Brief Perspective on Martin Luther, 500 Years Later
Before joining the church-history study tour in April 2017, I tried to read about Martin Luther. I also went to YouTube to watch videos on him and other church reformers. After completing the trip, I’ve learned quite a bit about the dark sides of Martin Luther. In this article, I would like to document my findings about this giant which I did not gather from my pre-trip preparation.
With a good memory, Martin Luther had a great intellectual capacity and completed his doctoral degree in his 20’s. Having written many papers and books, he became a university professor before 30. In isolation at the Wartberg Castle in Germany, he translated the New Testament from its original Greek into everyday German in about 11 weeks; that’s a great achievement when computer was not available in the 16th century. He’s a Christian hero -- no question about that. However, based on the info given to me by local guides and the lecturers on the bus, with a very strong personality, he sometimes used rude remarks in meetings. Some conservative readers may find these unrefined comments offensive; for those who want to see more detail, please see the link below:
This practice of using off-color language reminds me of my high-tech years from 1983 to 1989 when I was working for various companies in Silicon Valley: Intel, G.E./Calma, Altos Computers, etc. It’s very common for high-level managers to become emotional in meetings, and words of profanity flew all over a meeting room to communicate a sense of disgust and disappointment. I am not surprised to note that Martin Luther was trying to vent his frustration with high-ranking church officials when he discovered all those practices of corruptions in the Catholic-Church system. Although it’s not nice to use rude language in many formal circles, it’s a common and arousing way to express one’s dissatisfaction with certain issues – true in modern time and in Martin Luther’s period 500 years ago.
In addition, during the study tour I learned that as Luther was goal-oriented, he suffered from depression at times when his expectations were not fully met in a timely manner. In many instances, it was a long uphill battle to fight with the Catholic-church authority. As the saying goes, “one cannot fight City Hall.” It must have been a miracle for Luther to win in the end despite numerous obstacles and setbacks. He surely got a lot of help from his contemporaries: These were like angels sent from heaven to protect him and to give him financial support.
Out of respect, many books or video lectures/documentaries paint a very positive tone on Martin Luther as he is truly a celebrity in the Christian circle. It’s important, though, to maintain a balanced view of his true personality: Highly accomplished (with numerous publications) on the one hand, and very emotional (with impolite outbursts) on the other hand. When studying the biography of a significant historical figure, one should see both sides for the sake of completeness.
As an aside, in 1517 Luther posted his 95 theses at the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Before the trip, I had no sense of the size of this church. It turns out Castle Church is a pretty big building, quite comparable to a typical Catholic cathedral in Europe or in the U.S. It’s now a Lutheran church. Based on my prior reading and the clips from YouTube, I could not get a proper sense of the size of the church building. The church-history tour helped me gain a proper 3-dimenisonal perspective of many important historical structures.
Overall, it was a very fruitful experience to travel with 90+ fellow Christians to follow the footsteps of Martin Luther and other great reformers. I’ve surely broadened my horizon --- geographically, culturally, emotionally, and biblically. I look forward to joining future trips to study the history of church music and arts in Europe.