Article: Dr. Sam Storms – Ten Things You Should Know About the Protestant Reformation (original source here)
Today, October 31st, is the 499th anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation. It was on this day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg as a protest against the abuse of the sale of indulgences. So today we look at ten things that everyone should know about the Protestant Reformation.
(1) According to church historian Philip Schaff, “The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization” (VII:1).
(2) There were many indirect causes of the Reformation, some of which include the following. The Renaissance (lit., “rebirth”) of the 14th and 15th centuries cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact on the reformation. The beginning of the Renaissance is generally dated @ 1300 a.d. and is most often associated with developments in Italy (and then by extension to other European countries). Some see it lasting well into the later years of the sixteenth century. Renaissance Humanism was characterized by several factors. There was the spirit of individualism as over against the emphasis on corporate identity in the medieval period. In the middle ages people often yielded their identity to institutions such as the church, the state, the feudal society, the guild, the university, and the monastic order. With the Renaissance came an increased sense of individuality and a focus on personal uniqueness and self-determination.
There was also a growing anthropocentrism (man-centeredness) as over against the ecclesiocentrism (church-centeredness) of the medieval period. Not God and the heavenly world but man and this world became the focus of intellectual and cultural efforts.
We should also note the cultural achievements which nurtured a sense of self-worth, dignity, etc., not tied to or dependent on the church. This period experienced a surge of activity in painting, music, poetry, other forms of literary production, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, law, ethics, etc. The “rebirth” in view with the use of the term Renaissance was specifically rebirth of classicism, i.e., the cultural archetypes of classical antiquity. There was in the Renaissance a virtual reverence for classical culture and a concerted effort to reproduce it in every way possible.
The Renaissance also witnessed an emphasis on a return to the sources of classical antiquity which yielded more accurate texts of the ancient writings, several of which undermined the church’s authority, such as the exposure of the Donation of Constantine (by Lorenzo Valla, 1405-57) and the Isidorian Decretals as forgeries. This combined with an emphasis on the original text of Scripture available to all, which served to expose the discontinuities between the NT church and the medieval RCC.
(3) One cannot understand the Reformation apart from an acknowledgment of the world-changing impact of the German, Johann Gutenberg (1390-1468) and his development of printing with movable type. Says Stephen Ozment,
“as Luther also recognized, the printing press made it possible for a little mouse like Wittenberg to roar like a lion across the length and breadth of Europe. By the end of the fifteenth century printing presses existed in over two hundred cities and towns. An estimated six million books had been printed and half of the thirty thousand titles were on religious subjects. More books were printed in the forty years between 1460 and 1500 than had been produced by scribes and monks throughout the entire Middle Ages. . . . Between 1518 and 1524, the crucial years of the Reformation’s development, the publication of books in Germany alone increased seven-fold. . . . Between 1517 and 1520, Luther wrote approximately thirty tracts, which were distributed in 300,000 printed copies” (199).
It is little wonder, then, that Luther described the new art of printing as “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” Continue reading