|Martin Luther Nails his 95 Theses to the Door of Wittenberg Chapel|
Painted by Ferdinand Willem Pauwels (1830 - 1904)
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution. Commonly known in history books as the "Protestant Reformation" I refuse to call it that, because nothing was "reformed" in Protestantism. The real reformation happened later, during the Council of Trent (AD 1545 - 1563), in which the Catholic Church reformed its practises and clearly defined its doctrine. Within Protestantism however, nothing was "reformed" at all. What we got instead was an endless revolution, which completely redefined the Christian faith, and set the Western world up for numerous religious wars and persecutions between Christians, followed by the birth of numerous Protestant denominations and sects.
The reason why this year is marked as the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Revolution is because on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Chapel. The door served as a community bulletin board, which many people used to post messages, flyers and advertisements. It is entirely possible that Martin Luther did post his 95 Theses on that door, even though some doubt it, but if he did, it was hardly the dramatic act often portrayed in Protestant art (see above). This event, nevertheless, is heralded by most Protestants as the beginning of the Protestant Revolution.
Speaking as one who was baptised Lutheran, I must urge caution before revering this man as the "founder" of this event they call the "Reformation," and the religious movement commonly called "Protestantism." Martin Luther was an incredibly flawed individual, who verbally assailed anyone who disagreed with him, anathematised anyone who held to different beliefs, altered Scripture to fit his personal teachings, removed entire books and sections from the canon of Scripture, insisted that the pope is the Antichrist, believed the world would end within 100 years of his lifetime, and became what we in our time would call an anti-Semite. He is hardly a role model. That being said, I do not know a single Lutheran today who would approve of Martin Luther's teaching on the Jews, and I believe every Lutheran denomination has repudiated it. No Lutheran today, nor any Protestant for that matter, should be held accountable for this, since it was the opinion of just one man and has since been repudiated by just about everyone.
To be historically accurate, the Revolution, commonly called the "Reformation," did not really begin on October 31, 1517. Martin Luther's actions on that day were just a precursor to it. In fact, Luther remained a Catholic priest for another 3 years, and all those who followed him remained Catholics. They were just dissident or "cafeteria" Catholics, but they were still Catholics in a canonical sense. No official break with Rome had occurred yet. The real Protestant Revolution (commonly called the "Reformation") actually began on December 10, 1520, when Luther burned the papal bull of excommunication against him, along with the Church's Code of Canon Law, papal constitutions and various works of theology, declaring his schism with the Pope, Rome, and the Catholic Church. That's when the Protestant Revolution really began. It began with a bonfire and book burning, not the nailing of a theses to a door. Interestingly enough, Protestants often ignore this date.
Now in using the term "anti-Semite" I do so in the popular vernacular sense, not in the technical sense. The term did not exist in Luther's time. I understand the word "Semite," invented in the 1770s, technically refers to anyone who speaks, or who's ancestors spoke, one of the Semitic languages of the Near East, North Africa and Malta. So it could just as easily apply to Arabs as to Jews. However, in the popular vernacular sense, the term "Semite" is almost exclusively used to refer to Jews, and therefore an "anti-Semite," in the popular vernacular sense, is one who holds a sentiment of malice toward Jewish people, solely because they are Jewish. Hence, in the popular vernacular sense, I insist that Martin Luther was an anti-Semite. He was not an anti-Semite in a racial sense, but rather a religious sense, and this was due to his religious malice toward Jewish people. Some might argue with me on this, claiming that antisemitism is a purely racial term. I won't argue that that is the proper usage. However, the common and popular usage is understood as malice toward Jews. Luther is often cast as anti-Jewish, not antisemitic, because his malice was religiously motivated and not racially motivated. I say this is splitting hairs. It doesn't matter what his motivations were. What matters is what he said we should do to them, as we shall see below. Because of this splitting hairs, Luther has historically gotten a pass on his extremely unchristian malice toward Jews, having been labelled anti-Jewish rather than anti-Semitic. I will not give him this, nor will I split hairs on this issue. If Luther said any of these things in the 21st century, as he did in the 16th century, he would be labelled an Anti-Semite. So that's what he was as far as I'm concerned.
Concerning his malice toward the Jews, I'll let Martin Luther speak for himself. Early on in the Protestant Revolution, he was sympathetic toward the Jews for resisting the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church. However, once he had completed his new theological groundwork, he expected the Jews to convert to his "purified" version of Christianity. When they did not, he turned against them in the most ferocious way. The following is an English translation of an excerpt of his later writings against them...
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:10) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: "what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord." Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people's obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16:18, "You are Peter," etc, inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home.
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. Such money should now be used in no other way than the following: Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause.
Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3:19). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.
Martin Luther, "On the Jews and their Lies" (Von den Juden und ihren Lügen), written in AD 1543
- burn down Jewish synagogues and schools;
- put Jews in ghettos;
- rob Jews of their religious writings;
- forbid rabbis from preaching;
- allow Jews to get mugged, robbed, raped and beaten on the highways;
- take away all the worldly possessions of Jews and not return them until they convert to Luther's form of Christianity.
- put Jews to work by manual labour.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'
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