Monday, November 9, 2015

Luther's Big Bang

Der lutherische Urknall; Die Franzosen und die Deutschen (The French and the Germans) is a recent book by Martin Graff. Having been a perfectly bilingual Lutheran pastor by education in Alsace Graff by and by became a radio speaker, author, film maker, and political comedian. He is well known here in Freiburg as Gedankenschmuggler (a smuggler of thoughts) writing a periodic column in the Badische Zeitung (BZ) in a mixed German-French idiom. I like his wit and foresight in particular when he holds a mirror up to his compatriots and to us the neighboring Germans.

When Graff's new book was announced I was not sure whether to buy it. However, on the last day in September a review in the BZ got me excited when the author mentions that Graff regards Luther's Protestantism as a precursor of liberty, a statement difficult for me to swallow.

I left my breakfast table and walked downtown to buy the book. The two biggest booksellers did not have it in stock but before I ordered the book at Amazon's I found one copy in a small bookshop on Bertoldstraße. Already on the streetcar I started reading the introduction and was fascinated. This intriguing book about post-war French-German history brings back old memories of milestones in the relationship between our two countries. Graff supports his text with ample German and French citations.

Now, having finished the book I must admit that there are many repetitions but what disconcerted me all the time was that Graff keeps criticizing the political system and situation in France more than that in Germany. Comparing President François Hollande's appeals with President Joachim Gauck's speeches simply is not fair since the first is governing France while the second is just a figurehead according to our constitution. By the way, Joachim Gauck too changed profession from a Lutheran pastor to Germany's Federal President.

The founder of the French Socialist Party Jean Jaurès had once called Luther père de la liberté (Father of liberty) and Graff is heavily biased being a Lutheran pastor. However, what Luther really had asked for was that anybody is authorized to read God's Words in the Bible. A layman does not require a Catholic priest to enter in contact with God when Luther states Sola fides, sola gratia (Only the belief leads to grace). While the German Protestants emancipated themselves from Pope and Curia they have however remained political subjects and did not become citizens.

According to Graff the modern citizens of France are not better off than the Germans before 1919. Although France is the fatherland of human rights (Was this not the United States?) it is in reality only the home of their declaration. According to Graff France's present political hierarchical structure just mirrors the old Church hierarchy.

Luther, was he the father of liberty? Having published in 1517 his 95 thesis against the indulgence trade Luther had to fight many disputes with no positive results. In 1520 threaded by ban and proscription Luther had his back to the wall and played his last trump card. He published his treatise An den Christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation). To this paper he added his Gravamina (grievences) addressing the nobility: Wie kommen wir Deutschen dortzu, das wir solche reuberey, schinderey unserer güter von dem babst leyden mussen? hat das kunigreich zu Franckreich sichs erweret, warumb lassen wir Deutschen uns alszo narren und effen? (How come that we Germans must suffer robbery and drudgery of our goods by the pope? The French Kingdom successfully faught against. Why are we Germans fooled and "aped"?). It was Luther's financial argument that eventually convinced Germany's local rulers.

In fact, the political influence of the Catholic Church in France was always less than in German territories. In 1635 Cardinal Richelieux, a prince of the Roman Church, even went so far arguing that the interests of a state and of religion are totally different. It was the beginning of the separation of throne and altar in France. Richelieu wrote: A state must follow Christian principles but a state is a polity without an immortal soul and may therefore do things that simple Christians are not allowed to do. The salvation of human beings becomes true in the afterlife, however states will perish with this world meaning their well-being is now or never. Louis XIV's absolute monarchy became emancipated when the young monarch ousted Cardinal Mazarin in 1651 taking the reins of the kingdom in his own hands.

Luther considered all authorities as being enacted by God. Are authorities bad then they must be regarded as a divine punishment, as a spiritual examination of the people. Such a situation does by no means justify neither riotous assemblies nor revolts being the work of the devil (niemalen rotterey noch aufruhr, denn die sind Teufelswerk).

Against the Catholic Church Luther needed all the support of the local princes who had become Protestant. In the absence of a hierarchical structure for the New Church Luther made the princes defenders of the Protestant faith creating the unfortunate association of Throne and Altar that has poisoned German politics until the bitter defeat of the 2nd Reich in 1918. One of the poets of the German Revolution, Ludwig Börne, sarcastically concluded already in 1849 that the Reformation became consumptive so the German liberty subsequently died of tuberculosis with Luther being the undertaker.

Luther the father of liberty?

No comments:

Post a Comment