The Eve of All Saints
Halloween is an English contraction of “All Hallow’s Eve”, or properly, the Eve of the Feast of All Saints … which is, after all, November 1. In our house, it’s not a day of jack-o-lanterns and goblins, but a day to remember true heroism — a man who faced death and thereby opened the door for many to find life!
Martin Luther was a young German law student when he underwent a remarkable religious conversion. Taking a bolt of lightning as a warning from God, he left the university and entered the Augustinian order as a monk. From there, his restless search for peace with God led him to the Bible, then a doctorate in theology, then a teaching position with the tiny University of Wittenberg in German Saxony.
Attempting to address certain abuses in the medieval Catholic Church, the young Dr. Luther posted a challenge to other scholars to debate a number of practices he questioned. On October 31, 1517, he nailed the notice to the door of the university church, a common practice itself since the broad heavy doors were routinely used as bulletin boards. The list of propositions known as “The 95 Theses” lit a firestorm of controversy that quickly spread across Germany and central Europe. Luther had attracted the attention not only of academics and churchmen like himself, but the wrath of Pope Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, as well!
Called before the Imperial Diet at the town of Worms*, Luther was challenged to withdraw his proposals and repudiate his writings. In the front of everybody’s mind was the memory that the Czech reformer, Jan Hus, had made many of the same propositions decades earlier — and was burned at the stake in consequence.
Luther’s response, after begging a recess to consider the Emperor’s demand, followed a sleepless night of anxious prayer. When called for his answer the next dawn, Luther replied:
Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.
Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.
Knowing what had happened to others who raised the issues he had, Luther stared death in the face and stood on the word of God – never mind Pope or Emperor. What an incredible, gutsy thing to do. It’s one of my favorite events in history.
Here at the Youngs’, we make a big deal out of Reformation Day (October 31). We eat German food for supper, usually bratwurst, sauerkraut and German potato salad, then troop into the den to watch Martin Luther, a terrific B&W documentary made in 1954 and starring Niall MacGinnis as the reformer. The movie was filmed at the actual location of some events, and they did a good job finding actors who actually looked like Luther, Charles, and Pope Leo. And the scene at Worms is classic!
(The DVD is available from several places, but you can download it for $1.99 rental from Amazon.com)
And we do have a concession to the candy-intensive holiday … we play “Pin the Theses on the Wittenberg Door.” Everybody wins.
*I’ve always loved thinking about “The Diet of Worms,” but to be fair, it’s pronounced “Vorms” in German.