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The Reformation And Martin Luther. The Reformation must be taken into historical context—as a historical phenomenon.

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The Reformation


Martin Luther

The Reformation must be taken into historical context—as a historical phenomenon.
  • It is truly one of the Big watershed events in Western Civilization; along with Classical antiquity, Jesus Christ, Mohammad, English Common Law and the Constitution of the United States.
  • May seem relatively unimportant today, but without the Reformation “justification by faith” and ‘Grace’ would be tied to iconography, politics, and human intervention.
Martin Luther, however, must be placed into a historical setting and context.
  • Without previous Giants and lesser Giants, the road would have not been prepared—and Martin Luther as Jon Huss may have withered at the stake—rather than influencing the World.
  • Nationalism and the distrust of the papacy and unabridged power and corruption of the Church allowed for a dissenter as Luther to demand redress of grievances.
Reformation is ambiguous, not easily defined; it can mean “make better” or “make over.”
  • One thing is certain from the Golden Bull of 1356 to Luther, many princes and principalities resented the intrusion of the Church—and its material demands
Before, Luther it was understood and accepted that all authority was vested in a temporal and spiritual head—vested by God, this meant the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope;
  • The Epistola Clementis juxtaposed with scriptural text from Matthew and Peter conferred absolute authority in these entities and held sway over Church and Earth—stamped by Heaven;
  • Power was Monarchical and derived from God without human mediation or council.
Role of the Church
  • Preserve apostolic teachings
  • Prevent intrusion of error

(only the church could explain scriptures)

  • Eradicate heresy
  • Safe guard the Creeds (Nicene…)
  • Enshrined Monasticism and asceticism
  • Teach life according to scriptures
  • Administer discipline, wherever needed
Luther did not refute the role of the church, but its abusive practices;
  • Priesthood had been instituted by Christ; St. Peter by declaration from Christ was to head the church and nurture all Christians;
  • The Petrine doctrine afforded the Pope absolute power over Church doctrine and practices;
  • Pope used excommunication as a powerful motivator to keep people under tow—to be adrift without blessings was to be ostracized and marked as a devil.
Luther’s path to reform—two branches:
  • 1) influenced by Christian Humanism; shared the humanist dislike for Scholasticism; accepted much of the criticism of the Church of the period.
  • 2) Highly sensitive personality; prone to deep thoughts, doubts, and at times extreme pessimism; considered himself and all others unworthy of God;
  • It was truly God’s grace that allowed salvation.
1516 Johan Tetzel was a very influential Preacher or as we suggest today—a good marketer of Church relics and icons;
  • He was simply the best front man in Christendom—St. Peters Basilica needed to be built and money was needed.
Indulgences, by the time of Luther, was a fairly common practice;
  • If a church could have a greater relic than others, it had more favor with God.
  • Luther disagreed on two counts—it was only a material example of ‘Good works’ which was not efficacious alone;
  • It transferred to much money and power to the Viennese bankers and the Pope, or Rome.
The 95 Theses were a disputation (academic debate) against indulgences; in reality this was not uncommon for academics wishing to debate or clarify questionable issues of human and spiritual concern—would later be a gesture of defiance.
  • Many of the humanists greeted the Theses warmly—the Church first tried to discipline him at Wittenberg; Luther could be incorrigible—especially when he was certain of his correctness.
Some things the Church could agree needed redressing and correcting, but true to Luther’s temperament, he went further:
  • The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.

2. The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God;

The penitential canons apply only to men who are still alive, and, according to the canons themselves, none applies to the dead.
  • Now, he is direct defiance of the Pope and fundamental tenets of the Church;
  • Luther rejected the authority of the Popes and Councils—he is on direct course of separation from Rome;
  • Not his original intention, but there it is.
Along with many published table talks, he published three (3) great treatises:
  • 1) Address to the German Nobility—to reform the church, you must desist all payments and tributes to Rome; ban clerical celibacy, end masses for the dead, and ignore desires for pilgrimages—these were all works without faith;
  • 2) Babylonian Captivity of the Church—end all these useless practices, offer communion to the laity—and only Baptism and Communion were valid sacraments. Transubstantiation was real.
3) On the Freedom of a Christian Man—salvation depended solely on faith and grace—therefore all men were free of ‘Good works’ as the only road to salvation.
  • 1520 Rome condemned 41 of Luther’s 95 points;
  • 1521 Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther
  • At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther refused to recant—he was granted safe conduct to Saxony—Frederick the Elector III protected him.
Luther did intervene in Wittenberg to defy other reformers he thought dangerous to Christianity and the Church; especially the Swiss;
  • 1529 he made some overtures to Rome, but refuted any other reform movement to have the authority or credibility to do so.
  • 1524, married Catherine von Bora, a reformed Nun—tough and bright and independent in her own right.
Luther lent his name and prestige to the German Prince’s to put down the Peasant’s revolt; claiming that the movement must remain intellectual and not become sordid by ignorant peasants;
  • He translated the Bible into German; he also used the Printing Press to continue a long dissemination and dissension with the Catholic Church—tended to be more academic than vitriol or invective.
He penned many commentaries and treatises on Christianity and many hymns; by all accounts a very good musician and good voice as did Catherine.
  • He laid down the doctrine of what would become Protestantism—They who Protest;
  • Core of his teachings rest in three “alones” or “onlys.”
Sola Fide—Salvation is “by faith alone.” Faith is free and is a gift from God.
  • (Erasmus—an exercise of free will, people could choose to believe);
  • Sola Gratia—salvation depends on the grace of God alone—his gift is independent of human action—it is because of Christ’s death on the Cross—man need only have faith, believe, accept, and ask …
3) Sola Scriptura—the “Bible alone” teaches all we need to know and is the single source of authority—Popes, councils, and traditions were sinful man-made inventions to keep people loyal to a human endeavor—not to God as it should be …
  • He was a forceful and gifted writer—the first, noted by some, German patriot;
  • Scholars past and present still debate the true influence of Luther—there is no mistaken his religious influence—Luther to the Germans would become the epitome of nationalism.
Luther was prophetic, with all his defects and weaknesses and his seeming over virtuous character of himself;
  • He initiated profound and penetrating judgment immersed in biblical scholarship with an impressive intellectual mind;
  • The most prominent spiritual leader of his time;
It must be remembered that Luther never intended to split the Church—just reform it;
  • As Luther leaves the scene, a more incisive and a better administrative genius comes along—John Calvin;
  • Ironically Calvinism exerted more influence on the future of the World than Luther—again, Luther never intended to become a religious movement—Calvin did—Still, it was Luther with some pre-paved roads, that fractured and weakened the strong-hold of the catholic Church—It was Luther could instilled the notion that God and man could reconcile—w/o material penance.