Show Summary Details

Page of

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

date: 25 March 2017

Martin Luther in German Historiography

Summary and Keywords

What does Martin Luther mean for Germany? Formulated in such a way, this is an impossible question, due in no small measure to the existence of many “Luthers” and many “Germanys.” But it also invites historical investigation. Luther has long held a privileged position in the writing of German history, stretching back to his own lifetime, even if the exact nature of that position has hardly remained static or uncontested. Luther’s position in the annals of German historiography testifies to the influence of social and political upheavals on the way in which historians understand the past—and vice versa. Each era’s critical events have encouraged certain aspects of Luther’s person and work to be remembered and others to be forgotten.

Like swapping between telephoto and wide-angle lenses, historical perspectives have moved between a narrow concentration on the German reformer’s biography and theology and a broader focus on the Protestant movement he launched in Germany. Historians have regularly enlisted Luther in an expansive, sweeping vision of the German Reformation and the emergence of the modern German nation-state with Otto von Bismarck. Indeed, contemporary ideas of nation and nationalism have had a determining influence on interpretations of Luther. This is true as much for German historians like Leopold von Ranke, writing toward the beginning of history’s professionalization as a full-fledged, independent academic discipline in the first half of the 19th century, as it is for those surveying Luther in the midst of the First World War, in the aftermath of Hitler and the Nazi era, in the postwar German Democratic Republic in the East and Federal Republic of Germany in the West, on the cusp Germany’s “turning point” (die Wende) of 1989–1990—and even for historians now situated in the 21st century.

Keywords: Martin Luther, German history, historiography, Leopold von Ranke, Bismarck, Hitler, German Democratic Republic, nation, nationalism, Reformation

Luther, the Reformation, and the Nation

Like a threefold cord, the threads uniting Martin Luther, Germany, and German historiography have proven resilient. Luther could speak fondly of historians. Writing in To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools (1524), he confessed: “How I regret now that I did not read more poets and historians, and that no one taught me them!”1 In the best known of his later introductions to contemporary pieces of historical work, the Preface to Galeatius Capella’s History (1538), he judged: “The historians, therefore, are the most useful people and the best teachers, so that one can never honor, praise, and thank them enough.”2 The manner in which German history has spoken of Luther, however, is not quite so clear-cut, even five hundred years on.

Luther and the German Reformation have together remained one of the most important themes of German historical writing since the middle of the 16th century—and especially so since the modern historiographical developments associated with Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886). The amount of attention paid to the Reformation across nearly all fields of German historical scholarship has seemingly few parallels. One might suggest, though perhaps not to the same extent, that the French Revolution has occupied a similar place in French historiography, or the Civil War in American historical work, as “the crucial and (in a quite literal sense of the term) epoch-making event by which the nature of an entire national community and of its history has been defined.”3 The excellent German historian Thomas Nipperdey (1927–1992) attested to the connection, observing: “One who was born a Protestant, as I was, and who does not take this to be an accident of birth but accepts it deliberately, is inclined to set a high, positive value on the constitutive significance of Luther and Lutheranism for the history of modernity in Germany, for the formation of personality and behavior, of society and culture.”4

Major narratives of German history and German “nationhood” have included Luther as the leading participant. As with Luther’s modern theological reception, the Luther jubilees commemorating his birth and death dates and the publication of the 95 Theses (the Thesenanschlag) precipitated much of the interest, filtered through each era’s trends both in historiography and across the wider scholarly world. Yet Luther himself was not always at the center of scholarly attention, even when “Luther’s Reformation,” to use the all-too frequent, simplified misnomer, was.

Seeing with Ranke

It might not be too much of a stretch to begin an inquiry into the subject of Luther in modern German historiography with the statement, adapted from Nipperdey’s famous line: in the beginning was Ranke, the most widely read historian in 19th-century Germany and, indeed, Europe.5 Without advocating for a truncated view of German history that loses sight of Germany’s deep historical past, one could just as reasonably begin, like Nipperdey’s history of modern Germany, with Napoleon. Memory of the toppling of Napoleon with the 1813 Battle of Nations near Leipzig blended together with commemorations of Luther’s 95 Theses in the infamous Wartburg Fest near Eisenach on October 18–19, 1817. Luther’s image in the Wartburg event, alongside other celebrations across German-speaking Europe, rose to new heights. Frustrated with some of the official jubilee preparations across the German lands over the course of the summer of 1817, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe confessed in a letter: “The clerics and schoolmasters are a constant plague, the Reformation is to be glorified in countless writings … But I am afraid that all these efforts are going to make everything so clear that the figures will lose their poetic and mythological colors. Because, between us, there is nothing of interest in the whole thing except Luther’s character, which is also all that really impresses the people. The rest is complicated rubbish and a burden to us every new day.”6

The celebratory activities and their religiously and politically suffused rhetoric seemingly stirred a young Ranke to begin writing a biography of Luther, the now legendary “Luther Fragment.”7 His aim was to uncover the real Luther of the 16th century, separating the past from modern myths that reinterpreted the reformer as a political revolutionary—to find the Luther of history, in other words, rather than the Luther of hagiography, the latter long in existence but reemerging with a vengeance in the jubilee. Scholars have questioned both Ranke’s version of what induced this study of Luther and the identification of the fragment with the origin of Ranke’s Reformation history two decades later.8 It seems rather more likely that Luther held Ranke’s scholarly interest well before the appearance of the rose-colored, morally inspiring literature from the jubilee.9 Still, Ranke’s Luther arose from his interaction with a variety of Luther’s own writings, and thus differed from the image constructed by the Wartburg participants, mostly members of the radical nationalist student fraternities (Burschenschaften) who, in their clamoring for national unity, constitutional freedom, and a liberal pan-German government, sought to evoke Luther’s protests in their own fight against any and all perceived tyrannies. Victory on the battlefield near Leipzig, they held, had restored Luther’s liberal thought, which could now be applied to contemporary circumstances.10

Ranke’s more complete interpretation appeared in his masterful six-volume Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (1839–1847), which for the most part remained the standard treatment of the German Reformation through the end of the 19th century.11 As the opening line of the first volume revealed, the Deutsche Geschichte, much like Ranke’s earlier history of the popes, would integrate ecclesiastical and political history.12 The same approach would characterize its discussion of Reformation theology, integrating doctrinal and institutional aspects; as the sixth volume noted: “Our interest is not in the permutations of doctrine, but in the great oppositions.”13 Luther stood for reform, but his call was measured, not hurried. Politically, he bore no resemblance to radicals. Instead, he was “one of the greatest conservatives ever to have lived.”14 The resulting picture was one of domestic change, not revolution. But as the climactic event in German history, “Luther’s Reformation” also became the flashpoint for modern world history.

Ranke’s description of Luther before the Imperial Diet of Worms in 1521 displayed his concerns well:

One could almost be tempted to wish that, this time, Luther had been willing to stay put. It would have strengthened the [German] nation in its unity … if [Germany] had undertaken a common battle against the secular power of Rome under his leadership. But the answer is: the power of this spirit [Luther] would have been broken if any consideration had swayed him that was not thoroughly religious in content. He took his start not from the needs of the nation, but from religious convictions, without which he would never have accomplished anything. The eternally free spirit (der ewig freie Geist) moves on its own paths.15

Hints of Ranke’s overall paradigm also emerge here, in which the Reformation should have brought about the marriage of cultural, religious identity and the German state, but ultimately did not. Though “religious convictions” motivated Luther, Luther might also have contributed more to Germany’s national regeneration. The somewhat separate German movements for religious reform and national unification were, after all, equally interested in deliverance from Rome. “Never before,” said Ranke, “had there been a more favorable prospect for the unity of the nation and its continuation on the chosen way.”16

Luther’s rise to prominence represented “the most important thing for the future of the German nation … whether the nation would succeed in breaking away from the papacy without endangering both the state and its slowly and painfully acquired culture.” Concerning “the triumph of the Protestant system in all Germany,” Ranke wrote, “apart from any doctrinal perspective, from the purely historical point of view, it seems to me that it would have been the best thing for the national development of Germany … The fundamental strivings which now characterized the lives of the German Protestants gave a fulfilling context to the national consciousness.”17 But the survival of Catholicism consigned Germany to internal confessional and territorial divisions until the heady experiences of the 1870s: Prussian triumph over France, the Vatican Council’s decree on papal infallibility, and the push by Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) for German Unification.

Nevertheless, Luther’s crowning moment in Ranke’s history occurred in the spring of 1522 when Luther came out of hiding at the Wartburg in order to put an end to the unrest and agitation that Wittenberg had been experiencing at the hands of Andreas Karlstadt and the Zwickau prophets. In highlighting this event, the Deutsche Geschichte laid the groundwork for many reassessments of the reformer. “Never had Luther appeared in a more heroic light,” proclaimed Ranke. “He bid defiance to the excommunication of the pope and the ban of the emperor, in order to return to his flock; not only had his sovereign warned him that he was unable to protect him, but he had himself expressly renounced his claim to protection; he exposed himself to the greatest personal danger, and that not (as many others have done) to place himself at the head of a movement, but to check it; not to destroy, but to preserve.”18 Indeed, of Luther’s return, Ranke summed up: “At his presence the tumult was hushed, the revolt quelled, and order restored … It thus became possible to develop and extend the new system of faith, without waging open warfare with that already established … Even in the theological exposition of these doctrines, it was necessary to keep in view the perils arising from opinions subversive to all morality.”19

Ranke’s Luther, in the end, was a tapestry comprised of careful readings of historical texts and other sources, contemporary national politics, cultural acts of remembrance, and longstanding confessional polemics. “Ranke did not, perhaps even could not, relate the theology of the Reformation to the Augustinianism and Paulinism upon which it drew.” Yet Jaroslav Pelikan’s verdict is apt: “What [Ranke] could do, and did do brilliantly, was to set the theological doctrines of the Reformation era into the context of the Reformation as a church movement [and] … to set the Reformation as a church movement, in turn, into the context of German and imperial politics in the first half of the 16th century.”20

The Luther-to-Bismarck Story

Until roughly the Great War, the storyline of Luther to Bismarck, to use its traditional name at least since the 1949 study by Karl Kupisch (1903–1982), enjoyed special status in modern Germany’s creation myth.21 While Ranke’s union of political and ecclesiastical history had nurtured its growth, the national-political narrative sprouted from the widespread belief that Luther’s message was peculiarly applicable to the needs of the German soul—whether in the 16th century or in the 19th and early 20th. Through the achievement of German unification in 1871, particularly when seen against the backdrop of the failure of the 1848 German assembly at Frankfurt, Bismarck came to represent for many the cultural-political success that Luther’s religious movement had set in place. When Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the Berlin Reformed theologian, professed that Protestants must “spread the reformation among the German peoples as the form of Christianity most properly suited to them”—only then could one “allow the continued existence of Catholicism for the Latin peoples”—his words did not strike his audience as particularly novel.22 They had become commonplace in historical reflection on Luther. Ranke held that Luther’s Reformation was “a product of the distinctive German genius,” a sentiment shared by Ranke’s contemporaries as well as Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), and writers even in the early 18th century.23

The Bismarck-led “culture war” (Kulturkampf) waged against German Catholics during the imperial era or Kaiserreich represented for many the “struggle for civilization,” as Fritz Fischer (1908–1999) put it, which naturally accompanied the 1871 military victory over France.24 The height of this “joyous assault” appeared in the Luther jubilee of 1883, which not only gave birth to the magisterial critical edition of Luther’s works, the Weimarer Ausgabe, alongside important scholarly associations such as the Society for Reformation History (Verein für Reformationsgeschichte) but also “assumed the character of a kind of belated birthday party for the new Germany.”25 The title Luther: Ein deutsches Heldenleben (Luther: A German Hero’s Life, 1862) by Adolf Schottmüller (1798–1871), historian at the University of Berlin, serves only as one significant case in point.26

Perhaps most notable of the historical reflections on Luther arising from the 1883 jubilee is that from Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896). A Prussian nationalist historian, Treitschke had lectured briefly in Kiel and Heidelberg and from 1874 onward held a prestigious post at the University of Berlin. In 1871, he became a member of the Reichstag. Treitschke held more or less liberal views, especially in religion. He remained, moreover, fiercely anti-Jewish—and anti-Catholic, despite his Catholic wife.27 He had become a kind of “popular idol among German professors” and could easily fill the largest of lecture halls in the university. Even his sister, curiously, characterized him as a more academic version of Martin Luther.28

Treitschke delivered his 1883 jubilee address in Darmstadt, titled “Luther and the German Nation.” Like much of its contemporary historiography, it imbibed the principles of Romantic nationalism and the Kulturkampf of its time.

No other modern nation can boast of a man who was the mouthpiece of his countrymen in quite the same way, and who succeeded as fully in giving expression to the deepest essence of his nation … “Here speaks our own blood.” From the deep eyes of this unrefined son of a German farmer flashed the ancient and heroic courage of the Germanic races—a courage that does not flee from the world, but rather seeks to dominate it by the strength of its moral purpose. Because he gave utterance to ideas already living in the soul of his nation, this poor monk … was able to grow and develop very rapidly, until he had become as dangerous to the new [Catholic] Roman universal empire as the assailing Germanic hordes were to the empire of the Caesars.29

Simultaneously praising Luther’s impact on the German language (he made it possible “for God to speak German to the German nation”); putting a new spin on Luther’s teaching on the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which now offered greater justification for “temporal” state sovereignty and political emancipation from “spiritual powers” in an anti-Roman key; and championing Luther’s reforms in German education, Treitschke concluded that Luther was “the pioneer of the whole German nation” who possessed “all the native energy and unquenchable fire of German defiance” and whose “power of independent thought typifies the German character.”30

Treitschke countered suggestions that it was the Italian Renaissance, rather than the German Reformation, which marked the first light of the modern world—an ideologically fraught debate that studies like Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) had helped to catalyze.31 “The Italians lacked the strength to act on their ideas, and, against their own conscience, they continued to obey a church they derided. The Germans, by contrast, dared to shape their lives according to the truth they had discovered,” he reasoned. “Because the historical world is the world of the will and because actions, not thoughts, determine the fate of nations, the story of modern man begins not with Petrarch or the artists of the Quattrocento, but with Martin Luther.”32

Germany’s “poor monk” had thrust open the doors to modernity, Treitschke held, but he also left behind an unfulfilled mission: overcoming the divisions of the nation, which had experienced additional ruptures in the march of historical progress from the 1520s through the Thirty Years’ War to the present day. “To close this gulf, to revive evangelical Christendom in such a way that it might become capable of ruling our entire nation,” proclaimed Treitschke, “that is the task that we recognize.”33

Luther and the Kulturkampf

By the end of the century, the Luther-to-Bismarck line had achieved near canonical status, even if some notable Catholic historians still objected strongly to the hegemony of the German Protestant historical paradigm.34 “How much indeed have we Catholics allowed ourselves to be led astray concerning our own past from Protestant and Protestantizing ‘architects of history’!” lamented the Ultramontane Catholic historian and priest Johannes Janssen (1829–1891).35 Among dissenting histories of Luther and Luther’s Germany, Janssen’s own imposing eight-volume Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters (1878–1894) warrants mention. Janssen built upon the earlier arguments of the eminent Catholic church historian in Munich Ignaz von Döllinger (1799–1890), who had attempted a counter-narrative to Ranke’s History of the Popes (1834–1836) that traced out what he saw as disastrous effects of Luther’s theology through the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.36

More mainstream (and Lutheran) historians, for their part, dismissed Janssen’s work, as did the towering historian Max Lenz (1850–1932), one of the preeminent historical thinkers of the Kaiserreich.37 A participant in the 1883 jubilee, which led to Lenz’s own Luther biography, Lenz returned to these themes in the 1917 jubilee as well, giving an address in Hamburg titled “Luther and the German Spirit.” Subsequently, he published a collection of essays under the title Von Luther zu Bismarck.38

Toward the close of 1917, Germany’s political and religious communities faced a series of crises, which shook the historical profession and Luther scholarship as well, as scholars such as Erich Marcks (1861–1938) testified.39 As Lenz put the matter: “Would Luther recognize our war as his own? Is there a bridge that leads from Luther’s religion to the new Germany, to the life interests and ideals we are fighting for, to the things that we hold sacred?”40 The continued success of Ranke’s commitment to tell the truth about the past for its own sake, “as it actually happened” (wie es eigentlich gewesen), in place of the Ciceronian-humanist ideal of “history as the teacher of life” (historia magistra vitae), was not altogether clear.

Even as Protestant historians continued to elevate Luther to a national icon, hero, and harbinger of the modern German state, both the Kulturkampf and the incipient Luther Renaissance triggered something of a backlash for Luther studies. The Austrian-born, Dominican historian Heinrich Denifle (1844–1905) figured prominently among these revisionist scholars. Denifle lectured in Graz and was influenced by the work of Janssen. In 1883 he began working as an archivist in the Vatican Archives in Rome. As the first volumes of the Weimarer Ausgabe found their way from printer to bookshop, Denifle censured the editorial work for its lack of attention to patristic and medieval ideas flowing into Luther’s thought. Making use of the Vatican’s copy of Luther’s lectures on Romans—well before the lectures were published in 1908 and before they appeared in the Weimarer Ausgabe in 1938—Denifle argued that Luther’s understanding of medieval mysticism and nominalist philosophy was essentially misguided, and that Luther’s new doctrine of justification by faith alone would lead inexorably to immorality.41 His rediscovery of the Romans lectures and the accompanying citations trumped many Lutheran scholars who did not yet have access to the manuscript.

Denifle also advanced a psychological reading of Luther’s development as a kind of repressed monk, as did the Jesuit church historian Hartmann Grisar (1845–1932) at the University of Innsbruck, who, while moving in similar directions, attempted to push beyond the palpable disdain that Denifle expressed for Luther.42 In Ernst Schulin’s estimation, “Were it not for Denifle’s iconoclasm and Grisar’s vituperations—deterring even Catholics from reading these learned works—they might fairly be seen as the spearhead of a new type of analytical research into the interdependency of late medieval theology and Luther’s religious thinking, and of the connected probes for the precise moment in time of Luther’s ‘apostasy’ or reformative breakthrough, and, not least, of the psychological Luther interpretations.”43 Nevertheless, the ensuing debate began to underscore in new ways the question of Luther’s assumed relation to modernity on the one hand and his roots in the medieval world on the other.

Luther historiography until at least 1917 continued to revolve mostly around the reformer’s role in the formation of the German nation, anti-Catholicism, and German cultural, educational, and linguistic development. World War I and its aftermath changed things. Germany’s defeat in 1918 “utterly robbed the Luther-to-Bismarck narrative of its plausibility.”44

Interwar Luther

Luther’s popularity as a topic for historical investigation dwindled in the Weimar era, though some universal historians, church historians, theologians, and political figures continued, often controversially, to appropriate many of Luther’s ideas.45 Apart from the joint historical-theological Luther Renaissance, there were relatively few engagements. Among them was the 1925 biography by Gerhard Ritter (1888–1967), which essentially made Ritter’s reputation as a prominent German historian.46 Like many of the same generation, Ritter’s experience of the war left him with the sense that the “bridge” of which Lenz spoke had crumbled, the pieces of its foundations scattered across the European trenches. But Luther could still provide a kind of mirror for understanding German identity. Luther, Ritter famously concluded, “is ourselves: the eternal German.”47 It may, in fact, be insightful to read Ritter’s work alongside that of the French historian Lucien Febvre (1878–1956), one of the founding fathers of the French Annales school of history, whose own Luther biography appeared three years later.48 Ritter’s description followed the predominant practice of seeing Luther mostly in the German context. Febvre similarly affirmed this. “Luther is, in all things, of his race and of his country,” wrote the latter. “He is, fundamentally, a German.”49 Yet Febvre’s use of sources, especially recently produced editions of Erasmus’s correspondence, at least held out the possibility of a broader European perspective of Luther.

Increasingly, Ritter looked away from the normative and generally presentist focus on Luther as a German revolutionary. From the 1925 biography to his last published work on Luther, a popular essay from 1947, he came to see Luther as the leader of a spiritual cast of Christianity whose line of sight moved inward rather than outward in the direction of political revolution. The relative weakness of the German state, somewhat paradoxically, allowed for the preservation of Luther’s spiritual message, even as France’s strong state extinguished the Protestant message and England’s mixed state transposed it into a superficial morality.50 But Ritter’s most important contributions did not come from his Luther biography, which did not represent a significant advance in Luther scholarship. Rather, it was in his role as editor of the important journal Archive for Reformation History (Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte—ARG), a position he assumed in 1938, that he left his mark.

The ARG first went to print in 1903 under the auspices of the Verein für Reformationsgeschichte. Under Ritter’s leadership, the journal helped to reshape the study of German Reformation history, broadening the field’s vision by incorporating “the global effects of the Reformation” (die Weltwirkungen der Reformation). The journal’s editorial from November 1938, composed by Ritter, Heinrich Bornkamm (1901–1977), and Otto Scheel (1876–1954), represented a clear turning point in the historiography of the German Reformation:

The Reformation is a major achievement of the German spirit (Geist), and its historical understanding must be preserved by the whole of the German people. However, this task can be accomplished only by using a historiography that is based not on specialized and fragmented research but on a universal approach. It cannot be reduced to “church history” or “secular history” or “political history.” … The [ARG] is not concerned with the history of the Protestant churches as such, but rather with the history of the period of the Reformation and the following epoch before the Enlightenment, which was mostly determined by religious interests.

The goal was to bring about “truly modern Reformation research that unites theological, political, legal, and socioeconomic and philosophical methods.”51

If not necessarily transforming Luther scholarship directly, the new approach advocated by Ritter, Bornkamm, and Scheel nevertheless broadened the scope of interest.52 Luther would no longer remain only a national-political hero, just as “Reformation” in the singular would, however gradually, come to be seen as “Reformations” in the plural. The straightjacket of grand narratives was loosened—or at least so it seemed.

From Luther to Hitler?

That Hitler’s “seizure of power” (Machtergreifung) in 1933 coincided with the 450th anniversary of Luther’s birth was surely a striking coincidence. It was no coincidence, however, that some “historically and politically conscious contemporaries manufactured connections between Luther and Hitler” that same year, as Hartmut Lehmann has observed.53 The year of 1933 marked only the beginning of the Luther-to-Hitler story—a name owing to popular titles from the American polymath William Montgomery McGovern in 1941, the German refugee schoolmaster Peter F. Wiener in 1945, and the American journalist William L. Shirer in 1960.54 Concentrating mostly on texts like Luther’s late On the Jews and Their Lies (1543), these works enrolled Luther as a forerunner to modern fascism in nearly all aspects of life, destroying any sense of German morality.55 For Wiener, even Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora, a runaway nun, proved that “degradation of womanhood and the taking away of all the sacred character of marriage is one of the main reasons why Germany with Luther began its unchristian way down the hill.”56 In Germany, this connection achieved initial popularity by Hans Preuß (1876–1951) in a remarkable comparison from 1933 of Luther’s curriculum vitae with Hitler’s.57

If the crude, reductionistic narratives that traced Luther’s Reformation to the Third Reich occupied the thoughts of certain historians during the ascendancy of National Socialism, the postwar period, again coinciding with a Luther jubilee in 1946, witnessed a new iteration of the discussion. The conversation still focused on the war but now wrestled with the matter of German guilt and the Allied prosecution of war crimes through the Nuremberg Trials. In one formulation, from the German pastor Hans Asmussen, the dominant question was: “Should Luther go to Nuremberg?”58

Certain concepts of Luther’s (race; das Volk) received new attention, but not always in careful historical perspective. In the words of Thomas Mann from an address before the American Library of Congress in May 1945: “Martin Luther, a gigantic incarnation of the German spirit … I frankly confess that I do not love him. Germanism in its unalloyed state, the Separatist, Anti-Roman, Anti-European shocks me and frightens me, even when it appears in the guise of evangelical freedom and spiritual emancipation.” Mann desired to cast “no aspersions against Luther’s greatness.” But this had to be qualified. Luther was “great in the most German manner, great and German in his duality as a liberating and at once reactionary force, a conservative revolutionary. He not only reconstituted the Church; he actually saved Christianity…. He was a liberating hero—but in the German style, for he knew nothing of liberty.”59 Luther remained indelibly inscribed in the contradictions both of modern German history and of his modern interpreters.

Luther and the Sonderweg Thesis

Among professional historians, postwar attitudes toward Luther increasingly turned on the so-called “Sonderweg thesis,” the notion that Germany had taken a divergent, special authoritarian path to modernity, in contrast to the “normal,” democratic route taken by its English and French neighbors.60 Debate over the Sonderweg thesis erupted particularly, though not exclusively, among many German-speaking émigrés, often Jewish, who fled the Nazi regime.61 For these interpreters, Luther and Lutheranism tended to function as one of a series of missteps responsible for Germany’s “irregular” development and only partial modernization.

Though sometimes provocatively stated, the actual arguments were in reality more nuanced than the Luther-to-Hitler literature. Fritz Stern (1926–2016), the German-born historian who emigrated with his parents in 1938 and was himself a proponent of the Sonderweg thesis, observed nevertheless “how complicated the question of Nazi roots really was; all the tomes and slogans about Germany’s inevitable path ‘from Luther to Hitler’ seemed puerile and wrongheaded.” “I always thought,” said Stern, that “the theme ‘from Luther to Hitler,’ suggesting that Hitler was the culmination of old Germanic traditions of authoritarianism and militarism … was the negative version of the National Socialist creed that proclaimed Hitler as the savior old German virtues, the crowning of German history.”62 Both were invented histories, sidestepping the ideological appeal of certain theologians and historians to Luther’s condemnations of Jews, Turks, Anabaptists, or peasants—condemnations which were regularly wrenched from their 16th-century contexts and plunged into the 1930s and 1940s.63

Historians such as Fritz Fischer, who was known primarily for his investigations into the German origins of World War I, contrasted Luther’s influence in Germany with John Calvin’s in Western Europe, picking up on earlier suggestions made by Ernst Troeltsch (1865–1923).64 Calvinist social thought had given rise, he argued, to a political theology of resistance; Luther’s mostly spiritual focus, however, left German Protestants resigned to the dictates of authoritarian power.65 Hajo Holborn (1902–1969), who had studied with Friedrich Meinicke (1862–1954) and taught in Heidelberg and Berlin before leaving for the United States in 1934, concluded that Germany’s Lutheran territorial churches, under the formative influence of Luther’s approach to religion and politics, left German Protestantism “particularly vulnerable to the National Socialist onslaught,” the cause of which “lay in the nationalistic and reactionary spirit that had found a home in these churches.”66 Though the Sonderweg thesis fell out of favor in most circles in the mid-1980s, many of the implicit claims concerning Luther’s influence still make their mark on Luther scholarship, including an imposed teleological framework leading from Luther and the German Reformation to Germany’s unfortunate experience of modernity.67

Luther and Marxism

At roughly the same time of the Sonderweg debate, Luther studies also began to reflect the postwar Marxist vision of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which reproduced in some sense a Whiggish, neo-Rankean picture of Luther and a national German Protestant movement.68 In the GDR’s early years “there were heroes and there were villains,” as one writer stated. “The hero, of course, was Thomas Müntzer [and] the villain, of course, was Martin Luther.”69 Depictions of Luther as a German political reactionary and “class traitor” were born largely from the European revolutions of 1848. In his famous 1850 work on the German Peasants’ War of 1524–1525, Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) pointed to Müntzer as a pioneer, leading the common people in their struggle for social justice, who was cruelly tortured and martyred for the movement.70 Engels decried Luther as a “lackey of the princes” (Fürstenknecht) and a “butcher of the peasants” (Bauernschlächter).71 His tract inspired the likes of August Bebel (1840–1913), Franz Mehring (1846–1919), Karl Kautsky (1854–1938), Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), and others, who rehabilitated Müntzer’s image as that of a courageous soul struggling against the overreaching powers of feudalism on behalf of Germany’s working peasants.72

Anniversaries of the Reformation in 1967, the Peasants’ War in 1975, and Luther’s birth in 1983 helped incite a remarkable outpouring of interest in Luther.73 The notion of an “early bourgeois revolution” (Frühbürgerliche Revolution), developed by the Leipzig historian Max Steinmetz (1912–1990), was central to the scholarly output. According to Steinmetz, Germany’s lower classes showed initial signs of an uprising in 1476, stirrings that included Luther’s stand against Rome in 1517 and trial at Worms in 1521 and culminated in the Peasants’ War in 1524–1524. “But while Müntzer led the peasants into battle, and even sacrificed his life, Luther had become a traitor. He not only sided with the reactionary feudal powers, this the terminology of Steinmetz and his friends, but Luther even issued pamphlets in which he denounced the peasants and their leaders.”74 The early bourgeois revolution reached its end in Münster in 1534–1535 with the defeat of the Anabaptists.

This new grand narrative would be revised and modified by historians in both the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). In the 1980s, after a period of Cold War lack of interest in the Reformation for many Germans, in which Luther no longer functioned as the reference point for defining cultural, religious, or psychological identity as he had during the government of Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967) in the West or the early tenure of Erich Honecker (1912–1994) in the East, Luther came to be considered once more as a major historical figure in his own right: a great, if flawed, forefather of Germany.75 Steinmetz himself had by then proclaimed that, together, the Reformation and the Peasants’ War constituted “the most significant revolutionary mass movement of the German people until the November Revolution of 1918.”76 Scholars like Gerhard Brendler, Adolf Laube, and Günter Vogler, among others in the GDR, increasingly following the scholarship produced by Reformation scholars in the West and elsewhere, helped inspire the turnabout in Luther’s reception.77 This was due in part to the pursuit of a policy of increased openness toward the GDR by Willy Brandt (1912–1992), chancellor of the FRG from 1969 to 1974, known as Brandt’s Ostpolitik.78 But it also owed to scholarly and political processes already set in motion. During the 1967 commemorations, Brendler observed that now “whoever affirms one [Müntzer or Luther] need not damn the other.”79

In both German states, the 1983 jubilee generated a massive bibliography, even more so than 1967 had. Both quantity and quality of the publications was impressive, and included, among so many others, a second edition of the opening volume of Martin Brecht’s now-standard three-volume biography of Luther.80 The celebrations arguably reached their high point in the International Luther Congress at Erfurt in August 1983.81 With the fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification, and the many other complex changes from die Wende (1989–1990), some of this body of scholarship warrants re-examination.

Luther at Five Hundred and Counting

Recent decades have witnessed two dominant trends for understanding Luther and the Reformation, even if both no longer hold quite the same kind of explanatory power in the early years of the 21st century: the communalization thesis, associated at first with the likes of Peter Blickle, which has tended to see the German Reformation from the perspective of late medieval history; and the confessionalization thesis, formulated by Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhard, which has tended to view the German Reformation as a point of commencement for early modern German history.82 A vital concern for both approaches is the extent to which Luther’s activities in the 1520s constituted a rupture or a radical break (Umbruch), or whether they should be seen instead as part of a much lengthier process of progressive reform, highlighting continuity more than abrupt change. Behind both approaches is the seminal work of the German Protestant church historian Bernd Moeller, which integrated strands in political, social, and church history.83

For Luther scholarship, the way forward does not seem to depend on an either-or answer. One can study Luther without being forced to make a false choice between dramatic “ruptures” (Umbrüche) and long-term intellectual, religious, and political developments; the combination of both is decisive. In the 21st century, scholars such as Thomas Kaufmann, Schilling, and many others have produced new biographical studies in this vein.84 After decades of interest in the concept of confessionalization, to which the ecumenical context of the 1960s also contributed, a move back to the 1520s may once again be on the horizon, as the work of several excellent established German historians testifies. The 2017 jubilee has propelled scholarship to look anew at Luther and the early Reformation, and to emphasize the point that Luther did not exist alone in a vacuum, but alongside a number of critically important voices and forces of change.85

What is more, the importance of the German nation-state in the historiography is in a state of flux. If the debate over communalization and confessionalization (to which one should also add proto-industrialization) reflects differing conceptions of borders in time, the predominantly national focus on Luther and the German Reformation has in recent decades faced differing conceptions of borders in space. Scholars engaged in transnational and global history, along with national historians operating with a renewed focus on European integration, seek to change the line of sight. Attempting to free German history from national and nationalist accounts, Jürgen Osterhammel, among others, has argued that “national history is not the historiographical norm.”86 It may have emerged in the middle of the 18th century through the likes of David Hume and received new impetus from Ranke, but too often the defining national moments of the 20th century have been read back into the past.

Critical events in Germany’s 19th and 20th centuries have functioned like the vanishing point of visual artists, as Helmut Walser Smith has argued.87 Experiences such as the Battle of Nations in 1813, unification in 1871, or the commencement of the genocidal killings of the Holocaust in 1941 have structured the bigger historical picture of Germany, placing certain elements in the foreground and consigning others to the background. If this is true for renderings of German history writ large, it is no doubt true for German renderings of Luther. If the 19th century has been “held hostage by the twentieth,” then all the more so has the 16th-century Luther been “held hostage” by the political and cultural exigencies of nearly every age since Luther’s death in 1546.88

To come full circle, Ranke once wrote, “The purpose of a historian depends on his point of view.”89 Luther, of course, has certainly been no stranger to the cycles of historiography and ever-changing frames of reference. In sum, German historiography manifests nothing if not the perennial Luther.

Review of the Literature

Given the massive body of literature on Luther, one might reasonably expect a vast array of scholarship devoted to Luther’s position in German historiography, but that is only partially the case. Apart from the many biographies, most studies in general German historical scholarship touch on Luther obliquely in one of two ways: in the context of a broader discussion of the German Reformation or in view of a particular era such as the Kaiserreich or the GDR. The former explicitly follows the Rankean method. The latter reflects Ranke’s approach as well, but does so by concentrating more on shifts within and occasioned by particular historical thinkers.

The summaries provided by A. G. Dickens and John Tonkin, though dated, still offer some insights for understanding past paradigms for interpreting the Reformation.90 More recent developments are discussed in an insightful roundtable in German History (2014).91

Ernst Schulin’s essay from 1984 provides an excellent entry point into Luther’s position in these discussions.92 Regular additions to the ever-expanding bibliography on Luther can be gleaned from periodicals such as the ARG and its annual supplementary volume, Literaturbericht, which reviews new studies on Luther in particular and early modern religion and society in general. Other helpful accounts stem from the voluminous publications connected to the various Luther and Reformation jubilees, some of which are cited in the notes. The included entries by Kaufmann and Schilling also warrant mention as especially valuable.

Lehmann and Thomas A. Brady Jr. have by all accounts cast the most prolonged and penetrating look at Luther in German historiography. Many of Lehmann’s essays now appear together for the benefit of the reader: Luthergedächtnis (2012). This collection repays careful consideration in spades. Brady’s treatments are dispersed, though two may be highlighted here: the dialogue with Schilling sponsored by the German Historical Institute (2008) and the monograph German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650 (2009).93

Further Reading

Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther im Spiegel der deutschen Geistesgeschichte. 2d ed. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970.Find this resource:

Brady, Thomas A., Jr. The Protestant Reformation in German History, with a Comment by Heinz Schilling. Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1998.Find this resource:

Brady, Thomas A., Jr. German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Bräuer, Siegfried. Martin Luther in marxistischer Sicht von 1945 bis zum Beginn der achtziger Jahre. Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1983.Find this resource:

Brinks, J. H. “Einige Überlegungen zur politischen Instrumentalisierung Martin Luthers durch die deutsche Historiographie im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert,” Zeitgeschichte 22 (1995): 233–248.Find this resource:

Dickens, A. G., and John Tonkin. The Reformation in Historical Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

“Forum: Religious History beyond Confessionalization,” German History 34 (2014): 579–598.Find this resource:

Foster, Karl, ed. Wandlungen des Lutherbildes. Würzburg, Germany: Echter Verlag, 1966.Find this resource:

Hamm, Berndt, Bernd Moeller, and Dorothea Wendebourg, eds. Reformationstheorien: Ein kirchenhistorischer Disput über Einheit undd Vielfalt der Reformation. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995.Find this resource:

Iggers, Georg G. The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present. Rev. ed. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.Find this resource:

van Ingen, Ferdinand, and Gerd Labroisse, ed. Luther-Bilder im 20. Jahrhundert. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1984.Find this resource:

Kaufmann, Thomas. Martin Luther. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2006.Find this resource:

Kaufmann, Thomas. Geschichte der Reformation. Frankfurt: Insel Verlag, 2009.Find this resource:

Kupisch, Karl. Von Luther zu Bismarck: Zur Kritik einer historischen Idee: Heinrich von Treitschke. Berlin: Verlag Haus und Schule, 1949.Find this resource:

Lehmann, Hartmut. Luthergedächtnis 1817 bis 2017. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.Find this resource:

Maser, Peter. “Mit Luther alles in Butter?”: Das Lutherjahr 1983 im Spiegel ausgewählter Akten. Berlin: Metropol, 2013.Find this resource:

Medick, Hans and Peer Schmidt, eds. Luther zwischen den Kulturen: Zeitgenossenschaft—Weltwirkung. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.Find this resource:

Müller, Johann Baptist, ed. Die Deutschen und Luther: Texte zur Geschichte und Wirkung. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983.Find this resource:

Pelikan, Jaroslav. “Leopold von Ranke as Historian of the Reformation: What Ranke Did for the Reformation—and What the Reformation did for Ranke.” In Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline, 89–98. Edited by Georg G. Iggers and James M. Powell. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Schilling, Heinz. Martin Luther: Rebell in einer Zeit des Umbruches. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2014.Find this resource:

Schilling, Heinz, ed. Der Reformator Martin Luther 2017: Eine wissenschaftliche und gedenkpolitische Bestandsaufnahme. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.Find this resource:

Schulin, Ernst. “Luther’s Position in German History and Historical Writing.” Australian Journal of Politics and History 30 (1984): 85–98.Find this resource:


(1.) Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe [Schriften], 65 vols. (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883–1993), 15:46.18–21, hereafter WA; Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, 55. vols. (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1955–1986), 45:370, hereafter LW.

(2.) WA 50:384; LW 34:276.

(3.) Jaroslav Pelikan, “Leopold von Ranke as Historian of the Reformation: What Ranke Did for the Reformation—and What the Reformation did for Ranke,” in Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline, ed. Georg G. Iggers and James M. Powell (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990), 90.

(4.) Thomas Nipperdey, “Luther und die Bildung der Deutschen,” in Luther und die Folgen: Beiträge zur sozialgeschichtlichen Bedeutung der lutherischen Reformation, ed. Hartmut Löwe and Claus-Jürgen Roepke (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1983), 27.

(5.) Thomas Nipperdey, German History from Napoleon to Bismarck 1800–1866, trans. Daniel Nollan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 1.

(6.) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Karl Ludwig von Knebel, August 22, 1817, in Briefwechsel zwischen Goethe und Knebel (1774–1832), vol. 2 (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1851), 229.

(7.) See the extant manuscript in Leopold von Ranke, Aus Werk und Nachlass, vol. 3: Frühe Schriften, ed. W. P. Fuchs (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1973), 329–446.

(8.) Carl Hinrichs, “Ranks Lutherfragment von 1817 und der Ursprung seiner univeralhistorischen Anschauung,” in Festschrift für Gerhard Ritter zu seinem 60. Geburtstag, ed. Richard Nürnberger (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1950), 299–321; Gunter Berg, Leopold von Ranke als akademischer Lehrer: Studien zu seinen Vorlesungen und seinem Geschichtsdenken (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968), 109–113.

(9.) See Carl Hinrichs, Ranke und die Geschichtstheologie der Goethezeit (Göttingen, Germany: Musterschmidt Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1954).

(10.) See, e.g., Lutz Winckler, Martin Luther als Bürger und Patriot: Das Reformationsjubiläum von 1817 und der politische Protestantismus des Wartburgfestes (Lübeck, Germany: Matthiesen Verlag, 1969).

(11.) Leopold von Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, in Ranke, Sämmtliche Werke, vols. 1–6 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1867–1890).

(12.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 1:3

(13.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 6:112.

(14.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 4:5.

(15.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 1:332. Note the ambiguity of “spirit” (Geist) here, referring to the Holy Spirit, Luther’s spirit, or perhaps another alternative.

(16.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 1:289.

(17.) Quoted in Leonard Krieger, Ranke: The Meaning of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 167.

(18.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 2:27.

(19.) Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte, 2:27–28.

(20.) Pelikan, “Leopold von Ranke,” 95.

(21.) Karl Kupisch, Von Luther zu Bismarck: Zur Kritik einer historischen Idee: Heinrich von Treitschke (Berlin: Verlag Haus & Schule, 1949).

(22.) Quoted in Werner Schuffenhauer and Klaus Steiner, eds., Martin Luther in der deutschen bürgerlichen Philosophie 1517–1845 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1983), 364.

(23.) Konrad Repgen, “Reform,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand, 4 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3:392–395.

(24.) Fritz Fischer, Der Erste Weltkrieg und das deutsche Geschichtsbild: Beiträge zur Bewältigung eines historischen Tabus (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1977), 67.

(25.) Thomas A. Brady Jr., The Protestant Reformation in German History, with a Comment by Heinz Schilling (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1998), 15. Cf. Gangolf Hübinger, Kulturprotestantismus und Politik: Zum Verhältnis von Liberalismus und Protestantismus im wilhelmischen Deutschland (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1997). On the Society for Reformation History, see Luise Schorn-Schütte, ed., 125 Jahre Verein für Reformationsgeschichte (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2008).

(26.) See Hartmut Lehmann, “Martin Luther als deutscher Nationalheld im 19. Jahrhundert,” Luther: Zeitschrift der Luther-Gesellschaft 55 (1984): 53–65.

(27.) Hermann Haering, “Über Treitschke und seine Religion,” in Aus Politik und Geschichte: Gedächtnisschrift für Georg von Below (Berlin: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte, 1928), 218–279.

(28.) Jonathan Steinberg, Bismarck: A Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 246.

(29.) Heinrich von Treitschke, “Luther und die deutsche Nation,” in Treitschke, Historische und politische Aufsätze, vol. 4 (Berlin: S. Hirzel, 1897), 393–394.

(30.) Treitschke, “Luther und die deutsche Nation,” 390–392, 387–388, 378–380, 384.

(31.) Martin A. Ruehl, The Italian Renaissance in the German Historical Imagination (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 17–18.

(32.) Treitschke, “Luther und die deutsche Nation,” 386.

(33.) Treitschke, “Luther und die deutsche Nation,” 396.

(34.) Bernd Faulenbach, Ideologie des deutschen Weges: Die deutsche Geschichte in der Historiographie zwischen Kaiserreich und Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Beck, 1980), 125–131; Hans Heinz Krill, Die Rankerenaissance: Max Lenz und Erich Marcks: Ein Beitrag zum historisch-politischen Denken in Deutschland 1880–1935, vol. 3 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1962), 127–225.

(35.) Johannes Janssen to Georg Wehry, December 25, 1874, in Johannes Janssens Briefe, ed. Ludwig Pastor, vol. 2 (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 1920), 16. On Janssen, see Andreas Holzem, “‘Die Cultur trennte die Völker nicht: sie einte und band’: Johannes Janssen (1829–1891) als europäischer Geschichtsschreiber der Deutschen?” in Die europäische Integration und die Kirchen II: Denker und Querdenker, ed. Irene Dingel and Heinz Duchhardt (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 9–49.

(36.) J. J. Ignaz von Döllinger, Die Reformation, ihrer innere Entwicklung und ihre Wirkungen, 3 vols. (Regensburg, Germany: G. Joseph Manz, 1846–1848). On Catholic approaches to Luther, see Heinrich Lutz, “Zum Wandel der katholischen Lutherinterpretation,” in Objektivität und Parteilichkeit in der Geschichtswissenschaft, ed. Reinhart Koselleck, Wolfgang J. Mommsen, and Jörn Rüsen (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1977), 173–198.

(37.) Max Lenz, “Janssen’s Geschichte des deutschen Volkes, eine analytische Kritik,” Historische Zeitschrift 50 (1883): 231–284.

(38.) Max Lenz, Luther und die deutsche Geist: Rede zur Reformationsfeier 1917 in Hamburg (Hamburg: Broscheck, 1917); Lenz, Kleine historische Schriften, vol. 2: Von Luther zu Bismarck (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1920).

(39.) Erich Marcks, Luther und Deutschland: Eine Reformationsrede im Kriegsjahr 1917 (Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1917), 1.

(40.) Lenz, Luther und die deutsche Geist, 7.

(41.) P. Heinrich Denifle and Albert Maria Weiss, Luther und das Luthertum, 2 vols. (Mainz, Germany: F. Kirchheim, 1904–1909).

(42.) Hartmann Grisar, Luther, 3 vols. (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 1911–1912); Grisar, Martin Luthers Leben und sein Werk (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 1926).

(43.) Ernst Schulin, “Luther’s Position in German History and Historical Writing,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 30 (1984): 91.

(44.) Brady, Protestant Reformation, 18.

(45.) See James M. Stayer, Martin Luther, German Saviour: German Evangelical Theological Factions and the Interpretation of Luther, 1917–1933 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000).

(46.) On Ritter, see, e.g., Christoph Cornelißen, Gerhard Ritter: Geschichtswissenschaft und Politik im 20. Jahrhundert (Düsseldorf: Droste, 2001), and Klaus Schwabe, “Gerhard Ritter—Werk und Person,” in Gerhard Ritter: Ein politischer Historiker in seinen Briefen (Boppard am Rhein, Germany: Boldt, 1984), 1–170.

(47.) Gerhard Ritter, Luther: Gestalt und Symbol (Munich: Bruckmann, 1925), 1.

(48.) On the Annales historical paradigm, see André Burguière, The Annales School: An Intellectual History, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).

(49.) Lucien Febvre, Un Destin: Martin Luther (Paris: Rieder, 1928), 146. Cf. Peter Schöttler, ed., Lucien Febvre: Martin Luther (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1996)

(50.) Thomas A. Brady Jr., “Comment: Gerhard Ritter,” in Paths of Continuity: Central European Historiography from the 1930s to the 1950s, ed. Hartmut Lehmann and James Van Horn Melton (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 112. Cf. Gerhard Ritter, Die Weltwirkung der Reformation, 4th ed. (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1975).

(51.) Gerhard Ritter, Heinrich Bornkamm, and Otto Scheel, “Zur Neugestaltung unserer Zeitschrift,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 35 (1938): 1–7.

(52.) Cf. Hartmut Lehmann, “Heinrich Bornkamm im Spiegel seiner Lutherstudien von 1933 und 1947,” in Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis 1817 bis 2017 (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 138–150; Lehmann, “Luther als Kronzeuge für Hitler: Anmerkungen zu Otto Scheels Lutherverständnis in den 1930er Jahren,” in Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis, 160–175.

(53.) Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis, 151.

(54.) William Montgomery McGovern, From Luther to Hitler: The History of Fascist-Nazi Political Philosophy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941); William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960).

(55.) WA 53:417–552; LW 47:137–306.

(56.) Peter F. Wiener, Martin Luther: Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor (London: Hutchinson, 1944). Cf. Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther: Hitler’s Cause or Cure? (London: Lutterworth, 1945).

(57.) Hans Preuß, Luther und Hitler: Als Beigabe—Luther und die Frauen (Erlangen, Germany: Freimund-Verlag, 1933).

(58.) Hans Asmussen, “Muß Luther nach Nürnberg?” Nordwestdeutsche 11–12 (1947): 31–37.

(59.) Thomas Mann, “Germany and the Germans,” in Mann, Thomas Mann’s Addresses Delivered at the Library of Congress, 1942–1949 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1963), 52–53.

(60.) For an overview, see Jürgen Kocka, “German History before Hitler: The Debate about the German Sonderweg,” Journal of Contemporary History 23 (1988): 3–16.

(61.) See Harmut Lehmann and James J. Sheehan, An Interrupted Past: German-Speaking Refugee Historians in the United States after 1933 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(62.) Fritz Stern, Five Germanys I Have Known (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006), 165, 203–204.

(63.) See, e.g., Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 144–145. Cf. Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern Myths, 2d ed. (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 2007), and Heiko A. Oberman, Wurzeln des Antisemitismus: Christenangst und Judenplage im Zeitalter von Humanismus und Reformation (Berlin: Severin & Siedler, 1981).

(64.) Cf. Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War (New York: Norton, 1967).

(65.) Fritz Fischer, “Der deutsche Protestantismus und die Politik im 19. Jahrhundert,” Historische Zeitschrift 171 (1951): 473–518.

(66.) Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 739–740.

(67.) See the Sonderweg critique of David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).

(68.) Cf. Martin Roy, Luther in der DDR: Zum Wandel des Lutherbildes in der DDR-Geschichtsschreibung: mit einer dokumentarischen Reproduktion (Bochum, Germany: Verlag Dieter Winkler, 2000).

(69.) Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis, 271–272.

(70.) Friedrich Engels, “Der deutsche Bauernkrieg,” in Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, division 1, vol. 10 (Berlin: Dietz, 1977), 367–443.

(71.) Engels, “Der deutsche Bauernkrieg,” 385–386.

(72.) August Bebel, Der deutsche Bauernkrieg: Mit Berücksichtigung der hauptsächlichen sozialen Bewegungen des Mittelalters (Braunschweig, Germany: W. Bracke, 1876); Franz Mehring, Deutsche Geschichte vom Ausgange des Mittelalters: Ein Leitfaden für Lehrende und Lernende (Berlin: Vorwärts, 1910); Karl Kautsky, Vorläufer des neueren Sozialismus, vol. 2: Der Kommunismus in der deutschen Reformation, 7th ed. (Berlin: Dietz, 1923); Ernst Bloch, Thomas Münzer als Theolge der Reformation (Munich: Kurt Wolff, 1921).

(73.) See, e.g., Leo Stern and Max Steinmetz, eds., 450 Jahre Reformation (Berlin: VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1967).

(74.) Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis, 279.

(75.) Cf. Heinz Schilling, “Reformation—Umbruch oder Gipfelpunkt eines Temps des Réformes?” in Die frühe Reformation in Deutschland als Umbruch, ed. Bernd Moeller (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998), 13–34.

(76.) Max Steinmetz, “Theses on the Early Bourgeois Revolution in Germany, 1476–1535,” in The German Peasant War of 1525: New Viewpoints, ed. Bob Scribner and Gerhard Benecke (London: Unwin, 1979), 9.

(77.) Gerhard Brendler, Martin Luther: Theologie und Revolution; Eine marxistische Darstellung (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1983); Günter Vogler, Siegfried Hoyer, and Adolf Laube, eds., Martin Luther: Leben, Werk, Wirkung (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1983).

(78.) See the thorough treatment in Peter Maser, “Mit Luther alles in Butter?”: Das Lutherjahr 1983 im Spiegel ausgewählter Akten (Berlin: Metropol, 2013).

(79.) Gerhard Brendler, “Reformation und Forschritt,” in Stern and Steinmetz, 450 Jahre Reformation, 67.

(80.) Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 vols. (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1983–1987). The work appeared in English as Brecht, Martin Luther, trans. James L. Schaaf, 3 vols. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985–1993).

(81.) Cf. Alexander Fischer and Günther Heydemann, eds., Geschichtswissenschaft in der DDR, vol. 2: Vor- und Frühgeschichte bis Neueste Geschichte (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1990).

(82.) See, e.g., Peter Blickle, Die Gemeindereformation: Die Menschen des 16. Jahrhunderts auf dem Weg zum Heil (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1987); Heinz Schilling, Konfessionskonflikt und Staatsbildung (Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1981); and Wolfgang Reinhard, “Konfession und Konfessionalisierung in Europa,” in Bekenntnis und Geschichte: die Confessio Augustana im historischen Zusammenhang, ed. Wolfgang Reinhard (Munich: Verlag Ernst Vögel, 1981), 165–189. Cf. Thomas A. Brady Jr., “Confessionalization: The Career of a Concept,” in Confessionalization in Europe, 1555–1700: Essays in Honor and Memory of Bodo Nischan, ed. John M. Headley, Hans J. Hillerbrand, and Anthony J. Papalas (Burlinton, VT: Ashgate, 2004), 1–20. See also the synthesis in Joel F. Harrington and Helmut Walser Smith, “Confessionalization, Community, and State-Building in Germany, 1555–1870,” Journal of Modern History 69 (1997): 77–101.

(83.) Bernd Moeller, Reichsstadt und Reformation: Neue Ausgabe, ed. Thomas Kaufmann (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). The first edition appeared in English as Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation: Three Essays, ed. and trans. H. C. Erik Midelfort and Mark U. Edwards (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972).

(84.) Heinz Schilling, Martin Luther: Rebell in einer Zeit des Umbruches (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2014); Thomas Kaufmann, Geschichte der Reformation (Frankfurt: Insel Verlag, 2009); Thomas Kaufmann, Martin Luther (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2006).

(85.) Heinz Schilling, ed., Der Reformator Martin Luther 2017: Eine wissenschaftliche und gedenkpolitische Bestandsaufnahme (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014).

(86.) Jürgen Osterhammel, “Transnationale Gesellschaftsgeschichte: Erweiterung oder Alternative?” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 27 (2001): 474. Cf. Helmut Walser Smith, “For a Differently Centered Central European History: Reflections on Jürgen Osterhammel, Geschichtswissenschaft jenseits des Nationalstaats,” Central European History 37 (2004): 115–136.

(87.) Helmut Walser Smith, The Continuities of German History: Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 13–38.

(88.) H. Glenn Penny, “The Fate of the Nineteenth Century in German Historiography,” Journal of Modern History 80 (2008): 82.

(89.) Leopold von Ranke, Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514, vol. 1 (Leipzig: G. Reimer, 1824), iii.

(90.) A. G. Dickens and John Tonkin, eds., The Reformation in Historical Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

(91.) “Forum: Religious History beyond Confessionalization,” German History 34 (2014): 579–598.

(92.) Schulin, “Luther’s Position.”

(93.) Lehmann, Luthergedächtnis; Thomas A. Brady Jr., The Protestant Reformation in German History, with a Comment by Heinz Schilling (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1998); Thomas A. Brady Jr., German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).