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date: 28 April 2017

Martin Luther in the German Enlightenment

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Enlightenment, criticism, neology, Protestantism, reason

In the Age of Enlightenment, Martin Luther was received as a central, historical, legitimating authority. However, this situation applies only to German-speaking countries. By contrast, the English and French Enlightenment and other non-German Enlightenments barely (or not at all) included the reformer Luther in the process of their own search for identity. The confining of the reception of Luther to the German-speaking Enlightenment is done not to narrow it to a national focus, but rather to correspond to a historical state of affairs.


“The Reformation is to be glorified by hundreds of writings,” complained Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) in view of the upcoming anniversary at the end of October 1817, and he added, “Between us, there is nothing interesting in the entire matter except Luther’s character, which is the only thing that really impresses the crowd. All the rest is confused balderdash which continues to burden us on a daily basis.”1 The judgement may sound harsh, but the main interest of an entire era can be condensed into the solitary focus on Luther’s character. Incidentally, Goethe had at the same time, at the wish of Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758–1832), outlined a plan for a Reformation cantata, which would convey the dialectical tension of Law and Gospel in dramatic expression. Although it remained a fragment,2 the project matched the otherwise repeatedly affirmed esteem Goethe awarded the reformer, although expressed from an Olympian distance. “Luther worked to free us from spiritual bondage, […] he gave the heart its freedom again, and made it more capable of love,”3 he wrote in his 1773 pastoral letter, and, half a century later, almost as though imparting a legacy, he wrote to Johann Traugott Leberecht Danz (1769–1851): “If we are seeking to obtain a unity of disposition, word, object and action, then we may see ourselves as genuine followers of Luther—a man who seemed so great in this sense and who, even though erring, still remains worthy of honor.”4

While it would be wrong to include Goethe among the protagonists of the Enlightenment, at least in its narrow sense, certain essential features characteristic of that era from which he sprang were preserved in his image of Martin Luther (1483–1546).5 Overall, one should not so quickly restrict the epochal concept of the German Enlightenment to the second half of the 18th century. In this phase, it merely solidified in a particular way what was emerging initially and subcutaneously as a part of a pan-European intellectual movement since the end of the 17th century, and was increasingly manifested in different forms and figures. In this way, it could be appreciated as one version of the German and European Enlightenment—in itself however multifaceted—particularly in the perspective of the history of thought, as well as in the ecclesial and experiential emergence of Pietism.6

In the first third of the 18th century, a significant change in Luther’s image occurred: the revered memory cultivated by the churches of the Lutheran confession began to expand in the assessment of the reformer in the broader history of thought. In 1717, the anniversary of the Reformation, there was still much of this expansion left to experience.7 Out of deference to the emperor and the Catholic States, the Corpus Evangelicorum prohibited any powerful, empire-wide demonstration of the Protestant confession and permitted only territorial, independent celebrations. Saxony made extensive use of this permission, promoted by Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673–1749); other territories, however, celebrated in much more limited measures. Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, without taking part in it himself, allowed for the staging of the anniversary only on October 31, which fell on a Sunday in 1717. Like the memorial celebrations on the whole, related recognitions of Luther himself consistently remained attached to the old Protestant patterns: the Reformer, rapt in the presence, blazed in the glory of the apocalyptic angel (cf. Rev. 14:6) as a faultless tool of God in the final battle with the powers of darkness. A piquant story is that the historian and lawyer Johann Peter Ludewig (1668–1743), the vice-rector of Halle University, poured some water into the wine; the celebration of the anniversary, he let be announced, was an invention of the papacy, and moreover not only did the glorification of Luther trim the merits of the other reformers, but also it stoked party conflict among Protestant Christians.8

Two decades later, the change had become evident. The 18-volume Universal Lexicon[s] of All Science and Arts published in 1738 by Johann Heinrich Zedler (1706–1751)—the most extensive encyclopedia to appear in Europe during the 18th century9—presented concise information about Martin Luther in an article comprising 70 columns.10 Detailed inquiries about his genealogy marked the article’s beginning, in the course of which the anonymous author urgently recommended leaving the original grapheme “Luder” (which also can mean “bitch”) and instead, “to stay fairly with the pattern of writing ‘Luther’ already introduced in order to avoid further opportunity for mockery.”11 A detailed, consistently apologetically oriented and largely accurate12 outline of a biography followed, in strict chronological order, which traced the external history with relentless attention to detail; however, Luther’s internal religious struggles as well as his theological decisions and developments were included at best only sporadically and by intimation. The purpose of the strangely broad article13 was unmistakable: Luther should be brought to the public not as a man of the church, but as a German creator of language, ingenious Bible translator, and courageous freedom fighter. In short, he was a historical-cultural hero.

At first glance, it might seem at best odd that at its end the article offered the full table of contents, filling 31 columns, of the recently published 22-folio volume Leipziger Ausgabe (1729–1734).14 As this edition had also been published by Zedler, the detailed bibliographic evidence could easily be seen as a publishing advertisement for its own material. The Leipziger Ausgabe would soon stand in the shadows of a still greater and more modern edition, the one that appeared between 1740 and 1753 and that can also be characterized by its place of publication (Halle) and by its publisher, Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775).15 In other ways as well, great effort was taken to improve the knowledge of Luther. Numerous, often very detailed, biographical depictions promoted popularization; anthologies typical of the time presented, occasionally in alphabetical order, Kern- und Kraftstellen (“central and powerful passages”) from the writings of the reformers and thus sought to portion out its legacy conveniently and usably.16

What is already apparent, and quite exemplarily so, in Zedler, began to dominate the conception of history from the mid-century on. Indeed, the Reformation was first recognized and appreciated in the Enlightenment not only as a key era for the church, but also as key era for the history of thought. It was, as Frederick the Great (1712–1786) decided, “a blessing for the world and generally for the progress of the human mind.”17 And, in the eyes of the Prussian king, Luther had fully deserved “being established as the liberator of the fatherland,”18 even if he was not in a position to break through the limited horizon of his time. In his Göttingen Pocket Calendar(s) Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799) dated each respective year of this popular magazine “according to Luther’s improvement of religion” but apart from that showed himself unbiased enough to attest “true Protestantism”19 to the Jewish Enlightenment thinker Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786).

Luther quickly became the archetype of the enlightened identity itself,20 which becomes clear in the images of that time. His theological insights and writings are rarely invoked.21 When that did happen, it was more as an emphatic contrast to his character and his reformatory courage.22 Luther was univocally boasted about in a way that appeared compatible with enlightened thinking: he was an innovator for freedom of conscience and belief; a more sincere, more inquisitive, more rational friend of truth; a valiant fighter against religious heteronomy and for a declericalized Christianity. It was Luther’s deep inner piety and sense for the practical end of religion that impressed the Enlightenment thinkers of all confessions and that, on the Catholic side, occasionally seemed to make him a forerunner of the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1741–1790).23 “Our Luther,” recognized the Berlin theologian Friedrich Germanus Lüdke (1730–1792), “was a completely admirable man, a true guardian angel for the rights of reason, freedom of conscience for humanity and Christians.”24

By contrast, characteristics of Luther’s thought that run contrary to the Enlightenment—his anthropological pessimism, the doctrine of the bondage of the will, his experience of the hiddenness of God, his denial of the possibility of rational knowledge of God—remained largely ignored. The image by which the German Enlightenment envisioned the reformer was eclectic in every respect, not infrequently superficial, and always prefigured by the self-understanding of the age. Its ambivalences deserve special attention. The condemnation of the aesthetic of Luther’s language—which Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1760), Johann Jakob Bodmer (1698–1783), and Johann Christoph Adelung (1732–1806) found to be barbaric25—soon turned into the opposite: Luther “awakened and set the German language, a sleeping giant, free,”26 according to Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). From then on a number of writers agreed, including Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803)27 and Friedrich Nicolai (1733–1811),28 uniformly praising Luther’s language. However, what persisted was the critique of Luther’s unreasonable vehemence and also his merely adequate education—somewhat in comparison with Erasmus. The character traits that appeared contrary to the classic legacy of the reformers were downplayed by selective interpretation. The poet Matthias Claudius (1740–1815), who was well-versed in his knowledge of Luther, did not conceal critique where it seemed necessary.

He was also rude and violent, and he was more so than necessary in the debate over the sacraments.… And if Luther, with his power and fullness, which no one or few are given, had been given to be gentle and thoughtful, like Melanchthon was, … then perhaps many other things would have happened, and in this struggle as well, unity could have been maintained … But Luther was no saint.29

Indeed, Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) was clearly more highly regarded by the majority of theological thinkers in the Enlightenment. That is primarily based on his humanistic outlook, which, for instance, led him to acknowledge notitia naturalis (natural knowledge) as a legitimate source of insight and evidence of the existence of God in the final version of his Loci communes (1559), as well as his controversial theological irenicism. Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791) compared the relationship of Melanchthon and Luther with the relationship of Paul and Peter.30 The Enlightenment thinkers also regarded Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), who had a stronger humanistic education than did Luther, as a forerunner of their mindset. To them, his familiar appreciation of antiquity was as congenial as the simplicity and practical orientation of this theological thought, particularly his role in the Eucharistic debates: Zwingli engaged his chief opponents with considerate, respectful temperance and was guided by a more appropriate concept of Christian freedom in this matter, whereas Luther, as Heinrich Philipp Konrad Henke (1752–1809) put it, “fell into a certain deep darkness”31 in his interpretation of the words of the Lord’s Supper. Unsurprisingly, the Enlightenment thinkers were hardly in a position to warm up to John Calvin (1509–1564).

Appreciation for Melanchthon and Zwingli implied opposition to the criticisms that had been leveled at them in earlier confessional disputes. Above all, the Enlightenment theologians disapproved of the many early doctrinal controversies, by which the Reformation and the fruit of its scattered seed were deceived and the opponents of true Enlightenment were led to victory. Their appreciation was given practical shape in their assessment of the symbolical books of Protestant churches. Even if the confessional writings did much good, they were largely misused as an instrument against freedom of belief and conscience (as were such writings as those of the Synod of Dort).32

Yet not only this dialectical reversal but also the ambivalences already represented in the first Reformation generation are inseparably associated with the question of how far the expectations awakened by it lagged behind the appreciation of that “revolution.” Thus, the history of ideas offered proof of continuity between the Reformers’ and Enlightenment thinkers’ identities, and also became the motor for the task of the Enlightenment’s presentation of itself. Looking back on the origins of Protestantism, the theological Enlightenment found itself to be the authorized executor of its will: “Not much longer,” rejoiced the “General German Library,” “until the heavenly light, which Luther could see only in dreams, will sweetly come to pass with us!”33

Case Studies

The perceptions the Age of Enlightenment had of the Wittenberg reformer need to be identified. To provide a clearly focused profile for this expansive impression, it will be best to examine three exemplary aspects of Enlightenment thought: literature, historiography, and theology. Details of two representatives of each will be given, partes pro toto, regarding how the image of Luther was presented and altered in those three genres,34 or, rather, how in each case his portrait was shaded, composed and adapted to its presenter’s own needs.


For German authors of the 18th century, Luther was consistently and respectfully considered as a great man of history. The fact that many of these authors grew up as the son of a Protestant pastor35 may not be a causal but rather a supporting factor to be considered. However, the clearly intensified interest of later Enlightenment literati36 once again barely targeted the theological concerns and struggles of the reformer. As the previous example of Goethe showed, the reference was to Luther’s “character.” In this respect, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) and Herder (1744–1803) shall stand as representatives.


Lessing, born a pastor’s son in Kamenz, Saxony, consistently dealt with the theology of his time37 and therefore also dealt productively with the reception of Luther carried out in it.38 During the early 1750s, as Lessing formulated his “Vindications,”39 his emphatic esteem for Luther peppered his writings. “Our father of the purified doctrine”40 was for him “one of the greatest men, the world ever saw.”41 The high “scholarship and piety of the improvers of our faith,”42 and associated with that, the noble selflessness of his efforts,43 demanded boundless praise and respect. However, Lessing was at the same time careful not to confuse such reverence with praise for the Lutheran ministry. He disapproved of that kind of praise of Luther as hypocrisy conditioned by profession.44 On the other hand, he sought to affirm an enlightened, critical image of Luther born “of conviction,”45 which he alone had won by the principled historicization of the reformer. “Thankfulness, if one overstates it, becomes idolatry.… We bless Luther’s memory as is appropriate; but adoration pushed so far that one will not make him liable for the smallest defects, as if God could otherwise not have performed what he did through him […] is, in my opinion, rather excessive.”46 The following, oft-cited sentence regarding Luther may be understood along the same lines: it was “very good [for me] to have identified some small shortcomings in him, because I was otherwise in danger of idolizing him.”47

Such shortcomings, which were welcome to Lessing as “marks of humanity,”48 were not lacking. He highlighted two failings. On one hand, he disapproved of Luther’s choleric temperament, the blind heat into which he could fall, and “his meanness,” which arose from it: “How deep does wrath and rage degrade even this most honest, most holy man!” The comment that “a less intense mind”49 could have accomplished Luther’s efforts only with difficulty in those days served less as an excuse than as historical distance. On the other hand, Lessing rebuked Luther’s hard theological intolerance, which he saw permeated by the “spirit of the papacy,”50 and which proved highly disastrous in the first Protestant struggle over the Eucharist. “What hostile fate would let two men be at odds over words, over nothing?; think what could have been accomplished, to establish again religion in its special splendor clarity, if they had worked with united forces!”51

In all this, the young Lessing remained, at least with a grain of salt, on the track set by Walch and before that by Zedler. A quarter of a century later, the need for differentiating distance had long since given way to a free, self-assured reference. Lessing’s appreciation of the power of speech demonstrated by the reformer manifested itself in the plan for a Luther Dictionary, which in fact never progressed beyond preliminary groundwork.52 In the Fragments controversy with Johann Melchior Goeze (1717–1786), Lessing found polemical delight in styling himself as the true advocate of the Lutheran Church: “You, Pastor, do you have the slightest spark of the Lutheran spirit?—You? You who are not even capable of understanding Luther’s school system?”53 Lessing knew well that for his part he was neither adequately competent nor willing to reconstruct “Luther’s school system” with expertise. However, this fact did not mark him as embarrassingly deficient so much as programmatically part of the Enlightenment: “The true Lutheran does not want to be protected by Luther’s writing; he wants to be protected by Luther’s spirit.”54 And it is precisely this spirit that propelled him to come to the defense of the New Testament translation55 by Carl Friedrich Bahrdt (1741–1792) against Goeze, who had demanded authoritarian measures of censorship—not because he blindly wanted to endorse its highly questionable philological quality, but rather simply because he wanted the formal justice, whereby no one would be able to delegitimize or hinder the intention, “to go forth in the knowledge of the truth according to his own discretion.”56 The typical contemporary antithesis between “Luther’s writing” and “Luther’s spirit,” was taken to the extreme, but it is precisely in this way, as will be shown,57 that it cleared the way for the substantial potential of innovation in the history of thought.


Herder largely agreed with Lessing, whom he personally knew and esteemed, in his high regard for Luther.58 He defined his main interest in Luther’s personality, however, by connecting it with the new concept of “genius”: Luther was to him a “great mind and true genius.”59 Behind the “completely selfless, sincere, sacrificial character,”60 which was visible outwardly, privately there was concealed “the gentlest and most upright man, who struggled more with himself, than many believe of him.”61 The “harsh expressions”62 with which he sometimes burst out, and the passions that drove him, seemed to Herder explainable by the circumstances.63

Herder added a much deeper, but not uncritical, understanding of theology than Lessing. In this respect, he regarded Luther as a “lively man of faith and genuine son of Paul.”64 Luther’s De servo arbitrio, which Herder valued greatly, can only be grasped rightly when one empathizes with the character of its author and emerges with him through struggle to the problems negotiated there.65 However, Herder did not share the reformer’s disdain for the Epistle to James. Herder believed that Luther had devoted himself too strongly and narrowly to his “favorite doctrine,” justification sola fide, whereas “the spheres of the spirit of God is indeed essentially greater than Luther’s scope of view.”66

Herder considered the crucial historical impulse brought about by Luther to be the rationalization and individualization of the spiritual and intellectual life. He created67 “space for philosophy in the masculine language of reason” and established the freedom of conscience as “the Reformation principle.”68 Therefore, Herder exhorted, “Let us use and apply to our time his mindset […] and the truths he so strongly, though naively, stated!”69 Moreover, Herder never wearied of extolling the reformer’s primitive power of speech and particularly his art of versification. Luther’s hymns, it was said in the preface to the 1778 Weimar Songbook, were “songs, which thrill with the immediate feeling of truth and the voice of a higher world.”70 The fact that the plan prepared in 1792 for a great Luther biography remained stuck in draft form71 was blamed by many contemporaries on the prevailing atmosphere in Weimar at that time.72

Nevertheless, the title designated for it, Luther, a Teacher of the German Nation, offers an important clue. In fact, Herder later turned the reformer into a national myth. “Luther,” announced the “Letter to the Advancement of Humanity,” “was a patriotic, great man … and most importantly gave all peoples once again the use of reason in the most serious, the most spiritual matters.”73 In particular, however, Luther became the language teacher of his nation: “He first shaped the classical literary language of the Germans. All his writings […] breathe German strength.”74 The result was first that a broad literary public arose in Germany,75 and now “every German, if he wants to be read by the better part of the nation, must write as an evangelical, protestant, and Lutheran.”76 Herder recognized promising potential in the fact that Luther’s purpose, “to provide pure, free religion of conscientiousness of understanding and heart,”77 naturally highlighted the conditions of the period: “noble shadow … may you become once more the teacher of your nation, its prophet and preacher; perhaps Germany will hear […] your voice, its truth as bright as midday, its tone and sound so penetrating, if at times horrible and terrible.”78 In that way, Luther became the patron of the Protestant national religion and an inspiring powerful archetype during the second German empire—he already was so to Herder.


In the 18th century, Protestant church history took a decisive turn that became foundational for the emergence of modernity. With relentless momentum (albeit slowed down by multiple controversial theological as well as other motives), it strove to appropriate and fruitfully apply to historiography the understanding of history as one—no longer distinguishing the duality of historia sacra and historia humana seu profana—as originally advanced by Jean Bodin (1530–1596) in continuation of the Humanists’ practical-pedagogical notion of history. The detailed scheme of the loci structure still largely dominated the field of historiography at the beginning of the century. By contrast, progress was achieved in “neological” church historiography, as the pragmatic method was used in the treatment of historical material without reservation as well as in the historical-critical use of sources. Consequently, a historicization of history took place. This profound upheaval naturally also shaped the perception of Luther. In this respect, it may be helpful, to quickly compare the account of Gottfried Arnold (1666–1714) composed at the turn of the 18th century with the image of Luther presented by Johann Matthias Schroeckh (1733–1808), the neological historiographer and student of Mosheim.


Goethe’s famous dictum, “all of church history is nothing other than a mixture of mistakes and violence,”79 puts in a nutshell (with provocative emphasis) the general impression he had acquired from reading Arnold’s Impartial History of Churches and Heretics.80 This major work of the learned, radical Pietist experienced wide, lasting attention in other ways as well. The word impartial in the title should signify the trans-confessional and non-ecclesiastical standpoint of the author, and at the same time identify his decisive criterion of truth: because Arnold qualified all institutional objectification of belief as a sign of deterioration, only living individual saints detached from the world counted for him as witnesses to true, sincere religion. The assumption that Goethe’s concept of genius could be structurally analogous to Arnold’s concept of the heretic would certainly be worth considering.

In the fifth chapter of the 16th book, Arnold reports on “the condition of the papacy before Luther and the instruments and promoters of the Reformation and especially of Luther.”81 The first word of the part devoted to Luther reads82 “initially” and thereby immediately signals the bottom line: just as church history as a whole is rightly understood within a theory of decay, the reformer should be as well. Initially, Luther was an irreproachable instrument of God’s grace, “a splendid example of a true, evangelical Christian and teacher … full of power.”83 Outward theological learning and the interior experience of God84 agree harmoniously in him. His outstanding “natural gifts were sanctified by grace.”85 Indeed his whole being tended toward sanctification evincing unfeigned humility, devotion, and modesty as well as an irreproachable conduct. Arnold claimed that this initial ideal state with regard to Luther’s public demeanor lasted seven years.86 The moment it broke apart was tacitly, but clearly, connoted: it fell in the middle of the 1520s and manifested itself in his recourse to worldly authority resolutely implemented after the Peasants War, and, parallel to that, in his conversion from the monastic life to the married life.

If one looks more carefully, however, one also finds the description of the golden awakening consistently accompanied by retarding elements. The young Luther’s emphasis on grace would “overall have proved … its power, had it remained in the same strength, and would not have been stunted by subsequent obstacles,”87 namely by his own growing pusillanimity88 and the provocation of his enemies.89 Over time, Luther’s flaws emerged more and more clearly. Arnold contrasted the hagiographic adoration, already bestowed on him in his lifetime and all the more after his death,90 with two mitigating considerations. Not only before, but also during and after Luther, there were “witnesses to the truth […] without his instruction or authority” yet honest and just.91As for his doctrines, his misjudgement regarding the letter of James and the Book of Revelation evinces that for him, too, “to err was human in many important points.”92 Moreover, Luther was discredited by blind followers93 and misguided emulation. “Many of his admirers had preferred to follow his fiery, fierce disposition […], rather than his virtues, meekness and love of Christ.”94 In fact, Luther was less and less capable of controlling his hot temper, “and additionally there are not just a few passages in his writings which one might wish were left out.”95 Arnold identified further defects, often referenced by third-party quotations, such as Luther’s increasing arrogance, his revelry (as his lifestyle was not averse to “drinking, dancing and playing”96), as well as, climactically, his marriage, which to Arnold was not only handled wrongly, but also involved choosing the wrong woman.97

Arnold’s assertion that he nonetheless cherishes Luther with absolutely no “intention of diminishing this marvelous instrument”98 of God is likely to be credible and sincere. Eventually, Luther was subjected to only the law of nature inscribed in church history, which emerged on a large scale in the changes brought by Constantine and now particularly applied to his fate. Thus far, “his example confirms the experience that people, especially teachers, never do better than when they are put under the cross and persecution. […] Because then the heart does not have anything to rely on and must run to God alone in its deep need […]. But as soon as it notices a visible shelter and comfort, it vaunts and does not know itself in the midst of its eruption of pride.”99 In this way, for Arnold, Luther’s individual personality was ultimately relevant only as a preferred example and proof of his general theory of decay in church history.


The representation of Luther presented by Schroeckh, which unmistakably emerges in the introductory statement of intent, is of a completely different kind. While he perceives that historically detailed research dedicated to Luther is reasonably accomplished, Schroeckh recognizes that there is still a significant backlog concerning the effects Luther caused: “We need […] depictions of him, which could be established for the benefit of our and any future world.”100 Schroeckh thus provides, in two parts of equal length, first a biography and then a depiction of what “he really did; whose fruits 200 years later on we more vivaciously enjoy than did our ancestors, and which posterity may well enjoy still more strongly than we do.”101

The first biographical part is solid, circumspect, and thoroughly supported by sources, but it is almost exclusively interested in the external sequence of events and hardly at all in Luther’s writings and theology. Although Schroeckh occasionally identifies criticism raised against Luther, his general tone is overall rather favorable, sometimes even apologetic. The fact that the historical Luther presented here arose directly from the workshop of the neologian is clear, for instance in his explanation of the Invocavit sermons, within which Luther had followed the principle that the improvement of religion must not take its beginning from external things, but rather from the enlightenment of reason.102

By comparison, the second part appears far more revealing; it offers Luther’s reception history not quite in linear sequence, but it is decidedly limited to the question of which negative consequences are identified in his own time. Luther was, it is said summarily, “a great benefactor of the human race,” because he broke the chains enslaving the understanding and knowledge and gave humanity the “right of thought and one’s own study”103 back. He especially freed secular authority from all church dominance, so that, “henceforth in all Europe,” even in France,104 one might see “that the government of our princes, freed from the commands and threats of an Italian bishop, can become an undisturbed blessing for their subjects.”105 Likewise the regained freedom of conscience, the rise of schools, and the general improvement of morality are also “without doubt Luther’s work.”106In short, humanity began to be infinitely more self-aware of life and its rights, since that time Luther freed it from the lethal constraints of so many centuries.”107 Meanwhile, the “progress of belief,” which was no longer overlooked even in the Catholic Church, marked “the most noble of Luther’s merits.”108 All in all, Schroeckh recognized the historical importance of the reformer as unparalleled: just as the reformation represented “the greatest and most wonderful revolution, which has occurred in the church since the days of Christ and the Apostle”109 so he believed that “after the founders of Christianity, among the Christians of all time, no one had rendered such outstanding services to the dissemination, commendation, and explanation of the divine word as Luther had.”110

All the same, Schroeckh concedes Luther “had not done everything alone; historical justice”111 demanded that this be stated and revealed. Thus he recognizes a direct forerunner112 in Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536). Moreover, there is an array of teachers of the church—also well-ordered to lead to a climax—on whose precedent Luther drew: Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), William of Ockham (c. 1285–1349), Jean Gerson (1363–1429), Johannes Tauler (c. 1300–1361) and finally Augustine (354–430). Additionally, the printing press and a peaceful political climate also helped enable Luther’s achievements.

In the end, Schroeckh sketched an image of his hero, that, not surprisingly, is thoroughly painted in the brightest colors and really shows only a single small, but significant, defect: Luther’s choleric temperament, the vehemence and bitter sharpness that occasionally flowed through the ink of his quill.113 In this respect, Luther was indeed “no saint, but still a Christian, of whom the adherents of our religion in the apostolic period would not have had to be ashamed.”114

For Schroeckh, the main defining historical merit is found not in what Luther recognized as the truth, but rather in the total “resolve to live only”115 for what he, completely constrained by his time, had recognized as truth. With this attitude, he won the “greatest and rarest fame, that he enlightened and set his century and all future ones at liberty, that he sowed a seed, which as long as there are people, will bear fruit.”116 It was also only and solely because of Luther’s attitude that Christianity “every fifty years and sometime more often,” undergoes “a reformation,” and, with regard to the current destiny of neology, that “we have courage, strength, and good instructions to improve it.”117


Naturally, Luther also played a major role as a reference point for the confessional assurance of identity in the systematic reflection of Enlightenment theology. In doing so, theoretical work sought, on the one hand, to determine with great accuracy the historical place of the reformer and thus to make possible a critical adaptation of his legacy, while on the other hand to go far beyond the mere, explicit evocation of his name, let alone his writings. That makes the task of reconstructing references to Luther in Enlightenment theologies, with their breadth and variety, challenging and at the same time appealing. Examples in this genre contrast the explicit reception of Luther of the Halle professor of theology Semler with Luther’s implicit adaptation by Johann Joachim Spalding (1714–1804), the Berlin provost and senior councilor of the consistory.


In the second volume of the Lebenbeschreibung (1782), Semler rendered a cohesive account of his evaluation of Luther.118 He did not deny that he stood nearer to Erasmus and Melanchthon. Apart from that, two aspects seem especially significant in his assessment of Luther: the presentation is consistently immanent; it is not salvation-historical, but rather strictly secular, and Semler introduces the difference between public and private religion.119

Initially Semler made a strong, historical relativity of the Reformation. Basically “all [!] truths, which the reformers espoused,” had already been “recognized and plainly articulated before” them.120 “The greatest gain” for that early modern transition was due to Erasmus, “whereas neither Zwingli nor Luther first found or discovered a single new idea or major concept.”121 The latter “did” only “very little” anyhow, and had he died immediately, then “a reformation would have made […] fairly good progress anyway.”122 Luther’s personality remained of interest to him, not his doctrine. Luther’s “honest attitude, his knowledge and holy practice of inner religion as well as his true contact with God”123 seemed especially estimable to Semler. On the other hand, his violent manner of writing was inexcusable, not to mention the fierce, crude, and “coarse partisanship”124 of his judgement. Additionally, he was accused of “narcissism” and “too much self-assurance”;125 even his marriage at the age of forty-one seemed suspect to Semler.126 Regarding Luther’s theology, he did consistently draw “practical [!] tenets”127 from the Bible, but Semler considered the metaphysical consequences, which he drew out, to be obsolete, which is why he moved away from the writing, De servo arbitrio as well as from Luther’s doctrine of original sin, two nature Christology, and the Trinity. Current theology, Semler decided, would be served only by “good excerpts from Luther’s writings,” while the complete oeuvre of the reformer would be “not only unnecessary for a preacher, but rather even detrimental.”128

In light of all that, what he perceived as “Luther’s true virtue”129 is astounding. Semler recognized this virtue in the double freedom that Luther opened up: he delivered Christians from the “slavery” of the papal church and empowered them “to think for themselves and to follow one’s conscience” even “over Christian ideas and truths.”130 Semler did not consider the beginning of religious tolerance and free, autonomous individuality born of this “spirit of Christian freedom”131 to be constrained or damaged at all by the fact that Luther sometimes appeared highly intolerant132 in order to defend himself against the accusation of wild, theological pluralization and put himself evidently in the wrong by claiming that “the Roman and Swiss church have no true Christian religion.”133 In reality, Semler judged, none of the Eucharistic doctrines argued for in the Reformation era could claim to be an essential “part of the general doctrine of faith,” because they represent only a statute of public religion assisting a particular church “in the outward integration of its many members into one ecclesial society.”134

And even in the Lutheran church one has to distinguish carefully between public religious principles and Luther’s private opinion, particularly because “the unavoidable particularity of one’s own understanding” should have been known to the reformer given that “the changeability of insight” stood “before his eyes from his own example.”135 Therefore, neither Luther’s invectives against the “pious Schwenkfeld”136 nor even the Schmalkald articles can claim any confessional normativity.137

Overall, Semler recognized Luther’s true significance as being the one to free Christians to an autonomous formation of their life of faith. He thus deduced for his own time the obligation neither to limit “private confessions and private judgments by external regulations of public doctrine and public worship”138 nor to hypostatize any religious “private judgment”139 to the rank of a church dogma. With a final sigh, however, Semler made clear how distant he thought his own time still was from an ability to distinguish between the spirit and the letter in Luther’s legacy: “we should have imitated his great charitable attitude, his practice of prayer; but we learned his words.”140


Semler’s resigned judgement was certainly not generally valid, and it held true least of all for Spalding. As the highest ranking ecclesiastical representative of Prussian Lutheranism, Spalding was also naturally intimately familiar with Luther’s life and work.141 There can be no doubt regarding his sincere devotion to the reformer, “whose free and bright spirit, in the midst of the thick darkness of his time and his church, nevertheless penetrated to the truth in so many points.”142 Surprisingly, though, Spalding mentions him by name only three times in his entire work, Melanchthon merely once, and other reformers not at all. Apparently, he did not want to let any suspicion at all grow that he indulged in Reformation history hero worship or strove for unhistorical repristination of their doctrine. Spalding’s efforts were aimed solely at updating the fundamental ideas of Lutheranism, thus yielding an elastic identity by means of his own adaptation of the Lutheran structure as part of an authentic, simultaneously traditional and contemporary, articulation of the Christian faith.143 The implementation of such theological transformation is quickly illustrated with one example, to which a number of others could be added.

Luther famously turned the doctrine of justification into the structuring principle of his theology. The term he is said to have coined for it, articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (the article on which the church stands or falls), does not originate with him in its formulation,144 but it probably does in substance. In order to come to a contemporary, usable application of this doctrine, Semler subjected it to a consequent historicization. “The improvers of the church of the sixteen hundreds,”145 he decided, had found themselves in an analogous situation to that of Paul, in that they might not deny the foundation of the life of faith as manifested in charitable activity, but rather denied the common view at the time, which let one acquire “a righteousness of heaven” through “empty, external acts of arbitrary devotion, superstitious asceticism, perceived holy devotions.”146 In contrast, Spalding sought to determine the historical conditions under which the religious instruction of his own time fell. In the process, he diagnosed that there was no danger that true faith would slide into works righteousness but rather that the confusion of true and imaginary faith was much more pressing as the main problem of his time.147 Because this religious need could only be mistaken by a “poorly understood reliance”148 on Luther’s doctrine of justification, it was necessary to take the difference between the time periods into account, in order not “to fight a way of thinking which is perhaps not at all debated in our churches”149 in a misguided Lutheran striving for identity. Given the danger that people of his acquaintance were more likely to “turn faith into a merit than works of piety”150 (which he identified as a severe danger), the reminder to be cautious, instead of denying the truth of the Lutheran doctrine of justification, should merely offer a warning against its unhistorical application, missing the needs of the present religious state.151

Spalding noted that the evangelical doctrine of faith does not refer just to particular spheres of activity but even more to the orientation of the soul to God, which is foundational to any right action: “We should first teach man to be good before we give him instructions to do good.”152 That this maxim is not found verbatim in Luther’s On Christian Freedom of 1520 but is shaped in a substantially similar way153 excludes any suspicion of plagiarism, not only because no direct reception of this writing can be established for Spalding, but also because both Luther and Spalding very directly applied the image of the good and bad tree from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:17–18).


The judgements concerning Luther, which pleased the 18th century, and the images it painted of him are diverse, persistently purposive, and not always compatible. However, overall, the German Enlightenment thinkers increasingly focused their attention on the personality and the character of the reformer, while at the same time Luther’s substantive theological writings and decisions lost their current importance. This transition had two effects—both of them far-reaching. On the one hand, the father of Protestantism grew into a hero of German intellectual history. On the other hand, as Luther’s figure rose to the center of the civic educational canon, not only did it experience a sustainable vitalization of interest and occasionally joy, but the foundations were laid as well for the rediscovery of the theology of the reformer as worthy of exploration and discussion, some time before the so-called Luther renaissance of the 20th century.

The significance of the German Enlightenment’s image of Luther becomes apparent mainly in explicitly self-legitimizing references to the reformer. Already by mid-century, the later neologian Anton Friedrich Büsching (1724–1793) recognized the true greatness of Luther in his determination “by all means to depend on no other man in religious matters, but rather only on his own insight, conviction and decision.”154 In such a way, Luther’s desire for freedom, which pietism had mostly located in the fight against the papal church, was expanded by the Enlightenment into a verdict against any paternalism of belief and conscience. Thus, it was hardly surprising that, in the end, the pathos of freedom assigned to Luther turned against his own, time-bound doctrinal development, and “the true Lutheran,” as Lessing (representative of many) expressed it, found a home and identity “not in Luther’s writings,” but “in Luther’s spirit.”155

This orientation is demonstrated in a remarkable, widely disseminated figure of thought. In the process, this question was debated with critical intent: what would happen if Luther came back and lived in their era? Up to the first third of the 18th century, the answer was thoroughly negative, reflecting a disapproving rebuke of later Lutheran orthodoxy not only from Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705)156 and other Pietists, but also, for example, with biting irony, from the young Johann Christoph Gottsched.157 Later, however, the answer became invariably positive: Nowadays, the Enlightenment thinkers unanimously asserted, Luther would teach and strive—like us! The matters about which he had once made significant decisions were not visible, but the effects they had achieved were. In the Enlightenment era, they were convinced, Luther would castigate all confessional narrow-mindedness; he would, as Bahrdt radically expressed it, “approach his stupid parrots and even rail against those who think themselves more pious and wise than others by feeding off his garbage.”158 When there was a prominent Protestant bi-confessional marriage in Berlin in 1770, the lyric poet Anna Louisa Karsch (1722–1791) extolled the vision of a heavenly parapet, from which Luther and Calvin, embracing each other, look out in gracious benevolence upon the Lutheran-Reformed couple, as if already summoning the Prussian Union of 1817.159 And Frederick the Great appeared completely convinced that Luther would have made himself familiar with Socinianism had he been a contemporary.160

However, they reclaimed Luther not only as an authority for their own theological self-affirmation, but also as a prophetic voice of warning, in order to accelerate and accomplish the ongoing process of the Enlightenment with vigor. “Shall we,” Nicholai asked, “not go further on the same path?”161 Much more critically, Lichtenberg drew on the system-shattering dynamic of the reformer: “We Protestants think we now live now in very enlightened times with respect to our religion. What if a new Luther arose now?”162 And Lessing fled directly to Luther before the “myopic die-hards” who constantly referenced the reformer: “Who will finally bring us Christianity, as you would teach it now?”163 Of course, in Luther’s arms, Lessing found not the reformer’s historical figure, but rather himself, strengthened with new courage to fight. In this way, Luther advanced “as a witness of a completely free search for truth even against the authority of his own doctrines.”164 Because while he “saved” us in his time “from the yoke of tradition,” he now saves “us from the more intolerable yoke of the letter”165—note Lessing’s use of the comparative degree! Luther’s principle of sola scriptura, which probably had its historical warrant, now, as Lessing demanded, must be replaced by the principle of a strict religion of reason. No one put the Enlightenment maxim Luther vs. Lutheranism more sharply. For Spalding, an analogous interest (not in all consequences but in this particular approach) also made the Enlightenment the “new Reformation.”166

The paradigm shift experienced by this era in its awareness of Luther has epochal significance. While interest in the reception shifted from the work to the person and from the writings to the spirit of the reformer, it transformed the hitherto usual position to a structural discipleship of Luther. This of course did not exclude the fact that individual substantive insights and decisions continued to be shown as plausible. Nevertheless, the way of accessing Luther had now fundamentally changed: now one sought to maintain and make fruitful the legacy of the reformer by critical examination, and no longer in unconditional partiality. The positive basic consensus on which the Enlightenment thinkers agreed should appear even from a distance of time still worthy of assent. In their structural discipleship, they received Luther as a teacher of the church based on Scripture and Reason.

In fact, Luther’s theology, while centered on the Bible in a special way,167 was also, inevitably, due to his own faith, shaped by his own personal experience of God. Theodor Fontane (1819–1898) had an unflinching perspective on this matter: “Luther replaced specific dogmas that were the products of the church by dogmas conforming to his personal biblical interpretation.”168 Undoubtedly, there is a certain element of truth in that judgement. And perhaps the Bible can only ever act on the formation of theological theories by being articulated within one’s own Scripture-shaped experience of faith as well as one’s own awareness of truth developed in conversation with it.

At the same time, Luther’s theology was eminently rational in manner and intensity. In Worms, he met the demand to recant with the stipulation that his error had to be proven to him from Scripture “or reason.”169 His theological manner of thinking and arguing was thoroughly based on experience170 and common sense. At the same time, Luther, long before Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), accepted reason as reasonable insofar as it was ready at any time to recognize and acknowledge its boundaries.171

The theologians of the Enlightenment fulfilled their structural discipleship of Luther by always striving to embrace the theological work incumbent upon them as their responsibility “following Luther” in two ways, established biblically and controlled rationally. Such theology could be simultaneously completely authentic to the sense of Luther, but also self-critical and battle-ready. In a number of respects, this could to lead to a substantive distancing from Luther, but in another sense to a reshaped appropriation of Luther. Unlike a pseudo-Lutheran, grail-keeping ghost, the German Enlightenment could remain true to both sides of the legacy that he left behind.

Further Reading

Beutel, Albrecht. Kirchengeschichte im Zeitalter der Aufklärung: Ein Kompendium UTB 3180. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009.Find this resource:

Beutel, Albrecht. “Die reformatorischen Wurzeln der Aufklärung: Ein Beitrag zur frühneuzeitlichen Transformationsgeschichte des Protestantismus.” In Reformation und Aufklärung. Edited by Christoph Strohm and Wolf-Friedrich Schäufele. Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2017.Find this resource:

Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther im Spiegel der deutschen Geistesgeschichte: Mit ausgewählten Texten von Lessing bis zur Gegenwart. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970.Find this resource:

Kaufmann, Thomas. “Reformationsgedenken in der Frühen Neuzeit: Bemerkungen zum 16, bis 18: Jahrhundert.” ZThK 107 (2010): 285–324.Find this resource:

Moeller, Bernd. Luther in der Neuzeit: Wissenschaftliches Symposion des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte. Papers presented at the symposium September 8–11, 1982, held in Heidelberg. SVRG 192. Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus G. Mohn, 1983.Find this resource:

Zeeden, Ernst Walter. Martin Luther und die Reformation im Urteil des deutschen Luthertums. 2 vols. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1950–1952.Find this resource:


(1.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Carl Ludwig von Knebel, August 22, 1817, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Weimarer Ausgabe (Weimar, 1903) 4:28. Reprint (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1987), 227, 18–28.

(2.) Cf. Bernhard Suphan, “Goethe und das Jubelfest der Reformation—Goethes Vorschlag zur Feier, Plan einer Reformations-Cantate und Entwurf zu einem Reformations-Denkmal für Berlin,” Goethe-Jahrbuch 16 (1895): 3–12; and Rudolf Hermann, “Goethes und Zelters Plan einer Reformationskantate,” ZSTh 18 (1941): 213–223.

(3.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Brief des Pastors zu *** an den neuen Pastor ***: Aus dem Französischen,” in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Weimarer Ausgabe (Weimar, 1896) 1:37. Reprint (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1987), 153–173, here: 163, 10–11, 17–18.

(4.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Johann Traugott Leberecht Danz, June 10, 1826, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Weimarer Ausgabe (Weimar, 1907) 4:41; reprint (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1987), 56, 17–22. Cf. for example, Jörg Baur, “Martin Luther im Urteil Goethes,” Goethe-Jahrbuch 113 (1996): 11–22; Jörg Baur, “Luther, Martin,” in Goethe Handbuch, vol. 4.2, eds. Hans-Dietrich Dahnke and Regine Otto (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1998), 674–677; Herbert Felden, “Martin Luther in der Sicht Goethes,” in Früh vertraut—spät entdeckt: Dichter begegnen dem Buch der Bücher (Stuttgart: Quell-Verl., 1987), 112–125; and Wolfgang Hecht, “‘… ein Genie sehr bedeutender Art’: Goethes Lutherbild und seine Wandlungen,” Impulse 7 (1984): 95–116.

(5.) A selection of the most important literature is listed here: Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther im Spiegel der deutschen Geistesgeschichte: Mit ausgewählten Texten von Lessing bis zur Gegenwart (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970); Bernd Moeller, Luther in der Neuzeit: Wissenschaftliches Symposion des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte. Papers presented at the symposium September 8–11, 1982, held in Heidelberg. SVRG 192 (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus G. Mohn, 1983); Walter Mostert, “Luther, Martin III: Wirkungsgeschichte,” TRE 21 (1991): 567–594; Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen, “Wirkung und Rezeption,” in Luther Handbuch, ed. Albrecht Beutel (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 461–488; Horst Stephan, Luther in den Wandlungen seiner Kirche (Berlin: A. Töpelmann, 1951); Karl Völker, Die Kirchengeschichtsschreibung der Aufklärung (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]), 1921; Ernst Walter Zeeden, Martin Luther und die Reformation im Urteil des deutschen Luthertums. 2 vols. (Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1950–1952); (cf. the critical review of vol. 1 by Heinrich Bornkamm in HZ 174 (1952): 115–121).

(6.) Cf. Albrecht Beutel, Kirchengeschichte im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. Ein Kompendium, UTB 3180 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 92–96.

(7.) Cf. Hans-Jürgen Schönstädt, “Das Reformationsjubiläum 1717: Beiträge zur Geschichte seiner Entstehung im Spiegel landesherrlicher Verordnungen,” ZKG 93 (1982): 58–118; Wolfgang Flügel, Konfession und Jubiläum. Zur Institutionalisierung der lutherischen Gedenkkultur in Sachsen 1617–1830, Schriften zur sächsischen Geschichte und Volkskunde 14 (Leipzig Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2005), 125–167; Harm Cordes, Hilaria evangelica academica. Das Reformationsjubiläum von 1717 an den deutschen lutherischen Universitäten, FKDG 90 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006); and Thomas Kaufmann, “Reformationsgedenken in der Frühen Neuzeit. Bemerkungen zum 16: bis 18: Jahrhundert,” ZThK 107 (2010): 285–324, esp. 318–320.

(8.) Cf. Schönstädt, “Reformationsjubiläum,” 68–69.

(9.) Cf. Ulrich Johannes Schneider, “Zedlers Universal-Lexicon und die Gelehrtenkultur des 18: Jahrhunderts,” in Die Universität Leipzig und ihr gelehrtes Umfeld 1680–1780, eds. Detlef Döring and Hanspeter Marti (Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe, 2004), 195–213.

(10.) Anonymous, “Luther, Martin,” in Johann Heinrich Zedler, Grosses vollständiges Universal Lexicon Aller Wissenschafften und Künste, Welche bishero durch menschlichen Verstand und Witz erfunden und verbessert worden […], Vol. 18 (Leipzig: Zedler, 1738), 1283–1344.—The variation of the bibliographic size of the statement mentioned is explained by the fact that the pagination of the volume varies between counting the columns and the pages.

(11.) Anonymous, “Luther,” 1283.

(12.) One encounters substantial blurring or mistakes only occasionally, as when Luther’s Invocavit-Sermon is noted as his first refutation of the papacy (cf. Anonymous, “Luther,” 1310) or Erasmus’ writing De libero arbitrio is dated to the year 1534 (cf. Anonymous, “Luther,” 1317; by contrast, the correct dating of Luther’s rebuttal De servo arbitrio [cf. Anonymous, “Luther,” 1313]).

(13.) The comparison with other major reformers is interesting: Zwingli was covered in only 12 columns (in Zedler, Universal Lexicon, Vol. 64 [Leipzig, 1750], 1709–1720), Calvin is addressed in only 12 columns (in Zedler, Universal Lexicon, Vol. 5 [Leipzig, 1733], 324–326), and, by contrast, Melanchthon has a total of 23 columns (in Zedler, Universal Lexicon, Vol. 20 [Leipzig, 1739], 420–442).

(14.) Cf. Anonymous, “Luther,” 1322–1344.

(15.) The biography of Luther presented in volume 24 (1750) of this edition followed the line drawn in Zedler, clearly showing preference to Luther’s outward journey as compared to his theological concerns and problems and depicting the reformer as a man of this world, who neither had prophetic nor miraculous talents and who showed some weaknesses and defects next to great, natural merits and talents.

(16.) Cf. for example, Benjamin Linder, Das Nutzbareste aus denen gesamten Erbaulichen Schrifften des seligen Hrn. D. Martini Lutheri (Saalfeld, Germany: Teubner, 1752); Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Motz, Kern- und Kraftstellen über wichtige Gegenstände, aus D. Martin Luthers Schriften gezogen und alphabetisch geordnet: Ein lehrreiches Lesebuch für die Verehrer dieses großen freymüthigen Mannes (Leipzig: Supprian, 1797), 1804; and Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider, Luther an unsere Zeit, oder Worte Luthers, welche von unserm Zeitalter besonders beherzigt zu werden verdienen (Erfurt, Germany: Keyser, 1817).

(17.) Quoted according to Zeeden, Martin Luther, 2:337.

(18.) Quoted according to Zeeden, Martin Luther, 1:292.

(19.) Georg Christoph Lichtenberg to Friedrich Nicolai, April 21, 1786, in Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Briefwechsel, eds. Ulrich Joost and Albrecht Schöne (Munich, Beck, 1990), 3:201–202. Lichtenberg noted a delightful condensation of his reception of Luther in a Sudelbuch from 1796: “Luther famously said: Whoever does not love wine, and women and song/Remains a fool his whole life long. But one must not forget to say/That being a friend of women, song, and jug/Does not prove he is wise” (in Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Schriften und Briefe, vol. 1, Sudelbücher I, ed. Wolfgang Promies (Munich: Hanser, 1973), 927 [L 556]).

(20.) Cf. perhaps the etching by Johann Martin Preißler developed in 1790, typical of the time, in Joachim Rogge, Martin Luther: Sein Leben, Seine Zeitz, Seine Wirkungen: Eine Bildbiographie (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982), 319 (522).

(21.) Friedrich Nicolai lets his fictional hero Sempronius Gundibert state, “Luther’s theoretical theology and philosophy was his weakest side,” then, however, immediately adds apologetically: “no one instituted by such steady use or permanent fame” (in Friedrich Nicolai, Leben und Meinungen Sempronius Gundibert’s (Berlin, 1798). Nachdruck Hildesheim 1987, 262).

(22.) In this configuration, W. Mostert recognized a trend anticipating the distinction met by Ernst Troeltsch, which construed the brilliant personality of Luther as “a phenomenon of modernity,” and whose theological doctrine, by contrast, was an expression of the premodern mentality (Mostert, “Luther,” 573).

(23.) Cf. Bornkamm, Luther im Spiegel, 19.

(24.) Friedrich Germanus Lüdke, Ueber Toleranz und Gewissensfreiheit, insofern der rechtmäßige Religionseifer sie befördert, und der unrechtmäßige sie verhindert (Berlin: Mylius, 1774), 204.

(25.) Cf. Stephan, Luther, 36.

(26.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Ueber die neuere Deutsche Litteratur III” (1767) in Sämmtliche Werke, ed. Bernhard Suphan, 33 vols. (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1877–1913; reprint Tübingen, Germany, 1994), 1:357–531; here, 372.

(27.) Cf. Stephan, Luther, 52–53.

(28.) Cf. Horst Möller, Aufklärung in Preußen: Der Verleger, Publizist und Geschichtsschreiber Friedrich Nicolai (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1974), 287.

(29.) Matthias Claudius, “Das heilige Abendmahl” (1812), in Sämtliche Werke, ed. Jost Perfahl (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1987), 607–618; here, 616–617.

(30.) Cf. Johann Salomo Semler, Versuch eines fruchtbaren Auszugs aus der Kirchengeschichte (Halle, 1774), 518.

(31.) Heinrich Philipp Konrad Henke, Allgemeine Geschichte der Christlichen Kirche nach der Zeitfolge: Ein akademisches Lehrbuch, vol. 2 (Braunschweig, Germany: Verlag der Schulbuchhandlung, 1794), 465.

(32.) Cf. Völker, Kirchengeschichtsschreibung, 76–77.

(33.) Quoted according to Stephan, Luther, 43.

(34.) By contrast, the image of Luther depicted in the philosophy of the German Enlightenment seems of little interest. Immanuel Kant could have known of no writings of the reformer beyond the Small Catechism and several prayers and songs; the topic of „Kant and Luther,“ much traced since the 19th century, reasonably argues itself by systematic structural analysis. H. Bornkamm saw in it, „a garish sign, how far Luther was from the philosophical thinkers of the 18th century“ (Bornkamm, Luther im Spiegel, 31). The thorough, but rather headstrong Luther aficionado Johann Georg Hamann also represented the position of an outsider in this respect (cf. Martin Seils, “Hamann und Luther,” in Luther—zwischen den Zeiten: Eine Jenaer Ringvorlesung, eds. Christoph Markschies and Michael Trowitzsch [Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1999], 159–184).

(35.) Cf. Albrecht Schöne, Säkularisation als sprachbildende Kraft: Studien zur Dichtung deutscher Pfarrersöhne (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968).

(36.) Cf. Volker Mehnert, Protestantismus und radikale Spätaufklärung: Die Beurteilung Luthers und der Reformation durch aufgeklärte deutsche Schriftsteller zur Zeit der Französischen Revolution (Munich: Minerva, 1982).

(37.) Cf. Albrecht Beutel, “Gotthold Ephraim Lessing und die Theologie der Aufklärung,” in Spurensicherung. Studien zur Identitätsgeschichte des Protestantismus (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 147–164.

(38.) Cf. perhaps Walther von Loewenich, Luther und Lessing, SGV 232 (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1960); and Rudolf Smend, “Das Verhältnis des Pastorensohnes Lessing zu Luther,” in Moeller, Luther in der Neuzeit, 55–69.

(39.) Cf. on this Monika Fick, Lessing Handbuch: Leben—Werk—Wirkung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2004), 110–121.

(40.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Rettung des Cochläus aber nur in einer Kleinigkeit” (1754), in Werke und Briefe in zwölf Bänden, ed. Wilfried Barner (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 2003), 3:244–258; here, 244–245.

(41.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Rettung des Lemnius in acht Briefen” (1753), in Werke (1998), 2:655–678; here, 658, 3–4.

(42.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Besprechung einer Kontroversschrift von G. W. Kirchmaier” (1752), in Werke (1998), 2:461–462; here, 462, 19–20.

(43.) Cf. Lessing, “Rettung des Cochläus,” 256, 28–37.

(44.) Lessing, “Rettung des Lemnius,” 1282 (to 658, 12).

(46.) Lessing, “Rettung des Cochläus,” 257,31–258,3.

(47.) Lessing, “Rettung des Lemnius,” 658,6–8.

(49.) Lessing, “Rettung des Lemnius,” 667,31–668,19.

(50.) Lessing, “Rettung des Lemnius,” 1283 (to 659,26–27).

(51.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Gedanken über die Herrnhuter” (1750), in Werke (1989), 1:935–945; here, 941,10–14.

(52.) Cf. Zeeden, Martin Luther, 1:264.

(53.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Absagungsschreiben an Goeze” (1778), in Werke (1993), 9:48–52; here, 50,1–3.

(54.) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Erster Anti-Goeze” (1778), in Werke (1993), 9:93–99; here, 95,32–33.

(55.) Cf. Carl Friedrich Bahrdt, Die Neuesten Offenbarungen Gottes in Briefen und Erzählungen verdeutscht, 4 parts (Riga, Latvia: Hartknoch), 1773–1774.

(56.) Lessing, “Erster Anti-Goeze,” 95,34–35.

(57.) See Section III.

(58.) Cf. perhaps Martin Ohst, “Herder und Luther,” 119–137.

(59.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Rez. von Klopstock, Oden” (1771), in Werke, 5:350–362; here, 350.

(60.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “An Prediger” (1773), in Werke, 7:173–224; here, 214.

(61.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele” (1778), in Werke, 8:165–235; here, 230.

(62.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Von Religion, Lehrmeinungen und Gebräuchen” (1798), in Werke, 20:133–265; here, 210.

(63.) Cf. Johann Gottfried Herder, “Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit” (1774), in Werke, 5:475–593; here, 532–533.

(64.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Briefe das Studium der Theologie betreffend III” (1781), in Werke, 10:269–402; here, 357. “In his writings,” Herder continued, “there is a much healthier understanding with such strength of courage and warmth of his candid heart that I often, exhausted by recent cold pondering, have been refreshed by him” (Ibid.).

(65.) Cf. Johann Gottfried Herder, “Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der menschlichen Seele” (1778), in Werke, 8:165–333; here, 202.

(66.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Briefe zweener Brüder Jesu in unserm Kanon” (1775), in Werke, 7:471–560; here, 500.

(67.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Vernunft und Sprache” (1799), in Werke, 21:191–339; here, 268.

(68.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Briefe das Studium der Theologie betreffend IV” (1788), in Werke, 11:203.

(69.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität” (1793), in Werke, 17:87; cf. perhaps also Herder, “Von Religion,” 209.

(70.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Vorreden zum Weimarischen Gesangbuch” (1778), in Werke, 31:707–722; here, 710.

(71.) The fragmentary preliminary work from 1792 can be found in Herder, Werke, 18:509–513.

(72.) Cf. Zeeden, Martin Luther, 2:315–316.

(73.) Herder, “Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität,” 87.

(74.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Zerstreute Blätter V” (1793), in Werke, 16:129–297; here, 230.

(75.) Herder, “Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität,” 87.

(76.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Adrastea IV.1” (1802), in Werke, 24:1–75; here, 48.

(77.) Herder, “Adrastea,” 47–48.

(78.) Johann Gottfried Herder, “Luther, ein Lehrer der Deutschen Nation” (1792), in Werke, 18:509–513; here, 512–513.

(79.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Zahme Xenien IX,” in Weimarer Ausgabe I.5.1 (Weimar, 1893), reprint (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1987), 130–155; here, 131,666–667. Cf. Martin Tetz, “,Mischmasch von Irrtum und von Gewalt‘: Zu Goethes Vers auf die Kirchengeschichte,” ZThK 88 (1991), 339–363.

(80.) Gottfried Arnold, Unpartheyische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, Vom Anfang des Neuen Testaments Biß auf das Jahr Christi 1688, 2 vols. (Frankfurt: Thomas Fritsch, 1699–1700; 1729), reprint (Hildesheim, 1999). In following notes here, the analysis from volume 2 of this edition presents the number of the particular chapter and section in parentheses after the page number.

(81.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 490–509 (V.1–35). Cf. Harry Oelke, “Martin Luther und die Reformation in Gottfried Arnolds ,Unparteiischer Kirchen- und Ketzerhistorie,‘” in Reformation und Katholizismus: Beiträge zu Geschichte, Leben und Verhältnis der Konfessionen: FS für Gottfried Maron zum 75: Geburtstag, eds. Jörg Haustein and Harry Oelke (Hannover, Germany: LVH, 2003), 200–221.

(82.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 499–509 (V.17–35).

(83.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 499 (V.17).

(84.) For the definition and phenomenon of the experientia interna in Luther cf. Albrecht Beutel, “Theologie als Erfahrungswissenschaft,” in Luther Handbuch, ed. Albrecht Beutel, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 454–459; here, 457.

(85.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 500 (V.19).

(86.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 499 (V.17).

(88.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 500 (V.19).

(89.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 500f (V.20).

(90.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie (see note 80), 501–502 (V.22f).

(91.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 503 (V.25).

(93.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 501–502 (V.22).

(94.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 504 (V.27).

(95.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 505 (V.29).

(96.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 506 (V.29).

(97.) Cf. Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 506 (V.30).

(98.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 501 (V.21).

(99.) Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie, 500 (V.20).

(100.) Johann Matthias Schroeckh, Martin Luther (Schroeckh, Abbildungen und Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Gelehrten, vol. 2/1) (Leipzig: Hilscher, 1766), 2. The book appears unabridged and without change from its first publication as Schroeckh, Abbildung und Lebensbeschreibung Doctor Martin Luthers (1778); reprint, ed. Dirk Fleischer (Kamen, Germany, 2013). Cf. Dirk Fleischer, “Das Lutherbild der Aufklärungszeit: Zur Lutherbiographie von Johann Matthias Schroeckh,” in Johann Matthias Schroeckh, Abbildung und Lebensbeschreibung Doctor Martin Luthers, ed. Dirk Fleischer (Kamen, Germany: Spenner, 2013), I–XXXIII.

(101.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 3.

(102.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 33.

(103.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 64–65.

(104.) Cf. Ibid.

(105.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 69.

(107.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 71.

(108.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 74.

(109.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 9.

(110.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 76.

(111.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 86.

(112.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 80.

(113.) Cf. Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 93, 104–105, and more.

(114.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 100.

(115.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 101.

(116.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 89.

(117.) Schroeckh, Martin Luther, 90.

(118.) Johann Salomo Semler, Lebensbeschreibung von ihm selbst abgefaßt, vol. 2 (Halle, 1782), 178–193. Cf. Gottfried Hornig, Die Anfänge der historisch-kritischen Theologie: Johann Salomo Semlers Schriftverständnis und seine Stellung zu Luther, FSThR 8 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961), 116–175 and passim; and Georg Raatz, “Auf dem Weg zur kritischen Identität des Protestantismus: Johann Salomo Semlers Lutherdeutung,” in Erinnerte Reformation: Studien zur Luther-Rezeption von der Aufklärung bis zum 20: Jahrhundert, eds. Christian Danz and Rochus Leonhardt (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 5–40.

(119.) Cf. Beutel, Kirchengeschichte im Zeitalter der Aufklärung, 240–246.

(120.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 179.

(122.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 184.

(123.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 180, 192.

(124.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 185.

(125.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 186.

(126.) Cf. Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 185.

(127.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 181.

(128.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 191.

(129.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 182.

(130.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 183.

(131.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 189.

(132.) Cf. Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 186.

(134.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 185.

(135.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 186.

(136.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 191.

(137.) Cf. Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 187.

(138.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 189.

(139.) “Private religion exists where the Christian has found independent access to the basic truths of the Christian religion. […] The person engages private religion with conscience and mind, intellect and will, while the public religion of the church only exists as an inwardly uninvolved habit of Christianity for many people” (Gottfried Hornig, “Die Freiheit der christlichen Privatreligion: Semlers Begründung des religiösen Individualismus in der protestantischen Aufklärungstheologie,” in Johann Salomo Semler: Studien zu Leben und Werk des Hallenser Aufklärungstheologen, Hallesche Beiträge zur Europäischen Aufklärung 2 [Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 1996], 180–194; here, 182).

(140.) Semler, Lebensbeschreibung, 191. Correspondingly, Semler sharply criticized the view of his contemporary Gnesio-Lutherans: “The Reformation has come to an end and we must stand by Luther’s writings” (Johann Salomo Semler, Ob der Geist des Widerchrists unser Zeitalter auszeichne? [Halle, 1784], 164).

(141.) Spalding possessed an extraordinarily extensive library of German, English, French, Latin, and Greek scholarship, which also encompassed great historical, philosophical, pedagogical, geographical, literary, and cultural-historical works in addition to a large theological collection. Altogether it amounted to 6,404 titles as evidenced by the auction catalogue published, unfortunately not in a well-ordered fashion after his death (cf. Verzeichniß der vom verstorbenen Oberkonsistorialrath und Probst zu Berlin Herrn Spalding hinterlassenen sehr ansehnlichen und wichtigen Sammlung von […] Büchern, Landkarten, Kupferstichen, Bücherspinden mit Glasthüren u: Repositorien [...] [Berlin, 1804]). Spalding also owned the Sämtliche[n] Schriften Luthers, 24 vols., ed. Johann Georg Walch (Halle, 1740–1753), as well as the collected works of Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin, and other reformers.

(142.) Johann Joachim Spalding, Gedanken über den Werth der Gefühle in dem Christenthum (1761–1784), eds. Albrecht Beutel and Tobias Jersak. SpKA II/2 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 147,22–25.

(143.) Cf. Albrecht Beutel, “Elastische Identität. Die aufklärerische Aktualisierung reformatorischer Basisimpulse bei Johann Joachim Spalding,” ZThK 111 (2014), 1–27.

(144.) Cf. Theodor Mahlmann, “,Die Rechtfertigung ist der Artikel, mit dem die Kirche steht und fällt‘: Neue Erkenntnisse zur Geschichte einer aktuellen Forme,” in Zur Rechtfertigungslehre in der Lutherischen Orthodoxie. Beiträge des Sechsten Wittenberger Symposions zur Lutherischen Orthodoxie, ed. Udo Sträter, LStRLO 2 (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2002), 167–271.

(145.) Johann Joachim Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit des Predigtamtes und deren Beförderung (1772–1791), ed. Tobias Jersak, SpKA I/3 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 183,16–17.

(146.) Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 183,19–24.

(147.) Cf. Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 187,17–27.

(148.) Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 186,4–5.

(149.) Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 187,14–17.

(150.) Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 187,8–9.

(151.) Cf. Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 188,19–189,2.

(152.) Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 243,2–4.

(153.) Drumb seyn die zween sprüch war […], das allweg die person zuvor muß gut und frum sein vor allen gutten wercken, und gutte werck folgen und außgahn von der frumen gutten person WA 7:32, 4–9 [1520]).

(154.) Quoted according to Stephan, Luther, 45.

(155.) Lessing, “Erster Anti-Goeze.”

(156.) “Compare the writings of our dear Luther […] with a large part of that which is coming out today. You will find that these are so empty compared to those […] And I do not know/if our blessed Luther/where he would rise again/would not even be tightened or offered in our universities one and another /what he advanced with zeal for his time” (Philipp Jakob Spener, “Pia desideria” [1675], in Die Werke Philipp Jakob Speners: Studienausgabe, ed., Kurt Aland, vol. 1 (Gießen, Germany: Brunnen Verlag, 1996), 55–407; here, 126,3–17).

(157.) Cf. Andres Strassberger, Johann Christoph Gottsched und die „philosophische“ Predigt. Studien zur aufklärerischen: Transformation der protestantischen Homiletik im Spannungsfeld von Theologie, Philosophie, Rhetorik und Politik, BHTh 151 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 183.

(158.) Quoted according to Stephan, Luther, 46.

(159.) Karsch’s Ode was dedicated to the marriage of the reformed theologian Friedrich Samuel Gottfried Sack to Johanna Wilhelmina Spalding, the daughter of the Lutheran provost; Cf. to that Albrecht Beutel, Johann Joachim Spalding: Meistertheologe im Zeitalter der Aufklärung (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 180–181.

(160.) Cf. Zeeden, Martin Luther, 1:920.

(161.) Friedrich Nicholai, Das Leben und die Meinungen des Herrn Magister Sebaldus Nothanker, vol. 3 (1776); reprint (Hildesheim, 1988), 59.

(162.) Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, 1:184 (C 148). Under the effect of Woellner’s Edict on Religion, Lichtenberg quoted: “What would have become of Luther? Surely, he would be brought to Spandau” (Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, 1:661 [J 58]).

(163.) Lessing, “Absagungsschreiben an Goeze,” 50,28–29.

(164.) Mostert, “Luther,” 571.

(165.) Lessing, “Absagungsschreiben an Goeze,” 50,26–28.

(166.) Johann Joachim Spalding, Vertraute Briefe, die Religion betreffend (1784–1788), ed. Albrecht Beutel and Dennis Prause, SpKA I/4 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 164,10–11. “The best of the past improvers of the faith and the church,” claimed Spalding, “would have recognized the historical limit, which was put on them, and thus would have actually and urgently recommended their progeny move further toward the same principles” (Spalding, Ueber die Nutzbarkeit, 218,31–36).

(167.) Cf. Albrecht Beutel, “Theologie als Schriftauslegung,” in Luther Handbuch, 444–449.

(168.) Theodor Fontane an Georg Friedländer, 29.11.1893, in Werke, Schriften und Briefe, Abt. IV, vol. 4 (Munich, 1982), 309.

(169.) Nisi convictus fuero testimoniis scripturarum aut ratione evidente […] revocare neque possum nec volo […] (Martin Luther, in WA 7:838, 4–7 [1521]).

(170.) Cf. Beutel, “Theologie als Erfahrungswissenschaft.”

(171.) Cf. perhaps Gerhard Ebeling, “Fides occidit rationem. Ein Aspekt der theologia crucis in Luthers Auslegung von Gal 3,6,” in Lutherstudien, Vol. III, Begriffsuntersuchungen—Textinterpretationen—Wirkungsgeschichtliches (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1985), 181–222; and as a whole Gerhard Ebeling, Lutherstudien, vol. 2, Disputatio de homine, 3 parts (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1977/1982/1989).