UNESCO and Luther’s 95 Theses

Luther 95 Theses. Public Domain.
Luther’s 95 Theses.

Though I am planning a return trip to Wittenberg, Germany, next year to attend and hopefully present a paper at the 2017 Research Consortium of the Refo500 conference on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his 95 theses, tomorrow, March 17, would be an historic day to visit as well. 14 early writings of the Reformation, including a personal copy of Luther’s Hebrew Bible and an original poster of his 95 theses, are are to be officially received into the UNESCO World Register of documentary heritage. The event will take place in the refectory (common room for meals) of the Luther House Wittenberg.

Luther House, Wittenberg. Public Domain.
Luther House, Wittenberg.

The timing of this event is serendipitous. Today, March 16, the day before this event, marks the anniversary of the end of the Fifth Lateran Council in 1517, which was originally called to discuss, in part, the dangers that the new technology of the printing press posed to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the many results of this council was the requirement that a local bishop give permission before the printing of any new book. Only months later, Luther published his 95 theses, an original copy of which is being officially received into the UNESCO World Heritage Register of historical documents that shaped our modern world.

The UNESCO description of the documents:

“The documents recommended here represent the beginning and the early development of the Reformation that Martin Luther initiated and that spread from Wittenberg far beyond the German empire of his time and well beyond his own epoch.  They document how a religious, ecclesiastical impetus exerted its critical power; directing this force toward the revision of traditional positions, and how it gradually developed into larger societal and political phenomenon which made an impact throughout the world.  The selected writings make clear what “Reformation” in this case means.  “Reformation” stands for the many aspects of this process of transformation which, based upon the question of the relationship of the human being with God, determined and altered all levels and elements of society and human life – religion, politics, society, culture.”

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