Day By Day

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Day In History

Today is another of those industry-sponsored days -- "National Battery Day". We're not talking here about "assault and battery" or artillery batteries -- no, it's the common batteries you put in everything these days. Take a moment today and think about just how many battery-powered things you use and just how different your life would be without them. Just imagine the extension cords....

On this day in 1546 Martin Luther died in Eiselben, the city of his birth, and eighteen years later Michelangelo died in Rome. These two men representing the radically different cultures of the Renaissance and the Reformation were contemporaries. What is more, Luther was a lad of nine and Michelangelo a teenager when Columbus discovered America. What an exciting time that was in Western Culture!

Luther, of course, is given credit for starting the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when he nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the church door in Wittenburg. In them he attacked the Catholic practice of selling indulgences and in so doing called into question the doctrine of salvation by works, one of the fundamental bases of the Church's authority. Luther's refusal to recant his arguments led to him being excommunicated and branded a heretic. Fortunately for him, several German noblemen were willing to give him protection. His writings were printed up and circulated widely throughout northern Europe and inspired religious reformers in several countries. Eventually Luther himself organized a church based on his teachings.

Michelangelo is most famous for his magnificent paintings on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In addition to his painting, he was a sculptor, an architect, an engineer and a poet -- the living embodiment of the "Renaissance Man" ideal. Because of his personal eccentricities Michelangelo did not attract much of a following among artists, but he never lacked for patrons and his work includes some of the greatest treasures of Western Culture.

Luther famously enjoyed the good life. Michelangelo was extremely abstemious, obsessed with his work and caring little for other things. He ate little -- whatever came to hand -- and seldom bathed or changed his clothes, often sleeping fully dressed. Luther was the monk who married. Michelangelo penned several poems extolling the beauty of the young men and boys he picked up on the streets of Rome. Both men consorted with the rich and powerful. Luther seems to have enjoyed their company. To Michelangelo they were simply patrons. Luther's life was consumed with religion and politics. Michelangelo obsessed about his art and little else. Both men were insufferably arrogant. Very different men living at the same time in very different worlds, but both made huge contributions to the world in which we live today.

For a Catholic appraisal of Luther see here.

PBS has a nice site on Luther's life and works here.

You can read more about Michelangelo here.

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