Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Martin Luther: “Here I Stand”

download

I have attended over 35 Jesuit retreats at Demontreville Retreat Center.  Every year at the end of each retreat, I have received a Plenary Indulgence bestowed by the Pope on people who complete a retreat.  Unlike in the day of Martin Luther, I do not have to pay for these indulgences.  My understanding is these indulgences will knock some of the time off that I have to spend in purgatory as reparations for my less than mortal sins.  You still cannot get time off for mortal sins without going to confession.

I am not sure how much time will be knocked off and since I am an atheist or sometimes an agnostic, I am not sure whether or not they will be valid.  I once wondered if I could put them up on eBay and maybe get some money from them.  This would be more in line with the uses that were associated with these plenary indulgences in the time of Martin Luther (1483 to 1546).

Reformation.crop_528x396_2,0.preview (1)There are many who would consider Martin Luther the father of the Protestant Reformation.  Growing up Catholic, we regarded Protestants as heretics.  We all knew that the one true religion was Catholic, and Protestants did not know what they really wanted.  What does the name Protestant even mean?  Taking it at face value, it would seem to mean to protest against.  The dictionary defines a Protestant as someone who has broken from the Roman Catholic church.  If you are a Protestant you practice a form of Christianity in protest to the Catholic form.  There are over 200 major Protestant denominations in the USA and over 35,000 independent or non-denominational Christian churches which are ostensibly Protestant.  During the past few decade, we have seen numerous splits in Protestant churches over such issues as gay marriages, gay clergy, women ministers.  Even though I am a non-Catholic myself, I can’t help but be amazed at the dissension and disunity among Protestants.  I wonder what Martin Luther would have thought if he were alive today.

cc-1509034747-1xk2ppowve-snap-image

In any case, Luther protested against the selling of Indulgences by the Catholic Church and the Pope.  He published his famous 95 Theses (which were polemics primarily against the monetary abuses of the Church) by nailing the theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany.  An extremely dramatic way to advance his opposition.  The theses were quickly reprinted and spread like wildfire throughout Europe.  And thus, began what is known as the Protestant Reformation (1517 – 1648).  It actually started even earlier but Luther’s theses were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

00bayfield

Martin Luther’s position and actions were quite bold, even audacious.  Luther’s ecclesiastical superiors had him tried for heresy, which culminated in his excommunication in 1521.  This retaliation on the part of the Catholic Church was quite serious.  Luther risked life and limb with his attack on the Church.  The following is a list of people executed for challenging Catholicism during the period from 1500-1600 CE.

  • Ipswich Martyrs († 1515–1558)
  • Jean Vallière († 1523)
  • Jan de Bakker († 1525), 1st martyr in the Northern Netherland
  • Wendelmoet Claesdochter († 1527), 1st Dutch woman charged and burned for the accusation of heresy
  • Michael Sattler († 1527), Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany
  • Patrick Hamilton († 1528), St Andrews, Scotland
  • Balthasar Hubmaier (1485–1528), Vienna, Austria
  • George Blaurock (1491–1529), Klausen, Tyrol
  • Thomas Hitton († 1530), Maidstone, England
  • Richard Bayfield († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Thomas Benet († 1531), Exeter, England
  • Thomas Bilney († 1531), Norwich, England
  • Joan Bocher († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Solomon Molcho († 1532), Mantua
  • Thomas Harding († 1532), Chesham, England
  • James Bainham († 1532), Smithfield, England
  • John Frith (1503–1533), Smithfield, England
  • William Tyndale (1490–1536), Belgium
  • Jakob Hutter († 1536), Innsbruck, Tyrol
  • Aefgen Listincx († 1538), Münster, Germany
  • John Forest († 1538), Smithfield, England
  • Katarzyna Weiglowa († 1538), Poland
  • Francisco de San Roman († 1540), Spain
  • Étienne Dolet (1509–1546), Paris, France
  • Henry Filmer († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Robert Testwood († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Anthony Pearson († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Maria van Beckum († 1544)
  • Ursula van Beckum († 1544)
  • Colchester Martyrs († 1545 to 1558), 26 people, Colchester, England
  • George Wishart (1513–1546), St Andrews, Scotland
  • John Hooper († 1555), Gloucester, England
  • John Rogers († 1555), London, England
  • Canterbury Martyrs († 1555–1558), c.40 people, Canterbury, England
  • Laurence Saunders, (1519–1555), Coventry, England
  • Rowland Taylor († 1555), Hadleigh, Suffolk, England
  • Cornelius Bongey, († 1555), Coventry, England
  • Dirick Carver, († 1555), Lewes, England
  • Robert Ferrar († 1555), Carmarthen, Wales
  • William Flower († 1555), Westminster, England
  • Patrick Pakingham († 1555), Uxbridge, England
  • Hugh Latimer (1485–1555), Oxford, England
  • Robert Samuel († 1555), Ipswich, England
  • Burning of Latimer and Ridley, Oxford, 1555
  • Nicholas Ridley (1500–1555), Oxford, England
  • John Bradford († 1555), London, England
  • John Cardmaker († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Robert Glover († 1555), Hertford, England
  • Thomas Hawkes († 1555), Coggeshall, England
  • Thomas Tomkins († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), Oxford, England
  • Stratford Martyrs († 1556), 11 men and 2 women, Stratford, London, England
  • Guernsey Martyrs († 1556), 3 women, Guernsey, Channel Islands
  • Joan Waste († 1556), Derby, England
  • Bartlet Green († 1556), Smithfield, London, England
  • John Hullier († 1556), Cambridge, England
  • John Forman († 1556), East Grinstead, England
  • Pomponio Algerio († 1556) Boiled in oil, Rome
  • Alexander Gooch and Alice Driver († 1558), Ipswich, England
  • Augustino de Cazalla († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • Carlos de Seso († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • María de Bohórquez († 1559)
  • Pietro Carnesecchi († 1567) Florence, Italy
  • Leonor de Cisneros († 1568), Valladolid, Spain
  • Dirk Willems († 1569), Netherlands
  • Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Rome, Italy

6542cb86e28310d760047cf9591b8929

The famous scientist Galileo was forced to recant his idea that the earth revolved around the sun.  This was widely known among many scientists, but it was opposed by the Catholic Church which held to the view that the sun revolved around the earth.  Thus, in 1521 Galileo was charged with heresy.  After a rather lengthy trial, Galileo retracted his theory preferring to live rather than to be right.  Nevertheless, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  Publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any future works.

martin luther

Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

On 18 April 1521 Luther stood before the presiding officer, Johann von Eck at the ongoing Diet in Worms.  Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the Pope or a council of the Roman Catholic Church.  Eck acting on behalf of the Catholic Church informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic.  Pope Leo X had demanded that Luther retract 41 sentences included in his original 95 Theses.  Luther had been questioned the day before, but he had requested time to think about his response to the charges.  Thus, began Luther’s short but famous speech.   His life depended on his response.

“I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right.  I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.”

Luther begins his speech with humility and with apologies for any lack of etiquette or procedure, but no apologies for his actions.  He is certain that he is right.

“I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God?  Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.”

Luther’s words could not be stronger here.  He accuses the Pope of offense that are scandalous, immoral, and perhaps even criminal.  He softens his words here not one bit.  He is not on the defense but on the offense.  Here is a man not dissembling or hedging his words.  If he is afraid for his life, his words show no fear or caution.  He is doing no political two step or making effort to appease the Pope.  Perhaps Luther knew that he was in little danger of being executed but the fact that he spent the next nine months of his life in hiding would suggest differently.

“In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith.  I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books.  Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.”

Luther does not back down one bit.  He confesses to more passion than might have been required but he will not retract anything he has written.  I am no saint he says but I will not be a hypocrite.  Just think of the people surrounding President Trump and contrast their lies, obfuscations, and baffling oratory with the quite clear words of Martin Luther: “What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings?”  “What if I said my president was lying?  What if I said my president was engaging in double speak?  What if I admitted that my president actually said the words which he claimed that he did not say?  Would I be subject to trial by fire or would I be burned at the stake?”

What makes someone lie on behalf of someone else?

The ending of Luther’s defense was epic.  Perhaps no more forceful words have ever been spoken in history.

“I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!  Amen.”

Emperor Charles V passed the Edict of Worms, which banned Luther’s writings and declared him a heretic and an enemy of the state.  Luther fled and although the Edict mandated that Luther should be captured and turned over to the emperor, it was never enforced.  Bear in mind the list of heretics who came after Luther and was executed.

Luther was a German professor of theology a composer and a priest.  He was no warrior or fighter.  In many ways, he was average, except in one especially important way that mattered and would make him a hero for all time.  He was not afraid to stand up to tyranny and to stand up for his beliefs and to speak out on behalf of what he believed.

Martin-Luther-on-Trial-1300x740-81e5a3c51e

Imagine if more citizens were courageous enough to stand up for what they believed and to speak out forcefully and not meekly on behalf of these same beliefs.  It has been said that “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”  Doing nothing or saying nothing are one of the same cloth.  If you want to allow a dictator, bully, or tyrant to take power, simply stay quiet and bemoan the fact that you can do nothing.  Or you can write, speak, march, protest and organize against injustice wherever it can be found.  Any less makes us guilty of a conspiracy of silence.

“A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people of some size, as large as an entire national group or profession or as small as a group of colleagues, that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject.  The practice may be motivated by positive interest in group solidarity or by such negative impulses as fear of political repercussion or social ostracism.”  —  Wikipedia

Whats Wrong with the Democratic Party?

night mare

It’s been a year now since the bad dream or worst nightmare in the history of this country burst upon us.  For many of us, we still cannot believe it happened.  Never in America has a man with so little character and absolutely no qualifications to be president been elected to this office.  In my lifetime, I have seen several presidents whom I did not think were good presidents.  Nixon and Romney come to mind.  I thought Clinton should have been impeached over the Lewinsky thing.  I thought Reagan’s Star Wars Initiative was the height of stupidity.  Neither of the wars started by the Bushs did one thing to make either America or the world safer.  But the new president takes stupidity, arrogance and downright evil to new heights.  Every day, Americans wake up to a new Trump tweet declaring our hatred and belligerence to the rest of the world.  If there was ever a great depression, it is the feelings that many Americans now share about the fate of their country.

I wanted to start a blog this week without going into another political diatribe or rant as some would call them.  I know we all get tired of the unremitting bad news from the papers, radios, TV, Internet and incessant analysts that surround us like flies on poop.  Bad news sells and in our 24/7 daily schedule of unceasing commercial bombardment, we now must hear bad news from any part of the world and not just our own local geography.   If a mother murders her babies in Angola, we will see it on the front page of our local news.  If a young woman is raped in France, we will be treated to a torrent of trending stories until they get tired of the story or catch the perpetrator.  News is now not only 24/7, it is global as well.

Shortly after Trump was elected, the analysts started to figure out why Hillary lost.  I think I counted over 20 different rationales for her losing.  Everyone had their theory.  The idea of multiple causality seems to have eluded many as each pundit hawked their own explanation.  I won’t bore you by subjecting you to the list.  In a complex answer, each of these theories would be weighted and we would find that some carried more weight then others.  Among the weightier was the issue of racism.  Nevertheless, no single cause contributed entirely to Hillary’s defeat.

One issue is still important today.  There is no longer any reason to worry about Hillary’s email server or about her seeming lack of warmth.  These problems are water under the bridge.  The problem though that is still substantial and that must be addressed concerns the problems within the Democratic Party itself.   If the Democrats want to regain their former influence with Americans, they must do more than fight Trumpism.  They must also stand for something.  The Democrats may be looking better today but that is only because the Republicans and Trump look so bad.  The Democrats were once seen as the party of the working class and the champions of the underprivileged.  They clearly lost this mantle in the years leading up to the Trump debacle.  The Democrat Party has three big challenges:

  1. Moral cowardice
  2. New ideas and creativity
  3. Championing all classes as well as the working class

quote-a-coward-is-incapable-of-exhibiting-love-it-is-the-prerogative-of-the-brave-mahatma-gandhi-10-58-44

Moral Cowardice:

John F. Kennedy wrote a book called Profiles in Courage.   It was about senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity.  One of the famous stories in Profiles in Courage concerned Senator Sam Houston.  He was pulled from a train by an angry mob of constituents and threatened to be hanged because of his vote.  He steadfastly faced the mob and explained why he voted the way he did and why he would do so again.  Stories like this are rare and while that makes them inspirational, it also makes them sad.

We have a US Senate with 100 members and a US House with over 400 members.  On any given day, most of these men and women are more concerned with their poll numbers than what is good for the America people.  Partisanship has become the norm in Congress with both sides mutely aping their leadership’s call to “back their party.”

I remember well the drum beat to the first Iraq War called Desert Storm in 1990.  A year before the invasion, I could hear the calls going out for an Iraqi Invasion.  I looked for some logic for this war but could not find it.  I waited for my political leaders to counter Bush’s need for an invasion.  Almost everyone in Congress sat mutely by while Bush and his cohorts planned the invasion.  Gradually, they found more and more reasons to invade Iraq.  Gradually, the religious leaders jumped on board to support the administration.  Billy Graham declared it a justified war and held hands with George H. W. Bush while he pretended to agonize over his already foregone decision.  And still I waited and wondered why so few Democratic leaders challenged this war.  Where were the Democrats?

The Second Gulf War was not a repeat of the First Gulf War.  It was an even worse unmitigated disaster.  Trillions of dollars spent, and nothing accomplished except to make some private war contractors rich.  Where were the Democrats?  They seemed to be out looking with the Republicans for the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam had supposedly stockpiled.

I had a button many years ago that said on one side “Democrats: The Party of Wimps” and on the other side “Republicans: The Party of Greed.”  I do not know who printed this button but thirty years ago, the writing on the wall was clear.  The Democratic Doves feared the Republican Hawks.  Better to be labeled a Hawk than a Dove.  The term liberal was once a term of pride but under the Democrats it became associated with wasteful spending and half-baked solutions to social problems.  Bleeding heart liberal has now become a term despised by all.

creative-and-innovative-thinking-skills-4-728

New Ideas and Creativity:

I live in two counties.  Both are predominantly Red Republican strongholds today.  However, my county in Wisconsin was once a Democratic stronghold.  Wisconsin was once a great bastion of Democratic ideas.  It was a state that was proud to have produced such champions of the underdog as Fighting Bob La Follette, William Proxmire and Senator Gaylord Nelson.  If anyone had ever told me that Wisconsin would have gone Red, I would have said they were crazy.

Now many of my “old” friends and many of my acquaintances in Wisconsin (A state I have lived in on and off for nearly twenty years now) are old line Democrats.  I confess I would rather have Democrats for friends than Republicans these days.  We share many of the same values even though I have never and will never be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party or any other party.  I take pride in voting as an independent and not someone mindlessly following some party.

I have been each year for the past seven years to the local county Democratic Fundraisers.  Each year, I have listened to Democratic speakers who are jostling for political positions with hopes of defeating the Republican incumbents.  In some cases, more recently they have succeeded.   I can only hope this trend will continue but I am dubious.  My skepticism comes from looking at the people I see running.  Generally, they are well intentioned.  Some might even have the moral courage I want to see in leadership.  However, too many of the candidates that I have seen are either stuck in ideas from the past or lack new ideas that would bring some creativity and innovation to the Democratic Party.

Our political system not only needs new people, we need new ideas.  The same old ideas that worked in the past will not work in the future.  We need forward looking people that can challenge the existing system by promoting innovative ideas that do more than just support the status quo.  Our education system, our health care system, our prison system, our military system, our legal system, our infrastructure system and even our electoral system are all in need of more than reform.  They all need a complete restructuring.  These were systems designed for the 19th and 20th Century.  We need systems for the 21st and 22nd Century.  It is folly to think that simple reforms or piece meal patches to these systems will fix the blight and decay endemic in them.

I see too few of the emerging Democratic leaders as having a vision beyond fighting Trumpism.  That is clearly a start, but we need more than just reaction to Trump we need pro-action in our politics.  We need positive ideas.  We need new ideas.  Good intentions are not enough.

20140201_USD001_1

Championing All Classes as well as the Working Class:

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was known as the champions of the working class.  They stood up for unions, higher wages, income parity and equal opportunity.  The working class was once the class of high school graduates.  Today, more than one-third of the adult population in the United States has a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The average earnings in 2016 for those ages 25 and older whose highest educational attainment was high school were $35,615.  The average earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were $65,482 compared with $92,525 for those with an advanced degree (Census.Gov).  The composition of the American workforce has undergone a long evolution from the agricultural era though the industrial revolution to the new information era.  Definition of working class has continued to change as social structure has changed in the age of computers and the Internet.

As educational levels continued to increase, aspirations by Americans continued to increase.  Whereas once perhaps most Americans saw belonging to a union and retiring with a pension after 30 plus years to be the epitome of working life, that vision became obsolete.  The typical worker today sees themselves as a college educated salaried worker whose interests are more aligned with their company then with any union.

My father worked for the Post Office for over 30 years before retiring.  He never thought it was a fun job or an interesting job.  For my father, it was a job that paid the bills, had good benefits and would enable him to retire with a good pension.  My father’s aspirations and attitudes towards work were like most of his generation.  The idea of being passionate about your work would have been a joke to my father and his peers.  Times have changed dramatically.  Workers today want to believe in their work and their companies.  Workers want their jobs to be challenging, rewarding and fun.  The old days of waiting to enjoy life until you retire are dead.

The workers in America are different than they were twenty or thirty years ago.  The Democrats forfeited their allegiance to the American worker and allowed the Republicans to become the champions of the American worker.  From coal miners to computer programmers, from trailer parks to gated communities across America, once proud Democrats have become Republicans.  The sad part of the story is that the Democrats did not seem to raise a finger to stop the migration.  They did little or nothing to prevent it from happening.  They allowed the Republicans to become the standard bearer of wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, few workers realized that their Republican champions were more about privileges for the elite than sharing the wealth.  Or that gains for the upper class would come at the expense of other classes in this country.  The concept of Trickle Down is alive and well in the Republican Party.

Conclusions: 

Democrats need to build a new party.  Trumpism is a short-term aberration.  Euphoria might be high right now for Democrats who see Trump as the best thing to ever happen for Democratic candidates.  With one of the lowest popularity ratings of any president in history, Trump will help insure a wave of Democratic Party victories.  However, it can be nothing but short-sighted folly to mistake the present disgust for Trump with a disgust for Republican principles in general.  The Republican Party became strong because they offered the American people a vision of society which promised a better life for millions of them.  Unless Democrats can come up with a compelling vision of society that addresses a wide spectrum of workers, the Republicans will regain power once their debacle with Trump is over.

Time for Questions:

How do you decide who to vote for?  Do you belong to a political party?  Why or why not?  What do you like about political parties?  What do you dislike?  What changes do you think we need to make in the political system in America?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”  — GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” — DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, speech, March 6, 1956

 

%d bloggers like this: