Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron
Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California
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This dissertation is a pamphlet investigation dealing with Martin Luther’s ideology and theology of the Word. It studies Luther as a pamphlet writer, whose popular sermon pamphlets addressed the laity with affective, performative language. His “preaching in print” greatly extended the scope of his spontaneous reforming movement. As a self-representation of Luther, this investigation is a prerequisite for his reception. By number of editions and language, this investigation ranks the popularity of almost 70 of Luther’s publications from 1517-1525.This dissertation contains two parts, a handbook on his pamphlets and a thematic section containing the argument. Part One, containing detailed bibliographical research for 32 of these pamphlets, and for his longer works, Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and for Bondage of the Will, is a helpful handbook for their future study.Part Two, the thematic section, deals with the interrelationship of the four themes from the title: Word of God, Scripture, Gospel, and Law, tracing these themes through the thirty most often published pamphlets. Four pamphlets from the year 1520 receive systematic analysis: “Sermon on the Ban,” i.e., about excommunication; On Good Works, and their spontaneity; “The New Testament, i.e., the Holy Mass;” and “Freedom of a Christian Person,” the popular version, which is mostly unknown among English readers. I argue that Luther carved out an inward realm of Christian freedom that promoted a sense of self and a sense of social agency which stressed spontaneity and freedom against what Luther perceived to be a juridical ethos of the church of his day. [Let alone a juridical ethos, I discovered that he was up against two ecclesiastical courts under the canon law.] Because of the ideological nature of propaganda pamphlets, this ethos could not be connected with the old archdeaconal and episcopal courts, the temporal jurisdiction of prince-bishops, and papal legislation being challenged by temporal authorities. But, surprisingly,since Luther’s term “spiritual law” meant “canon law,” his hostility can be seen to escalate through these pamphlets until he publicly burns the canon law on December 10th, 1520. He felt it excluded the laity from the spiritual estate, making them feel as if they were not even Christians. His pamphlets called for communion in both kinds, demanding an inclusive Christian estate for the priesthood of all believers. The central concern of this dissertation, however, is not the polemics of these pamphlets, but Luther’s awe-inspiring religious contribution.
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