Celebrating 500 Years of Reformation: Martin Luther as a Man of his Times and Our Contemporary 

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Campus Weeks 2017
Thanks to the generous sponsorship of “500th Anniversary of the Reformation”, the German Embassy’s 2017 Campus Weeks program, the department was able to host multiple events centered on Luther and the Reformation. One very thought-provoking event was the well-attended talk by Dr. Britta Simon who shared insights about Luther with us and ignited a debate about Luther’s place in history. Dr. Simon explored the Luther phenomenon as a result of its time and predecessors, standing on the shoulder of giants himself (such as Jan Hus). She also introduced the audiences to Luther’s darker sides including his pronounced Anti-Judaism and anger against the revolting peasants. The high-attendance rate that brought the beautiful library and seminar room in Denny Hall to its limits underscored Luther’s relevance as well as the need for a debate about him as a controversial figure. An engaged conversation with the plenum about what role Luther should play in Germany’s future concluded this exciting event.

Dr. Britta Simon: "On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther sent his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" to Bishop Albert of Mainz, an act he intended to result in significant reforms of the Catholic Church. Instead, his attempt resulted in a schism that ultimately led to the creation of a new religion and church. Luther was not the first to criticize the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church and to demand a return to a less profit-driven religion made more accessible to believers through the use of the vernacular instead of Latin. In this, he followed in the footsteps of earlier reformers such as Waldo, Wycliffe and Hus. Neither was Luther the sole reformer of his time as Zwingli, Calvin and Henry VIII created other reformed churches in Europe. And there were others who were less successful but more radical in their demands for social justice, equal rights and gender equality.
Fast forward 500 years. On October 31, 2017, Germany will commemorate the publication of Luther’s disputation as The Reformation, turning it into a national German holiday, thus designating the movement and one of its representatives a national German event.
In this presentation, I will outline the key differences between Catholic and Protestant main principles, talk about Martin Luther’s work in the context of earlier and contemporary reformation attempts, discuss why Luther was successful where others were burned as heretics, and speculate on why Germany today has chosen Luther as a national icon and representative."