The Personal Luther: Essays on the Reformer from a Cultural Historical Perspective

Overwhelmingly, Martin Luther has been treated as the generator of ideas concerning the relationship between God and humankind. The Personal Luther deliberately departs from that church-historiographic tradition. Luther was a voluble and irrepressible divine. Even though he had multiple ancillary interests, such as singing, playing the lute, appreciating the complexities of nature, and observing his children, his preoccupation was, as he quickly saw it, bringing the Word of God to the people.

This book is not about Luther’s theology except insofar as any ideational construct is itself an expression of the thinker who frames it. Luther frequently couched his affective utterances within a theological framework. Nor is it a biography; it does not portray a whole life. Rather, it concentrates on several heretofore neglected aspects of the Reformer’s existence and personality.

The subjects that appear in this book are meant to demonstrate what such core-taking on a range of mainly unexplored facets of the Reformer’s personality and experience can yield. It will open the way for other secular researchers to explore the seemingly endless interests of this complicated individual. It will also show that perspectives of cultural historians offer the broadest possible evidentiary base within which to analyze a figure of the past.

Brill have sent along a review copy.

First, in terms of contents- the volume consists of the following chapters (along with the usual preface and introduction and an index)

1 Luther’s Ego-documents: Cultural History and the Reconstruction of the Historical Self
2 Luther’s Conscience: A Template for the Modern West?
3 Luther’s Friendship with Frederick the Wise
4 Luther’s Relational God. Finding a Loving Heavenly Father
5 Fleshly Work. The Sex Act as Christian Liberty
6 The Masculinity of Martin Luther. Theory, Practicality, and Humour
7 The Tenderness of Daughters, the Waywardness of Sons. Martin Luther as a Father
8 Martin Luther’s Heart
9 Martin Luther’s Perfect Death
10 The Imprint of Personality upon the Reformation

The volume is rich in details and documentation and even richer in breadth of scope. Many volumes on Luther focus on his theology. Many focus on his biography. But few (and the good ones doing so are even fewer and further between) examine Luther the ‘person’. What kind of person was Luther? What were his attitudes towards himself, his friends, God, liberty, masculinity, sexuality, children, and death? This work attempts to examine precisely those questions.

Our author expresses the book’s intention thusly:

This book is not about Luther’s theology except insofar as any ideational construct is itself an expression of the thinker who frames it. Luther frequently couched his affective utterances within a theological framework. Nor is it a biography; it does not portray a whole life. Rather, it concentrates on several heretofore neglected aspects of the Reformer’s existence and personality.

Those ‘neglected aspects’ of Luther’s existence are genuinely engaged and explored. Each chapter can be read independently and they need not be read in order. Those interested in Luther’s attitude to sex and his understanding of sexuality (a hot button these days if ever there were one) can feel comfortable reading that segment of the tome without feeling as though they are missing something of the argument if they skip what comes before it. These chapters are not interlocked.

Susan’s writing style is professional and enjoyable.  She can write.  She can inform, without being a bore.  For example,

From Martin Luther’s perspective, fatherhood was central to Protestant masculinity. Luther had launched a revolution in the clerical world not just of theology but of the social placement of the pastor. In a literal sense, Luther had clergymen rejoin society by marrying and founding households. Henceforward, their liaisons were public and legitimate, and very quickly their spouses came to be drawn from social ranks that were commensurate with their own. Concubines had a more humble provenance, which symbolized their fragile respectability. After the Reformation, pastors, preacher, and deacons no longer paid concubinage and cradle fees, for they were doing nothing to be fined for. Late medieval and early modern secular society regarded marriage and reproduction as the norm. Even though the Catholic priesthood had officially practiced celibacy, chastity in the form of sexual abstinence often did not accompany the unwed state. Probably out of their desire for stability and a sense of the irresistibility of sexual desire, communities tolerated the long term cohabitation of priests and their ‘housekeepers’. For similar reasons and their monetary advantage, bishops, too, accepted an annual fine and ‘looked through their fingers’ at paired-off clergymen.59 Their progeny were a bit of an embarrassment and an inconvenience. They were barred from craftguilds and from claims to inherit.

I recommend all who wish to understand Luther better, as a person and not simply a hero or a villain or a theologian or a translator or a Professor take this book in hand and make use of its learning to enhance your own.