‘Tis the season for Martin Luther biographies. With the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses this year, the floodgates have opened. Timothy Lull’s is an early entry, from last year, a standard, comprehensive, readable ‘life’ that places Luther within the context of his circle of friends, colleagues and patrons, without whom he may have met a quick, smoky end. Unfortunately it is not helped by Fortress Press’s rather lacklustre printing job, which looks like a bad photocopy.
In contrast, Yale have done a nice job on Scott Hendrix’s Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. Diarmaid MacCulloch recently asked rhetorically whether we need more books on Luther. His answer was ‘yes’. He notes recent scholarship that suggests Luther’s status as a friar, rather than a monk secluded away from society, might have contributed to his attitude towards the common people and the worthiness of their everyday pursuits. Hendrix offers the example of glosses in Luther’s handwriting in humanist books discovered as recently as 2013. Hendrix revisits the argument that Luther may have been contemplating the entry into monasticism, and the thunderstorm might have merely been the catalyst. Hendrix also places Luther into a network of supporters, against the image of him as a lone hero. Additionally, he traces a gradual theological development, rather than the thunderbolts of inspiration that go with the Luther of later reminiscence and of legend.