Monday, November 13, 2017

All Luther-ed Out

A week ago today my son and I returned from Germany, after having led a group of 108 pilgrims to places connected with Martin Luther and J. S. Bach in observance of the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. There were many moving parts during that fortnight set of experiences, none more memorable than the morning worship at St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, on Oct 31st, followed by a hymnfest at the Castle Church, Wittenberg, later that afternoon. Both events included Valpo's chorale, which sang one of Bach's Reformation cantatas (BWV 79: "Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild") in the morning and then multiple pieces in the afternoon, including "Into the Light," which was composed this year by Jake Runestad and commissioned by Valparaiso University for the special anniversary. Runestad's work, which ties together distinct ideas from several reformers, and Valpo's chorale were big hits in Germany.

Before the Oct 29 Service at the Erfurt Monastery

On Sunday, Oct 29, our group worshiped with the local Lutheran congregation at the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt. When the local pastor learned that three groups of Americans would be present for worship that morning, she asked me to read the Old Testament lesson in English and another group leader to read the appointed Gospel reading. At the conclusion of her sermon, the pastor then offered a very helpful summary of her homily in English. Following Holy Communion that morning, more than one person told me, "Today is one of the top ten days of my life." That same comment was made by several others a few days later on the actual anniversary date, after the three-hour service at St. Thomas Church and the two-hour concert at the Castle Church. (My son and I found ourselves seated directly beside Luther's grave during that latter service. I couldn't help but give the grave stone a little "pat" at the end of the evening....) Earlier that day in Wittenberg I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Pr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, the current bishop of the SELK. (The group and I noticed that the pastors who preached and presided at the Lutheran services in which we participated in Erfurt and Leipzig were women.)

31 Oct 2017: seated under the pulpit, next to Luther's grave
Photo by Jon Hendricks
I delivered mini-lectures most every morning to the plenary group and then offered color commentary as Jacob and I rotated among our group's three buses. Altogether we visited Berlin (major exhibit on the reformer at the German National Museum), Eisleben (Luther's place of birth and death), Eisenach (where he was a young student and where Bach was baptized), the Wartburg Castle (where Luther was sequestered by Fred the Wise and where he translated the entire NT into the local German dialect), Erfurt (where he attended the university and joined an Augustinian monastery), the Coburg Castle (as far south as he could travel safely to be in close communication with those attending the 1530 Augsburg Diet), Leipzig (where he debated Eck in 1519, and where Bach was director of music for 27 years), Wittenberg (1.5 days' worth of activities and museums), Weimar (where Bach was a court composer and music director),  Buchenwald (which allowed us to ponder "Luther and the Holocaust" and to remember Paul Schneider and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), and Dresden.

Foci for my mini-lectures included Luther's childhood and education, his theological "breakthrough," Augustinian monasticism then and now, Luther's illnesses and "Anfechtungen," the 95 Theses, Luther and the Jews, Luther and Bach in Eisenach, the Wartburg Castle and German nationalism, Bach's Reformation cantatas, the German Protestant churches today, and the history and architecture of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Given that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (daughter of a Lutheran pastor) and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (son of a Reformed pastor) were both in attendance at the Castle Church, Wittenberg, on Oct 31st (indeed, one in our group shook hands with Frau Merkel and briefly spoke with her), I devoted one lecture to "German Politics Today." Each morning I offered some additional commentary on the cover stories of the local and regional German newspapers (and on that week's issue of "Der Spiegel"). So our discussions were not only about the sixteenth century and Martin Luther.

Jacob and I at the Zwinger Museum in Dresden

Once again, EO Tours put us up in some really nice digs and provided us with very good food at all of our group meals in the evening.

I am now looking forward to July 2020, when my colleague, Gretchen Buggeln, and I will be leading the next Valpo alumni tour. For that two-week tour, we will examine church art and architecture from NW Germany, France, and England. The tour will include a Rhine River cruise, a visit to a French champagne cellar, museums and churches in Aachen, Trier, Paris, Chartres, London, and Oxford, and lectures/commentary by Gretchen and yours truly. More on this tour at a later time.

Needless to say, I'm ready to take a break from all things Luther!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

One "F" von Hofmann

Late last month I received my gratis copy of the Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions, edited by Timothy Wengert and published by Baker Academic. This very large reference work (more than 800 pages) contains nearly 600 entries, ten of which are by yours truly: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Werner Elert, Erlangen, Johannes von Hofmann, Theodosius Harnack, J. A. O. Preus, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Jaroslav Pelikan, Edmund Schlink, and Ernst Troeltsch. For information on this important book, go here. It will now likely become the standard one-volume resource on Lutheran theology and church history in English, at least for the next generation or two. (Professor Wengert and most of his associate editors are "talking heads" in the recent PBS documentary, "Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World," which was broadcast locally this past Tuesday. For information on that film, go here.)

Johannes C. K. von Hofmann (1810-77)
Unfortunately, there is an error in the dictionary, actually, a set of errors. Due to a copy editor's mistake at Baker, Johannes Christian Konrad von Hofmann's name is misspelled in my entry and in every other one that refers to him. Throughout the book his name is spelled "Hoffmann." Thankfully, the overall editor at Baker, who immediately apologized for this mistake, has corrected this set of misspellings in the electronic version of the book. (This is one of the blessings of contemporary publishing, namely, that such errors can be immediately fixed, at least in the e-versions of a product.) The editor at Baker has promised to make sure Hofmann's name is spelled correctly in subsequent editions.

Since I devoted a few years of my life to studying and writing about Hofmann's life and work, the principal fruit of which was my doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago, I have tried to make clear how his name is to be spelled. Yes, this has been a pet peeve of mine, partly because a few American scholars have misspelled his name over the decades. Having read everything this Bavarian ever published, I can verify that the title pages of all of his books print his name as Johannes Christian Konrad von Hofmann. One "f." Two "n"s. That's true, too, for all of his numerous journal articles and magazine editorials.

If you have purchased a hard copy of the first edition of the Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions, please note the correct spelling of this important nineteenth-century Lutheran theologian. If you know of someone who has purchased this volume, let that person know this, too. Thank you.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Die Vergangenheitsbewältigung

The Germans have a large word for it: Die Vergangenheitsbewältigung; literally, "coming to grips with the past." My Duden dictionary defines it as a "public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history."

As far as I can tell, this term was coined shortly after the Second World War, when Germans had to wrestle with their immediate past: the country's defeat in the First World War; the rise of fascism in the Weimar period; the racist and nationalistic rhetoric of multiple minority parties; the economic and political chaos of the twenties and early thirties; the ineffective parliament; the appointment of Hitler (whom many mainstream politicians considered a "joke" and a "buffoon"); the "emergency measures" that led to the abolishing of all political parties, other than the NSDAP (the Nazi Party); the Nazis' scapegoating and violent actions against communists, democratic-socialists, Jews, and other "undesirables"; the aggression against neighboring countries; the War; the Shoah; the country's total defeat in 1945; the horror of it all--and then the rebirth in the fifties, which was accompanied by tensions and conflicts of a related kind, when so-called "guest workers," who were mostly from Turkey, put down roots and came to see themselves as more than "guests."

After the Second World War, die Vergangenheitsbewältigung included a debate in Germany about what to do with the concentration camps. While the process of that discussion was complicated, far more so than I can summarize here, it basically involved two opposing positions. On the one hand, some argued that the camps should be torn down, demolished, covered over, replaced with something more positive. "Best to forget what happened here, and move on." On the other hand, some argued that the camps should be kept pretty much as they were in 1945, to make them into Gedenkstätte, literally, "places of thought," "places to think about the past," that is, as "memorials." "We must not forget. We must re-member. Let the camps be turned into museums that can remind later generations of what transpired here. Let them be warnings: Never again!" This latter position prevailed, and so today one can visit any number of Gedenkstätte in Germany, Poland, Austria, and other places.

To this day, all German high-school students must visit a concentration camp as a part of their high-school curriculum. They must confront a past that they did not choose, one for which their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents bear more or less responsibility, although many of the students have no familial connection to Germany in the 1930s and 40s, since their families came to Germany after the war. Still, all students must deal with what transpired in their country in the not-too-distant past.

In just a few months, I will be leading 108 Americans to Germany for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the course of that pilgrimage, we will visit Buchenwald, whose camp clock is still set to the time when the Allies liberated that place of horror.

On my last visit to that memorial a few years ago, after viewing the many haunting and disturbing exhibits in the two-story museum (the former depot, which is down the slope from the famous entrance gate), I came upon the place where visitors can leave public comments and reflections. Most of the notes and poems I read that day expressed some form of regret or shock for what had happened or some form of hope that such an evil would never happen again. A few acknowledged, "That was my great-grandparents' generation, not mine. I don't want to be burdened with the guilt that they alone should have borne, but I will do what I can so that such suffering and death never occur again." That afternoon, I must have read seventy-five comments like that one. But there was one hand-written note on that final memorial wall that has stuck with me and haunted my memory. It was a note from one of those millions of German high-school students who must "come to grips" with Hitler and the Holocaust and the terrible past of German history. It was a simple note:

"Die Juden erhielten was sie verdienten." "The Jews got what they deserved."

I had to read the note twice to make sure I had understood it properly. Yes, that's what was written. This unsettling, nauseating note, included among several other high-school notes from just a few weeks earlier, was posted in 2015.

How did that anonymous student come to have such hatred? How could that person visit such a place as Buchenwald, with all of its disturbing artifacts and graphic pictures and the matter-of-fact explanations and descriptions, and still find the energy to write what he or she did? (Was it a Muslim-German student who wrote this? A Christian? A cynical, nihilistic kid from a disillusioned and distraught family? Who?)

I thought about that note this past weekend, as I watched the terrifying images from Charlottesville. The young man who plowed into the crowd of counter-protesters there, killing a young woman and severely injuring so many others, is probably the same age as that anonymous former German high-school student, a mere twenty years old.

Jim Wallis has rightly identified slavery as "America's original sin." How ought we as a country to come to grips with that horrific past, including the war that did and did not end it? A past that is, frankly, still very painfully present today? How should we remember that history? What should our Gedenkstätte be? What "places of thought" should we require our high-school students to visit? Where can we "come to grips" with our troubled past, even if we can't really, fully work our way through it? From where comes the healing?

(As a Christian, I believe there is an ultimate, Spirit-worked, Christ-centered healing for the evil and sins of racism and nationalism and fascism and militarism. That healing comes through repentance. It involves remorse for past sins, including those that we have inherited from our forebears, and the desire to make right what has been wrong. Most crucially, for Christians, that healing is grounded in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit to free people to love unconditionally and to work toward reconciliation, peace, and the renewal of society. But how difficult it is to articulate and convey that "good message" and the promise of Christ and the Spirit, when white supremacists and nationalists appeal to Christian symbols and thereby distort that message and contradict it and undermine it.)

I recently re-read the three-volume "narrative history" of the civil war by Shelby Foote, a native Mississippian. While this work is dated, and although it contains portions that seem to glorify that war and perhaps even suggest a kind of "moral equivalency" between officers and soldiers on both sides of that conflict, it is a monumental work of national memory that should be read by every American. I can think of few better ways to come to grips, if only initially, with that key turning-point in the American past. In that sense, Foote's trilogy is a kind of national Denkmal (memorial) for one part of our troubled yesterday.

Instead of defending "war-hero" monuments and memorials that were erected by southern racists in the time of Jim Crow, read Foote. (Or watch the Ken Burns' documentary, in which Foote is a central commentator.) The still-standing pieces of southern metal and stone from the 1920s and '30s--ostensibly erected to remember Lee and Jackson and other leaders of a lost and wrong cause but whose real intent was motivated by fears and hatreds at the time those memorials were dedicated--do not move our civic memories forward in any positive way. They only serve to project post-WWI hatred and racial bigotry into the present. Read instead the words of Foote, including those near the end (p. 971!) of the "Bibliographical Note" in his second volume (completed in 1963):

... Further afield, but no less applicable, Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Illiad put a Greekless author in close touch with his model. Indeed, to be complete, the list of my debts would have to be practically endless. Proust I believe has taught me more about the organization of material than even Gibbon has done, and Gibbon taught me much; Mark Twain and Faulkner would also have to be included, for they left their sign on all they touched, and in the course of this exploration of the American scene I often found that they had been there before me. In a quite different sense, I am obligated also to the governors of my native state and the adjoining states of Arkansas and Alabama for helping to lessen my sectional bias by reproducing, in their actions during several of the years that went into the writing of this volume, much that was least admirable in the position my forebears occupied when they stood up to Lincoln. I suppose, or in any case fervently hope, it is true that history never repeats itself, but I know from watching these three gentlemen that it can be terrifying in its approximations, even when the reproduction--deriving, as it does, its scale from the performers--is in miniature.

While we might initially object to Foote's use of "least admirable" here, since those words suggest there was something "more admirable" in those who fought to defend slavery and the confederacy--and we do not like to think there was--still, Foote's criticism of the racism he saw in his own troubled day indicates that people can learn from their nation's past sins, repent of them, "lessen their sectional bias," and work so as not to allow history to terrify in its approximations. With Foote, we can hope that history will not repeat itself. Of late, however, my hope is being sorely tested.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Christ in the University: The Vision of Schlink

Last week the journal of my university, The Cresset, published a revised version of my professorial lecture that I delivered last February. It examines the vision of Christ in a church-related university that was set forth by the Lutheran theologian Edmund Schlink (1903-1984) in his own inaugural lecture at Heidelberg University three score and ten years ago.

As I note in the introductory paragraph, Schlink's professorial lecture still speaks meaningfully to the contemporary situation of a church-related university. His vision is worth re-visiting.

If you'd like to read the essay version of my lecture, it is available online here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Luther and the Holocaust

Nothing is uglier and more disturbing in Martin Luther's writings than his late-in-life, hate-filled polemics against the Jews. In his infamous 60,000-word 1543 booklet, "On the Jews and Their Lies," he urged secular rulers to burn all synagogues and Jewish schools, to raze all Jewish homes and properties, to confiscate Jewish religious writings, to prohibit teaching by Jewish rabbis, to give Jews no safe conduct on the highways, to stop them from money trading, to send their young men into forced labor, and to expel those who refused to be baptized. Two other anti-Jewish writings from the same year, "On the Schem Hamphoras and on the Lineage of Christ" and "On the Last Words of David," also contain extreme language that is consistent with late-medieval anti-Judaic polemics and that seems to have been motivated by rumors about German Jews blaspheming Christ and of Jewish attempts to convert Christians. (For a brief overview of Luther's writings on the Jews, see esp. Gregory Miller, "Luther's Views of the Jews and Turks," in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther's Theology, ed. Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and L'Ubomir Batka [Oxford, 2014], 427-34).

As Martin Marty rightly notes, it doesn't really help to stress that Luther's verbal attacks here seem to have been motivated largely, if not exclusively, by theological concerns, not primarily racial ones: he hoped that the Jews in the "latter days," which he thought was "now," would read their Bible the way he did, Christologically, as pointing to Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Christ, and he got bitterly angry when "the rabbis" saw things differently. So "he struck out at them as enemies of the gospel" [Martin Marty, Martin Luther (Viking, 2004), 169].)

Today, living in the shadow of Auschwitz and remembering the murders of the six million Jews at the hands of Nazi perpetrators--many of them German Lutherans who appealed to the Great German Reformer to justify their attitude and actions--Luther's role in "the teaching of contempt" and his actual wrathful words can only be condemned. That his writings are a part of the pre-history of the Holocaust cannot be ignored. Even when some might point to mitigating factors (e.g., "expelling unbaptized Jews is not quite as bad as trying to annihilate them") or stress how here he shows just how much he was a man of his time (e.g., Erasmus and John Eck were other prominent Jew-haters of that era), we cannot exculpate him or explain away his vitriol and vulgarity. (It is shocking to see garbled passages from "On the Jews and Their Lies" being posted on the internet today by neo-Nazis.) Most Lutheran churches (cf. "The Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community") and the Lutheran World Federation have rightly, publicly condemned Luther's antisemitism and all forms of hatred toward the Jews.

As many scholars have noted, Luther should have known better. Eric Gritsch's recent study of Luther's antisemitism (Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism [Eerdmans, 2012]) is subtitled "Against His Better Judgment." After all, Luther had published a widely read explanation to the Fifth Commandment ("You Shall Not Kill"): "We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life's needs" (Kolb/Wengert, 352). He had regularly preached against hatred of others. Luther certainly did not condone the mass murder of men, women, and children. Earlier in his life, in 1523, he had published a rather remarkable essay for its day, "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," which, largely free of the hostility he expressed later on, taught that Christians should not mistreat Jews but be guided by "the law of Christian love" in their actions toward them (LW 45.229). Christians and Jews, he insisted against the anti-Judaism of the Roman Church, shared a common ancestry. Unlike his medieval forebears, Luther frequently taught that "we and our great sins and gross misdeeds nailed Jesus, God's true Son, to the cross" (WA 35.576), and thus "you, poor Judas, we dare not blame, nor the band of Jews; ours is the shame" (ibid.; trans. by Denis Janz, The Westminster Handbook to Martin Luther [WJK, 2010], 78 [slightly rev.]). Moreover, Luther could have viewed Jews from the center of his theology, namely, justification by grace alone through faith alone in the universal atoning work of Christ. The principal scholarly biographer of Luther, Martin Brecht, thus concluded that "in advising the use of force, [Luther] advocated means that were essentially incompatible with his faith in Christ" (Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 vols. [Fortress, 1990-93], 3.350-51). Still, we can only contemplate with the Marburg Lutheran theologian, Hans-Martin Barth, about why there is no connection between faith and love in Luther's anti-Jewish writings, when elsewhere he so strongly stresses that connection. Why could Luther never see "the Jew" as his neighbor? "Why did [Luther] not appeal to his Jewish contemporaries by pointing to the justification of the ungodly? Why is his faith not expressed in good works toward Jews as well, as the Reformer otherwise expects and often declares? If there is no answer to these theological questions, how is it that Luther, the lover of Hebrew and the Old Testament, reacted with such prejudice, and indeed hatred, to the living tradents of the Hebrew language and Bible?" (Hans-Martin Barth, The Theology of Martin Luther: A Critical Assessment [Fortress, 2013], 30).

Since I am myself a Lutheran Christian and teach at a Lutheran university, I tend to focus on Lutheran theologians in my course on "Christians in Nazi Germany" (e.g., Althaus, Asmussen, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Elert, Hirsch, Niemoeller, Schlink, Tillich). In that course we also examine Luther's anti-Judaic writings and their reception among Germans between the sixteenth century and the early twentieth. One of the questions we address is, "To what extent does Luther bear responsibility for the Shoah, the mass-murder of European Jews during the Nazi regime?" We look at the evidence and arguments put forth by those who blame Luther most of all for what happened to the Jews during the reign of Hitler. For example, we note that Luther's portrait appears prominently in many Holocaust museums, along with descriptions of his anti-Judaic writings. We also look at assertions by the American journalist, William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), the German writer, Thomas Mann, the Anglican priest, R. W. Inge, and his friend, Peter Wiener (Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor [Hutchinson, 1945]), as well as the following statement by Harvard emeritus professor of law, Alan Dershowitz:

Toward the end of his life--and at the height of his influence--Luther articulated a specific program against the Jews which served as bible of anti-Jewish actions over the next four centuries, culminating in the Holocaust. In many ways, Luther can be viewed as the spiritual predecessor of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, virtually all the themes that eventually found their way into Hitler's genocidal writings, rantings, and actions are adumbrated in Martin Luther's infamous essay "Concerning the Jews and Their Lies." ...It is shocking that Luther's ignoble name is still honored rather than forever cursed by mainstream Protestant churches. (Alan Dershowitz, Chutzpah [Little, Brown, and Company, 1991], 106-7).

To the above, we can now add the statement by Yehiel Poupko and Rabbi David Sandmel that appeared in the May 10th issue of The Christian Century. Poupko and Sandmel were responding to Sarah Hinlicky-Wilson's essay on Luther that had appeared in the March 15th issue of that magazine. One of their concerns arose from having read the following lines by Wilson: "Luther's fame and eloquence, not to mention his being German and therefore charged with guilt by association with the Nazis, causes him to come under fire more often than others. But the truth is worse: the whole church has been anti-Judaic from the get-go" (Sarah Hinlicky-Wilson, "Still Reckoning with Luther," The Christian Century [March 15, 2017]).

In response to this, Poupko and Sandmel write:
While we agree with most of this statement, it does not adequately describe the direct connection between Luther's Jew-hatred and Nazi anti-Semitism--it was more than mere "association." Though Luther cannot be labeled a racial anti-Semite in the 19th-century meaning of the word, his anti-Jewish writings provided a roadmap for later Nazi anti-Jewish actions. Luther's hostility was an absolutely necessary but decidedly insufficient cause for the Nazi murder of the Jewish people. (Yehiel Poupko [Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago] and Rabbi David Sandmel [Anti-Defamation League, New York], The Christian Century [May 10, 2017], 60)
Was Luther's hostility toward the Jews an absolutely necessary cause of the Shoah? This question must be taken quite seriously. If I understand the clarification offered by Poupko and Sandmel correctly, it appears that they think the Holocaust could not have happened were it not for the publication of Luther's anti-Judaic writings, that without Luther's hatred of the Jews the Shoah could not have occurred. That judgment, it seems to me, is questionable, at least if one closely examines the history of the effects of Luther's writings on subsequent generations of Germans, the long and sordid history of racial antisemitism in Europe (both before and after Luther's time), and the differing motivations between Luther's theologically oriented writings (which do, in fact, contain antisemitic statements that are in conflict with the center of his theology) and the Nazis' racially-oriented acts of scapegoating and murder.

I cannot here explore the multiplicity of perspectives on the topic "Luther and the Jews." It is, as they say, a complicated issue. Nevertheless, I would like to draw attention to some works by other scholars that my students and I have found helpful for gaining some clarity. In addition to the important final chapter and conclusion in the above work by Gritsch (pp. 97-142), there is the important essay by Johannes Wallmann, "The Reception of Luther's Writings on the Jews from the Reformation to the End of the 19th Century," Lutheran Quarterly 1/1 (Spring 1987): 72-97, which demonstrates that Luther's 1523 writing was far more well known, studied, and appreciated among German Christians in subsequent centuries than his 1543 works, which were largely ignored, unknown among the mainstream laity, and even criticized by fellow Lutherans (e.g., by his own wife, Katie; by the Lutheran Hebraist, Osiander; by other Lutherans, such as Urbanus Rhegius and Johannes Brenz; by Lutheran Pietists who were concerned for missionary work among Jews). "[Luther's] recommendations concerning social policy in regard to the Jews seem to have had little direct impact, even in Saxony, although they continued to provide a theological framework of interpretation and contributed to fierce anti-Judaism among some Lutheran clergy in the century after Luther's death. Only in the late nineteenth century did his severe anti-Jewish writings have renewed widespread influence, albeit shorn of their original theological context and placed in the framework of developing German anti-Semitism" (Miller, "Luther's Views of the Jews and Turks," 431). (In my opinion, Gritsch gives too much weight to a horrific comment Luther is supposed to have made at his dinner table about how he would kill a blaspheming Jew, if he could. Luther's "table talk" comments are notoriously unreliable as sources. How much beer or wine had the one remembering the supposed comment imbibed? What about Luther himself? Most all context is missing.) Another work that offers a solid refutation of the position of Shirer et al., is the important dissertation by Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther: The Rise and Fall of the Shirer Myth (CPH, 1995).

Still another important and most helpful study is the new work by Thomas Kaufmann, Luther's Jews: A Journey into Anti-Semitism (Oxford, 2017). Following the path taken by the late English Luther scholar, Ernst G. Rupp, whose own criticism of the position taken by Wiener et al. is devastating, Kaufmann argues that the appropriate way of dealing with "Luther's Jews" is to see them in historical context, "by locating the reformer in the history of medieval anti-Semitism" (Kaufmann, 151). In this history, according to Rupp (and Kaufmann), Luther is an appalling, disgraceful chapter, but no more than one chapter. Seeing him in historical context "is the only option," one that "creates the right critical distance" (Kaufmann, 156). But that historical context, as Kaufmann stresses, also includes the history of the reception of his writings. The most extreme consequence of that history is how the Nazis claimed Luther's support for their policy of extermination of the Jews.

Certainly, Rupp, Gritsch, Kaufmann, and several other historians reject a simple "causation" between Luther's anti-Judaic writings--which largely reflect the hateful perspective he had received from his medieval teachers, one that was shared by Erasmus and others, and then transmitted in numerous ways to subsequent generations--and Hitler's racist-nationalist-pagan-technological program of Jewish annihilation. Historicizing Luther means both relativizing his work and making it possible "to resist the tendency to read modern ideas into historical figures and subjects" (Kaufmann, 159). In light of the work by Gritsch and Kaufmann, it is difficult to see how Luther's anti-Judaic polemics is an "absolutely necessary, if insufficient cause of the Holocaust." To be sure, Luther's hateful words against the Jews, later used by several Nazis, likely made Hitler's aims easier to execute, but it is quite possible, alas, that the Shoah would have occurred, even if Luther hadn't written those words. More plausible is the thesis of Milton Himmelfarb; "No Hitler, No Holocaust."

In the fall, I will be leading a group of 120 alumni and friends of Valpo University to Germany in order to observe the official anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Valpo's chorale will be singing in the Castle Church on October 31. My group and I will be visiting places connected with Luther and J. S. Bach, including Buchenwald. On the day of our visit there, I will tell my fellow travelers, we cannot avoid addressing the issue of Luther and the Holocaust.

Addendum (6/7/17): My wife, my mother, and a few other Lutherans have told me over the past couple of days how troubled they are to have learned about Luther's antisemitism and his hateful polemics against the Jews. I have responded briefly to them by noting that Luther was a sinner like the rest of us, that he, too, needed God's unmerited forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The heart of Luther's theology thus applied to Luther himself, namely, God's justification of the ungodly.