Wittenberg - Home of Martin Luther
Trip Start May 20, 2005
17Trip End Jun 07, 2007
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Basically, Luther was struggling with the issue that engaged the minds of medieval Christians: how does one attain salvation, or how does one draw close to God? His answer was to return to primitive Christianity and abandon the salvation enterprise of the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope.
His original concern was with his own salvation. The path laid out by his calling as a priest, indeed, the entire superstructure of Catholic theology became increasingly troublesome for him. Finally, through his study of the Book of Romans in 1515-1517, he came to the conclusion, that the only way to God was by grace and the only way of obtaining grace was through faith, not by the sacramental and ecclesiastical system proffered by the Church
That insight made the crass sale of indulgences by the chuch that much more offensive. Indulgences were a plenary forgiveness of sin for a person or their already dead relatives, sold by the church based on the Pope's ability to forgive and determine a whether a person can go to heaven or not. They were sold to raise money for the papacy, especially the construction of St. Peter's Church in Rome.
Luther's path led him eventually to denounce the entire papal enterprise and even to call the pope the anti-Christ. He built on the work of Hus and Wyclif and their rejection of a corrupt worldly church, but his critique was far more severe and long lasting. He also rode a powerful wave of nationalism and anti-church sentiment in parts of Germany.
Luther translated the Bible into German and by this provided the foundation for modern German in both spoken and written form.
Luther was not perfect. He was a social conservative, basically content with aristocratic rule of society. In addition, he was an egregious anti-Semite, angry that the Jews had not responded to the Gospel even after the Protestants had returned it to its more simple New Testament form. His influence helped foster the traditional German obcession with the Jews with terrible and fatal consequences.
Nevertheless, Luther's contribution to the development of civilization in the west is undeniable and pervasive and his home in the quaint and quiet village of Wittenberg was a pleasant way station on my journey.