So here it is, almost Reformation Day, and in fact, it is Reformation Day. This day celebrates the day that Martin Luther dressed up as an Augustinian monk on Halloween and went down to the local bulletin-board—on the door of the church, as it happened—and tacked up a bunch of questions for the guys to consider the next time they got together for beers. Well, more or less.
In fact, that is not so very different from what happened, though there are a great many party-poopers—who professionally work as historians—that question whether Martin nailed anything to a bulletin board, or anywhere else. But, to be sure, a number of questions were proposed for academic disputation, and things steamrollered on from that point.
From this you could take any number of lessons, I suppose. You could observe, piously, that there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. You might say, thoughtfully, that an honest question has tremendous potential to disturb everybody’s peace and quiet. Or, angrily, that he should have kept his damn mouth shut.
That last was never going to happen, ever. But for the rest of his life, Luther remained amazed that so much should have happened from such a small beginning, and from such a man as he. By the side of his deathbed, decades later, was a paper on which he had scratched, “Wir sind bettler, das ist wahr.” “We are beggars, this is true.” One of the great proofs of the power of God for Luther was that He had taken the voice of a beggar, and made it loud enough to shake Popes and Emperors.
In the process, he took young man Luther—gaunt, ascetic, burning, driven—and transformed him into fat Doctor Luther—eyes placid, fat now padding those ascetic bones, belly full of beer and home-cooking. You can see no greater reversal of medieval values than the transformation of the monk Luther, anxious for God’s grace, into Doctor Luther, Katie’s husband, content now to live a simple life within the hands of a gracious God.