Three articles in this issue deal with Martin Luther as writer, musician, and father of the Christian home. In this editorial CT has asked prominent Lutheran theologian and church historian Martin Marty to focus on the lesser known aspects of Luther—as a mixture of great strengths, and of failure and contradiction.
Last year the catholic world commemorated the eight-hundredth birthday of St. Francis of Assisi. The message of the celebrators was clear. Admire the man, learn about him, imitate him. Be humble. Serve others. Work for peace.
This year the Protestant world commemorates the five-hundredth birthday of Martin Luther. What should Christians do with him?
Admirers of Luther knew what to do a century ago. At Worms in Germany and elsewhere they cast monuments of Luther the hero, bold in his “Here I Stand!” stance. Late in the twentieth century we may need heroes, but Luther will not stand so still for the portrait. He seems monumentally miscast on the souvenir medallions, so stolid and solid does he appear there. He complained that admirers wished “to make a fixed star out of me when I am a roving planet.”
Between Yes And No
So we are left with the man of contradiction, the “roving planet” who moved between “yes” and “no” on many issues. To contradict is to speak against, to pose apparently mutually exclusive words, ideas, traits, or actions against each other. Luther as a man of contradiction has more to tell us than the Luther bronzed as the hero of Worms. Between the “yeses” and “noes” of his words and works, at the places where logical and personal consistency give out, there God has a chance to speak, to be present with lures and challenges.
The three best known of Luther’s contradictions have least to tell us. They serve ...1
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