Path to Salvation

Path to Salvation


We can say that the Reformation is the prosperity period of changes in economy, politics and religion which rooted as the essential foundation of the Enlightenment. In particular, the Reformation concerns more with the new Protestant faith of Lutheran established by Martin Luther rather than economic and political prosperity. However, political-economical events of the Renaissance laid the foundation for the progresses of the Reformation. This thesis introduces illustrations of how European societies during the eve of the Reformation pushes for Reformation of the Christian faith. Theories, perspective and arguments of Martin Luther and his followers will be primarily focused in this thesis. In additions, I illustrate two fundamental denominations branched out from Lutheran churches: Anabaptism and Calvinism and their effects on modern society.


Burning accused victims believed to be witches and wizard might seem unpleasantly abnormal for today' societies,however burning of witches and wizards during the mid 15th century was considered as capital punishment for the antichrists. The Catholic Church and state authorities controlled every aspects of life from societies, economy, politics and religions. The only way to live a normal life back in the days was to conform to the existed social hierarchy; otherwise, one would either be executed or excommunicated. Individuals with abstract rational ideas, beliefs and thoughts were therefore ridiculed, suppressed, silenced by the authorities. From great scientific genius Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello to Lorenzo was at one point criticized or condemned by the state for being too abstract with their artistic masterpieces.

For instance, during the early Renaissance Venice, Leonardo's "Flying Machine" piloted by a single man used to be described as "The Flying Demon" once in the air by the civilians and city guards down below. Other new science like methods to dissect the anatomy of dead humans was considered as mockery against God; portrayed that one put himself/herself in the same level with God. The old Church saw this new science as blasphemy and a threat to the common faith and feared that one day these new changes might take control over the society therefore Church-state authorities tried at all cost to eliminate "rationales" for not aligning with the existed public order. Lives for most civilians and high authorities alike were always involved around churches therefore new abstract ideas, especially ideas against the system of the Catholic church was highly viewed as an abomination, blasphemy against the Lord therefore threatened all infrastructures and citizens of Christendom. At the time being, Martin Luther mocked the Catholic foundation but by revolting against the Church and later proven to be successful, he introduced the new paradigm of Christianity, Protestant Christianity.

Eve of the Reformation

It would be awkward to jump right into the period of the Reformation so I would like to give some general social and cultural accounts of the late Renaissance which pushed for events of the Reformation. As mentioned earlier, late Renaissance Europe was filled with social and economic prosperity but it was also a dark period of pain and sufferings. In particular, the printing revolution of texts was the essential change which stimulated new radical ideas and thoughts. New abstract ideas and thoughts about the efficacy of the Church wouldn't occur without the new printing system which allowed citizens from every social class access to news. The spread of printed texts throughout Europe gave people more access to education. The upper elites were no longer the only class with access to news and education but the middle class and lower class were also given the chances through such means to become more literate. Though, mass majority of peasants remained illiterate.

Socially, religion provided both modes of thinking and expressions which covers all of life aspects in either the 17th century. Literacy and education and the desires of authorities for better social and moral discipline shook popular attitudes of traditional beliefs rooted in Paganism. In the chapter Beliefs, mentalities, knowledge and the printed text from the book Seventeenth Century Europe, the author, Thomas Munck gives account of how astrology, divination, animism, alchemy, sorcery and demonic processions including witchcraft, magical healings and uses of black magic were normal norms and widely accepted by all socio-economic class of Catholics of the period[1]. Traditional practices rooted in Paganism were embedded in popular culture since the medieval period. "Doing Evil" or using black magic by accused scapegoat witches and wizards seem the only explanation for misfortunes and natural disasters. On the latter, high magic practices involve of Alchemy and divination were not persecuted by the Church and state but low magic such as spells commonly used by uneducated women were strongly condemned where death penalty and other related forms of torture were used, as occurred primarily in Germany, Italy and Denmark. On the Eastern side of Europe, such "popular culture" acclaimed had always been opposed by the Orthodox, given the crucial notion that they were occupied by the Turks therefore societies there tended to fuse with the Turkish heritage.

Persecutions of witches and devil worshippers remained until the Reformation period where scapegoats continue to be executed by Catholic and Protestant authorities alike. There are three arguments drawn to explain reasons for witch executions; first because the idea that witches had made their pacts with Satan and their ritual inverted Christian rituals and sexual malpractices were seen as real threat to society. Secondly it was the personal fear and enmities of the majority population against witches which led close to hundred thousands of accused and executed victims. And most significantly, the authorities were dully convinced by gossips of the masses and words of a single individual who spoke openly in public of sorcery and magic that they ignored any radical explanation and blindly accepted any accusation as the truth.

Culturally, Renaissance arts began to be questioned and criticized. There were two main groups of individuals in the late Renaissance period; one which remained with the superstitious medieval religious orders and the other group who saw that they did not belong to the intentions and practices of the order and the papacy[2]. Social sickness of the second group, involved mostly of the middle and lower class in the country area began to rise as people felt gross toward the aristocracy and the Catholic arts that always dealt with death, judgment, hell and fire. Catholic paintings like, the Last Judgment, illustrated by Jan and Hubert van Eyck portrayed death for sinners, The Knight, Death and the Devil by Albrecht Duerer conveyed the art of dying a bizarre reality of the period.

According to New, J.F.H on his writings, he claimed that such paintings reminded one of death kept pessimism alive, such notions of evil allowed for spiritual knowledge, illumination and defects in being but worries about being Judged rather than links to human predicament feelings[3]. By accumulating the Catholic doctrine describing of death for sinners, of God as a powerful, fearful God succumbed to everyday life, people appeared to be frightened of God and by the Church rather than being loved by His presence. Altogether with the system of corruption of the church, people felt there were threatened under fear by church authorities, afraid of dying early and condemned eternally in Hell therefore many tried to divorce themselves from church lives and took other means to acquire truth. But the hierarchal system of the period was immersive and too powerful that any radical ever dare to challenge the authorities, primarily due to the fear of death so they preferred to keep low profile critiques. Martin Luther, however, was not one of these kinds, and for his rationality he went further than most by attacking this system, even realizing that he would face execution.

The Reformation

The seventeenth century is the century of constant struggle between good and evil, God and Satan. God was the unseen but He was the all seeing witness of all thoughts and actions of everyday life. Although people became more educated by gaining access to literature books and publications they were still deeply concerned with the world and the quest for truth. Most people lived under the signs of the cross therefore the livelihood of commoners and authorities alike always involved around churches; God played an important role in small towns and villages as a function of the Universe where the priests acted as mediator between God and His people, interpreting His intentions and Words from the Bible and the church was central to every life as a place to acquire spiritual truth[4]. Protestant theologies were more than games of the late 17th century but considered as new rationalist styles and methods used to speak of truth and salvation. Evan Cameron, the author of the Power of the Word: Renaissance and Reformation argues that the Reformation was not about class conflict between different socio-economic groups, between the burgesses and peasants or middle class and the upper class but its true intention was to reunite religious uniformity, and in doing so by pursue that the old Church was corrupted[5].

Christian reformers actually did not start in Germany by Martin Luther but in Florence. Fra Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican priest disliked the aristocrat family, the Medici for their corrupted links with church authority; therefore he revolted, drove them out of Florence temporally and proclaimed himself the leader of Florence[6]. After four years, the Medici family returned and executed him for accusation of the family and the Church. On the latter, Savonarola was the first to protest but he did not do so remarkably as compares to Martin Luther. Unlike Savonarola, Luther saw corrupted Catholic system and he was the first to publically challenge and attack the Church and the old faith. On his 95 Theses where he posted on the door of his University church in Wittenberg, Luther began with the attacks on the popes and the council of Rome by implying that the Old Catholic faith was unorthodox way to Salvation and faith, primarily due to the selling indulgences of sins by the priests (theses 5-7, 95 Theses)[7]. Luther described such priests as corrupted, eager for materialistic needs in which they had no divine Right to forgive believers for sins whereby believers put their trust into unworthy hands.

Evan Cameron explains further of Luther's notion of how believing in the authoritative Church means placing salvation in unreliable hands, life therefore were filled with threats; this, I believe, was plausibly the reason why numbers of Medieval and Renaissance artists depicted their arts which dealt mainly with death, judgment, hell and heaven so that people took them as cautions. He also attacked the selling of indulgences for dead souls in purgatory; old Catholicism had the idea that dead souls in purgatory could reach Heaven, be purified and freed from damnation only by penance from living people. As a result to this, people feared that they would suddenly die, unable to confess their sins, entailed that they would be eternally damned.

Luther's other disputation; the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation a part toward its ending conveys "For, since we are all priests alike, no man may put himself forward or take upon himself without our consent and election, to do that which we have all alike power to do. " [8]. The sentence illustrates Luther's belief that all Christian believers are, literally, like priests where they have the power to do tasks of priests. This meant that any believer can ask for forgiveness from God independently from priests therefore the needs to go to churches or congregation became obsolete. Ideologically, Luther believes that God presences in everywhere therefore believers should be permitted to prayers and request for forgiveness of sins with God directly. This belief Luther addressed was seen as mockery against God by the Church and it was amongst the first disputations Luther wrote that was condemned. From what I think, it changed the religious paradigm of everyday life practice for Christians, where it is still being done so similarly today. There is no longer the obligation for Christians to attend congregations every time they commit sins rather than the Sabbath day.

In the Liberty of a Christian Man, Luther aimed to focus on the new belief of "Justification by Faith" rather than good and voluntary works. Luther argued that faith alone of a Christian man was needed in his life to gain access to Heaven[9]. Rituals and ceremonial festivities to purify souls, according to Luther, were blasphemous. A passage from Liberty of a Christian Man says "Although, as I have said, inwardly, and according to the spirit, a man is amply enough justified by faith, having all that he requires to have, except that this very faith and abundance ought to increase from day to day, even till the future life, still he remains in this mortal life upon earth, in which it is necessary that he should rule his own body and have intercourse with men"[10]. In this, Luther believes that Christians should serve the Lord through faith where it needed to be strengthened over the years. As a Christian, I disagree with Luther's "Justification by Faith". From my understandings and interpretation of the Bible, I doubt that faith alone is justified to Heaven but I believe that good deeds: walking the righteous path that Christ would have wanted must be done simultaneously with faith in the Trinity in order to gain access to Heaven.

On the other essential account, Luther attacked the worshiping of superabundant saints, especially the Cult of Virgin Mary. To this regard, he claimed that Christ was the one who was sacrificed for our sins therefore there is no need for beliefs in superabundant saints. Thus there is no need for any saint to be worshiped. According to Luther, prayers should only be addressed to only God Himself. From what I understand reading the Bible, Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, is mentioned on a few accounts only as the mother of Christ where there is hardly any Word directing believers of ceremonies or prayers which should be devoted to her. I'm convinced of that so does other Protestant Christians as it seem like. The belief of transubstantiation was also attacked; the belief of the Eucharist that Christ's flesh and blood transformed, symbolically, into bread and wine. Luther argued that Christ's flesh and blood, did not transform into bread and wine, but they stood only as the symbolic representation of Christ's body and blood. On the latter, the communion of the Eucharist (commonly uses of litmus bread[11] and grape juice) is shared by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Results of the Reformation

As the results of the Reformation, Christian denominations in Christendom were divided into three main halves; Orthodox in Eastern Europe, Lutheran in Germany-Denmark and some parts of the Netherlands and Roman Catholic in rest of Central Europe apart from Germany. Lutheran churches became highly discredited for their mass branching of denominations: although Anabaptism and Calvinism were considered as the first two denominations rooted out of Lutheran, numbers of new denominations kept evolving where they continue to rise, even today. The end of the Reformation marked the beginning of the Enlightenment era with the rise of new science, philosophy and technology. Through means of publicized literature and publications, people became rational with reasons, doubted and criticized religion and faith in larger scale where the church became a man made institution rather than the body of Christ. However, the mass majority did not entrust faith in the products of the Enlightenment, public and private lives continue to circle around churches. Festivals ceremonies and other religious activities in this path of faith, especially for Protestant Christians were ever more intensified than ever before.

Theologically, the 18th century Catholic faith and practices did not change much after the Reformation. The Counter-Reformation of Catholicism took place after the Protestant Reformation but the belief in the supremacy of the pope, the cult of Virgin Mary, doctrine of transubstantiation and worship of saints remained similar as it used to be for the Catholics. The efficacy of relics and benefits of the pilgrimage were more focused in Catholicism so the only crucial thing that seems to change was the abolishment of indulgences selling. Protestant Christians, on the other side, were taught under the ecclesiastical control in which orthodox doctrines given by Luther earlier were practiced. Duty of obedience, tighter discipline, active church life and communions were empathized as the core of Protestant belief. Bible readings, focused teaching on the Gospel or the deeds and faith of Christ, popular literacy and hymns singings were the lives for early Protestants.

Calvinism, for instance, focused on local congregations and private morality. Jean Calvin, the founder of the first Calvinist church in Geneva and one of Luther's followers expressed his belief that humanity is divided between the Elected and the Damned where he taught his disciples to think of themselves as the minority of the Elected. Aside from going to church and reading the bible, early Calvinist family took the pleasure in all forms; reading, singing, drinking, wearing vivid cloth, gaming and flirting. Though influenced from Luther, Calvinism was banned in Germany by the Protestant authorities because its belief that salvation was not justified by faith alone but also good works. Calvinism influenced the Scottish Presbyterians and the New Englander Puritans.

Anabaptism, the second denomination influenced by Lutheran was considered Christendom's first fundamentalist for rejecting all existed authority and previous baptisms but rather focused on evangelical principles, oaths and property. In theory it encourages violence but in practice its theology does not proven to be so violent. Anabaptism influenced today' baptism in which the focus on the gospel, or the teaching and life of Christ, singing of hymns and everyday lives that always involve around congregations and other Baptists. Unlike Evangelism, Baptists rarely commit evangelical missions.


I would like to thank my Social Science professors, Christian Oesterheld and William J. Jones for extra assistances

Annotated Bibliography

Geofrey Treasure. The Making of Modern Europe. "Chapter 3: God and Man" PP. 90-97. Print

The author also published other Renaissance- Reformation related pieces, his works also over other areas of studies including the Medieval and the European Enlightenment.

Thomas Munck. The Seventeenth Century Europe. "Chapter 9: Beliefs, Mentalites, Knowledge and the Printed Tex"t. Pp. 287-305. 2007. Printed

Munck especially specializes in 17th Century Europe. Most of his publications are of in debt historical data of the European Renaissance and the Reformation, covering fundamentally all aspects of life from society, religion to politics of 17th Century Europe.

Cameron. C. Early modern Europe. "Chapter 2: The Power of the word; Renaissance and the Reformation". Oxford Univeristy Press. pp. 63-101. 2005. Print.

The author illustrates numbers of portraits, statistics and tables along with insight historical details throughout the book. The Early Modern Europe covers topics from the Medieval to the Enlightenment period.

Davies, N. "Chapter 7:Renatio; Renaissance and Reformation, c. 1450-1670". A Panorama of Europe, East and West, From the Ice Age to the Cold War, From the Croats to Gibraltar. pp.467-576. 1998. Print.

Davies, N. covers a significant amount of details spanning from the pre-historic Ice Age to the End of the Cold War. His book divided into various chapters, illustrated of mainly pure historical facts.

Harmless, S.J. W,. "Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany". Reformation Bibliography #3. Creighton University. 2009. Print

Harmless, S.J.W of Creighton University informs audiences altogether seven bibliographies; New Testament, Early Christianity, Medieval Christianity, the Roformation, Spirituality and Mysticism, Sacraments and the 20th-Century Theology. His reformation studies are filed with surveys and bibliographies on Erasmus and Renaissance Humanism, Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and Ignatious of Loyola. Regarding the Reformation, he specifically narrates on the theology and Humanism of the Renaissance as essential push for this religious revolution of Protestantism.

Horstman, A. Ph.D. , 1450-1648 The Renaissance, Reformation and the Wars of Religion, "Chapter 3: The Reformation", European History. Research and Education Association. Albion College pp. 25-41 2003. Print.

Essentials has different book covering European history from the dark age to the Industrial era of Europe but this book mainly focuses on 1450-1648 Europe. The book is divided into six chapters, giving main events, maps, people and time in chronological order of the Renaissance and the Reformation. General historical details that can be easily followed are given as a quick access to the important issues and events of the period.

Johnson, P.R. Luther's 95 Theses. Disputation on the Power and Efficacy op Indulgences. 2001. Print

Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant faith attacked church authorities for processing materialistic values and political relations with state figures. However the primary concern of Luther in his 95 Theses focuses on the indulgences of sin; the belief that Christians can achieve eternal salvation through faith alone and that indulgences of sin can be achieved by any believer of the faith, anywhere since God exists everywhere. This translation of the 95 theses was revised by Phillip R. Johnson.

New,J.F.H. The Renaissance and Reformation: A Short History. "Chapter 5: Europe on the Eve of the Transformation" Pp. 107-119. "Chapter 6: The Reformation. The Renaissance". Pp. 121-149. McGraw Hill Inc. 1977, 1969). Print.

New. J.F.H. focuses specifically on the Renaissance and the Reformation from the early 18th century to mid 17th century Europe. The Renaissance and Reformation is categorized into twelve chapters empathizing on history and values of the Renaissance and the Reformation. He introduces by generalizing events, new perspectives and ideas of the Renaissance, then builds up details in the rest of the 11 chapters. The author also uses numerous portraits made by various artists and painters during the Renaissance and the Reformation to clarify his texts.

R.S. Grignon. "Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther" Part 3: Conclusion of the Treatise. Project Wittenberg. Doc. Retrieved from Doc.

Grignon also translates other works including The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Utopia by Sir Thomas More and Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, Address to the German Nobility. The Five-Foot Shelf of Books and "The Harvard Classics"

Other Related Bibliography

The Book, European History (1450-1648): The Renaissance, Reformation and the Wars of Religions by Horstman, A. Ph. D. was used as a general guideline to portray historical data and arguments of this theses.

[1] Thomas Munck. The Seventeenth Century Europe. "Chapter 9: Beliefs, Mentalites, Knowledge and the Printed Text". Pp. 287-305. 2007. Printed

[2] Cameron. C. Early modern Europe. "Chapter 2: The Power of the word; Renaissance and the Reformation". Oxford Univeristy Press. pp. 63-101. 2005. Print.

[3] New,J.F.H. The Renaissance and Reformation: A Short History. "Chapter 5: Europe on the Eve of the Transformation" Pp. 107-119. "Chapter 6: The Reformation. The Renaissance". Pp. 121-149. McGraw Hill Inc. 1977, 1969). Print

[4] Geofrey Treasure. The Making of Modern Europe. "Chapter 3: God and Man" PP. 90-97. Print

[5] Cameron. C. Early modern Europe. "Chapter 2: The Power of the word; Renaissance and the Reformation". Oxford Univeristy Press. pp. 63-101. 2005. Print.

[6] Davies, N. "Chapter 7:Renatio; Renaissance and Reformation, c. 1450-1670". A Panorama of Europe, East and West, From the Ice Age to the Cold War, From the Croats to Gibraltar. pp.467-576. 1998. Print.

[7] Johnson, P.R. Luther's 95 Theses. Disputation on the Power and Efficacy op Indulgences. 2001. Print

[8] J.H. Robinson, ed. : . "Luther. M. Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation". Readings in European History. Boston: Gin, 1906, 2. Retrieved from 1996. Doc.

[9] Harmless, S.J. W,. "Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany". Reformation Bibliography #3. Creighton University. 2009. Print

[10] R.S. Grignon. "Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther" Part 3: Conclusion of the Treatise. Project Wittenberg. Doc. Retrieved from Doc.

[11] Litmus bread is widely preferred by different denomination for its pure quality. Theologically, bread without yeast is the only suitable type of bread which can be used in communion services.

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