"Penetrating."--The New York Times Book Review
"Smart, accessible, authoritative."--Hilary Mantel On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a shy monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg. The ideas contained in these Ninety-five Theses, which boldly challenged the Catholic Church, spread like wildfire. Within two months, they were known all over Germany. So powerful were Martin Luther's broadsides against papal authority that they polarized a continent and tore apart the very foundation of Western Christendom. Luther's ideas inspired upheavals whose consequences we live with today. But who was the man behind the Ninety-five Theses? Lyndal Roper's magisterial new biography goes beyond Luther's theology to investigate the inner life of the religious reformer who has been called "the last medieval man and the first modern one." Here is a full-blooded portrait of a revolutionary thinker who was, at his core, deeply flawed and full of contradictions. Luther was a brilliant writer whose biblical translations had a lasting impact on the German language. Yet he was also a strident fundamentalist whose scathing rhetorical attacks threatened to alienate those he might persuade. He had a colorful, even impish personality, and when he left the monastery to get married ("to spite the Devil," he explained), he wooed and wed an ex-nun. But he had an ugly side too. When German peasants rose up against the nobility, Luther urged the aristocracy to slaughter them. He was a ferocious anti-Semite and a virulent misogynist, even as he argued for liberated human sexuality within marriage. A distinguished historian of early modern Europe, Lyndal Roper looks deep inside the heart of this singularly complex figure. The force of Luther's personality, she argues, had enormous historical effects--both good and ill. By bringing us closer than ever to the man himself, she opens up a new vision of the Reformation and the world it created and draws a fully three-dimensional portrait of its founder.
- ISBN-13: 9780812996197
- ISBN-10: 0812996194
- Publisher: Random House
- Publish Date: March 2017
- Page Count: 576
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
Portrait of a rebel
Martin Luther was an unlikely revolutionary. When he posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 (as the story goes, although Luther himself never referred to it), he was 33 years old, had been a monk for 12 years and had published very little. Yet within two months, the theses were known all over Germany and read by both clergy and laity. Luther’s propositions challenged the Catholic Church on major theological beliefs and practices and questioned papal power. Whether they were attached to the church door or not, the theses sparked the Protestant Reformation and radically changed Christianity.
As we enter the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, Oxford historian Lyndal Roper explores the life and times of Luther in her absorbing and provocative Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet. An authority on early modern Germany, Roper gives us a compelling and nuanced portrait of a person greatly influenced by his environment. Luther was courageous in stating his deeply held beliefs and well understood he would be labeled a heretic and likely become a martyr. He was a brilliant writer but also a vicious man and often a difficult friend, even to those close to him. Although an intellectual and scholar, he mistrusted “reason, the whore,” as he called it. His anti-Semitism was propagated by many of his supporters but went much further than many were prepared to go.
Why did Luther prevail when other reform leaders did not? Among the most important reasons was his ability to write well and communicate his thinking to the public. He also understood the critical importance of printing. For example, in 1518, by the time he was ordered to stop publication of his first work in German for a wide public audience, he ensured that it was already on sale. “His use of print was tactically brilliant,” Roper writes. “No one had previously used print to such devastating effect.” Perhaps above all, Luther was a realist. “Time and time again, though he might rail against them and insult them . . . Luther would in the end always align himself with the [civil] authorities.”
Roper’s great skill in interpreting Luther’s personal and public lives and explaining controversial theological subjects within their historical context makes this biography both enlightening and entertaining.