Friday, September 6, 2013

198: HERE I STAND. I CAN DO NO OTHER. (continuation from the post 197)

 Martin Luther said, “I would never had thought that such a storm would rise Rome over one simple scrap of paper." Luther never intended for his 95 Theses to create the tumult they did. But in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, they caused outrage and horror, not just because they criticized the pope, but also because they were massively popular. 

What Luther had wrote touched people for several reasons. He questioned,  What is salvation? What do people have to do to be saved? And it’s that combination, in a time when people were really resenting the way in which the Church was taking advantage of that desire to be saved, all that came together and made these something that people talked about.

But the Church had a name for people who spoke like this outside the hierarchy. It was heresy and they were apostate. And heresy called for a swift response. The first victims were Luther’s books. And the next would be Luther himself. The ultimate punishment for a heretic was that they could be cut off from the Church.. and handed over to lay justice, which would sentence them to death.. in a rather hypocritical phrase that they used, “without the shedding of blood,” which usually meant burning or drowning.

 Only 100 years before, a man named Huss had criticized the Church for much the same reason as Luther. Huss was promised a safe hearing, only to then be roasted alive. The papacy can crush, there’s no two ways about it. It’s an amazingly efficient machine for detecting discontent and "error" through the Inquisition and through the elimination of individuals.

For Martin Luther, the mounting fury of the Church would inspire not doubt and fear, but an extraordinary courage.. that would only grow stronger with every attack he faced.  Luther squared up to the Church with a style of opposition it had never encountered before. He was utterly dismissive of its threats. The pope demanded that Luther disown the 95 Theses. Luther refused. The pope sent a cardinal to interrogate him. Luther was unimpressed. And then Luther was charged with heresy. Luther replied. “I demand they show me absolutely, not respectively, distinctly and not confusedly, certainly and not probably, just what is heretical."

 I think the difficulty that Church faced was this: the more it tried to silence Luther, the greater Luther became convinced that he had a vocation which needed to be seen through. Quote: “I desired to believe freely, and to be a slave to the authority of no one, whether council, university, or pope. And I was bound not only to assert the truth, but to defend it with my blood and death.”

 In Rome, Luther’s writings were causing mounting fury, Pope Leo X now turned to the mightiest weapon in his arsenal: excommunication. With this, Leo could condemn Luther to an eternity of hell in the next world and make him an outcast in this. To the average Christian, papal excommunication meant that if you died without being reconciled to the Church, you spent eternity in hellish torment.

Luther was discovering that he had a new and powerful weapon on his side. For movements to spread, their ideas need to spread, and for Luther, it was providential that a means of disseminating these ideas had suddenly become available through the printing press. In our own day and age, we’re very award of how much things have been changed by the Internet. What the internet is to our day, printing was to Luther’s day. It meant that ideas could travel. They could not be stopped.

Luther had watched as the printers had spread his 95 Theses across Germany. And he had realized that their presses could offer him a vast new audience. Martin Luther is said to have been the first propagandist, the first person to really exploit this new medium. He perceived that he could gain an audience that was far larger than he could have done without it. Luther penned and  wrote that not just the clergy, but every Christian, had a stake in their church.  Ordinary people, ordinary Christians – not just the priests – , have a God-given role to play in the running of the Church.

It was proposed that Luther should be allowed to argue his case before Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor, himself at his next parliament in the German city of Worms. It was a crucial moment. Luther was given the chance to present his case at one of the most influential gatherings in Europe. Luther states, “I was not trying to gain praise and fame with my writings and little books, for almost everyone I knew condemned my harsh and stinging tone. But I thought that, even if the present age condemned me, maybe the judgment of future generations would be better."

 And all the while, Luther’s writings were gathering an ever-larger audience. He wrote very well. In fact, he wrote very wittily. In fact, he wrote very rudely, and many people found themselves fascinated by this man who would use such crude language when arguing with the pope and with the Church. He’s very, very savvy. He’s grown up from a very young age amongst books and writings and bookishness, and he’s terrifically good at instinctively sensing what will work for whom. He is an incredible writer. He uses earthy, ordinary language. He’s just fun to read out loud. He’s sarcastic, he’s witty, he’s profound. He is a great comforter. If you get attacked by Luther, you’re just torn up one side and down the other. Printed along with Luther’s texts, for those who could not read were visual parallels.

  In the winter of 1520, Luther finally received the bull of excommunication from Rome. But is was already too late. With his words, Luther had unleashed a hurricane. You could say that these works are a revolutionary manifesto, to Luther the power of the pope now meant nothing. He hurled the bull of excommunication into a bonfire. Because you have corrupted God’s truth, may God destroy you in this fire. I am not afraid, and I rejoice to suffer in so noble a cause. In burning the bull of excommunication, he is in fact saying, “I will not give in. I am right you are wrong. Come and get me. 

Luther now braces himself for one final showdown with the powers of the Holy Roman Empire at the final counsel. Luther’s appearance before the powerful elite would stand as the pinnacle of this life.  

He was shown a pile of his books and asked if they were all his. Indeed, all the books are mine, and I have written more, if you want to read them. He would refuse to recant in terms both clear and simple. I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have all contradicted each other. My conscience is captive only to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. For to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Luther tells us that Luther closed his address with one of history’s greatest declarations of exhausted defiance. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

 Luther’s statement really marks the dawn of a new era, the era of the ordinary person standing up against authority. I am sorry but this is what I believe, My conscious tells me this. I cannot do anything else. That I think, is a defining moment.

These were the first steps of what would be called the Reformation. Luther simply taught, preached and wrote God’s word. He told others that they should be concerning themselves only with their souls and God.