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Political TheologiesPublic Religions in a Post-Secular World$
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Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780823226443

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823226443.001.0001

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The Scandal of Religion: Luther and Public Speech in the Reformation

The Scandal of Religion: Luther and Public Speech in the Reformation

(p.122) The Scandal of Religion: Luther and Public Speech in the Reformation
Political Theologies

Antónia Szabari

Fordham University Press

This chapter claims that Martin Luther's “extreme rudeness”, based on a decidedly biblical war cry, reveals a significant feature of the role that religious speech, during the Reformation and thereafter, acquires in the emerging modern public sphere. It argues that Luther's masterly move is that of satire and a strategic turning of tables. Indeed, Luther's cunning reasoning implies that what was conventionally accepted as pious language is in fact blasphemy and that what appeared to be blasphemy is in fact true piety. The provocative nature of Luther's rhetoric lies in the claim that it is not provocative at all, a claim that is designed to disarm all critics by implicitly accusing them of the error they seek to correct. As it is seen in this chapter, this essentially satirical reversal of positions is intricately tied to Luther's theology of the performative and to his reading of the Bible-based notion of “offense” or “scandal”. The most lasting consequence of Luther's rhetorical practice consists in the transformation of public speech while maintaining its reference to the sacred.

Keywords:   Martin Luther, Reformation, public speech, religious speech, satire, blasphemy, piety, rhetoric, theology of the performative, scandal

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