Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Luther's Contraband

The next day Heinrich installed the gate, received his compensation and headed east toward Wittenberg while Jan-Harm headed southwest on horseback with the carpetbag strapped securely behind his saddle. It was a long journey but as he came to the region of Thuringia and the outskirts of Eisenach, he began to see glimpses of the imposing Wartburg castle on the mountain crest. He rode through town and then ascended the road that wound its way to the top of the ridge and the walls that rose from its heights. The gatekeeper took one look at Jan-Harm and signaled for the gate to open. Once inside, Jan-Harm made sure his horse was in good hands.  He then crossed the courtyard and entered the wood-beamed interior of the Wehrgang which led to the room occupied by Martin.  He knocked on the door and entered when he heard “komm rein” on the other side. There, sitting at his wooden desk, was Martin. His eyes lit up as he rose to hug Jan-Harm. After a few seconds Jan-Harm put the carpetbag on the wooden desk. Martin opened it up and said “Well done” as he unpacked the books and lined them up on a shelf. He held one in particular and embraced it as if it were a priceless treasure.
Luther would stay at the Wartburg castle for one year, though he did make occasional trips to the nearby towns with his appearance altered (he grew a beard and dressed quite differently from a monk). With the help of the books that Jan-Harm brought, Luther began the task of translating the Bible into German. He used as his main source the Greek translation that Erasmus had made from the manuscripts that came out of the Eastern church. This so-called Received Text was taken from the Byzantine scholars who had to flee from Constantinople as the Islamic armies approached.
While there were brave reformers before Luther, such as John Wycliffe and John Hus; contemporary reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin; and those that would spring up from the fertile ground that Luther plowed, such as William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer; most of Protestantism traces their roots back to Martin Luther. In his quest to emancipate the truth, Martin did not intend to throw all of Catholicism aside and start over. To be sure, he exposed the extreme abuses of the Church and espoused a new emphasis: "Sola scriptura! Sola gratia! Sola fide!" (We are saved by Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone!).  He took these hard-earned ideas and wrapped them in the more familiar trappings of Christianity as he knew it.  Martin began compiling this mixture into various catechisms, books, and songs. In the process, new ideas were added, some were changed, and others were abandoned. For example, he trimmed down the calendar and chopped away at the church doctrines. The result was a sacramental count that went from seven to three and a list of holidays that skipped the saints but kept the basics. It was a reformation, not a transformation. It tore down and rebuilt, but did not demolish to the bedrock. Less noticeable was what was missing.
If we were to unpack Martin Luther’s baggage and knew what to look for, we would find that contraband had been hidden among those books and papers and that other important ideas were forgotten. In time this was incorporated into the teaching of the movement so seamlessly that most wouldn’t suspect that something nefarious had slipped in unawares. 
End chapter 1.

1 comment:

  1. You've been posting a lot! Great job! Are you enjoying your new blogging hobby?