Reformation Day

October 30, 2018

On 31 October 1517 or 'Reformation Day', German Augustinian monk and scholar, Martin Luther, purportedly nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the All Saints’ Church in his home town of Wittenberg (near Berlin). This 'protest' provoked debate on the then medieval Roman Catholic Church, its authority and practices and was the catalytic event in the formation of the Protestant strain of Christian faith.

Luther’s actions on that day, followed by those of other early Protestant reformers (eg John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli), triggered the onset of the (Protestant) Reformation. Luther himself held views open to criticism - even by critical-thinking Lutherans - yet the Reformation event is a clearly pivotal historical event. It changed the course of religious, institutional and cultural history in the West forever whilst fulfilling its primary purpose of reshaping the church in Europe. Protestant churches (based on Luther’s ideas) separated from the Catholic Church, which then itself reformed and modernised.

The Reformation seeded modern Western civilisation, including the Enlightenment, liberalism, democracy, a fuller separation of church and state, devolving religious practice and authority, and making faith a greater personal responsibility and pursuit (see further details below).

In remembrance and commemoration of Luther’s actions, Reformation Day is commemorated by Protestant communities, particularly recognised by Lutheran and Calvinist churches and in more recent times, attended by Catholic delegates in the spirit of ecumenism. 

Luther arguably chose 31 October - the eve of All Saints’ Day, the Western Christian feast day where the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and the departed faithful are remembered – to get the broader public attention for his Protest. The 1 November commemoration is also known as 'All Hallows’ Day', the eve of which, 31 October, is now commonly known as Halloween.

Celebrate/commemorate the Reformation by:

  • watching these documentaries on the Reformation
  • viewing these short clips on the Reformation that changed so much in medieval Europe
  • looking up and watching a film on Luther's life
  • reading further into the life and deeds of Martin Luther and the Reformation he and other reformers of the time precipitated
  • reading here about Senator Bernardi's Senate motion to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017
  • dressing up in your most politically incorrect outfit for Halloween, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives, history buffs and those that seek to further understand the complexity and multi-factored basis of our Western exceptionalism.

Further details and context on the Reformation and Martin Luther

The Reformation began as a schism in what was then practically the only Christian church in central and western Europe at the time, the Roman Catholic Church.  It ignited into a revolution that lasted to 1648 with the Peace Treaty of Westphalia after the Thirty Years’ War.

  • It included the English Reformation in the 1530s, where Henry VIII opportunistically split the English Church from the papal authority of Rome and put himself as its head, in large part to have his first marriage annulled as the Pope and Catholic Church would not permit it.

A driving factor for the popular appeal of the Reformation was the invention and use of the Gutenberg printing press in the century prior, enabling more Bibles and pamphlets of scripture to be available by the 1500s – to pastors, princes and the increasing numbers of common folk that could read. This paved the way for devolution of the Church’s authority and its monopoly on biblical interpretation whilst enhancing public literacy.

Key among Luther’s theses was his protest against the increasing abuses in the Church’s system of selling indulgences (kindness or mercy) whereby the pope or clergy could forgive/absolve sin, mitigate punishment, enable salvation and release souls from 'purgatory' in return for appropriate gifts, deeds or payments. In preceding decades going away to fight in the Crusades in the Holy Land had been promoted as an 'indulgence'. Luther viewed the system as excessively transactional and materialistic, if not corrupted and extortionary. 

It has been argued that despite Islam literally beating on Christendom's door not long after Luther's Protest - also requires a Reformation, having withstood the widespread  literacy and free speech that has gone hand-in-hand with Western civilisation. Australian Conservative Party founder and leader, Senator Cory Bernardi has called for an Islamic reformation in 2015 and 2016

Lutherstadt Wittenberg was also home to the Augustinian monastery in which Luther dwelt, part of which he later owned with his wife and family (after being spared execution for heresy, unlike many reformers before him) and is now the world’s premier museum dedicated to Luther in a city of 50,000 souls. Wittenberg lies in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt (just over 100 kms south-west of Berlin) and in Luther's day sat in the Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire. This empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in central Europe (Kingdom of Germany being the largest) that developed over the ninth and tenth centuries AD (centuries after the fall of the ancient Western Roman Empire in 476 AD). 

Note: The Conservative Party has also published Action Plans commemorating the lives of Catholic saints John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Mary Mackillop and have marked significant events that shaped Christendom, such as the Fall of Constantinople and events from two Sieges of Vienna of 1529 and 1683. Senator Bernardi noted in his 2017 500th anniversary of the Reformation motion that Catholics and Protestants observed the same in joint ecumenical events that year.

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