Luther Paper Essay, Research Paper
Popes and sovereigns battled over power and wealth during the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries; and at the climax of these issues was a fight over who controlled spiritual and civil authority. The Protestant Reformation is the name given to a religious and political development in the early 16th century. Martin Luther, a monk from Germany, led the reformation. He said that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt and that it should be reformed. Luther also argued that a reformation was needed in other practices. In particular, a complete overhaul was necessary in what language that the Bible was produced in (most people could not read Latin), the selling of indulgences, which was considered immoral by Luther and others, but had been standard practice by some monks and priests for years. The ideas behind the Protestant Reformation were simple. The church should be changed, or reformed, so that it was less greedy, fairer, and accessible to all people, not just the rich and well educated. The demand for change in the church was not entirely new one, for in England there had been similar protests in the 14th century, although those had been crushed. Desiderius Erasmus found himself calling for the reform of the church before Luther gained a lot of support for his ideas, yet many people chose to follow Luther. Many people were unhappy with the Pope and the church, for some if its practices were lacking in piety and it was for this reason that people demanded change.
The leading Christian humanist of the Reformation era, who wished to reform the church through scholarly effort, was Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus wanted to seek the simple, original meaning of the biblical text and make it meaningful for the common man or woman. He wanted to make the bible is such a way that it was not beyond the comprehension and interest of the common person. As Erasmus’ concern to study the original sources increased, he distinguished himself amongst many humanists who sought to simplify Christianity, to exalt reason and to emphasize morality rather than ritual. The New Testament was the authority for bringing about this much needed reform. It was Erasmus’ goal to flush out the church of these errors that he believed to be the simplicity of New Testament. Erasmus began his scholarly career as a renaissance man, totally immersed in the ideas of the past. But as Christian humanism compelled his studies, he left many of the interests that had interested him in the past. In the years 1499-1500, Erasmus visited England. This is where his mode of thought took a definite change. The change did not move him away from his commitment to the original sources (ad fontes), but there was shift toward the Holy Scriptures as the chief among sources. In Erasmus mind, to discover the philological-historical meaning of a biblical passage, one must first apply the method of textual criticism. The original words of the author must be recovered as far as possible by the restoration of the text. Erasmus did this by emending the text of the New Testament, which had suffered considerable textual corruption since its inception. It was in 1516 that Erasmus published the Novum Testamentum, the first critical edition of the New Testament. But Erasmus sought not just the historical or literal meaning of texts, but he desired that the texts bring instruction to the readers through the moral-spiritual sense of Scripture. Erasmus was the finest example of renaissance scholarship emphasizing the original sources, which set him aside as a humanist. The ultimate source to which he returned was the Greek New Testament. Coupled with the return to the sources was a truly historical understanding of ancient texts. Erasmus did not want Christians to just follow the Word because a priest told them to; rather, he wanted them to know why they were Christians. Luther’s commitment to the necessity for grammatical knowledge and the reference of all Scripture to Christ certainly reflect Erasmus’ style.
In 1517, at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Martin Luther wrote his ninety-five theses protesting the Catholic Church. Historians often mark this event as the beginning of the Reformation, but many people had been trying to reform the Church for a long time prior to Luther. Luther was not the first to challenge the leaders of the Catholic Church, for in the early sixteenth century, Erasmus led a movement to reform the Church. Although Erasmus laid the foundations for Luther’s Reformation, he did not break with the Church because he would not sacrifice his belief for changes in doctrine and practice. Luther’s stress of interpretation, which included the themes of justification and redemption in Christ, differed from Erasmus’ that focused on the teachings of Jesus. Luther’s primary goal as interpreter was to overthrow the medieval interpretation. Luther had admired Erasmus and had used his teachings, but in the 152Os, the two began to debate about reform. As Luther strayed farther from the Catholic Church, Erasmus clung to it, because even as they held some similar ideas, their philosophical bases differed: Erasmus was somewhat skeptical and not as confident to proclaim that he knew the truths of God as was the dogmatic Luther. The corollary of Luther’s theses was that Christians are saved by faith, and faith alone, and that no amount of works (including the purchase of indulgences) made any difference at all. Luther believed that Christ’s sacrifice atones for all sins, and it is only necessary to believe in it to be saved. There is nothing humans can do by their own efforts to add or detract from it. The scriptures as the only source of true doctrine, studying and understanding the scriptures is therefore important to all believers. Translating the Bible into readable languages and making it available to all is essential. No heavenly intermediaries are needed to intercede with God. Although the Virgin Mary, saints, and angels are all in heaven, they should not be the objects of prayer or veneration. The making of images encourages idolatrous worship that should be directed at the more abstract concept of God. Ultimately, this was a religious movement, even though there was economic and political clearly tied to it. Luther s cry against church officials and their abuses definitely had a theological theme behind it. Church officials were involved or engaged in sex, accepting money or making of money off of the church for their personal gain, and outright greed were all touched upon in Luther s ninety-fives theses. Luther saw that there was a lack of dedication and loyalty by church officials who, seem as if their practices were questionable of religious men. Luther saw that people were concerned with the clergy, and he, therefore, demanded that the church should be better.
Erasmus had always been admired and feared as a critic, but now people wanted to know where he stood. Not trusted by either Roman Catholics or Reformers, always refusing to take sides, he remained a Roman Catholic; although he frequently associated with the Reformers. In his Colloquia (Colloquies, 1518), his continuing assaults on the evils and errors of the church authorities and on superstition made him vulnerable to the accusation that he was a Lutheran, a charge he vehemently denied. He was also accused of concealing his true opinions for fear of the consequences. To counter this, Erasmus wrote a complete declaration of his theological position, De Libero Arbitrio (On the Freedom of the Will, 1524), which contains a brilliant attack on Luther. A counterattack by Luther elicited a final polemic, or argument, by Erasmus, Hyperaspistes (1526). It was for this reason that people were able to side with Luther as compared to Erasmus. Luther was willing to choose a conviction and stand firmly by it.
Like many reformers, Erasmus saw the leaders of his Church abusing their powers, and he endeavored to drive the popes and cardinals and bishops back to the earlier, purer days of the Church. Erasmus is often regarded as a precursor of the Reformation, for it was his war against lack of education and superstition, prompted by his convictions as a humanist rather than as a theologian. Erasmus much like many other Humanists, believed in linguistics skills, and he therefore translated texts into Latin, a language that only the rich and well educated could understand. He was not a religious reformer, as was Luther. That is why Luther, and not other humanists or reformers of the day, had as much sway with the general public. Luther was accessible to the common man in the way that he called for reforms.