GERMANY, July 1, 2017 – Some five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, a monk and professor of theology named Martin Luther was instrumental in establishing the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s primary motivation was his opposition to the selling of Indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, regarding the practice as a false method for Catholics to buy their way into heaven.
As for the Church, Indulgences were actually part of its overall strategy to raise money to build churches and cathedrals, including St. Peter’s in Rome. But Luther didn’t see it that way, writing to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, to protest the sale of “free passes” into heaven, claiming that only God had the power to admit souls into paradise.
According to legend, Luther posted his objections, which today are known as the “Ninety-five Theses,” on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
While at least one account disputes that Luther nailed his protests to the door, the story is widely accepted today as one of the turning points in the history of religion and the world.
Scholar Hans Hillerbrand has also written that Luther had no intention of creating a controversy with the Catholic Church, believing instead that his argument was merely an intellectual dispute that should be debated as an objection to Church practices.
Whichever is true, the inevitable outcome was essentially the same, an eventual Protestant split from the Roman Catholic Church. Today in 2017, Protestant Christian pilgrims from all over the world still make their way to Wittenburg, Germany and other historic sites to witness to locations where their faith was solidified against the Roman Catholic church.
Coincidentally, and perhaps intentionally, a new Vatican document was drawn up earlier this year that officially recognizes Martin Luther as a “witness to the gospel.” The document reverses hundreds of years of anti-Luther tradition saying “after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.”
In general, the proclamation was greeted enthusiastically by most in the Vatican. However, as with any profound doctrinal change, there was also some resistance. Strangely, most of the backlash came in defense of Jews rather than Catholics, given that Luther was fiercely anti-Semitic.
Believing the end of the world was close at hand, Luther feared that the pope would unify Jews and the Muslim Turks against his “true” Christians, which would result in an unholy coalition among God’s enemies.
Writing in his book “On the Jews and their Lives,” Luther could almost have been mistaken today for a Muslim in his thinking about Jews:
“Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed… Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land.”
Luther continued, “In sum, the Jews are the Devil’s children, damned to hell.”
Countering Luther’s arguments, the Vatican responded by stating “Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today.”
Within two weeks of his protest, word of Luther’s theses had spread throughout Germany, and two months later the entire continent of Europe knew about them. The religious floodgates had opened as students from all corners of Europe began flocking to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak.
In 1520, Luther was threatened with excommunication from the Church of Rome. In April, 1521, he was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms. During his testimony in Worms, Johann Eck asked Luther whether the copies of the writings he had placed on a table were his and, if so, did he stand by his opinions. Luther acknowledged his authorship but requested some time to think about the second part of Eck’s question.
The following day, Luther made a speech, in which he declared he was not able to recant his beliefs. Upon concluding he remarks, it is said that Luther raised his arm “in the traditional salute of a knight winning a bout.” According to Michael Mullett, Luther’s stance and his speech were a “world classic of epoch-making oratory.”
And so half a millennium later, the debate continues with a new twist: How can Christians separate Martin Luther, the man who defied the pope and hated Jews, from the “true witness” to the gospel of Christ?
This year, Christian travelers and history buffs can journey to the locations where Martin Luther’s historical theological and temporal rebellion took place via an upcoming October 2017 tour called “Footsteps of Martin Luther.” The eight day itinerary includes tours of Wittenberg, Dresden, Berlin and Eiselben, with the latter including the house where Luther was born.
Other items on the tour itinerary are All Saints Church, Sanssouci Palace, the Brandenberg Gate and much more. Departure date for the tour is October 6, 2017.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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