Martin Luther in 1510

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Martin Luther in 1510 is an intriguing figure. Here we have a theologian who belongs to both of our churches, and as such is unsettling to both of our perceptions of who and what we are. Scholars on both sides have tried to manage this Luther. Some on the Lutheran side have liked to emphasize his “Reformation breakthrough” to an extreme degree. There is supposed to be an absolute, abject break with his past, a lightning-bolt discovery of the true but long obscured gospel, a relentless rejection of all that came before—you see this even in certain kinds of paintings of Luther, where he hammers the 95 Theses to the door of the church with a strident certainty. This is the ultra-Protestant Luther who has no use for Rome, the Catholic church, or pretty much anything that came before him.