Tag archives: Martin Luther

Though Devils all the World Should Fill

by Robert Morrison

October 31, 2014

For the world, which is to say, for Google, today is a day about witches and ghosts, and not much more. Witchy Wanda is stirring her kettle on today’s webpage. That’s the way the world sees things.

With the headlines this fall, though, the world does seem to be full of devils. ISIS, Ebola, Russian submarines lurking menacingly under Swedish home waters. Obamacare forcing us all to pay for the slaughter of innocents. It’s all enough to give one a real scare.

I recall the story of a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther in the early Sixteenth Century. He was being urged not to go to that high-level conference chaired by the Emperor. All the leading Electors, princes, and nobility of Germany and the higher clergy would be in attendance. It was called the Diet of Worms.

(When they used to teach world history, we kids in ninth grade got quite a chuckle out of that “Diet of Worms.” I recall one of my classmates saying it would at least be better than what we get in the school cafeteria!)

Young Luther was being summoned before the Holy Roman Emperor to recant his writings. They had been found heretical by church authorities. Luther was warned by his friends not to go to the City of Worms.

They won’t keep their word. They won’t give you protection. Now that they’ve branded your writings heretical, they’ll excommunicate you. Then they’ll hand you over to the temporal rulers and you will be burned at the stake—just as Jan Hus was burned at the stake in Bohemia. That was in 1415.

But Martin Luther would not be deterred. He told his friends he was going to appear before the Emperor Charles V and all the assembled movers and shakers in Germany.

I would go if there were a devil on every roof tile,” the young scholar said.

We don’t often associate scholars with such courage. To be sure, today there are all too many scholars unwilling to take risks. But that bold stand of a Bible teacher inspired me thirty years ago. And it inspires me now. Luther had a Doctorate in Theology when such academic degrees were rarer than Nobel Peace Prizes are today (and more justly awarded, too.)

We continue to debate and wrestle over the doctrines of the Reformation that began this day in 1517. Dr. Timothy George has summarized some of the best thinking on this day in his First Things column here.

Today, I especially want to pay tribute to young Dr. Luther’s courage. And in the spirit of ecumenism, let me also salute my good friend, Hadley Arkes. Hadley is a great academic who has never hesitated to speak out on the most controversial topics of the day, on human life, on same-sex rituals, on the real meaning of our Constitution.

But when he was asked by a Catholic priest why he had not converted to Catholicism yet, Hadley did not respond with a learned citation from the early Church Fathers, or from Wise Rabbis of old. Instead, Hadley quoted the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz.



It’s what puts the Ape in Apricot

It’s what I haven’t got.

Obviously, Hadley did summon the courage to follow his conscience and enter into communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

It may seem odd to describe the conversion of a Jew to Catholicism in the same column with today’s observance of the Reformation. But in both instances, what was required was the courage of conviction.

Another friend has been bidding me to join him in his Catholic faith. I am happy to attend Mass with this friend when we meet. But the last time we went to his church together, the hymn we sang on this day was Luther’s own most famous song: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

And this powerful verse from that five hundred year-old Reformation hymn is a fitting one for today:

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us.

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none,

He’s judged; the deed is done;

One little word can fell him.

Martin Luther: 10 November 1483

by Robert Morrison

November 10, 2011

Lutherans are Evangelical Catholics. Thats how the late Richard John Neuhaus described our church body, before he entered into communion with Rome and became a Catholic priest. He never said he converted. Why? I suspect the answer may have been engraved on a handsome bronze medallion then-Pastor Neuhaus gave me in 1983. It is a Martin Luther 500th anniversary commemoration. On the obverse side is a quote from the man we call the Blessed Doctor: I believe that there is on earth throughout the whole wide world no more than one holy common Christian church.

Thats what I believe. Pastor Richard Neuhaus had welcomed me into the fold when I joined the Lutherans for Life national board. He encouraged me in my pro-life advocacy. And, oddly enough, when I had the honor to meet him, I was working for the Roman Catholic Bishops of Connecticut. They had consciously chosen me, a non-Catholic, to head up a pro-life office in the Constitution State. The joke one priest told me about my unorthodox selection was from a popular ad of the time. You dont have to be Jewish to love Levys real Jewish rye. In the same way, the good father said, you dont have to be Catholic to be pro-life.

He was right. When a hostile reporter from the Hartford Courant demanded to know what percent of the Catholic Churchs money went to pro-life activities, I answered mildly: All of it.

I was in a quandary when I first came to faith in the mid-1970s. The Catholic Church was then, as now, the leading voice in the world for the sanctity of human life. Many of the leading Mainline Protestants were outspokenly pro-abortion. Tragically, they still are. Only now, there are millions fewer of them. I could never have joined one of them. What part of the readings about King Herod and the slaughter of innocents had they missed?

Even though I admired the Catholic Churchs brave stance, I knew that I was from the Protestant half of my family. We were, truth to tell, unchurched. But if we had gone to a church, it would have been Protestant.

So, what an exciting thing it was for me to discover The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synods (LCMS) strong biblical stand against the unjust taking of innocent human life. When I studied more about Martin Luther, I learned he had been schooled as an Augustinian monk in Saxony. In fact, young Dr. Luther had earned a degree in theology at a time when doctorates were rarer than Nobel Prizes are today (and more deserved, too.)

Luthers courage appealed to the warrior in me. He was warned not to go to the Diet of Worms. That was a legislative assembly of German petty princes and church prelates presided over by the Holy Roman Emperor. You might be betrayed by the Emperor and burned at the stake, as the reformer Jan Hus was burned, his friends cautioned.

Luther would not be deterred. I would go, he said, if there were a devil on every roof tile. And so, in 1521, he went. Ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to recant his writings on the authority and primacy of Scripture, Luther refused. Here I stand, he boldly proclaimed, God helping me, I can do no other.

Instead of being burned, he was kidnapped. Actually, the young doctor was taken into protective custody by knights loyal to the Elector of Saxony, a lesser magistrate. Frederick the Wise, as the Elector was known, hid Luther away in the Wartburg Castle.

While there, the monk translated the New Testament into German. It was this translation of the Bible that was said to be for the German language what the King James Bible and Shakespeare are for English.

It wont do to brush over the centuries of violent hostility between Catholics and Protestants in Europe and around the world. One-third of Germany was wiped out in the Thirty Years War.

Happily, though, in America, this home of freedom, religious conflict has been minimized by the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. In Washingtons great words, this government gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. Until recently, anyway.

Today is a day we can celebrate the birth of the great reformer. Martin Luthers life and work brought new life to the church and made great things possible. When we see the reforms of Vatican II, like celebrating the Mass in the language of the people, we can see the foundations that were laid nearly half a millennium ago, in Saxony.

Last weekend, I was honored to be a pallbearer at the funeral of a dear family friend. Our daughters godmother, at 58, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on a Thursday and died five days later. Under cold, gray, grim and blustery skies, we processed into the sanctuary and up to the altar of St. Pauls Catholic Church in Portsmouth, Virginia.

As the priest sprinkled holy water on our friends casket, a sudden shaft of sunlight broke through the stained glass window, brilliantly lighting the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The congregation was in awe. As we departed the church, the organ music swelled with the tones of Martin Luthers great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God. He is bringing us together now and using our common defense of life to do it.