Did you know that October 31st is not only Halloween but Reformation Day? It was on that date in 1517 that Martin Luther famously is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Reformation Day is a holiday in Slovenia, Chile, and five of the German states. If you’d like to celebrate this day that changed religious history then go to a website with a ‘Pin the Beard on the Theologian’ game: http://churchhistoryabcs.com/Pin%20the%20Beard.pdf
You can photocopy John Calvin’s face and then, in a version of ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’, blindfolded children can try to pin a beard on it.
Or you can go into the ‘Luther Maze’, http://www.churchhistoryabcs.com/Luther-maze.pdf, where Luther is looking for his hammer and you can trace through the maze to help him find it.
In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, Reformation Day is bittersweet. Unitarianism was a challenge to Trinitarianism and Catholicism, and it was able to survive and travel throughout Europe as the Reformation spread. But John Calvin himself was the person who secured the death of one of our most important figures, Michael Servetus, who was put to death on October 27, 1553.
Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland, after being captured while escaping to Italy from France, where the Catholic Inquisition had briefly held him as a heretic. Servetus wrote about the fact that the Bible has no Trinitarian doctrine to back up the insistence of Christianity of the existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and his writings fueled dissatisfaction with Catholicism and threatened the credibility of Trinitarian Protestantism.
So Servetus had the dubious honor of being wanted as a heretic by both factions of the Reformation, but his horrible death made many people of faith call into question the punishment by death of those who had different religious beliefs.
The right to question and the importance of liberal religious freedom are values that come from the struggles of Servetus, Francis David, John Biddle, and others, who fought a valiant and often lonely battle against the religious status quo. So, at this time of the year, rather than celebrate Luther’s hammer or Calvin’s beard, I would rather mark the contribution of Servetus, which is summed up by the inscription found on a monument to him in the vicinity of his execution:
“Michel Servet[us], . . . geographer, physician, physiologist, contributed to the welfare of humanity by his scientific discoveries, his devotion to the sick and the poor, and the indomitable independence of his intelligence and his conscience … His convictions were invincible. He made a sacrifice of his life for the cause of the truth.” (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Servetus#Quotes_about_Servetus)