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Pros and Cons of the Reformation

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Published: 29th Sep 2017 in History

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Pros and cons of the reformation

The middle of the 1400s was period of dramatic change, marked with end of the age of chivalry as new forms of weapon were produced and a utilization of gunpowder transformed the traditional concept of knights in shining armor. Consequentially, the hierarchy of the nobility became unstable, their supremacy no longer marked by their ability to bear arms and defend their homeland. Within the same period, the supremacy of the upper-class took another blow when the printing press was invented, allowing more of the population to acquire the written word, now attainable and affordable. However, with these new developments into the proceeding centuries, the availability of copies of the Holy Bible and an increase in Church sandal led to an age of extreme superstition. In order to confront these issues and cope with the changing world, figures Martin Luther and John Calvin took noteworthy action within what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.

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Peaking in the 1500s, an overzealous church showed prominent internal problems. First, with the new translations of Scripture available, people began to take the Bible seriously again. However, bad translations or interpretations, such as in the case of Joshua slaughtering the Canaanites, made some readers believe that that would be allowable in their time as well (Joshua 10:40). Due to this ____, the Church began to think that the text was too dangerous and full of misunderstanding, necessitating a control of information given to the masses. Along those lines, the papacy decided that, as successors to Peter, no one would have the authority to question their authority since they have been divinely appointed. Since their power presumably comes from a special connection to God, authorities within the church used their positions to abuse that power.

The most noticeable abuses of power were in not keeping with the code of the religious position, such as forgoing chastity in order to have ___ sexual relations, or placing relatives into positions of power. The most infamous corruption of this time was the Church stealing patrons’ money through indulgences, a remission of punishments for sins and forgiveness of its guilt through payment.

  • Tetzel’s Sermon pg19
  • Church had religious, cultural, political, and economic power
    • “The pope can do all things God can do.”
    • Nicolaus de Tudeschis[1386-1445], famous Benedictine canonist and abbot,in “Commentaria” (lvi, 34)

Therefore, in this time, religious faithful had a conception that God can be bribed for redemption. For fear of eternal damnation, people paid money to the Church in exchange for absolution of their sins, or those of their relatives, allowing entry into Heaven. Based on an idea similar to “Jesus offering Himself to appease His angry father,” the Church cashed in on the surplus of sins in their communities (Ranasinghe). However, with that thought, Martin Luther emerged with a counter argument, proposing that the death of Jesus is worth infinitely more than any human sin, so, with His supreme offering, the Church should not need any of the congregation’s money involved.

In 1517, Luther wrote a letter to Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg, which included a copy of his 95 Theses, protests against clerical abuses of power such as the practice of indulgences. In the letter, Luther suggests that this sale of reconciliation and buying one’s way out of “all punishment and guilt” must have occurred without Albert’s “knowledge and consent,” hoping that reform may come from within the Church (26; 27). Perhaps starting the Protestant Reformation with his Theses, Luther’s small attempts at reforming the church quickly exploded into a revolution out of his control.

In addition to challenging the church’s practice of selling indulgences, Luther proposed that Biblical Scripture should become its own sole authority, not determined by a church official such as the pope. Therefore, faith became more important than good works, advising that humans cannot become good people or pleasing in the eyes of the Lord by performing virtuous actions. Rather, Luther created a new view of God entirely, rather than the old church’s blasphemous conception of one that can be bribed. According to Luther, humans are subordinate to an angry God, due to Original Sin. Only able to be saved by God’s grace, the core of human sinfulness comes from the natural seeking of happiness, a sure sign of human depravity. Since trying to construct our own happiness and not turning to God, the only way to become a virtuous person is to realize that you are not capable of virtue and thereby dependent on God alone.

Living on earth, children of God must observe human laws but know that they can never be just or worthy in His eyes. Crying out from the depths of human depravity, humans cannot know themselves as anything other than sinners ruled by their passions and vices. Both in the Bible and in the writings of Augustine, Luther agrees Christ would have “died in vain” if man were capable of virtue (Galatians 2:21). In order to remind ourselves of our sinfulness, the purpose of human laws and rulers is to make it impossible to maintain a clear conscience. Making humans feel guilty and aware of their own wickedness, Luther wanted to keep the faithful away from the dangerous illusion that they can live apart from God and remind them of how unworthy they are, so in no way capable of buying their way into Heaven.

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While Luther was a reformer, his ideas quickly had a life of their own, exploding and creating a revolutionary situation. People had uncontrollably angry reactions against the excesses of the Church, breaking the stained glass and destroying anything that spoke merely of the beauty of God. Thus, John Calvin constructed a new system out of the explosion, similarly whitewashing walls of the churchs and putting some pieces back together, transforming protestant Christianity into a reformed church based upon ideas of Luther.

Calvin’s teachings were slightly different from Luther’s but maintained the same Protestant thought. He taught that human existence depends on God, predisposing an existence of a Creator and implying that the world is not of our own making. Therefore, under an omnipotent God, Calvin believed in predestination, a “doctrine” that God had pre-established and divinely ordered everything and that nothing, except perhaps God, can change it. Consequently, if a man is considered a good person, it is because he has been selected, out of everyone, by God to be good. Similarly, if he had been chosen to go to Hell, he is able to choose how to get there, but he cannot turn around and choose God, since God must choose him, a ___ called irresistible grace. Unable to deny or resist God’s Will, chosen or not, God’s foreknowledge also implies a state of limited atonement, where not all were “created on equal terms” and that Jesus died for the select few, not the many (219; 220).

  • Pg 213-254
    • Good works are an evidence of faith and chosen-ness, works + faith = chosen (opp. Luther)
  • We are unable to know the will of God; human curiosity, questioning is wicked
    • “let us abstain from the search of knowledge , to which it is foolish as well as perilous and even fatal to aspire” (217)
  • Church decides what is in the Bible, so turn to the Church for answers
    • Luther doesn’t believe you need church, you can read Scripture for yourself
    • Calvin: Scripture has authority, exists prior to the church (in the beginning was the word…and the word was with god…)
      • Church doesn’t form scripture, scripture forms the church, continually educates it
      • Script. Is timeless, story progresses, conception of God gets increasingly sophisticated as people grow in faith, over lifetime
        • Continually refined over course of history
    • Scripture is an illustration, not a divine work…it contains divine Word, but the object itself isn’t divine. Words point beyond itself, reminder of something more important but not sacred itself (meaning > words)
  • Pros of their actions
    • Free thought, authority of word called into question
      • Think for themselves now, interpret (Bible loses sacredness)
      • Luther – believed that Bible has meaning that should be available to/understood by any intelligible person
      • Calvin – scripture = interaction between human and mind of God through written text, interpretation allowed since word isn’t divine/only represents divine
    • Set stage for future ages of reason, challenging authority
      • Lessened power of the corrupt within the church
      • Shut down monastaries, suspicious of stealing money, friars getting into mischief at nunneries (brothels) – Luther allowed priests/nuns to marry
      • World changing view: nothing special about priests, mass (can be meaningful but not literal and blasphemous)
    • Stopped the stealing of money, exposed the scandal of indulgences
    • Patience for change – don’t cause a scandal with brash actions, restrain/reformation is exploding
    • Calvin: human improvement is possible through divinely established institutions (scripture)
      • Connects state, human community – live according to deeper understanding of word of God
  • Cons
    • Caused many wars, deaths (30 years’ war)
    • Multitude of Protestant denominations that don’t agree on interpretations
    • Luther picking and choosing what he wanted them to read
      • Anti-semitism, pg 137-142
      • Pg. 140: sharp mercy like a physician
        • Jews are source of lies, stubborn in scorn/contempt
      • Pg. 66, September Bible/Luther’s preface
        • Opposed to James’ Epistle…he chooses what’s good/isn’t
          • Making sure they read it through his eyes
        • More interested in OT, Gospel of John in NT
          • Leave out stories of works, preachings
          • Just wants Jesus, commitment to Word of God, not to His works/miracles (faith > works)
            • Pro: Jesus also didn’t want people just following Him for his miracles
            • Luther, not interested in humanity of Jesus. Humanity is inherently evil, selfish
            • We’re all sinners in the hands of an angry God
    • People think that bible in infallible
      • Problem of the bible
      • Old church was afraid people would understand/misinterpret parts of the bible (Solomon’s 700 wives)
      • Luther insists that it is the exact word of God, not interpretations/metaphors
    • “Proper christian attitude toward authority”
      • We’re meant to suffer – state should contain our appetites, desires, manage our human sinfulness
        • We can’t know ourselves, since we’re too sinful to know
        • Rulers can know, mold us because they’re ordained
          • Punishment, suffering makes us more virtuous, obedient  more humble
          • Break you to reshape you, they know what’s good for us
      • Trapped by form of reasoning, trying to control spiritual things by making them objects we can control
        • Symptomatic of fallen-ness of humans
      • Christians are free in one sense but slaves in another
      • “mouths are gagged, soul is free”
        • Tension with the problem of slavery – page 117
        • It’s okay because it’s in the Bible (Abraham) – “carnal” problem, soul is still free/Christian liberty
      • Why we need to be ruled = make us unhappy, kill the illusion that we can be happy without God = only through suffering do we become virtuous
        • A good ruler is a wicked ruler
          • Show us how fallen, depraved, sinful our nature of humanity is
  • No definite conclusion, a lot of good but a lot of monstrous evil as well
    • Happiness understood in terms of unhappiness
      • Unhappier we are, happier we can be
      • Paradox: still seeking happiness by being unhappy
      • Viscous cycle, divided against ourselves: I am a sinner, I don’t expect to be saved — so I will be saved
    • Understandings of God
      • Old church: angry god that can be bribed with indulgences, not good works or faith
      • Luther: angry god, focus on condemnation (like in the OT), God is merciless, can’t change destiny of our human sinfulness
      • Erasmus: loving, forgiveness, humor, humility; human foolishness
    • “We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty” …Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Letter of June 20, 1894

“Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God,” (1 Nephi 13:28).

The Pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, he is Jesus Christ himself, hidden under the veil of flesh.” Catholic National July 1895.

(Ranasinghe 1/28/14)



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