500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, legend has it Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, an act that marked the beginning of the Reformation. With his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, the trade in indulgences and papal splendour, Martin Luther set limits not just on ecclesiastical, but also on worldly power.
Today, 500 years later, we look back on this man on the eve of modernity who made so many contributions to the development of modern society. It was Luther and the other reformers that provided the impetus for our present-day understanding of freedom, education and coexistence. This includes the right to get things wrong, which also applies to Luther himself. Many of his statements cannot be considered exemplary. In particular, we distance ourselves from Luther’s anti-Jewish statements.
When we celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation over the coming months, it is not just a Church event. Precisely because the Reformation had far-reaching theological, cultural and political consequences that can be felt beyond the borders of Germany and Europe to this day, its anniversary is also an event with a foreign policy dimension. In a world that seems to be unravelling due to crises and conflicts, it is worth taking a closer look at questions related to the Reformation concerning religion and order, faith and peace.
Outside of Europe, the USA is the country that has been shaped most by the Reformation. The foundation and self-understanding of the United States are based on reformatory principles such as the separation of Church and state, religious tolerance and religious freedom and the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower Compact, the first democratic code on American soil. The Enlightenment and the concept of liberty connect us to the United States to this day.
Hence I am all the more delighted that with the support of the Federal Foreign Office two outstanding exhibition projects have been staged at different locations in the USA since October 2016: “Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach” with masterpieces from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich, and “Here I Stand” under the auspices of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, on the life and work of Luther.
So that they are not limited to the USA, there is the poster exhibition “#hereIstand”, which can be ordered worldwide from www.here-i-stand.com, with seven chapters of infographics shedding light on the life of Martin Luther, his times and the Reformation.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been President of Germany since March 2017. Before that, he held the office Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany between December 2013 and January 2017. He wrote this piece in his latter function.