|1517 A.D.: Martin Luther's 95 Theses (Is There A Veiled Biblical Parallel?)|
|Written by Dan Curry|
|Thursday, 19 April 2012|
1517 A.D.: Martin Luther's 95 Theses and Paul in Acts 9:5
Above, a purported likeness of young Martin Luther as a Monk.
Martin Luther is often portrayed as the most central figure among many brave protesters who rebelled against a Catholic Church grown monstrously corrupt in the early 16th century. As for the corruption, it was to be expected.....Satan always targets the seats of Earthly power and works furiously to subvert them into his grasp. He has all too often been quite successful. As Joseph Conrad brought forth in his fictional book "Heart of Darkness" about Colonial Era Africa: "Power corrupts; total power corrupts totally." The Catholic Church of the early 16th century had grown gigantically powerful, and Satan's best and brightest were certainly trying to use that power to doom the souls of men in an attempt to cheat God of His children.
It is fair to call such 16th century protesters brave because the Catholic Church claimed to have a rather terrible power to use against those who rebelled against it: it could Excommunicate you, cut you off from membership in the Catholic Church, and then you would not obtain heaven. There were essentially no other Christian denominations to switch to within it's geographical dominion, either....preciously few, at least. So, you were Catholic, or you were going to hell - essentially. Those who rebelled against what 'the Holy Mother Church' had become in the early 1500's were going out on a limb, and it was not a venerable and well established limb. It was a terrifyingly lonesome limb, a previously untried limb, and if it broke off of the tree it was widely believed that there was no limit to how far you might fall.
But, in 1517, on October 31 which was then most commonly known as 'All Saints Day' instead of Halloween, a stubbornly idealistic German Priest named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, which lay in the midst of the Holy Roman Empire. That particular church held around 5,000 relics (Saintly or Holy Relics were very popular among churches just then), and there were a lot of fraudulent relics sold along with whichever were authentic. This particular church held a vial of the milk of the Virgin Mother Mary, for instance. And the body of a dead baby murdered by Herod as he attempted to snuff out the newborn baby king that the wisemen from the East had told him about. Just think of that....thousands of such relics were inside, purportedly, that is. With over 5,000 in stock, those mentioned may not have been the most unusual!
Luther nailed the 95 Theses on wooden doors at this church, but a fire during the '7 Years War' in 1760 burnt down those doors and much of the church, including a plethorae of religious relics. The church was rebuilt. Then in 1858, around 341 years after Luther nailed up the original theses, Frederick William IV of Prussia had these replacement bronze doors put in place at the same entrance. They are called the Theses Doors, weigh about 2,200 pounds, and have the 95 Theses engraved upon them.
Luther nailed the theses there on that church entrance door because the door was a customary place for posting important notices. These 95 theses decried certain rituals and practices of the Catholic Church with such boldness (especially Luther's objection to the sale of indulgences) that it bordered on impudence in the mind of some Catholic church officials.
What is an indulgence? The Pope was raising money by sending men out into places such as Germany (the local German Arch-Bishop got a percentage of sales) and these men would tell poor people that if they bought a slip of paper from them absolving them of such particular sins as their conscience told them might cost them salvation, then the sin was forgiven, and they had the paper in hand to prove it. Pay for pray. It was a straight up rip-off, and Luther and many others knew it. Luther, as a Catholic Priest, had members of his flock who were pulling out their receipt during confession to show Luther that they didn't need to pray to God about some certain sin, that they had already paid good money to get rid of that one! Luther had confronted a certain man named Tetzel who was selling these 'indulgences' on behalf of Pope Leo the 10th in Luther's area of Germany, and had left angry. That's part of what led to his posting the 95 theses.
But, the printing press had been invented. Not only was Luther's Latin version of the posting widely circulated, but some of Luther's friends translated it to German, and it was soon spread widely not only in Germany, but through out other nations in Europe. It soon enough served as a rallying point for people with similar dissatisfactions. And Luther began to be a famous name. And so, this is part of how the famous Protestant revolt began.
As mentioned, these 95 theses sharply criticized the practices of Martin Luther's own denomination's religious practices.... Martin was indeed a Catholic Priest. So they affectively were a great insult to his Bishop and his Cardinal and his Pope. They obviously might bring the Pope's displeasure down upon the local Princes of Germany (Prince Frederick the Wise was the local German Prince), rulers of the region where Martin lived, the region where Martin's parishioners lived. It was a momentous step - very big...very frightening...very risky.
But rather than writing too much about this tremendous event in Christian history, one which I believe that every Christian should perhaps read about carefully and thoroughly at least once in their life, I wanted to go another direction and just make note of the fact that Martin Luther's life seems to have another oddity about it. It holds a few very unexpected parallels to an important Biblical personage: the Apostle Paul! Consider the following:
1) Saul/Paul began his young man's life as a devoutly Orthodox Pharisee, and a Christian hating Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. But later, as Paul the Apostle, he helped establish that there was salvation for people through Christianity, outside of the Jewish faith, and even outside of strictly Jewish Christianity - salvation, equal and in full for Gentiles...those not of Jewish ancestry or blood! Paul became very hated by the Jews soon after he converted to Christianity.
1a) Martin Luther started out as a priest in the fold of the Catholic Church, but became a hated enemy of the Church when he converted to the belief that salvation was through faith in the Lord's work of salvation, and that the Bible was the true authority, and that those teachings of mere men which the Catholic Church held as doctrine were in contradiction to God's word, and so were in error.
2) Paul was something of a wunderkind Jew, intellectually. He had 'much learning' according to some who listened to him! While growing up he had learned about the Holy Scriptures at the feet of Gamaliel, a renowned Jewish teacher mentioned in the Book of Acts. When he was still a young man and a practicing Jew, he put his heart and soul into it! He had intense zeal for his Jewish faith, and was a defender of it! He even rounded up Christians to face punishments up to and including death for being heretics....for following this 'Jesus'....when he was a young man and believed Christians to be in opposition to God.
2a) Martin Luther was a wunderkind also. He was a top notch student, and acheived his academic milestones in attention catching time. He was so introspective and self abasing as a young monk that his superiors worried for his health - he fasted, prayed, and confessed his sinfulness in what seemed to them an almost obsessive way. They actually ordered him into types of work that would allow less time for introspection. Instead of a monk, he should be an active Priest, they thought.
3) Paul, on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, was involved in a startling supernatural event. It is captured in the Book of Acts, Chapter 9, including Acts 9:5. A bright light suddenly surrounded him and his traveling retinue, Paul fell off of his horse, and he suddenly heard the voice of Jesus, who's followers he had been persecuting! Here is how the scripture records it in Acts Chapter 9:
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
End Quote from Acts Chapter 9
So remember....great light from heaven, thrown from a horse, voice from heaven, enters Jesus's service! Now compare this to Martin Luther's experience.....
3a) As a young man, attending college, Martin Luther was thrown from his horse during a frightening lightening storm that caught him near Stutterheim as he returned from a visit home after completing his Masters degree and beginning his law degree at the University of Urfurt in Germany. The bright flash and the pressure wave from a very near lightening strike unhorsed him, almost killing him. He felt it was from God, and so, fearing for his life, he shouted out a prayerful vow:
"Saint Anne, save me and I will become a monk." (St.Anne was the Patron Saint of Miners. Martin had been raised up Catholic as a child in an area noted for it's mining, and Saints were commonly prayed to to intercede for the needy.)
He lived, surviving the ferocity of the storm, and felt afterwards that he must keep his vow. And so he devoted his life to God. He went out drinking with his law school friends one last time, and then became a monk. He joined the Mendicant Order of Augustinian Monks at Erfurt.
4) The Apostle Paul was a very powerful missionary, arguing forcefully and convincingly that the Jewish scriptures identified Jesus as the Messiah. Many people turned to Christ because of Paul, and as a consequence the Jews often sought to kill him in the various towns where he went to preach Christ's gospel. In Jerusalem a crowd of angry Jews almost tore Paul apart, but Roman soldiers were sent to quell the riot, and they grabbed Paul and saved him. He ended up being taken to the house of the Governor, and he was a prisoner there for a couple of years because Paul, officially a Roman citizen, asked for his case to be decided before Ceasar in Rome (he felt the Jews would not try him fairly). Paul was able to see friends, teach and preach, etc., so it was very useful time for Paul. And then he was actually sent to Rome, and waited, held as a prisoner with much liberty to teach and preach, for about 2 more years there before he was tried. During those two years of waiting for his trial, Paul wrote many letters to the churches, and preached the message of Jesus Christ to many. So, being taken captive by the Romans (who had no actual wish to kill Paul) kept him from being killed by his real enemies, the Jews. And it also afforded him a huge window of opportunity for Christian witness.
4a) Martin Luther was brought to trial before Roman Catholic authorities, who were seeing that his teachings - that the Catholic Church was corrupt and not obeying the word of God, that charging poor people for indulgences was unscriptural...that such practices were evil - were hurting the Catholic Church. They saw that he was causing people to doubt the Catholic Church, even to leave it, and costing the church a lot of revenue that they used to receive from selling indulgences. At his trial, he stood up against the might of Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) and spoke rather convincingly, in many people's minds, infuriating the church. But the German princes who attended the trial could not help but be impressed by the courage of one of their own. Even though they had to pay respect to the power of Rome for political as well as religious reasons, it was respect paid somewhat grudgingly in cases. It is written that they felt pretty proud to be German that day, watching Martin righteously correct the errors of the Roman clerics using scripture as his basis.
The Church officials at the trial would have liked to have taken Martin Luther into custody and probably would have executed him for heresy if they could have. But they had officially promised him safe passage to and from the trial. They might not have honored it, but the German princes were there, they knew of the safe passage gaurantee, and Martin Luther was German. They had sort of begun to like the young priest. So, they forced Rome to honor their promise of safe passage to Luther.
On the way back home, a fake abduction was engineered by Frederick the Wise - who was in charge and ruler over Martin Luther's area of Germany. Martin Luther was grabbed, and the disguised horsemen rode off with him.
No one knew where he was, or if he was alive. There were many rumors. But for about 10 months his jurisdictional prince kept him safe at Wurtberg Castle, and he lived under an alias - Junker Jorge (Knight George) - in semi-seclusion. The Pope could not pressure the German princes to turn over a man who had been kidnapped, right? They could merely claim that they had no idea where he was. Frederick really was pretty wise.
During this time of 'captivity' by people that actually wished him no harm, Luther translated the Bible into German, and wrote and wrote and wrote to convince people that the Catholic Church was on a path that must be abandoned....must be opposed....and he showed how the scriptures made that plain. He gave people the courage to believe that they would not go to hell just because the Catholic Church threatened that they would. He gave them courage to believe that the word of God was the trustworthy authority on matters of the Spirit and the Soul! He helped them believe that a church based strictly off of Jesus' teachings was offered a legitimate relationship with Jesus.
So, there may be more things which correlate, but....it seems that the life of Martin Luther did have certain nicely aligned correlations to the life of the Apostle Paul when the two lives were compared side by side. Martin Luther even had a name change...Martin Luther to Junker Jorge (for a while) .....just as young Saul later became the Apostle Paul. And both taught that it was faith in Jesus...not the traditions of men...which offered hope to, and might save, the human soul.
One other small one: The tribe of Benjamin, Paul's tribe, is said to have had the wolf for it's tribal symbol. I've read that all of the tribes had 'flags' or 'standards'of sorts, which they carried with them at certain times back in the ancient day. The German's also have the wolf deeply embedded in their culture as a national sort of symbol, though not exclusively.
Perhaps there are more to find, but these are probably sufficient for posing the question: are these various correlations something God put there and meant for us to notice? That I don't know for sure. But, Martin Luther's writings make it plain that he was very affected by Paul's writings concerning justification through faith. So, it's at least something to think about.
I personally believe that realizing how many great deeds of God have actually occurred through out history will lead some people to be saved giving their life to Christ. If you agree, then please, take the time to be a 'missionary', to love your neighbor enough to care about their soul. Please mention and recommend visiting the Deeds of God website on any social media sites that you belong to. Tell a favorite account to your friends or family, and tell them where you read it. To know God is to stand in awe of Him, but too few people know Him today. Accounts like these are yet another way to come to know Jesus and the Holy Father, and the Spirit of Truth that helps us understand. Thank you. Dan Curry
|Last Updated ( Sunday, 12 May 2013 )|
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