Journey to Wittenberg
In a kind of miracle, and with help from many, many people, we managed to write a book–now called “A New Reformation!” and print it and get it (80% of it) translated into German–all within about two weeks. The deadline was not our making but the circumstances of my invitation to speak on Pentecost at Bad Herlaub, an invitation which was scheduled six months previous but which loomed much bigger after the election of Benedict XVI. I felt the scandal of this, the first Inquisitor General to be named pope, would awaken people and inspire them to participate in the quest for a New Reformation. Thus an action at Wittenberg.
Giving a lecture to 500 people at Bad Herlaub and a workshop the next day for about 60 others, much feedback came my way. Most of it was very positive but several individuals expressed resistance. “Why don’t you forgive Cardinal Ratzinger?” one lady asked me. “Because justice comes first and then forgiveness,” I replied. “You should go to Assisi and to Benedict country, not to Wittenberg,” said one man. But Assisi is for sweetness, what is called for now is resistance. And resistance is signified by Wittenberg.
Another woman said: “Why a New Reformation? That signifies church institutions. There must be a better term.” I thought about that and a better term might be “Transformation.” I do want to go beyond Reformation to Transformation and it is time. But Reformation is a first step. And Wittenberg is archetypal–it represents a place where one once stood up to church power and said: “Stop. No longer.”
That is needed today too and with the unleashing of spirit and inspiration that this Pentecost season promises, hopefully this act might assist in getting us moving from Reformation to Transformation, from Religion to Spirituality. One can hope.
Today, Tuesday, we took two trains, one as far as Frankfurt and then we switched to a second train to Erfurt. We intended to spend one day in Erfurt and from there to journey to Wittenberg. Why Erfurt?
Erfurt was a theological center for many centuries and it is the town where Martin Luther was trained as a priest and ordained as one. It was also the town where Meister Eckhart lived and worked 150 years earlier for a period of four years. They have just finished a reconstruction of the main body of the Predigerkirche which was his church and which was quite badly damaged in the war and ignored during the Soviet occupation. However, the oldest section, where Eckhart and his Dominican brothers prayed and preached in the late thirteenth century, was not damaged much and still stands much as it did in his day. The choir stall, for example, are the original ones.
In my love and zeal to know Eckhart I once visited Erfurt years ago when it was part of “East Germany” and I was followed by the Stassi (German secret police) fm the moment I arrived in my car which had West German license plates since I had rented it in West Germany. When I arrived at the pastor’s place where I hoped to get keys to let me into the church there were three cars full of Stassi. I did not want to get the pastor into any trouble so I never got inside and just walked around the perimeter of the property instead.
This trip was different and very special. The pastor, who it turns out was under constant surveillance by the Stassi under the old East German regime, is a great lover of Eckhart and he showed us around the interior including the choir stall where Eckhart sat as prior (yes, I spent time in it meditating and so many of his famous one-liners came to me as I sat there), the altar where he said Mass for the community of 72 members, the very chapter room where he gave several of his well known treatises to novices and others, the refectory where they all ate. And we were allowed to look through a book that dates back to the fourteenth century that has been preserved in the parish office there.
Being in the sanctuary where Eckhart preached–what a great gift. Very moving. Sitting in the choir stall that was his six centuries ago–what a privilege! Standing at the altar where he celebrated Mass as prior of his community–what a grace! Also to visit the church where Martin Luther was ordained and said his first Mass and lived as a theology student. So much history from the past; so much that calls us to a reborn future. Especially at Pentecost time.
This proved to be a very special warm-up for our trip to Wittenberg later that day.
Matthew Fox visiting Meister Eckhart’s choir stall