Martin Luther & Psychoanalysis Young Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

The church had taught Luther that the Earth was the center of the universe and he pretty much had bought into everything that was laid before him in schools and church. Then, after receiving his master or arts (in 1505), and while still willing to pursue his father's dream for him (to go into law), he began to become melancholy (a best friend died; two of his brothers died of the plague) and very sad.

On July 2, 1505, while on his way back to college at Erfurt, he encountered a thunderstorm (as mentioned earlier in the paper) and when lightning struck the ground near him he was "seized by a severe, some say convulsive, state of terror" (p. 91). Luther claims to have called out at that moment, "Help me, St. Anne...I want to become a monk." Nobody of course heard him cry out, but his family and colleagues were stunned when he announced he was going into the monastery. Interestingly, St. Anne is his father's patron saint, and some now believe that he was calling on his father's patron said because he intended to disobey his father and become a monk rather than a lawyer.

Erikson then spends several pages discussing what other religious leaders, historians, and psychologists have had to say about this lightning storm and its implications for Luther's life and career. There is no need to review that material, because it is mostly comprised of questions, and of other cultures that also (allegedly) had dramatic experiences based on nature's fury. But at the end of the chapter, readers learn that Erikson is about to delve into the most famous and pivotal portion of Luther's legacy - the "evil" of the Roman papacy (97).

In Chapter IV Erikson generalizes about the sociology and psychology of being a bright young person who is beholden to - and on occasion tormented by - a father figure; Erikson, as is his writing style, invokes the names of other famous individuals with the intention (apparently) of creative a perspective for the reader. In this chapter, he discusses Adolph Hitler, whose father was petty, given to heavy drinking, an adulterer and was determined " make a civil servant out of his son" (p. 105). A friend of Hitler's, August Kubizek, in writing about Hitler, asserted that Hitler was always seeing buildings that needed to be rebuilt or empty plots that needed to be built up. "Once he had conceived an idea he was like one possessed," Erikson quotes Kubizek as saying (p. 105-106). "[Hitler] could never walk through the streets without being provoked by what he saw... [and] his anger was beyond measure when the Society smashed all his hopes by giving up the idea of a new building, and instead, had the old one renovated."

The point of Erikson bringing Hitler into the Luther text is that Luther and Hitler apparently had similar father conflicts, and were also both given to melancholy and outbursts, and this fascinated Erickson, a student of behavioral abnormalities.

And of course, whenever an author brings biographical narrative on a man so despised yet fascinating as Hitler, readers' brains perk up dramatically. Adolph Hitler "would wander around aimlessly and alone for days and nights in the fields and forests," Kubizek recounts. And when Kubizek and Hitler would be reunited (after several days of Hitler's disappearance), and Kubizek asked what was wrong with Hitler, the answer would be, "Leave me along," or a "brusque, 'I don't know myself'." Much of the remainder of the chapter dips into Erikson's views of how children are shaped by the psychological settings in which they are raised.

Luther's transition from a full believer in what the Catholic Church taught to a man who began questioning the dogma of the Church began about the time Luther was thirty years old, according to Erikson on page 201; thirty is, after all, "an important age for gifted people with a delayed identity crisis," Erikson asserts. And the "wholeness of Luther's theology" is beginning to be seen during this period "...from the fragments of his totalistic reevaluations." Some of Luther's most poignant personal revelations about what the Scriptures really meant - and in a time when Luther was coming out of depression and writing lectures that questioned previously held dogma - took place (p. 204), while Luther apparently sat on the toilet. This above-mentioned toilet fact - though challenged by some scholars and the cause of "squirming" among historians - gave Erikson, the psychiatry guru, some grist for analysis.

The place at which Luther apparently had some of his inspiration, while discounted by psychiatrists, "deserves special mention exactly because it does point up certain psychiatric relevancies," Erikson writes on 204. Being on a toilet seat "serves a particular physical need which hides its emotional relevance only as long as it happens to function smoothly," Erikson conjectures. The truth of Luther's physical condition (that historians and psychological scholar do not dispute) was that he suffered from "lifelong constipation and urine retention," according to Erikson. So, to paraphrase Erikson, since part of Luther's problem was physical, when he did get relief (and his bowels began functioning more freely), it stands to logic that he also began to be freed from the constipation of being chained to the tired Church dogma, rituals, and he also was clearly becoming impatient with the authoritarian clout of the church and the Pope.

A key thought in Luther's transition from dogma and blind obedience to the Church is on page 213: "God, instead of lurking on the periphery of space and time, became for Luther 'what works in us.'" and, on page 214, Erikson strikes a keynote in the Luther transformation: "God, no less of a person, becomes more personal for the individual; and instead of constituting a threat to be faced at the end of all things, He becomes that which always begins - in us."

On page 221, Erikson makes a statement that perhaps could serve as his reason for writing the book: "Luther's theology contains an unsolved personal problem which is more accessible to psychoanalysis than is the theology itself." In other words, theology, step aside, and let a psychological expert handle - and hopefully clear up - all these controversial matters. And in Chapter VII ("Faith and Wrath"), readers learn that Luther recovered his ego (p. 223) at the same time he was lecturing on his new theological views. In looking at the historical essays about the meaning of and impact of Luther during the Reformation, Erikson sees that Luther is either "revered as a voice of genuine inspiration" or, on the other hand, he is "made out to be the tool of a conspiracy of crude economic forces which were in need of a bit of evangelical polish."

But all those conflicting views notwithstanding, in reality, Erikson writes (p. 224) the reason for Luther's nailing of ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517 was that there had been a "time bomb" that had been "ticking" in Luther's heart. Luther had become increasingly impatient with the Church's hard line on its dogma, and on the piety of the Pope when it came to dissent among the clergy. And little things began to pile up, and bothered Luther as well, such as "the most pitiful display" of the increasing commercialization of the Church which was the very poor who felt obliged to drop coins in boxes, assuming that by giving some of what little they had, their act "had a direct magic influence through the Church's vertical line on the accounting above" (p. 226); e.g., give money to the church and you'll buy your way into heaven. To ask a terribly poverty-stricken Catholic believer to give "indulgences" (coins) to an already embarrassingly garish, rich Church facility, to supposedly save the souls of their loved ones "from centuries in purgatory," seemed outrageous to Luther. And Luther began preaching themes that reflected his anger at the church, and even called the Pope "Anti-Christ" (and to the Pope, Luther was "the child of Satan") (p. 228).

When Luther preached open revolt - "even suggesting that it would be entirely in order 'to wash our hands in the blood' of cardinals and popes" - he was moving into a period of time in which he was more of a "German profit and ideological leader" than an angry monk. After the story is told that Luther was excommunicated from the Church, and taken to a "secret hideout" in a castle, Erikson on page 232 plays the role of psychiatrist; "Deprived of institutional routine, he was prey to the ego's double threat: the id with him, and the mob around him." Luther now is blocked from power, tortured and tormented by desire, and…

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