How Luther Became the Reformer (Paper)

  • 9780664262877
  • 6 x 9
  • 178
  • 56.25
  • Paper
  • 0664262872
  • 3/25/2019
  • 7-10 days processing
$ 33.00


 No story has been more foundational to triumphalist accounts of Western modernity than that of Martin Luther, the heroic individual, standing before the tribunes of medieval authoritarianism to proclaim his religious and intellectual freedom, “Here I stand!” How Luther Became the Reformer returns to the birthplace of this origin myth, Germany in the late nineteenth century, and traces its development from the end of World War I through the rise of National Socialism. Why were German intellectuals—especially Protestant scholars of religion, culture, and theology—in this turbulent period so committed to this version of Luther’s story? Luther was touted as the mythological figure to promote the cultural unity of Germany as a modern nation; in the myth’s many retellings, from the time of the Weimar Republic forward, Luther attained world-historical status. Helmer finds in this construction of Luther the Reformer a lens through which to examine modernity’s deformations, among them anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism. Offering a new interpretation of Luther, and by extension of modernity itself, from an ecumenical perspective, How Luther Became the Reformer provides resources for understanding and contesting contemporary assaults on democracy. In this way, the book holds the promise for resistance and hope in dark times.


By contrasting the two Luthers, Helmer gives the reader greater insight into the man, his mind-set, and his goals. She presents a refreshing perspective that allows the reader to view Luther, the Reformation(s), Protestantism, and modernity in a new light—one without Luther as its prime mover. Moreover, she poses the question, what if the Catholic Church had embraced Luther’s reforms (i.e., Luther as the Catholic reformer)—what, then, would be the fate of modernity? By skillfully situating Luther in his time, this book gives the reader a holistic view of his life and work, making it an excellent addition to the scholar- ship on Luther and an essential book for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes." —Religious Studies Review 

“Drawing on a lifetime of work on Luther, Christine Helmer has produced a highly original and stimulating interpretation of his theology, maintaining that his image as the great Protestant reformer who ushered in the modern era is a myth created by German historians a century ago and that he is better understood as a late medieval figure and Catholic reformer. This passionately argued study is sure to engage—and stir a much needed debate among—readers of both faiths.” —Michael Massing, author of Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind

 “A century ago, most Protestants viewed Martin Luther as the great prophet of freedom who liberated the West from the oppressive rule of medieval Catholicism and set Western churches, states, and cultures on the road to modernity. Christine Helmer has long shown us that Luther’s reformation was far more medieval, far less revolutionary, and far more complex in influence than the heroic image of Luther would have it. This learned volume exposes the tangled roots and routes of this heroic Luther myth in modern German thought, challenging everyone from Hegel and Schleiermacher to Weber and Holl for their highly selective and present-minded readings of Luther. This is forensic critical historiography at its best.” —John Witte Jr., Woodruff University Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, Emory University

“With impressive clarity and insight, Christine Helmer presentsa vivid understanding of how the medieval Catholic reformer was mythologized into the great Protestantreformer.” —Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College

“This book is perceptively, importantly disturbing. There have been many quality biographies of Luther and examinations of his theological effects. But no other work explains the consequences of the wrongheaded myth of Luther. Through sharp readings and revisions, Helmer pulls Luther from a harmful hermeneutic and reminds us again that the way we explain our human past very much determines our capacity to live into a truly freer present.” —Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and History, Yale University

“With an elegant weave of intellectual history and constructive theological reflection, Christine Helmer retrieves the Catholic Luther to challenge the regnant Protestant image of the former Augustinian monk as advocating a radical break with the Roman Church. By contextualizing the construction of the reigning Reformation narrative within early twentieth-century German political and cultural discourse, she exposes its anti-Catholic and anti-Judaic presuppositions to be primed by a political theological agenda that was defiantly supersessionist. In her deft deconstruction of the Reformation Luther, Helmer compellingly calls for a revision of the conception of religion and modernity promoted by the Protestant narrative.” —Paul Mendes-Flohr, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago Divinity School; Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Helmer threatens to dash to pieces the pieties of modern Luther scholarship. Not only does she reassert the historical Luther as a Catholic aiming to re­form Catholi­cism, but she finds in this historical Luther an important theological resource for confronting today the dark side of the modernity Karl Holl championed." - The Christian Century

"Her analysis of contemporary modernity on the basis of how Luther’s biography was shaped by the German Luther Renaissance in the early 20th century is not only fascinating but helpful." - Die Evangelischen Theologen 


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