“Ten Commandments unfolded” – The Ten Commandments Steles in front of the Martin Luther Church in Voehringen

Since October 2021, the Ten Commandments have been carved in stone on ten steles in front of the Martin Luther Church in Voehringen/Iller. The reason for this was a redesign of the outdoor area around the church. The idea was to create a visible reference to the reformer. A plastic representation, i.e. a Luther monument, was deliberately avoided. Instead, the reformer was to have his say. The Ten Commandments in the version of Luther’s Small Catechism were considered suitable for the public space.

For Martin Luther, the Ten Commandments are considered “the true fountain from which all good works must spring, the true channel through which all good works must flow.”[1] They are to valued “above all other teachings as the greatest treasure God has given us.”[2] “To preach the Ten Commandments is the highest office. For they are the highest wisdom, such as even the wisest man cannot conceive.”[3] At the same time, for Luther, they bring our lives to reflection: “There is no better mirror in which you can see your need than precisely the Ten Commandments; in them you find what you lack and what you should seek.”[4] However, they are not to be understood in isolation: “Whoever wants to understand the Ten Commandments rightly and completely must understand the whole of Holy Scripture, so that he can advise, help, comfort, judge, in all matters and cases, both spiritual and secular.”[5]

With a view of the imposing copper beech in front of the church, the ten commandment steles want to show „literally“ what is promising both for the Christian way of life and for living together locally or in society, according to the words of Psalm 1: “Blessed is he who delights in the instruction of the LORD, and ponders over his instruction day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water: He brings forth his fruit in his season, and his leaves do not wither. All that he doeth prospereth him.

The fact that the Ten Commandments contain more than just prohibitions is made visible on the commandment steles. They consist of two halves: The right half made of Maggia gneiss contains the carved wording of the respective commandment. The left half, made of stainless steel sheet, is laser-inscribed with a bid declaration. This is taken from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and has been reduced by omissions to concise basic words. This brings up what is to be done in a positive way. For example, the fifth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) states: “help our neighbor and stand by him in all his needs” and regarding the eighth commandment (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor): “excuse our neighbor, speak good of him”.

The halves of the stelae are each set at an angle of 120 degrees to each other, which corresponds to an open double page of a book or the biblical image of the two commandment tablets. When walking to the church, the view falls on the right half of the stone with the commandment texts. In this way, the stelae act as a kind of confessional mirror: I come to my senses in what I have not done justice to God and my neighbor. In this way, I direct myself in the divine service to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When I leave the church, I read the encouraging instructions on the left side of the stainless steel mirror, based on the reconciliation in Christ. These guide me to the right actions and behavior in everyday life.

“Ten Commandments Unfolded” is a joint project that is well worth seeing: The basic design was created by landscape architect Manfred Rauh from Voehringen. Matthias Bumiller from Stuttgart was commissioned to create the typeface. As a proven book designer, he has been responsible for the design and typesetting of the Hymnal Gotteslob and the new Bible edition Die Bibel. Einheitsuebersetzung. The inscription on the stainless steel half was done by Armin Gutjahr (Illertissen) together with Christian Duerr (Ingstetten) using laser technology. The master stone sculptor and designer Harald Stoelzle from Altenstadt was responsible for the choice of stone – a branch mica gneiss (Beola) from the Maggia Valley in the Swiss Ticino – its inscription as well as the assembly and installation of the stelae.

Even though the commandment stelae are located on church grounds, they also want to have an effect on the public. After all, the biblical Ten Commandments have shaped our society for far more than 1,000 years. It is good if they are brought to mind anew. As a Lutheran congregation, we do not want to make any moral accusations. In fact, it would be problematic if we were to take the two commandment tablets into our own hands in order to hold them up to others. As the “person holding them out”, one claims to be on the right side behind the commandments. However, exactly this is not possible with the order of the Ten Commandments steles. On the way to the church, everyone can – without moving – literally stand by each individual commandment or walk past it. Due to the height of two meters, there is no “holding” position behind the respective commandment stelae.

What unites us and what challenges us together with regard to living together locally – “Ten Commandments unfolded” wants to make a contribution to this in Voehringen. It’s good when the message gets through to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Jochen Teuffel

[1] The Large Catechism, Conclusion of the Ten Commandments (The Book of Concord, ed. Th. G. Tappert, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959, p. 407).

[2] The Large Catechism (Tappert, p. 411).

[3] WA 29, 526,2-4 [Maximum officium praedicare 10 praecepta, quae maxima sunt sapentia, quae nullus sapientissimus potest erdencken].

[4] Treatise on Good Works (WA 6, 236,21f).

[5] The Large Catechism, Preface (own Translation). Tappert’s translation is misleading: “Anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire Scriptures. In all affairs and circumstances he can counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters” (p. 361).