What a difference a single letter makes.

While the Pope is in the UK next week I will be popping over to Wittenberg for the annual joint meeting of the Meissen Commission (of which I am the Anglican co-chair). The coincidence is both unfortunate and funny: Wittenberg, of course, is where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in 1517, thus igniting what became the Protestant Reformation in Europe. See also the post of a few days ago.)

I have informed the Archbishop of Canterbury that there is no theological or ecclesiological significance in me being there while the Pope is here…

While preparing for next week (Meissen begins on Thursday immediately after the annual College of Bishops Meeting in Oxford – so, it’s a bit of a week of fun fun fun…), the ‘noises off’ were dominated by the threatened burning of the Qur’an in the USA. A tiny spark, ignited by a remarkably … er … insensitive … er … ‘pastor’, has created a huge conflagration of unnecessary anger and frustration. Not the most intelligent of Christian pastors, is he – whichever way you look at it?

Goering's old Air Ministry & Berlin Wall from Topographie des TerrorsThese threats of book-burning brought to my mind the pictures I saw again recently in the harrowing exhibition Topographie des Terrors in Berlin (built on the site of where the old Gestapo HQ used to be). On 10 May 1933 tens of thousands of books were burned in Berlin by the Nazis – including those by the poet Heinrich Heine. Ironically (or not), Heine had once written:

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen (Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people.)

Draw your own conclusions. The phenomenon of book-burning is well explored in today’s Guardian by Jon Henley – which I spotted just as I was about to write something similar here. He does it better, so I defer to him.

Of course, burning books does nothing to kill the ideas contained within them. And if ideologies and regimes cannot stand the scrutiny of people who think differently, they are ultimately doomed anyway.

I am tempted to post my ‘theses’ while I am in Wittenberg and the Pope is here in London. I don’t think I can run to 95. I might post 9.5 in the medium Luther might have used had it been available to him in 1517. (The door he nailed them to has since been burned and replaced with a bronze one.) Watch this space…