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Reformation Thought A. E. Mc Grath Notes

History Notes > Luther and the German Reformation Notes

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Reformation Thought -- A. E. McGrath
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999)
pp. 1--38 and pp. 86--234

! 'Reformation' can be criticised -- comparable attempt in the 12th century
! Issues with church legal system, bureaucracy, morals of clergy, absenteeism

~ e.g. In Germany it is reported that 1 in 4 parishes had its pastor in residence

~ Frenchman Antoine du Prat, archbishop of Sens , only turned up for one service

at the cathedral => his funeral
! Family connections rather than spiritual qualities

~ Duke Amadeus VIII of Saxony secured the bishop of Geneva position for his 8 year

old son in 1457
! Pope Alexander VI secured election in 1492 through money

~ Had several mistresses and 7 children
Machiavelli blamed Italian morality on the bad example of the clergy


! Luther and Calvin -- church had lost sight of its intellectual heritage


~ Gradual process of decline since the theological renaissance of the 12th century
~ ad fontes

! Was there further decline or a more educated laity?
! 1478 -- Spanish Inquisition was established
! 1516 -- Concordat of Bologna




~ Gave the King of France the right to appoint senior clergy
~ Effectively gave direct control over church and finances
Ability of Pope to impose a Reformation was steadily declining
Protestant reformers allied themselves with regional or civic powers
~ Luther and the German nobility
~ Zwingli and Zurich city council
English Reformation is atypical -- political rather than theological
Symbiotic alliances with belief in mutual benefit

The Concept of 'Reformation'
! Lutheranism, the Reformed Church (Calvinism), radical Reformation (Anabaptism) and
the Counter--Reformation
! Sometimes just used for the magisterial Reformation

~ Related to secular authorities -- not radical


! 'Protestant' -- derives from the aftermath of the Second Diet of Speyer (February 1529)
which voted to end the toleration of Lutheranism in Germany

~ April -- 6 German princes and 14 cities protested
! Should not use Protestant before 1529 -- evangelical


! Luther -- particularly the doctrine of justification

~ Associated with German territories
~ Initially an academic movement

! 1517 -- 95 theses
! June 1519 -- Leipzig Disputation
! Lutheran Reformation only began in 1522 when Luther returned to Wittenberg from his



enforced isolation in the Wartburg
Had been condemned by the Diet of Worms in 1521
Programme of reform for church and society
Much more conservative than others e.g. Zwingli
Less success than anticipated -- German territories and Scandinavia
~ Not foreign power saes
Role of 'godly prince' -- does not seem to have held the attraction that might be
~ e.g. England and the Netherlands -- Calvinism

! The Reformed Church






~ Originated in developments in the Swiss Confederation
~ Not academic -- attempts to reform morals and worship of the Church

~ Not necessarily doctrine
~ Early thinkers had relatively little interest in doctrine
~ Humanism -- institutional, social and ethical reform

~ All major early Reformation Church thinkers had links to this

~ Luther regarded it with some suspicion
~ Zwingli's death in battle in 1531 => Heinrich Bullinger
~ Emergence of Geneva as a power base and John Calvin as the leading spokesman
in the 1550s
'Calvinism' -- generally discouraged
~ Later 16th century reformed theology from sources other than Calvinism
~ Calvin's ideas were modified subtly by successors
~ Reformed churches in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany -- thinkers such
as Beza, Perkins and Owen
Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion
'Calvinist' dates from the 1560s German political situation
~ 1540s and early 1550s conflict between Lutherans and Catholics
~ Peace of Augsburg (September 1555) -- allocated areas
~ No provision for Reformed faith

~ February 1563 -- Heidelberg Catechism -- attacked as Calvinist

~ Polemical and derogatory term
Reformed Church is the most important
~ Root of Puritanism

! The Radical Reformation

~ 'Anabaptist' -- Zwingli

~ Most distinctive practice
~ Seems to have first arisen around Zurich in the aftermath of Zwingli's reforms in
the early 1520s
~ Group of individuals, including Conrad Grebel, who argued Zwingli was not being
faithful to reforming principles

! Sola scriptura -- Grebel argued that he had retained infant baptism and a close links


between church, magistracy and warfare => not scriptural
~ Sola scriptura principle became radicalised -- seen as destabilising

! Zwingli -- 1522 Apologeticus Archeteles recognised community of goods => 'No--one calls


any possessions his own, all things are held in common'
~ 1525 changed his mind -- private property

! Anabaptism arose in Germany and Switzerland

~ Subsequently became influential in other regions
! Relatively few theologians -- Balthasar Humber, Pilgrim Marpeck and Menno Simons

~ Movement did not have any substantial common theological basis

~ Forcible suppression
! Common elements -- general distrust of external authority, rejection of infant baptism in
favour of adult believers, common ownership of property and emphasis on pacifism and
! 1527 -- governments of Zurich, Berne and St Gallen accused the Anabaptists of believing
'that no true Christian can either give or receive interest or income on a sum of capital
that all temporal goods are free and common and that al can have full property rights to


! Michael Sattler -- 24th February 127


~ Schleitheim Confession -- distinguished Anabaptists from 'papists and antipapists'
~ 'Articles of separation' -- core set of beliefs and attitudes

! The Catholic Reformation

~Revitalisation after the Council of Trent 1545
~ Not only Counter Reformation -- also reformed from within
~ Renewal in Spain and Italy in particular
~ Clarified Catholic teaching and reformed clerical issues
~ Reformation of many older religious orders and establishment of new ones
e.g. Jesuits
! Not sufficient to reverse Protestantism

~ Demand for the reformation of doctrine, religious ideology and the church


The Importance of Printing
! Gutenberg 1454

~ Latin Bible 1456
Germany => Italy

~ Subiaco 1464

~ Venice 1469
! London 1476
! Aldine Press in Venice 1495


! Propaganda of the Reformation could be produced quickly and cheaply
! Lack of errors
! Anyone who could read

! Upper strata of society were the first to be Protestant
! Proximity to continental ports e.g. Cambridge


! Ad fontes -- more accurate Bible and Christian theologians


~ Widely available
~ By the 1520s just about anyone could get a reliable edition of the Greek New
Testament or the writings of Augustine

~ Reformation was very dependent on these

! Crucial turning point in the French Reformation was the publication in French of Calvin's


Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541
~ Coherently expressed radical reforming doctrines
~ Parlement of Paris reacted by banning the works

! Yet printing was only an agent of change


~ Cities generally already converted by preachers
~ The pulpit was very important

The Social Context of the Reformation
! Northern European Reformation based largely in cities

~ Germany -- 50--65 'Imperial Cities' responded positively

~ Only 5 chose to ignore it altogether

~ Switzerland -- Reformation originated in the urban context of Zurich

~ Spread through public debate within Confederate cities e.g. Berne, Basle,

Geneva and St Gallen

~ French Protestantism -- predominantly urban movement in Lyons, Orleans, Paris,

Poitiers and Rouen
! Success or failure depended upon political and social factors

~ Late 15th and early 16th centuries -- city councils of imperial cities had managed to

gain a substantial degree of independence
Growth in size and importance of
German cities

~ Food crisis and Black Death => agrarian crisis

~ Wheat prices dropped alarmingly 1450--1520

~ Rural depopulation and migration to cities

~ Denied access to trade guilds and city councils => discontent

~ Wanted more representative government

~ Reformation became linked with demands for social change

~ e.g. Succeeded in Nuremberg and Strasbourg yet failed in Erfurt
Moeller -- communal identity with religion
! Brady -- class struggle in Strasbourg

~ Maintenance of position through Protestantism
! Ozment -- justification by faith offered relief from 'the psychological pressure of the late
medieval penitential system and an associated 'semi--Pelagian' doctrine of justification'

~ Most burdensome in urban communities

~ Moeller vastly exaggerates the differences between Luther and the theologians
of the southweat

! Early reformers shared the common message of liberation of individual believers from
psychological burdens imposed by late medieval religion
! Bucer, Zwingli and Luther shared the common concern to proclaim justification by faith
through grace
! Pressure for social change was outcome of ideas, not cause


! Some cities responded to popular pressure

~ Nuremberg is a rare example of a city council imposing a Reformation without
significant preceding popular protest or demand
~ Could often respond without radical change to social order
Economic and military issues

~ Dependent upon location

~ e.g. St Gallen's linen industry was not affected to a significant degree

~ A city such as Erfurt in close proximity to Catholic Mainz and Lutheran Saxony

could become embroiled in military conflict


! City councils always stayed in control


~ e.g. Expulsion of Calvin from Geneva in 1538 -- later recalled

! Later reformers e.g. Zwingli and Bucer from the great free cities of Zurich and
Strasbourg identified 'citizen' with 'Christian'

~ Political dimension was absent from Luther's thought
Zwingli -- reform community => mutual integration of religious and secular

~ Luther -- reform individual

~ 'Two Kingdoms' -- religious and secular
! 'It is therefore significant that the Reformed Church gained its most secure power--bases
in the cities of southern Germany and Switzerland, which were more advanced socially,
culturally and economically than the northern cities destined to become Lutheran
strongholds' (p. 19)


! Reformers conditioned by social context


~ Zwingli e.g. Societal function of sacraments in Zurich
~ Calvin's ideas on the proper structure of a Christian church

The Religious Ideas of the Reformers
! Return to the first 5 centuries -- Golden Age of Christianity

~ Christianismus renascence -- 'Christianity being born again'
! Luther's programme of reform -- 'The Bible and St Augustine'


The Social Role of Religious Ideas -- Germany and England
! F. W. Powicke -- 'the one thing that can be said about the Reformation in England is that
it was an act of State' (p. 21)

~ 'The Reformation in England was a parliamentary transaction' (p. 22)
! Germany -- protracted struggle between evangelicals and Catholics during the 1530s

~ Tried to gain influence in a disputed region

~ Had to define itself, unlike England initially

~ Lutheranism, Calvinism and Catholicism had to define themselves


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