It is difficult to say exactly which ones were on display that day, but certainly with such things floating about, a place as prestigious as Wittenberg at that time would have hopefully had some good exhibits. It certainly would have been an educational field trip for the children of that time, to see the multiple skulls of John the Baptist, supposedly they even had his skull from childhood, as well as the one from when he was an adult…Whatever, explain that one.
At some point during the day one of the teachers at the town’s university walked through the crowd and pounded a piece of paper to the door of the church, where he also preached. It was not an uncommon thing to do, the church door was an accepted notice board for statements and events that people needed to know.
In the old black and white film Martin Luther, in this scene a parishioner goes to the door, but quickly returns to his seat, telling a friend that it is just “something in Latin.” But that something in Latin wasn’t just anything in Latin. Penned by Martin Luther, the 95 thesis would be called various things, including the piece of paper that knocked off the crown of the pope.
In them, Luther denounced Indulgences, relics, etc. The church at that time, a thing that often spread terror just by its very name, began from that day to crumble. And crumbling led to teetering, and teetering led to the eventual fall of the Holy Roman Empire. And soon after, the entire face of the planet forever. The church is still there of course. Perhaps it always will be. But it is a much kinder institution. No more thumb screws if you don’t agree with them. No more racks and bloody horsemen chasing people down for anything that could be labeled “heresy.”
And of course, on the other side of the coin, the Reformation began. John Calvin was only seven or eight years old. John Knox was even younger. But the ideas that Martin Luther put forth that day, the idea that the church was not all, were, in their time, truly frightening, and horrifying to many, as evidenced by the scrambled replies by many other clerics.
The Reformation would last a long time, and change many things. By the time Luther’s spark had finished its work, the New World was established, the king’s had mostly fallen, and the world was finally growing up. Of course, Luther could not know everything that would happen as a result of his nailing 95 ideas to a door of a church in a language that most people of the time could not even read. But certainly he must have known that it was something big, something revolutionary. For Luther, and as it would turn out for many other people as well, October 31, 1517 shaped up to be a truly frightening Halloween.
Andrew C. Abbott