"Luther Studies in a Catholic Context"


Why Study Luther in Catholic Context? and Why at Marquette?
by Mickey Mattox & Markus Wriedt


Modern historical research traces out the context within which historical developments took place by means of careful study of the historical sources themselves. At Marquette, we employ that same research model in order to set Luther firmly into the historical context into which he was born and within which he carried out his work as a theologian and man of the church.  Doing so is already something of an uphill struggle. Theological research on Luther has been marginalized in recent years as scholars have turned their attention to social and cultural aspects of sixteenth century reform, pushing the theological questions (and answers!) that drove men like Luther increasingly to the sidelines. We believe that theological Luther research as an aspect of research in Reformation history must find and justify anew its position within today’s increasingly secularized and even dechristianized ‘post-modern’ academic environment.

At Marquette, we are not looking to turn the clock back somehow and return to Luther Studies as they once were. To the contrary, even as we seek to open up space for theological research, we receive with gratitude some of the achievements of the newer social and cultural research, and look to build on them. We hope to attract energetic student-scholars who are ready to join us in the search for innovative new approaches that will enable us to take theological research on Luther, and indeed on Reformation theology more generally, beyond what has already been accomplished.

The results of this new theological and historical research must be understood within the context of our own contemporary ecumenical situation, at once verging on a post-denominational Christianity and at the same time deeply grounded in and respectful of the great theological traditions that impel our research forward. In this way, we believe, the catholic context of the ‘historical Luther’ can serve as a springboard for the kind of further insight that will nourish not just individual theologians, but also the ecclesial communities that care about our work. The better we understand the theological arguments that so powerfully moved people like Luther, the more effectively we will be able to recognized their potential as a source for contemporary theology reflexion, including the great work of Christian ecumenism.

Program History
In his epoch defining first attempt at Luther studies, the great German Catholic Reformation scholar Josef Lortz (1887 – 1975) put his point this way: “Luther overcame a “catholic” doctrine which itself was no longer catholic.” With this bold claim he opened up a new era of Catholic theological engagement with Luther, and in this effort he was soon joined by many more Catholic researchers: Peter Manns, Erwin Iserloh, Jared Wicks, S.J., and, with certain differences, Otto Hermann Pesch. On the Protestant side the efforts of pioneering scholars like these have been welcomed by scholars like Bernhard Lohse, Leif Grane, Eric H. Gritsch, Heiko A. Oberman, Scott Hendrix and Lewis Spitz, particularly in the decades following the Second Vatican Council.

In the 1970s, having finished his Ph.D. work at Harvard University under Heiko Oberman, Dr. Kenneth Hagen brought this energetic new tradition of Luther research to Marquette, which itself soon became the leading American Catholic institution in the fields of Luther and Reformation research. Over the course of his 35 years at Marquette, Dr. Hagen signed more than 30 Ph.D. dissertations. Many of the students who wrote those dissertations remain active scholars in Reformation theology, and not a few are now teaching in prestigious American colleges, universities and seminaries.

Luther Studies at Marquette Today
Today, the tradition of research inaugurated by Hagen is carried on by two professors, Dr. Mickey Mattox and Dr. Markus Wriedt. Mattox and Wriedt have succeeded Dr. Hagen not only in terms of his official responsibilities at Marquette, but also, and more importantly, in their shared conviction that ecumenical, and indeed Catholic, Luther research remains vitally important. The interests of the academy and the needs of the still-divided Christian churches demand nothing less than the best that contemporary research can achieve.

Students of early modern theology will find at Marquette a deeply Catholic university, one blessed with the ideal resources—including a great faculty in Theology—to initiate or continue their own research. Marquette, in short, is a superb place to train for an academic career in historical theology generally and Luther Studies in particular. And Marquette’s sterling reputation as a national research university means that is true whether one’s goal is to teach in a religiously affiliated college or seminary, or in a secular institution. With solid connections to all the best research institutes and specialized libraries in Europe, and with a growing relationship with Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, Marquette is easily one of the very best places to study Luther and Reformation theology in America today.

Some of the areas of particularly intense interest in Luther Studies and Reformation theology at Marquette today include:

Martin Luther as Biblical Exegete – we look at Luther in historical context, reading and interpreting his exegetical works with careful attention to exegetical method, hermeneutical questions, and development of the premodern catholic exegetical tradition.

The ‘Old Luther’ – researchers have traditionally focused on the heady early years in Luther’s career. Newer research is oriented toward the great works produced over the 25 year course of Luther’s career as Doctor of Bible in Wittenberg following his excommunication.

Luther Research and Reformation History – historical research never takes place in a vacuum. We examine developments in modern Luther Studies and, more generally, the reception of Luther in the long centuries after his death.

These research emphases open finally on a series of crucial ecumenical questions: To what extent can Luther be held responsible for the continuing separation of Churches? Where did Luther and his Protestant contemporaries really disagree with the Roman church? To what extent does that disagreement remain valid the churches today? What still separates us and how can we find the theological answers on which meaningful ecumenical progress depends?

So What’s the Point?
As the Catholic scholar Peter Manns once suggested that Martin Luther should be counted as “father in faith”, a doctor communis, so to speak. In order for him really to become such a ‘common doctor,’ however, the reception of Luther by Catholics, and the continuing conversation between Protestants and Catholics, must continue. Come and explore the Marquette University program in Luther Studies in a Catholic Context. You will find yourself in a community of researchers who work hard and so fulfill Luther’s definition of authentic Christian vocation: “Everything you do following the will of God as expressed in his Word is a continuous prayer to the eternal Father who will bless your action.”



Theology Department Mission Statement

Theology Department Mission Statement

Marquette University defines itself as Christian, Catholic, Jesuit, urban, and independent. The Department of Theology functions within the university to investigate and understand the Catholic tradition, its relation to other Christian communions, and to other religions of the world. Read more of our mission statement.