Martin Luther

A Late Medieval Life

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This brief, insightful biography of Martin Luther strips away the myths surrounding the Reformer to offer a more nuanced account of his life and ministry. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this accessible yet robustly historical and theological work highlights the medieval background of Luther's life in contrast to contemporary legends. Internationally respected church historian Volker Leppin explores the Catholic roots of Lutheran thought and locates Luther's life in the unfolding history of 16th-century Europe. Foreword by Timothy J. Wengert.

Timothy J. Wengert
Translators' Introduction
Rhys Bezzant
1. The Son: Destined for Higher Things
2. The Monk
3. The Young Professor
4. The Publicist
5. The Prophet
6. The Preacher-Bishop from Wittenberg
7. The Year of Climax, 1525
8. The Educator
9. The Outsider: On the Margins of the Reformation
10. The Old Professor
11. The End of Life


"In Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life, Volker Leppin tells the riveting story of the man who courageously championed reform and inspired the world. Drawing from the best scholarship on Luther, Leppin weaves new details into a biography that will now be the major work on Luther for years to come."

Christine Helmer, Arthur E. Andersen Teaching and Research Professor, professor of German and religious studies, Northwestern University

"Beautifully crafted, deeply informed, and elegantly poignant, Leppin's account of Luther's life and thought is a masterwork of theological and historical writing. Leppin offers a subtle yet sympathetic portrait of a notoriously complex and controversial figure who remains shrouded in myth and legend. Luther's brilliance and flaws emerge from the pages, as one of the leading Reformation scholars of our generation expertly guides the reader through a revolutionary age. This book is essential reading for all who seek a thoughtful, balanced account of the origins and development of the Reformation."

Bruce Gordon, Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Yale Divinity School

"Volker Leppin's biography is unmatched as a brief and engaging introduction to Martin Luther's life. Taking a fresh approach to familiar sources, Leppin presents a new view of Luther's transformation from faithful monk to ardent reformer and finally to figurehead in a movement that grew far beyond his control. This lucid translation makes available to an English-reading audience the insights of one of Germany's most respected Luther scholars."

Amy Nelson Burnett, Paula and D. B. Varner University Professor of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

"With the thoroughness of a historian and the precision of a theologian, Volker Leppin presents a Luther situated in his time yet accessible to readers in ours. Carefully contextualizing Luther's era as the transition from medieval Christendom to early modernity, Leppin elucidates Luther as both the product and an agent of this transformation in Western culture. We hear Luther in his own words, as the expert biographer guides us on the significance and value of each statement, and through these words modern readers meet Luther himself: the churchman, the professor, the friend and colleague, the husband and father. Struggles with theological opponents, with church and civil leadership, and within his own life of faith and prayer are brought to life in these chapters. We see Luther at his most human: as a family man and teacher and as a public figure conscious of his visibility. Anyone seeking a fresh interpretation of this pivotal figure in Christian history need look no further."

Ralph Keen, Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

"This brief but authoritative theological biography gives Martin Luther his due without hero worship and gives us a fresh look especially at his debt to the prior German mystical tradition embodied in his mentor Staupitz."

Paul Rorem, B. B. Warfield Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Volker Leppin is not only a leading Luther expert but also a talented storyteller. He presents the dramatic turns of the Reformer's life, highlighting both the context of late medieval piety and the new discoveries of the Wittenberg circle. While Luther appears as professor and theologian, Leppin shows him also as publicist and prophet, educator and (almost) bishop, husband and father."

Risto Saarinen, University of Helsinki

"Instead of pursuing proofs to unambiguously time the moment of Luther's 'breakthrough' with the Scriptures and the turning point for his theology, Dr. Leppin invites his readers to observe the maturation process in the reformer's theological orientation. Fed by the influences from Staupitz and mysticism, Paul and Augustine, Luther positioned himself against the dominant university theology of the day. His aspirations unfold from his deeply formative experiences as a late medieval monk, his biblical scholarship, and his passion to preach the gospel. This succinct, richly detailed, biographical account offers a historian's argument against retroactively applying a script to a theological journey characterized by human encounters, personal sorrows and joys, and spiritual discoveries and ambitions."

Kirsi Stjerna, professor of Lutheran history and theology (chair), Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, California Lutheran University; Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California

The Author

  1. Volker Leppin

    Volker Leppin

    Volker Leppin (PhD, University of Heidelberg) is professor of church history at the University of Tübingen and is widely regarded as the leading German historian of the late medieval period. He has served as scientific director of the Ecumenical Working...

    Continue reading about Volker Leppin


"[A] must read short biography on Martin Luther. . . . I recommend [it]."

Michael F. Bird,

Euangelion blog (Patheos)

"The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation . . . was preceded by an abundance of focused studies on Martin Luther and his impact from a variety of angles. . . . For those seeking a briefer sketch of the Reformer, Volker Leppin's analysis would be highly recommended to everyone from life-long Lutherans to those who googled Martin Luther King Jr. in search of more information about his namesake. . . . This slim volume finds that sweet spot between scholarship and accessibility and can be used in churches, if not classrooms, as an introduction to 'the son of a miner, monk, professor, enemy of the pope, preacher of the end times, husband, father, Martin Luther.'"

Timothy Ihssen,

Reading Religion