January 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — If you happen to receive a piece of mail from the Vatican this year, don’t be surprised to see the face of Martin Luther.
The Vatican office charged with issuing stamps, known as the Philatelic and Numismatic Office, confirmed Tuesday to LifeSiteNews that Luther, who broke away from the Catholic Church in a schism 500 years ago, will be celebrated with a postage stamp in 2017. The office is in charge of the annual commission of stamps, coins, and other commemorative medals.
The Vatican regularly issues such memorabilia for special events, including papal trips and holy years. Honoring Luther and the Protestant Reformation is an unlikely choice, trumping other significant events in the Catholic Church such as the 100-year anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and the 300-year anniversary of our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil.
Major events such as Christmas, Easter, the Holy Year of Mercy, and the World Meeting of Families have also merited a commemorative stamp. In the time before a Papal election, when the seat of Peter is vacant, the Philatelic and Numismatic office issues a “Sede Vacante” stamp.
Usually if individuals are commemorated on stamps they are saints, such as Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII, who most recently were honored with stamps.
While the Vatican has in the past collaborated with other national post offices to create stamps that are not of explicitly religious content, such as Charlie Chaplain or the fall of the Berlin wall, the Luther stamp has an undeniable religious connotation linked with much hostility to the Catholic Church.
In 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses against the Catholic Church and began what thereafter has been known as the Reformation, leading to a schism in the Church. This was followed by the formation of Protestant denominations that later spilled into other countries, fueled by others such as John Calvin and Jan Hus. The confessional war that followed, the “Thirty Years’ War,” with its 10 million deaths was known to be the bloodiest war in Europe until World War I.
Luther, an Augustinian monk, was excommunicated in 1521 by Pope Leo X with the papal bull, Decet Romanum Pontificem. At age 41, he married Katharina von Bora, a run-away Cistercian nun of 26 years.
Pope Francis was criticized in the fall for his trip to Lund, Sweden for a commemoration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary. He held an ecumenical event with Lutherans in the Vatican on October 13 with a statue of Martin Luther displayed. He has also suggested an openness to some Lutherans receiving the Eucharist. A Vatican office under his direction recently referred to Luther as a “witness to the Gospel.”