Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 07, 2012

“Junker Jorg” and Martin Luther at Wartburg Castle

As a Lutheran, I like the “tidbits,” the bits and pieces of church history that are most interesting. Many of these concern Martin Luther and the exploits he was forced to undergo, many of which I am sure he would have rather avoided. One of these anecdotes involves the Edict of Worms, which declared Luther a heretic and basically gave anyone the right to kill him --- no questions asked, no punishment meted out. But Luther’s friends and his powerful benefactor Frederick III of Saxony could not bear for such a precocious mind to be silenced unjustly. Long story short: They kidnapped him while he was on his way home, making it look all official, of course, and spirited him away to a hole-in-the-wall castle perched on what must have seemed like the edge of nowhere to Luther. It was called Wartburg.

This venerable old German citadel, considered by some to be the epitome of German castle architecture, was already well over four centuries old when “Junker Jorg,” a quaint bearded fellow who seemed surprisingly out-of-place, began taking up residence there. Perhaps local folks thought this new George fellow was a bit out-of-touch with reality. The junker (German for “knight”) was Martin Luther. Yet while one might be tempted to think that having Luther out of the way for an indeterminate amount of time must have been a great blow to the Protestant Reformation, it ended up being quite beneficial. Sometime in 1521 or 1522, when Luther was thirty-eight, he painstakingly recopied the New Testament, but this time it was not written Greek. It was translated into German.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .’ “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . .” For the first time in history, Germans --- common folk, those who lived by the sweat of their brow and practiced the Christian faith the best they knew, could actually read the New Testament in their mother tongue. I cannot imagine how awe-inspiring that must have been. I do know that, two hundred years later, when my German immigrant ancestors crossed the Atlantic to settle in America, they carried a strong and unshakable faith with them. And their beloved Bibles were their most prized possession.

It was here at Wartburg Castle that Martin Luther also wrote some of his most Protestant works, such as On Confession, Whether the Pope has the Power to Require It. This writing stated that “every Christian is a confessor” and reaffirmed the Lutheran position that we as Protestant Christians may go directly to God with our sins and be forgiven by His grace. If Martin Luther was lonely for actual human company, he was certainly not bored at Wartburg, for between translating the New Testament and writing responses to the current events of which he received news, he certainly had his hands full.

So what do the “Wartburg days” mean to Protestants? The idea of the New Testament in the common language of his own people meant that the New Testament in other languages was sure to follow. We can be sure, knowing Luther’s penchant for thoroughness and personal accountability, that he painstakingly copied each word. Did he have the knowledge of how his actions at Wartburg would affect the world? Did he understand the first coals he was breathing into the Reformation would resonate in Christendom forever? Did he sense that so many future Protestant Christians would read his translations and those that followed? It is doubtful he could have seen so far ahead, but then again, Luther had a gift for insight.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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