Martin Luther: An Extraordinary Man
by John Dennison Clarke
Since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church 500 years ago, the perception of the man has undergone a number of changes. In 1517 Pope Leo X probably saw him as an upstart who threatened the finances he needed to build St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. For Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, his protector, he may well have appeared a political pawn. In the Thirty Years’ War a hundred years later to the Catholics he was the heretic, the Antichrist threatening to destroy the true Church, while to the Protestants he was the heroic reformer of papal greed and idolatry. Over the years the man himself has been forgotten.
At the Dr Martin Luther 500 Seminar, held by the Barossa German Language Association in Faith Lutheran College’s Wine Centre on Sunday, 20 August, three eminent scholars presented an insight into the character, the passions and the influence of an extraordinary, but human person.
Dr Malcolm Bartsch spoke of Luther’s love of music and his dedication to the education of the young. “A person who does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Luther’s opinion of parents who ignored the education – not just work training – of their children, both boys and girls, was equally forceful.
Dr John Kleinig considered the language which Luther used in his sermons and in his writings. His language captured the speech of his listeners and readers. It was direct, sometimes colourful, and reached out to both the heart and the mind. His Biblical translations provided the foundation for the modern German language.
Dr Maurice Schild looked beyond the scholar and reformer to the man: the husband, who could say of his constantly worrying (about money, his health …) and long suffering wife, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus”; the father experiencing the death of two of his children; the companionable friend who liked nothing better than company at his table (another worry for his Katie) and a glass of good wine; and the pastor to his congregation at St Mary’s Church, Wittenberg.
During the seminar two of Luther’s hymns were sung: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (A mighty fortress is our God) and Nun freut euch, liebe Christen g’mein (Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice).
The seminar concluded with wine, good food and friendly conversation. Luther would have approved.