Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017



Aside form Jesus Christ, only one person has an American holiday bearing his name: Martin Luther King, Jr. It's not just this one day, either. Over 900 streets, 200 buildings, 100 schools and two historical sites are also named after him. While MLK is deservedly enshrined in America's hearts and minds, very few of us know about the man he was named after. Since 2017 is the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther's most famous act, we here at the DUNER BLOG want to use this opportunity to remember the original legend.

The Thunderstorm. Born in Saxony to wealthy parents, Martin Luther was well educated for someone living in the 1400's. He graduated from the University of Erfurt in 1502 specializing in law. However, he shunned his father's firm. Instead, he followed the faith. Why the sudden change? One Autumn evening, a horrible storm struck Eastern Germany. Luther's cottage was struck by lightning. The young man feared for his life. Like many terrified people, he got down on his knees and prayed. "I was besieged by the terror and agony of sudden death," wrote Luther. His pledge: If God let him survive the thunderstorm, he would return the favor by becoming a monk.

Johann Tetzel. Luther rose in the ranks of the church. He was rewarded for his diligence by being selected to take a pilgrimage to Rome. Once there, he was stunned by the opulence of Pope. Upon return, he was stationed at the Wittenberg Cathedral. It was there he received instructions from Johann Tetzel, a local friar. He received from Tetzel a blank 'Letter of Indulgence.' This piece of paper is for sinners to buy from the Catholic church, thus assuring forgiveness. The notion of purchasing salvation infuriated Luther. He knew that Pope Leo X was building St. Peter's Basilica and did not approve of these fundraising methods. "Why doesn't the Pope use his own money rather than the money of poor believers to build it?" he asked.

95 Theses. One day, whilst seated on the toilet, Luther came up with the idea to make a formal protest on the matter. (Archaeologists in 2004 discovered his bathroom had a heated floor--Maybe he did spend a lot of time there!) Anyhow, on October 31, 1517, Luther gallantly walked up to the Wittenberg Cathedral and proudly nailed his famed 95 Theses on the twenty-feet high wooden doors. Despite the lack of an Internet, Luther's ideas instantly spread over Central Europe. Many were also displeased about the Indulgence Practice and a grass-roots Protest(ant) movement was born.

Diet of Worms. Back in Rome, Pope Leo was none too pleased about Luther's criticism. He fired back and had Luther ex-communicated from the church. Not smart. Leo should have tried to work out a compromise. Instead, his rash reaction would change Christianity forever. Emperor Charles V didn't like the Pope calling shots in his empire. "No German will be convicted without a proper hearing," he roared. The Diet of Worms (a Diet is also a convention, not an odd food choice) convened in April of 1521. After months of debate, the sentence was upheld. Luther was imprisoned in Wartberg Castle. For the next 120 years, Central Europe would be ravaged by the Wars of Religion.

Renaissance Man. Perhaps saddened by the carnage he released by his 95 Theses, Luther changed course later in life. His first project was an enormous one: Translating the New Testament from Latin to German. Luther felt if average citizens could read the Bible, they could see for themselves there is no mention of indulgences. In doing so, he became the first person to standardize grammar in the fractured German language. Next, he focused on music, writing dozens of hymns. (You've likely sung his version of the Lord's Prayer.) Luther was released from prison and led a quiet remainder of his life. He died in 1546 at age 62.

All in all, Luther changed the Christian World forever, and a branch of the faith bears his name. Today, Lutheranism has 80 million followers worldwide. Unfortunately, there is one huge blemish on Martin Luther's resume: His anti-Semitism. Many historians link his rhetoric to that of the Third Reich, 400 years later. NOTE: Martin Luther King Jr. did not approve of this aspect of his namesake!

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