Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

To start, let us peek back on 1539 — the year that a modified version of William Tyndale’s English Bible was first authorized and officially distributed throughout English churches.

“Item, that ye shall provide on this side the Feast of next coming, one book of the whole Bible in the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have cure of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”  — Vicar instructions to English clergy, c. 1538.

The result was tremendous.  As one early historian described:  “[W]ith what greediness God’s word was read, and what resort to places where the reading of it was.  Everything that could bought the book and busily read it; or got others to read it to them, if they could not themselves; and divers among the elderly learned to read on purpose.  And even little boys flocked among the rest to hear portions of the Holy Scriptures read.”

The clergy had to chain the Bible to pulpits in the vestibule to prevent theft.  By April 1539, popular demand for the Word of God in their own tongue infected crowds — who eagerly gathered to read aloud from the new parish Bibles, including in the middle of Sunday worshipThe enthusiasm was such that the King of England had to issue a proclamation forbidding the popular reading of the Bible during services.

For the hymn of the day, let’s listen to this gorgeous rendition of the 8th-century Irish Hymn, Be Thou My Vision, which I like to imagine 16th-century parishioners would have been singing in gratitude as they first heard the Bible in their own tongue:

English translation (and Mormon Tabernacle Choir rendition):

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.


  1. I work in a Lutheran Homeless Shelter. They are getting ready for their anniversary celebration. I also love Tindale’s story. I read it a few years ago and was charged up to follow a personal mission with God. Which led me to the shelter. Circular and very cool.

    Thank you for tying this together for us.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m looking forward to the series. (On October 21st I’m going to a Lutheran Church that is putting on a dinner of foods Luther would have eaten; I’m curious to see what will be on the menu!)

  3. I love everything about this. Thanks, Carolyn.

  4. Kevin, you must post about the menu. For a day BCC can be a food blog.

  5. The foods Luther would have eaten? My son was in eastern Germany last Christmas, and some of the members fed him wild boar, duck, and homegrown ham. Please do report on your event, Kevin, particularly if it includes wild boar!

    By the way, my son served in Erfurt and Weimar earlier this year, and while he was there he visited Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament into German. Joseph Smith said of Luther’s translation, “I find it to be the most correct that I have found.”

    My husband and I were recently at the Free Library of Philadelphia and saw an original edition of the Luther Bible. It was open to Revelation 10: “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven…” We’ve since learned that some people regarded Luther as one of the angels in Revelation, but the Cranach woodcut in the original edition showed a figure that may have been Luther taking the book from the angel and beginning to eat it, “…and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey…” or as Luther translated it from the Greek, “es wird dich im Bauch grimmen; aber in deinem Munde wird’s süß sein wie Honig.”

  6. I hope the series will include Jan Hus…I had never heard of him before visiting Prague.

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