Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Reformation Day!


Today is a red-letter day for Lutherans and other Reformed Christians. While most of us are gearing up for All Saints and All Souls (and while the secular world is getting into Halloween mode), the Lutherans are singing "A mighty fortress" and hoisting their beersteins (or port glasses in the Barossa) with a hearty "Sola Fides"!

For those of you not up on Ref History, the reason Oct 31 is Reformation Day is because that is the day that, in 1517, Brother Martin Luther (the Blessed Doctor, as Confessional Lutherans call him) posted his 95 Theses on the local notice board (ie. the door of the Wittenberg Church).

[That's Brother Martin played by Joseph Fiennes in the picture. I wonder if there is some sort of meaning here somewhere with Joseph doing Luther while his brother Ralph got to do Lord Voldemort...?]

The reason for choosing this particular church door was that the next day, being All Saints day, the Elector, Frederick the Wise, would stage the annual exhibition of his vast collection of relics, which always drew a crowd.

Not that many Lutherans would be aware of what was actually in the 95 Theses. Some will able to quote the very first Thesis ("Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance"--quite good spirituality in that), but most would be unaware that they uphold, rather than reject, the authority of the pope and the existence of purgatory.

Luther wrote his theses as the starting point for an academic debate at his university, which was never--in the excited aftermath--actually held. I would like, one day, actually stage the debate with a Lutheran theologian (any takers?), because looking at them, I think that some of Brother Martin's statements about purgatory do not properly represent the teaching of the Church (although they might well have represented what was generally taught in Luther's day).

For eg. thesis 16 says: "16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety." This seems to put purgatory in closer relation to hell than to heaven, whereas Catholic theology sees purgatory as completely different from hell and the anticipation of heaven. More accurate would be to say that the correspondence is to "despair, hope and assurance" respectively.

Anyway, there it is. The most Protestant festival of the year is side by side with the most Catholic festival, and between them both this pagan nonsense of Halloween has got its claws in. Funny old thing, history...

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