We’re in Munich now. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. For now I thought I’d share a few extras on Reformation sites and theology – these are of some places we didn’t get to visit, but I thought would be fitting to share some additional tenets.
In April, 1521, Martin Luther appeared before Emperor Charles V at the Imperial Diet of Worms where Luther was ordered to recant his teachings, especially his attacks on the Infallibility of the Pope. Six months prior Pope Leo X had issued a Papal bull (an official papal document) denouncing Luther’s 95 Theses and other tracks published by the Wittenberg theologian. Luther famously burned the Papal bull and sent the Pope a copy of his treatise, The Freedom of the Christian. By January, 1521, when the Diet commenced, Pope Leo had already excommunicated Luther.
Guaranteed safe passage, Luther appeared to defend his theology. No opportunity for debate or defense was allowed. The hearings, lasting several days (even weeks); they were clearly hearings, a trial, not a debate. Luther was ordered to recant or face charges of heresy, which would result in a sentence of being burned at the stake. It was on this occasion Luther famously said, “Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God, Amen.” He, and his confession would stand on the Word of God. If one could/would convince him his theology was in error based on Scripture he would gladly recant, otherwise, his conscience was bound.
The Edict of Worms was later issued in May denouncing Luther as a heretic and sentencing him to death by burning at the stake. He lived the rest of his life with a bounty on his head. On Luther’s return trip home to Wittenberg, where he would await execution, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, intercepted his traveling party, kidnapping Luther and taking him to the Warburg Castle for safe keeping.
We are not traveling to Worms – again, due to time and costs we had to make choices. There isn’t much to see commemorating the Reformation except a series of statues of famous reformers, including Luther. My favorite statue is of a woman with her hand up, as if in protest. This statue, the Protestierende Speyer, is in memory of the city of Speyer and the Protestants protest against the Roman Empire and Roman Catholic Church at the Diet of Speyer in 1529. While we think of the Reformation as a movement of primarily theologians arguing over semantics, it was far more than that. Perhaps most inspiring was the sacrifices of lay people. It was lay leaders, Christian men and women, at the Diet of Speyer who risked life, home, and property to take a stand for the Evangelical faith. It was from this Diet that the term “Protestant” was coined to describe this movement and new Church emerging. But that term, Protestant, is in reference not to Luther, Zwingli, Calvin or other theologians who took a stand for the Gospel, but these lay leaders willing to risk everything.
Marburg is also not a town we’re visiting (again, not much to see there), but it was significant to the history of the Reformation. In 1529, the same year as the Diet of Speyer where and when the term “Protestant” was being coined, Philip of Hesse invited Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli (the leading Swiss Reformer) and several others to a Colloquy in Marburg. His intention was to unite the various Reformers and develop one Protestant Church. The world would then have the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church representing Christianity.
14 Articles of faith were presented. If the group could agree on these 14 statements of faith there could then be one Protestant Church. They agreed on 13 out of the 14. The one Article of faith they could not agree upon was the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli and others understood the Sacrament symbolically, focusing attention on the word “remembrance” in the Words of Institution. Luther argued for the literal meaning and insisted on taking Jesus’ words literally when he says, “This is my body… This is my blood.” While Luther didn’t agree with the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation – that the substance of the elements are transformed from bread and wine into literal flesh and blood – Luther did believe in the “real presence” of Christ in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine. This isn’t symbolic! Rather, Christ’s promise is realized and the Holy Spirit acts in a tangible way to come to you and forgive. As discussed in Two Kinds of Righteousness, in the Sacraments the focus is not on our doing something (remembering, repenting, etc.) but on Christ being the actor and we being the recipients.
One little word, “is” or “est” in Latin, is all that stood in the way of uniting the Protestants. But it would have been a false unity. One little word can be worth fighting, and even dying over; for what’s at stake is the Gospel itself – freedom, forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Weimar became Lutheran in the year 1525. 1525 was a pivotal year in the Reformation and in Luther’s life. It was in 1525 the Luther married. It was in 1525 that Luther wrote his most important treatise, The Bondage of the Will, against the acclaimed Erasmus of Rotterdam. And it was in 1525 that Luther wrote to the Princes encouraging them to squelch the peasant uprising leading to slaughtering and massacre of the poor throughout the lands. Later Luther wrote to the Princes for leniency in their exercise of their office, but the damage was done and Luther would forever be remembered for his contribution to the unnecessary bloodshed of the poor.
There are many things from our heritage we as Lutherans can be proud of; many attributes of Luther we can admire. But Luther was also a sinful human being with a dark side and must be remembered with a critical eye as well. There were times when Luther let his words fly without restraint. Sometimes those have left us with a smile as his crass freedom; at other times we wince wishing he had bridled it.
Besides his contributions to the permissiveness the Princes seized to wield the sword on the poor and defenseless peasants, Luther’s scathing attacks on the Jews lead to the one of the greatest atrocities in human history, the Holocaust. The Nazis seized on Luther’s words using them as fuel for their rhetoric of hate and justification for murder.
I don’t believe that Luther was anti-Semitic. There are places where Luther defends the Jews, speaks well of Jews he knows, but the few places (e.g. Against the Jews and Their Lies) where he does denounce them with terrible language muzzles whatever good he may have said.
While there’s no excusing such vitriolic language that’s led to such inhumanity, it is helpful to put things into context to realize that it wasn’t intended anti-Semeticism, or to give permission to such evil. There spoke in such hateful and hurtful ways about the Pope (whom he referred to as the AntiChrist), the Jews, the Turks, pagans, and anyone and everyone who stood against the gospel of Christ and in the way of people coming to faith and trust in His grace. Is it ironic that his passion for grace would lead to such ungracious treatment of those who stood in its way? Unfortunately, yes. Is it excusable that such language would be employed that leads to hatred and murder? Not in any way! It is shameful.
As I said, there is much to admire about Luther and our heritage, but it is not all pretty. Do we therefore dismiss everything because of the dark side, the underbelly of our legacy? No. But neither should we boast too proudly. If we boast at all, let it be in the Lord – pointing, as Luther does (warts and all) in the Altarpiece in Wittenberg, to Christ.