THE German world stands still to remember all it ever knew about Luther. Celebrate ? The Germans alone know what it is to celebrate. They give themselves up wholly to the time, and as a unit the nation plunges into a celebration. The Luther Year is an epoch in German history. Eighteen hundred and eighty-three will ever be called the Luther Jubilee Year. It is the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Reformer, and the land of his birth has honored him as no memory has ever been honored. Think of a year’s celebration. The enthusiasm grew as the year advanced, until on the great day, the birthday of the Reformer, November Io, the enthusiasm reached such a climax, such a height of demonstration, as to fairly bewilder a foreigner. Time, which dulls even the most illustrious fame, which causes the heroes so adored by the people to fall back into the common ranks of the great, has only increased the glory of Luther, brought him forward for renewed love and honor, until he seems to stand as the very greatest among the great. Many who at their death are crowned with laurels have been judged by succeeding ages with cooler judgment, and found their true place among the world’s benefactors ; but, to-day, as not in his own or any succeeding age, is the true greatness of Luther seen, and every new study reveals a new power in him, lifts him higher, so that, after four centuries, he stands as the very crown of heroism. How the people of Germany love him ! yet he has been such a benefactor to the race that all love and reverence are due him.
Generally, we think of Luther simply as the Reformer; but this revival of the history of the Reformation epoch has revealed how many other blessings were brought into existence by the rise of this freedom from Rome. Not only was it freedom from the power of the Papacy, politically, but it was freeing the conscience from blind slavery to the church, freeing the mind from the thraldom of tradition, from superstition, from the binding shackles of the past. It was breaking iron chains, strong in centuries’ strength ; it was dispelling the long night of the Middle Ages ; it was rolling away the weight of cruel ages of wrong. Man was a slave, in the most pitiable slavery, he must perish, or come forth as God designed, a free individual soul.
All this was meant by the Reformation. All this it accomplished, and side by side with this great work for the individual and the world came all the blessings of civilization, higher intellectual and social life, the growth of art and science, and commercial prosperity. All date from this epoch. In one of the large art galleries in Berlin, on the grand staircase, are the six celebrated paintings of Kaulbach. Perhaps the most beautiful, at least the most significant at this time, is the one representing the sixteenth century. There is the group of Elizabeth, Raleigh, Shakespeare, and the famed contemporaries ; there is Angelo and the boy Raphael ; there Dante, Cervantes ; there Columbus, Galileo ; there Melanchthon, Huss, but in the very centre, overlooking all these separate groups, is the figure of Luther, holding high above his head the open Bible, from which light streams on all these. Truly, we recognize that it was not Luther alone who brought the blessing all these are great. The time was ready for the new life ; but it called for a great soul to set the time aright. In the heart of Luther the call was heard, and bravely he responded.
Aside from this great national work, in which the whole world has a part, which gave to the world freedom from Rome, other great blessings look to Luther as their founder. He is not Reformer alone, but brings rich gifts to make that life of freedom stronger and brighter. He is the founder of church music a power which has brought many under the influence of the Spirit. There were no great chorals before his hymns, not much worthy church music, with the single exception of the compositions of Palestrina, and an eminent professor says on the Luther day, ” Whosoever listens to-day to the sublime choruses of the Oratorios of Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, which lift one from the turmoil of life into the heights of devotion, must not forget that these great works would have been impossible without the influence of the Reformation, without the introduction of the German chorals into the church service, which was done by Martin Luther.”
Next, he is the founder of the general educational system of public schools for youth. This had no existence before his time, but he agitated the subject, and, by word, writing, and active assistance in the establishment of such schools, founded a permanent system. He firmly held that the foundation of a prosperous state must be in an education of the people, the masses. Al-though he considered much less was necessary for girls, still the prevailing judgment of Germany, yet it was a great advance then to make any movement in behalf of female education. The study of the Bible in the school was a part of his plan, a feature which still rules in Germany.
He gave to the German people a fixed language.
The various dialects of the provinces created discord, but harmony was established when the Bible was given to the people in Sachsen, which thus became the foundation of a uniform speech. With the spread of the Bible this form of speech became the speech of the people and the language of literature, the same used in its richness by Goethe and Schiller. He gave to this people the German church, a church of the people. No longer the Latin muttering, with its unintelligible reiterations, but the simple, true, pure Word, in a tongue understood by all the people.
One other great national movement must be mentioned as owing its origin to Luther, the press and the free expression of public opinion. Before this, the people dared express no opinion of their own : they faithfully held to that of tradition and of the powers above them. But when the obscure monk and professor, having in vain struggled with his doubts and questionings in his own study, came forth, boldly laid these before the world, asking, begging, challenging for a free discussion, “to know whether these things be true or no,” in that day was born the free expression of man’s opinion; and these theses on the church door that old MS. was the first sign of the coming change the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, which has grown and spread, covering the whole earth. Individual opinion is a right now, and the press speaks the opinions of many men. What a glorious work ! What an age ! No wonder the enthusiastic young knight, Ulrich Von Witten, cried, in the exultation of the hour : ” O welches Jahrhundert die Geister erwachen. Es ist eine Lust zu leben ! ” So the German nation may well celebrate the day, which, while meaning much to all the world, celebrates her rise even more than the victory of Hermann in the Teutoberger Wald. The nation has thrown itself with fervent zeal into the jubilee ; and every province, city, and village, every institution, seminary, and gymnasium, every church, society, and organization, even the city political parties, have celebrated the epoch by a lecture course ; and in the capital city, Berlin, for more than two months, each night a lecture was given, under some organization, upon one of the many phases of the Reformation and labor of the Reformers. There has consequently been a most thorough review of the history of four centuries ago, and the whole people are familiarized with all the events, causes, the full spirit and significance of the world’s history at that time. Literature, lectures, pictures, statues, memorials, music, all bear upon this theme, and it is, indeed, a revival of the days and work of Luther. Everything Luther ! The stores crowded with Luther relics, the Luther picture in every window, and, as it looked out upon the passing crowds from beer and butcher shops, the words printed beneath ” Here I stand I can do no other” seemed to bear a new significance. Such was the ardor and zeal that some of our Americans, living out of the Luther regions in America, amazed at it, all cry, “The world is Luther-mad!” Yet here the Americans learn what power is in this “greatest son of Germany,” who worked for the good of the whole world.
In Berlin the birthday celebration was more decorous, and not so picturesque as in the villages, where the people delight in less formal demonstrations. The city was gay with flags, and they have many kinds in Germany a distinct one for the Emperor, the Crown Prince, the two Houses, the various departments of the Empire, all different. Our own stripes and stars waving from the department of the American legation the most beautiful of all ! The day was made a religious holiday. Early in the morning the strains of the familiar choral, ” Ein feste Burg,” called us to the balcony and there marching through the middle of the street remember the beauty and cleanliness of Berlin streets were the school children, a long procession of boys, girls, teachers, professors. They were marched to the different churches, and, as education is compulsory, we may well suppose that nearly every child in Berlin attended divine services on the Luther Birthday. Each child received a book, the life of Luther, as a memorial. As there are so few churches in proportion to the population, this service was exclusively for the children, and no one else was admitted to the church to crowd them out.
From the head of the State came the orders for the day, and all departments of the State were represented in procession, the officials marching from the City Hall to Nicolai Church, where the imperial family joined them, and religious services were held. The streets were jammed with the throng of people, waiting for hours to see this pocession.
The patience of the German is something beyond the comprehension of the American mind. It is probably disciplined into them by the military training. There are many occasions to observe it ; but one thing is particularly noticeable it always strikes an American, probably with more pity than admiration, to see the sentinels at the doors of the palaces and royal buildings. There these poor young men stand apparently, always, although we hear there is a change of guard every few hours, never moving, never turning their eyes, erect, motionless, with the heavy guns straight at the side ! What more tiresome ? So the crowds have learned patience, and await in high good-humor the procession of officials. There is the highest respect for office of any kind, as the classes are so distinctly marked. The City Fathers led the line, then the preachers (officers of the State), in gown and cap, the officials with a silver chain, with a great key attached, hung about their necks ; most striking of all, the University professors, each in the royal robes of his department, rich purple, deep blue, glowing scar-let. Our neighbor, Professor Zupitza, bowed to us with a dignity becoming his learned appearance in the glistening purple of his professional gown. Quite imposing, this array of temporal, spiritual, and intellectual power, escorted by boy attendants, bearing the standards with the black bear of Berlin, and all marching to the Luther Chorals. We caught a glimpse, too, of the royal equipages, of the helmet of the Emperor, something dazzling. from each carriage. They had disappeared while we were yet trying to realize that there really was the great Emperor. How the people love the old man the grand old hero ! As he passed, hats were thrown in air, cheers rose in greeting. Well, he has ruled grandly, and Germany was never so great as in his time.
A third service, this time for the public, was held in all the churches in the evening. We went to the Dom, the court church, formerly Roman Catholic, but now under the religion of the State. One of the finest boy-choirs of Europe sings here, and this memorial was a responsive Scripture-reading and song-service. Luther hymns to Bach music, the organ, the Chor of men and boys, the sacred words of Scripture to a standing people, it was solemn and beautifully impressive. Everywhere, at all the concerts even in the Sing Academy the custom of a Feier was observed, the music listened to in silence, no conversation, no applause. The day was celebrated in a manner becoming the memorial of such an event.
Very appropriately, the students had a special celebration of the birthday, in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther, the Professor of Wittenberg who, during the years of his connection with Wittenberg, drew students from all parts of Europe, to the number of seventy thousand ! It seemed a fitting tribute for the students of the present day to unite in a celebration of the Luther year.
A few Americans, through the influence of the University professors, secured admission ; for the public could not possibly be allowed entrance to so large a festival, and we felt happy in our good-fortune. The celebration was held in Philharmonic Hall, and we obtained seats in the private boxes looking down on the scene.
Over a thousand students, and many of the University professors, assembled in the hall, which was decorated with the colors of the various societies. The societies of students are not such as our student knows, societies for intellectual culture ; neither are they for the amusements enjoyed by our college boys cricket, football, boating, are all too tame for the German taste. These societies, called Chors and Verbindungen, are for social pleasure, consisting chiefly of beer drinking, singing, and smoking, with the occasional diversion of a duel, as their field-sport. There are many societies, all rivals to each other, although many hold a friendly relation. They generally meet twice a week, holding a kneipe as they call it, which means an evening of drinking and singing. The amount of beer one can drink, and the number of duels he has fought, denotes his rank of heroism. In these duels the face alone is attacked, and almost every young man you meet on the street has a scarred face, “marks of honor ” they are called. One student was pointed out particularly as a remarkable hero the hero of twenty four duels. Several in this Commers (union of the chors), this Luther Fest, still had bandages over their heads, and the majority yes, all with few exceptions were disfigured. It seems a relic of barbarism rather than a custom of an enlightened, highly educated society.
The various societies, in uniform, gayly colored little caps, sat about long tables, where the beer-glasses were glittering, a host of them. At the head of each table were the officers, cream-colored gauntlets, wide silk sashes, sabres in hand, and the most absurd tiny gold and red embroidered caps, perched on the front part of the head. The University professors were met at the door, and conducted to seats on the platform ; in great state, an officer with glittering sabre marched before and another followed the honored professors. The professors indeed, all people of learning are always treated with profound respect. In truth, learning is esteemed at the expense of morals, and vice is altogether overlooked where there is intellectual power.
One two three ! heavy sabre strokes on the tables, by the officers, in unison, call the assembly to order. A few commands in Latin. Listen to their opening song: “In this happy hour, we are invited, a band of German youths, to celebrate a sacred festival ; so let from every soul a prayer be raised on high.” In the second verse : ” Whom shall we praise first ? God, who has given us power and strength, raised us from darkness, and who shall reign forever and ever.” Then the thousand students rise, and in majesty rolls forth, ” Ein feste Burg.” All the verses are sung with no need of printed words, and it seems a grand thing for the young men of the nation to know thus the “Battle Song.” Yet as the next thing, after the tribute of words in a speech of the President to the memory of Dr. Luther, was a toast in his memory, and the beer-glasses were drained, the question came, Which will have the most power over their lives the beer, or this grand hymn ? The drinking continued. Grand songs, with the deepest religious sentiment, mingled with all. We confess we are unable to bring a reconciliation for the two, the union of the spiritual, and what to us is only associated with the lowest material life and commonest pleasures. The whole Fest is an anomaly. The professors made speeches, proposed toasts, and, while it was delightful to see such a pleasant relationship between student and professor, to us it was shocking to see professor and student thus drinking together. “The scene is unique. Through clouds of smoke, we could see the great body of students filling the hall below, their gay colors, the glitter of glasses, and flash of sabres. Then the rolling commands in Latin, the three heavy sword-strokes, the speeches in the foreign tongue, the clinking of .glasses, raised high, the shout, “Hoch, hoch, hoch !” the salamander to complete the din, and the final blast of trumpets. This salamander consists in taking the glass by the handle, rattling it terribly on the table, and setting it down with a fearful “thump.” Imagine a thousand glasses rattled and thumped ! always the blast of the trumpets following ! It was more like a piece of acting to us than a participation in real life. Yet it is very real to the students. One thing was quite pretty. Whenever the Kaiser was mentioned in song or toast, off came the thousand caps, and, as one man, the thousand rose in honor ; so also at the mention of woman. This latter seemed rather absurd to us, after having been accosted several times by students on the street, and considering, too, the position of women in Germany, where we had often seen a woman and a dog equally yoked together to drag a cart through the streets.
After midnight we left them to the smoke, the song, the beer. Three hours was as much as we could stand, and this social side of the student life is a great pride of the German heart. They will enthusiastically rave over this for hours, and exclaim, ” Oh, the student life of Germany is glorious ! ” They laugh at the ” youthful errors ; ” and every fault sin is covered by the ready phrase, ” One is young only once ! ” We have a collection of German songs, the favorite songs of the people, and some of these student songs, commonly sung, and great favorites, would be considered a disgrace in our national college life. While we admire the intellectual side of the student life, let us be grateful for the greater moral power among our students, that would forbid this semi-weekly carousal and open immorality.
The world awaits the results of this awakening in the Luther Jubilee Year. It may be that this revival of the truths of the Reformation will be as a spirit moving upon the face of the waters, which will finally stir their depths. Germany needs to be stirred in its very heart to a new spirit, a new religious life. Will this Luther year bear such power ? Surely, something must remain from all this enthusiasm and study. It may have created a new zeal for Bible truth, or that the new generation will grow up more fervent and sincere, and stem the tide of irreligion in the land, the land of great music on religious themes, of .great art painting religious scenes, the land whence came the Bible light of the Reformation, and which above all lands should portray in its people the ideal Christian life.
While some of the ministry are dead to this aspect of this year, who regard it as a national rather than a religious celebration, still the voices of some are heard crying for results, for a new reformation. Frommel has sent out a little Memorial Luther Book, and it opens calling for results. Here is his call : ” There are many kinds of festivals. That one alone is a true festival which bears results. After many a feast nothing remains behind, and when the festal lights have burned out, and the gay wreaths have withered, the guests departed, then the feast is over. Within the heart no light re-mains, no flowers still bloom. But that is a sad feast. The festival which does not stir the depths cannot reach the heights. The Luther festival is meant to reach the depths. It is not a festival in honor of a man, as that of Goethe or Schiller, but this celebrates the Grace of God to our German people. The Reformation came to us through tears and blood ; yet we, who have inherited this great good, have not always been true to it. This should cause us to repent, should touch our hearts, and urge us forward to a new love and new life in this Present.”
With a sterner voice Pastor Ziegler, of Liegnitz, speaks, in the Berlin Festival Leaf. He says, ” On this Tenth of November we look not only with pride and admiration, but at the same time with longing, on this greatest son of German land. From him, who released us from the Roman yoke, who loved our people, who renewed us morally and spiritually as no other, we must learn for the present, and let him teach us again, the way to a new birth. By the same power, he became our deliverer then, we must today find strength to conquer our great internal weakness and disorder. It is becoming, in this Luther Festival, to search the character and work of Luther, in order that those now living may be guided to a new life. Now, we are a strong nation ; we are not lacking those to protect us from outer foes, but we lack a spiritual reformer, –one who will change the inner life of the nation, who will bring help for our poor, weak, feeble religious life.”
This same pastor recognizes the tendency to celebrate a national rather than a religious festival, and protests : ” Whosoever tries to separate Luther’s faith from his personality loses the conception of the whole man. Luther, the German patriot, the teacher and friend of humanity, the founder of the schools and German home life, is inseparable from the Reformer of the Church, the deep, pious Christian. The power by which he broke the bonds of Rome, and became the deliverer of our people from the Babylonian Captivity, was not his Doctrine, but his Faith. We wish to enjoy the fruits of the Reformation, but pluck out its very roots from our hearts.” . . . ” With a holy anger he cast down Rome, which had made a cleft between life and faith. To-day, again, we must unite in this, and cast away the contradiction between our religious forms and our daily life, our creed and our worldly actions. The Reformation is not a work long since finished. To-day, Luther’s spirit cries : ‘ Worship God in spirit and in truth, and strive to establish a true Christian life among the church membership. Do not deceive your-selves with the dream that the church of to-day is what it can or ought to be, but strive to bring Church and State into real Christian life.’ “