In two or more paragraphs, answer the following question. Your response must be single-spaced, in 10pt. Times Roman font. Answer the question thoroughly based on the files.
How did the Protestant Reformation/Catholic Reformation affect the lives of women?
Lecture 5: The Catholic
It can be assumed that the Catholic Church could never
have predicted the force of the Protestant Reformation.
This is especially so in terms of the numbers of
noblemen and other wealthy individuals who were
attracted to the theology of Luther and Calvin. The
Church did try respond but their response — internal
reform — was weak. One reform did come, it came from
man who was not even a member of the clergy. Ignatius
Loyola (1491-1556) was a soldier and Spanish reformer
who sought to create a new religious order. He fused
the best of the humanist tradition of the Renaissance
with a reformed Catholicism that he hoped would
appeal to powerful economic and political groups, that
is, those types of people now attracted to Luther and
Founded in 1534, the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits,
formed the backbone of the Catholic or Counter
Reformation. The Jesuits combined the ideas of
traditional monastic discipline with a dedication to
teaching and preaching. Why they did this is pretty
clear — they wanted to win back converts. As a
brotherhood or society, the Jesuits sought to bypass
local corruption and appealed to the papacy to leading
international movement — they would not attach
themselves to local bishops or local authorities. The
purpose of this international movement was to revive a
Catholic or universal Christianity.
As theologians, the Jesuits highlighted one central flaw
in Protestant theology, that of predestination.
Predestination offered hopes of salvation for the literate
and prosperous. It also, however, included the
possibility of doom, despair and the abyss for other
individuals. In response, the Jesuits offered hope — and
that hope to the form of religious revival based on
ceremony, tradition in the power of the priest to offer
forgiveness. In essence, the Jesuits made Christianity
more emotional. Keep in mind, that one of the reasons
why the Reformation indeed took place was because
the people wanted a more emotional and direct spiritual
life. The Jesuits urged princes to strengthen the Church
in their territories. They even developed the theology
that permitted “small sins” in the service of a just
cause. In other words, a small sin was okay if and only if
it led to some greater good.
By the 17th century, the Jesuits had become some of
the greatest teachers in your, especially in France. They
had also become one of the most controversial religious
groups within the Church. Was their religion merely a
disguise for political power? Or, where they the true
voice of a reformed Church? The Jesuits helped to build
schools and universities, design churches and even
helped to produce a unique style of art and
architecture. This style — called the Baroque — was
emotional and was intended to move the heart.
By the 1540s, the Counter Reformation was well
underway. There were several attempts to reform the
Church from within. For example, the Jesuits imitated
the Dominicans and Franciscans. Oddly enough, many
looked to humanists like Erasmus as a key to the
Church’s total reformation. Many reformers attacked
abuses as had Luther, but they avoided any clash with
the spiritual authority of the clergy or the Pope.
The Counter Reformation also took aggressive and
somewhat hostile measures against the followers of
Luther and Calvin. The Church tried to counteract
Protestantism by offering something more dramatic,
emotional and sentimental to the faithful. For
individuals unmoved by the appeal of the Jesuits and
who still adhered to Protestant heresy, the Church
resorted to more severe measures. The Inquisition,
founded in the 13th century, expanded its activities and
heretics were subject to punishment, torture and death.
Keep in mind, however, that wherever Protestantism
obtained official status — England, Scotland, Geneva,
Germany, and Scandinavia — Catholics were
One instrument that the Catholic Church had at its
disposal was censorship. After 1520, the Church was
quick to censor and burn books which might have
spread the Protestant Faith. The Church intended to
destroy all heretical literature: all Protestant books were
burned; so too were the works written by reform-
minded Catholic humanists; Petrarch and Erasmus had
to go as well. The Index of Prohibited Books became an
institution within the Church and was not abolished until
1966. The policies of the Counter Reformation —
education, preaching, church building, persecution, and
censorship — did succeed in bringing some people back
to the Church. And, in 1545, the Council of Trent met to
institute concrete changes in policy and doctrine.
Between 1545 and 1563, the Council modified and
unified Church doctrine: it abolished numerous corrupt
practices and abuses and also gave final authority to
the Pope. In general, the Council purged the Church. It
clarified issues like faith, good works, and salvation. It
passed a decree that said the Church would be the final
judge in biblical matters. The Council demanded that
the Scriptures be understood literally.
All compromise between Protestant and Catholic was
rejected. The Reformation had split Europe and the
repair of that split was just not to be. The Reformation
shattered the religious unity of Europe — to this end, the
Christian matrix was demolished. Within the matrix
more windows were opened and more walls smashed,
and the Church, as an institution, suffered a severe
setback in terms of its moral authority and political
power. By strengthening the power of monarchs, the
Reformation helped to produce the modern state.
Protestant rulers, of course, rejected papal claims to
power. Not only that, these rulers asserted their own
authority over their own churches (e.g. Henry VIII in
In an indirect way, Protestantism contributed to the
growth of political liberty. Liberty as an ideal, however,
was still 200 years in future. There were tendencies
unleashed during the Reformation that provided
justification for challenging the authority of monarchs.
Since all men are governed by the laws of God,
punishment should be given to those who break these
laws — kings included. So, in 1649, the English execute
Charles I.
the Reformation also contributed to the establishment
of an ethic of individualism. Protestants interpreted the
Bible for themselves. They faced salvation or damnation
on their own. The Reformation has also been seen as
involving out of early capitalism. For Max Weber,
Protestants found salvation without assistance. How? By
hard work, thrift, sobriety and a work ethic. So,
Protestants to fill the calling by a work ethic, the
Protestant work ethic, an individualistic work ethic with.
The end result of the Reformation was basically this: (1)
Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists and Jesuits all forced
every man woman to make a choice. The Medieval
Matrix implied that one had to conform to the standards
of the Church and everything it represented. But what
was now different was that the individual had a choice
regarding what it was he wished to conform to. (2) The
Reformation also split Europe, a division which would
eventually lead to European wars, civil wars, king
killing, revolts and rebellion. Europe would not truly
recover from Martin Luther’s Reformation until the 18th
century, if it can be said it ever did recover.
Lecture 4: The Impact of Luther
and the Radical Reformation
By the early 1520s, Luther had attracted a vast
following while the printing presses spread his message
and reputation across Germany. With his death in 1546,
we can find people of all social classes who had clearly
sided with Luther and Lutheranism. The major question
we must ask remains this: why did Lutheranism cut
across class lines and appeal to so many people? What
was so passionate about Luther’s message that made
people turn their back on the Roman Church?
The explanations for Luther’s success may be endlessly
debated by scholars but for the most part, and leaving
theological opinion aside, we can say that the people
were prepared for the message Luther delivered. Is it
simply a matter of Luther appearing at the right time
and in the right place? Perhaps. Since the 15th century
there had been a growing resentment against clerical
privilege. The clergy paid no taxes and were exempt
from those civic responsibilities that increasingly fell on
the shoulders of the urban dweller. Added to this simple
fact was the increased visibility of the clergy — there in
the cities the common person could witness the luxury
and splendor of a church whose purpose was to minister
the spiritual needs of its flock but which now seemed
indifferent, lax and, in a word, corrupt. Luther, then,
offered an alternative that was appealing perhaps for
the simple reason that is was an alternative.
Luther’s religion was also spread by preachers who were
to deliver approximately one hundred sermons per year,
each lasting about forty-five minutes. Although Luther
thought the Eucharist to be one of the most important
sacraments in the Lutheran religious gathering, it was
clearly the sermon that became the central focus of the
Meanwhile, German peasants in the countryside flocked
to Luther’s camp. Such a development was perhaps
unsurprising since Luther himself was of peasant stock.
The peasants also backed Luther’s criticism of the
authority of the Roman Church. In 1520, Luther had
written, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all and
subject to none” (On Christian Liberty). Such a
statement would have fallen on ready ears since there
were numerous instances of social unrest throughout
the 15th century. The situation was made worse in the
16th century by crop failures in 1523 and 1524. In 1525,
representatives of the peasants of Swabia drew up what
were called the “Twelve Articles,” a document that
expressed their grievances. The Articles focused on
social and economic grievances and clearly were not
intended to raise debate about theological issues.
Furthermore, the peasants complained that the nobility
had seized the common lands of the villages and had
increased dues and taxes at the same time. So, the
peasants appealed to Luther because they believed that
he could prove that their demands were in accordance
with Scripture.
But Luther was no revolutionary and wished to avoid
social rebellion at all costs. In his An Admonition to
Peace, he took the side of the peasantry and criticized
the manorial lords. However, he did not justify armed
force. In Swabia, Thuringia, the Rhineland and
elsewhere, the peasants spoke of “God’s
righteousness,” and the “Word of God,” in an effort to
have their social and economic grievances addressed.
But support from Luther was not to come. Luther had, of
course, spoken many times of the freedom of the
Christian, but he was speaking in terms of religious faith
and not matters pertaining to society. Freedom meant
independence from Rome. In response to the peasant’s
rebellion Luther wrote AGAINST THE MURDEROUS,
tract the nobility quelled the rebellion and by 1525, it is
quite possible that 100,000 peasants had been killed.
There were also across Europe a growing number of
humanists who were attracted by Luther’s message.
Luther’s call for a more personal and immediate religion
based on faith, the focus on the Scriptures in the liturgy
and in life as well as the abolition of Catholic ceremony
were just the kind of reforms that northern Christian
humanists had been willing to address. For instance,
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) took Luther’s message into
the city of Zurich and, as we have already seen, John
Calvin took Lutheranism into Geneva (see Lecture 3).
In 1523 Luther offered his German translation of the
New Testament. Since Luther had argued persuasively
that everyone at the right to read and comments on the
Scriptures, his translation attracted supporters from the
literate middle classes. For the merchant and other
members of the commercial classes, Luther perhaps
offered hope that salvation may even be possible for
the person whose sole interest was financial gain.
Meanwhile Luther wrote hymns, psalms and a variety of
other works. His A Mighty Fortress Is Our God was
perhaps his most important hymn (indeed, it is the one
hymn truly attributable to Luther’s pen), since it
reflected deep human feelings and gave to be listener
key points of Luther’s doctrine. The Large Catechism,
intended for an adult audience, contained brief
expositions on the main articles of a Lutheran faith. The
Small Catechism did pretty much the same thing only in
a condensed version and was intended for the
education of children.
By the mid-16th century, many inhabitants of towns
and villages had deviated from Christian dogma: many
of these people were heretics; many believe that Nature
was God (pantheism); and still more believe that
witches had just as much spiritual power as did priests.
The number of radical groups which appeared during
the 16th century makes them difficult to classify. They
make up what historians call the Radical Reformation.
There were men and women, many of them poor and
illiterate, who claimed to have knowledge of their own
salvation through an inner light. That is, these men and
women believed they had a direct an immediate
communication from God to his chosen people. Should
this be that surprising? Such a knowledge made his
chosen people free.
These Saints, as they called themselves, said the poor
shall inherit the earth which they believed was now
governed by the anti-Christ, i.e., the Pope. Their task
was to purge the world of evil and make the world ready
for the second coming of Christ. For these people, the
Holy Scriptures became inspiration for their brand of
social revolution. All of this, as you might have
expected, was condemned by both Luther and Calvin
(as well as the Church). The largest group of radical
reformers were the Anabaptists (literally “re-baptizers,”
used as a term a derision).
Luther and Zwingli had argued that infant baptism
marked the moment of one’s entry into the Church,
even though this had no sanction in the Bible. The
Anabaptists believed the first baptism did not count
since only mature adults could make a conscious choice
for Jesus not to young children who are totally incapable
of understanding God’s grace. The Anabaptists were a
diverse group of people. Some rejected the Trinity while
others refused to take oaths, pay taxes, hold public
office or serve in the army. Since the Anabaptists gave
the individual free choice, it was indeed possible that
Church organization was unnecessary since many
believed in personal communication with God. Many
radicals formed their own voluntary associations and
abandoned the world in order to pursue their faith,
regardless of what Luther or the Church might think.
Many practiced a primitive communism in which
everything was held in common, including property and
wives. When all of this was coupled with their idea that
the end of the world was imminent, their mission was
one of urgency.
Of course, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli detested the
radicals. By practicing a Protestant faith that deviated
from Lutheranism or Calvinism, Luther and Calvin both
argued that the radicals were damned. At an imperial
Diet held in 1529, the death penalty was issued against
all Anabaptists.
In 1534, the Melchiorites, an inflammatory sect of
Anabaptists, captured the German city of Münster. They
immediately burned all books except the Bible, banned
the use of money and seized the property of non-
believers. They killed Protestants and Catholics and
practiced polygamy and sexual excess. Their leader,
John of Leyden, had sixteen wives. As to be expected,
they proclaimed the Day of Judgment was close at
hand. Lutheran princes and Catholic bishops joined
forces to condemn and defeat the Anabaptists, who
were placed in cages and hung from the church
steeples where they were eventually tortured and left to
die. The radicals were pursued wherever they found
themselves and to survive, many of them fled to Poland,
the Low Countries, England and to the New World.
While Luther and Calvin struggled against the
Anabaptists and other radical sects, the Roman Church
was also gathering momentum to enact a genuine
reform movement — the Catholic Reformation (see
Lecture 5).
Lecture 3: The Protestant
Arise, O Lord, and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has
invaded Thy vineyard. Arise, O Peter, and consider the
case of the Holy Roman Church, the mother of all
churches, consecrated by thy blood. Arise, O Paul, who
by thy teaching and death hast illumined and dost
illumine the Church. Arise all ye saints, and the whole
universal Church, whose interpretations of Scripture has
been assailed. (papal bull of Pope Leo X, 1520)
It truly seems to me that if this fury of the Romanists
should continue, there is no remedy except that the
emperor, kings, and princes, girded with force and
arms, should resolve to attack this plague of all the
earth no longer with words but with the sword. . . . If we
punish thieves with the gallows, robbers with the sword,
and heretics with fire, why do we not all the more fling
ourselves with all our weapons upon these masters of
perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and all this sink
of Roman sodomy that ceaselessly corrupts the church
of God and wash our hands in their blood so that we
may free ourselves and all who belong to us from this
most dangerous fire? (Martin Luther, 1521)
Young people have lost that deference to their elders on
which the social order depends; they reject all
correction. Sexual offenses, rapes, adulteries, incests
and seductions are more common than ever before.
How monstrous that the world should have been
overthrown by such dense clouds for the last three or
four centuries, so that it could not see clearly how to
obey Christ’s commandment to love our enemies.
Everything is in shameful confusion; everywhere I see
only cruelty, plots, frauds, violence, injustice,
shamelessness while the poor groan under the
oppression and the innocent are arrogantly and
outrageously harassed. God must be asleep. (John
The 16th century in Europe was a great century of
change on many fronts. The humanists and artists of
the Renaissance would help characterize the age as one
of individualism and self-creativity. Humanists such as
Petrarch helped restore the dignity of mankind while
men like Machiavelli injected humanism into politics.
When all is said and done, the Renaissance helped to
secularize European society. Man was now the creator of
his own destiny — in a word, the Renaissance unleashed
the very powerful notion that man makes his own
history (on the Renaissance, see Lecture 1).
But the 16th century was more than just the story of the
Renaissance. The century witnessed the growth of royal
power, the appearance of centralized monarchies and
the discovery of new lands. During the great age of
exploration, massive quantities of gold and silver flood
Europe, an event which turned people, especially the
British, Dutch, Italians and Germans, money-mad. The
year 1543 can be said to have marked the origin of the
Scientific Revolution — this was the year Copernicus
published his De Revolutionibus (see Lecture 10) and
set in motion a wave of scientific advance that would
culminate with Newton at the end of the 17th century.
In the meantime, urbanization continued unabated as
did the growth of universities. And lastly, the printing
press, perfected by the moveable type of Gutenberg in
1451, had created the ability to produce books cheaply
and in more quantities. And this was indeed important
since the Renaissance created a literate public eager for
whatever came off the presses.
Despite all of these things, and there are more things to
be considered, especially in the area of literature and
the arts, the greatest event of the 16th century —
indeed, the most revolutionary event — was the
Protestant Reformation. It was the Reformation that
forced people to make a choice — to be Catholic or
Protestant. This was an important choice, and a choice
had to be made. There was no real alternative. In the
context of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th
centuries, one could live or die based on such a choice.
We have to ask why something like the Reformation
took place when it did. In general, dissatisfaction with
the Church could be found at all levels of European
society. First, it can be said that many devout Christians
were finding the Church’s growing emphasis on rituals
unhelpful in their quest for personal salvation. Indeed,
what we are witnessing is the shift from salvation of
whole groups of people, to something more personal
and individual. The sacraments had become forms of
ritualized behavior that no longer “spoke” to the people
of Europe. They had become devoid of meaning. And
since more people were congregating in towns and
cities, they could observe for themselves and more
important, discuss their concerns with others. Second,
the papacy had lost much of its spiritual influence over
its people because of the increasing tendency toward
secularization. In other words, popes and bishops were
acting more like kings and princes than they were the
spiritual guides of European men and women. And
again, because so many people were now crowding into
cities, the lavish homes and palaces of the Church were
noticed by more and more people from all walks of life.
The poor resented the wealth of the papacy and the
very rich were jealous of that wealth. At the same time,
the popes bought and sold high offices, and also sold
indulgences. All of this led to the increasing wealth of
the Church — and this created new paths for abuses of
every sort. Finally, at the local level of the town and
village, the abuses continued. Some Church officials
held several offices at once and lived off their income.
The clergy had become lax, corrupt and immoral and
the people began to take notice that the sacraments
were shrouded in complacency and indifference.
Something was dreadfully wrong.
These abuses called for two major responses. On the
one hand, there was a general tendency toward anti-
clericalism, that is, a general but distinct distrust and
dislike of the clergy. Some people began to argue that
the layperson was just as good as the priest, an
argument already advanced by the Waldensians of the
12th century (see also my lecture, “Heretics, Heresies
and the Church”). On the other hand, there were calls
for reform. These two responses created fertile ground
for conflict of all kinds, and that conflict would be both
personal and social.
The deepest source of conflict was personal and
spiritual. The Church had grown more formal in its
organization, which is hardly unsurprising since it was
now sixteen centuries old. The Church had its own
elaborate canon law as well as a dogmatic theology. All
of this had been created at the Fourth Lateran Council
of 1215. That Council also established the importance of
the sacraments as well as the role of the priest in
administering the sacraments (see the Canons of the
Fourth Lateran Council). 1215 also marks the year that
the Church further elaborated its position on Purgatory
(see Purgatory: Fact or Fantasy). Above all, the Fourth
Lateran Council of 1215 established the important
doctrine that salvation could only be won through good
works — fasting, chastity, abstinence and asceticism.
The common people, meanwhile, sought a more
personal, spiritual and immediate kind of religion —
something that would touch them directly, in the heart.
The rituals of the Church now meant very little to them –
– they needed some kind of guarantee that they were
doing the right thing – that they would indeed be
saved. The Church gave little thought to reforming
itself. People yearned for something more while the
Church seemed to promise less. What seemed to be
needed was a general reform of Christianity itself. Only
such a major transformation would effect the changes
reflected in the spiritual desires of the people.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries the Church was
faced with numerous direct challenges.
Heretics had been assaulting the Church since the
12th century. The heretics were Christians who
deviated from Christian dogma. Many did not
believe in Christian baptism — the majority felt left
out of the Church.
There were also numerous mystics who desired a
direct and emotional divine illumination. They
claimed they had been illuminated by an inner light
that assured them of salvation.
There was an influential philosophical movement
called nominalism that stressed the reality of
anything concrete and real, thus doubting faith.
Renaissance humanism rejected the Christian
matrix almost completely and instead turned to the
Classical World, the true source of virtue and
The breakdown of feudalism and the discovery and
exploitation of the New World gave way to
commerce and trade, as well as an increasing
tendency to view life in the here and now as
something good.
The Church was also challenged by an increasing
awareness of ethnicity and nationalism, e.g. Joan of
Arc and the 100 Years’ War.
Merchants and skilled workers living in cities were
growing wealthy and influential as they began to
supply Europe with more and more “stuff.”
European kings consolidated their power over their
There was an awareness, thanks to the age of
discovery, that there was a pagan world outside the
world of Europe that needed to be tamed.
The Reformation was dominated by the figure of
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546). Luther was the son of
Hans Luther, a copper miner from the district of Saxony.
Hans was a self-made man. As a youth he worked
menial jobs in copper mines — but by the time Martin
was born at Eisleben, he had risen to prominence and
owned several mines. Hans Luther wanted his son to do
even more with his life so while Martin was in his teens,
it was decided that he would study law. So, after his
preliminary education was complete, at the age of 17
young Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt. At
the time, Erfurt was the most important university in
Germany (more on German universities). It was also the
center of a conflict between the Renaissance humanists
and those people known as the Scholastics, who were
adept at combining medieval philosophy and theology.
Luther enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy and studied
theology and law as well. It was at this time that he
read widely in the classical authors, especially Cicero
and Virgil. He obtained his Masters degree and finished
second in a class of seventeen students. In 1505, a
promising legal career seemed certain.
But at this point, Luther rejected the world. He was
twenty-one at the time. In 1505, Luther tells us that he
experienced the “first great event” of his life. In that
year he experienced some kind of conversion after
having been struck by a bolt of lightning. He cried out,
“Help, St. Anne, I will become a monk.” He was struck
by the hand of God and felt that God was in everything.
He felt doubt within himself – he simply could not
reconcile his faith with his worldly ambitions. And so,
Luther was plagued by an overwhelming sense of guilt,
fear and terror. To relieve his anxiety he joined the
Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine. There he would
be shielded from worldly distractions. There he would
find the true path to heaven. He fasted, prayed and
scourged himself relentlessly. But he still felt doubts.
One day, as he sat in his cell, he threw his Bible on the
table and pointed at a passage at random. The passage
was from the Epistles of St. Paul: “For the justice of God
is revealed from faith to faith in that it is written, for the
just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
By 1508, Luther was transferred from the monastery at
Erfurt to Wittenberg. At Wittenberg, Luther joined the
university faculty as professor of philosophy and quickly
became the leader in the fight to make Wittenberg a
center of humanism rather than Scholasticism. In the
end, Luther was more interested in preaching a religion
of piety than he was studying philosophy or theology. In
1510, he devoted himself to discovering God and during
a trip to Rome on official business he acted more the
part of a pilgrim than humanist scholar. He climbed the
steps of St. Peters, he knelt before the altars and
prayed. He was soon shocked by the apparent immoral
life of the priests and cardinals whom he found cynical
and indifferent toward Church rituals.
In 1512, he returned to Wittenberg to teach and preach.
He ignored the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages and
concentrated on the Psalms and Epistles of St. Paul. By
1517, there would be no reason to think that Luther was
a particularly dissatisfied member of the Church. But
1517 is a very important year. Albert of Hohenzollern
was offered the archbishopric of Mainz if he would pay
the required fee (Albert already held two bishoprics,
even though he had not yet reached the required age to
be a bishop!). Pope Leo X asked Albert to pay 12,000
ducats for the twelve apostles but Albert would only
offer 7,000 for the seven deadly sins. A compromise
was reached and Albert paid 10,000 ducats. Leo
proclaimed an indulgence in Albert’s territories for eight
years with half of the money going to Albert and the
other half to construct the basilica of St. Peter’s.
The storm broke on October 31, the eve of All Saints
Day. On that day Luther nailed a copy of the NINETY-
FIVE THESES to the door of the Castle Church at
Wittenberg. The Theses (actually 95 statements), all
related to the prevalence of indulgences and Luther
offered to dispute them all. The day chosen by Luther —
All Saints Day — was important. All of Wittenberg was
crowded with peasants and pilgrims who had come to
the city to honor the consecration of the Church. Word
of Luther’s Theses spread throughout the crowd and
spurred on by Luther’s friends at the university, many
people called for the translation of the Theses into
German. A student copied Luther’s Latin text and then
translated the document and sent it to the university
press and from there it spread throughout Germany. It
was the printing press itself, that allowed Luther’s
message to spread so rapidly. [Note: Following the
research of Erwin Iserloh, Richard Marius has suggested
that perhaps Luther never posted the Ninety-Five
Theses. We know, for instance, that Luther wrote a
letter to his archbishop complaining about indulgences.
The story that Luther nailed the Theses to the church
door comes from Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), a
professor of Greek and one of Luther’s colleagues.
However, Melanchthon did not arrive in Wittenberg until
August of the following year. Luther never mentioned
this incident in any of his table talk. See Marius, Martin
Luther: The Christian Between God and Death (Harvard,
1999), pp. 137-139.]
The particular indulgence which attracted Luther’s
attention was being sold throughout Germany by Johann
Tetzel, a Dominican friar. Tetzel was trying to raise
money to pay for the new Church at St. Peters in Rome.
In general, an indulgence released the sinner from
punishment in Purgatory before going to Heaven. The
system was permitted by the Church (since 1215) but
had been abused by the clergy and their agents such as
Luther also attacked indulgences in general, and he
voiced his objections to the sale of indulgences in his
LETTER to the Archbishop of Mainz in 1517. According
to the Church, indulgences took their existence from the
surplus grace that had accumulated through the lives of
Christ, the saints and martyrs. The purchase of an
indulgence put the buyer in touch with this grace and
freed him from the earthly penance of a particular sin,
but not the sin itself. But Tetzel’s sales pitch implied that
the buyer was freed from the sin as well as the penance
attached to it. Tetzel also sold people on the idea that
an indulgence could be purchased for a relative in
Purgatory – this meant the relative’s soul would now
fly to Heaven. For Tetzel: “As soon as pennies in the
money chest ring, the souls out of their Purgatory do
spring.” Luther answered (Theses 28) in the following
way: “It is certain that when the money rattles in the
chest, avarice and gain may be increased, but the
Suffrage of the Church depends on the will of God
alone.” (my emphasis).
Luther claimed that it was not only Tetzel but the
papacy itself which spread the false doctrine of the
indulgence. By attacking the issue of the indulgences,
Luther was really attacking the entire theology and
structure of the Church. By making salvation dependent
on the individual’s faith, Luther abolished the need for
sacraments as well as a clergy to administer them. For
Luther, faith alone, without the necessity of good works,
would bring salvation. This was obviously heretical
thinking. Of course, Luther couched his notion of
“justification by faith alone” within a scheme of
predestination. That is, only God knows who will be
saved and will be damned. Good works did not
guarantee salvation. Faith did not guarantee salvation.
God alone grants salvation or damnation.
This discussion all begs the question: why did people
follow Luther? It is simply amazing that within a
relatively brief period of time, that so many people
turned their back on the Roman Church, and followed
Luther. For the wealthy, becoming a Lutheran was one
way to keep their wealth yet still be given a chance for
salvation without paying homage to Rome. In other
words, it can be said that the wealthy followed Luther
as a form of protest against the Church. For the very
poor, Luther offered individual dignity and respect. Not
good works or servitude to Rome could guarantee
salvation. Instead, faith held out the possibility of
salvation. For most Germans of the mid-16th century,
Lutheranism was a way to attack the Holy Roman
Empire and Charles V (1500-1558). Voltaire once wrote
that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor
Roman, nor truly an Empire. Therefore, Germany
became Lutheran for reasons other than religion or
theology. The bottom line is this: Luther told people
exactly what they want to hear. Luther appeared as an
alternative to the Roman Church. Whereas the Roman
Church appealed to men and women as members of a
group (i.e., members of the Church), Lutheranism
meant that faith was now something individual, and this
would have profound consequences..
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564) represents the second wave
of the Protestant Reformation. Although Luther and
Calvin were more less contemporaries of one another,
Calvin was an entirely different man. John Calvin
acquired his early education in Paris — here he learned
to develop a taste for humanism. In the mid-1520s he
studied law at the University of Paris and then left to
study law at Orleans and Greek art at Bourges. I
mention all this simply to show that Calvin was indeed a
humanist scholar in his own right. He studied Hebrew,
Greek, and Latin and thrived on the humanist texts of
the classical world and his own. By 1533, Calvin fell
under the influence of the New Testament translation by
Erasmus as well as certain writings of Martin Luther. So,
before Calvin became a Calvinist, he was clearly a
On All Saints Day in 1533, Calvin delivered an address
at Paris which clearly defended the doctrine of
“justification by faith alone.” Renouncing his
Catholicism, Calvin settled at Basel, in Switzerland, and
there wrote a draft for his book, the Institutes of the
Christian Religion, a book which contains more than 80
chapters and took him almost the rest of his life to
complete. The core of what became known as
Calvinism, was that man was a helpless being before an
all-powerful God. He concluded that there was no such
thing as free will, that man was predestined for either
Heaven or Hell. Man can do nothing to alter his fate. It
was Calvin, and not Luther, who gave to the Swiss and
French reformers of this time a rallying point for Church
reform. So, it was almost natural that when a few men
were trying to convert the town of Geneva to their
reformed doctrines that they called upon Calvin’s help.
Calvin came to Geneva and immediately imposed a
social order of harsh discipline and order. The people of
Geneva groaned under his repressive measures but
they also felt that Calvin was good for them and their
children. Calvin was kicked out of the city for three
years but eventually returned — those who objected to
his terms left the city or were jailed or executed.
Calvin urged — actually forced — all citizens of Geneva
to succumb to his rigorous ideals of a religious life. In
this way his career at Geneva is remarkably similar to
that of Girolamo Savonarola in Florence. Genevan men
and women were told to wake up early, work hard, be
forever concerned with good morals, be thrifty at all
times, abstain from worldly pleasures, be sober, and
above all, serious. There was, then, very little laughing
in Calvin’s Geneva. What we’re talking about here can
only be called a “worldly asceticism,” that is, the denial
of all worldly pleasure while living in this world.
Of course, foundation of Calvinism was clearly the
doctrine of predestination, that is, the idea that all of
mankind is assigned to either Heaven or Hell at birth.
There is nothing you can do that would change your
destiny since it was in the hands of all-powerful God.
Such an opinion logically leads to anxiety — after all, no
one knew just what to do. While Calvin would not argue,
as did the Church, that good works were one needed to
go to Heaven, he did admit that good works served a
purpose. Good works, then, became a divine sign, a
sign that the individual was making the best of their life
here on earth. It was, however, still no guarantee.
Calvin also introduced his concept of the “calling.” Some
men and women seemed ill-fitted for life on earth. They
were avaricious, slothful, amoral. However, there were
others who seemed to work happily in their lifetime,
accomplishing much and in the right spirit. In other
words, they had been “called” to do a certain thing here
on earth.
Of course, if one wakes up early, works at their calling,
and are thrifty, sober and abstain from frivolity, there is
an unintended consequence. That consequence was the
acquisition of wealth. So, while Calvin did not invent
free enterprise, nor did he invent capitalism, or the
desire for wealth, he did rationalize that desire by
arguing that certain men are imbued with the spirit of
acquisition, the correct spirit. That spirit has often been
called the Protestant Work Ethic. In The Protestant Ethic
and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), the German
sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) asked why it is that
the world’s most wealthy men were of Protestant origin.
His answer was that it was these men who were also
Calvinists, men who had internalized the religious code
set down first by Calvin and then by the Puritans of 17th
century England. In other words, the ethic says to work
hard, save what you have made, and reinvest any profit
in order to increase wealth. That is capitalism in a
nutshell. Calvin does not invent this idea, he simply
rationalizes it by ascribing a certain spirit or calling to
certain men of his own age, all of whom just happened
to be Calvinists. Of course, such a scheme could and did
lead to tension, conflict and anxiety. How much of a
calling was a good thing? When did one know when
enough was enough? Anxiety and its sister guilt, then,
seemed to become one of the guiding principles of
While Lutheranism spread widely in Germany and
Scandinavia, Calvinism made inroads across Europe. In
general, Calvin produced an organization unmatched by
any other Protestant faith at the time. The Institutes
spelled out faith and practice in fine detail. Tight
discipline within each cell, or synod, held the entire
system together. Calvinist ministers traveled throughout
Europe winning adherents and organizing them into
new cells. From the city of Geneva flowed an endless
wave of pamphlets, books and sermons whose purpose
was to educate the Calvinist congregation. By 1564, the
year of Calvin’s death, there were more than a million
French Calvinists or Huguenots, Scotland had been won
over to Calvinism, and the religion also found a home in
England, the Low Countries and Hungary.

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