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Ideas Go where Luther could not Travel

February 21, 2017

 

 

The age of European reformations unfolded in a world so far removed from our own that the events and ideas which emerged a half millennia ago may no longer seem relevant. Yet, through this archway in Coburg, Germany passed a band of fellow travelers carrying ideas which are still fundamental and essential to the identity of millions of Lutherans around the world.

 

Martin Luther passed through this archway on April 30, 1530 under the protection of the Elector of Saxony, John the Steadfast. When Luther passed under this archway, he did so quite aware his protector, his friends, and his ideas could travel where he could not go. Martin Luther remained behind at the Veste Coburg, having traveled as far as he could in Saxony. Martin Luther remained behind in this castle because he lived under an imperial ban. To travel any farther was to risk death.

 

John the Steadfast, would continue his journey with his fellow travelers carrying ideas expressed in the Torgau Articles. Martin Luther approved the Torgau Articles on April 3, just prior to their departure for the Imperial Diet of Augsburg with plans to stop at Coburg. The Torgau Articles served as the groundwork for the Augsburg Confession; a document still cited in every Lutheran church constitution today, and therefore remains axiomatic to every member of a Lutheran church today.

 

No other document produced in the Reformation remains as elemental to the ecclesiastical life and polity of Lutherans as an expression of their understanding of what it means to be Lutheran as a church together. Where the Small Catechism still speaks to individual Lutheran identity and the practice of their faith as individuals, the Augsburg Confession still remains constitutive to Lutheran identity as an expression of the body of Christ gathered and located around Word and Sacrament.

 

While at the Veste Coburg, Luther continued his translation of the Bible. He completed his translation of the New Testament in 1522 while at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany. His translation of the complete Bible would be published just a few years after his stay at the Veste Coburg, in 1534. Luther also wrote many letters to Philip Melanchthon and completed a total of 21 writings while staying at the Veste Coburg. Elector John the Steadfast, with other Protestant nobles, signed the Augsburg Confession which was presented to Charles V on June 25, 1530 while Martin Luther remained behind in Coburg.

 

There are many ways of bringing the past closer to the present for purposes of reflecting upon who we are today in light of our past. As you look at this archway, imagine what Luther may have thought and felt as he passed through this entrance knowing his ideas could go where he could not travel under penalty of death. This “door” to the Veste Coburg may remind you of other important portals through which Luther passed such as the entrance to the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt, or the passageway leading into the Wartburg Castle.

 

Still other thresholds led to rooms in which daunting circumstances developed. In 1521, Luther had to twice pass through a door leading into a room in Worms where he finally refused to recant. After the Diet of Worms, to leave Saxony meant Luther would face arrest, trial, and quite possibly death. The door at Worms was long ago destroyed. 500 years later the ideas and stories remain. Likewise, arguably the most famous door in the life of Luther remains the door at the castle church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg. The original door was lost to fire, but the replacement of the so-called Reformation Door still reminds visitors of the breathtaking response to his offer of conversation through the public presentation of his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517.

 

The archway at the entrance to the Veste Coburg offers the opportunity to reflect upon important, sometimes physically impressive, often imposing portals in the life of Martin Luther. Once inside the Veste Coburg, the four museums it houses today offer the opportunity to explore, reflect and consider who we are today in light of our past. One of the rooms at the Veste Coburg, for instance, exhibits an impressive display of weaponry and artifacts of the Ottoman Empire implicitly inviting visitors to consider the Reformation in global perspective.

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