Why did the religions survive
"If you let me live, I want to become a monk"
Stotternheim, July 2nd, 1505: Deep night rules over the community near Erfurt. A man is on the way, alone. Suddenly clouds gather, a thunderstorm comes up. Rain sets in, lightning illuminates the night. The wanderer begins to be afraid.
Suddenly lightning strikes right next to him. The man is terrified to death, afraid of being struck by lightning. He falls down and shouts: "Holy Anna, help! If you let me live, I want to become a monk."
The man survived unharmed, the thunderstorm passed. But now new clouds are gathering. Clouds that will accumulate over Europe for centuries. A thunderstorm will fall over the power structure of Europe, after which nothing will be as it was. The man's name: Martin Luther.
The lawyer becomes a monk
The next day he excitedly told his friends what had happened to him that night and announced that he wanted to keep his vow. His friends are his fellow students, because Luther recently graduated with a law degree.
If his father had his way, he would make a career as a city civil servant. As a homeowner and partner in an ore mine, he had done everything to enable his son to have a successful career.
But Luther becomes a monk. He joins the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits, one of the strictest orders of its time.
"O my sin, sin, sin!"
If one wants to understand why Luther took such a drastic step and entered the monastery only because of a threatening thunderstorm, one must keep in mind the Christian understanding of medieval people.
Luther saw death that night. It was less the fear of dying that frightened him so much. What filled him with panic was the thought of meeting his Maker unprepared.
Luther later confessed in November 1521: "I did not like to become a monk out of zeal, much less because of my stomach, but because I was suddenly overcome by fear and mortal horror, I took a forced vow."
Luther takes his life as a monk very seriously. He constantly believes himself to be in sin and injustice that has been committed. He casts himself.
Luther is terribly afraid of the last judgment, of the punishing God who judges people after death. Luther is desperate and depressed.
No person on earth, he thinks, no matter how hard they try and righteous, will ever be able to stand before God. Because every person sins, every person has phases in his life in which he decides against God.
This means that if God were just, man would have to be judged and punished in every case according to his life and deeds.
The superior of the order Johann von Staupitz becomes his confidante and washes his head properly. Luther confides in him: "Since I was a monk, I often wrote to Dr. Staupitz, and once I wrote to him: 'O my sin, sin, sin!'
Then he gave me this answer: 'You want to be without sin and yet you have no real sin; Christ is the forgiveness of righteous sins, when parents murder, publicly blaspheme, despise God, commit adultery, these are the righteous sins.
You must have a register of righteous sins if Christ is to help you; do not have to deal with such hobbling and puppet sins and out of every bomb beard [loud noise; die Red.] make a sin! '"
Luther discovers the gracious God
What kind of God is that before whom man cannot stand, asks Luther? One day he discovers another, a benevolent image of God in the Bible, in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans:
"For in it is revealed the righteousness that is valid before God, which comes from faith and leads to faith; as it is written: The righteous will live by faith."
Luther recognizes that God - unlike the Church teaches - is not a merciless, punishing God. Man cannot earn or work for redemption through God by himself, only God himself can redeem man with his "addition".
Luther will later say that this new knowledge of script came to him in the study of the Wittenberg monastery tower.
Luther discovers the gracious God. What this means is that God is much greater than just righteous. Of course, man has to answer to God for his deeds and his life - man bears responsibility.
But God picks up people where they are, God moves towards people and not away from them. God, says Luther, is merciful. God comes to the sinner, he accepts people, he loves people and does not want to destroy them with their sins. It is a loving God, not a judging God, that Luther preaches from now on.
Luther - the best horse in the stable
In 1505 Luther entered the monastery. In February 1507 he was ordained a priest because of his exemplary conduct in the order.
His confessor Johann von Staupitz, the vicar general of the congregation, recognized the enormous potential of the young, gifted confrere and sent him to Wittenberg to study theology in 1508.
Elector Friedrich the Wise of Saxony has just founded a university in Wittenberg. Luther soon received his doctorate in theology there. Now he lectures and preaches himself. He soon becomes "the best horse in the stable" at the talk-making university.
In 1510 Luther traveled to Rome on behalf of his monastery. At that time he was not yet outraged about the state of the church, but he was very closely aware of the moral decline in Rome.
Luther took part in the entire penitential program of that time in Rome: He took part in a general confession, he slipped on his knees up the "Holy Stairs" on the Lateran in order to obtain forgiveness of sins for himself, his relatives and confreres.
And he pays money, the so-called indulgence, so that his deceased grandparents can be forgiven of their sins. Strangely enough, later in his writings he was never critical of this visit to Rome.
Purgatory - a threatening purification station
At that time religion and belief were not a social offer to the people, an option, everyone's private affair, as is the case in today's industrialized countries.
Faith in God and in the Church was the window to the world for the people at that time. The church was a tremendous authority that determined the meaning and purpose of existence.
The power of the church was to show people the way into the hereafter. For the people in Luther's time, this meant security, but also a threat.
It is not entirely correct to imagine today that people back then were afraid of hell. Any Christian who remained reasonably decent, received the Christian sacraments, and obeyed the rules of the Church, did not worry about ending up in hell.
Rather, the threat lay in purgatory, a purification station that everyone had to go through if they wanted to get to heaven - that was what the Church taught at the time. And for cash, the so-called indulgence, the church offered people the opportunity to shorten the time of this purification fire considerably.
The monk becomes an advocate for those who have been betrayed
The oppressive image of God in Luther's time, man's fear of heavenly punishment after death, created the basis for the church's lucrative indulgences.
She availed herself of people's fears without hesitation in order to enrich herself with the material penances that were brought in.
One of the most successful preachers of indulgence was the Dominican monk Johann Tetzel. Tetzel promised forgiveness of even the worst of sins as long as proper payment was made. "As soon as the coin rings in the box, the soul jumps out of the fire," was his call.
With the money that rang in the box, the Pope financed an ambitious project: the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Startled by the letters of indulgence his parishioners had acquired, Luther now raises his voice against the institution that does business with people's fears by perverting the gospel. Luther found the clerics an abomination who haggle with God and betray Jesus' message of salvation.
With great determination he makes himself the advocate of the deceived and calls for the church to return to its real mission, a fundamental reform of the church "in head and in its members". The little monk from Wittenberg is preparing to challenge none other than the Pope.
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