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St Etheldreda's Church Crypt
Ely Place, London EC1N 6RY
(nearest underground Chancery Lane)
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by Paul Dean
According to historic legend, Martin Luther posted the Latin document, later referred to as the 95 Theses, on the door of Wittenberg Church on the 31 October 1517. As everyone knows, it questioned the idea that the indulgences trade perpetuated—that buying a trinket could shave time off the stay of one’s loved ones in purgatory. But later events have made the document seem much more radical than it was at the time, to the extent that is often even considered to be the start of the lengthy process of the Protestant Reformation itself. For one thing, the act of nailing the theses to a church door seems deliberately provocative, if indeed he did this; many historians are sceptical, given that the story was first told by Philip Melanchthon long after Luther’s death. In fact the door of the Castle Church served as the official university bulletin board and was regularly used for academic and public disputes. For another, many had criticised the abuse of indulgences before (including Luther himself). Most importantly, Luther did not seek to abolish indulgences per se, the document being questioning rather than accusatory, seeking to inform the Archbishop of Mainz that the selling of indulgences had become corrupt, with the sellers seeking solely to line their own pockets.
The indulgences trade was authorised by the Archbishop of Mainz and Madgeburg, who was deeply in debt due to his purchase of the bishopric of Mainz. In exchange for a cut of the profits, the Archbishop permitted Johann Tetzel to sell a series of indulgences to the poor. Moreover, the indulgence trade was growing—Luther’s prince, Frederick the Wise, had a collection of indulgences that, if used, would be equivalent to 1,900,000 days removed from one’s time in purgatory. Yet it was Tetzel’s selling of indulgences as a commodity that appears to have broken Luther’s back; Tetzel’s oft-quoted jingle of ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs’ simply highlighted to Luther the financial nature of the entire process.
In particular, Luther was horrified by the fact that a large portion of the profits from this trade were being used to renovate St Peter’s Basilica in Rome: in his 86th thesis Luther sarcastically asks: ‘Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St Peter with the money of the poor rather than with his own money?’ This is indicative of Luther’s opinion as opposing the financial extortion indulgences pressed upon the poor, rather than the theology which lay behind the process of freeing souls from purgatory. For Luther, it was better to give to the poor than to buy an indulgence, as thesis 45 declared: ‘He who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath’.
Moreover, it is important to recognise that this was not the action of a man wanting to break away from the Church: Luther wished to reform, rather than abandon, the Church. The Theses were undoubtedly provocative, and the role of the printing press and the German translation of the theses (done without Luther’s permission) in creating debates across the German Lands about what it meant to be a true Christian is well documented, but this does not seem to have been Luther’s original intention; it appears that he legitimately believed that the Archbishop was not aware of the corruption inherent in the indulgence trade led by Tetzel. This is something which can be considered important later on, for it indicates that Luther did not consider the Church hierarchy redundant at this point. Thesis 38 made clear that the pope’s distribution of indulgences should continue, whilst in thesis 50, Luther expressed the assumption that the pope did not know how indulgences were being sold.
The document itself therefore has a debatable significance; it is rather the events which occurred after its publication which are far more important, leading as they did to Luther’s ideological and religious development. Almost immediately there was outrage at the ‘heresy’ which the Church viewed as implicit within the document. Despite the pressure upon Luther to immediately recant his position, he did not. This in part led to the Leipzig debate in summer 1519 with Johann Eck which forced Luther to clarify some of his theories and doctrinal stances. The debate focused largely on doctrine; perhaps surprisingly, the debate regarding indulgences was only briefly mentioned in the discussions. In the debate Luther was forced to conclude that Church Councils had the potential to be erroneous in their judgements, which threw into dispute the papal hierarchy’s authority, and set him on his path towards evangelicalism and the formulation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
It seems therefore highly likely that, had the pope offered a reconciliation, Luther would have returned to the doctrine of the established Church. Instead, the Church immediately sought to identify Luther as someone who had strayed from the ‘true way’ and was therefore a heretic; it refused to recognise that Luther had valid complaints which were shared by many across Western Christendom. The 95 Theses could have been taken at face value and used as an avenue to reform, as Luther intended. Instead, the papal hierarchy sought to discredit Luther.
It would not be surprising if, when posting his 95 Theses on the door of the chapel on the 31 October 1517, Luther did not expect a great deal to change. At the time, he obviously did not know what such an act would lead to.
Paul has shared this recipe for Christmas Cookies in accordance with the Revised Translation of the Mass. Enjoy
Serves: You and many.
Having procured one chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar, cream these ingredients, that by their commingling, you may begin to make the dough.
In a similar way, the butter is having been made commingled, with the sugar, beat in one egg.
Gather these dry ingredients to yourself, which you have received, so that, having combined them, you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make: 2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour. 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Make the precious dough with your venerable hands.
Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough, so that it, having been chilled for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and the the cutting of the cookies.
When, in the fullness of time, you are a ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Rolling out the dough and taking up the cookie cutter or stencil of your own choosing, fashion the cookies into forms that are pleasing.
Sprinkle colorful adornments of the cookies like the dewfall.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have jut begun to attain to the brownness that is graciously granted them by the oven’s heat.
May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table whereon they may be served with milk, hot chocolate, or with your spirits.
Leonardo Boff, Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commission
Pope Francis' speeches are not framed either by the doctrines or dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not that he does not appreciate them, but that he understands that they are theological works created during different historical times. Those doctrines and dogmas provoked religious wars, schisms, excommunications, the burning of theologians and women (such as Joan of Arc and the women considered witches) at the stake of the Holy Inquisition. That lasted for several centuries and the author of these lines had a bitter experience in the cubicle where the accused were interrogated in the forbidding building of the former Inquisition, located to the left of the Basilica of Saint Peter.
Pope Francis has engendered a revolution in the thinking of the Church, returning to the praxis of the historical Jesus. He is restoring what is now called "The Tradition of Jesus", that precedes the present Gospels, written 30-40 years after His execution on the cross. The Tradition of Jesus, or as it is also called in The Acts of the Apostles, “the path of Jesus”, is grounded more on values and ideals than on doctrine. The essentials are unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and preference for the poor and the outcast, and a total openness to God the Father. Jesus, to put it bluntly, did not intend to found a new religion. He wanted to teach us how to live. To live with fraternity, solidarity and caring for each other.
Vatican City, 21 January 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father has written a letter, dated 20 December 2014 and published today, to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in which he decrees that from now on, the people chosen for the washing of the feet in the liturgy of Holy Thursday may be selected from all the People of God, and not only men and boys.
The Pope writes to the cardinal that he has for some time reflected on the "rite of the washing of the feet contained in the Liturgy of the Mass in Coena Domini, with the intention of improving the way in which it is performed so that it might express more fully the meaning of Jesus' gesture in the Cenacle, His giving of Himself unto the end for the salvation of the world, His limitless charity".
"After careful consideration", he continues, "I have decided to make a change to the Roman Missal. I therefore decree that the section according to which those persons chosen for the Washing of the feet must be men or boys, so that from now on the Pastors of the Church may choose the participants in the rite from among all the members of the People of God. I also recommend that an adequate explanation of the rite itself be provided to those who are chosen".
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has today published a decree on the aforementioned rite, dated 6 January 2016, the full text of which is published below:
"The reform of the Holy Week, by the decree Maxima Redemptionis nostrae mysteria of November 1955, provides the faculty, where counselled by pastoral motives, to perform the washing of the feet of twelve men during the Mass of the Lord's Supper, after the reading of the Gospel according to John, as if almost to represent Christ's humility and love for His disciples.
In the Roman liturgy this rite was handed down with the name of the Mandatum of the Lord on brotherly charity in accordance with Jesus' words, sung in the Antiphon during the celebration.
In performing this rite, bishops and priests are invited to conform intimately to Christ who 'came not to be served but to serve' and, driven by a love 'to the end', to give His life for the salvation of all humankind.
To manifest the full meaning of the rite to those who participate in it, the Holy Father Francis has seen fit to change the rule by in the Roman Missal (p.300, No. 11) according to which the chosen men are accompanied by the ministers, which must therefore be modified as follows: 'Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers' (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.
This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disipline of the Sacraments, by means of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff, introduces this innovation in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, recalling pastors of their duty to instruct adequately both the chosen faithful and others, so that they may participate in the rite consciously, actively and fruitfully".