Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 is one of the most famous events of Western history. It inaugurated the Protestant Reformation, and has for centuries been a powerful and enduring symbol of religious freedom of conscience, and of righteous protest against the abuse of power.
But did it actually really happen?
In his book “1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation,” leading Reformation historian Peter Marshall reviews the available evidence, and concludes that, very probably, it did not. The theses-posting is a myth. And yet, Marshall argues, this fact makes the incident all the more historically significant. In tracing how--and why--a "non-event" ended up becoming a defining episode of the modern historical imagination. Marshall compellingly explores the multiple ways in which the figure of Martin Luther, and the nature of the Reformation itself, have been remembered and used for their own purposes by subsequent generations of Protestants and others--in Germany, Britain, the United States and elsewhere.
As people in Europe, and across the world, prepare to remember, and celebrate, the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the theses, this book offers a timely contribution and corrective. The intention is not to "debunk", or to belittle Luther's achievement, but rather to invite renewed reflection on how the past speaks to the present--and on how, all too often, the present creates the past in its own image and likeness.
Peter Marshall will give a lecture titled "Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation" today at 7:00 p.m. in the USU Taggart Student Center Auditorium, as a part of the Tanner Talks series from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing.
Peter Marshall, a native of the Orkney Islands, has since 2006 been Professor of History at the University of Warwick, and is a leading expert in the history of the Reformation and its impact in the British Isles and beyond. He is a winner of the Harold J. Grimm Prize for Reformation History, and has been shortlisted for the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Award. He is a frequent reviewer for the TLS, Literary Review, Tablet and other periodicals, and a regular lecturer to school and community groups. He is married with three daughters, and lives in Leamington Spa.