A new book shows the darker side of Martin Luther

9780812996197Michael Dirda at the Washington Post:

The 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke famously urged reconstructing the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen,” to show how it really was. Insofar as she can, Roper adapts this motto to biography: She aims to track Luther’s “inner development,” to get inside his head: “I want to know how a sixteenth-century individual perceived the world around him, and why he viewed it in this way. I want to explore his inner landscapes so as to better understand his ideas about flesh and spirit.” She adds that “it was Luther’s vivid friendships and enmities that convinced me that he had to be understood through his relationships, and not as the lone hero of the Reformation myth.” As a result, her book situates this revolutionary thinker and his thought in the sociological, political and religious crosscurrents of contemporary Germany.

Born in 1483, Luther grew up in the mining town of Mansfeld, where his father was part of what we’d now call upper management. When young Martin toddled off to the university at Erfurt, he was supposed to come home a lawyer. But, following a terrifying epiphany during a thunderstorm, he instead resolved to become an Augustinian monk, despite paternal displeasure. Like psychologist Erik Erikson before her, Roper views Luther’s life in terms of authority figures that he initially revered, then outgrew and rejected.

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