Reformation 500—Your Seven-Day Countdown
(On October 31, 2017 churches and Christians around the globe will pause to acknowledge the contributions of an unknown priest at the time, whose 95 Theses tacked to the door of the Castle at Wittenberg ushered in the greatest Reformation since the Apostle Paul. Martin Luther’s influence upon the church and upon society cannot be overstated, so over these next few days I will attempt to give you the nuts & bolts of the Reformation for you to consider anew. –SS)
The winds of change rattle the shores of civilization regularly, but seismic events occur far less frequently. The background to the 1517 Reformation brings several seismic shifts into play culminating with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses as the epicenter of a giant fault line that ultimately divides Protestant from Catholic and radially alters civilization, capitalism, technology, marriage and politics for the next 500 years.
Early Events of Seismic Proportion: In 1453 the fall of the Christian capitol of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) to the Ottoman Turks was of seismic importance. The result was the subjugation of the Eastern Church to Islam and the rise of the underground church in eastern areas of Greece, Turkey, Russia and Egypt. All that remained was a foundering Catholic church in a weakened Rome beholden to western power structures for its existence. The church held sway more as a nation state than as the body of Christ upon earth. Because the church claimed the power to absolve sin, its coffers were full and today’s ornamental Vatican City was emerging on the scene. Amazingly, two years after the Ottoman conquest, the greatest technological advancement this side of the Internet occurred in Mainz, Germany. Guttenberg invented the printing press with movable type and the production of written materials as print emerged. The Bible was the most printed of all materials, and was presented to the masses by priests who could read it only in the Latin of Jerome’s Vulgate.
The Resulting Religious Context: In order to stay relevant to the surrounding culture, the church embraced the philosophy of the Greeks, mixing Plato and Aristotle regularly with the teaching of Paul and Jesus. The veneration of saints and the adoration of Mary began in earnest at this time as well. Instead of a papal leader known for wisdom, simplicity and poverty, the Pope of Luther’s era emerged as lax, corrupt and living in decadent opulence while promising forgiveness of sins for parishioners’ financial contributions.
The Final Straw: In 1517 Pope Leo X began raising money to complete what would be the crown jewel of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica. To finance this, the Pope began selling offices to wealthy individuals and then also began selling “indulgences.” The papacy did this by explaining that many saints had gone to heaven with a credit balance of “merits” that they did not need to be saved, so these were placed in a “Treasury of Merits” controlled by the Pope and forgiveness could be yours… “If the price is right.”