Protestantism and Reformation


Christianity in the Medieval Catholic Church

  1. Church hierarchy: priests recipients of a special grace, they only could perform the sacraments.

  2. Latin Mass

  3. Salvation through good works and pious acts

  4. Christendom unified under the papacy: feudal structure of the church. Landowners = powerful local lords
    1. Pope needed money to support the church bureaucracy, negotiate with princes, building projects
    2. Indulgences
      High offices filled with people rumored to have accepted bribes – disregard for moral virtues, corruption, neglect of parishes

  5. Poorest parishioners were illiterate so barely able to understand the mass, even what they recited. Unaware of Christian teaching, practiced an odd mixture of pagan traditions and Xn rites

  6. Calls for moral and doctrinal reform



  1. Germany: Luther (16th century)
    1. Local pastor and professor of scripture at University of Wittenberg.
    2. Concerned when parishioners began buying indulgences that promised complete forgiveness of sins without need for repentance, free souls from Purgatory.
    3. Nailed a list of propositions to the chapel door, requesting academic debate.  Ninety-five theses.

  2. Central Ideas:
    1. Justification by grace alone through faith alone

                                                               i.      Luther’s dissatisfaction with the late medieval understanding of salvation and grace: God wouldn’t deny salvation to anyone who did the best they could, according to a scrupulous conscience.

                                                             ii.      Luther’s dread of God’s wrath – felt unsure that his confessions secured salvation.  Pondered the notion of a righteous God..  What did this mean?

                                                            iii.      Breakthrough: God’s righteousness in what he gives to worshippers that makes them just in God’s eyes.  You don’t have to earn grace through good works and pious actions; you need only have faith in God’s mercy, given in Jesus Christ.  Justification by grace alone, through faith alone = the guiding principle of the Reformation.

1.      What then is the relationship between faith and good works?

2.      The Freedom of the Christian (1522): Human beings can do nothing at all to merit salvation, which is the utterly free gift of a merciful God, but are freed from the law and its demands through faith in Christ.  At the same time, however, Christians respond to God’s love by loving in return and by serving their neighbor in need.

    1. Authority of Scripture:  Luther translated the Bible into German, thus opened the scriptures for people to read for themselves.

                                                               i.      Catholic church placed it on list of forbidden books.  Only people trained in theology can interpret the scriptures properly; plus the unwritten tradition (Catholic) is equally authoritative.

                                                             ii.      Luther responds: only the gospel has final authority, because it reveals the Word of God, Jesus Christ.  All Christians guided by the holy spirit ought to be able to read and interpret the Bible.

                                                            iii.      Not a literalist.  Luther accepted some aspects of the Bible – Paul – and rejected others, such as the letter of James.

    1. Priesthood of All Believers

                                                               i.      All occupations are blessed by God, all can be used for the service of God. Vocation (“calling”)

                                                             ii.      Priests and monks are no holier than lay people, the monastic life offers no greater promise of salvation than life in the world.  All Christians are kings and priests before God.

                                                            iii.      Nevertheless, need leaders for the sake of order in worship, in the church.  The community should choose promising leaders to be ministers of the word and sacrament for the congregation.

                                                           iv.      Gulf between clergy and laity would no longer be one of quality – the idea that ordination conveyed a special grace, just one of training and vocation

                                                             v.      Closing of the monasteries, monks and nuns returned to  secular life.

  1. Effects of Luther’s ideas:
    1. Luther was encroaching on more than he had bargained for. He was effectively attacking the financial underpinnings of the church by calling for the abolishment of the sale of indulgences.
    2. Pope Leo X had sold the position of archbishop of Mainz to Albert of Brandenberg, giving him the right  to sell papal indulgences with the understanding that he and the pope would split the earnings.
    3. By order of the emperor, Luther called to appear  before the Diet of Worms (1521), ordered to recant his writings.  Refused, excommunicated, declared an outlaw by the Charles V. Fled.

John Calvin

  1. 1509-1564.  French lawyer, became most influential reformer in Switzerland.  Interested in Luther’s writings, disagreed about the nature of the wine and bread in the Eucharist.

  2. Taught the absolute sovereignty of God.  God’s providence directs the world. Asked questions about election and how people are saved.

  3. The doctrine of predestination.  God chooses to save some people and to damn others. God does so not to cause fear but reassurance – “blessed assurance” -- to allow people (who are chosen) to live a life of joyful obedience to God. 
    1. Because God is the true Lord, no institution or individual should have absolute authority over others.

Reform in England

  1. Royal reform, issuing form the monarch. Dynastic concerns of King Henry VIII (1509-1547) – desperately desired a male heir.  Asked the Pope for permission to divorce Catherine of Aragon, refused.  Henry turned to English Parliament to pass a series of acts that separated England from Rome.  Monarch is head of the church. 

  2. The church in England became the Anglican church, the Church of England.

  3. Henry dissolved monasteries and seized their property (used for his own wealth).  Ruined abbeys in the countryside of England, lead roofs used to make cannons.