Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Raymond A. Mentzer
Early in his career, Martin Luther twice published (1516 and 1518) prefaces for the anonymous German work, Eyn deutsch Theologia. In these prefaces, as well as in a number of letters, he repeatedly praised the work. His positive appraisal stemmed from his belief that the work replicated not only the foundational teachings of St. Paul, but was consonant with the Pauline interpretations of St. Augustine and Johannes Tauler. Young Luther found in these authors a consistent metaphor for Christian existence: dying and rising with Christ. This narrative enabled Christians to experience death and resurrection as a future hope, as well as a present existential reality within their lives. Young Luther believed that the varied narratives inherent in late medieval spirituality had placed Christ at the periphery of Christian spirituality rather than at its core. Consequently, he repeatedly sought to correct this misplacement and return Christ to the center of Christian life and piety.
This dissertation examines this Pauline metaphor, the contemplative spirituality the young Luther built upon it, and the sixteenth-century reception of this spirituality. Chapter one introduces the project and offers a short survey of the literature on Luther's spirituality. Chapter two reviews contemplation in Scripture, then considers St. Paul's presentation of his metaphor. It also discusses how the contemplative writings of St. Augustine, Tauler, and the Frankfurter (the anonymous author of Eyn deutsch Theologia), made use of this Pauline metaphor. Chapters three and four consider Luther's creative employment of the Pauline narrative in five of his devotional works from 1519: Ein Sermon von der Betrachtung des heiligen Leidens Christi, Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben, Ein Sermon von dem heiligen hochwürdigen Sakrament der Taufe, Ein Sermon vom Sakrament des Leichnams Christi und von den Brüderschaften, and Tessaradecas Consolatoria pro laborantibus et oneratis. In each case, Luther built upon existing devotional genres, yet altered their contents and/or form by importing the Pauline metaphor. Chapter five inquires into the sixteenth-century reception of these five devotional works. Paying particular attention to interpretative clues left in correspondence, commentaries, marginal notes and illustrations by a number of publishers and translators, it demonstrates that these persons not only perceived of these writings as contemplative devotional exercises, but chose to market them explicitly as such.
It would seem that Luther's "theology of the cross" expressed itself in a corresponding spirituality of "death and resurrection." Although this spirituality entailed a specific contemplative progression, it was adaptable to the life circumstances of any Christian. This universality contributed to the popularity of Luther's early spiritual writings. Young Luther's narrative imagery along with the publishers' additional illustrations helped to revise spiritual practices and reshape Christian piety throughout the sixteenth century.
Copyright 2011 Timothy Todd Stoller
Stoller, Timothy Todd. "Dying and rising with Christ: visualizing Christian existence in Martin Luther's 1519 devotional writings." doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, 2011.