Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Protestant Reformation: 500 Years Ago For Nothing?

Wartburg Castle
My  German cousin sent me a brochure he picked up on a recent visit to Wartburg in Germany. It's  open from April to October each year.  The fortress, castle and now museum is truly stunning. A variety of styles grace it yet it seems to hang together. Some modern architects could learn a lesson or two here. The new or remodeled museums in New York City come to mind.

Wartburg was one of the places that protected Luther during the long and messy 30 Years War. This was NOT what Luther intended. He merely wanted to reform the church. But we are seeing how difficult that is under Pope Francis in modern times. The depth of graft and corruption is staggering; possibly worse in Luther's time. There was no media to expose it. Troublemakers were sent to the outer reaches of the church.

Germany is preparing to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther whose famous theses against the excesses of the Catholic Church created the Protestant Reformation. In many ways, the arguments were not new. Umberto Eco's amazing book, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, a murder mystery set in a 15th century scriptorium (a place where monks did nothing but copy ancient texts), has an investigator, sent from England, to solve the crime. He discusses the heresies of the church he in pledged to root out as well. It's shocking and enlightening to realize what the church had rejected would soon see the light of day.

Luther used the castle from 1521 for almost a year working on a Protestant Bible in German. Up to
One of many elegant room in the castle and museum at Wartburg
this time all Bibles were in Latin.  When Gutenburg and others printed the Bible in their own languages the Catholic Church was no longer the only repository of Bibical knowledge.

The arts exploded with paintings, pamphlets and other media telling the stories for a mostly illerate but quickly learning how to read and write public. Rembrandt, Titan, Goya, El Greco, Rubens created magnificent paintings revealing truths about the Bible only hinted at before. They are treasured and revered even today!

For what? A recent study revealed a smaller proportion of the public goes to or supports the Christian church. More and more people are turning secular. Magnificent churches in Europe are empty if not for the tourists. You have to admire the passion of Muslims. We were like that 500 years ago fighting and dying in our cause, Catholic vs. Protestant. But no more.

Why? I feel the church has not made itself relevant. The words and actions are ancient but the human experience isn't. We repeat the same errors recorded long ago often refusing or not understanding what those verses mean. A good pastor, and they are rare, brings focus to our foibles and the verses helping us see, learn and hopefully correct the error of our ways.  Until that happens, Christianity, like so many other religions, will join the footnotes of history.

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