|Luther as an Augustinian Monk Lucas Cranach the Elder, 16th century|
On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany. He could no longer tolerate the Catholic practice of collecting indulgences from sinners seeking salvation. Today, Protestants commemorate this event every October 31 as Reformation Day.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the musical voice of the Reformation in the Baroque period, wrote the following cantata for Reformation Day 1725:
God the Lord is sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and honor, He will allow no good to be lacking from the righteous.
2. Aria A
God is our sun and shield!
Therefore this goodness
shall be praised by our grateful heart,
which He protects like His little flock.
For He will protect us from now on,
although the enemy sharpens his arrows
and a vicious hound already barks.
Now let everyone thank God
with hearts, mouths, and hands,
Who does great things
for us and to all ends,
Who has done for us from our mother's wombs
and childhood on
many uncountable good things
and does so still today.
4. Recitative B
Praise God, we know
the right way to blessedness;
for, Jesus, You have revealed it to us through Your word,
therefore Your name shall be praised for all time.
Since, however, many yet
at this time
must labor under a foreign yoke
out of blindness,
ah! then have mercy
also on them graciously,
so that they recognize the right way
and simply call You their Intercessor.
5. Aria (Duet) S B
God, ah God, abandon Your own ones
Let Your word shine brightly for us;
against us the enemy rages,
yet our mouths shall praise You.
Uphold us in the truth,
grant eternal freedom,
to praise Your name
through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thanks be to God!
We can only imagine the apprehension Luther had on posting his objections. At the same time, we can imagine his relief at having this huge burden lifted from him personally and moved into a larger realm. I think this piece by Charles Marie Widor captures not only the joy of such a liberation but also the power that may be unleashed when just one man takes a stand.