As we approach Reformation Sunday and All Saints, I spent some time remembering and studying the events of the Reformation and what truly was an incredible movement of history. We tend to forget that the world was in transition to the building of Nation States and the fiefdoms and princedoms that did so much to take care and protect Luther would eventually be subsumed by Kingdoms. A psychological transition was taking place that would become the Enlightenment. I can see Luther in my minds eye, trudging through dark and posting his thesis on the Church door with autumn leaves swirling around him not realizing the political and social winds where whipping up a whirlwind as well. We tend to forget that Luther was in a fight with Kings and Emperors and Popes . Henry VIII was an avowed enemy. The Pope wanted him dead and there were threats and assassins captured. Two men charged with seeking to kill Luther by poison were caught and imprisoned but Luther insisted they be released for lack of evidence. According to observers and friends, Luther seemed to be very calm in the face of the powerful forces of world wide politics, because he believed that Christ was in control of all human history and that it was not Luther’s battle to lose but Christ’s to win. For Luther, politics was one of the “estates” that God created in the beginning that was very good but of course corrupted by sin.
Luther gives some hint of his thoughts on politics in a commentary on Habakuk. Remember, before the Reformation Luther, as a monk, was crawling up the Scala Scanta in Rome trying to get his uncle Fritzie out of purgatory. He had to say a prayer at every step while on his knees, but what kept popping up in his mind was Habakkuk 2:4; “the just shall live by faith”. Luther studied Habakkuk whose name means “hugger” or “embracer” He wrote, “Habakkuk signifies an embracer, or one who embraces another, takes him into his arms. He embraces his people and takes them to his arms, i.e., he comforts them and holds them up, as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God wills, it shall soon be better.” Luther was always the same during the trials and tribulations of the Reformation as far as the politics were concerned. He could get furious about the theological issues which for him could be solved by the Word of God alone. All theology should be about Christ and His promise because that is the heart and soul of the scripture and should be the heart and soul of theology. Habakkuk lived in a time of political turmoil and the political machinations of men that always mess up the lives of ordinary people. He questioned God continually and he obviously tried to strengthen people’s faith in the promise, although all the political events seemed to contradict it. As some have said, Habakkuk appealed to Luther because of the political nonsense he had to do with, the interaction of pope, emperor, and princes with the devil was basically nothing but a carnival drama (Fastnachtspiel).
I prefer to call it a clown show. Watch the news for two hours and listen to the politicos threaten to take away freedom of speech, religion, the right to bear arms and listen to them lie and prevaricate upon their own deeds while blaming others for the use of words. Spend some time and watch the set up for a clown show and then don’t be surprised when clowns show up.