Yeah, everybody knows 31 October is the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door and started the Reformation. Everybody knows it's Halloween too. What does this mean?
What does "Halloween" mean?
start with Halloween. The word is a contraction actually, the "een"
being short for "even" which is in turn short for "evening".
Evening of what? Evening before the Hallows, that's what. So what or
who in the hell are the hallows? "Hallow" is the modern English
form of a Germanic root word meaning "holy", which also survives in
modern German as "heilige". The Hallows are the holy ones, meaning
1 November has for centuries been
celebrated in the West as the Feast of All Hallows, cognate with the
German word for it, Allerheiligen, which is now usually expressed
in English as the Feast of All Saints. The term Hallowmas was once
common for it, the mass of all hallows. Halloween then is a
contraction for the Eve of the Feast of All Hallows, the night on 31
October before the feast on 1 November.
only other times you hear "hallow" in some form or other in modern
English is its retained use in the traditional wording of the Our
Father, "hallowed be thy name", or in the phrase "hallowed halls"
in reference to a university or some esteemed institution. "Hallowed
be thy name" literally means held holy be thy name, "thy" being the
second person familiar form of address modern English doesn't use.
The Origin of All Saints' Day. Lemuralia.
when did we start having a Feast of All Hallows on 1 November?
Well, we started having a Feast of All Hallows, or Saints, before it
was on 1 November. In the Eastern Church, all the saints are
collectively remembered on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It
really got rolling when the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Leo
VI (886-911) built a church in honour of his wife when she died, but
as she was not a recognised saint he dedicated the church to all
the saints, so that she would be included in a commemoration of all
saints whether recognised as such or not.
Western Church, the whole thing got rolling when Pope Boniface IV
got permission in 609 AD from the Roman emperor Phocas -- again this
would be the Eastern Roman Emperor, as the Western Roman Empire was
long gone by this time -- to rededicate the Roman Pantheon to Mary
and all martyrs. What's the Pantheon? A big temple built by Agrippa,
Caesar Augustus' best general officer, to Jupiter, Venus and Mars
in 27 BC. It was destroyed in a major fire in Rome in 80 AD. The
emperor Domitian rebuilt it, but it burned again in 110 AD. The
emperor Trajan began reconstruction and it was completed by the
emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. That's the building that's there now.
rededicated the Pantheon to Mary and all martyrs on 13 May 609
(might have been 610) AD. Why 13 May? Because it was on that day
that the old Roman Lemuralia concluded. What's a Lemuralia? The
Roman poet Ovid says it originated when Romulus, one of the
co-founders of Rome and from whom the city is named, tried to calm
the spirit of his brother Remus, the other co-founder. Why would
Remus' spirit need calming? Because Romulus killed him with a shovel
to make sure he didn't name and rule the city, that's why.
any rate, over time it became the day, or rather days, there were
three of them, 9, 11, and 13 May, when the head of the household
(the paterfamilias, father of the family) chased off the lemures
(one lemur, two or more lemures) who were vengeful spirits of the
dead ticked off at the living, for either not having been buried
properly or treated well in life, or remembered well in death, and out
to harm or at least scare the crap out of the living.
they appeared so scary, they were also called larvae (one larva,
two or more larvae) meaning "masks", which is also how the "mask" of
early stage life in some animals nothing like the adult stage, such
as the caterpillar to the butterfly, came to be called larva.
Anyway, paterfamilias went out at midnight looking to one side and
tossing black beans behind him saying "haec ego mitto his redimo
meque meosque fabis", or "I send these (beans), with these I redeem
me and mine" nine times. Then, he banged bronze pots to-gether
saying "manes exite paterni" or "Souls of my ancestors, exit" nine
Western All Saints' Day Gets Moved By The Pope. Samhain.
putting the Feast of All Saints on 13 May, Boniface meant to both
replace the old Lemuralia and transform it into a Christian
observance for all the Christian dead. The replacement anyway
worked, and over time the Lemuralia were largely forgotten. So why
isn't All Saints' Day still 13 May? Because Pope Gregory III
(731-741), btw a Syrian and to date the last pope not a European,
built a place in St Peter's -- the old one begun by Constantine, not
the one there now, remember that, it'll pop up later -- in Rome for
veneration of relics of all saints, and moved the date to 1
November. It stuck, and in 835 Louis the Pious, son and successor to
Charlemagne (aka Karl der Grosse), with a big nudge from Pope
Gregory IV, made it officially stuck and there it is to this day.
is, there already was another non Christian celebration about this
time. The Celts had something called Samhain, which means "Summer's
end" and is still the word for November in Irish, as two other of
their big celebrations, Bealtaine and Lunasa, are the Irish words
for May and August. It was a harvest festival, but also included the
realisation that Winter is coming and thus grain and meat for the
season for people and livestock alike is prepared, the bones of the
slaughtered animals thrown into bone fires, which is now contracted
to bonfires, from which the whole community lighted its individual
home fires. Also it was thought the world of the living and the dead
intersected on this date, and the dead could cause damage to the
living, so the living wore costumes to look like the dead or appease
them or confuse them and minimise the potential damage. Your
original trick or treat.
So a feast that started
out to replace or transform one pagan observance involving the dead
ends up on another, first Roman then Celtic. So whadda we got? A
supposedly Christian celebration that's just a non-Christian one with
a Christian veneer over it? Well, to some extent, yes. The mistake
would be to see this as the whole story. Judas Priest, we ain't even
got to the Reformation yet, howzat figure into all this? And how
come Luther's out there nailing stuff to the church door on
Halloween? Was he trick or treating or something?
to the general idea, guess what, people die, Christian or non
Christian, and the people they leave behind feel the loss and want to
remember them. Hardly surprising that Christians would want to do
that, hell, everybody does, and that's why there's remembrances of
various kinds in cultures all over the world. Given the Christian
knowledge of salvation from sin and death by the merit of the death
and resurrection of Jesus, a commemoration of those who have passed
from this life to the joy of that salvation in God's presence would
even more suggest itself, and show the fulfillment of a universal
human inkling with all its folklore in the revelation of the Gospel.
IOW, if anyone ought to commemorate their dead, it's Christians who
know God's revealed truth as to what death, and life both here and
beyond, is all about.
But, as we've seen, it's easy
to get confused again, get drawn back into the folklore, begin to
evolve a sort of hybrid of truth and the guesswork expressed in the
folklore, and confuse that for Christianity itself. As an example,
remember old Gregory III setting up a place to venerate relics in St
Peter's? Why would one venerate something from the body of a dead
Christian? Is there even the slightest suggestion of such a practice,
or it having any merit, in the Bible? No. Luther mentioned there
are many things which even if they began with a good intent
originally become so clouded with the sort of thing we manufacture for
ourselves in folklore that the intent is long since lost.
What Is An Indulgence?
is an indulgence anyway? It has nothing to do with forgiveness of
sin, and we'll see in a minute doesn't have bupkis to do with
Purgatory either. In Roman Catholic thinking, a sin may indeed be
forgiven, but, consequences remain for punishment. Some sins are so
serious that, if one does them knowing they are serious yet freely
deciding to, the rejection of God is so complete that it is mortal to
the life of the soul, for which reason they are called mortal sins,
and the punishment and consequence is eternal if there is no
But, even if one repents and is forgiven
for a mortal sin, it's still like most sins which aren't so
serious, called venial sins, where the punishment is not eternal loss
of life but temporal, the sin reflects an attachment to some part of
God's creation over God himself, and one must undertake the removal
of that attachment to creatures rather than the Creator through
works of mercy, charity, penance, prayer and the like; one must
undertake the sanctification, the making holy, of himself, and the
problem is, while this may be done over time, you may die before you
have enough time here. Hence Purgatory, where the process begun
here is completed if you die before completing it here and "walk
right in" as they used to say.
But good news! Not
good news as is the Gospel; if that were understood we wouldn't even
be into this nonsense, but guess what, you don't actually have to
do all this cleansing and sanctifying yourself. There's a whole
treasury of merit from Jesus and the saints, and just as one's sins
affect others, so since we're all members of the body of Christ the
church, the merit of Christ and the saints can affect others too, and
the church, given the power to bind and loose on Earth and it will
be bound or loosed in Heaven, can apply that merit to other members,
not to forgive the sin but reduce the temporal consequences needing
sanctification, and that application is tied to various pious
things you do, like say venerating a relic.
crap that's a lot of thinking! I guess the message that by HIS
stripes, meaning the marks of his suffering, we are healed, that he
redeemed us like a coupon, paying the price, taking the punishment
we are due for us, is just too good to really be true, so we tack
all these human thinkings-through onto it to make it more palatable
to our understanding.
St Peter's, Luther, and Tetzel.
back to this church that's been standing in Rome for over 1000
years through lots of stuff good and bad and is in pretty bad shape,
but given as Constantine started it you kind of don't demolish
stuff like that, so whaddya do? Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) was the
first guy to think yeah maybe you do either completely rebuild it or
tear it down and build a new one. He had some plans drawn up but
died before much was actually done. Finally Pope Julius II
(1503-1513), the one just before Leo X to whom Luther addressed "The
Freedom of the Christian", laid the cornerstone for the new St
Peter's in 1506.
Costs a lot of money, and Julius
liked building stuff. The project was begun 18 April 1506 and
wouldn't be completed until 18 November 1626 when Pope Urban VIII
dedicated the church. Funding was to be provided in part by selling
indulgences. Facilitating this was Albrecht, or Albert. von
Hohenzollern, who became archbishop of Magdeburg at age 23 in 1513 and
bought himself election to the powerful post of archbishop of Mainz
in 1514. To pay for it he got a HUGE loan from Jakob Fugger. Don't
laugh at the name, he was a serious, serious dude, banker to
everyone who mattered. He loaned Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg
Confession was presented, most of the money to buy being elected Holy
Roman Emperor, for example.
Albrecht then got
permission from Pope Leo X to sell indulgences to pay the loan off
as long as half was sent to Rome to pay for St Peter's. A Fugger
agent tended the money, and Albrecht got his top salesman in a damn
Domincan (friars are always suspect; if they were up to any good
they'd have been proper monks like the Benedictines, everybody knows
that) named Johann Tetzel.
When the gold in the coffer rings,
the soul from Purgatory springs.
Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt,
Die Seele aus dem Fegefeuer springt!
even RCC theology, as Cardinal Cajetan later said. Now, it would be
overly simplistic to the point of just plain false to ascribe
Luther's posting of the 95 Theses to Tetzel and that famous jingle.
The sources, the depth, the background of what led to the Reformation
go much deeper than that -- which is why I spent all that time on
all that ancient stuff. This had been coming for a long, long, time,
centuries of it. Tetzel died a broken man, shunned by all sides, and
while Luther fought him strenuously, as he lay dying Luther wrote
him a personal letter saying the troubles were not of his making,
that that child had a different father, as Luther put it.
us Lutherans to-day to not understand what that different father
was would be false to our Lutheran Reformation and to Luther
himself. What do we really have here? A misunderstanding (Luther) in
reaction to a misunderstanding (Tetzel and indulgences and the late
mediaeval papacy) which once the misunderstandings are cleared up,
maybe issue a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification or
something, the whole thing is resolved and we're one big happy
family again? No, and in the words of the great theologian Chris
Rock, hell no.
like to call the problem one of justification versus
sanctification. What does this mean? Sanctify, to make sanctus,
which is the Latin word for holy, right back where we started.
Justify, to make justus, which is the Latin word for just. How can a
person be just before God if he is not holy? Well, he can't. It
gets worse. Not only can he not be just before God if he is not
holy, there is no amount of time and works that will make him holy
enough to be just before God. It gets worse yet. That's even when
God calls out a people and gives them his Law to show them exactly
what he wants, and sends prophet after prophet to get them back on
But having shown us that with the Law, it
gets better with the Gospel, which is just a contraction of old
English words for good news. And the good news is this, that he has
himself done for us what we could not do for ourselves, which is,
fulfill the Law on our behalf, taking the punishment we deserve on
himself and paying our debt, thus literally redeeming us. Turns out
those human inklings were on to something but couldn't grasp what.
Salvation is by works, but the works of Jesus, not us; our salvation
is by faith in the merit of Jesus, that as he took our sin and it
was credited to him though sinless, we take on his holiness and it
is credited to us though we are unholy.
utterly simple. What then, we are to do no works at all? Not in the
least. We are to do good works; we are not to trust in them for our
salvation in any part but to trust wholly in his. This too is utterly
simple. It's our sinfulness that wants to make it complicated,
figure our works have just got to have something to do with it, and
mix that in with the good news of salvation through faith in the
works of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and come up with a
sort-of good news where it's all him, except that it's you in there
too with some punishment to work off and holiness to attain.
do indulgences become a corruption of the Gospel and obscure it,
whether they are sold or not. Thus does so much else become a
corruption of the Gospel and obscure it -- the office of holy ministry
becomes a priesthood, celebration of those who have gone before us
in faith become another spirit/ancestor thing, the church itself
becomes a part of the state, doing good works because we are saved
becomes doing good works in order to be saved, on and on.
worst of all in that the mass, or Divine Service as we often call
it, becomes no longer first his gift of his word to us through the
transformed synagogue service of prayer, Scripture reading and
preaching and then his gift of the same body and blood given for us
now given to us as the pledge of our salvation and his testament to us
his heirs, but a work to be done and effective not through the
power of his word to do what it says by simply by having worked the
Reformation Day. Reformationstag.
so on 31 October 1517 Father Martin Luther posted his document on
the door of a church in Wittenberg. The title was Disputatio pro
declaratione virtutis indulgentiaru, If that sounds like Latin it's
because it is. It was an invitation to a formal moderated academic event
called a Disputation, in which a statement or statements are argued
to be true or false by reference to an established written
authority, such as, in religion, the Bible.
church was All Saints Church in Wittenberg -- hey, the all saints
thing again! -- which was and is commonly called the Schlosskirche,
or castle church, as distinct from the Stadtkirche, or town church,
of St Mary. It was built by Frederick III, called The Wise, who was
the Elector of Saxony, one of the seven who elected Holy Roman
Emperors. He also founded the University of Wittenberg in 1502, in
which Luther was a professor of theology, and attached the castle
church to it as the university's chapel.
was awarded the Doctor of Theology degree by the university on 19
October 1512 and two days later became a member of the theological
faculty there with the position Doctor In Bible. The "95 Theses" as
they are commonly called were written therefore in the academic
language, Latin, rather than the language of the land, German,
because it was an academic document calling for the academic event
called a disputatio, or Disputation.
So he wasn't
out trick or treating, All Saints Church had a huge collection of
relics of the saints, thousands of them, collected by Frederick, and
veneration of them was one way to earn an indulgence, for which
purpose they were put on display once a year. You get 100 days
indulgence per relic. By 1520 Frederick had over 19,000 of them, and
taking that as a round number, (19K x 100)/365 is 5,205 years and
some change. Now, the "days" are not, as is often thought, time off
from Purgatory; it is time off from what would otherwise have to be
punishment here on Earth, therefore shortening one's stay in
Purgatory, where there are no earthly days, to complete what was not
completed here in earth.
Holy crap that's a lot of
thinking! Oh yeah, we've been there before. Now we see how out of
hand it was, and also see that the out of hand thing isn't the worst
part, you can curb the out of hand stuff, and it is now largely
curbed even in the RCC, but the worst part remains, the near total
eclipse made of the good news of salvation in the Gospel, getting
justification and sanctification all mixed up.
the power and efficacy of indulgences was the surface of a much
deeper problem, the obscuring of the Gospel and the perversion of the
church's mission to spread it and minister its sacraments, those
gifts of grace, grace coming from the Latin for "free", gratis, from
Christ himself, in Baptism and the Eucharist.
A Quick Look East.
the Eastern Church isn't off the hook here; while this indulgence
thing was a Western thing and there is no equivalent to the remission
of temporal punishment for sin in the Eastern Church, there was the
practice of absolution certificates, which in some places did lift
punishments but primarily were issued by the Greek Orthodox
Patriarch of Jerusalem to pilgrims there and were distributed
abroad, which absolved the sins of whoever bought them -- as
distinct from an indulgence which does not absolve sin but remits
punishment due to forgiven sins, which if they're forgiven then why
is there still punishment, holy crap brace yourself for a lot of
thinking -- and the proceeds paid for the heavy costs, including
taxes, of maintaining the shrines in the Holy Land. Even worse than
indulgences, or at least just as bad, technical differences
know what? The Disputation the 95 Theses called for was never held.
Something much better happened. It's called the Lutheran
Reformation, in which no new church was started, but the one church,
the church that has been there all along, the church that will be
there all along, the only church there will ever be, was reformed
where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly
administered after the institution of Christ rather than that plus a
hell of a lot of thinking that added all sorts of emendations by
This reformation was at the risk of life in
the beginning from the powers that be. Thankfully those times are
over, but as with the indulgences themselves, it is not that itself
which is the main thing, but the Gospel for which it was done. We
celebrate this great working of the Holy Spirit, in reforming the
church against both pressures to maintain the old errors and pressures
to take the Reformation into further errors, on 31 October,
Reformation Day, whether it's
Sunday or not, until recently. As if something for which our
Lutheran fathers risked literally everything needs to be moved for
the convenience of us who benefit from it to the nearest Sunday to
make it easier and therefore get more numbers. Any of us need police
protection to safely move about as Lutherans that moving it to
Sunday will change?
Thanks be to God for the reformation of his church!
And Happy Halloween while you're at it. Happy All Saints Day (Allerheiligen) too!
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