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Church Days 2017 in Germany - Some Reflections

von Thomas Trautzsch
2017-06-12
I did not know it, but I was working for Venice.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation here in Germany. This, of course, is taken as an opportunity to have big celebrations, especially here in the Region of Middle-Germany around Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. Those are the Regions, where Luther originated from and where he was most active. While the celebrations were going on, one could not get around the fact, that double-standards are deeply troubling the official proceedings in our society today, of which this year's Church Days unfortunately were not spared. I was very tempted to title this article "The Luther Hipocrisy", because that is what the acting of our instutions today comes closest to.

The Luther Hipocrisy Controversy
Martin Luther is celebrated for the most part here in this Region of the World for having "reformed" the Christian Church of Europe and beyond from an inhumane and backward state of the Roman-Catholic Church of the 16th Century. The history, which is taught to us and our children today is displaying Luther as a holy figure having defied the prevailing system of usury and exploitation for the betterment of humanity. What sticks in the memories of most people today is his famous alleged action of pinning his 95 Theses against the practice of "Indulgences Trading" onto the gates of the Castle Church of Wittenberg as well as for the translation of the biblical texts from Latin into German.




Gates of Wittenberg's Castle Church, where Martin Luther allegedly pinned on his 95 Theses. (Image taken from Brochure "Martin Luther - Die 95 Thesen", 2005 Edition Akanthus, Spröda)



Yet, the personality of Martin Luther is not entirely undisputed. The disputes were rarely subject of this year's celebrations of course, where they are for the most part thoroughly avoided.

There is actually only some mention of the fact that even the act of the Pinning of his 95 thesis on Wittenberg's castle church itself is in some dispute today, although the majority of historians believes that it was very likely, as the East-Wing of the castle church was used as a University Church, where every academic could post his theses.

However, to Luther's own amazement his 95 theses in print had been very quickly spread widely across Europe already within less than a month after his alleged pinning action. Around the End of the year 1517 Luther is recorded saying: "for one has never heard, that something like this has happened." in respect to the fact that his theses made it from Wittenberg via Erfurt to Nuremberg, Leipzig, Basel and Rome within the same year, which had only 3 months left. Luther's associate Johannes Mathesius later reported that the 95 theses made it even to Rome, and there, even into all Monastries and Universities within less than a month at the End of 1517. This is quite remarkable given the fact that actually nobody from the cleric and academic bodies in Wittenberg and Erfurt and neither from anywhere else had any interest in going into a public dispute with him over the Indulgence-Trading issue. And yet his writings were spread like a wildfire, … going viral, … to use some more modern terminology. So who helped along the spreading of his writings in such a remarkable speed for this time in history?

It is not very hard to conceive that many academic as well cleric institutions at the time initially recognized that these 95 theses were something explosive. The social pressure due to prolonged poverty and very low living standards of the people in the lower spheres of the prevailing feudal system in Germany and Europe, of which the cleric Indulgence-Trading-Practice was only one characteristic of injustice, was large enough such that they were perceived as a hot enough potatoe to be passed on to the next institution, but not to be spoken or disputed about publicly. Some among those clerics and academics may have recognized the explosivity of the 95 thesis not only in terms of its defiance against the prevailing rule of Rome, but also in terms of what they could mean as a utility of manipulation to Divide and Rule a whole continent.
At the time, there was only one force, which truly mastered this apostatic strategy of cultural warfare to the fullest, because it was directly inherited from their roman oligarchic ancestors, the remnants of which formed the Venician Empire after the decline of the Roman Empire.

With these 95 theses against the practice of "Indulgence-Trading" Luther was doing something in an admittedly very witty way to the Pope and his attached clergy in Rome, which probably would be called "Hard Trolling" today. He basically tried to be initially respectful to the papal authority, but at the same time not only criticized but really turned everyone of the concurrent papal practices concerning the indulgence-trading into the opposite by quoting the gospel and God as the higher authorities above the Pope. Every initial reader at the time must have been immediately aware that a public debate was probably the smallest of things which these writings were going to trigger in the long run.

Academics from Wittenberg had substatiated doubts about Luther's intention when he initially published the 95 theses. Thinking in merely local terms, they claimed that he was publishing them on behalf of the Elector of Saxony, Frederic the Wise, because if the revenue from the indulgence trading was ceasing, it would leave the House of Brandenburg, in a weakened state.

Has anybody ever wondered, how a small and highly polemical theologist from a rather insignificant middle-german town of Wittenberg at the time was able to gather so much attention and traction over all of Europe within such a very short amount of time? Even more so given the fact that he was by far not the only reformer of his time? Is it so fallacious to think that he must have had tremendeous support of some factions within the ranks of nobility right from the beginning, who made it possible for his writings to be distributed in such a vast manner, obviously without Luther himself initially being aware of this? The tremendeous speed at which the pamphlet was distributed in Europe only suggests, that there was already some network of a movement groomed and in place, which took care of a particular interest of its distribution and which was rarely explicable by the mere short-term explosivity of it. It is known that Luther was sponsored by Frederic the Wise, the Elector of Saxony. It is said that he was not so much into Luther's theological approaches, but rather knew how to instrumentalize his opposition to the Clergy in Rome to further the interest of his own principality. Frederic the Wise financially supported and protected Luther through almost all stages of his life. It is also known, that through his close adviser, Georg Spalatin (Burkhardt), Frederic the Wise was entertaining diplomatic exchanges with the Venetians. Allegedly, Georg Spalatin spent about 3 years, from 1499 through 1502 in Venice as an apprentice to the printing press owner Aldus Manutius and also communicating with Manutions via Mutianus Rufus.(Source), or was at least engaged in a written exchange with him. ( Source)

Venice's Influence on the Reformation
It thus appears to be no secret that the Venetians were mostly informed very quickly about the ongoing processes around Luther and what he was up to. The Serenissima Respublica just lost huge swathes of Land some years back in conclusion of the Conflict with the League of Cambrai in 1509, which forced them to revert to another kind of warfare, which they and their ancestors already had cultivated for centuries before. Diplomacy and cultural warfare. The venetians and their oligarchical predecessors have shown throughout the subsequent history of many centuries that they had the power to actively influence and steer cultural and political processes in Europe. Most people today just chose to not recognize it. So how did they do it? By consciously exploiting the weaknesses of one or more societies, explicitely identifying their particular fields of backwardness in order to use these in pitting them against each other. In case of Europe at the beginning of the 16th century, it was the social injustices perpetrated by the Catholic Church of Rome, which by the time perverted the principles of the Renaissance. This is what Venice also did in the case of the Reformation on the European Continent. As a purely oligarchical state, Venice had for the most part been in opposition to the Papacy in Rome, no matter how its condition. Weakening it was always in their interest and after the lost war against the League of Cambrai, playing out all possible strengths against Rome became a matter of survival for them.

The Venetians were the first state entity, which introduced the concept of permanent ambassadors at all of the european courts. They developed very sophisticated means and diplomacy and intelligence networks all across these european nations. The venetian intelligence apparatus under the control of the Council of Ten managed to place their agents on major key positions on European Courts, i.e. as ambassadors, advidors or scholars.




Chamber of the Council of Ten in the Doge's Palace in Venice (Photo by Thomas Trautzsch 2014)



One example was the venetian scholar Francesco Giorgi (Zorzi), who was playing a significant role in the wedding counseling for Englands Henry VIII. He proposed to Henry VIII to apply the Biblical Texts of Leviticus 18:16 for solving his marital problem, as it stated that a marriage between a man and his brother's wife was not allowed, since Catherine of Aragorn was previously married to his brother Arthur. Although this impetus did not lead directly to the desired result, it still contributed to the final achievement at the end, which coincidently turned out to be in Venice's favor, especially as the King of England managed to divorce his 1st wife Catherine of Aragorn and thereby essentially turned against the Papacy. The divorce of this marriage, also broke the links which previously existed between England and Spain's Castile, as it lead to a discord between the English and the Castile Monarchies. However, the begin of the contemporarily occuring reformation also played a not insignificant role in bringing about the divorce because it was instrumental in bringing to the fore the disregard of the canonical law, which was a highly disputed prerequisite for the divorce as well as for the ability of the King to declare himself as the Head of the Church of England and thereby entirely ignoring the authority of the papacy. It has been for these reasons that Henry VIII, who previously had a rather ignorant attitude toward Luther, found him suddenly useful as an instrument for solving his marital problems, and that very much to the delight of the Venetians, as this move was furthering the already ongoing sectarian processes in Europe, which were essential for the maintenance of Venice's powers.

Another venetian figure, more directly attached to the process of the Reformation was Cardinal Gasparo Contarini. Luther's "Turmerlebnis" in Wittenberg in 1516 was in essence almost identical to what Contarini experienced as his personal epiphany a few years earlier. (Source) Basically, the revelation was, that not the good charitable Work matters, by which one attempts to deserve to ascend to the heavens, but the faith and belief, which justifies God's mercy as a gift to everyone. It is just another remarkable feature, that somehow links Luther to a figure of Venice, which coincidently should play a significant role in the failure of the catholics and the protestants to come to an agreement. If one looks very deep and close, one may recognize that all of this did not really occur coincidently. Contarini managed to manipulate the proceedings of the discussion between theologists of both sides at the imperial diet in Regensburg in such a way, that at the end no agreement could be achieved, although initially some accord was already in striking distance. Contarini would later admit in letters to confidents and to the english cardinal Reginald Pole, that the failure of the discourse was "a fortunate incidence for him", and subsequently for Venice. What followed was a series of brutal religous wars in Europe, which split and stifled the continent and destroyed much of the progress, which had been achieved by the renaissance and this very much to the delight of Venice.

Essentially it can be said, that Luther may have had the best intentions, but he was not just the reformating figure, which is romanticized and mainly celebrated today, but actually also a very sad example of an unwitting and stubborn agent and instrument of cultural warfare and geostrategic affairs. He was trapped right from the beginning into networks of Aristotelian Thinking and only seeing one goal of reformation, but not seeing how it and he himself were abused instruments for another geo-political goal and a most brutal conflict-monguering process. We will never quite know, whether he himself was aware of being instrumentalized by the Venetians in such a way, even though he was mostly financed by circles with close contacts to Venice. If he was aware, it would make matters even worse, as he then would have consciously sacrificed the countless death on the european continent due to the subsequent religious wars, which plagued Europe for more than hundred years afterward.

However, Luther was rightfully attacking the backward rule of indulgence-trading and other usurious practices by a catholic Church, which at the time was declining into the principles of oligarchy and leaving those principles, which enabled the renaissance. But he did obviously fail to notice that his reformation plans played in the hands of the oligarchical faction opposing the one in Rome. Unlike his contemporary Erasmus of Rotterdam, who made it a virtue to not being sponsored by some noble factions, Luther did not at all seem to have a problem with that and it did not seem as if he was questioning this condition in a way, that would allow the conclusion, that his ideas and notions may be instrumentalized and abused. Today, we celebrate the Reformation as progress and we honor the cost of human life's it bore, but we never ask the question, how it would have been, if a revolutionary figure like Luther at the same time had understood the destructive potential of his plans if it was exploited by a warring oligarchical party, before he willingly accepted their help and sponsorship, which came at a very high price not for Luther himself, but for hundreds of thousands of other people who died in the subsequent conflicts. And it is impossible to say, that Luther hadn't been warned about this.

Moderate classical voices, like the one of Erasmus of Rotterdam were ridiculed by the reformers at the time. If the world would have taken the moderate route as it was proposed by Erasmus' "Via Media" (the middle way) at the time, the necessary changes, probably would have taken longer to have become effective. After all it was commonly understood that the Reforms proposed by Luther were very necessary and urgent. Yet the way in which to bring these changes about was highly disputed and it seems that Erasmus of Rotterdam had a much more profound understanding about the forces Luther was trying play with, and which at the end were playing with him. From the perspective of Erasmus the tail was wagging the dog in Luther's case. A letter dating 1524 to Philip Melanchthon is giving clear testimony about this:

"I know nothing of your church; at the very least it contains people who will, I fear, overturn the whole system and drive the princes into using force to restrain good men and bad alike. The gospel, the word of God, faith, Christ, and Holy Spirit – these words are always on their lips; look at their lives and they speak quite another language." (Source)

Luther's Antisemtitism and today's refugee crisis

From some point on, when it was convenient for the sake of protecting the Reformation Process, Martin Luther was an outspoken anti-semite, openly despising the Religion of Judaism and arguing for the expulsion of the Jews from the german part of the Empire. This even caused the Nazis to find him useful as a historic figure some 400 years later, when the german catholic as well as the german protestant Church themselves went through one of their darkest chapters in history, as they both too easily supported the Nazis very quickly. (Source). It is remarkable, that this feature of the reformation and its revolutionary figure is celebrated without commemorating this fact sufficiently enough today and leaves the impression on those unwitting that the Reformation was exclusively born out of genuine goodwill, which it was truly not entirely, as it was pointed out above. One must really wonder, how the Church, which today rightfully defends the refugee-welcome line can celebrate a man, who was determined to expell jews from his nation and basically turn them subsequently into refugees. No public institutional figure, neither of the church, nor of the political body were seriously discussing these issues, but rather chose to conveniently ignore it.

Today, Europe is confronted with a massive Refugee problem, the nature of which bears not only the characteristics of the humanistic helping side of it, but also seriously jeopardizes the very fabric of the entire European Society and the national security of all its nations. -- As I am writing this, news just reaches us, that another terrorist attack has hit the area around London's Tower Bridge. --

The humanistic Core of Christianity commands to help people in despair and perhaps even take own suffering into account for it. This is what Christ taught to the people and this is the principle which most sane people, who are pondering the half-truth of the "Refugees welcome" line are adhering to. Many politicians from the left side of the political spectrum, are trying to instrumentalize the refugee crisis for making a not entirely invalid point about social solidarity and "Internationalism", which they appear to support as a kind of a secret desire for a COMINTERN 2.0, which comes with names as DIEM25 etc today. However, rarely has someone of these institutions asked the question for the real reasons, why these people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen were becoming refugees at the 1st place. Hardly is it mentioned that the major root cause for this refugee problems are the colonial and neo-colonial control mechanisms, which are devised by the West for centuries now to keep these regions from developing and to ensure easy access to their natural resources. Wars for natural resources by a conscious instrumentalization of the ethnic and religious conflicts in those Regions are publicly dismissed and stigmatized as something like a conspiracy theory. History, even more recent modern history, has proven already many times that the interference into the affairs of middle eastern countries by foreign governments and their intelligence services was and is a reality. But these kind of discussions are mostly avoided, because it does not seem to be opportune to engage in this, especially at a public event like the Church Days. And this is one major reason why the Church Days increasingly is perceived as hipocritical, because it fails to effectively address root causes and principles instead of effects and perceptions, which is typical for aristotelian thinking.

Thus, it is not really a surprise that with a growing awareness in the population about these issues, the degree of being fed-up with these double-standards and the indirect public insult of people's intelligence leads to an increasing form of resistance, which also found some exemplary expression at this year's Church Days in Berlin, when an unknown heckler interrupted a minute of silence, which was dedicated to those victims among the refugees, who died on their route to Europe. His words as they can be heard in the video below were as follows:

"I will not be silent! What happens here is injustice and a hipocrisy! WHY are the people taking refuge? Because they are miserable, where they are. Why are the people in Africa miserable? Because the West is exploiting Africa. The Arab Spring Revolutions were controlled revolutions. The admission of refugees into Germany is against the constitution, article 16a. It is injustice what happens here ….. [becomes inaudible]"





"I will not be silent …



People just don't want to take this hipocrisy any longer and increasingly are willing to move out of their own comfort zones to display their dissent for the way current politics handle the situation.

Even more appalling was the fact, that the former american president Barack Obama was invited to give a speech at the Church Days in Berlin. Obama gave a speech in which he was mostly apologetic about his own presidency, which many peace-loving people regard as a total failure. Barack Obama is a narcissistically troubled man, who made more extensive use of illegal drone warfare than all three of his predecessors together and thereby killing thousands of innocent civilians in the Middle-East. Did anyone at the Church Days confront him with these facts? Did anyone from either the catholic or the protestant church propose a silent minute for those drone victims? Did anyone propose a silent minute for all the other civilian victims of illegal US-american military and covert interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen and also in Ukraine? Did anyone do that in front of the former president of the most war-monguerous state in the world today? No, … no representative did that publically. The Church is being dishonest and hipocritical and bowing as much to oligarchical interests as politicians do, be it because of naivity, stupidity or plain cowardness.




(Photo taken from kirche-und-leben.de)



It is not to be denied that many many people in both the churches in Germany are doing good and tireless work for many peace projects and humanitarian projects, most of which the public probably never even has heard of. Yet, what is transported into the pubic as an image of the Church does not reflect this good side, but rather it sadly reflects more some kind of an aristotelian pop culture today, which operates completely outside of the framework of solutions for the real root causes of the problems our societies face today. It is tragic if populist sensations triumph over principle and it will lead to failure.





"I will not be silent …



The Self-Assessment by an orthodox Bishop saved my day
The only event, which was triggering some interest to me in my hometown in Jena was a talk by an orthodox priest from St. Petersburg. His name was Vladimir Fjodorov and he is a Bishop from St. Petersburg's Prince Vladimir Cathedral. As I had heard from friends and colleagues before, the russian orthodoxy has a problem with some backwardness itself and given all the hipocrisy and the self-adulation that I had witnessed from the german catholics and protestants along this venue, I was in for some more diplomatic excuses for the obvious failure. But to my surprise, the orthodox bishop was very open about these things and admitted that the orthodoxy in Russia has some trouble in combining traditional and modern values. He also revealed that many of the troubling questions within the orthodoxy stem from the condition, that it is also highly divided and troubled with infights about the right of determination of the meaning of various rules.




Bishop Vladimir Fjodorov of St. Petersburg's Prince Vladimir Cathedral



According to his statement there are only 3-4% real seriously practicing orthodox believers in Russia, while the majority of Russians relates to the Orthodoxy as a cultural identity and not as a religion. He gave a fair and unbiased account of the development, which Russia went through when going from being an Empire of the Tsar, via a Soviet-Republic to a democracy in its childhood stages. He also warned that in his view it can be dangerous, when the Orthodoxy as a religion is utilized by politics to craft a national fabric. The clear message he was giving was, that there needs to be more dialogue for creating understanding and cooperation among the various nations and the religions should be intermediaries for achieving this instead of being at each others throats for purely traditional reasons. He puts a lot of hope in the younger generations in achieving this. I was secretly thanking the man for his plain and simple words of truth, because he really saved my 2017 Church Day Experience.

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Thomas Trautzsch   
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