Readings:

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 3:21-28
John 15:1-11

Preface of Trinity Sunday

[Common of a Theologian and Teacher]
[Of the Holy Trinity]

 

 
PRAYER
(traditional language)
   O God, our refuge and our strength, who didst raise up thy servant Martin Luther to reform and renew thy Church in the light of thy word: Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of thy grace, which thou hast made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who, with thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.
 

PRAYER (contemporary language)
   O God, our refuge and our strength, who raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word: Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace, which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.

 

Lessons revised at GC 2009.

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Last updated: 20 Dec. 2015 
 

MARTIN LUTHER

EDUCATOR, TRANSLATOR (18 FEB 1546)

 
I once heard a priest say: "Sometimes in a sermon, I have occasion to quote some comment by Martin Luther which bears on the point I want to make. But there are those in my congregation who would wonder what I was doing quoting a notorious Protestant. So I simply refer to him as Brother Martin of Erfurt, and they smile and nod. He said a lot of remarkably good things."

Martin LutherBrother Martin of Erfurt, born in 1483 of German peasant stock, was a monk (more exactly, a regular canon) of the Order of Saint Augustine, and a Doctor of Theology. In his day, the Church was at a spiritual low.  Church offices were openly sold to the highest bidder, and not nearly enough was being done to combat the notion that forgiveness of sins was likewise for sale. Indeed, many Christians, both clergy and laity, were most inadequately instructed in Christian doctrine.  Startling as it seems to us today, there were then no seminaries for the education of the clergy. There were monastic schools, but they concentrated on the education of their own monks. Parish priests, ordinarily having no monastic background, were in need of instruction themselves, and in no way prepared to instruct their congregations. Brother Martin set out to remedy this. He wrote a simple catechism for the instruction of the laity which is still in use today, as is his translation of the Scriptures into the common tongue. His energy as a writer was prodigious. From 1517, when he first began to write for the public, until his death, he wrote on the average one book a fortnight.
    Today, his criticisms of the laxness and frequent abuses of his day are generally recognized on all sides as a response to very real problems. It was perhaps inevitable, however, that they should arouse resentment in his own day (Brother Martin, and for that matter many of his opponents, had controversial manners that my high school speech teacher and debate coach would never have tolerated!), and he spent much of his life in conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. The disputes were complicated by extraneous political considerations on both sides, and, as one of his admirers has observed, each side was at its best when proclaiming what the other side, well considered and in a cool hour, did not really deny. Brother Martin, for example, was most ardent in maintaining that salvation was a free gift of God, and that all attempts to earn or deserve it are worse than useless. But he was not alone in holding this. When his followers met in 1540 with Cardinal Contarini, the Papal delegate, in an effort to arrive at an understanding, there was complete agreement on this point. The Cardinal, by a study of the Epistle to the Romans, had arrived in 1511 at the same position as Brother Martin in 1517. So had Cardinal Pole, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who had, ironically, been appointed to combat Brother Martin's influence).  So had the Archbishop of Cologne, and so had many other highly placed Church officials.
    In Brother Martin's own judgement, his greatest achievement was his catechism, by the use of which all Christians without exception might be instructed in at least the rudiments of the Faith. Some of his admirers, however, would insist that his greatest achievement was the Council of Trent, which he did not live to see, but which he was arguably the greatest single factor in bringing about. While the Council's doctrinal pronouncements were not all that Brother Martin would have wished, it did take very much to heart his strictures on financial abuses, and undertook considerable reforms in those areas It banned the sale of indulgences and of church offices, and took steps to provide for the systematic education of the clergy. Putting it another way, if I were arguing with an adherent of the Pope, and I wanted to point out to him that many Popes have been, even by ordinary grading-on-a-curve standards, wicked men, cynically exploiting their office for personal gain, I would have no difficulty in finding examples from the three centuries immediately preceding Brother Martin and the Council of Trent.  If I were restricted to the centuries afterward, I should have more of a problem. And this is, under God, due in some measure to Brother Martin's making himself a nuisance.  Thanks be to God for an occasional nuisance at the right time and place.

   Behold, Lord
   An empty vessel that needs
      to be filled.
   My Lord, fill it
   I am weak in the faith;
   Strengthen me.
   I am cold in love;
   Warm me and make me fervent,
   That my love may go out
      to my neighbor...
   O Lord, help me.
   Strengthen my faith and
      trust in you...
   With me, there is an
      abundance of sin;
   In You is the fullness of
      righteousness.
   Therefore I will remain
      with You,
   Whom I can receive,
   But to Whom I may not give.
             Martin Luther

 by James Kiefer

More information about Martin Luther, and many of his works, are online from the Wittenberg Project.