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Martin Luther After 500 Years

June 10, 1983

Report Outline
His Inner Development
In Conflict with Rome
Martin Luther in History
Special Focus

His Inner Development

When in the twilight of the Middle Ages a monk nailed 95 Latin propositions to a church door in a small town in Saxony, he never dreamed that Western civilization in 1983 would celebrate his 500th birthday. Martin Luther's “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” posted at the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, merely invited fellow scholars to a discussion. But others translated and printed Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, and their message swiftly spread across Germany. Spurred by the enthusiasm of his supporters and the hostility of the papacy, Luther then launched a revolution that split Christendom.

This year's celebrations of the birth of Martin Luther, Nov. 10, 1483, will be marked not only by commemorations of his place in history, but by a search for the relevance today of Luther's ideas and experience. For example, German Protestants meeting June 8–12 in Hannover to observe the 500th anniversary were asked to decide their stand on nuclear weapons.

Luther's villification of the Jews has already prompted public soul-searching among Lutherans recalling the Nazi Holocaust as they celebrate his birthday. The totalitarian control of East Germany, where Luther lived, raises questions about his advice to bow to the secular sword, and nuclear-armed enemies facing each other less than 50 miles from Luther's birthplace at Eisleben keep alive interest in Luther's view on war. Although science and technology since Luther's day have profoundly transformed the mentality of Western civilization, modern man is still haunted by the eternal questions that drove Luther to revolution.

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