I watched the excellent 2003 film “Luther” last night, and it is fitting I saw it so close to the worldwide theatrical release of Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code.” For the past several weeks, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the issues raised by Brown in his book, as well as some issues people are NOT talking about much relating to the history of the Catholic Church and the Church of Rome.

Let me first say I will be writing in greater depth about the book “The Da Vinci Code” after I finish reading another book I highly recommend on this topic, “Breaking The DaVinci Code: Answers To The Questions Everyone’s Asking” by Dr. Darrell Bock. I do not mean here to take up many of the essential questions of Brown’s book which are very important to consider: Who was Jesus, Who was Mary Magdalene, how were the 4 Gospels selected along with the rest of the Canon, etc?

What I do want to briefly reflect on is how amazing the work of Martin Luther was not only in the history of Christendom, but in the history of the world. It amazes me to consider it was less than 500 years ago (1517) when Luther nailed his list of 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and less than 500 years since Luther completed the first German translation of the Bible– considered to be an act of defiance (in the day) against the Church of Rome. I certainly do NOT agree with or condone Luther’s later anti-Jewish writings, but I do respect his courage in facing the church authorities of his day and acting bravely to expand the literacy and theological knowledge of not only the German people but the entire world through the movement that become the Protestant Reformation.

I find it interesting that few defenders of Christianity, in light of Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code,” seem to be acknowledging historical Roman Catholic church errors like the selling of indulgences, which Luther so ardently opposed. I will write more on this later, but in addition to recognizing the huge errors of fact and logic which Brown advances through his fictional work about Jesus Christ and early church history, I think it IS important to recognize the ridiculously off-course and destructive historical mistakes of the Catholic Church. These seem to be ignored by many in their writings about the movie and book “The Da Vinci Code,” which really is an attack of sorts on the core ideas of Christianity. I would include in this list of “historical Catholic Church errors” The Inquisition as well as the selling of indulgences, which among other things DID fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Dan Brown accurately points this out in “Angels and Demons”, if I am remembering his text correctly.

Again, it is amazing to think that most of the people of our planet lived for fifteen centuries without having a written Bible in their own language ready at hand, which they could read, understand, interpret, and apply daily to their lives. Instead, the Word of God was shared through the Roman Catholic Church and through its priests, who alone were ordained to read, interpret, and share the Bible with the masses. What an incredible shift it was to have printing presses available that could not only widely distribute the ideas of Luther contained in his 95 Theses as well as other writings, but also (and more importantly) share copies of the Bible itself in language the people could understand.

Speaking for myself, I do not think I adequately comprehend the HUGE shift in idea sharing and communication which is represented today by the Internet. The fact that I am able to write this blog and share my thoughts with a global, worldwide audience without the permission or blessing of ANYONE– church or governmental authorities– is shocking to an extreme degree. We have had a printed Bible in “common languages” for less than 500 years. Less than 500 years! And look what has happened to publishing and idea sharing in just the last 10 years! The differences are staggering, and I think the implications will be equally tremendous.

I highly recommend the movie “Luther,” which we rented (as we rent all all our movies now) through Netflix. If you watch it, take time to reflect on the amazing differences between the literacy levels of most people today and then– and especially the ACCESS TO LITERACY which so many more people today enjoy. Certainly we have a long way to go– even here in the United States we still have many “savage inequalities” that must be addressed– but the tools we have at our disposal to encourage and develop literacy abilities among the citizens of (and immigrants to) our nations is unprecedented. Not only that, the tools we have to advance agendas of educational, social, and political change are staggering not only in their power– but also their wide accessibility.

Like it was for Luther, our sword can be our words. Our challenge to advance the cause of universal literacy is nothing less than a noble mission, with both high stakes and immeasurable rewards. I wonder what Luther would say, were he alive, about the ideological access we both enjoy and struggle to deal with today? Certainly it has both a good side and a dark side, even as the sharing of his 95 Theses did almost 500 years ago. But the opening of the human mind to the possibilities invited by the skills of literacy– and the opportunity to seek and find Truth– are of breathtaking value that I think few would deny. I think Luther would be both amazed and excited at the scope, scale and possibilities available for content publishers today.

And yes, I also think he would be blogging. 🙂

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2 Responses to Luther, the Reformation, and the publication of ideas that matter

  1. JB says:

    As a Christian I find it fascinating that this book and now movie have stirred such debate and controversy. It seems that there are many, many more issues that we should focus our faith upon.

    I look forward to the movie as I found the book to be a fun and thrill packed ride through a semi fictional history.

  2. Wesley —

    I appreciate the great detail you went into in this post to discuss some aspects of the history of the Catholic Church — especially as it relates to Luther and the impact of the printing press (specifically Gutenberg’s press) on literacy and the teaching of Church doctrine.

    I mentioned this information briefly this week when I went off on a tangent in one of my posts — I moved into a short discussion of the Church’s reaction to the mass production of books (burning them) and the Church’s reaction to Luther’s actions (excommunicating him and denouncing his ideas) and then compared this book burning/information control to the current situation that we are experiencing with banning and blocking of social networks/blogs in our schools.

    I believe that future generations will look back on this time in history in much the same way that we look back on the Rennaissance — a time of great expansion in knowledge-sharing and content development… perhaps even a time of (eventually) great shifts in power as a result of knowledge acquisition.

    One thing that readers may not be aware of — and something that I didn’t mention in my post: Until the great shift in literacy as a result of the development of the printing press and mass book production — the Church relied on VISUAL images to teach their doctrine to the illiterate masses. Most of the artists that we are familiar with from the medieval and Rennaissance periods were financially backed by the Church and this is why so much artwork from that time period depicts religious subject matter. I don’t recall if Brown mentions that in Da Vinci Code.

    And — I also think that Luther would be blogging if he were alive today 🙂

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