The Reformation was a political affair from the very outset. Without protection from the princes who had converted to the new faith, it would have been snuffed out very quickly. By the same token, the princes, middle classes and cities used the Reformation to pursue their own political ends. But the Reformation also had a dramatic impact on the character and mission of politics. The deep cultural implications were hard fought and can be felt to this day. The concept of education as a responsibility of the state, the revised legal status of women and social legislation are now considered a matter of course.
State power and divine rule, authority and individual sovereignty, obedience and freedom of conscience – Church and society have been struggling to find the right balance between these factors and values ever since. The theme year “Reformation and Politics” with its extensive programme shed light on the interplay with politics that characterised the Reformation from the start.
Theme year launch
What better place to launch the theme year “Reformation and Politics” than Augsburg? It is the only Catholic city among the nearly three dozen Luther sites in Germany. It was here that the Protestants professed their faith before the imperial powers in the form of the Confessio Augustana; it was here that the Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555, entitling the prince of a territory to choose the religion for its people.
To commemorate these milestones of the Reformation, the theme year “Reformation and Politics” was opened with a festival service followed by a ceremony in St. Anne’s Church in Augsburg and in the town hall’s Golden Hall on 31 October 2013. Its exhibitions, round tables, conferences and concerts offered many opportunities to examine the relationship between the state and religion.
Special exhibitions: from Altenburg to Rochlitz
The extent to which politics and the Reformation were entwined was demonstrated by the special exhibition “Georg Spalatin – Helmsman of the Reformation”. The Franconian theologian Spalatin (1484–1546) was a trusted advisor to Frederick the Wise and ensured that Luther did not lose the backing of the powerful elector of Saxony. In the East Thuringian town of Altenburg, Spalatin’s last place of residence, thus hosted a large exhibition on the theologian, strategist and friend of Luther’s in the Residence Castle from 18 May to 2 November, displaying around 300 historical exhibits, including three of the completed volumes of the unfinished chronicle of the Electors of Saxony. Due to popular demand the exhibition was continued in a revised form and can still be viewed until late 2017.
The history of the Reformation in Germany is largely perceived as being dominated by men. But the special exhibition “STRONG WOMEN’S History – 500 Years of the Reformation” changed its image as an event solely dominated by men. From 1 May to 31 October 2014 the exhibition at Rochlitz Castle in Saxony pulled Elisabeth of Rochlitz and other strong women of the Reformation era from obscurity. To this end, the organisers opted for modern presentation methods: short films, installations, interactive media, graphics and illustrations introduced visitors to the female face of the Reformation.
From Saxon splendour to the educational parsonage
From 27 to 29 June 2014 the whole of Leipzig was caught up in the Saxon state Kirchentag, in connection with an Evangelical choir festival under the motto “Here I Stand” as the city commemorated the 475 years of the Reformation in Leipzig and the fundamental transformations in Church, society and culture it brought with it. Aspects of this epoch were also a focus of the exhibition at Doberlug Castle: entitled “Prussia and Saxony. Scenes of a Neighbourhood ... Where Prussia Kisses Saxony”, it covered the tumultuous history of the two states.
For centuries, the Evangelical parsonage was of particular importance for German culture as a site of education and culture and an identity-forming centre of Protestantism. How this historical role has transformed was demonstrated by the special exhibition “Life after Luther. A Cultural History of the Evangelical Parsonage” of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. For four months, over 44,000 visitors could learn about the parsonage’s beginnings, development and transformations.
A critical perspective on history
The theme year “Reformation and Politics” was discussed above all in passionate and diverse fashion. What impulses does the Reformation have for modern society? What is its impact? Does politics need Christian values? Who determines our canon of values? And who owns Luther? These were the questions at the centre of the many symposiums, discussions and congresses examining the consequences and significance of the Reformation for politics and society in 2014.
The nationwide contributions to the theme year were characterised by argumentativeness, historical insight and a critical perspective on history. In Nuremberg the conference “The State in Germany and the Evangelical Church” examined the Reformation’s influence on German politics, the first of many other Bavarian events dedicated to the issue. In Berlin top speakers from politics and academia discussed the transformations set in motion by the Reformation under the title “Reformation and Politics – European Paths from the Pre-Modern Period to the Present”. In Düsseldorf the participants of the congress “Reformation and Politics” drew attention to ruptures in German history from the Protestant perspective. In Leipzig on the other hand the focus was on religion and politics today under the title “Here I Stand and Can Do No Other. Power. Religion. Politics”.
Who owns Luther?
“A Luther that doesn’t divide opinion is not Luther.” The symposium “Who Owns Luther?” in Berlin highlighted various sides to the reformer. Renowned scholars from a variety of fields and faiths examined Martin Luther the man and the significance of the Reformation from the perspective of the largest religious communities represented in Germany: Luther in politics, Luther in society, Luther in Christianity, Luther in Judaism and Islam. The audience consisted of students, parliamentarians, representatives of the Evangelical Churches and interested lay people.
One of the essential tasks of the jubilee is to examine the darker sides of the Reformation. In 2014 a controversial topic was the reception of Luther’s treatises on Jews in the Early Modern Period. The reformer’s anti-Jewish attitude and his explicit anti-Jewish statements are a problematic legacy for the Evangelical Church. In the context of the forthcoming anniversary of the Reformation, this discussion has been expanded. Various debates, essays and books have investigated Martin Luther’s attitude towards Judaism. The Scientific Advisory Board of the Luther Decade had been asked by political representatives to provide orientation on the issue, for which it produced the brochure “Die Reformation und die Juden. Eine Orientierung” (The Reformation and the Jews. Orientation).
Jour fixe with Luther
Five years after the Luther Decade began, the state-operated office “Luther 2017” took stock of its programme. A ‘Jour fixe with Luther’ in Berlin provided answers to questions regarding the significance the anniversary of the Reformation will have for the Church, politics and society. The event also introduced a number of impressive state-funded projects from in the lead up to the major event. The theme year covers a broad spectrum, from “Preachers and Citizens” and the Luther Trail through Hessen to the internet portal “The Reformation in Rhineland-Palatinate”. In sum, the “Jour fixe with Luther” was a most impressive presentation on the results of the Luther Decade thus far – and whetted the appetite for more.