Martin Didn’t Have Coffee

According to cherished legend, one late October day in 1517, Martin left his house carrying a piece of parchment, a hammer, and a couple of nails. Who knows what his mood was? Maybe he was happy. His document was an invitation for his university colleagues to meet in a pub and spend a riotous night in rigorous academic debate. At least, that’s what he thought his document was. Maybe he was not happy, because the gray fall skies made him cranky. He was known to be a person of volatile mood. Many of his contemporaries thought if there ever was a poster child for a veritable nutcase, it was definitely him. But they didn’t say so. He was a priest, a doctor of theology, and a university professor. His wit was sharp, and he was not beyond yelling at people who needed a good tongue lashing. Most impressively, he could drink the best of them under the table and still find his way home. However, there is an argument that speaks to his day starting on the grumpy side. He didn’t have any coffee. Unfortunately for Martin, the black brew finds its triumphal entry into German culture only 166 years later. In 1683, the Turks are defeated before Vienna. When the Sultan’s soldiers fled they left behind what many assumed to be camel feed. But one adventurous soul ground the beans into a powder, put them into a filter, and poured boiling water over them. Since that history making moment, the German day starts with coffee. Martin nailed his document to the door of the Castle Church. Maybe the lack of caffeine made his usually adequate hammer skills less accurate. Some linguists speculate he hit his thumb and then bore witness to the fact that the German language seems to be perfect for swearing. Even if that story is speculation, his document gave rise to a lot of profanity. The tractate swept through the Holy Roman Empire like a Tsunami. It took only days until Martin’s document was copied, printed and disseminated. It found its way even into the most remote hovels of the empire. Those who could read, read it. Those who couldn’t read had it read to them. God, the devil, and all the demons of hell were invoked. The medieval church prayed for thunder and lightning to strike Martin down. His ideas did not spark just an academic debate, as he might have hoped. The document sparked an unprecedented uproar that broke the medieval church and plunged Germany into 150 years of religious war. Dr. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and that gave rise to the Reformation. The document criticizes the church for selling salvation. At the time, the church peddled documents called indulgences. For a fee, those documents released the souls of sinners from purgatory. Purgatory is a state of limbo where you burn until you have atoned for your sins. In 95 variations, Martin Luther asks; “if the church has the power to free souls from torture, why wouldn’t she do so for free?” After all, to help someone in need is the obligation of every Christian. The people agreed and started to ask questions. The church heard the questions and tried to avoid an answer, because salvation was not the only product the church sold. They also sold church offices. The Bishop of Mainz had recently bought his office with a gargantuan loan from the Fugger bank. To recoup his investment, the bishop scared the people with hell and eternal torture. But, for a fee, the bishop could help you out. “When the coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs”, rhymed the monk John Tetzel, seller of indulgences extraordinaire. The Reformation freed the people from the God of torture and damnation. Martin discovered a God of love and grace. A God who forgives sins because God loves all people. And the moral of the story is; whenever someone tries to scare you with God’s wrath, with fire and brimstone and eternal punishment, remember: God loves you, no matter what!

Olaf Baumann writes a column for the Peninsula Daily News once a month. The column was published on April 21, 2023. Link to online version: http://Peninsula Daily News › issues-of-faith-martin-didnt-have-coffee

Related Articles

About author View all posts Author website

Olaf Baumann

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 49 = 55