You can watch this short introduction to the module:
PBS Documentary: Martin Luther
I’ll be honest with you (well, I’ll try to ALWAYS be honest with you): I’m not a big fan of tv educational documentaries. The music is too moving, the language too dramatic, and the pacing I often find painfully slow. That being said, this documentary is one of the better ones. It provides a balanced introduction to Luther’s life, his theological revolution, and his importance in world history. It’s not short – just under two hours – but I really think that if you watch it, you’ll have a good sense of Luther the person and his ideas.
Your task: When watching the documentary, keep a couple of questions in mind. What motivated Luther to follow the path he did? And what were the reasons for his success? Why did his theological revolution succeed? Discuss these questions in your group.
Luther and a Language for All Germans
Neil MacGregor was the Director of the British Library. He curated a famous exhibition called the The History of the World in 100 Objects, which is also available as a book. In 2014 he put together a series of radio programs for the BBC called Germany: Memories of a Nation. (This has also been published as a book.) He takes an approach similar to his work on world history: he tries to tell the history of Germany through important objects. We’ll listen to a couple of his broadcasts in this course, starting with this one on Luther.
Your task: two key factors emerge in MacGregor’s podcast about why Luther’s translations of the Old and New Testaments were so successful. One is that he spoke in a language that was direct and touched people in a way that language hadn’t in the past. The other is that a new technology – the printing press – made it possible for his writings to become immensely popular. What’s your opinion: was it the content or the technology, the ideas or the method of transmitting them? Or something else altogether?
Things you didn’t know about Martin Luther
The CBC Radio One program “Tapestry” deals with religious and spiritual matters. It aired a short program on Martin Luther. Have a listen:
Your task: this radio documentary uses the hook “things you didn’t know about Martin Luther.” Did anything in it surprise you in any way? Did the documentary help round out your understanding of Luther and his ideas?
Luther’s Letter on Translating
Luther translated the New Testament first, in the early 1520s, then the Old Testament later in that and the following decade. He came under attack for his translation by those who resisted the Reformation. In response he wrote his letter “On Translating,” a document that offers a not only a defense of his theology, but an explanation of his translation method.
Read the text here (just the first 11 pages):
Then watch this short video:
Your task: discuss Luther’s letter. Do you find his arguments convincing?
A Mighty Fortress is our God
You can listen to and/or read one of Luther’s most famous hymns:
|A mighty fortress is our God,|
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
|Did we in our own strength confide,|
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
|And though this world, with devils filled,|
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
|That word above all earthly powers,|
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Your task: how does this hymn explain or argue Luther’s theological viewpoint?