M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
© 2002 by M. S. Thirumalai, E-mail: email@example.com.
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An understanding of the compelling reasons which led to Martin Luther's protest, and a study of the manner in which he protested for his faith continue to be relevant even today. It is relevant not only for the present generation of evangelical Christians in India and in other developing nations (because they have a greater need and urgency to guard themselves against the corruption of their faith slowly being brought in by syncretism), but also for the adherents of non-Christian religions who feel the need to reform their own faiths. The individuals interested in the reformation of society in India and the Third World countries from a purely secular viewpoint will also benefit from this study because it will help them to realize that man-initiated reforms through legislation do not succeed, when it is not combined with spiritual reformation.
The endemic suffering, poverty, disease, and superstition in many parts of the world cannot be eliminated by our own effort alone. We need the grace of God, the grace which releases us from bondage.
Martin Luther's Reformation changed Europe forever. Even as it helped people from many nations in Europe to ground their faith in the grace of God and not in their works, it became the occasion for the self-initiated reforms within the Roman Catholic Church. Faith in the grace of God became a powerful motivating force for self-discipline, hardwork, greater productivity, inventions, and social justice.
This book on Martin Luther's Protest arose out of an independent study I pursued at the Bethany College of Missions several years ago, under the supervision and guidance of Professor Alec Brooks. His insights and encouragement enabled me to complete this project. I am grateful to Mike Leeming who edited the entire manuscript and made many useful suggestions to improve its presentation. My wife Swarna read portions of this book at the writing stage and offered several suggestions to improve the content and presentation. Hundreds of printed copies of this book were distributed free to Christian workers and pastors in India.
M. S. Thirumalai
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THE TIMES OF MARTIN LUTHER
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, the second child of Hans and Margaretha Luther, at Eisleben, in the Saxony province of Germany. He died on February 17, 1546 at Eisleben. These sixty two years were a period of great mobility both spiritually and geographically for Martin Luther. It was also a period of transition from Medieval Ages into the beginning of modern Europe. The period of the Middle Ages was giving way to a period of renaissance in every field and in every walk of life.
Dynamic Journeys and Transitions
Martin Luther’s parents moved from Eisleben to Mansfeldt, almost immediately after his birth. Luther himself moved from Mansfeldt to Magdeburg when he was fourteen years old, and from there to Eisenach so that he could go to school. He went first to the University at Erfurt and from there to Wittenberg, Luther’s home for the rest of his life. And yet from Wittenberg, Luther traveled to Heidelberg, Leipzig, Augsburg, Coburg and many other places within Germany to proclaim the gospel of faith and of grace, and to affirm the inerrancy and all-sufficiency of the Word of God. Each of these journeys was seen by his friends and foes alike to be a danger to the well-being and life of Martin Luther. But Luther himself undertook these journeys without fear, because he trusted in the Lord.
These journeys took him to meet with people in higher places face to face, and to proclaim the Truth with courage and conviction. Spiritually, Luther himself was moving from a strong sense of an inherited sinful nature to a cleansing of his spirit and pardoning of his sins by grace through faith in the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. His original desire to be free of sin led him to choose a life as a monk, which included penance and self-inflicted torture.
From a secluded life in the Augustinian cloister, Luther saw the Light and proclaimed the supremacy of the Word over every thing and every one. He moved from a belief that the Pope in Rome was endowed with powers to pardon sins to an assertion that salvation and remission of sins was free for all, given us by God’s grace and received by us in faith. He moved from a wholly Roman consciousness to an assertion of the German identity of the Church. In many more ways Luther’s life was one of dynamic mobility to usher in changes, and to be in harmony with the moves of the times encouraged by the Holy Spirit.
Luther’s Time: The End of the Middle Ages
The sixty two years of Martin Luther’s life should be seen in conjunction with what had been going on in the immediate past in Europe.
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben at the fag end of what we generally call the Middle Ages, the Medieval Ages, or the Dark Ages, the period from 600 A.D. to 1500.
The one-thousand year period of the Middle Ages is usually divided into three parts — the early Middle Ages between about A.D. 500 and 1050, the high Middle Ages between about A.D.1050 and 1300, and the late Middle Ages between about A.D. 1300 and 1500. It is the late Middle Ages that have immediate and direct relevance to the life, times and works of Martin Luther.
The late Middle Ages were marked by violent and unsettled conditions in Europe. There was “rebellion, hedonism, flagellation, cynicism, and witch hunting”. As Hollister (1982:322) points out, even as forces of disintegration and decay were at work, there were powerful creative forces at work as well. It was during this time that the concept of an all-powerful, overarching Christendom gave way to the concept of nationhood among men in power, and this nation-consciousness worked against the supremacy and political authority of the Pope in Rome. At the end of the late Middle Ages, England, Germany, France and Spain and several other nations had already been established as distinct nations (people groups), but, in the spiritual matters, the Church in Rome continued to maintain power, forming kind of diarchy in practice.
Growth of Nationalism
While people group consciousness had been well established, political authority of nationhood was yet to be established. Schevill (1930:60) observes that “although not entirely lacking in the medieval period, nationalism clearly manifests as a political factor only in the Renaissance, from which time it has grown steadily until, like a slowly developing motif in an orchestral piece, it mounted to a thundering climax in the nineteenth century.” So, the times in which Luther lived and labored for the Lord were the times during which nationalism was growing stronger in Europe.
As Schevill further points out (Schevill 1930:60),
nationalism is a sentiment based on a community of language and customs and is historically associated with the new social order inaugurated by the towns. Latent and unimportant in the period of unchallenged feudalism, it made its appearance in the Renaissance, most often under circumstances involving an attack by a foreign foe on the collective interests and ideas of the urban class. Thus Spanish nationalism developed as a reaction against the Mohammedan Moors, who had taken possession of the land in the eighth century; and it strengthened and consolidated itself in the long struggle with the alien invader. Similarly French nationalism, as the name of Joan of Arc eloquently attests, was the child of the English invasion and the Hundred Years War. Again, the English largely achieved their own powerful group consciousness in the same struggle.
As we shall see later, the Lutheran protest had contributed in a large measure to the emergence of German nationalism. In the process, God used the emerging German nationalism to further the cause of the protest for faith.
Rise of Individual Piety
By the time Martin Luther was born in 1483, Europe had already been moving in the direction of individual piety and mysticism in its religious life. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) had demonstrated apostolic simplicity, poverty and total obedience to God’s call in his own life. In other words, the religious life of the individual on his own, in direct relationship, with God was becoming popular. Meister Zekhardt (d. 1327) had taught that “humanity’s true goal is utter separation from the world of the senses and absorption into the Divine Unknown”. However, these teachings and practices had not yet reached the point in their acceptance where theywould challenge the temporal power of the Pope, nor were they being implemented by the princes in various national territories as an instrument with which to challenge the Pope. These were all individual experiments in spiritual journey. They appealed to the general laity, and to the determined sections of the laity who formed their own communities based on these spiritual notions in some parts of Europe. They were very loosely organized, and did not threaten the authority of the Pope or of the Church in Rome.
One of Eckhardt’s disciples, Gerard Groot, founded an order around 1375, called the Brethren of the Common Life. This order had established schools in several places and involved itself in charitable works for which the order became well known. The Brethren did not take lifetime vows and were part of the processes of mysticism that was commonly influencing the laity.
Decline of Papal Image, Authority and Prestige
From 1309 to 1376, the papacy moved to Avignon in southern France. This was just outside the area of the French King. This move from Rome was accompanied by a development of an efficient fiscal tax system which brought in much money to the papacy. As the Popes became richer in material wealth, there was a steady decline in their spiritual lives. In 1376, the papacy moved back to Rome.
This second move was followed by the election of an Italian as the new Pope when the incumbent died. This new pope, Urban VI, began a series of reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, which drastically reduced the powers and revenues of the cardinals. The French cardinals fled Rome, annulled the election of Urban VI as the Pope, and elected their own French Pope in Avignon. For thirty seven years, the Great Schism within the Roman Catholic Church continued, bringing in its wake further decline in the prestige of the Roman See, and in papal authority. Those who wanted the unity and arrest of the debilitating influence of the Schism convened a council and elected a new Pope, who in reality became yet another party in the Schism. In 1415-18, the Council of Constance was finally called by the Roman Emperor. The council selected a new Pope, and the parties to the Schism were finally united.
The entire process, beginning with the Avignon-Rome contentions, brought the institution of the pope into ridicule. In the process, the doctrine that the Pope was superior in authority to the council was rejected by the council. The council decreed that the general councils would be convened periodically to govern and regulate the affairs of the Church. This was a move for reformation within the church; however, all the incumbent Popes , however, insisted upon papal supremacy over any other authority. Whenever councils were convened, the incumbent Pope worked behind the scenes to make them ineffective. Popes had all become Italian. These Popes accepted the control over the Church in other nations in Europe and worked out a division of Church revenues in these countries between the Pope and the kings.
By the time Luther was a small boy, Alexander VI was the Pope (1492-1503). Alexander VI exceeded all others in his scandalous behavior. He was a totally corrupt person, immoral and completely irreligious. Many cardinals and the Pope himself did countless things against what Scriptures command. The emphasis on individual piety, spiritualism, and mysticism, on personal purity, and on the standards of Scripture was in sharp contrast to Alexander VI’s conduct. The further decline of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was accelerated by the papacy of Alexander VI. The Great Schism had already reduced the appeal the Universal church had for many, even as it encouraged national attitudes toward church affairs.
Marcilius of Padna (c. 1324), among many other persons, argued that the Church “should be stripped of political authority, and the state should wield sovereign power over all its subjects, lay and clerical alike. Thus, the Church, united in faith, would be divided politically, numerous state churches obedient to their secular rulers and not to the pope” (Hollister 1982: 328).
At the same time, papal authority over the political powers was waning fast, if not already totally lost. The Pope in Rome could not match his forces against any of the kings, princes, or electors. “The princely electors of Germany had long before denied the papacy any role in imperial elections or coronations, and papal influence in the appointment of French, English and Spanish prelates had ebbed. More important still, the late Middle Ages witnessed a collapse of papal spiritual prestige and a widening chasm between Christian piety and the organized Church” (Hollister 1982:322).
Persistent Political Divisions in Europe
There were several attempts in the past to unite Europe under a single political authority. This was generally an attempt to revive the old Roman Empire, which had an appeal to all those involved in statecraft. Charles the Great, the Frank king, was crowned as emperor in A.D. 800. He tried to revive the Roman Empire by bringing several of the territories of the old empire under his political authority. The restored empire came to be known as the Holy Roman Empire, since there was a close association with the Church at Rome. The Holy Roman Empire could not achieve what it set out to achieve — the total unity of Europe under a single political authority. However, it did have a pre-eminent position among all the nations within Europe for a few centuries. It mainly comprised, for most of the time, Germany and Italy. In the thirteenth century, Italy renounced its connection with the empire. The Holy Roman Empire from that time on consisted mostly of Germany and so the label “Holy Roman Empire” and Germany became identical for all practical purposes.
By the time Martin Luther was a small boy, several countries in Europe had established strong royal leadership. This had led to centralization of authority and the control of the nobility. This also led to a strong sense of national identity. England and France stood as glaring examples of this development in Europe. On the other hand, the three kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula, which were all Christian kingdoms, had internal strife, and the nobility was not yet fully under the control of the royalty. With the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon to Queen Isabella of Castile in 1469, central authority was soon reestablished and, subsequently, the Kingdom of Spain came into existence.
By 1492, the new kingdom became stronger by conquering Muslim Granada. The Spanish monarchy enforced obedience, unity, and orthodoxy and the Muslim and Jewish subjects were forced to choose between conversion or departure from the kingdom.
On the other hand, the late medieval Germany and Italy remained divided with no strong central authority. However, the sense of nationality which was spreading fast throughout Europe, had already touched the hearts of the people of Germany and Italy and planted itself strongly, long before a central political authority could be established for these nations, in especially for Germany.
These nations “passed into the modern era divided internally and incapable of competing with the Western monarchies. The weak, elective Holy Roman Empire that emerged in Germany from the papal imperial struggles of the High Middle Ages was given formal sanction in the Golden Bull of 1356. The Bull made no mention of any papal role in the imperial appointment or coronation, but left the choice of succession to the majority vote of seven great princes. The electors were the archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne, the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg, and the King of Bohemia. The electoral states themselves remained relatively stable, as did other large German principalities such as the Hapsburg duchy of Austria, but the empire itself became powerless. Germany in 1500 was a Chinese puzzle of more than a hundred principalities - fiefs, ecclesiastical city-states, free cities, counties, and duchies - their boundaries shifting periodically through war, marriage, and inheritance” (Hollister 1982:336-337).
Italy also was divided into various principalities and states. “Italy had evolved by the fifteenth century into a delicate power balance between five dominant political units: the Kingdom of Naples, the Papal states, and the three northern city-states of Florence, Milan, and Venice (which coexisted with a number of weaker city states). Naples was ruled first by a French dynasty, and later by Aragnon. Central Italy remained subject to a tenuous papal control, compromised by the particularism of local aristocrats and the political turbulence of Rome itself. Milan, and later Florence, ceased to be republics and fell under the rule of self-made despots. Throughout this period, Venice remained a republic dominated by a narrow commercial oligarchy ....The Italian power balance was upset in 1494, when a powerful French army invaded the peninsula. For generations thereafter Italy was a battleground for French-Spanish rivalries, and the techniques and concepts of Italian Renaissance diplomacy passed across the Alps to affect the relations of the northern kingdom.
Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary (as well as the Scandinavian states to the north) were all afflicted by aristocratic turbulence and dynastic quarrels..... most of the Balkan peninsula was overwhelmed by the Ottoman Turks. Only the Russians and Ottomans were able to build strong states, and both, by 1500, were uncompromisingly autocratic (Hollister 1982:338-339).
By 1500, the European navigators had crossed the Atlantic, and discovered the Americas. Also by this time, they had crossed the Indian Ocean and rediscovered their road to wealth. Missionary zeal was given as one of the reasons for their daring travels across the oceans.
Role of Nation States
Historians find that one of the chief and decisive features of medieval Europe was the emergence of nation-states. Thus, “among the decisive features which in sweeping backward view stand out in the medieval landscape, none is more striking than the emergence with definite national characteristics of the great peoples of Europe, the Italians, the French, the Spaniards, the English and the Germans. Not only do they emerge in the course of Middle Ages, but they emerge identified with certain geographic areas which have ever since been uninterruptedly their homes” (Schevill 1930:9). However, during the times of Luther, Germany as a single nation, “with uniform laws, a common language and culture, and a common administration, had not yet come into existence” (Schapiro 1946:5). Even in the early eighteenth century, Germany had not yet become a single nation. Its people were still hoping to be united. Unlike the French, the English, and the Spanish, the Germans had to go through many obstacles and processes in achieving their desire to have a uniform fatherland under a central authority. This ideal for centuries became the motivating force in all what German people, the intellectuals, and political leaders did. For this reason, the ever-elusive nationhood under a central authority was a motivating force during the time of Luther.
The Bubonic Plague and Socio-economic Conditions
In the mid-fourteenth century, the bubonic plague killed one-third of the entire population in Europe. Although Europe recovered from the plague, the economic conditions declined very rapidly. Many migrated from the countryside to the towns, but were unable to find jobs. The wealthy people in towns were so organized that entry into their group was impossible for the poor; so, upward social mobility through work was denied to the deserving poor. Then the guilds of the professions became more powerful, guarding themselves and their professions from possible competitions from outside. Heredity became an important characteristic. The merchant class also did not fare well. Their wealth was greatly reduced by the depressed economic conditions. The rural nobility hung on to their vast lands and changed tenancy into money rents.
Since there was shortage of labor because of the plague deaths, labor could be obtained only by paying more. The privileged classes tried to freeze the wage increases, but this led to widespread discontent among the peasants. Serfdom in Europe became quite common. The landed gentry/aristocracy became very powerful, and the monarchies were trying to control them in several ways.
In 1500, the population of Europe showed signs of increasing, but it was still lower than what it was in 1300. Commerce revived and the towns were growing. Industrial production picked up along with various inventions such as water-driven pumps. Mining became easier with the use of these draining pumps. Metals and minerals were available more abundantly because of increased mining. Artillery was yet another modern development of this period. Printing had been invented, and this depended upon improvement in the metallurgical trades. Gun powder was already revolutionizing men’s secular thought.
In the Reformation inaugurated by Martin Luther, printing played a very crucial role in the dissemination of the new doctrines. It was through the possibility of printing multiple copies in less time that the spread of the writings of Luther was ensured. In a way, the Holy Spirit was preparing everything in the world to receive a new revelation.
Continuation of Old Ways
Even though the late Medieval Ages, the period immediately preceding Luther’s time, was a period of preparation, a period of receptivity to new ideas and new ways of life and social relations, the old ways still dominated the scene, controlling most of the institutions, including the Church.
There was also a perpetuation of the medieval ways, styles, and habits of thought...Beneath the gloom one finds a sense of nervous unrest, a violent emotionalism that lent dramatic intensity to late medieval works of art...The practice of flagellation (whipping) acquired popularity, and the Dame of Death became a favorite artistic theme. Fear of witches began spreading through Europe from about 1300 and evolved after 1450 into a widespread witch-hunting craze that lasted far into the seventeenth century... (Hollister 1982:349).
Salvation for a Price
The Roman Catholic Church chose to take advantage of the emotionalism and insecurity of the times by selling certificates of salvation. These were for a consideration and to give the buyers a sense of spiritual security. Subsequently, this became a formal occasion for Luther to protest for faith.
The theological thought within the Roman Catholic Church was dominated by the thinking and writings of Thomas Aquinas. In his work, Summa Theologia, Aquinas viewed the Omnipotent as both loving and rational. Earlier it was commonly thought that the Christian doctrine should be accepted on faith alone, as the doctrine itself could not be demonstrated nor proven manifestly. The observable physical phenomena could, however, be subjected to human reason. This was the position of Ockham in 1349. In this position, both empirical and mystical positions could be coexistent. Afterwards, however, this viewpoint began to be questioned.
To conclude this characterization of Europe at the time Luther was born, we should call the period, in the words of Brokering (1983), a period of
castles, kings, knights, queens, dukes, powers, peasants, beggars, death, and the Black Plague. There was much superstition in the beliefs of the people at this time. In those days the pope and the emperor were often so close in power and alliance that economics, politics, faith and law were as one. The printing was only thirty years old. Columbus was just rigging his ships to sail. Inventors were trying out new ideas. Copernicus was keenly watched and his findings about the earth were debated far and wide. Many people felt discrimination. Some were tired of being trampled on and began reading old writings and seeing old paintings that made them feel important. They wanted to rebel. Leonardo da Vinci was at work in Italy, painting. Michelangelo was flat on his back, painting the Sistine chapel in Rome (Brokering 1983:8).
Manifestation of the Roots of Lutheran Protest
The Lutheran protest and subsequent reformation in all walks of life, including both the spiritual and the secular, had their origins in the realization that the spiritual life had totally degenerated and that the Roman Catholic Church had become an abode of rituals and not of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic Church had become a museum of earthly rituals, and insisted more upon the observance of these rituals than on the Spirit.
The Roman Catholic Church, as it existed then, insisted that the sacramental system, as prescribed by it, be followed. This sacramental system had ordination, sacrament of baptism, confirmation, sacrament of penance, the sacrament of extreme unction, the sacrament of marriage, and the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as its essentials Ordination was meant for those who would be clergy. So, to begin with, a distinction between the clergy and the laity was insisted upon. The clergy was believed to have superior spiritual powers. The ordination empowered those who would be clergy with priestly authority. It gave them the authority and power to administer the other sacraments. Ordination was performed by the laying on of hands only by the Bishops who were superior to the priest. Likewise, administering the sacrament of confirmation was the exclusive privilege of the Bishop. In other words, a hierarchically-ordered Church was in existence, with powers distributed differently to different sections.
The sacrament of baptism was given to the new-born infant. This act signified that the infant was accepted and included in the membership of the Church. Holy water was sprinkled on its brow, and this signified that the original guilt of Adam’s fall, passed on to the infant in its birth, had been washed away, and the infant had become a child of God and a Christian.
Confirmation of boys and girls was done by the Bishop when they were about twelve years old. He rubbed holy oil and balsam on their forehead to strengthen their faith to resist temptation in the adult life ahead of them. Since there would be endless temptations, and the men and women were likely to sin, they could receive pardon via the sacrament of penance. To qualify for this pardon, the individuals should, first of all, regret the sin committed by them. Secondly, they must confess their sins orally to the priest. Thirdly, they must receive absolution (remission of sins) from a priest. Fourthly, they should show obedience in performing the prescribed penance. This penance could be a pilgrimage, alms giving, or any one of a number of things.
The sacrament of extreme unction was performed by a priest at the death bed of a person certain to die immediately. While the person was dying, the priest stood by the bedside and anointed the man with holy oil, which strengthened his soul for the journey ahead. The sacrament of marriage was performed to unite men and women in lawful matrimony. The Christian wedlock was indissoluble by human power. The Church could annul a marriage only when a holy ordinance had not been observed at the time of the celebration of marriage. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is based on the Lord’s Supper as described in the Gospels. This involved the consecration of bread and wine by the priest. It is believed that there was a miraculous transformation of these objects into the body and blood of Christ. These were offered in this consecrated form to the Father, renewing Christ’s original sacrifice upon the Cross. This mystery of transformation was called trans-substantiation and was considered the central mystery of the Mass and of Catholicism. When the sacrament of Holy Eucharist was performed, there was elaborate chanted ritual, with candles, incense, and gorgeous vestments. The ceremony was always impressive.
The Roman Catholic Church was hierarchically organized, with the parish priest at the bottom and the Pope at the top. The parish was the geographical unit of administration. A number of parishes put together formed a diocese, headed by a bishop. A number of dioceses constituted a province, which was under the authority of an arch-bishop. Next in hierarchy were the cardinals. They formed a “college” which met in seclusion to elect the next Pope when the incumbent died. There were a number of other officials to assist the Pope who resided in the capital, Rome. The cardinals were appointed by the Pope, and were associated with him in governing the church.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, there were ascetic movements. In a manner of speaking, the institution of nuns and monks was an off-shoot of these movements. These nuns and monks were organized into several orders, guild-like in some sense. The order of the Benedictines founded by Benedict (529 A.D.) was the oldest and the most famous at the time of Martin Luther. The order of the Franciscans and the order of the Dominicans were organized in the Thirteenth Century. These orders had special positions within the Church hierarchy.
Although the nuns and the monks of the orders were subject to the authority of the bishop in whose jurisdiction they lived, some of the heads of the orders (abbots or priors, as they were were called) sought and obtained the right to be responsible only to the Pope at Rome. This often resulted in conflicts between the local bishop and the orders in his diocese. Such conflicts had to be resolved by the Pope. This served to strengthen the centralization of authority in the hands of the Pope at Rome.
The Church and the Society
The society in Europe was divided into three estates, generally speaking. The clergy occupied the highest rank and was called the first estate. The clergy was not subject to the jurisdiction of the secular power. They had to be disciplined only by Church authorities. The laity was divided into two estates. The second estate was occupied by the nobility, and the third estate consisted of the common people. The laity, both of the second and the third estates, had no role in governing the Church. In other words, even though the clergy had powers to control the laity, the laity could not have any control over the clergy.
Declining Standards of the Clergy
There was no tax to be paid by the Church. The clergy was also subject to the law courts of the Church alone. These were called the ecclesiastical tribunals. These tribunals had ecclesiastical judges in strict accordance with the ecclesiastical law. This was cannon law rather than civil law. The cannon law consisted of acts of Church councils and the decisions of the Popes, and its pursuit had become a serious business. The cannon law had some supremacy over the civil law in matters concerning marriage, divorce, and proving of wills.
The church had the power to levy taxes called tithes. The tithe was less than one-tenth. There was an understanding, however, that the spiritual authority lay with the Pope and secular authority with the Emperor. This neat separation did not work smoothly. The secular authority and the spiritual authority were constantly in conflict with one another, and tried to usurp each other’s rights and privileges. In particular, the Pope was seen as trying to impose himself on the rulers without justification; he was also perceived as being ready to assume the role of the secular authority as well. Moreover, the universal Church did not give much recognition to the emerging nation-state consciousness among various people groups in Europe.
More than anything else, it was the corrupt state of the clergy and the Church as an institution that agitated the minds of both the common man as well as those who had secular authority. The thinking persons of the time were nauseated by the poor conduct of the clergy in general. Simony, buying and selling of Church offices, so much warned against in the Scriptures (Acts 8:9-11, 18-24), became rampant in the Church. Also, the clergy lived in an objectionable way, constantly displaying their riches, pride, and authority. The parish priest, more often than not, seized the opportunity to levy excessive fees for marriage, burial, and other duties.
There was emphasis on a life of holiness, but, in practice, the life of the clergy was seen to be declining steadily in the area of personal morals and ethics. Pietism had already taken deep roots, and, compared with the standards of great ascetics, the lifestyle of an average priest or a bishop or even the Pope was a vulgar display of wealth and power. It was inevitable, then, for the people to criticize the church hierarchy. Such criticism, however, was met with the threat of heresy. The personal behavior of individual clerics was still subject to the scrutiny and criticism of the lay public and theologians, and was permitted. However, when such criticism aimed at exposing the institution or the doctrines of the institution, it was considered to be a blasphemous act and was crushed ruthlessly. The critics would be branded as heretics by the Church, and the civil power would seize the “heretics” and put them to death, usually at the stakes. As we shall see later, in Luther’s case, his state, the duchy of Saxony, guarded him subtly against this attack both from the Emperor and the Pope.
Heresy was considered to be a very serious crime. This, however, did not deter those who were determined from expressing their strong beliefs. In the so-called heretic movements of the time, we find greater emphasis on the Scripture and a strong thrust for reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. What the Roman Catholic Church considered heretic acts of a limited number of individuals, however, began to influence large geographical territories. This developed, in several instances, into mass movements. In the heresy movements of the time, we also see an assertion of freedom of speech and thinking characteristic of modern day democracies.
As Schevill (1930:22-23) points out: “there were concerted heretical movements affecting a wide area and really jeopardizing the existence of the church. Of these collective heresies, that of the Albigenesians, belonging to the beginning of the thirteenth century, spread over much of Southern France. The Albigenesian went the length of attacking the sacramental system, and when excommunication proved ineffective, Pope Innocent III, in 1208, preached a crusade against the offenders, won only after a furious struggle by setting up a special tribunal called Inquisition. The Inquisition persisted as a convenient tool of ecclesiastical repression. In the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe inaugurated a heretical agitation in England which taught that the individual needed no mediator between himself and God. Shortly after, John Hus began a similar movement of criticism against priestly domination in Bohemia. Although Hus, in 1415, paid for his audacity by being burned at stake,” for generations the movement agitated the country.
It was in this context of uncertainties, death, and agitated thinking on the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrines that Luther was born, brought up and educated. It was in this context of pietism, personal holiness, and personal sacrifice as epitomized in the ascetic lives of great servants that Luther began his realization of the true Christian faith.
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THE LIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER
The life stories of men and women anointed by the Lord Jesus Christ are a great source of inspiration to us. These stories encourage us in our walk with the Lord, comfort us in our worldly and spiritual tribulations, and create in us a conviction and the courage to follow the model set by them. We instantly come to identify ourselves with these godly men and women. We receive a renewal in our spirit; we get new thoughts and ideas — a new revelation of our own selves. Through such stories, the Holy Spirit convicts us, gives us a strategy to live a Christ-like life, and enables us to receive our manna when we need it most. It is no wonder that many leaders in the spiritual realm have often spoken of the benefits they have derived by reading and studying the life stories of other saints. Martin Luther’s is one such story, perhaps second in importance only to the story of the Apostle Paul.
Martin Luther’s life teaches us to put our trust in the Lord, follow His will, and glorify Him alone in all we do. Above all, Martin Luther’s life is a glorious illustration of how God prepares His children to accomplish His purposes, how He leads them through all sorts of tribulations, and how He ultimately demonstrates His power through His children, even though they may be weak, imperfect vessels.
From the Narrow Places to Wider Places
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 to Margaret and Hans Luther in Eisleben, a small mining village in the province of Saxony in Germany. Hans Luther was from a peasant background, but, since he was not the eldest son, he had to leave his paternal farm and move over to the small mining village to earn his livelihood. From Eisleben, within six months of Martin’s birth, the family moved again to Mansfeldt, a larger place, whose mines were busy and well-known. Not only were these moves significant for the future life Martin Luther, since accessibility to centers of education was ensured by the Lord through these moves, but even the very life of Martin Luther itself subsequently became a series of moves from one place to another, and from one spiritual position to another, so that the Light and Truth would be carried by him all over Germany, and eventually to the whole world.
The change from a peasant’s life to a miner’s life in Martin’s family inaugurated the move from a peasant background to an industrial background. This was perfectly in harmony with the process of change in the Fifteenth Century Europe.
Luther’s Mastery of Latin – the Lingua Franca of the Time
The change of scene was the will of the Lord. It had helped Margaret and Hans Luther to send their son to the Latin school in Mansfeldt when Martin was about five years old. Latin was the language of the educated, the supreme medium for all deliberate and serious purposes. Knowledge of Latin was seen as synonymous with knowledge itself.
Martin learned Latin very well. This learning of and through the medium of Latin, previously unknown to the child, again was a great change in the life of Martin. This change and preparation was needed for future/subsequent moves in the life of Martin Luther.
Biographers report that the use of Latin in school at that time was truly pervasive—even in games, Latin was used. A demanding situation was created, but, through this demand, Martin was prepared to master a language that was indispensable in his day to storm the fortress of the Pope, and to speak to all across the nations. The truth revealed to Martin was not truth to be kept and used exclusively for his own nation, Germany. Later on, Martin would demonstrate his mastery of Latin and use it in refuting the false propositions and interpretations of his adversaries. Many of Martin Luther’s early writings were in Latin.
Yet another move in the life of Martin took place in the year 1497, when Luther was 14 years old. From the industrial mining town of Mansfeldt, Luther was sent to Magdeburg, a commercial city larger than the cities of Cologne, Ghent, or even Paris at that time. This time he was entering a high school, the Cathedral School at Magdeburg. God had so ordered Luther’s early life that Martin moved from one place to another, which, in every case involved getting not only a greater exposure to the world around him, but also an intensive preparation in spiritual life.
Luther – an Urban Street Kid
Magdeburg was a large city of commerce with connections to other cities in Europe. The city already had at least two quarters of its own — the wealthy lived in one part of the city and the common people, largely poor, lived in another part.
Martin Luther had to depend largely on begging every day for his food while in Magdeburg. He moved once again from Magdeburg to Eisenach one year later. Even there, Martin did not have any support from anyone to begin with. He and his fellow students had to beg every day for their subsistence. However, by God’s abundant grace, Martin received the free hospitality of a God fearing family, the Cotta family. He also found favor with another family which gave him free board for tutoring a child of the family. He was now living in an environment in which the emphasis was on image worship, relics of saints, and other related rituals and religious processions.
Luther’s days at Magdeburg, at Eisenach, and the time he spent begging in these places were not forgotten by him in his later years. A biographer reports:
Luther was never ashamed of these days in which, oppressed by hunger, he begged in sadness the money necessary for his studies and his livelihood. Far from that, he used to reflect with gratitude on the extreme poverty of his youth. He looked upon it as one of the means that God had employed to make him what he afterwards became, and he accordingly thanked Him for it. The poor children who were obliged to follow the same kind of life touched his heart. ‘Do not despise’, said he, ‘the boys who go singing through the streets, begging a little bread for the love of God (panem propter Deum): I also have done the same. It is true that somewhat later my father supported me with much love and kindness at the University of Erfurt, maintaining me by the sweat of his brow; yet I have been a poor beggar. And now, by means of my pen, I have risen so high that I would not change lots with the Grand Turk himself. Should all the riches of the earth be heaped one upon another, I would not take them in exchange for what I possess. And yet I should not be where I am if I had not gone to school — if I had not learned to write.'. (D’Aubigne 1846:17).
Vow to Become a Monk
Luther enrolled himself as a student at the University of Erfurt in 1501, and received his bachelors’s degree in 1502. His parents wanted Luther to study law and become a wealthy, respectable lawyer. But the Lord Jesus Christ had greater plans for Luther. When Luther was returning from his home town Mansfeldt to the University in the summer of 1505, he was caught in a fearsome thunderstorm during which he vowed to God that he would become a monk if he survived.
Although this vow was sudden and prompted by a frighrening emergency, Martin Luther had already been learning and experiencing spiritual matters, and had already been introduced to the Holy Bible while at the University. This was a rare experience in days when the common man was not encouraged to read the Bible. Martin was old enough to see, feel, and experience the world around him as a young man. The decision he took, though sudden, had, in any case, been some time in coming. It was a deliberate decision on Martin’s part, and he chose to become an Augustinian monk, preferring the spiritual thoughts of Augustine over others.
Luther – an Augustine Monk
On July 17, 1505, Luther entered the Augustinian cloister as a monk. Martin lived in a cell within the cloister. His daily routine included many hours of praying, begging for alms, and penance for sins. Martin almost tortured himself physically, which reflected the spiritual turmoil he was undergoing within himself. The cloister, however, did offer him an opportunity to study the Holy Bible, which he had found among the neglected heaps of old books in the University library. Nevertheless, it was the image of God as a Fearsome Judge which occupied his thoughts. for this reason, he concentrated on how he could free himself of his sins through various meritorious works.
In 1506, Luther took his monastic vow and became a novice. The following year he said his first Mass, and so became a priest. All along Luther was truly worried about what would happen to him after death — would he receive his salvation or would he be condemned to hell because of his sins?
The chief of the Augustinian monasteries in Germany, Father Staupitz, took a kind interest in Martin Luther and sent him to teach at the six-year-old University of Wittenberg for a brief period. This was another important move in the spiritual and secular experiences in his life, which, led by the Holy Spirit, prepared him for the Reformation.
When we read his life story, we do not fail to notice that God wanted Luther to be prepared for the future He had planned for him. So, He brought Luther to a place where he would be further noticed and listened to with interest. Luther’s assignment as a teacher of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg lasted less than a year, but within this brief period Luther’s knowledge was noticed. This was all part of a life which he would have as a gifted teacher. It was not the will of the Lord that Luther end up merely as an excellent teacher, attracting students – God wanted him to be an instrument to effect a much larger change.
Luther, as an ascetic of the Augustinian order, who adored the Pope as the direct earthly representative of God, or even as God Himself, had to be given a taste of the papal institutions. Martin was not looking for an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, but the Lord sent him to there — Father Staupitz chose Luther and another priest to go to Rome to represent some Augustinian convents in their dispute with the vicar-general.
This was a long and difficult journey on foot over the Alps. All along the way, despite pious works — worship at shrines, performing penances, and the like. Martin’s soul was greatly disturbed. Rome, the citadel of Christendom, the holy soil, and the holy of all holies, gave him a rude shock, -- not in the form of the ruins in it, but in the form of the ruined and the wicked hearts and conduct of the priests there.
This was an eye-opener to Martin Luther, who had been equating true religion with obedience to papal hierarchy and practices. He saw first hand the degeneration which had been rampant in the Church and her officials. For a man who was willing to do anything, or make any sacrifice for the glory of God, the sight was unbearable. He was depressed in his spirit. He returned to Erfurt, and was sent, in April, 1511, to the University of Wittenberg to teach the Bible. There he studied Hebrew and Greek in order to be able to study the Bible in its original tongues.
It was in Wittenberg that the Lord made Luther a famous person in his scholastic and spiritual pursuits. Luther became famous as a preacher, counselor, reformer, teacher, music composer, hymn writer, printer, author and a great social thinker, all in Wittenberg. Wittenberg was the place in which Luther lived for almost the rest of his life, until his death in Eisleben on February 17, 1546.
Luther’s return to the University of Wittenberg in 1511 marked a new beginning, a renewal in the spiritual life of Wittenberg and of Germany. Students from all over Germany and Europe were attracted to Wittenberg. In 1512, Luther received a Doctor of Theology degree and became a professor of Bible. However, a spiritual warfare within Luther was still going on. Luther often questioned whether his calling into the priesthood was of the Lord or of the devil. Such doubts, however, were part of Luther’s growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Early enough, Luther anchored himself in the Word, for it is the study of Scripture that made him bold and gave him the ability to see the Truth.
Martin grew in faith just as the biblical images of God were unfolded to him. Revelation came gradually to this studious monk. He read the Scriptures over and over to see if he had missed anything important. He saw how the Bible interprets itself. It became to him like a giant web and a system of faith. In a small room of the Black Tower at the Augustinian monastery where he lived with thirty other monks and brothers, he searched the Bible daily. He prepared popular lectures on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and the book of John. It was in that study that Luther came to understand some life-changing truths. “In the Psalms and Romans, the picture grew clear. The common image of the Middle Ages was a God sitting as judge with heavy feet pressed upon the earth. Swords pierced God’s cheeks. God was Lord of wrath. The professor trembled at the thought. He felt the weight and the gloom of the people’s hearts” (Brokering 1983:30).
Luther’s sole dependence on the Word of God as found in the Holy Bible had a parallel liberation of his spirit from its dependence on Church rituals and hierarchy. What he saw in Rome had strengthened his belief and faith in the Word of God alone. As D’Aubigne succinctly puts it, Luther “separated from the one to cling to the other. The whole of the Reformation was in that one movement. It set God in the place of the priest” (D’Aubigne 1846:58).
The oath Luther swore when he received his doctorate degree to defend the evangelical truth with all his might came to have a special significance, a special potent meaning in his life later on. This oath, in fact, came to supersede his monastic vow and became the very anchor of the Reformation.
Another aspect of Luther’s receiving a doctorate of Theology was that it opened up more avenues for him to share his understanding of the Bible with others. From now on, Luther was no longer a scholar reading the Word and other writings for his own personal salvation. The Lord used him to speak out, and write elaborately for the benefit of all peoples. Any idea or practice that did not have a basis in the Holy Scripture became like an anathema to him.
Luther found from the very beginning of his professorship that the ideas of Aristotle and the theology of Thomas Aquinas were against what the Holy Scripture said. He found them to be similar to Pelagianism. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines Pelagianism as, “dependence on man’s ability to take the inital steps toward salvation by his own efforts,” . On the other hand, he agreed with the theological positions of Augustine.
In his pursuit for truth in theological matters, Luther was not entirely free from errors. We find Luther clinging to much of the belief systems of the Medieval Ages. By God’s abundant grace however, he rediscovered for his generation and for all subsequent generations, the major principle, that is, the justification by faith alone.
Luther was progressing only by fits and starts. Indeed, Luther’s story of enlightenment is a process that every one of us can easily identify with. It was intended by the Lord to be like this. After all, we are humans, and in order for us to enter into the spiritual realm, we have to set aside our spatio-temporal impositions and trust fully in the Lord. Luther became enlightened only in degrees and in several stages. We shall see the progress of Luther’s spiritual journey and the growth of his protest for faith in Chapter 3, which discusses the concept and structure of protest.
The Lord continued to work in Luther and continued to draw him out for the benefit of all peoples. A major step in that direction was Luther’s undertaking of the pastoral preaching duties at St.Mary’s, the city church of Wittenberg, in April 1515. God provided him with a pulpit from which Luther would share the revelations given to him by the Lord through His Word. Luther’s preaching was full of new insights, was bold and new in its approach. For the effectiveness of Luther’s preaching pastoral duties, God had provided him with a receptive audience of young students and others who had a heart to listen to the Word. For this reason, what Martin Luther preached did not fall on deaf ears, but on those who received and multiplied it (Matthew 13:3-23).
Martin Luther, led by the Holy Spirit, preached fearlessly from the Word of God. Consider one of the early sermons of Martin in this simple church: Luther preached “against the superstitions which then filled Christendom — the signs and mysterious characters, the observance of certain days and months, familiar spirits, phantoms, the influence of the stars, witchcraft, metamorphoses, incubi and succubi, the patronage of saints, and so on; one after another he attacked these idols, and with vigorous arm over threw all false gods” (D’Aubigne 1846:67).
In this manner, Martin Luther, even as a young man of thirty-two years, was preaching for the renewal of the spirit in man, and against the superstitious practices which hid God from man and put the rituals above God’s Word. The Roman Catholic Church was becoming more and more commercialized. Money raising came to dominate the thinking and practice of the Church hierarchy. The Church began to trade the forgiveness of sins of for money.
The Roman Catholic Church, as we already pointed out, considered seven items which they called sacraments as efficacious for salvation — Eucharist (the Lord’s supper-bread and wine), baptism, penance (to derive the benefit of Christ’s death when one committed sins after baptism), confirmation, orders of nuns and monks, matrimony, and extreme unction (anointing of the dying person).
While extreme unction became very important for the person on the death bed, penance became an important ritual for the living who desired forgiveness from sins. Penance had three parts to it — contrition, confession and satisfaction. Contrition was made when one felt genuinely sorry for sins committed. Confession enabled persons to speak about this mental state to God through a confessor-father (priest). Satisfaction was to demonstrate outwardly that one was truly sorry for sins committed. At that time, satisfaction meant giving money to the Church. This was elaborated to the point where through giving money, one could even cleanse sins likely to be committed in the future. It was made to seem that by giving money to the Church a person could accumulate enough to guarantee entrance into heaven.
The priests fixed various fees for different kinds of sins. So, remission of each sin carried its own price, and the Roman Catholic Church actively supported the sale of such remissions. Indulgence was the name given to the money paid for the remission of sins. According to Catholic doctrine of that time, if indulgence was not bought, the people would be sent to hell after death. The common people were deceived into buying these indulgences by the priests who sold them.
Noticing that in his confessionals, and elsewhere people depended for their remission of sins more on the indulgences they bought with their money than on real repentance, Luther felt impelled to oppose this travesty of the truth. He preached against indulgences from his pulpit. Then, on October 31, 1517, he nailed ninety-five theses in Latin onto the door of the church, in a place where school announcements were usually posted.
Luther expected the students and faculty to see what was posted, and to commence a debate on the subject. He had never intended this to be more than an academic exercise. However, by God’s miraculous grace, the theses were translated into the local language, German, and were available to even common citizens. What was hoped to be a debate within Wittenberg, became a hotly discussed topic all over Germany and soon within the entire Holy Roman Empire.
Before posting these ninety five theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Martin Luther had already made ninety nine “propositions” against Pelagian rationalism of the scholastic theology. Pelagianism, as already pointed out, meant “dependence on man’s ability to take the initial steps toward salvation by his own efforts.”
Luther had all along been treating the problem in the church as one of incorrect theology. He began to preach against this theology as a doctor of divinity, from the point of view of a scholar. This foundation continued in his posting of ninety-five theses on the church door. He had hoped that the students and faculty would be the first to discuss them. However, as the theses were the current practices, and not simply against theological positions debated within the classroom, the confrontation between Martin Luther and the church hierarchy, (who had instigated, supported and glorified the power of the indulgences), became inevitable.
From now on, by the grace of the Lord, Martin Luther was drawn into a battle which ushered in, strengthened, and established the Reformation. Luther’s life became a great escape from one danger to another, each attempting him imprison him or take his life.
The year 1518 saw great happenings in the life of Martin Luther. There was widespread commotion from the time Luther posted the ninety-five theses on October 31, 1517. In January 1518, the German Dominicans met in Frankfurt and proposed 106 theses against Luther. They also complained to the Pope. There had been already a growing rivalry between the Dominican and the Augustinian orders. So the Dominicans seized the opportunity to criticize an Augustinian monk, thereby criticizing the Augustinian order itself.
Martin Luther received a lot of abuse from his adversaries. They called him “a drunken German monk,” and his quarrel a “monkish quarrel between monks.” Soon, the vehemence with which Luther pursued his ideas and the speed with which they spread caused his adversaries in the Roman Catholic Church to brand him a heretic; “he was blamed for the violent and haughty manner in which he condemned the opinions of others: this is the reproach usually made against those men who possess that strength of conviction which proceeds from the Word of God. He was also accused of precipitation and levity” (D’Aubigne 1846:125).
Luther was called a heretical, schismatic, mistaken, rash, slanderous person. Tetzel, the dealer-priest of the indulgences in the Saxony province (the province in which Wittenberg was located), who was the main loser in the attack against indulgences, claimed even that Luther had a dull brain, never felt the Bible, never read the Christian doctrines, and never understood his own doctors. Martin Luther was called “a mad man, a seducer, and a demoniac” (D’Aubigne 1846:139).
On the other hand, the enlightened men in the German nation began to perceive the truth. In fact, they had, for a long time, been opposed to the corruptions introduced by the Church in Rome, but were unable or unwilling to do anything about these. When Luther’s theses were published and circulated, these theses struck a sympathetic cord in them. The youthful students in particular were attracted to the Lutheran theological positions stated in the theses.
While the German people rallied around the blossoming principles of the Reformation set forth in Luther’s theses, the ruling princes, though sympathetic, were still undecided. At the same time, they were all waiting for an opportunity to disentangle themselves from the dominating powers of the Roman Pope. The emerging theological truths soon would become a rallying point even for the German rulers.
In March, 1518, Luther preached a sermon entitled “Sermon Concerning Indulgences and Grace”. This sermon squarely placed the responsibility for the sale of the indulgences on the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. In April and May of the same year, his own Augustinian order probed his thoughts and questioned him. Finally in August of 1518, Luther was summoned to appear in Rome within sixty days to answer charges against him.
Everyone feared that it would be the end of Martin Luther. The Roman Catholic Church was notorious in handling the affairs of those who opposed its viewpoints and activities. Miraculously, Martin Luther was not to go to Rome, but to appear before the assembly of princes, elected representatives, and higher church officials in Augsburg, Germany. The Augsburg Congress, called the Diet, was not convened simply for hearing Luther. The Diet had other businesses as well. However, the case of Martin Luther before the Diet became one of the rallying points for the German princes to oppose the political scheming and intervention of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope.
Martin Luther undertook the long and arduous journey to Augsburg, mostly on foot, to appear before the Roman representative, Cardinal Cajetan. Luther was there to explain and defend his theses, but the cardinal and many others of the Roman Catholic Church wanted nothing less than the retraction of his “offensive” theses.
In a three-day battle of words going back and forth, nothing much could be gained by either side. On the other hand, it was rumored that there were plans to arrest and do away with Luther. Martin left Augsburg quietly, giving no opportunity for any mischief against him. Luther was compelled to write a letter, before his departure, under pressure from his peers and mediators, apologizing for his verbal behavior and alleged lack of meekness to enable the mediators to work out some compromise between his position and the position of the church.
Then came the debate between him and Johann Eck at Leipzig, in 1519, in which Luther clearly said: “Among the articles of faith held by John Hus and the Bohemians, there are some that are most Christian. This is a positive certainty. Here, for instance, is one. ‘That there is but one universal Church’; and here is another: ‘It is not necessary for salvation, to believe the Roman church superior to all others’. It is of little consequence to me whether these things were said by Wycliffe or by Hus....they are truth” (D’Aubigne1846:276). This sealed the position of Luther as a heretic in the eyes of the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church.
On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo signed an order-cum proclamation (the Papal Bull), proclaiming Luther to be a traitor, and pointed out “pernicious, scandalous, and poisonous propositions” of Luther. The bull ordered that “so soon as this bull shall be published, the bishops shall make diligent search after the writings of Martin Luther that contain these errors, and burn them publicly and solemnly in the presence of the clergy and laity” (D’Aubigne 1846:319). The bull demanded recantation in writing, or presentation of Luther himself in Rome. Furthermore, if he did not retract his positions within sixty days, he would be treated as a heretic.
Luther published his “Appeal to his Imperial Majesty and to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, on the Reformation of Christianity”, on June 23, 1520. In this appeal, he argued that “the clergy and laity have nothing but their functions to distinguish them”. He appealed to the German consciousness very strongly: “What! shall we Germans endure such robberies and such extortions from the Pope? If the kingdom of France has been able to defend itself, why should we permit ourselves to be thus ridiculed and laughed at? Oh! if they only despoiled us of our goods! But they lay waste the churches, fleece the sheep of Christ, abolish religious worship, and annihilate the Word of God?” (D’Aubigne 1846:307).
Luther was, indeed, quite vehement against the Pope’s rule by this time. Earlier he had been willing to concede certain courtesies, powers, influence and respect to the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope; but now, it was all clear to him that until the German nation and all Christians discarded Pope’s rule, there would be no truth:
If we hang thieves, and decapitate highway robbers, let us not permit Romish avarice to escape, which is the greatest of thieves and robbers, and that too in the name of St.Peter and of Jesus Christ! Who can suffer this? Who can be silent? All that the pope possesses, has he not gained by plunder? For he has neither bought it, nor inherited it from St.Peter, nor gained it by the sweat of his brow! Whence then has he all this? Let the emperor put the Bible and a prayer book into the Pope’s hands, in order that he may leave the cares of government to kings, and confine himself to preaching and praying” (D’Aubigne 1846:307-308).
The nobility and all Christians were urged to join the fight against the Pope’s powers and Roman Catholic Church. From a theological stand point, Luther’s position developed into a doctrine which affected the forms and processes of worship, sacraments, the relationship between the laity and the priest, the status of the priest within the church, the futility and irrelevance of celibacy, monks’ orders, the supremacy of papal authority, the supreme position of the Pope as God’s temporal power — in fact, the Lutheran position negated everything the Roman Catholic Church held as central in its exposition of Christianity. On the other hand, the Lutheran position grew stronger day by day in focusing upon the centrality and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, and insisted upon accepting anything after assessing its validity based upon the standards of Holy Scripture. In this process of a struggle against papal domination and rule of the church, Luther saw the need to involve the temporal powers of his own people. The time was now ripe for it, and everyone was ready for a change, by the grace of our Lord.
Since the publication of the bull by the Pope asked the princes to take action against him, Luther was asked to appear before the Diet held at Worms in January 1521. As D’Aubigne (1846:393) points out, “the majority of the princes (attending the Diet at Worms, presided by the emperor Charles IV) were ready to sacrifice Luther; but no one desired to immolate the rights of the empire and the grievances of the Germanic nation”. Martin Luther was given a safe conduct by the emperor to and from Wittenberg in order to attend the Diet at Worms.
Martin Luther had, by this time, demonstrated his God-given gifts for debates, disputes, and the presentation of even the most difficult matters in a most convincing manner. He had demonstrated further his skills in outwitting his accusers in the Diet at Worms.
In this meeting, Martin Luther, though not a lawyer by training, conducted himself very ably with the leading of the Holy Spirit. When he appeared before the emperor, which in itself was a great recognition of the strength of the Lutheran doctrine and protest, Luther began by saying that “if, through ignorance, I should transgress the usages and properties of courts, I entreat you to pardon me; for I was not brought up in the palaces of kings, but in the seclusion of a convent” (D’Aubigne 1846:430).
Luther was circumspect in his presentation of his views, but when pressed hard, he declared: “Since your most serene majesty (referring to the emperor present) and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning — unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted — and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me! Amen!” (D’Aubigne 1846:433). Thus ended the face to face confrontation with the emperor.
Because Martin Luther was already given a safe conduct to and from Worms, the officials who were in league with the Roman Catholic Church could do no harm to Luther. However, it was clear to everyone that Martin Luther would be destroyed very soon. On the way home from the Diet at Worms, Martin was kidnapped and kept in the Wartburg fortress, to save him from possible dangers at the hands of the Roman hierarchy. This happened on May 4, 1521. On May 26, by the emperor’s edict at Worms, Martin Luther, a simple man of faith, was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church.
While living a secluded and lonely life in the Wartburg fortress, Luther began the translation of the Bible into German in a style that could be understood by all the German people. He was depressed and tested by Satan, but ultimately Luther’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ saw him through all his suffering. He wrote many books and letters while in seclusion.
Martin Luther remained in the Wartburg fortress from May 4, 1521 to March 1, 1522. During this period, the spirit of the Reformation took hold of the imagination of the entire German people. Monks were deserting their monasteries. Priests began giving the cup to the worshippers in communion. The robes were discarded; fasts were not observed; idols were removed; churches were broken into. Latin was given up as the true language of worship. In its place the vernacular, German, was installed. Nuns started leaving their convents. The Reformation saw the full use of the cartoon format in the pamphlet war between Luther and his opponents. In fact, the development of the cartoon as a powerful medium of expression and persuasion came of age in this very period.
Slowly, along with the reformation came the disorderly behavior of the mob. Political and social unrest were brewing for a long time. While the nobility wanted to be independent and wanted to get rid of the interference of the Pope and his Church in their administrative affairs, the peasants under the nobles who had been suffering for centuries grew restless. The spirit of the Reformation moved them also. This led to their rebellion against the nobles. This peasant war began in June 1524.
Unfortunately both for the Reformation and for the peasants who deserved relief and equitable treatment, the leadership of the peasants was in the hands of the rebel, Thomas Munzer. He had organized a fanatical and cultist organization to overthrow or reform both the Church and the state. Among other things, he said “Kill all the proud ones. While they reign over you it is no use to talk of God” (D’Aubigne 1846).
Martin Luther spoke out against the rebellion. He was in sympathy with the cause of the peasants, but was against the methods used by them to achieve their goals. The peasants participatrd in much unnecessary violence, and in the process they shed much innocent blood. Luther wrote in his ”Exhortation to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants”:
It is my friendly and fraternal prayer, dearest brothers, to be very careful what you do...Those who take the sword shall perish by the sword and every soul should be subject to the powers that be, in fear and honor....If the government is bad and intolerable, that is no excuse for riot and insurrection, for to punish evil belongs not to everyone, but to the civil authority which bears the sword...Suffering tyranny is a cross given by God.
However, when the violence was unabated, and when anarchy appeared to overtake the entire German people, Luther wrote very harshly against the peasants. He was sure that the plight of the peasants was no reason for violent acts. So he wrote:
In my former book (Exhortation to Peace) I dared not judge the peasants, since they asked to be instructed, and Christ says “Judge not”. But before I could look around they...betake themselves to violence -- rob, rage, and act like mad dogs, whereby one may see... that their pretense to speak in the name of the Gospel in the Twelve Articles was a simple lie. They do mere devil’s work, especially that satan of Mulhausen does nothing but rob, murder, and pour out blood....Wherefore, my lords, free, save, help, and pity the poor people; stab, smite, and slay all ye that can...I implore everyone who can to avoid the peasants as he would the devil himself....Let none think this too hard who considers how intolerable is rebellion.
In this way, Martin Luther set some new standards for socioeconomic and political movements for future generations. He insisted on affirming one’s own rights in a manner that was not anarchic either in its process or likely consequences. He was against violence, but he was not against using violence against what he considered unjust violence, -- unjust because, in its results, the original unjust violence was leading only to sorrow and anarchy, ruining everything that had, to that time, been built with great care, devotion, and sacrifice so far.
In June, 1525, Martin Luther married Katherine von Bora, one of the nuns who had left the convent. Martin Luther did not marry Katherine for youthful affection, for in his own words, Martin would marry to “please his father, tease the Pope, and spite the devil”. to the spiritual, liturgical, social, educational, economic, and political, the reformation of the individual was added in this act of Martin Luther. It was genuinely an ever-expanding role tha the protest of affirming faith played in the life of Martin Luther. We could see clearly the elegance of the shape despite the obvious imperfections within the personality and personal life of Martin Luther.
Europe was in turmoil, even more so than previously when Martin Luther’s protestant faith was flooding the minds of the German people. The Turks conquered Hungary, there was war in France, and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire had to concentrate on matters other than implementing the edit at Worms issued against Martin Luther. It all seems to have been perfectly timed by the Holy Spirit. Justification by faith was now commonly accepted.
In 1526, the princes met in a Diet in Speier, and came to a unanimous decision that “pending the settlement of the Church question by a properly instituted international council, every state shall so live, rule, and believe as it may hope and trust to answer before God and his imperial majesty (Atkinson, 1968:280).
This decision was interpreted differently by various groups. Most considered it as freedom to have their own form of worship. However, when the turmoil was under control, Emperor Charles V called for another diet in 1529 in Speier
to secure the unity and sole supremacy of the Catholic Church and to find a policy aginst the Turk...... At the Diet, however, the real interest was directed towards the internal affairs of the Church..... it declared that those states which had held to Edict of Worms should continue to impose its execution on their subjects, but that the other states which had not should abstain from any innovations. Further, the celebration of the mass was not to be obstructed. Also, no member of one state could be protected against another state. This decision meant that the Reformation could never spread and would be cut out in many places where it had already established itself; that mass could be imposed again in evangelical territory; and power given to Catholic lay lords to coerce local clergy (Atkinson 1968:280).
A formal written protest was presented against this majority decision. This protest was signed by the representatives of Saxony, Brandenburg, Brunswick, Hesse, Anhalt, and fourteen of the free cities. From then on, people who protested against Catholic principles and church were called the Protestants.
As Atkinson (1968:281) points out,
Luther’s protest at Worms in the interests of the Word of God and the responsibility of individual judgement had now grown into the Protest of Speier of 1529, undertaken by princes and cities determined to uphold scripture and conscience. It is important to see that the protest was not merely a negative one against error and tyranny and ..., but a positive assertion of freedom for the authority of the Word of God and of the conscience. One meaning of the word ‘protest’ is ‘bearing witness’ and this should be remembered for a true picture of the Reformation. The Reformation is seen all too often as a negative protest against Rome, but thoughtful people will realize that the positive pressure of all reformers was to let the Gospel be proclaimed in all its purity and power. Any opposition they had to Rome lay in that she refused to grant this freedom and demanded the control or at least the interpretation of the Gospel.
Next came the important Augsburg Confession of Faith in 1530. A diet was convened by Charles V. He issued a friendly invitation to all so that the religious differences could be reconciled. However, the adherents of the Catholic Church were ready to seize the opportunity to see that the protestants were once for all suppressed. Because Luther’s name did not appear on the list of persons for whom the safe conduct was assured, Luther was forced by the Elector of Saxony to remain in the Coburg castle from April 25 to October 4, 1530. In the Diet at Augsburg, Confession of the Protestant Princes was read on June 25. This was “a clear, concise statement, concerning the religious view of the Lutherans, and listing the abuses which must be corrected” (Booth 1961:500). It was written in German by Melanchthon, a trusted friend of Martin Luther, and also read in German before an audience which usually preferred Latin.
This act signified in a formal manner that the split in the Church was complete and total. The argument against the Confession by the supporters of the Catholic Church was supported and declared victorious by the emperor. What began as a movement for spiritual renewal ended in political warfare.
The German princes and peoples affirmed their faith through the protest. However, not everything was moving in the right direction. Martin Luther felt that, even in Wittenberg, people had lost their affection for him. His health was declining , but even so there was no slowing down of his spiritual growth. In 1545, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was completed. He traveled extensively to preach despite his declining health.
There was a great deal of quarreling among his supporters. The Reformation had to face a Counter-Reformation from the now awakened Roman Catholic Church. In 1546, the end came. On January 23, 1546, Luther went on business to Eisleben where he counseled the counts. On the night of February 17, Martin Luther complained of chest pain. In the early morning of February 18, 1546, Luther breathed his last breath. The coffin carrying Luther’s body was taken by a wagon in a procession to Wittenberg. There, he was laid to rest in the floor of the Castle Church before the pulpit. The ninety-five theses Luther nailed to the door of this very same church birthed a renewal in men and women years ago.
Martin Luther “had risen in strength to protest against abuse within a system. The defenders, by refusing to consider the correction of the abuse, had brought the attack directly against the institution itself. Luther understood the abuse to be within the “Roman”, not the “Catholic”, phase of the system. but men had too long been accustomed to think in terms of Roman authority to be able to follow this new leadership easily. The real contradiction between the Roman and the Lutheran concepts of Catholicism fought itself out in political warfare. With a sort of dreadful necessity, battle and conflict raged over central Europe for all too long a time. The pure religious issue was early lost, and the long struggle was dynastic, national, economic, religious — all confused....In all the fields of time, Luther is tremendously of his own day....The hatreds, prejudices, sciences, philosophies, habits, and pleasures of sixteenth century Saxony were all in him. But in the fields of the eternal, he lived a free man..... Eternal validity is not given to men. Yet in a world of swiftly moving change, he sought and held steadfast the ancient truth” (Booth 1961:512).
To sum up, as Atkinson (1968:321-322) points out,
we have seen him the earnest student giving himself up to God by becoming a monk. We saw the conscientious monk called to the chair of theology in the new university of Wittenberg. We saw his studies inexorably drive him to his new evangelical theology which in turn involved him in the indulgences scandal. We saw him defend his cause before the sympathetic criticism of his fellow monks at Heidelberg, as well as before the hostile attack of John Eck at Leipzig. We saw him brooding, as he sat on the cart on the journey home from Leipzig, over the abysmal breach that was opening. With clear-sightedness he addressed a book to the German nobility explaining his cause and their responsibility; with courage he addressed a book to the Roman theologians, showing the theological plight of Christendom and the evangelical remedy; with kindness he wrote a book appealing to the man in the street and showing the content and nature of the evangelical theology. We saw him cross his Rubicon as he solemnly and quietly burned in public the hated canon law and with it the pope’s bull of excommunication. We saw him face the Emperor at Worms, quiet and unostentatious, yet unflinching.
The enthusiasts, the radicals, the socialists, the peasants, Henry VIII, Erasmus, hostile theologians, Zwingli, all these people and causes had to be met and answered, including the immense some unity among the protestants and a possible modus vivendi with Rome.... A modern person will find it difficult to realize that Luther did all he did and said all he said in immediate and direct response to the challenge of every situation rather than from any set purpose or plan. He never sought to control, guide, organize or manage things. In his view, events were all in the hands of God, and the important thing for him was to be found waiting on God so that he was ready to do or say anything God called or demanded of him in the event.
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FORM AND FUNCTION OF PROTEST
Split: Source of Increase or Decrease?
Strand (1991) demonstrated that the occurrence of a split within an individual church does not necessarily mean that the growth of that church is arrested. It could serve to galvanize both parties involved in the split into some action which would bring more membership to both groups. He further argued that church splits have been one of the means the Holy Spirit has used throughout history to increase the Church, the body of believers. However, for the split to perform this function, it should be based on obedience to the Word of God, not on personal ambitions or other matters which stand against the Spirit. Moving with the Holy Spirit was the major condition for the split to become a blessing, he argued.
I never thought a split could perform a positive function such as increasing both parties involved in bringing about the split. In my study of political splits (Thirumalai 1990), I came to the conclusion that, generally speaking, it was in the nature of things that a split often weakened one of the parties beyond repair, and that generally only the other party survived the split and increased its strength. Further probing of Strand’s thesis in relation to the discipline of Church Growth created in me a desire to study Luther’s Protest to find out the form and function of splits.
The conversations I had with several friends and scholrs including Alec Brooks and Tom Shetler on the subject of split, dissent, and protest, made me realize that while political splits, caused mostly by personal ambitions and disputes regarding the management of material wealth and so on, may have certain similarity of form and even function with the spiritual protest, but both the phenomena should be viewed differently.
Luther’s Protest, in its form and function, clearly revealed the difference between a political split and a spiritual protest. Its emergence, progress, and completion was entirely providential, as once my teacher and friend Alec Brooks pointed out to me in personal discussions we had. In Luther’s Protest, the principle of the sovereignty of God in the protest movement of the time could be clearly seen and identified. God had prepared the spatio-temporal conditions so well that Luther’s Protest could not only emerge but also spread throughout the world. Furthermore, the modern evangelical missionary movement was dependent on this development of the protest. The Roman Catholic Church itself was galvanized into action and was wholly rejuvenated through the Counter Reformation, which, in its turn, resulted in the spread of the Roman Catholic Church all over the world.
Also, Luther’s Protest revealed that the Holy Spirit used the agency of secular arms for the spread and effective completion of the spiritual protest. While the protest in its origin and emergence was totally spiritual, in its spread the protest became dependent on secular happenings.
Another important difference between a political split and a schismatic split or separation in the body of Christ is found in the amazing increase in the body of Christ.
As already discussed (Strand 1991), splits in individual churches and schisms in the body of Christ have resulted in an increase in the number of believers added to the Church, so long as such separations were the will of the Lord. For this reason, even though a political split leads to a decrease in the membership and power of one of the groups involved, and a proportionate increase in the other group, the schism within the Church has led to an increase in both the groups!
Capturing the power to the exclusion of the other group is the goal and consequence of a political split. On the other hand, giving more power to all the groups has been the result of a God-led schism within the Church. Therefore, standards or measures of success are paradoxically different in political splits and schisms within the Church.
Split, Schism and Feud
Political splits, religious schisms, and family and individual feuds are well-attested in the history of mankind. Each of these phenomena appears to follow its own course of origin, growth, and development. However, they can be inter-related, one leading on to the other, in a bi-directional and/or divergent manner. Mutual influence between political and religious schism is rather easily seen and well established. Often one tends to pinpoint one or more of these phenomena as responsible for the other. A person is also inclined to see and suggest a greater similarity in the growth and development between political splits and religious schisms as a group, as opposed to family and individual feuds.
Whatever the reasons for their origin might be, political and religious schisms aim at attracting into their fold people not originally connected with the splits or schisms. Success or failure of a political split or a religious schism is generally measured in terms of the following each party to the split or schism can muster. In its very nature, a political split or religious schism is a public event, gets publicized, and is in dire need of justifying itself before the general public.
On the other hand, family and individual feuds, unless raised to a more public plane, are a restricted phenomenon, meant only for the families and individuals involved. These feuds also resort to justification of their own respective positions before those perceived to be adjacent or at least partially interested. Enlistment of active involvement of others is not aimed at here, nor is such involvement usually forthcoming.
The Language of Split and Schism
The language used on public occasions performs the function not only of outlining the justification for the split or schism, but also of presenting this justification with the goal of persuading others who are ununcommitted to its own view-point. The language would announce the split, and justify the split. It also clarifies the genesis of the split, blames the other party for the split, and tries to persuade the non-committed public to join its fold. It should establish the reasonableness of its own position while also presenting the unreasonableness, if not the intransigence, idiocy, selfishness, and, where necessary, the treachery of the other party. It should establish the correctness of its own approach over against the other contending parties. These different ideas are normally not planned in advance, nor are they even fully anticipated, although there will be accusations to this effect offered by the parties against one another.
In certain cases, it is possible that there might have even been preparations for a split or schism, but the game plan for language use in these cases is not generally established before hand. The initial hesitations, false starts, the uncertain terminology adopted, and the varying degrees of harshness in the use of language all indicate that language strategies are not fully anticipated. Rather, they are allowed to develop as the urgency of the situation demands. In the process, a very dynamic situation develops which makes very rapid, persistent, and ingenious demands on the parties involved in the split or the schism.
The dynamic situation demands a dynamic response attacking the position of the opponent. No fixed strategy can ever meet the situation. This is fully reflected in the language used. In view of this, the split or schism in process is better captured by the language used: The language would clearly indicate the developing changes in strategies.
Defining Political Split, Schism and Other Related Constructs
A political split is generally characterized as the division of a political party into disagreeing or hostile segments over certain matters conceived to important to them.
A schism generally refers to separation of a body of religious faith into two or more groups, or secession of a part of the body owing to differences of opinion on doctrine or discipline.
A splinter party or group in politics is a party that has broken away or may ultimately break away, because of doctrinal disagreement, from a larger party. A splinter group is generally a small group which may or may not endure, and the stability of its views or its own stability as a group is doubtful.
Whereas a splinter group may project an image of ideological or doctrinal difference between it and the larger group, a faction, which is also based on doctrinal differences, attitudes and objectives, generally carries a pejorative or negative connotation. It is accused of stubbornness and even disloyalty, and is charged with creating disharmony in the political party. A faction is seen to be, as a group, more certain of its views. For this reason, it may at any time leave the parent body.
The splinter group and faction are generally small in size, whereas a bloc and wing within a political party refer to relatively larger groupings, but with loose allegiance. To be siding with the viewpoints of a bloc or a wing does not necessarily entail membership in the bloc or the wing or even the parent political body. These two words generally refer to practical alliances with ideological leanings or coloring.
Such terms as dissidence, dissension, malcontent, detractor, clique, conscientious objector, rebel, firebrand, recanter, agitator, agent, and destablizer are other popular words which are used in reference to the phenomenon of political splits. Heresy is the chief label used in the context of religious schism.
Platform or forum are two other planks from which the process of split may be initiated. A political platform is the declared policy of a political party. In due course, in the parent body, several political platforms may develop and several fora are established, to air publicly the differences in the political platforms.
In most cases, the overall differences relating to all kinds of factors, both political and non-political including personality factors, seek a platform as well as a splinter group/faction status which, when pressed ahead, would lead to political splits.
The Notion of Schism
The development of the notion of Schism has its own history within the Christian tradition. This notion is closely related to another notion, that of heresy. The Great Schism of 1054 A.D. was the first permanent severing of the Christian community, according to the historians of the Church.
As the Greek (Eastern) and Latin (Western) sections of the Roman world were administered separately beginning from the end of the Third Century, there developed numerous cultural and economic differences. The Eleventh Century witnessed the escalation of differences between these sections in several ways, most importantly in their theological orientations.
There were two important differences which developed and were formalized in this period resulting in the Great Schism. The first difference was the Petrine Doctrine. According to the Evangelical dictionary of Theology, this is the doctrine teaching that Christ conferred primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church directly upon Peter, and that this office and its primacy persists through the ages in the bishops of Rome, and that they, therefore, possess universal jurisdiction over all of Christ’s Church. This teaching was accepted without question in the West (LATIN), but was totally rejected in the East (GREEK).
The second was the controversy with regard to the filioque, that is, the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The right of the Pope as apostolic heir of Peter, and the filioque amendment to the Nicene Creed to state that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as from the Father formed the basis of this Great Schism.
By schism, the Roman Catholic church generally meant “a deliberate separation from ecclesiastical communion; it is also the state of being separated, or the Christian group which is in such a state. The schismatic is one who causes schism, who favors or bears responsibility for it, or who simply adheres to it through conviction or in fact” (Y. Congar, cited in “Schism” by Dumont 1989:1532).
Especially within the Roman Catholic Church, a schism is defined mainly in terms of a breach of a communion with the Pope. However, references to schisms as meaning differences of opinion, or of inclinations which endanger the peace and unity of the Church in a given place, is found in I Cor. 10; 11:18, and 12:25.
Dumont (1989:1533) suggests that “the word was retained to express a breach of communion occasioned, or accompanied, by disagreements and manifested by a refusal of obedience to the legitimate authority of the bishop.” He points out that schisms made their first appearance at a local Church level.
The New Testament, in the verses cited above and in other verses, views divisions as consequence of differences in the explanation and assimilaton of the apostolic kerygma message (Conzemius 1989:1534):
Nothing is known of a division which led to break with the whole Church. But the NT schism has the tendency to isolate men from the Church, which can be very rigid about divergences in doctrine. In post-apostolic times, schism and heresy are treated as the great enemies of the early Church. They are attributed to ambition, jealousy, indulgence in calumny and rebelliousness against superiors.... personal elements are stressed...in most cases schism was combined with an error in the faith.
The Roman Catholic Church had been greatly concerned about the schisms arising periodically among its laity as well as among its priests, and others. Most of these schisms, while differing from the Church on several doctrines, had exhibited a tendency to question the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Consequently, in the Roman Catholic Church, schism came to be equated with a breach of communion with the Pope.
While schism had been viewed as a phenomenon of an individual church in Pauline thought, the Roman Catholic church took it to another level. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, which questioning the institutional and papal authority began to be considered as a schism (and heresy). As Dumont, a Catholic theologian points out,
Counter Reformation theology profoundly modified the way in which the theological nature of schism was interpreted. Hitherto, as long as grave differences in the matter of faith were not involved and, above all, as long as rupture with legitimate authority left intact the sacramental, hierarchical organism of the Church (episcopate, priesthood of apostolic succession), schism appeared as prejudicial to the unity of the Church. But, while the position of the separated part was irregular, no one imagined that that portion was shut out from the mystery of the Church, the fundamental riches of which it continued to share (episcopate, sacraments). The drama of separation was conceived of as taking place within the Church. By defining the Church as a hierarchically constituted society under the supreme authority of the Bishop of Rome, and by identifying the Church purely and simply with the Roman Catholic Church, the Counter-Reformation made out schism to be a separation from the Church itself (Dumont 1989:1533).
The Second Vatican Council tried to distinguish two meanings in schism:
canonically, it is breach of jurisdictional relations with the See of Rome; theologically, without excluding full participation in the mystery of the Church, it places an obstacle to the full and manifest realization of its unity—a realization and manifestation which require the unanimous profession of the faith, effective membership of a unique, hierarchical, sacramental organism, and the common celebration (reception) of the same sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, the internal bond and external bond and external sign par excellence of the unity of the Church (Dumont 1989:1533).
The theology of schism has undergone several changes within the Roman Catholic church. The most stable viewpoint has always held that questioning the authority of the Roman See was an important feature in deciding whether any opposition to the Roman Catholic Church was schismatic or not. Thus, schism was viewed as a conflict between individual assertion and institutional authority. In due course, this could develop into a conflict between a group asserting certain points of view which were or are in direct opposition to, or perceived to be undermining the authority of, an institution. The causative factors could range from purely personal to totally doctrinal.
The Notion of Heresy
Heresy is also viewed as a breach of communion with the Roman See. Schism is generally reserved for breaches of communion provoked by personal conflict or mere refusal to obey. “The word heresy was applied to breaches of communion caused by serious divergences in the understanding of the faith” (Dumont 1989:1532). While this distinction is made at the theoretical level, schism and heresy would not be distinguished in a specific situation. In fact, there has been always a tendency to call a schism heresy, and seek severe penalties for the schismatic.
Within the Roman Catholic church, according to the present law, “a baptized person is heretic if, while retaining the name of Christian, he contumaciously (overtly) denies or doubts a truth which ought to be accepted by virtue of divine or Catholic faith” (Heinemann 1989:604). Heinemann points out that
the heretic does not abandon the whole truth or a fundamental truth of the Christian faith, in contrast to the apostate...the crime of heresy comprises three elements. First, only a baptized person can be a heretic. ..The existence of heresy depends on error or doubt with regard to revealed truth....all truths which contained in sacred Scripture and in tradition, and which have been proposed to the belief of the faithful by the Church.....there must be the free and deliberate will to reject a truth proclaimed by the Church, in spite of its being known...doubt is expressed externally, by words or signs...Along with the penalty of excommunication laid down ..the heretic suffers further notable restrictions on his rights of membership...The view upheld by Augustine that those who are born (Christians) outside the Catholic Church are not to be spoken of as heretics seems to be prevailing once more. Hence the only heretics would be those who deliberately departed from the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, and these would then be subject to the penalties of canon law.
At present, canonical law does not require the death penalty for the heretic. But in the past, death was certain for the person branded a heretic by the church authorities! In other words, in this century, a schism or a heresy would be considered a deviation, and treated as a difference in points of view. The ideas could be despised, but the person who proposed schismatic or heretic ideas could not be hauled up before a court and condemned to death. However, in the past, a schism or heresy was viewed quite differently from a political split. Consequently, it required more than ordinary courage to be schismatic or a heretic in such a time as Luther’s. A true schismatic or a heretic would have had a much greater conviction of his own beliefs than a practical politician of our times who gets involved in protest movements!
Most of us assume that it was Martin Luther who first brought out the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church. It is certainly true that, among all the reformers, Martin Luther was the greatest and the most effective. It is also true that the Holy Spirit used Luther mightily to bring about purification of the Church. At the same time we should not forget that the Holy Spirit, from time to time, had been sending warning signals to believers about the state of His Church on this earth.
Literary works in European languages abound in the criticism and mockery of the Roman Catholic Church. John Huss and Wycliffe were forerunners to Martin Luther. John Huss was killed as a heretic, and Wycliffe narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Roman Catholic church.
Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol.III offers some interesting documents to show how heresy was dealt with in past centuries. The introduction to these documents aptly points out that
nothing is more difficult for the student in our tolerant, if not indifferent age, than to understand the universal and deeply rooted horror of heresy which prevailed not only during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but down, at least, to the eighteenth century. Heresy was treason against an institution which was regarded by practically the whole body of the people, both learned and unlearned, as not only essential to the salvation of the soul but as a necessary bulwark of all order and civilization. Frank criticism of the abuses of the Church has prevailed among the more conscientious and cultivated classes from the first century. But it must be remembered that consciousness of the wickedness of the individual officers of the Church, including even the Pope himself, did not constitute heresy, any more than a criticism of the administration of a corrupt municipal ‘ring’ constitutes a repudiation of government altogether. Many still hold that the ‘incendiary’ propaganda of an anarchist should be checked. So, it was generally agreed that the treason of a Wycliff or a Huss against God and His holy Church on earth should be met by the prompt execution of the offender. The temporal rulers cordially cooperated with the church in the detection and punishment of what was looked upon as the most horrible of all crimes.
Notice the comparison with practical politics. There was not much opportunity given to the alleged heretic to state his position or to plead “not guilty”. For this reason, there was always a fear to express anything which would appear different from the explicitly stated positions of the Church. Freedom of speech and thought, therefore, had to wait for the emergence of Luther’s protest.
Lutheran Protest as a Herald and a Model for Modern Democratic Protests
The Lutheran Protest is one of the very few well-attested protests in the history of mankind. It is also one of the earliest protests in modern history. Although the Lutheran Protest took place by the end of the late Medieval Ages, it took place at a time when modern Europe was being given its shape and function.
The structural characteristics of the Lutheran Protest, its emergence, progress and function; its alignment with the political powers, its instigating role in social changes, and, in fact, in every walk of life, have all become a model for all subsequent protest movements, as well as for political splits, dissents, disjunctions, divisions, separations, heterodoxies, factionalism, factions, and so on.
The image of Luther burning the Papal Bull excommunicating him from the Roman Catholic church to the flames influenced all subsequent generations on all continents. The Gandhian political act of consigning the Lancashire and Manchester mill cloths to fire, and the burning of draft cards in the United States in late 1960s and early 1970s, are just two examples in continents far apart, both in time and space, drawing their models from the same source.
What is even more surprising than this emulation of certain outward forms of the Lutheran Protest is the fact that all subsequent protests tacitly accepted the formal and procedural characteristics of the Lutheran Protest. As we proceed with the study of the emergence and progress of Lutheran Protest, we find this astounding similarity between the Lutheran Protest and protest games of political groups and of others.
Labeling the Faithful as Protestant
The advocates of the Reformation of the Church were first called the Protestants in 1529 at Speier in Germany. The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, which, in all practicality, meant only Germany, summoned a diet to meet at Speier in February that year.
The announced agenda for the diet focused on finding a common policy against the Turks. However, the most important agenda for the diet in the minds of the emperor and the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church was to secure the supremacy of the Roman Catholic church and to put down, using all means, the emerging Lutheran opposition to it. In this manner, it was believed that the internal affairs of the Church would be settled once for all to the satisfaction of the Papal authorities.
The representatives of the Roman Catholic Church pushed through a resolution which annulled or neutralized the decision of an earlier diet held in 1526. As already reported in Chater 2, this diet of 1526 held at Speier decided unanimously that, pending the settlement of the Church question by a properly instituted international council, ‘states shall so live, rule, and believe as it may hope and trust to answer before God and his imperial majesty.’
This was interpreted as an acceptance of difference of opinion and an act of tolerance of such differences. However, in the diet of Speier in 1529, resolutions were passed which in effect meant that “that the Reformation could never spread and would be cut out in many places where it had already established itself; the mass could be imposed again in evangelical territory; and power given to Catholic lay lords to coerce local clergy. This was the occasion on which the Lutheran members of the diet entered their famous Protest, and thereby gave the name Protestant to the world. They refused to accept this decision and denied the power of the diet to annul the work of a previous diet except by unanimous consent, but the Catholics would not accept their objection” (Atkinson 1968:281).
The Protestant princes and the representatives of the cities declared that their duty to God and conscience took precedence over their duty to their sovereign. This was an unusual declaration, but was historically rooted in previously established Lutheran theology.
The princes and representatives belonged to different principalities, but were united as a party in protesting for the faith they held close to their hearts. From this time, these and others who held similar views began to be called the Protestants. For the supporters of the Roman Catholic church, they were Protestants against the Pope; but for the Protestants themselves, they were protesting for their faith based on the all-sufficiency and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The name Protestant was given by the Roman Catholic church.
The protest took a firmer shape in the Augsburg Confession read in the Diet of Augsburg on June 15, 1530. As we noted earlier, the confession was read in German, not in Latin, the language of the Roman Catholic Church. As Atkinson points out, “the Confession of Augsburg was the first evangelical confession and is the most famous, though in the way it was conceived, written, and modified by Melanchthon, it was more essentially a classical apology similar to the Apologies of the ante-Nicene age than a confession as such. It was an explanation and a statement of the Lutheran theology as opposed to Roman theology, expressed in dispassionate and non-polemical terms. It was conciliatory, irenic, comprehensive, Catholic, churchly and conservative” (Atkinson 1968:287-288).
Notice that, while the oral pronouncements of the protest, as we shall see later, were very strong, and not conciliatory, the written and deliberate statements were well-guarded against any emotionalism, and were aimed at elucidation in a congenial and conciliatory tone. Often this becomes a universal characteristic of any protest movement, when led by responsible leadership.
The Word PROTEST: Its Semantic Domains and History
The word protest is used as a noun and a verb. Its derivative, protestant, is used both as a noun and an adjective. The word protest dates back to medieval Latin, and had been used in almost all the then prevalent major European languages, such as Italian, Spanish, French, English, and German.
This word has had several domains of use. In its essence, it referred to solemn avowal of an act in writing. Consequently, the three major original elements of this word were solemnity, avowal or acceptance of an act on the part of the Protestants, and its recording in writing.
A condition for the protest to occur was that there be some dispute about the fact now affirmed or avowed. In its intent, it was an act of communication to all about the state or condition in which the Protestant was in. Accordingly, the act of avowal was to be made public, and was to be subjected to public revelation when needed or demanded.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the usage of the word protest covered the following senses:
- A solemn declaration; an affirmation; an asseveration; an avowal (c. 1400).
- The action taken to fix the liability for the payment of a dishonored bill; specially, a formal declaration in writing, usually by a notary public, that a bill has been duly presented and payment or acceptance refused (c.1600).
- A written declaration made by the master of a ship, attested by a justice of the peace or a consul, stating the circumstances under which injury has happened to the ship or cargo, or under which officers or crew have incurred any liability (c. 1700).
- A formal statement or declaration of disapproval of or dissent from, or of consent under certain conditions only to, some action or proceeding; a remonstrance (c.1751).
- A written statement of dissent from any motion carried in the House of Lords, recorded and signed by any Peer of the minority (c.1723?).
- To assert publicly; to proclaim, publish; to declare, show forth (obsolete, c.1548).
Notice that at the time Luther made his protest, the word protest had the sense mostly of affirming or avowing one’s own position. It was only later that this word came to be used in the sense of objecting to someone else’s view point. It would be interesting to derive the semantic history of the word in German and find out the complete meaning of it at the time Luther made his protest.
Protestation was considered to be the act of protesting; a solemn affirmation of an act, opinion, or resolution; a formal public assertion or asseveration. In its legal sense, the word protestation meant an affirmation or denial, introduced in the form of a protest, of some allegation the truth of which the pleader cannot directly affirm or deny without duplicating his plea, and which he cannot pass over lest he should be held to have tacitly waived or admitted it (“c.1628: Protestation is an exclusion of a conclusion that a party to an action may by pleading incurre, or it is safeguard to the party which keepeth him from being concluded by the plea he is to make, if the issue be found for him”).
Notice that the use of the word protest in its earliest and widespread use meant “an affirmative statement: a frank and open avowal” (Webster’s III International). It meant a solemn declaration in writing, made in due form usually by a notary public, especially in monetary transactions concerning the encashment of bills. It had the aim of declaring a state of condition in an affirmative sense.
The use of the word recognized inherently that a dispute already was under way. Also it could be used to entail the the possibility of a dispute in the future. It also meant that the protest was chiefly, if not exclusively, concerned with the individuals’ beliefs, statements which could not be proved except by the protest itself, the statement of protests assuming the function of axiom-like statements. However, we notice that in subsequent periods, the word protest came to be associated with the denial of positions, and in the sense of one protesting against the actions, and pronouncements of the others. In modern times, the word protest unfortunately has come to emphasize the negative side of its original intent. It is now usually meant as a solemn declaration of disapproval, a formal or public remonstrance; a complaint, objection, or display of unwillingness usually to an idea or a course of action; a gesture of extreme disapproval. So, while in the past, especially at the time Luther made the protest, protest was an avowal, in modern times protest became a disavowal. The element of declaration is still retained, but there is no longer emphasis on the written part of the protest. Public declaration continues to be an integral part of protest even today.
Importance of the Naming Process
The advocates for the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church began to be called Protestants following their specific act of protesting their creed in February 1529 in Speier, Germany. This specific name reminds us of yet another specific name given to the followers of Jesus Christ in Antioch.
Acts 11:26 records that “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch”. Note that the term Christian came to be used in a Greek town. It was when the good news was told to the Gentiles in Antioch that the word Christian began to be used. The expansion of the Church was at hand when Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and brought him to Antioch. The preaching of the Kingdom of God was now to reach the whole world, and it certainly needed labeling, a name that would fully reflect the expectations and would truly characterize the movement. The Holy Spirit gave the name Christian first at Antioch.
While it may be assumed that “a rose is a rose is a rose,” and while one may argue cynically as to the importance of a name, names actually have great significance. We are required to pray in the name of Jesus, heal the sick, drive out the devil and evil spirits in the name of Jesus. Jesus’s name is above all other names. The names and naming processes are given an important role in the Bible. The Lord God, our Creator Himself, called the elements into existence by their names, but He allowed the first man created by Him to name all He had created:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field (Genesis 2:19-20).
Notice that Adam himself was not given a specific name. His name was just Man. Since he was the only man among all the creatures, there was no need to give him a personal name; the generic name, Man, functioned as his specific and personal name (Genesis 5:2).
In its early phase, naming is portrayed in its essential characteristics—as arbitrary (with no one-to-one relationship between the object named and the word used to name it), or based on a reason. While the naming of the birds and other creatures by the first man is portrayed as arbitrary (God “brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name,” Gen. 2:19), the naming of the second human is portrayed as based on a reason, a characteristic, or a process:
The man said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man”.
The verse “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20) continues in the same trend. Giving names for a reason is the most dominant naming process in the Bible. The power of the name is an important characteristic in the Bible. The name of the Lord was called upon by men, to proclaim the name of the Lord when the human family began multiplying. The Bible mentions the specific time when the men began to call on the name of the Lord:
Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him. Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:25-26).
Consider the specific verses in which the naming processes are highlighted (Appendix I). These verses highlight the importance of naming as a process, the importance of a name in itself, and they give us an idea of the variety of ways in which the names were coined and used.
What is most important for our present purpose is that the word protestant was given to the proponents of Reformation by the adherents of the Roman Catholic Church who opposed the reforms. While the term was intended to be used in a derogatory way by the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, the term itself actually had a positive and a highly favorable sense.
The Notion of Protest in the Bible: Some Archetypal Uses
The notion of protest is very well documented in the Bible in very many dimensions. The institution of prophets in the Old and New Testaments may be seen as an exemplification of the protest, the affirmation of the faith, in many ways. The word prophet is “defined as one who speaks forth or openly, a proclaimer of a divine message, denoted among the Greeks an interpreter of the oracles of the gods” (Vine’s, p.894): “In the Septuagint, it is the translation of the word roeh, a seer; indicating that the prophet was one who had immediate intercourse with God. It also translates the word nabhi, meaning either one in whom the message from God springs forth or one to whom anything is secretly communicated. Hence, in general, the prophet was one to whom and through whom God speaks (Num. 12:2, Amos 3:7,8). In the case of the OT prophets, their messages were very largely the proclamation of the Divine purposes of salvation and glory to be accomplished in the future; the prophesying of the NT prophets was both a preaching of the Divine counsels of grace already accomplished and the foretelling of the purposes of God in the future.
In the NT the word is used (a) of the OT prophets, (b) of prophets in general, of John the Baptist, (d) of prophets in the churches, (e) of Christ, as the afore-promised Prophet, (f) of two witnesses yet to be raised up for special purposes; (g) of the Cretan poet Epimenides, and (h) by metonymy, of the writings of prophets (Vine’s, p. 894).
In all these, however, what is most important is the pointed focus on affirming the original and only Truth in the prophecies of various prophets. Without this affirmation of the only Truth, the prophets become ordinary men and women. Consider, for example, the Prophetess Anna, “the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then was a widow until she was eighty four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying”. This is a good description, but too brief to describe a prophetess. Yet the purpose of her description and even her role in the gospel was to affirm the Truth: “Coming up to them (Mary and Joseph in the Temple at Jerusalem when they brought the child to do for him what the custom of the Law required) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 3:36-38). Notice that the span of eighty-five years is used specifically for the focus upon the affirmation of God’s incarnation as Jesus.
Whenever the people of Israel backslid, the prophets were there to lead them back to God by reproofs and admonitions. Reproofs and admonitions were important in their capacity to indicate the future. Notice, however, that the reproofs and admonitions, along with portending the future were all anchored in the everlasting God and His faithfulness and mercies. There is always hope for the future only if men repent and come to the Lord.
Institutions are the works of men and are bound to suffer, wax and wane, whereas, the eternal Truth shines forever. Repentance, following what the Lord wants us to do and not simply the rituals, is demanded in the prophets’ sayings. In other words, an affirmation of what the Lord wants and what the people have to grasp becomes the focus in the writings of the prophets.
Isaiah protested both verbally and nonverbally. He wore sackcloth and walked barefoot so that all the people in Israel could see for themselves his protest for the Lord. He comforted and encouraged Hezekiah and the people in the siege of Jerusalem By Rab-shakeh. He comforted Hezekiah in his affliction and performed the miracle of the returning shadow to confirm Hezekiah’s faith. He reproved Hezekiah’s folly in exhibiting his riches to the commissioners from Babylon, and was a great chronicler of the times of Uzziah and Hezekiah. Isaiah’s prophecies were many; his reproofs were still greater in number—reproofs of the Jews for idolatry, their ingratitude (the parable of the vineyard), existing corruptions, vengeance upon the enemies of Israel, their wickedness, acceptance of false prophets, even as he foretold the restoration of Israel and the triumph of the Messiah’s Kingdom.
In Isaiah’s later chapters he reproved Ephraim for his wickedness, and declared the glory of God upon the remnants who were saved. He exposed the corruptions in Jerusalem and exhorted them to repentance. He denounced the hypocrisy of the Jews and promised a reformation, reproved the people for their confidence in Egypt, and their contempt of God. He declared the goodness and long suffering of God toward them. He reproved the Jews for their spiritual blindness and infidelity. He promised the ultimate restoration of the Jews, exposed the folly of idolatry, and predicted their future deliverance from captivity by Cyrus. He exhorted them to sanctification. Amidst all the reproofs, Isaiah speaks of the only remedy—repent and act in accordance with what the Lord wants. He was for the Lord even as he was against everything that stood in the way of true adoration of the Lord. Isaiah was protesting for Truth.
Ezekiel had the visions of God’s glory, of the Jews’ abominations and of their punishment. Like Isaiah, Ezekiel protested both verbally and nonverbally by pantomime. He feigned dumbness, symbolized the siege of Jerusalem by drawings on a tile, shaved himself, and removed his belongings to illustrate the approaching captivity. He employed a boiling pot to symbolize the destruction of Jerusalem, did not mourn at the death of his wife, and prophesied by a parable of an eagle and by other parables. His nonverbal behavior was a strong demonstration of his faith, even as his words were full of reproofs, admonitions, and exhortations to repent. The protest was in confirming his faith in the Lord and in announcing the total destruction which awaited those who did not repent and surrender themselves to God.
One of the most spectacular events of protesting one’s faith is reported in the Book of Daniel:
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king,. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:13-18)
Notice that there was no argument, not even an attempt to detail, explain, or illustrate the reasons or principles behind their faith. Here the three youths affirmed their faith as a matter of fact. They believed that they would be saved from the furnace blaze by their God, but their escape from fire was less important to them than their assertion of faith in their Lord. They protested for the Lord eloquently in their simple and straightforward statement. So, we go from foretelling the future, admonitions, reproofs, and exhortations, to a simple assertion of one’s own faith in the Lord. Here, both the verbal utterances and the nonverbal demonstrations are not emphasized. The protest is simply living it out in a straightforward manner.
Now, consider another extraordinary protest—the life and work of Stephen:
Now, Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue ....These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke ....So they stirred up the people ...They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses ....Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?” To this he replied, “.....You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
The moment of protest—that of affirming his faith came immediately after this:
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. “Look”, he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. (Acts 6:8; 7:58).
Stephen knew that there was danger to his person when he protested, but, nevertheless, he uttered what he believed to be true. Notice also the contrast between the protest of faith by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego on the one hand, and the protest of faith by Stephen. Stephen was led to explain the Truth as revealed through the Son of God. Explanation and narration are essential features of protesting for one’s own faith. Persuasion of the listeners to the Truth being narrated was the goal. On the other hand, Shadrach and the other youths did not elaborate.
Notice also the fact that Stephen protested and affirmed his faith, full of the Holy Spirit. In all NT affirmations of the faith, in the early Church, the agency of the Holy Spirit was seen—for protest to be real, good and powerful, we are now taught that the agency of the Holy Spirit is imperative. This is what we see in all subsequent records of the affirmations of faith in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in the life of Martin Luther, and many others. Please observe, however, that preaching the gospel should be distinguished from a protest for faith. While the act of preaching the gospel may involve both, and while protesting for the faith may involve preaching, both the acts are distinct. For the protest, a setting of disputation is needed and it is on the protest-affirmation of faith that the preaching originates.
Persuasion, preaching, and some of the elements of protest all were combined in Paul’s presentation of his defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26). But we notice that the original setting of a disputation which often brought about confrontation between the parties was minimal in this instance.
Another interesting notion of protest, the affirmation of faith, comes from Jesus himself, in the beatitudes in Matthew 5. This was part of Jesus’s early teaching, laying down the basic tenets of the Good News of salvation:
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying .... “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-20).
Notice that in the entire beatitudes, subsequent to the verses quoted above, Jesus deals more with the needful additions to the Law, so that the Law would be in line with the Spirit, and not simply with the letter. These verses aimed at correcting the decadence that had eaten away at the values which are universally and eternally valid.
On the other hand, Jesus’ act at the Temple was an eloquent testimony of a different sort of protest:
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written”, he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers (Matt 21:13).
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written` My house will be called a house of prayer for nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers”. The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him....Mark 11:15-18.
Note that when protesting what one believes develops into action on the part of the protestant, serious offense can caused for those who do not share in this protest. Isaiah and Ezekiel used nonverbal communication strategies to protest and demonstrate what they believed to be true—their nonverbal communication strategies fell within the domain of persuasion. The act of Jesus in the Temple, on the other hand, is direct action, not simply a purveying process of ideas, beliefs, convictions, but direct action to remove the obstacles to the principles He held as true.
This direct action would be called an act of rebellion. It would no longer be seen as lying within the domain of ideas.
The Protest For and Against
The protest for and against certain ideas, beliefs, and ways of life are interrelated, and yet these are seen as distinct. In the original sense of protest, one is called upon to affirm his faith when deviations occur in the beliefs held to be true. This protest leads to a process of cleansing and, consequently, to the establishment of the original values. On the other hand, the protest against what already is may, in many cases, focus upon replacing whatever is in existence. This may be just a program of dissent, aimed at replacing the old, not just cleansing it. The protest against what is already may even begin and end with dissatisfaction, without offering an alternative to what it aimed at replacing. The danger of protest against programs is that they are generally based on discontent rather than upon content. These are ignited suddenly, based upon a simmering discontent. While the protest for programs also have the elements of protest against programs, the protest for programs seek also to clarify the issues at hand. Affirmation has this characteristic.
Protest as Schism, Conflict and Confrontation: The Progress of Protest
Protest may be viewed as a schism, a conflict, and a confrontation. In its origin, protest is offered by a minority, but when the minority gathers some strength, it may either secede from the so-called mainstream; and call itself the true mainstream, or it can be evicted from the main body by the other group. Ultimately, a split becomes inevitable when the protest group persists in its protestation. Calling each other names and picking apart each other’s positions are integral elements of a split drama. There would be conciliatory gestures from both sides. There would be conciliators and even brokers to mediate between the conflicting parties. But ultimately, when the ranks of the protesters begin swelling, the secession, or split in one form or another is inevitable. Often procedural wrangles play a prominent role in the success of the protest.
A protest for ideas soon gathers around itself forces well beyond the scope of the ideas represented by the protest. Protest often does not remain simply a war or clash of ideas. Something more than just a clash of ideas takes place in a protest.
The clash or the confrontation of ideas is joined by other contextual forces—socioeconomic, political, and even ecological forces. In fact, unless the original protest is anchored in other ethereal forces already at work, the protest is not likely to spread and rally more people to its side.
Another characteristic of protest is that protest management is always faulty. This is because the management of an ever growing and ever-expanding protest is highly risky and is consistently perceived to be inadequate to meet the task. The managers are always unable to stem the tide of the protest when the protest is anchored in other powerful forces at work. They decide and take action in some faltering fashion. Gauging the strength of the protest is often difficult and is done unrealistically. Since counter-management is made and pursued from the point of the opposition to the protest, and since counter-management has the twin task of containing the protest as well as establishing the integrity and supremacy of their own position, managers are always handicapped by their own actions.
Last but not the least, language of the protest reveals the content, logic, and the style of the protest. Often the language of protest takes on functions quite distinct from the existing functions of the language until the protest.
There are so many other characteristics of protest which go into making protest a unique phenomenon, one that is used by the Holy Spirit for various purposes in expanding the Kingdom of God.
The Lutheran protest, so well documented, occurred at a time when nation formation based on language and ethnic consciousness began to dominate the socioeconomic and political affairs in Europe.
The time of the protest was most opportune also in terms of the expanding horizons of scientific inventions. The printing press in particular became very handy for the Lutheran protesters. In fact, the Lutheran protest occurred at a time when the whole world was about to change in many ways. The end of the Middle Ages was signaled. New territories had been discovered. A whole new opportunity was available to take the gospel to the nations, and this demanded galvanizing the Christians and the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit, in all His wisdom, found that an affirmation of faith should take place so that preaching the Gospel in true Spirit would be accomplished. The protest of Luther signaled the move of the Holy Spirit towards this end.
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THE STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION
OF LUTHER’S PROTEST
The Sources for This Study
There are several sources for the study of the structure and function of Martin Luther’s protest. The most important among these are the writings of Martin Luther himself. When Luther’s writings are studied in a chronological order, they clearly reveal the stages and growth of Luther’s protest. A chronological organization of Luther’s thoughts show how, in faltering steps Luther finally arrived at the truth; and how he was almost pushed into taking positions on many points. A full rounded theology, radically different from what the Roman Catholic Church believed and practiced, while, at the same time, firmly anchored in the Scriptures, was the result of these incremental steps.
The responses of the disputants, on the other side, are another excellent source. We get a better understanding of the fullness of Luther’s protest in the responses of those who opposed, and tried to falsify and suppress, Luther’s protest. Their responses, first of all, help us to understand the position of the Roman Catholic Church of that day. Through this we see how Luther’s affirmation differed from the position of the Roman Catholic Church. There is much drama in the opponents’ efforts to contain the spread of the protest and to nip it in the bud, if possible.
The strategies adopted initially for stopping the protest focused more upon the control of the individual, Martin Luther himself, in several ways. There were stages in the realization of the fact that the protest was not simply a matter of an individual’s pranks or convictions. These responses teach us how faulty the management of dissension can be, especially when the contents of dissension are ignored and when one is bent upon maintaining his own position.
Historical developments and records in the secular realm are the third important source in understanding the function, process, and progress of Luther’s protest. Once the protest was made by Luther, its progress towards fulfillment was closely associated with developments in secular history. The protest helped secular history move further even as it transformed the Church in several ways. The close association between the Lutheran protest and political movements of the time make a fine study of the link between ideas and political action. The link is seen not only in the back-up or the propelling support a political movement received in the Lutheran protest, but also in the guarding and nurturing support it lent to the protest. The link made it possible, by the grace of our Lord, for the protest to extend beyond the scope of its contents and to spread.
We shall use all the three sources in our study. Our gaol, however, is to identify the form/structure and process/progress of the protest in and of an individual, how the protest originated in the individual, how he got involved, how the protest evolved in him and, more importantly, how he evolved his strategies against the adversary.
Personal Concerns as Basis for the Protest
Martin Luther’s sudden entrance into the Augustinian Convent in Erfurt on July 17, 1505 must be the most important beginning step in the emergence of his protest for faith. Although his decision to enter the convent is reported to have been sudden, his inner man was certainly being prepared to take this step which would focus his attention not on the physical cares of this world but on spiritual needs. Luther’s personal spiritual conflicts were frequent and tormenting before he entered the monastery. Once in the monastery, the conflict based on his doubts about his own spiritual status became intense, Luther’s concern about his own salvation was the beginning of his faith. Notice that in the beginning, Luther’s protest was concerned more about the status of his own salvation than about others’ salvation.
However, this self-centered interest was kindled in him by a lurking fear that all that he had practiced, that is, all that had been prescribed by the Church, the sacraments, etc., as means for salvation, might not have saved him from eternal condemnation. In other words, Luther, from a purely personal concern for his own salvation, began to doubt whether the means prescribed by the Church universally for salvation were adequate in his case. His feeling of inadequacy, despite fulfilling the obligations prescribed for salvation, was the beginning stage of his protest. Was he righteous enough or was his monastic vow good enough to ensure his salvation?
Inner Conflict as Basis for the Protest
From a personal concern sprang an inner conflict which could only be resolved by his realization that it was not by his righteousness, but by the freely given grace of the Lord, that he and all others obtain their salvation. This understanding, unfortunately, had to wait until he began a thorough study of the Bible in its original tongues and his lecture on the Epistle to Romans while at the University of Wittenberg.
It was more particularly while meditating on this portion of Scripture that the light of truth penetrated his heart. In the solitude of a quiet cell, he devoted long hours to the study of the Word, especially Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The declaration of the prophet Habakkuk that tThe just shall live by faith”came alive to him. He recognized that this life is the gift of faith. This promise, which he received into his heart as if God Himself had placed it there, unveiled to him the mystery of the Christian life and increased this life in him (D’Aubigne 1846:46).
However, notice that when this discovery or understanding was revealed to him, Luther was not treating it as a new theology. There was no question of protesting at this stage. It was a very personal realization, put in his heart by the Holy Spirit through Luther’s reading of the Scripture. It was for personal edification, and for communicating this personal knowledge of the truth to all others who would attend his lectures and listen to his sermons.
Academic Concern and Excellence as Basis for the Protest
It was still in the realm of the academic domain that the discovery, “justification by faith,” was being presented. However, within the academic domain, the principle, justification by faith, needed to be affirmed, needed to be protested. For, scholasticism had then occupied the better part of the teachings in the academic world. Luther wrote at this juncture:
Aristotle, Prophyry, the sententiary divines are useless studies in our days. I desire nothing more earnestly than to unveil to the world that comedian who has deceived the Church by assuming a Greek mask, and to show his deformity to all ......The writings of the apostles and prophets are surer and more sublime than all the sophisms and all the divinity of the schools...God is at work. Our theology and St. Augustine advance admirably and prevail in our university. Aristotle is in decline; he is tottering towards his eternal ruin that is near at hand. The lectures on the Sentences produce nothing but weariness. No one can hope for hearers, unless he professes the biblical theology.
Note that Luther’s exuberance was that of an academic theologian. He had discovered an academic truth which went againt the widely held positions. So, he, as an academic, wanted to disprove these widely held positions. The attacks were intended to be an academic exercise, not based on his personal experience and emphasis on justification by faith. In this sense, Luther’s protest at this stage was at the academic level and was aimed mostly at bringing back theology to its preeminent place in the university circles and studies, rather than at emphasizing the position of justification by faith.
Then what was the contribution such attacks made towards the affirmation of faith? At one level, such a position helped Luther further clarify his own thinking and position towards the supremacy of the Scripture, and at another level, it helped Luther to establish himself as a person to be listened to.
Academic Commitment as Basis for the Protest
At least one biographer would consider Luther’s doctor’s oath as having a profound effect on his growth as a Reformer. D’Aubigne writes concerning Luther’s reading of the doctoral oath when he was conferred the doctorate in October, 1512:
The spiritual life that had hitherto been manifested only within him, now extended itself without. This was the third epoch of his development. His entrance into the cloister had turned his thoughts toward God; the knowledge of the remission of sins and of the righteousness of faith had emancipated his soul; his doctor’s oath gave him that baptism of fire by which he became a reformer of the Church (D’Aubigne 1846:62).
Wider Exposure to Spiritual Insincerity as Basis for the Protest
The visit to Rome in between his duties at the University of Wittenberg in 1510-1511 was a great education for Martin Luther. As pointed out by Jacobs (1898:38-39), “for Luther’s training, this mission was far more important than it was for the end directly in view,” that is, the task he had in mind to complete in Rome on behalf of his Vicar. Luther was sent by some of the monasteries in Germany to represent their case in Rome. For Luther, “the chief attraction , however, was not that of sight-seeing, but the spiritual blessing that he hoped to receive”.
His visit to Rome and his disappointing experience with the priests and monks there were often cited as revealing to Luther the hopeless condition into which the Roman Catholic Church had already fallen. However, his visit to Rome and his first-hand knowledge of the vile and indifferent character of the Church hierarchy and the priests did not contribute, in any significant manner, to the emergence of Luther’s position on the theology of grace and his protest for faith. This experience was not recollected or used by Luther until after the split was complete.
Several of the biographers present the anecdotes of his experience with the indifferent and indolent priests. D’Aubigne writes:
Several times Luther repeated Mass at Rome. He officiated with all the unction and dignity that such an action appeared to him to require. What affliction seized his heart after he witnessed the sad mechanism of the Roman priests, as they celebrated the sacrament of the altar! They laughed at his simplicity. The priests at an adjoining altar, to one at which he ministered, had already repeated seven masses before he had finished one. “Quick, quick!” repeated one of them, “send our Lady back her Son”; making impious allusion to the transubstantiation of the bread into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. At another time Luther had only just reached the Gospel, when the priest beside him had terminated the mass. “Passa, passa!” cried the latter to him, “make haste! Have done with it at once” (D’Aubigne 1846).
Luther’s astonishment was still greater when he later found that the clergy occupying higher offices also behaved in the same manner as the inferior clergy. He had hoped and expected better things of them. He noticed that the priests were joking about and mocking at the procedures adopted in the Mass.
Several biographers have noted that the language and behavior of the priests in Rome had grieved the heart of Luther. Stories abound about Luther’s shocking experience in Rome. Jacobs (1898) comments that “to his German earnestness , the frivolity of the Italian priests was a grievous offence”. Notice, however, that “yet it was as a faithful son of the Church and a zealous champion of the Papacy, that he returned to Germany. The criticism of many things that he saw and heard does not date from that period but was made as, in later years, he recalled his experiences, and judged them in the new light that had dawned upon him” (Jacobs 1898:40).
Academic Alignment with One’s Own National Heritage as Basis for the Protest
Biographers often have made it seem as if Luther’s journey was an instant eye opener, and that Luther had been suddenly convinced in his heart about the futility of the Hierarchy and other rituals of the Church. In reality, Luther was still an academic doctor, a preacher not yet involved in the practical and political aspects of the theology he preached.
The academic strengthening of Luther’s theological position came from three sources—the enthusiastic support he received from his students and the worshippers at the Witternberg Church, his own short writings on the subject as found in his booklet Popular Declamations, and Luther’s publication of an anonymous mystic, which he published with the title Theologica Germanica.
This last mentioned book had greatly influenced Luther’s thinking on theology in several ways. Luther first published only a small part of this book in 1516 with the title A Noble Spiritual Book. Later in 1518 he published the entire book under the title A German Theology (Grimm 1965).
Notice the word Germanica. Luther was emphasizing the fact that the book and the theology represented by it were of German origin. This emphasis on an ethnic identity for a theological position would continue through his work and protest in later years. What is most important to observe is the fact that the Augustinian monk was now exposed to the world outside his cloister, and that his work at the University was giving him much wider contacts and experience of the world beyond. This exposure provided him the necessary link with the temporal powers for the advance of the theology of faith and grace, even as it linked him to his ethnic base and identity.
Academic Skills in Aid of the Protest
Notice that Luther had already fashioned himself to be a teacher issuing propositions or theses affirming his position. In this way, protesting his position on what he considered to be points of importance. This manner of presentation and argument was an acceptable mode of publicizing and asserting one’s position in Luther’s day. The students of Martin Luther presented Luther’s theses in this procedure of issuing and affirming one’s views. In protesting one’s views, a person would find the processes and presentation of collecting together the thoughts and posting them, as Luther did with the 95 theses later on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. It is rightly observed that the theses began the Reformation, but this credit is often given to the 95 theses attached to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church.
In actuality, there were two sets of theses which preceded the famous 95 theses—the Feldkirchen theses maintained in a dispute by Luther’s student Feldkirchen under Luther’s presidency in 1516, and the ninety-nine propositions. These two sets of theses and propositions were purely in the realm of theology and were concerned with the attack on scholasticism and rationalism.
In one of his ninety-nine propositions Luther said, “In a word, Aristotle is to divinity, as darkness to light”. In all these theses and propositions he asserted the supremacy of God and argued that things divine were not subject to human reason and/or syllogism: “If the form of the syllogism could be applied to divine things, we should have knowledge and not belief of the article of the Holy Trinity.....We do not become righteous by doing what is righteous; but, having become righteous, we do what is righteous.”
It is important to recognize and bear in mind that Luther’s writings at this point of time were purely in the realm of theology, but had tremendous potential for practical application, as these asserted and gave glory and honor only to God and not to anyone claiming to be his ethereal agent. On the other hand, this potential was totally masked and hidden from those who could not see it as anything other than an argument between theologians. It was, and could be perceived, only as Luther’s attack on rationalism and as a useful tool of theological expositions:
The Reformation attacked rationalism before it turned against superstition. It proclaimed the rights of God before it cut off the excrescence of man. This has not been sufficiently observed; and yet if we do not notice it, we cannot justly appreciate that religious revolution and its true nature. (D’Aubigne 1846:87)
Reaching Out Academically: Beginnings of the Spread of the Protest
The time was ripe for the Lutheran protest to reach out and embrace all. The preaching of the theses had to move beyond the precincts of the Church and into the world to transform it. For it was from without, that the reform had to enter the Church. The preaching of the Word and of what the Word so truly ordained could not remain merely an issue in a theological disputation. It was ordained that concrete situations bring out the contrast between the truth as found in the Scriptures and the falsified acts of the Roman Catholic Church. The “certificates of salvation,” the indulgences, sold by the Church officials all over Germany became an excellent backdrop for the truth to explode. The German people were shocked by this scandalous trade in the certificates of salvation. There was opposition to the trade, but this opposition was not expressed openly for fear of persecution by the Church officials.
Jacobs (1898:59) remarks that the theses “were the outcome of his (Luther’s) pastoral fidelity to the souls with whom he had to deal in the confessional. What was intended as a matter of discussion for a very limited circle of the learned, with a view to an early remedy for an abuse of whose extent he had at the moment no conception, soon became the property of Christendom, and revolutionized the social and political, as the religious world of Europe. The day on which the Theses were published was the birth day of the Protestant Reformation”.
Pastoral Responsibility: Instigator of Action for Protest
So it became the turn of the pastoral responsibility to kindle the fire of protest in Martin Luther. Originally it was his academic pursuit which led to the protest for faith. While the academic pursuit remained within the precincts of the university classroom, and occasionally touched the outside world through his sermons, the pastoral responsibility brought him totally out into the open. It demanded direct admonition of his parishioners, who in turn would be galvanized into action to the detriment of the interests of the sellers of indulgences. In this way, a cycle had been set in motion.
Gradual Pace and Coverage: A Characteristic of the Protest
At the same time, it should be noted that Luther’s protest for faith and against the sale of indulgences was still limited and was having its stages of growth within this domain of pastoral responsibility. He arrived at the protest for faith in slow motion. When he heard of the proceedings of the sale of indulgences, Luther gave a warning in his sermon on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity:
How gradually he reached his conclusion is seen from the fact that, in this sermon, he rejects not indulgences, but their abuse. What should be regarded with all reverence, he says, has become a horrid means of pampering avarice, since it is not the salvation of souls, but solely pecuniary profit that is in view. In a sermon, preached just one year before his theses that provoked the crisis, viz., on October 31, 1516, Luther is, if possible, still more explicit. He speaks of the seducers who are misleading the people, and announces, that the parade of the indulgences is at the very door. The intention of the Pope is justified; but the charge is made that his words have been misinterpreted. Revising the definition of penitence, he distributes it into two parts, viz., of the sign and of the thing. Penitence of the heart is the only true penitence. That of the sign is the exterior and is feigned, and has two parts, confession and satisfaction. In a sermon of February 24, 1517 he grows in severity. Indulgences, he declares, are teaching the people to dread the punishment of sin, instead of sin itself. If it were not to escape the punishment for sin, no one would care about the indulgences, even if offered gratuitously. Such punishment should rather be sought for; the people should be exhorted to embrace the cross. He ends with these words: “O the dangers of our times! O ye slumbering priests! O darkness denser than that of Egypt! how secure are we in these extreme evils! (Jacobs 1898:65-68).
Notice how the pastoral responsibility as perceived by Luther included not only the responsibility to lead the laity correctly but also his own colleagues. It is important for us to remember that while the theology of faith and righteousness by grace was revealed to Luther in full, and while Luther held onto it with great affirmation of faith in full measure, Luther’s progress towards the reformation of the Church was in slower steps, through a slow process of elimination. This is one of the chief characteristics of the Lutheran protest.
The 95 Theses
Even when the ninety-five theses were posted at the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, the theses were “not for the people, but for the consideration of scholars and students. Nor had it in view any circle beyond that at Wittenberg”. Even the choice of the date of its publication, the eve of All Saints’ Day was not to attract crowds, but to remind theologians of the need for discernment. One year before on thesame day Luther had preached a sermon against the indulgences. So the choice of the occasion was deliberate, but it simply isn’t true that the 95 theses were deliberately posted to attract crowds. For one thing, the theses were written in Latin, not in German, the language of the people; for another, the Castle Church had a clientele much different from the city church.
The ninety five theses of Luther were important as the foundation of Luther’s protest for faith. However, Luther was presenting these theses as points for disputation, not for teaching. Luther wrote that “they were not to be taken as dogma, but merely as themes for disputation. For there is much in them, he writes, concerning which I am doubtful; much else that I do not understand; other things of which I am not persuaded; but nothing that I stubbornly adhere to; for I subject everything to the Holy Church and her judgement”. Again in his letter to the Pope, dated May 30, 1518, he expresses his surprise that the theses should have obtained such extensive circulation. He regretted it; since they were points for disputation, not teaching, somewhat equivocally composed as was the custom, (i.e., the academic custom, giving greater latitude to their defender). If he had foreseen their wide diffusion, he would have taken pains to make them clearer. (Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol. II, The Period of Early Reformation in Germany, No. 6, p.11).
Note that Luther classified these 95 theses into the following theses: (i) of doubtful nature, (ii) not understandable or explicable, (iii) which had not persuaded or convinced him yet, and (iv) which he would not stubbornly adhere to. That is, the 95 theses were open for discussion. In a way, these theses were merely points for disputation, and were subject to holy Church and judgement.
The theses served not only to affirm Luther’s own faith but also in attacking the faith and behavior of others, both of the church hierarchy and of the laity. Luther, therefore, had to assume the stance of a theologian in order to test the moods and reactions of all around him. Whether this was a deliberate move on his part, we cannot not assert or prove. The oral deliberations between his close friends and associates are not available to us. Everyone had written that Luther intended these to be only points for disputation. Luther had also written in a similar vein: “I entered into this controversy, without any definite plan, without knowledge or inclination; I was taken quite unawares, and I call God, the searcher of hearts, to witness” (D’Aubigne 1846:115). It was simply an academic approach to the whole issue. However, the theses, in the form they were presented, affirmed Luther’s faith and attacked the counter position represented by the sellers of indulgences, although the author of the theses claimed that he did not have any definite plan. Notice also that Luther called the occasion (and recognized it as leading to) only a “controversy.”
The Function of the 95 Theses
The theses, in effect, functioned as a testing tool, to test the moods and reactions of the Church hierarchy, although they were not expected to perform any such function, according to the author of the theses. Often, in modern times, one notices this crucial stage in political splits. A split in a political or social organization often begins with asserting a position of faith or principle claimed to be reflecting the original intent of the organization. The split is not claimed. It is adherence to the original intent, or to a goal claimed to be more relevant and needed, that acts as a signal for further movement towards purification and, ultimately, a split. In man-made institutions, in modern times, protest for one’s position and understanding in the heat of opposition from the mother institution often tests the water first through smaller steps of asserting some principle or another. The snowballing effect is the result. If the protest does not have a snowballing effect, it fizzles out, assumes a minor role, or gets accepted in its minor participatory role.
Luther was a man drawn into a controversy by the act of protesting his own faith against the dictates and practices of a mother organization. Luther was not aware of this likely role, but the matters were organized by the Holy Spirit that the 95 theses performed exactly the function of testing the water.
Secondly, the 95 theses clearly indicate that Luther was still looking at the controversy only from a human point of view, in the sense that Luther was still emphasizing and exhibiting institutional loyalty. He was insistent at this time that the Roman Catholic Church had authority to issue indulgences.
Thirdly, a comparison of the 95 theses with subsequent writings of Martin Luther reveal that Luther was gradually covering the other grounds in his protest for faith. The gradualness of his moves was not deliberate on Luther’s part. It was imposed on him by the limited revelations and the continuing hold of the institution (the Roman Catholic Church). More importantly, the 95 theses had specific spatio-temporal focus, fundamental beliefs, and relevance. They were not intended for contexts beyond the sale of indulgences. In fact, Luther was always given to address himself to present and specific concrete situations.
As Jacobs (1898:347-348) points out:
Rarely in his controversies does he have any other opponents or critics in view than those with whom he is then dealing. He writes without regard to posterity, or to those who would be ready to apply his language to relations entirely different. Hence he rarely pauses to modify or qualify. For the decision then made he feels himself responsible, while he throws the responsibility for the use or the abuse of what he says upon those who choose to assume it...Like every thinker who pursues an independent course, and whose opinions gradually mature, inconsistencies and vacillations upon the surface occur in connection with a growth which is nevertheless inwardly consistent ... until the very last he continued to learn both from the Holy Scriptures and from his experience, and was always slow in forming his opinions, and until constrained by the force of overwhelming evidence, reserved in expressing them.
The Inevitable Imperfect Condition of Protest
One thing is for sure—a protest may be slow in coming, gradual and may even have conflicting or inconsistent characteristics. Man is, after all, imperfect. Although he was made in the image of God, perfection eludes him forever. Only by total surrender to the Lord the Creator, is he ever capable of overcoming the sense and guilt of his imperfect nature, and see himself in a right perspective in the perfect glory of God.
Luther was more aware of it than anyone else in his time. His writings always emphasized this aspect of man’s spiritual growth. The imperfect protest made through a man such as Luther, and exemplified in his stages of growth of protest stands in clear contrast to the protest of faith in the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus preached openly and acknowledged what he preached. In Jesus, there was nothing like the studied stance of an academic, who by design or by custom, in an unconscious manner, is required to test the surroundings when he protests his faith. Jesus came with full foreknowledge of what He preached. And He knew the consequences of His preaching beforehand. Luther was not really anticipating the consequences his protest would release. Jesus had a deliberate plan, and Luther acknowledged that he did not have one. And yet, because Luther’s protest was not his own, but of the Holy Spirit, it had to be broadcast internationally, in a manner which glorified the move of the Holy Spirit, and not the man Luther.
Ethnolinguistic Bases of the 95 Theses
Linguistically speaking, the 95 theses, in a way, looked at the Christian precepts from a non-Latin perspective. The Bible in the Vulgate was overly inclusive, and did not, for example, reveal the essential difference between repentance and penance.
In Latin, the English words repentance and penance are designated by a single term paenitentia. Luther’s effort, in the theses, was to separate the two concepts. Repentance, in the Biblical sense, is the inner dissatisfaction with self, on account of sin, combined with the sincere purpose to conform both the inner and outward life to the Divine will. But penance, which Luther was not yet ready to entirely repudiate, refers to certain pledges of the sincerity of repentance, which, in his opinion, the Church could require, as a matter of discipline and order, but on no other grounds (Jacobs 1898:74).
Notice that the protest was coming from a background, which although anchored to the institution, was different from the institutional language background. Going beyond what the institution prescribed, and viewing the institution through something not available and perhaps not even approved by the institution itself brings in a different perspective. It was not the mechanics alone that were responsible for this light. We believe that it was the leading of the Holy Spirit that was responsible for it. Later, the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures would become a cornerstone of the protest. But here, in the 95 theses, there was no mention of this principle even though its effective use made the theses possible and valid.
The Unexpressed Goals and Manifest Consequence of the 95 Theses
Although the immediate occasion for the theses was the sale of indulgences, the theology of purgatory had to be included in the attack; likewise the institution of the Pope, the limitations of the institution of the Pope, the callousness of the sellers as well as the buyers of indulgences, and the false preachers. Particularly, the scope of the theses was both limiting and restrictive of the powers of the Church hierarchy. The theses were the first affirmation of what should be done, and, in this sense, were more affirmative than negative.
The theses aimed at eliminating what was truly intended by the Pope. Theses 1 to 20 were expository in nature. Although these performed the function of clarifying the issue, note no Biblical verse was ever quoted in the theses. They clearly declared that every Christian who repents can hope to have his sins pardoned even without letters of pardon (Thesis 36).
The theses did not elevate the Pope over other Bishops, whereas the Word of God became the decisive factor. The Gospel and the Word of God were elevated (Theses 53, 54, and 55), and what should be taught to the Chistians was exemplified specifically in 10 out of 95 theses.
The 95 theses are descriptive in some places, argumentative in others, exemplary in still others, and full of condemnation for the false teachers. The Pope was not directly attacked, but neither was he elevated above the Word. The emphasis throughout was on teaching and conduct which would be pleasing to the Lord.
While many elements of later Lutheran theology were missing from the theses, the authority and glory of the Gospel were explicitly stated and insisted upon. In any case, the 95 theses were not intended to present a comprehensive outline of Luther’s positions on all matters of theology. The theses were addressed to a particular situation and a specific need, and were not intended to go beyond, at the outer limit, the preachers. It was not a call for any change. It was a call for abandoning an aberration that had set in. It was only a call for restoration. This call for restoration was not addressed to the public at large. It was addressed to the clergy. But the oblique, and not so oblique, attack on the Pope had the function of taking the issue to the public. It was in complete harmony with the moods of the public prevailing then. In this lay the link between Martin Luther and the ordinary people of his times.
The 95 theses offered an analysis of one of the practices current and prevalent, showed the errors of the practice, chastised the practitioners, carefully but obliquely limited the authority of the Pope and the powers vested in him, even as it elevated the Word to its pre-eminence. In their scope, these theses admonished the clergy and encouraged direct proper teaching of the Christians. The theses were both an academic exposition of the practices, and a call for action to give up these practices on the part of the Church and the clergy.
Its appeal to the public was in its relevance and timely attack on the indulgences and the abuse of papal authority. The 95 theses explicitly accepted the authority of the priest and of the Pope (thesis 7), but such acceptance would not include sympathy for the indulgences and the Pope, because the whole structure of the theses in their purport went against the priests and the Pope.
In this way, the structural organization of the theses contributed to the creation of a tension between the lay public and the clergy, although the theses plainly sought to create an impression of the importance of the institution of the Pope.
Another important feature is the order in which the theses were presented. The initial four theses were an analysis of the implication of certain crucial terms that were important. These gave an impression of serious study and consideration which Luther undertook before the theses were put together by him. While the subsequent theses began to assert the authority of the priest, the erroneous basis of the practice of indulgences, the limitations of the authority of the Pope, and so on, the theses towards the end were direct answers to the arguments generally put before the lay public by the sellers of the indulgences. In other words, the aim of the theses were not only to falsify the theology of the indulgences based on an exposition of principles found in the Scripture, but also to release the lay public from the traps laid by the sellers of the indulgences. In short, the theses were “against the wantonness and license of speech of the preachers of pardons”.
This characteristic of the theses make them more specifically related to the spatio-temporal happenings of that time. If the sale of indulgences had not been widespread, and not much disliked by the public, Luther might not have found it necessary to answer to the promotion of the indulgences. The theses countered the salesmanship of the sellers of indulgences and proved the hollowness of their arguments. This was concerned with a more immediate necessity whereas the beginning of the theses was concerned more with an exposition of permanent value transcending the spatio-temporal limitations. In between, we get the things that needed to be set in order, so that progress towards eternal truth based upon the more immediate concerns would be orderly. Luther thus begins with eternal truth, goes down through the particular needs of a social group and its mechanisms, and then arrives at the immediate need of eradicating the aberration. He does not begin with the aberration and then go upwards towards eternal truth. Attention to the immediate needs would be ineffective, if it does not have its foundation in everlasting truth. All through the career and the writings of Martin Luther as a reformer, we see the same characteristic of first asserting, affirming, and protesting for the truth that is eternal; and then seeking the remedy for the immediate disorders.
Just as he dissected the Latin word poenitentia to arrive at the underlying truth, to clarify what had been obscured and made appear as a simple concept, Martin Luther subtly and deftly dissected another illusory oneness, the inseparable identity, between the Jesus of Calvary and the Pope of Rome, and put them in their respective places where they truly belonged:
To say that the cross set among the insignia of the Papal arms is equal power with the cross of Christ, is blasphemy (Thesis 79). Those bishops, priests, and theologians who allow such discourses to have currency among the people will have to render an account (Thesis 80).
The Language of the Protest: Intemperate, Arrogant and Disobedient?
The publication of the 95 theses brought Luther to the notice of the authorities, to the common people in Germany and beyond. However, one of the criticisms made against Luther, a criticism held even today in the writings of Catholics, (See our section on the language used by Luther.) is that Luther lacked humility and was rash in his criticism and language. Apparently, the Lutheran protest was not examined for its contents, as much as for its apparent rudeness to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the institution of the Pope. Luther, however, remarked later, in reply to this criticism:
They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgement they pass on me! .... We can always see mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own ... Truth will not gain more by rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? if humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions? Do not let the wise of our days expect from me humility, or rather hypocrisy, enough to ask their advice, before publishing what duty compels me to say. Whatever I do will be done, not by the prudence of men, but by the counsel of God. If the work be of God, who shall stop it? If it be not, who can forward it? Not my will, nor theirs, nor ours: but thy will, O Holy Father, which art in heaven (D’Aubigne 1846:125).
Luther’s language, however, was strong when he attacked those who criticized his protest. One of the biographers remarks: “A turn for jesting, and even for coarse jesting, was one of them. The Reformer was a great man, a man of God, no doubt; he was still a man and not an angel, and he was not even a perfect man. Who has the right to require perfection in him?”
Another criticism was that Luther did not first use the channels available to him within the Church. This may have some truth, at least so far as it concerned the publication of the 95 theses. But even in this case, records prove that he communicated with his peers and seniors within the church hierarchy. He also sent a copy of the theses to the archbishop and the Pope himself. His posting of the 95 theses was for disputation purposes, was in Latin only, and was an academic exercise, so he and his friends claimed. However, the atmosphere was so thick with anger towards the sale of indulgences, that a matter purported to be publicized for disputation purposes only got very widely circulated and became the corner stone of reformation process.
Action and Reaction: The Function of the Opposition to 95 Theses
The protest of Luther in the 95 theses would not have advanced much further or included an expanded scope except for the counter-protest it received from the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church. It should be pointed out that for the affirmation of any article, there should be support as well as opposition. The function of the opposition was manifold. It accelerated the spread of the protest; it clarified the contents of the original intent of the protest; and it always imposed things on the protest which the protester originally did not want (or even consider) to be part of his protest. In other words, the opposition to the protest always directly or indirectly expands the protest.
Tetzel’s disputation on January 20, 1518 did precisely the same thing. Tetzel’s theses amplified the role of the Pope in these assertive terms: “We should teach Christians that the Pope, by the greatness of his power, is above the whole universal Church, and superior to the councils, and that we should implicitly obey his decrees. We should teach Christians that the Pope above has the right of deciding in all matters of Christian faith; that he alone and no one besides him has power to interpret the meaning of Scripture according to his own views, and to approve or condemn all the words or writings of other men. We should teach Christians that the judgement of the Pope cannot err, in matters concerning the Church faith, or which are necessary to the salvation of the human race. We should teach Christians that, in matters of faith, we should rely and repose more on the Pope’s sentiments, as made known by his decisions, than on the opinions of all the learned, which are derived merely from Scripture. We should teach Christians that those who injure the honor and dignity of the Pope, are guilty of high treason, and deserve to be accused. We should teach Christians that there are many things which the Church regards as indisputable articles of universal truth, although they are not to be found in the canon of the Bible or in the writings of the ancient doctors.”
Notice that in the above theses, Tetzel was dealing with items not argued against in Luther’s 95 theses. The protest of Luther, in this way, expanded in its scope by the theses of his opponents. The authority and the all-sufficiency of the Scripture was not dealt with in Luther’s 95 theses, but Tetzel, by introducing the authority of the Pope, focused on the unstated positions of Luther.
Also Tetzel clearly pinpointed that the power and authority of the Pope was at stake and was questioned by Luther’s theses, even though Luther himself would have denied such an interpretation. In addition to the function of expanding and clarifying the position of his opponent, Tetzel also brought forward the hidden or the possible link between the political powers in Germany and Luther.
In a way, the following thesis of Tetzel anticipated, or was fearful of, the possible nexus between the Elector of Saxony and Luther: “We should teach Christians that those who protect the errors of heretics, and who, by their authority, prevent them from being brought before the judge who has a right to hear them, are excommunicated; that if in the space of a year they do not change their conduct, they will be declared infamous ....”
Notice that while the threat was more obvious, the accusation against the political power was subtle, and not as clear. But one thing was clear—that Tetzel had a feeling that Luther had the support of the political (secular) power in Wittenberg. This supposition proved to be true in due course, but in the growth of the protest it was Tetzel’s theses which pointed out this possible or likely connection.
Another important revelation of Tetzel’s theses was the fear that the Germans were likely to support the Lutheran protest. Whereas Luther wrote his 95 theses in Latin, a language of the elite, and while his theses were intended for disputation among a few, Tetzel wrote his counter-theses in German. Tetzel’s audience was the common people. He wanted to reach them and convince them. In his theses there was a recognition of the possibility, a suspicion that the common people in Germany might be influenced by the protest of Luther.
Unfortunately for Tetzel, his German was no match to Luther’s. Language and linguistic ability played a crucial role in the progress of the protest.
Tetzel’s reply to the 95 theses also introduced several epithets for Luther—he was called “a mad man, a seducer, and a demoniac.” His doctrine was described heresy. Luther himself called the position he took only as a controversy in the beginning, but later, he called it a conflict. Luther wrote to Splatin, his mentor:
I have more difficulty to refrain from despising my adversaries, and from sinning in this way against Jesus Christ, than I should have in conquering them. They are so ignorant of human and divine things that it is disgraceful to have to fight against them. And it is this very ignorance which gives them inconceivable arrogance and their brazen face (D’Aubigne 1846:139-140).
Containing the Protest: Always a Faulty Posture
Tetzel made only a passing reference to the developing political link between Luther’s protest and the secular power. This nexus was made more manifest when the youth, the enlightened students, and the faculty at the University of Wittenberg became the medium for the spread of the protest. These groups of people made it a point to show their support for Luther’s protest, and this demonstration of support moved the protest from the realm of an academic dispute to a public quarrel between two parties. Leo X, the Pope, called the entire episode “a mere monkish quarrel at one time, and at another time as “an episode of a drunken German,” ‘when the perfumes have passed off, he will talk very differently’ (D’Aubigne 1846:143).
Often it happens that a problem or issue in its beginning is not seriously viewed. It is hoped by the hierarchy that the issue will die off or clear itself up in some manner on its own. Management of a protest is always problematic. The manager will have a lot of difficulty deciding on the most appropriate course of action to be take. In the course of these management efforts, people are always inclined to participate in personal attacks. The opponents of the Lutheran protest did this in many ways, and with many ugly words and accusations.
The use of this kind of language had several functions, the chief among them being its threat value. If the protester was not sufficiently motivated, he would be sure to withdraw his protest at this stage. The protester’s own inadequacies and shortcomings, whether real or imagined, would be highly publicized in order to bring shame to the protester. If a protester survived this attack, then the opponents would surely work out other strategies to suppress the protest.
In the case of Luther, the personal attacks on him were severe from the start of his protest to the end of his life. Luther, however, did not waste time attacking individuals. Individuals were not named in his attacks. Luther’s was an institutional attack. This was another characteristic of the Lutheran protest: even the attack of Luther against Tetzel and the bishops was not by name, but by an analysis of what the principle stood for. Not withstanding, personal attacks were always made by the supporters of the protest. It appears that when the person perceived to be the leader does not paticipate in personal attacks against the counter-protesters, it is left to the supporters of the protestant to make personal attacks against the opponents!
The link the protest had with the political powers came from two directions—one, from the agitational approaches adopted by the students and the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, which influenced the thinking of the common people, and another directly from the subtle protection offered by the officials of the province of Saxony who wanted to assert their own identity over against the Pope. In both the cases, ethnicity played a crucial role.
The Function of the Mediating Authority: Quoting Sources Acceptable to the Opponents
One of the essential ways in which the protest of faith moved forward was through verbal debates. In these, the practice was to quote from sources acceptable to the opponents. While the authority and all-sufficiency of the Bible was not fully accepted by the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, they regarded Augustine and Jerome as authorities in themselves. To counter this, Luther quoted from Augustine’s sayings which emphasized the primacy of the canonical books of the Bible.
Note that this was precisely one of the major strategies adopted in the Bull issued by the Pope excommunicating Luther from the Roman Catholic Church. Since Luther was an Augustinian monk and since Luther often quoted Augustine in support of his protest, the Bull made it a point to quote Augustine against Luther’s position.
Jesus quoted the Law when He preached to the Pharisees. This strategy has been followed very often in modern political splits, and diplomacy.
Availability and Mobility of the Protester: A Vehicle for Widening the Scope of the Protest
The paradoxes which Luther presented in Heidelberg in Spring of 1518 were another important milestone in the progress of the protest. Unless a protest expands, and occupies the minds of the majority of those who come in contact with it, the protest will simply remain an individual’s idea. A protest has to become a popular idea, and should be adopted by a group of people. For this to happen, the proponent of the idea needs to make himself available to all places and all people.
The meeting at Heidelberg was one such occasion, and Luther’s paradoxes presented in Heidelberg were an advancement over his 95 theses. These had the function of further widening the scope of Luther’s protest, even as they were intended to reach out to people beyond Wittenberg.
The protest in its most dynamic form maintained the above two important functions the entire time. But these functions were not located and intended in every act of the protest.
In fact, while the function of extending the scope of the protest in its theological domain was unrestricted in some sense, the function of reaching out to other people groups and reformers hailing from other people groups was restricted in its scope. In its thrust, the Lutheran protest focused more on the reformation within Germany. It was not genuinely interested in including non-German nations within its scope, until the matter had been settled with the Roman Catholic Church. Although the revelation Luther received was for the whole world, the transmission of this revelation had to be subjected to the spatio-temporal transmission limitations in the conduct of the proponents of the protest.
Willingness for Rapprochement: A Characteristic of the Protest
The progress of the protest up to this point was to present the basic tenets of the protest to the public, engage itself in debate with the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, establish a subtle nexus with the political powers, and become slowly a symbol of German ethnicity. In its progress, until Luther’s excommunication was formally announced, the Lutheran protest made it a point not to attack the Pope in any explicit manner, although the criticism was obvious for everyone to see and understand.
Since the Pope was perceived to be the head of the Church by people everywhere, it was necessary that he be addressed concerning the basic tenets/assumptions of the protest.
Luther wrote his Resolutions and sent a copy to the Pope. However, in reality, this step had the function of assuring the supporters of the protest that they and the Roman Catholic Church were, after all, poles apart. Thus, in a protest movement, efforts at keeping the semblance of unity, and obedience to the leadership protested against can continue up to a point when things have to be broken. Appeal to the leadership (being protested against) would signal the end to the unity. By this time, the parties will have taken hard enough a position so as to not allow any reconciliation between them. Even at this stage, the Lutheran protest was strategic: Luther chose to show his appreciation for Leo X as a person, while declaring that he did not care for what pleased or displeased the Pope. Luther declared that the Pope was like any other man. Here was a situation in which the institution was decried, but not the person who occupied the chief office of that institution.
A true protest seeks to explore all the avenues for reconciliation, even as it insists upon the acceptance of its position as the only one valid.
Distinction between the Office and the Person: A Characteristic Strategy of the Protest
The protest generally distinguished between the person and the office. In some protests, it is the institution that is admired and supported, while in others it is the person who holds the office, and not the office itself, who is admired and supported. In other words, where there is protest, the unity of person and the office he/she holds, or the fit between the person and the office becomes one of the points for dispute.
Subtle Demonstration of the Strength of the Protest and Revelation of the Political Nexus
The letter of Martin Luther, dated May 30, 1518 and addressed to the Pope, was a short but assertive letter. It protested for the faith even as it revealed the mood of the entire German people. It revealed the fact that Martin Luther was supported by his own Duke. In a way, while the attack on the Papacy was continued even in this letter addressed to Leo X, the Pope at that time, the letter communicated to the Pope in an eloquent manner the strength of Luther—the spiritual authority as revealed to him through the Scriptures, and the support and protection of the ruling secular power for the protest. In this manner, though the letter portrayed humility, it revealed the sources of Luther’s strength and demonstrated the fearlessness and the growth of the Protestant movement. This short letter revealed that the Lutheran writings were no longer the pranks of a monk, no longer to be treated as themes of monkish quarrels, but that the Lutheran protest consisted of a truly strong party of individuals welded in unity for an explicit purpose. The letter continued to profess obedience to the Pope, but its contents were clear to all — Martin Luther asserted his doctrine to be true and worthy to be emulated by the Pope himself. His statement that he would accept the judgement of Leo X, as the voice of Jesus Christ ‘who presides and speaks to you’ was only a statement of decorum, and nothing more than that. The letter vehemently condemned the belief that the Pope had the keys to the heavens, etc.
Within a very short time, Luther’s theological protest became a rallying point for the German people, an outlet for their simmering anger against the Italian papacy. “For the greater number it was sufficient to know that he stood up against the Pope, and that the dominion of the priests and monks was shaken by the might of his word. In their eyes, Luther’s attack was like those beacon fires kindled on the mountains, which announce to a whole nation that the time to burst their chains has arrived” (D’Aubigne 1846:169).
Notice that the function of the theological protest was fast changing.
In the very same month and year in which this letter to the Pope was addressed (August 1518), the Elector of Saxony wrote to the Pope, disclaiming that he ever was against submission to the universal church. He declared that he never defended the writings or the sermons of Luther. He also told the Pope that Luther was ready to appear before learned Christian judges, if he was offered safe-conduct to defend his doctrine.Luther would abide by the decision of these judges and would correct his error, if his doctrine was found to be an error.
Notice that a disclaimer was made by the Chief official of the Saxony province that he ever supported Luther, even as he demanded a proper inquiry. The disclaimer was made as a diplomatic move; a proper inquiry was insisted upon as reflecting the popular mood. This subtle nexus continued until the break with the Roman Catholic Church in Augsburg. In this way, the Lord set up many protective barricades for the Protestant faith to grow. It was the subtle support of the German political power which helped Luther to remain within Germany and enabled him to fight all his adversaries on German soil.
Function of Protest as an Instigator and Tool of Nationalism
We shall not go into details here concerning all the attempts made to force Luther to go to Rome for his trial. It is sufficient to say that all these attempts were thwarted by the German political power, that Martin Luther remained within Germany to face charges of heresy and all related matters. Here is another important function of the protest—Luther, by his refusal to go to Rome to face charges; and the German political power, by its subtle maneuver to hold the trial on German soil; did, in fact, assert the German sovereignty over Germans and Germanic matters.
Luther’s refusal to go to Rome, and his willingness to face the trial within Germany, gave the protest an aura of German patriotism. The theological protest, in its progress towards a culmination of separation form the Roman Catholic Church, acquired a strong flavor of German nationalism. Indeed, for the success of a protest movement, popular support is essential.
In other words, the success of a protest is often measured in terms of the enormity of popular support it receives. When the popular support is small, it becomes or is seen as sectarian protest. When the support is enormous and is received from all sections of a people group, the protest comes to be seen as synonymous with the political power itself; the protest comes to wield enormous power, so much so that the existing political power is forced to identify itself with the protest for its survival. In the case of the Lutheran protest, the German political powers recognized the potential of the protest as an aide in its progress towards freedom from papal interventions. Please notice, however, that in spite of the popular and subtle support of the political powers of his day, Luther had to continue to present his protest as an individual.
Protest: An Individual’s Responsibility
The origin of the protest, its assertion, as well as its defining and redefining, all became the responsibility of the individual. It was Luther who was attacked, it was Luther whom the Roman Catholic Church wanted, and it was Luther who was asked to defend himself before everyone. The protest had its adherents and supporters, but its defense and presentation remained the responsibility of an individual. In other words, the protest, to this point, had not yet been welded into an organization. At that point in time when it would be forged into an actual organization, although an individual would still be there and admired, the defense would then become the responsibility of the protest organization and not of the individual. Thus we have to distinguish between the stage in which the individual is held responsible for everything, and the stage in which the organization assumes this responsibility.
The individual nature of Luther’s protest continued for a long time. Luther had to suffer abuses in the hands of his adversaries. His meeting with the Cardinal De Vio was a clear illustration of the pressures he had to face in asserting his faith. This was also the occasion which determined the future conduct of Martin Luther whenever he would meet his adversaries face to face.
Dependence and Insistence upon Right Procedure as a Protest Strategy
In these meetings, Luther showed himself to be a true lawyer, attentive to details of procedure, and using these details to further his cause and strengthen his position. From this point on, Luther’s protest would depend heavily on points of procedure, and would be very diplomatic—not saying anything more than what was needed, being willing to negotiate, but being firm in asserting his own position.
In his confrontation with De Vio, Martin Luther made a daring request—”Most holy Father, I beg you will show me the Pope’s brief, by virtue of which you have received full powers to treat this matter” (D’Aubigne 1846:201). When this request was not granted (for, this amounted to questioning the authority of the Pope and of the cardinal), Martin Luther asked ,“Condescend, then, to inform me in what I have erred” (D’Aubigne 1846:201). When the “errors” were pointed out, and contested by Luther, the meeting broke up. Luther insisted upon giving his reply in writing. This insistence upon providing a written reply continued in all future confrontations and became a characteristic of the protest.
Use of the Written Medium as a Protest Strategy
The insistence on using the written medium rather than speech marked the protest on many occasions. The 95 theses were written and posted for everybody to read and debate. The publication of booklets continued in a steady flow. In disputations also there was an insistence on writing and reading the position papers. In the disputation between Eck and Carlstadt, use of written materials in the disputations was objected to by the supporters of the Roman Catholic Church, whereas the protesters insisted on using the medium of writing to present their views. As we shall see later, Luther always chose the written mode as the most deliberate form of expression.
Secondly, Luther’s protest and confrontation were against those individuals who were masters in Latin, a language not Luther’s own mother tongue. It was through the written mode that Luther could deal most effectively with these masters of Latin. Thirdly, it was only natural, logical, and inevitable for a theologian who insisted upon the authority, supremacy, and all-sufficiency of the Holy Scripture, which is in the written mode, in written texts, to resort to the use of the written mode which was relatively more stable and could be communicated across more barriers than the spoken word. He always found that the written mode was better suited for deliberate ends. On the other hand, his opponents, beginning with Cardinal De Vio of the Roman Catholic Church, never cared for the written mode as a channel for disputation. This attitude was a reflection of their theology in regard the authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scripture.
De Vio was an Italian cardinal and Martin Luther was a German. The confrontation between the two ended in bitterness. Martin Luther asserted his faith in his declaration that the Pope was not above the Word of God, but below it; no man could be justified before God if he had not faith; the merits of Jesus were not a treasure of indulgences. The infuriated cardinal had to give his reply and outbursts in Italian. The dialogue consequently turned to focus on the ethnic identities of the disputants.
The debate was charged with emotion and had become a confrontation as if it were between two ethnic groups. The written mode tried to keep it, or restrict it, only to the level of theology. Note also that although the protester was hauled up for a trial of his personal “erroneous” behavior, and although he was treated only as an individual responsible for his own actions, the protester assumed for himself the role of a representative, speaking for a group.
Emergence of the Protester as the Leader of a Group
This was a subtle transformation, announcing the slow but steady emergence of Luther as a group leader. It is not very often that the originator of a protest also functions as its leader. Even in the case of Martin Luther, the leadership of the protest movement was in his hands only for a short while. He was perceived to be the originator of the movement, he was adored as a hero, but he was the leader of the movement only for a brief time.
The connection between the Protestant theology, the ethnic identity of the German nation, and the German political power made it inevitable for the leadership to pass from the hands of its originator to others. As the basic tenets of the protest movement demanded the separation of the religious and secular powers, the sovereignty of the secular power over all matters, and the establishment of churches for every nation independent of the Roman Catholic Church, but subject to the secular monarchy of the nation, (all these were decidedly in favor of the secular power), it was inevitable that the secular powers assumed the leadership of the protest.
In addition, theological revelations concerning the impending separation from the Roman Catholic Church also competed strongly with the Lutheran protest for leadership, even within the theological domain. In later years, Luther was saddened because he felt that most people did not care for him at all.
Release from the Ethnic Bases
In any case, at the moment under consideration here, the protest, having established its theological foundations firmly, began to grip the imagination of the German nation as a symbol for the assertion of their secular identity. Fortunately for all mankind, a close identity between the Protestant faith and a specific ethnic identity could not emerge for various reasons. One reason was that the Holy Spirit had already sowed the seed of the protest, and the process of reformation, among many nations at the same time, and there were many forms of the Protestant faith taking roots simultaneously in these nations. What is most important for our purpose here that a protest for faith can easily be integrated with other secular issues and can lose its appeal beyond the borders of its origin. A protest could become very restrictive in its scope, without its adherents and proponents being aware of it! The Lutheran Protest went beyond the borders of the German nation, although secular powers started looking at it more as an ethnic revolt.
Accommodation of Peer Group Pressures: A Dilemma of the Protest
Luther had difficulty in maintaining his own viewpoint because of pressures from his peers, who had served the Duke of Saxony. As the nexus with the political power became well established, the protest had to take in the views and impressions of the same power. Moreover, Luther was not inclined to make any preconceived plan of attack against the Church and its officials.
The Lutheran protest for faith was solely based upon a revelation of biblical truth and, its progress, therefore, was not preconceived or pre-planned by the adherents of the faith. So, in a true protest, preconception of what should be done against the adversaries is always conspicuous by its absence.
There can be faltering steps, and second thoughts regarding attitudes towards and action against the adversaries. The situation could become more complex, especially when there is a sincere desire to reconcile the differences and make peace between the contending parties. Luther’s letter to Cardinal De Vio belonged to this stage of the protest, and revealed the conflicting postures of the Lutheran protest. Luther, the protester, was unwilling to be seen as rude, rebellious, or disobedient. So, despite his personal experience and his own early criticisms and arguments against De Vio’s position, Luther said in a letter that he was convinced De Vio had a favorable disposition towards him. The situation, narrated above, hardly merited such an assumption. Then, Luther, upon pressure from his peers, particularly Staupitz, wrote an apology. However, in this letter of apology also he reiterated his position that the authority of Thomas Aquinas or any learned men would not satisfy him, and that he would be satisfied only if he heard from the Pope himself.
We must point out that, in spite of peer pressures, Luther was not willing to give up his doctrine. He wanted a fair hearing of his own doctrine, and was willing to subject himself to the authority of the Church only if the Church was willing to base itself on the authority of the Word and not on the writings of other men of letters.
This letter of apology showed that Luther was willing to concede that he was rude, but, at the same time, asserted that his opponents were full of follies. So, in a way, Luther was not giving up his position. He was willing only to discuss and listen. And yet his submission in this letter had been interpreted to the disadvantage of Luther’s own position by many.
Protest: Registering its Legal Sense
For the first time the term protest was understood in a legal sense. This happened when the second note Luther wrote to De Vio was posted upon the cathedral gates two or three days after Luther’s departure from Augsburg, “in the presence of a notary and witnesses”. This was only the beginning of the use of this legal sense. subsequently there were other occasions in which also the legal sense of the term protest was used, while engaging in a theological protest.
From now on, Luther insisted upon putting in writing what he felt, and demanded the same from his adversaries. For instance, as soon as he returned to Wittenberg from Augsburg, escaping a likely arrest, he replied to the criticism leveled against him by De Vio in this manner to Prince Frederick of Saxony: “Let the reverend legate, or the pope himself, specify my errors in writing; let them give their reasons .... let your highness entreat the legate to inform you in writing wherein I have erred; and if they refuse even your highness this favor, let them write their views to his imperial majesty .....They have paper, pens, and ink; they have also notaries without number. It is easy for them to write wherein and wherefore I have erred. It will cost them less to instruct me when absent by writing, than to put me to death by stratagem when among them”.
A Two Channel Approach: Conciliatory but Firm
The story of Luther’s protest is also the story of his providential escape from death. It is also a story of negotiations on the part of Luther. When face to face with his adversaries, Luther often presented a conciliatory front, consistent with what he often had been saying when he demanded reasons. This was one of the essential characteristics of the Lutheran protest: The protesters often took a two channel approach. While their posture was always firm and insistent upon their own position, a channel of face to face on the other hand, or mediatory negotiations, was used to make conciliations when needed. We see this in the meeting between the legate Militz and Luther which resulted in a conciliatory tone. This meeting decided that both parties would not preach, write, or do anything further on the controversy. It also decided that the Pope would ask an enlightened bishop to investigate and point out the erroneous parts of Luther’s teaching and that, if proved wrong, Luther would recant, and would not do anything derogatory to the Roman Catholic Church.
Notice that the protest, although conciliatory, was firm in its position. It was Luther’s goal to draw the Roman Catholic Church into the open with an explanation of their position as opposed to his doctrine. The protest, consequently, heavily depended on procedures which would help it achieve this goal. Dependence on procedures also helped the protest become better known among the common people in Germany. This helped prolong the confrontation, in a dramatic fashion. But, from evidences we have, it was clear that Luther did not plan for these effects. He was only insistent upon a sound dialogue, a sound doctrine, and a sound judgment.
Clarification through an Encounter with the Opposition
The progress of Luther’s doctrine was slow in many respects. The protest added to itself one item after another, slowly enlarged itself to cover many doctrinal points. The necessity arose because the Reformation was not intended to be a negative process or merely an attack on the Pope. Luther’s revelation was intended to build a new life, a new order and a new theology or doctrine.
We must notice one important fact. Just as Martin Luther was prodding the Roman Catholic Church to publish their explicit statement on his doctrine, the adherents of the Roman Catholic Church were also prodding Luther to widen the scope of his protest, though Luther was unaware of this fact. The Leipzig disputation between Eck and Luther, in the presence of so many intellectuals and powerful personalities, provides a good illustration of this bi-directional dynamic of the protest. It was in Leipzig that Luther had to acknowledge a unity of thought with John Huss and Wycliffe—that it was not necessary for salvation to believe the Roman Catholic Church superior to all others. A protest, therefore, is further clarified and widened in its scope through its own momentum.
One by one, the Catholic axioms came to be questioned by Luther—the authority of the Pope and the council to interpret the Scripture, the sacraments, canonizing the saints, and so on.
Although these positions appeared to be negative in the sense that they attacked the status quo, they all flowed from the same basic protest for the authority and all sufficiency of the Holy Bible. These positions, consequently, were not negative, but affirmative of what is found in the Bible. His writings on these subjects of doctrinal importance were in German, not in Latin. The 95 theses were in Latin, but most of Luther’s subsequent expositions were in German.
Diplomacy, an Art of Middle Ages, in Aid of the Protest
The nexus, in the meanwhile, began to be strengthened with the political power assuming ethnic or nationalistic postures. To this, the desire for assertion of independence and for enlarging the powers on the part of the Duke, was now added. This was accompanied by assertion of ethnic identity. Diplomacy — the diplomatic handling of political affairs –crafted into a fine art in the Middle Ages, especially in the late Middle Ages. The nexus between the protest for faith and the political power of the period provided an excellent opportunity to practice intricate diplomacy.
Consider this letter from Prince Frederick to the Pope. Prince Frederick of Saxony informed the Pope that, far from defending Luther, he had always left him to defend himself. Besides which, he also said that he had already called upon him to leave Saxony and the University, that Luther had declared his willingness to obey, and that he would not then be in the electoral states, providing the legate himself, Charles of Militz, had not entreated the prince to keep him near at hand, for fear that, by going to other countries, Luther would act with greater liberty than even in Saxony. He wrote further, “Germany now possesses a great number of learned men, well taught in every language and science; the laity themselves begin to have understanding, and to love the Holy Scriptures; if, therefore, the reasonable conditions of Dr. Luther are rejected, there is great cause to fear that peace will never be re-established. Luther’s doctrine has struck deep root into many hearts. If, instead of refuting it by the testimony of the Bible, you strive to destroy him by the thunderbolts of the ecclesiastical authority, great scandals will arise, and ruinous terrible revolts will be excited” (D’Aubigne 1846:297).
The Protest’s Unity of Purpose with National Goals
Martin Luther published his booklet Appeal to His Imperial Majesty and to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, on the Reformation of Christianity in June 1520. This was an explicit call to the political power of Germany to fall in line with what was emerging on the German theological horizon. While this booklet contained significant expositions of doctrinal matters, its import lay mostly in arguing for the separation of Church and the secular power. Luther argued that it was not “possible to govern an empire, and at the same time preach, pray, study, and take care of the poor.” The Pope should devote his time and energy to spiritual matters, leaving the worldly affairs to the secular power.
The importance of this booklet lay also in its appeal to the sense of German identity. He argued that the Pope wanted the German nation to be submissive to him and that Germans should never allow this to happen.
The Lutheran protest, therefore, assumed a nationalistic flavor more fully at this time. Luther was no longer just a theologian. He was graduating into a position of a great German leader and statesman. The booklet was a blueprint for reformation, not only of the Church but also of the entire German society, a call to the German nation to assert its national identity and forge ahead as a distinct entity. This booklet exhausted, in the most comprehensive manner, all the major contents of Lutheran theological protest for faith. It also took the protest well beyond its theological basis into the secular world and its values. Consequently, from a link with the German political power in order to save and nurture the theological revelation Luther had received, the Lutheran protest now began to make a secular protest for what Luther considered to be higher values.
Take, for instance, Luther’s insistence on education rooted in Christian principles as contained in Holy Scripture: “I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.”
In this booklet the Lutheran protest called for the need for reformation in both the spiritual and secular realms. The sharpness with which the radical ideas were presented attracted the attention of everybody — the break with the Roman Catholic Church, and its Italian domination was complete.
The Appeal to the German Nobility was a great piece of persuasive literature. It presented facts, aroused the passion of its readers, gave them a new direction, and encouraged them to take action. Its persuasive character and ability lay also in things not explicitly stated. For example, its appeal to the sense of German ethnicity was clear, but not its potent implication for a single politically united German nation.
The Appeal to the German Nobility made the Lutheran protest more conspicuous, revealed its content, and made explicit what had to this point only been implied. In a sense, it was this short booklet which declared that the Church was now divided and that the Roman Catholic Church no longer represented the universal Church. The Bull of the Pope, excommunicating Martin Luther, chronologically speaking, followed this declaration of the Lutheran protest; and it confirmed, in its own terms, what Luther had already declared implicitly in the booklet.
Last Minute Rush to Declare Separation: A Characteristic of Protest Management
Notice this very interesting feature. When two groups, united so far in a single institution, are about to disengage themselves from each other, there is always a great haste to take the initiative to expel the other group from the once united institution. Each group claims to be the sole representative of the institution to the mutual exclusion of the other. This phenomenon is seen very well in political splits in modern times. What we see in the Lutheran protest was, however, qualitatively different in some sense.
Luther’s Appeal to the German Nobility was an assertion of certain theological truths which also had social and political implications. All these went against the Roman Catholic Church; and, in essence, all functioned as a total rejection of the Roman Catholic Church and implied separation from it. The Roman Catholic Church, for its part, reacted against this implicit declaration through a formal excommunication of the proponent of the protest. However, the Bull protested its own faith in an elaborate manner, conceding the demand of Luther to put in writing the Papal hierarchy’s position on matters expounded by Luther.
Finally, Luther got what he wanted in more than one sense. He wanted in writing the views of the Roman Catholic Church, he got it; he implied a split, and the Bull, by its uncompromising position, quickened the process further.
Claims for the Representative Character for One’s Own Position:
A Characteristic of Protest Management
The papal Bull also played on the feelings of the German nation, since it did not want to be seen or portrayed as an authority trying to oppress the freedom of the Germans. Consequently, what the Lutheran protest claimed, the Bull attempted to deny both at the secular and the theological levels:
For this we grieve more, because we and our Predecessors have always entertained for this nation
the highest affection. In as much as, since the transfer of the imperial power from the Greeks to the aforesaid Germans by the Roman church, our aforesaid Predecessors, and we have always found among them advocates an defenders of the same Church, it is manifest that these Germans, as true “germans” (brothers) of the Catholic truth, have always been the most zealous assailants of heresies.....
The Bull presented forty-one selected errors in the writings of Martin Luther and threatened to excommunicate him and all his supporters if he did not retract. Notice that the Bull did not reply to the charges leveled against the Roman Catholic Church and her hierarchy by Luther, nor did it substantiate its position based on the Scriptures. The Bull performed the function only of declaration, and of an explanation or justification of its position. The authority was exercised and it was expected that it would simply be obeyed. However, it clearly revealed and asserted its own position:
we have found the errors (as before said) to be either articles that are not Catholic, or such as are not to be regarded as dogmas, but to be contrary to the doctrine or tradition of the Catholic Church, and the true interpretation of the divine scriptures received therefrom, to whose authority, in the opinion of Augustine, such respect should be shown that he would not believe the Gospel, unless the authority of the Catholic Church would intervene.
In its essence, the Bull declared a war on all those who made the protest along with Luther.
The Aftermath of the Bull: Strong and Physical Protest
The little book, Christian Liberty written by Luther and dedicated to the Pope (!) was an assertion of faith by Luther. His treatise, published on the fourth of November, 1520, however, was given the title Against the Bull of Antichrist. On December 10, 1520, Luther burned the papal Bull, an action symbolic of the separation, and an extreme form of asserting his own faith.
Adoption of the Legal Sense of the term PROTEST
Before he consigned the papal Bull to the flames, Luther had put in writing a legal protest on the 17th of November, 1520. This protest was notarized by a notary and five witnesses, interpreting the word protest in a legal sense.
Beginning with the publication of the Bull or close that time, Luther’s language became more aggressive. Consider the sentences in the Notarized Protest made on the 17th of November, 1520:
I appeal from the said Pope, first, as an unjust, rash, and tyrannical judge, who condemns me without a hearing, and without giving any reasons for his judgement; secondly, as a heretic and an apostate, misled, hardened, and condemned by the Holy Scriptures, who commands me to deny that Christian faith is necessary in the use of the sacraments; thirdly, as an enemy, an antichrist, an adversary, an oppressor of Holy Scripture, who dares set his own words in opposition to the Word of God; fourthly, as a despiser, a calumniator, a blasphemer of the Holy Christian church and of a free council, who maintains that council is nothing of itself.
In the protest, he appealed to
Charles Emperor of Rome, the electors, princes, counts, barons, knights, gentlemen, councilors, cities and communities of the whole German nation, to adhere to my protest and to resist with me the antichristian conduct of the Pope...But if there be any who scorn my prayer, and continue to obey that impious man the Pope, rather than God, I reject by these presents all responsibility, having faithfully warned their consciences, and I abandon them, as well as the Pope and his adherents, to the supreme judgment of God.
This was a legal declaration of Luther’s protest. It continued Luther’s tradition of presenting his views in a deliberate manner in writing for all to know. The protester clearly stated what he protested for and against. This format would be followed on subsequent occasions, and would finally come to refer to all those who desired the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church.
This procedural aspect of the protest can be found in most of what Luther did following the publication of the papal Bull and afterwards.
Action-Reaction Cycle: The Physical Phase
Justification for burning both the Bull and the publications of the supporters of the papacy was given by Luther in a way, which highlighted the care and concern which procedures were adopted by the protest. Luther wrote:
My enemies have been able, by burning my books, to injure the cause of truth in the minds of the common people, and destroy their souls; for this reason, I consumed their books in return. A serious struggle has just begun. Hitherto I have been only playing with the Pope. I began this work in God’s name; it will be ended without me and by His might. If they dare burn my books, in which more of the Gospel is to be found (I speak without boasting) than in all the books of the Pope, I can with much greater reason burn theirs, in which no good can be discovered.
Notice this important aspect of the protest. The dynamic of the protest now was the action-reaction cycle. While the progress of the entire protest could be viewed as one of action and reaction, the characteristic of the action-reaction cycle became more prominent once the “divorce” was announced.
From a theological exposition, from seeking a link with the political power, and also from exhorting the German nation to unite against papal indulgences, the protest had now entered the arena of physical action against the papacy. The burning of the papal Bull signified this entry into the stage of physical action against the symbols of papacy and the papacy itself. As we pointed out earlier, the language of Luther became more and more aggressive after the publication of the Bull; and with the burning of the papal bull, the protester called for a still wider and stronger action:
Be on your guard against the laws and statue of the Pope. I have burned his Decretals, but this is merely child’s play. It is time, and more than time, that the Pope were burned; that is, the see of Rome, with all its doctrines and abominations.
This was said the day after Luther threw the Bull into the fire. It was clear now that the protest would not rest satisfied until the papacy was abolished. The protest for faith had consequently entered the realm of physical action in its growth.
Notice that the call for action in support of the protest was followed by sudden, spontaneous, and organized attempts to spread the protest. Biographers report that “reading clubs were formed for the circulation of Luther’s works among their members. His friends reprinted them, and got them distributed by hawkers. They were recommended from the pulpit. There was a general wish for a German Church; and the people demanded that no one should henceforth be invested with any ecclesiastical dignity, unless he could preach to the people in the vulgar tongue (German), and that in every quarter the bishops of Germany should resist the papal power”.
The protest had its echo everywhere and in every walk of life in Germany. The protest, therefore, proved itself closer to the hearts of the German people than the Roman Catholic Church. German language began to be used more frequently by the elites than previously. The emergence of the German language and use of it as a medium of deliberate thought and communication consequently became a symbol of the protesters.
There was talk of violence in the air. Although he did not approve of violence and bloodshed, (Luther said: “I desire not to fight for the gospel with violence and bloodshed”), Luther did approve of the mockery of the Pope, and of chasing him away: “The enemy of Christ, who makes a mockery of kings and even of Christ, richly deserves to be thus mocked himself”.
Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me! Amen
The words of Luther “Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me,” uttered before the Emperor, in response to the chancellor’s demand “Will you, or will you not retract?” will always be remembered. His bold but simple answer was that he could not submit his faith either to the Pope or to the councils, but only to the testimony of Scripture and that his conscience was bound by the Word of God. In essence, he was saying “Do whatever you want and can against me. But I will be bound by the Word of God only.”
Luther spoke in German, and he was asked to repeat his answer in Latin. The contrast between the parties involved was seen in this insistence on repeating what Luther said in Latin. Luther was speaking to the German audience, but the Emperor’s party preferred to have the speech in Latin for their understanding of the matter before them. A chasm was revealed in this clash. Luther repeated what he said in Latin.
Luther withdrew and the princes debated the matter, Luther was called in and told that he did not conduct himself in modesty.They asked to retract his statements, but Luther replied that he had no other reply to make than what he had already made. On April 19, Emperor Charles issued an order written by his own hand in French which said:
A single monk, misled by his own folly, has risen against the faith of Christendom. To stay such impiety I sacrifice my kingdoms, my treasures, my friends, my body, my blood, my soul, and my life. I am about to dismiss the Augustine Luther, forbidding him to cause the least disorder among the people; I shall turn against him and his adherents, as contumacious heretics, by excommunication, by interdict, and by every means calculated to destroy them I call on the members of the states to behave like faithful Christians.
Consequently, both the Roman See and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire declared Luther a rebellious heretic. Luther’s affirmation of his faith became a heresy in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church and the authorities of the Holy Roman Empire. However, for all those who desired reformation and the renewal of the Church of Christ, the Lutheran protest not only announced an affirmation of faith based on the sufficiency and authority of the Word, but also a total revolution in the natural world.
A Story of Faith, Courage and Conviction:
Declaring that the Lord Jesus Christ is Sovereign
The story of protest began in a dark Augustinian cell and moved from that cell to public places, and then to places of authority, and finally it reached its climax right before the highest power of the era in the Holy Roman Empire. The protest and the protester did not seek encounters, but encounters were thrust on them. Each of these encounters had the function of enlarging and clarifying the scope of the protest. Although the protest aimed at covering the entire Christian world, and although populations and multitudes believed in the same truth revealed to and outlined by Martin Luther, the opponents of the faith treated the protest as if it centered in one person and as if it could be controlled and suppressed by treating it as the act of an individual. It was this individual who was sought after and who was forced to pay a price. The nexus between the protest and the political powers could not change this position until the very end, When forced for a choice, the German princes had to choose the symbols of Lutheran protest to assert their independence. The growth of nation-consciousness began to have an identical course of passage just as the protest. In a way, the Lutheran protest gave the German nation its much needed tool of unity to formalize its much obscured ethnic identity.
The principle of the sovereignty of God was in operation. This move of the Holy Spirit was seen in the protest, the affirmation of faith based only on the authority of the Word. It took place simultaneously in several nations so that the Lutheran protest would not be circumscribed only by its narrow ethnic origin. The gradualness of the emergence of the protest, sequential steps of the protest, its progress from an academic matter of importance to a matter of supreme religious significance, the availability of the printing medium which was just then invented, and the readiness with which other nations received the Lutheran protest and strengthened the reformation all go to show the hand of the Holy Spirit in creating, nurturing, and spreading the Lutheran protest. The notion protest itself underwent several changes. Its original definition of affirming what one did and believed entailed, in due course, public declaration of the same as an essential element in the protest.
From this development came the need to put this public declaration in some permanent form for all to know. This led to presenting the protest in writing. In order to ensure the authenticity of what one desired to declare, attestation of the witnesses and notaries became an essential means of the protest. And from this posture, which was well within the domain of law and lawyers, Luther, in the course of the protest movement, began to argue his case ably and successfully, as led by the Holy Spirit.
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