Friday, February 17, 2006

February 18: Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor

On this day many Christians are remembering and celebrating the witness of Martin Luther who died on February 18, 1546. In a time of great need, God raised Luther up to reform the Church. God used him to recenter the Church upon the Gospel—upon God’s pure gift of grace. Nearly five hundred years later, Luther still invites us to stake our lives on Jesus Christ alone.

As you might expect, Lutheran churches make special efforts to recall and celebrate the teaching and prophetic ministry of Martin Luther. So do our Episcopalian brothers and sisters. Here, for example, is what Father Timothy Graham, the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Covington, Georgia, has written about Blessed Martin in his parish's February newsletter:

Martin Luther was born November 19, 1483. His intellelectual abilities were evident early, and his father planned a career for him in law. Luther's real interest lay elsewhere, however, and in 1505 he entered the local Augustinian monastery. He was ordained a priest April 3, 1507. In October 1512 Luther received his doctorate in theology, and shortly afterward he was installed as a professor of biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. His lectures on the Bible were popular, and within a few years he made the univesity a center for biblical humanism. As a result of his theological and biblical studies he called into question the practice of selling indulgences. On the eve of All Saints' Day, October 31, 1517, he posted on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg the notice of an academic debate on indulgences, listing 95 theses for discussion. As the effects of theses became evident, the Pope called upon the Augustinian order to discipline their member. After a series of meetings, political maneuvers, and attempts at
reconciliation, Luther, at a meeting with papal legate in 1518, refused to recant. Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. The Emporer Charles V summoned him to the meeting of the Imperial Diet at Worms. There Luther resisted all efforts to make him recant, insisting that he had to be proved in error on the basis of Scripture. The Diet passed an edict calling for the arrest of Luther. Luther's own prince, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, however, had him spirited away and placed for safekeeping in his castle, the Wartburg. Here Luther translated the New Testament into German and began the translation of the Old Testament. He then turned his attention to the organization of worship and education. He introduced congregational singing of hymns, composing many himself, and issued model order of service. He published his large and small catechisms for instruction in the faith. During the years from 1522 to his death, Luther wrote a prodigious quantity of books, letters, sermons and tracts. Luther died on February 18, 1546.

I want to thank Father Tim for including such a remembrance of Luther in his parish newsletter.

Here is one of the church's prayers for this day:

Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life; we especially praise you this day for your servant Martin Luther. Raise up in our day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

If you wish to know more about Luther, Roland H. Bainton's Here I Stand : A Life of Martin Luther is a great place to start.


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