Speech by Minister of State Roth at the opening of the exhibition Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

29.10.2016 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

Yesterday, in Chicago, I met Father Mike Pfleger, a priest who does outstanding work for his deeply troubled community, against violence, unemployment and hate. This impressive man lives the very values that Martin Luther stood for. Father Mike, no wonder, was also a real admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior - the great hero of peacefulness and tolerance. The work of Father Mike gives proof to the fact that the man and his mission whom we are talking about today - the historic Martin Luther - are topical today and still inspire many to do good things.

Not only in Chicago, but no matter where I go in Europe and the world, almost everywhere people are well acquainted with Martin Luther and his writings. You could certainly say he is one of our greatest national exports – “made in Germany” – and has been for almost 500 years.

Now, with this fantastic exhibition, Martin Luther has arrived here in Minneapolis. I warmly welcome you to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany is pleased to support this exhibition. We think that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a good opportunity to celebrate and preserve its legacy. The Reformation Jubilee is bringing together people from around the world – and events are therefore being staged worldwide to mark the occasion. We want to take the core idea of the Reformation out into the world – from Copenhagen and Warsaw to Guatemala, Australia, and the United States. Some may ask why a secular country such as Germany is keeping alive the memory of the Reformation? Because it was by no means only a religious and spiritual event. It also had a political and, above all, a deep cultural impact. You will get a sense of this when viewing the exhibition. With its unique works of art, it gives you insight into the cultural and historical environment that gave birth to the Reformation, as well as into the life and work of Martin Luther.

The exhibition “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation” includes several works that have thus far never been on display in the United States. I want to thank the Minneapolis Institute of Art for making available to us its Target Galleries and the Marvin and Betty Borman Gallery. Many thanks also to everyone who has worked so hard to make possible this wonderful exhibition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The French author André Maurois once wrote: “We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity – romantic love and gunpowder.” The Renaissance, on the other hand, gave us the printing press. What a milestone! And hardly anyone has used this mighty communication tool as wisely, skillfully, and professionally as Martin Luther.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517 – near our present capital, Berlin – he set in motion a process that would transform first Germany, then Europe, and ultimately the whole world. The invention of the printing press helped him spread his writings in no time, not only within Germany.

Luther made use of the media revolution of his day. Today, as well, we are experiencing dramatic transformations and changes in the way we communicate. For Luther was always one step ahead of his time. He did more, after all, than rely on the printed word. He also used the well-suited medium of painting, spreading his ideas through the art of the workshop of Cranach. This gave him a decisive advantage over all of his political and theological opponents, whether it be the Emperor or the Pope. He and his teachings became popular at what in his day and age was breakneck speed. I am quite sure that, if he were alive today, he would be an enthusiastic user of Twitter! In his day, he translated “In the beginning was the Word”. Now, Luther might well be merrily typing hashtags into his smartphone. And I would certainly be retweeting his tweets with great eagerness.

Today, more than 400 million Protestants around the world share the same faith and are bound by the ideas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation was not the work of one man alone, considering that parts of Luther’s personality are also to be criticized, for example, his aggressive anti-Semitism, or his call to brutally put down the peasant uprisings. Other countries, too, brought forth their own reformation movements: just think of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland, Mikael Agricola in Finland and Jan Hus in Bohemia.

The Reformation is a true citizen of the world! It has left a lasting mark on societies in Germany, Europe, and far beyond. That includes the United States of America. The Enlightenment and the concept of freedom connect us with the United States more than with any other country outside of Europe. In a world that is out of joint as a result of crises and conflicts, we would be wise to re‑examine the central issues of the Reformation: What is the relationship today between religion and order, faith and peace, freedom and responsibility?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, 500 years later, we remember a courageous man and his fellow reformers who lived on the brink of the modern era and played such an important role in the development of a modern society. Martin Luther shook up the order of the 16th century. He set boundaries for secular and clerical power. He emphasised freedom of conscience, critical judgement, and the personal responsibility of the individual. We owe the crucial impetus for how we understand freedom, education, and social coexistence today to Luther and other reformers.

For Luther was always a little ahead of his time. With the translation of the Bible into German and his efforts to establish schools, he also turned the Reformation into a unique educational movement. He wanted to put people in a position to develop their consciences and their minds and enable them to make their own decisions. In so doing, he laid the foundation not only for a church, but also for a society, that feels committed to freedom.

This exhibition is truly special. I am certain that it will appeal not only to Protestants and Lutherans. On the contrary – this project may also build a new bridge of understanding and exchange between the United States and Germany. That is my heartfelt wish.

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