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By Rebecca Price Janney, Oct 26 2017 12:58PM

Last week I mentioned my family’s connection with Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer. Today’s post is in honor of his posting of 95 Theses on the castle church’s door at Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. I’m sharing an excerpt from my book, Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell, regarding Luther’s vast influence over the western world.


The official beginning of the movement known as Protestantism came on October 31, 1517 when the German monk Martin Luther took his church to task on several points of faith. While there had been other expressions of protest against church corruption and calls for a return to a purer form of Christianity, Luther was “the first outstanding leader” of Protestantism. His major problem with the Roman Catholic Church centered around issues of heaven and hell.

Luther was born in 1483 and raised in the traditions of medieval Roman Catholicism. According to one scholar, “The young Martin grew up to fear God, to believe in the reality of heaven, hell, angels, saints, the Devil, and demons. He stood in terror of Christ as judge, but he also believed in the efficacy of the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and the saints.” One day while Luther was studying law in 1505, a lightning bolt nearly struck him, bringing about a seminal change in his life.

He was so terrified of hell that Luther pledged himself to become a monk, thinking that would pacify God’s anger and lead to salvation. Choosing a religious order, the young man “mortified his body. He fasted, sometimes for days on end and without a morsel of food. He gave himself to prayers and vigils beyond those required by the rule of his order. He went to confession, often daily and for hours at a time.”

All of his intensity and service to God left him exhausted spiritually. Then one day he had a revelation prompted by Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith.” It dawned on him that good works do not earn God’s favor or get someone to heaven. Rather, they are products of a faith in God that alone wins His grace and secures salvation. That is why Luther became especially disturbed by a certain practice in the Roman Catholic Church.

Arising in the Middle Ages, indulgences were a way in which the faithful could get the pope to secure forgiveness for their sins, or the sins of others. It didn’t matter whether those sins were past, present, or future, or the other person being prayed for was dead. All this could be had for a price that had enriched pontiffs and their supporters. One Dominican monk “hawked” indulgences with the zeal of a medieval infomercial, claiming that as soon as the money fell into the coffers, a soul was released from purgatory (in Roman Catholic theology, a provisional place for the dead to be cleansed before entering heaven).

Luther was not pleased, especially considering his prior spiritual suffering over the state of his soul and the great revelation that had set him free. On October 31, 1517, he posted a list of 95 theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, a kind of university bulletin board in which academics invited debate about all sorts of subjects. Such postings were not uncommon; what resulted from this one, however, turned European Christianity upside down. Luther maintained that no pope had power to free anyone from purgatory and that claiming to do so gave people a false sense of security about eternity, as well as the wrong theology about heaven and hell.

Aided by the printing press, various movements within the “Reformation” spread throughout Europe. The key component in them all was the concept of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Those refusing belief in Christ, or trying to attain salvation in some other way, were hell-bound by their own choice.

(Excerpted from Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009, pp. 27-29)

All Saints Church (Schlosskirche), Wittenberg(Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)
All Saints Church (Schlosskirche), Wittenberg(Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

By Rebecca Price Janney, Oct 19 2017 05:18PM

A few months ago I discovered an interesting app related to my account with “We’re Related” tells subscribers whether or not they’re connected to famous people or folks who’ve friended them on Facebook. Since I was bitten by the genealogy bug nearly six years ago, I jump at opportunities to discover more about my family’s story, and this seemed like a wonderful way to find out more. I’ve not only found out the names of ancestors I’d never heard of, but been able to push back the information I have about my family to early Medieval Europe.

I’ve known for several years that some of my ancestors were connected to the 16th century Swiss Reformation, although I haven’t yet found out specifics. Ulrich Zwingli is one of my favorite figures from that place and time, and I’d love to find out I’m related to him. However, I didn’t have any idea my maternal grandmother’s line went straight back to Martin Luther himself! My jaw dropped when his portrait popped up on my screen with the information we’re first cousins, twelve generations removed. No wonder my own theology is heavily Reformed in its orientation! I come by this honestly.

In college I read a few books about Martin Luther and was fascinated by his story, his faith journey in particular. In commemoration of the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 2017, I’ll be blogging about Luther and his influence, not only on Western European history, but the American story.

By Rebecca Price Janney, Oct 12 2017 03:45PM

For the past several weeks I’ve been doing research for Easton at the Crossroads, book three in my Easton Series with Elk Lake Publishing. Just a few weeks have transpired for Erin Miles and Peter Kichline since the end of Easton in the Valley, but a sea change is in process for both of them, as well as their families.

In January 1776, Easton is moving closer toward war with Great Britain with all of the accompanying stress, and Erin has embarked on yet another journey in her widowhood. Both she and Peter are sure of the decisions they made in the second book, so why are things not turning out the way they hoped? (I think we’ve all been in such a position.)

I’ve been reading books, articles, and first-hand accounts of Peter’s world in which the Thirteen Colonies were about to pit a rag-tag fighting force against the world’s most powerful army (and navy). Today we have the perspective of victory won, but back then the odds were clearly in favor of the British, and many thoughtful people considered the Revolution to be a fool’s errand. I’m constantly amazed at how our army, and our people, were able to triumph in what was truly a David vs. Goliath struggle.

At times I’m tempted to romanticize that era, because I’m a romantic at heart, but then I read something gritty and remember human frailty and heroism are pretty much the same no matter what century we’re talking about. Take, for example, this account from the minutes of the Northampton County (PA) Committee of Observation from the summer of 1776:

“John Markle says, that he served Joseph Romich and John Romich with a summons from this Committee to appear at Easton the 6th of this Instant – that John Romich read the Summons and said he s _ _ _ upon it . . .”

That’s pretty gritty! I’ve also enjoyed reading the diaries of two men who were at the Battle of Brooklyn (aka Long Island), Jabez Fitch and Colonel Samuel Miles. Several people have led me to fascinating sources, including my historian mentor Richard Hope, Sharon Gotthard of the Easton Area Public Library’s Marx Room (of local history), Katherine Ludwig, librarian of the David Library of the American Revolution, and Dr. John Ferling. I’m so grateful for their help!

Now that I’ve gathered some of the most important information, it’s time to fasten myself to my desk chair and begin the adventure of actually writing Easton at the Crossroads. All systems are go!

By Rebecca Price Janney, Oct 2 2017 03:26PM

I’m delighted to announce that the Pennsylvania Society Daughters of the American Revolution has chosen my novel, Easton at the Forks, as its Book Club selection!

Each year there’s a state-wide Book Club meeting during the PSSDAR’s annual state conference, and the first volume in my Easton Series will be discussed in 2018. I’m very much looking forward to being in Gettysburg in April for the event as both a Pennsylvania Daughter and the author of their book club selection.

I’m thrilled and honored!

By Rebecca Price Janney, Sep 26 2017 08:48PM

Today you might want to eat an apple in memory of Jonathan Chapman, born on this day in 1775 in Massachusetts. Better known as Johnny Appleseed, he walked hundreds of miles every year planting single trees and orchards ahead of western settlers. I like that he was also eccentric, wearing a pot for a hat and clothes made of sackcloth. He was a Swedenborgian in his faith who preached "God has made all things good."

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