Germans mark Reformation anniversary 

Germans mark Reformation anniversary 

Germany has marked 500 years since reformer Martin Luther nailed his “95 theses” to a church door, marking the start of the Reformation that created Protestantism and transformed European society.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended a service at the church where Luther is said to have first displayed his criticisms of Catholicism in 1517.

The service at the gothic Schlosskirche in Wittenberg marked the end of a year of events in 700 German locations. Wittenberg, a town of 47,000, 100km southwest of Berlin, has received thousands of visitors in recent months.

At the time it was a hive of pioneering intellectual debate in late-medieval Europe and a prosperous power centre for the Holy Roman Empire.

Today, 15.1 per cent of Wittenberg’s residents call themselves Protestant, 3.5 per cent Catholic and 79.5 per cent no religion. The town’s population has fallen 12 per cent since 1981.

His message spread through new printing presses and his attacks on Judaism were later exploited by the Nazis.

Luther’s anti-Semitic outbursts in later life, led to his association with the Judensau (Jew pig) relief on the Stadtkirche (pictured). There is a conflict between the Jewish community and those against sanitising history. In 1988, a plaque in commemorating the Holocaust was laid below the sculpture to contextualise it and a cedar tree planted as a symbol of peace.

The deadliest conflict between the branches of Christianity, the Thirty Years’ War, which ended in 1648, sparked the Enlightenment and a reduction in the role of religion in European politics.

A statement from the Catholic and Lutheran leaders begged forgiveness for the violence of the Reformation, sparking wars, persecutions and exoduses, including the departure of the pilgrims to North America.

“We begged forgiveness for our failures and for the ways in which Christians have… offended each other during the 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation until today,” the joint Vatican and Lutheran World Federation statement said.

Luther condemned Catholic “indulgences”, where a sinner could reduce punishment in purgatory through payments to the church.

He said Christians entered Heaven only by the grace of God.

Luther attacked papal abuses and questioned the central role given to the saints, establishing a more direct approach to God and worship.

The controversial Judensau (Jew pig) relief on the Stadtkirche. Picture credit: Flickr

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