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Module Forum: Reformation, Politics & Rebellion (HI242)

Module Forum: Reformation, Politics & Rebellion (HI242) Was Luther a 'great man'?

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  1. Please post your reflections (of around 100 words) by replying to this message a couple of days ahead of the week 7 seminars - thanks!

  2. The question of “Is Martin Luther a great man” is subjective, thus depends on who you ask and the context behind one of Germany’s most influential figures. One could possibly consider that he was a great man based on the fact he was able to identify corruption that had occurred within the catholic church such as the indulgences, the role of the Pope and the increasing shift towards wealth and power that the church was moving towards and set out to fix said corruption. However, he did so out of his own insecurity, and he wasn’t the only religious reformer at the time to come to the same conclusions about corruption. Those such as Zwingli and Calvin along with those before him such as Hus came to similar conclusions about the need for reform. Luther happened to be in the right place at the right time in a period of building antipapal tensions that fully erupted due to his findings. To the catholic church at the time, he certainly wouldn’t have been a great man but a pinnacle point of alarm especially since Luther became the centre point for a whole new branch of Christianity. Individuals such as Luther and similar reformers influence being such a concern that eventually led the catholic church to have their own reform. Being the founder of a whole new branch however of religion perhaps may be enough to consider one alone as great, but it is important to note that individual had their flaws including Luther. He was a troubled man with much of his own personal struggles and flaws, yet history remembers him fondly as the man who singlehandedly stood up to the system and started a process of change and despite this not quite being the case, there is no doubt that Luther has quite a great legacy regardless on which side of the debate you fall into.

  3. Martin Luther could be considered a ‘great man’, due to what he was able to accomplish when others could not, and the attributes it took to achieve this. Looking to his accomplishments, Luther was able to successfully mobilise a longstanding and effective branch of opposition against the Church, which went on to become its own division of Christianity. This feat was obviously not done alone, but as its spearhead he accomplished more than others such as Jan Hus. In terms of attributes, it could be argued that Luther's obstinate nature in the face of excommunication and imperial ban qualify him as a 'great man’, as even with the threat of persecution and possible death, he continued to state the Protestant cause.

  4. #4 19:05, Thu 17 Nov 2022

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  5. It could be argued that Martin Luther was a 'great man', solely down to his influence in history through kick-starting the Protestant Reformation with his 95 Theses, which he supposedly nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Refusing to recant any of his works at the Diet of Worms, this stand of defiance against the corruption of indulgences, for example, could allow him to be defined as ‘great’. Even more so, considering the treatment Jan Hus received a century prior, imprisoned immediately despite being guaranteed safe conduct by the Emperor, and later burnt at the stake. On the other hand, Luther’s legacy has become associated with that of German nationalism. Most notably however, the question could be posed that would there have been a Reformation without Luther. Nevertheless, the argument for Luther being a ‘great man’ still holds relative weight. 


    Martin Luther can certainly be viewed as a ‘great’ man for his role in spearheading the Protestant Reformation, and being able to articulate his ideas in such a prominent and persuasive way that he became of the most well-known figures in all of Europe. This was in spite of the daunting opposition and pressure he faced from Charles V, the Pope and the wider Church, who all held incredible power. Luther thus displayed some of the key traits commonly attributed to 'great' men. However, it can also be argued that he was one of a variety of prominent scholars advocating reform during this period, such as Zwingli and Calvin, so Luther did not achieve this reform on his own. Additionally, Luther’s inconsistencies in his views over time and his controversial positions on the role of the peasants during the Reformation may lead some to argue that he was not a ‘great’ man or the unifying voice of the Reformation.

  7. In discussing whether Luther was a 'great man', where you fall in that debate will depend on how you intend on contextualising Luther. Locating Luther in Wittenberg is extremely important, as it was a place where he was able to control print, and dominate a new university to instil his own values. Nonetheless, Luther was certainly a skilled media man. He used his printing connections in Wittenberg to disseminate woodcuts and other forms of print to reflect his own views (for example Cranach's 26 woodcuts of the Pope as the Antichrist on contrast to the life of Christ), with connections such as Lucas Cranach, who was based in Wittenberg, being important. He was also skilled in his creation of personal networks as it created far stronger connections and loyalty to Luther than just reading his ideas would, such as with Melanchthon. Overall, I would argue that Luther was a 'great man', as he expertly used his location to his advantage. Rather than this detracting from his claim to being a 'great man', as it may be argued that the infrastructure for his success was provided to him by his location in Wittenberg, he masterfully used the people and resources available to him through his own convictions.

  8. The question of Luther being a 'great man' is bound to arouse controversy due to his links to today's religious identities. In light of how divisive he continues to be, it seems hard to deny that he was not a 'great man'. The fact that the question "Was Luther a 'great man'?" is still being asked, and can still carry such potency, surely by definition shows his historical greatness. However, this is 'great' simply in terms of his historical significance, and should not be confused with moral, religious and political debates over whether he was a force for good or evil. 

  9. This is a subjective question. Some would object to Luther’s greatness because he held radical religious beliefs. These beliefs went against some long-held traditions of the Catholic Church. However, Luther was a great man considering he managed to mobilise people in a way that others had failed to do. He accelerated the Reformation movement. He skillfully used media to spread his message from the small town of Wittenberg. His translation of the Bible was central to the German language. Without Luther, it is hard to see the Reformation occurring and his impact on religion can still be felt today. 

  10. If we ascribe the qualities of a ‘great man’ as someone who affected great change and had a significant impact on society and future societies, then yes Luther would be deemed a great man. However, despite how important of a figurehead he was, Luther’s greatness may be somewhat exaggerated. There may be an element of sensationalism, brought about by an extensive historiography which exclusively makes Luther the most prominent figure in the German reformation, however there were many other figures who had just as much impact leading the reformation such as Zwingli and Calvin. So is Luther as great as history has portrayed him? Perhaps not. 

  11. Martin Luther can be considered a ‘great’ man because his impact upon the world, both in his own time and subsequently, has few equals or parallels. His contribution to the schism in the Catholic Church, including his identification of some of the many problems facing the church, as expressed in his 95 Theses, had a profound impact both upon the world in his own time and subsequently. Therefore, Martin Luther can be considered ‘great’ in the sense of measuring his impact upon the world, regardless of whether we have personal regard for what he managed to achieve.

  12. The debate of whether Luther was a great man depends on how you define greatness. While greatness could be considered in different ways such as historical or global impact, whether Luther himself was a great man depends on the time period you view him from. During the Reformation, Luther was considered sinful by the Church with points that contradicted themselves and already followed the argument of others such as Calvin and Zwingli. He was therefore not really considered a great man during his life. However, in the modern day, he is often glorified as the creator of the Reformation that swept over Europe, having been the first man to speak out against the Church with original and compelling arguments. 


  13. It is clear that Luther was a great man. This comes as a result of his ambitious challenge to the order and functionality of the Catholic Church. Luther was able to stand his ground in the face of Charles V, demonstrating his steadfast belief in what he believed was the right stance to defend. Clearly, Luther is an exceptional man in terms his devotion to fundamental religious beliefs and his ability to remain strong in his views despite excommunication.


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