31 October 2017

500 years after Luther

500 years ago today Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, an event that set off the Reformation.

Luther — in this, and other publications — noted that the ideals of the Church had become corrupted. Corruption had happened gradually, involving a succession of distortions, each of which by itself may have been regarded as convenient and acceptable.

The net effect was that key concepts, such as repentance, which originally meant one thing had come to mean something quite different.

Luther’s observations of corruption were on a local scale, but the deterioration in the Church’s standards was global. A huge number of functionaries were operating within a system that had abandoned the standards which made that system meaningful. Many of them must have been aware of deterioration, but thought it was not in their interests to draw attention to it.

Indocte et male faciunt sacerdotes ii, qui morituris penitentias canonicias in purgatorium reservant.
Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

It did not take genius to write an uncompromising attack on the defects. It did, however, require honesty and courage.

Today there are parallel defects in the modern equivalent of the Church’s intellectual edifice: the universities. We need an analogous critique of deterioration. We need a return to earlier principles. Indeed, we may need something deserving of the term ‘revolution’.