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The Papal Antichrist: Martin Luther and the Underappreciated Influence of Lorenzo Valla*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Whitford David M.*
United Theological Seminary


In 1520, Martin Luther’s view of the papacy shifted dramatically and permanently. While the events of 1519 played a role in his evolving view of the papacy as the Antichrist forecast by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians, those events alone cannot account for the suddenness and the totality of Luther’s change of opinion. This essay argues that Lorenzo Valla’s Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine played a significant and too-little-appreciated role in Luther’s new stance toward the papacy. This essay examines what it was about Valla’s Discourse that helped convince Luther that the pope was the Antichrist.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2008

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An early version of this paper was presented in the seminar on eschatology at the 2006 North American Forum for Luther Research. I am indebted to my seminar colleagues, Greg Miller, Russell Kleckley, and Austra Reinis. I would also like to thank the two anonymous RQ reviewers, Scott Hendrix, Carter Lindberg, and Larry Welborn for their helpful comments. For the Weimar Ausgabe edition of Luther’s works (Luther, 1883–), I use the following standard abbreviations: WA for the writings in general; WADB for the Luther Bible (Deutsche Bibel); and WABr for the letters (briefe). For the St. Louis Luther’s Works (Luther, 1955–86), I use LW.


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