378. Faith, No More: Martin Luther

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How Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and his attack on the Church relate to the history of philosophy.



Further Reading

• J. Dillenberger (ed.), Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (Garden City: 1961).

• S. Karant-Nunn and M. Weisner-Hanks (trans.), Luther on Women: a Sourcebook (Cambridge: 2003).

• T.F. Lull (ed.), Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Philadelphia: 1989).

• J. Pelikan and H.T. Lehmann (eds), Luther’s Works, 55 vols (Minneapolis).


• D. McKim (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge: 2003).

• M. Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 vols (Philadelphia: 1985-1993).

W.D.J. Cargill Thompson, The Political Thought of Martin Luther (Brighton: 1984).

T. Dieter, Der junge Luther und Aristoteles: eine historisch-systematische Untersuchung zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Philosophie (Berlin: 2001).

• G. Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (Philadelphia: 1970).

• B. Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Writings (Philadelphia: 1986).

• C. Helmer, The Medieval Luther (Tübingen: 2020)

• R. Kolb, Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith (Oxford: 2009).

• A.E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Oxford: 2011).

• D. McKim, The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge: 2003).

• H.A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New Haven, CN: 1989).

• L. Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (London: 2016).


Dom Paschal R Scotti on 1 August 2021

Luther episode

Your series has been incredible and what you have done is incredibly difficult (to summarize complex points). One should remember that Luther's becoming a Protestant was gradual and in 1517 his points were relatively innocuous, and his understanding of where his ideas would lead was unknown even to him, intensified by opposition. There is so much one could say on the Indulgence Controversy alone, and I look forward to hearing Lynda Roper (who wrote one of many fine recent biographies). I know you are far from finished with him. 

In reply to by Dom Paschal R Scotti

Dom Paschal R Scotti on 1 August 2021

Luther episode

My apologies for posting too quickly (I am always in a rush) so no "'s" in Luther and "Lyndal" for Roper. I have been rereading quite a bit recently on Giles of Viterbo (F.X. Martin and John O'Malley) who was the Augustinian general through much of this as well as a leading figure of the time. (He is most famous for his sermon on reform in 1512 at the beginning of Lateran V, that men must be changed by religion, not religion by men.) It is interesting that many, e.g. Euan Cameron in his book on the Reformation (Oxford 1991, 2012), would see the Church as relatively successful in the Middle Ages (which is not to ignore the genuine abuses and failures) or that the Reformation is hard to explain by what preceded it, e.g.  Joachim Whaley, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire: Volume One: From Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia, 1493-1648 (Oxford), 2012. I have often thought that perhaps one of the best explanations for it is to be found in the fact that the culture was awash with the eschatological: that their view of time, that it was the last time, made all of this more likely.


In reply to by Dom Paschal R Scotti

Peter Adamson on 1 August 2021


Thanks for your comments on the episode! I definitely agree with your initial comment, and maybe it helps answer the question you pose in your second comment. That is, Luther and other Reformers did set out wanting to reform the Church and not pull it down, but things rather spiraled out of control. As I mentioned in passing in the episode, his initial arguments in the teens actually pick up ideas that had been pressed by reformers back in the 14th century if not earlier, so the content was not shockingly new. This is one reason I've been emphasizing other factors like the printing press, humanism, individualism in spirituality, etc.

Mirza Beglerov… on 2 August 2021

Luther's and Protestantism's impact on modern societies

I don't have a positive view of religion, but the values Luther pursued are principles of a healthy and productive way of life.

Even today it is possible to notice differences between societies and social groups where Catholicism or Protestantism was a factor (and still is, more or less) in particular group's/society's history. Those differences can be very mundane, trivial, and subtle and at first look have no connection with the particular denomination of Christianity.

Spencer on 6 March 2024

1517, not 1917

Hello Peter,

I think there is one small (400-year) error. At about the 11:50 mark, just after noting God handing out smiley faces, you mention Luther's disposition "in 1917." Unless my ears are deceiving me, or I am quite lost, I am fairly certain you meant to say "1517." I'm guessing you have corrected this (or will correct this) for the book version.

Best regards and thank you for your efforts,



In reply to by Spencer

Peter Adamson on 6 March 2024


Oops! That's probably just me misspeaking, and not in the script, but I'll check - thanks for noticing. 

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