The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
Martin Luther was the brilliant, but inwardly tortured, son of middle class parents. Born in Eisleben, Germany, on November 10, 1483, he was an introspective child and opted for clerical studies. Ordained a priest in April of 1507, he taught for several years before receiving a doctorate in theology on October 12, 1512.
But years of diligent study were insufficient to drive spiritual demons of doubt from his soul. No matter how hard he prayed or how long he fasted, no matter how many hail Mary's he said or how much penance he did, he always felt inwardly unforgiven and totally unclean in the sight of God. Poring over the scriptures one dark and gloomy day, he was on the verge of wishing he'd never been born, when a passage he'd read a hundred times leapt out at him: "The just shall live by faith."
Suddenly, it all made sense! He felt reborn; renewed; relieved. Those horrible fasts, endless prayers, and costly indulgences, they all meant nothing. If he just had faith, he would be forgiven, it was that simple. For Luther, the Pearly Gates were flung wide open. Religious Relativity had come of age. There were no privileged frames of reference.
This didn't go over too well with John Tetzel, the Dominican Commissar who happened to be in town that month. He'd been selling indulgences as if souls depended on them and raking in a tidy profit on the side. Since, as Commissar, he outranked Luther in the Catholic hierarchy, he couldn't very well be told to haul ass, just like that. Nevertheless, Luther's troublesome conscience informed him that something had to be done.
Over the years, other practices of the Great Mother Church had stuck in his craw just as badly. In days past, he'd always managed to look the other way; not so this time. Luther, perhaps emboldened by his new found righteousness, wrote them down, all ninety five of them, and in what may have been the greatest trick or treat ever played, nailed them to the great church door at Wittenberg on October 31, Halloween night, 1517. Despite the prominence of their posting they weren't meant to be read by the masses. His was a priestly protest, an internal bargain Luther struck between his conscience and his respect for authority, no matter how unrespectable that authority might be. So he wrote them in Latin, the language of priests, which common folk could not read and did not understand. But there were other merry pranksters out that fateful Halloween night besides Brother Luther. Thanks to them and the recent invention of the printing press, Luther's Latin protests were quickly translated into German and spread throughout the country for inquiring minds everywhere.
One of those inquiring minds belonged to the local archbishop, who swiftly forwarded the heretical documents to Rome. The papacy hit the fan. After the dust had settled at St. Peter's and the initial shock had worn off, Pope Leo, who disliked confrontations of any sort, decided to apply some diplomatic balm first. This got him nowhere with the unruly priest. Next, he tried threats, the results of which were similarly disappointing. Nothing seemed to work so, finally, an impartial delegation of cardinals was convened in Augsburg the following October. Luther was invited to appear before them and was swiftly presented with non-negotiable demands for immediate recantation of, and perpetual silence on, his thesis. He said he'd think about it. He did, but kept on complaining anyway.
On January 3, 1521, long suffering Pope Leo had enough and the Vatican Press began cranking out "Exsurge Dominae", the Papal Bull of Excommunication, which began: "Arise O Lord, a wild bull hath invaded Thy vineyard". But he was too late. The bull had already left the vineyard and was busy in other parts of the realm. The Reformation had begun.
Pope Leo kept hoping the whole thing would shrivel up and blow away, but it didn't. The German press had seen to that. Increasing the virulency of papal attacks on Luther's character and thesis had only prompted that Mad Monk to flood the German countryside with a veritable deluge of tracts and heretical pamphlets, this time written in German, to the undisguised glee of the populace and the joy of anti-Roman intellectuals everywhere.
Next, Luther began to address questions they all felt were long overdue in the asking. What was even more damning, as far as Rome was concerned, were his answers. Luther started by maintaining that forgiveness was a gift from God, not a pastoral commodity. He discounted the need for indulgences or priestly go between's between man and God. He decried the use of Latin in mass, which ordinary people could neither read nor understand and, as for celibacy, well, if God had wanted people to remain celibate, he wouldn't have invented sex.
With Luther was Firebrick the Wise, protector of Saxony and the German people. With Pope Leo were the cardinals, archbishops, and indulgence peddlers and, in between, a rift in Christendom which opened wide and only grew larger with the passage of years.
Luther died in bed, February 18, 1546, in the city of his birth, the founding father of Protestantism. With a new player now upon the world's religious stage, the possibilities for conflict, passion, and intrigue increased immensely. Its inclusion meant fresh and subtle nuances to live, kill, and die for, more kingdoms to be overthrown, new and better heresies to maim and torture for, and a multitude of kings, queens, and knights who would desperately need beheading! The situation wasn't so bad. The future was bright with promise.
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