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date: 26 April 2017

Portrayals of Martin Luther in Print, Stage and Film

Summary and Keywords

So much is known about Martin Luther, and the stakes of telling his story have been perceived to be so high, that an astonishing variety of presentations of his life have been offered. Some of his earliest opponents sought to discredit and vilify Luther by highlighting and in some cases fabricating shameful details about his life. His collaborators and sympathizers came to his defense. With similar one-sidedness, they inaugurated a long tradition of Luther hagiography. The man who did much to diminish the role that devotion to the saints played in the piety of Christianity came to function much like a Protestant saint. Miracles, such as his portrait not burning up in house fires, even came to be attributed to him.

As the process of confessionalization took place, subsequent generations told the Luther story as one of divine intervention in history. The monastic theologian became an evangelical prophet as well as a “national” hero. For Roman Catholics, Luther became the quintessential heresiarch, because the spate of divisions emerging from medieval Christendom were thought to be attributed to him, and thus any attempt to characterize and caricature him could be justified by appealing to the urgency to refute him. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biographies of Luther display evidence of the growing sensitivity to objective historical scrutiny but maintained their confessional biases. Protestants in their 20th-century portrayals tend to exemplify the dominant philosophical and methodological interests of biographers: existentialists see an existentialist Luther, psychoanalysts see a manic-depressive Luther, and so on.

Portrayals of Luther come in other media, as well. Stage adaptations and numerous films show a tormented, angst-ridden soul who faces his pain with sometimes heroic resolve. And Luther becomes a wax nose, easily bent for organizers’ agendas, when he is depicted and contextualized in various anniversaries of his life, death, and Reformation.

Keywords: biographies, films and motion pictures, Reformation jubilees and remembrances, historiography, depictions of Luther, drama, Luther in German national history

Luther in the View of His Contemporaries

The German church historian Heinrich Böhmer noted a century ago, with not a little frustration, “There are as many Luthers as books about him; so widely divergent are the views of the writers . . . [that] to the one he appears as a prophet of God, to the other as a changeling of Satan; for one he is a model citizen, excellent father, and affectionate husband, for the other a criminal of the deepest moral depravity; . . . to some he is one of the foremost enlighteners of all times, to others an obscurantist, a henchman of the princes and a firebrand of the worst type.”1 If anything, as this article will show, the judgment of Böhmer, true enough in 1906, is even truer today. What is more, it was true even from the very earliest attempts to portray Luther’s person in print.2 In much the same way that political leaders today seek to “spin” a story to their own benefit as quickly as possible, so too did Luther’s opponents and partisans spin the Luther story to serve their interests. This is not to say that all accounts of Luther’s life are suspect and thus that nothing can be known; on the contrary, in myriad ways the divergent accounts agree in detail and fact. Rather, the earliest sources need to be carefully read as accounts that follow the conventions of heresiography and hagiography.

Luther’s self-presentation is manifold. In addition to his copious written correspondence, in which he chronicles his life, he spoke frequently about his past and his understanding of his work. He did not keep a diary, as far as is known. Many of his recorded statements about himself came in the context of his “table talk,” the problematic veracity of which is well known.3 Even if it were possible to assemble a consistent portrayal of Luther from his own hand, such a portrait would need correction and supplementation, for none of us knows ourselves truly. Some things are known only to us, surely, but autobiography requires being tested against the testimony of others and weighing the larger context in which we live.4 Such perspective on our own life and times is difficult if not impossible for us to have.

The first major portrayal of Luther considered here comes from an eyewitness to the Luther story, Johannes Cochlaeus. Cochlaeus met Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and there debated with him vehemently. Luther remarked in a letter that he had been impressed with Cochlaeus’s devotion and intensity. Cochlaeus was horrified at Luther’s theology and immediately sought to find any way to discredit him and impugn his dangerous character. Catching on that the emerging visual print culture was a good way to influence public opinion, Cochlaeus commissioned a 1529 engraving that depicts Septiceps Lutherus, the seven-headed Luther. His companion essay describes the seven heads as the seven guises under which Luther has corrupted Christendom: doctor, fanatic, fool, church visitor, churchman, criminal, and Barabbas. Each head on the body has a caption; from left to right: Doctor, Martinus, Luther, Ecclesiastes, Suermer, Visitator, Barrabas.5 In these essays the various Luthers discuss theology and the Christian life. Cochlaeus peppered the text with quotations from Luther’s published writings, notably without their context, setting next to each other selections that seemed most at odds with each other. The reader is thus led to believe that Luther cannot be trusted and that he may in fact be insane or at least a fool.

This document served as the basis of Cochlaeus’s later, much longer work Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri.6 At 175,000 words, it is an in-depth and expansive presentation of Luther’s “deeds and writings.” Cochlaeus studied Luther’s writings extensively and discussed him at length with people who knew him, though almost all of Cochlaeus’s eyewitnesses would count themselves as enemies of Luther’s program. Much of the Commentaria draws from “public” sources like the protocols of diets and minutes of colloquies. Yet Cochlaeus also makes much of “private” sources, such as Luther’s marriage. He cannot fathom that Luther would have a theological reason for rejecting clerical celibacy, despite his many treatises on the matter, and thus Cochlaeus is forced to surmise that an uncontrollably lustful man is besmirching a treasured churchly tradition and conniving to make others do the same. In Septiceps Lutheri and Commentaria Cochlaeus repeats several risible rumors as though they are attested truth: Luther’s mother was raped by the devil in a latrine,7 for instance, or Luther as a boy had a seizure in the choir when he was afraid of the devil.8 In his defense, however, it must be said that Cochlaeus did truly see the Reformation as a battle of ideas, not of people or pretenses to power, and summoned his considerable narrative artistry and intensity of hatred of Luther to show that Rome had the better ideas.

Cochlaeus spawned many epigones, notably the French Franciscan Simon Fontaine, and his treatment of Luther remained the touchstone for Roman Catholic encounters with Luther even into the 20th century with Denifle and Grisar.

Countless “lives of Luther” were penned on the Protestant side, as well. In analyzing their development, Robert Kolb has identified a trajectory of prophet, to teacher, to hero.9 The first efforts at memorializing Luther saw him as the next in line of the great prophets of the Bible and early church with a special mandate and authority from God to challenge the powers of Christendom. Melanchthon penned a vita of Luther that was as brief and venerating as Cochlaeus’s attack was long and haranguing. His eulogy at Luther’s funeral in Wittenberg was printed immediately after Luther died and won a broad readership.10 In it he clearly identifies Luther as a prophet, as Elijah for the German church. His speech on Luther and the “ages of the church” of 1548 did the same thing. Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, Augustine . . . Luther.

By making Luther sui generis Melanchthon undercut his own contributions to the Reformation cause, as well as those of Bugenhagen and the rest of the Wittenberg Circle. In doing so, Melanchthon perhaps scribbled over Luther’s self-understanding, that of collaborator and convener of a team of scholars and pastors.11 Melanchthon’s History of the Life and Acts of Doctor Martin Luther is a curiously organized piece. It begins with a straightforward chronology of Luther’s early life and career, and even makes reference to a series of poems by John Policarius that connected events to important years in Luther’s life, a bit like an obituary might. But Melanchthon keeps slipping into exhortatory prose about the need to be strengthened in the cause of the church. The second part of the essay is a recounting, mostly drawn from official records, of the Diet of Worms, including Luther’s famous “Here I stand” line. And the final third is a speech Melanchthon gave before beginning a university lecture on Romans, where he describes and laments Luther’s death. The resulting vita is a bit fragmentary and perhaps overly shaped by Melanchthon’s own interest in presenting a Luther who in the quarter century between the dramatic scene at Worms in 1521 and his death in 1546 changed so little that nothing of that time needed to be shared.

The last of the portrayals of Luther by his contemporaries discussed here comes from the pen of Cyriacus Spangenberg. Spangenberg was born in 1528, well after the Reformation course had begun, and thus was one of the very last students of Luther’s at Wittenberg. He was in awe of the reformer and was furious at what he viewed as Melanchthon’s later betrayals of Luther’s theology. Thus Spangenberg became the Gnesio-Lutheran biographer of Luther. In 1561 he published a short overview of Luther and his writings, highlighting the authority they carried as second only to scripture. Luther’s theology was, for Spangenberg, “David’s slingshot, Paul’s mouth, John’s finger, Peter’s key, and the Holy Spirit’s sword.”12

Spangenberg, who served as a pastor in Mansfeld, preached two or three sermons per year about Luther, such as on his birth- and death days. He collected those sermons along with his earlier vita, and added a list of eighteen reasons why Germans should be grateful for this prophet, whom Spangenberg regarded as the third Elijah (John the Baptizer being the second). He was a prophet because he condemned sin and admonished good works on the basis of the Word, and because he predicted the coming renewal and judgment of the church and society. Some of Spangenberg’s attempts to link Luther to biblical prophets seem far-fetched; for instance “Elijah” means, he thinks, “strong man” in Hebrew, and “Martin” is the Latin equivalent of “Hermann,” or “fighting man.” But the stakes were high for Spangenberg, and therefore any comparison of Luther with the prophets was permissible; soon he would lose his position in Mansfeld because of his support for Flacius in the dispute about how to interpret Luther on the matter of sin and the imago dei.

There are many characterizations of Luther’s theological work, of course, in the various wings of the Reformed and Anabaptist churches and sects, but relatively few of his person. Zecharias Ursinus, author of the Heidelberg Catechism, worried about the conservative nature of Luther’s reforms. Had Wittenberg left too much of the substance of medieval Christianity in the newer forms of Lutheranism? Reformed-leaning Christopher Herdesianus of Nuremburg was one of the first to contrast Luther with “Lutheranism,” arguing that the Formulators had diverged from Luther on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. To make this argument in heavily Gnesio-Lutheran Nuremberg was risky, so he wrote under several pseudonyms.13 These and other writings contributed to the general Reformed consensus that Luther was the “halfway reformer” whose initial efforts needed to be brought to their logical conclusions by others. Thus Luther could be praised for starting well (as Calvin thought) or criticized for falling short (as Zwingli thought). Leonardo da Vinci almost invented a number of great things; should he be praised for a good start or criticized for lack of follow-through?

Consolidation of Luther as German Prophet and Hero

Good prophets are brilliant and confusing, perhaps in about equal measure. But good teachers are clear. In the decades after Luther’s death, theological debates raged about how his teachings ought to be systematized and written into confessions. Thus the portrayals of Luther from this time tend to depict him as a teacher of truth, in keeping with the inheritance of the early church. Matthias Flacius Illyricus, for instance, assembled a book called Catalogus testium veritatis (Catalog of witnesses to truth). It consisted of quotations drawn from Luther’s writings (and from some by the other Reformers) placed alongside selections from the church fathers with which they cohered. The result was to show not how Luther was a prophetic interruption in the history of Christianity but how he was an important continuer of its essence and message.

The same strategy was used in portrayals of Luther’s life in the century and a half after his death. Two are considered here: the works of Johannes Mathesius and Anton Probus. Mathesius served as a pastor at Joachimsthal (in the Kingdom of Bohemia, not the one in Brandenburg) until his death in 1565, but he is best known for his compilation of Luther’s table talk. He was a scrupulous and prolific amanuensis, making his transcripts of those conversations among the most reliable in that rather unreliable collection. He was periodically in Wittenberg from 1529 to 1545, before beginning his twenty-year pastorate.

Spangenberg had been present for some of those very conversations, but Spangenberg’s biography of Luther includes virtually no references to the private man, or even to his personality, as such. On the contrary, Mathesius’s portrayal is a quite human one and focuses on Luther as a pastor. Necessarily, therefore, particular pastoral settings are described and emotions evoked. Perhaps for this reason, Eike Wolgast calls Mathesius’s life of Luther, judged on its literary merits, to be the most significant contribution to biography in the 16th century.14 The publication of this biography came in the form of a collection of sermons Mathesisus preached at Joachimsthal, in addition to some explanatory notes and chronology. While Mathesius, unlike Spangenberg and Flacius, did not seek to use Luther’s authority to resolve doctrinal divisions among the evangelicals, one does get the sense that Mathesius finds a very consistent and clear teacher of theology, and that therefore debates about interpretation are mostly quibbles.

Mathesisus’s work went through at least eleven printings, making it the most widely used source of information about Luther’s life available in the German-speaking lands. His sources were better than anyone’s, including Spangenberg. He had access to Luther himself and his table and spoke with Melanchthon, Bucer, and others about Luther’s life (including probably Katherine von Bora Luther). Most importantly, he conferred with Johannes Sleidanus, the humanist archivist and annalist. Philip of Hesse had contracted with Sleidanus to be something like a historian of the Reformation, which gave Sleidanus a unique vantage point to see the whole picture; Mathesius’s work reflects this perspective. Luther is connected to all manner of changes throughout Europe, not just locally in Saxony.

The 1583 work of Anton Probus, the pastor in Luther’s hometown of Eisleben, built on and expanded the biography of Mathesisus. His book is titled Oratio de vocatione et doctrina Martini Lutheri doctoris magni (Oration on the calling and doctrine of Dr. Martin Luther).15 The word “calling” in the title is important. What was at stake was whether God had only spoken to Luther directly, in “private.” Probus was at pains to say no. In fact, Luther was a product of the public calling of the church, no matter what may have happened in his study. This was the rite vocatus of article 14 of the Augsburg Confession. Probus also goes to great lengths to show that Luther stands in the long line of public figures of the church, not its private geniuses. The sincerity of Luther’s faith, his intense daily devotional practice, his pastoral skill, and his willingness to suffer and die for his cause were further attestations of the authenticity of his call. Finally, then, in the work of Probus we have a portrayal of Luther’s private person and his public work being of a single piece.

Luther the Arch-Enemy of Christendom

The Council of Trent rarely mentioned Luther by name or exhibited much knowledge of many of his writings. His person, therefore, was not a topic of discussion at all. However, Roman Catholics nearly without exception in subsequent centuries insisted that a theologian’s personal sanctification must necessarily be connected to the value of his theology. After all, neither Augustine nor Thomas nor Bernard was canonized for his intellectual brilliance. (Saint Cyril of Alexandria was so hated by his contemporaries that after he died they joked the undertaker should place an extremely heavy stone on his grave to keep him from coming back; this may be the exception that proves the rule.) Therefore the tradition of Cochlaeus continued during these centuries: efforts to refute Luther’s theology were necessarily connected to research into his pathology as a person. This is by no means to say that the work of Roman Catholic scholars portraying Luther’s life was purely driven by an ulterior motive. It is not even to say that it was mistaken. Rather, the underlying logic for examinations of Luther’s person was to correctly diagnose the roots of his dangerous theology. In this vein we can consider the works of four Roman Catholic scholars over four centuries: Albert Hunger, Sebastian Flasch, Heinrich Denifle, and Hartmann Grisar.16

Flasch wrote a biographical treatise on Luther in 1577 partly to explain why he himself had converted from the Lutheran faith to become a Jesuit. His reasoning was not that Luther’s theology was wrong (Flasch surely thought that it was falsch) but that as a person Luther was “downright filth.” He assembled unsavory elements from excerpts of Luther’s letters he had obtained alongside coarse citations from Luther’s later publications like Against Hanswurst and his late anti-papal writings.17 He even reversed Luther’s polemic against the papal Antichrist to apply that term instead to Luther, whom Flasch apocalyptically came to view as the Antichrist himself.

Albert Hunger did not go quite so far in his 1582 caricature of Luther, but he was unflattering in quite an interesting way. Hunger portrayed Luther as an “Epicurean.” By this, Hunger did not mean that Luther was, strictly speaking, a follower of Lucretius and the other Epicureans of antiquity. It was more of a placeholder name for any belief system that did not demand much of its followers. Epicureans like Luther pander to the baser instincts of the crowds by offering them salvation sola fide. And Luther’s denial of purgatory was akin to Lucretius’s denial of the afterlife, which removed an important site of potential punishment and thus a necessary spur for moral action on earth (the reader will easily see that this is not a very good argument, as Luther certainly believed in the afterlife; Hunger’s Roman Catholic readers were not put off by his blatant illogic).18 In order for his criticisms to land, Hunger had to show that Luther himself was a victim of the low moral standards his theology evoked. He thus assembled various episodes from Luther’s life to show that he was a lowlife, violent, disingenuous heretic.

Little changed in the intervening centuries, even after the advent of modern historical methods for research. Thus by the end of the 19th century, even theologians as well-trained in historical inquiry as the Dominican Heinrich Denifle still maintained the basic approach of Cochlaeus and his heirs. In 1883 Denifle became the archivist at the Vatican and thereby had access to much unpublished material about Luther from Rome’s perspective. This was very much in the wake of Vatican I, and the coin of the realm was the diagnosis of the plague of modernism. Denifle pointed a finger at Luther. Modernist poison came from Luther. The controlling image for Denifle in his resulting biography was Luther as a fallen monk.19 What needed to be explained was his failure to hold fast to his vow and to pass on the substance of the Christian faith as the religious orders had practiced it. The answer was lust. Luther was a man of untamed desires: for sex, for beer, for power, and for personal glory. Denifle is withering in his criticism of Luther, and his prose carries the weight of serious engagement with the best editions of sources available up to that time. In fact the Luther Renaissance arose in part to help refute the caricature of Luther that works like Denifle’s created. Denifle thought Luther was self-contradictory, possessed little to no knowledge of medieval scholasticism, probably had syphilis, was a forger and plagiarizer, and blasphemed God every day of his wretched life, which Denifle surmises Luther ended by suicide.

An American biographer of the same time period, the normally soft-spoken and cautious Preserved Smith, wrote, “To call Denifle’s eight hundred pages hurled at the memory of the reformer among the most repulsive books in historical literature is not a bit too strong.”20 Denifle’s ideological commitment to exposing Luther as a heresiarch led him to all manner of unfair judgments against Luther. For instance, Denifle accused Luther of endorsing incest and removing any prohibition against brothers and sisters or mothers and sons marrying each other. But the basis for this ridiculous claim is just a single word. During the Saxon visitations of 1527–1528, Spalatin had drawn up some draft language for disciplinary measures local magistrates and priests might use, including prohibitions on certain kinds of marriages. Luther wrote “remove” in the margin, because he thought this was better handled on a case-by-case basis in conversation with the local authorities. Without any corroborating evidence, Denifle asserts that Luther intended “remove” to mean “do away with all such laws against incest.”21

Denifle’s successor was the German Jesuit Hartmann Grisar. Denifle wrote for scholars, Grisar for the masses. The Knights of Columbus gave tens of thousands of copies of Grisar’s biography of Luther to public libraries across the United States and Canada in an effort to influence public opinion against Luther and his Protestant heirs.22 Grisar has a higher standard for textual reliability than Denifle did, and thus he admits that an impugning of Luther’s moral character is more difficult than one might imagine. And unlike Denifle’s unrelenting attack, Grisar occasionally harbors a slight appreciation for Luther’s theological works, like Freedom of a Christian. Denifle’s style was blunt and straightforward; Grisar moved, in contrast, by insinuation and allusion. He thought Luther’s problems mostly came from the fact that he was content with a passive mysticism in his early spiritual life, and that the “faith” that came and saved him at that time was available to all others as well, absent their striving and participation in the institution of the church. A few minor successes early in his life made him uncorrectable for decades.23

Of Denifle and Grisar (and also the Dominican Albert Maria Weiss), Jaroslav Pelikan claims, “Despite great erudition, these biographies persisted in repeating the old slanders and in cultivating the old tone-deafness to the religious accents of the Reformation.”24 In the words of Pelikan’s forerunner Adolf von Harnack, Denifle had “used the framework of his book in order to perpetuate a brand of infamy so tendentious, so objectively untrue, and so frightfully vulgar that its equal has not been thought up in our time even by second-rate scribblers.”25 Harnack had words for Weiss and Grisar too. Weiss had “put together all the heresies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Bohemian forests in order to determine that Luther is a combination of all of them and disappears in them completely.”26 Grisar, he thought, had still retained “remnants of the vulgar-Catholic way of battling,” even though Grisar’s archival research had moved his perspective from hateful screed to mere polemic.27

Luther in 18th- and 19th-Century Protestant Biographies

Though the great nationalist historian of Germany Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) never wrote a biography of Luther, the man and his legacy can be said to dominate Ranke’s thought. In obvious ways, Ranke saw his own historical methods to be shared by Luther. “Back to the texts” was a slogan of Ranke, who sought to tell the story “as it actually happened.” Luther’s discovery of a different theological orientation by going “back to Paul” was an attractive way for Ranke to heroize his fellow Saxon. Ranke saw Luther as the vital turning point in the national history of Germany. The Reformation was the fusion of two independent impulses for German freedom: political desire to be free of Rome’s taxes, “culture,” and corruption, and theological desire to shed the papacy and its justifications. When Luther burst onto the public scene in 1521, there was a brief opening for the dream of German consolidation to come true, but it did not quite happen.28 As a very old man in 1870 Ranke saw what he could take as the ripening of that fruit. Bismarck succeeded in unifying the disparate German states under Prussia after the defeat of France, and the papacy was, for Ranke, definitively discredited by its overreaching pronouncements on infallibility at Vatican I.

Ranke’s numerous portrayals of Luther center on his divine mandate to bring Germany together. He was the instrument of a “higher office” to bring about nation states for northern Germany and, by extension, the rest of the world, according to a “Protestant principle” of autonomy and self-responsibility. The seedier underside of Luther, so pivotal for and fascinating to Ranke’s Roman Catholic contemporaries, did not interest nor concern Ranke in the least.29 The Luther-to-Bismarck line of thinking, in Ranke, Heinrich von Treitschke, and others, was the dominant mode of thinking of Luther’s significance in Protestant Europe until Germany’s defeat in 1918 robbed such a conception of any meaning or explanatory power.30

Luther’s premier biographer in these years was Julius Köstlin.31 Köstlin’s various works (he wrote several biographies, first expanding his short one and then compressing the two-volume expanded edition into a shorter, illustrated version) can be said to be the first fully “modern” portrayal of Luther. Exhaustively researched (Köstlin was the editor of a predecessor of the Weimarer Ausgabe), they display many of the qualities one has come to expect to be commonplaces of much more recent work. There is, for instance, a tendency to read Luther’s theology through the lens of the Book of Concord. His theology of justification is forensic only, he bears no traces of mystical medievalism, and his dependence on Ockham is minimalized. Developments after 1530 are minimized in favor of his exciting younger years. Perhaps here we see Köstlin’s dependence on his teacher von Ranke, who could never quite forgive the older Luther for not bringing the Reformation to its fulfillment. There is a touch of the “psychological” in Köstlin’s view of Luther as well; he defends the historicity of the Stotternheim thunderstorm despite its thin textual attestation and uses it as a way of approaching Luther’s anxieties and attraction to monasticism. Köstlin’s work, while not exciting or especially groundbreaking, was easily the most reliable, expansive, and fair-minded work available for nearly a century.

There is one rival to Köstlin’s in the early days of the 20th century: Preserved Smith’s biography of Luther. Smith’s is a bit unusual, because most of the books about Luther appearing in America were written by Lutherans and Catholics. Smith was Presbyterian. He had an existential investment in church politics along the lines of those which embroiled Luther. His father, Henry Preserved Smith, was a theologian who was tried for heresy in the Presbytery of Cincinnati. He had dared to teach that the history of Israel presented in Chronicles differed from the history as it was presented in the Pentateuch, a point that now seems obvious to the point of banality. He was suspended from the ministry and later left the denomination. He took his son on a trip to Europe to forget his woes, and while there his son got hooked on Luther. Young Preserved even started a medal collection of images of the reformer.

Smith’s book began as a dissertation at Columbia in 1907, where he tested much of Luther’s Table Talk for veracity against other, better attested historical materials, such as the volumes of the WA that were pouring out of Germany. This dissertation, valuable and noteworthy in its own right, was expanded into a full biography called The Life and Letters of Martin Luther.32 Perhaps Preserved saw something of his father’s experience in Luther’s: he dedicated the work to his parents. In it, Smith aims “to indicate what part of his work is to be attributed to his inheritance and to the events of the time, but especially to reveal that part of the man which seems, at least, to be explicable by neither heredity nor environment, and to be more important than either: his character, his individuality.”33 He frequently lets Luther tell his own story, quoting from his letters and table talk with minimal analysis from Smith himself. By doing so he “hoped to reveal Luther as a great character rather than as a great theologian.”34 Smith allows Luther’s shadows to appear dark, but only just barely. Despite Luther’s severe rebuke of the peasants in 1525, for instance, he writes, “The impartial historian can hardly doubt that in substance he was right.”35 In his subsequent work on Luther, and perhaps indicative of Americans’ love of rags-to-riches stories, Smith grew increasingly interested in what he supposed was Luther’s particularly miserable childhood. The psychoanalytic direction Smith pioneered picked up momentum with many other scholars, whom we turn to next.

Contemporary Biographies, Part 1: Explanatory

So many presentations of Luther since the early 20th century exist that easy categorization is impossible. To attempt to construct a useful typology, therefore, this article employs a distinction between explanatory presentations and interpretive ones. Explanatory biographies try to solve the “Luther riddle,” namely, how to understand what Luther and his peers thought of him, but also how to understand his place in European and world history. Such portrayals tend to emphasize the effect Luther had on later social and religious realities. They also often emphasize a need to diagnose Luther to find the real Luther behind the theological writings such that those writings and views can be explained by anterior psychological and personal characteristics.

Perhaps the best-known attempt to first pathologize and then psychoanalyze Luther comes from the noted psychologist Erik Erikson (who is not noted as a professional historian).36 The pathology of Luther, for Freudian Erikson, results from childhood trauma. His relationship with his father, Hans, was harsh, so Luther developed an unnatural fear of authority figures and developed a heavenly father who was gracious in order to compensate. Luther was caned for speaking German in his Latin grade school, so he compensated by sacralizing the German language. His mother was severe, so Luther retaliated by dethroning Mary from her place in faith. And so on. Erikson did not make himself beholden to reliable texts of Luther’s life. In fact, he often took Cochlaeus’s polemic at face value. However, he did not really think it was necessary to attend to the realities of 16th-century Germany, because his assumption—and in some ways, his point—is that human nature is constant over all time, and thus Luther’s psyche is as present for psychoanalysis as is that of any patient on Erikson’s couch. George Lindbeck is not alone in wondering, “How could so bad a book be so good?”37 And the answer lies in its boldness in asserting that Luther is just like us modern people in our fears, anxieties, repressions, and ideologies. What Luther did in articulating the crisis of his day (by paying attention to his own identity crisis) and proposing alternatives, we can do in ours.38

A different pathology is presented by Richard Marius, but that author sees no value in understanding Luther except in service of growing better at repudiating him. His Luther: Christian between God and Death identifies Luther’s main problem as his unnaturally strong and apocalyptic fear of dying.39 His dogmatic statements about God, faith, grace, and hope were really an anodyne meant to soothe Luther’s deep-seated worry that death meant annihilation and the extinction of all identity and consciousness.40 Luther didn’t believe in God, nor did he believe in the devil. He made them both up because that was better than the truth, according to Marius. What is more, the chaos into which Europe was thrown as a result of Luther’s intransigence in working out his psychosis meant that, “for a century after Luther’s death, Europe was strewn with the corpses of people who would have lived normal lives if Luther had never lived at all.”41

While not a biography, Norman Brown’s influential book Life against Death took still another psychological approach to Luther. Brown makes much of Luther’s supposed anal fixations.42 He will not dismiss Luther’s coarse scatological language as mere earthiness or venting, but rather sees it as a key to understanding Luther’s psychosis. He was tormented by the devil, whom Brown thought Luther conceived as “materialized anality.”43 Yet Brown also thought that Luther’s fundamentally dialectical approach to life, delighting in paradox and yet not crippled by the attendant ambiguity, could be a secret to a new, postmodern existence. This dialectical consciousness could reshape desire into a “Dionysian ego” freed from the shackles of prudish and repressed Judeo-Christian morality.44

More recent attempts to portray the contours of Luther’s person as it relates to his context have also tried to render him strange, nearly unapproachable in the ways he is not of our world. Heinz Schilling, for instance, in his Martin Luther: Rebell in einer Zeit des Umbruchs (Rebel in a time of upheaval) situates Luther even more squarely as a medieval man than Oberman did.45 The 16th century is the dawn of modernity because of its many economic, scientific, political, and ideological upheavals. Yet Schilling thinks Luther, despite being in some way the cause of these changes, remained unaffected by them. Where Luther does depart from his late-medieval roots is in his ability to have a “double perspective.” On the one hand, he was immersed in introspective, existential concerns. Yet he was also energetically involved in all manner of everyday concerns and rational deliberations.46 Schilling regards Luther not as a participant in, or even as the father of, modernity. Outcomes of the Reformation like tolerance, capitalism, liberalism, and pluralism were in fact contrary to Luther’s intentions.47 The resulting portrayal of Luther, while expertly researched and in its own way truly brilliant, makes him seem like the passive object of the actions of others, rather than the energetic teacher and preacher his comrades and enemies alike saw him to be.

Contemporary Biographies, Part 2: Interpretive

Few contemporary scholars are sufficiently expert in the training of systematic theology (with all its many attendant disciplines) and grounded in primary historical work to be able to present a Luther biography that is as theologically sophisticated an interpretation as Gerhard Ebeling’s 1964 work Luther: Introduction to His Life and Thought.48 In the heyday of existentialist analysis, Ebeling portrays a Luther so tautly strung and pulled simultaneously in so many directions that one is amazed he was able to stay together. The book is organized as a series of antinomies between which Luther dialectically moved. Some of them are: theology and philosophy; the letter and the spirit; the law and the gospel; person and works; faith and love; the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world; man as a Christian and man in the world; freedom and bondage; God hidden and God revealed. Luther affirms each term of the pairs, and thereby limits and conditions his affirmation of the other term in each of the pairs. Central to his analysis is that Luther functions with a kind of relational ontology. Everything that is is as coram deo and as coram hominibus. In Luther’s thought, as in his life, then, everything is connected to everything else and must be both correlated to and distinguished from it. There are tensions and connections between mercy and justice, life and death, acceptance and reprobation, law and gospel, sin and grace. Luther’s thought has this tension, and his person bore this tension. The papacy could not bear such a relationally conditioned approach to doctrine, and thence the Protestant schism.

The two most widely read and discussed biographies in the English-speaking world in the 20th century could hardly portray Luther more differently. These are Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther49 and Heiko Oberman’s Luther: Man between God and the Devil.50

Perhaps the best way to understand Oberman’s book is to see it in line with Ebeling’s. Ebeling was Oberman’s teacher, and in fact Oberman’s earlier book Werden und Wertung der Reformation, a history of the founding of Tubingen University as a microcosm of the Reformation, was dedicated to Ebeling. Ebeling had seen Luther’s inner turmoil and the crises of his life and thought in the categories of existentialist philosophy. Oberman, on the other hand, tried to explore those crises in the categories in which Luther himself thought of and saw them. And this meant above all else for Oberman the category of apocalyptic. Luther was locked in a struggle between heaven and hell, God and the devil. Luther’s conviction that he was living in the end times explained, in Oberman’s view, the urgency that Luther felt in his own work, why he could be so vulgar and dismissive of differing views, and why his polemic against the papacy reached the hyperbolic heights that it did. Luther’s self-understanding was not that of the facilitator of a reform movement but that of prophet. For Oberman “it is not a question of Luther initiating or bringing on the reformation. From this point of view, all he or any Christian can do is to initiate reforms to better the world to such an extent that it can survive until the moment when God will put a final end to our chaos.”51

In contextualizing Bainton’s portrayal of Luther nearly a century after it was written, it is important to note that the biography was published before Luther’s Works had extensively translated Luther into English.52 Some smaller editions in English existed, but nothing as wide-ranging or as complete. Bainton translated Luther quite freely and beautifully into English, and reviewers noted how seamlessly Bainton’s narrative incorporated quotations from Luther. Luther’s English sounded a lot like . . . Bainton’s English! This has the effect of making Luther sound quite modern, quite approachable, and rather like us, his contemporary readers. Bainton’s Luther is a family man and important forerunner of all manner of modern institutions for which we should be grateful. Whether Luther is the first modern man, the last medieval one, or both has a long history as a disputed question, and Bainton surely calls him a modern. Bainton psychologizes Luther’s Anfechtungen into subjective turmoil, whereas Luther thought of them as objective pain. Bainton underplays the continuities of Luther’s early thought, especially, with the scholastic and mystical theologies available to him from the Middle Ages.

The plethora of treatments of Luther’s life include many that make necessary, but necessarily partial, “niche” contributions. Eric Gritsch’s biography, for instance, makes much of Luther’s medical conditions and even contains a chart that plots Luther’s literary output against his presentation of symptoms of serious illness. Many biographers miss this crucial point. And his analysis of Luther’s use of humor is very insightful. Humor is rooted in contradiction, and Luther’s theology delights in (apparent) contradiction (simul justus et peccator, sub contrario, communicatio idiomatum, and so on). Yet Gritsch’s controlling image of Luther’s self-understanding as “God’s court jester” is forced and cannot weave together all the many threads that must be woven to make sense of Luther.

Michael Mullett’s fine biography takes Luther seriously as an intellectual genius, and unlike most Mullett gives the later Luther significant weight. Yet here it is difficult to discern a center in Luther’s thought, and in his life. It is rather like a street map of a city one might want to visit that is accurate but does not label the attractions. His closing statement reads, “In aiming at reformatio and unleashing Reformation, Martin Luther was a failure, history’s most glorious case.”53 What this can mean from a purely historical point of view (as Mullett claims to be taking) is not clear.

Another niche, the need for a detailed examination of Friar Luther’s theological continuity with his predecessors, is filled by books like Volker Leppin’s account of the early Luther.54 Leppin argues that Luther becomes a marginal figure of the Reformation after 1525 because the explosive ramifications of his thinking had to be contained and slightly subdued, which Luther could not tolerate. Leppin painstakingly shows the way Luther adds a subtle new direction—a gentle reorientation—to his received mystical and nominalist theologies. Leppin, perhaps rightly, accuses earlier biographers of the presentist fallacy, reading subsequent trajectories into Luther’s historically contingent decisions as practically necessities. Yet he takes this to quite an extreme, insisting that Luther did not call out to Saint Anne in a thunderstorm (he was merely using “Anne” as a cognate of the Hebrew חֵן‎ = “hhen” or“grace”), and that Luther was speaking in an abstract way about the fallen world when saying he made his great discovery in cloaca. Leppin sees gradual development and an inheritance from others everywhere in Luther: Luther adopts solus Christus in 1513 from Staupitz, sola gratia in 1517 from Augustine, sola fides in 1518 during the Heidelberg Disputation, and sola scriptura in 1519 from Melanchthon.

One major biography that must be mentioned but admittedly does not fit the present bifurcation into “explanatory” and “interpretive” efforts is Martin Brecht’s three-volume work.55 It must be mentioned because no other treatment is as well-researched or exhaustively composed. However, a necessary side effect of so large a target is that it is very hard to determine where the bullseye is and where the periphery.

Luther on Stage and in Film

Perhaps uniquely among theologians, Luther’s career lends itself to adaption for stage and screen. One searches in vain for a storyline in the movie of, say, Kant’s life. Since the 16th century, in fact, the Luther story has been dramatically enacted, and it has been done so from multiple perspectives.

The crypto-Calvinist controversy, for instance, elicited the 1593 production of a play in three acts where Luther debates and excoriates Carlstadt, Zwingli, and Oecolampadius on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. It was called Luther Redivivus and was written by the Saxon Zacharias Rivander. Luther’s arguments in the play win over Bucer and the other Reformed characters. Though its title calls it a “comedy,” one doubts that Rivander’s audiences were laughing very much at this very heavy-handed treatment.56

A few years later in 1600 Andreas Hartmann fared a bit better with his stage portrayal of Luther as a Christian knight. Focusing on the first years of Luther’s public life, Hartmann captures a sense of great drama and tension as Luther faces Cajetan at Augsburg, Eck at Leipzig, and finally Charles V at Augsburg.57 A far less straightforward path was taken by the hymn-writer Martin Rinckhart in 1618. Rinckhart told the Luther story as an allegory. Three sons of Immanuel (Christ) are struggling over his legacy: Pseudo-Peter (not surprisingly, the pope), Sir Martin, and Sir John (Calvin!). They settle their squabble with a contest: they are to shoot an arrow into the heart of a corpse. The pope’s shot is lousy, Calvin’s shot comes close, but Martin turns away in tears and refuses to shoot. His gesture of compassion leads Immanuel to declare him the winner.58 Other plays, such as those at the centenary of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1617 or of the Peasants’ War in 1625 were developed for pedagogical use for schoolchildren and civic occasions.

Far more sophisticated plays were composed, as well. Zacharias Werner’s Martin Luther, oder Die Weihe der Kraft, penned in the early 19th century, portrays Luther as the very incarnation of “freedom.” The play is a tragedy, but it captures something of the naïveté of the good man Luther being thrust into compromising situations with worldly powers that are too worldly. After a series of other successful plays and poems, Werner quit his job, divorced his wife, traveled widely, and joined the Roman Catholic Church when in Rome, and was ordained a priest.59 The great Swedish playwright August Strindberg also wrote a short play about Luther called The Wittenberg Nightingale in 1903 but lost interest in the project.

By far the most commercially successful adaptation of the Luther story on stage is John Osborne’s 1961 Luther. It is essentially an adaptation of Erik Erikson’s psycho-biography (see Contemporary Biographies, Part 1: Explanatory) and won Osborne the 1964 Tony award for best play. It ran for an astonishing 250 performances in its debut run, where Albert Finney played an angsty Luther tortured (not least by constipation) and never quite sure what to do or say next.

That smash-hit play was a box-office flop in 1973, in which Stacy Keach played the sullen monk and Judi Dench his wife. But other films have been both artistic and commercial successes. Art historian Esther Wipfler’s recent book explores nine of the major ones.60 A 1913 version makes the Martin-Katherine love story its centerpiece, while a 1927 film foregrounds nationalism. Perhaps most interestingly, the 1981 French film Frère Martin shows a man ill-suited to monastic life, embarrassed that he must beg alms from people so poor he should be helping them. Its director intentionally contrasted Friar Martin with John Calvin. He said, “In contrast to Calvin, that tortured ascetic of a reformer, Luther was—after he had arrived at the realisation that what counts most is the trust placed in God—a very liberated, very vigorous man and bursting with life.”61 Emotional intensity is actually lacking in that film, but it is certainly present in the big-budget ($21 million) 2003 Eric Till film Luther. Joseph Fiennes plays a Luther deeply compassionate with the suffering poor of Saxony, querulous and quarrelsome with Aleander and Cajetan, and resolute with all others. Ustinov’s show-stealing performance as Frederick the Wise makes him Luther’s third father figure, after Hans and Staupitz. Ustinov and Fiennes had similar perspectives on the man the film was about. “Luther was too good a Catholic to remain a Catholic. He was scandalized by this commercialization.” Fiennes spoke of Luther nearly in Marxist terms, “It’s about the minority and the suppressed . . . You can’t keep man down and you can’t control him. Sooner or later he will gain knowledge, and through knowledge, power to be liberated in freedom of conscience.”62

Goals for Future Research

Because the separation between person and work is somewhat artificial, it is difficult to discern a thread of historiography that follows the developments in research about Luther’s person. The reception of his theological work, on the other hand, is parsed in a number of articles elsewhere in this volume.

Several features of the reception of Luther’s person seem ripe for future research. The first is the question of the extent to which the credibility of his (or any theologian’s) character relates to the “authority” of his theology. Bonhoeffer’s personal bravery in enacting faith in Christ has won his theology many supporters. But the absence of anything like a canonization process in Protestant churches means there are a wide variety of perspectives on this. Should the nature of Barth’s relation to Charlotte von Kirschbaum matter in interpreting his views on marriage and sexuality? Should Tillich’s open marriage be a relevant datum in viewing his theology? This is a live question, and Luther’s case is a particularly emblematic example of it.

A second question is also a general one of which Luther is a prime example. Namely, in portraying someone’s life in a biography, to what extent should the portrayal be cast in terms of the self-understanding of the person, and to what extent in terms of the vantage point of the observer? Oberman’s Luther understands himself, with great clarity and self-transparency, to be living in the last days of the world. Schilling’s Luther understands himself perhaps not at all.

Further Reading

Dingel, Irene, ed. Memoria—Theologische Synthese—Autoritatenkonflikt: Die Rezeption Luthers und Melanchthons in der Schulergeneration. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016.Find this resource:

Howard, Thomas Albert. Remembering the Reformation: An Inquiry into the Meanings of the Reformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert. “Luther in an Age of Confessionalization.” In Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. Edited by Don McKim, 209–226. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert. Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher and Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520–1620. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999.Find this resource:

Lehmann, Hartmut. Martin Luther in the American Imagination. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1988.Find this resource:

Lull, Timothy F., and Derek R. Nelson. Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015.Find this resource:

zur Muhlen, Karl-Heinz. “Wirkung und Rezeption.” In Luther Handbuch. 2d ed. Edited by Albrecht Beutel, 462–488. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.Find this resource:

Pelikan, Jaroslav, ed. Interpreters of Luther. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968.Find this resource:

Vandiver, Elizabeth, Ralph Keen, and Thomas D. Frazel, trans. and eds. Lives of Luther: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Vinke, Rainer, ed. Lutherforschung im 20. Jahrhundert: Rückblick-Bilanz-Ausblick. Mainz, Germany: Zabern, 2004.Find this resource:

Wipfler, Esther. Martin Luther in Motion Pictures: History of a Metamorphosis. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.Find this resource:


(1.) Heinrich Böhmer, Luther im Lichte der neueren Forschung (Leipzig: Teubner, 1906), 10–11.

(2.) This article prescinds from including characterizations of Luther’s theology as such, as virtually all of the other articles of this volume in the “Reception and Transformation” section deal with that issue in one way or another.

(3.) See the section “Luther the Man,” which includes autobiographical fragments, in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, eds. Timothy F. Lull and William R. Russell (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 491–506.

(4.) I have reflected on this in the introduction to a collection of theological autobiographies, Derek R. Nelson, Joshua Moritz and Ted Peters, eds., Theologians in Their Own Words (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013), 7–13.

(5.) See the useful Peter Newman Brooks, ed., Seven Headed Luther: Essays in Commemoration of a Quincentenary 1483–1983 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983).

(6.) Originally published in 1549. See the excellent translation with helpful notes in Ralph Keen, Elizabeth Vandiver, and Thomas D. Frazel, eds., Luther’s Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2002), 53–351.

(7.) See A. G. Dickens and John Tonkin, The Reformation in Historical Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 21–25.

(8.) Keen, Vandiver, and Frazel, Luther’s Lives, 55.

(9.) Robert Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher and Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520–1620 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).

(10.) Corpus Reformatorum 11:726–734.

(11.) The aspect of Luther is highlighted in Timothy F. Lull and Derek R. Nelson, Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015).

(12.) Quoted in Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, 48.

(13.) See Irene Dingel, Concordia Controversa: Die öffentlichen Diskussionen um das lutherische Konkordienwerk am Ende des 16. Jahrhunderts (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlag, 1996), 242–261.

(14.) Eike Wolgast, “Biographie als Autoritätsstiftung: Die ersten evangelischen Lutherbiographien,” in Biographie zwischen Renaissance und Barock, ed. Walter Berschin (Heidelberg, Germany: Mattes Verlag, 1993), 63.

(15.) Available online.

(16.) Indeed, this is only a very partial, and nearly arbitrary, list. Robert Kolb elegantly discusses many other polemical biographical attempts, noting that “Peter Canisius, Martin Eisengrein, Jacob Rabus, Gregorius di Valentia, Albert Hunger, Georg Schere, and Jodocus Lorich only begin the list of names.” Kolb, “The Prophet of the German Nation and Other Saint-Sinner Martyrs,” in Calvin and Luther: The Continuing Relationship, ed. R. Ward Holder (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 140.

(17.) See Sarah Rütter, Konstruktion von Bekenntnisidentität in Konversionsschriften der Frühen Neuzeit (Berlin: LIT, 2014), 145–148.

(18.) For a fuller analysis, see Ada Palmer, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 28–30.

(19.) Heinrich Denifle, Luther und Luthertum in den ersten Entwicklungen, 2 vols. (Mainz, Germany: Kirchheim, 1904–1909).

(20.) Preserved Smith, review of Denifle, Luther und Luthertum, Harvard Theological Review 11 (1918): 340.

(21.) Denifle, Luther und Luthertum, 409.

(22.) Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: Sein Leben und sein Werk (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 1932). This is a one-volume summary of his earlier three volumes, initially published in 1911–1912.

(23.) On this see the judgment of Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983), 18–19.

(24.) Jaroslav Pelikan, “Adolf von Harnack on Luther,” in Interpreters of Luther, by Jaroslav Pelikan (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1968), 261.

(25.) Adolf von Harnack, “Erklärung gegen Denifle,” Theologische Literaturzeitung 28 (1903): 689.

(26.) Adolf von Harnack, “Die Lutherbiographie Grisars,” in Aus Wissenchaft und Leben, by Adolf von Harnack (Giessen, Germany: Töppelmann, 1911), 333.

(27.) Harnack, “Die Lutherbiographie Grisars,” 334.

(28.) Leopold von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, 1 vol. (Berlin: Duncker, 1843), 229.

(29.) See Dieter Hensing, “Der Bilder eigner Geist: Das schwierige Verhältnis der Lutherbilder zu ihrem Gegenstand,” in Luther-Bilder im 20. Jahrhundert, eds. Ferdinand van Ingen and Gerd Labroisse (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1984), 1–25.

(30.) Heinrich von Treitschke, “Luther und die deutsche Nation,” in Historische und politische Aufsätze, by Heinrich von Treitschke, 4 vols. (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1897), 395–396.

(31.) Julius Köstlin, Martin Luther: Sein Leben und seine Schriften, 2 vols. (Elberfeld, Germany: Friedrichs, 1874).

(32.) Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911).

(33.) Smith, Life and Letters, 19.

(34.) Smith, Life and Letters, ix.

(35.) Smith, Life and Letters, 166.

(36.) Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (New York: Norton, 1958).

(37.) George Lindbeck, “Erikson’s Young Man Luther: A Theological and Historical Reappraisal,” Soundings 56.2 (1973): 211.

(38.) Lindbeck, “Erikson’s Young Man Luther,” 221.

(39.) Richard Marius, Luther: Christian between God and Death (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

(40.) Marius, Luther, 28.

(41.) Marius, Luther, 485.

(42.) Norman Brown, Life against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1959).

(43.) Brown, Life against Death, 208.

(44.) Brown, Life against Death, 322.

(45.) Heinz Schilling, Martin Luther: Rebell in einer Zeit des Umbruchs (Munich: Beck, 2012).

(46.) Schilling, Martin Luther, 84.

(47.) Schilling, Martin Luther, 634.

(48.) Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: Einführung in sein Denken (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1964).

(49.) Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville: Abingdom, 1950).

(50.) Heiko Oberman, as Luther: Man between God and Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

(51.) Oberman, Luther, 80.

(52.) Though it was published in 1950, Bainton had researched and written the book mostly in the 1930s. Anti-German sentiment during the 1930s and 1940s necessitated a delay in its publication, however.

(53.) Michael Mullett, Martin Luther (New York: Routledge, 2004), 264.

(54.) Volker Leppin, Martin Luther (Darmstadt, Germany: Primus Verlag, 2006).

(55.) Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 vols., trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985–1989).

(56.) Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, 121–122.

(57.) Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, 124.

(58.) Kolb, Martin Luther as Prophet, 124.

(59.) Johannes Schilling, “Luther in der Litteratur,” in Das Luther Lexikon, ed. Volker Leppin (Regensburg, Germany: Bückle & Böhm, 2014), 404.

(60.) Esther Wipfler, Martin Luther in Motion Pictures: History of a Metamorphosis (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).

(61.) Wipfler, Martin Luther in Motion Pictures, 57.

(62.) Quoted in Wipfler, Martin Luther in Motion Pictures, 61.