Readers of First Things may be interested in my review of a recent Morgan Library exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses. Though the exhibition did not expressly take sides in the sixteenth-century conflict between Luther and the Catholic Church, its pro-Luther sympathies were pretty apparent. Why, I ask, would a secular institution in the twenty-first century see Luther as a hero? Here's my answer:

It’s not because the management is Lutheran. It’s because, whatever the debate within Christianity on Faith versus Works—and both Lutheran and Catholic theology show more nuance than people typically understand—in the secular world, Luther has come to stand for the overthrow of traditional authority in favor of individual subjectivity. We typically mean something very different by “conscience” than he did in that statement at Worms, but his emphasis on individual conviction rather than received wisdom anticipates the preeminence of personal authenticity as a social and political value. That’s why Luther continues to appeal to our wider culture today.

You can read the review here.

Mark L. Movsesian co-directs the Tradition Project at the St. John’s Center for Law and Religion.

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