Monday, 30 October 2017

The Hallowe'en Which Changed the World

     Hallowe'en, as everyone ought to know, is All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints' Day, "hallow" being simply an alternative to the word, "holy", which is what the French word "saint" means. The fun and games now celebrated on that day refer back to the Celtic festival of the dead, which the holy day supplanted.
     Five hundred years ago All Saints' Day was a very special day in the German university city of Wittenberg. Its pious ruler, Frederick the Wise had amassed a huge collection of holy relics, including a twig from Moses' burning bush, a piece of bread served at the Last Supper, four hairs of the Virgin Mary, and 19,000 other items of equal undoubted authenticity, each bearing its own indulgence. Indeed, in 1520, three years after the events to be described, when the Pope, in order to gain Frederick's co-operation, increased the indulgences on the collection, anybody who viewed them and made the proper contribution, could gain a reduction from purgatory, for himself or others, of 1,902,202 years and 270 days, assuming the world lasted that long. And the logical day for them to be placed on display would be All Saints' Day.
     But 1517 was different. The day before the display, the University's Master of Sacred Theology, a priest and monk called Martin Luther, sent a letter to his superiors and some friends, which included an invitation to a debate on 95 theses concerning indulgences. (He probably did not nail them to the church door.) All he wanted was a polite debate, but something unexpected happened. Anonymous persons translated the theses into German and started distributing them. Within a month they were all over Germany. The author suddenly found himself thrust to the head of a great movement of spiritual reform which divided Europe and the Church, and for which men would be prepared to die.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A Licence to Steal

     Confession is good for the soul, and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox requirement of frequent confession, in the right hands, would certainly allow the priest scope to teach moral principals to his congregation. One of these, of course, is restitution. As well as seeking God's forgiveness, it is necessary, as far as possible, to seek pardon from the one you have wronged. At least, you should do your best to make amends. In particular, stolen property must be returned. But what if the rightful owner cannot be found, or identified, or the ill-gotten gains are acquired by devious means - short changing, adulterating the product, etc - such that a large number of victims have been cheated of small, and not easily quantifiable sums? Obviously, there are good ways and bad ways to go about it, but in the past some of the practices of the church have been very dubious, to say the least.