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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 April 2018
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 APRIL 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS and Changed the World greets me over the phone; "Yiasou Patritha", (health to your homeland), Greeks carry 'homeland' on our shoulders. Eric Metaxas is a New Yorker E of Greek German background. "I loved your An Atheist in Greek Easter," he says about an old piece I had sent to him in the lead-up to this interview. "I'm cultural Orthodox but a non-believer," I say. "In Greek Orthodoxy all become Christian at baptism and thus you're not compelled to be a Christian anyway," he responds. "Yep, Greek first," I add and he laughs. Metaxas' biography of Martin Luther, the man who took on the Catholic Church in the 16th century and transformed society, is indispensable reading. Luther's activism ignited much reform in western Europe including anti-slavery and many of the world's social justice movements. The book unfolds like an epic historical drama; each chapter compels you to the next. Luther begins with a retelling of how an 'African-American pastor' Michael King from Georgia, made a 'trip of a lifetime across the Atlantic Ocean' to the Holy Land then to Berlin in 1934. Michael King was so inspired by Martin Luther's struggle against Rome's injustice that he took on his name. Martin Luther King renamed his son Martin Luther King Junior. Like Luther taking on Rome, Dr King Junior peacefully sought to dismantle the system of racial segregation under the Jim Crow (racial segregation) laws in the US’ deep south. A cause he ultimately paid for with his life 50 years ago. Luther starts as an irritating young priest. He is obsessed with denying himself. So much so, that he drives his superiors nuts as he confesses for every thought. This theology wonk, through enquiry, transformed into a major intellectual force, a prolific writer, and a leader in the charge against a corrupt Catholic empire. If not for some good burghers in Germany and progressive lords, Rome would have burned Luther on the stake very early. "Luther also tapped into an emerging German identity, under the yoke of the Catholic Church," says Metaxas. Luther, a provincial German priest, appealed the Pope in 1517 to stop the practice of squeezing 'indulgences' from parishioners as ‘down payments’ on heaven. Describing Tetzel, a Dominican priest selling 'indulgences' ric Metaxas author of Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God Eric Metaxas’ on his biography of Martin Luther, the controversial man who took on the Catholic Church and transformed society Metaxas reveals pure graft: “And so Tetzel now arrived in Jüterborg, just 20 miles from Wittenberg, to set up his papally-sanctioned medicine show. What he was selling now made snake oil cure-all portions seem like fresh fruits and vegetables. Indeed it was so fabulous and so extraordinary that people hauled themselves from many miles around to hear him and not just to hear him but to throw money at him, that they might get something if a what he was offering, which, to cut to the chase, was heaven itself.” Catholic officials added new indulgences by which parishioners could petition God to limit the time their dead loved ones spent in purgatory. This was the last straw for Luther, and in response he mailed his Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences to the two bishops who were responsible for indulgences in 1517. "He had no idea what he unleashed. "He wanted to respectfully bring to the attention of the Pope corrupt and non-authentic practices," Metaxas says. Luther's petition in Latin Vulgar (common speech) was translated into German. Gutenberg's invention, the printing press, ensured pamphlets in German would be distributed to many ordinary people. "No copyright protection meant Luther himself had no idea how far his polite protests to the Pope had reached, nor how they were being translated," adds Metaxas. "The printing press was the social media in its time, it was a revolution in communications," he adds. Luther's revolution is, to me the beginning of secularisation, the spark that separated the church and state. "It could be argued that once people are free to believe without needing a priest [that] can lead to secularisation. "This the price of free will," Metaxas says. "You are now free to make the wrong choice, and you use the freedom to do the right things," says Metaxas. Catholic hierarchy was locked onto Aristotelian rationalism, a hindrance for Luther. "Luther, an expert in Greek philosophy, didn't like that Aristotle implies that truth is something we can reach through reason alone. "Luther's view of the Bible is that the truth of God stands behind reason, reason only takes [us] so far," says Metaxas.
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