1. The loving care of M. Luther's* contemporaries and followers and the industry of modern Luther research (see Luther Renaissance) have made it possible to trace the development of his thought in his chief writings.
2. Among Luther's early writings, his 151516 lectures on Ro have attracted much attention. In these lectures, discovered and pub. in the 20th c., the Reformer's growing insight into the true meaning of the Gospel is evident. Present, too, is testimony to his keen interest in the problems of individual and soc. ethics. Like the lectures on Ro, those on Heb. (151718) show the eschatological bent of his theol. and his intense effort to assert his faith in the context of RC theol.
3. By 1519 Luther's thought had progressed considerably. That progress is reflected esp. in his 1519 commentary on Gl (rev. 1523; a longer one appeared 1535). From this charter of ev. freedom against legalistic tyranny, Luther derived his incisive analysis of the distinction bet. Law and Gospel and his realization of the work of Christ as that of victorious liberation from Law and sin.
4. Perhaps best-known of Luther's works are the trilogy issued 1520: An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate refutes 3 basic assumptions of the medieval ch.: the supremacy of the spiritual over the secular arm; the absolute right of the pope to interpret Holy Scripture; and the exclusive authority of the pope to convoke a council. The sacramentalism and sacerdotalism of the RC Ch. is subjected to close scrutiny in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. And against the whole authoritarian structure of the ch., On the Freedom of a Christian Man asserted the spiritual freedom of a Christian, but his bondage under Christ to serve all men.
5. But the freedom of a Christian cannot be construed as the freedom of man as such in relation to God. Luther made his position on this clear in On the Bondage of the Will (1525), directed against D. Erasmus.* This is one of the most difficult and perhaps most profound of Luther's writings. God, not man, is the directing agent in the divine-human relationship; man does not choose, but is chosen. But yrs. later Luther warned that he had meant this treatise to be understood soteriologically, not as an abstract philos. discussion.
6. For the old Luther, probably no work is as revealing as his 153545 lectures on Gn. Despite his insistence on the literal meaning of the text, he often went far beyond its explicit and implicit meaning. This commentary contains some of his best theol. work, combined with sections of deep devotion and much practical pastoral counsel. Few theol. problems are untouched in this his last great work.
7. In 1539 he issued On Councils and the Church, a work of profound hist. and theol. scholarship, written to overthrow hist. claims of the papacy. The treatise also reveals Luther's thought on the nature of the ch., to which he devotes the 3d section, a clear and systematic definition of the relationship bet. the empirical ch. and the hidden, or invisible, ch. See also Church, 3. JP
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission
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