Northwest of Eden # 15 – THE KINGDOM OF THE PROTESTANTS IN EUROPE (HCC, IDB, SHB)

The Reformation was just as much secular as it was religious.  Scholastics, Humanists, Lutherans, Zwinglians, Radicals and Pietists contributed to the Reformation.  Johan Gutenberg (1398-1468), inventor of printing with moveable type spread their messages.  The Pope and his dogma were in the way of economic, social and scientific progress.  He did not endorse Columbus, Copernicus or Galileo.  He denied a person’s individual right to grace and faith.  He enhanced his coffers by selling offices and titles to the highest bidders and he granted lands and castles to his relatives and friends.  The sale of indulgence kept the human soul in need of forgiveness and absolution in priest’s hands.  The pope controlled the cradle, the bedroom, the job, purgatory and Paradise.  The inquisition carried out his excommunication and persecution to the letter.  To punish the Albigenses and Waldenses, Gregory IX made heresy a capital offense.  The Waldenses were the forerunners of the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren.  When Boniface VIII put his curse on England and France for refusing to pay taxes to Rome, the French deposed the Pope and elected their own and kept him in Avignon for seventy years.  At one time there were three and four popes and two were in Office for forty years at the same time.  This was called the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1305-1376).  The French also were testing Dan’s “De Monarchia,” the claim that God instituted the crown and not the church.  The Church or religion had no control over the economic, social or political life of a nation.  It was a trend to free the state from religion and even lift it above the status of the Church.  This shifted the power from the Pope to a secular authority.  Now the Pope had to gain the support of the monarchs to carry out his policies.  The Saxon Prince had stumbled on a second jawbone of Peter and he did not hand over Luther to the Inquisition.  He no longer trusted Rome. 
Marsilius of Padova and John of Jandun in their book “Defensor Pasis” (1324) questioned the Pope’s right to interfere in public affairs.  They argued that the Church should become more democratic and stop meddling in state affairs.  Both, church and state should derive their authority from the common people.  The people should elect their kings and their religious leaders.  The people should decide and elect those that sit on their councils.  The clergy were spiritual messengers and not entitled to property ownership, like the tribe of Levi.  And the Scriptures were the sole authority for Church and State.  William of Occam, top theologian in his day argued against Papal infallibility and for Holy Scripture infallibility.  The General Council and not the Pope were the highest authority in the Church.  Both Church and Pope were subject to the State.  The Schoolmen Jon Charlier, Jon Hus and Gabriel Biel as well as the mystics Meister Eckhart and Jon Tauler advocated the right of the individual’s voice to be heard.  John Wyclif in England was persecuted and his writings destroyed, Jon Hus in Prague and Girolamo Savonarola in Florence were killed.  Gerhard Groot of Holland, a student of Hus and founder of The Brethren of the Common Life sought to reform Catholicism from within but to no avail. 
Martin Luther was a monk devoted to the Roman Catholic faith and a gifted professor in the German language that he created.  He was versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew that were valuable in translating the Bible into a German language.  He was a product of the Schoolmen, the mystics and the dogma of the Latin Papacy.  He had studied Saint Augustine and Hus’ ideas on being justified by faith and not of works.  Luther’s study of Romans and Galatians brought “Justification by Faith” into life and action for the monk.  It became the cornerstone for his mission to reform his blessed Church of Rome.  He began the enormous task of reconciling the individual’s right to Christ and the Pope and clergy role in reconciliation.  The established religion that depended on financing its elaborate structure on indulgences, nepotism and simony could not be swayed.  Luther became an outcast and had to go into hiding where he had time to formulate a theology for his movement.  It was then that the Lutheran Reformation began (1512-1513). His exile did not stop the reformation, rather the exodus from the Roman Catholic Church continued.  Luther himself wanted to reform the Latin Church and not start a new movement.  He was morally coerced to post his ninety-five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg (1517).  Luther put forth six principles: 1, man is justified by faith, 2, has direct access to God through Christ, 3, the Scriptures alone were to be followed, 4, the Holy Spirit confirms God’s intentions, 5, salvation is God’s act of grace and not man’s works and 6, every Christian can be sure that he/she is saved.
Once Luther got the political support, a stream of reformers emerged and not all were in agreement or religious.  Luther had to fight Rome and his fellow protestants.  The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) alone separated Luther from all the other reformers.  Rome held that the bread and wine turned into the body and blood of Christ, for Luther these elements coexisted with Christ.  To the other reformers, it was only a remembrance meal and drink.  The reformers accepted his six rules but assigned different interpretations to baptism, predestination and other concepts.  The rapid spread of Lutheranism, could not be filled with qualified leaders. His own followers appreciated being justified by faith, but to understand the Bible and be their own priests was easier said than done.  The people had exchanged an educated Latin clergy for ministers that could barely read.  Rome took advantage with men like Francis Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and Francis of Assisi, a Dominican.  These Latin priests began to serve the people very much like the Apostles did and began to turn back the Lutheran movement.  The struggle became political that took a thirty-year long war to settle.  Luther’s country suffered the most.  At the end, Roman Catholicism had made minor gains in territory.  The main reason the people returned to the Latin religion was due to Luther’s own reform of the priesthood of all believers and his siding with the nobles and wealthy politicians.  The Latin clergy sided with the common people and made better use of being priests than Luther’s students did.  The struggle for religious freedom had become more difficult than ever before.  However, these hardships did not diminish the desire of the faithful to satisfy their conscience.  Luther, of all the reformers, held on to his conscience and treated his fellow reformers as if they had none.  His followers had to accept his convictions and were denied their own.  The common person still had to depend on a clergy to become saved. 
The struggle for religious diversity and freedom gave rise to smaller Popes and religious dictators.  Men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Hubmeier, Knox, Zinzendorf, Wesley, King Henry VIII and others became heads over their followers and domains.  After the religious dust settled, three Protestant groups joined the Catholic in governing Europe.  Europe became too small and unhealthy for all the radicals that disagreed with the main religious bodies.  Intolerance forced them to scatter and flee to places where they could practice their faith.  The Pilgrims or the non-conformists (dissenters) were driven to Holland and ultimately to the Americas.  The exodus from the mainline Protestant religions caused concerns.  Two Lutheran clergy, Spener and Francke, introduced Pietism that revived mainline Lutheranism.  It also fueled the Dissenters and encouraged them to find new lands where they could live and practice their convictions.  British colonization opened the door for these religious offshoots to apply for Colonial Charters in America.  At last, the Pilgrims of England took their hope in a ship – the Mayflower to America and founded the Plymouth Colony.  They set the example for others to follow, but so did the established religions.  England, in particular, saw the need for settling the colonies with their own people.  They too reached out to the new world for converts with pietistic evangelists like John Wesley, George Whitefield and John William Fletcher.