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An Academic Book Review of Roland H.

Bainton’s
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
David G. Terrell
June 25, 2010

Bainton, Roland H, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, xiv + 336 pp., 89 ill., Nashville,
Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1950.

Bainton begins his fascinating and illuminating landmark biography of Martin Luther

with his decision, at age 22, to become a monk after being trapped outside in the midst of a

raging storm and surviving close lightning strikes after an appeal to his father’s patron saint, St.

Anne. This episode provides an ironic introduction to Bainton’s telling of Luther’s life—which,

after his embrace of monasticism, would lead to a shattered medieval Catholicism.

After this anecdote, Bainton turns to the geopolitical setting of Luther’s life, and

describes, in clean narrative, the nationalism already fragmenting the political unity of Europe.

He also describes the humanistic changes in the society and in the Church; changes that infected

the senior members of the curia, including the popes, whom Bainton charges with secularism,

flippancy, sensuality and a lack of scruples. Bainton then posits Luther as the man who recalled

Christianity to its Religion, asserting that “If there is any sense remaining of Christian

civilization in the West, this man Luther in no small measure deserves the credit.” Bainton

clearly admires Luther, and his life as “a man of religion.” He therefore sets about Luther’s life

by beginning at his conversion, describing his youth only as it contributes to his entry into the

monastic life.1 From this beginning, Bainton weaves his history, building upon a body of primary

sources concerning Luther and the Reformation.

1
Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1950), 15-16.
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Terrell, David G.

Of Luther’s youth, Bainton’s principal observations pertain to the religious

conservativism of his German peasant upbringing; and, the intense psychological tensions

induced by the counterpoint between his religious hope for salvation and his sincere fear of

eternal damnation.2 Wrath and mercy were the staples of his early religious life, and “Christ the

Judge” was the envisioned manifestation of his Savior.3 Luther’s joining the monks of the

Augustinian Order may therefore have been an effort to claim the forgiveness promised by

Church Fathers who deemed “the taking of the cowl to be second baptism.”4

Bainton then spends several chapters describing Luther’s monastery novitiate and his

becoming a priest. He spends some time discussing the anxiety attack Luther suffered during his

first opportunity to preside at Mass. Apparently, Luther’s intense drive to achieve a perfect

holiness, and the human realization of the impossibility thereof, caused him much agony and a

deep depression.5 Bainton also believed that Luther’s trip to Rome in 1510, to represent his order

at a conference, was a significant disillusionment. In Rome, Luther seems to have been exposed

to a more worldly Catholic Church—one full of levity and scriptural ignorance—that crushed

and alienated him.6 After returning from Rome, Luther was transferred to Wittenberg, where he

was to spend the remainder of his vocational life, with short exceptions. Tormented with his own

perceived sins, and disenchanted with the failings of other clergy, Luther worried himself to

anguish. His vicar in Wittenberg, Johann von Staupitz, who would be influential in Luther’s later

life, attempted to divert his fears by tasking him to pursue a Doctor of Divinity and assigning

him to become the chair of Bible at Wittenberg’s university. This responsibility drove the

2
Bainton, Here I Stand (HIS), 20.
3
Bainton, HIS, 21-22.
4
Bainton, HIS, 24.
5
Bainton, HIS, 30-31.
6
Bainton, HIS, 36.
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terrified and agonized Luther to dive into the Scriptures in search of the doctrines he now had to

expostulate to others. Interestingly, Bainton points out that Luther, until now, was no Bible

scholar, as until this point, the decretals and the scholastic authors were at the center of his

theological education.7 In this assertion, Bainton stays close to his previous assessments and

work regarding Luther.8

Bainton details the next several years on Luther’s life in a narrative, switching between

Luther’s biblical studies and the lectures whose writing forced him to crystallize his new

scriptural mastery. His studies caused him to develop a scripturally-based view of the role of

Christ in the salvation of man. His sermons and commentaries focused on the forgiveness of sins

through unmerited grace, made possible through the atonement of Christ.9 In this, he broached

no issues with Catholicism—his doctrine was that of Paul the Apostle, although intensified and

clarified. At his point, Luther envisioned no reform other than implementing a religious

education program based upon the Scriptures.10

According to Bainton, the onset of Luther’s disagreement with Catholicism truly began

around 1516, when the sale of indulgences in the region reached extraordinary levels of cupidity.

The overindulgence was instituted by Pope Leo X, of the Florentine Medici, to finance the

building of the new St. Peter’s in Rome and to redeem his less-than-sacred debts.11 The situation

directly led Luther to propose his ninety-five theses for debate, thus intending to raise the issues

amongst the clergy—and only amongst the clergy. The theses made these three main points.

7
Bainton, HIS, 45.
8
Roland H. Bainton, "Luther's Struggle for Faith," Church History, ((Cambridge University Press on behalf of the
American Society of Church History) XVII, no. 3 (September 1948): 193-206), 193-206.
9
Bainton, HIS, 50-51.
10
Bainton, HIS, 51.
11
Bainton, HIS, 56-57.
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First, Luther objected to the vast expenditure on St. Peter’s when those funds could be spent on

pastoral causes. Second, based his reading of Scripture, Luther denied that the Pope had any

authority to remit a person’s time in purgatory, upon which indulgences were based, Third,

Luther decried Catholicism’s seeming lack of concern for the welfare of sinners that derived

from the other issues.12

Bainton points out that the theses, written in Latin, were intended solely for internal

debate by the learned clergy. However, others translated them into German and gave them,

literally, to the press. The leak to the public ignited a theo-political storm across the German

states, thrusting Luther into an ideological whirlwind. Feeling required to address the public,

Luther made simple, but sweeping, comments about his ideals that inflamed Catholic ideologues

and led his being banned from preaching. Bainton also indicates that inaccurate and fictional

inflammatory press reports about Luther’s points of concern circulated as far as Rome, further

inciting the ideological opposition to Luther, particularly from the Dominican Order charged

with the Holy Office of the Inquisition.13

Luther, ordered to appear before the Pope to explain himself, appealed to local political

authorities to intervene. Eventually, a negotiated agreement saw the inquiry transferred to the

German Diet (civil assembly), in the city of Worms. This was significant as for the first time, a

German national political assembly was transformed into an ecumenical council of the Catholic

Church. This was particularly notable because of the papacy, for many years, had worked to

stifle, if not control, church councils.14 Luther’s appearance before the Diet and the Papal Legate

sent to order his repentance was tenacious and argumentative; with the legate, on one hand,

12
Bainton, HIS, 60-61.
13
Bainton, HIS, 66-68.
14
Bainton, HIS 68-69.
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insisting that Luther recant while he, on the other, insisted on knowing the scriptural basis of his

error. The Legate failed to answer and, believing that he would be unjustly censured, Luther

wrote a preemptive appeal to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Again, the press leaked

Luther’s statement, thus placing Luther in a precarious position relative to the Pope by seeming

to set the Pope against the civil authority. Fortunately, Frederick decided to resist the taking of

any action against Luther before a verdict of heresy was delivered, and none was forthcoming.15

In spite of the clamor, some good arose from the publication of Luther’s theses. Bainton

describes them as central to the softening of papal policy in 1518, with the publication of the

bull, Cum Postquam, that redefined church policy on indulgences and ended some of the worst

abuses of the practice.16

Bainton then turns to the appearance of other individuals who would become close

associates to Luther, and central to the Reformation. Two who became stalwart associates were

Carlstadt and Melanchthon. Carlstadt was another Doctor of Religion but one who lacked

Luther’s deep learning and his introspective and self-consciousness nature. Carlstadt’s

touchiness, impressionability and willingness to turn discussion into argument would lead him

into statements that would give Luther great distress. Melanchthon, a younger man, was a quiet,

unprepossessing and very learned man who came to a rational appreciation of Luther’s

interpretation of Pauline theology.17

Another associate was John Eck, who would become Luther’s nemesis. Eck, a professor

from the University of Ingolstadt, was an old friend to Luther. However, Eck was also “a

15
Bainton, HIS, 75-78.
16
Bainton, HIS, 78.
17
Bainton, HIS, 81-82.
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professional disputant”18 who saw the situation as an opportunity to eliminate a heresy—while

also improving his own reputation. The two men met in Leipzig and debated doctrine in person

over the course of seventeen tumultuous days, and continued, by proxy, in a pamphlet war that

continued several years more.19 Bainton points out that the debates drove Luther back into a

study of the decretals—so that he might be thoroughly prepared for the debates. In the process,

Luther came to appreciate positions previously espoused by John Wycliffe and John Hus,

regarding their beliefs that man cannot be coerced into belief; that Christianity should not mingle

Scripture with the philosophy of men; and, that a “simple layman armed with Scripture is to be

believed above a pope or (ecumenical) council without it.”20

Bainton next describes Luther’s growing influence, first in the German states and then

across northern Europe, largely through the broad dissemination of his writings—made possible

by the printing press. Copies of his sermons spread through France, Spain, Brabant, England, and

Switzerland, where the religious reformer Zwingli reprinted the sermons and thoroughly

disseminated then throughout his country.21 During this discussion, Bainton includes points

examining the influence of outside and even secular ideologies, especially humanism, upon

Luther’s religio-social environment.

Humanism, as defined here by Bainton, was an attitude to life that brought every body of

knowledge, every made of action, and every discipline of life under rational control. Humanists

pursued classical literature “because the Hellenic attitude to life had been similar.”22 Using this

definition, Bainton describes the popes of the Renaissance as patrons of humanism adverse to

18
Bainton, HIS. 82.
19
Bainton, HIS, 82-92.
20
Bainton, HIS, 90.
21
Bainton, HIS, 93.
22
Bainton, HIS, 95.
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Christianity because of its human-centric view of life.23 Interestingly, this definition differs with

another that Bainton would write in the forward to another historians work, forty-two years later,

which said, "The term 'humanist' is applied to those who delved in the literature of the classical

age. .. ."24

Bainton introduces the various Humanists (Erasmus, Dürer, and Melanchthon) and

Nationalists (Hutten and Sickingen) that affected Luther’s thought and career, providing a good

amount of useful detail. Interestingly, the Humanists tended to promote moderation and

reconciliation with the Church, openly hoping, “by relegating to the judgment day the discussion

of difficult points… ,”25 to halt the nationalism fragmenting Christendom. The German

Nationalists, however, wanted to establish a separate national government in the image of Spain,

France and England. Though the nationalists openly supported Luther, even to the provision of

armed men for his protection, these men were of a revolutionary character, which caused Luther

some concern.26

The protection of friends and allies provided Luther two years of relative peace, until the

papal bull of 1520 condemned him. Luther used the time to study and write, and the period saw a

series of tracts published including some Bainton deems central to Luther’s thought: The Sermon

on Good Works, The Papacy at Rome, The Address to the German Nobility, The Babylonian

Captivity, and The Freedom of the Christian Man.27 Bainton then examines each one for its

theological basis and the circumstances stimulating Luther’s to write it. For Bainton, these

23
Bainton, HIS, 95.
24
Thomas W. Best, "Review: German Humanism and Reformation. Ed. Reinhard P. Becker." The German
Quarterly ((Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German) LVII, no. 4
(Autumn 1984): 643-645), 644.
25
Bainton, HIS, 98.
26
Bainton, HIS, 97-104.
27
Bainton, HIS, 105.
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documents represent the essential values of Luther’s teachings, which are centered upon his

insistence that every person is individually answerable to God for his thoughts, words and deeds.

For Luther, therefore, there was no place in his theology for the intercession of priest or Saint.28

Bainton’s obvious concern with religious liberty, developed over decades29, is amply

demonstrated throughout the book and is noticeable in future writings.30

The papal bull renewed the Catholic persecution directed at Luther. Bainton details the

bull’s contents and its dissemination. He also examines, at some length, Luther’s appeal to the

emperor, Charles V for redress. Luther confronted a divided opinion on the part of nobles and

laity. Persons for and against Luther were active in the press, stirring up emotions and troubling

the councils of the nobility. Eventually, the emperor agreed to hear Luther’s appeal and, once

again, the Diet of Worms was converted into a Church Council. Luther presented himself before

the Emperor and the Council and, after expounding his views, made a fundamental assertion of

his faith in the Scriptures and their superiority to, and authority over, any earthly power. He

rejected the authority of popes and councils when they acted contrary to Scriptural decree. The

Diet disagreed and issued an edict condemning Luther as a heretic. The “Edict of Worms” forced

Luther into hiding under the protection of friendly nationalist nobles, at the Wartburg castle.

Here, in isolation, he wrestled with pride, worried about his certainty, and as a spiritual exercise,

translated the New Testament into German.31

28
Bainton, HIS, 105-109.
29
Roland H. Bainton, "The Development and Consistency of Luther's Attitude to Religious Liberty," The Harvard
Theological Review, ((Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School) XXII, no. 2 (April
1929): 107-149), 107-149.
30
John Opie, "Review: Studies on the Reformation by Roland H Bainton," The Journal of Religion ((University of
Chicago Press) XLVI, no. 1 (January 1966): 83-84), 83-84.
31
Bainton, HIS, 110-152.
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With Luther safely ensconced in the castle, Bainton takes the opportunity to highlight the

effects of Luther’s theology upon the German Catholic monastic community. A revolution was

occurring. Monks and nuns were marrying, the liturgy of the mass was changed, and other

individuals, especially Carlstadt, began assuming a leadership role amongst the reformers, filling

the temporary leadership vacuum. The innovations elicited religious violence from both sideds of

the issue, including the death of reformers and the iconoclastic destruction of Catholic religious

art and literature. The violence brought Luther out of hiding, in spite of the threat of papal action

against him—a turning point in Luther’s life, according to Bainton, that turned the humble

scholar into the leader of a movement.32

Bainton then devotes a large part of his book to narrating Luther’s efforts to define “a

new pattern of Church, state, and society, a new constitution for the Church, a new liturgy, and a

new Scripture in the vernacular.”33 Luther began designing and implementing a state in which

religion was the central end of man, who was to work out his own salvation through grace and

faith one would manifest in one’s good works. In this, Luther offended more than the Catholics,

as the moderate, humanistic reformers such as Erasmus and the puritanical, lead by Carlstadt,

and the revolutionaries, lead by Müntzer, defected into their own schisms. Bainton is not friendly

to these individuals, deriding them for their religious intolerance.34 Other evangelical movements

arose, such as the Zwinglis and Anabaptists, further fragmenting Luther’s ability to influence

events effectively.35

32
Bainton, HIS, 152-166.
33
Bainton, HIS, 166.
34
Opie, 83-84.
35
Bainton, HIS, 166-207.
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The unrest would eventually lead to an armed rebellion, the Peasant’s War, in 1525.

Bainton asserts that the uprising, lacking clearly defined goals and a central leadership, consisted

of undisciplined mobs intent on pillaging cloisters, castles and farms. One of the leaders,

Müntzer, was successful in fomenting a large rebellion. State forces met Müntzer’s peasant army

and put down the rebellion, massacring thousands. Unfortunately, the Catholic princes held

Luther accountable for the entire rebellion. The allegation curtailed Luther’s ability to effectively

control events outside his immediate purview. Rather than attempting to reestablish leadership,

Luther adhered to his ideals concerning freedom of conscience and focused his attention upon

those areas remaining under his influence.36 In analyzing this, Bainton presents conservative

interpretations of Luther’s actions that he would reinforce in 1982, after which he would be

criticized by Marxist historians.37 For example, Gordon Mork, in 1983, supporting views

contrary to Bainton, endorsed Freidrich Engels’ labeling of Müntzer as “magnificent” and

condemnation of Luther for a “cowardly servility towards the princes.”38

For most of the remainder of the book, Bainton addresses the aspects of Luther’s life that

came to be embodied in the ideal Protestant character. The chapters describe his marriage to

Katherine von Bora; his relationship to his children; his character as husband and father; the

purposeful dissemination of Reformation doctrine; the creation of Scriptures, catechisms, and

liturgical music in the vernacular; Luther’s continuing preaching; and, his continuing struggle

with depression and self-doubt.39

36
Bainton, HIS, 208-221.
37
Roland H. Bainton, "Thomas Muntzer Revolutionary Firebrand of the Reformation," The Sixteenth Century
Journal, (XIII, no. 2 (Summer 1982): 3-16), 3-16.
38
Gordon R. Mork, "Martin Luther's Left Turn: The Changing Picture of Luther in East German Historiography,"
The History Teacher, ((Society for History Education) XVI, no. 4 (August 1983): 585-595), 585).
39
Bainton, HIS, 223-292.
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Bainton ends with a brief passing over of the last sixteen years of Luther’s life. From the

Augsburg Confession of 1546 to his death in 1546, Bainton asserts that the years were “neither

determinative for his ideas nor crucial for his achievements.”40 That said, Bainton does briefly

describe several events that have since cast doubts on Luther’s mental health and his core values.

During these years, Luther’s issued a very assertive reaction to the bigamy committed by

the landgrave, Philip of Hesse that surprised many. Luther also published hardened views

towards members of other sects, especially the Anabaptists, which eventually saw Luther

consenting to the execution of some adherents. Luther also showed great hostility and incitement

to violence toward the Jews in these final years, about which Bainton says, “One could wish that

Luther had died before ever this tract was written.”41 Finally, Luther became increasingly bitter

towards papists and the emperor. In all these changes in demeanor and stance, Bainton adopts an

apologetic stance, contrasting his later coarse bitterness with an increasing maturity he showed in

theological issues and the translation of the Scriptures.42

Bainton would later be critical of psychologically-focused histories such as Erikson’s

1958 book, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. Dekker and Roodenburg

would take special note of Bainton’s criticism in their 1983 reappraisal of Erikson’s theses.

Bainton’s well-documented assertions were that Luther was friendly to the institution of

marriage and to women, which would later contrast with Erikson’s assertions. 43 Bainton also

treats lightly Luther’s relationship to Jews or Judaism. His bibliography of over three hundred

40
Bainton, HIS, 292.
41
Bainton, HIS, 297.
42
Bainton, HIS, 292-302.
43
Rudolf M Dekker and Herman W Roodenburg, "A Suitable Case for Treatment? A Reappraisal of Erikson's
"Young Man Luther"," Theory and Society, ((Springer) XII, no. 6 (November 1983): 775-800), 775, 784.
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items contains only one explicit reference to Judaism.44 There was no discussion of possible

organic causes of Luther’s seeming change in personality

At the time of Bainton’s death in 1984, this book had sold over a million copies and had

become the “standard popular biography for Luther.”45 Bainton wrote Here I Stand at the

approximate mid-point of his sixty-plus year career as a historian of the Renaissance. For this

reviewer, the book proved to provide great insights into the nature of persecution, toleration and

the role of ideologues in expanding, distorting and worsening a conceptual rift that might have

been healed, if radical minds had not rubbed the salt of invective and polemic into offended

persons on both sides of Luther’s persuasive return to Scriptural authority.

David G. Terrell
American Military University

44
Arnold Ages, "Luther and the Rabbis," The Jewish Quarterly Review, ((University of Pennsylvania Press) LVIII,
no. 1 (July 1967): 63-68), 63.
45
Robert M. Kingdon, "In Memoriam: Roland H. Bainton," The Sixteenth Century Journal (XV, no. 1 (Spring
1984): 105-106), 105.
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Terrell, David G.

Bibliography

Ages, Arnold. "Luther and the Rabbis." The Jewish Quarterly Review (University of
Pennsylvania Press) LVIII, no. 1 (July 1967): 63-68.
Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon
Press, 1950.
Bainton, Roland H. "Luther's Struggle for Faith." Church History (Cambridge University Press
on behalf of the American Society of Church History) XVII, no. 3 (September 1948): 193-206.
Bainton, Roland H. "The Development and Consistency of Luther's Attitude to Religious
Liberty." The Harvard Theological Review, (Cambridge University Press on behalf of the
Harvard Divinity School) XXII, no. 2 (April 1929): 107-149.
Bainton, Roland H. "Thomas Muntzer Revolutionary Firebrand of the Reformation." The
Sixteenth Century Journal, XIII, no. 2 (Summer 1982): 3-16.
Best, Thomas W. "Review: German Humanism and Reformation. Ed. Reinhard P. Becker." The
German Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of
German) LVII, no. 4 (Autumn 1984): 643-645.
Dekker, Rudolf M, and Herman W Roodenburg. "A Suitable Case for Treatment? A Reappraisal
of Erikson's "Young Man Luther"." Theory and Society (Springer) XII, no. 6 (November 1983):
775-800.
Erikson, Erik H. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. London: Peter
Smith Publishers, 1972, 1962.
Kingdon, Robert M. "In Memoriam: Roland H. Bainton." The Sixteenth Century Journal XV, no.
1 (Spring 1984): 105-106.
Mork, Gordon R. "Martin Luther's Left Turn: The Changing Picture of Luther in East German
Historiography." The History Teacher (Society for History Education) XVI, no. 4 (August 1983):
585-595.
Opie, John. "Review: Studies on the Reformation by Roland H Bainton." The Journal of
Religion (University of Chicago Press) XLVI, no. 1 (January 1966): 83-84.

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