Learn From the Past: Christianity Pt. 3

The Crusades, which spanned over two hundred years, demonstrated the power wielded through a political-religious alliance. Increasing corruption resulted in enormous wealth being amassed within the Roman Catholic church and within religious societies like the Knights Templar and Jesuits. In addition to conquered lands and their spoils, the church granted indulgences through service or monetary donations. Under Pope Leo X this practice was intensified in order to build a new Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Martin Luther, a German monk and professor, spoke out against what he saw as corruption in the Catholic church, presenting his “Ninety-five Theses” to the church in 1517. He specifically objected to the idea of salvation through “works” and the sale of indulgences. He also recognized the need for people to have access to the Bible in their own language.

Luther began writing and disseminating pamphlets that supported salvation through grace. Luther hadn’t intended to create a new branch of Christianity. Instead, he wanted reform that would realign the church with scripture rather than tradition. Because these reforms were not well received, irreconcilable differences resulted in division within the church. The Reformation challenged papal authority and the Catholic church’s right to define Christian practices. Other reformers, like John Calvin, also argued for all people to have equal access to the Bible. Both of these tenets would result in a redistribution of power away from the state and church. The reformers were labeled Protestants by critics in 1519, just as the followers of Christ were called Christians by critics in Antioch.

Luther’s public resistance to church doctrine drew the attention of church officials. He was called before councils in 1518, 1519, and 1520 where he was asked to recant. Instead, he defended his position of salvation through grace not works, which was seen as an act of defiance and heresy. On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, Ensure Domine, which censured Luther and threatened him with excommunication. In response, Luther burned the bull and accused to Pope of heresy.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. 

Martin Luther

At the Diet of Worms on January 15, 1521, Luther was excommunicated from the church. Emperor Charles declared him a heretic and ordered his death. While Luther was in hiding, he began translating the New Testament (Septuagint) from Greek into German. The German translation of the Bible was completed in entirety in 1534 AD. By 1546, 500,000 copies of the Bible were in circulation, and it was being published in 93 cities. Luther’s translation was vital to the spread of the Reformation in German speaking countries.

Seven Old Testament books, the Apocrypha, were later removed from Protestant Bible. These books, which are found in the Catholic Bible, support the doctrines of salvation through human works, purgatory, prayers for the dead, and pre-existence of souls and matter. Because these books were never written in Hebrew, they were not accepted as authentic by Jews and were excluded from the Hebraic Canon. Further, while Jesus and the apostles often quoted from the Septuagint, they never quoted from any book in the Apocrypha. Following the example of Judaism, Luther removed any Old Testament book not proven to be authentic. Of note, both Catholic and Protestant Bibles contain the same New Testaments books.

There was mounting tension between the Protestants and the Holy Roman Empire. Because the Holy Roman Empire joined religious and civil rule, Protestant states grew increasingly intolerant of the emperor’s role in their religion. After an inciting incident in Bohemia (1618), which occurred in protest of the new Emperor Ferdinand II, and things quickly escalated. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), was a religious/political war between Protestants and Catholics. This war fragmented the empire and was one of the most destructive wars in European history. There were roughly 8 million causalities that resulted from battles, famine, and the disease Typhus. Germany was the most affected, with up to 60% of the population dying in certain areas. The balance of power dramatically changed and at the end of the war the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved.

The devastation of the Thirty Years War created increasing civil unrest. People had grown tired of being ruled, both politically and religiously. This caused many to start looking for alternatives to Christianity. The resurgence of paganism began in the mid-1600s with the discovery of ancient stone circles and monuments created by the Druids in Briton. By the early 1700s the Ancient Druid Order was active again, which later became known as the British Circle of the Universal Bond. This “new” era of religious exploration created the perfect environment for the philosophies of the Enlightenment to flourish.

The period of Enlightenment, which began in 1650, promoted science and reason as a replacement to religion and “superstition”. It advocated for a society based upon reason rather than faith, civil order based on natural law, and science based only on the observable. Deism, proposed by Freemasons, gained popularity during this time. Deism was the belief in a creator God who does not intervene in the universe. Therefore, God can only be understood through the study of the universe he created. Through reason we are each a part of God. This is the “God” our Founding Fathers were referring to in the Constitution. In Deism there is no personal relationship with God, no miracles, nothing is unexplainable, and we are each part of God through our own reason.

Because there is no objective basis for morality, a set of natural laws needed to be determined which would maintain civil order. Thomas Hobbes (1651) proposed those fundamentals to be:

1. the right of the individual

2. the natural equality of all men (this principle was applied only to white males of varied classes)

3. the artificial character of the political order

4. the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and derived from the consent of the people (democracy)

5. the liberal interpretation of law, which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.

This philosophy has remained dominant in all Western cultures. We see it in our “Me First” society which values personal rights over the welfare of others. It is evident when people argue about the illegitimacy of election results when it doesn’t represent their candidate. It is exhibited by societal disrespect shown towards government officials and civil servants. And it is observed as we argue our right to do anything we choose if it isn’t expressly illegal. Does this adequately take the place of objective morality?

The ideals of liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state all sound attractive. However, these ideals, which sparked both the American and French Revolutions, have created self-absorbed, entitled societies that are convinced of their own superiority. These are qualities we saw in the Roman Empire before its collapse. These ideals, which are clearly not based on Christianity, are self-destructive. They lead to excess as we persue or right to happiness and it results in perpetual dissatisfaction as we see that all people are not created or treated as equals like we had been promised. The promises of these ideals were based in lies. Chasing these dreams, we slowly become slaves to our own desires. Christian ideals, however, emphasize self sacrifice, love, compassion, charity, and freedom from our sinful nature.

Have you recognized the pattern yet? This pattern, which previously took around a thousand years to occur, has been accelerating. Since America was established we have repeated this same pattern every 100 years, with the most recent being in the 1820s and 1920s. As we begin the 2020s it is important to start learning from the past if we hope to break the cycle.

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Austin Green

Christian blogger and paralytic.

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