«Here I stand»

The 31st October in 1517 is usually considered as the starting point for the reformation. On that day Luther announced his 95 theses on the “Power and Efficacy on Indulgences” as an invitation to a theological debate.

It is possible to argue that the 18th April 1521, 3 ½ years later, is the foundation day of the Reformation. In the afternoon of that day Luther made his famous reply to the Diet of Worms, and the theological discussion inside the Catholic Church became a confessional and political conflict, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” Whether he added, “I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen!” is unclear. The phrase soon became famous, though, encapsulating the situation. Like Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle Church in 1517, which is also challenged by historians.

Is this the starting point of the modern era focusing on a new type of individualism with reference to the importance of one’s conscience and thus, a foretaste of the universal human rights as we define them today? There is no such direct mainstream path of these values from Luther’s declaration in Worms in 1521 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris 10th December 1948. The Lutheran history, following Luther’s own practice in his confessional areas, is not a story of freedom of religion, expression, and conscience. The combination of reason, conscience, and Scripture with the authoritarian mental and social structures of the time, did not create a new type of a liberal Lutheran society. On the contrary.

But Luther’s “Here I stand”-phrase referring to his conscience, to reason and to the Scriptures, can be seen as a seed which has produced a type of fruit not imagined 500 years ago. I enjoy looking at Luther’s stand in Worms and his whole reformation programme in the light the fruit of the Spirit like Paul defines it in Gal 5:22-23, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. It is all contained in the one basic theological concept mentioned by Luther in his list of solae: SOLA GRATIA. By Grace Alone. The reality of living by God’s Grace has a renewing potential under all circumstances, at all times. That is our Lutheran legacy, and our permanent contribution to the Church Universal and to the society around us.

+ Tor B Jørgensen

Luther at Worms (19th century coloured engraving after Emil Jacobs). https://www.canadianlutheran.ca/history-of-the-reformation-the-diet-of-worms/ 20.04.2021

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