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date: 19 August 2017

Martin Luther, History, and Its Meaning

Summary and Keywords

In relation to Martin Luther, the topic of “history and its meaning” is necessarily imprecise. It can refer to his personal understanding of history and its meaning. It can refer to the history and meaning that Luther himself made as a result of especially his theological work. And it can refer to the history and meaning that came after Luther and was influenced by him. Therefore, some nuance and refinement are called for in dealing with this complex topic.

Luther in his own way was immersed in the topic of history and its meaning. He did not devote much of his writing and speaking explicitly to a kind of “philosophy of history.” However, he wrote and spoke much about the dynamic affairs of God, human beings, and the world, and he could not have done so without conducting his discussion of such events within a comprehensive theological framework that provided an ultimate horizon of meaning. Some explicit claims that Luther made on history and its meaning can be identified, e.g., that it provides lively examples by which the common person could more readily grasp truths that were less effectively communicated by discursive language. From these claims can be articulated a general overview of Luther’s stance on why history and its meaning were to be taken seriously.

Besides the knowledge that can be gained about this topic by marshalling Luther’s explicit claims, additional insight can be garnered through a more indirect approach. Much more awareness can be gained into Luther’s view of this topic by turning to the implicit claims that can be discerned within Luther’s theological formulations. This can be done by considering Luther’s theology from various vantage points. Taking different perspectives on his theological understanding can result in obtaining further knowledge into his view of history and its meaning, e.g., that it is marked by paradoxicality, sacramentality, complexity, intensity (of meaning), and totality (of scope).

The meaning of history is never completed in the past or the present; past and present meanings continue to be brought into fuller form in the future. Therefore, this theme has not been treated thoroughly until it has included an account of Luther’s impact in this area on future thinkers. The legacy of Luther’s view of history and its meaning is expansive. A report on this aspect of the issue must necessarily be limited. Even a selected narrative, however, can provide a sense of the truth that history’s meaning is an ever-unfolding affair.

Keywords: Martin Luther, history, meaning, historian, theology, promise, simul, hiddenness, Hegel

Martin Luther’s understanding of history was tightly woven into his view of God, the self, and the world, and as such it contributed significantly to his view of the meaning human beings experience. The three parts below will consider respectively: the appreciation Luther had for history, the way in which Luther made history through his theological formulations, and the influence he has had on others in their thinking about history and its meaning.

Luther’s Appreciating of History

To appreciate is to recognize the full worth of something. Luther appreciated history in that he recognized its full worth. He did not write history, but he wrote many prefaces to historical works because he appreciated their value.

Luther’s “Preface to Capella’s History”

In his 1538 “Preface to Galeatius Capella’s History,” Luther identifies numerous reasons that history or histories are important.1 Luther writes that histories are “a very precious thing” because as an example or illustration of the discursive word they are able to move the heart in a way that regular rational discourse cannot: “the histories present powerfully with examples and happenings making them visually so real, as though one were there and saw everything happen that the word had previously conveyed to the ears by mere teaching.”2 The values and virtues that we cherish most, Luther contends, “well up out of the narratives and histories as from a living fountain,” and the theological nature of these histories is clear in that they “are nothing else than a demonstration, recollection, and sign of divine action and judgment,” how God “upholds, rules, obstructs, prospers, punishes, and honors the world, and especially men, each according to his just desert, evil or good.”3 The books of pagans as well as the Holy Scriptures effectively drive home important points of admonition and warning by portraying words and deeds of individuals and peoples who met with good and bad consequences.4 That is why Luther appreciatively adds that historians “are the most useful people and the best teachers, so that one can never honor, praise, and thank them enough.”5 Because it is so easy for writers of history to overlook the vices and deficiencies of contemporary leaders while glorifying their insignificant virtues or to embellish the account of their homeland while besmirching the treatment of their enemies, the writing of a good history is rare insofar as it “requires a first-rate man who has a lion’s heart, unafraid to write the truth,” with the very greatest diligence and honesty that holds in check partiality or prejudice.6

In introducing this short writing of Luther on history in Capella’s Preface, Lewis Spitz, who translated this article, articulates several key claims about Luther’s stance in relation to history that are worth rehearsing here insofar as they give us a further sense of Luther’s appreciation of history. Spitz states that: “Luther shared with the German humanists a passionate interest in history”; Luther’s writings were filled with references to particular and general reflections and judgments on history; Luther showed great interest in the history of the German people; Luther thought that history “should serve a pragmatic purpose” and also tend to the “problem of the true inner nature and meaning of history,” including the paradoxes of human existence that take into account the discord and demonic forces that are set against the laws and deeds of the great, but rare, healthy heroes of history; and Luther and the Protestant polemic took an historical turn at the time of the Leipzig Disputation in July of 1519, when for argumentative purposes Luther involved himself in reexamining church history.7 In a discerning later essay, Spitz discusses more thoroughly: Luther’s knowledge of history and his valuing of it; his viewpoint that nobody can “comprehend the infinite subject matter of history”; his perspective that a theological insight deriving from revelation was required to gain a true hold on the meaning of human history and that a philosophy of history was not up to this task; his belief that God’s dialectical relation to the human in history makes room for human freedom and responsibility in everyday affairs; his outlook that history’s “real inner workings and meaning remain mysterious” and God’s active presence within history is hidden; and his conviction that history is to be taken seriously.8

Time and Chronology

In coming to appreciate Luther’s appreciating of history, it is good to remind ourselves of the more restricted timeframe that prevailed in Luther’s time. We think about time in the context of a universe that began with the “Big Bang” some 13.7 billion years ago. But Luther inherited a premodern view of time. A Table Talk entry—No. 5300 from October, 1540—finds Luther rather remarkably saying: “I divide [the history of the world] into six ages: the age of Adam, of Noah, of Abraham, of David, of Christ, and of the pope. Each of the first five has attained about a thousand years together with its posterity. The pope began about five thousand years after the creation of the world . . . But the pope won’t complete his thousand years.”9 So Luther’s world is less than 6,000 years old and the expectation is that the world’s end will arrive before the last of six ages has run its course. This much more compressed view of the world’s “temporal reach” simply reflects the worldview of Luther’s time. But it also colors the tone of how one grasps history and its meaning. The meaning and lure of eschatological and apocalyptic interpretations are likely to be somewhat heightened when the culminating endpoint is expected after a timeframe of a few thousand years as opposed to millions or billions of years. The expectation of a soon-to-happen end apparently animated Luther.

While not writing histories, Luther did devise for himself some chronological computations in his 1541 “Reckoning Years of the World.”10 The Reckoning expresses Luther’s six-age viewpoint, which Eric Gritsch explains, is based on an old Jewish prophecy attributed to the prophet Elijah and summed up in the motto appearing at the beginning of the work: “The world is six thousand years old, and thereafter it will break apart. Two thousand years it will be empty, two thousand years it will have law, and two thousand years it will have the Messiah.”11 The “eternal Sabbath” or the beginning of eternal life will come with the seventh millennium.12 This six-millennium outlook had been set forth by predecessors including Augustine, and Luther like Augustine saw the world of the sixth millennium as divided between those who believed and those who did not, with many in the unbelieving camp participating in the Church of Rome.13

Luther’s Reception of St. Augustine’s Views

St. Augustine’s view of God as the ruler of time stands behind Luther’s understanding of history, which presupposes that every movement of time is directed by the God of the Bible and any historiography not based on this presupposition “is incapable of communicating the real meaning of time.”14 Of course, the views on history of these two giants of church history are not the same. Luther, for instance, more than Augustine, “lived and thought in the shadow of the impending end” of history’s course, so that Luther’s eschatology approached closer to an apocalyptic mindset.15 Furthermore, Luther’s doctrines of the Word of God and the Church as a people of God provided a unity and a focus to history, which are lacking in Augustine’s thought, which loses coherence with its emphasis on the as-yet-unrealized concept of the City of God.16 As Oswald Bayer remarks, “Whereas Augustine uses a theology of history to describe two ‘cities,’ each of which has different individuals and groups of individuals, Luther maintains that every Christian takes part in both governing units; the differentiation between the two realms goes at the same time right through each Christian person.”17 Niels Henrik Gregersen has insightfully pointed out that Luther “overused Augustinian tradition by further radicalizing it,” and Lutheran theology in the future “will have to counterbalance the Augustinian track of Luther’s thought by giving further emphasis to Luther’s inspiration from the Greek patristic tradition.”18 Besides Augustine, though, Bernard of Clairvaux also had a lasting influence on Luther’s view of history.19

Luther’s social location, namely, the fact that he served as a professor of Old Testament, proved to be a primary factor in shaping his view of history and its meaning. Heinrich Bornkamm has shown that Luther’s facility for immersing himself in the world of the Old Testament and relating that world to his own cultural setting—allowed him to experience that scriptural text as a mirror image of historical life; everything in the Old Testament Luther saw as God’s work and will, and in that book “as nowhere else Luther found nourishment for his tremendous power to see the God he knew as the creating life force, in the leaf, the stone, and the animal, acting personally, with utmost clarity and determination.”20 As one who spent hours per day in the pages of the Old Testament, Luther gained an appreciation for the Semitic sense of the presence of the divine personality within history. Frank Seilhamer made a convincing case that Luther’s doctrine of the “Word of God” that is present in history grows out of his interpreting of the Old Testament and the ancient Hebrew view of “God working in concrete events in history and in various events in human experience”: “As was true for the ancient Semites, so too for Luther the ‘Word’ is nothing other than God himself at work with the two-fold purpose of redemption and revelation. The ‘Word’ found, and continually finds, expression in the historic sense in concrete acts of God in the created world, and in concrete events in human history.”21 We will come back to this notion of the “Word of God” that is so central to understanding Luther’s theology and his view of history and its meaning.

Luther’s Social Location as Biblical Scholar

Laboring as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and especially on the Psalms, Luther also advanced in his hermeneutical understanding. His studies led him eventually, argues James Samuel Preus, to place the notion of promise at the center of biblical interpretation: this discovery of the theological and religious centrality of promise, and its pivotal place in the life of the Christian, opened up a new dimension of the Old Testament, for now the prophets were depicted as pronouncing promises to their contemporaries and those trusting the promises come to be appreciated as models of community and faithfulness for understanding these realities within the Christian context.22 Promise thereby became the heart of Luther’s new theology, together with “a future-oriented hermeneutical structure” of promise and fulfillment that no longer aligned the letter and spirt respectively with the Old and New Testaments but regarded that letter-spirit divide as planted within the Old Testament itself.23 Promise came to be understood as being situated at the heart of Luther’s theology. Oswald Bayer dates what he calls “the reformational turning point in Luther’s theology” to Luther’s understanding of promise that he had articulated in his 1520 writing on The Babylonian Captivity of the Churches.24 In his later Lectures on Genesis 45–50, Luther wrote: “For formerly, under the papacy, when I was a monk, it was by no means customary to speak of a promise. And I give thanks to God that I may live at this time, when this word ‘promise’ resounds in my ears and in the ears of all the godly. For he who hears the Word easily understands the divine promise, which was obscure and unknown to all the theologians throughout the papacy.”25 With this new discovery of justifying promise—together with its correlative notion of faith, which is also newly understood by Luther—the explosive components of the Reformer were at hand for formulating theological ideas that make history and new meanings.

Luther’s Making of History

Mark Thompson indicates that “Luther’s commitment to viewing all reality as God’s creation kept him from treating human history in isolation from God’s rule and purpose,” and that is why his *“developing understanding of history was bound to be . . . deeply theological.26 Thompson points to Heinrich Bornkamm as the scholar who did the most to bring contemporary interest to Luther’s concept of history by his close scrutiny of that theme, and significant for our purposes is his declaration that Bornkamm recognized how “Luther interpreted all history in a thoroughly theological manner,” with Luther’s sharpened eyes of faith discerning in “the invisible background of historical space . . . an incessant struggle between divine and satanic powers” being played out.27 Luther’s understanding of history was a theological one.

The intent in this section is to consider Luther’s theology from various angles. Five hermeneutical lenses will be utilized to gain a sense for Luther’s theological contribution. His theology will be examined through the lenses of his theology of paradoxical simul, his theology of incarnational “in, with, and under,” his theology of the cross or hiddenness, his theology of glory, and his theology of the Word of life. Each lens sheds light onto Luther’s theology and his understanding of history and its meaning. By investigating them we better understand why he made history.

Luther’s Theology of Paradoxical Simul

The first two lenses have received much attention over the years, but Leonard S. Smith considers them in a fresh way by identifying them as two basic ways of thinking and viewing life that constitute the foundation of a Lutheran ethos that influenced the development of the modern historical consciousness.28 Luther’s theology of paradoxical simul is his emphasis on the Christian as simul justus et peccator, or “at the same time justified and sinner.” Of his three major religious experiences—the 1505 vow to become a monk after lightning struck, the first mass in 1507 upon becoming a priest, and the experience sometime after October 19, 1512, nourishing the idea of justification by faith—it was the third that most potently contributed to Luther’s theology of simul. As a result of it he came to find the once-hated phrase “the righteousness of God” to be “the sweetest of words.”29 Contributing to his faith and to this theological perspective were Luther’s Anfectungen or spiritual “attacks,” which plagued him throughout his life, involving the whole person and reflecting his religious sensitivity as well as his encountering of life and its enemy in their fullness. Schooled in a world of dialectic, Luther had learned from Aristotle that considering opposite sides of a matter usually leads to a more truthful grasping of the subject under scrutiny. Luther would eventually write in a state of frustration with philosophy, “The Holy Spirit is greater than Aristotle,”30 but he never removed himself from the world of dialectical thinking. His writings are filled with investigations dealing with two perspectives at the same time: law and gospel, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, faith and love, person and works, the human as free and as bound, letter and spirit, kingdom of Christ and kingdom of the world, and so on. In the case of the human as justified and sinner, we encounter in Luther an existential dialectic insisting that the claim both that “God judges the human to be justified” and its opposite, that “God judges the human to be sinful,” need to be affirmed.31 Having been influenced by his reading of Augustine’s On the Spirit and the Letter, and in reflecting on his experience of justification, Luther came to realize that in being justified the sinner is clothed in righteousness.32 The Christian, therefore, is simul justus et peccator, and this phrase came to express as no other Luther’s profound religious discovery. Smith maintains that for Luther, the paradoxical way of thinking and viewing life embodied in this phrase became “a methodological principle and a style of writing”: “By the year 1520, Luther was a master of the use of paradox, for in the beautiful and powerful essay called ‘The Freedom of a Christian,’ he used an ‘at-the-same-time’ way of viewing life to present a picture of what he called ‘the whole of Christian life in a brief form.’”33 Luther explains in this work the paradoxical way in which at one and the same time the inner human as a perfectly free lord and the outer human as a perfectly dutiful servant are together able to operate so that the individual Christian “lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love.”34

Important claims about the character of history are implicit in insight gained into Luther’s theology through the first lens of simul or “at the same time.” The person of faith, while forgiven, is always dealing with the reality of sin and the need for repentance, for irreconcilable elements are always together at play in the contested struggle of historical existence.35 The awareness of history, like the awareness of creation, begins at the personal level of historical existence in which the reality of tensive forces necessitate simul language to give an account of the whole historical situation. Luther has been championed as “the greatest individualizing writer in Germany,”36 but in addition he is one of its greatest proponents of paradox. Paradoxicality is a part of Luther’s view of history and its meaning.

Luther’s Theology of Incarnational “In, With, and Under”

Luther’s theology was shaped by the deeply incarnational “in, with, and under” lens or way of thinking and viewing life. Unlike the simul lens that is grounded in Paul, and especially his Letter to the Romans, the lens employing the three closely connected prepositions leads to a theology based primarily on the Gospel of John, and especially its Prologue: with its language of the universal God acting and creating and redeeming and its language of the particular reality of Jesus as the “Word become flesh,” we are given the model for viewing God as operating in, with, and under Jesus the Son, and we are given “the Christ as the divine Logos” that is “the key to all human history.”37 The creative Swedish theologian Antje Jackelén identifies the lens under consideration as a resource for enriching the Church’s liturgical language by taking seriously the revelatory character of science, for, as she writes, “The Lutheran motif of the ‘in, with, and under’ suggests a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between immanence and transcendence.”38 The transcendent God who addresses the creation and speaks it into being is the same Creator who is present in “creation in freely chosen immanence and thoroughgoing this-worldliness: God is no less present ‘in the hole of a beetle or even in a sewer than in Heaven.’ Both instances, that of immanence and that of address, inseparably belong together.”39 This “in, with, and under” way of thinking and viewing life, which is a more mystical, holistic, individualizing, and historical way of relating to reality, comes to expression particularly in Luther’s discussion of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Lutherans have used these prepositions to affirm the doctrine of the real presence of Christ being communicated in the sacrament. But besides functioning effectively for insisting on the presence of Christ in the divine mystery of the sacrament, Luther also found these three words working well in insisting on God’s presence in all of creation.40 As Jaroslav Pelikan reminded us long ago, “Luther spoke occasionally of the consolation that came from the realization that the body of Christ received in the Lord’s Supper was the same Christ by whom the entire cosmos was upheld and held together,” and this and other such claims were why some critics charged Luther with pantheism.41

A theological understanding of history requires that proper place be found for the Infinite and finite alike and these two in intimate relation. The transcendent deity as ruling Lord is also immanent within the creation and incarnationally present in Jesus the Christ as well as in the preached word. God’s presence does not obliterate the created historical reality it is in, but rather the divine presence is “in, with, and under” it in a way that preserves its reality while operating through it. For Luther, the finite is indeed capable of the Infinite. This lens is the sacramental lens by which God acts in history and creates meaning in human lives. Sacramentality is a constituent element in Luther’s view of history.

Luther’s Theology of the Cross or Hiddenness

The third hermeneutical lens for entering into Luther’s theology is that of hiddenness, which leads us into his theology of the cross. Luther draws a distinction between world history and redemptive history, according to John Headley. World history is that expansive arena in which God works through God’s general omnipotence, revealing this arena to be a divine game or masquerade; while God controls this game, destroying the disobedient and presumptuous, God does not act without the human, and in fact human beings are the instruments for the hidden activity of God: “Behind the apparent purposelessness of this external turmoil, God works in a concealed way through His masks to effect judgment on the rebellious and to manifest His power to the faithful.”42 In redemptive history, the theme of hiddenness must be looked upon from a different perspective, for—at least in the early Heidelberg Disputation—Luther affirmed “the paradox of a hiddenness in revelation whereby the hidden God was the revealed God, and only in concealment could there be revelation.”43 Luther’s two forms of divine hiddenness have been labeled by Brian Gerrish as hiddenness I (the hiddenness of God in God’s revelation) and hiddenness II (the hiddenness of God outside God’s revelation), with the former having been theologically fruitful, especially as it finds its sharpest expression in “the extraordinary power of Luther’s theologia crucis,” and the latter being “something of an embarrassment.”44 David Tracy, on the other hand, has appreciated both forms of hiddenness, recognizing Luther’s hidden God as a resource for regarding history less as “a linear, continuous, teleological schema with a single telos,” with God acting in polite continuity within the system, such has been adopted by Western modernity, and more as “constituted by detours, labyrinths, even radical interruptions,” in which an awesome, often terrifying God enters history as “the unpredictable, liberating, Hidden God”: “For this God reveals Godself in hiddenness: in cross and negativity, above all in the suffering of all those others whom the grand narrative of modernity has too often set aside as non-peoples, non-events, non-memories, in a world, non-history.”45 Luther’s deus absconditus theme, Lois Malcolm opines, developed out of a use of the apophatic God of Dionysius the Areopagite in Luther’s interpretations of Psalms, together with the twofold influence of nominalist philosophy that subordinated the God of ordained power to the God of absolute power and such devastating, coherence-destroying events as the Black Death and the papal schism.46 A final interpreter of this hiddenness theme is Joshua Miller, who understands Luther to be arguing in The Bondage of the Will of 1525 (as well as in Lectures on Jonah of 1525–1526, Lectures on Isaiah of 1527–1530, and Lectures on Genesis of 1535–1545) “that God’s existence is not bound to revelation, but that God also exists hidden in God’s self. Luther contrasts God hidden in God’s self (God unpreached) with God as God is revealed and preached in Jesus Christ through the Word”: While God preached wills the life and salvation of the sinner, God unpreached wills the death and damnation of the sinner, but this is so that through death this one might gain life.47 In all of these thoughts on hiddenness, Luther manages to avoid saying that God uses the human’s will in a coercive way: God “does not work in us without us, because it is for this he has created and preserved us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him.”48

This third lens provides Luther’s theological view of history and its meaning with nuance, as God’s interactions in history as a hidden God are less readily accessible and thereby more incomprehensible and mystery. And yet, Luther’s charge is for the Christian to flee from the inscrutable will of God apart from revelation to the hidden God of revelation, who is proclaimed as hidden under the sign of God’s opposite, hidden under the signs of suffering and death of the cross. History and its meaning gain complexity in a world in which the two forms of the hidden God are at work to bring about the divine will. Complexity is a key aspect of Luther’s view of history and its meaning.

Luther’s Theology of Glory

The fourth lens of glory makes available to us Luther’s theology of glory. Of course, it must be immediately acknowledged that in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther wrote explicitly against the theologians of glory as setting forth a form of theology that must be avoided in favor of theologians who articulated a theology of the cross. In that context, as Luther defines theologians of glory—as too speculative in their relying on reason, too presumptuous in trusting in life’s visible splendors as indicators of divine invisible operations, and too prideful in regarding noble achievements as dependent only on human ingenuity and effort—he was surely justified in his criticisms. Triumphantly celebrating these “glories” leads to a shallow, inauthentic theology of glory that deserves to be countered. However, Luther would have acknowledged that the notion of God’s glory is a central concept in the biblical narrative that can be understood to mean, at least in maybe its most primary rendering, the sparkling presence of God shining through the creation. Luther was not negating that biblical notion of glory in negating the theology of glory; that is maybe why he only used the term “theology of glory” a few times in and around 1518. There is an authentic theology of the cross such as Luther developed it, but then there are also inauthentic theologies of the cross that wallow in sadistic violence, indiscriminately embrace suffering in all its forms, or demean humanity and its potentialities. So, too, while there are inauthentic versions of the theology of glory that amount to little more than human self-aggrandizement that is an affront to the reality of God, there is also an authentic theology of glory that regards with Irenaeus the glory of God as the human being fully alive and the world functioning theonomously as it should. In Luther’s writings is operative a theology of glory that complements and actually grounds his theology of the cross. Steven Paulson clarifies: “God hides in order not to be found where humans want to find God. But God also hides in order to be found where God wills to be found.”49 Hiddenness in Luther is not the last word; it is intended to lead to a God who is found. The cross is a negation, but it is a negation that leads to an experience of glory. The Christian sings “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” and there enjoys the benefit of a theology of the cross being funded by a theology of glory. Enabling Luther’s dialectical theology of the cross to function is a comprehensive view of God’s relation to the world that furnishes the broad framework of meaning for Luther’s theological reflections. This comprehensive view and horizon of understanding is Luther’s theology of glory. For him, the glorious triune God envelops the cross, enabling God’s glory to be experienced in it.

The fourth lens of glory, unexpected by many, delivers admittance to a dimension of Luther’s theology that is as constitutive for his thinking as is his theology of the cross. As it is experienced in history, the notion of “glory” is an index of human meaning. The healthy, human heroes about whom Luther wrote were instances of divine glory being manifested on the world historical stage. The luster of people like Luther owes its origin to the Trinitarian God whose eternal life, as an event of glorious, loving communication, empowers the creation to join in divine glory. History is not without its glory, and that glory reflects creatures cooperating with the Creator in meaning-making activity. Intensity of meaning—as indicative of an experience of glory—plays an important role in Luther’s view of history and its meaning.

Luther’s Theology of the Word of Life

The fifth and final lens through which we can garner further clues about Luther’s view of history and its meaning is that of the Word of life. Gregersen argues that our time calls for “a theology of the Holy Spirit that is able to articulate that the vivifying and transforming works of the Spirit are always coordinated for the one and whole-hearted purpose of the fulfillment of creation.”50 On this he is right, although there are to be found traces of such a theology in Luther’s notion of the Word of life. Aarne Siirala highlighted this theme in his now often forgotten, intriguing book Divine Humanness.51 Siirala bemoans the contemporary situation in which “Protestant contemporary anthropology in particular has become estranged from an analysis of the problem of the fundamental situation of being human and of the language which life itself speaks”52 This Finnish theologian interprets Luther as having seen “all human life” as “bound together by the divine word which molds the experiences of the ages into the history of mankind and structures men into one humanity”; Luther realized that “only by the cultivation and transmission of the divine word of life do the separate elements of life grow together into a divine humanness”: it is “in hearing and speaking the basic language of human existence” that authentic “confrontation with the divine takes place,” as “the living word (viva vox) which is the soil and atmosphere for all human life and growth” constitutes “life’s fundamental web” as “the kingdom of hearing.”53 And further, “The word of life, the atmosphere of divine humanness, the air of trust which one must breathe to be a human being” tie God and human together, so that this word of life cannot be defined apart from the human, for human beings “are to one another the means of divine revelation and grace, servants of the word of life.”54

Life is a creation category. Other theologians too have made the connection between creation and history in Luther. Oswald Bayer states, “Creation is paradigmatically narrated as history—as a (hi)story (Geschichte) of wondrous creation,” and for him Luther knows that God’s creative work is a speaking work, the effective word of address, which results in the reality of creation being interpreted primarily as “a communicative connection,” so that “through a theology of the word [of life] the whole creation can be conceived as history.”55 And for Bayer, creation is anything but severed from promise: “For Luther the world is the world that God promises. Creation is the promised world.”56 Johannes Schwanke gets it right on this point also in claiming, “divine and human speech are so indivisibly woven together that they cannot be distinguished . . . The creation of the human is neither a purely divine, nor a purely human event. Both sides here are together at work—inextricably bound to one another—in that both promise life.”57 Here we find resonance with Joseph Sittler’s judgment that Lutheran distinctiveness is less a matter of doctrine and more a matter of an ethos that keeps alive the mystery of life.58 Unlike a “system” of cognitive claims about transcendent structures of meaning, à la Kant or Ritschl, the word of life dimension of Luther’s theology stresses an open-ended but affirmative view of creation’s ongoing historical revelation of God.

This final lens also teaches something about Luther’s view of history and its meaning. The theological meaning of history ought not be confined to the Scriptures and the Church, although they present indispensable clues for appropriately interpreting the true character of the much more comprehensive presence of God in the broadest reaches of creation. God’s Word operates incarnately in the divine-human network of communication that generates, sustains, and fulfills life. Totality of scope—given expression through the Word of life theme—is an essential ingredient in Luther’s view of history and its meaning.

These five hermeneutical lenses, then, respectively help us to realize that Luther’s view of history and its meaning includes concern for: paradoxicality, sacramentality, complexity, intensity (of meaning), and totality (of scope).

Luther’s Imposing Himself upon History

We turn now very briefly to Luther’s legacy, using as our title for this section “Luther’s Imposing Himself on History,” as borrowed from a statement by Oswald Bayer.59 It has been artfully pronounced that the permanent achievement of Martin Luther’s “life lies in his own personal secret: in his life with God and in the direct relationship of all his thinking and willing with him—in this particular respect, that with Luther everything that is external springs as it were automatically from a faith that bursts the bounds of human imagination. It is in his simple religious insights that we find the true meaning of the man.”60 This meaning was received by others with great force in many areas, including that of history and its meaning. Two examples of this reception are accented here.

Luther’s Impact on the Rise of Modern Historical Thinking

The first example of Luther’s legacy in the area of history is that of the rise of modern historical consciousness and Western historiography. Leonard Smith has presented the case that Luther’s theology, as considered from the vantage point of the first two lenses discussed above, provided a dual vision that influenced scholars raised in the Lutheran tradition or milieu who started to deal seriously with history, that is, such scholars as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried Herder, and Leopold von Ranke, all of whom participated in the “cultural revolution” that took place from 1760 to 1810, and who held “considerable significance for what Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954) called ‘the rise of historicism.’”61 Attention has been given to the importance of Luther’s outlook on life and his writings for Hamann and his contemporaries: “Hamann became the best expert on Luther of his day” and two other leading figures in the cultural revolution’s early rise of German literature—Lessing and Herder—were also outstanding Luther scholars.62 These three figures began “a school of historical thinking that stressed the influence of historical circumstance on human development, recognized the need to harmonize experience and reason, and also appreciated the degree to which language shaped thought.”63 The five decades leading up to the founding of the University of Berlin in 1810 gave rise to a new awareness, an “historical consciousness” that functioned in conjunction “with a distinctly modern type of Western historiography”: these cultural developments first took place within “Protestant Germany and within a religious tradition that had been shaped especially by Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon.”64 Luther’s self-imposition on these creative German scholars apparently contributed to the emergence of the historical consciousness that has been such an essential feature of modernity. A generation later this same influence was extended to biblical interpreters in the Lutheran tradition, as Ferdinand Christian Baur, David Friedrich Strauss, and their colleagues developed the beginnings of the historical-critical approach to scripture.

Luther’s Impact on G. W. F. Hegel’s View of History

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), a German philosopher who considered himself a Lutheran, can serve as a second instance of Luther’s impact on a later historical figure. He would have identified Luther as one of “the great individuals of world history,” worthy to be called a “hero” because of how he drew his inspiration from that hidden spirit lying beneath the surface of history but seeking to break out into the present.65 Hegel writes in his Lectures on Fine Art that “the essentially new phenomena in the sphere of religious belief and in the reality of modern life have their origin in the principle of the Reformation.”66 Hegel saw Luther’s main contribution—as one who took such a strong stand against the Church’s authority and who emphasized the Christian’s evangelical freedom—to be that he set loose the principle of subjectivity within Christianity and eventually within Western culture. In the Lutheran faith this principle of subjectivity, of the person’s relationship with God in freedom, is considered the highest.67 Luther’s Reformation lifted up “the eternal” as the true that is appropriated by the individual human heart, for everything has value only insofar as it is grasped by the heart.68 This is seen in Luther’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper that stresses the subjectivity of faith as opposed to the Roman Catholic emphasis on the objective, external transference of grace through infusion.69 As regards this sacrament, Hegel affirms the Lutheran view, “according to which the movement does indeed begin with something external, which is an ordinary, common thing, but the communion, the self-feeling of the presence of God, comes about only insofar as the external thing is consumed—not merely physically but in spirit and in faith”: “Here there is no transubstantiation, or at any rate only one by which externality is annulled, so that the presence of God is utterly a spiritual presence—the consecration takes place in the faith of the subject.”70 Hegel penetrates into the nature of history and its meaning and gives expression to God’s Spirit operating in relation to finite spirit to bring about freedom. Peter Hodgson explains “Hegel’s great insight”: “that freedom must be present to and exist for the sake of its other. Freedom is not principally autonomy or self-will or free choice (Willkür) but a presence-to-self that is mediated through and dependent upon presence-to-another. Freedom requires a community of freedom in which otherness and difference are essential and reciprocal recognition occurs within a relationship of equality.”71 This model Hegel applied “to divine-human as well as interhuman relations. Thus, in order for God to be God, God must let the world go forth from God’s self into freedom, and God relates to this world in the modality of empowerment and persuasion rather than command and control.”72 Hegel, like Luther, endorses a deeper freedom than free will, and this higher freedom emerges in the interplay of divine and human spirits within history. It should be noted that Luther’s hiddenness of God theme finds its way into Hegel’s thought in his “cunning of reason” theme, which points to the way particular interests of passion do battle for a particular perspective and out of the fray, reason—operating at a higher level—wins the day as the prevailing interest at end, unbeknownst to the passionate hero, serves reason’s purposes.73 The Spirit of history, thus, works through the Idea that emerges out of conflictual encounters of individuals and groups attempting to prevail within history’s embroiled contestations.74

Martin Luther was a powerful figure whose struggles to live faithfully within his historical existence led him to new religious insights that animated his theological reflections. This gave a freshness to his theology that in its dynamic form became the means by which he made history. As we yet today, five hundred years later, turn our attention to him, we find that he—with all his humanity and all his shortcomings—continues to impose himself on us and how we regard history and its meaning.

Review of the Literature

As indicated above, Luther did not focus explicitly on the topic of history and its meaning. As a result, the literature dealing with Luther on this topic is also not extensive. Contemporary scholarship on Luther in relation to history begins with Heinrich Bornkamm’s scholarship in the 1950s and 1960s,75 which stressed the emphatically theological nature of Luther’s understanding of history. John M. Headley’s 1963 book Luther’s View of Church History has the narrow focus its title suggests but is a good place to start, because it provides a broad-ranging consideration of various aspects of history in attempting “to reveal within the total thought of Martin Luther a definite, if implicit, view of Church history.”76 The respective essays by Brian Gerrish and David Tracy shed light on the theme of the hiddenness of God in Luther and are worthy of further investigation.77 Within the Finnish tradition of Luther scholarship, Aarne Siirala’s 1970 book on the intimate interconnection between the divine Word and human words offers some fresh insights into the topic.78 Another fine resource is Eric W. Gritsch’s 1983 Martin—God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect, which has a helpful section on “Bible and History.”79 Rich in details on particularities of Luther’s understanding of history and useful for gaining a solid orientation on this topic is the 1989 chapter on Luther and history by Lewis W. Spitz.80 The 2005 publication The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology, edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, contains a number of important chapters, with those by Oswald Bayer, Lois Malcolm, and Johannes Schwanke deserving special attention.81 The 2007 book on Martin Luther’s theology by Oswald Bayer82 offers a distinctive interpretation that comes to bear on the topic of history and its meaning, and Joshua Miller’s 2015 book on Bayer’s theology83 sets forth valuable insights as well. Important clarifications on Luther’s understanding of freedom and on his relation to Hegel are brought forth in Peter C. Hodgson’s chapter in the 2009 book edited by Christine Helmer.84 A very creative piece of research and writing is Leonard S. Smith’s 2009 book that draws a connection between Luther’s thoughts on history and the cultural revolution that took place in Germany from 1760 to 1810.85 Finally, Mark Thompson’s recent chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology86 should surely be highlighted along with that of Spitz as another comprehensive account of the topic under consideration.

Further Reading

Bayer, Oswald. Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.Find this resource:

Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther and the Old Testament. Translated by Eric W. Gritsch and Ruth C. Gritsch. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1969.Find this resource:

Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdom. Translated by Karl H. Hertz. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1966.Find this resource:

Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther’s World of Thought. Translated by Martin H. Bertram. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1958.Find this resource:

Fabiny, Tibor. “The ‘Strange Acts of God’: The Hermeneutics of Concealment and Revelation in Luther and Shakespeare.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 45 (2006): 44–54.Find this resource:

Forde, Gerhard. “The Power of Negative Thinking: On the Principle of Negation in Luther and Hegelianism.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 23 (1984): 250–256.Find this resource:

Gerrish, Brian. The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982.Find this resource:

Gerrish, Brian. “‘To the Unknown God’: Luther and Calvin on the Hiddenness of God,” In The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage, 131–149. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982.Find this resource:

Gregersen, Niels Henrik, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, eds. The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.Find this resource:

Gritsch, Eric W.Martin—God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1983.Find this resource:

Headley, John M.Luther’s View of Church History. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1963.Find this resource:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Translated by T. M. Knox. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Translated by E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson. 3 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: The Lectures of 1827. Edited by Peter C. Hodgson. Translated by R. F. Brown, Peter C. Hodgson, and J. M. Stewart. Oxford: Clarendon, 2006.Find this resource:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Hodgson, Peter C. “Luther and Freedom.” In The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times. Edited by Christine Helmer, 32–48. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.Find this resource:

Jackelén, Antje. “The Power of Genes and Molecules: On the Relevance of Science for the Liturgical Language of the Church.” In The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. Edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, 344–357. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.Find this resource:

Koenker, Ernest B. “Man, simul justus et peccator.” In Accents in Luther’s Theology: Essays in Commemoration of the 450th Anniversary of the Reformation. Edited by Heino O. Kadai, 98–123. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1967.Find this resource:

Luther, Martin. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. 2d ed. Edited by Timothy F. Lull. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.Find this resource:

Malcolm, Lois. “The Power of the Cross: Interchange in Paul and Luther.” In The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. Edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, 89–100. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.Find this resource:

McGrath, Alister E.Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough. Oxford: Blackwell, 1985.Find this resource:

Miller, Joshua C.Hanging by a Promise: The Hidden God in the Theology of Oswald Bayer. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015.Find this resource:

Oberman, Heiko A.Luther: Man between God and the Devil. Translated by Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart. New York: Doubleday, 1982.Find this resource:

Paulson, Steven D. “Luther on the Hidden God.” Word and World 19 (1999): 363–371.Find this resource:

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Luther’s Works. Companion Volume, Luther the Expositor: Introduction to the Reformer’s Exegetical Writings. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1959.Find this resource:

Preus, James Samuel. From Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from Augustine to the Young Luther. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.Find this resource:

Ritter, Gerhard. Luther: His Life and Work. Translated by John Riches. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.Find this resource:

Schwanke, Johannes. “Luther on Creation.” In Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church. Edited by Timothy J. Wengert, 78–98. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.Find this resource:

Seilhamer, Frank H. Here I Am: A Study of the Presence of God in the Old Testament and in the Writings of Luther. Lima, OH: CSS, 1972.Find this resource:

Siirala, Aarne. Divine Humanness. Translated Taito Almar Kantonen. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1970.Find this resource:

Smith, Leonard S.Martin Luther’s Two Ways of Viewing Life and the Educational Foundation of a Lutheran Ethos. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011.Find this resource:

Smith, Leonard S.Religion and the Rise of History: Martin Luther and the Cultural Revolution in German, 1760–1810. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009.Find this resource:

Spitz, Lewis W. “Luther’s View of History: A Theological Use of the Past.” In Light for the World: Essays Commemorating the 15th Anniversary of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri. Edited by John W. Klotz, 139–154. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Seminary, 1989.Find this resource:

Thompson, Curtis L. “Wolfhart Pannenberg: Kierkegaard’s Anthropology Tantalizing Public Theology’s Reasoning Hope.” In Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology. Vol. 1, German Theology. Edited by Jon Stewart, 241–274. Kierkegaard’s Reception, vol. 10. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012.Find this resource:

Thompson, Mark. “Luther on God and History.” In The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology. Edited by Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomir Batka, 127–142. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Tracy, David. “The Hidden God: The Divine Other of Liberation.” Cross Currents 46 (1996): 5–16.Find this resource:


(1.) John M. Headley, Luther’s View of Church History (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1963), 42, clarifies that Luther generally used “the term historia in its original sense of a narrative or story,” and he ordinarily used “the plural—histories—to convey the idea of the historical knowledge in respect to a people or to some past events.”

(2.) LW 34:271–278.

(3.) LW 34:275.

(4.) LW 34:275–276.

(5.) LW 34:276.

(6.) LW 34:277.

(7.) LW 34:271–272. See also Mark Thompson, “Luther on God and History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, eds. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L’ubomir Batka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 130.

(8.) Lewis W. Spitz, “Luther’s View of History: A Theological Use of the Past,” in Light for the World: Essays Commemorating the 15th Anniversary of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri, ed. John W. Klotz (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Seminary, 1989), 150.

(9.) LW 54:407.

(10.) WA 53:22.

(11.) Eric W. Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1983), 100, 234n34.

(12.) Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester, 100. Gritsch refers to the “Reckoning” of 1541, WA 53:22.

(13.) Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester, 101.

(14.) Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester, 99.

(15.) Headley, Luther’s View of Church History, 267.

(16.) Headley, Luther’s View of Church History, 68.

(17.) Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 311. On this point Boyer refers to Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdom, trans. Karl H. Hertz (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1966).

(18.) Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann, eds., The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 3. Gregersen and colleagues are referring here primarily to the metaphysical tradition of Augustine’s followers.

(19.) Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New York: Doubleday, 1982) 68–71.

(20.) Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther and the Old Testament, trans. Eric W. Gritsch and Ruth C. Gritsch (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1969), 11, 64.

(21.) Frank H. Seilhamer, Here I am: A Study of the Presence of God in the Old Testament and in the Writings of Luther (Lima, OH: CSS, 1972), 121, 86–87.

(22.) James Samuel Preus, From Shadow to Promise: Old Testament Interpretation from Augustine to the Young Luther (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969), 211.

(23.) Preus, From Shadow to Promise, 267–268.

(24.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 48.

(25.) LW 8:192. Bayer cites this passage in Martin Luther’s Theology, 48.

(26.) Thompson, “Luther on God and History,” 133.

(27.) Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s World of Thought, trans. Martin H. Bertram (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1958), 202, 196.

(28.) Leonard S. Smith, “Martin Luther and the Foundations of a Lutheran Ethic,” Religion and the Rise of History: Martin Luther and the Cultural Revolution in Germany, 1760–1810 (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 55–99. See also the presentation of this material for a general audience in Leonard S. Smith, Martin Luther’s Two Ways of Viewing Life and the Educational Foundation of a Lutheran Ethos (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011).

(29.) Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 96–97, as cited in Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 61, and the reference to Luther is LW 34:337.

(30.) The Babylonian Captivity of the Church—Part I (1520) in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2d ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 224–225.

(31.) Ernest B. Koenker, “Man, simul justus et peccator,” in Accents in Luther’s Theology: Essays in Commemoration of the 450th Anniversary of the Reformation, ed. Heino O. Kadai (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1967), 100.

(32.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 62. LW 34:337.

(33.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 63. The reference to Luther’s statement in Freedom of a Christian is to LW 31:343.

(34.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 63. LW 31:371.

(35.) Koenker, “Man, simul justus et peccator,” 101–102.

(36.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 257.

(37.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 66–67.

(38.) Antje Jackelén, “The Power of Genes and Molecules: On the Relevance of Science for the Liturgical Language of the Church,” in Gift of Grace, ed. Gregersen et al., 450.

(39.) Oswald Bayer, “Creation as History,” in Gift of Grace, ed. Gregersen et al., 260.

(40.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 256.

(41.) Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works, Companion Volume, Luther the Expositor: Introduction to the Reformer’s Exegetical Writings (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1959), 233–234.

(42.) Headley, Luther’s View of Church History, 11.

(43.) Headley, Luther’s View of Church History, 11.

(44.) Brian Gerrish, “‘To the Unknown God’: Luther and Calvin on the Hiddenness of God,” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982), 134.

(45.) David Tracy, “The Hidden God: The Divine Other of Liberation,” Cross Currents 46 (1996): 8–12. See also the interesting essay by Tibor Fabiny, “The ‘Strange Acts of God’: The Hermeneutics of Concealment and Revelation in Luther and Shakespeare,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 45 (2006): 44–54.

(46.) Lois Malcolm, “The Power of the Cross: Interchange in Paul and Luther,” in Gift of Grace, ed. Gregersen et al., 96, 98.

(47.) Joshua C. Miller, Hanging by a Promise: The Hidden God in the Theology of Oswald Bayer (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015), 19, 39.

(48.) Peter C. Hodgson, “Luther and Freedom,” in The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times, ed. Christine Helmer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 37. The quote is from LW 33:243.

(49.) Steven D. Paulson, “Luther on the Hidden God,” Word and World 19 (1999): 366 (italics his). In utilizing this quotation from Paulson, I am not suggesting that he would agree with my claims being made here about Luther’s theology of glory.

(50.) Gregerson et al., Gift of Grace, 11.

(51.) Aarne Siirala, Divine Humanness, trans. Taito Almar Kantonen (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1970).

(52.) Siirala, Divine Humanness, 138.

(53.) Siirala, Divine Humanness, 62.

(54.) Siirala, Divine Humanness, 62.

(55.) Bayer, “Creation as History,” 254, 258–260.

(56.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 112 (italics his).

(57.) Johannes Schwanke, “Luther on Creation,” in Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 89.

(58.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 58.

(59.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, xix, where he writes that in contemporizing Luther “we discover that he speaks to our contemporary situation at the same time; we might say that he imposes himself upon us” (my italics).

(60.) Gerhard Ritter, Luther: His Life and Work, trans. John Riches (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 210.

(61.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, ix–x.

(62.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 145.

(63.) Curtis L. Thompson, “Wolfhart Pannenberg: Kierkegaard’s Anthropology Tantalizing Public Theology’s Reasoning Hope,” in Kierkegaard’s Influence on Theology, vol. 1, German Theology, ed. Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Reception, vol. 10 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), 242.

(64.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History, 54.

(65.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 82–83.

(66.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T. M. Knox, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), 2: 1108–1109.

(67.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, 3 vols. (Lincoln: Nebraska, 1995), 3: 148–149.

(68.) Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3: 159.

(69.) Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3: 54.

(70.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: The Lectures of 1827, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans. R. F. Brown, Peter C. Hodgson, and J. M. Stewart (Oxford: Clarendon, 2006), 480–482.

(71.) Hodgson, “Luther and Freedom,” 36.

(72.) Hodgson, “Luther and Freedom,” 36.

(73.) Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, 89.

(74.) See also Gerhard Forde, “The Power of Negative Thinking: On the Principle of Negation in Luther and Hegelianism,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 23 (1984): 250–256. If more space had been available, treatments would have been given of Wilhelm Dilthey’s view of history and its meaning, Wolfhart Pannenberg’s theological understanding of history and its meaning, and Mark C. Taylor’s view of contemporary historical existence in the form of network culture as it has been shaped by Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

(75.) Bornkamm, Luther’s World of Thought and Luther and the Old Testament.

(76.) Headley, Luther’s View of Church History, vii.

(77.) See Gerrish, “To the Unknown God,” and Tracy, “The Hidden God.”

(78.) Siirala, Divine Humanness.

(79.) Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester, especially 98–103.

(80.) Spitz, “Luther’s View of History.”

(81.) See in Gregersen et al., Gift of Grace: Oswald Bayer, “Creation as History,” 253–263; and Lois Malcolm, “The Power of the Cross: Interchange in Paul and Luther,” 89–100. Also see Schwanke, “Luther on Creation,” 78–98.

(82.) Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology.

(83.) Miller, Hanging by a Promise.

(84.) Hodgson, “Luther and Freedom,” 32–48.

(85.) Smith, Religion and the Rise of History.

(86.) Thompson, “Luther on God and History.”