95 Theses Redux
Accumulation of Wealth and Proliferation of Poverty
(Reasons for the Growing Gap Between Wealth and Poverty – Repercussions and Solutions)
In 1492, while Columbus was “discovering America” in order to gain riches for European monarchs and himself, Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, a teenager and a member of one of the most influential and wealthy families in the world, moved to Rome to be educated. On March 9, 1513, Giovanni, who was then a deacon, was elected Pope, the first of four popes elected from the Medici family. Six days later he was ordained priest and consecrated as bishop on the next day. He was crowned Pope Leo X on March 19, 1513 at the age of 37 to become arguably the most powerful man in the world.
(During this time, it would not be difficult to envision that 1% of the people in the world controlled 99% of the wealth.)
Within two years after being crowned Pope, Leo X had squandered all the savings of Pope Julius II, his predecessor, which precipitated a financial crisis within the church.
In attempts to recover funds, he sold many items of value belonging to the Church and eventually resorted to selling “indulgences” to sinners. In Catholic theology, an “indulgence” is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment (purgatory) due for sins which have already been forgiven. It is in the form of a piece of paper from the Church. The concept of selling indulgences to poverty-ridden church members in order to raise money for the Church was considered controversial.
In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Alleged abuses in selling and granting indulgences were a major point of contention in the “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, aka the “95 Theses” which Martin Luther nailed to the Door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
The Theses were written as an invitation for scholarly discussions and begins as follows:
“Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter. In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen”
Examples of the Theses:
Thesis 1: Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Editors Note:”repent” or “do penance”), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
Thesis 2: This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
Thesis 86: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”
(Ed Note: Uh-oh! This thesis (Thesis 86) angered Pope Leo X so much that he essentially went to battle over this particular Thesis, thereby changing the course of history)
Throughout history, our religions have been valuable in many areas; providing food and shelter for those in need, healing and solace for those in pain, and a social network to connect people with like beliefs. In some cases, such as took place in the early 1500’s, it could be argued that religion can lose its way, and in most cases it is self-correcting. In the case of Martin Luther, the primary contributing factor to the splitting of the church was the perception that wealth was being accumulated by the powerful, wealthy leader of the faith by extracting money from the poor in exchange for limiting the time spent in purgatory after their demise. This situation, to Doctor Martin Luther, was unfair and, well, un-Christian-like.
What would Martin Luther have to say in if he lived in the US today? Perhaps instead of disputing the efficacy and power of indulgences, he might dispute the power and efficacy of Big Government and Big Business, especially with respect to its impact on fairness, justice, sustainability (of our planet) and the propagation of poverty as opposed to the eradication of poverty.
It is time to use critical thinking to challenge what is taking place in a meaningful dialog. However, unlike the issues of the 1500’s, today the scholarly discussions should focus on the following questions:
What is the current state of humanity in the US and Globally?
Where are we as a group of people?
How did we get to our current state?
How does our lifestyle compare to others?
Is this the current state in which we want to be?
Where do Americans want to be in the next 10 to 25 years?
We need to discuss these things.
How can we get there?” Let’s follow Martin Luther’s approach…
Click on the link below to see what I think should be discussed today in the style that Doctor Martin Luther used in 1517.