500 years ago – Luther burns Exsurge Domine

Let’s take a moment to remember that exactly 500 years ago (December 10, 1520) the catholic Augustinian friar Martin Luther burnt the papal bull Exsurge Domine (which threatened him with excommunication) outside the Elster Gate of Wittenberg.
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Nowadays Exsurge Domine is seen by many Catholic historians and theologians as quite a sloppy text, with a lack of clarity in which ways the various condemned ideas of Luther are mistaken or problematic, where the problem does or does not lie and to which extent or according to which interpretation they might also contain elements of truth. Many of its condemnations must be interpreted within the history of the development of Catholic doctrine in the 500 years since. Also, it should be noted that it has an approach which was not chosen by the Council of Trent (which did not mention Luther by name, nor his excommunication, but only condemned several of his theological ideas, while it in fact confirmed others). Today both Exsurge Domine itself and its burning by Luther speak of the polemical and aggressive radicalization in the indulgence conflict between Luther and Rome, a conflict that could have been resolved in a different and much more constructive way. Rome reacted in an extraordinarily hard way to Luther’s 95 theses and early defense, and Luther also quickly radicalized in his theological polemics.
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Looking back on it in a different historical context and without the polemical atmosphere of that time, we do not ‘tell a different story’, but, as Pope Francis said during the ecumenical prayer in Lund to remember 500 years of Protestant Reformation, we ‘tell the story in a different way’. The history remains the same, but our way of now looking back on it and seeing both the truths as well as the mistakes or the missed opportunities in that history help us to grow and move forward today.
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(image: Wikipedia)

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