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Luther's Works

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Luther's Works

Martin Luther: A New Western Civilization

The best English access channel to Luther is Concordia Publishing House's 55 volume set, Luther's Works. Luther was extremely productive and held the record for number of books in print until Isaac Asimov. Irony, that one record was made just as printing was invented and another made just as printing gives way to other technologies. Don't blame me for inventing this if it is wrong, blame me for repeating an attractive myth. If someone can comment usefully on this little mythic irony, please email something to me.

Earthy, vital, emotional, chauvinistic, and intense, Luther is a child of his age and a master of history. He used William of Occam's Rule against the doctrine of the Immortal Soul in a public sermon, sawed the legs off the Platonic guardians of Europe (the Roman hierarchy), and founded Germany. His confessor's student visited Kopernik (Copernicus) and brought De Revolutionibus out to be published. All subjects of importance in modern religion, politics, art, music, language, and history must have at least one bibliographic reference to this man. Is Luther flawed? Sure, but he is my hero.

It was a violent era. Every reformer, John Hus the principle example, had been brutally murdered. In that day and time there was little space between church and state, a very evil situation, and any deviation from what the Pope wanted was seen as betrayal of the whole of Christendom. It was not much different from any other place or time in history, except this was OUR history.

Even for this time when political and religious enemies were burned at the stake, Luther was harsh. He was harsh with everybody: the Jews, the Mohammedans, the Papists, the Anabaptists, fellow protestants, the Emperor, the Electors, the peasants, the clergy, and the nobles. More than the Jews, more than the Pope even, his worst venom was for the peasants who revolted. Could he have been more Christ like, maybe a little like St. Francis? Yes. Instead he wrote bitter things about everybody. It was the time, it was Europe in a totalitarian period, patterned after Plato's Republic. I swear to you, that bastard Plato did more damage to mankind than any other single human being except perhaps Karl Marx, his most recent follower. In any case, there is no apology deep enough to cover the sins of Europe's Sixteenth Century. But there is this: while many other civilizations were as evil, not one other rose out of it to produce science, freedom, and markets. And that reform, that about face in the heart of a civilization, took place only in the culture which held Dr. Martin Luther and others who turned our eyes away from Greek philosophy and religion, keeping the mathematics and science, and back to the Bible.

His chief accomplishment was to open YHWH's cage, to let him go wild again. Free will, the priesthood of all believers, salvation by grace, the Means of Grace, teaching children and common people by catechism, versions of Scriptures in local languages, using Greek and Hebrew texts instead of Latin, the central place of the Word in theology, and on and on; all these things restored the life of our God among the people. And in that restoration the seeds of tolerance, freedom, science, and a market economy was able to grow.

Once more in the history of our salvation our God used flawed and broken people as his angels and ministers for good. Eve was flawed, Adam weak, Abraham and Sarah old and barren, Jacob a tricky bastard, Judah disobedient, Jeremiah complaining, Peter a denier, Paul a hunter of disciples, and many more. So Luther. Our God did not chose the saintly Hus or Menno. He chose the foulmouthed priest in Saxony. Go figure.
Copyright © 2008, Charles Henry Johnsen, III