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Opinion

Opinion: On Reformation Day, we need another Luther

Thank you, Martin Luther! The Reformation cannot be celebrated enough. It wasn't only a religious revolution, but a political one as well. It changed the world, DW's Astrid Prange writes.

Martin Luther unhinged the medieval world. He dared to defy both the pope and the holy roman emperor, which 500 years ago was not only considered impossible - it was a certain death sentence.

On matters of faith, the Augustine monk wanted only his conscience to be his guide. He questioned the pope's infallibility and refused to subordinate himself to the most powerful ruler of Europe. Rome's reaction to this offense was excommunication. Emperor Karl V had Luther outlawed.

Luther was firmly convinced that faith was a gift. The search for God was not hastened by acts of good and penalties for sins could not be paid by indulgences.

Reluctant revolutionary

This theological message, which came during the height of the paying of indulgences and the emergence of the printing press, struck a chord in an explosive way. It renewed Christianity, pushed the Catholic Church to modernize and paved the way to the Enlightenment. Luther formed the basis of tolerance, religious freedom and self determination we know today.

Luther never viewed himself as a revolutionary - even if he brought about revolutionary change. Far from seeking to divide the church, he was a conservative rebel looking to reform "his" church by returning it to Christianity's origins.

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DW's Astrid Prange says Luther was a reluctant revolutionary

His failure to do so was also due to a lack of will on Rome's part: The Vatican rejected a consensus statement at the 1541 Diet of Regensburg. With that went the last chance at an agreement between Catholics and Protestants.

Conflict among reformers

Luther is no model for tolerance. Not only did he break with Rome, but with other reformers such as Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Müntzer and Erasmus of Rotterdam. Not to mention his shocking anti-Semitism.

The dissident did, however, set a course toward tolerance. The founding of new churches around the world means that various forms of Christianity have to be accepted side by side - an admittedly difficult process, one which is not yet complete.

Luther has his critics. He was a bold reformer complete with a strong personality and flaws. He is part of the German DNA, with many of his traits seen as "typically German": conservative, principled, pugnacious. If he lived today, he would take issue with the UN Security Council, NATO and the spiritual leaders of all religions.

If only Luther would return to finish his work. His church could sure use him, and he would be astounded by how "evangelical" the Catholic Church has become. Today's Pope Francis would be a better fit for him than Leo X and Clemens VII, the popes of his day. He would be glad to be in attendance on October 31, when the current pope joins Protestants in Lund, Sweden, for the Lutheran World Federation's celebration of 500 years since the Reformation. Perhaps it would even be reason for Luther to take back calling the then-pope the Antichrist.

If Pope Francis were to break bread with his fellow believers, it would be the completion of Luther's work and the beginning of the Reformation of the Reformation. Catholics and Protestants sitting together would be the greatest gift they could give each other on this 500th anniversary.

The pope seems to understand this. A statue of Luther was unveiled in the Vatican's Audience Hall, and Francis received pilgrims from the Reformation's heartland, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. When asked who is better, Catholics or Protestants, he answered, "We are all better together." This could be the motto of the anniversary.

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