As you know, Protestants around the world are celebrating the start of the Reformation five centuries ago. It’s been 500 years!
On October 31, 1517, the day before the Feast of All Saints, the 33-year-old Martin Luther posted theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The door functioned as a bulletin board for various announcements related to academic and church affairs. The theses were written in Latin and printed on a folio sheet by the printer John Gruenenberg, one of the many entrepreneurs in the new print medium first used in Germany about 1450. Luther was calling for a “disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences out of love and zeal for truth and the desire to bring it to light.” He did so as a faithful monk and priest who had been appointed professor of biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg.
Luther attacked the abuse of indulgence sales in sermons, in “counseling sessions,” and, finally, in the Ninety-Five Theses, which rang out the revolutionary theme of the Reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (Thesis 1).
Here are all 95 Theses, #37 being particularly pertinent: Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has a share in all the benefits of Christ and the Church, for God has granted him these, even without letters of indulgence.
Tonight I plan to watch Luther (2003), which features Joseph Fiennes as ML, and toast the man who was perhaps the first figure in western history to resist visibly and publicly a political superpower (in his case, the papal authority in Rome) and live to tell the story. Indeed, his “Here I stand” moment before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 was an amazing act of courage and an astounding break in history.
While we’re at it, let’s include all those brave reformers of yore, and here is an appropriate prayer, which you might have missed back on October 13 when the Episcopal Church remembered Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishops and Martyrs, 1555:
Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants William Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
*From The 95 Theses Rap (or, oh, the things you find on the internet…)