7 questions from Martin Luther’s study

Lutherans don’t make pilgrimage. But if they did, one of the sites on their list would be the room in which Martin Luther, in 1522, translated the New Testament portion of the Bible from Greek into German.

The room is in on a hilltop, in a castle. The castle is managed by a foundation which is independent of any Christian church or organization.

To visit the room, visitors have to book a slot and buy a guided tour. The tour is focused on the history of the castle and the role it has played in shaping Germany. Luther is a mere footnote.

A castle was first constructed on the site in the 12th century, by “a Landgrave [lord] of Thuringia.”

According to the guide, the lord saw the hill, coveted (my word, not the guide’s) it and told it to wait (wart) until he returned (burg) to build a castle on it. Thus the name Wartburg castle.

He didn’t own the land. He needed the emperor’s permission before he could build on it. He knew the emperor would ask “is the land yours?” He knew he had to answer truthfully. He knew if he answered “no,” the emperor would refuse permission.

So, he went home, dug up some soil, brought it to the hill, and spread it.

Then he went to the emperor and asked for permission to be build. The emperor asked: “is the land (soil) yours?”  The lord replied, “it is.” The emperor gave his consent.

And thus, came into being a castle which is “associated with the beginnings of a bourgeois and democratic nation, through the content and effects of the Wartburg festival of German students’ associations.” (Unesco)

The castle has been enhanced and expanded many times over the past 800 years. Some of its many rooms are introduced functionally to visitors with caveats such as “we don’t know for sure, we’re just imagining what it was used for.”

I will not go into what’s in the castle. You can read about it in Wikipedia and other sources.

What I find striking about it is the two classes of people associated with it. The first two (Elizabeth and Luther) are recognized by the public as “religious,” while the third few fall under the category “political.”

Elizabeth, a Hungarian princess, was canonized (declared) as a “saint” by the Roman Catholic church.

When Elizabeth was merely four years old, her mother sent her to be raised in the castle, to eventually marry the lord. The marriage was conducted when she was 14-years old.

Elizabeth was a disobedient wife.

Despite her husband’s order to her that she should not do extensive works of charity, she constantly provided for their needs. A story is told about God’s response on one occasion when she disobeyed her husband.

(Note however, that the Wikipedia entry for her says her husband encouraged her works since he believed they would gain him eternal reward.)

One time, she was walking with food for the poor under her bonnet. Her husband spotted her. He rode up and asked her what she was carrying. She said “nothing.” He told her to lift the bonnet. She obeyed. The husband saw a bouquet of roses. This was a “miracle of the roses.” Clearly God approved of her disobedience of her husband!

Elizabeth’s husband died six years after he married her. He died while travelling to join the sixth crusade (1228–1229).

She was rejected by his family. She moved on. She lived the rest of her life like a nun, continuing to do works of charity – again, there are varying accounts of this part of her life. She died aged 24-years.

Regardless of what the truth is about her husband’s views about her doing works of charity, the fact remains that because of her works, she was regarded by the public as “good.” And that continues to be how the public, including religious persons and institutions, judge people.

It is striking that the next religious in the list is Martin Luther, for whom – and for all Protestants – a person’s acceptance by God is dependent on faith in “the works” of Jesus Christ, not on good works done by the person. This is expressed in the words “justification by faith.” (A doctrine now accepted officially by the Roman Catholic Church.)

It is also striking that Luther lived in the castle, and produced the translation which was a turning point in the history of Germany and the world. A castle whose owners for long held on to beliefs so contrary to what Luther considered true. In a castle built on coveted land.

To what stories in the Bible should “disciples of Jesus,” such as myself and members of my church, compare the stories we heard in Wartburg castle?

Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves? (Matthew 10:16)

What men purposed for evil, God turned to good? (Genesis 50:20)

Not to be forgotten is the use made of the castle to promote political responses to the dignity of all men and women. I refer to the assessment reported in the Unesco website which I cited earlier.

That raises five more questions.

Which venues are nurseries for political change in Malaysia?

Where have/do meetings of great national significance take place?

Who hosts them?

Are any of the hosts explicitly “religious?”

Over time, have any of the hosts had distinctly different religious perspectives, e.g., between faith and works as criteria for pleasing God?

End of day 4 of an LCM study trip to Germany.

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