Today in history class, as it comes to a close, we discussed one of my (and my professor’s) favorite topics: the Protestant Reformation.
We started our discussion with the late medieval economy in Europe, which prohibited usury (interest on loans) and demanded a “just” (fair) price on goods sold. While it may seem thrifty, it may have not been good for society and the economy at large.
Thanks to the 15th-century printing press invention by the German Johann Gutenberg, Martin Luther, another German who would soon come to present the “95 Theses” against Catholic leaders concerning indulgences, which were monies (a bribe of sorts) intended to reduce time in purgatory, the temporal destiny for the majority of people before admission into heaven. In order for that to be possible, a repentant sinner had to be absolved by the priest (or more technically, by God through the priest). But the work wasn’t complete. While they would not fear hell, they would not have direct access to heaven either.
Luther read the Bible for himself, and translated it into German, so the general public could read it. He believed that you were justified (saved) by faith alone, not by faith and works. “Works” did not only include mundane obedience but also participation in the church (which was an imperative “middleman” in order to receive grace through the sacraments), and other practices. For the Catholic, without the sacraments, there was no salvation. This new wave of Christians, the Protestants, however, believed that believers had a direct connection to God; this is known as the “priesthood of all believers.”
These first Protestants, the “Lutherans,” soon faced competition. John Calvin, born in France (a chiefly Catholic country), was persecuted for his beliefs and moved to Geneva, Switzerland. According to Calvin, becoming saved was not the issue (since it was already predestined), it was a matter of continuing to honor God through faith (that yields good works, see James 2 in Scripture for details). Part of this was one’s career, which was a divine “calling” and some people (like the early 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber) claimed Calvinists (as they are called) were assured of this calling by their income. This issue is disputed, but Calvinism was a very popular branch of Protestantism, reflected in the Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian (an originally Scottish branch, btw), and the Pilgrims and Puritans of England that emigrated to the New World. And yes, Calvinists were often viewed as one tough bunch.
There are tons of other subdivisions of Protestantism, but my point is that this gave me one of the best opportunities to witness in class. Salvation is the Lord’s work, remember, so we cannot actually “save” people. However, when you leave your mark, in God’s timing, I personally believe that God will save whom he wills.
In case you didn’t know, I’m a Calvinist myself (Presbyterian). Like history itself, history class is obviously repeating itself.