Cover image for Martin Luther : the Christian between God and death
Martin Luther : the Christian between God and death
Marius, Richard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xv, 542 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR325 .M2955 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BR325 .M2955 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Few figures in history have defined their time as dramatically as Martin Luther. And few books have captured the spirit of such a figure as truly as this robust and eloquent life of Luther. A highly regarded historian and biographer and a gifted novelist and playwright, Richard Marius gives us a dazzling portrait of the German reformer--his inner compulsions, his struggle with himself and his God, the gestation of his theology, his relations with contemporaries, and his responses to opponents. Focusing in particular on the productive years 1516-1525, Marius' detailed account of Luther's writings yields a rich picture of the development of Luther's thought on the great questions that came to define the Reformation. Marius follows Luther from his birth in Saxony in 1483, during the reign of Frederick III, through his schooling in Erfurt, his flight to an Augustinian monastery and ordination to the outbreak of his revolt against Rome in 1517, the Wittenberg years, his progress to Worms, his exile in the Wartburg, and his triumphant return to Wittenberg. Throughout, Marius pauses to acquaint us with pertinent issues: the question of authority in the church, the theology of penance, the timing of Luther's "Reformation breakthrough," the German peasantry in 1525, MÜntzer's revolutionaries, the whys and hows of Luther's attack on Erasmus. In this personal, occasionally irreverent, always humane reconstruction, Luther emerges as a skeptic who hated skepticism and whose titanic wrestling with the dilemma of the desire for faith and the omnipresence of doubt and fear became an augury for the development of the modern religious consciousness of the West. In all of this, he also represents tragedy, with the goodness of his works overmatched by their calamitous effects on religion and society.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

True to the long tradition of writing about Luther, Marius' biography is as polemical as it is riveting. In the preface, Marius pronounces Luther "a catastrophe in the history of Western civilization" --a judgment not tempered by the text. Marius places himself with Erasmus and Thomas More on the side of reason against the skepticism underlying Luther's paradoxical embrace of faith. Luther saw the devil as "God's devil," so the cosmic struggle cannot be between God and the devil. Rather, the cosmic enemy is death, conceived as annihilation and countered by faith, not reason. Marius notes the influence of mysticism on Luther but points out that in Luther's thought, mysticism becomes tragedy. His Luther is neither mystic nor theologian of tragedy but the emblem of a Western civilization marked since the sixteenth century by religious intolerance and violence. In conclusion, Marius imagines that Luther was not born and that Erasmian reason peacefully reformed the Catholic Church, without schism--an interesting vision for a world in which struggle toward tolerance still demands passion as much as reason. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Marius, a retired Harvard professor, provides a thoroughly challenging and scholarly biography that brings theological giant Martin Luther into human scale. He traces Luther's life from his birth in 1483 to his ordination and on to the tumultuous years of Luther's reformation of the Church, from 1517 until the end of his life. Through a close reading of Luther's many writings, Marius narrates Luther's development as a theologian and as a cultural figure. Marius characterizes Luther as a "catastrophe in Western civilization," a judgment stemming from Luther's struggle with death as the cosmic enemy, a struggle that could be overcome only by faith. Most intriguing is Luther's confrontation with the humanist Erasmus. Marius contends that Luther discounted Erasmus's perspective, thus dismissing the possibility of a peaceful reform of the Church through reason. Laid at Luther's doorstep, then, is the tragedy of a 16th-century Western civilization torn by religious intolerance and violence. Marius's biography is bound to be an influential and, for some, definitive study of Luther's life and work. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Marius (Thomas More, LJ 9/1/84) has written an unusual biography that makes important contributions on several levels. The crucial events of Luther's life are carefully explored here, as well as Luther's theology and its impact on the society and Roman Catholic Church of the time. What makes this book special, however, is the way Marius characterizes Luther's inner being by demonstrating the emotional and psychological impact those events and Luther's beliefs had on him. Marius accomplishes this by exploring relevant writings and correspondence from Luther's friends and enemies as well as Luther's own writings. Marius's attention to detail and his thoroughness make his characterizations fascinating, though his attempt to draw a psychological portrait will be controversial. Nevertheless, as Marius explores areas such as Luther's early years, his lectures on the Psalms, the controversy over indulgences, his discovery of the Gospel, his marriage, and his attack on Erasmus, a powerful, engaging profile emerges. An important contribution to scholarship on Luther; highly recommended.‘David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Luther's Europe
2 The Early Years
3 The Flight to the Monastery
4 Years of Silence
5 Rome and Wittenberg
6 The Lectures on the Psalms
7 The Lectures on the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews
8 The Controversy over Indulgences
9 Preparing for Battle
10 Beyond Heidelberg
11 The Leipzig Debate
12 The Discovery of the Gospel
13 The Plunge into the Unknown
14 The Breaking Point
15 The Freedom of a Christian
16 The Progress to Worms
17 Exile in Patmos
18 Back to Wittenberg
19 Tribulation
20 The September Testament
21 The Authority of Princes
22 On the Jews
23 Worship and Ethics
24 Opposition and Divisions
25 The Peasants' Rebellion
26 Marriage
27 The Attack on Erasmus
28 Epilogue