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500 Years After the Wittenberg Door

By: Jim Anderson October 1, 2012 7 Comments

For over fifteen years, the anticipation of an important anniversary has inspired much of our work. By God’s grace, Jim Anderson (CHNetwork’s Senior Advisor and long-time coordinator of our ministry with non-Catholic clergy), is sojourning for an extended period in Germany. This is opportune, for it provides us with “eyes on the ground” to share reflections on the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation — and its impact on us today. This month, Jim gives us an inside look at the preparation for this coming event.

— Marcus Grodi

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People observe anniversaries as milestones in their lives to remind them of where they have been and how far they have progressed. Anniversaries also help us to remember, to contemplate the events of the past. At the end of this month, we will be arriving at one such milestone. October 31st will be the 495th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses on the door of the castle church of Wittenberg by Fr. Martin Luther, the event that began the rupture with the See of St. Peter and the creation of Protestantism. 2012 is only a preliminary to the greater celebration planned by many of our Protestant brothers and sisters for the 500th Anniversary on October 31, 2017. Preparations are already under way across Germany for this event. Banners are being hung from churches, books are being published, festivals and concerts are in the works.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to observe first-hand some of the preparations being made in Germany to celebrate 500 years of Protestantism.

In Eisleben, the church of Sts. Peter and Paul is undergoing an extensive interior renovation. This is the city where Luther was born and, coincidentally, where he died. The church of Sts. Peter and Paul is where the infant Martin was baptized the day after his birth on November 11, 1483.

Sts. Peter & Paul parish, where Luther was baptized.

 

The home where Martin Luther died in 1546 is being completely restored and will soon have an attached modern building with museum exhibitions and educational programs.

The “Death House” of Martin Luther

 

The city of Erfurt, was central to the early formation of the young Luther. Here he entered the religious life, attended university, and was ordained a Catholic priest.

Luther memorial in Erfurt. Translation: Dr. Martin Luther “I will not die but live and proclaim the work of Lord,” Ps. 18:17.

The Erfurt Augustinian cloister. Here Luther entered the religious life in 1505 and took vows to serve God in poverty, chastity, and obedience.

 

Wittenberg, now officially “Lutherstadt Wittenberg,” is busily preparing for the arrival of pilgrims who will visit the city to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the 16th century, Wittenberg had recently been made the capital of Electoral Saxony by Fredrick III “the Wise”. He founded the University of Wittenberg in 1502 and invited the Augustinian monks to staff its faculty. In 1508, Fr. Luther arrived here to be a professor of theology and Holy Scripture.

Erfurt Cathedral where Fr. Martin Luther was ordained a Catholic priest in 1507.

 

The main parish church of St. Mary, built between 1280 and 1439, is undergoing thorough repairs and renovations. In this church the first Lutheran liturgy was celebrated in German rather than Latin. It was also where Luther preached over 2,000 sermons and baptized his children.

Other monuments and buildings in Wittenberg are also being restored in preparation for the coming events. The home of Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s most important colleague and the author of the Augsburg Confession, is covered in scaffolding, undergoing restoration both inside and out.

Door to the Castle Church of All Saints, with the 95 Theses in bronze.

 

Since 1994, Wittenberg has hosted an annual three-day festival in June celebrating Luther’s wedding to the former nun Katharina von Bora. This event draws crowds of over 100,000 people to a Renaissance fair where they enjoy music, speeches, food, and beer. 2,000 people participate in the Marriage Parade in which a local couple portrays Dr. Luther and Katharina as guests of honor.

Luther and Katharina

It is a sorrow that the religious significance of Martin Luther’s marriage is lost to the vast majority of the people at this annual festival. Nearly 500 years after Luther began the movement that would separate millions from the unity of the Catholic Church, most Germans in Saxony no longer believe in the existence of God. Maybe over 80% of the people in the region where Luther once lived (which was more recently communist East Germany) are not baptized Christians, Lutheran or Catholic.

As we, both Protestant and Catholic Christians, prepare to commemorate, in different ways, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation over the next few years, we need to keep in mind the desire of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Church “. . .that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17:21). As our separated brothers and sisters celebrate “freedom from Rome,” may we turn our hearts to God through our Lord Jesus in conversion of heart and repentance of our sins so that the Holy Spirit may heal the divisions of 500 years allowing the world to see and accept the Truth in Love. . . Ut Unum Sint.

  • tony roberts

    My question is this. After almost 500 years since the so-called ‘Reformation’. How many of Luther’s Theses’ still apply? ie How many of the things The Roman Catholic Church was then accused of doing in opposition to plain Biblical injunction; are they still doing ? Were that Luther were still alive, what would he say ? Have the Scriptures, or the understanding of them, regarding these 95 points, altered/changed in this time? And would Roman Catholicism and it’s accompanying doctrine, consider itself ” the faith, once delivered unto the saints “?

    • justingrid

      Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were initially posted as topics for discussion.
      Of them, only 41 were regarded as heretical by the Catholic Church. So, I guess
      it would be safe to assume that the remaining 54 were largely OK with the
      Church.

      What I always find interesting is that Protestants praise Luther for
      posting his 95 Theses, but hardly any of them have actually read them. Most
      modern-day Protestants would certainly hold that more than 41 of Martin Luther’s
      Theses are heretical (thus making him more of a heretic than the Catholic
      Church did). It seems a bit hypocritical for Protestants to claim the 95 Theses
      were something wonderful when they don’t even agree with them.

      The Catholic Church readily admitted that there were abuses going on
      (especially with regard to the sale of indulgences). These, and other abuses,
      were addressed by the Church in the Counter-Reformation and in the Council of
      Trent.

      From memory, the Papal document issued against Luther was issued because
      Luther had become so drunk with the following he had gained that there was no
      hope of reasoning with him. It was the only thing the Church could do,
      especially in light of what St. Paul says in Tit 3:10. At one point, Luther
      actually claimed that unless Christians agreed with his interpretation of
      Scripture, they were going to Hell.

  • Great photos! Wish I could see those places myself!

  • JReid

    There is no official dogma or doctrine of the Catholic Church that contradicts Scripture. There’s some that are ‘outside’ of Scripture, take the Assumption of Mary, for example. But even that is not in contradiction to Scripture, because the Bible has other instances where people are assumed into heaven by God. So there is nothing ‘contrary’ to Scripture.

    • Well, praying to Mary and any other person, for one. And declaring someone a Saint or not, we don’t get to do that, only God declares who the ‘saints’ are. Declaring someone to be a Saint by whether ‘they’ performed miracles leaves out the fact that humans don’t perform miracles, God does. Remember what happened to them after God performed a miracle using the apostles?
      Acts 14:
      8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

      11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

      14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

      • Matt Swaim

        Here we run into a language barrier between Catholics and a lot of other Christians. The convenient way to report on something like the canonization of Mother Teresa is to say she was “declared” a saint, when in fact, the Church is recognizing her sanctity. And with the miracle thing- the convenient language is that there are miracles “attributed to” the saints, when in fact, what has happened is that they are attributed to the intercession of the saints.

        In the Catholic Church, there are three levels of honor- dulia, which is honor given to saints for their special relationship with God, hyperdulia, which is reserved for Mary because, among other things, she shares human DNA with the second person of the Trinity, and latria, which is reserved for God and God alone, and is the highest level of honor.

        The Catholic Church considers worship of the saints to be idolatry. All honor given to saints is based on their relationship with God. We ask for their prayers because, as James 5:17 tells us, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

  • Robert Sledz

    JReid, I think your preaching to the choir. 😉

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