Book Review: The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works

Martin Luther collection book

To understand Luther, you have to go back to the source and that source is Luther himself. The best way to understand a person is hearing, or in this case reading, what he has to say.

Martin Luther was an avid student of history but like any man of his times, he was a product of it and should be seen as such. He did not see himself as a heretic but rather a reformer. When you read his best known writings, the ones that propelled him to fame (and in the Catholic Church’s eyes, infamy) you realize that he wasn’t saying anything new. Plenty of other protesters before him had voiced the same opinion and had been met with harsher opposition, but whereas most of them wanted to break away from the church and turn the world upside down, Luther simply wanted to reform it. He never intended for things to get out of control. He took the best of early reformers, people whom the church had branded as heretics, believing that he could succeed where they failed, but he soon found out that it was easier said than done and when he was pushed into a corner, he did the only thing that a person in that situation could do: push back.

The more you move forward towards the end of his writing, you realize how more paranoid and to some extent, radical he was becoming, but that unlike many of his contemporary Protestant leaders and those that came after him, he still had boundaries and didn’t agree with much of their ideology.

Once again, the Protestant Reformation is far more complex than what it is made out to be in pop culture, be it TV, film, historical fiction, or in some cases by some historians who still buy into the old myths or choose perpetuate to create a false (and more ideal) narrative of Luther, painting him as this firebrand reformer who always knew what his mission was from the very start. Luther did see his role in history as something larger than in life, but even this is subjective. Wishing to leave his mark, he also became stricter with his followers, urging them to follow Christianity in its purest form.
This book also presents much of them in the original language that they were first written, which makes it feel more original, like we have gone back in time to when they were first published.

This is a must-have for every history buff and person interested in finding more about the roots of modern Christianity. Luther was a precursor of many Protestant leaders who as it has been previously stated, he didn’t agree with, but whose movement wouldn’t have gone any further than a single pamphlet of protestation or become another footnote in history like their medieval predecessors, if it weren’t for this rebellious German ex-monk. And Luther’s influence continues to be felt among many leaders, not just religious but secular as well who view him in high regard. For better or for worse, whichever way you choose to look at it, Luther changed the world, and these writings proved that once again, the pen is mightier than the sword.

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Book Review: Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God & Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther bio by Metaxas

Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.

Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.

Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.

By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.

The man who rediscovered God and who changed the world is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.

Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.