*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 6th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on this, the 6th of October in 1520 that the small book “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” by Martin Luther was published. If the 95 Theses in 1517 were a shot across the bow of the Roman Catholic Church, this book 3 years later was a direct hit. In fact, when Luther was called to the Diet of Worms and told to recant- this was the work that was of primary concern.
Luther had been excommunicated by the Catholic church earlier in the year and his gloves came off. I am reminded of Al Pacino in the courtroom in the scene from “And Justice For All” when he starts shouting “you’re out of order, you’re out of order, the whole courtroom is out of order”. “On the Babylonian Captivity is Luther’s “Pacino” moment. And how does he do this? He goes after the sacramental system of Rome.
Now, if you’re a Protestant the arguments made in this work might not surprise you at all. Luther uses the Bible to make his case but more importantly argues that the authority of the church- especially the Pope and tradition- has erred. But Luther is no longer satisfied to argue to agree to disagree- in this work he claims the Papacy is Antichrist.
2 Things: Yes, deciding someone is the antichrist- whether it be Nero, Gorbachev, Tom Brady, or the Pope happens all the time. And Luther was an apocalyptic cat unafraid to throw down the apocalyptic claim. But his claim is a little more sophisticated than mere name-calling. His argument is that if someone, in this case, the Pope, holds back the grace of God offered fully in Christ, they are acting contra, or anti-, Christ.
If you are a Protestant, however, you might be surprised by how many Sacraments this book lists. Each section deals with one of the 7 sacraments of Rome which had been established in 1213- they are: There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing the Sick, Holy Orders, Matrimony.
Luther argues that only 3 of those were Sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist, and Penance.
Penance- or what you might know as “confession and absolution” is absolutely central to Luther’s early thought. The individual convicted of Sin by the Holy Spirit and longing to hear the promise of Christ was the very personal and pastoral issue that Luther wanted to hit home. He is also quite adamant that Communion be celebrated in “both kinds”- that is, with bread and wine. For years only the bread was administered… it’s a long story for another time.
This work is important for Luther as it marks his big break with Rome post-ex-communication (It reads almost like “you can’t fire me, I quit!). It is typical of Luther’s writing in that it is written quite forcefully and simply. It is pastoral in tone and deals with the individual’s conscience in relation to their forgiveness as it pertains to the sacramental system which he argues has been corrupted by the authorities. It is perhaps ironic that it was first published in Latin, but Luther wanted the whole church community to read this, not just his fellow Germans.
Along with the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and On the Freedom of the Christian this work was one of the famous “Three Treatises” of 1520 that would cement Luther as an exile and opponent of the church as well as an expositor of the faith for those who found themselves in similar angst. On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” by Martin Luther was published on this, the 6th of October in 1520.
The last word for today comes from Psalm 137- a poetic recounting of the actual Babylonian Exile:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who, just when he thought he was out… they pull him back in, he is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who invites you to say hello to my little friend, except it’s my chihuahua: Pedro.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.