Monday morning we officially re-entered the modern world of travel by boarding a plane. A distance that had taken us 70 days to walk we reached in an hour and forty minutes by plane. That as much as anything shows us how much our world has changed in 500 years.
We came here to what is now officially known as Lutherstadt Wittenberg for a few days with the “Studying Luther in Wittenberg” program, an initiative of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg (that’s where I work) and the Lutheran World Federation, which gathers pastors from all over the world for two weeks of intensive Luther study. This year our pastors are from Australia, Chile, El Salvador, Suriname, the U.S., Finland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Liberia. The theme is the doctrine of justification in both Luther and Melanchthon.
Yesterday I sat in on class while my colleague, Prof. Theodor Dieter, taught about Luther’s 1518 Theses on the remission of sins (forthcoming for the first time ever in English in Lutheran Forum!), which recent research judges to be the first real piece of “Reformation theology” that Luther wrote—meaning, interestingly, that the 95 Theses of 1517 don’t qualify. Afterwards I led a session on Luther’s sermon “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” In the afternoon Andrew and Zeke, for the first time in Wittenberg, visited the Augustinian cloister where Luther had lived, now a museum about him. One of its most interesting exhibits is about Luther through the centuries—or rather, how Luther has been depicted and used through the centuries; it’s a sobering reminder of the constant temptation to ideological uses of the reformer which simply ignore his theology. In the evening we gave our first of many public presentations about our pilgrimage to the gathered pastors and a number of interested English-speaking locals. It was supposed to be an hour and I admit we ran over a bit… it’s hard to compress 1000 miles into 60 minutes! This morning I led two sessions on Luther’s 1520 treatise “The Freedom of a Christian”—my favorite of his works, and the one thing I’d most highly recommend if you’re interested in pursuing more about Luther on your own.
An amusing tidbit about Wittenberg: if you come to see the door of the Castle Church on which Luther posted the 95 Theses (according to legend), you’ll be disappointed… because the door is long gone. Early enthusiastic Lutherans hacked it away to nothing, wanting a little shard of the famous door for themselves; a holy relic, as it were. Some things just don’t change.
This afternoon we got on a train and headed back home for us for the first time since August 21. I’m sure that will be kind of weird. It was little bittersweet when the train pulled through Erfurt, where this whole adventure began.