Me at the site where Martin Luther made his stand in 1996
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Today was Reformation Sunday, the Sunday where many Protestants celebrate Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche on October 31st 1517.
For me it is one of those weird times. I am not Protestant, though Martin Luther is one of my heroes, nor am I Roman Catholic. I am a priest in a small communion that is most like the Dutch Old Catholics and the Utrecht Union. I live in the uncomfortable middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Thus I have to make my way between a variety of types of Protestants and Roman Catholics in order to survive have a good deal of appreciation for the historic faith of the undivided Catholic Church before the Great Schism of 1054, and Martin Luther’s expression of Protestantism which culminated in his break with Rome and excommunication when he defended himself before the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papal legates at the Diet of Worms where when demanded to recant his views he said:
“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”
When I read Luther’s defense of his views before the princes and prelates at Worms in 1521 I still get a chill up my spine. It is hard to imagine anyone today daring to stand up to ruling powers unless they have the support of worldly powers greater than oppose.
What Luther did when he nailed his theses to the door of the Schlosskirche was to set into motion events that he could not dare to imagine. By kicking in the doors of the church to real dissent he opened the way to the secular and progressive views of the Enlightenment, without which there would have been no philosophical or political underpinning for the United States of America and the hallmark of our national ideal found in our Declaration of Independence which says “we hold these truth s to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”
Luther recovered the key to the Christian faith, that is faith in the Crucified God. As Lutheran theologian Juergen Moltmann wrote:
“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”
Because of that we owe the flawed and often troubled monk and theologian from Wittenberg a debt of gratitude. As for me, I know that I do. I may not always be right, nor to I claim to be, but as a matter of faith and politics I have to say “here I stand.”
So until tomorrow,