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Luther vs. Lenin

Luther vs. Lenin

by William H. Benson

November 2, 2017

     Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to his chapel’s door, the closest thing to a bulletin board. To them, he prefixed an invitation, “Out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg.” The Reformation had begun.

     The German monk’s defiant and courageous act initiated Protestantism, a protest against the Catholic form of Christianity, and a creation of a new form. 

     The first of the ninety-five says, “When Jesus said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The last says, “And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations, rather than through the false security of peace.”

     The ninety-five unleashed a storm. “The pent-up anticlericalism of generations [was] thrilled at having found a voice.” The Church’s sale of indulgences in exchange for eternal bliss appalled Luther. He “had experienced the remission of sin as a free gift of grace to be apprehended by a living faith,” an “experience opposed to a system of relief by means of payments in money.”

     Church scholars tried to beat down Luther’s challenge to their power. In December that year, the Dominican Johan Tetzel published his “106 Anti-Theses,” but Luther came back with a Sermon on Indulgences and Grace. Tetzel again responded, and the debates raged on, and continue to rage still.

     The Catholic Church soon learned that Luther was resolute, not easily intimidated. The historian Will Durant said of him, “Luther enjoyed combat.” Luther himself said, “I have been born to war, and fight with factions and devils; therefore my books are stormy and warlike. I must root out the stumps and stocks, cut away the thorns and hedges, fill up the ditches, and make things ready.”

     Whereas Luther broke from the Church, certain Catholic priests, including one named Erasmus, chose “peaceful compromise and piecemeal reform,” and remained faithful to the church.

     Will Durant concluded, “The debate between Erasmus and Luther goes on, and will, for in these large matters, such truth as men can attain is begotten by the union of opposites, and will ever feel its double parentage.”

     One hundred years ago, in 1917, on October 25, / November 7, (New Style), Vladimir Lenin, and his fellow Bolsheviks seized control of Russia in Petrograd, now Leningrad.

     Condoleezza Rice wrote in the New York Times this week, that Lenin was “a firebrand to his core, spewing inflammatory rhetoric, eschewing compromise, and pushing political discourse to the extremes,” and that “Lenin’s victory brought civil war and a dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party.”

     The writer, Martin Amis, pointed out that Lenin’s Marxist program defied human nature. “Religion, you see, was part of human nature, so the Bolsheviks were obliged to suppress it in all its forms.”

     In March of 1922, Lenin wrote, “It is precisely now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, that we can carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come.” That year the Bolsheviks killed “1,962 monks, 2,691 priests, and 3,447 nuns.”

     Not a cheerful fellow, Vladimir Lenin, but there was someone worse waiting his turn.

     Amis said that, Lenin’s most grievous and tragic mistake though was to “bequeath a fully functioning police state to Joseph Stalin.” From 1924, when Lenin died, until Stalin’s passing in March of 1953, the paranoid Stalin murdered millions. Terror surrounded him.

     Another writer said, “He did not like any group of people. His hatreds and suspicions knew no limits; even party members from his native homeland of Georgia were not exempt.” Amis believes that if not for Stalin’s passing, “there would have been a second Jewish Holocaust by Christmastime.”

     Luther sparked a religious Reformation, and Lenin incited a political Revolution.

     Five hundred years ago, north and western Europe—northern Germany, Scandinavia, and England—fell under the Protestant banner; but south and eastern Europe—southern Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, and Poland—remained Catholic. An east to west line split Europe.

     Following World War II, an Iron Curtain that ran north and south dropped across Europe. Eastern Europe fell to the Soviet-styled Communists, and western Europe remained democratic and capitalist.

     Whereas Luther sought to reform religion, Lenin crushed religion, and whereas Lenin sought for political power, Luther remained committed to religion.