Everyone has surreal moments in their lives. Maybe it is a trip to the coast where you see the ocean for the first time. For some, it is traveling to Washington D.C. and embracing the American history. Many of these places are created by larger than life figures; Washington D.C. is famous for figures such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. My surreal moment came while following the footsteps of Martin Luther through Germany.
Martin Luther is obviously famous for setting the wheels into motion for the Reformation and leading the German Reformation during his lifetime. Wittenberg is famous for hosting the church that he nailed his famous “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door on October 31, 1517, the date that many consider the start of the Reformation. Luther spent most of his life in Wittenberg, but it all started for him in Erfurt. Luther originally studied law at the University of Erfurt, but after becoming terrified in a storm, he cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners. He promised his life to God if only He would spare him from the terrible storm. Once escaping he walked straight to the nearest monastery. So he then became a monk at the Augustine monastery located in Erfurt. Here he realized how sinful he was, and was famous for spending hours in confession. The buildings still stand and show the everyday life of Luther vividly. It was a simple life, but was a hard one. Becoming a monk was no simple task, they dedicated their lives to God in manner, practice, and study.
After spending much time at the monastery in Erfurt, the monks realized that Luther was depressed and needed a change of scenery. They decided to send him to Wittenberg. At Wittenberg he embraced pastoral duties, as well as taught at the local university. He was a popular professor for his light hearted spirit, as well as his brilliance in dialogue and thinking outside of the box. During his time there he was continually plagued by the fact that he was sinful; he would never be able to reach salvation on his own.
This is where he had his “Tower Experience” and realized the message of grace. One night while studying the Bible, Luther stumbled upon Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther then realized that grace through faith redeems, not works. The tower still stands, as well as the two churches he preached in. While he preached in St. Mary’s Church, he nailed his Theses to the Castle Church, another church in the city. Both still stand today and bear witness to the life and legacy of Luther.
Wittenberg also hosts the home of Luther and his wife Katie, whom he loved dearly. Originally he married Katie, a runaway nun, so that his parents would have grandchildren and most importantly to spite the Pope. He was often heard calling her “his rib,” after the creation story of Adam and Eve. We often forget that these figures were normal human beings, and Luther was quite a funny one. A lover of beer, Katie brewed beer for Luther in his basement, and Luther often had friends over to discuss politics and theology over a beer. In the museum honoring his life and works, their is a comical letter in which he starts, “Katie my boss has commanded that I write to you.” Luther was an everyday man, and we must never forget that. Not only does the home capture the work and lessons of Luther, but it also depicts his everyday life extremely well. It is funny to see the toilet that Luther often said “my best revelations are found while on the pot.” He boldly stood up to the Pope, but was no more than a mere man.
The most important part of the city though is the door of the church; this is where I had my surreal moment. While the door no longer stands after the many wars that plagued Germany, the replacement is magnificent. The monument consists of two iron doors that have his Ninety-Five Theses engraved into them. It was amazing to stand in the place where Luther set the world ablaze with a mallet and a few nails. The church also houses the graves of Philip Melanchthon and Martin Luther.
While this raised all kinds of controversy, he was immediately raised to the status of a celebrity. No one dared to defy the Pope at the time, and a monk from Wittenberg had decided to do so. Luther was taken to Worms where he was asked to recant his statements about the practices of the church, namely indulgences. Luther answered their question with one of the most famous statements in history: “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plan and unvarnished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me, Amen.”
While the building in which this confession took place no longer stands, the largest memorial to the Reformation stands in Worms. It depicts Luther standing and holding his Bible, preaching the Word of God. At his feet are pre-Reformers, such as Jan Huss and William Tyndale. The memorial honors the men often forgotten that were willing to stand up to the Pope in the face of danger. Their example is still important to us today. The Biblical history is also interesting; the oldest Jewish graveyard in Germany is in Worms. Many of the Jewish customs are observed here, such as placing a rock on top of the grave to participate int the burial. The “Old Jewish Cemetery” brings Worms into a full circle from the Old Testament to the revival of the New Testament. Both the cemetery and the Reformation memorial hold true to the faithfulness of God. He protected his people in the Old Testament, just as well as he protected and used the Reformers.
After Worms, Luther was sent away. While he was promised a safe return home by the Holy Roman Emperor, a price was immediately put on his head; danger lurked around every corner for Luther. While he was a bold and fearless man, he was no match for the onslaught he would have had to have faced. Luckily, Frederick the Wise realized the brilliance and treasure he had in his province, and had him kidnapped. He took Luther to Wartburg Castle, where he hid him away. During this time Luther went by the name Knight George to disguise his identity from those who were searching for him. He also translated his famous Luther Bible from the original languages into German. Finally, the lay person would be able to read the scripture in their native language.
While Luther eventually moved back to Wittenberg, where he taught, wrote, and preached until his death, his impact has been global. Hundreds of denominations have arisen from his split with the Catholic Church, and his legacy is carried on through the theology both current and past. We have been so blessed by his work and his life, and I was blessed to walk in his footsteps. I will never forget what it was like to step into Luther’s shoes, if only for a brief moment.