What do you think?
Rate this book
336 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1950
The word he used was Anfechtung, for which there is no English equivalent. It may be a trial sent by God to test man, or an assault by the Devil to destroy man.The story of Luther is at heart a religious and intellectual one. As Bainton writes, "Luther was above all else a man of religion. The great outward crises of his life which bedazzle the eyes of dramatic biographers were to Luther himself trivial in comparison with the inner upheavals of his questing after God." The book explains how the early 1500's saw the primacy of Christianity contending with the challenge of Erasmian Humanism and the birth of nationalism. I was surprised to learn that Luther and Erasmus were correspondents and enjoyed Bainton's exploration of their perspectives on rationality and religion. Luther's religious fundamentalism and unshakeable faith was core to everything about him - simultaneously admirable and a bit disturbing. How are we to judge Luther in our modern age of religious fundamentalism? And yet, Luther was clearly not one to blindly trust in authority - his disposition was ferociously rational as he pointed out the hypocrisies in the Church. Bainton helped me wrap my mind about this seeming contradiction between Luther's faith and his rationality:
The reason why faith is so hard and reason so inadequate is a problem far deeper than logic. Luther often railed at reason, and he has been portrayed in consequence as a complete irrationalist in religion. This is quite to mistake his meaning. Reason in the sense of logic he employed to the uttermost limits.Luther himself is a fascinating personality. Even more than his famous defense of himself at the Diet of Worms, what really struck me about Luther is what he didn't do. He never advocated for violence and although his Protestant theology got caught up in the waves of religious/nationalist wars that roiled Europe thereafter, he himself was completely nonviolent. I was astounded by his willingness to risk his life - completely defenseless - in the service of his ideas - even while enduring the constant refrain, “Are you alone wise and all the ages in error?”
When Luther looked at his family in 1538, he remarked, “Christ said we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Dear God, this is too much. Have we got to become such idiots?”Bainton's book filled a major gap in my understanding of the Western history of ideas. He made me feel the inner struggle of Luther as he wrestled with Scripture - carefully explaining the subtle points of doctrine and enlivening the issues with historical context and Luther's own pointed commentary. Given Luther's enormous impact, Bainton's book deserves a read by anyone seeking to understand how the West thinks about religion, authority, and faith.