This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.
In the medieval period, conceptions of the changelessness of the Church solidified through the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, the Venerable Bede, Dante, and Otto of Freising. Rome—which was generally not thought of as “fallen” until Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire—was increasingly identified as the seat of the elect of history. Such a view was radically challenged by the Protestant Reformers and their heirs, who increasingly advocated a narrative in which, far from being changeless, Roman Christianity had fallen into corruption and was in serious need of restoration to the pristine faith of the ancient Church. This perspective is especially evident in a work like Edward Johnson’s The Wonderworking Providence of Sion’s Savior in New England (1654), wherein the Church of New England was called to recapitulate the true and atemporal nature of ancient Christianity by encouraging a return to the separation of Church and State. In the post-Reformation years, Catholics and Protestants alike proclaimed a form of Semper Eadem, best summarized in the words of fifth century Father Vincent of Lerins, that the truth of the Church is “what all men have at all times and everywhere believed must be regarded as true.” Continue reading
This post is part of our series on the Historical Luther. Today’s post, the beginning of our second week, examines Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb’s respective positions concerning Luther’s education and background.
Woodcut of the medieval university
The educational and spiritual formation of Martin Luther has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and the studies of Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb all give treatment to Luther’s education, family life, and upbringing. Though citing the dearth of information from Luther’s early years in Eisleben, Oberman takes a critical approach to his formative years under Hans and Margaret, viewing them as important in an understanding of Luther, though not in the overbearing manner of earlier scholarship. One social factor that Oberman attributes to young Martin as the result of his parents was his sympathetic understanding of the common folk; though not peasants in the strict sense of the term, Oberman argues that Luther learned much practicality and commonality from his parents. Additionally, Oberman infers from Luther’s prayer to St. Anne that he had received at least some form of training and understanding of traditional medieval Catholic popular piety. In considering Luther’s education at Mansfield, Oberman seeks to refute the once prevalent idea that he had been influenced by the Brethren of the Common Life of the Devotio Moderna movement. Oberman also writes at some length concerning the role of witchcraft in young Martin’s life, though he ultimately concludes that while the Devil remained a very real figure for the mature Luther, the folk lore of the common German people had a negligible effect on his thought, writing that, “How curious that there should still be the gullible Hanna and her superstitions which are supposed to have had such a decisive influence on Luther.” Continue reading