On what grounds has Martin Luther been criticized by historians?
I disagree with the above post. Luther did in fact criticize the peasantry in the German Peasants War of 1524-1526, but NOT because of his dependence on the ruling classes. Luther was himself of peasant stock, and sympathized with their cause; but he was opposed to violence. He believed that any differences of opinion should be addressed with Christian love. He honestly believed that because the peasants refused to compromise peaceably, that the devil was at work among them, and their rebellion would lead to anarchy and the end of civil government. It was on this basis that he wrote Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of the Peasants, which alienated him to many Peasants who in turn returned to Catholicism.
Even so, a far greater criticism of Luther is from his polemics against the Jews. In a tract entitled Against the Jews and Their Lies (1542) he publicly advocated violence against them:
They are real liars and bloodhounds who have not only continually perverted and falsified all of Scripture with their mendacious glosses from the beginning until the present day. Their heart's most ardent sighing and yearning and hoping is set on the day on which they can deal with us Gentiles as they did with the Gentiles in Persia at the time of Esther. Oh, how fond they are of the book of Esther, which is so beautifully attuned to their bloodthirsty, vengeful, murderous yearning and hope. The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are who imagine that they are God's people who have been commissioned and commanded to murder and to slay the Gentiles. In fact, the most important thing that they expect of their Messiah is that he will murder and kill the entire world with their sword. They treated us Christians in this manner at the very beginning through out all the world. They would still like to do this if they had the power, and often enough have made the attempt, for which they have got their snouts boxed lustily.
Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in-which sheer self-glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously and vehming his eyes on them. God's wrath has consigned them to the presumption that their boasting, their conceit, their slander of God, their cursing of all people are a true and a great service rendered to God — all of which is very fitting and becoming to such noble blood of the fathers and circumcised saints. This they believe despite the fact that they know they are steeped in manifest vices mently, just as the devils themselves do. And where you see or hear a Jew teaching, remember that you are hearing nothing but a venomous basilisk who poisons and kills people merrily by fasten- And with all this, they claim to be doing right. Be on your guard against them!
Luther was, of course, a hero to the people of Germany and German nationalism. His words of the above diatribe were often quoted by Hitler and the Nazi's to support their pogroms against the Jews. What greater criticism of him can there be?
The main criticism of Luther (other than criticisms that are based on theology) has to do with the Peasants' War of the mid-1520s.
At this time, many peasants rose up against their lords. They had not been helped by the economic gains that were going on in much of Europe and they felt they were being abused by their lords. They felt that Luther should support them because they felt that social reform should go along with religious reforms. Some of Luther's followers encouraged the rebellion.
But Luther himself really depended on the ruling classes. He needed the support of the various governments in order to spread his new faith. Because of this, he did not want to help the peasants. In fact, he wrote a scathing denunciation of the peasants in which he even said that they deserved to be killed for what they were doing. Many historians feel that Luther did not act in a just way towards these peasants. This is the major non-theological criticism of Luther.