, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 169-190

A Spirit in Need of Rest: Luther's Melancholia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Religiosity

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Abstract

Male melancholia, rooted in early childhood experiences of perceived mother-loss, is intrinsically linked to religiosity. The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther suffered from melancholia that was related to, and exacerbated by, a corresponding obsessive-compulsive disorder. This essay makes a case for Luther's melancholia being grounded in both childhood beatings (at least one of which was carried out by his mother) and his subsequent search for an identity. Luther's melancholia also gave rise to life-long struggles with obsessive-compulsive anxieties. His religion, in which he believed he had discovered both an identity and a means for relief from his inner struggles, actually exacerbated his melancholia. He realized as an older man that religion had indeed become his substitute obsession and that a major part of his self had died. An argument for how Luther's melancholia and obsessive-compulsive disorder could have been alleviated is offered.