Reflections from Europe: The Legacy of Wartburg Castle in Germany
Tuesday April 28, 2020
It was August 25, 2016 – and my husband and I were on Day 13 of our trek through Europe.
Two days before, we had reached the city of Erfurt in Germany, where our dear friends Toby & Diana and their lovely 1½-year-old daughter Martha live and minister with the still-very-Christian German branch of the YMCA.
That day, we were heading outside Erfurt about a one-hour-drive away – to the city of Eisenach and to the Wartburg Castle UNESCO World Heritage site.
But more on our remarkable time there in a moment…
Awhile back, as I was having my daily morning time with God, I came to these words from 1 Peter 1:23-25:
“For you have been born again,
not of perishable seed,
but of imperishable,
through the living and enduring word of God.
All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
As I meditated on these words, I remembered that special day that we spent in Wartburg Castle: the place where Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer of the Roman Catholic Church, spent 11 months in exile as Junker Joerg from 1521-1522 – the place where, among other things, he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into German in 11 weeks. There, at Wartburg Castle, we saw the room and the desk and the chair where this great legacy took place almost 500 years ago!
Martin Luther, in his disillusionment and frustration with the Catholic church and its teachings in his day, and with his own reading and studying of the Scriptures, was one day born again of the imperishable seed of Jesus Christ – and as he came to an ever-deeper understanding of his new birth and freedom and joy, he wanted everyone around him to experience the same. So, hidden for a time in Wartburg Castle by Prince Friedrich the Wise after that momentous day on October 31 of 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses condemning the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany, Luther spent his time working on a new and fresh translation of the New Testament into the vernacular German language of his day – a translation that was then first published in 1522. The complete Luther Bible was published some 12 year later, in 1534 – and, thanks to the then recently invented printing press, quickly became the most well-known, the most widely-circulated and the most influential of translations of the Bible into German. The Luther Bible also contributed significantly to the development of today's modern High German language.
And why was a translation of the Bible into the vernacular German language of his day so important to Luther?
- because he had come to understand that the word of God alone, and not the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church, lives and endures forever – and that through the word of God alone, there is new birth
- because he had come to believe that people, for all their beauty and glory, are like grass that withers and flowers that fade and fall – and that only the word of God stands and endures forever
There, in Wartburg Castle, my husband and I saw first-hand a small part of Martin Luther’s legacy: the place where he sat and worked to make the everlasting Word of God available to all Germans in their own language – where what could have remained “perishable” in a Greek and a Latin that only a very few could understand, became “imperishable” as it was made understandable by all – where many could now hear and read the living and enduring Word of God and comprehend it enough to be born again.
Dear friend: do you realize that you and I (and all our supposed glory as human beings) are really just like withering grass and fading flowers – and that only God’s Word endures forever? Do you understand that it is only through this living Word of the Lord that you can be born again as the apostle Peter mentions - not a physical birth of the perishable seed of your ancestors, but a spiritual birth of the imperishable seed of Jesus Christ?
Today, as I remember our afternoon at Wartburg Castle and as I picture again in my mind the room where Martin Luther slaved over a fresh German translation of the New Testament – I thank God for him and for the legacy he left behind. Through his determined commitment and his untiring efforts, God’s living and enduring Word became accessible and alive and life-changing for the people of his day, and for all generations to come.
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