Monday, October 31, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther - Rebel and Reformer

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Thuringia.  In this proclamation, he denounced the sale of indulgences as ungodly and challenged the catholic clergy to review the path of salvation.  Luther could not agree with Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, who sold these papers promising the people salvation.  Luther was opposed to the ideas of the church that one could buy their salvation. 

Even though the theses were originally written in Latin, they spread fast, first among scholars, and just one year later, after they had been translated into German, the message spread quickly.  That was mainly the result of the printing press where pamphlet could be multiplied and distributed among all people.  Therefore, we could call this distribution the first social media.  When the time is right for an event or a message, the ideas can spread very fast.
You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”
~ Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French Romantic Writer

Where before, the people came to the priests for confession, they now had only to buy a piece of paper and were promised salvation.  Martin Luther had other disagreements with the pope’s authority and referred again and again to the scriptures of the bible.  Even though he created a big controversy with the church, his message traveled like a wild fire all throughout Europe.   As a monk, Luther had studied the bible extensively and believed and taught that salvation is a gift of God’s grace.  He taught that man’s salvation was given by faith and trust in God and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  This action started the Protestant Reformation.

By 1521, he was declared an out-law and was threatened to be killed.  On the way to the prison, he was kidnapped by friends who send him to the Wartburg instead.  This is where he studied the scriptures more deeply and decided to translate the words of the bible into German, so that all could read the words of God by themselves.
In the meantime, the Reformation which was initiated by Martin Luther spread throughout Europe.  Priests and scholars such as John Calvin in France, John Wycliffe, an English scholar, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, Jan Huss, a priest, in Czechoslovakia found a common agreement against the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the church, as well as the authority of the pope.  It split the Christian church and established the Lutheran denomination as well as the Roman Catholic Church.
"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." 
~ Martin Luther
 Who was Martin Luther?
He was born on November 10th, 1483 and died on February 18, 1546.  His parents were common peasants, but his father had great ambitions for his son.  Therefore, he was educated in the Latin language as well as the regular curriculum.  After his parents acquired a business of their own and could afford to send their son to the university, he went to Erfurt to study law.
It is said that he had a conversion experience during a violent thunderstorm on July 17, 1505 where he committed himself to serve God and entered thereafter in the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine in Erfurt.  Understandably, his father was angry but Luther stood by his decision and dedicated himself to the monastic lifestyle.  In 1507 he went back to the university in Erfurt and later on (in 1512) got his doctorate in theology from the university in Wittenberg.  With his new understanding and personal relationship with God he put together the 95 theses and on October 31, 1517 proclaimed them by nailing the letter on the door of the Wittenberg castle.
Part of Martin Luther’s disagreement with the pope was that priests were not allowed to marry.  There were some nuns who had studied Luther’s proclamation and wanted to leave their convent because of it.  Luther helped them escape and even find each of them a new livelihood.  For one of them, Katherina von Bora, he couldn’t find either a husband or a home.  He decided to marry her himself.  They started a family in 1525 and had 6 children and raised many other orphans.  Their family setup became an example for Christian living at that time.  Martin called his wife lovinglt 'Lord Katie.'  She was successfully running his household by being very resourceful.  She worked a garden, raised cattle and chickens and even brewed beer.
Katherina also studied the scriptures and was very supportive to her husband’s cause.  That’s why in 1534 the New Testament of the first German bible was published.   Dr. Luther worked on the Old Testament until his death in 1546.
Martin Luther had a very strong faith in God; that motivated him to use strong language against evil and unrighteousness.  He supposedly said: "Let the Devil kiss my ass... . " The content of his 95 theses was very much opposed by the Catholic church; it was a direct attack against their leadership and the direction of the church. 

Because of his legal situation, Martin Luther’s life was very seclusive.  He was teaching and writing during his later years.  He also composed the song “Ein’ Festburg is unser Gott (a Mighty Fortress is Our God)” which is based on the 46th psalm.
His “table talks” are a reflection of his home life and his relationship to his wife. 
"There is no bond on earth so sweet nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage."
~ Martin Luther

Dr. Luther said one day to Katie (playfully): You make me do what you want; you have full sovereignty here, and I give you, with all my heart, the full command in household matters, reserving my rights in other points. No good ever came from female domination. God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoiled it all when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and cunning, that lead men into error.

- The greatest blessing that God can confer on man is the possession of a good and pious wife with whom he may live in peace and tranquility; to whom he can confide his whole possessions, even his life and welfare, and who bears him children. Katie, thou hast a pious man who loves thee for a husband; thou art a very empress, thanks be to God!
Martinstag in Nordhausen
I grew up in Nordhausen at the southern edge of the Harz Mountains.  Every year on November 10, we would celebrate Martinstag with a parade of lanterns and music.  This is to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther.  Legend has it that Mr. Luther came to town to visit his friend Justus Jonas.  They met at the university in Erfurt and Jonas became a strong supporter of Luther.  While Luther was exiled at the Wartburg, he was continuously spreading the message of the reformation.  On one of the visits, Jonas’ family provided a big feast to celebrate Martin’s birthday.
Luther family wood carving by Eugen Richter
My family celebrated Martinstag by preparing a big dinner with roasted goose, red cabbage, dumplings, and other goodies.  In the center of the table we would burn three candles which depicted Martin Luther, his wife Katharina, and one with a picture of a goose.  This tradition is held to this day in my hometown, Nordhausen. 

When my family left East-Germany in June of 1961, we were not able to bring the wood carving of Martin Luther’s family with us.  He is pictured here playing the lute (4-string instrument) while his wife and children sang.  In the background is Phillipp Melanchthon who was also a strong supporter of the Luther's.  I cherish the memories we had in the apartment where the carving was hanging.  I wish I would know more about the woodcarver Eugen Richter.  I heard that my grandparents had commissioned him, to create Luther’s family as well as some other carvings.  At least I have a photograph of the work.

No comments: