MARTIN LUTHER, POPE FRANCIS AND PRINTING –
A CAUTIONARY TRANSPARTISAN TALE
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
October 31, 2016, 499 years to the date after Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church, Pope Francis traveled to Lutheran Sweden, to recognize Luther and lead off a yearlong acknowledgement of the Protestant Reformation that divided Christianity into feuding sects.
NPR reports that Gerard O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, says the pope’s participation in commemorating the Reformation is proof of the extraordinary change in Catholic-Lutheran relations.
“A recognition,” it says, that “perhaps, both sides missed something at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church missed ways of reforming itself. Luther and those around him pressed in a way that just couldn’t be taken on board, so, in a way, both sides misspoke.”
They “misspoke” in a way that led to more than 130 years of unremitting warfare, concluding in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War. How we fight affects ordinary lives as much, and perhaps more, than what we fight.
Andrew Pettegree of Scotland’s St Andrews University writes on the history of communication. His book, Brand Luther, a reviewer says, tells “a story about Luther’s relationship to media fruitful for reflection on our own time of massive changes in how people come to see what they see and know what they know and finally to believe what they believe.”
Today we live in the midst of another media revolution altering how we come to believe what we believe. Printers fed off Luther’s pamphleteering battle with his critics. They made fortunes publishing both sides. Those who hold the coats and take the bets come out the real winners.
In 1801, at the first inaugural in the still-under-construction city of Washington, DC, Thomas Jefferson said “…let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
Transpartisan sensibilities may help us navigate the treacherous road ahead. Much in the world besides our Presidential election will shape our future. Let’s avoid misspeaking.