After reading this article you will learn about Reformation:- 1. Definition, Origin and Development of Reformation 2. Political Ideas of Reformation.
Definition, Origin and Development of Reformation:
No clear and precise definition of the term Reformation is available in books dealing with the subject. However, let us start with a definition provided by C. O. D According to this definition the Reformation is a sixteenth century movement for the reform of abuses in the Roman Church, ending in the establishment of the Reformed and Protestant Churches.
The religion and religious practices were misused and abused for pretty long time and people’s grievances were simmering in many parts of the Christian world. It was felt by the conscious section of society that the abuses of Christianity and corruption of church and Pope could not be allowed to continue. But the problem was how to do it. That is, how to reform the church and its activities.
The Reformation of the church started with Martin Luther and for tins reason it is also called Lutheranism or Lutheran movement. It is so called because Reformation is closely associated with Martin Luther’s name. Skinner says Luther’s famous act of nailing up the Ninety-Five Theses on the door, of the Castle Church at Wittenberg on the eve of All Saints in 1517 merely marks the culmination of a long spiritual journey.
In the Middle Ages the church controlled the religious world and interpreted the principles of Christianity to facilitate its own designs. The church also controlled the political sphere as a result of which politics lost its identity. King, state and important political concepts became tutelage of church.
The church demanded the sole authority to explain and interpret religion and it ordered everyone to accept it. Nobody had any to show courage to criticize the functions and policies of the church. This ultimately came to be the breeding ground of various types of corruption.
Many people grumbled but nobody had the courage to raise voice against the Pope or church. Hence Reformation means to reform the activities of church in the light of what the Bible has actually said, what Christianity actually means. Luther gave maximum emphasis on faith.
Skinner said the core of Luther’s theology is constituted by his doctrine of justification of sola-fide, by faith alone. He continues to stress that no one can ever hope to be justified—that is granted salvation—by virtue of his own works. But he now argues that it must be open to anyone to perceive God’s gratia—the “saving grace” which He must already have granted as a totally unmerited favour to those whom He has predestined to be saved. Luther did not accept the special status and importance of priest and priesthood.
Everybody is entitled to priesthood if he can prove his unadulterated faith in God. This he called “the priesthood of all believers”. He further maintained that all believers and not just the priestly class have an equal duty and capacity to help their brethren and assume responsibility for their spiritual welfare the central idea of Luther’s attitude to theology or Christianity can be stated in the words of Skinner in the following way: “throughout his ecclesiology, as in his theology as a whole we are continually led back to the central figure of the individual Christian and his faith in God’s redeeming grace”
Luther’s main attack is to be found in a’ major work—The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows published in 1521. Luther also did not recognize the special status and power of church, and priests are just like ordinary citizens and they have not been empowered to interpret the ideas of precepts of religious books.
He also declared that the church and priests have no authority to exercise any power over the non- religious or political affairs of the state. The political affairs fall within the domain of state or government. Luther has also said that all Christians live simultaneously in two kingdoms—the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of world.
The first world is associated with the Christ and the second with the temporal authority. Naturally the authority of the church is confined within Christianity. Luther in this way drew a clear distinction between spiritual and non-spiritual worlds.
Luther’s further assertion relates to an important matter. This is “The realm of temporal authority is equally claimed to be ordained by God, but is seen as wholly separate, since the sword is granted to secular rulers simply in order to ensure that civil peace is maintained among sinful men”.
Not only Martin Luther, many other persons were annoyed with the functioning and behaviour of the church. These persons came in touch with the church and closely observed the behaviour of priests and other persons related with the church. One such person was Dean Cotel. There was no doubt about his loyalty to the church and faith in Christianity.
Once he said:
“All the corruption, all the decay of the church, all the offences in the world comes of the covetousness of the priests.”
In other words, the church and the priests were absolutely responsible for the decaying condition of the society. This was the condition of church and papacy and it was believed that church could not be amended by normal procedure.
A movement in a bigger way was to be launched. Also a great upheaval was required. Reformation was of that type.
Political Ideas of Reformation:
The Protestant Movement or Reformation was launched not with the purpose of propagating any specific political theory and, naturally, it did not produce any political theory.
In spite of this, the thinkers of western political theory have made attempts to build up certain concepts of major political ideas on the basis of what Martin Luther and Calvin said in respect of Reformation.
It was not the purpose of the leaders to propagate any political idea. Sabine rightly observes “Everywhere political theories were defended with the theological arguments and political alliances were made in the name of religious truth” In fact, in the Movement, religion was the important factor and political concepts were relegated to secondary position.
Sabine further says:
“A classification of political theories would never correspond with a classification of religious denomination, though it is true that religious groups did form typical bodies of theory.”
So it is interesting to note that throughout the Reformation Movement Luther and Calvin made several comments and announced certain ideas about political matters and these provided important clues about important political concepts.
An important aspect of political idea of Reformation is the emergence of absolute monarch and monarchy was well articulated—that monarch or king got the opportunity to exercise his power in a clear way. In the Middle Ages the kings were practically forced to work under the authority of the church.
The Reformation Movement drew a curtain over it. Luther and Calvin challenged the authority of the church to interfere in the political affairs of the state. In this respect we find a categorical opinion of Sabine.
He says: on the whole the Reformation, together with the sectarian controversies to which it gave rise, accelerated the tendency, already in existences, to increase and consolidate the power of the monarchies.
We can call it an interesting aspect of Reformation. Because due to the Reformation Movement the church was forced to give up its authority over monarchy and political sphere and this finally encourage and enabled kings or monarchs to gain power.
Hence the loss of church was the gain of monarchs. The absolute monarchy, says Sabine, was, in the first instance, the chief political beneficiary.
Martin Luther and his aides were quite aware that without the active cooperation of kings it would not be possible for them to defeat the ill-designs and irreligious activities of the church and for that reason they were quite eager to get all sorts of help from the kings, and the kings were also very eager to extend their helping hand to consolidate their power and position. Both secular and non-secular forces and religious and political sections came under a single umbrella and this supplied new blood to political ideas and views.
In the Middle Ages, politics did not enjoy any special status. During the Reformation Movement, though the kings were able to consolidate their power considerably, they were compelled to make alliance with religious forces. In other words there was clear collaboration between kings and religious leaders.
This ensured benefit for both, because the king was anxious to come out of the clutch of the church. Luther was not anxious about the rise of absolute monarchy because it was not his concern.
He wanted the help of kings in his jihad or uncompromising fight against the church. It is the opinion of Skinner that neither Luther nor Calvin wanted the consolidation of kings’ power. But the Reformation movement and other circumstances created a favourable atmosphere which enabled the kings to consolidate power and position. This we call absolute monarchy.
An alliance between politics and virtue may aptly be treated as an after-effect of Reformation. Luther is treated as “Father of Reformation”. Following Augustine, Luther conceived of two worlds—one is “Kingdom of God” and the other is “Kingdom of the World”.
The first world is the embodiment of virtue and honesty and the second world is the embodiment of sin and depravity. But the world of sin and immorality, Luther believed, could not be allowed to exist permanently. God wishes the world of sin to be converted into world of virtue and, keeping this in mind, God appoints kings and makes laws. Through the instrumentality of human kings God rules the mortal world with the sole purpose of making it virtuous.
Not Luther alone, his German contemporary Philip Melanchthon in his Philosophical and Moral Epistle has said that the mortal world must be administered in the light of morality and virtue, good life and eternal good.
Calvin also thought more or less in the same line. In his Institutes he has discussed the moral and virtuous side of state. He believed that kingdom of God could not be achieved easily, but this should not dishearten us.
Human kings are representatives of God and they rule the mortal world to translate the wishes of God into reality. All men are children of God and kings rule the state keeping this in mind.
Interpreting Calvin’s views John Morrow in his A History of Political Thought (1998) writes “Thus while government presents “tumults”, it also establishes and maintains conditions in which humans may live “holily, honourably and temperately”.
For Calvin politics is directly connected to the pursuit of virtue. All political authority comes from God, because it is necessary to train humanity in these parts of an all-embracing system of virtue that relate to life on earth. Government exists for the sake of Christian virtue”.
It is wrong to assume that Reformation created a favourable environment in which absolute monarchy developed. Along with it there flourished democracy and individual freedom. This is the opinion of Gettel and H. G. Wells. Gettel maintains: while the immediate effect of the Reformation was to strengthen the authority of the state, the ultimate effect was to further individual liberty and democracy. How? Luther, Calvin and other leaders strongly emphasized people’s freedom to interpret the Bible and religious sermons in their own way which indicates and establishes people’s democratic right to view everything according to their own judgment.
The Reformation leaders through the Movement encouraged people to exercise the freedom of thought, speech and action. This, we believe, constitutes the very foundation of democracy and individual liberty.
Luther and Calvin encouraged the common people to interpret religion by applying their own intelligence and judgment. To acquire this power of judgment the common people started to be literate. R. N. Berki rightly observes: The great impact of Reformation was on the spread of literacy and thus indirectly also on modern political development.
At the initial stages people desired to know what has been written in the Bible and other religious books and this urge and mentality led them to read other books. This habit also expanded the periphery of knowledge.
Luther brought about a change in the field of religion. Common people were not confined within the Bible. They acquired political consciousness and at the same time demanded democratic government, self-government.
Earlier people could not think of political matters and issues. Reformation diverted people’s mind from religion and encouraged them to think about non-religious matters—particularly politics.
Idea of constitutionalism emerged from Reformation. Here I quote a part of the observation of Skinner. He says; “The sixteenth century not only witnessed the beginning of the absolutist ideology, but also the emergence of its greatest theoretical rival, the theory that all political authority inheres in the body of the people and thus that all rulers must be subject to the censures and deprivations of their subjects”.
In other words, people or subjects are always the ultimate source of governmental authority or power. Luther at first enthusiastically propagated that God was always the source of king’s powers. Subsequently he and his lieutenants went few steps further and said that king’s authority or power is subject to the ratification of the people.
We thus see that Reformation was not only the source of absolutist political ideology but also of democracy or constitutionalism and it is quite known that both these ideologies are quite different from each other. Some commentators say that Reformation is “the arsenal of ideological weapons”.
There is another aspect of political ideas. It has been pointed out by Skinner that each Emperor at his election signed a contract with the electors and other inferior magistrates swearing to uphold the good of the Empire and to protect the liberties of his subjects.
This finally established the concept that the Emperor is not legibus solutus, but is bound by the terms of his coronation oath, and depends for the continuation of his authority on the proper discharge of his duties.
At the time of assuming office the Emperor swore that he would perform his duties and any failure would lead to the removal from office.
Another important contribution of Reformation political theory to the concept of nation-state. Before Reformation, church and papacy were the sole authority in all religious and political affairs.
Even the kings had no power to utter a single word against the Pope. Naturally politics was subservient to the church. In this situation people were absolutely in the dark about any idea of the nation-state.
The Reformation successfully cut the church to size and it was forced to remain satisfied with the religious matters only.
The world of Caesar and the world of God were separate. The monarch got ample freedom in discharging his political duties and, at the same time, demanded obligation from his subjects and, simultaneously, claimed that it must be unconditional.
All these prepared the ground for a nation- state. With lot of power (political in nature) in the arsenal the kings advanced to settle all geographical disputes with neighbouring areas or states which ultimately led to the creation of the nation-state.
It is observed that the Reformation Movement and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) settled several political issues and one of them is the political conflicts among the states. Sometimes there was conflict between Protestant and Catholic sects and this conflict very often assumed political colour.
The Thirty Years’ War drew a curtain over many of the brain-storming conflicts. The creation of nation-states brought about an end of these disputes. One critic has said; It marked the inauguration of the era of absolute monarchy and the birth of the modern nation-state.
The birth of the nation-state, to speak the truth, revolutionized the concept to international relations as well as various aspects of national politics. It is known to the students of international relations that nation-states are very important actors.
The concepts such as constitutionalism, right to resist, and obligation all are closely related. In our analysis of constitutionalism we have pointed out that the kings or magistrates are accountable to God or common people. They have been empowered or authorized to perform certain duties and, in case of any failure, they must furnish explanation. Both Renaissance and Reformation removed darkness from the mind of people and helped in a considerable way to enlighten people’s mind with reason and rationality.
People came to believe that it is better to show political obligation to king rather than the Pope or church, because it is the king who has the power and authority to meet their demands.
Luther and Calvin inculcated the idea that people have every right to resist un-Biblical ideas propagated by the Pope or any person of the church. An important contribution of Reformation is it enabled people to claim rights and as a result of it when people felt that they were deprived of legitimate rights the resistance to authority followed.
In every sphere of public life the right to resist gradually gathered momentum and, finally, resistance and obligation came to be regarded as important political concepts. Critics are of opinion that during Renaissance and Reformation obligation, right to resist and related concepts appeared in embryonic form and gradually but steadily they assumed bigger forms.
After the fifteenth century, political obligation or obligation in any other form assumed significance and today they constitute important elements of political theory. We feel that without right to resist a very important part of democracy or democratic government is supposed to remain incomplete. Because in democracy people’s will is the final determiner of every issue of importance.