Luther in 19th-Century Theology

Zachary Purvis

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Across the theology of the nineteenth century, Martin Luther came to represent not only the Reformation, but also what it meant to be Protestant—and, more than occasionally, what it meant to be modern, German, and Lutheran, in particular. Much of the modern theological interaction with and  "return" to Luther occurred in the context of the various Luther and/or Lutheran Reformation jubilees; these religious, commemorative occasions were themselves more often than not heavily politicized affairs: for instance, 1817, 1830, 1867, and 1883. In addition, neo-confessional movements and attempts at both retrieving and "repristinating" the theology of the Reformation confessions and the highly developed systems of Protestant orthodoxy had a significant impact in Luther’s theological reception in the modern era. Certain aspects of Luther’s theology, such as his doctrine of the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) from his landmark treatise De servo arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will, 1525), played particularly important roles. A few basic approaches to Luther emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century, spearheaded by such figures as Albrecht Ritschl, Theodosius Harnack, C. F. W. Walther, and Charles Porterfield Krauth. Some, like Ludwig Feuerbach or Søren Kierkegaard, constructed idiosyncratic images of the reformer. Many of the interpretations arose from polemical concerns, whether political, ecclesiastical, or theological. Conflicts over the proper appropriation of Luther’s thought increasingly resembled the battles between Protestants and Catholics in the late Reformation over who could claim the authority of the church fathers and other patristic voices. In many respects, the story of Luther’s theological reception is also a struggle for authority.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther
EditorsDerek Nelson, Paul Hinlicky
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190461843
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017

Publication series

NameOxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion


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  • Luther in German Historiography

    Purvis, Z., 3 Aug 2017, Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther. Nelson, D. & Hinlicky, P. (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, Vol. 2. p. 288–304 (Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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