The 500 Project

500 years, 500 beers, 500 Reformational documents, 500 words each. Connecting the obviously related fields of gonzo church history and beer criticism.

The 500 Project: 1517, 95 Theses

In October 1517, an Augustinian monk and lecturer in theology named Martin Luther circulated 95 Theses: a series of logically connected statements that he wanted to debate in public. Luther had some pointed questions about how indulgences were being sold. These indulgences were a monetary contribution to the Church which stood in for, or cancelled, an action or cost that had already been assigned to someone by their priest. These assigned actions are called the sacrament of penance. They were woven into the religious fabric of Europe.

But some of the indulgence sellers were talking up their services in ways that made Luther uncomfortable. They seemed to suggest that buying indulgences could not just cancel an assigned penance, but actually cancel the penalty of sin itself – the penalty that God had assigned, rather than what a priest had assigned. Luther thought that this kind of talk about indulgences moved people away from true repentance and acts of love. In the Theses he condemned the way indulgences were often described and put them back in context as one small way of demonstrating contrition. Luther thought the change of the inner person and their actions mattered more to God than indulgences.

BEER

Cooper’s Mild Ale is exactly what it claims: a beer for you to enjoy without much pressure. It has a hint of hops. It has a bit of sharpness on the tongue, and that lingers for a few moments. But Cooper’s Mild does not ambush you with a big hit of flavour. It doesn’t make camp on your palate and boggle your taste buds. It tells you what it is with the first sip and it doesn’t change.

All you’ll find here is a refreshing cold beer with some flavour. It’s exactly one standard drink. You can hand it to any friend, and unless they don’t like Beer In General, they won’t hate Cooper’s Mild.

Luther’s Theses were the beginning of a firestorm of debate, of religious and social upheaval, of wars and almost-wars, that would reshape Christian Europe. But in 1517 all that was unimaginable to Martin Luther. It is easy to approach him on our terms, seeing only the seeds of the man he would become.

But historical moments are not self-aware. They can spring from clear and straightforward motivations. The past is complicated. It doesn’t always need a complicated lens.

We can all sympathise with the Luther of this moment: a serious thinker putting hard questions to hucksters who were exploiting true religious feeling and the authority of the church. Anger at those who feel no shame can lead down shadowed paths. But that does not make the anger shameful. It remains a noble passion, a duty igniting:

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.