Did you realize that Oct. 31 marks 500 years since Martin Luther presented his famous “95 theses” about abuses by the Roman Catholic Church?
(Oct. 31, 1517, was also the day Luther declared, “Salvation comes not by works, but by faith … faith there’s a special circle of hell for the purveyors of pumpkin spice products.”)
Although Luther was merely trying to tweak the existing church, his actions are generally regarded as the launching pad for the world-changing split known as the Protestant Reformation. World-changing indeed. Can you imagine all those “A priest, a rabbi and a minister walked into a bar” jokes without the third component? (“Oy! The Presbyterian knew all the punchlines.”)
The Reformation also tremendously boosted literacy. People clamored to read the scriptures in their own language after it was finally translated from dead Latin. We cannot hold the reformers responsible for the decline of such skills. (“Go ahead and click where it says, ‘I have read and agree to the terms of service.’”)
All of us could probably stand to learn more about the changes set in motion by Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and other activists.
Too many people get Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. confused. Don’t get me started on the nerds who think the Reformation was like the “rebooting” of a comic-book universe. (“Wait – I know! After the Reformation, it was retroactively decided that Pope Leo X was the half-brother of the clone of The Joker!”)
As you study the Reformation, you’ll encounter terms such as “papal bull,” “the Diet of Worms” and “The Thirty Years’ War.” Not only did the church need a wake-up call, but it also needed a better marketing person. (“C’mon, dude … enlist! The Thirty Years’ War will be over in a weekend, max.”)
Of course, one of the major abuses by the church in olden days was the selling of indulgences. By coughing up some arbitrary, exorbitant sum of money, parishioners could supposedly shorten their loved ones’ time in purgatory. It’s a wonder those rascally clergymen didn’t come up with even more lucrative schemes. (“You’ll be wanting the extended warranty on wings and halos, won’t you?”)
Let’s not forget the shady market for selling superstitious worshippers religious relics, such as the alleged bones of saints. That was when “taking a knee” first hit the headlines. (“Hey! Don’t be taking the knee! All you paid for was the pinky finger!”)
In fact, Luther planned to write 101 theses but ran out of paper. Researchers claim that the lost theses included “Fish on Friday is okay, but failure to add Tater Tot Tuesday is a deal-breaker,” “Only Nerf rulers for schoolteacher nuns” and “Is it going to kill you to spring for moisture-wicking robes, hair plugs and Gregorian chants karaoke machines for the monks?”
Practicing Catholics have largely unified behind traditions such as the confessional and Mass. Protestants are more into velocity than Mass. (“See how fast we can split again! Forget ‘There’s an app for that.’ There’s a denomination for that!”)
I’ve read several news items about the Catholic Church and various Protestant bodies remaining cordial and even working toward areas of agreement.
Perhaps another 500 years will see a meeting of minds such as “We’ll agree to disagree about the turning blood into wine thing, as long as we can go with the Big Gulp size. Pumpkin spice optional.”
Danny Tyree (email@example.com) writes for the Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.