[The Luther Letter Index] [Project Wittenberg]





The Luther Letter April, 2003



“Notes on Martin Luther, the Reformation,



and the Modern World”






Edited by William R. Russell, Ph.D.









Quotable Quote:



Luther speaks of war in 16th century terms, but there are connections with current events: “Here you will ask: ‘Is a prince then not to go to war, and are his subjects not to follow him into battle?’ Answer: This is a far-reaching question, but let me answer it very briefly. To act here as a Christian, I say, a prince should not go to war against his overlord—king, emperor, or other liege lord—but let him who takes, take. For the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth. If it is influenced by this, well and good; if not, you are excused, you suffer wrong for God’s sake. If, however, the antagonist is your equal, your inferior, or of a foreign government, you should first offer him justice and peace, as Moses taught the children of Israel. If he refuses, then—mindful of what is best for you—defend yourself against force by force, as Moses so well describes it in Deuteronomy 20[:10–12]. But in doing this you must not consider your personal interests and how you may remain lord, but those of your subjects to whom you owe help and protection, that such action may proceed in love. Since your entire land is in peril you must make the venture, so that with God’s help all may not be lost. If you cannot prevent some from becoming widows and orphans as a consequence, you must at least see that not everything goes to ruin until there is nothing left except widows and orphans.






Luther on War



Uwe Siemon-Netto, religion editor of United Press International and Research Scholar at the Institute for Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, published The Fabricated Luther in 1995.  He also published a recent letter to the editor in The Christian Century, in which he chastises the author of an article in a previous issue.  Siemon-Netto ends his letter with a reference to Luther’s view of war that I hadn’t come across: “Yet as Luther reminds us,” writes Siemon-Netto, “sometimes surgeons must hack away limbs in order to save the body.”  It’s always good to see Luther in the news, eh?






Introducing Luther to Roman Catholics and Protestants



Wheaton College Church Historian Mark Noll invites us to get to know Luther: “Martin Luther (1483-1546), the great Protestant reformer, theologian, and hymn writer, is as a person as much a classic as are any of his writings.  His role as spark of the Reformation in the sixteenth century made him one of the most honored figures in Protestant history.  This has also long made him a reviled figure among Roman Catholics, who have held him responsible for destroying the godly synthesis of the High Middles Ages.  In the last generation, however, Catholics and Protestants have reached new levels of mutual understanding.  Luther still remains a larger-than-life figure, but one whom Protestants now see as a man of his times and Catholics recognize as a serious contributor to the understanding of the gospel.”






Lutheran Piety and Luther



In an article for which I can’t find the date, Penn State’s A.G. Roeber wrote about “Official and Nonofficial Piety and Ritual in Early Lutheranism.”  In such an essay, Luther would necessarily play a role: “Martin Luther quickly realized, however, that while the task of those called to the pastoral office was to preach the Word that announced that message of salvation by faith alone, immediate attention had to be paid to the hearers and how they made sense of this “good news.”  Lutheran laity over many generations have come to know “he gospel in a nutshell,” (John 3:16) as one of the simplest summaries of where their faith should be grounded.  Lutherans have relied on this passage to state that something about the very nature of an otherwise hidden and mysterious God can be known.  The unbounded love of God the Father for a fallen humanity and creation—hence the key characteristic of his fundamental nature—are revealed in the mystery of the cross and resurrection of His Son Jesus, the Christ.  Those who believe this remain sinners, even after hearing the gospel, having been baptized, and continuing a life-long journey of ‘repentance,’ the theme Luther announced at the beginning of the Ninety-Five Theses.  But the believers are also, simultaneously, saved.”






Luther’s Pastoral Theology



Some years before she went to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Jane Strohl contributed this to a book of daily devotions: “One might describe Luther’s career as a lifelong pastoral malpractice suit against the Roman Catholic hierarchy of his day, whose doctrine of grace, in his opinion deprived believers of true consolation and robbed Christ of His rightful honor as Savior.  Yet the years brought conflicts with other groups in which he felt called to champion the cause of the gospel as he understood it.  Luther’s theology was polemical, his style often inflammatory.  The heirs to his legacy often feel compelled to apologize for him.  Indeed a fair and critical evaluation of his work requires that one acknowledge inconsistencies, errors of judgment, and attitudes that are disturbing.  But the same fair and critical eye cannot help but recognize the force of his confession and the keen insight of his spiritual guidance.  Luther challenges each generation to measure its understanding of the gospel against the message he found to be the heart of Scripture: ‘For the person is justified and saved, not by works or laws, but by the Word of God, that is, by the promise of his grace, and by faith , that the glory may remain God’s, who saved us not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by virtue of his mercy by the word of his grace when we believed.’”









Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed [LW 45:124]; The Christian Century, April 19, 2003; Invitation to the Classics; Concordia Theological Quarterly; Daily Readings from Spiritual Classics.


[The Luther Letter Index] [Project Wittenberg]

Document revised, 2003 Apr. 17, ICLnet. Project Wittenberg is coordinated by Reverend Robert E. Smith