On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 arguments he had concerning teachings and people in the church. He attached the list to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Saxony, because that’s what university faculty did in those days. Sort of like all the different concert, lecture, and debate listings plastered all over campi today.
Except this turned out to be more controversial than usual, and Luther was stubborn as all get out. And so was the Pope, and politics got folded in, and today we have, well, more flavors of Western Christianity than Carter has liver pills. The Eastern Orthodox consider all of us sadly misguided, some more than others. The Jews look at all Christians and shrug.
The Western Church had gone through periods of reform in the past. Gregory the Great pushed missions and pulled charitable works back into the center of Church business – bishops and others were getting away from the ordinary believer, and it was causing problems. Francis of Assisi likewise – “Folks, the believers are down here, we need to be talking to them, not over or at them.” The early 1300s were not great for the Church as an institution. Individual bishops, priests, nuns did a lot of work for a lot of people, but the organization . . . didn’t handle the Black Death and the social trauma from that very well. (I’m not sure any large institution could have, to be honest.) And then you had a trio of popes who wouldn’t take “we think you need to retire” as a viable suggestion, and a lot of people were thinking about changes. Many of those people stayed inside the Church, now called Roman Catholic Church, and worked for change and improvement. Others broke away, and thus we got the Reformation.
The performance below is the 500th anniversary, in the Trinity Reformed Church in Speyer. And yes, those are Catholic nuns (and a few Lutheran nuns as well. It’s complicated.) A good hymn knows no denomination.