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Martin Luther and humanism

ZHANG Shiying1

(1.College of Philosophy, Nankai University)
【Knowledge Link】Renaissance; Protestantism; Humanism

【Abstract】The relationship between Martin Luther and the Renaissance humanism is always an important issue in the history of Western civilization and the Lutheran academic community. Judging from Luther’s experience of study, teaching, and Reformation, he had a positive and affirmative attitude towards humanistic academy. Humanistic academy played an important role in Luther’s biblical annotation, reformation, and pastoral practice and produced a significant impact on the development of his ideology. However, one should not overemphasize the consistency between Luther and humanism but note the deep differences such consistency is based on. Humanism was more instrumental for him, a Reformer. Luther’s attitude, understanding, and position on humanism reflected the consistency and diversity between the Renaissance and the Reformation.

【Keywords】 Luther; humanism; Protestantism; Renaissance; Reformation;

【DOI】

【Funds】 Tianjin Social Science Foundation (TJZX16-001)

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    Footnote

    [1]. ① A large number of biographical works on Luther’s life and thought development are involved in the issue. For representative works, see Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, Stuttgart: Calwer, 1983–c1987. In the three-volume great work, Brecht briefly introduced and commented the connection of Luther to humanism in various periods; for the representative works of German humanism, see Maria Grossman, Humanism in Wittenberg, 1485–1517, Nieuwkoop: De Graff, 1975. Maria Grossmann, after examining many published and unpublished materials, convincingly discussed the mind of the humanists as well as their relationship with Luther at the Wittenberg University during the period; the important papers related to the issue were included to the collection of papers edited by Levis W. Spitz. See Lewis W. spitz ed., Luther and German Humanism, Hampshire: VARIORUM, 1996. The first four papers of the collection discussed the origin and development of German humanism, and the last six focused on Luther’s thoughts on the relationship between Reformation and humanism. For a study of the relationship between humanism and the Reformation, see Alister. E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1999 and the Intellectual Origin of the European Reformation, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. In the two works, McGrath treated Lutheranism and the Reformation as representatives and quite comprehensively discussed the influence of humanism spread on the ideology of the Reformation Movement. [^Back]

    [2]. ② For representative works in this regard, see Liu, X. & Chen, Z. A History of the Renaissance: Religion (欧洲文艺复兴史·宗教卷). Beijing: People’s Publishing House, (2008). The book argued that humanism and Reformation “promote and generate” each other. Liu, Y. 伊拉斯谟与路德的宗教改革思想比较研究. Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, (2009). The book systematically compared the reformation ideologies of Erasmus and Luther by three aspects: sin and redemption, reason and belief, and free will and inevitability and conceptually analyzed the difference between humanism and the Reformation. Zhao, L. Study & Exploration (学习与探索), (5) (1994). The paper analyzed the differences in spiritual interests between humanism and the Reformation and pointed out the bad tendency of Chinese scholars focusing on humanism but ignoring the reformation. Liu, D. Journal of Liaoning University (辽宁大学学报), (6) (2009). The paper outlined the relationship and characteristics of the Reformation and the Renaissance in different regions during different periods. [^Back]

    [3]. ① Zhu, Y. Journalof Fudan University (复旦学报), (6) (2001). The paper believed that Luther’s rational belief concept led to the discovery of human self-value and produced a major impact on modern values. [^Back]

    [4]. ② Wu, S. Journal of Fudan University (复旦学报), (4) (2005). From the perspectives of the self-awareness of inherent reflection, suspicion of the scholastic philosophy and church authority, and the certainty of salvation, the paper showed the same spiritual principle shared by Reformation and modern philosophy. [^Back]

    [5]. ③ Deng, L. Journal of Sichuan University (四川大学学报), (3) (2003). Wrongly treating Luther as an outstanding humanist, the paper believed that “justification by faith” contained humanistic values such as freedom, equality, independence, consumption restraint, and national consciousness. Meanwhile, it regarded German Reformation as a special expression of Renaissance. [^Back]

    [6]. ④ Humanism is a complex and variable term. The scholars, Karl Hagen and Georg Voit in the 19th century firstly used the term, Humanismus, to refer to historical events and cultural phenomena associated with the Renaissance, namely to view Renaissance from the perspective of enlightenment ration and human center. At the beginning of the 19th century, Wilhem von Humboldt and his contemporary scholars believed the keynote of humanism as to regard reason and experience as the sole basis of truth and Marxist social liberation and progressive thought as a kind of humanism. In the 20th century, the British philosophers, Russell and Corliss Lamont, regarded humanism as a non-theistic religious ethical movement from the perspective of human center and anti-religious position. The French philosopher, Sartre, claimed his existentialist philosophy as a kind of humanitarianism, which confused the distinction between humanism and humanitarianism However, historically, humanism as a term has always been closely related to just the ideology, literature, and arts of the Renaissance. [^Back]

    [7]. ① Burckhardt, J. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. He, X. (trans.) Beijing: The Commercial Press, 143 (1983). [^Back]

    [8]. ② Etymologically, the word, humanista, comes from the Italian slang, umanistitae, closely related to the Latin expression, Studia Humanitatis, and the latter word mainly comes from Cicero, who deemed speech and poetry as most suitable for spreading Humaniora. Humanitatis in Italy in the late 14th century exclusively referred to the academic courses teaching classical Greek and Latin grammar. The term, humanism, evolved from the two Latin languages and got English equivalent, Humanism, in 1812. [^Back]

    [9]. ③ Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance thought and its sources, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, p. 97. [^Back]

    [10]. ④ For a detailed analysis, see Alister. E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of The Cross, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985, pp. 41–42. [^Back]

    [11]. ⑤ Alister. E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of The Cross, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985, p. 40. [^Back]

    [12]. ① With regard to the nature and significance of the Renaissance humanist movement, since Burkhardt, the 20th century witnessed two opposing views. One was represented by the Catholic new Thomasists, Etiene Gilson, and Jacques Maritain, demeaned or even denied the importance of the entire Renaissance as a civilization from the God-centered humanitarian perspective; the other was the mainstream route represented by Hans Baron, Christaller, Eugenio Garin, Hay Denys, and Peter Burke, reaffirming the key significance of the Renaissance and humanism in the human spirit and cultural life. Their efforts in research method and theory developed Burkhardt’s views. By examining the cultural and educational life in the republics of the cities, Christaller put forward the idea of humanism originating from the “rhetoric tradition,” made a superb description of the multi-dimensional qualities of the Renaissance, no longer qualitatively conceptualized the Renaissance, and then made well compatible many theories and perspectives of the 20th century on the Renaissance. This paper argued that Christaller’s point of view can avoid the preconception of today’s researchers influenced by modernity and enlightenment in studying the Renaissance and then develop the study of the relationship between humanism and Luther. [^Back]

    [13]. ② For example, Rodolphus Agricola as the Father of German Humanism, after returning from study abroad, taught at the University of Heidelberg and made great achievements in promoting classical language education. His student, Alexander Hegius, made the School of Deventer one of the classical education centers, where the famous humanist, Erasmus, taught. Humanista, Christoph Schuler, studied law at the University of Bologna, Italy, at the age of 16 and got the chance to immerse himself in the late Renaissance culture, especially rhetoric. He returned to Wittenberg in 1506, served as university president in the following year, and tried to develop the Wittenberg University into a research center for humanities. Famous German humanities then, such as Konrad Celtis, Johannes Trithemius, Willibald Prickheimer, Conrad Peutinger, Johannes Reuchlin, and Mutianus Rufus all studied in Italy. When back home, they long taught liberal arts against religious superstitions and challenged German native culture. [^Back]

    [14]. ① Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road To Reformation 1483–1521, trans. by James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress press, 1985, pp. 39–41. [^Back]

    [15]. ② Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Table Talk, Weimar, 1912–1921, No. 2157, 3566A, 3753. [^Back]

    [16]. ③ Lindsay, T. A History of the Reformation. Kong, X. et al. (trans.) Beijing: The Commercial Press, 175 (1992). [^Back]

    [17]. ④ WA, Br 2: 547, (Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Briefwwechsel, Weimar, 1930–1940, the same below) line 3. [^Back]

    [18]. ① WA, Br 1: 541–43; WA, Br 2: 91, line 3ff. [^Back]

    [19]. ② Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road To Reformation 1483–1521, trans. by James L. Schaaf, Philadelphia: Fortress press, 1985, p. 43. [^Back]

    [20]. ③ Marilyn J. Harran. Selinsgrove ed., Luther and Learning: The wittenberg University Symposium, PA: Susquenhanna University Press, 1985, p. 72. [^Back]

    [21]. ④ WA 1: 355 (Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritischche Gesamtausgabe, 88 Bandes, Weimar, 1883. Same as below), 16–19. In Article 36, Aristotle wrongly nitpicked and ridiculed the ideology of Plato. In fact, Plato’s philosophy was much stronger than his. In Article 37, Pythagoras smartly advocated the mathematical order of the material world, but more subtle was Plato’s claim about the interaction among conceptions. [^Back]

    [22]. ① Marilyn J. Harran. Selinsgrove ed., Luther and Learning: The wittenberg University Symposium, PA: Susquenhanna University Press, 1985, p. 72. [^Back]

    [23]. ② WA TR 3: 4 (Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Table Talk, Weimar, 1912-1921. The same below), 19–24, No. 2808b. [^Back]

    [24]. ③ WA 15: 46, 18–21. [^Back]

    [25]. ④ WA 53: 22–184; 22, 13–18. [^Back]

    [26]. ① Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250–1550, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980, p. 304. [^Back]

    [27]. ② WA, Br 1: 28–29. [^Back]

    [28]. ③ WA, 56: 461, lines 23–28. [^Back]

    [29]. ① WA, Br 1: 90, lines 15–26. [^Back]

    [30]. ① Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of The Cross, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985, p. 48. [^Back]

    [31]. ② Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250–1550, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980, p. 71. [^Back]

    [32]. ③ For details, see Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An introduction to his thought, London: Collins, 1970. In the book, Eberling carefully examined Luther’s commentaries on many passages of the Bible during 1513–1517. Especially in the First Commentary of the Psalm: notes of Psalm: 70–72, Luther emphasized the distinction between the literal meaning and moral meaning of the Bible text: The literal meaning refers to Christ, while the moral meaning refers to the acceptance and pardon of sinners with faith. Ebeling believed that the discovery of God’s justice stemmed from Luther’s reducing the four meanings of the Bible to two, namely literal meaning and moral meaning. With Christ as literal meaning and belief in Christ as moral meaning, belief became moral understanding of Christ or what Christ meant to man. With the justice of faith related to the justice of Christ, the faith of God was external justice of Christ, something put on man by faith, which is the basic meaning of “justification by faith” understood by Luther. [^Back]

    [33]. ④ WA 1, s. 225. [^Back]

    [34]. Table Talk recorded Luther’s much memory of humanistic academic learning experience from Magdeburg and the Secondary School of Eisenach to the 1530s, which reflected his familiarity with classical culture and interest preference. Sihler analyzed it in detail on basis of Table Talk. see E. G. Sihler, Luther and Classics, in ed. William Herman Theodore, Four Hundred Years, Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results, in the Year of the Four-hundred Anniversary of Reformation, Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1916, pp. 240–54. [^Back]

    [35]. ① Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Table Talk, Weimar, 1912–1921, No. 439. [^Back]

    [36]. ② WA 4: 284, 32–33, 36–285. 1. [^Back]

    [37]. ③ LW, 45 (Martin Luther, Luther’s works, 55 Voles, Saint Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House, 1955.), pp. 355–6. [^Back]

    [38]. ④ Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985, p. 52. [^Back]

    [39]. ① Gadamer, H. Truth and Method. Hong, H. (trans.) Shanghai: Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 227 (1999). [^Back]

    [40]. ② Luther’s masterpiece, On the Freedom of a Christian, published in 1520, began with the master-slave proposition of soul: a Christian is a free person who rules everything and obeys nobody; a Christian is a person dedicated to everything and subject to everyone. The previous argument views human transcendence from the perspective of faith and spirituality and affirms human spiritual freedom; the latter argument views human obligations in the sense of worldliness and natural rationality, namely people shall obey the laws of nature and society. [^Back]

    [41]. ① Selected Works of Marx and Engels (马克思恩格斯选集). Vol. 1, Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 9 (1972). [^Back]

    [42]. ② WA 1, s. 225. [^Back]

    [43]. ③ WC Kohn, Luther’s Influence on Popular Education, in ed. William Herman Theodore, Four Hundred Years, Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results, in the Year of the Four-hundred Anniversary of Reformation, Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1916, pp. 201–2. [^Back]

    [44]. ① About the core doctrine of Christian redemption, “justification by faith,” Roman Catholicism basically adhered to the justification (iustificatio) instruction of St. Augustine and believed justification as a process of becoming a just person, namely (iusificare). During the early days of Reformation, Luther also regarded justification as a process of generating justness as prominently expressed in the Lectures on Romans during 1515–1516. He declared, “fieri est iustificatio”; after 1530, influenced by understanding of Melanchthon court-like justification, he gradually treated justification as an event in which God announces sinners and the internal renewal produced after the work of the Holy Spirit as rebirth. The Catholic justification actually includes both justification and rebirth. In February 1997, the Catholic and Lutheran churches jointly issued the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification to indicate that in understanding the doctrine of justification by faith, Catholicism and Protestantism achieved much reconciliation with narrowing differences between the two sides. [^Back]

This Article

ISSN:1000-4289

CN: 11-1299/B

Vol , No. 01, Pages 148-161

February 2017

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Abstract

  • 1 Humanistic movement
  • 2 German humanism and Luther
  • 3 Influence of humanism on Luther
  • 4 Distinction between Luther and humanism
  • 5 Conclusion
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