Martin Luther And The Lutheran Reformation

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Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation

Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation

This essay is concerned with Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his concept of Christianity. Consequently, Luther was initially loyal to the papacy and after many theological conflicts, he tried to reconcile with the church. But this was a paradox not to endure because in his later years, Luther waged a continual battle with the papacy. Martin Luther, although he was not a politician, saw himself as a professor of the Holy Scriptures and a teacher of the church. Like St. Thomas, Luther believed that each person had his proper place in society and should keep it, and he used the word ''calling" to suggest that God wants a Christian to be dedicated to his vocation. He set in motion epochal changes in the culture and politics of 16th-century Europe, changes that helped shape the history not only of Europe but also of the world.

The Reformation, like the Renaissance, was born in the fold of little states. Indeed, without them, it could not have survived. Like the humanists, the Reformers were opposed to the cloister and were thoroughly committed to life in the world. The culture roughly described as humanist in an agrarian state, and the Reformation, arose as papal vitality grew. Both movements were of emancipation, drawing their inspiration and their legitimacy from an earlier period. In their recasting of values, and their attempt to shape new views of man, the humanists and Reformers were similar, but their visions of life and of human capacity and their sources of authority were quite different.

Early Christian authority, rather than pagan classics guided the Reformers. They were less Greek and Roman than Hebrew. Although Rome wanted to silence Luther, powerful German princes, led by Elector Frederick of Saxony, Luther's benefactor, secured freedom of speech for him. While the humanists satirized the abuses of the Church, the Reformers denounced them. What mattered was the abuse of the spiritual office of the Pope. And the abuse rested on claims that became the focus of the intellectual and theological grievances of the Reformers. By and large the humanists had assumed that they knew the way to salvation and devoted themselves to enriching the possibilities of life, while the Reformers were seeking new avenues of assurance.

Behind this quest lay a deep soul-sickness or, perhaps, sensitivity that had continued in Northern Europe alongside the Renaissance. It existed in the country rather than in the court and it shook the middle and lower orders more than the aristocracy.

A sense of doom had lingered long after the Plague. Throughout the 15th century the North was preoccupied with death, judgment, and hell fire, and an abiding pessimism about man's fate runs through its prose and poetry. From the time of the Plague, through wars, famines, and civil wars, there had been no respite from the threat of death and no guarantee against the onset of disaster. A high level of death-consciousness was fertile soil for the Reformation, and offers insight into Luther's unusually ...
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