Mary Lowe speaks on Martin Luther and the body


Professor Mary Lowe gave a speech in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Oct. 24. Lowe’s topic of choice was Martin Luther’s view of the body. Lowe walked the audience through the complex representation of the body in Luther’s works. She highlighted the ways bodies are threatened in our world and how we might move toward loving and honoring our bodies.

Lowe began with some examples as to why our bodies are in danger today. Bullying in schools is pervasive and can erode student’s health. Record numbers of people are being incarcerated, especially those with black or brown bodies. Between 200 and 2,000 species of animals are going extinct every year, never to be seen again.

“Everyone can think of a body under attack,” Lowe said.

She then brought the audience’s attention back to Luther. Lowe elaborated some of the complexities of Luther’s writing about bodies. It’s undeniable that some of Luther’s work contains hateful and violent messages. Luther wrote terrible things about Jewish people, and his writings on Muslim people are just as unsavory. Likewise, Luther’s writing on women is largely belittling and negative. Lowe posited that it is the job of modern Lutherans to extract that which is useful from Luther’s writings, to highlight the good that can come of his work. Parallel to and in contrast to these negative examples, Luther’s writing on bodies as a whole contain a number of hopeful and positive themes.

For example, in Luther’s day, the Church felt that the physical body was unclean, corrupted and ultimately stood in the way of the spirit’s union with God. Holy people of the day would deny, suppress and even injure their body in the desire to be closer to God.

In contrast, Luther felt that we humans could unite with God inside our own bodies, bodies that are a gift from God himself. Lowe explained that Luther wrote that God is in all of creation. Everything that exists is infused with God, and in this way, the body carries God within it.

An example given by Lowe was the way Luther compared the union of God within the human body to the ritual of communion. Jesus turned the bread and the wine into his body and blood because, according to Luther, “matter matters.” Physical things are important. The finite can hold the infinite.

Luther wrote of Jesus as totus homo, fully man, and at the same time fully divine, according to Lowe. All of God lived in the body of Jesus, united and complete. In the same way Luther saw God in all of humanity, our bodies as a gift from God Himself.

If you missed Professor Mary Lowe’s speech on Luther’s view of the body and would like to listen, email to request an audio recording.

This article first appeared in the Friday, November 3, 2017, Edition of The Echo.