Readings from the Protestant and Counter Reformations

In Praise of Folly

Two Interpretations of the Reformation


The Martin Luther Collection

Justification by Faith

Tetzel on Indulgences

The 95 Theses

Luther's Letter to Pope Leo

A Reformation Debate

Peasants' Revolt


The Council of Trent

Women in the Reformation

Errors in the Roman Church

Ignatius Loyola



Erasmus: In Praise of Folly


The Praise of Folly is one of the most famous pieces of literature of the sixteenth century. Written in a short period of time during a visit to the home of Thomas More, Erasmus considered it a "little diversion" from his "serious work." Yet both contemporaries and later generations have appreciated "this laughing parody of every form and rank of human life." In this selection, Erasmus belittles one of his favorite objects of scorn-the monks.

Erasmus, The Praise of Folly

Those who are the closest to these [the theologians] in happiness are generally called "the religious" or "monks," both of which are deceiving names, since for the most part they stay as far away from religion as possible and frequent every sort of place. I cannot, however, see how ally life could be more gloomy than the life of these monks if I [Folly] did not assist them in many ways. Though most people detest these men so much that accidentally meeting one is considered to be bad luck, the monks themselves believe that they are magnificent creatures. One of their chief beliefs is that to be illiterate is to be of a high state of sanctity, and so they make sure that they are not able to read. Another is that when braying out their gospels in church they are making themselves very pleasing and satisfying to God, when in fact they are uttering these psalms as a matter of repetition rather than from their hearts....

Moreover, it is amusing to find that they insist that everything be done in fastidious detail, as if employing the orderliness of mathematics, a small mistake in which would be a great crime. Just so many knots must be on each shoe and the shoelace may be of only one specified color; just so much lace is allowed on each habit; the girdle must be of just the right material and width; the hood of a certain shape and capacity; their hair of just so many fingers' length; and finally they can sleep only the specified number of hours per day. Can they not understand that, because of a variety of bodies and temperaments, all this equality of restric-tions is in fact very unequal? Nevertheless, because of all this detail that they employ they think that they are superior to all other people. And what is more, amid all their pretense of Apostolic charity, the members of one order will denounce the members of another order clamorously because of the way in which the habit has been belted or the slightly darker color of it....

Many of them work so hard at protocol and at traditional fastidiousness that they think one heaven hardly a suitable reward for their labors; never recalling, however, that the time will come when Christ will demand a reckoning of that which he had prescribed, namely charity, and that he will hold their deeds of little account. One monk will then exhibit his belly filled with every kind of fish; another will profess a knowledge of over a hundred hymns. Still another will reveal a countless number of fasts that he has made, and will account for his large belly by explaining that his fasts have always been broken by a single large meal. Another will show a list of church ceremonies over which he has officiated so large that it would fill seven ships.









The particular state of mind which produced the "modern world" was a manifestation of the same mind as underlay the Protestant revolution. The Protestant "calling" referred to by both Luther and Calvin (which was even known to medieval writers) was a treatment of worldly avocations as God-created and fulfillable in a spirit of worship. This concept enabled the Protestant to see in his ordinary daily work an activity pleasing to God and therefore to be pursued as actively and profitably as possible. On the other hand, medieval and Roman Catholic Christianity were held to have condemned the world, with consequent hostility to economic activity and especially to that essential capitalist ingredient, the taking of interest on money lent (usury). Protestantism, or rather more particularly Calvinism and later free sects such as the Quakers and the Methodists, were therefore asserted to have been the necessary precondition of the growth of modern industrial capitalism. The ethos (basic belief) of Protestantism promoted the spirit of the entrepreneur, and for that reason capitalism is found flourishing in reformed countries, while the Reformation is found spreading among the commercial and industrial middle classes.




The desire for spiritual nourishment was great in many parts of Europe, and movements of thought which gave intellectual content to what in so many ways was an inchoate search for God have their own dignity. Neither of these, however, comes first in explaining why the Reformation took root here and vanished there-why, in fact, this complex of anti-papa! 'heresies' led to a permanent division within the Church that had looked to Rome. This particular place is occupied by politics and the play of secular ambi-tions. In short, the Reformation maintained itself wherever the lay power (prince or magistrates) favored it; it could not survive where the authorities decided to suppress it. Scandinavia, the German principalities, Geneva, in its own peculiar way also England, demonstrate the first; Spain, Italy, the Habsburg lands in the east, and also (though not as yet conclu-sively) France, the second. The famous phrase behind the settlement of 1555-cuius regio eius religio-was a practical commonplace long before anyone put it into words. For this was the age of uniformity, an age which held at all times and everywhere that one political unit could not com-prehend within itself two forms of belief or worship.

The tenet rested on simple fact: as long as membership of a secular polity involved membership of an ecclesiastical organization, religious dissent stood equal to political disaffection and even treason. Hence governments enforced uniformity, and hence the religion of the ruler was that of his country. England provided the extreme example of this doctrine in action, with its rapid official switches from Henrician Catholicism without the pope, through Edwardian Protestantism on the Swiss model and Marian papalism, to Elizabethan Protestantism of a more specifically English brand. But other countries fared similarly. Nor need this cause distress or annoyed disbelief. Princes and governments, no more than the governed, do not act from unmixed motives, and to ignore the spiritual factor in the con-version of at least some princes is as false as to see nothing but purity in the desires of the populace. The Reformation was successful beyond the dreams of earlier, potentially similar, movements not so much because (as the phrase goes) the time was ripe for it, but rather because it found favour with the secular arm. Desire for Church lands, resistance to imperial and papal claims, the ambition to create self-contained and independent states, all played their part in this, but so quite often did a genuine attachment to the teachings of the reformers.




by Martin Luther

The early leader of the Reformation was Martin Luther (1483-1546). Born in Germany to an earthy peasant family, Luther became an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. While at this post in 1517, he became involved in the indulgence problem with Tetzel and issued rather academic challenges in his ninety-five theses. News of this act quickly spread, and a major controversy developed. Although originally intended to stimulate only modest reforms within the Catholic Church, Luther soon found himself espousing doctrines markedly differing from those authorized by the Church and taking actions that eventually resulted in his expulsion from the Church.

Luther himself attributed his spiritual evolution to certain crucial experiences. The most important of these was his first formulation of the doctrine of "justification by faith," which constituted the core of his beliefs and much of the basis for Protestantism. In the following excerpts from his autobiographical writings, Luther describes this experience.


Consider: What Luther meant by "justification by faith"why this doctrine might have been so appealing to many Catholics; why this doctrine might hare been threatening to the Catholic Church.


I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the justice of God," because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God just)fies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to be inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven....

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon His fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see Him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.



Loyola and Obedience to "Our Holy Mother, the Hierarchical Church"


In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius Loyola developed a systematic program for "the conquest of self and the regulation of one's life" for service to the hierarchical Catholic church. Ignatius's supreme goal was the commitment of the Christian to active service under Christ's banner in the Church of Christ (the Catholic church). In the final section of the Spiritual Exercises, Loyola explained the nature of that commitment in a series of "Rules for Thinking with the Church."


Ignatius Loyola, "Rules for Thinking with the Church"


The following rules should he observed to foster the true attitude of mind we ought to have in the Church militant.

1. We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Jesus Christ, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.

2. We should praise sacramental confession, the yearly reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament [the Lord's Supper], and praise more highly monthly reception, and still more weekly Communion....

3. We ought to praise the frequent hearing of Mass, the singing of hymns, psalmody, and long prayers whether in the church or outside....

4. We must praise highly religious life, virginity, and continency; and matrimony ought not be praised as much as any of these.

5. We should praise vows of religion, obedience, poverty, chastity, and vows to perform other works of supererogation conducive to perfection....

6. We should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to the Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, the lighting of candles in churches.

7. We must praise the regulations of the Church, with regard to fast and abstinence, for example, in Lent, on Ember Days, Vigils, Fridays, and Saturdays.

8. We ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, hut also images and veneration of them according to the subject they represent.

9. Finally, we must praise all the commandments of the Church, and be on the alert to find reasons to defend them, and by no means in order to criticize them.

10. We should be more ready to approve and praise the orders, recommendations, and way of acting of our superiors than to find fault with them. Though some of the orders, etc., may not have been praiseworthy, yet to speak against them, either when preaching in public or in speaking before the people, would rather be the cause of murmuring and scandal than of profit. As a consequence, the people would become angry with their superiors, whether secular or spiritual. But while it does harm in the absence of our superiors to speak evil of them before the people, it may be profitable to discuss their bad conduct with those who can apply a remedy.

13. If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast to the following principle: What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchical Church so defines. For I must be convinced that in Christ our Lord, the bridegroom, and in His spouse the Church, only one Spirit holds sway, which governs and rules for the salvation of souls.




A Reformation Debate: The Marburg Colloquy


Debates played a crucial role in the Reformation period. They were a primary instrument in introducing the Reformation into innumerable cities as well as a means of resolving differences among like-minded Protestant groups. This selection contains an excerpt from the vivacious and often brutal debate between Luther and Zwingli over the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at Marburg in 1529. The two protagonists failed to reach agree' meet.


The Marburg Colloquy, 1529

THE HESSIAN CHANCELLOR FEIGE: My gracious prince and lord [Landgrave Philip of Hesse] has summoned you for the express and urgent purpose of settling the dispute over the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.... And let everyone on both sides present his arguments in a spirit of moderation, as becomes such matters.... Now then, Doctor Luther, you may proceed.

LUTHER: Noble prince, gracious lord! Undoubtedly the colloquy is well intentioned.... Although I have no intention of changing my mind, which is firmly made up, I will nevertheless present the grounds of my belief and show where the others are in error.... Your basic contentions are these: In the last analysis you wish to prove that a body cannot be in two places at once, and you produce arguments about the unlimited body which are based on natural reason. I do not question how Christ can be God and man and how the two natures can be joined. For God is more powerful than all our ideas, and we must submit to his word.

Prove that Christ's body is not there where the Scripture says, "This is my body!" Rational proofs I will not listen to.... God is beyond all mathematics and the words of God are to be revered and carried out in awe. It is God who commands, "Take, eat, this is my body." I request, therefore, valid scriptural proof to the contrary.

Luther writes on the table in chalk, "This is my body," and covers the words with a velvet cloth.

OECOLAMPADIUS [leader of the reform movement in Basel and a Zwinglian partisan]: The sixth chapter of John clarifies the other scriptural passages. Christ is not speaking there about a local presence. "The flesh is of no avail," he says [John 6:63]. It is not my intention to employ rational, or geometrical, arguments- neither am I denying the power of God-but as long as I have the complete faith I will speak from that. For Christ is risen; he sits at the right hand of God; and so he cannot be present in the bread. Our view is neither new nor sacrilegious, but is based on faith and Scripture....

ZWINGLI: I insist that the words of the Lord's Supper must be figurative. This is ever apparent, and even required by the article of faith: "taken up into heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father." Otherwise, it would be absurd to look for him in the Lord's Supper at the same time that Christ is telling us that he is in heaven. One and the same body cannot possibly he in different places....

LUTHER: I call upon you as before: your basic contentions are shaky. Give way, and give glory to God'

ZWINGLI: And we call upon you to give glory to God and to quit begging the question! The issue at stake is this: Where is the proof of your position? I am willing to consider your words carefully-no harm meant! You're trying to outwit me. I stand by this passage in the sixth chapter of John, verse 63 and shall not be shaken from it. You'll have to sing another tune.

LUTHER: You re being obnoxious.

ZWINGLI (excitedly): Don't you believe that Christ was attempting in John 6 to help those who did nor understand ?

LUTHER: You're trying to dominate things! You insist on passing judgment! Leave that to someone else! . . . it is your point that must be proved, not mine. But let us stop this sort of thing. It serves no purpose.

ZWINGLI: It certainly does! It is for you to prove that the passage in John 6 speaks of a physical repast.

LUTHER: You express yourself poorly and make about as much progress as a cane standing in a corner. You're going nowhere.

ZWINGLI: No, no, no! This is the passage that will break your neck!

LUTHER: Don't be so sure of yourself. Necks don't break this way. You're in Hesse, not Switzerland....



Luther and the "Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants"


The Peasants' War of 1524-1525 encompassed a series of uprisings by German peasants who were suffering from economic changes they did not comprehend. In a sense, it was part of a century of peasant discontent. Led by radical religious leaders, the revolts quickly became entangled with the religious revolt set in motion by Luther's defiance of the church. But it was soon clear that Luther himself did not believe in any way in social revolution. This excerpt is taken from Luther's vitriolic pamphlet written in May 1525 at the height of the peasants' power, but not published until after their defeat.


Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants


The peasants have taken on themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man, by which they have abundantly merited death in body and soul. In the first place they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christ commands, when he says, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," and in Romans XIII, "Let everyone be subject unto the higher powers." Because they are breaking this obedience, and are setting themselves against the higher powers, willfully and with violence, they have forfeited) body and soul, as faithless, perjured, lying, disobedient knaves and scoundrels are wont to do....

In the second place, they are starting a rebellion, and violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs, by which they have a second time deserved death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers.... For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land.... Therefore, let every-one who can, smite, slay and stain, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more pod' venous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel....

In the third place, they cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the Gospel, call themselves "Christian brothers," receive oaths and homage, and compel people to hold with them to these abominations. Thus they become the greatest of all blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy Name, serving the devil, under the outward appearance of the Gospel, thus earning death in body and soul ten times over.... It does not help the peasants, when they pretend that, according to Genesis I and 11, all things were created free and common, and that all of us alike have been baptized.... For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the Gospel does not make goods common.... Since the peasants, then, have brought both God and man down upon them and are already so many times guilty of death in body and soul,... I must instruct the worldly governors how they are to act in the matter with a clear conscience.

First, I will not oppose a ruler who, even though he does not tolerate the Gospel, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgment. For he is within his rights, since the peasants are not contending any longer for the Gospel, but have become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious murderers, robbers and blasphemers, whom even heathen rulers have the right and power to punish; nay, it is their duty to punish them, for it is just for this purpose that they bear the sword, and are "the ministers of God upon him that doeth evil....'




To most historians the publication of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses marks the beginning of the Reformation. To Luther, they were simply a response to what he considered to be the blatant abuses of Johann Tetzel's selling of indulgences. Although written in Latin, the theses were soon translated into German and scattered widely across Germany. They made an immense impression on Germans already dissatisfied with the ecclesiastical and financial policies of the papacy.


Martin Luther, Selections from the Ninety-Five Theses


5. The Pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those he has imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.

20. Therefore the Pope, by his plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean "all" in the absolute sense, but only those imposed by himself.

21. Hence those preachers of Indulgences are wrong when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the Pope's Indulgences.

27. It is mere human talk to preach that the soul flies out [of purgatory] immediately the money clinks in the collection-box.

28. It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the collection-box greed and avarice can increase; but the intercession of the Church depends on the will of God alone.

45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person and passes him by, although he gives money for pardons, wins for himself not Papal Indulgences but the wrath of God.

50. Christians should be taught that, if the Pope knew the exaction's of the preachers of Indulgences, he would rather have the basilica of St. Peter reduced to ashes than built with the . skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

81. This wanton preaching of pardons makes it difficult even for learned men to redeem respect due to the Pope from the slanders or at least the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. For example: "Why does not the Pope empty purgatory for the sake of most holy love and the supreme need of souls? This would be the most righteous of reasons, if he can redeem innumerable souls for sordid money with which to build a basilica, the most trivial of reasons."

86. Again: "Since the Pope's wealth is larger than that of the crassest Crassi of our time, why does he not build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with that of the faithful poor?"

88. Again: "What greater good would be done to the Church if the Pope were to bestow these remissions and dispensations, not once, as now but a hundred times a day, on any believer whatever."

90. To suppress these most conscientious questionings of the laity by authority only, instead of refuting them by reason, is to expose the Church and the Pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of the Pope, all these difficulties would be easily overcome or rather would never have arisen.

94. Christians should be exhorted to seek earnestly to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.

95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.






The Spark for the Reformation: Indulgences


Although there were many causes of the Reformation, the immediate issue that sparked Luther into the position of a reformer was the sale of indulgences. Indul-gence.s were remissions or exemptions for punishment due to an individual for the sins he had committed in life. They could be granted by the papacy because of the doctrine that it could draw on the treasury of merit or pool of spiritual wealth left by Christ and extraordinarily good Christians over time. As with some other prac-tices of the Church, what was once used primarily for spiritual purposes, such as rewarding acts of penitence, was by the early sixteenth century being ""abused" for secular purposes, such as providing money for Church of officers. This was apparently the case with the sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (1465?-1519), a persuasive, popular Dominican friar who was appointed by Archbishop Albert of Mainz in 1517 to .sell indulgences in Germany. Proceeds of the sale were to be split between Albert and the papacy. The following is an excerpt from a sermon on indulgences by Tetzel.

Consider: The most convincing "selling points" made by Tetzel; the re-quirements for obtaining effective indulgences; how Tetzel might have defend-ed himself against attacks on this sale of indulgences as an abuse.


You may obtain letters of safe conduct from the vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, by means of which you are able to liberate your soul from the hands of the enemy, and convey it by means of contrition and confession, safe and secure from all pains of Purgatory, into the happy kingdom. For know, that in these letters are stamped and engraver all the merits of Christ's passion there laid bare. Consider, that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in Purgatory.

How many mortal sins are committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in the whole extent of life! They are well-nigh numberless, and those that commit them must needs suffer endless punishment in the burning pains of Purgatory.

But with these confessional letters you will be able at any time in life to obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed upon you, in all cases except the four reserved to the Apostolic See. Thence throughout your whole life, whenever you wish to make confession, you may receive the same remission, except in cases reserved to the Pope, and afterwards, at the hour of death, a full indulgence as to all penalties and sins, and your share of all spiritual blessings that exist in the church militant and all its members.

Do you not know that when it is necessary for anyone to go to Rome, or undertake any other dangerous journey, he takes his money to a broker and gives a certain per cent-five or six or ten-in order that at Rome or elsewhere he may receive again his funds intact, by means of the letters of this same broker? Are you not willing, then, for the fourth part of a florin, to obtain these letters, by virtue of which you may bring, not your money, but your divine and immortal soul, safe and sound into the land of Paradise?







Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,-considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,-ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many ages, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputa-tions, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.

Furthermore, in order to restrain petu-lant spirits. It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,-in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,-wrestling the sacred Scripture to his own senses, pre-sume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,-whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scrip-tures,-hath held and cloth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be pun-ished with the penalties by law established.



Tha our Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God, may, errors being purged away, continue in its own perfect and spotless integrity, and that the Christian people may not be carried about with every wind of doctrine.


DECREE ON JUSTIFICATION one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; as if it were true, that he that is justified, either cannot sin any more, or if he do in sin, that he ought to promise himself as asured repentance; for except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto Himself...



...and because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration is made of the whole substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which converersion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.



If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.



Whereas the power of conferring Indulgences was granted by Christ to the Church; and she has, even in the most ancient times, used the said power, delivered unto her of God; the sacred holy Synod teaches, and enjoins, that the use of Indulgences, for the Christian people most salutary, and approved of by the authority of sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church; and It condemns with anathema those who either assert, that they are useless; or who deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them. In granting them, however, It desires that, in accordance with the ancient and approved custom in the Church, moderation be observed; lest, by excessive facility, ecclesiastical discipline be enervated. And being desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which this honourable name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, It ordains generally by this decree, that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof,-whence a most prolific cause of abuses amongst the Christian people has been derived,-be wholly abolished. But as regards the other abuses which have proceeded from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from whatever other source, since by reason of the manifold corruptions in the places and provinces where the said abuses are committed, they cannot conveniently be specially prohibited; It commands all bishops, diligently to collect, each in his own church, all abuses of this nature, and to report them in the first provincial Synod; that, after having been reviewed by the opinions of the other bishops also, they may forthwith be referred to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff, by whose authority and prudence that which may be expedient for the universal Church will be ordained; that thus the gift of holy Indulgences may be dispensed to all the faithful, piously, holily, and incorruptly....






Martin Luther, who married in 1525 at the age of 41, wrote of women:

Imagine what it would be. Like without women. The home, cities, economic life, and government would virtually disappear. Men cannot do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children, they still could not do without women.


John Calvin wrote at the death of his wife:

I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry.


Such tributes were intended in part to overcome Catholic criticism of clerical marriage as a distraction from one's ministry. They were primarily the expression of a new value placed on the estate of' marriage and family life. In opposition to the celibate ideal of the Middle Ages Protestants stressed as no religious movement before them the sacredness of home and family and this contributed to a more respectful and sharing relationship between husbands and wives and between parents and children. The ideal of' the companionate marriage-that is, of' husband and wife as co-workers in a special God- ordained community of the family-led to an important expansion of the grounds for divorce in Protestant cities as early as the 1520's and ensured women an equal right to leave husbands who flagrantly violated the marriage contract. The new stress on companionship in marriage also worked indirectly to make contraception and planned parenthood a respectable choice for married couples, as it made husbands sensitive to the suffering and unhappiness that many pregnancies brought on their wives.

Protestant doctrines were as attractive to women as they were to men. Women who had been maligned as the concubines of priests came to know a new dignity as the ''honorable wives" of Protestant ministers. Renegade nuns wrote exposes of' the nunnery in the name of Christian freedom and justification by faith. Women in the higher classes, who were enjoying new social and political freedoms during the Renaissance, found in Protestant theology a religious complement to their greater independence in other walks of life.

Because of their desire to have women become pious housewives, Protestants also encouraged the education of girls to vernacular literacy, expecting them thereafter to model their lives on the Bible. Women came in the course of such study, however, to find in the Bible passages that made them the equals to men in the presence of' God. Such education further gave them a role in the Reformation as independent authors. These may seem like small advances from a modern perspective, but they were significant, if indirect, steps in the direction of the emancipation of women.








Religious argument can become confusing. A clear summary is often helpful---both to the disputants and to interested bystanders. Prior to the first Zurich Disputation (1523) which effectualy introduced the Protestant Reformation in Zurich, the relorrner Zwingli prepared such a summary of the new Evangelical truths and the errors of the Roman church, known as the Sixty-seven Articles. Here are some of them.


The Sixty-seven Articles

All who consider other teachings equal to or higher than the Gospel err, and they do not know what the Gospel is.

In the faith rests our salvation, and in unbelief our damnation; for all truth is clear in Christ.

In the Gospel one learns that human doctrines and decrees do not aid in .salvation.

That Christ, having sacrificed himself once, is to eternity a certain and valid sacrifice for the sins of all faithful, where form it follows that the Mass is not a sacriice, but is a remembrance of the sacrifice and assurance of the salvation which Christ has given us.

That God desires to give us all things in his name, whence it follows that outside of this life we need no [intercession of the saints or any] mediator except himself:

That no Christian is bound to do those things which God has not decreed, therefore one may eat at all times all food, wherefrom one learns that the decree about cheese and butter [i.e., fasting from such foods at certain times of the year] is a Roman swindle.

That no special person can impose the ban upon [i.e., excommunicate] anyone, but the Church, that is, the congregation of these among whom the one to be banned dwells, together with their watchman, i.e., the pastor.

All that the so-called spiritual [ie., the papal church] claims to have of power and protection belongs to the lay [i.e., the secular magistracy], they wish to be Christians.

Greater offense I know not than that one does not allow priests to have wives, but permits them to hire prostitutes.

Christ has borne all our pains and labor. Hence whoever assigns to works of penance what belongs to Christ errs and slanders God.

The true divine Scriptures know naught about purgatory after this life.

The Scriptures know no priests except those who proclaim the word of God.



Martin Luther to Pope Leo X

September 6, 1518


It has come to my attention that I am accused of great indiscretion, said to be my great fault, in which, it is said, I have not spared even your person.

I beg you to give me a hearing after I have vindicated myself by this letter; and believe me when I say that I have never thought ill of you personally.

I have truly despised your see, the Roman Curia, which, however neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved hopeless, and notorious godlessness.

I have been thoroughly incensed over the fact that good Christians are mocked in your name and under the cloak of the Roman church.

I have always been sorry, most excellent Leo, that you were made pope in these times, for you are worthy of being pope in better days.

So far have I been from raving against your person that I even hoped I might gain your favor and save you if I should make a strong and stinging assault upon that prison, that veritable hell of yours.

So I come, most blessed father, and prostrate before you, pray that if possible you intervene and stop those flatterers, who are the enemies of peace while they pretend to keep peace. But let no person imagine that I will recant unless he prefer to involve the whole question in even greater turmoil.

Furthermore, I acknowledge no fixed rules for the interpretation of the Word of God, since the Word of God, which teaches freedom in all other matters, must not be bound.

Perhaps, I am presumptuous in trying to instruct so exalted a personage from whom we all should learn and from whom, the thrones of judges receive their decisions, as those pestilential fellows of yours boast. But I do not consider it absurd if I now forget your exalted office and do what brotherly love demands.

May the Lord Jesus preserve you forever, Amen.