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The Reformation: Lutheran and Reformed Luther and Lutheranism

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The Reformation: Lutheran and Reformed

Luther and Lutheranism

  1. Biographical: Martin Luther (1483-1546), son of a miner in Saxony, educated at Erfurt University for a career in law; after a brush with death in 1505 entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. A zealous monk, obsessed with fears of damnation. Professor of theology at new Univ. of Wittenberg from 1511. His biblical studies led him to a ‘new’ theology of salvation by faith alone. Influenced by the scriptures (esp. St Paul’s epistles), St Augustine; & perhaps German humanism, in his readiness to question tradition, go back to original sources, and in his German nationalist feeling. His aim: not to break the church but set it back on the right course.

  2. The clash with Rome. Prompted over indulgences (remission of sins in return for e.g. going on pilgrimage). Luther saw this as fraudulent and endangering souls. 1516- attacked indulgences for pilgrims to the collection of holy relics amassed by his own prince, the Elector Frederick of Saxony (almost 20,000 relics, ‘worth’ 1,902,202 years off time in purgatory). 1517- attacked indulgences sold by Tetzel for the archbp of Mainz and the pope, and drew up the ‘95 Theses’ which aroused huge controversy. Meetings at the Diet of Augsburg 1518 and Diet of Worms 1521 ended in deadlock. Luther was now condemned as a heretic; and soon condemned the pope as antichrist.

  3. Luther’s beliefs. a) Religious: central concern with salvation. Rejected Catholic teaching of salvation through the sacraments and good works; stressed salvation by faith alone, given freely by God to those who will be saved, the ‘elect’. Sin no longer condemns mankind to hell or purgatory (purgatory rejected as unscriptural). Luther left no role for human effort, which implied predestination (an omniscient God always knew whom he would save). Luther saw this ‘discovery’ as liberating, and so did many others: freedom from purgatory and anxiety over sin.

b) Church & clergy. Clergy no longer mediators between man and God (cf ‘priesthood of all believers’). No longer a separate ‘caste’: can now marry (as Luther did), but still crucial as preachers and teachers. Services: in the vernacular. Luther translates the Bible into German. Reduces the sacraments to 2 (baptism and the mass); the laity now receive both bread and wine (formerly the wine was for clerics only).

c) Political and social teaching. Not a revolutionary: urged obedience to princes and

all political authority. Found it hard even to justify Lutheran princes resisting the

Catholic Emperor. Luther was never a radical in social/economic/political terms; his

condemnation of the Peasants’ Revolt (1524-5) matched his earlier teaching.

The Spread of Lutheran ideas 3 key issues: a) methods- how did the message spread? b) which social groups responded, and why? c) role of the princes?

1. Methods

a) role of printing press. Scale of circulation of Luther’s pamphlets (1/3 million

copies by 1521). b) Luther’s style & contribution as pamphleteer: theological sophistication plus earthy populism c) Failure or unwillingness of Catholics to reply in kind d) Role of visual material, esp. cartoons, in undermining respect for RC Church e) role of spoken word- preaching

  1. Appeal: social groups

  1. clergy and ex-monks b) urban centres: 65 Imperial Free Cities- 50 of them became

Lutheran, at least temporarily. Factors include more literate population, greater accessibility of printed material, potential impact of reforming preacher, greater visibility of Church wealth & privilege, producing anti-clerical resentment c) peasantry? Largely illiterate but responded to certain aspects of Luther’s teachings, esp. on tithes, and the sense of ‘liberation’; less so.after suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. Peasants incorporated many aspects of traditional religious ideas in their (mis)understandings of Luther and his message, including miraculous elements.

  1. Role of the Princes and the Emperor

  1. Princes. At first cautious; Elector Frederick of Saxony shielded Luther

but never endorsed his beliefs. Some rulers did later offer support (eg Philip of

Hesse, half a dozen by 1530)- crucial for long-term survival.

  1. Charles V- slow to recognise importance of the Lutheran problem; even then

distracted by other problems, esp. the Ottoman threat. Charles V triumphed over

the Lutheran alliance at Muhlberg, 1547, but the princes, inc. Catholic ones, then

turned against him. Charles was driven out of Germany, 1552, paving the way for

the Peace of Augsburg, 1555. That gave the princes freedom to determine the

religious settlement in their own territories (‘cuius regio, eius religio’).
The Reformed Churches: Zwingli, Calvin and Calvinism
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), Zurich reformer. More radical than Luther. Saw the sacraments (baptism & eucharist/communion) as largely symbolic. More ambitious than Luther to reform society as well as individuals. Zurich adopted a Protestant system 1523, but Zwingli was killed in battle (Kappel, 1531
John Calvin (1509-64): French, but fled France after crackdown on heresy. Published Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). Settled in Geneva 1536-8 (expelled) and 1541-64. The Calvinist system: a) Theology- salvation by faith through grace (& predestination) b) church structure: pastors, teachers, lay elders, lay deacons. Above them the consistory (pastors & elders) responsible for church government and discipline. Broader aims of godly reformation: a) strict moral reformation b) social welfare: medical and educational provision, intervention over wages and interest rates.

Calvin’s Geneva’? Calvin was never a magistrate, nor even a citizen for many years. Resented as foreigner and killjoy, including by many old magistrates, whom he dubbed the Libertines. They were dominant 1548-54, but Calvin’s friends firmly in control from 1554/5 and destroyed the opposition. (cf modern Iran).

Why did Calvinism expand more successfully than Lutheranism?

Lutheranism- a) an ‘establishment’ religion by 1540 b) lacked a political ideology of resistance c) lacked any broader vision of a new order to inspire a popular movement. Calvinism- a) had organization & structure- the consistory (local), and synod (regional), so could be built up from below. b) an ideology of ‘respectable’ resistance- by the ‘lesser magistrates’- which held the line against peasant protest. c) offered broad vision to inspire enthusiasm and action. The elect as God’s instruments, with conservative values (social discipline) but revolutionary vision and methods.

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