Reformation Day

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. The act itself was not terribly momentous, because this was a usual way of announcing an academic disputation. More conspicuous was the subject: the formal title of the theses was “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” signaling a challenge to Church doctrine and power. Print technology then facilitated the rapid spread of Luther’s words throughout Europe; within two months they were widely available on the Continent. From this apparently simple beginning ushered forth a world-changing series of events.

It’s worth remembering that not everything issuing from this event was good. One almost immediate outcome was the religious wars that enflamed Europe for the next 130 years. Religious coercion, instead of going away, just became more complicated. For instance, Thomas More, after making a career of torturing and killing Protestants, was himself executed for refusing to go along with Henry VIII’s challenge to the papal supremacy. Many people, like Abinadi, suffered death rather than recant their beliefs. They were unashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and God’s righteousness was revealed in them.

Nor should we too hastily accept the Reformation narrative by calling what went before “the Dark Ages.” A period that produced the likes of St. Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich was hardly altogether lacking in spiritual light. All times mix darkness and light, and we should rejoice at every burst of light that breaks forth.

Today, then, we ought to celebrate the good that came of Luther’s challenge. People gained access to both scripture and church worship in their own languages, allowing the Word to become a lamp to the feet of many. In time the wearisome slog of religious slaughter led some people to think about how to live in peace with others of differing beliefs, putting into practice Jesus’ teaching that those who take up the sword will also perish by it.  The Anabaptists, after the sorry episodes of the Peasants’ War and the Siege of Münster, took the lead in this regard. These things are, in the words of our 13th Article of Faith, “virtuous, lovely, of good report, [and] praiseworthy.” Let us therefore seek after them!

mormon_lectionary-100x100px-rgbaMormon Lectionary Project

Reformation Day

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 119:105-112; Matthew 26:51-52; Romans 1:16-17Mosiah 17:9-10 D&C 90:11

The Collect: O God, Father of Light, who hast revealed thy righteousness through the Son: continue in our hearts the work of reformation that burned in Martin Luther’s soul, until we are all united in one faith, just as thou, Father, art one with thy Son and the Holy Spirit, worlds without end.

For the music, here is Luther’s classic hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” one verse of which appears in our LDS hymnbook as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”



  1. Love it. Yes, Happy Reformation Day!

  2. The morning breaks the shadows flee, indeed.

  3. Deep respect for the intellectual honesty and moral courage that Luther showed the world. We still have much to learn from such an example. Thank you, Jason.

  4. One of the first things I want to do in heaven is invite Brigham Young and Martin Luther to a dinner party. (In a room with flame retardant rugs and window treatments, of course).

  5. Ooh, can we invite Leo X, too?

  6. Better get Gregory for balance.

  7. Gregory the Great, right? Yeah, he’d balance Leo X, but ain’t nobody could balance Emma Smith if we added her to the mix.

  8. Joseph supposedly once said he’d storm hell for Emma, to which Brigham allegedly responded, “That’s where you’ll have to go to find her.” I don’t think I want to be anywhere near that meeting, although I hope the interested parties have been able to smooth things out in the last +/- 150 years.

  9. Thank you for this entry in the lectionary project. Not a historian myself, I would enjoy some input from all you smart BCC people. I have recently become aware of Jan Huss of Bohemia. With genuine respect for Martin Luther, and recognizing that the invention of the printing press is significant here, I still wonder: why do we–by “we,” I do not mean the OP, but the generic community we–why do we tend to ignore the significance of Jan Huss and other reformers who came before Luther, like John Wycliffe of England? Is this just in our simplified LDS version of the Restoration? Is Huss more ignored than Wycliffe because in America, we are not as connected to historic Bohemia as we are to historic England?

    Huss’s writings and life were a huge influence on Luther, including Luther modeling how he nailed his issues on the door of the church, just as Huss had some 100 years before. Huss was so influential in Bohemia, that huge percentages of people there became Protestants, and decades of war were fought over his ideas…and over allegiance to his ideas, because of course all this was connected to political power.

    Anyhow, would really love anyone’s thoughts on these questions.

  10. NI: this is why Kristine wisely suggested that the room be furnished with flame-retardant accoutrements.

  11. Pokemon: Huss is certainly a significant figure, and I don’t think that any serious account of the broader Reformation ignores his influence. Wycliffe tends to get more notice among LDS because of his role in promulgating English Bibles, albeit probably not as much notice as Tyndale. (It seems to me that people mention “Wycliffe and Tyndale” and then proceed to talk about Tyndale.) The lectionary project will honor all of these figures in turn.

    In the end, though, I think that, as you say, the printing press was what made the difference. It’s really stunning to think that Luther’s 95 theses were available throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe in two months. That sort of impact simply wasn’t possible without print technology–even though it’s pretty impressive how many Wycliffe Bibles survive in manuscript.

  12. Neal Kramer says:

    If you want to get the party started right, just sponsor a debate between Luther and Erasmus on the bondage of the will. The first one was pretty spectacular.

  13. Agreed, Neal. In some ways I think that debate still reverberates through Western culture.

  14. Love the setting of “Ein feste Burg.”

  15. Yes, please do Huss! After my clichéd ” faith transition “, I landed in the Moravian church. I would love to see the Mormon lectionary take on him.

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