Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dangerous Territory

Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society, edited by John C. Rao

This will be interesting….

With this post, I begin my exploration of this book edited by Rao.  The title is self-explanatory.  My intent is not to get into the theology, but to examine the impact on society and what this meant (and means) for the growth of the state. 

Of course, I recognize that I cannot publicly conduct this examination without theological blowback; do not be offended if I do not reply to any such comments. 

I will also suggest: as I view a commonly accepted culture as perhaps the most important weapon against a growing state, whatever my view of the theology it cannot be escaped that the Reformation blew apart the previously commonly accepted culture.  What we know today as “the state” did not exist throughout much of the European Middle Ages – it could not exist, given the view of “the law” during this more-or-less 1000 year period.

With this, let’s begin with the introduction: Half a Millennium of Total Depravity (1517 – 2017): A Critique of Luther’s Impact in the Year of His “Catholic” Apotheosis.

Our civilization is so sick that even the best efforts to prop up its tottering remains manifest the same illness that is step by step bringing the entire structure crumbling down.  The disease in question is a willful, prideful, irrational, and ignorant obsession with “freedom.”

I can hear the howls in the audience – at least from those for whom libertarianism is the highest ideal, that freedom and liberty (as the terms are understood today) will unleash the best in humanity.  All I can suggest is stick with me; we might all learn something.

Rao describes the events that Luther unleashed not as a “Reformation,” but a “Revolution”; I had never thought about these events in this way, but in retrospect it seems a more accurate label.  It isn’t that Luther gave birth to ideas of his own; there were numerous sources indicating that man’s individual reason and conscious were both a reliable and sufficient pathway to God.

Nevertheless, the Christian man of the Late Middle Ages was too aware of the reality of sin to leap directly into an adulation of his individual willfulness.

Luther, and Calvin after him, offered a theology that embraced man’s “total depravity”; it was hopeless for man to attempt to transform himself and his communities into a manner that would be pleasing to God.  It was hopeless for man to improve himself – we know what this means on an individual basis, when a man sees no hope: suicide.

But this lack of hope, this suicidal condition, came to be known as man’s “freedom”:

The remedy he offered was freedom from a Law that man, in his depraved, post-lapsarian state, could not possibly aspire to keeping.

Thus was born a negative definition of liberty – a freedom from the Law; within a couple of generations, the Enlightenment offered a new form of redemption: exultation in man’s sins and imperfections.  Whatever one believes regarding theology, it cannot be denied that western man revels in almost every type of depravity and that modern liberalism promotes this as virtuous.  All to the benefit of a growing state.

“Total depravity” became a self-fulfilling doctrine and the individual who could never hope to be reconciled with God made himself a god instead.

With man’s “freedom” being the ultimate (and only) good.

Rao’s opening chapter is entitled A Necessary Reform, Depraved From Birth.  Again, I return to my idea of a common culture; I also think about comments offered by Jordan Peterson – and I paraphrase: don’t destroy the wheat with the chaff.  As applied in this context, keep what is good of the culture, reform what is not – do not tear down all.

Rao does not ignore the chaff; he sees in the Europe of 1517 defects that could be – and were – exploited; not least in this was that the Catholic sovereigns – including the Pope – were constantly at war with each other – even to the extent of allying against each other and with the Muslim Turks!

Attempts at reform were made; vested interests would intervene and the proposed reforms were watered down.  Within this environment, Luther unleashed the destruction of the unity of western Christianity and a “civilization integrally connected with the Catholic religion”; in its place came “the triumph of arbitrary willfulness.”

Rao examines the opportunity that Luther brought to princes and various local authorities to break free from the dual and competing governance of the Church; many took advantage of this opportunity to become the sole sovereign, unanswerable to any higher or alternate authority.  This came to become the state that we know today.


I am immediately struck with considering the view presented by Jacques Barzun in his magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life.  Barzun begins with Martin Luther.  He describes 1500 as the “dawn”; he views World War I as the suicide of the west – decadence. 

Rao and his fellow authors would say that Luther brought on no “dawn”; instead, the decadence and suicide came in 1517. 

I must say, well before I heard of Rao or began reading this book, I suggested a similar view: the west’s liberalism, with its roots in the Renaissance, gave birth to the decadence that even Barzun finds today.  I purposely avoided making a statement about the Reformation, as I did not (and still do not) feel qualified to dive into theology.  Rao and his co-authors will now carry this load for me.

There is no possibility of freedom absent man accepting to live under a common culture, a culture that sustains and enhances life – this is not a sufficient condition for freedom to flourish, but it is a necessary condition. 

In other words, defining freedom as man’s individual willfulness – even respecting solely the negative rights of libertarianism – offers us the opposite of freedom; in the place of common culture providing governance, we get the state.


  1. I doubt the Catholic Church would have kept the "common culture" in tact much beyond 1517, had Luther been pushed in front of a bus on his way to Wittenburg Chapel. People were already abandoning the Faith, because of the obvious decadence,of the "Faith's defenders". The schism among parties was already there, and Luther, like Trump last year, merely rode the wave into the popular consciousness. Also, Luther's work probably extended the life of Christendom for several centuries.

    That the Catholic Church's response to Luther and the rest was to murder as many people as possible is another sign that Catholicism, as a unifying institution, was done.

    1. A Protestant historian, Rodney Stark, wrote a book "Bearing False Witness" to point out the undying lies promoted by 'distinguished bigots' (his term) against the Catholic Church. When it comes to mass murder, check out what Luther did before and during the German Peasant Revolution, how he encouraged the peasants to revolt against the princes, and when it turned really ugly, how he encouraged the government to brutally suppress them. That was classic Luther there, and boy, how the blood flowed.

    2. cavalier, to the extent I understand the history I agree with your first paragraph. The Church cannot avoid some measure of blame in fertilizing the soil for Luther (or whoever ultimately would have come).

      As to the second, I do not know enough detail to assign blame one way or another.

  2. Dangerous, indeed!

    I agree: putting freedom as the highest "good" yields neither freedom nor goodness.

    As a Calvinist: It's not my understanding that Luther wanted to be free from a Church, or saw freedom of the will as a Good. The Reformation was chiefly about soteriology, and the supremacy of Scripture. I don't see how Sola Scriptura or other Reformed theology leads to Libertine behavior; seems like the exact opposite. Or am I mistaken about what this article is saying?

    1. You could substitute what Jesus Christ did and get a parallel picture. Apostate! Tear down the temple, and rebuild it in three days!? Son of God!? Blasphemy!

      "But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against." - Acts 28:22

      Who can accuse the Amish for not having a coherent culture of maximum (voluntary) freedom, or all the things bionic always talks about with respect to culture, freedom, and NAP, and renouncing aggression?

      The Roman Church could have done the right thing and acted as did the Pope when St. Francis appealed to him after his church was burned to the ground. That Pope blessed the mission.

      But the "filthy lucre" of power and the intellectuals too insulted that had justified the Church, was too much in Worms, and they jettisoned the remnants of the culture that had formed among Christians post-Rome.

      No, freedom got a historical boost after Luther's escape from burning at the stake with help from allies among the nobles. Luther or not, the Church would have melted from its political power anyway with the result that the Renaissance would have been much much nastier.

      The Roman Church took the side of serving Mammon in their building projects, an error of many churches today who are embracing doctrines of devils, one of which is the socialism preached by the latest Pope, the first Jesuit Pope.

    2. "...putting freedom as the highest "good" yields neither freedom nor goodness."

      I disagree: no one I know uses "freedom" to mean freedom for me but not you. Freedom means non-interference. To be free therefore is to be self-responsible since one is not able to survive by interfering with the freedom of others. That is most certainly good - in the deepest meaning of the word.

    3. John,

      I agree with your labeling of freedom as good. I argue against placing freedom as a highest good, the Good through which all things are sifted and judged. A "freedom lens" is not philosophically established.

      But freedom is certainly good. Objectively so.

    4. "I don't see how Sola Scriptura or other Reformed theology leads to Libertine behavior; seems like the exact opposite. Or am I mistaken about what this article is saying?"

      Sherlock, as best as I understand it (so far): Luther (and certainly Calvin) offered that man is totally depraved and can do nothing toward his salvation. So... why bother working toward the "good" in one's self or for one's family or for the world?

      Whatever one believes theologically, I believe this is the simplest way I can phrase the argument.

    5. John, this issue of freedom as the "highest good" is one I am wrestling with right now - I have seen a preliminary response from one of my regular sparring partners that inherently makes this claim... and I don't buy it but I must prepare my arguments well.

      So, I might as well start practicing:

      I accept that it is good to not interfere with the freedom of others. But... will this result in a world in which I will want to live, raise children, leave as my legacy to the future?

      We can have the theoretical debate: will absolute freedom, will the population grow even more libertine? Maybe, maybe not - maybe the lack of any state support systems will reduce such behaviors.

      I do not advocate for laws that make illegal such behaviors, but it doesn't mean that this is the kind of world in which I want my family to live; as I have suggested, I don't even think it is the kind of world in which freedom can survive.

      Many look at cultural norms as stifling of freedom, yet it is those cultural norms that tend to minimize conflict and therefore allow us room to live without calls for government to “do something” about it.

      The picture that keeps returning to me: I would rather live in a neighborhood full of Pat Buchanans than a neighborhood full of freedom-respecting libertines.

      I have not been able to escape the box: SOMETHING will provide governance, and it will be something other than (and more than) the market.

      From this, what might I conclude is the highest good? Freedom, or a culture in which freedom can be reasonably realized? So…what is that culture? Perhaps that is the highest good.

    6. "why bother working toward the "good" in one's self or for one's family or for the world?"

      Because we have been made a new creation that loves the highest Good, that is God, and do good works for His glory. Faith alone saves, but faith doesn't come alone (works come along as demonstration of that regeneration. So that's why we do good.

      God is the only rock solid foundation to build a freedom loving culture on. The NAP itself needs philosophical grounding. That grounding must be transcendent to humanity, otherwise the NAP has its feet placed firmly in mid air (i.e. subjectivity).

    7. The Sola Scriptura was an argument for public consumption to keep people from looking too closely at what was really going on - similarly to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

      For an understanding of what was actually going on you should read Rabbi Louis Newman's "Jewish Influence in Christian Reform Movements."

      He lays bare the Jewish work against Christendom and unified Faith. And notes that Luther was a Judaizer, while Calivin (Cuin) was a Jew. Its all there if your brave enough to read it.

    8. "Because we have been made a new creation that loves the highest Good, that is God...."

      Sherlock, my point was merely the Catholic interpretation of what was the result of a doctrine of total depravity - eventually man would play the part.

      And I saw your other comment, and I thank you for participating.

  3. Augustine pegged it: "you believe what you want in Scripture and disbelieve what you don't want, you believe not in Scripture but yourself" (from memory). So we have gone from the social reign of the God-man to the reign of the man-gods and truly "we have no king but Caesar"

    1. What was Christ supposed to do with the most freedom-friendly and individual-respecting culture of the Jews at his time?

    2. I heard D. James Kennedy report that when Martin Luther visited Rome, it was so degenerate that the priests there would joke that their claim to virtue was that they "only had sex with the opposite sex".

      Sola scriptura is a culturally binding intellectual commonality, and the "fear of God" is a pretty good enforcer in a culture of the Golden Rule and respect for others.

    3. We should believe not in scripture, but in ourselves. That is the reason for a brain in every body instead of one brain telling many other bodies what to do.

    4. John! This comment embodies the "freedom lens" well!

      This doctrine of yours, I'll call it Sola Cerebrea, is not established at all. Why, if my brain is all to be relied on, should I trust my brain? After all, it is the predetermined outcome of purposeless mutation. Am I to be sure human brains evolved towards truth or goodness, or just survival?

      Sola Cerebrea shoots it's self!

    5. Man: God reveal yourself.
      God: Are you willing tondo a great deed to earn it?
      Man: I will swim the ocean. I will climb the highest mountains. I will forever take the trash out from the kitchen when my wife/husband/spouse/whatever asks. Whatever mighty deed you want me to perform?
      God: Believe what I have already revealed.

      Man turns and leave saddened because he had such great intellect.

    6. Sherlock! Using your brain to question your brain is a large self-invalidating proposition - akin to trying to take a picture of the camera taking the picture.

      For you to announce that you do not trust your brain because you trust your brain to tell you that the history of your brain makes you unable to trust your brain is such a multi-folded contradiction I'll call it Origami Absurdum.

    7. John! Ha! I agree :)

      Great coinage!

    8. John, that was good.

      The way a camera takes a picture of itself taking a picture is to take a picture of the a mirror. Who is our mirror?


    9. JaimeInTexas, There is no mirror. Do not attempt to study the mind. It is the mind that studies. Therefore Psychology is not a science, but rather a religion: the art of making stuff up and passing it off as knowledge.

  4. Murray Rothbard wrote an excellent article on the roots of communism in Protestantism that Lew Rockwell republished in his site on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution. Rothbard is no theologian, but he can smell a revolution with eyes closed.

    1. It is a good article. He railed, rightly, against the Anabaptists... But not the Reformed!

  5. The problem I see with books like these and the articles that follow is that they try to "capture lightning in a bottle".

    The argument that everything was "good" or "better" under the authoritarian hand of the Catholic Church is nonsense.

    What of the church before the Roman Empire and it being co-opted by Constantine? We only get to the Reformation because of the events that took place prior.

    This is no different than Christians (and I am one) who argue about government today in terms of going back to Old Testament Israel style theocracy vs X form of government.

    It all ends up being some man's or group of men's ideas and not God's.

    Look at the Theocracy he set up for Israel. Look at the level of jurisprudence. You want to talk about a libertarian society with shared culture? Well there you go. No king but God, no ruling classes or law enforcement. No standing armies. Small amount of taxation for the Levites to conduct the ceremonies prescribed by the King Himself.

    But no, Israel wanted "a king like all the other nations".

    Bingo. That's always been the problem with humanity. We always want to do things our way and not God's.

    Jesuse said the Kingdom of Heaven was already inaugurated. It was near. It just wasn't an earthly kingdom. It's already here. Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. these are all man's attempts to create something that God did not ordain.

    The United States was not ordained by God. Can He use it? sure. But he didn't ordain it any more than he ordained Babylon or Rome. He allows them to exist and he may use them as instruments for His will from time to time as He sees fit, but that's the extent of it.

    Our problem is that we refuse to live in God's kingdom and we want to live in some sort of man made earthly kingdom or Republic or Commonwealth or whatever we want to call it.

    Sorry. End Rant.

    1. "The United States was not ordained by God. Can He use it? sure. But he didn't ordain it any more than he ordained Babylon or Rome. "

      I may be splitting hairs here, and I'm not a Christian, but Romans 13 appears to suggest otherwise(which annoys me when brought up by Christians arguing for submission to government):

      "The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

    2. "The argument that everything was "good" or "better" under the authoritarian hand of the Catholic Church is nonsense."

      Yeah, I hate it when guys make dumb arguments like this.

      Mmmm...can you point to exactly where this idiot bionic made this argument?

    3. Anon -

      Romans 13 gets bandied about a lot. And it unfortunately, much like "turn the other cheek" gets taken completely out of context.

      I always ask other Christians to explain how or why God would establish such a man as Nero as emperor? This man would cover Christians in pitch, hang them on poles and light them on fire as people walked by the coliseum at night. For sport he would put Christian women and children in the coliseum to be torn apart by lions and other wild animals, among other such tortures.

      So, if a Christian were to rebel or resist Nero or some other tyrant they would, in effect, be rebelling against God himself, since He ordained and established, explicitly, the rule of Nero, hmmm?


    4. Bionic -

      I did not suggest that you made this argument. My larger point is that you will draw conclusions about what Rao or someone else says about the Reformation and that will lead to other conclusions...but this will all end up being futile because it all takes place in a microcosm that fails to take the larger scope of history and what came before into account...

    5. Anonymous (and everyone else) - If you want a good explanation of what Romans 13 is all about, contact Beck Akers (writer at at and ask her to send you a pdf copy of Conversation with a Christian Anarchist: Anarcho-Capitalism and the Bible. It will open your eyes as to what that passage actually says. It certainly is not submission to the government. This is easily proved by substituting a specific person's name for the "higher powers" or "governing authorities." Let's try it with, say, Hillary:

      Every person is to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton. For there is no authority except from God, and Hillary Clinton is established by God. Therefore whoever resists Hillary Clinton has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed Hillary Clinton will receive condemnation upon themselves. For Hillary Clinton is not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of Hillary Clinton? Do what is good and you will have praise from Hillary Clinton; for she is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for Hillary Clinton does not bear the sword for nothing; for she is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection to Hillary Clinton, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for Hillary Clinton is a servant of God, devoting herself to this very thing. Render to Hillary Clinton what is due her: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Romans 13:1-7 NASB

      Really? I don't think so. Contact Becky and have her send you that pdf - she'll make it clear.

      P.S. If you are taking votes, there is virtually no doctrine in the Catholic Church that comes from scripture, so blaming Protestantism in general for the world's woes is bogus. (And I'm not a calvinist, either, so don't make the mistake of thinking that - just a plain old, non-denominational Protestant who believes in the five solas, but not calvinism.)

    6. Punisher

      A thread I have worked through for several years regards the law during much of the Germanic Middle Ages, and my view that it was about as close to a decentralized political / legal system that we have seen in the west - perhaps since the time of the judges.

      And it was a system that lasted for (plus or minus) 1000 years. That's a big enough span of history to make it somewhat distinct.

      I view this law as a break from what came before, and I view the law came after as another break.

    7. Bionic -

      What sort of documentary evidence do you have for this supposed decentralized system? I too am a student of history and while there have been pockets of liberty and decentralization over time, especially in smaller geographical regions, I've never seen it as applied to the Germanic Middle Ages. It was the same old monarchies, emperors and papacy show there...

    8. 1) Look to the top of this page.
      2) Click on the "Bibliography" tab
      3) Read every post under the author "Fritz Kern"
      4) Read the post under Regine Pernoud
      5) Read selected posts under RHC Davis (the titles of the posts will indicate the relevant posts)
      6) Read the first post under Jacques Barzun

      After you have done this, ask your question again - if you still believe it requires an answer.

  6. The 95 Theses Martin Luther:


  7. A Sermon on Indulgences and Grace Martin Luther (April 1518)

    First, you should know that some new teachers, such as the Master of Sentences, St.
    Thomas [Aquinas], and their disciples, divide [the Sacrament of] Penance into three
    parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. And, although this distinction and
    opinion of theirs is scarcely or not at all to be found based in Holy Scripture or in the
    ancient holy Christian teachers, nevertheless we will pass over this for now and speak
    using their categories.

    Second, they say that indulgences do not involve the first or the second part, that is,
    contrition or confession, but rather satisfaction.

    Third, satisfaction is further divided into three parts, that is, prayer, fasting, and
    almsgiving. Thus, prayer includes all kinds of works proper to the soul, such as
    reading, meditating, hearing God’s word, preaching, teaching, and the like. Fasting
    includes all kinds of work that mortify the flesh, such as vigils, working, [sleeping on a]
    hard bed, [wearing rough] clothes, etc. Almsgiving includes all kinds of good works of
    the body and mercy toward the neighbor.

    Fourth, all of these [teachers] hold for a certainty that indulgences take away these
    very works of satisfaction that ought to be done for sin or are required to be done. For
    an indulgence is supposed to take away all these works so that nothing good remains
    for us to do.

    Fifth, among many [teachers] it is an open and unresolved debate whether indulgences
    also take away even more than such good works as are required, namely whether they
    also remove the punishment for sin that God’s righteousness demands.

  8. Sixth, for the moment I will put their opinions aside without refuting them. This is what I
    say: No one can defend the position with any passage from Scripture that God’s
    righteousness desires or demands any punishment or satisfaction from sinners except
    for their heartfelt and true contrition or conversion alone—with the condition that from
    that moment on they bear the cross of Christ and practice the aforementioned works
    (but not as imposed by anyone). For this is what God said through Ezekiel [18:21 with
    33:14—16, paraphrase]: “If the wicked turn away from all their sins . . . and do . . .
    right, so will I no longer think on their sins.” Thus, in the same way he himself absolved
    Mary Magdalene [Luke 7:36—50], the paralytic [Mark 2:1-12], the woman taken in
    adultery [John 8:1—11], etc. I would like to hear who would prove the opposite—
    besides the fact that some doctors have made this up.

    Seventh, in point of fact one finds that God punishes some according to his
    righteousness or through punishment impels them to contrition as in Psalm 89:30-33:
    “If his [David’s] children forsake my law . . . then I will punish their transgressions with
    the rod . . . but I will not remove my steadfast love from them.” But this punishment is
    in no one’s power to lessen, except God’s alone. Indeed, God will not relax such
    punishment but instead promises to impose it.

    Eighth, for this reason, because no one has a name for this made-up punishment [of
    Scholastic teachers] and does not know what it is, therefore if this penalty is nothing,
    then the above-mentioned good work [of procuring indulgences] is nothing.

    Ninth, I say that even if this very day the Christian church decided and decreed that
    indulgences took away more than the works of satisfaction did, nevertheless it would
    still be a thousand times better that no Christian buy or desire indulgences, but instead
    that they would rather do works and suffer punishment. For indulgences are and may
    continue to be nothing other than the neglect of good works and salutary suffering,
    which a person should rather choose than omit—even though some of the new
    preachers have invented two kinds of sufferings: Medicativae, Satifsactoriae, that is,
    some suffering is for satisfaction and some for improvement. But, praise God, we have
    more freedom to disdain this kind of prattle than they have freedom to dream it up. For
    all suffering, indeed, everything God lays upon Christians is for their betterment and

    Tenth, nothing is being said [by arguing] that the punishment and works may be too
    much, that the individual may not complete them because of the shortness of life, and
    therefore there is need for indulgences for such a person. I respond that this has no
    basis in fact and is pure fiction. For God and the holy church impose on no one more
    than they are able to carry, as St. Paul also says [1 Cor. 10:13, paraphrase]: “God will
    not let [anyone] be tested beyond [what that person can endure].” And this heaps no
    small insult upon Christianity when someone accuses it of imposing heavier burdens
    than we can bear.

  9. Eleventh, although the satisfaction set in canon law is still on the books—that for each
    mortal sin seven years of satisfaction is imposed—nevertheless Christianity must let
    these very laws go and impose nothing more than what they allow each to bear. Much
    more, given that this [rule] is not in force, should one take care not to impose more than
    any one person will be able to bear.

    Twelfth, it is fine to say that the sinner with residual punishment should be directed to
    purgatory or to indulgences. But more must be said about the basis and underpinnings
    for this.

    Thirteenth, it is a tremendous error when people imagine that they can make
    satisfaction for their sins, which God instead always forgives gratis out of
    immeasurable grace while desiring nothing for this [grace] except that one live well
    from then on. Whenever Christianity demands something further, it may and should set
    such a thing aside and not impose anything heavy or unbearable.

    Fourteenth, indulgences are tolerated for the sake of the imperfect and lazy
    Christians, who either do not want to practice good works in a lively way or want to
    avoid suffering. For indulgences do not demand improvement but tolerate and accept
    such people as imperfect. For this reason, one should not speak against indulgences,
    but one must also not speak in favor of using them.

    Fifteenth, a person who gives to build St. Peter’s [in Rome], or whatever else is
    mentioned [in indulgence preaching], purely for God’s sake is acting in a far better and
    more certain way than those who take an indulgence for it. For it is dangerous when
    they give such a gift for the sake of an indulgence and not for God’s sake.

    Sixteenth, a work shown to the poor is much better than one given toward
    [constructing] a building, and it is also much better than when an indulgence is given
    for such a work. For, as stated above, a good deed done is much better than many
    avoided indulgences, however, mean avoiding many good works, or else nothing is

  10. Furthermore, so that I may instruct you correctly, please note the following. If you want
    to give something, you ought above all else (without considering St. Peter’s building or
    indulgences) give to your poor neighbor. When it comes to the point that there is no
    one in your city who needs help (unless God deigns it, this will never happen!), then
    you ought to give where you want: to churches, altars, decorations, or chalices that are
    for your own city. And when that, too, is no longer necessary, then first off—if you wish
    —you may give to the building of St. Peter’s or anywhere else. Moreover, you should
    not do this for the sake of an indulgence, for St. Paul says [1 Tim. 5:8], “And whoever
    does not provide for . . . family members, is no Christian and is worse than an
    unbeliever.” And avoid those who tell you differently, who deceive you or who search
    for your soul in a moneybag. And when they find a penny in the purse, it is dearer to
    them than any soul whatsoever.
    Suppose you say, “Then I will never again buy an indulgence.” I respond, “That is what
    I already said above. My will, desire, plea, and counsel are that no one buy an
    indulgence. Let the lazy and sleepy Christians buy indulgences. You run from them.”

    Seventeenth, indulgences are neither commanded nor recommended. Instead they
    count among the things that are permitted and allowed. Therefore, it is not a work of
    obedience and also not meritorious but instead a departure from obedience. Therefore,
    although one should not hinder someone from buying them, nevertheless one should
    draw Christians away from them and arouse and encourage them to do those works
    and [suffer those] punishments that indulgences avoid.

    Eighteenth, whether souls are rescued from purgatory through indulgences, I do not
    know and I also do not believe it, although some new doctors [of the church] say it.
    But it is impossible for them to prove it, and the church has not yet decided the matter.
    Therefore, for the sake of greater certainty, it is much better that each of you prays and
    works for these souls. For this has more value and is certain.

    Nineteenth, in these points I have no doubt, and they are sufficiently grounded in the
    Scripture. Therefore, all of you should have no doubts about it and let the scholastic
    doctors alone. Taken altogether, they do not have enough with their opinions to put
    together a single sermon.

    Twentieth, although some (for whom such truth really damages their treasure chests)
    now want to call me a heretic, nevertheless I consider such blathering no big deal,
    especially since the only ones doing this are some darkened minds, who have never
    even smelled a Bible, who have never read a Christian teacher, and who do not even
    understand their own teachers but instead remain stuck with their shaky and close—
    minded opinions. For if they had understood them, they would have known that they
    should not defame anyone without A hearing and without refuting them. Still, may God
    give them and us a right understanding! Amen.


  11. There was a growing loss of faith. That had begun during the Black Death of 1348–50, when a third of Europe died, and up to half in cities, where Church leaders and intellectuals lived: the elite. There was a reaction against the Church. God had failed them, they believed. Priests had fled the cities to escape the plague, leaving few to perform the last rites. The Church never reclaimed the respect it had enjoyed before the plague. The plague had helped Wycliffe. He preached in the immediate aftermath of the plague. He and his lay ministers found ready listeners.

    After 1350, Renaissance humanism began to spread. It was in full flower in 1517. It was partly rational and partly occult. It mimicked Greece and Rome, which were partly rational and partly occult. Most humanists stayed in the Church. They did not want to deal with the Inquisition. But they were not convinced of either the divine authority of Church tradition or the divine authority of the Bible. They were becoming skeptical. They did not object to a weaker Church.

    There was no Reformation. Continuity prevailed.

    In Hus’s day, there was no syphilis. There was in Luther’s day. Columbus’s crew brought it back from the Caribbean. “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And then, in fourteen ninety-three, he brought it back for you and me.” (I sometimes wax poetic.) By 1510, almost everyone who was literate knew exactly how it was transmitted. But the family structure among the Renaissance elite was broken. Adultery was widespread. The disease spread like the plague it was. Men’s confidence was under assault from unseen forces. The time was ripe in 1520.


  12. I don't think this article understand the actual theology and what people like Luther were actually saying.

    I recommend on reading one of Luther's key sermons.

    It is quite possible that the bad theology and values in the article were something many people were likely to adopt based on Protestantism - but isn't what Calvin and Luther were talking about when they said Freedom under the Law.

    1. "...but isn't what Calvin and Luther were talking about when they said Freedom under the Law."

      In one of the chapters in the book, the author suggests the same thing - what came after Luther and Calvin is not what they had intended; yet, to many at the time, they saw that it would be the result.

      Quotes are also provided from Luther, lamenting what his work had produced - not what he intended, but what was the ultimate result.

  13. But isn't one of the reasons the Church had become depraved because it had monopoly power through the states? As we Austrians know, monopoly only comes through government force.

    1. For much of the Middle Ages, power was divided - people had the possibility of appealing to Rome if the king did not behave properly or they could appeal to the king if Rome did not behave properly.

      Of course, there were times and places where the two were virtually united: Charlemagne being a great example, but one that did not survive long after his death.

    2. Yes, and your reply above about medieval German law jogged my memory as well. Thanks.

  14. Wasn't there an earlier break in the Church which weakened the Christian world? Did the schism in the Church between East and West half a millennium prior to Luther tear asunder whatever cultural unity existed among Christians at that time? Didn't that development create a new tension among Christians much as the Reformation did? The Catholic Crusaders were probably less likely to have sacked Constantinople thus weakening the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans for the Turkish tsunami if the Christian Church had remained united and the Eastern Orthodox Christians not treated as apostates.

    It's good to speak of cultural unity as necessary for peace and liberty, but it seems to me that visionaries of all sorts - as tiny as their numbers might be - who we would agree move civilization forward, always stand in opposition to prevailing cultural values, beliefs and ways of doing things. Where would the arts, science, medicine, technology and commerce be without these cultural irritants and misfits who see things differently from everyone else? I think that a dominant culture must learn to recognize and tolerate benign cultural nonconformists who push the entire society in a positive direction without succumbing to the wiles of cultural freaks who sow depravity.

    1. Your point about the earlier split is valid, however let me make clear my context: the western culture - supported by the western church - lasted for 1000 years, plus or minus. This seems a large enough span to address it on its own merit.

      As to your second point, also valid, however I do not look at the time of the European Middle Ages as stagnant in any way - not in "arts, science, medicine, technology and commerce."

      See, for some examples, here:

      The advances in many of these areas since the Renaissance cannot be denied, but also with a real cost.

      It is too bad that it almost has to be either / or. Those with power don't want to evolve; therefore, the lid is kept on the pressure cooker until it explodes.

      Evolution or revolution - it seems this is the choice. I am all for cultural evolution - through natural, market (in the broadest sense of the term) forces.

    2. I should add, there are obviously those in power who want to force the evolution.

      Conservative voices use force to stop it; leftist voices want to force the change.

      Natural evolution, my choice.