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date: 29 April 2017

Certainty and Security in Martin Luther’s Theology

Summary and Keywords

Crucial for Luther’s theology and his own experience was the question of whether one’s salvation was certain. And the security of the truth which underlay doctrine was complexly related to that question. Luther thus received and developed notions of certitude and security. The concepts as Luther inherited them have a long and somewhat complicated history that can be traced back to ancient Greece. These terms were often distinct throughout antiquity and up to contemporary times. The term “security” has referred to the realm of the political; namely, the security or tranquility of the city state or “nation” both in terms of physical security in times of conflict and also in the history of law. Certitude has a more complex history. For example, Aristotle often understood certainty or akribeia to mean precision, especially in mathematical terms. Those sciences that had the most properties removed (aphaeresis) were the most precise and consequently the most certain. Most prominent in the history of certitudo was the issue of epistemic certainty. Thus we find in Augustine’s doctrine of illumination that uncreated, immutable exemplars were the guarantors of certainty. It was in the later Middle Ages that the issue of epistemic certainty, in the form of mental representation, became a controversial topic. Scotus criticized Henry of Ghent’s views of human cognition and contended that certainty could be had only of self-evident propositions, knowledge of contingent acts, repeated occurrences ordained by God, and sense knowledge of the external world. Ockham argued for epistemic certainty on the basis of self-evident propositions and, most importantly, the reliability of intuitive cognition of individual external objects.

Certainty also had a long history in Christian theology and most often referred to the certainty of faith. Certitude was the conviction of the truth regarding the contents of the faith. Frequently the issue referred to the relationship between faith and reason. Certainty referred primarily to definition of the Christian faith. Not surprisingly, throughout the Christian tradition, certainty was related to the problem of heresy. The early church Fathers tried to establish orthodox doctrine over and against various heretical groups. Everyone agreed that the foundation for Christian truth was Scripture. However, different people interpreted the Bible in ways that were judged to be contrary to Christian faith. Around the year 434, Vincent of Lérins provided a rule that distinguished Catholic truth from heresy. This “Vincentian Canon” required that Christian truth be that which was believed everywhere, always, and by all (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus). These criteria guaranteed the certainty and stability of doctrine. One target of Vincent’s was probably Augustine, because he could be quoted against himself. Due to the many conversions in his life, Augustine made many pronouncements he later retracted, and such retractions were not meant to contribute to uncertainty about the faith. Medieval Scholastic inheritors of Augustine continued to define faith as a cognitive certitude. Their training in dialectic was crucial because it provided the certainty of doctrine against heretics. Luther was trained in dialectic, but in his Disputation against Scholastic Philosophy he opposed the use of Aristotle and logic in theology. Nonetheless, dialectic remained a subject in the university at Wittenberg.

Dialectic could not answer the questions of certainty for which Luther sought answers. His questions were about the certainty of salvation and, for Luther, this certainty could only be found in Scripture and the experience of the Holy Spirit. Such certainty also required a redefinition of faith. As the various reformations continued to divide Western Christendom, controversies about the exegesis of Scripture multiplied both among various reformers and between reformers and Catholics. Throughout the course of the turbulent 16th century, the real source of certainty for all parties became the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the late Middle Ages, certainty and security referred to the relationship between the individual and God. For Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers, these terms took on a meaning beyond the faithful knowledge of the contents of the faith. Any examination of Luther’s writings show that he used “security” and “certainty” synonymously to refer to the certitude of salvation whereby one experienced the security, assurance, and certitude of God’s benevolent will. Moreover, despite his lack of a firm terminology, Luther meant the same thing by “the certainty of forgiveness,” “the certainty of justification,” and “the certainty of God’s good will,” as well as the phrase, “the certainty of being in a state of grace.” All of these phrases referred to the certainty of salvation or the security of knowing that God’s benevolence was directed to one’s own individual salvation.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Holy Spirit, exegesis, salvation, faith, assurance, tradition, ecclesiology, reason, authority

The Certainty of Salvation

The era of the Reformation was a period that craved certainty. In fact, the search for certainty permeated much of the entire early modern period that stretched from the 14th through the 16th century. Prior to the religious debates of the Reformation, this search for certitude was most clearly seen in the fields of epistemology and ecclesiology, as evident in nominalist epistemology, figures such as John Huss, and the events constituting the Great Schism.1 In the 16th century, the quest and need for certainty exploded and encompassed all the various and opposing religious groups in Western Europe.

With the spread of the Reformation, the quest for certainty took on a more urgent character. The breaking apart of Western Christendom, the expulsion from the Catholic Church, the rejection of some traditional sources of authority, and the controversies between various forms of Protestantism raised questions that demanded absolute answers. Where is the true church? Where are the true sacraments that dispense grace? Is baptism for adults or only for infants? Whose interpretation of Scripture is correct? And, finally, the question of salvation: Am I saved and can I know if I am saved? It is important to understand that just as this age craved certitude, it also feared deception. Certainty and deception brought to the religious debates of this century the image of God versus the devil. As John 8:44 states, the devil is the “father of lies.” Notably, the most common description of God was “He who does not deceive and cannot be deceived.”

In order to understand how Luther expressed the need for certainty, it is necessary to remember several aspects of this issue. First, the quest for certainty encompassed both Protestantism and Catholicism. Both Catholics and Protestants tried to establish the certainty of their arguments and exegesis in order to answer their spiritual needs and to establish a foundation for their authority to interpret Scripture. The second factor is that this was an age of polemics. The search for certitude, therefore, found expression in polemical treatises both between Protestants and Catholics and between the various Protestant reformers. Luther’s writings about certitude find expression in his controversies with various opponents. Consequently, it is important to attend to the arguments of these adversaries in order to grasp the various meanings of the word “certainty” in Luther’s thought. His polemical books and treatises addressed particular theological issues, but underlying the myriad of controversial topics lay the need to find certainty.

Despite the numerous topics under debate, the quest for certitude revolved around two interrelated issues: the knowledge of one’s justification and the authority to interpret Scripture and thereby establish doctrine. A further complicating factor was the emphasis on experience. The desire for a more deeply and spiritually experienced Christianity pre-dated the Reformation and permeated the devotional literature of the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th century, this yearning for spiritual experience intensified and took on a new content with a more strident nature. Now the desired experience included the experience of certainty, especially the certainty of salvation that was an experience granted only by the Holy Spirit.2 But whose experience was from God and whose was inspired by the devil acting as an angel of light?

Certainty and Faith

The affirmation that one could have the certainty of one’s own salvation began with Martin Luther. In his theology of “faith alone,” Luther had to redefine the nature of that faith which saved the sinner. Scholastic theologians had developed a complex vocabulary for different levels of faith. The Scholastics spoke of demonic faith, acquired faith, implicit faith, explicit faith, unformed faith, and formed faith. Berndt Hamm has shown that these concepts of faith were all essentially cognitive. Faith was “always a recognition, knowledge, and consent on the part of the intelligence, the intellectus.” Consequently, faith was a “relationship of the person to the church’s truth,” a reception by the intellectus of the contents of the faith. These various forms of faith did require a specific kind of certainty, namely, a cognitive “certitudo or securitas of the contents of the faith.” Faith could coexist with sin but not with heresy.3

Although faith was an essential foundation, it was not a transformative power within the soul. Faith did not pertain to the affectus. In medieval theology, the creative, active, or transformative power was caritas or love. Caritas was that theological virtue that effected the spiritual transformation of the sinner. While faith made one free from error, love “qualitatively changes the orientation of the life of the believer.” As Hamm concluded, “the principle which brings about perfection does not lie in faith itself but in the form of justifying grace and love flowing into the sinner. It is the formative principle of love mediated by grace which raises faith to that level of spiritual quality and morality which enables the attainment of salvation.”4

The “perfection” effected by formed faith was holiness or purity. Regardless of the differences in the various Thomist, Augustinian, and nominalist theories of justification, they all assumed that one must be holy to stand before God. Salvation required holiness that came into being through a combination of faith, cooperation of the will, merit, and formed faith. Moreover, holiness could only come into being through a process. The viator would fall in and out of a state of sin but was able to return to grace through the repeatable sacrament of Penance. This advancing toward holiness took place gradually throughout one’s lifetime and was completed in purgatory. Theologians in the late Middle Ages such as Gabriel Biel depicted this life as traveling between hope and fear. When Christians looked back to Christ’s atonement on the cross, they could have hope in God’s mercy. When looking forward to their death, they should have a fear of God’s judgment.

These various theological assumptions are necessary in order to understand that in medieval theology there could never be any certainty of one’s salvation. Absent a “special revelation,” the Christian should progress with some doubt and fear. Scholastic theologians taught three kinds of certitude. The Christian must have objective certitude that the contents of the faith were true. With regard to salvation this meant that one must believe with certainty that God would save the elect. Neither sin nor the devil could obstruct God’s will of election. But one could not know if he or she were a member of the elect. Christians could also have conjectural certitude or the certitude of hope.5 The viator could see signs of change in his life that indicated the possibility of salvation. Nonetheless, the subjective certainty of salvation was not possible. The Christian could not conclude with certainty that he was saved. As Ecclesiastes 9:1 stats, “No one knows whether he is worthy of love or hatred.” The real principle that made this verse central was the need for holiness. When Christians looked at themselves, they recognized that they were still sinful. Therefore, if a person claimed the certitude of salvation then he or she was claiming to be holy and was thus guilty of the sin of pride. It was perfectly appropriate that one should have a “pious doubt” about salvation, not because one doubted God but because one doubted one’s own holiness or worthiness to be saved. In short, the demand for holiness cancelled the certainty of salvation.

Luther’s insight into the term “righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 led him to reject these various distinctions between the different kinds of faith and the need for formed faith. However, in order to defend his doctrine of justification by faith alone he had to redefine faith and explain the nature of that faith which justified the sinner. In his rejection of Scholastic ideas about faith, Luther rejected the purely cognitive character of “faith alone.” According to Luther, the faith that justified the sinner was trust in the promises of God, promises that always contradicted fallen human reason and seemed to be impossible. As Luther explained justification he explained that true justifying faith included the certitude of salvation. By the time of his 1526 Annotations on Ecclesiastes, Luther had removed chapter 9:1 from discussions about salvation. For Luther, this verse referred only to the world and the administration of societal affairs. Thus this verse no longer threatened the certainty of salvation granted in faith.6

Although this was not a merely cognitive faith, it did provide the believer with knowledge. This justifying faith was an experiential knowledge that provided the believer with trust about the will of God. Having been driven to despair of their own abilities, believers now experienced the depth of their sinfulness, their inability to ever fulfill the Law, and the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. This faith enabled the faithful to pierce through the angry face of God in Scripture and to see the benevolent and merciful face of God directed toward them.

Most important for the issue of certainty was Luther’s doctrine of imputation. Faith alone was salvific because on the basis of this faith or trust God no longer imputed sin to the believer but rather the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, the faithful now had the use of Christ’s alien righteousness that covered their own sinfulness in the eyes of God. This so-called simul doctrine meant that the sinner no longer had to fear any remaining sinfulness, and therefore sin could not be the cause of anxiety about damnation.7 As Heiko Oberman and Steven Ozment have explained, Luther had rejected the holiness ethic. The believer was no longer a viator traveling between hope and fear. Oberman demonstrated that Luther believed the Christian was no longer suspended between the iustitia Christi and the iustitia Dei. “One can summarize, therefore, Luther’s discovery in the following sentence: The heart of the Gospel is that the iustitia Christi and the iustitia Dei coincided and are granted at the same time.”8

The doctrine of imputation, the simul doctrine, the redefinition of faith, and the rejection of the holiness ethic meant that faith could now include the subjective or experiential certainty of one’s own salvation. The need for a gradual restoration of holiness was no longer required. Faith as trust was a faith that included within its nature the certainty of salvation. Faith was trust in the ultimate promise that God justified the sinner by faith alone and did not require perfection. Several biblical verses recurred in Luther’s writings that expressed this certainty of salvation. The main passages were Romans 8:16 and Galatians 4:6, both of which were verses describing the cry “Abba! Father!” As Galatians 4:6 says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’”

These verses were so crucial because of the importance Luther attributed to the term “Father.” In Luther’s theology, the fall into sin was a fall into idolatry. As he stated in his lectures on Genesis 3:3, after the Fall, humanity worshipped a false God, “Thus a new god is invented by Satan for men without their being of it.”9 The reason the subject of idolatry is important to the problem of certainty is that this “new god” could never provide the assurance of salvation. This “new god” conformed perfectly to the expectations of fallen reason and could now only conceive of God as a judge who is angry over sin and needed to be appeased. This idolatrous god is completely rational because this god is one who fairly punished sin and rewarded obedience to the good works of the Law. The important point is that fallen reason could not pass beyond the god who is just and angry over sin.10 As Luther explained in his lectures on Isaiah, idolaters always made God “smaller” than he really is because they failed to understand that God’s mercy is greater than his justice. Therefore, one could only see God as a benevolent Father thanks to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To see God as a Father meant that believers finally perceived that God’s benevolence and mercy were directed to them, thereby granting them the individual and experiential certainty of their salvation. Because the Holy Spirit gave this certainty, the Christian was able to say, “Such power I did not have in me before; for without it I would have had to remain subject to the devil’s power and to the terror and power of death … But now I have a new courage which Christ gives me through his Spirit and by which I perceive that He is with me and in me.”11 In his 1535 lectures on Galatians, Luther interpreted this verse at length by rejecting the Catholic insistence that the certainty of salvation was not possible. On the contrary, this verse proved to Luther that the true nature of justifying faith provided the certitude of their own salvation without being inherently holy. Because his exegesis of Galatians 4:6 illustrates so thoroughly his understanding of certainty, it is worth quoting in full.

Moreover the chief point of all Scripture is that we should not doubt but have trust and believe with certainty that God is merciful, kind, and patient, that He does not lie or deceive but is faithful and true. He keeps his promises and has not accomplished what he has promised, handing over his only-begotten Son unto death for our sins, so that everyone who believes in the Son should not perish but have eternal life. Here there can surely be no doubt whether God has been reconciled and is favorably disposed toward us, whether the hate and wrath of God has been removed … Let us thank God, therefore, that we have been delivered from this monster of uncertainty and that now we can believe with certainty that the Holy Spirit is crying and issuing that sigh too deep for words in our hearts. And this is our foundation: the Gospel commands us to look not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God himself as He promised and at Christ the Mediator … For I am clinging to God who cannot lie … Here I cannot have any doubts unless I want to deny God altogether … Now that the plague of uncertainty with which the entire church of the pope is infected, is driven away, let us believe with certainty that God is favorably disposed toward us, that we are pleasing to him and of concern to him on account of Christ.12

Although the world, the devil and the conscience would torment and frighten believers, God would send his Spirit to give comfort and assure them that God was not an angry lawgiver. Luther preached saying, “But for us He is called a Comforter. This name is nothing else than a revelation or realization of what to think of the Holy Spirit, namely, that He is a Comforter. But a Comforter is not a Moses or a lawgiver, who frightens with the devil, death, and hell: He is one who can fill a saddened heart with laughter and joy toward God, bids you of good cheer because of the forgiveness of your sins, slays death, opens heaven, and makes God smile upon you.”13 The identification of the Holy Spirit with certainty had critical consequences for Luther’s view of the devil. If the Spirit was the agent of certitude, then Satan became the cause of doubt. In Luther’s theology there was no place for a “pious doubt” about salvation. To doubt was to distrust God’s promise or, as Luther repeatedly said, “to call God a liar.” The devil is now the tempter and the deceiver. He constantly harassed and tempted believers to doubt their salvation. The devil attacked the conscience and sought to make it “disquieted and uneasy.” When believers saw their own remaining sinfulness, Satan immediately cried, “Oh you must go to hell.”14 The ultimate Anfechtung that the believer endured was the doubt of God’s promise to save through faith alone. The Comforter came to the rescue and assured the faithful that God was not angry. The Spirit gave the “courage” and “defiance” necessary to repel the temptation of Satan. Because of the Spirit, the believer was able to see the devil’s words as a “sham or delusion.” Luther has set up a duality; the devil deceives and causes doubt, while the Spirit assures and comforts the conscience.

Certitude of Truth

The certitude of salvation was not the only form of certainty that Luther needed. Protestant groups continued to split apart both because of the sacramental controversies and because of differences about the way the Spirit acted upon the human soul. As David Steinmetz wrote, early Protestants assumed an “exegetical optimism” regarding the clarity and interpretation of Scripture. Therefore, “for a brief period of time, Protestants thought it would be possible to write a theology which was wholly biblical and excluded all speculation.”15 This optimism did not last long. By 1522 Luther had to come out of hiding in order to restore order in Wittenberg and refute Carlstadt’s preaching against images. Luther and Carlstadt had a public break in 1525 at the Black Bear Inn. The same year Luther also wrote Against the Heavenly Prophets in order to attack the views of Carlstadt and Müntzer. At the 1529 Marburg Colloquy, Luther and Zwingli failed to reach agreement on the Eucharist. With regard to the Eucharist, Luther wrote to Oecolampadius, “Dear Lord God, who asked you about your notion? Who wants to tell what you regard as certain?”16 He was no less angry at Zwingli, Schwenkfeld, and Crautwald about the real presence in the Eucharist.

Luther felt besieged as he faced attacks from both Catholic polemicists and from the “false prophets” who were his Protestant opponents.17 Regardless of the specific topic under debate, the real issue was the authority to claim that one had the certain interpretation of Scripture. In order to grasp the centrality of certainty in these controversies, it is again important to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit. What is fundamental is that all parties, both Catholic and Protestant, agreed that the Sprit is the giver of certitude. Moreover, they all agreed that one can understand Scripture only through the illumination of the Spirit. The result was that the question of certainty moved from justification to the certainty of scriptural authority. The inevitable result was that everyone claimed to have the inspiration of the Spirit.

Catholics and Protestants responded differently to this challenge. Both John Eck and Thomas More were among those who argued for certainty by joining pneumatology to ecclesiology and providence. Both men charged Luther with the common accusation of introducing novelties into the faith. But they did more; they emphasized the many centuries that the church had believed in the seven sacraments, the sacrifice of the Mass, and so on. This appeal to tradition or the “many ages” of the church was an argument from providence. Citing John 16:13 where the Spirit is named the Spirit of Truth, they asked if the Spirit could have abandoned his church for centuries until Luther came along. As Eck wrote, “In vain god sent his Son, in vain the Holy Spirit, in vain the apostles, martyrs, doctors, and confessors, if through Luther alone the light of truth was to be opened. Why, then, did not God send one Luther for everyone?”18 Thomas More asked the same question: “If you argue that God is indicating to you at the present time so many, such useful, such necessary truths, why should you think that He concealed all these truths for such a long time from such holy men to the detriment of the whole church?” He followed this question with: “If the church has not existed during this whole time among these people who obey the pope and have so long obeyed him, tell me where has it been these past five hundred years before you were born?”19 More asked about the significance of Christ’s works in John 16:13, “When the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes He will lead you into all truth.” Did the Spirit break this promise and let the church fall into error until Luther was born? Both Luther and his critics agreed that the Spirit of Truth was absolutely necessary but the question became, “Where is the Spirit?” Joining Matthew 28:20 to John 16:13, More argued that the Spirit of Truth was granted not to just any private individual claiming the experiential certainty of inspiration. When Christ promised, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” and that “the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth,” he referred to the known, visible Catholic Church that has existed throughout the ages. For Catholics, believers must first know where the “Spirit of Truth” resided before they could determine with certitude the truth of specific doctrines such as the Eucharist or justification. The believer had to know which church could not err. That church had to be the only church to which God sent the Holy Spirit and which God had guided throughout history. Notably, polemicists like More argued that the true church was the church which was led into all truth precisely so that “no man could be deceived.” The Spirit would lead the visible historical church into “every truth so that those willing to learn could always know where they could learn it.”20 Catholic polemicists concluded that the certainty of doctrine could only be found if one stood within the church to which the Holy Spirit was promised. This true church never conceded the certainty of salvation but did offer a kind of “counter-certitude,” namely, the certitude of truth. The Johannine Spirit was the Comforter precisely because he guaranteed the truth. In the midst of so many conflicting biblical interpretations and factions within the Protestant church, Catholicism took the burden of judging the truth off the back of the individual believer. There emerged two competing forms of certainty between Luther and Catholics. Luther’s theology took the burden of salvation off the back of the individual and granted certainty of salvation. Nonetheless, Luther left the Christian with the tremendously important task of finding the truth of doctrine. Catholicism never affirmed the certitude of salvation, but it did grant the certainty as to where one could find the truth.

Spirit of Truth

The question, “Where is the Spirit?” also arose among the different Protestant reformers who claimed the authority to interpret Scripture differently than Luther. These “false prophets” also believed that the illumination of the Spirit was necessary for certainty about the understanding Scripture. But who really had the Spirit of Truth? As Luther repeatedly said, after the “papistic rabble, different spirits come along from the opposite side and claim that they are the ones who have the Sprit. Their boast is of nothing but the Spirit.”21

The battle between Thomas Müntzer and Martin Luther exemplified this crisis of authority and certainty among Protestants. In 1523, Müntzer wrote On Counterfeit Faith and A Manifest Exposé of False Faith, which were aimed at Luther and the Wittenberg theologians. These were just several of the many treatises that demonstrated how the various Protestant reformers urgently sought to redefine the true nature of that faith which alone saved.22 This was also one of the many treatises that illustrated how the certainty of salvation related closely to the certainty of biblical interpretation. Drawing on Tauler, the Gelassenheit tradition of the self’s “resignation to God,” and the mysticism of the Theologica Germanica, Müntzer argued that the common idea of faith was really a counterfeit that only mimicked the true spiritual and saving faith. Müntzer taught that God had to “break through” this counterfeit faith in order to empty the soul so that the believer could experience the “true teaching of the Spirit” in his heart. Only when the Spirit of Christ could move into the emptied soul, would the Christian experience the faith that included the certainty of salvation. At this point the soul would also be able to receive directly the teaching of the Spirit, “without mediators.” Having experienced themselves to be indwelt by the Spirit, Christians could now truly understand Scripture. Only the “experienced person” who had undergone spiritual suffering could know he truly had received saving faith. This “experienced faith” was able both to teach believers to be certain of salvation and to be certain of interpreting Scripture correctly. Therefore, the experienced indwelling of the Spirit furnished both the certainty of salvation and the certainty provided by the Spirit of Truth. Those like “Brother Fat-Pig Luther,” who lacked this experience, might have “devoured a thousand Bibles” but were “unable to say anything true about God.”23 Therefore, Müntzer chastised Luther and his circle for daring to interpret Scripture, “even though they do not know if they are saved essential as that is, Rom. 8.”24

At this juncture Müntzer made a crucial turn. The Spirit moved beyond only grating the certainty of salvation and took on the role of the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. Only one who knew he was saved could understand the Bible. Consequently, this twofold function of the Spirit allowed Müntzer, Carlstadt, and others to insist that their doctrine was true. They used both the same biblical passages that Luther used about the certainty of salvation and the same affective language to describe both aspects of this Spirit-instilled certitude. Citing Romans 8:16, Galatians 4:6, and John 14–16, they described the believer who “feels,” “tastes,” and “experiences” salvation and truth. For example, Sebastian Franck argued that the Word could not be “shouted from the outside but be found within, taught and experienced within us.” For Franck this meant that “experience is the key to Scripture.” He believed that the Spirit granted true beliers “spiritual eyes” so that the “experienced person” knew both his own salvation and the truth of Scripture.25 The argument was clearly forming: the Holy Spirit who granted the certainty of salvation merged into the certitude of hermeneutical authority. Without the former certitude, one could not have the latter.

The Experience of the Believer

Luther also clearly and forcefully expressed this same twofold certainty given by the Spirit. Turning again to Galatians 4:6, Luther followed his insistence on the certainty of salvation by arguing that believers were also illumined by the Spirit so that they became judges of doctrine.

The sending of the Holy Spirit into the heart through the spoken word, we receive the fire and light by which a new judgment, new sensations, and new drives arise within us. This change and new judgment are not the work of human reason; they are the gift and accomplishment of the Holy Spirit, who comes with the preached word, purifies by faith, and produces spiritual motivation within us. Therefore, there is the greatest possible difference between us and the enemies of God’s word. We, by the grace of God, are able to judge with certainty on the basis of the Word, about the will of God towards us, about all laws and doctrines, about our lives and those of others. But the papists and fanatical spirits are unable to judge with certainty about anything.26

Luther moved seamlessly between the certitude of salvation and the certitude about “all laws and doctrines.” The same theological move took place in his sermons on John 14–16. Here the Spirit is called both the Comforter and the Spirit of Truth. As Luther clearly stated, “the Holy Spirit is not only a Comforter who makes Christians defiant and courageous in the face of all kinds of terror; He is also a Spirit of Truth, that is, He is a true and reliable Spirit who does not deceive you or fail you.”27 This dual purpose of the Spirit meant that believers experienced the assurance of salvation because the Spirit had come as the Comforter. The Comforter gave believers a “confident and staunch heart that experienced peace and the assurance that God did not want to be angry over sin.”28 Nonetheless, the devil would attack by bringing forth thoughts of death and sin in order to rob the believer of comfort. Luther counseled that this sermon was “not only of words but of experience as well.” The devil attacks certitude so that “at this point experience must enter in and enable a Christian to say, ‘Up to now I have heard that Christ is my savior, who conquered sin and death; and I believed this. Now my experience bears this out.’” Luther went on to explain that such an “experience makes a genuine and perfect man.” Believers remain firm in the face of doubt and thereby “experience that they are genuine Christians. Such experience engenders a sure hope, which does not doubt that they are God’s children and belong to him.”29

Luther than proceeded to preach that the Spirit “is also called the Spirit of Truth.”30 Here Luther repeatedly had to confront the argument that haunted him all his life: “You are not the only one who has Scripture and God’s Word … Do we not have the Spirit just as you do?”31 In answer to this taunt, Luther confronted both his Catholic opponents and all the “factions and false spirits” that the devil ushered into the world whenever the Gospel was preached. Against his opponents Luther stated, “Therefore Christ promises to give us a Spirit who will not only strengthen our hearts and increase our courage but will also make our faith certain, remove all doubt, and enable us to judge all other spirits.”32 Luther explained that throughout history Christendom had prevailed against numerous enemies who claimed to be holy and speak in the name of the church. “However,” he said, “even when the devil comes as an angel of light, the Spirit of Truth empowers the church to separate itself from all false doctrines and keep the faithful from being deceived.” Luther maintained that “this is the Holy Spirit’s own specific office; by means of it one must discern all other doctrines” so that the mind can be “kept in the certain truth.”33

The Church, False and True

The constant assurance that the Holy Spirit would prevent deception did not really answer the question as to who actually was illumined by the Spirit of Truth. As Luther asked, “How does one explain the contrast that these people cannot have the Holy Spirit as we do?”34 In short, who really was “the spiritual man who judges all things?” I Corinthians 2:14–15 were verses that the reformers constantly cited in defense of their own exegetical position. Luther was no exception and claimed that only the person who could truly cry “Abba! Father!” could be the spiritual man.35 Catholic polemicists had no problem with this verse because it had traditionally referred to the pope. However, since Christ promised the Spirit to the church, the question “Where is the Spirit?” quickly became, “Where is the true church?” We have already seen the Catholic answer to these questions, and Luther agreed that the Spirit was promised and present to the true church. However he brought the certainty of salvation and the certainty of truth to bear on the question of where to find the true church. He answered his opponents with two fundamental arguments. Catholics could not be in the true church because their belief in works and holiness meant that they did not truly believe in “Christ alone.” Second, Catholics could not possibly have the Comforter because they remained in doubt about their salvation. Despite their claims, therefore, Catholics could not be in the true church since they remained “without truth or certainty.” Experiencing the certainty given by the Spirit, believers could be certain they were the true church and, therefore, of judging correctly about the truth. Assuring his congregation, Luther promised that the Spirit would “not only make you warriors and heroes, but he will confer the doctorate on you and call you doctors and masters who can determine with certainty what is true and false doctrine in Christendom.”36 For Luther, it is as if Christ said, “I will give you the Comforter, who will instill in you’re the courage to be certain that you are my true Christians and the true church.”37 He went on to say, “The Spirit of Truth will not only make you warriors and heroes, but will confer the doctorate on you and call you doctors and masters who can determine with certainty what is true and false doctrine in Christendom.” Thus Luther said, “I can easily and reliably judge who and who are not the Church. For one can see without difficulty who knows the Father and Christ and who does not know them.”38

These assertions, however, were not the only means of trying to prove the truth of doctrine. Polemical treatises of the time on various issues indicate that certainty itself became the criterion for the certainty of truth. Throughout his writings, Luther maintained that if a doctrine left one uncertain then, by definition, it had to be false. Thus, since the Catholic theories of justification left the believer uncertain about salvation, they had to be false. Since Zwingli’s teaching on the Eucharist left one in doubt about where God could reliably and certainly be found, it had to be wrong. The experience of certitude became the criterion of correct doctrine. Luther only used this form of argumentation because of his conviction that fallen human nature could never attain the experience of certainty. Therefore, this experiential certitude about the truth of doctrine had to come from the Spirit of Truth. This argument, however, did nothing to address the fact that others felt they also had this divine experience of the Spirit. In answer to this claim, Luther said that his opponents were subject to the deception caused by the demonic angel of light. Even this argument was ineffective in face of the fact that Luther also believed that the devil could produce a false certainty in his opponents.39

To be sure, this was a circular argument; the experience of certainty became the test or criterion for the certainty of truth. Thomas More would have none of this kind of reasoning. Citing Luther’s own words to Henry VIII, he created a satirical but forceful dialogue with Luther:

By what reason, Father, do you prove that you must be believed?

Because I am certain, he says, that I have my teaching from Heaven.

By what reason are you certain that you have your teaching from Heaven?

Because God has seized me unawares, he says, and carried me into the midst of these turmoils.

How do you know that God has seized you?

Because I am certain, he says, that my teaching is from God.

How do you know that?

Because God has seized me.

How do you know this?

Because I am certain.

How are you certain?

Because I know.

How do you know?

Because I am certain.40

The fact that Luther struggled all his life to answer this question shows that he knew how unsatisfactory his answer was to many of his opponents, all of whom were claiming the Spirit. Nevertheless, to the historian this struggle provides insight into a real underlying problem that haunted this age. Historians can often discern tensions and problems of an era by identifying what the Holy Spirit was doing and what the devil was doing. From the writings of Luther and his opponents, the answer becomes clear: the Holy Spirit granted certainty while the devil caused deception. The debates about certainty were not at all unique to Luther. The Reformation and the wave of spiritualism that spread throughout 16th-century Europe caused the search for certainty to permeate this era from Martin Luther to the Spanish mystics. In all these various attempts to establish that one had escaped the deception of the devil, all groups were essentially asking Luther’s fundamental question: “What can be more miserable than uncertainty?”

Review of the Literature

The issue of certainty in Luther’s thought has been approached from various perspectives, most of which revolve around the topics of the conscience and the doctrine of justification by faith. In 1909, Karl Holl, who saw Luther’s theology as a religion of the conscience, analyzed the certainty of salvation in Luther’s Lectures on Romans.41 Jared Wicks and Berndt Hamm are just two of the major scholars who have studied the development of Luther’s ideas on justification and faith in comparison to earlier medieval understandings.42 Both scholars examined the development of Luther’s view of both justification and the meaning of “faith,” which leads to the question of certitude. There are numerous studies of Luther’s view of the conscience, including (but not limited to) those by Hirsch, Lohse, Meinhold, and Zachmann.43 Moreover, the important work by Andrea Schrimm-Heins has examined the history of the concepts of security and certainty, a history that includes the thought of Martin Luther.44 These studies have thoroughly addressed the idea of certainty as embedded in Luther’s views on conscience, freedom, the Law, faith, and justification.

However, another issue has arisen that has significance for the question of certainty in Luther’s time and in the whole of the early modern era. This is the concept of crisis. By attending to the debates and discussions of this period as a time of crisis it is clear that there are important implications for the problem of certitude in the idea that this was an age of crisis.

The preoccupation with certitude during this era should not be surprising since this was a time of transition and unsettling changes. A focus on certainty raises several important issues. Nonetheless, of critical importance was the historiographical question: Was this a time of crisis? Two books deeply influenced the way in which these centuries were characterized as times of crisis. The first was Johan Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages, first published in Dutch in 1921.45 In his study of this period Huizinga found a discontinuity between the idea and the real situation in society. As Huizinga wrote, “the unfolding new culture soon forced the abandonment of the all too lofty aspiration of the old life forms.”46 So, too, the excess of the sacred resulted in a lowering of the religious to the ordinary mundane world. According to Huizinga, the depiction of the sacred revealed the excesses of religious life evident in the “desire to bestow form on everything that is sacred.” This, in turn, resulted in a “fatuous familiarity with God in religious life.” According to Huizinga, “life was permeated by religion to the degree that the distance between the earthly and spiritual was in danger of being obliterated at any moment.” The result was “the devaluation of holy things by everyday use.” Consequently, “the fifteenth century was an age of great emotional distress and thorough pessimism.” For Huizinga the cumulative evidence could only mean that this era should “perhaps be identified as a characteristic of end periods of intellectual development.” This was the “end of an age,” which was “threadbare and spent.”47

The second book was Frantisek Graus’s Pest-Geissler-Judenmorde: Das 14. Jahrhundert als Krisenzeit published in 1987.48 Examining the 14th century, Graus argued that the various phenomena such as the Black Death, famine, warfare, and urban poverty made this a time of crisis. In his second volume he focused on the role of the church. For Graus, the sense of crisis that pervaded the 14th century was inseparable from the events in the church, including, of course, the papal schism. He emphasized the contradictory elements that were evident in Scripture and in the church. For example, the ideal of poverty clashed with the wealth and opulence of the church that gave rise to anticlericalism. According to Graus, this era left the laity and many priests with tensions and dilemmas regarding salvation and the nature of the true church. Along with the ecclesiological disputes, there were “parallel systems” that claimed the attention, commitments, and allegiances of the laity. These included the existence of Judaism, Jewish programs, heresies, magic, and other aspects of popular piety.49

These books established what Howard Kaminsky called the “waning model.” More specialized studies followed that focused on specific aspects of this “crisis,” including monographs on the economy, feudalism, class conflict, and political disruptions. However, Kaminsky and other historians have criticized this all too simple application of the term “crisis.” Can two whole centuries continually be a crisis? According to Kaminsky, the waning model has imposed itself on far too many studies that assume various structural and mental crises to such an extent that the concept is exaggerated and has resulted in a “conceptual emptiness.” His article, “From Lateness, to Waning, to Crisis: The Burden of the Later Middle Ages,”50 provides a thorough analysis of how this waning model has distorted studies of the late Middle Ages. The “view of the Later Middle Ages as a time of waning, decadence, and crisis,” he argued, “has been determined not by the surviving evidence but by the preemptive constructions of the dialectic of the lateness and the waning model.”51 It should be added that Heiko Oberman called his book The Harvest of the Middle Ages not to refute Huizinga but to call attention to the growth of the nominalist theology of Gabriel Biel, and to reassess the importance of late medieval nominalist theology, a theology that was not a decline but rather a culmination or “harvest” of earlier ages.52

Nonetheless, no historian would deny that this period experienced distinct but successive crises. Moreover, “crisis” does not automatically mean decline, as Oberman’s book makes clear. It was rather the awareness of crisis or of the passing away of a traditional world of values that characterized the late Middle Ages and inherited by the 16th century. William Bouwsma eloquently expressed this awareness as experienced in the 14th through the 16th centuries by saying, “When man still clung to the old culture, he seemed to have become, in spite of himself, a trespasser against the order of the universe, a violator of its sacred limits … But his predicament was even worse if this experience had taught him to doubt the very existence of boundaries. He then seemed thrown, disoriented, back into the void from which it was the task of culture to rescue him. And this, I suggest, is the immediate explanation for the extraordinary anxiety of this period. It was an inevitable response to the growing inability of an inherited culture to invest experience with meaning.”53

But was there a spiritual crisis? Scholars such as Steven Ozment and Jean Delumeau characterized this era as preoccupied with questions of sin, fear, anxiety, and death.54 Euan Cameron warns that “to treat the soul-searching remarks of an observant eremite and theologian not only as accurate autobiography, but also as typical of the spirituality of the mass of lay people in pre-Reformation Europe is, therefore, to say the least, imprudent.” This is an important caution, originally aimed at the work of those who had depicted the era of the Reformation as an era that was especially anxious over sin and salvation. However, it is also important to note that recent studies of the types of sermons preached in various countries have bolstered the thesis of scholars like Steven Ozment by showing that some areas constantly heard sermons that stressed the penalty for sins, the need for repentance, and the years that loomed before the sinner in purgatory. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the majority of the texts of this era that addressed religious questions were texts that addressed the human conscience and asked the question of certainty.55 This question was more pronounced in those works by the more elite written culture, but these texts are numerous and critically important in demonstrating a major trend of anxiety of this period.

Further Reading

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

Davies, Rupert. The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers: A Study in Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009.Find this resource:

Edwards, Mark. Luther and the False Brethren. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Evans, G. R. Problems of Authority in the Reformation Debates. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Grosse, Sven. Heilsunggesissheit und Scrupulositas im späten Mittelalter: Studien zu Johannes Gerson und Gattungen der Frömmigkeits seiner Zeit. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1994.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt. Frömmigkeitstheologie am Anfang des 16. Jahrunderts: Studien zu Johannes von Paltz und seinem Umkreis. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1982.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt. The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety. Translated by Robert J. Bast. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.Find this resource:

Headley, J. M. “The Reformation as a Crisis in the Understanding of Tradition.” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 78 (1987): 5–22.Find this resource:

Hendrix, Scott. Luther and the Papacy. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. “‘Iustitia Christi and Iustitia Dei’: Luther and the Scholastic Doctrines of Justification.” Harvard Theological Review 59.1 (1966): 1–26.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A. Dawn of the Reformation: Essays in Late Medieval and Early Reformation Thought. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986.Find this resource:

Ozment, Steven E. Homo Spiritualis: A Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson and Martin Luther (1509–151) in the Context of their Theological Thought. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1969.Find this resource:

Schreiner, Susan E. Are You Alone Wise? Debates about Certainty in the Early Modern Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Schwarz, Reinhard. Fides, spes und caritas beim jungen Luther, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Mittelalterlichen Tradition. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1962.Find this resource:

Steinmetz, David. Luther in Context. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Wicks, Jared. Man Yearning for Grace. Luther’s Early Spiritual Teaching. Weisbaden: F. Steiner, 1989.Find this resource:

Zachman, Randall. The Assurance of Faith. Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.Find this resource:


(1.) On late medieval epistemology, see Katherine Tachau, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham: Optics, Epistemology and the Foundation of Semantics 1250–1345 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000); Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham, 2 vols. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987). On ecclesiological issues, see Scott Hendrix, Tradition and Authority in the Middle Ages (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1996); Thomas A. Fudge, Religious Reform and Social Revolution, (London: I. B. Taurus, 2010); Anticlericalism in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Peter A. Dykema and Heiko A Oberman (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993); The Reforms of the Council of Constance (1414–1418), ed. Phillip H. Stump (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993); The Church, the Councils, and Reform: The Legacy of the Fifteenth Century, ed. Gerald Christianson, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Chistopher M. Bellito (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2008).

(2.) Susan E. Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 209–260. On the need for the conscience to seek assurance of salvation, see Randall Zachman, The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

(3.) Berndt Hamm, “From the Medieval Love of God to the ‘Faith’ of Martin Luther,” in The Reformation of Faith in the Context of Late Medieval Piety, trans. Michael J. Bast (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004), 128–137.

(5.) On the idea of the certitude of hope, see Juan Alfaro, “Certitude de l’espérance’ et ‘certitude de la grâce,” Nouvelle revue théologique 94 (1972): 3–42; Michael. Basse, Certitudo spei: Thomas von Aquins Begründung der Hoffnungsgewisseit und ihre Rezeption bis zum Konzil von Trient als Beitrag zur Verhältnisbestimmung von Eschatalogie und Rechtfertigungslehre (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1993).

(6.) WA 1:542.35–543, 2; LW 31:271. See also WA 20:158, 6–16; WA 2:14, 2–3; Andrea Schrimm-Heins, “Gewissheit und Sicherheit: Geschichte und Bedeutungswandel der Begriffe certitudo und securitas,” Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte 34 Teil I (1991): 175–178, Teil II: 198–202. See also, Sven Grosse, Heilsunggewissheit und Scrupulositas im späten Mittelalter: Studien zu Johannes Gerson und Gattungen Frömmigkeitstheologie seiner Zeit (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1994).

(7.) On the development of Luther’s thought about the certainty of faith and justification, see Jared Wicks, Man Yearning for Grace: Luther’s Spiritual Teaching (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1969); Jared Wicks, Luther’s Reform: Studies on Conversion and the Church (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 1992); Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? Debates about Certainty in the Early Modern Era, 48–59.

(8.) Heiko A. Oberman, “‘Iustitia Christi’ and Iustitia Dei’: Luther and the Scholastic Doctrines of Justification,” Harvard Theological Review 59.1 (January 1966): 1–26.

(9.) WA 42:112, 3; LW 1:148.

(10.) On Luther’s view of reason, see Bernhard Lohse, Ratio und Fides: Eine Untersuchung über die ratio in der Theologie Luthers (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1958); Brian A. Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Study of the Theology of Luther (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962).

(11.) WA 45:586, 36–587, 3; LW 26:386.

(12.) WA 40/I:588, 31–589, 17; WA 40/I:591, 26–30: WA 40/I:592, 28–30; LW 26:387–389.

(13.) WA 45:562, 18–30; WA 45:564, 37–567, 35; WA 45:568; 9–16; LW 24:112–115.

(14.) WA 45:565, 14–21; LW 24:114.

(15.) David C. Steinmetz, “Luther and Calvin on Church and Tradition,” in Luther in Context (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986), 96.

(16.) David C. Steinmetz, “Scripture and the Lord’s Supper in Luther’s Theology,” in Luther in Context, 72.

(17.) Mark U. Edwards, Luther and the False Brethren (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975).

(18.) Johannes Eck, Enchiridion locorum communium adversus Lutherum et alios hostes ecclesiae (1525–1543), ed. Pierre Fraenkel, Corpus Catholicorum 34 (Münster, Germany: Aschendorf, 1979), 34–80.

(19.) Thomas More, “Reponsio ad Lutheram,/Response to Luther” in The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. John Headley, trans. Scholastica Mandeville, vol. 5/1: 184.8–11/185.10–13. See also, David V. N. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).

(20.) Thomas More, The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer/Confutacyon of Tyndales Answere in the Complete Works of Thomas More, vol. 8, ed. Louis Richard C. Marius (New Have, CT: Yale University Press, 1973), 617.15 (author emphasis), and 878.26, 892.34,902.7953.3–5, 995.34–35.

(21.) WA 45:622, 16–19.

(22.) Thomas Müntzer, Propositions Attributed to Egranus in The Collected Works of Thomas Müntzer, ed. and trans. by Peter Matheson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 381.

(23.) Ibid., 240, 264, 288, 302.

(24.) Ibid., 237. See also56, 232, 240, 298, 310, 365. On the certainty of salvation, see Collected Works, 20, 232, 358, 363, 367.

(25.) Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise?, 79–

(26.) WA 40:572, 20–26; LW 26:375.

(27.) WA 45:567, 38–568, 2; LW 24:117.

(28.) WA 45:728, 5–7; WA 45:623, 37–38; LW 45.

(29.) WA 45:599, 3–11; LW 24:151.

(30.) WA 45:727, 33–37; LW 24:292.

(31.) WA 45:728, 31–33; LW 24:292–293.

(32.) WA 45:729, 5–9; LW 24:294.

(33.) WA 45:730, 20–21; LW 24:295. See also WA 45:729, 24–25; LW 24:294. “Therefore God promises to give us a Spirit who will not only strengthen our hearts and increase our courage but will also make our faith certain, remove all doubt, and enable us to judge all other spirits.”

(34.) WA 45:571, 33–35; LW 24:121.

(35.) WA 31/II:453, 1–2; LW 17:248; WA 33:146, 8–29; 365:10–29; LW 23:96, 231; WA 40/II:174, 21–22; LW 27:136; WA 45:6620, 1–622, 38; LW 24:174.

(36.) WA 45:728, 1–10; LW 24:292–293.

(37.) WA 45:580, 10–12, LW 24:131.

(38.) WA 45:571, 32–33.

(39.) Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise?, 112–123

(40.) More, Responsio ad Lutherum, 306–307.

(41.) Karl Holl, Die Rechtfertigungslehre in Luthers Vorlesung über den Römerbrief mit besonderer Rücksicht auf die Frage der Heilsgewissheit (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1909).

(42.) Berndt Hamm, The Reformation of Faith in the context of Late Medieval Theology and Piety, trans. Robert J. Bast (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004); Jared Wicks, Man Yearning for Grace: Luther’s Early Spiritual Teaching (Washington, DC: Corpus Books, 1968).

(43.) Emanuel Hirsch, Lutherstudien, Vol. 1: Drie Kapital zu Luthers Lehre vom Gewissen (Gutersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1954); Bernhard Lohse, “Conscience and Authority in Luther,” in Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era, ed. Heiko A. Oberman (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1974), 158–183; Peter Meinhold, “Gewissen und Freiheit bei Luther,” in Pluralisme et œcuménisme en recherches thêologiques: mélanges offerts au R. P. Dockx, O.P. (Gembloux: Duculot, 1976): 51–56; Randall Zachmann, The Assurance of Faith. Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).

(44.) Andrea Schrimm-Heins, “Gewissheit und Sicherheit: Geschichte und Bedeutungswandel der Begriffe certitudo und securitas,” Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte 34 Teil I (1991): 175–178, Teil II: 198–202.

(45.) Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages trans. Rodney J. Payton and Ulrich Mammitzsch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

(46.) Ibid., 76–104.

(47.) Ibid., 247.

(48.) František Graus, Pest-Geissler-Judenmorde: das 14. Jahrhundert als Krisenzeit (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1987).

(49.) On the crisis of the schism, also see František Graus, “The Crisis of the Middle Ages and the Hussites,” in The Reformation in Medieval Perspective, ed. Steven Ozment (Chicago: Quadrangle Books), 76–104.

(50.) Howard Kaminsky, “From Lateness to Waning to Crisis: The Burden of the Later Middle Ages,” Journal of Early Modern History 4.1 (2000): 86–125. On the debate about the notion of crisis, see Krisenbewusstsein und Krisenbewältigung in der frühen Neuzeit, Festschrift für Hans-Christoph Rublack, ed. Monika Hagenmaier and Sabine Holtz (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1992); Ferdinand Seibt and Winifrieid Eberhard, Europa 1400: die Krise des Spätmittelalters (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1984); Alisdair MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crisis, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science,” Monist 60 (1977): 453–472.

(51.) Kaminsky, “From Lateness to Waning to Crisis,” 85.

(52.) Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

(53.) William J. Bouwsma, A Usable Past: Essays in European Cultural History (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press), 172.

(54.) Steven Ozment, The Reformation in the Cities: The Appeal of Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980); Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of the Western Guilt Culture 13th–18th Centuries, trans. Eric Nicholson (New York: St. Martin’s, 1990).

(55.) Anne T. Thayer, Penitence, Preaching and the Coming of Reformations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Penitence in the Age of the Reformations, ed. Katherine Jackson and Ann T. Thayer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).