Ronald K. Rittgers

Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies,
Professor of History and Theology

Arts and Sciences Building, Room 354


B.A. – Wheaton College
M.T.S. – Regent College
Ph.D. – Harvard University

Scholarly Contributions


  • The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Harvard University Press, 2004)
  • The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • The Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews and James (Intervarsity Press, 2017)
  • Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, edited with Vince Evener (Brill, 2019)

Recent Articles and Book Chapters

  • “A Significant Silence in Luther’s Early Theology of Suffering: New Evidence for an Initial Reformational Umbruch,” 2017 Luther Congress Plenary Address, Lutherjahrbuch 85. Jahrgang (2018): 241-261.
  • “The Word-Prophet Martin Luther,” The Sixteenth-Century Journal: The Journal of Early Modern Studies XLVVIII/ 4 (Winter 2017 [2018]): 951-976.
  • “A Widower’s Lament out of the Reformation Past,” Lutheran Forum 52:4 (Winter 2018): 58-62.
  • “The Age of Reform as an Age of Consolation,” American Society of Church History Presidential Address, Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 86:3 (September 2017): 607-642.
  • “Scripture as ‘Sacrament’ in Protestant Pastoral and Devotional Literature,” in Scott M. Manetsch, ed., The Reformation and the Irrepressible Word of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 83-203.
  • “Martin Luther: The Self-less Christian,” in James M. Houston and Jens Zimmermann, eds., Sources of the Christian Self: A Cultural History of Christian Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018), 379-391.


Professor Rittgers joined the VU faculty in the fall of 2006 after having taught for seven years at Yale University. He is the first occupant of the Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies and also serves as Professor of History, Theology, and Humanities.

Professor Rittgers is interested in the religious, intellectual, and social history of medieval and Early Modern/Reformation Europe, focusing especially on theology and devotion. He teaches introductory courses on the Christian Tradition and offers more specialized ones on the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Renaissance, Martin Luther, Christian Spirituality (especially mysticism), and Historiography (the history of historical enquiry). Additionally, he teaches courses on themes such as forgiveness and skepticism. He is developing new courses on the history of self-knowledge and the history of consolation.

His first book examined how the Lutheran version of private confession shaped the politics and piety of the German Reformation. It was entitled The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Harvard University Press, 2004). His second book, The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany (Oxford University Press, 2012), examined the efforts of Protestant reformers to change the way their contemporaries understood and coped with suffering. His third book, The Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews and James (Intervarsity Press Academic, 2017), provides numerous excerpts from Reformation sources on the New Testament books of Hebrews and James, along with an introduction and explanatory comments and overviews. His fourth book, an edited volume entitled Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, (Brill, 2019), seeks to stimulate research interest in the Protestant reception of medieval mysticism by providing up-to-date treatments of this topic in the works of important Protestant reformers from across the confessional spectrum. Prof. Rittgers is currently working on a fifth book that examines the phenomenon of grief in the Reformation period. It is tentatively entitled, A Widower’s Lament: Johannes Christoph Oelhafen’s “Pious Meditations on the Most Sorrowful Bereavement” (1619), (Fortress Press, 2020). In the future, Prof. Rittgers plans to investigate the interesting connection between the practice of consolation and the shaping of self-understanding in the Age of Reform. He also plans to explore ways in which the Reformation contributed to a distinctively Protestant enchantment of the early modern world.

Professor Rittgers has received research grants from the German Academic Exchange Service, the Lilly Endowment, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, and the Biola Center for Christian Thought. He has also served as the President of the American Society of Church History.

Professor Rittgers is married and has three sons. He enjoys hiking, cycling, soccer, spending time with his family, and watching Star Trek re-runs.

Research Interests

Medieval and Early Modern/Reformation Europe