Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, recently summarized: „Human dignity and an upright stance face to face with both fellow humans and our loving Creator have been the greatest achievements of the Reformation in regards to our present.”
At the beginning of the Reformation there was this one particular universal question: What should the self dependent Christian stand for and of which standing should he be? Martin Luther found a formula that describes the basis of a society worth living in, even for today’s standards: „A Christian is master of all things and nobody’s servant. A Christian is a subservient servant to everybody and to all things”.
Resulting from his inviolable dignity, his self dependence and self judging is an inevitable obligation towards his fellow human beings. In short: Upright stance and bended knees. Every single one of us is called upon to contribute!
Those who claim the right of judging on their own require keen knowledge, education of the heart and a discourse with all the people around them. Even more important, they are required to know ahead of their decision what they oblige themselves to and what they devote their hearts to. Human beings make the difference – not only during the Reformation, but today and tomorrow.
Martin Luther devoted an image to this mindset: Himself standing in front of the Emperor in Worms in 1521. The vernacular short form says „Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise”. This devotion to standing in for one’s faith and self-belief with a clear conscience and by accepting all disadvantages that may arise from it to oneself – this has been and still is the ideal form of our civil society.
This civil society is based on the participation of a wide range of citizens in the matters of the society they live in. Until the second half of the 16th century there had been one crucial element missing for that to happen: A common language to understand each other’s interests, goals and ways. Luther’s translation of the Bible and all his other texts contributed enormously to the development of a common German language and a vast amount of words created at that time is still enriching our language in the 21st century. In the beginning was the word. And the Reformation made this word German.
In 2017 we are raising awareness of what is our very own significant origin, at the same time making statements on both our mutual present as well as our future.
Stephan Dorgerloh was Minister for Education and Cultural Affairs of the Land Saxony-Anhalt from April 2011 to April 2016 and chairman of the committee for the preparation of the Reformation’s anniversary in 2017