Thursday 10 November 2005

Martin Luther: 10 November 1483

On this day in 1483, Martin Luther was born. He was a great man, an ecclesiastical and theological giant, and he remains today one of the towering figures not only of church history, but of human history as a whole. In spite of all Luther’s faults and shortcomings, it is impossible to speak too highly of him, and it is impossible to admire his theology enough.

In 1517 Luther protested against the sale of indulgences with his famous 95 Theses. Of these theses, my own favourite is the 62nd—it’s a statement which expresses the deepest of all theological truths: “Verus thesaurus ecclesie est sacrosanctum euangelium glorie et gratie Dei—the church’s true treasure is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

More books have been written about Luther than about almost any other person. The WorldCat libraries catalogue displays 12,501 items with the subject “Luther, Martin, 1483-1546.” My own favourite book on Luther’s theology is Gerhard Ebeling’s brilliant and breathtaking introductory volume, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (London: Collins, 1970).

All these centuries later, Luther’s theology of the Word has lost none of its power and urgency. Luther’s distinctive theological voice remains vital and compelling. Although this voice speaks from the past, it continues to address us—not only Protestants, but all Christians alike—as the voice of a contemporary.

What is so distinctive about this particular theological voice? Here is the answer: Luther has heard something, and he has been wholly grasped by what he has heard. His entire existence has become a struggle to speak and to respond to what he hears, to grasp this Word which has first grasped him. And we can understand Luther only when we too have become hearers—when we have begun to hear the same Word that Luther hears. It is a Word of judgment and grace, law and gospel, death and new life: in short, it is the Word of Jesus Christ.

Be sure to visit Jim West over the next 24 hours for lots of great Luther-related blogging.


Jonathan said...

As a Lutheran myself (though I don't think Luther would have appreciated a denomination named after him) I'm glad to see him get some recognition these days. Thanks for marking the occasion!

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


I have a digital photo of an original Luther letter in our archives. Enjoy


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