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Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death Paperback – December 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death is an empathic, critical, and beautifully written account of the life of one of the most important figures in Western history. Marius's primary goal is to describe the inner life of Martin Luther--specifically, to describe the way Luther's near-obsessive fear of death drove him to search for a gospel that would convince him that God offered real hope for everlasting life. Marius argues that Luther's failure to find the answers he sought was a primary cause of the Reformation--and that it led him to demonize whoever he believed had taken shortcuts to find those answers. Marius defends his arguments with close readings of Luther's voluminous writings and with ample documentation of the political movements during which the Reformation occurred.

The book's broad scope gives it an appealing quality of honestly grappling with the fullest possible understanding of Luther's situation as a man of the middle ages, even if Marius's ultimate verdict on Luther and his legacy is quite harsh. Marius claims that Luther's angry denunciations of Catholics, Jews, and other Protestants exacerbated the disastrous nationalist movements and religious schisms that determined the subsequent course of European history. "Luther's temperament was his tragedy," Marius writes. "He was an absolutist, demanding certainty in a dark and conflict-ridden world where nothing is finally sure and mystery abounds against a gloom that may ultimately be driven by fate, the impersonal chain of accidents that takes us where we would not go because our destiny is to be the people we are, and so we have no choice but tragedy." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Marius, a retired Harvard professor, provides a thoroughly challenging and scholarly biography that brings theological giant Martin Luther into human scale. He traces Luther's life from his birth in 1483 to his ordination and on to the tumultuous years of Luther's reformation of the Church, from 1517 until the end of his life. Through a close reading of Luther's many writings, Marius narrates Luther's development as a theologian and as a cultural figure. Marius characterizes Luther as a "catastrophe in Western civilization," a judgment stemming from Luther's struggle with death as the cosmic enemy, a struggle that could be overcome only by faith. Most intriguing is Luther's confrontation with the humanist Erasmus. Marius contends that Luther discounted Erasmus's perspective, thus dismissing the possibility of a peaceful reform of the Church through reason. Laid at Luther's doorstep, then, is the tragedy of a 16th-century Western civilization torn by religious intolerance and violence. Marius's biography is bound to be an influential and, for some, definitive study of Luther's life and work.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400387X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674003873
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.7 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,221,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Warren Kelly VINE VOICE on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Marius' obvious biases are evident from the outset of this book. Snide references to the delusion and superstition of people who took their faith seriously are only the start. Over and over again, Marius makes his disdain for anyone who believes in the supernatural quite clear. How then can we expect an unbiased biography of such an influential Christian reformer as Martin Luther?
To be sure, many of Marius' criticisms have merit. The Church at the time had been reduced to anti-intellectual superstition (from the masses of believers) and self-servince opportunism(from the majority of the clergy). And I agree that many at this time period who claimed to be believers were simply offering lip service so that they were not branded atheists by the Church. THIS, however, is what Luther sought to change. By combating the corruption of the Roman church, Luther was trying to bring the people of Germany into a more meaningful, less superstitious faith. That he did not succeed should not totally condemn his efforts.
Having said this, I find that I did enjoy the book. I am a conservative religious historian, but I enjoy reading books that challenge my own ideas, and often find I can learn a lot from people I disagree with. I have learned a lot about Luther's life from this book, and Marius has inspired me to look further into the life of this great Reformer. I recommend this book with one caution -- do NOT make this the only book you read about Martin Luther.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I knew Richard Marius quite well and can assure you he had as little use for Roman Catholicism ans Protestantism--if you don't believe me read his book on Thomas More. Richard was a great debunker--esp of people held up as icons. I cannot vouch for the scholarship of Richard's book but trust me if you think he is taking a Roman Catholic line you have been drinking too much Communion Wine.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Matthew on August 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As noted by some of the other reviewers, Marius's work is severely biased against Luther. Marius seems to blame Luther for the chaos of the last 500 years, starting with the wars that followed Luther's death. In my opinion, he seems to forget the chaos that has always surrounded our history.

In spite of his disapproval of Luther, he is not a liar and through his views of Luther's actions and ideas I was still able to see Luther as an extraordinary man of great talent. In some ways, Marius was even more complementary of Luther than other authors I have read.

If you are religiously inclined and are looking for a general work on Luther I would suggest instead Roland Bainton's Here I Stand or even the more recent work Luther the Reformer by Kittelson.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I consider myself a secular humanist, so while some of the most interesting figures in history are religious , I am always apprehensive reading about them because I fear a story told with a religious bent. Here, however, there is too much of a good thing. The author uses Luther's story to continually make examples and preach his personal atheistic philosophy. At first it becomes distracting but eventually it becomes repetitious and then, finally, plain annoying and out of place. This biography had great potential, because after the intial point had been made, if an editor would have cut the repetition, the biography would have been first rate. One can get a sense of the horror of living during the plague and the psychological effects that had on individuals, and how that may have helped shape Luther's neurosis and theology. It is a shame that so much of this book was so heavy handed.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Melanchthon VINE VOICE on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I think that Marius is simply wrong on a number of points and his disdainful attitude toward Protestant Christianity in the present makes it difficult for him to really understand what was going on in the Reformation. If you want a more even-handed and multifaceted picture of Luther, look at Heiko Oberman's book, where Marius obviously got some impetus for his title, or even Roland Bainton's older but still useful book, Here I Stand. A lot of this is just rehashed Erik Erikson, and Erikson does it a lot better.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Alexander J. MacDonald on December 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Marius has performed an incredible task in bringing Martin Luther, and his times, to life for us in this new book.
I found the author's knowledge of Luther; Luther's writings and temperament; the history of the sixteenth century and the theological issues at stake during the Reformation, to be superb. I was especially impressed by the author's knowledge of the theological issues, and his insights regarding them.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first got the book, but I soon discovered that I had found not only an excellent biography of Luther, but simply a very well written book. The material is very interesting, and Marius presents it in a very readable, and captivating style. The chapters are only as numerous, and as long, as necessary (which makes the reading easier). It was an enjoyable read from begining to end, and I doubt that a better biography of Luther has ever been written.
I hate that I finished it, and I am sure that I will read it again.
Did Luther truly follow his own standard of sola scriptura? Was Luther one of the first Higher Critics of the Bible? Did he really say: 'Here I stand, I can do no other' at the Diet of Worms? Were the ninety-five theses really posted on the church door at Wittenburg?
Read the book and find out!
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