International School History - International Baccalaureate - MYP History

MYP4 Last update - 13 février 2018  
Unit 3 - Lesson 2 - State or church?

Why were Luther's ideas were so radical?

We started the year looking at medieval feudalism and power. The medieval feudal state depended on coercion and persuasion, (force and church)  it did not depend on the consent of the governed. People did not have a say in who ruled over them or how they were ruled. The church played a very important role in this. We can identify three important features of this.

1) The views of the individual did not matter, most individuals were peasants who could neither read nor write. The church controlled what it was possible for individuals to believe, therefore belief was not individual but communal.

2) It was not an egalitarian society with individual rights, but rather an inegalitarian society in which people had duties to the community depending on the feudal 'station' they were born in to. If you are born a serf, you do labour service to the lord of the manor.

3) God ordained this social hierarchy; kings and nobles ruled because they enjoyed a divine right to do so. Rebellion could never be justified. The job of the individual is to care for his soul to guarantee a heavenly afterlife.

What Luther does is undermine all this with how he interprets the Bible. In particular, Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans 1:17 'For therein is the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, to faith: as it is written: 'The just shall live by faith.'

All you need is faith. Solo fide.

By rejecting the orthodoxy, (the right of the church alone to interpret the word of God) Luther undermines the three features of Catholicism which helped keep medieval society stable,

1) The individual and their conscience do matter. Luther's belief in Solo Fide meant that everyone should have a chance to communicate directly with God. Translating the Bible into the vernacular (English, German, French etc.) would enable all to have direct access to His word. Here in Luther we see the importance of individualism in the Humanist tradition.

2) As in feudalism, the Catholic church gave special roles to priests, bishops and the whole hierarchy of the church, as intermediaries between God and the congregation. They spoke Latin, wore fancy clothes, big hats and sat apart. Luther was egalitarian. He spoke about a 'priesthood of all believers', everybody had a direct line to God.

3) Luther taught that God does not provide authority to the actions of kings. In Luther's 'two kingdoms' theory, there is a kingdom of God and and kingdom of princes. On earth, it is kings that have authority. This idea would prove to be a popular with German princes in their arguments with Italian popes. But undermining the divine role in providing authority also encouraged more radical ideas about who should have authority.

Political revolution.

Luther's religious reform quickly mutated into a political revolution. Once the authority of the church was questioned, then all authority was up for debate. If you allow all to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, some will read into the Bible that the religious equality should also be a social equality. And when these inflammatory ideas  could be spread easily through with the printed word then revolutionary violence was quick to follow. This is true of all revolutions. Revolutions undermine established authority, but once you allow some criticisms of authority it is very difficult to stop. Luther unleashed a wave of ideas over which he had no control.

Image result for Sola fide

Luther was happy enough to see his ideas used by German rulers to assert their independence from Rome, less that happy when peasants used his ideas to assert their independence from their feudal lords. This is exactly what happened with Thomas Müntzer. Müntzer had been a follower of Luther but broke with Luther in support of the peasants. 1524 German peasants demanded social equality in the most significant European revolution before the French Revolution of 1789. 100,000 were killed.  As Tristam Hunt argues in the following film: ‘Once people felt justified to think for themselves no power could remain unchallenged’

Activity 1

From the text and video (and not through a Google search) explain the meaning and importance of the following Lutheran concepts:

(i) Sola Fide
(ii) Priesthood of all believers
(iii) Two kingdoms theory

Explain the importance of the printing press to Luther’s ideas

‘Once people felt justified to think for themselves no power could remain unchallenged’ How did Luther’s ideas lead to Muntzer’s rebellion?


Huldrych Zwingli - Don't call him the Swiss Luther!

Huldrych Zwingli was born in 1484, in Wildhaus, in the Toggenburg valley of Switzerland, just a few months after Martin Luther. Educated in Humanist dominated University of Basel, he came to very similar conclusions about the Catholic Church as Luther, but did so independently.  Historians disagree about the extent of his independence. Also, like Luther, he joined the church, learnt Greek and went to Rome. He read Erasmus’s translation of the Bible and was enraged by an indulgence salesmen. But, he didn’t like being called a Lutheran ‘I will not have the papists call me a Lutheran, for I did not learn Christ’s teaching from Luther, but from the word of God’.

Affair of the sausages.

Zwingli noted that nowhere in the Bible are there rules about food and fasting. During Lent in 1522 Zwingli led a small group of devotees to eat sausage and eggs, and to therefore break with the church convention of the 40 days of fasting (not eating meat, milk, cheese etc.) in the run up to Easter (Lent).

Image result for Zwingli

Next Zwingli challenged the church on the issue of the celibacy of priests and the use of images in church. In 1523, Zwingli outlined his arguments in the 67 Articles. In Zurich in 1524 (see right), the council instructed churches to remove all religious images so that people would be encouraged to pray to directly to God, not via objects that could be seen and touched (iconoclasm). This whitewashing of churches became a notable practical consequence of the Reformation.

But he didn’t completely agree with Luther about everything. At Marburg castle in 1529 Luther and Zwingli famously failed to agree on the significance of the Eucharist and transubstantiation. Zwingli argued that the blood and wine were mere symbols, but Luther still clung to the Catholic belief that Jesus was actually present. This may seem a very 'academic' disagreement, but it would lead to a lot of bloodshed.

For example, 20 years later in England, thousands of people were killed because they demanded the right to have a Catholic mass which still transformed the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

This was typical of one of the key consequences of the Reformation. Once the Bible was opened up to interpretation, interpretation was always going to lead to disagreement. The violence that accompanied the Reformation was not always between Catholics and Protestants, but often between different branches of Protestantism. (See Muntzer above)

Zwingli’s ideas began to spread throughout Switzerland but they also faced serious opposition. The Swiss Confederation in Huldrych Zwingli's time consisted of thirteen states (cantons) as well as affiliated areas and common lordships. Unlike the modern state of Switzerland, which operates under a federal government, each of the thirteen cantons was nearly independent, conducting its own domestic and foreign affairs. Each canton formed its own alliances within and without the Confederation.

In 1531, the Catholic states of the Swiss Confederation declared war on Zurich and in battle Zwingli was seriously injured before being finished off by Captain Fuckinger of Unterwalden.

Activity 2

Compare and contrast the life and ideas of Huldrych Zwingli with those of Martin Luther.

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Henry VIII and the English Reformation

In England King Henry VIII was horrified by Luther's attack on the Church and wrote a book attacking the German monk. However, Luther's ideas spread quickly to England, where the man responsible for defending the country against heresy was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In 1521, soon after the Diet of Worms, Wolsey organised a public bonfire outside St Paul's Cathedral to burn Lutheran books confiscated in England. The bishops were ordered to track down anyone who was spreading Luther's ideas, either by preaching or in print. Against this background of corruption in the Church in England, Luther's ideas began to gain ground. In Wittenberg in 1525, Englishman William Tyndale, an associate of Martin Luther, had translated the New Testament into English with a commentary to show how much the Roman Catholic Church had moved away from the true Word of God.


The King's Great Matter

To understand why the English Reformation occurred, we must focus on Henry VIII himself and the problems of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was the daughter of the King and Queen of Spain. Catherine's nephew, Charles, became Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain in 1519. He banned Luther at the Diet of Worms.

Henry married Catherine when he became king in 1509, at the age of eighteen, and to begin with they were very happy together. However, they seemed to have no luck producing children. After many years of trying for a son with Catherine, Henry began to doubt whether their marriage was proper in the eyes of God. Catherine had actually been married before, to Henry's older brother, Arthur, when she and Arthur were both fifteen. However, Arthur had died after only four months of married life. To preserve the friendship between England and Spain, Catherine had been quickly betrothed to the young Henry. Now Henry was starting to believe that this marriage was forbidden by the Bible. In the Book of Leviticus it was written, 'If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing. They shall be childless'. In addition, he had fallen in love with one of Catherine's maids of honour, Anne Boleyn.

In Henry's time, divorce, as we know it today, was forbidden by the Church. Only God could end a marriage - by death. However marriages could be annulled - the Church could declare that the man and woman had never been properly married. Henry VIII now ordered Cardinal Wolsey to persuade the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, on the grounds that it was against the law of God. Henry's main problem was that in 1527 the pope was actually the prisoner of Catherine's nephew, the Emperor Charles V. In 1529 - Pope Clement VII refused to grant a divorce.

Henry VIII now began to listen to some of the anti-clericals who were saying that the Church had too much power. Anne Boleyn lent him a copy of a book by William Tyndale  ‘The obedience of a Christian Man’. who followed Luther in arguing that the king, not the Pope, was really the head of the English Church. 'The king is in the room of God and his law is God’s law’. In response to which, Henry is said to have commented ‘This is a book for me and all Kings to read’ In addition, Henry was aware that In Germany, Lutheran princes had closed down the monasteries and confiscated their property.

Matters became urgent late in 1532, when Anne at last gave in to Henry and began to sleep with him. She soon became pregnant. Henry was anxious to make sure that the child was legitimate and could succeed to the throne, so he married Anne in secret, in February 1533. Two months later Archbishop Cranmer held a court, which declared that the marriage of Henry and Catherine had been unlawful in the sight of God, so should be regarded as never having happened.

Catherine of Aragon was now informed that she had never been Henry's wife, but had merely been living with him in a sinful relationship, and her daughter Mary was declared a bastard. She also had to endure Anne, six months pregnant, being crowned Queen of England, in June 1533. When the baby was born it must have been a disappointment for Henry - it was a girl, Elizabeth.

Parliament agreed to change the laws of England, declaring an end to the authority of the Pope over England's Church. In the future, the king would be the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The clergy would pay taxes to him, and all people had to accept that Henry had the right to marry Anne Boleyn. By the Act of Succession of 1534 nobles, monks and priests had to swear an oath that they agreed to this - to deny the right of Anne to be queen or of her heirs to inherit the throne was now treason, punishable by death.


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Activity 3

Read the text above and watch the video.

How important were Lutheran ideas to the English Reformation? This is a debatable question, so your answer must be both yes and no, with evidence to support both sides.




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