Here I Stand embraced Roland Bainton’s powerful thesis that “because he took his stand, Martin Luther shattered the structure of medieval Catholicism and initiated Protestantism” (2). Bainton painted the picture of a monk who was loyal to the Catholic Church, the pope, and his monastic vows, but in the end, this same monk renounced his monastic vows, embraced Protestantism, and branded the pope as Antichrist. Bainton defended his thesis by examining Luther’s work, experience, contributions, and writings. Here I Stand accurately portrayed Luther’s position in the sixteenth century while keeping alive his message for today.
Bainton developed his thesis all throughout the story of Martin Luther’s life. The book opened with Luther’s vow to become a monk after being protected during a thunderstorm by St. Anne. Because Luther believed that being a monk was the best way to insure heaven, he followed the monastic code in every tiny detail. His enlightening journey to Rome showed his growing dissatisfaction with the church for the hypocrisy he witnessed. Luther sought to make peace with God, but it was not until his tower experience when he realized justification was by faith alone that he gained everlasting peace with God. Martin Luther began to slowly shake the Catholic structure by preaching against indulgences. Careful study of the Scriptures led him to post his famous Ninety-five Theses, a challenge to debate questionable church practices. Bainton demonstrated how Luther’s debates and arguments with other theologians continued to break apart the power of the Catholic Church until the final crisis at the Diet of Worms when the Church confronted Luther and demanded he recant his beliefs. Luther shattered the Catholic Church by saying “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Thus Protestantism was born. Bainton continued Luther’s story by detailing Luther’s beliefs about doctrine, society, and government.
Bainton concluded his book by taking the measure of Luther according to three points: Luther’s influence on Germany, Europe, and religion. German nationalism, an infant movement, grew in power because of Luther’s support and political treatises. Lutheranism spread throughout Europe and was wholly integrated in Scandinavia. Luther’s impact on religion and the Catholic Church was his greatest legacy, because he adapted scholastic humanism to a new faith that would rival the power of Rome.
Bainton excelled at supporting his thesis. His evidence was clearly stated and appropriately expressed. Ten chapters dealt with Luther’s struggle with the Catholic Church prior to the Diet of Worms while the remaining thirteen chapters examined his doctrinal beliefs, social innovations, and political ideals. Extensive passages from primary sources were carefully placed throughout the book, lending support and truth to Bainton’s claims about Martin Luther. Bainton remained fair-minded about Luther’s character and controversial writings. He provided an impartial assessment of Europe during the time of Luther and the complex religious circumstances of the sixteenth-century.
The research for Here I Stand was thorough and extensive. Although Bainton primarily used the Yale University library for his research, he included some three hundred and eleven sources in his bibliography. His information and quotations resulted from the entire sixteenth-century collection of German writings. Bainton’s education and experience also lent uniqueness to this particular biography of Martin Luther. Although numerous other works could be found in the global market, Here I Stand is perhaps the best compilation of information and biography of Martin Luther. Bainton’s other articles and books on church history, as well as his experience as a Latin and German translator, granted him a place of prominence in his chosen field of Reformation history. As a liberal theologian Bainton accurately understood Luther’s religious teachings but never embraced them for himself, which was a great tragedy.
Here I Stand was extremely logical and helpful since it included a detailed chronology of Luther’s life. The timeline provided a mental coatrack on which to hang all of the events which influenced the life of Martin Luther. The book also contained approximately ninety-one woodcuts and engravings from the sixteenth-century which included pages from Luther’s Bible, caricatures of political and religious leaders, and some of Durer’s famous sketches. Most of the unusual illustrations came from Bainton’s private collection of Reformation art. The inclusion of these works in the book added to its interest and authenticity.
Bainton wrote in a plain literary style which can be easily understood by anyone. The details of the book were recorded in a vivid, entertaining manner. Here I Stand should prove to be an easy read for the average individual. However, the book should also hold great interest for the historical scholar who may wish to personally analyze and consider Luther’s beliefs. The extensive quotations from Luther’s personal writings created an opportunity for further analysis and reflection. Luther’s doctrinal arguments, which could have been rendered complex, were well stated and relatively clear. Here I Stand is appropriate for both high school and collegiate reading.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Abingdon Press, 1950.