I can’t even begin to get my head around what it would have been like to be a University Student 500 years ago. Imagine there is no internet, no printers in the dorms, no headphones, no cellphones, or student loans; no need to worry about what you’re wearing to class because you’re wearing a robe—and not the Harry Potter type with the piping and the patch. Just a plain robe.
Imagine getting up at 4 am to be at your first lecture, on the Arts, at 5am (and you thought 8 am was rough). And imagine an hour of formal debate from 5 pm – 6 pm as part of your daily schedule. And if you’re thinking about staying up late to do a little drinking at the local watering hole, don’t. You’re in bed by 9 am because, like I said, class starts at 5am.
Imagine way smaller class sizes because way fewer people went to college, and imagine higher expectations and workloads because, well, fewer people went to college. Imagine that instead of snow days (where college students rejoice) there are entire semesters cancelled because of the plague (where college students mourn).
And, oh yeah, stop imagining any of this if you’re a woman because you wouldn’t have been at University at all.
It was at one of these Universities that I can’t quite imagine—given my over-familiarity with contemporary ones—that the Reformation started in October of 1517.
Things have changed. Questions have changed. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to which we can relate.
It’s almost always cool, overcast, and cloudy in Wittenberg in the fall, and it’s been that way for a long time. And I imagine it would have been that way, replete with colorful leaves stirred by autumn winds, on October 31, 1517, when the 95 theses were post either by Martin Luther or by a student worker at his request. It’s an über-collegiate beginning that we can still relate to today: a new, not-so-well-known, Assistant Professor posting a syllabus on Wittenburg University’s equivalent of Canvas, and cc’ing the syllabus to one of his superiors. This totally everyday beginning was the modest match that lit the Reformation.
Somehow out of an academic exercise at a provincial University in a modest city with a governmental capital—no, I’m not thinking of Lincoln, Nebraska—a way of doing theology emerged that transformed the entirety of Western culture. Interesting, right?
So despite the differences—and there are many—over the next few weeks we’re going to return to ol’ Wittenberg U, so to speak. On Sunday mornings we’re going to look at the Theology of the Lutheran Reformation and ask what does this matter for college students today? What was there 500 years ago that still matters for the life of faith today. And the best par? You don’t have to get up at 4am to be on time. 10:15 am (ish) will do just fine.