Contributed by Larry C. Marchant, Jr.
This Sunday, many protestant churches will recognize the Reformation of the Catholic Church. But I say everyone should stop, pause, because Martin Luther’s actions have a much larger, ripple affect, extending far beyond church doctrine.
In Europe during the 16th Century, several key events inspired Martin Luther’s revolutionary action:
1. The Pope wanted to build Saint Peter’s Basilica – the crown jewel of the Vatican. But there was one small problem. The Church was broke.
2. When the Pope approached Venetian bankers to finance is vision, they balked at the Church’s credit.
3. In return, the Papacy devised a plan to satisfy the Church’s debt to the bankers. Indulgences—payments to the Church so that parishioners could buy a loved one’s ticket into heaven.
4. St. Peter’s Basilica becomes the first building to be built on credit.
A priest and professor of theology, Martin Luther’s frustration reached the boiling point, and he proposed at least ninety-five changes to the Church. For extra impact, instead of dropping his “suggestions” in the employee suggestion box, he nailed them to the church door at Wittenberg.
Among his many issues, Luther protested The Church’s creation of Indulgences, requiring parishioners make a payment to secure a deceased loved one’s place in heaven. Second, he questioned the Church’s forbidding priests to marry. After all, the bible doesn’t direct or even elude to precluding priests from marriage, so, it must be manmade, or rather “Vatican-made.” Further, Luther believed that the Church placed far too much importance on worshiping Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
After receiving Luther’s “nasty-gram,” the Pope went ballistic and called for an immediate inquiry into the audacity of this brazen professor, referred to as the “Diet of Worms.”
Luther was deemed a heretic, ex-communicated from the Church, and the church put a bounty on his head. Luther ran, locking himself in a room and for over a year where he transcribed the Bible into German.
Transcribing the bible into a native language did not exactly sit well with the Church, as they insisted the only way to know the Bible was through Church teachings alone.
Guttenberg had recently invented the modern-day ink stamped printing press. (Coincidence or divine intervention?)
Luther finished translating the Bible into German. Flyers announcing the new publication were dispersed through the land, and the right to read and interpret holy text for oneself spread like wildfire.
Disavowing the Church’s doctrine on marriage, Luther married Katherine Bora, a former nun. Not long after, war erupts in Germany over the division of the Church and continues for several years. Finally, the fighting stops. My feeling is the German royal family told the Vatican that if it refused to back off, Germany would no longer supply it gold, so the Vatican’s army retreated to Rome. But again, that’s just my take on it.
Luther insists the new church shall be named the “Reformed Catholic Church.” Several years later upon Luther’s death, the church is renamed the “Lutheran Church”
After his death, black plague engulfs large cities throughout Europe, and Luther’s widow, Katherine, poor and living off parishioners’ kindness, flees to the countryside to escape the plague. Severely injured in a cart accident, she died not long after.
So if you hear someone talking about the Reformation, remember its importance for each of us, not just Lutherans. You see, Luther’s belief in the individual has been credited with commencing the democratic system of government, which the Western world enjoys today.
Luther’s fundamental, revolutionary belief – that people should have the right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves – was unheard of at the time.
Two hundred years later, democracy is born under the same theory of the common people’s God-given rights.
So regardless of your faith or particular denomination, let us all be thankful for Luther’s sacrifice, something we too often take for granted today: the right to make our own decisions and have our own thoughts.
God bless Martin Luther, and God bless us all.
Larry Marchant is a member of Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina and has been evolved both personally and professionally in politics on both the local and national stage.