Review published on April 13, 2017.
2017 marks the anniversary of two revolutions, one is remembered for bringing Communism to the fore in Europe, although Lenin was only following a revolutionary who had preceded him by 400 years. Here in the UK we tend to forget about how earth shattering that first revolution was, as it challenged the Catholic Church and its authority across Europe that even superseded monarchies. Martin Luther is that revolutionary, who began the reformation, challenged the authority of the church and created what we recognise as Protestantism in all its various forms.
Peter Stanford has researched and written Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident, which is a fantastic new appraisal of the theological firebrand. The 500th anniversary of Luther’s religious revolution is this October. It is the commemoration of when Luther pinned his 95 ‘theses’ to the door of his university church in Wittenberg. Stanford points out that the eye-catching legend of nailing his thesis to the door is more legend than truth.
What is true is that Luther, an Augustinian Friar and theologian, in what was probably in a letter to his Archbishop, issued what even now would be considered a rather blunt challenge to the Catholic Church to reform. One of his challenges was over the sale of ‘papal indulgences’, which raised quite a lot of money for the church. What the theses did do was precipitate religious and political upheaval right across Europe, which divides Christianity even to this day.
When challenged as a heretic by the church, Luther refused to back down, where at the Diet of Worms in 1521 he stated, “Here I Stand,” in defiance to the Pope and the Catholic Church as a whole. Some of ideas are now accepted even by the Catholic Church, such as giving people a Bible in their own language, so that they could build their relationship with God. Luther also sparked the notion of individual conscience, something that was revolutionary then. As Stanford points, that Luther can be numbered as one of the makers of modern Europe, and what happened then is still relevant today.
Peter Stanford has written one of the most engrossing narrative biographies of Luther I have read in a long time, and is doing this from a modern Catholic perspective. He is a skilled researcher and writer, who turns what could be considered a dry and dusty subject in to a riveting account of the tensions of Luther’s private and spiritual life. While being a thought provoking read, the reader will find this fascinating from beginning to end. It really is a fantastic piece of writing.
Paul Diggett 5/5
Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident by Peter Stanford
Hodder & Stoughton 9781473621664 hbk Mar 2017
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