Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation

Poster-draft-2-663x1024Dmitri Levitin at Literary Review:

A historical anniversary can be something of a false god. Convinced – rightly or wrongly – of the reading public’s numerical obsession, publishers race to churn out their own ‘definitive’ accounts of the event being commemorated. This year has been particularly notable for this, witnessing as it has not only the centenary of the Russian Revolution, but also the quincentenary of the event that supposedly began the Reformation: 31 October will mark the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing to the door of the church attached to Wittenberg Castle his ninety-five theses against papal teaching on indulgences.

Or, at least, so we are told. One of the central claims of Peter Marshall’s lovely 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation is that this event probably never happened. In claiming this, he is following a well-trodden path, as he readily admits: the German Catholic historian Erwin Iserloh already suggested in the early 1960s that the historical evidence for the ‘theses-posting’ (the German, Thesenanschlag, conveys far better the force of the supposed event), which allegedly occurred on All Saints’ Eve 1517, was very dubious. But Marshall also has a new story to tell, one that is concerned with anniversaries and is often far more interesting than the many repetitive accounts of Luther and the Reformation that have appeared this year. That is the story of how the Thesenanschlaggradually came to assume such a central role in European and American cultural memory, generating the modern idea of the ‘Reformation’.

more here.