Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

What Day is This? Reformation Day, of Course!

October 31st, 2017 · No Comments · Germany, Lutherans

I remember being in second or third grade, at First Lutheran School in Long Beach, California, and Mrs. Bolton, our stern and 50-ish teacher asking, on October 31, “What day is this?”

Lots of hands were raised, including mine, no doubt (I loved to be called on) and someone was picked and triumphantly blurted: “Halloween!”

Mrs. Bolton seemed disappointed and said, “No, that’s not it. Think. What day is it today?”

And after a pause as it sunk in that Halloween was not the correct answer, a kid raised his hand, was called upon and said timorously … “Tuesday?”

Mrs. Bolton said, “No, that is not it.”

And someone else said something random like, “the day after Monday?”

And, exasperated, Mrs. Bolton said, “It’s Reformation Day!”

Her feeling was that every child at a Lutheran school should know when Reformation Day was, and following our failure to give the answer she was looking for … she again went over the history of it, explaining why it mattered … why it was more important, even, than Halloween and trick-or-treating.

The Reformation is the term given to the schism within the Catholic Church that developed in the early 16th century after a young monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 questions/topics for discussion on the door of a church in the German city of Wittenberg.

He posted his “95 theses” on October 31, 1517 — the night before All Saints Day, a major Roman Catholic holiday. Luther figured, correctly, that big crowds would turn out to worship on the following day and could see his writings attached to the church door.

And it went from there. With the printing press, recently invented, available to amplify and spread Luther’s criticisms of the Roman Catholic church, his Bible-based approach to Christianity, soon was the talk of 1500s Europe.

Luther was spurred to action by the Catholic church’s sale of indulgences, which promised a shorter stay in purgatory for those who purchased indulgences from the church’s agents. (In part, indulgences were sold to raise money for the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Rome.)

Luther was outraged. Christians could not buy their way into heaven, in his opinion, and he also had salty beliefs on the value of relics (a bit of a saint’s bone or a splinter from, allegedly, the True Cross, etc.) and the infallibility of the Pope in Rome.

He was told to pipe down, but he kept on talking and preaching and writing, and 500 years after October 31, 1517 — the 500th Reformation Day — Western history certainly has been changed by one rebellious monk in central Germany.

Luther translated the Bible into German, popularized music in church services, helped regularize the German language, inspired other religious questioning, undermined the authority of the Pope in Rome, called for an end of praying to saints and called for an end to clerical celibacy. (He married a former nun, and they had numerous children.)

Some also credit Luther with helping foment an age where Christians came to their own conclusions about the Bible and Christianity, without the church telling them what to believe. “Every man his own priest” was the notion. (To the Catholic church, it meant anarchy; to Luther, it meant a direct route from man to God.)

It started back in 1517, barely a generation after Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and bumped into America. It was a primitive time, in many ways, but so much of what Luther wrote and said seems important half a millennium later, and so much of what followed led to the making of the modern world.

His ideas are still being talked about today, touching off, as they did, the rise of Protestant churches throughout the world.

That was why our teacher at First Lutheran School wanted us to know the important meaning of October 31, and to be able to explain it to others.

To this day, 500 years later, thanks in part to Mrs. Bolton’s efforts, I always remember “what day” is October 31.

It is Reformation Day, of course, with Martin Luther hammering on the door of a church in Germany, and I imagine Mrs. Bolton would be very discouraged if I didn’t remember it.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment