The Nazification of Martin Luther

For the Lutheran historian of the Third Reich, studying this time period can leave one scratching one’s head. One is left wondering how the monk and priest turned university professor and reformer of the church, the man who trumpeted God’s grace and mercy, could 400 years later be trumpeted as the de facto patron saint of the Third Reich. While Luther’s status as a proto-Nazi is highly debatable, there is no question that many of the German leadership in the Third Reich thought of him in those terms. The goal of this study is to learn how Luther was presented to the German people during this era and thereby used to support the Nazi agenda.

Since the end of the Second World War, there has been an ongoing scholarly debate over whether or not Luther was the true ideological ancestor of Nazism. In order to shed some light on this question, this paper will explore the ways that the Nazi party from Hitler and Rosenberg down, and theologians including Wilhelm Stapel, Emmanuel Hirsch, Paul Althaus, and Werner Elert, discussed, pictured and, explained Luther in order to point to him as one of their ideological forerunners. The different aspects to be evaluated include how Luther was depicted as a Germanic hero and an archetypical anti-Semite in various forms from political speeches and writings to hymnody. The study will also look at how certain theological themes from Luther’s teachings, most notably the Two Kingdoms, the Orders of Creation, the canon within the canon, and Luther’s theory of Wundermänner (God using great men in history to accomplish His goals) were used to grant theological and philosophical grounding for Nazism.

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