d r a f t

More information on Martin Luther biographer Richard Marius, whom I knew at UT-Knoxville and mentioned in passing in my Nov. 11 post on Martin Luther’s concept of the indwelling of Christ. I’m rereading his 1973 biography Luther and wrote:

One of my professors at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, Richard Marius, has an explanation that rings a bell with me:

<blockquote> Faith itself is a gift [from God], and the question must naturally arise, “How do I get it?” Always for Luther faith is not something one wills to have but rather a recognition that Christ is present in one’s heart. And Luther’s concept usually seems to be that if one yearns for grace and faith, the yearning in itself is a sign that grace and faith are present. </blockquote>

That’s reassuring. I was one Dr. Marius’ TAs when he taught Western Civ at UT, and I learned as much as the freshmen did. Probably more, in fact, because I paid attention in the lecture sessions and that year I picked up most of what I know about the broad sweep of European history. I think I was extraordinarily well served by it.

I also swapped memories tonight in a Facebook thread, during the course of which I mentioned that he and I were columnists for the UT Daily Beacon at the same time during the early 70s. Somehow that got left out of his bios available online!

American Historical Association

Milton M. Klein, “Richard Curry Marius (1933-1999), Perspectives on History, April 1, 2000 https://www.historians.org/research-and-publications/perspectives-on-history/april-2000/in-memoriam-richard-curry-marius

At Tennessee, he acquired a reputation as a brilliant teacher, receiving an Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1969, and earning the respect and admiration of a host of undergraduate and graduate students. He was one of those rare teachers whose 8 a.m. classes in Western Civilization were filled to capacity and whose lectures were so interesting that unregistered students sought to sneak in to hear them. His popularity was not diminished by his avoidance of short answer tests and his insistence that each student write a short essay every two weeks.

Marius was an active opponent of the Vietnam War and spoke out against it in a region where such a view was extremely unpopular. He also protested the university’s policy of barring student-invited speakers to campus without administrative approval and helped to win court approval of an “open campus.” He also succeeded in ending the policy of sectarian religious convocations at the university. He was active in the American Association of University Professors and served as president of the local chapter and of the Tennessee Conference, which he helped to revive in 1975.


Marius was one of those rare figures who, like some of his 19th-century predecessors, wrote history as literature and literature as history. He once said that “I am going to die, and I don’t want to perish completely from this earth.” His writings have insured his imperishability as long as history and literature are read.

Harvard University Gazette

“Richard Marius, from the Harvard University Gazette, Nov. 11, 1999,” College of Communication and Information, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Jan. 6, 2015 https://cci.utk.edu/2015/01/06/richard-marius

Richard Marius, noted Reformation scholar, acclaimed novelist, and popular teacher, died at his home in Belmont, Mass., on Nov. 5, 1999 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He retired from Harvard in 1998, having been a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and director of the Expository Writing Program since l978. He was 66.


Marius’s major studies of Thomas More (l983) and Martin Luther (1999) provoked consternation and applause. In both cases Marius challenged prevailing orthodoxies by presenting his subjects devoid of the sanctity attributed to them by their enthusiasts. He instead revealed them as men of their time, struggling to reconcile their beliefs, fears, and earthly ambitions, sometimes without admirable result, but always fully human. More was nominated for a National Book Award, and both biographies were History Book Club selections. […]

Marius wrote four novels, based in a fictional Bourbon County, Tenn., revealing individuals interacting with the major historical events during the years between 1850 and 1950. The first, The Coming of Rain (1969), a main selection by the Book-of-the-Month-Club, interwove the lives of small town characters into the post-Civil War traumas of the border states. Bound for the Promised Land (1976) followed a character from Bourbon County west in the year after the Gold Rush. A third volume in the series, After the War (l992), took on the dislocations of the First World War and immigrant struggles in the United States. A fourth, set after the Second World War, is expected to be published next year.


A prolific writer, Marius published widely in journals such as Daedalus, the Sewanee ReviewSoundings, The Boston GlobeChristian Century, and Esquire, as well as writing a bimonthly book review section in Harvard Magazine. While a professor of history at the University of Tennessee he published an early study of Luther in l974, and he also edited three volumes of the Yale edition of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. In l994 he edited the Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry.

Richard Curry Marius was born in Loudon County, Tenn., on July 29, l933. His father, who had been educated in Belgium, was a Greek chemical engineer who worked as a foundry manager for the Lenoir Car Works of Southern Railway. His mother had worked as a reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Marius was first recognized as a writer while an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee. His popular weekly column in the Lenoir City News contained sketches of many of the characters who were later to appear in his novels. Receiving his B.S. in journalism in l954, Marius explored becoming a Baptist minister. He received his B.D. from the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in l958. In l956-57 he was a Rotary Fellow in history at the University of Strasbourg.

Immediately upon leaving the seminary, Marius enrolled in Yale’s Graduate School, concentrating in Reformation history under the tutelage of Sydney Ahlstrom, Hajo Holborn, and Roland Bainton. During that time he also served as the pastor of New Milford Baptist Church, and as an instructor in Yale College. On receiving his Ph.D. in l962 he taught for two years at Gettysburg College, and then took up his professorship at the University of Tennessee. In l999 he received the Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Journalism at Tennessee.

An expansive personality, a gifted raconteur with a jaunty aspect, devoted to bow ties and bicycling, Marius cut a wide swath whether in faculty common rooms and Boston clubs, or in his beloved France. He is survived by his wife, Lanier Smythe, an art historian and chair of humanities at Suffolk University in Boston; three sons, Richard Henri Marius and Frederick Stewart Marius (from an earlier marriage), and John Bartlett Marius; and two grandchildren.

Tennessee Encyclopedia

Edwin S. Gleaves, “Richard Marius,” Tennessee Encyclopedia https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/richard-marius/

While at the University of Tennessee, Marius wrote his first novel, The Coming of Rain (1971), a period novel heavy with memory set in fictional Bourbonville in East Tennessee twenty years after the Civil War. In characterization, plot structure, imagery, and pure craftsmanship, The Coming of Rain ranks among the finest novels written by a Tennessean about Tennessee. The author dramatized the work for stage production. Marius followed with Bound for the Promised Land (1976), an episodic novel of a Tennessee man in search of his father in the American West; After the War (1992), set once again in Bourbonville after World War I, with Paul Alexander, a Greek immigrant like Marius’s father, as the protagonist; and An Affair of Honor (1998), also set in Tennessee.

[Uplinked Nov. 14, 2022]

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