Description - Martin Luther by Richard Marius
Few figures in history have defined their time as dramatically as Martin Luther. And few books have captured the spirit of such a figure as truly as this robust and eloquent life of Luther. A highly regarded historian and biographer and a gifted novelist and playwright, Richard Marius gives us a dazzling portrait of the German reformer--his inner compulsions, his struggle with himself and his God, the gestation of his theology, his relations with contemporaries, and his responses to opponents. Focusing in particular on the productive years 1516-1525, Marius' detailed account of Luther's writings yields a rich picture of the development of Luther's thought on the great questions that came to define the Reformation. Marius follows Luther from his birth in Saxony in 1483, during the reign of Frederick III, through his schooling in Erfurt, his flight to an Augustinian monastery and ordination to the outbreak of his revolt against Rome in 1517, the Wittenberg years, his progress to Worms, his exile in the Wartburg, and his triumphant return to Wittenberg. Throughout, Marius pauses to acquaint us with pertinent issues: the question of authority in the church, the theology of penance, the timing of Luther's Reformation breakthrough, the German peasantry in 1525, Muntzer's revolutionaries, the whys and hows of Luther's attack on Erasmus. In this personal, occasionally irreverent, always humane reconstruction, Luther emerges as a skeptic who hated skepticism and whose titanic wrestling with the dilemma of the desire for faith and the omnipresence of doubt and fear became an augury for the development of the modern religious consciousness of the West. In all of this, he also represents tragedy, with the goodness of his works overmatched by their calamitous effects on religion and society.
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(227mm x 147mm x 38mm)
The Belknap Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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Book Reviews - Martin Luther by Richard Marius
US Kirkus Review »
The darkest biography yet of the irascible Luther, by Harvard professor emeritus and novelist Marius (Thomas More: A Biography, 1984, etc.). Marius claims that Luther's profound fear of death drove him to the extremes of the Reformation - extremes that, in Marius's view, were largely unnecessary to achieve lasting change. Marius may have overstepped the biographer's boundaries by concluding that history without Luther would have been far much more peaceful: "for more than a century after Luther's death, Europe was strewn with the slaughtered corpses of people who would have lived normal lives if Luther had never lived at all." Marius places the blame for much of modern ontological uncertainty squarely on the monk's shoulders, and also saddles him with responsibility for desacralizing communion, contributing to the decline of biblical authority, and plunging Europe into religious intolerance. These charges may be harsh, but Marius does show where Luther's writings degenerated into virulent anti-Semitism (a topic universally glossed over by previous biographers) and superstition. Marius also surpasses other biographers in tortuously documenting the reformer's dark side; here we see Luther as an unstable individual whose depths of despair were truly frightening. Yet Marius's book tends too far in this direction and almost completely ignores the joy that also, paradoxically, suffused Luther's copious writing and his personal life. Marius chooses to end Luther's story in 1527, almost two full decades before his death, saying that the later Luther is "not as interesting" as the man who sparked the Reformation. But by neglecting the last two decades of Luther's life Marius also ignores his transformation into a family man and, at times, a mellower creature. Marius's book should be read in tandem with Heiko Oberman's similarly titled Luther: Man Between God and the Devil for a more balanced portrait. Valuable for its depiction of Luther's mad wrestling with doubt and despair, but too one-sided to capture the contradictions in its complex subject. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Richard Marius
Richard Marius was a historian, novelist, playwright, and a member of the Harvard faculty.