Luther and the German state

Heythrop Journal 39 (1):1–17 (1998)

This article is a discussion of the instrumentalization of Martin Luther by German historiography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for politically‐legitimating, purpose providing and especially national purposes. In the nineteenth century the Luther jubilee of 1883 was one of the highlights of German nationalism, which had developed rapidly since the unification of 1871. During the First and Second World War Luther again was turned into an active supporter of German nationalism. This study focuses on the last large‐scale attempt to instrumentalize Luther for national purposes; ie the Luther interpretation in the German Democratic Republic. With the help of a new Luther reception the GDR tried to improve the basis for her own national identity. She intensified her policy of delimitation from the Federal Republic of Germany with the help of a new and very positive Luther image. These East German attempts, however, backfired and were counter productive in their results. The political appeal to an all‐German historical personality like Martin Luther could not legitimate a divided Germany. On the contrary, it brought about the opposite, that is it rather stimulated underlying all‐German affinities and cohesive forces. Of course East German historians did not aim at “Wiedervereinigung”– which, naturally was a political issue of the highest degree. But, with the aid of Luther, they unconsciously played an important part in setting the stage for German unification
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DOI 10.1111/1468-2265.00062
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