The Reformer as Prophet and Saint: 16th Century Images of Luther

Bob Scribner looks at contemporary views of the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther.

Luther has always been a difficult man to understand, largely because of the many sides to his character. He was a man of profound piety and a theologian of genius, an able journalist, a fierce polemicist and a skilled translator. He had a strong sense of humility before God's purpose, combined with an infuriating conviction of being right on so many things that he often appeared as a supreme egotist. He had a firm belief that he was a tool chosen by God to reform the Christian Church, and accepted without blush the eulogistic title of 'divinely-ordained prophet' bestowed on him by his more enthusiastic followers. He disclaimed any political knowledge or intentions, yet did not hesitate to condemn in the most violent terms the demands of the German peasants for political participation and social justice, demands which many of his own supporters saw as wholly justified. It is not surprising that each age has been able to remake Luther's image in terms of its own preoccupations and interests, so creating what Thomas Brady appropriately calls in his article, the many 'masks of Luther'.

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