October 31, 1517; Martin Luther nails the 95 theses to the wooden door of the church in Wittenburg. I would like to take this opportunity to make a plug for Reformation Day. Halloween has demonic origins, and our society as a whole is really going for the roots of the holiday with all its grusomeness. “Harvest Parties” are just fine, but what if, instead of just neutralizing the holiday, we as Christians actually sought to reform it? Make it about learning the roots of the Protestant Reformation (which, for any Catholic readers, was also the start of the Catholic Reformation and led to a revival of the Catholic church in many areas of Europe. So pick someone like Erasmus, but its still the same idea). Encourage people to dress up as Biblical/ Christian heroes of the faith; give handouts with a short biography of a Reformer (available online; I wrote ours in one hour after reading this book); have booth attendants dress up in medieval costume; or even ask the pastor to prepare a short talk on the Reformation and its significance. This year, our church is theme-ing our (first ever) Reformation Day party on Martin Luther.
Plot: Martin Luther is famous for starting the Protestant Reformation. A monk of the Augustian Order, he was a diligent scholar whose dedication to the church (and history as a law student with a degree in theology) made him a prime candidate for a professorship at the university of Wittenberg, where he had time to study the scriptures and write. His travails with (and eventual separation from) the Catholic church were published all over Europe, (not always with his consent; the famous 95 theses were written in Latin because they were intended as points for scholarly debate, not public consumption). The former monk eventually married a nun, and they had six children. Far more fascinating than his life, though, were his writings of theology, and the context in which he said them.
Good: Lots of period details, literally and figuratively: there are fun 16th century prints on almost every page, including both famous woodcuts (Luther accused of heresy, the debate at Worms, etc.) and rarer etchings (fancy Reformation-themed capitals kick off each chapter). I confess, I love pictures like these; especially since the Latin names look similar to English, so I could translate who was who for myself! Also, the author takes time to point out the historical setting, including that which made Luther a 16th century celebrity. The printing press was the YouTube of that era: new, exciting, and made “instant” notoriety available to more people than ever before. And Luther utilized it (by the grace of God) while the Pope didn’t. This is only a small example out of a multitude.
Bad: This isn’t really bad, but worth considering if your child is reading this. I should note that the author explains many various doctrines of the era, and while good to know, the author is not shy about his opinion. Infant baptism is good, transubstantiation is wrong, etc. I am old enough to understand that what a book says doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal beliefs; not all teenagers, even, may have gone over these points of doctrine for themselves. Personally, I loved it, because Bainton’s view dovetails with most people in the 1500s, and he explained a lot of things I hadn’t quite understood, “how can anyone think that?” Younger minds might simply absorb the opinions, though, and not catch the disclaimers that bracket the ideas the author disagrees with (the existence of elves, for example, was a common belief among German peasants like Luther’s parents).
Overall: I loved this book. It made Luther seem more human than others I have read. His faults are mentioned, but so are his graces. Roland Bainton incorporates the rich tapestry of Renaissance life into his narrative of Luther’s life. Highly recommended for all ages.
My apologies for not posting this last week when it was more timely. Matt