MARTIN LUTHER’S LEGACY
Calgary scholar leads tour to Europe to ponder Reformation’s origins
Being the right man at the right time has allowed some rare individuals to stamp their mark on history. Martin Luther had both those things on his side.
Next month, several dozen Calgary-area pilgrims and scholars are setting off on a faith journey of a lifetime in which they will explore in depth the background and influences surrounding a man whose actions would launch what would eventually become known as The Reformation.
The three-week trip, organized by Calgary’s Ambrose University, will visit Germany and the Czech Republic to study and better understand the currents behind the 500th anniversary of Luther’s challenge to what was then the greatest religious power on Earth.
In October 1517, Luther, who at the time was a monk and a scholar, posted a call for debate on 95 theses upon the church door in Wittenberg, then an obscure town in Saxony. In so doing, he would ignite a fierce debate about what he believed were the indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church. His call for a return of faith into the hands of the common people using the language of daily speech would split that Church and eventually give rise to Protestant Christianity. It would also spark centuries of bitter and bloody fighting in many European countries.
Dr. Charles Nienkirchen, pro- fessor of Christian History and Spirituality at Ambrose University, organized the trip as part of his award-winning Down Ancient Paths program, which explores global Christian heritage.
Nienkirchen said Luther’s disillusionment began when he made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1510 and was dismayed at what he found.
He then would become determined to bring the Church back to a more modest and simple path of faith.
“It was the issue of the selling of these indulgences by the Church and, of course, the money raised that would then flow from that to go south into Italy and to finance the rebuilding of St. Peters Church in Rome,” he said.
“It was a faith journey that would bring him to collide with the Roman Catholic Church. It really is a personal conversation that leads to a convulsion and, if you are on the side of the Reformation, then, yes, he was the right man at the right time.”
“It also became an issue of rising nationalistic spirit. Why did he succeed and people before him fail, and then paid with their lives? It was the coalition of a number of forces that created the space for Luther, and it is here that German nationalism really plays a role,” added Nienkirchen.
Nienkirchen believes there is an important and timely message for people today, one just as important as to those first supporters in Saxony so long ago.
“I believe it sends a big message to people to be courageously true to their conscience, because Luther took on some very powerful forces — the forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the forces of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, regardless of the cost. There is something about personal courage there. There is also something to be said for being on the right side of social change,” he said.
The Calgary-based group will leave for Berlin on May 2 and, after a few days in the German capital, they will journey to Wittenberg, once an obscure town on the Elbe River, where they will tour some of the sites made famous by Luther and listen to lectures about his wife, friends and contemporaries.
The 36-person group will then travel to Prague in the Czech Republic to learn more about John Hus, one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation, who was burned at the stake. Before being consumed by flames, Hus declared that someone would follow him that opponents would not be able to burn.
Today, the Protestant faith has many branches and a total number of followers well in excess of 350 million.