“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” -Martin Luther
October 31st is Reformation Day, which marks the day that German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This year marks a very special anniversary of that event as it occurred 500 years ago this October. Over the next couple of months leading up to this date, I want to highlight significant outcomes from Luther’s actions as well as other Reformers who made a significant impact upon the church we see today. We’ll do that through the weekly newsletter as well as our adult Sunday School class which should start soon after Labor Day. The more we understand what transpired, the more we can truly appreciate those who have gone before us.
So why did Luther choose this specific day? October 31st is most commonly known in Western culture as the day that marks the celebration of Halloween. Halloween and Reformation Day, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common. One seems to have it’s roots in paganism while the other in the restoration of the Church. But is there a connection? As we delve into this a bit more it seems too great a coincidence that Luther chose this day of all days.
In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated May 13th as the day that the Church would honor the saints and martyrs that have gone before them. It was given the name “Feast of All Saints.” This day was set aside to remember those who had been persecuted and died for their Christian faith. But beginning in the 8th and then throughout the 9th century, All Saints Day had slowly shifted to November 1st. Pope Gregory IV would be the one who officially mandated that November 1st was to be the official Feast of All Saints Day. Many of the people had also referred to this day as All Hallow Day because the word “Hallow” means saint.
Prior to this, November 1st had been exclusively known as Samhain, which marked the beginning of the Celtic winter. Samhain was the Celtic lord of death and his name literally meant “summers end.” The eve of Samhain was when the festivities commenced and this is the night that the Celts believed that ghosts and spirits of the dead would roam about the earth.
In Christian Church history, the eve of the festive day actually marks the beginning. So it is believed that All Saints (Hallow) Day commences the evening before on All Saints (Hallow) Eve. You can now see how the term Halloween came about. Church historian James Jordan believes that the tradition of dressing in costume came not primarily from those who celebrated Samhain but the Christians who were observing All Saints (Hallow) Eve. He explains his thinking behind it: “to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. . . . The idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.”
Jordan continues, in his explanation of why Martin Luther chose October 31st: “Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.”
I hope you’ll enjoy our journey into the history of the Church and the men and women who have gone before us and stood firm on the foundation of God’s Word amidst severe persecution. It is important to know our history so that we can draw from it and see God’s revealation throughout it.