Social Impact of Martin Luther I
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2010
Without a doubt the Protestant Reformation had a profound impact on religion, but Martin Luther's rebellion of faith also inspired a social revolution.
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Lead: Without a doubt the Protestant Reformation had a profound impact on religion, but Martin Luther's rebellion of faith also inspired a social revolution.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts
Content: Ernst Treoltsch, the German religious sociologist, wrote that Martin Luther and other early Protestants asked the same three basic theological questions as their Catholic contemporaries; they just supplied a different set of answers. For instance, how is one saved? Roman Catholicism said by faith and works. Protestants said by faith alone. Or, what is the source of religious authority? Catholics said the Bible and church tradition. Luther said the Bible and the individual's interpretive conscience are the only guides to faith and life. Or, what is the church? Roman Catholicism tended to identify the church with the clergy, and it elevated religious life and vocation over all others. Protestants said every believer was a priest and that, while clergy was important in church affairs, no man or organization was required to bridge the gap between a believer and God. Yet in history's view perhaps the greatest impact of the Lutheran revolt was not in matters of belief, but rather it was in the way it transformed the social and political face of Europe.
For well over 1000 years, Roman Catholicism had been the defining institution in western Europe. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Catholicism nurtured the flame of civilization, preserved some semblance of order, and was intimately--though not always happily--involved in the creation of today's great nation-states: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and England. The church was joined hip to thigh with the social and political establishment. At base, Protestantism represented a massive challenge to that status quo. Luther's survival--indeed the popularity of his approach to religion--broke the grip of Rome on matters religious, and that destroyed the comfortable structure of European unity. From that point on, all sorts of challenges to the established order were not only possible, but also predictable.
Next time: Martin Luther and The Peasants of Germany.
The producer of A Moment in Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, I'm Dan Roberts.