The Significance of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in History of Western Civilization Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


Martin Luther is one of the greatest men known in history for the many developments he made. Among these developments is the protestant reformation (Bainton 44). In this reformation, Martin Luther strongly opposed the notion that people could free themselves from sin by exchanging God’s punishment with money.

In his attempts to reform the protestant church, Luther wrote several letters to the leaders of the church such as Bishops and the clergy. Nevertheless, after the struggle that proved difficult at times, Martin Luther succeeded in the protestant reformation. This paper therefore seeks to explore the major significance of Martin Luther and the protestant reformation in the history of western civilization. This will be effectively achieved by addressing the questions that follow.

What was the basic chronology of Luther’s breaking with the roman church?

Martin Luther protested on October 31, 1517, reacting to several debates, which he thought were of great significance (Mackinnon 204). He thus sparked a lot of debate from different interest groups and people, particularly with respect to the so-called doctrines. Although his reaction or revolt was not against the church itself, it can clearly be depicted that it was mainly geared towards the general reform in the Church.

Nevertheless, by 1519 he openly reacted to those doctrines he had earlier on regarded as implicit and even denied the mandate of the church in certain religious issues. In 1520, the pope excommunicated him at the time. He defied these religious leaders and particularly rallied against the papacy and the Eucharist.

Why did he do so and what societal factors facilitated the acceptance of his message?

From the proceedings of the events, it is depicted that the significant social factors, which facilitated the acceptance of Martin Luther’s ideas were mainly two-fold. The first one is that there were already some elements of dissatisfaction or resentments coming mainly from the city governments regarding the various clerical privileges and immunities given.

They, for instance, were exempted from tax and even undertaking some civil responsibilities. An example of the latter is their exemption from defending the city despite the fact that religious orders held a big proportion of urban property. These people were therefore keen to eliminate the aforementioned privileges and take the general civil responsibility like everybody else.

In addition, they were also reacting to the poor quality of sermon at the time. Consequently, they established preacherships where men with some good level of education were considered, and where such men were given the mandate of delivering or reading the sermons. This really attracted the protestant style of worship that emphasized more on sermons, and formed the main part of the service as opposed to Catholic orientation of Eucharist.

What were the key principles of his critique of Catholicism and what were the principle writings by which he spread his message?

His major critique was directed at the Papacy. According to Luther, the whole idea of Papacy was just but a beautiful false front, and a misleadingly holiness under which most of the evil was hidden.

He therefore called for an urgent reform in the Church. Luther advocated that the papacy be converted to simplicity as well as humble fashion of the former days of St. Peter, and called for reconsideration in the way the finance was managed.

He actually demanded that all finances and estate property be taken care of by the national churches instead of the pope. He also demanded for the complete eradication of clerical celibacy, which the Germans had rejected earlier on.

With respect to the Eucharist, Martin Luther was particularly concerned about the nature of the sacramental doctrine in the Church. He particularly objected the idea of the many sacraments, which the church adopted at the time. The Church acknowledged seven sacraments while Luther advocated for those that were mainly comprised of baptism and the Lord’s Supper under the Authority of Jesus Christ.

According to Luther, the catholic Mass was not a true reflection of the Lord’s Supper. Further, he argued that the whole idea of Eurcharist was not a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ. He believed that wine and bread should only be given to the laity and the clergy.

Again, the view commonly held by the Church doctrine, was that during celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine are changed to the body and blood of Christ respectively, and that only the physical appearances of the bread and wine remained (Mackinnon 204). According to Luther, this was based on the principal of Aristotle, with whom he actually differed.

He suggested for a more real doctrine that of the actual presence that followed the consecration of the body and blood of Christ in their corresponding form of the bread and wine. He argued that the priest never caused any miracle, but instead Jesus Christ was omnipresent and that he opens the eyes of every believer to Christ

In respect to the Christian Freedom, he advocated for freedom from all priest crafts, with the priest being the only one responsible for carrying out what he had been called upon to perform in a specific office.

Luther mainly employed the use of Hymns, Psalmist and his catechism to propagate his teachings or ideas. These writings entailed mainly basic religious knowledge. A case in print is Hymn‘s Almighty Fortress is our God which was generally easy to remember and evoked strong human feelings.

This was particularly important, as it was able to have a significant imprint of Martin Luther’s central or key points in his doctrines. His catechism contained brief sermons on the main articles of faith and presented succinct explanation of doctrines in form of questions and answers.

What is the most effective means used by the Roman Catholic Church to the protestant challenge and why.

From my own point of view, I could say that one of the most effective and appropriate means the Catholic Church used in reaction to the various challenges was the Protestant formation of ecumenical council. This is because it significantly helped in fostering unity and accommodation from the opposing religions. That way, the two religions were no longer in conflict, but united in most of their doctrines and culture.

The legacy of the reformation and Counter Reformation

The main legacy out of all these is linked to a series of religious wars that eventually resulted in a long civil strife, which had a negative impact on the German economy thus leading to the death of several Germans (Bainton 45). As a result, this meant that the religious believes in Europe had been outweighed by the political and national convictions.

Works Cited

Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther. New York: Penguin, 1995. Print.

Mackinnon, James. Luther and the Reformation. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962. Print.

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