Reformation Day in Rome

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Yesterday morning we woke up extremely early, though not because we aren’t craving excessive amount of sleep—only because Daylight Savings Time ended in Europe today. For all that, we still managed to be a few minutes late to church. The German-speaking “Chiesa Luterana” in Rome was packed with extra chairs lined up around the edges. […]

Elsewhere in 1510

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It’s easy to overlook, when diving into the details of the Reformation, that a lot of other very important things were happening at the same time. There’s the Renaissance, of course, whose capital—Florence—we’ve just visited. Boticelli died the same year Luther walked to Rome; Leonardo da Vinci began his training in anatomy. The same rebirth […]

Ecumenical Instructions for Catholics (Protestants, Please Eavesdrop)

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While much visible ecumenical work takes place at an official level—like in the national and international dialogues—Unitatis Redintegratio expects all Catholics to get involved in some way or another. The decree lays down the marching orders for this new Catholic calling. “Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying […]

Rats, Walls, and Needlemakers: Welcome to Late Medieval Cities

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Thomas Hobbes’s famously depressing description of life in a “state of nature” as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has often been applied to describe life in the Middle Ages. From our vantage point, sitting on sofas in climate-controlled homes equipped electricity, running water, and toilets, this makes perfect sense. Except the solitary part is […]

Where Luther Slept

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We can’t know with any great certainty where Luther stepped for each of the 1500 km he walked during the six weeks of his southward journey. And even if we did, the chances that we could still walk in his steps would be pretty slim. He would have kept to major roads—really only muddy cart paths at the time. The problem is that many of these have become today’s roads and highways: hardly routes conducive to a pleasant walk.

We can know with a bit more certainty, however, where he laid his head at night.

Martin Luther in 1510

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Martin Luther in 1510 is an intriguing figure. Here we have a theologian who belongs to both of our churches, and as such is unsettling to both of our perceptions of who and what we are. Scholars on both sides have tried to manage this Luther. Some on the Lutheran side have liked to emphasize his “Reformation breakthrough” to an extreme degree. There is supposed to be an absolute, abject break with his past, a lightning-bolt discovery of the true but long obscured gospel, a relentless rejection of all that came before—you see this even in certain kinds of paintings of Luther, where he hammers the 95 Theses to the door of the church with a strident certainty. This is the ultra-Protestant Luther who has no use for Rome, the Catholic church, or pretty much anything that came before him.