Roland Bainton

Here I Stand

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Here I Stand Summary

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Reformation specialist and former Yale professor Roland Bainton wrote Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther in 1950. It is a chronological account of Martin Luther’s life and his struggles for reformation within the Catholic Church during the 1500s. The first half of the book is dedicated to the story of Luther’s life and the circumstances that led him to reject the church’s practices later in his life. The second half is devoted to an exploration of the Reformation.

Bainton starts with a brief explanation of some contemporary comparisons of Catholics and Protestants, namely that the two groups have united over secularism and atheism. The two religions, according to Bainton, have also borrowed elements from each other in teachings, prayer, and song. Catholics have also started to become more “progressive” since 1864.

In the next section, Bainton backtracks to the moment when Luther was almost struck by lightning and decided he must join a monastery in Erfurt, Germany. Bainton claims that no matter what critics say about Luther, he was a deeply religious man whose life was infused with religion from the very beginning. Luther’s parents loved him and judged him to be a brilliant man. He was certainly well educated. He earned his Master of Arts and a Doctor of Theology degree.

Although he devoted his whole life to religion, he was often plagued by depression. He never felt he would be able to earn God’s graces no matter how much he prayed and confessed. He was often depressed and had intense visions of Heaven and Hell. During his first year at the monastery, Luther was freed from depression for a period. However, after graduating, he spiraled into a process of praying multiple times a day and confessing weekly in six-hour sessions. He moved to a small town in Germany called Wittenberg and by 1516 held many positions in the monastery.

Over time, Luther began to question some of the practices of the Catholic Church. He became suspicious of indulgences, a payment given to the church that allegedly lessened a sinner’s time in Hell. He also did not believe the Pope had the power to lift people from Purgatory. He started to spread his ideas throughout the community and some said he would be punished. Famously, he nailed his ideas in the form of the “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. He was met by opposition and support by various groups.

In 1518, he wrote “Cum Postquam” which consisted of three points: indulgences could not eliminate sin, only “real world” penalties could be eliminated by indulgences, and the Pope could only punish those on Earth. His other ideas included reformation of marriage, confirmation, ordination, and penance. Luther went to Leipzig, Germany, and debated some of these ideas, which ultimately led to his trial in Augsburg in 1518. When Charles the Roman Emperor took too long to decide his fate, he decided to flee town.

Blainton next described a period in which Luther endured a period of scorn against him. An edict called “The Diet of Worms” declared him a traitor to the church. He was excommunicated from the church and banned from Wittenberg but claimed that God was still on his side. He learned that the church had burned some of his writings, and he entered a period of heavy insomnia. He decided to sneak into Wittenberg and noticed some changes taking place around him, like priests and monks indulging in things previously forbidden to them. He was happy about the reforms but angry that his writings were being disrespected. He was finally invited back to Wittenberg and abandoned his disguise, but both church and state laws heavily restricted him.

Things started to change with the Peasants War of 1524. Spurred by the ideas of the Reformation, peasants realized they never seemed to get any justice for their abuses. The wealthy also joined in the war and wanted to reform the government so that only the Pope and the Emperor were in charge. Luther wrote a document called the Twelve Articles for the peasants.

Although the church still didn’t fully accept his ideas, monks and nuns started to abandon the church in droves. Luther felt guilty and thought he should marry a nun, ultimately leading to his marriage to Katherine von Bona in 1525. Once he was married he realized he now had financial and emotional responsibilities to her. By 1527, most of Germany supported the Reformation, and lower Saxony converted to Evangelicalism. Most churches at this time were thrown into a period of confusion and identity crisis. Luther held inspections of churches and realized that most of them didn’t manage their finances well.

As things settled down, Luther worked on writing a New Testament for the German Bible. Once he was stabilized, he returned to preaching, translating the Bible, lecturing, and praying. He held many services throughout the week with a different focus each day. Even though he had inspired many people throughout his life, he still struggled with his own beliefs. He found his comfort in scripture, family, and hymn writing. According to Bainton, the last sixteen years of Luther’s life were relatively unremarkable, but he continued his daily church habits, and still opposed the Pope.