Written by Bradley Bommarito
Roanoke College celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation with a bang, reenacting Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church.
“I wanted a celebration that included music and took place outdoors. It was a commemoration of what happened 500 years ago,” said Dr. Joseph Blaha, associate professor of fine arts and director of bands at Roanoke College.
Dubbed “The Wittenberg Happening,” musicians spread throughout campus began playing the melody to “A Mighty Fortress,” bombarding the old halls with brass as the clock struck noon,. After several plays of the melody, the musicians congregated in the Olin Hall courtyard and the ceremony began.
“The musicians gravitated toward a focal point which represented moving toward the light, or the truth,” said Blaha.
Once the music ceased, an actor dressed as an Augustinian monk walked through the crowd to the side door of the Antrim Chapel. The actor posted a replica of Luther’s 95 Theses to a facsimile of the Wittenberg Cathedral door and exited the area.
“When Luther allegedly posted his theses, he wanted people to read and notice it as soon as it was posted,” said Blaha.
Reverend Chris Bowen, Roanoke’s chaplain, delivered a short address about Martin Luther’s life and legacy. Bowen’s address explored the implications of Luther’s actions and how they inspired a movement that changed the world forever.
“Dr. Blaha invited me to discuss the life and legacy of Martin Luther. I wanted to talk about what moved Luther to take the action he did,” said Bowen, adding “Luther saw a disconnect between the Church’s teachings and actions. He was calling the Church to undergo reform.”
Bowen points out that Luther was not only an advocate for theological reform, he was also an ardent champion of the common people. Luther believed that access to higher education should be expanded to include those outside of the privileged and elite.
“Luther argued that common citizens needed to be educated in order to create a healthy society. We forget sometimes that Luther was a university professor. As an academic, Luther was trying to expand access to higher education while also ensuring that the Church was the best manifestation of the teachings of the Bible,” said Bowen.
Members of the audience were left with a question to ponder.
“Have you ever found something that you’re willing to stand up for?,” asked Bowen, referring to the incredible risk that Luther took by going against the Catholic Church.
“In the face of opposition from people who had much more power and authority than him, Luther refused to recant his theses and writings,” said Bowen.
Bowen is certainly not the only person to make the event resoundingly successful. Blaha notes the key organizational efforts of Ronda Philips, Olin Hall coordinator, and Kate Shortridge, Fine Arts department chair. He is also grateful for Emma Duff’s role as the actor that posted the “theses.” Finally, Blaha would especially like to thank the band members that participated in the event.
Part of a series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the Wittenberg Happening event was just one of many celebrations that have been occurring over the last few months. Several lectures were delivered surrounding this anniversary, and the Roanoke College choir recently performed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Religious leaders and academics such as Bowen and Blaha support such events because they encourage us to reflect on the past in order to understand the present.
“Luther made us more intellectually responsible by promoting literacy among the masses. He was forward thinking by involving the common people in the interpretation of theology. Martin Luther was a flawed human being as we all are, but he used his intellect and reasoning to come up with something so profound that it turned the world upside down,” said Blaha.