REFORMATION DAY (from the Lutheran calendar)

On the Eve of All Saints, Day, October 31, 1517, Augustinian Father
Doctor Martin Luther, professor of Scripture at the University of
Wittenberg, Germany posted an invitation to debate on the door of the
Wittenberg Cathedral. The invitation to debate contained ninety-five
points, or theses, concerning the sale of indulgences. Luther chose
this date for posting his theses because the coming holyday would bring
many of the community to services, ensuring that his statements would
receive wide exposure.

In the preceding months Albert, Archbishop of Mainz had authorized
Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences (a paper declaring
that the deceased person for whom it had been purchased had received
total forgiveness of sins and therefore a release from Purgatory) in
order to finance the construction of St. Peter,s basilica. Tetzel is
alleged to have declared "as soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the
soul from Purgatory springs.

At the same time, Luther had been engaged in intensive study of the
scriptures in search of his own spiritual peace. He found tremendous
relief in "the just shall live by faith. This principle of
justification by faith became the positive argument underlying the
ninety-five theses.

Because the theses were a direct challenge to the Papacy--and to the
economic system enriching the Papal treasury--the reaction was swift and
severe. The Pope initiated proceedings to have Luther tried for
heresy; proceedings that very likely would have led to his execution.
Luther--with the support of the Wittenberg faculty--appealed to elector
Frederick III of Saxony for protection.

Although Luther did not intend to begin a separate Church, such was the
unavoidable consequence of his challenge. By 1530 Germany was divided
between communities loyal to the Pope and those following the reforms
initiated by Luther.

For many years Reformation Day was celebrated in Lutheran congregations
as a sort of rebirth of the Church. In more recent years ecumenical
progress has caused some to be embarrassed by the celebration of the
first schism of Western Christianity. The alternative title
"Reformationi/Reconciliation Day has been proposed although that has
not been widely adopted.

On Reformation Day 1999, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of
Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman
Catholic Church was publicly signed in Wittenberg. "Together we
declare: by faith alone is the centerpiece of this expression of
ecumenical convergence.

The appointed lessons for the day (often transferred by Lutherans to the
preceding Sunday) point not only to the historical situation but also to
the Church,s constant need for ongoing renewal. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells
of the coming New Covenant where God will write His law on every human
heart. Romans 3:19-28 declares the central tenet of the Reformation
"we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law..
John 8:31-36 enjoins us to be constant in the Word in order to be freed
by the One who is Truth.

And since the law is not yet perfectly inscribed on every heart and all
are not yet fully devoted to the Word, the task of Reformation is not
yet complete. Ecclesia semper Reformata--the Church is always

Written by Rev. J. Thomas Shelley, STS


Almighty God, gracious Father, pour out your Holy Spirit upon your
faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your Word, protect and comfort
them in all temptations, defend them against all their enemies, and
on the Church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and