Calgary Herald

MARTIN LUTHER’S LEGACY

Calgary scholar leads tour to Europe to ponder Reformatio­n’s origins

- CHRIS NELSON

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.

 ?? TED RHODES/ FILES ?? Charles Nienkirche­n, professor of Christian Heritage and Spirituali­ty at Ambrose University, is leading a three-week trip to Germany and the Czech Republic to look into the life of Martin Luther, whose criticisms of Catholicis­m set the wheels in motion...
TED RHODES/ FILES Charles Nienkirche­n, professor of Christian Heritage and Spirituali­ty at Ambrose University, is leading a three-week trip to Germany and the Czech Republic to look into the life of Martin Luther, whose criticisms of Catholicis­m set the wheels in motion...
 ?? SEAN GALLUP/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora hang in a museum in Berlin.
SEAN GALLUP/ GETTY IMAGES Portraits of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora hang in a museum in Berlin.

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