Review: Brand Luther

Andrew Pettegree’s Brand Luther: 1517, Printing and the Making of the Reformation tells the story of how Martin Luther launched the Reformation through his mastery of the media.

How was this possible? Why did Luther succeed in challenging and overthrowing the authority of the Catholic Church while so many of his predecessors had failed? In 1517, Martin Luther was an unknown Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Electoral Saxony which was a backwater of the Holy Roman Empire. He wasn’t even a published author. And yet, within a few years Luther had become the most published author in European history.

There was no reason to believe that a world changing movement would emerge and snowball out of a place like Wittenberg over a routine academic disputation on theology. In fact, Luther had penned a similar manifesto – 99 theses against Scholastic theology – a mere eight weeks before which been posted on the church door and had attracted little public interest.

The 95 theses made a far bigger splash that Luther had expected and soon he was the talk of Wittenberg and Saxony. They struck a raw nerve and were reprinted throughout Germany in the bigger cities like Basel and Nuremberg and from there began to have a European impact. It was a media sensation and it sparked a pamphlet war with Johann Tetzel which captivated public attention.

From this point forward, Martin Luther became the 16th century equivalent of a celebrity. Pettegree argues that he effectively became the first mass media brand. Luther threw himself into penning answers to his critics. There was an insatiable, unprecedented demand for Luther’s works in Germany. He vastly outsold classical authors. It was great business for Germany’s printers who reprinted his work in Basel, Strasbourg, Augsburg, Leipzig and Nuremberg where they reached large urban audiences.

As Luther became famous in Europe, he developed into a master propagandist. The Reformation spread through Flugschriften which were these short, cheap, punchy little pamphlets in German that contained religious text and woodcut images (bold graphics) that were usually abusive depictions of Luther’s enemies. These little pamphlets went viral in Germany and his Catholic opponents were heavily out published in a social media war. Luther himself with intimately involved in crafting the optics of his works and brought new printers to Wittenberg to heighten their aesthetic appeal.

Martin Luther was also a talented musician. He wrote over 40 hymns which he considered “an essential conduit of God’s word.” These hymns appealed to the emotions and were of enormous importance in advancing the Reformation. Several scholars have argued “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” – his most famous hymn – is a martial song that Luther wrote to rouse Protestants to fight the Turks. Luther’s greater aesthetic appreciation of religious art and music later became one of the biggest divides between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism.

Luther’s flair for the dramatic – burning Pope Leo X’s papal bull, writing incendiary books like On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, his coarse language and willingness to write in German, standing up to Emperor Charles V and refusing to recant at the Diet of Worms, translating the Bible into German, marrying a runaway nun – captured the German imagination. Far from being anything like a modern liberal, he wrote harshly about all of his various enemies including the Jews:

“We must fight everywhere against the armies of the Devil. How many different enemies have seen in our own time – the defenders of the pope’s idols, the Jews, a multitude of Anabapist monstrosities, the party of Servertus and others. Let us prepare ourselves against Mohammad as well. But what will we be able to say concerning things of which we are ignorant? That it is why it is beneficial for learned people to read the writings of their enemies.”

Luther wrote three tracts against the Jews – On the Jews and their Lies, On the Ineffable Name and On the Last Words of David. He successfully campaigned to have them expelled from Saxony by Prince John Frederick in 1536. They had already been driven out of Wittenberg before his arrival. In his last sermon at his hometown in Eisleben in February 15, 1546, he preached that “the Jews are our enemies, who do not cease to defame Christ and would gladly kill us all if they could.” He died three days later.

For all his many gifts, it is still hard to believe that Luther survived and made such an impact. Were it not for the inexplicable protection of Frederick the Wise, Luther would have likely suffered the fate of Jan Hus. Were it not for the Ottomans marching on Vienna, Emperor Charles V would have crushed the Protestant princes much earlier than he did at the Battle of Mühlberg. It is amazing that the 95 theses set off such a controversy. It is amazing that printers which made money off the sale of indulgences reprinted and circulated Luther’s works. Perhaps the most amazing and unlikely thing of all is that so many people risked everything to publicly back Luther and break with Rome.

The penalty for heresy against the dogma of political correctness in our own times is excommunication from ‘mainstream’ respectability by the mass media. No one is risking the eternal damnation of their souls by defying journalists. No one is risking being burned at the stake for heresy. What did the original Protestants have that the Alt-Right lacks in our own times?

About Hunter Wallace 12370 Articles
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  1. Hey Hunter,
    A good article. I recall a Baptist preacher whom I used to know (before I went Calvinist) who was more offended by Luther’s comments on the Jews than on his dislike of the Anabaptists that he claimed as someone being his own theological ancestors.
    In regards to your question as to what the Reformers had that the mass of the Alt-Right lacks, that I believe I can answer. A sincere faith in God and a desire for moral purity.

  2. I was raised in the Lutheran Church, like you, Brad. In fact, where I grew up, there were probably more Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, than Baptists.
    All the things you wrote about are like familiar old friends, including the hymns.

  3. Good afternoon from Prague.

    Hunter, you must have been thinking of me. We spent three days last week, including a Sunday, in the Luther Region. It was either blind luck, good planning, or an otherwordly miracle, that got us to Wittenberg on a Sunday. So you can probably figure out where I went to church that morning. Then the next two days were spent spelunking the region. Back in November when I finally regained functional coherence, I regained it about two weeks after the observed 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, October 31, 2017. But, this made up for it, and then some. It’s still the 500th year, and the local infrastructure established for the 500th anniversary observations is still extant.

    Needless to say, I can’t come up with words to describe how soul shaking it was.

  4. In Germany Lutherans don’t refer to themselves as Lutherans, but, as “Evangelische”, the German word for Protestant.

    Luther was not afraid to oppose both the Roman Catholics and the Jews, an alliance that has done so much harm in the US, and will soon with Latino immigration become an absolute political majority in the US.

    In Germany there were two different groups of Anabaptists. The “anti-Baptists” who did not believe in Baptism and were the radicals, and the “adult Baptists” who believed that only adults should be Baptized such as Jesus Christ who was Baptized as an adult.

    None of the leaders of the Reformation wanted to tackle the issue of subordinationism, that of Jesus Christ being subordinate to his Father, as he said, or the place of the Holy Spirit in the relationship between Father and Son. They all deferred to the African Augustine who himself was confused by the issue, rather than to Origin or one of the other earlier Christian theologians closer to the time of Christ.

    • Yes, this is somewhat confusing.

      In America, the word “evangelical” was appropriated by the movement that spread through the colonies in the Great Awakening in the 18th century. This really wasn’t the same thing as the “evangelicals” of the Reformation.

      Evangelicalism is a style that developed across many Protestant groups in the 1700s. It emphasizes emotion, heartfelt conversion, fire and brimstone revivalism. It can be anti-intellectual in a way which wasn’t true of the original mainstream reformers.

      The original Protestants like Luther and Calvin were very intellectual and argued endlessly over fine theological distinctions.

    • The “anti-Baptists” who did not believe in Baptism and were the radicals, and the “adult Baptists” who believed that only adults should be Baptized such as Jesus Christ who was Baptized as an adult.

      In Hebrew, the word “Torah” has the dual meaning of both “law” and “instruction.” Therefore by definition, the Old Testament is a book of legal instruction, a law book applicable only to Jews. The Gospels tell the story of a man providing the antidote for the Old Testament’s poisonous, financially corrosive laws.

      “Baptism,” as now known, did not exist in first century Judea. The concept was derived from the Mikveh ritual purification ceremony practiced by Jews to the present day. The Mikveh was so important, Jews they sold their Torah scrolls and synagogues to build Mikveh baths. The importance of the Mikveh is exemplified by the Temple’s ruling elite priesthood having these baths installed in their homes at a time when the complex administration of such baths, required for legal purity, would have been most difficult.

      John did not perform his ceremony in the Jordan river, but in a location close to Jerusalem known as “bet anya” or “house of alms.” The name referred to the poor who could not afford to pay sacrificial tribute to the Temple to atone for their sins. Bet anya had had a series of springs that fed the Jordan river. These springs, referred to as the “Jordan beyond the Jordan,” was where John performed his Mikveh/baptism purification ceremony.

      In performing his Mikveh “baptism,” John was in fact forgiving the poor of their sins. However, the Mikveh provided only temporary atonement from sin. This is why John said “one greater than I will come.” Jesus blood sacrifice on the cross was the final sacrifice, delivering Jews from their sins for the last time.

      Note how there are no “gentiles” in this story. “Gentiles” are not considered descendants of Adam, or “Adamic man,” therefore non-Jews were not recognized as human. Thus, for first century Jews, only humans could sin. This is why in Matthew 10 and 15, Jesus commanded his disciples to avoid the gentiles. “Gentiles” had no problem with either sin or the Temple law administering it.

      As it is today with many modern churches, under Temple law a priest was required to provide atonement for sin. Thus, John was a reneged priest using Temple authority to forgive sins. This would have been considered a “miracle” by first century Jews, as a “miracle’ was defined as an “unintended outcome to Temple law.” John’s forgiveness of sin without the demand for tribute was against Temple law.

      Under Temple administration, it took a priest to create a priest. John’s “baptism” of Jesus was in fact Jesus’ initiation into the priesthood. The initiation of a priest required the Mikveh ceremony with three priests as witnesses. Mikveh water had to be of a certain purity for the initiation ceremony, so no other person could be in the water at the time. Careful reading of the Gospel story reveals these legal requirements were met. Initiation into the priesthood gave Jesus the required authority to question, rebuke and rescind Temple law.

      Had Jesus not been provided such recognized authority, no one would have paid any attention to him and his sacrificial blood atonement on the cross would have had no meaning for Temple Jews. However, because Jesus was a priest, his sacrifice was recognized by many Temple followers as the final act of forgiveness of their sins, meaning there was no longer any need to pay the onerous sacrificial tithing demanded by the Temple. Jesus’ blood sacrifice created a major schism in the Temple and from that point forward, the Temple began to degenerate until its fall in 70 AD. Note: to this day, Jews must pay to go to synagogue.

      Picture a layperson walking into a Catholic church and offering to hear confession and then preaching against Catholic dogma. Next picture a bishop or cardinal doing the same. This example provides an idea of the difference priesthood initiation meant for Jesus. Remember Bishop Williamson “denial” of the mythical Hallowedhoax against Catholic dogma? Remember the results of his actions? Would a layperson have received comparable attention? This provides yet another excellent example of what first century, reneged priests like John and Jesus faced in their opposition to Temple law.

      The Gospels are all about the opposition to the Temple and its laws. It had nothing to do with anyone outside the Temple, especially non-Jew, “gentiles.” The entire Bible is a book written by for and about Jews and only Jews. Thus, the Bible should be of no particular value or relevance to non-Jews

      • This is not true in regards to the last paragraph. In the New Testament it plainly reads we are neither jew or gentile, rich or poor, free or slave but one in Christ.

      • Yeah, even my little backwater, formerly (past tense) Methodist College, formerly named after a Confederate veteran, and, minor coal baron, is about to get a Jew as President after 130 years of Methodist and Presbyterian Presidents.

        Am I happy about this development? No!
        Have I voiced my displeasure? Yes!

        Who chose the Jew. Well, it turns out the selection committee was stacked with West Virginia University (WVU) graduates, who can loosely be described as community members.

        This is a real slap in the face to every graduate. None of us, that I know of, were consulted. When the current President was picked I got a call, and a personal letter from a retired Dean. No such courtesy this time.

        Do Jews have to run every institution in the US?

        • I just finished a tour of Appalachia. Even I as the most jaded NYC/NJ refugee one could find am surprised that West Virginia graduates would collude thusly. Upon my return home I rushed up to the Delaware Water Gap to reconnoiter with my own flora and foliage, and wound up hiking with some late 20’s Pa natives who’d graduated from WVU.

          I recounted my West Virginia mountain trek and its untouched frontier perils. WVU did not sound particularly hospitable to jews so I’m wondering how such a rigging issued from WVU grads. Were they jews themselves?! Did the jews manage to buy them off somehow?

          It’s sort of ironic that you mention this because alongside a Northern Invasion more populous than southerners saw after the Civil War, a planned subversion of southern colleges is occurring. The guineas are the worst offenders, seeking refuge from NJ’s third world state university system until their parents’ nepotistic crony racket has fleeced whatever resources the remaining whites have left.

          How utterly tragic to hear so much of these plans ‘Little Guido is going to Clemson, or Half Breed Dago got into James Madison, etc.’ They seem to salivate at the prospect of polluting these last bastions where ‘everyone is blonde and 5’6″.’

          Beware Southerners.


          • That generation had no clue about jews and no internet to educate themselves. Those beautiful ‘anglo’ – and so many blond/e – college kids I saw all over the region have Generation X parents, precisely the age group I heard expressing profound pessimism over America’s future from Murfreesboro through Knoxville to Charlotte. And I should add that some of the most strident grumblings came from these middle aged southern women.

            It’s a different world that awaits today’s southern young people. Even the mid 20-somethings I conferred with didn’t hesitate to nod emphatically at the notion that we are overcrowded and overrun with, well the implication and full understanding was *invaders*.

            What I question is whether the subversion and corrosion, both deliberate and de facto, of the cohesive social fabric that has been so integral to the South’s history and culture will go unnoticed and unquestioned. Or will this invasion by northern, uh, ‘caucasians’ happen gradually and stealthily enough to alter the weave of anglo society beyond recognition, and beyond the threshold where a homogeneous majority based on mutual trust and higher moral values can survive, much less revolt?

            The jews took over by hiding their hand. Now the mediterranean menace bares its ugly face.

      • Lutheranism is very common in the Midwest, Plains and Far West, The only places in the Old South (incl Maryland for this discussion) that I was aware of there even being a presence of them was Maryland, Texas Missouri and probably Florida since all of the snowbirds are down there. I know in Kentucky where my dad grew up there were literally 100 varieties of Baptist to be found, a bunch of different Pentecostal types, snake handlers, you name it. In a small mountain county with less than 30,000 people.

        Growing up Lutheran in Alabama must have been different, considering how powerful in certain counties the Baptist church is. Do the Baptists still politically muscle people like they did 70 years ago?

        • I grew up as a Methodist.

          My wife’s family are Lutherans from St. Louis. I had long admired Luther anyway before I met my wife and found it much more attractive than evangelical Christianity.

          • Okay now i get it, thanks for clearing that up, I read James Owens statement and I think I got it confused.

            My family was all Baptists until my Grandpa who left and joined the Church of Christ and so did his Brother. All the rest of the children and there were 11 living remained Baptist even if they never went to Church. Let me tell you something, in Kentucky in the 1950’s going up against the Baptists was dangerous business and it was hard on you. Grandpa had to literally fight his own family over his choice, and he even had weapons pulled on him. There is an old Baptist saying, ILL LAY DOWN MY RELIGION LONG ENOUGH TO WHIP YOUR ASS or in KY shoot you dead.

            The Church of Christ isn’t evangelical and is Anti-Zionist, at least most are, not sure about all. We still refer to Palestine, never to Israel. They still preach that the Jews are lost and have to submit to Baptism in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit like everyone else. I had debates with Pro-Israel people over this pointing out their lies, they cannot stand it one bit at all

      • Calvinism is at its base Zionism. John Calvin was a Jew. LOOK UP THE CATHOLIC GAZETTE FEBRUARY 1936 details a Jewish meeting in Paris for Bnai Brith in which one of the Rabbis explains this.


        “We are the Fathers of all Revolutions – even of those which sometimes happen to turn against us. We are the supreme Masters of Peace and War. We can boast of being the Creators of the REFORMATION! JOHN CALVIN was one of our Children; he was of Jewish descent, and was entrusted by Jewish authority and encouraged with Jewish finance to draft his scheme in the Reformation.

        “Martin Luther yielded to the influence of his Jewish friends, and again, by Jewish authority and with Jewish finance, his plot against the Catholic Church met with success…

        “Thanks to our propaganda, to our theories of Liberalism and to our misrepresentations of Freedom, the minds of many among the Gentiles were ready to welcome the Reformation. They separated from the Church to fall into our snare. And thus the Catholic Church has been very sensibly weakened, and her authority over the Kings of the Gentiles has been reduced almost to naught..
        “We are grateful to Protestants for their loyalty to our wishes – although most of them are, in the sincerity of their faith, unaware of their loyalty to us. We are grateful to them for the wonderful help they are giving us in our fight against the stronghold of Christian Civilization, and in our preparations for the advent of our supremacy over the whole world and over the Kingdoms of the Gentiles.

        “So far we have succeeded in overthrowing most of the Thrones of Europe. The rest will follow in the near future. Russia has already worshiped our rule, France, with her Masonic Government, is under our thumb. England, in her dependence upon our finance is under our heel; and in her Protestantism is our hope for the destruction of the Catholic Church. Spain and Mexico are but toys in our hands. And many other countries, including the U.S.A., have already fallen before our scheming.

  5. I don’t believe any movement can accomplish any lasting good without belief in the All Mighty. If that offends the knuckleheads believing in Thor and Oden and this devil worshiper chickenshit, then so be it.

    • Allllllllrighty then, “All Mighty” what? Jesus? The almighty Jew god YHVH? Who but a bloodthirsty Jew could call that psychopathic murderer “god?” Try this book to see some interesting revelations about that first Jew god.

      As for Jesus, “son of god” was simply the term for a kosher kohein or priest. Jesus was a member of the Temple priesthood. Doesn’t it make sense a Jewish priest would be called a “son of god?” After all, are not these people chosen by their god for special consideration? Jesus never claimed the title of “god”, that was Saul/Paul and the later Christians that deified him and gave him that title in the effort to replace the Old Testament god YHVH. So what “All Mighty ” are you referring to?

      • Again, this is not true. The New Testament reads again, before Abraham I am. The gospel of John this is where Jesus is called the bread, water and the way, truth and life.

        By the way, Jesus is the Latinized version of Yeshua. There was no j in the alphabet until the 17th century.

  6. A friend that is a high school teacher once told me that most American students do not know who Martin Luther was and if you teach about Luther you have to make sure they understand he and Martin Luther King are not the same person. I kid you not!

  7. I heard right wing churches have growing attendance numbers, whilst leftie churches are dying. Can someone please advise my wife and I which are the most conservative? Baptist maybe?
    The one we currently attend is now complaining that we’re….too white and need diversity. The church leadership is not helping our youth or homeless…..but are over in
    bloody Somalia building a church for them (they can’t even construct a bleedin church on their own). So soon we’ll be bidding them farewell, but need a replacement-you know, one that actually helps their own community.

    • I believe our Church has opened a few churches in Australia. They are extremely conservative and based out of Alabama. And yes the more conservative the Church generally the bigger they get as the new generation, is more conservative than their parents. At least where I live.

      • Deep South,

        Yes churches are great places for young people to make friends and meet partners. They are a good influence and example for people of all ages…..but they have to be the right church. If a church has ‘REFUGEES WELCOME’ on its facade…..then run a mile! If they’re left leaning on this issue, then they’ll be left leaning on everything.
        What is the name of this Alabama church? It may be worth checking out.

    • Can someone please advise my wife and I which are the most conservative?

      The closest one can come to true Christianity is Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Christian church is the last surviving remnant of Christianity. While it might appear to have the trappings of the Catholic church, Orthodoxy is not a merely a different, or watered down version of Catholicism. There is a reason why Orthodoxy remains in the shadows of other American religions. Visit an Orthodox church and you will find out why.

  8. How many species of Jew are there? Then you have Jesus calling himself a Jew.. The confusing mess.

    If I created an awesome home appliance I would be sure to write its instruction manual in such a way that no 2 people could coherently follow the bizarre directions and operate the appliance in the same manner. Ideally the appliance would be rendered inoperable due to improper usage and I would charge a restocking fee when they come to return the appliance as punishment for not having correct faith in the appliance and not properly reading my incoherent instruction manual.

      • Where does any Jew call himself a Jew? Hell, they change their name more often than their underwear to hide (((their))) ethnicity. Look at Jesus, he used a Mexican name to hide hide his racial identity.

        Jesus was not justA Jew, as a Temple priest, he was a Jew’s Jew. He was a son o’ god, a member of the exalted elite who administered Temple law. If you read my previous post about baptism (above) you will find a more complete explanation.

  9. Luther was the FIRST liberal. He broke with tradition and authority and made himself the sole arbiter of biblical exegesis and the meaning of tradition. The centrifugal forces Luther set in motion have led inexorably to the multitudinous churches and the confused theologies and philosophies that dominate the modern world.

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