Monday, May 13, 2019

The Father of Many

If everyone who rejected Rome had agreed with Luther about the Bible, the entire Reformation era and indeed the last five hundred years of Western history would have played out very differently.

They didn’t, so it didn’t. Luther unleashed a movement he couldn’t control. The disagreements among Protestants were no less than the disagreements that the Protestants had with the Church.  Luther would lash out against his Protestant rivals as fiercely as he did against the Catholic Church.  Luther launched sola scriptura, but as far as he was concerned there could only be one sola: his.

That didn’t last long.  Absent the institution of the Church regarding interpretation of Scripture, every man was free to develop his own view.  Regardless of one’s view of the right and wrong of this history and event, it is clear that such a position could only lead to a fractious movement.  Countless sects were born in this wake.

By the mid-1520s, these events would inspire mass uprisings – for example, the so-called German Peasants’ War – a revolt by the downtrodden against the traditional political hierarchy realities of the time, and the largest mass uprising in Europe prior to events in France in 1789. 

This war began in the Black Forest, just north of Zürich; soon, nearly three-hundred thousand would be involved. 

The most popular list of grievances during the uprisings, The Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants, is written by the furrier Sebastien Lotzer and the Memmingen priest Christoph Schappeler.

A read of the twelve articles will show concerns of both a furrier and a priest, with concerns ranging from proper preaching and tithes to open woods and streams, and hunting open to all.  Like Luther, they employ the strategy of humbling themselves on any issue where it can be shown that an article is incorrect according to scripture.

Instead of debate, they received the sword; unlike Luther, they had no protection offered by the prince.  These uprisings were put to a swift end by the armies of the many princes.  The peasants are hugely overmatched, including one battle where more than six-thousand die against a loss of six for the princes’ armies.  Altogether, perhaps 100,000 peasants are killed or otherwise put to death.

What was once a cohesive social order was quickly beginning to disintegrate:

Luther’s defiant stand based on his understanding of God’s word inadvertently inspires armed conflict and threatens a society dependent on religion as the foundation for a shared social and political life.

Luther’s Catholic critics gloat with glee – as they warned, rejecting the Catholic Church will lead to a meltdown of social order.  Fair enough, yet it seems to me that some version of challenging the Church was coming with or without Luther.  As an anonymous commenter has offered as a nice reminder:  the printing press came to this story several decades before; people who had little reason to learn to read would soon thereafter have both reason and ability to learn to read. 

It seems to me that a reason large segments of the population (along with many princes – although they had political reasons as well) supported reform in the Church was because many of Luther’s words rung true to their own understanding of the Bible and / or contrary to what they heard from the Church.

While the Protestant factions were numerous, two of the sects attained political protection.  Known as “magisterial Protestants,” the Lutherans and Reformed Protestants gained and kept a foothold in regions where the local prince held sympathetic views.  All other competing Protestant views are outlawed – just as the Church has outlawed even these two.  Persecution and punishment were the means of enforcement.

What to say about the situation?  New Protestant leaders emerge – a few aligned with Luther, many not.  Countless sects.  Protests are held by the laity – disrupting mass, destroying icons, harassing priests, refusing to pay tithes.  Priests – now in protest – get married, serve the parishioners the wine, and conduct other actions in defiance of Church practices. 

In a complete turnaround, local magistrates are protecting the Protestant “heretics” from punishment by the local bishop and Rome – local magistrates have taken the position of religious authority.  Such action completely overturns the separate governance institutions of Church and king.  The transition begins – from true separation to subservience – with the king on top, and local churches more than willing to comply as it meant protection from Rome.

Most of the free cities (with Cologne a notable exception) chose to defy the emperor – a chance for true independence, at least for a time:

The Reformation gives them the opportunity to extend their jurisdictional control over the Church, an oversight that has already increased in the late Middle Ages.

The Reformation will undermine the authority of the old Church but not the authority, power, or control of political rulers.

Sowing the seeds of monopoly political power.  All the while, the Church’s hands are virtually tied: while the Reformers are happy to take their message(s) to the streets in a fundamentally populist manner (thousands of pamphlets are published), the Church most certainly doesn’t want a public debate about religion – such things shouldn’t be decided by the laity, and certainly not individually.


Life as Europe has known it for approaching 1000 years is suddenly overturned, for example in Zwingli’s Zürich:

Gone are the mass, the priests, monks, friars, nuns, and countless religious paintings and sculptures and panes of stained glass.  Gone too are fasting ad processions and candles, pilgrimages and prayers to saints and celebration of saints’ days.

Given how integral these were to life – not merely religious life, but life, as these were indistinguishable – the result would be a chaos that engulfed Europe for more than a century.  The Peasants’ Wars were merely an appetizer.


During the time of the Peasants’ Wars, Luther and Erasmus are fighting their own battle.  Erasmus asks regarding Luther’s view of the clarity of scripture on the subject of free will: “If it is really so clear, why have all the excellent people here acted like blind men for so many centuries….?”

The scripture has been subject of complex and sophisticated commentary for a thousand years and more, yet many disagreements remain – even without Luther – and many questions are still unanswered.  This remains true today.

My own editorial comment: both sides can have a point; in other words, neither is 100% right.  The Church did play a power game, including on interpretation.  Yet, interpretation is something man will never get completely right – not even Luther.

Man will never fully and completely comprehend the heart, mind, and will of God.  Humility is called for.  Neither the Church or Luther displayed this.


  1. As a result of the 'sola scriptura' doctrine an enormous desire for and overwhelming trust in regulation was created. Which is still felt strongly today in countries with a dominant protestant culture. As long as the rules are written down, all is well; because of the implicit assumption that all will follow the rules to the letter. Therewith creating a society of a certain strictness, as opposed to the more easy-going catholic parts of Europe.

    1. Youp, I think you will find an interesting example in this post:

  2. Easy going Catholics? I have was born and raised in a place that was, at some point, 92% Catholic. Southern Baptists were a quaint few, Mormons were ... who? Everyone knew about Santeria and few practiced it and still do. Syncretism; is the soul not as important as the temporal? Talking about paternalistic government, talk about Catholic government.

    Read Mathew 10 in whole for context. It is an aspect of becoming a Christian that we tend to gloss over.

    We are to pray in our closet but sometimes are required to open the doors and windows and to pray out loud for the benefit of the hearers.

    Peter preached to the crowds against the rulers' command and we approve. We think of Paul causing such a ruckus in Ephesus and we approve.

    Would you rather be spoon fed what the official proclamation is and die in ignorance?

    But ...

    Mathew 10
    34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

    “‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]

    37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

    1. It's a generalization. Like the US, which is mainly protestant is more strict than, let's say Argentina or Brazil, deeply catholic places. Of course there are exceptions. Once I lived for a while in Catalunia, next to a neighbour who was part of Opus Dei. He was certainly not easy-going.

    2. Catholics have always been more easy going than Lutherans, and certainly more than Puritans (Yankee Calvinists).

      "Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." - H.L. Mencken

      Mormons seem pretty strict. They get married for eternity. Catholics were and are comparatively lax: you only have to be married for this life here on earth.

      Prohibition was basically Southern Baptists and Yankee Puritans punishing the Catholic German and Irish communities in America, because well, they were having too much fun with beer and whiskey.

    3. ATL glad to see you again.

      You know, once I learned of the origins of international football (soccer to you heathens) as compared to the American blasphemous use of the name, I was satisfied - I don't need any of this high-fallutin' history and theology for me to understand the reasons for the differences.

  3. Humility is the key BM. That leads to tolerance. It took so much blood shed during this time period before religious tolerance started to become a thing, mainly in the Netherlands and of course any of the religious groups who had no political power. But those who had political power proved to be no more tolerant than the Catholics.

  4. "The Church most certainly doesn’t want a public debate about religion – such things shouldn’t be decided by the laity, and certainly not individually."

    Yet in the Bible it was a trust, but verify policy. In Acts 17:10-11 the Berean Jews listened to St. Paul preach, then "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

    In Galatians 1, Paul instructs believers to have discerning spirits regardless of who preached.

    "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!"

    It stands to reason that if someone believes they are being taught a false gospel by a person in spiritual authority, then the person in authority must demonstrate through the Bible, not their title, why they are correct.

    1. Great points Anonymous. Ones that I try to live by.

    2. I would agree with Anonymous to a certain extent but, being the heretic that I am, would add that neither a person's credentials nor a "demonstration through the Bible" lends authority to the words of a teacher.

      Authority is from God and given to an individual's teachings via the Holy Ghost. God's word is given by revelation and they can only be truly understood by revelation.

      If you are using the scriptures for authority, you are no better than Luther or the Scribes during Jesus' time.

    3. My amen was to your post, Anonyous.

      Woody, unless you can prove that God has given you a revelation, which by definition, will be infallible, the only objective standard is the Bible. You willing to put yourself under the prophet's proof and penalty?

    4. Jamie - If I have a revelation and I tell it to you, how will you know that it's a revelation? Well, it was given by revelation and so it would have to be understood by revelation - in other words, you would need to have it revealed to you the same way that it was revealed to me.

      I'd be careful about that infallibility bit too, as we're dealing with human beings. Regardless of where a revelation comes from, there's going to be issues in communication - just another reason to get in touch with God, who knows all of us, and have Him reveal to you what is meant

  5. "Luther unleashed a movement he couldn’t control."

    A movement which, according to EvKL, was the precursor to German National Socialism. I'm loving all the Luther talk by the way. I've just been busy lately both at work and at home. Very interesting stuff.

    EvKL has some very fascinating (or Fasci-nating) quotes from Luther in his "Equality or Liberty" and Rothbard, in his "Economic Thought before Adam Smith", has some great commentary as well on Luther and the Reformation. This section definitively refutes any notion (sorry FvD) that Rothbard failed to understand the importance of Medieval natural law (and who its defenders and who its enemies were at the end of the Middle Ages) and what was lost during this period.

    More on this to come. You've been a powerhouse of content lately. It's hard to keep up!

    1. I have learned something over the course of my education - which basically started the day I began this blog.

      One can take any transition point in history and find a thread to another point. For example, there is a thread from the Nazis back to Luther; there is also a thread from classical liberals back to Luther. One of these threads might be more direct than the other, but both can look to Luther as a transition point.

      I have also learned that there really isn't such a thing when it comes to "transition points," at least not as a finite "point."

      There were other Luthers before Luther. If it wasn't for Luther, another Luther would have followed shortly thereafter. The actions and inactions of the Church demanded a Luther.

      All of this leads me back to the idea: as long as we build a structure on any man-made foundation, it can never stand. Of course, any structure built by man will have some amount of corruption in it; as long as the foundation comes from outside of man - and this foundation is properly and humbly respected - there is a chance for a long-lasting and stable structure.

      The Church failed by not caring for the foundation; Luther "failed" (and at least for a few moments it seems this was unintended) to respect that a foundation was necessary.

      One will retort: "The Bible was Luther's foundation." But a Bible interpreted as each individual sees fit is not a foundation that can last.

      The Church was not humble and respectful; neither was Luther. To make a long story short, let's not dump on Luther for all of the sins that have followed.

    2. Truer words were never spoke, Bionic. And, as the video you blogged about in Philosophy for Dummies ( stated at the end;

      "... The only way to begin with metaphysics is not to speculate about the metaphysical world but to have the metaphysical world reach out to you - and Christians have historically called this metaphysical point-of-contact 'revelation' ...".

      No man can build a lasting foundation by himself - we simply do not have the mental and physical means to do so. Therefore, our best path is to study what wisdom we can find; pick out, via revelation, those parts which are true; fill in, again via revelation, those parts which are missing and do our best to put them into practice. Along the way, we can tell others what we have discovered and encourage them to receive revelation for themselves to understand what we understand.

      I see no other way to build a lasting and libertarian community.

    3. Not having read EvKL book, my teaction to the Luther-Nazi progression ... well, I have had coversations with self' identifird socialists that point to the Acts Of The Apostles to justify socialism. And Communists do so also.
      Is there a Christian-Socialism-Communism progression?
      Maybe EvKL not correct.

  6. Woody, talking about missing the point.

    Yes, you tell me you had a revelation. It can be put to a test depending of what you claim to have been revealed. Yes, a revelation will be infallible by the very definition.

    I accept the Bible as revelation and infallible. I understand that interpretation might vary but there will be a correct interpretation or a range of possible interpretations. Christian charity will allow for disagreements when there are more than one possible interpretation.

    Your revelation ... will be measured against the Bible first, then by any truth claims against my personal knowledge or testimony of people I trust, then by coming to past (or not) of any prophetic claims.

    1. Jamie, I don't believe I've missed the point at all.

      Your first point: revelation is infallible. I agree that a revelation is perfect from source to destination, that is, from God to man. After that, all bets are off. The telephone game comes to mind as a good example of why this is so.

      This is why revelation delivered to man must also be understood through revelation. Without revelation, the only pathway to understanding is through interpretation - and, as Bionic has so clearly illustrated in these past few blogs, individual interpretation is the pathway to the tower of Babel, both reasonably and historically. The removal of Catholic scriptural authority during Luther's day gave birth to thousands of different belief systems, some of which even use scripture to deny the divinity of Christ or, at least, reduce the importance of what He did. You, personally, may be comfortable with a thousand or tens of thousands or millions or billions of different ways to interpret God's word; but to my heretical mind, God is not the author of confusion.

      Your second point: You believe the Bible to be a perfect record. You are within your rights to do so as I am within my rights to disagree. As I have stated before, I am a heretic and do not agree that the Bible is a perfect record. I believe that the Bible has passed through too many hands - been translated too many times - to be infallible. Additionally, holding the Bible up as an infallible book removes the responsibility from the individual to make an effort to access God's word directly from the source and leads to a less spiritually active belief system. My personal belief is that the Bible is a wonderful guide. Much of the information contained in its pages are true and a great deal of wisdom can be gleaned from reading it - but the sole infallible source is God himself and the only way to access His knowledge is via revelation.

      I read your third point in this way: "Any revelation will be measured against [your individual interpretation of] the Bible first then by any truth claims against my personal knowledge or testimony of people [you] trust (which I interpret as your personal experience), then by coming to pass (or not) of any prophetic claims". Jamie, you will need to explain to me how this is different from the scribes during Jesus time, who placed the authority of the Torah / Pentateuch (the law of Moses; their 'Scripture') first, then their traditions (their own and other's personal experiences) second. Further, the importance of revelation is less about future events and more about understanding God, His character and His desires for his children or, as Christ said in His great intercessory prayer:

      "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent"
      John 17:3

      Well, I've said too much - I'm going to shut up now.