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There are several peculiarities about the celebrations that are taking place throughout 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, chosen for the purpose of the year-long party as the starting point of the Reformation. First there is the question of whether this, of all Luther's many acts of courage in the face of the might of the Church of Rome, was really the starting point. What about the date of his excommunication, or of his bravura defiance in front of the Diet of Worms, gathered to hear him recant? 

But more significant, surely, is that he didn't nail anything to anywhere.  Nowhere in his writings and discourses does he mention ever wielding a hammer. Yes, he wrote a letter setting out his objections to the sale of indulgences and other misuses of papal authority to his local archbishop, and attached 95 points which he wanted to be the subject of a Church-wide debate.  But nailing? No.  

There have been so many myths - positive and negative - put about by supporters and detractors that Luther the man is today not just obscured, but seen by many in our secular, sceptical times as irrelevant and a bit of a joke.  He most certainly is no such thing. He is one of the makers of our modern world, his championing of individual conscience as vital as ever. 

And that is one starting point for my new book, Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident, published in hardback on March 16 by Hodder and out on October 5 in paperback. Another is the fact that the 500th anniversary party is being jointly organised by the Vatican and the World Lutheran Federation.  Once at daggers drawn - literally in the wars of religion that followed Luther's death - they are now at pains to stress how much they agree on his legacy.  Which, at a time when religion is regularly heard being damned for causing division, hatred and bloodshed, is a hopeful sign that it can also be about reconciliation and forgiveness.

To order your copy, follow this link. Or for dates when I will be talking about Luther, his legacy and the book, look here.


Fundamentalist Reactionary, or Creator of Our Modern World. Listen to a podcast of a Radio 3 debate about Martin Luther at the LSE in which I took part.

© Peter Stanford 2011. All rights reserved.
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