Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 4
FR. MARTIN LUTHER, SOMEONE YOU SHOULD KNOW.
I hope by now I’ve convinced you that things were a mess in Christendom by around 1500. People knew that reform and renewal were necessary if Europe and Christianity were going to continue, but what form would the renewal of the Church take?
Would it be inspired by people like Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest, and founder of the Jesuits and Saint Peter of Alcántara (1499 -1562) a Spanish Franciscan and the woman he inspired, Saint Teresa of Ávila, ( 1515- 1582) Carmelite nun and reformer of convents, and her friend Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar and priest? They taught that only a renewal of the soul, particularly among the clergy and religious could untie the knot. Not everyone thought this way. As the 1500's dawned, the world stood at the brink of a whole new world, Columbus had returned to Spain after finding a whole new world. The Spanish speaking world exploded with growth in a way that had never happened before, and with the Spanish language and culture, the reforms of St. Teresa and St. Ignatius and the others traveled around the world.
But in the cold north, there was another kind of reform brewing. The great minds of France and England and the German speaking lands thought that perhaps a council should be called to govern the Church. Where the ideas of Huss and Wycliff had taken root, a council seemed the only possible solution. Enough of popes. Let a council elected by the rulers of Europe run things. Change was inevitable. But there was a fuse that lit the fire that soon burned out of control in all the lands north of the Alps and Pyrenees. That fuse was Father Martin Luther, an unhappy Catholic priest.
Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 (he died February 18, 1546). He was the son of a man who was on his way up from being a miner. Hans Luther had started his own mining company in order to better the position of the family. He wanted the best for son Martin, and the best was law school as far as Hans was concerned. In 1501, at the age of nineteen, Martin entered the University of Erfurt to study law. Eventually he left law school and entered religious life. On July 2, 1505, he was returning to school after a visit home. There was a terrible thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him. Terrified, he cried out “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”
Being a German and a law student he believed he had made a vow and would not break it. He left law school, sold his books, and entered an Augustinian friary (something like a monastery) in Erfurt on July 17,1505. Luther was depressed by his own decision. He said to his friends at a farewell party, “This day you see me, and then, not ever again.” Luther was depressed, but his father was furious over the waste of an expensive education. To make the long story short, Luther tried his best, but never liked the religious life. Luther said this period of his life was one of spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of Him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.” Eventually he became a teacher. In 1512, he joined the faculty of the University of Wittenberg and spent the rest of his life as a theology professor there.
I’ve already told you about Tetzel and the 95 Theses. Remember I told you about the German princes who were sick and tired of having popes tell them not to oppress their peasants, and the crowd that was in Rome at the time seemed for the most part like money crazed frat boys. The German emperor summoned Fr. Luther to explain himself at the annual parliament, called the Diet, held that year in the town of Worms (pronounced “voorms”). How many school children have learned not that Luther was summoned to the parliament at the German town of “Voorms, but rather that Luther forced by the pope to eat a diet of worms? But as I always say the German language of my ancestors is in fact the language of romance.
Where was I? Oh yes the Diet of Worms. Luther was not merely opposed to the abuse of power on the part of some churchmen. He questioned the whole theological structure of the faith. During his years of teaching theology and hating his own religious life, he had drunk deeply of the ideas then current in central Germany. The pope’s authority was inferior to that of a council, one is saved by faith alone, good works are unimportant, man is not free. God’s grace is so sovereign that man had no free will, we are predestined to heaven or hell and there is nothing we can do about it. He once wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your faith in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where righteousness can exist….No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery a thousand times each day” He believed that if we were among the chosen, our sinning could not keep us from heaven. Faith alone, grace alone Bible alone!
At the Diet of Worms Luther was presented with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked if he had written them and stood by them. Luther said they were his, but asked for a night to think over the second part of the question. The next day he said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.”
It is said that the Emperor at one point asked him if after 1500 years of Christian faith, he, Martin Luther, was the first one to get it right. Luther essentially said yes. He did not trust popes nor councils, but he asked Europe to trust him and his interpretations. He left the Diet unharmed, having been given a safe conduct, but on his way home, he was kidnapped by one of the German princes who hid Luther in his castle, the Wartburg, (another unfortunate name). Luther grew a beard, donned civilian clothes and spent his time in protective custody in the castle writing anti Catholic tracts translating the Bible in a way that agreed with him and hunting wild boars. Meanwhile, outside the castle the dying started. Untold hundreds of thousands and even millions died over the next century and in fact, that is when Europe began to die.
Next Week: CRASHING BOARS AND GERMAN BIBLES