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Reformation Blues

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This year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (since Luther posted his 95 Theses on Halloween, 1517).  On the 10th anniversary in 1527, Protestants all over Europe were gearing up to celebrate their newfound freedom in Christ.  Meanwhile, Martin Luther had entered a depression so deep, his best friend Philip Melancthon thought Luther was going to die.  This depression was a sort of cycle in Luther’s life, but in 1527, he was tormented by an inner voice asking, “Du bist allein Klug?  You alone know everything?”  He wondered if it was all a sham, and all his surety in leading the Protestant Reformation was nothing more than a blasphemous deception of the devil to destroy the church.  Luther described these depths of the soul as his Anfechtungen, which we would call the Dark Night of the Soul.  Luther went from grace alone to feeling just…alone.  A total absence of God.  Luther would take comfort in Christian companionship, in the assurance of baptism and the healing power of the Eucharist, in the joy of music, in the distraction of wrestling.  He said, “Having been taught by experience I can say how you ought to restore your spirit when you suffer from spiritual depression. When you are assailed by gloom, despair, or a troubled conscience, you should eat, drink, and talk with others. If you can find help from yourself by thinking of a girl, do so.”  He also offered: “Copious drinking benefits me when I am in this condition…” with the addendum: “But I would not advise a young person to drink more because this might stimulate his sexual desire. In short, abstinence is beneficial for some and a drinking bout for others.”

These times of Anfechtungen would help Luther to enrich his theology of the cross, of a suffering God who suffered the cross for us all.  He saw them as trials to lead his soul to distinguish between the lying voice of satan, and the Truth of God.  For satan is no equal to God, and therefore, is doomed by the power of Christ’s cross.  Towards the end of 1527, Luther would pen these words, sung by millions ever since:  “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.”

Read more at this excellent article by Chris Armstrong on his website:

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