Last Wednesday was October 31, and many people noted in various venues that it was the 490th “anniversary” of the Protestant Reformation—actually, of the posting of Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (i.e., the “Ninety-five Theses”) on the doors (i.e., bulletin board) of the Castle Church at Wittenberg in 1517. They were, however, sadly mistaken to commemorate that date.
When Dr Luther posted his summons to academic debate, the Pope’s (i.e., Gregorian) Calendar had not yet been birthed. Therefore, the Theses were posted on October 31 according to the Old (i.e., Julian) Calendar, which date corresponds in A.D. 2007 to the Gregorian November 13. Thus the much-touted “anniversary” will not occur for yet another week, I’m afraid.
However, I am uncertain that even this would be the best (symbolic) date on which to keep the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It has always seemed to me that a better candidate might be December 10 (December 23, N.S.), because it was on that date in 1520 that Dr Luther publicly burned the papal bull Exsurge Domine, which condemned his teachings and threatened him with excommunication. That would also a better year to commemorate because, while Zwingli might have started preaching the Reformation Gospel in 1516 (as Jim West is wont to remind us), it was not until 1520 that he finally renounced his papal pension of 50 gulden a year, awarded him for his public support of the use of Swiss mercenaries in the secular affairs of the Papacy. This was, then, the year of clean breaks.
I might further add here that, since the celebration of permanent ecclesiastical severances seems to be so dear to many, another Luthero-Zwinglian anniversary must be kept in mind by all parties concerned: October 4 (October 17, N.S.) was the closing date of the ultimately failed Marburg Colloquy of 1529, convened to attempt a resolution between Luther and Zwingli’s respective views on the Eucharist (and by extension, on Christology) and to achieve a unified Protestant front. This date marks, then, the anniversary of the (quite permanent) failure of the Reformation movements to achieve doctrinal, and therefore ecclesiastical, unity.