|Arrived tonight in Wittenberg; group looking at the Wittenberg Door
OCTOBER 12, 2012 – The Other Holy Land – Lutherans in Germany
REFLECTIONS ON YESTERDAY – Our first day in Germany to see the places where Martin Luther lived and worked.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. –Matthew 13:45-46
Jesus told a parable of a merchant who upon finding a precious pearl sells everything he has to take hold of that treasure. Yesterday we saw ‘many pearls’ in the form of places like the birth house of J.S. Bach, the house where young Luther stayed when a student at the Latin school in Eisenach, the historically rich Wartburg Castle, and the beauty of driving through the beautiful countryside of central Germany. Yet, ‘the precious pearl’ to me was standing in the room where Luther translated the New Testament from the original Greek into the German of his people.
It is hard to overestimate the impact of that project which Luther completed in the remarkably brief period of 11 weeks. Certainly it is significant that this translation is still widely used in Germany today. Much more significant is the door opened by this act. Putting God’s Word into the hands of common people is revolutionary. No longer the possession and privilege of a hierarchy and accessible only to the highly educated, the Bible is God’s word to be heard and read by all people, everywhere. Since Luther’s time whenever missionaries have gone out to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28) one of their first priorities is to get the Bible translated into the language of the people they are serving. The Bible is the treasure that holds the Christ child, the Word that became flesh (John 1:14).
What Martin Luther did in that simple room in the isolation of his imprisonment in a lonely castle changed each of us because it changed civilization as we know it today.
We are not in Germany to worship Luther for certainly that would not honor him or his intentions for us. We are here to contemplate and celebrate that God used Luther to renew God’s one Church and bring it back to the faith that leads to eternal life.
TODAY we visited Erfurt and Eisleben before arriving in Wittenberg for supper this evening. Here is some history on what we saw.
ERFURT was a thriving city of about 20,000 in the early 16th century. It was called the ‘Rome of Germany’ because it had 21 parish churches, 4 collegiate churches, and 11 more monastic churches.
Martin Luther arrived in Erfurt in May 1501, to enter the university after completing his studies at the Latin school in Eisenach. In little more than a year, September 1502, he passed the exam earning his Bachelor’s degree two months before his 19th birthday. He immediately pursued a Master of Arts degree which was achieved in the spring of 1505. In keeping with his father’s dreams for his eldest son, Martin began Law School in early summer of that year. It was traveling back to law school after a visit home during a break that Luther was caught in a thunderstorm only a few kilometers from Erfurt. Lightning struck so close to him that he was knocked to the ground. In terror, this son of a miner, prayed for intercession to the matron saint of miners, “St. Anne help me! I will become a monk!” Despite urging from his friends who tried to dissuade him from letting himself be ‘buried alive’, Luther was determined to follow through on the promise he had made. So…
On July 17, 1505, Martin knocked on the door for admittance to the Black Cloister of Augustinian Eremites in Erfurt. He was accepted, served a probationary period, followed by a year of novitiate. In 1506, Luther took his monastic vows lying facedown cruciform on top of the grave of Johannes Zacharias It was Zacharias who worked zealously to get Bohemian reformer Jan Hus burned at the stake in Constance in 1415. And, it was Hus who prophesied when the fires were lit, “You may cook this goose (Hus is Bohemian for ‘goose’), but from my ashes a swan will arise.”
On April 3, 1507, Luther was ordained a priest at the Dom (cathedral church) in Erfurt. His father Hans attended Luther’s First Celebration of the Mass on May 2, and made a significant offering, but communicated his skepticism that this was what God intended for his son. His father’s words troubled the 23 year old ordinand.
The Vicar General of the monastery, Johann von Staupitz, recognized the academic gifts of the young monk and channeled him into the study of theology to prepare him for a teaching office. Already in 1508, Luther was sent to teach moral philosophy in Wittenberg. The Leucorea was a new university started by the Elector Prince Frederick the Wise in 1502. Frederick dreamed of developing a university to rival the finest in all of Europe. Luther continued his studies there and soon returned to Erfurt. The third academic degree earned was his Master of Theology in October, 1510. Now he was qualified to teach. Staupitiz ordered Luther to apply for his Doctorate in order that Luther become a called teacher of the church. Luther vehemently objected citing his inadequacy and poor health. Yet, it would be a violation of his vow of obedience to reject this direction from Staupitz. So, it came to pass that Luther became a called teacher of the church. Spaupitz hinted to Prince Frederick that Luther might be professor of the Bible for life at the university in Wittenberg. This may have been a factor in Frederick paying the fees for Luther’s doctoral ceremonies, and for Frederick’s ongoing interest in this monk professor at his university. Luther moved to Wittenberg permanently in 1511, and was named Professor of Theology in 1512.
On November 10, 1483, Margareta Luder gave birth to her first born, a son. The next morning the boy’s father Hans carried him around the corner to Sts. Peter and Paul Church where his son was Baptized. Since that day, Nov. 11 was the church feast day celebrating St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, Hans named his son Martin. Hans and Margareta had only moved to Eisleben weeks earlier in hopes of getting established in the town that was the center of the copper ore mining industry. Many were moving into Eisleben with the the same intentions, so the young family packed up again and moved to Mansfeld in the summer of 1484. Though Luther spent little time in Eisleben in his career (a few stints to oversee developments in the churches there) he had an abiding love for the place of his birth.
The valuable mineral rights of the Eisleben area led to a long series of fights between the counts there on inheritances. It was just such a dispute between two brothers that brought Luther to Eisleben on January 28, 1546. Luther was already ill before he arrived on this distasteful task of mediating an inheritance dispute. On February 16 Luther’s efforts bore fruit: The brothers agreed on a settlement, and formally signed it the next day. Luther’s health complaints escalated with the onset of severe chest pains that evening.
Around 3 a.m. on February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died peacefully. He was surrounded by friend and co-worker Justas Jonas, Luther’s sons, Count Albrecht, and the court pastor. Before his death he clearly responded to questions affirming the faith that carried him in life and the course he had taken as a Reformer of the church. This was documented thoroughly by the witnesses at his deathbed to counteract the possibility of false rumors developing that in the end Luther recanted of his teachings and actions. A funeral was held in Eisleben before Luther’s body was transported back to Wittenberg by order of Prince John Frederick. Luther was buried in the Castle Church. His tomb lies directly below the elevated pulpit only steps away from the door where he nailed the 95 Theses, on October 31, 1517.