Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Luther's Hallowe'en

"A statue of 16th-century theologian Martin Luther stands on Marktplatz square on Oct. 20, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany." Image Source: Time / Sean Gallup—Getty Images.

This Hallowe'en is very special, because it marks the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. You can read the Theses in English, here.

Although Luther followed in the footsteps of other late medieval religious reformers such as John Wycliffe (c. 1320s-1384) and Jan Hus (1369-1415), Luther's act is considered the central moment in the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Woodcut of indulgence selling in a church from title page of On Aplas von Rom kan man wol selig werden [One Can Be Saved Without the Indulgence of Rome]. From a 1521 pamphlet. Image Source: Wiki.

The catalyst of Luther's protest was the sale of indulgences by a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel (1465-1519). The reason Luther acted on Hallowe'en was not because of the significance of October 31st, but because he was anticipating the day that follows: November 1st, All Saints' Day. On 1 November 1517, Tetzel planned to start selling indulgences near Wittenberg, and he was famous for his abuse of the practice. The following rhyme is attributed to Tetzel:

"As soon as a coin in the coffer rings
the soul from purgatory springs."

Indulgences were chits, authorized by the pope to draw upon the virtuous power of the saints to reduce God's punishments for sins. Indulgences were believed to absolve sins of those still alive, and of souls trapped Purgatory, a No Man's Land between heaven and hell where souls worked and waited to be purified.

Through papal relations with local princes, the sale of indulgences proved a way of gathering money quickly and efficiently from poor people in Europe. Indulgence monies funded wars and big infrastructure projects. The sale of indulgences provided the money to build the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, which tourists still visit today. The same sales also supported roads, bridges, and other important construction work.

This practice was an arcane precursor to our modern system, which still conveys private funds into semi-public foundations or governmental public coffers, all in the name of humanitarianism and the public good. Behind those slogans, there remains an enduring tension between the individual citizen and the growth of violent and powerful statecraft and its satellite entities.

Thus, the issues driving Luther and his protest were more complicated than indulgences. Luther's act was part of the evolution of the modern conscience (or lack of it). Unravel the discussions on faith, and the subsequent schism inside the Roman Catholic Church helped to herald the values driving our Millennial  political and economic systems.

First page of the 1517 Basel printing of the Theses as a pamphlet. Image Source: Wiki.

This was the earliest glimmer of a democratic age. Several medieval critics had condemned venality in the Church prior to October 1517, but Luther's Theses sparked a shift in popular awareness.

Luther meant his complaints to launch a debate with Tetzel. He did not intend for his Theses to become a public manifesto, a rallying cry for the common people, and he wrote the Theses in Latin. However, they were translated into German and printed through a radical new technology - the printing press. The press had been invented in 1440 and spread thereafter through the German lands. This was how Luther's Theses were shared across Central Europe and sparked revolts by the peasants against their royal and ecclesiastical masters.

Luther, with his intent of taking worship back to the holy texts, also made the Christian faith more democratic. He translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German, by-passing Rome's official Latin Vulgate. He wrote important hymns, such as Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God), based on Psalm 46. And - in defiance of the Roman Catholic insistence on celibate priests - he got married.

This blog will discuss these issues, with an eye to showing how Luther's ideas still shape our world. I will be interviewing Andrew Wilson, who wrote Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther. The book chronicles a fascinating effort by Andrew and his wife Sarah to retrace Luther's footsteps in 2010.

Andrew hypothesized that the real breach with Rome began when Luther actually visited that city in 1511. Sent on business on behalf of his order, Luther walked to Italy, starting in October 1510 from the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

It is obviously essential to know what Luther saw in Rome and what he thought of it, because it led to him being the Catholic Church's biggest critic in history, a mere six years later. The conventional interpretation has assumed that Luther found a cynical, corrupt and bellicose papacy, Rome as Babylon.

However, Andrew found that the documents about Luther's pilgrimage gave little solid evidence. He decided to retrace Luther's steps - in today's landscape - to find a story in the environment along Luther's pilgrim's path.

Andrew and Sarah Wilson with a statue of St. James at the Lutheran church in Oettingen-in-Bayern. Image Source: Andrew Wilson.

Together, Andrew and his wife walked over one thousand miles and documented their travels on their Website, here. Andrew explained what he discovered about Martin Luther in his book, published in 2016. That discovery, and how it relates to us now, will be the subject of upcoming posts in December.

No comments:

Post a Comment