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Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

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Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation

Professor Phillip Cary Ph.D.
Eastern University
Course No.  6633
Course No.  6633
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

He was only one man—a humble monk and Bible professor—yet he sparked a religious rebellion that changed the course of history. Who was Martin Luther? What made his theology so explosive in 16th-century Europe? Was it really his intention to start Protestantism, and with it a new church?

How did this late-medieval man launch the Protestant Reformation and help create the modern world as we know it?

And how should we think of him: hero or heretic, rebel or tormented soul?

Martin Luther is so interesting to study, Professor Phillip Cary believes, because he is so controversial. In fact, Luther may be more interesting to study today because the controversy surrounding him is more complicated—less black-and-white—than when he was alive.

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He was only one man—a humble monk and Bible professor—yet he sparked a religious rebellion that changed the course of history. Who was Martin Luther? What made his theology so explosive in 16th-century Europe? Was it really his intention to start Protestantism, and with it a new church?

How did this late-medieval man launch the Protestant Reformation and help create the modern world as we know it?

And how should we think of him: hero or heretic, rebel or tormented soul?

Martin Luther is so interesting to study, Professor Phillip Cary believes, because he is so controversial. In fact, Luther may be more interesting to study today because the controversy surrounding him is more complicated—less black-and-white—than when he was alive.

Many Catholics today find things in Luther to respect and admire, while many Protestants reject aspects of his legacy as misguided, embarrassing, or even evil.

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation will help you reach your own conclusions. This course explores Luther's theology, the circumstances surrounding his conclusion that the papacy was "antichrist," and major issues and events in the Reformation as it unfolded in Luther's life after he posted his famous 95 Theses on the door of the church of Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517.

Professor Cary presents Luther as a multifaceted human being, a man with extraordinary virtues and profound flaws. You will meet an inspiring religious thinker who presented the Christian Gospel as a message of comfort, joy, and freedom; as great good news for sinners and God's loving promise of salvation. And you will encounter a leader whose unswerving certainty about his doctrines led him to launch vicious attacks against those with whom he disagreed most infamously and malevolently—the Jews.

What makes this course so involving for students is that it is not intended to leave you with a neutral impression of Luther. Professor Cary wants you to use his lectures—supplemented by your own research and reading—to make your own judgments about Luther, the man and his teachings.

In addition, he encourages you to ponder some larger implications of Luther and the Reformation. How should we view argument and disagreement? Are they opportunities to prove we are right or ways to find the truth? Can we find ways to disagree that could improve relations between religions—between Catholics and Protestants, and between Christians, Jews, and Muslims—and strengthen the quest for faith in a post-modern world?

Luther's Compelling Theology: "Believe It, and You Have It"

This is an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the origin of the controversies associated with Luther: his distinctive doctrine about the power of the Christian Gospel. Throughout these lectures, Professor Cary carefully traces the often subtle and challenging thinking behind Luther's central theological doctrine of justification by faith alone.

You will see how Luther modified the traditional Catholic notion, derived from St. Augustine, of the relationship between God and man. In this Augustinian paradigm, the spiritual life was a journey in which believers drew near to God through a lifetime of expressing love and doing good works.

Luther felt at the bottom of his heart that his love and good works were never good enough. Schooled by medieval practices of penance and confession that arose long after Augustine, Luther could not escape the thought that he was a sinner who must eventually face the judgment of God, all the while incapable of meriting God's love and approval.

In the face of that terrifying thought, Luther believed the only possible comfort was the Gospel of Christ, which is not about what we do but about what Christ does. The Gospel, Luther taught, is God's promise of salvation in Christ (and as Luther insisted, "God doesn't lie"). Instead of works of love meriting God's approval, all that is required to be justified in God's sight is to believe this promise. As Luther often put it, "Glaubst du, so hast du": Believe it, and you have it.

You will see how this simple concept—to be justified simply by believing God's promise—exploded like a bombshell in late-medieval Europe. It offered certainty of salvation to ordinary people whose consciences tormented them with the thought of horrific punishment after death. It freed German Christians from financial exploitation by a Roman church that sold Masses, indulgences, and other means of warding off punishment in the next life, and used the profits to fight wars, build ostentatious churches, and keep mistresses.

In addition to this pivotal notion of justification by faith alone, Professor Cary surveys Luther's whole theology as it is expressed in such works as On the Freedom of a Christian, Treatise on Good Works, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Bondage of the Will.

You will follow Luther from his disturbing early view of justification through self-hatred; to his mature breakthrough in thinking of the Gospel as a sacramental promise; to his later and, once more, disturbing notion of unfree will and predestination, in which a "hidden" God (deus absconditus) chooses, in advance, which souls to save and which to damn.

Throughout, Professor Cary underscores the thought-provoking nature of Luther's theology by emphasizing not only its details, but its larger implications:

  • Why is so much of Luther's thinking based on the writings of one man: St. Augustine?
  • What strengths did Catholicism and Protestantism lose by their separation?
  • Why is the Bible—and certainty about what it means—so important to Luther and Protestantism, and how does that relate to Christian fundamentalism?
  • And, given recent ecumenical thinking, does Luther's theology still offer reasons why Catholicism and Protestantism should remain separate?

Medieval Background, Modern Consequences

This course will enable you to understand Luther in context—to grasp the medieval background and modern consequences of his life and thought. These include:

  • Circumstances surrounding Luther's break with the church: his 95 Theses, his trial at the Diet of Worms, and the Edict of Worms, which declared him not only a heretic but a criminal. You will explore a variety of issues that are often misunderstood. What was Luther's purpose in posting his theses? Was he already a rebel against the Catholic Church, protesting against it? Or was that label thrust upon him by his papal opponents?
  • Controversies within the Reformation: Professor Cary examines Luther's disagreements—on topics such as baptism, the Eucharist, and predestination—with other Reformationleaders: Andreas von Karlstadt, Huldreich Zwingli, and John Calvin. These comparisons will help you appreciate Luther's distinctive location in the Reformation movement, standing between the more conservative Catholic Church and the more radical forms of Protestantism.
  • The Lutheran impact on church and state: For his own protection, Luther aligned himself with local German princes against the authority of the pope. In addition, his "two kingdoms" theology assigned greater authority to the state in protecting the religious life of society. But states that protected rival forms of religion, Catholic and Protestant, were inevitably drawn into bloody religious warfare. The modern principle of separation between church and state emerged as a way for Europeans to stop killing one another in the name of Christ.

Good, Bad, or Somewhere in Between?

This course portrays Luther in a way that is simultaneously critical and sympathetic. Luther offers both wonderful good news and vicious attacks on his opponents. Professor Cary is interested in exploring the connections between these two sides of Luther.

You will learn about Luther the exceptional writer, who did for German what Dante did for Italian by making the deepest concepts of religion accessible to unlearned people in their own language. To translate the Bible, he listened to how ordinary Germans spoke, learning from butchers, for example, the names of animal parts used in biblical passages about animal sacrifice.

In addition, ordinary Christians identified with Luther's affirmation of the spiritual value of marriage and family life. He saw his own wife and children as gifts of God, even in hard times and bereavement; picking up his crying child, he could say, "These are the joys of marriage, of which the pope is not worthy."

On the other hand, Luther's commitment to the certainty of his own beliefs led him to the borders of wickedness and beyond. During the Great Peasant War of 1525, he used his theology to assure German nobility that they could destroy the rebels in good conscience. He refused to retract his views even after the repression led to the killing of women and children.

Luther was given to accusing anyone who disagreed with him, from other Protestant leaders to the pope, of speaking for the devil. He attacked their opinions in harsh and filthy language that his friend Philip Melanchton described as the "rabies theologorum," or the "rabid fury of the theologians."

Luther's fury was at its worst against the Jews, toward whom he was more violent than any other major Christian theologian. Offended that Jews did not recognize the Old Testament as bearing witness to Christ, he came to see them as liars and blasphemers. He called for Jewish synagogues to be burned and property to be confiscated (fortunately, the German authorities ignored him) and rationalized his views by projecting his own hatred onto his victims.

"Indeed, if the Jews had the power to do to us what we are able to do to them," Luther wrote, "not one of us would live for an hour." Imagine how unsafe Jews must have felt hearing that!

What should we make of all this? That's a central question for Professor Cary, for this course, and for you.

What Do Luther and the Reformation Mean to You Today?

In the last lecture, Professor Cary offers his own assessment of the effects of Luther and the Reformation on the modern and now post-modern world. How have they changed the relationship between religion and public institutions? How have they influenced the value we place on tradition? Can religion offer the certainty that Luther sought? Should it even try? And what can we learn from both the "good" and the "bad" Luther that can help religions argue with one another reasonably, without violence and bloodshed?

Then it's your turn. Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation asks you to evaluate its conclusions and reach conclusions of your own. How do you think Luther fits into the story of Western civilization, and was he in fact good, bad, or a complex combination of both?

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    Luther's Gospel
    Luther's Gospel is essentially something all Christians believe: the story of Christ dying for us sinners. What was new and controversial is Luther's doctrine about the Gospel—about how we are changed simply by believing it. Professor Cary tells a parable to illustrate the experience of faith in the Gospel as Luther understood it. x
  • 2
    The Medieval Church—Abuses and Reform
    Clerical abuses, most of which involved money, were prevalent in Luther's time. At its worst, the late medieval church funded itself by claiming authority over individuals' consciences and exploiting their anxieties about the next life. x
  • 3
    The Augustinian Paradigm of Spirituality
    At its best, the medieval church promoted a broadly Augustinian notion of an earthly pilgrimage leading to eternal happiness. But late medieval Christians were tormented by a question that disrupted the pilgrimage: How can I stand before God's judgment? Luther's Gospel addresses this question. x
  • 4
    Young Luther Against Himself
    In his early doctrine of justification, Luther concluded that the way to become truly righteous is to hate oneself and wish to be damned, agreeing with the righteous God who condemns sinners. This promoted an experience of deep terror from which only the Gospel could rescue him. x
  • 5
    Hearing the Gospel
    For the mature Luther, the Gospel includes a divine promise of forgiveness that forbids us from regarding ourselves as God's enemies. In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther described this as a wedding vow that gives us a divine bridegroom, together with all that is his. Unlike Augustine's paradigm, Christ is not just the road we take, but is God coming to us and making himself ours. x
  • 6
    Faith and Works
    Luther distinguishes Law and Gospel: One is God's commandment telling us what to do, the other is His promise of what He does for us. Because salvation comes simply by believing the Gospel, a question arises: What need is there to do good works? Luther answered this in The Freedom of a Christian and in other writings such as his Treatise on Good Works. x
  • 7
    The Meaning of the Sacraments
    For Luther, the Gospel is an external word that gives believers what it promises. Like a sacrament, it is an outward sign that gives the inward gift it signifies. This sacramental concept of the word of God can be found in Luther's earliest treatises on the sacraments, dealing with penance, baptism, and the Eucharist. x
  • 8
    The Indulgence Controversy
    The Reformation began with the indulgence controversy, when Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. The controversy exploded when Luther's earliest papal opponent labeled him a heretic because he questioned practices approved by the pope. This turned an academic disputation about the theology of indulgences into a Europe-wide controversy over papal authority. x
  • 9
    The Reformation Goes Public
    Protected by his prince, Frederick "the Wise" of Saxony, Luther developed a program of reformation. His address "To the Christian Nobility" backed the German aristocracy in age-old complaints against the clergy. He was tried as a heretic on German soil at the Diet of Worms in 1521 before the emperor of Germany, not the pope of Rome. The Lutheran Reformation was ever afterwards tied to the protection of the state. x
  • 10
    The Captivity of the Sacraments
    Among the world-changing works Luther published in 1520 is The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In it, Luther criticized the Catholic sacramental system. He recognized baptism and the Lord's Supper (and in a way, penance) as sacraments, but dismissed the rest of the traditional seven sacraments because they did not contain a sign and a divine promise. x
  • 11
    Reformation in Wittenberg
    The Reformation began in Wittenberg, Luther's hometown. This is where he learned to make the reforms work. This is also where his own life was drastically changed when he married an ex-nun named Katherine von Bora. We know a great deal about Luther's home life because his dinner guests often wrote down his table talk. x
  • 12
    The Work of the Reformer
    Luther left an indelible mark on German culture. He translated the Bible into German. He composed catechisms that are still used today. He wrote deeply sensitive letters of spiritual counsel. And he wrote music designed to fill people's hearts with the Gospel, including such famous hymns as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." x
  • 13
    Against the Spirit of Rebellion
    Luther opposed both spirituality and rebellion, which he found often went hand in hand. Although sympathetic to peasant grievances, he was appalled by the Great Peasant War of 1525. In "Against the Robbing and Murdering Horde of the Peasants" he insisted that Christians in good conscience should "stab, smite, and slay" those rebelling against legitimate authority. x
  • 14
    Controversy Over the Lord’s Supper
    The differences between the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Reformation are best understood by their views on the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. The leader of the Reformed, Huldreich Zwingli of Zurich, argued that the Eucharist symbolized Christ's body, but did not make it really present. Luther found this view literally devilish. x
  • 15
    Controversy Over Infant Baptism
    The Lutheran and Radical wings of the Reformation disagreed, above all, about baptism. Called by their opponents Anabaptists (i.e., rebaptizers) the radicals regarded infant baptism as invalid because infants could not believe, and therefore baptized only adults—even those already baptized as infants. The Anabaptist position forced Luther to explain how infant baptism, which he defended, was compatible with his emphasis on faith alone. x
  • 16
    Grace and Justification
    The doctrine of justification (how one becomes righteous before God) is the most characteristic legacy of the Reformation. Luther's position can be contrasted with both the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace and the Reformed emphasis on forensic justification. Luther's large commentary on Paul's letter to the Galatians (1535) is the gold standard on his mature doctrine of justification. x
  • 17
    Luther and the Bible
    Luther initiated the Protestant tradition of emphasizing the literal rather than allegorical sense of Scripture. To read the Bible literally, for Luther, is to find Christ in it. But as early as Calvin, critics wondered if Luther's biblical interpretation was too narrowly focused on the doctrine of justification. Luther's reading of Paul's writings in the New Testament is a test case for this kind of criticism. x
  • 18
    Luther and Erasmus
    Desiderius Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther's, was a famous humanist, renowned scholar, and the leading Christian moralist of his day. Though sympathetic to Luther's criticisms of the Catholic Church, he never joined the Reformation and ended up in a fierce controversy with Luther over the role of free will in salvation. x
  • 19
    Luther and Predestination
    How is it that the lovely notion of grace seems to turn into the horrifying notion of predestination? The deep concept here, as Calvin realized, is the doctrine of election; i.e., of God's choice to be gracious to some undeserving sinners rather than others. Theologian Karl Barth has argued that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin mistakenly made election into bad news, as if it meant some were chosen instead of others, rather than some for the sake of others. x
  • 20
    Luther and Protestantism
    Luther is more "Catholic" than most Protestants. The best way to see this is to clarify the anxieties characteristic of each theology. Catholics worry about mortal sin, Luther worries whether God aims to condemn him, and Calvinists worry whether their faith is true faith. x
  • 21
    Luther and Politics
    Like other Reformation theologians, Luther made a sharp distinction between the powers of church and state, which he described as "two kingdoms." This meant in practice that the Reformation sided with the state in its struggle for power against the church. The Reformation's appeal to the patronage and protection of Protestant rulers led to ongoing religious warfare, but eventually to an ideology of religious toleration. x
  • 22
    Luther and His Enemies
    Luther's abusive language toward his theological opponents is graphic and unforgettable. Did he simply become bitter in old age, or should we take him at his word that his fierceness was not about personalities but about the Gospel? This lecture suggests that only the latter interpretation makes sense of Luther's theological polemics. x
  • 23
    Luther and the Jews
    The most vulnerable targets of Luther's polemics were the Jews. In 1523, in "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," he argued that Christians should cease persecuting the Jews and be content to argue about Scripture with them. But two decades later, in treatises such as "On the Jews and Their Lies" (1543), he insisted that they were as devilish as his other enemies. x
  • 24
    Luther and Modernity
    The modern era can be traced to the split in Christendom that began with Luther's break from the pope. The Protestant tradition thus stands between the Catholic tradition going back to antiquity and the modern traditions of secularity and liberalism. But Luther's insistence on faith in God's word has much to contribute to Christianity even after modernity. x

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Phillip Cary
Ph.D. Phillip Cary
Eastern University

Dr. Phillip Cary is Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, where he is also Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College. After receiving his B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Cary earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. Professor Cary is a recent winner of the Lindback Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at Eastern University. He has also taught at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Hartford. As the Arthur J. Ennis Post-Doctoral Fellow at Villanova University, he taught the nationally recognized undergraduate Core Humanities seminars on ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern thought. As a scholar, Professor Cary's specialty is the thought of Augustine, but he has also published scholarly articles on Luther, the doctrine of the Trinity, and personal knowledge. His most recent books include two on Augustine, Inner Grace and Outward Signs, both published by Oxford University Press in 2008, as well as a commentary on the book of Jonah, also in 2008, published by Brazos Press.

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Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 51 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fascinating Iconoclast, History and Theology Some TGC's stick more than others, some change the way I see things, some are quickly forgotten.. This one stuck and there are 3 reasons why: 1) I have a much deeper understanding of the 16th century struggle to reform Christianity and return to fundamentals of scripture. I was raised as a Catholic but I fully embrace Luther's idea that the Church should be "semper reformed", always reforming. In my mind he easily wins the historic debate vs the Rome of his time. I know I must thank Luther for many of the Catholic practices we have today, and especially for many of the ones we don't have.. 2) As much as I can admire the courage of the iconoclast and the intellectual rigor he displayed, I see Luther ultimately becoming a flawed extremist, intolerant of differing ideas. Illness, perhaps, as he aged, but not a man to be admired as he grew older. 3) I have a keener understanding for the basis of Western liberalism, the age of pluralism and tolerance that results from the fatigue of Catholic v Protestant religious wars. Luther triggered these conflicts, it took 200 years until the American Founders made religious tolerance a constitutional guarantee. I don't think Luther, the fire-brand, would have liked that! Great professor, I did the audio, paid about $40, highly recommend if this is in your area of inquiry. August 2, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by I guess it is my duty to inform the potential buyers that these "lectures" have absolutely and thoroughly nothing to do with knowledge, science and culture: they are preaching, plainly and simply. If you are interested in nonsensical sermons uttered in rapturous voice, filled with frequent exhalings and high pitched voice climaxes - not to mention quotations of prayers offered as "historical documents" and professionally declaimed as from a pulpit - this "course" is from you. If, on the other side, you're interested in petty, dry and boring stuff like knowing, understanding, learning, comparing concepts, principles and ideas, you may well end up being sorely disappointed. And maybe outraged by a sense of sheer betrayal of the mission of teaching (which is THE real sacred thing). I'm not against "participated", biased, hartfelt forms of teaching, but a line must be drawn, and in this case someone has gone well past it. I'm not against teaching religious topics either, rather the opposite: the long row of religion centered courses I bought from TGC so far speaks for itself. Topics as crucial and delicate as those concerning religion can be conveyed and presented in a number of nuances (and TGC teachers like A.J. Levine, I.M. Gafni, B.D. Ehrman offer significative examples) but no matter the different styles, prejudices and personal convictions of the teachers, some things should be respected in the first place: the intelligence of the listener, the value of information, the impartiality of knowledge. I quit listening this course on the third "lecture": this is unprecedented, despite the uneven quality levels (no real complaints though) of the 15+ courses I've listened to so far. And this is my first review for TGC also: like I wrote in the beginning of it, I felt it more like a duty rather than like a exercise in literary criticism. February 8, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Luther I really enjoyed this course, because it was very well thought out, and answered some questions about Luther that I really wanted to know. He was fair and objective, and I will buy more of Prof. Cary's lectures because it was very well done, and NOT boring at all! November 8, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by A bit dense but worth it Based on other courses at the Teaching Company I expected this course to be more historical rather than theological. However, once I got over that I really got a lot out of Prof. Cary's thorough explanation of Luther's theological system. I will probably be selecting more of the professor's courses. August 11, 2013
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