MUNICH — MunichNOW Arts & Culture) — Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther, a devout Catholic priest with a massive intellect, sent a letter to his bishop, Albrecht von Brandenburg, with Luther’s 95 theses, or problems, with the Catholic Church he had inquiries about. He only intended to clean up the Church.
But as is often the case with genies and bottles, Luther unleashed forces beyond any single man’s or institution’s control and the results had unintended consequences. The Protestant Reformation was born, and it would not come without bloodshed, as newly-minted Protestant peasants revolted against their Catholic princes.
In the end, Luther sided with those princes (he had only wanted to reform the Church, not split from it), and in 1525, he wrote “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants”, and described exactly how and why peasants should be run through with sharp metal objects.
In 1543, he wrote two pamphlets (one was rather long) on how to throw Jews out of Christians’ lands and burn their synagogues. One was titled “On the Jews and Their Lies”, and the language he used was vulgar and direct.
Islam also felt the wrath of his quill. When not starting revolutions, Luther also found time to write hymns like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and numerous others. He translated the New Testament into German, basically modernizing and standardizing the language. The translation also opened the spiritual world to any reader, and though there were few readers then, their numbers were increasing and would continue to do so.
Here in Germany, we celebrate the 500 years of the start of that religious revolution in the Christian faith, cognizant of the controversies which surround Luther the person and figure. Today is a day off for the whole country, which will allow us time to reflect. Tomorrow, for more than half of Germany is another holiday “All Saint’s Day” (All Hallows Day), which will allow us time to reflect on how much candy we get today on Halloween (All Hallowed Evening=Hallowed Eve).