Germany, East and West, to mark Luther's 500th
Martin Luther's inheritors are already planning how to honor the great reformer's 500th anniversary, which occurs just 20 months hence. The Worms City Museum will display printed and handwritten works by Luther and his contemporaries.
The city of Nuremberg will sponsor seminars and symposiums about Luther's effect on both West and East Germany.
All over Germany, Lutheran churches will seek to rededicate themselves to the vision of the son of a peasant miner turned monk turned founder of Protestantism.
Luther made his most revolutionary breaks with the past in what is now East Germany - posting his 95 theses to the doors of the Wittemberg Castle church, - translating the New Testament into vernacular German in the security of the Wartburg Castle, overlooking the rolling Thuringian forests. The East German Lutheran Church, with government approval, will celebrate the anniversary exhaustively and publish scholarly new editions of Luther's writings.
Luther's sojourn in what is now West Germany also saw important waymarks in his development, however. It was in Worms that he faced the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the six electors, and part of the Estates, then the full session of the Diet, then the three-day interrogation by a committee of mixed friends and foes.
''Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics,'' charged Archbishop Eck of Trier at Worms. ''How will the Jews, how will the Turks, exult to hear Christians discussing whether they have been wrong all these years! Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture ?''
Luther remained firm: ''Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.''
The secular Diet condemned him for heresy: ''He makes the sacraments depend on the faith of the recipient,'' the Edict of Worms declared. ''His teaching makes for rebellion, division, war, murder, robbery, arson, and the collapse of Christendom. . . . We have labored with him, but he recognizes only the authority of Scripture, which he interprets in his own sense. . . . His followers are to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man.''
Burned, his books could be. Eradicated from memory, they could not be. It was on his return trip from Worms to Wittemberg that Frederick the Wise arranged to have Luther kidnapped and spirited away to the deserted Wartburg Castle to begin his translation of the Bible, that every German might read Scripture for himself.
The catechism followed, then the liturgy and hymnbook with its ringing ''Ein' Feste Burg'' (''A Mighty Fortress is Our God''). By 1530 the Augsburg Confession had sealed the split of Europe into Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. Northern Germany became Lutheran, as it is to this day. Southern Germany remained Roman Catholic, apart from the Lutheran cities of Augsburg, Ulm, Nuremberg. The medieval unities were forever shattered.
All this history will be remembered, come 1983. But beyond that, ecumenical discussion groups will wrestle with Luther's heritage. The Lutheran synod will convene in Worms on Luther's birthday to consider - in common with the Lutheran church in East Germany - the injunction to ''fear, love, and trust God above all things.''
The biennial Lutheran meeting in Hannover will also contemplate Luther's meaning for the present day. And every Lutheran church will consider anew Luther's ''propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit'' in his early ''Treatise on Christian Liberty'': ''A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
''A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.'