Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reformations in Germany and England: Lecture 5 Study Questions

As I started the heavy lifting on my paper today (or is this part the easier?), I stumbled across study questions for this lecture. I mistakenly overlooked them thinking that the essay would suffice for an end-of-section assignment. My bad. So now I'm playing catch up on my catch up. Last week's travel give me a lot of time to read but not so much time for paper writing. (Hey, maybe you can type on a laptop in economy class, but I can't.)

I also had to deliver the youngun to summer camp yesterday, so my weekend kaput with the drive up on Saturday and the drive back yesterday. Oh well. That's what I get for taking summer session. I will probably not take a class next summer. I'll need a break by then anyway.

What were the political and personal forces driving these movements in Germany and in England?

Luther's personal struggle with faith and penitence caused him to search scripture for some means of spiritual relief. The posting of the 95 theses was simply the moment at which his struggle manifested itself in the public sphere. He appeared to have a scrupulous conscience and grew more and more anxious and fearful that he had not confessed every mortal sin. At one point, a confessor told him, "Man, God is not angry with you. You are angry with God." Luther even acknowledged hating this God that he thought compelled obedience and penitence through fear.

Scripture, however, told of a God of mercy, and he struggled to make sense of this paradox—how to balance mercy with justice. Eventually he came to the conclusion that we could not ever be contrite enough or do enough penance, that all we could do is have faith, to trust in Christ's mercy and his atoning death on the cross.

His concerns about faith plagued him all of his adult life, and he grappled with depression on and off for years.

Luther's struggle coincided with popular unrest, referred to as the Bundschuh movement. Because of economic conditions, peasants and plebians occasionally broke out into open rebellion. In some cases, even minor nobility joined the side of the protestors. Clergy were caught in between as they benefitted from rents and revenues from Church lands but paid no taxes. Added to this was the general dismal state of the clergy at the time. Although there were certainly some good priests, there were far too many who ignored their vows and lived disreputable lives. Add to this corruption and scandal in the episcopacy and the Papal Curia, and the tinder was ready for someone to strike a match. Luther's protest against the selling of indulgences was the perfect catalyst for religious upheaval.

The situation was different in England. King Henry VIII was a seemingly stalwart Catholic king. He even wrote (or was credited for writing) a book defending the seven sacraments against Martin Luther's attacks. The people of England lived their lives around the liturgical calendar and celebrated the many holy days of obligation, fasted frequently, and showed devotion to Mary and the cult of the saints. Books on the liturgy in the vernacular were abundant. At the onset of the Lutheran reformation in the 1520s, few would have guessed that the same would happen in England.

All might have been well for Catholicism in England but for the problem of an heir. The Tudor dynasty was still young, and King Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had resulted in only one child, Mary. Motivated both by lust and a desire for a male heir, Kind Henry began to question the dispensation of the impediment of affinity and whether the Pope had the authority to dispense a law of the Church. Notwithstanding Catherine's revelation that her marriage with Arthur (Henry's elder brother who died shortly after his marriage to Catherine) had never been consummated, Henry persisted in seeking an annulment. When the Church denied this to him, he severed ties with the Holy See. He never intended the doctrinal changes that eventually took place during his son Edward's reign. However, when he was no longer around to defend the doctrine of the faith from Puritan theology, the inevitable happened, albeit with considerable coercion of the popular will.

How did Luther’s rejection of the papacy differ from that of Henry VIII’s?

Luther set out to convince the Pope and the Church of the rightness of his cause. He truly believed that he had found the truth and could reform from within. Had some actual discussion taken place on his posting of the 95 theses, the schism could've been averted. However, over time he became convinced of the rightness of his position, and once Luther discerned that his views would not be accepted by the Holy See, he saw no other option but to reject the Pope's authority. Luther's initial protest stemmed from a clear abuse in which the Papacy had a hand, the selling of indulgences. Luther had a reasonable complaint but went too far in his doctrinal assertions.

King Henry, on the other hand, wasn't rejecting Catholic teaching, except for the necessary authority of the Pope. He attempted to preserve much of the faith, albeit with some reduction of the number of feast days on the liturgical calendar and with the suppression of religious orders. His claim hinged on a matter of Church law, the legitimacy of dispensations of laws of the Church. In his mind (and perhaps due to a flawed understanding of canon law), the Pope had attempted to dispense a Divine law, as opposed to a man-made, cautionary law instituted by the Church. His case was dicey on several accounts. First, he himself enacted the dispensation, so he was as guilty (if any guilt were involved) as the Pope. Second, he knew full well that Catherine's marriage to his brother hand't been consummated. Finally, neither his political or personal motive justified the sin of adultery.

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