Some resources for exploring the significance of Martin Luther in this year of the 500th anniversary celebration.

500 Years Of Reformation


On the Eve of the Reformation
During the 11th & 12th centuries the Church was the dominant force in Europe. By the Church we mean the Roman Catholic Church (catholic = universal), with the Pope as the leader. In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries the power of the Church was slowly weakened. It still exerted great power, was enormously wealthy, and could raise formidable armies,  but nevertheless, because of corruption, theological disputes, and the rise of secular powers, it was slowly fading as a temporal power.  In the renaissance-reformation period it was all but impossible to contain new theologies. 
For example, John Wycliffe (1330-84), an English philosopher, theologian and reformer, came to believe that there was no Biblical evidence to support the authority of the Pope, and that the Bible was the most reliable guide to Christian doctrines, not the traditions and interpretations of the Church. 
Wycliffe had a great influence on the Bohemian divine Jan Huss (c1372-1415). Huss preached in Prague, and expanded the attack to include not only the Pope but immoral clergymen. Huss found himself a very popular preacher with the common people but certainly not with the authorities, civil and religious. During 1414-18 a great Council of the Church took place and Huss was asked to attend. The Emperor granted him a safe passage, but when he arrived he was put on trial for heresy. The Church found him guilty and in 1415 he was burned alive.
The Bohemian people took the example of Huss to their hearts, however, and organised themselves into an armed resistance movement. In fact there was already a deep-rooted antipathy to Rome that had its origins in the influence of Cyril and St Methodius as far back as the 9th century. So although the Pope waged five holy crusades against the Bohemians, their defence was staunch, their determination based on independence of thought. During the 15th century the cry for reform gathered momentum far and wide around Europe. 
WolframAlpha gives the following set of definitions:

1 | noun | a classical scholar or student of the liberal arts
2 | noun | an advocate of the principles of humanism; someone concerned with the interests and welfare of humans
3 | adjective | of or pertaining to Renaissance humanism
4 | adjective | of or pertaining to a philosophy asserting human dignity and man's capacity for fulfillment through reason and scientific method and often rejecting religion
(the humanist belief in continuous emergent evolution- Wendell Thomas")
5 | adjective | pertaining to or concerned with the humanities
6 | adjective | marked by humanistic values and devotion to human welfare

All these in some senses can apply to Erasmus


The taunt against Thomas Aquinas: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

  • Thomas Aquinas 1224-74  Schoolmen
  • Decline of Christendom 1300-1500, rise of Renaissance
  • Erasmus 1467-1536, the chief exponent of humanism within the Renaissance
  1. Provides Greek rather than Latin texts for the Bible - invaluable to John Wycliff, Jan Hus and Martin Luther
  2. Hated ignorance, superstition, and what he regarded as theological absurdities. But he didn't make the taunt about angels dancing on a pin-point.
  3. Had a fierce intellect, sharp wit, and poked fun at the Church with all its abuses
  4. "Educated men were mumbling all these things about the clergy, about monks and popes, corruption and grafty, popular superstition and idolatrous practices. Erasmus expressed, and brilliantly what they were barely articulating; and educated Europe laughed. Kings and bishops, scholars and merchants, anyone with a claim to be educated, hailed him at first with amusement and then with serious approval. By 1517 he had become part of the accepted order. Not so much in Italy, but in France and england and spain and Germany, the new learning and Erasmian critique of the Church went hand in hand, especially among churchmen. More than any other single man, he lowered the European reputation of popes and clergy, monks and friars and (above all) of the theologians.
    Above all the theogians. He once described a contemporary as a 'scab of a fellow, theology incarnate' He condemned them as pedants, logic-choppers, manipulators of meaningless notions, constructors of syllogisms, warriors over terms." (Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, Penguin, 1964.)

Reformation Begins with Luther

Luther's Chief  Writings

  1. 95 Theses
  2. Address to the Christian Nobility
  3. Babylonian Captivity of the Church
  4. On the Freedom of a Christian


Nailed to the church door - or not?

1. Why Is The Church So Wealthy?

Luther's Key Theological Insight

Burn the Documents

After The Peasant Uprising

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Stuart Manins
16 March 2017, 4:55 PM

From these studies four things stand out for me:

1 No one group/interpretation/church is free from error, evil, and unfair manipulation of others in practice and dogma in interpreting Christian scriptures.

2 Individual conscience informed by an intelligent understanding of scripture, together with current scientific knowledge and wide personal experience can be a satisfactory guide to purposeful, peaceful, contented, living.

3 We can all learn from differences in opinion and practice if we accept the principle of treating others as we wish to be treated. In this way, there can be widespread unity in diversity. Different right ways can be used to achieve common goals.

4 Power and wealth tend to feed corruption, whereas persecution, poverty, humility within overall love tend to nourish spirituality.

David Bell
16 March 2017, 4:57 PM

Thanks for feedback Stuart...that was quick off the mark! I thought it would be good to refresh our memories on this phase of church history as 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the protest action of nailing the 95 theses to the church door. What would be the effective way of doing a reformation protest today, I wonder. One of the key books to read is Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea, The Protestant Revolution, A history from the seventeenth century to the twentyfirst. He ends by citing Desmond Tutu who remarked that Western Christianity seems to have some splendid answers, but they are answers to questions that no one else seems to be asking. Is he right?

Stuart Manins
16 March 2017, 9:56 PM
Attempting to answer the question about an effective answer to reformation today I could start with three topics:
  1. Interpreting scripture - how to read meaning by understanding the original context
  2. Interpreting my own experience - regarding my personal journey without considering it a central or normative  reference point for others
  3. Interpreting others' experiences - accepting different experiences without being personally threatened; i.e. needing to defend my differences or attack their differences
I imagine these three things would result in valuable contemporary reformation.