Term Paper: Theological, Interpersonal and Political Roots

Pages: 4 (1349 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

Theological, Interpersonal and Political Roots of the Protestant Reformation and the Resulting Catholic Reformation

'a man cannot be justified by faith alone.' This notion of Martin Luther caused one of the most seismic shifts in the history of Western Europe. After Luther broke from the Catholic Church, human beings were no longer simply Christian -- they were either Protestant or Catholic. And the contrasting notions of Protestantism and Catholicism were far different than those controversies which had distinguished the schism of Eastern and Western Orthodoxy. Protestantism represented an entire shift in worldview, from a religion that was defined by a Church hierarchy to a portable religion that was 'of the book,' or defined by the individual's relationship and his or her personal sense of faith in God.

The Renaissance's emphasis on individuality can be at least partially to 'blame' for the growing dissatisfaction with the Church. Catholic rituals, with their emphasis on the external trappings of worship and the growing political influence of the Pope, bishops, and the clergy had caused many members of the newly empowered middle classes to chafe at the Church's domination of almost every facet of society. But because of its enforcement of orthodoxy of people's views, dissent seemed impossible, until an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, critiquing the Church's theology and its practices.

Luther was particularly disgusted by indulgences, whereby individuals could buy (with money or with good deeds) a reprieve from the suffering of purgatory for themselves or their loved ones. Luther's primary objection to the selling of indulgences was not the crass materialism of the practice, but the fact that it forgave individual sinners for a deed through payment, and did nothing to change the soul of the believer. "Luther's Theses, which outlined his theological argument against the use of indulgences, were based on the notion that Christianity is fundamentally a phenomenon of the inner world of human beings and had little or nothing to do with the outer world, such as temporal punishments" (Hooker 1996).

For Luther, some of the most significant passages in the Bible were those written by the Apostle Paul, who was attempting to define Christianity as a religion in which believers did not need to engage in the practices of the Jewish nation to be Christians. Luther wrote that piety and an open heart was the source of justification. God gave grace to the believer, not as the result of payment with specific actions or importuning a saint, but because of God's inexplicable good will. "Luther understood righteousness as a gift of God's grace. He had discovered (or recovered) the doctrine of justification by grace alone," just as the persecutor Saul was struck by God and became redeemed in Jesus (Whitford 2005). Luther, while still a monk, was haunted by his sense of unworthiness. How could a believer 'prove' that he was worthy of God, in the face of God's spiritual perfection? His only solution was that God's "acceptance is based on who one is rather than what one does. Justification is bestowed rather than achieved. Justification is not based on human righteousness, but on God's righteousness -- revealed and confirmed in Christ" (Whitford 2005). Salvation is a mysterious gift; it cannot be bought or won.

Luther was excommunicated because of his refusal to recant his 95 Theses, a terrible punishment given the dominance of Catholicism throughout Europe. Luther founded a new religion, although he had never intended to do so. Originally, he wished to reform, not fundamentally question the Church. After being cast out, Luther grew more radical. Because of his denial that adherence to rule-based laws justified the soul he elected to marry and continued his preaching. He found a great deal of receptivity to his new religion, an acceptance that might seem surprising on its surface, given the entrenched nature of Catholicism within medieval society. Part of Luther's ability to transmit his message with ease is no doubt due to his personal charisma, and his fiery, uncompromising nature. However, his creation of a religion based… [END OF PREVIEW]

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