The legacy of Martin Luther

As Gregor Kupper noticed in his introduction to yesterday’s conference, people often mistake Martin Luther, German professor of theology, composer, priest, and monk of the 16th century, with the 1950s American Baptist minister. Nonetheless, yesterday night at Press Club there was no doubt on who was the focus of the conversation. The conference, in fact, was centred on the German monk who, in the 16th century, challenged the monolithical establishment of the Roman Church, starting the Protestant movement and adopting a different approach to faith and to the sacred book itself. The soirée aimed to  analyze the legacy of Martin Luther, underlining the relevance of his teaching today, 500 years later.

The panelists present, who offered different points of view and analysis on the topic, were: Dr. David Courey, Dean of Graduate Studies and History Professor at the Continental Theological Seminary, Brussels; Anne-Joelle Philippart, Accreditation & Quality Manager at HEC Management School – University of Liege; and Rev. Daniel Costanza, Pastor at Christian Center Brussels and Executive Director of the Pentecostal European Fellowship. Although not all of them were Protestant, they all shared a common interest for Luther and a strong religious belief that, in a way, monopolized the conversation and offered a unanimous point of view. Although interesting, the conference could have used a more laic approach, focused more on the history and sociological impact of Luther’s achievement in society, stressing more the changes adopted and the repercussions on today’s lifestyle and religion, rather than personal belief.

Dr Courey started the session, affirming that Martin Luther for him is a model, the human representation of the end of the dark ages and the beginning of the modern era. The monk revolutioned the approach to the Bible, translating the text from Latin to German and printing it, making it more present and accessible for the believers. In this way, he gave back power to the single man, to the individual, reshaping his relation with society and religion. What before was an anonymous element of a group, of a crowd, was now more affirmed and independent, and could have a deeper and more direct access to his faith, with less intermediaries or obstacles. For Dr Courey, Luther had the incredible courage to stand up in front of the system, adopting fundamental changes that would have consistently change people’s approach to the Church. He acknowledged the power of the human conscience, for which no one can be compelled to believe or act in a certain way, when faith is involved.

Anne-Joelle Philippart adopted a more personal and sociological approach to the topic, observing how Luther seized the perfect moment for his reform. He acted in a time in which the invention of the printing system and the growing accessibility to knowledge through universities made it possible to people to get closer to the sacred text and develop a more personal and deep reading of its meaning. Philippart underlined how fundamental this trait was, and still is, in the comparison of the Catholic and Protestant approaches: she believes that the Protestant faith quite supports the debating or the critical reading of the texts, inviting people to interpret the Bible by themselves, questioning its books. For Anne-Joelle, these elements make the faith itself and the relationship with religion stronger and healthier, since the believer has to actively work to develop and enrich his or her own commitment.

Lastly, the Reverend Daniel Costanza described the impact Martin Luther had on his personal life, remembering how his name and achievements marked his adult life. The Reverend remembered once again how fundamental Luther’s idea has been in reshaping the approach and understanding of the Bible. He noted that it has been a simple, but revolutionary idea translating the text and making it more available for the population. That has given to common people the power to stand up in front of the Church and “speak the truth of god”, affirming a more personal and direct contact with the supernatural entity.

The conference did not focus too much on Martin Luther’s impact on nowadays society, and did not go too much in depth on his legacy and impact on today’s life. Nonetheless, it offered some food for though and definitively triggered curiosity towards the achievements and ideas of Martin Luther.