1517, Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, an Intellectual Revolution and a Communications Revolution.

owedtojoy

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1517, Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, an Intellectual Revolution and a Communications Revolution.

In 1517, Portugal was consolidating it conquest of the Indian Ocean and its dominance of the spice trade. In Cuba, a young man named Hernan Cortes was preparing an expedition to Mexico, where he would later conquer the Aztec Empire. Leonardo Da Vinci was two years from death, and Michelangelo has completed painting the Sistine chapel five years previously.

But the most significant event in world history over the same period took place in Germany, involving a hitherto obscure monk called Martin Luther.

And it was not just what he did, it was how he did it. Not only did Luther initiate a religious and political revolution, the means he used to circulate his ideas utilised a communications revolution also.



Luther took on the Catholic Church by attacking the scandal of Indulgences - the sale of papers by the Church, whose possession brought the remission of souls from Purgatory. A Professor at the German University of Wittenberg, he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on 31st October, 1517.

There had been church reformers before - the Czech Jan Hus (burned at the stake in 1415), and the English John Wycliffe (d. 1384). Both had acquired fairly large followings. Among intellectuals like Erasmus and Thomas More, criticisms of the Church were written in Latin for circulation among the cultivated.

But Luther wrote tracts in German, and tens of thousands of them were printed. By 1522, he was the most printed author in history, with printing 80 years old. You might say he invented the "best-seller". His tracts caused a sensation, printing was as disruptive then as social media are now. When Hus and Wycliffe died, their movements stalled, limited to the space where they began. After Luther died, his massive writings provided further inspiration to his followers and others.

Cannily, Luther appealed to German nationalism against the Italian Pope, and soon was under the protection of German Princes like the Elector of Saxony, will to take on both Pope and Holy Roman Emperor.

"Here I stand. I can do no other." he is supposed to have said when summoned before an Imperial Diet to answer charges. In many ways, he was the first individual conscience heard in history, and the Protestant Reformation gave a powerful impetus to the freedom of the individual. If Max Weber’s thesis is true, the Protestant Reformation had a profound effect on markets, commerce and trade, and human attitudes to them. See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism .

Luther also gave a powerful push to German nationalism that was to bear fruit many years later. On the down side the Reformation he instituted led to a century and a half of bloody strife in Europe, including on this island. His anti-Papal tracts contained more than a whiff of anti-Semitism, and he was no friend to the poorer classes whom he tended to despise.

Luther attacked the authority of the Pope, and raised faith in Jesus as more important than good works. His work bore fruit in England, where Henry VIII cut himself loose from Papal authority and made himself head of the Church (1532). Henry made Britain an "Empire" in the Roman sense where the Monarch, King or Emperor combined the positions of secular leader and head of the priesthood.

It would be a bit trite to say that Luther and Henry were the first "Leavers" versus "Remainers", but the Reformation has some sense of the local against the centre. Peoples like the Irish and the Dutch chose different sides for different reasons.

But Henry's successors added something more to the idea of national "Empire", that it also included the right to conquer and rule others less blessed in the sight of God. Like the Irish.

Luther died in 1546. Nine years later, the Emperor Charles V made a peace with the German Protestant princes, adopting the principle Cuius regio, illius religio "Whose realm, his religion". In other words, a Protestant prince would have a Protestant people, and a Catholic Prince a Catholic. Religious wars would continue for over another hundred years, Calvinism and Puritanism were still to emerge. But Luther's revolutions survived.
 


The Field Marshal

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Luther was a bad bastard who was directly responsible for religious division and caused wars in which hundreds of thousands died.

An evil scumbag loved by evil scumbags.
 

Kevin Parlon

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Luther strode out under heavy fire and laid the first bricks in the path for the emancipation of the human intellect from religious dogma. That took gigantic balls of titanium. One must doff one's hat.
 

redneck

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An interesting program on TV about this last week. By the historian David Sharky. I often think Martin Luther's revolution was led by "lust" rather than doctrine. He left the order of monks and married. Much the same as Henry 8th. Henry had lots of wives.
He and Henry were right about the use of Latin though. It is no longer used in the Catholic church. And both English and German are successful languages- especially English.
 

Catalpast

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Your dates are wrong

Luther pasted up his Tract on 31 October 1517

- today is 21 October 2017

If he said in the Germany of today what he said about the Jews

- he would be in Jail!
 

owedtojoy

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An interesting program on TV about this last week. By the historian David Sharky. I often think Martin Luther's revolution was led by "lust" rather than doctrine. He left the order of monks and married. Much the same as Henry 8th. Henry had lots of wives.
He and Henry were right about the use of Latin though. It is no longer used in the Catholic church. And both English and German are successful languages- especially English.
There was a nationalist bandwagon rolling - the great writers of the earlier era (Dante, Petrarch, Boccacio, Chaucer .... ) were writing in their local vernacular. Humanist intellectuals were still writing in Latin (Thomas More's Utopia was in Latin) but Luther changed that.

There was a lot of Czech nationalism behind Jan Hus, and Englishness behind John Wycliffe.

The image of the Reformation being a sort of "EU-Leaving" phenomenon can be overblown, but it helps us understand it.
 

owedtojoy

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Luther strode out under heavy fire and laid the first bricks in the path for the emancipation of the human intellect from religious dogma. That took gigantic balls of titanium. One must doff one's hat.
You cannot deny the personal courage, especially after Jan Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, after being lured to a meeting with the Pope.
 

owedtojoy

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Your dates are wrong

Luther pasted up his Tract on 31 October 1517

- today is 21 October 2017

If he said in the Germany of today what he said about the Jews

- he would be in Jail!
Martin Luther would be in jail in any western country for his writings on Jews. However, his hatred was theological, not racist. Like many Christians, he regarded the refusal of Jews to convert as an affront.

Xenophobia is the down-side of nationalism, and Luther's hate-speech unfortunately created a link between German nationalism and anti-Semitism that was to bear bitter fruit in Nazism.
 

Kevin Parlon

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You cannot deny the personal courage, especially after Jan Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, after being lured to a meeting with the Pope.
I admire the man's courage. It was literally walking into the lion's den. How many adult males would, for no reward outside of sticking to one's beliefs would willingly expose one's self to "hell" and unspeakable torture on the journey there? I would be unable to do the same. Yet it is important to remember that the motivation for that courage was religious zealotry, every bit as intense as was papal greed. But still. He was a man of pivotal importance. As Protestantism opened the door for intellect to play a part in religion. We owe him an incalculable debt.
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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Luther strode out under heavy fire and laid the first bricks in the path for the emancipation of the human intellect from religious dogma. That took gigantic balls of titanium. One must doff one's hat.
No he didn't.

Whig interpretation of history.
 

hollandia

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Your dates are wrong

Luther pasted up his Tract on 31 October 1517

- today is 21 October 2017

If he said in the Germany of today what he said about the Jews

- he would be in Jail!
The days are correct given the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars.
 

redneck

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Luther was right about the seperation of Church and State especially. This has become the norm. But the Lutheran church is not nearly as big and powerful and widespread as the Catholic one.
Luther was a scandalous figure in his time, a bit like Kaiser Wilhelm imo. He created division and discord. Which eventually ended up in extreme German nationalism. Henry 8th did much the same with his break with Rome. It created division and discord too. But he helped create the widespread use of the English language.
 

JimmyFoley

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An 'orrible cant, as Danny Dyer would say. Just as dogmatic in his own way, as those he opposed.

Can't deny his courage and influence on history, though.
 


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