Wednesday, 31 October 2007

490 years since the 95 theses

Apparently it is 490 years to the day since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door at Wittenberg church. Despite heroic paintings to the contrary, he probably just nipped down to the church, shifted the other notices around to make room for his (like you do) bunged in a couple of small nails, and went home unnoticed but nervous.

Most people reading the theses would wonder how they ever sparked a revolution. (For a start, there are 95 of them!) Here are numbers 1-6:

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

You can read all of them here. But do they stir your blood, fire your imagination, awaken in you a sense of longings for things almost unknown?

I doubt it, because you do not live in that system. You probably know (or assume) God will forgive you. Indeed, if you are a modern, you will presume that God has nothing to forgive - not that you have done no wrong, but that the wrong you have done excites nothing in God but pity.

Let me simply say that if this is how you think, you are wrong. And if you are a member of the Church of England, you are wrong about your Anglicanism.

In the Thirty-nine Articles, that great confession of faith which defines the limits of Anglican doctrine, the second Article, Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very [truly] Man, says that Christ died so as "to reconcile His Father to us" (ut Patrem nobis reconciliaret).

That is, if the pun may be excused, crucial to the Anglican understanding of the cross: Christ reconciled the Father to us. So what was the Father otherwise? The answer goes against the grain of all modern thinking: the Father was not reconciled to us.

That is what the medieval mind understood all too well. But what they did not understand, because the Church had forgotten (and when it was reminded, found it inconvenient to remember) was that Christ had done it all, and the gospel is the message that God is, indeed, reconciled to us.

Thanks be to God. And have a pint on Martin Luther today, I am sure he would have approved.

"I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."

Revd John P Richardson
31 October AD2007

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