The moon is just barely strong enough to push through the fog at Meadowcreek this morning. All stars, even the Morning Star are obliterated.
We almost ended up in Morning Star last night. I’ve been wanting to take some new Meadowcreek residents to see my buffalo farmer friend L. C. Ratchford whose family were among the first settlers of Searcy County in the early 1800s. L. C. stands for Luther Calvin. Remember that. We weren’t on a buffalo mission last night though.
Meadowcreek is in a dry county. That doesn’t refer to the weather or climate. It means you can’t buy and sell liquor except under very special circumstances. You can make it for your own use. Millions of peasants for thousands of years have brewed their own beer. One time I visited a town in Ukraine with muddy streets and no church, but six different households were selling potato vodka they had distilled themselves.
One of our residents is experimenting with potatoes and we still have one bottle of wine attesting to the future productivity of our vineyard. Until those ventures go online, we are drawn to a brewery at Big Flat in Baxter County. There are plenty of churches in Big Flat, but they aren’t close to the brewery and the beer garden is behind a privacy fence. Not like Germany.
In Germany the biergartens are often huge public spaces, not a few tables hiding behind a wall. Often they are across the street from churches. The most famous church in Germany has a biergarten right across the street. From your table in that biergarten, you can see the side door where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation 498 years ago. The beer that Martin Luther brewed and loved can be drunk in this garden. “Wer kein Bier hat, hat nichts zu trinken” was Martin Luther’s way of saying, “When you have no beer, you have nothing to drink,”
Yesterday was All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day, today. You may know it as Halloween. Trouble always happens on Halloween. I remember stories of misbegotten youth spent knocking over gravestones on Halloween. I made such a visit once. More recently I spent days righting tombstones knocked flat by an Easter tornado in the Delta.
Wittenburg is the town of Luther’s All Saints’ Church, locally known as the Castle Church (Schlosskirche). It’s in the former East Germany, but long before Communism was a twinkle in Marx’ eye, it was a seat of learning and iconoclasm, protected by Frederick III from the silliness of the Holy Roman Empire.
Not that Frederick didn’t have some silly habits himself. In Luther’s time, All Saint’s Church held one of Europe’s largest collections of holy relics. These had been piously collected by Frederick. Veneration of relics supposedly allowed the viewer to receive relief from temporal punishment for sins in purgatory. By 1520, Frederick had over 19,000 relics, purportedly “including vials of the milk of the Virgin Mary, straws from the manger of Jesus, and the body of one of the innocents massacred by King Herod.”
In today’s Germany, trains leave hourly from Berlin Hauptbahnhof headed to Wittenberg and points East. A ticket costs around €22, We walked from the train station down past Martin Luther’s old house to the church. The Allies spared this scenic town on the Elbe during the Second World War so much of the town looks like it did in 1517. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (original Latin: Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum) were written by Martin Luther in 1517 and kicked off the Protestant Reformation. The 95 protest clerical abuses, especially nepotism, simony, usury, pluralism, and the sale of indulgences.
According to the customs of the University of Wittenberg, on 31 October 1517, Luther posted his list in Latin on the side door of the church. The goal was to challenge others to a debate on these topics. An indulgence was a piece of paper signed by some uppity-up big dog in the Catholic hierarchy. It gave a papal pardon for sins without any penance or genuine contrition. The worried could obtain absolution for souls in purgatory by buying indulgences. This was a lucrative business for the Pope.
As part of a fund-raising campaign commissioned by Pope Leo X to finance the renovation of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican priest, began the selling of indulgences in the German lands. Albert of Mainz, the Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, had borrowed heavily to pay for his high church rank and was deeply in debt. He agreed to allow the sale of the indulgences in his territory in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
Luther’s prince, Frederick III, and the prince of the neighboring territory, George, Duke of Saxony, forbade the sale of indulgences in their lands, but people in Wittenberg traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession, they presented their plenary indulgences for which they paid, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document promised to forgive all their sins. As Johann Tetzel put it: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Luther was outraged that they had paid money for what was theirs as a free gift from God. He felt compelled to expose the fraud that was being sold to the people. This exposure was to take place in the form of a public scholarly debate at the University of Wittenberg.
The Ninety-Five Theses outlined the items to be discussed and issued the challenge to any and all comers. On the same day, Luther sent a hand-written copy to archbishop Albert and to the bishop of Brandenburg, the superior of Luther at the time. Luther saw his theses as a scholarly objection to church actions, and the voice of the letter is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.”
Nevertheless there is an undertone of confrontation and dispute in several of the theses, especially in Thesis 86, which poses the question: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of Saint Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”
Within two weeks, copies of the Theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. In January 1518 Christoph von Scheurl and other friends of Luther translated the Ninety-Five Theses from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied them, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press.
On 15 June 1520, Pope Leo X rebutted the Ninety-Five Theses by issuing a papal bull entitled Exsurge Domine (“Arise, O Lord”). This document outlined the Magisterium of the Church’s findings of where the pope believed Luther had erred.
As early as 29 October 1521, the chapel at Wittenberg began to turn away from private Masses. In 1522, much of the city began celebrating Lutheran services instead of Masses. Luther’s popularity grew rapidly, mostly because the general Catholic population were dissatisfied with the corruption and worldly habits of the Church of Rome.
As the Reformation progressed, another element drew adherents to the ideas and practices that gradually became known as Lutheranism. Luther and others had urged that greater balance be observed in the attention given to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures versus the long-accepted sources of tradition and reason.
Sola scriptura enforced the tight hold Catholic priests had over both the content of faith and over, consequently, practices like the sale of indulgences. As availability of new printing press spread, literacy also began to grow among a wider population that was increasingly being exposed to books.
Church-goes were now able to read and examine the Bible for themselves. So they could test Catholic priests actions against the actual teachings of Scripture. A new emphasis on personal piety resulted. Adherents to Luther’s Theses began to read the Bible aloud in German or whatever language the people spoke. Attendance at public preaching and lecturing events grew. Now common people could develop a personal relationship with God, not having to get approval from or obey the Pope and his minions.
We’d planned a workshop yesterday because we wanted to avoid the posting of any Theses on the walls of an abandoned building here. Several learned high school students have visited the building and shared their theological insights with us.
This Halloween we had a bunch of people and cars and movies making noise and blocking admission to the side door of this church. No Theses were posted last night. Looks like Protestantism is safe for now.
Happy All Saint’s Day.