. Martin Luther. 2d ed. Darmstadt: VBG, 2010.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko. Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko. “Headwaters of the Reformation: Initia Lutheri—Initia Reformationis.” In Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era: Papers for the Fourth International Congress for Luther Research. Edited by H. Oberman, 40–88. Leiden: Brill, 1974.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko. “Hus and Luther: Prophets of a Radical Reformation.” In The Contentious Triangle: Church, State, and University. Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 51. Edited by R. Petersen and C. Pater, 135–166. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Pohlig, Matthias. Zwischen Gelehrsamkeit und konfessioneller Identitätsstiftung: Lutherische Kirchen- und Universalgeschichtsschreibung 1546–1617. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.Find this resource:

Roloff, Hans-Gert. “Die Funktion von Hus-Texten in der Reformations-Polemik.” In De CaptuLectoris. Edited by W. Milde and W. Schuder, 219–256. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1988.Find this resource:

Roloff, Hans-Gert. “Hus in der Reformationspolemik.” In Studien zum Humanismus in den Böhmischen Ländern. Edited by H. Harder and H. Rothe, 111–129. Cologne: Böhlau, 1988.Find this resource:


(1.) Heiko Oberman sketched out his qualified acceptance of this term in the introduction to his: Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966). For more recent interrogations of this concept, see Gustav Adolf Benrath, “Die sogenannten Vorreformatoren in ihrer Bedeutung für die frühe Reformation,” in Die frühe Reformation in Deutschland als Umbruch, ed. B. Moeller (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998), 157–166; and Theodor Mahlmann, “‘Vorreformatoren,’ ‘vorreformatorisch,’ ‘Vorreformation’: Beobachtungen zur Geshichte eines Sprauchgebrauchs,” in Reformer als Ketzer: Heterodoxe Bewegungen von Vorreformatoren, eds. G. Frank and F. Neiwöhner (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 2004), 13–55.

(2.) On opposition to the papacy as the key criterion used to establish a forerunner’s status, see Euan Cameron, “Medieval Heretics as Protestant Martyrs,” in Martyrs and Martyrologies, Studies in Church History 30, ed. D. Wood (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993), 185–207.

(3.) On the Catholic rhetoric concerning Luther’s novelty, see Hubert Jedin, “Die geschichtliche Bedeutung der katholischen Kontroversliteratur im Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung,” Historisches Jahrbuch 53 (1933): 70–97; and David Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents: Catholic Controversialists, 1518–1525 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). More broadly, see Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in The Invention of Tradition, eds. E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1–14.

(4.) For the most fulsome account of Luther’s grounding in medieval religious thought, see the work of Berndt Hamm: The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety, ed. R. Bast (Boston: Brill, 2004).

(5.) The Brethren were a voluntaristic, pacifist, and morally ascetic offshoot of the mainstream Utraquist Church that had formed in the Czech lands in the aftermath of the Hussite Revolution and been officially recognized by the Council of Basel in 1435–1436. Founded c. 1457, the Brethren eschewed the Church’s entanglement with worldly powers, and they decisively broke with the tradition of apostolic succession by selecting their own clergy by lot in 1467. Although outlawed in the Czech lands, the Brethren grew slowly throughout the 15th century and expanded substantially in the first decades of the 16th century. For an overview of the Bohemian Brethren’s theology and early history, see Erhard Peschke, Kirche und Welt in der Theologie der Böhmischen Brüder vom Mittelalter zur Reformation (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1981); and Craig Atwood, The Theology of the Czech Brethren from Hus to Comenius (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2009).

(6.) On Luther’s ongoing dialogue with the Brethren, see Amedeo Molnár, “Luthers Beziehungen zu den Böhmischen Brüdern,” in Leben und Werk Martin Luthers von 1526 bis 1546, vol. 1, ed. H. Junghans (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), 627–639.

(7.) Gerhart Ladner, The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), 35.

(8.) Ladner, The Idea of Reform, 31.

(9.) For overviews of Luther’s studies as a monk and preparation for university teaching, see Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483–1521, trans. J. Schaaf (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), chs. 3 and 5; and Volker Leppin, Martin Luther, 2d ed. (Darmstadt: VBG, 2010), chs. 2 and 3.

(10.) On Luther’s use of Bernard, with particular reference to bridal imagery, see Theo Bell, Divus Bernhardus: Bernhard von Clairvaux in Martin Luthers Schriften (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1993). Cf. Ulrich Köpf, “Wurzeln reformatorischen Denkens in der monastischen Theologie Bernhards von Clairvaux,” in Reformation und Mönchtum: Aspekte eines Verhältnisses über Luther hinaus, eds. A. Lexutt et al. (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 29–56.

(11.) Luther had access to a Tauler manuscript as early as 1508, which he annotated heavily over the following decade. On Tauler’s impact on Luther, see Henrik Otto, Vor- und frühreformatorische Tauler-Rezeption: Annotationen in Drucken des späten 15. und frühen 16. Jahrhunderts (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2003), 175–254; Martin Brecht, “Luthers neues Verständnis der Busse und die reformatorische Entdeckung,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 101 (2004): 281–291; and Volker Leppin, “Transformationen spätmittelalterlicher Mystik bei Luther,” in Gottes Nähe und unmittelbar erfahren, eds. B. Hamm and V. Leppin (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 165–185.

(12.) Heiko Oberman argued for a strong Gregorian influence on Luther, a position that David Steinmetz rejected. For their debate and Leppin’s more recent intervention, see Heiko Oberman, “Headwaters of the Reformation: Initia Lutheri—Initia Reformationis,” in Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era: Papers for the Fourth International Congress for Luther Research, ed. H. Oberman (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 40–88; David Steinmetz, “Luther and the Late Medieval Augustinians: Another Look,” Concordia Theological Monthly 44 (1973): 245–260; and Volker Leppin, “Luther’s Transformation of Medieval Thought: Continuity and Discontinuity,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, eds. L. Batka et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115–124.

(13.) On these potential influences, see Erik Herrmann, “Luther’s Absorption of Medieval Biblical Interpretation,” and Volker Leppin, “Luther’s Roots in Monastic-Mystical Piety,” both in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, 71–90 and 49–61, respectively.

(14.) LW 31:35–70, at 53.

(15.) Martin Luther, “Letter to John von Staupitz” (May 30, 1518), LW 48:64–70.

(16.) LW 48:67–68.

(17.) Leppin, “Transformationen spätmittelalterlischer Mystik,” 171–174.

(18.) Martin Luther, “Preface to the Complete Edition of the German Theology” (1518), LW 31:71–76.

(19.) LW 31:76.

(20.) On Luther’s growing certainty that the Church hierarchy had lost its claims to authority and his citation of earlier reformers in bolstering this contention, see Susan Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 137–165.

(21.) The relationship between Luther and Hus has generated a substantial secondary literature. The most recent discussions of this topic, with full bibliographies of earlier literature, can be found in Thomas Kaufmann, Der Anfang der Reformation: Studien zur Kontextualität der Theologie, Publizistik und Inszenierung Luthers und der reformatorischen Bewegung (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), especially ch. 2; Martin Wernisch, “Luther and Medieval Reform Movements, Particularly the Hussites,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, 62–70; and Phillip Haberkern, Patron Saint and Prophet: Jan Hus in the Bohemian and German Reformations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), especially ch. 4.

(22.) Biographies of Hus are legion. For recent introductions to his life and teaching that provide historiographical overviews to earlier literature, see Thomas Fudge, Jan Hus: Religious Reform and Social Revolution in Bohemia (New York: IB Tauris, 2010); Pavel Soukup, Jan Hus (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 2014); and the collected essays in O. Pavlicek and F. Šmahel, eds., A Companion to Jan Hus (Boston: Brill, 2015).

(23.) The standard modern edition of this work is: Jan Hus, Tractatus De Ecclesia, ed. S. T. Harrison (Prague: Komenského Evangelická Fakulta, 1958). On the composition and dissemination of this text, see Soukup, Jan Hus, 159–188.

(24.) Luther repeatedly told the story of how he had discovered a manuscript with Hus’s writings at Erfurt, but had refused to read it lest he be infected by its poison. See, e.g., “Preface to Jan Hus, Three Letters Written to the Bohemians from Prison at Constance by the Most Holy Martyr [1415]” (1536/1537), LW 60:122–133, at 131.

(25.) These quotations appear in Disputatio Iohanis Eccii et Martini Lutheri Lipsiae habita (1519), D. Martin Luthers Werke (Weimar: H Böhlau, 1883–), vol. 2, 250–383, 279–280. Hereinafter cited as WA. On Luther’s initial surprise at this accusation, see S. Harrison Thomson, “Luther and Bohemia,” ARG 44 (1953): 160–181.

(26.) For a comprehensive analysis of the Hussite Revolution and the attendant religious wars, see František Šmahel, Die Hussitische Revolution, trans. T. Krzenck, 3 vols. (Hannover: Hannsche Buchhandlung, 2002).

(27.) On George’s opposition to Luther, see Christoph Volkmar, Reform statt Reformation: Die Kirchenpolitik Herzog Georgs von Sachsen 1488–1525 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), especially 453–465; for the charge of “Bohemianism,” see Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 103–110.

(28.) The Utraquist Church emerged after the Council of Basel and represented the political and ecclesiastical mainstream of the Bohemian reformation. The Utraquists maintained the principle of apostolic succession and the seven sacraments, but administered the Eucharist in both kinds (sub utraque specie) to the laity, a practice that gave the church its name. The authors of these letters were the chief preacher and vicar of Our Lady before Týn Church in Prague, which had long been one of the most prestigious church postings for Utraquist clergy. The letters have been published as: Jan Poduška, “Letter to Martin Luther” (July 17, 1519), in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Briefwechsel (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883–), vol. 1, 416–418 (hereinafter cited as WABr); and Václav Roždalovský, “Letter to Martin Luther” (July 17, 1519), in WABR 1:419–420. These quotations, 418 and 420. For an overview of Utraquist history and the church’s interactions with Protestant reformers, see Zdeněk David, Finding the Middle Way: The Utraquists’ Liberal Challenge to Rome and Luther (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2003).

(29.) Martin Luther, “Letter to Georg Spalatin” (Feb., 1520), LW 48:151–153, at 153.

(30.) This is the main argument in Scott Hendrix, “‘We Are All Hussites’? Hus and Luther Revisited,” ARG 65 (1974): 134–161. Cf. the more nuanced view of Hus’s formative impact on Luther in Heiko Oberman, “Hus and Luther: Prophets of a Radical Reformation,” in The Contentious Triangle: Church, State, and University, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 51, eds. R. Petersen and C. Pater (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 1999), 135–166.

(31.) Martin Luther, Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1521), LW 32:3–100, at 82.

(32.) LW 32:82. Luther’s claim to be ten times greater than Hus was first made in Martini Lutheri responsio extemporaria ad articulos (1521), WA 7:605–613, at 612.

(33.) LW 32:82.

(34.) Luther based this argument on the fact that the council fathers had convinced King Sigismund that the safe conduct he had offered Hus for his trip to Constance was not binding, since Hus was a heretic, which enabled Hus’s execution without a loss of Sigismund’s honor. See Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1520), LW 44:115–217.

(35.) LW 44:195.

(36.) LW 44:198–199.

(37.) Ibid. This term was a corruption of the term “Beghard” and had been used since the 1410s to describe Hussites who held a symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist.

(38.) Martin Luther, The Adoration of the Sacrament (1523), LW 36:265–305, at 300–304.

(39.) On this exchange, see Wernisch, “Luther and Medieval Reform Movements,” 67–69; and Molnár, “Luthers Beziehungen.”

(40.) Martin Luther, “Preface to Johannes Wessel Gansfort, Letters” (1522), LW 59:6–11; idem, “Preface to Johannes Pupper of Goch, Fragments in Praise of God’s Grace and of Christian Faith” (1522), LW 59:12–17; and idem, “Preface to Girolamo Savonarola, Pious and Learned Meditation on Psalms 51 and 31” (1523), LW 59:77–81.

(41.) LW 59:9.

(42.) LW 59:16.

(43.) LW 59:80.

(44.) On Luther’s use of this language, see Robert Kolb, “‘Saint John Hus’ and ‘Jerome Savonarola, Confessor of God’: The Lutheran ‘Canonization’ of Late Medieval Martyrs,” Concordia Journal 17 (1991): 404–418. Cf. Carol Piper Heming, Protestants and the Cult of Saints in German Speaking Europe, 1517–1531, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 65 (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2003), 53–65.

(45.) The letter was originally written in October 1524 and has been published as Martin Luther, “Preface to the Second Volume of the Works of Jan Hus” (1524), LW 59:97–101. It should be noted that the works contained in Brunfels’s edition of Hussitica were not actually written by Hus, although they came from a Bohemian provenance. On this collection, see Haberkern, Patron Saint and Prophet, 174–185.

(46.) LW 59:101.

(47.) On this Lutheran reorientation of the saints, see the work of Thomas Fuchs, particularly, “Protestantische Heiligen-memoria im 16. Jahrhundert,” Historische Zeitschrift 267 (1998): 587–614; and “Reformation, Tradition, und Geschichte,” in Protestantische Identität und Erinnerung, eds. J. Eibach and M. Sandl (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), 71–89.

(48.) On this rhetoric, see Scott Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy: Stages in a Reformation Conflict (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 121ff.; Hans Hillerbrand, “The Antichrist in the Early German Reformation: Reflections on Theology and Propaganda,” in Germania Illustrata: Essays on Early Modern Germany Presented to Gerald Strauss, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies 18, eds. A. Fix and S. Karant-Nunn (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 1992), 3–18; and William Russell, “Martin Luther’s Understanding of the Pope as the Antichrist,” ARG 85 (1994): 32–44.

(49.) Martin Luther, “Preface to [Nicholas Hereford?], Commentary on the Apocalypse, Published One Hundred Years Ago [c. 1400]” (1528), LW 59:203–207, at 207.

(50.) Luther’s preface is published in LW 59:175–184.

(51.) LW 59:178–179.

(52.) Jonathan Green, Printing and Prophecy: Prognostication and Media Change, 1450–1550 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 153.

(53.) Martin Luther, Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict (1531), LW 34:63–104, at 104.

(54.) Jerome was a younger contemporary of Hus who had studied at Oxford, Paris, and Heidelberg, but had been put on trial by an inquisitorial court in Vienna prior to his arrest and execution in Constance on May 30, 1416. Although Jerome was often paired with Hus, it was always in a secondary role. His death had been memorialized in a widely disseminated letter by Poggio Bracciolini, but Jerome never achieved the widespread admiration that Hus did, likely because he recanted his adherence to Hus’s teachings while in prison. On the composition and circulation of this prophecy during the Reformation era, see Adolf Hauffen, “Husz eine Gans—Luther ein Schwan,” Prager Deutschen Studien 9, pt. 2 (1908): 1–27; and Robert Scribner, “The Incombustible Luther: The Image of the Reformer in Early Modern Europe,” Past and Present 110 (1986): 38–68, especially 41–42.

(55.) On Protestant polemics against church councils in the 1530s, see Eike Wolgast, “Das Konzil in den Erörterungen der kursächsischen Theologen und Politiker 1533–1537,” ARG 73 (1982): 122–152; Thomas Brockmann, Die Konzilsfrage in den Flug- und Streitschriften des deutschen Sprachraumes 1518–1563 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998), especially 262–287; and Phillip Haberkern, “‘After Me There Will Come Braver Men’: Jan Hus and Reformation Polemics in the 1530s,” German History 27 (2009): 177–195.

(56.) There were actually four letters in the collection.

(57.) LW 60:125.

(58.) LW 60:133.

(59.) Martin Luther, “Preface of Jan Hus, Some Very Godly and Erudite Letters, Sufficient of Themselves to Show the Godliness of the Papists is Satanic Madness [1414–16]” (1537), LW 60:152–157.

(60.) LW 60:157.

(61.) This point is made forcefully in Oberman, “Hus and Luther,” 157. Also see the more systematic treatments of Luther’s developing theology of history in John Headley, Luther’s View of Church History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963), especially ch. 6; and Matthias Pohlig, Zwischen Gelehrsamkeit und konfessioneller Identitätsstiftung: Lutherische Kirchen- und Universalgeschichtsschreibung 1546–1617 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 79–99.

(62.) This preface has been published as Martin Luther, “Preface to Confession of the Faith and Religion of the Barons and Nobles of the Kingdom of Bohemia” (1538), LW 60:214–219, at 216–217. This was actually the second preface that Luther wrote to one of the Brethren’s confessions during this decade; in 1533 he gave his stamp of approval to a text written by the Brethren for Margrave George of Brandenburg-Ansbach. That preface was similar to this one, but had less of a historical orientation. See Martin Luther, “Preface to Account of the Faith, Worship, and Ceremonies of the Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia, called by some ‘Pikarts’ or Waldensians” (1533), LW 60:23.

(63.) LW 60:217.

(64.) Martin Luther, “Preface to Complaint Concerning Good Faith, by a Pious and Spiritual Parson (As it Appears), from before Our Own Age, Recently Discovered [c. 13th–15th century]” (1535), LW 60:99–102, at 102.

(65.) Martin Luther, “Preface to Robert Barnes, Lives of the Roman Pontiffs” (1536), LW 60:111–116, at 114–115.

(66.) Martin Luther, “Preface to Galeatius Capella’s History” (1538), LW 34:269–278, at 278.

(67.) Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church (1539), LW 41:3–178, at 132–133.

(68.) LW 41:148–164.

(69.) LW 41:164.

(70.) LW 41:165.

(71.) LW 41:171.

(72.) On the development of Lutheran martyrology and history writing, see Heinz Scheible, ed., Die Anfänge der reformatorischen Geschichtschreibung: Melanchthon, Sleidan, Flacius und die Magdeburger Zenturien (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1966); Robert Kolb, For All the Saints: Changing Perceptions of Martyrdom and Sainthood in the Lutheran Reformation (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987); and Joachim Knape, “Melanchthon und die Historien,” ARG 91 (2000): 111–126.

(73.) Flacius’s work as a historian has yielded a massive historiography, but see particularly the analysis and bibliography in Martina Hartmann, Humanismus und Kirchenkritik: Matthias Flacius Illyricus als Erforscher des Mittelalters (Stuttgart: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2001); and Harald Bollbuck, Wahrheitszeugnis, Gottes Auftrag und Zeitkritik: die Kirchengeschichte der Magdeburger Zenturien und ihre Arbeitstechniken (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014).

(74.) This terminology is borrowed from the conclusion to Irena Backus, Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation (1378–1615) (Boston: Brill, 2003). Cf. Mark Greengrass and Matthias Pohlig, eds., “Themenschwerpunkt/Focal Point: The Protestant Reformation and the Middle Ages,” ARG 101 (2010).

(75.) Carl Ullmann, Reformatoren vor der Reformation: Vornehmlich in Deutschland und den Niederlanden, 2 vols. (Hamburg: Perthes, 1841–1842).

(76.) Albrecht Ritschl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, 2d ed. (Bonn: A. Marcus, 1882–1883); Adolf von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengechichte III: Die Entwicklung des kirchlichen Dogmas, 4th ed. (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1932); and Reinhold Seeberg, Lehrbuch der Dogmengechichte III: Die Dogmengeschichte des Mittelalters, 4th ed. (Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1930).

(77.) See references to both of these texts in the Further Reading section.

(78.) Oberman, Forerunners of the Reformation, 42.

(79.) Steven Ozment, Homo Spiritualis: A Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson and Martin Luther (1509–16) in the Context of their Theological Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1969); Scott Hendrix, Ecclesia in Via: Ecclesiological Developments in the Medieval Psalms Exegesis and the Dictata super Psalterium (1513–1515) of Martin Luther (Leiden: Brill, 1974); and on Luther and mysticism, see, e.g., Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen, Nos extra nos: Luthers Theologie zwischen Mystik und Scholastik (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1972).

(80.) See references to these texts in the Further Reading section.

(81.) See particularly the work of Haberkern and Kaufmann, cited in the Further Reading section.