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Reformation Day Latin

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed a document titled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum (Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) to the door of Church Castle in Wittenberg Germany. The entire document, known today as the 95 Theses, was written in Latin. The nature of the writing – a list of 95 theses or points of address as opposed to prose or poetry – makes this historical piece ideal for a grammar review. It also makes it easy for a teacher to pick and choose which theses to look at, depending upon what grammar your students have learned, without disrupting the entire document. I have used selections from this document to review most every use of the ablative case. On another occasion, I used it to review various participles.

The most exciting aspect of using this document in class is that students are presented the opportunity to read a piece of history as the author originally wrote it – in Latin. It is a great window into a historical event that would later be seen as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation – a key moment in the history of the Church and all of Western Civilization. The document was a list of abuses he saw within the Catholic Church at that time, items he hoped to discuss and resolve within the Catholic Church. Reading the document it quickly becomes clear that Luther (at that time) had no intention of leaving the Catholic Church nor reforming it beyond the concerns listed, primarily concerns over the sale of indulgences. Indeed, he shows a respect for many of the institutions of the Catholic Church. Reading through this document as a class has opened some wonderful discussions on history.

A copy of the Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum along with an English translation is available at the website for Project Wittenberg.

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