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understandings The con


nd By David C. Ratke


Martin Luther was concerned about sin, death and the power of the devil. These forces mani fested themselves in ways unique to his time and place. Luther’s genius was in recognizing how these threats were present in the lives of people around him. Sin, death and the power of the devil will always be part of our lives, but how are they present in our time? And how might we respond?


Luther’s world was characterized by much misery. Cities were growing, which brought its own problems. People fl ed the countryside in search of a better life, often to fi nd that they were unqualifi ed for the types of jobs available—merchants or craftwork. Cities often didn’t have the infrastructure for the rapid growth they experienced. Consequently people lived in unsanitary conditions that led to disease and death. People looked for hope in indulgences that would help them escape suff ering in the next world even as they suff ered in this world. The rulers and authorities took advantage of the poor by off ering false hope.


deepernd er ontinuing Refor ormation on


Agricultural life in 16th-century Germany.


In both urban and rural areas, large numbers of people worked very hard to achieve little and had little opportunity to move up. Literacy rates were low—perhaps as low as 5 percent for the overall population (although rates were much higher in cities). Education wasn’t widely available. Luther advocated universal education. An educated citizenry, he said, created a stronger community.


During this period a sense of a common identity began to emerge out of a collection of small kingdoms and territories. Luther and others began to think that Saxons, Pomeranians and Swabians were all part of one German nation even if they weren’t politically unifi ed. Your neighbor, Luther said, wasn’t necessarily the person who spoke and dressed like you.


44 OCTOBER 2017


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