Luther’s Reformation shows importance of communication

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The upcoming October 31 anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation shows the importance of accurate communications – and the consequences of poor communications.

When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, he did not take issue with the Catholic religion. His concerns were with the abuses of Catholic clergy. It would be no slur against the Catholic Church to say that he was right.

The upcoming October 31 anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation shows the importance of accurate communications – and the consequences of poor communications.

When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, he did not take issue with the Catholic religion. His concerns were with the abuses of Catholic clergy. It would be no slur against the Catholic Church to say that he was right.

The splits of the Catholic Church include not only Martin Luther’s Reformation and the Roman/Orthodox schism of 1054 but also Catholic antipopes, or illegitimate claimants to the Papacy.

When the two most recent popes were selected the announcement of their selection and coronation as Pope was on television and the internet worldwide within minutes of the white smoke, and in newspapers worldwide the following day.

Before the invention of the printing press, however, bishops and priests were on their honor to report the true Papal selection – and the man who said he was the bishop was on his honor that he was the actual appointment from the Holy See.

Today when the Pope issues an encyclical, it is posted on the Web and printed copies are mass-produced for worldwide distribution, and today a priest or bishop who contradicts Papal teaching is either hailed as a visionary or condemned as a rogue cleric.

In Martin Luther’s day, learning that a bishop or priest contradicted actual church teaching would require someone with actual knowledge of Papal doctrine to be present when the dissent was spoken.

Splits in Christianity were inevitable due to the lack of communication at the time.

Jesus told his Apostles to spread the Gospel throughout the world, not to contain it to where accurate communication could be maintained.

Whether one believes in the Jewish Old Testament, the Christian New Testament, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or Darwin’s Origin of the Species, it is easier to proclaim one’s faith than to translate it into the Ephesian, Galatian, Philippian or Thessalonian vernacular.

Divisions in Christianity existed even before the completion of the Bible; Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chastises them for arguing about whose church was superior and advises them to consider themselves all brothers in Christ.

In 325 the Nicene Council established three Christian patriarchies: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.

The patriarchies of Constantinople and Jerusalem were added to the original three at the Second Ecumenical Council which took place in 381.

Geography made the Patriarchy of Rome the most likely to be corrupted.

The territory of the Bishop of Rome extended from the Mediterranean to the British Isles and Scandinavia, and conveying messages from Rome to northern Europe meant crossing the Alps with pre-Renaissance technology.  Primogeniture, where the oldest surviving son inherited the entire estate and other surviving children received nothing, was more prevalent in western Europe so the second-born or third-born son often became a priest because he would not inherit any of the estate rather than because of a devotion to religious teaching.

That created priests loyal to the interests of their families rather than to the church. The lack of controls against subversive behavior from the parish level to the antipope thus made abuses inevitable.

The desire of German princes to break away from the Vatican led to the creation of the Lutheran Church, but Martin Luther’s objective was the accuracy of church teaching rather than political power.

English monarch Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church because the Pope would not grant him an annulment from Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII founded the Church of England and proclaimed himself the supreme head of the Church of England.

Thomas More was executed for refusing to sign a statement of the king’s supreme church status as was Bishop John Fisher, the only Bishop in England who refused to sign that claim.

If every bishop in England except one sided with his king rather than his church, the abuses were even greater than Martin Luther addressed.

In 1431 Jeanne d’Arc, who in some English-language documents is referred to as Joan of Arc, was tried by the Bishop of Rouen for heresy. Her defense was that there is the church as a hierarchy and the church as an institution. The Bishop of Rouen, as part of the hierarchy, condemned Jeanne d’Arc as a heretic and had her burned at the stake. Her friends and family sought an exoneration, and in 1456 a Papal exoneration was issued.

In 1920 Pope Benedict XV canonized Jeanne d’Arc as a Catholic saint.

Martin Luther essentially stated what Jeanne d’Arc stated: the church hierarchy is not the institution itself.

The canonization of Jeanne d’Arc should prove that taking issue with a portion of the church hierarchy which contradicts church teaching is not unacceptable Catholic behavior. The secular activities of 1920 included KDKA in Pittsburgh becoming the first commercial radio station.  This meant that the Pope could broadcast his message directly to the public and ensured instant accurate communication.

The demographics of America’s Lutheran church made radio attractive to reach those whose transportation constraints prevented church attendance, and in 1930 the Lutheran Layman’s League began the Lutheran Hour broadcasts as well as the concept of televangelism with the emphasis on the telecommunications rather than on the evangelism.

The anniversary of the Reformation should not be construed negatively against either the Catholic Church or Martin Luther.

It should prove the necessity for accurate communications.

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