The Roman Catholic Church dominated religion for many years in Europe and became an extremely powerful institution. Over the years, the Roman church became corrupt and immoral in many ways. The development of the Protestant Reformation, Lutheranism, was greatly influenced by political events in the years proceeding the 16th century. The declared aim of the original reformer, Martin Luther, was to restore the Christian faith as it had been at its formation, while salvaging what he considered valuable from the Roman Catholic tradition that had developed during the previous centuries. Luther broke the unity of the Catholic Church forever by exposing their faults and misguided notions. Lutheranism spread quickly due to the availability of the Christian Faith, as well as the close relationship between religion and the state.
Luther believed that the Christian Faith was being exploited. The leaders of the Roman church were abusing their monopoly over their Christian followers for their benefit. Luther wrote The Ninety-Five Theses in response to the sale of indulgences by the Pope. He wanted to make the people aware of how a true Christian should act and how the Pope was violating them: “The treasures of indulgences are nets, whereby they now fish for the riches of men.” (Luther, The Nine-Five Thesis, p.5) He felt that giving to the poor and needy would make them far better off than if they bought pardons. The Romanists had set up barriers so that no one could condemn their actions and power. They thought that the temporal power had no jurisdiction over the spiritual power. Secondly, the only person who could interpret the Scriptures was the Pope. Therefore, he decided what was right and what was wrong: “the pope cannot err in matters of faith, whether he be evil or good” (Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, p.7). Lastly, the only person who could call a counsil was the Pope. This last point emphasizes that the Roman Catholic Empire created laws of their own that were dictated by one sole person. Luther set out to spread his idea of true Christianity.
The main ideology of Lutheranism is that salvation can be gained by three fundamental precepts: by faith, by grace and by scripture alone. Luther felt that Salvation could not be achieved through good works such as prayer or holy living: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” (Luther, On Christian Liberty, p.9). Faith in God is created through the belief and love for Him; salvation would rise from it nonetheless. Luther felt that it was up to every individual to interpret the Scriptures and decide for himself what was good. This was a revolutionary concept, as previously it had been only the Pope who could interpret the Scriptures. Another concept of Lutheranism was that every believer could achieve priesthood. All men who had true faith had the opportunity to serve God and were equal in His eyes. “Among Christians there shall and can be no authority; rather all are alike subject to one another.” (Luther, Part Two. How Far Temporal Authority Extends, p.31). Bishops and priests in the Lutheran church were not authoritative figures but simply serving an office.
In comparison to other sects that evolved from the Protestant Reformation, Lutheranism had a different view concerning the relationship between religion and the state. Luther felt that the two ‘kingdoms’, that of the world and that of God, were separate entities which both provided a service to God. All true Christians belonged to the kingdom of God, but these true Christians were few and far between. The kingdom of the world was responsible for establishing order and restraining the non-believers from doing evil. He felt there would be no need for temporal power if all humans were true Christians: “If all the world were composed of real Christians, that is, true believers, there would be no need for or benefits from prince, king, lord, sword or law.” (Luther, On Governmental Authority, p. 21) Luther interpreted the Scriptures, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” to mean that man should be responsible for punishing the guilty as these laws were established by God. Luther became dependent on the kingdom of the world for his protection and the expansion of his ideas. Many lords and princes were in favor of Lutheranism because it placed power back in their hands. The Roman Catholic Empire was extremely powerful at this time and owned large amounts of land. “Where a state turned Lutheran it usually ‘secularized’ the church properties within its borders, a process which considerably enriched some of the Lutheran princes and gave them a strong material interest in the success of the Lutheran movement.” (Palmer and Colton, p.79). This would evidently increase the power and profit those princes. Thus, it benefited both the religion and the state to uphold Lutheranism.
Although the temporal power was an important part of Lutheranism there were still boundaries placed upon it. The temporal power could not enforce religion. The only way a person could believe was through the heart: “In doing so they only compel weak and consciences to lie, to disavow, and to utter what is not in their hearts.” (Luther, How Far Temporal Authority Extends, p.28) Temporal power applies only to external things such as taxes, revenues, and over evil works. “The soul is not under the authority of Caesar” (Luther, How far Temporal Authority Extends, p.29). Thus if the temporal leader was to enforce you to believe in something that wasn’t in your heart, Luther would say resist without force: “If you give in to him and let him take away your faith and your books, you have truly denied God.” (Luther, How far Temporal Authority Extends, p.29) Faith was a free act that no one could force because it came from within.
The Protestant Reformation appealed to many including political rulers, princes and those living in towns who were tired of paying papal dues and taxes to Rome. Lutheranism was the first of its kind to give a freedom to the individual and a sense of equality among men. The Scriptures themselves could provide salvation, which was the purpose of every man’s life. This provided a sense of peace to those living in a world full of corruption, tyranny, and death. The governmental authority was a means of protecting the neighborhood from the evils of the world and structured itself to be from the will of God. This authority also profited from Lutheranism, which allowed it to become such a success.
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