INDIANAPOLIS — The conversation focuses on a moment in history that split half the world and set souls on fire.
We were talking about the Reformation, which turned 500 years old Oct. 31.
The Rev. Nathan Wilson, Father Rick Ginther, Robert Saler and I talked over the air about the movement that created the Protestant churches and turned the Christian world into a multidenominational mosaic.
Wilson is communications director for Christian Theological Seminary. Ginther is pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes in Indianapolis. Saler is executive director of CTS’s Center for Pastoral Excellence.
Wilson comes from the Disciples of Christ. Ginther, of course, is Catholic. Saler is Lutheran.
To talk with them about the time an intense monk named Martin Luther challenged the established church is not just to enter the realm of faith, but to journey back to a time when faith was the organizing principle of communities, of society, of much of the Western world.
Faith, of course, still is a powerful force in human life, but 500 years ago, when states rose and fell with birth and death of heirs to thrones or the fecundity or barrenness of wombs and wars and disease shattered communities, the church provided continuity, stability and security for people who had little power and even less comfort.
To challenge the church’s authority — as Luther did with his 95 theses — was to challenge the foundation of Western society. He touched off an earthquake, the aftershocks of which continue to be felt to this day.
It is hard — and maybe even impossible — for us today to understand the force of that moment. At a time when life was short, hard and often terrifying, the promise of an eternity of kindness and succor made faith as vital as 00 and maybe even more vital than — breath, blood, water or food.
In the popular mind, Luther’s rebellion was about instances of corruption, the selling of indulgences and other abuses of ecclesiastical authority.
It was about those things, but, as Wilson, Ginther and Saler say, it also was about something much more profound, much larger.
It was about the individual’s relationship to God.
In the simplest terms, Luther’s protest was again the interposition of intermediaries between human beings and their creator. He wanted to tear down as many fences separating men, women and children from God as he could.
The invention of the printing press and the attendant rise in literacy helped make that possible. Both of these developments made the faithful less dependent on a priestly hierarchy to interpret the Bible for them.
It’s easy to understand, though, how the honest and devout within the Catholic church would have felt betrayed by Luther and his followers. They had kept the light of faith aflame through dark centuries, preserving both much of Western culture and a community of believers in the process.
Their anger was immense, as great as the determination of Luther and those who followed him to find another path.
And an explosion that shook the world, that still shakes it, followed.
The explosion was as powerful as it was because faith mattered more than anything to the people involved.
That was enough to divide humanity.
Wilson, Ginther and Saler said, though, that the same faith now is breaching the divide and bringing the faithful back together. They talk of the ways their denominations now are collaborating and finding ways to worship together. They speak of the ways their congregations’ common devotion to God has become the force that can heal wounds that have lingered for a half-millennium.
They speak not of division, but of reconciliation.
And they say this is a message of hope not just for a society torn asunder in the 16th century but for a fractured 21st-century world, as well.
Faith, they say, may have driven people apart, but it also has the power to unite them, to allow us to recall our common humanity.
Faith, these men of the cloth remind us, once may have split the world and set souls on fire, but it also can heal ancient wounds and bring peace to troubled spirits.
Let that be our prayer for humanity.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to email@example.com.