The identity crisis of the Christian religion

part two of “Four essays on Religion and Freedom “ – Dick Wursten, tr. from the Dutch (2019)

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The ‘truth claims’ in the field of religion have more to do with the psychological mechanism of ‘having faith’ than with the set of beliefs. This we noted at the end of the previous essay. Nevertheless, most believers still accept these beliefs as ‘factual statements’. To understand this paradox, we must go back in time, to be precise: 500 years, to the year 1517. There a monk asks what exactly the Christian religion actually is in such a way that today we are still captivated by his framing of the issue. Within his framing, the question of personal faith came to play a major role and to describe that faith he focused fully on the reading and interpretation (exegesis) of a collection of 66 to 72 old books, written in Hebrew (Aramaic) and Greek, the Bible. That in discussions about religion today we talk about ‘someone’s beliefs’ and quasi-automatically see that as a ‘ personal matter ‘; and that in the discussion about this we take it for granted that people refer to ‘ what the Holy Book does or does not say ‘ is largely due to Martin Luther, because he is the monk I am talking about. Due to his pertinent questions and obstinate attitude, he plunged Western Christianity into a crisis. And because of the way he put that question on the table, our way of ‘answering’ the religious question has still to be determined, defined, in the literal sense of the word: limited . It is time to face up to, and perhaps overcome, this religious science handicap. Therefore, an analysis of how Luther worked and where and how the narrowing of view  in religionis came about.

The story goes…

October 31, 1517: Luther and the 95 Theses

“On the eve of All Saints’ Day 1517, an angry monk walks with long strides through Wittenberg towards the castle church. In one hand he has a hammer, in the other a sheet of paper. When he arrives at the church door, he takes out some nails , unrolls the paper, and attaches it to the church door with a few well-aimed hammer blows. Bystanders look on in surprise. What is going on here? A debate soon arises. The monk is Martin Luther and on the paper are his 95 theses against indulgences. He won’t take it anymore. The way preachers of indulgences sell their wares is disgusting. They take the last money out of the pockets of poor people by convincing them that by purchasing an indulgence they can get their own souls and those of their deceased loved ones into heaven. Unheard of! Then you can’t just sit idly by and watch. His thoughts resonate, his protest spreads like wildfire through Europe. Despite fierce resistance from Rome, the Reformation (with a capital letter!) cannot be stopped and the true church is restored…”

Until well into the last century, the story of Luther’s actions was told in roughly this way, mainly by Protestants, of course, but since the middle of the last century more and more Roman Catholics also joined the story. This is also the way in which Luther is brought into the spotlight in the commemorative year 2017 (500 years of Thesenanschlag , prepared in Germany by means of a Luther Decade, so since 2007). Churches, cultural centers, and especially tourist services worked overtime to promote Luther again. The fact that scientific research has made quite a number of comments on this story over the last half century was not really taken into account. Yet, it is not unimportant to properly recount events that supposedly changed the course of history, at least if you want to put your finger on what happened then and understand why it had such an impact on the church and society. To do this you have to get the crucial moments ‘sharp’. If this requires certain ‘vérités vénérables‘ to die, so be it, even if that is the origin myth of my own church: Reformation Day. Too simple and one-sided framing of events can obscure what really happened and was at stake. In my opinion, this is the case with the standard story of what we call ‘The Reformation’. The story flows ‘too well’ and is too simple. There is a protagonist (Luther), there is an incident (‘Thesenanschlag’), where the antagonists enter the field (in simple versions: the bad guys = Pope and Inquisition). A conflict arises that is gradually built up, culminating in a climax , which is also the great crisis (The Diet in Worms; Luther before Emperor Charles: ‘Here I stand’ – see below ). And for Protestants it ends with a catharsis : the beginning of the Reformation of the Church. All the elements from ‘Story Telling’ (McKee) are included, so that with this story you have a successful film script in your hands or – applied to companies, Storytelling is big business – you could easily market the ‘ Luther brand , as it is called. In any case, the latter was successful. Whether the story that is now doing the rounds actually does justice to what really happened is another matter. The focus on the ‘hero Luther’ and his lonely struggle for the ‘true Church’, which fortunately quickly led to the ‘Reformation of the Church’, obscures the fact that many contemporaries in the process around Luther did not feel that this was a ‘reformation’. ‘ of the church was busy, but that the continued existence of the church tout courtwas at stake. What Luther did was extremely dangerous, not only for Luther, but also for the church. The dominant religion (the Catholic Church), the only true religion, established by God himself, entered a crisis. Her identity was suddenly unclear and her survival uncertain. She never became the same again. After Luther, the one church fragmented into countless churches, each claiming to be the only true one, with all that entails. To see this, and understand its impact on our thinking about religion in general, we must try to look behind the myth.

End of story ( the ‘Thesenanschlag‘ as myth)

On November 8, 1961, Prof. Dr. Erwin Iserloh, church historian and reformation expert from the Catholic University of Trier, gave a speech in Mainz under the title ‘ Luthers Thesenanschlag. Tatsache oder Legende?’. He showed in a tightly constructed argument that the latter option actually has much better credentials than the first. The speech appeared in print in 1962.1 His lecture was a bombshell. Quite logical. The primordial fact of ‘The Reformation’ was denied, and that by a Roman Catholic scholar!  Until then, no one had doubted that it would have happened something like this, no matter how much the appreciation of it differed. There were engravings of it, it was in every biography, and it had been filmed, several times in fact. Professor Iserloh pointed out, however, that Luther himself had never said anything about it, even though he was quite candid about his life and had a good sense of ‘tall stories’. Furthermore, there are no known eyewitness accounts, and no one actually tells the story until it begins to circulate after Luther’s death. When the storm subsided – but that took a long time, and it is actually not over yet – it turned out to be a fruitful research thesis. Even if you only accept it hypothetically, it opens up new perspectives. The disappearance of theThesenanschlagand Luther’s personal action from the center of attention sheds much more light on what else (or indeed what really) happened around that particular October 31stin1517. It is less spectacular but actually much more profound. For example, on that day Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz (the person responsible for the Jubilee Indulgence). That letter has always been known, but has never really emerged from the shadow of theThesenanschlag. It was considered an afterthought. ‘Oh yes, Luther did that too.’ In that letter, however, Luther makes an urgent appeal to his church superiors to call the preachers of indulgences to order. According to Luther, the salvation of ordinary people is at stake and he makes it clear: If the archbishop does not act himself, he will no longer remain silent. To that letter he adds 95 debate statements about indulgences (disputationes in Latin). On this basis, Prof. Dr. Martin Luther would like to have a serious exchange of ideas with his fellow theologians on the theme of penance and indulgences, one of the pillars of the Medieval church, financially indispensable. On the edge, yes, but not abnormal. In an academic ‘disputatio’ they could then look for the ‘virtus’ (scope, power, legal basis) of the indulgences, as the first Basel edition of the 95 theses very precisely adds as its aim. This not insignificant but geographically limited appeal became something else when he (and his friends) entrusted the theses to the printing press. Due to the multiplication, the thoughts contained in the theses quickly became known far beyond Wittenberg. For example, Erasmus received a copy in Leuven in early March 1518 through his Basel connections and forwarded it without comment to his friend, Thomas More in London. The fact that they were translated into German, and Luther himself – since there was no real response, reaction from the (arch)bishop – went public by summarizing the main ideas in a handy pamphlet (in German – Sermon), the question of the legitimation of the ecclesiastical penal practice became a matter of general interest. It went viral.

The new question: vera et falsa religio?

Who decides ? And how?

This correction to the common view is of more than marginal importance. It changes the view on what Luther did and what he wanted within the Christian church. The responses – and lack of response – to the statements are also framed in a different way. It also frames the reactions – and lack of reaction – to the theses in a different way. To be precise, Luther wanted two things. First, he wanted church authorities (bishop and archbishop) to act to deftly regulate the practice of indulgences. In addition, he wanted the theologians of the region where indulgence preachers were active to engage in debate with him in search of the ground and limits of the Church’s teaching on indulgences. Thus arbitrariness would henceforth be ruled out. That doctrine had also not yet been definitively established in church law. So discussion was still possible. Church (leaders) and university (substantive experts), together reached out to improve the state of the church. The subject (penance, indulgence, sacrament) touches on the essentials of the Church, its self-image and identity, but at that time Luther is still operating within the Church and assumes that the necessary “reformation” will be church-wide. There is no question that Luther would want to found a new church. That was unthinkable. There was only one church and that church was one. Luther’s attempt to reform that one church from within (through theological debate and good leadership) quickly stalled. Debate did not occur, and to the extent that discussion occurred, they soon became bogged down in a war of theses. While his own bishop did not condemn him, he did ask him to keep a low profile and not to enter the public arena. The appeal to the Archbishop of Mainz to call the indulgence preachers to church order did not meet with any response at all. Albrecht did not even answer Luther. He considered him an “insolent monk. On the advice of his theologians, he did forward the theses to Rome for screening on their orthodoxy, one of the most folgenreiche “forwards” in history: after all, by doing so, the “causa Lutheri” was initiated, the “case of Luther” was put on a roll and turned from a local matter to one that concerned the whole church. To put it with an understatement, the way this was handled in Rome did the matter no favors. Silvester Mazzolini (usually called Prierias, Dominican and court theologian to the pope), is assigned to investigate the case. He quickly has his answer ready. His conclusion is not that Luther got many things wrong, but still “had a point on some issues.” That was the answer that, for example, someone like Erasmus would have hoped for, then perhaps the internal reformation could get underway. But nay, Luther saw everything wrong, says Prierias. He errs in all points. Contrary to what the title Dialogus de potestate papae (‘Dialogue on the power of the Pope’) suggests, his letter to Luther is not a dialogue but a monologue. The superior jurist stands before ‘naughty Luther ‘with his finger raised and lectures him. That content of that lesson, by the way, is surprisingly far ahead of its time. Indeed, Prierias states that the pope is “infallible when he makes a decision in his capacity as pope” (only an official dogma since 1870). Also, the doctrine proclaimed by the pope is “the infallible rule of faith, from which sacred Scripture derives its power and authority. A “heretic” is someone who “says that something cannot be done that is de facto done by the real Church.” So indulgences are in order simply òbecause they exist and so as they exist. What about the Bible? There too the answer is simple: It can never disagree with the Pope, because the Pope holds the key to interpretation. Luther is exasperated by the pretense and writes a biting rebuttal, in which he denounces sophistry and in passing points out that both canon law and the Church Fathers (Augustine) state that Scripture is indeed the ultimate standard. Besides, common sense also affirms this, according to Luther. Meanwhile, Prierias did set everything on edge by emphatically demanding recognition of the pope’s quasi-absolute authority from someone who wants to “belong to the club. Unnoticedly, the topic of discussion has thus shifted from a discussion about how man can receive God’s grace (and what place there is within that for indulgences), to a debate about the pope’s authority. Or even more precisely – but it takes a while for Luther himself to realize it – to the question of who actually determines what “church” is? Could it be that what calls itself church may not be church at all? Untrodden paths these are. So the archbishop’s non-reaction and haughty response from Rome is at least as crucial to the crisis in which the Western church has found itself as Luther’s démarche of Oct. 31, 1517 (the letter to the archbishop). Together with the half-wanted, half unwanted, dissemination of the 95 theses on indulgences, this escalated a regional issue, which Luther, together with his colleagues and ecclesiastical superiors, wanted to get right, into an international matter of principle in which the fate of the church tout court was at stake. And because faith and society, church and politics were connected by a thousand and one fibers, coexistence itself came into play, especially when Luther made his case “public” and took to the media (books, pamphlets, cartoons, vernaculars). We begin to understand that many people became concerned: Luther was rattling the foundations and as a result the whole church was in danger of collapsing and the world included. After all, the church was a supporting component of Western society, it helped determine politics, was an actor in it that should not be underestimated, and its practice permeated both high and low culture, determined the calendar, determined life. Is it responsible to put all that at risk? Luther himself later – when speaking of the 95 theses – also quoted them himself not because of their content, but only as “the beginning of the attack on the church of the anti-christ. At first he still expected that a “better-informed pope” would still take his side, but when Prierias put everything on submission to the authority of the pope, Luther also changed the shoulder of the gun and aimed at the complete deconstruction of the sacramental institution of salvation of the Catholic Church, of which the pope was the representative and guarantor. The instrument he began to use for this purpose, especially after several fierce debates with Prof. Johannes Eck (culminating in the public disputation in Leipzig in 1519), was the exegesis of the Bible.

The Scripture Principle: Luther’s Discovery

This turns out to be a razor-sharp and double-edged sword. In the discussion about the service of God, a book takes center stage, written in two foreign languages ​​(Hebrew and Greek), full of wonderful and very diverse texts. That book should be able – according to Luther – to determine what church is and what church is not. We are so used to this method of argumentation in Christian circles that we hardly realize how revolutionary this ‘move’ of Luther was, also for himself, also within the church. After all, the Bible had always been regarded as a holy book, a source of church doctrine and Christian life, certainly, but the interpretation of that book had always been reserved for the institution, the church magisterium. This was necessary to protect that source of divine revelation from misinterpretation and misuse. Luther lets the church that walked on two legs (Bible and Tradition) stumble over its own feet and believes that it should continue on one leg. A rather radical idea: sola scriptura . In the preface to the edition of his Opera Latina I (1545), Luther explains how he came up with this idea. It is an autobiographical piece in which he takes the reader to his study (in an attached tower of the monastery, hence ‘ Turmerlebnis’ ).

The Turmerlebnis

We see a religious monk, also a theology professor, who is afraid of God’s judgment because Luther knows that he is anything but a saint, even though he tries so hard. Caught in this psychologically quite stressful situation, Luther searches for a way out. Philosophers, theologians, church fathers, rituals, sacraments: they all don’t help. He remains stuck in his ‘temptations’, as Luther invariably calls those negative feelings: tentationes tristitiae in Latin. In other words: Mainstream religion does not deliver . All official church means available to relieve his conscience do not work. The sacramental salvation institution of the ‘church’ is failing. He still has one thing left: the Bible. It contains the ‘Gospel’ and that seems to be ‘good news’. He also reads this in the apostle Paul (Romans 1:16-17): ‘The gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe’. Fantastic. Then he will cling to it, but then the hammer blow follows: ‘For in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed’, the text continues. This addition plunges him into a deep crisis. If the Gospel, the core of his ‘religion’, also proclaims a strict and just God, then there is no more hope. He feels definitively condemned, lost and damned. Luther writes:

…I hated that concept of ‘God’s justice’, because through the tradition of all doctors I had learned to interpret it in the sense that God is just and therefore punishes sinners and unjust. Now, I certainly lived blamelessly as a monk, but I still felt like a sinner in God’s eyes. I could not find peace in my conscience. I didn’t dare trust that I had done enough to appease God. So I did not love that righteous God who punishes sinners at all. On the contrary: I hated Him. In silence I did not blaspheme him, but I grumbled indignantly: It really seems as if it is not enough for God that we, poor and eternally damned sinners, are cast down by the law with its ten commandments. Because now God has gone one step further with his gospel by also threatening us with his justice and fierce wrath! So I raged on with a wild and confused conscience. And in the meantime I was unashamedly banging on Paul’s door, eager to understand what Paul wanted to say with that statement. I worried about it day and night until, thanks to God’s mercy, I became aware of the context in which those words stand: ‘God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel, as it is written: the just shall live by his faith’. Then it dawned on me: God’s righteousness here means a gift from God by which the just live, namely by faith. I felt as if I had suddenly been born again and had entered paradise itself through opened gates…

The power of words

The peculiar thing about this rebirth is that it is effected by something as prosaic as a linguistic observation: a text that Luther cannot grasp suddenly begins to speak because he realizes that an idiomatic construction in Greek (in this case a genitive: God’s justice, in Latin: Iustitia Dei ) can also be interpreted differently than he had always thought. ‘God’s justice’ does not necessarily have to refer to an ‘attribute of God’ (distributive justice, with which he rewards the good and punishes the evil), but can also refer to something God does to/in/through man. If so, then God’s justice is not something to be feared, but a gift to be thanked for. He makes us righteous. Justice thus becomes almost synonymous with mercy for Luther. In fact, all this can already be read in Augustine, as Luther himself notes elsewhere. But being able to read a text does not mean that the message will get through, that ‘the franc’ will fall. That finally happened for Luther and so strongly that he had the feeling that ‘the gates of paradise were opening’. This metaphor underlines how much this exegetical discovery has meant to him, how powerfully this new ‘reading’ has affected him. Whether his discovery is grammatically correct does not matter, what matters is that Luther hangs his church- and world-changing discovery (the justification of the sinner, not on the basis of his works, but on the basis of God’s grace) to the interpretation of a text , a word of Scripture. That word saves, literally. Luther then universalizes his own experience: What saved me will also work for others. This experience, a combination of Bible word and lived faith, becomes for Luther the main characteristic of the Christian religion. In this way he textualizes the core of the faith. It is not about ‘belonging to the club’, it is not about following the rites, saying your prayers on time or knowing the doctrine of the faith. Nor whether you greet the priest (bishop, pope) as a man of God. That’s not what it’s all about. It’s just about one thing: experiencing that a word sets you free. And ‘word’ should actually be written here with and without a capital letter because God’s Word and a text coincide. That’s exactly the secret. I now point out that in the light of this primordial discovery it is paradoxical that very soon the ‘precise formulation of the doctrine of faith’ becomes very important again. Put in classical terms: Luther, according to his own ‘retelling’, is not about the fides quae (what you believe, the rational expression) but about the fides qua(the faith with which you believe, the existential experience). That faith saves. Luther’s theological statements are incomprehensible to someone who has no sense of the performative power of language. This is also Luther’s ‘novum’ and will prove to be trend-setting in the history of the church. His ‘conversion experience’ becomes exemplary within Protestantism. To this day, people search through thorough Bible study for ‘what God actually wants to say to me’. They expect salvation from texts. They will not say it that way themselves, because they expect salvation from God, but that is reflected in those texts. In other words, Luther incorporated textual analysis and exegesis – and Luther did this in a scientific manner – into the religious identity of the Christian. Everyone must learn to read, men and women, because in this way and only then can God’s grace come to them. The consequences of this for the self-definition of the Christian religion and in particular for the organization of Christian religious communities have slowly become clear in the aftermath of Luther’s resistance to the indulgence racket with which he became a public figure. They were not immediately, not even for Luther himself. They gradually came to light in consciousness in a process of action-reaction, word-reaction.

Luther acquired saving insight through reading. And at the same time said that it is the correct reading (interpretation) that saves. Formally, the essence of the church is therefore bound to the text of the Bible. That becomes the core and kernel of his theology, the basis on which everything must be built if it is to be pleasing to God. The pope, tradition, the apostolic succession, canon law, the church fathers, these no longer appear in Luther’s definition of what the church is. Not that Luther simply threw them all overboard. On the contrary. He can appreciate it, but only to the extent that it agrees with what he hears in the Bible. If not, then the church must adapt, not the Bible. The formulation is not that the church is above Scripture, but that Scripture is above the church. The Bible becomes the touchstone of everything, the norma normans , source and standard at the same time, and the Bible alone. According to Luther, he can do this on his own, he does not need a ‘helping church’ with its magisterium. For Luther, sola scriptura not only applies when it comes to the experience that God saves you (the word of salvation), but becomes the theological principle tout court . This principle was only fully crystallized in the discussion with Professor Eck during a public debate at the University of Leipzig in 1519. In the subsequent confrontation with the ecclesiastical magisterium, which condemned him as a heretic (1520), he presented this principle more and more emphatically and clearly. forward.

The confrontation: closing religious identities

A report of the dispute in Leipzig (Eck versus Luther) had been sent to the theological faculties of Paris and Erfurt for a verdict. They keep a low profile and do not answer. The universities of Cologne and Leuven then fill the gap. At the end of 1519, they unanimously published a list of Luther’s statements labeled ‘error’. So they are aiming for a heresy trial. The facit over Luther was carried out not long afterwards. The Pope, at the direction of Dr. Eck forty-one rather loosely collected and disparate theses of Luther. Nowhere does he indicate exactly where the error lies, let alone refute it. A church cannot respond much weaker – spiritually anyway –. On June 15 , 1520, Pope Leo Even before he officially receives it, he responds with a scathing lampoon: Adversus Execrabile Antichristi Bullam (against the accursed bull of the Antichrist). The title says it all. All bridges have been blown up. In November of the same year he reacted somewhat more calmly, but no less fiercely in substance, by first stating some and, in later editions, all allegations in an Assertio (a solemn assurance, also a legal term in which someone is declared to be a free man). to be refuted piece by piece.2 He now knows for sure: the church is not the church, but a devilish puppet theater to deceive the faithful. It’s public deceit. In the sameAssertiohe also formulates a first version of the Scripture principle, which he will use as ‘Ockham’s razor’ in matters of faith and life. In church, Luther says ‘only the Scriptures should rule’ (solam scripturam regnare). And it is perfectly capable of doing this, because it is ‘crystal clear, super simple, and very accessible; moreover, she explains herself while really testing, judging and illuminating everything’.3 According to Luther, the Bible interprets itself and will succeed in doing its beneficial work without any external help. This was Luther’s own experience and at that moment he was firmly convinced that others would also experience it that way.

God’s word is hidden in those letters and is guaranteed to come out if you read carefully. Luther therefore did not regard the fact that he was left alone with the Bible as a loss but as a gain. It becomes the only remaining mark of the true church. Where the Bible is opened and speaks, that is where the church is, better yet: that is where church ‘happens’. He is also absolutely certain that with the Bible in hand you can defeat the devil and his cronies. At the end of 1520, with the death threat of the bull hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles, he feels stronger than ever. He can handle the whole world. When the period of 60 days after receipt of the diploma has expired and it will therefore automatically be converted into a real excommunication (= death sentence by proxy : after proclamation, the secular government must carry out the punishment for the sentence), Luther organizes a symbolic action. He calls all students and professors in Wittenberg together for a solemn book burning. It is December 10, 1520. Not only the papal bull, but also the canons of canon law and the theological and philosophical manuals that had been used in the faculty until then were burned at the stake. Aristotle is done away with, Lombardus is passé. According to Luther, they are no longer necessary and even harmful. Sola scriptura takes Luther very literally. For Luther, ecclesiastical theology is no longer philosophically argumentative or legally ecclesiastical in color, but will have to become the jewel of the faculty of letters. He expects absolute clarity in all matters of faith and life from the study and exegesis of this writing. And this will have to be marketed with the best possible literary means. Quintillianus and Cicero are the new assistant teachers. Wittenberg professor of Greek and philosophy, Philippus Melanchthon, is ready to shape the new curriculum. It couldn’t be more consistent and daring. If this new foundation of the church, the Bible, fails on any of these points, you can close it down. Luther also realized this and even wrote it down: As a rhetorical question she concludes the passage from the Assertio that I quoted earlier. The Bible is up to the task, according to Luther, and therefore it can ‘rightly be lord and master of all books and doctrines. If that were not the case, why would you still be working on the Bible?’ [ Was soll uns die Schrift? ] Then we would better reject them and from now on settle for people’s books and ideas.’4

You cannot reform the ‘Christian project’ in a more radical way and the break with the existing church cannot be clearer. More precisely: you cannot say more clearly that you believe that what calls itself ‘church’ is not a church at all, but a devilish parody of the church, with the Pope as anti-Christ at the helm. A Christian person does not have to worry about that. He is a free man, subject to no one. The only one above him is God. For this reason alone he joyfully serves all people. That’s how it goes when you have experienced God’s grace. It will not be a coincidence that the booklet of which these sentences are an echo was also published at the end of 1520: Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen. Based on the Bible, he feels called and free – after the realization of the total bankruptcy of what until now calls itself ‘church’, but is not so – to start building the real church. There will be only one source of authority: the Bible. All these elements are brought together in a particularly beautiful way by Luther in the last passage of his famous apology at the Diet of Worms in 1521. There he addresses the Emperor and the united princes of the Holy German Empire and says:

You ask me to give a short and clear answer whether I want to revoke my books. Well, if you cannot convince me with testimonies from Holy Scripture or with crystal clear arguments ( ratione evidente ), I cannot do that. After all, you cannot rely on the Pope and the councils, because they have often been wrong and contradicted themselves. Therefore, I continue to stand by the scriptures I presented earlier. My conscience ( conscientia ) is captured in those words of God. That is why I cannot and do not want to revoke anything, because acting against conscience is harmful to your soul and you destroy yourself with it. [Here I stand, I can’t do anything else]. God help me.5

Sola Scriptura

The Bible is the material source (it contains everything), human reason is the means by which you must process that ‘data’ and convert it into consistent teaching. Once you have done this to the best of your knowledge, the result is valid and mandatory. Then that is the truth. Then it applies: ‘this is how God speaks to us’. That word binds everyone who hears it. Luther’s reference to ‘conscience’ has often been interpreted as a plea for ‘freedom of conscience’, but that is certainly not what Luther means here. His conscience is captured in God’s Word ( conscientia capta in verbis Dei ). That sentence indicates the existential and inescapable authority that the biblical text acquires once it has been made to speak. Now you know the truth together with God (con-scientia). So now you’re stuck with it. Liberating (Turmerlebnis), but also obligatory (Worms). What this passage also shows, or rather assumes, is that Luther firmly believes that objective truth exists and can be found through thorough Bible research. Preferably in a team, with words and answers, he wants to search for what God says. His expectations in the new biblical scholarship are high. They will make God speak. For Luther, theology is and remains the highest science and makes corresponding demands on its practitioners.

So much for Luther’s story about how it started and what he thinks it comes down to. This is also not ‘the’ story of ‘the’ Reformation, that does not exist. However, it is Luther’s own story. In this way he ‘narrated’ that eventful period in his life, that is to say, gave it meaning and coherence. This is his framing. The Bible – as it became clear to him once and for all in 1520 – is the only basis and standard for judging what happens in a human life. It doesn’t matter whether that life takes place in the church or the world. The texts in that book not only save the soul from destruction (existential), but also lay a foundation for society (social, political). And for Luther, what emerges from that Bible is not a subjective matter, but the objective truth. He constantly challenges his opponents to debate, to come up with data from the Bible and to arrange them using reason in such a way that they will convince him. If one fails in this, he has no choice but to take his views as truth. The fact that a little later the prophets of Zwickau, the Anabaptists, and the German peasants, with reference to the same Bible and with reference to Luther’s ‘freedom of a Christian man’, come to completely different conclusions cannot shake his confidence in his own discovery. . They didn’t read well enough, or they misunderstood. He is always willing to show them what it really says and show them how to interpret it, ie how Scripture itself explains it according to Luther. Apparently he himself did not experience the fact that it is always Luther who can express the actual sense of Scripture better than anyone else as problematic. He was just always right, he thought. He labeled his fellow reformer, Huldrych Zwingli of Zurich, himself an excellent Bible scholar, as an obtuse and dangerous heretic at a summit conference of Reformist leaders from the German and Swiss territories (Marburg, 1529), for the simple reason that Zwingli did not want to go along. in his discourse on the meaning of ‘bread and wine’ at communion. At one point Zwingli must have exclaimed in despair: ‘But Brother Martin, everything must always go exactly the way you want!’ (Pettegree 2015, 250). Luther clearly had difficulty in granting others the freedom he had claimed for himself. His worldview, philosophy of life and theology, formed under great external pressure, soon solidified into an absolute certainty: God had chosen him as an instrument to shape the church of Christ. Based on the insights acquired, after he has been expelled from the church (which was not the church), he will donate all his energy to building the church, which would be worthy of the name church. Whoever wanted to join him was his friend; Anyone who committed obstruction had better prepare himself for God’s judgment.

The scripture opposite the church

The consequences of this concentration on the Bible are enormous. They only become clear during the sixteenth century. I don’t like to use the word “paradigm shift” too quickly, but I think it’s appropriate here. Not only the church, but also society is plunged into a crisis that cannot be resolved. A series of religion-related conflicts erupt, quickly escalating into open wars. The German territories, the Netherlands, France. At the necessary intervals in the sixteenth century, everyone gets his share. In the seventeenth century, the whole of Central Europe was dragged into the 30 Years’ War, which could only be pacified in 1648. Meanwhile, after the very bloody changes in course in the sixteenth century, England also became entangled in a bloody civil war from 1640 onwards (Puritans vs. Charles I). Never before in the history of Europe had war been waged on such a large scale, so bloody and so fanatically, in which – not only of course – the cause of the Christian religion played a decisive role.

That’s actually surprising. How can text interpretation have such dramatic consequences? There is clearly more going on than a philological debate that got out of hand. The answer lies in the status attributed to that text. For all participants, the Bible is not just a book, but ‘God’s Word’. They seem like ordinary stories, collections of spells, poems, law books and letters, but that is not the case. That’s an optical illusion. These texts are media through which God wants to make things clear to us and teach us. That can be about anything, about faith, morality, but it can also serve for worship and contemplation. Everyone involved agreed on this. What is new in Luther is that he takes this book out of the tradition of the church within which it was handed down and within which it was interpreted, and then contrasts it with the Church Tradition (with a capital letter, indicating the second ‘source of faith’ (Mechelen Catechism). , fri/answer 11-13) puts, while correspondingly raising the status of the book. Luther states that everything in the church is man’s work (theology, liturgy, organization, church order, etc.) except that book. That is God’s work, and only that. Through that medium God himself speaks and addresses himself live to the now living man. The fact that it is called God’s Word is therefore not a solemn phrase for Luther, but the indication of a reality. This does not mean that what the Bible says more of relative importance for the church (embedded in an explanatory tradition), but foundational for the church itself. Luther therefore considerably increased the stakes around biblical exegesis. We have described the genealogy of this insight above.

Before Luther spoke, the balance between Bible and Tradition had already shifted. The humanists had begun to read the biblical texts themselves, preferably in more original versions than the official church ones (the Vulgate). They read them with new eyes, trained as they were in the linguistic approach to other classical texts. They subsequently also published the Bible text (NT, Erasmus, 1516), made new translations, wrote commentaries and were impressed by those texts. You sometimes have that feeling when you start reading and want to know exactly what it says and what it means. They could not ignore the fact that there was a very large discrepancy between the life and work of Jesus, the simple rabbi of Nazareth, and the lifestyle and message that that official church conveyed. Erasmus and his French counterpart Lefèvre d’Etaples had no less high expectations than Luther did of the reactivation of the biblical writings: a renewal of church and society. These texts would do it (Bible). All scientific knowledge and resources were used for this (ratio) and then every person would have to admit: Yes, that is how it is. Now it is clear what God wants. I agree with him (con-scientia). But where Luther, after a few violent clashes, quickly decided to question the entire ecclesiastical tradition and, a little later, to fight against the church’s ‘being a church’, someone like Erasmus remained within the framework of tradition and – despite great opposition – and heated arguments – he continued to hope for gradual reform from within. However, once the radicals have the wind in their sails – and besides Erasmus, Luther is a radical – the moderates can forget about it. The consequence of continuing the Reformation à la Luther is that those other attempts at reformation from within often died a silent death.

Because Luther placed the Bible at the center of ecclesiastical attention, upgraded the authority of the Bible to quasi-divine status and, with that book in hand, began to critically view the entire institution of the ‘church’, the panels of the Christian religion began to shift. Suddenly, to be a Christian you had to read, read, and read the church’s source book. That will save you, not the priest with his sacrament. The promise was: by letting the words from that book work on you, God himself will speak to your heart and touch you. The Bible is the material medium of God’s speech, faith is the instrumental medium through which the spark can jump ( fides qua). Faith becomes something personal, something existential. This sounds so normal that only by doing this historical exercise do we realize that this is new. Devout monks and other religious professionals would have recognized it, but now this is becoming the norm throughout society. The quip that Luther never left the monastery, but simply placed the whole world under the monastery’s rule of faith, is justified here. The demands that used to be placed only on the clergy are now becoming general. Every person must be concerned with his faith. Every person must come into contact with the Bible. Every person must also have an awareness of what he believes. The other side of this breakthrough, and at the same time the condition for this revolution to succeed, is that the Bible clearly illuminates and assesses everything that happens in the world and in life and provides clear instructions on how to do this. then organize. As mentioned, Luther was convinced in principle, and many with him: objective truth would be found. For Luther, the concrete elaboration of this insight is a second step, which he is not always happy to take, especially when it concerns morality. His monk upbringing left him with an almost physical aversion when it comes to ‘mandatory formulations’ (laws). He takes on that task when challenged, simply because the vacuum created when he declared the church of Rome dead needed to be filled. There was a threat of anarchy, not only hermeneutically (in the interpretation of the Bible), but also socially. Anyone who touches religion touches society. For example, he does not systematically plan, but consistently slowly builds a whole new church with the pieces of the church that he blew up. Deconstruction and (re)construction both take place on the basis of the book, or so Luther thought and claimed. In reality, of course, there was much more to it, because reading and interpreting is not an ‘objective’ activity and never happens in a vacuum, especially not when it concerns a book in which so much has already been invested and on which as much depends as on a ‘holy book’. ‘. Anyone who thinks he can do that ‘without prejudice’ is fooling himself. And this is exponentially true if, based on the explanation of that book, a public organization such as the church must also be built. Because religion does not take place in no man’s land, but in the society of concrete people, the interpretation of the Bible (if it is about more than theoretical theological reflections, but even then!) is intertwined with political, social and cultural realities. And that explanation will certainly be influenced by this.

The reform movement is falling apart

In addition to the internal theological issues, another, much more pragmatic question soon emerged. How do you actually survive if you criticize the existing church? After all, you soon notice that you need the government, if only to keep you out of Rome’s grasp. The secular government proved necessary as a patron. Without that umbrella they (‘heretics’) were like a bird to a cat. If Frederick the Wise had not kept Luther’s hand, he would have had to go to Rome at the end of 1518 (he had been summoned) and that would have been his last trip. Luther and his followers soon realized that things could get enormously out of hand if the government did not take regulatory action. After all, the reformed initiative immediately threatened to explode into 1001 Bible-related movements, each of which claimed the full truth on behalf of God and therefore considered itself the legitimate continuation of the ‘church of Christ’. From the start there was chaos, and anarchy threatened. It is one of the aspects of the Reformation period that often remains somewhat out of view due to the later expansion of the Lutheran and Calvinist churches, also because official historiography pretends that these splinter groups are the exception and the established churches are the rule, while they are each other’s mirror image (two sides of the same medal. Concave and convex). The danger of distortion is even greater because almost all those groups that did not commit themselves to a secular ruler have become extinct over time (very often: exterminated) and therefore have few heirs to tell their story. And if their story is told at all, it is often from the perspective of the ‘victor’. Then they are called ‘sects’, ‘spiritualists’ or ‘Anabaptist radicals’. The judgment of the establishment. So from the start there is a tension in the ‘sola-scriptura’ movement, namely that in reality it is not a sola scriptura movement at all, or at least not if it takes the form of an institution. In the environment of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer and Calvin – to limit myself to these four pioneers – the theoretical thinking and practical understanding of man is therefore at least as important as the Bible itself in order to get the message across to people in a structural manner. to take. People either had an intellectual, social, political and cultural network, and if they already had one, they looked for partners.

The role of the state

The Protestant communities that survived the sixteenth century are therefore not coincidentally those who are connected to the secular ruler of the regions where they could/were allowed to develop. There they took over the church buildings, reformed or founded the schools, expanded the universities (with a new curriculum), and committed themselves to society by also taking over and expanding the social and charitable institutions of the old church. usually together with the secular government. The ‘reformed church’ was also firmly anchored in society.

Where groups of people wanted to experience being church in a new way without connecting with the prevailing politics, this quickly led to clashes, which were often smothered with violence. Exile (voluntary or forced) was then the lesser evil. For example, we see Christians who did not believe they could subscribe to the dogma of the Trinity on the basis of the Bible (Unitarians, Socinians), first fleeing to Poland (sixteenth century) and – when their church is also banned there – to leave for Holland and Transylvania (seventeenth century), finally taking root mainly in the Anglo-Saxon countries (eighteenth century). A group of English Calvinists who – like the Roman Catholics – could not agree with the Anglican state church in the early seventeenth century, moved to the New World as Pilgrim Fathers with a stopover in Holland . A Mennonite group, the Amish, still lives in relative separation in the same America as if time stood still at the beginning of the eighteenth century when they left Switzerland in the wake of an internal conflict within the Mennonite movement there. If people did not leave (or could not leave), the free religious communities often came under pressure from the establishment(which soon also included the ‘reformed churches’) ended up in the margins. After all, they were combated with all possible means as dangerous sects (we now know the mechanism), which sometimes caused them to become even more radicalized upon reversal, which certainly meant their downfall. We should not underestimate the depth of despair that gripped many ordinary people well into the sixteenth century, simply because they were not given an inch of space to even continue the personal search for God, let alone work together with a group. come. And if one did so, one had to live with the threat of martyrdom, which was also glorified as the most beautiful sacrifice one could offer to Christ. Anything less would make you lose your shit. In my opinion, this explains how an exodus from the Low German areas to Münster could occur in about 1534, the city where, according to a visionary man, the Heavenly Jerusalem would descend. That prophet was of course ‘Elijah’, even though his name was now Melchior Hoffman, Hendrik Matthijs, or Jan Beukelszoon van Leiden. Hadn’t Jesus Himself said that Elijah would come to prepare for His final coming in glory? As its residents fled the city, desperate hopefuls from near and far poured into the city, they called it Zion, thinking they would witness firsthand the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Things turned out differently: After a siege, the army of the Catholic and Lutheran princes, allied for the occasion, put an end to this outburst of apocalyptic Christianity: the metal cages in which the corpses of the three leaders were ‘shown to the people’ still hang from the church tower. It is clear: only those movements that conformed to the dominant religion (guaranteed by the secular government), or kept very quiet, could survive the sixteenth century in Europe. Some of the Anabaptists succeeded in this because, under the leadership of Menno Simons, they transformed themselves from assertive Protestants into ‘quiet in the country’, world-avoiding and pacifist Mennonites. Even as an esoteric, semi-secret society, there was a chance of survival. By the way, it cannot be underestimated how many ‘war-weary’ (and I mean both the real war and the battle of theologians) people found peace in mystical speculations and preferred that spiritual food to the meal served to them by the official churches. You can think here of the followers of ‘prophets’ such as David Joris and Hendrik Niclaes (ca. 1501-1580), who, with his ‘household of love’, set up a poetic-mystical movement that emerged in the Low German language in the sixteenth century. areas acquired a lot of support, especially in mercantile circles. Abraham Ortelius is included, Christophe Plantin printed his works. When Niclaes began to organize his followers in a strict hierarchical manner, some groups dropped out and continued with another – less pretentious prophet. Even the steep Flemish Calvinist and poet Pieter Datheen, in his old age, was so impressed by the books of David Joris and Hendrik Niclaes that he came to regret his own militant actions. It earned him disciplinary proceedings from the Calvinist church. The movement survived in England well into the seventeenth century. That’s what she’s known asThe family of Love .

The end of the self-evidence of the church

As became clear in chapter 1, religion is always connected to human life (culture, society, politics) with a thousand fibers. The extent to which cult and culture were intertwined had become clear to Christian missionaries when they tried to separate the two during their missionary practices. The end of one also meant the end of the other. What they were less aware of at the time, because it did not seem problematic, was that the same also applied to Christianity, especially to its late medieval Catholic variant. It was equally merged with society. It involved a set of actions and rituals, embedded in daily life, which were mainly experienced communally. Just participate was the motto. It was not necessarily a deep conviction of the private individual, but was organized, given meaning and legitimized by the church. Of course he was authorized to do that. Whether she really was, and how exactly that was, that was a question you didn’t ask. It just was. There was much to criticize about that church, but it had no competition within Europe. In short: the cult as it had grown coincided with the general culture. Religion was a cumulative cultural tradition, organically grown with an origin that is shrouded in the mists of history, but in the origin myth is traced directly back to its founder: Jesus Christ. This societas christiana was very diverse and colorful, the regional differences were great, but everywhere ‘the body social [= the social fabric], the body political [= the administrative institutions] and the body of Christ [= the church] were so closely intertwined as to be inseparable’.6  This religion was therefore ‘unconscious’ and ‘unreflected’, it was present/active in and through everything, and did not really need to be legitimized. Only a select group, an elite, of theologians were concerned with the definitions and modalities. Religious issues, such as one that came to light around Luther, are therefore either internal disputes between theologians and remain limited to them, or – if they come outside the university – they explode in the face of the church. Heresies not only threaten the church, but also dynamite society. Everything is connected to everything. The heretic is the enemy within. His early detection and elimination is of eminent social importance. If the church is torn, society is also torn. This is still the case, albeit less noticeable: public disputes about religion still undermine the fabric of society today. In Luther’s time this was exponentially the case. Also, an ensuing conflict could not be isolated from society and allowed to burn out in a controlled manner. After all, there is no separate category of ‘religion’ available to do that. One cannot isolate the conflict from the rest of culture and society. What a modern observer easily overlooks is that by touching one thing (e.g. a certain ritual, an institution, a custom) everything else also comes into motion, especially when the discussion takes to the streets. Exactly what happened in Luther’s day.

Believing consciously

Another important aspect of the pre-Luther Christian religion is the degree of ‘unawareness’ of this state of affairs. Precisely because the cult (religion in the narrower sense) was completely embedded in the culture (the way life is ordered, the way it goes, the way it should be), people don’t think about it. Why would you? A fish is also unaware of the water in which it swims until it ends up outside the fishbowl. Until a few generations ago, this was not significantly different in modern times. If you grew up in a village in Flanders you were probably Roman Catholic. You didn’t think about that. That was you. It was spoon-fed to you, better yet: you were fed it with breast milk. And you went to mass, walked in processions, stuck out your tongue at the priest when receiving the host and shuddered at the stories about hell. And in Holland you were probably Protestant and you automatically received the whole package that came with it. You didn’t think about that. That’s just how it was. You had the pastor or the minister to think about (or even better: the theologians in Leuven or Leiden – or Utrecht or Groningen, because with Protestants you always have to split internally again ). The common man learned his catechism, not internally but externally. That was enough. Spiritual leaders lamented this but it was just the way it was. The complaint about the lack of substantive engagement with the church and its faith content, is as old as the church. In short: believing in God was natural, as was identifying that God with the church that happened to be present in your life. You didn’t think about religion, it was something you participated in and experienced intensely or not. Or more Protestant: how important you actually considered faith to be. The organization of social, cultural and political life was also related to this, but again, even about that link and how it worked and whether it was correct, you didn’t worry about that. It was just the way it was. You folded or you bumped, you couldn’t change it anyway. There was no alternative (except moving, to the big city perhaps, where you could live anonymously, and where often a more or less philosophically plural society already existed). Those who were much engaged in religious matters were preferably detected by the church leadership at an early stage and, if possible, incorporated into their own framework. After all, besides the characteristic of saints, being too preoccupied with religion was also a characteristic of heretics. This picture is exaggerated, I know, it does not do justice to the many positive efforts to involve “the laity” in the service of God, as well as the authentic engagement of many in the church, but it is important to realize that such a world, in which the church is embedded and therefore has power – simply because it is intertwined with the rest of the culture – stands or falls with the obviousness of that state of affairs.

Contestations, the powers to be don’t wan them. They all, secular and spiritual, loathe questioners. Well, contesting, questioning, that is exactly what Luther did. And he was good at it. He did it pointedly and sharply and was not easily satisfied. And he questioned and took unpleasant consequences at face value. In doing so, he did like to reason consistently. Der Konsequenz did not lead zum Teufel , but to God, so was his conviction. In short: the longer you let Luther speak, the less obvious everything became. From the legitimacy of some ecclesiastical customs (indulgences), it soon turned to the authority of the church’s ministers (especially the “servant of all servants,” the pope), and before one realized it, the entire sacramental institution of salvation of the church was “questioned,” and the church shook to its foundations. Logically, many believed that Luther had to be stopped. This would lead to anarchy. After all, it was not only church-threatening, but – precisely because the church was connected to society with every fiber of its being – also state-threatening, risky for the “coexistence of people,” society. Right and wrong got mixed up in the emergency brake procedures initiated by the establishment. There were too many missed opportunities, but the reaction was understandable. Society was at stake. It proved to be so, for the more his thoughts began to spread, the greater social unrest and political tension became in Europe. I am not saying that is Luther’s fault, but even though correlation is not causation, it should make you think. Between 1518 and 1520, we saw, he gradually distanced himself from the standard answers and increasingly he began to detach the Bible from church tradition and use it as a “razor of Ockham” to dissect church doctrine. His writings sold like hot cakes, ranging in genre from crude attacks on the pope and his cronies (in German), edifying works (German and Latin), theological tracts, ecclesiastical instructions and in-depth theological studies (Latin). In universities, monasteries, fraternities, churches, parsonages, episcopal palaces, judicial council chambers, political bodies, and – last but not least – in many ordinary families, discussion erupted. Luther’s views found resonance especially in northwestern Europe. There, the existing church then surprisingly quickly lost its self-evidence and thus its authority. With this, the Western church ended up in an identity crisis and society went down with it. Discussing religion on the merits is playing with fire, because it touches the foundations of society. They are no longer taken “for granted,” literally: as granted from on high, by God. Luther’s theological method in particular (feedback to the Bible) proved very effective as a critical principle.

The Pope as Antichrist

By denying the existing church the right to call itself ‘church’, Luther set the stage. If you call the Pope the antichrist and the Vatican the headquarters of Satan, you thereby are calling on all your ‘followers’ to at least spiritually distance themselves from that church. And after some hesitation, he decided to offer the spiritual emigrants a real alternative, and the first sketch he developed for this was once again revolutionary and trend-setting. God did not work at all – according to Luther – through a sacramental institution via a separate spiritual station, but through ‘the word’ (literally, performative) and that working was personal. That’s how he experienced it himself and that’s how it was (Luther thought). The Bible is enough, one word is enough, it doesn’t matter who speaks that word, as long as it is Biblically related. There go the clergy, they are no longer needed. According to Luther, every person can become a ‘priest’ for another person. From now on, spiritual authority does not lie in ordination, but in a book that is available to everyone. When Luther speaks of the Bible as a viva vox evangelii , he means it literally: With a good reading of the Holy Scriptures, which according to Luther always presupposes exegetical research, the gospel comes to pass, that is, the glad tidings are proclaimed. with divine authority. Then God speaks his word of grace live to people. The ‘Servant of the Word’ is therefore the only office that Luther retains. In his first attempt at renewed church building, there is no priest or bishop to be seen. The religious community itself is authorized to appoint the servant (minister) and can also judge him, because it has access to the Bible.7 This is Luther at his most principled. In doing so, he tampers with the sacrosanct basic structure of late medieval society, which after all had three estates, each with its own place and role (nobility, clergy, people). If you remove one of the pillars, the building becomes unstable. Luther doesn’t care about it and simply publishes his ideas about the church in German, so that they are accessible to all Christians. Only when communities begin to form here and there, in which persons take the lead who call themselves ‘prophets’, and who then begin to proclaim things that Luther does not like at all, but which they say they have heard in the Bible, Luther returns to a more ordered church model. And if, to make matters worse, a social revolution follows in which disadvantaged peasants also appeal to the Bible and Luther and then revolt against the landowners (the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’, 1525), then he calls out, albeit with pain in the heart (because Luther had a strong sense of social justice) to help the secular authorities. He grants them the right to put down the rebellion and that is also their duty. The consequences were horrific. Previously, he had also granted the ‘German nobility’ the right and obligation to organize worship. Also an emergency measure (to eradicate ecclesiastical proliferation root and branch), and also with far-reaching consequences. If the church, in this case the bishop, fails, the secular government may and must take over the management and supervision of the church, Luther believes. Well, the government gladly took onthat task. She had been preying on this throughout the Middle Ages. Now she could finally domesticate that ‘troubled thing’ that was religion. She could appoint church leaders, expropriate church property and land, etc. She did not hesitate. By handing over the top position in church government so easily, Luther did take a hefty switch for the future, which, by the way, was not thanked by all. The later Calvinist Reformation attempt remained more independent and state-critical. The end result of the Lutheran alternative to the Catholic Church is paradoxical. The revolutionary church takes the form of a quasi episcopal state church. It thus resembles, like two drops of water, the church that Luther so fundamentally criticized and whose construction he rejected as fundamentally flawed. Confusingly, but this should not deprive us of the view, Luther’s vision was incredibly anti-institutional in its beginnings, not to say anarchic, more radical than most of the movements classified in the theological literature under the rubric of “radical reformation” that Luther counted among his worst enemies.

t is therefore not surprising, that – when these consequences began to become visible – some of Luther’s colleagues and especially many church leaders and princes, after initial sympathy, became more reserved in their support, or turned away from Luther. His actions were too wild and led to more than a broad-based criticism of church practices and doctrines (in which they were willing to go along). They began to see Luther’s démarches as an attack on the church (the institution) itself. And so it was. It is with good reason that Alister McGrath labelled Luther’s view “that any man can become someone else’s priest”Christianity’s dangerous idea. In organizational matters, Luther soon chose eggs for his money (outsourced to the secular government), as far as his scriptural principle was concerned, he never watered down. The church found itself in a total identity crisis because Luther began to use that principle to question everything that was taken for granted. The church that saw, defined, experienced and legitimized itself from a long and complex tradition faced a comprehensive and fundamental criticism. Luther flatly denied that the church as directed by pope and bishops was “church. On the contrary, she was a devil’s work, and according to Luther, the devil is never original. He is the monkey of God. He is a master at perverting something that is inherently good. The whole register of criticism used in the previous chapter for category 4 (paganism, idolatry) is applied by the Protestant movement with equal fervor and even more creativity to the Roman Catholic Church and its personnel. The mass became a diabolical puppet show to deceive the people, the pope turned into the antichrist, a term systematically used with Luther from 1520 onward. Cartoons, pamphlets, illustrated libels completed the picture. The common people, Joe with the hat, join in. When Luther has to trek to Worms to appear before the emperor in 1521, it is a triumphal march. Everywhere he goes, people stand by the side of the road and cheer him on. Pastors invite him to preach. People even try to touch him, as if he were a saint. When the day after his condemnation, Luther’s speech appears in print, one of the editions includes a picture of Luther in which a dove hovers above his head and a halo is at least suggested. Reformation blood also creeps where it cannot go. The other party’s press then goes on to rage against Luther in exactly the same way, using the same means. Luther as a seven-headed monster, a lustful monk, son of a mother conceived by the devil during a witches’ Sabbath. Anyway, you can fill it in further yourself. It is clear. There is no way these two “churches” could coexist. It is either-or. The religious identities that emerge are hard, closed and mutually exclusive. The outcome is familiar: After much inking and even more bloodshed, a Europe-wide partition follows more than a century later, with the religion of the sovereign determining which religion the people may openly profess. Luther had acquiesced to this a century earlier. Not all of his followers, especially those from the camp of Jean Calvin. They came up with a form of organization for the faithful, an underground church, which in time also claimed the right of rebellion against the secular ruler. On the basis of the Bible, that goes without saying – but see infra. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you don’t get it back in so easily.

As a human being, how do you actually know what God wants?

Luther asked the forbidden question: Who in the church (and by extension: in any religion) can actually claim to speak truly on behalf of God? By definition, a religious institution is one that assumes that somewhere, sometime, God willed their creation and binds itself to that institution, preferably exclusively. In charismatic groups this is different: there the repetition of the original speaking of God (verbally or emotionally) is the guarantee that you are in the right place, but there is also often very little institutionalization. For major religious institutions, such as “the church” but this applies more broadly than Christianity, a “moment” must be designated in which God would have granted that authority. That moment, by definition, lies in the past, but turns out to be unattainable if you look for it. That is precisely what primal myths serve for, such as Jesus’ granting “key power” to Peter, and apostolic succession. If that beginning is uncertain then anarchy looms, literally. The first meaning of ‘archè’ is not ‘power’, dominion’ as one often reads, but ‘beginning’, ‘the first’. The Bible begins with it: ‘In the beginning, in principio, and archèi…’. First come, first served. The first is the boss, the monarch, the prince (etymological from ‘princeps’, primus capio: he who takes the first chance). While everyone kept assuring – even today – 8  that the institutional form of the Roman Catholic Church is firmly anchored in God’s own will, Luther cried as the child in Andersen’s fairy tale: ‘But mama, the emperor (i.c.: il papa) has no clothes on at all’. He does say that God/Jesus has given him that proxy, authority, but that is not correct at all. One by one he presented and dismissed, falsified, the traditional arguments. And we are not talking about the ‘secular power’ of the Pope, based on the ‘donation of Constantine’, which was exposed as a forgery by Lorenzo Valla some time before Luther. Luther knew that too, and used that argument when it was appropriate, but what interested him was spiritual power and its legal basis: the legitimation of the church as the church of Christ. For this he used his ‘Ockham’s razor’, the theological method of sola scriptura. Anyone who reads the Gospels and congenially explains them with philological and exegetical means will soon realize that the authority given to Peter (but to all the disciples two chapter later 16, 18-19, to all), does not simply coincide with the claims that the Pope bases on it, not to mention the assumption that the power granted to Peter would be ‘transferable’. Luther also suggests in passing that when Jesus speaks of ‘the rock’ (Greek: πετρα – petra) ‘on which he will build his church’, Jesus does not mean the person of Peter, but the confession of faith he made shortly before. Luther could read well. Anyway, if the Bible is the touchstone of everything, then literally everything can be brought into question by bringing it before the ‘judgment of the Bible’. If it holds up: fine, if it falls through the basket: get rid of it! Luther claims that the Bible is up to the task of executioner. When asked, she will speak clearly and say unequivocally what it is and how it should be done. This immediately reveals the Achilles heel of Protestantism. That the Bible can do this is the original myth of Protestantism, and as questionable as the original myth of Catholicism. The Bible is not a clear book, in fact, it is not a book at all, it is 66/72 (or 74?, it depends on the church you are a member of) different books, which were created in a period of perhaps as long as 1000 years. And even though Luther remains convinced throughout his life that the Bible is clear and contains clear, undeniable knowledge about the will of God for us today, and even though all Protestant Reformers confirm this in unison, and even though you read in every Protestant confession of faith and catechism provide similar assurances, but in practice at least there is little to be seen of this. From the start there are serious disagreements about what exactly God wants according to the Bible and these soon lead to fierce arguments. With the double-edged sword of ‘God’s Word’ people also cut into their own flesh. What Luther used against Rome, e.g. that any person can be someone else’s priest, others now used against him by demanding a completely egalitarian church. Luther was shocked and pulled the emergency brake. That was not the intention. He had not understood the Bible that way. But yes, apparently she does. It is not that simple to convey a clear message from the Bible that convinces all readers. Those small 70 heterogeneous writings are not intended for that at all in terms of literary genre. Bible books are not ecclesiastical law books and do not contain explicit systematic theology. There are stories, prophecies, critical and constructive, there are letters, general reflections, advice, analyses, half-sermons, etc., all of which have their own historical context and elaborate on that. Yes, of course God’s existence and activity is assumed, but that in itself says nothing. If you want to say something from the Bible about a situation other than the one described, you have to work by analogy, and then you cannot avoid interpretation. In other words, ‘human work’ creeps into what should sound like the pure word of God. Why should the ‘spiritual gifts’ (including prophecy and healing power) from the letter to the Corinthians (ch. 12) not still be a characteristic of the church today? Why should all goods be held in common only in the first church (Acts, ch. 2)? What does it mean if, according to the letter to the Galatians, the distinction ‘slave-free’, ‘male-female’ is no longer important ‘in Christ’? And then I’ll just limit myself to a few topics that come to mind. In other words, the systematically exploited peasants did have a point, also seen from the Bible, and the Zwickau prophets were at least not wrong when they believed that ‘prophets’ could arise according to the Bible. The many spiritualist movements could not only rely on the Bible to emphasize how important the Holy Spirit is, they could even rely on the Bible to put the importance of the Bible into perspective. After all, it is ‘the letter that kills, and the spirit that gives life’ (Paul’s second letter to the believers of Corinth, chapter 3, verse 6b). In short: everything can be brought up for discussion. And so that happened. Anyone who wants to base a religious institute that must be ‘one, holy and worldwide (Catholic)’ solely on a book as diverse as the Bible, overestimates the carrying capacity of the biblical texts. The book was not written for that purpose and is not suitable for that purpose. Countless religious communities immediately arose (calling them churches is misleading), all of which relied on the Bible, but when it came to the application of the Bible, for example, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the office, the vision on the world, the role of the government, private property, ranks and positions, the Holy Spirit, the teaching about Jesus, etc., quickly and permanently came into conflict with each other. ‘Protestantism’ never existed. The term is an umbrella concept to indicate an initially very diverse range of groups, communities, movements (whether or not church-like), and individuals, whose main characteristic (certainly in the sixteenth century) was that they followed the Roman completely rejected the Catholic Church as an institution. What they also have in common is that they relied on the Bible, but as soon as they had to dust off the latter, it turned out that what united them as a formal principle was also what separated them as a substantive principle. An institutionally broad-based ‘sola-scriptura church’ never got off the ground. In other words, the systematically exploited peasants did have a point, also seen from the Bible, and the Zwickau prophets were at least not wrong when they believed that ‘prophets’ could arise according to the Bible. The many spiritualist movements could not only rely on the Bible to emphasize how important the Holy Spirit is, they could even rely on the Bible to put the importance of the Bible into perspective. After all, it is ‘the letter that kills, and the spirit that gives life’ (Paul’s second letter to the believers of Corinth, chapter 3, verse 6b). In short: everything can be brought up for discussion. And so that happened. Anyone who wants to base a religious institute that must be ‘one, holy and worldwide (Catholic)’ solely on a book as diverse as the Bible, overestimates the carrying capacity of the biblical texts. The book was not written for that purpose and is not suitable for that purpose. Countless religious communities immediately arose (calling them churches is misleading), all of which relied on the Bible, but when it came to the application of the Bible, for example, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the office, the vision on the world, the role of the government, private property, ranks and positions, the Holy Spirit, the teaching about Jesus, etc., quickly and permanently came into conflict with each other. ‘Protestantism’ never existed. The term is an umbrella concept to indicate an initially very diverse range of groups, communities, movements (whether or not church-like), and individuals, whose main characteristic (certainly in the sixteenth century) was that they followed the Roman completely rejected the Catholic Church as an institution. What they also have in common is that they relied on the Bible, but as soon as they had to dust off the latter, it turned out that what united them as a formal principle was also what separated them as a substantive principle. An institutionally broad-based ‘sola-scriptura church’ never got off the ground. In other words, the systematically exploited peasants did have a point, also seen from the Bible, and the Zwickau prophets were at least not wrong when they believed that ‘prophets’ could arise according to the Bible. The many spiritualist movements could not only rely on the Bible to emphasize how important the Holy Spirit is, they could even rely on the Bible to put the importance of the Bible into perspective. After all, it is ‘the letter that kills, and the spirit that gives life’ (Paul’s second letter to the believers of Corinth, chapter 3, verse 6b). In short: everything can be brought up for discussion. And so that happened. Anyone who wants to base a religious institute that must be ‘one, holy and worldwide (Catholic)’ solely on a book as diverse as the Bible, overestimates the carrying capacity of the biblical texts. The book was not written for that purpose and is not suitable for that purpose. Countless religious communities immediately arose (calling them churches is misleading), all of which relied on the Bible, but when it came to the application of the Bible, for example, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the office, the vision on the world, the role of the government, private property, ranks and positions, the Holy Spirit, the teaching about Jesus, etc., quickly and permanently came into conflict with each other. ‘Protestantism’ never existed. The term is an umbrella concept to indicate an initially very diverse range of groups, communities, movements (whether or not church-like), and individuals, whose main characteristic (certainly in the sixteenth century) was that they followed the Roman completely rejected the Catholic Church as an institution. What they also have in common is that they relied on the Bible, but as soon as they had to dust off the latter, it turned out that what united them as a formal principle was also what separated them as a substantive principle. An institutionally broad-based ‘sola-scriptura church’ never got off the ground. but when it came to the application of the Bible to, for example, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the office, the view of the world, the role of the government, private property, ranks and positions, the Holy Spirit, the teaching about Jesus, etc., quickly and permanently got into each other’s throats. ‘Protestantism’ never existed. The term is an umbrella concept to indicate an initially very diverse range of groups, communities, movements (whether or not church-like), and individuals, whose main characteristic (certainly in the sixteenth century) was that they followed the Roman completely rejected the Catholic Church as an institution. What they also have in common is that they relied on the Bible, but as soon as they had to dust off the latter, it turned out that what united them as a formal principle was also what separated them as a substantive principle. An institutionally broad-based ‘sola-scriptura church’ never got off the ground. but when it came to the application of the Bible to, for example, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the office, the view of the world, the role of the government, private property, ranks and positions, the Holy Spirit, the teaching about Jesus, etc., quickly and permanently got into each other’s throats. ‘Protestantism’ never existed. The term is an umbrella concept to indicate an initially very diverse range of groups, communities, movements (whether or not church-like), and individuals, whose main characteristic (certainly in the sixteenth century) was that they followed the Roman completely rejected the Catholic Church as an institution. What they also have in common is that they relied on the Bible, but as soon as they had to dust off the latter, it turned out that what united them as a formal principle was also what separated them as a substantive principle. An institutionally broad-based ‘sola-scriptura church’ never got off the ground.

That must have been a huge disappointment for many well-intentioned sixteenth-century people. The humanists, led by Erasmus, had high expectations of a return to the source of faith: the Bible, read in and understood from the original languages. Thanks to the renewed knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, it would now be truly opened up for the first time in living memory. And the original meaning would become clear. That there is no such thing as an unbiased reading, nor a definitive interpretation of any text that is more than a simple statement, is self-evident to a modern linguist (although), but unthinkable to a sixteenth century man and when it concerns the Bible: ‘ swearing in church’. After all, the Bible was not regarded as an ordinary book. The Bible was ‘God’s Word’, that is to say: not a human book, but holy Scripture, inspired, revealed. Although not as massive as Islam’s claim with regard to the Quran (dictated by God to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel), in the experience of many Protestant Christians it certainly comes very close to a ‘literal inspiration’: the Holy Spirit the holy evangelists whisper the text in many prints. The authors are also regularly called ‘notarii’. From this view of the holy book, expectations regarding the emerging linguistic sciences were high. Philology would work wonders. She would blow away the thick layer of dust with which Roman Catholic doctrine and church tradition had covered the biblical message (twisted, falsified, as you often read in Protestant writings of that time), and then the pure Word of God would shine again in its glory. original brightness. Then – and Luther really believed it in the beginning – the whole world would be able to read with their own eyes what the situation actually was and therefore undoubtedly come to their senses. Not only the pope and the bishops, but also the Jews would flock and convert, now that the true meaning of the biblical texts had resurfaced. The fact that this did not happen also partly explains the doggedness with which he both wrote the romanaas he fought the Jews afterwards. In his experience, the fact that they still did not want to gain insight despite so much evidence could only be attributed to the devil. The Jews were blinded, the synagogue was Satan’s school, and the Pope and his cronies were hatching a diabolical plot against the true Church of Christ. The Anti-Christ was behind this, that was for sure. The obvious failure of theologians to derive a ‘unambiguous objective doctrine that is convincing to everyone’ from the Bible also has consequences for the academic status of theology. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, she was still highly regarded, and many expected her to provide a real answer to life’s questions (with a small and large L). A century later, church and society are in disarray because theologians continue to argue and we see that the scientific avant-garde is increasingly ignoring the theological faculty and is starting to develop its own dynamics. This applies to both natural scientists (medicine, physics) and language scholars (who are mainly philological, historical and ethnological). Luther’s obvious connection between science and theology falls apart. Reason emancipates, theology remains stagnant and loses social relevance.


All institutional, ie ‘church-like’, Protestant survivors became closely linked to the secular government in the course of the sixteenth century – just like the Catholic Church before it. They became the official state church, or were given the position of privileged religion. These same churches have also all developed a strong internal structure. Theologians in the sixteenth century worked overtime to achieve this. They tried to develop a more or less consistent set of beliefs , often summarized in confessions, ‘confessions’ (to be clear, this has nothing to do with the ‘confession’ as a confession of guilt, but refers to openly stating what you believe in). ). The first is the Augsburg Confession from 1530, with which the Lutheran princes tried to convince their liege lord, Emperor Charles V, that ‘from a Christian perspective it was in order’ and that he could therefore give them the authority to organize the worship service themselves. determine their region. A very important one is also the Confessio Belgica (1561), with which the Tournai preacher, Guy de Brès, tried to convince King Philip II of something similar, but with regard to the underground religious communities in the Netherlands. A lot of organizational and legal ingenuity was also involved in building and expanding the new church structure. Finally, a cultural effort that should not be underestimated was made to reshape worship after the abolition of the ‘Popish Mass’. The Bible was translated, the liturgy was purified or even rebuilt from scratch , prayers were written, songs were composed, sermon schedules and sermon sketches were composed (postils), and last but not least: music was composed to allow churchgoers to actively participate in the liturgy. Here too – it will not surprise you after the above – diversity is an asset. Protestant religious communities can vary in terms of church organization from an episcopal system to a quasi ‘flat organization’ (proto-democratic), and everything in between. In terms of liturgy, it ranges from extreme austerity (Zwingli only read and commented on the Bible text and they prayed in silence, and that was it) to everything in between, as was usually the case in the Lutheran and Anglican churches, and here too everything in between. . The appeal to the Bible characterizes all Protestant confessions, church orders and liturgical forms and every Protestant theologian will make it a point of honor to discuss the compromises with culture and the agreements with politics (or the ‘rebellion against the princes’, depending on the real situation). situation) as – at least – biblically sound. Confirmation bias is certainly not foreign to theologians and church leaders.

While they were doing this, a new problem came to light. However much everyone agreed in the rejection of the Roman Catholic option (that was easy, that was the devil, the antichrist), mutual cooperation did not get off the ground. The various Protestant ‘new construction projects’ could hardly tolerate each other. It was also self-evident for the settling churches that only one church was possible. So they had to agree with the other settling churches, at least on the core issues. But when it comes to the definition of this (starting with the determination of what is a core issue, and what is not), they cannot resolve the differences, not even through joint Bible study. On the contrary. The new religious identities in the sixteenth century are therefore not only constructed in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, but also set against each other. With all its consequences. And not only does the break with Rome prove to be repetitive, the violence that accompanies it (the rejection of the other as a ‘heretic’) also reproduces itself in the following breaks. In 1523, two monks from the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp, confreres of Luther, were burned in Brussels under the watchful eye of the imperial inquisitor Frans van der Hulst, in 1525 the first ‘Anabaptists’ were drowned in the river in Zurich under the watchful eye. van Zwingli, who a few years earlier had convinced the city council to reform public worship there according to the model he had developed on the basis of the Bible. And according to him, there was no place for the ‘Anabaptists’ (of course they did not call themselves that, because they were of the opinion that infant baptism was not real baptism. They simply called themselves ‘Christians’). This is not the place to recount further history, but it is not very uplifting. By the end of the sixteenth century, many Lutheran theologians were more concerned with fighting the “Calvinists” than with Rome. The rabies theologorum (the crazy, fierce battle between theologians about ‘who is right’) cannot be underestimated and has caused many victims, although it must be said that the established Protestant churches quickly limited themselves to the battle with the spiritual sword. the word. However, the blows hit hard.

The construction of mutually exclusive religious identities

By highlighting the ‘Scripture principle’, the religious issue is not settled once and for all (as was intended), but rather becomes a vital question: Who can actually maintain with any authority that he really speaks for God ( and his church is therefore the true church of the Lords), as long as it is not possible to get the Bible unambiguously and convincingly on his side. Of course everyone is convinced that he has the Bible on his side, but for an outsider it is difficult to hear a cantus firmus that irresistibly imposes itself in the cacophony of competing visions of ‘Christianity’. By putting everything on the Bible, Luther played with fire. With the Reformation, religious chaos in Europe only increased, with all its social consequences. If the body of Christ falls apart, so does the body social and the body political . The ecclesiastical split automatically translates into a social and political split. New societies must be forged, new boundaries must be drawn in Europe and, due to the enormous amount of energy and emotion that has gone into the debates, these boundaries can ultimately only be drawn along confessional lines. The fact that the negotiators at the Peace of Westphalia/Münster sometimes had to shuttle between the representatives of the warring parties because they did not want to sit at the table together speaks volumes.

Not only did this conflict give rise to new churches (the plural alone is unbearable for a sixteenth century person), it also changed the mother church. She started to put her own house in order. From 1545 to 1563, the bishops led by the Pope met intermittently in Trent. Everything had to be fine-tuned, the doctrine, the church order and the practice of faith. If the Catholic Church pre-Luther had been a colorful whole, mainly focused on a communal form of experience, characterized by a shared praxis rather than by a well-defined doctrine, the way in which Luther had ‘questioned’ this whole could have led to here too, no more searching for a precise definition of the doctrine. The church after Trent is essentially a different kind of religious institution than it was pre-Luther. It had grown organically for centuries and was therefore fused with Western European culture. Previously, doctrinal decisions in the church were only made when necessary. It was about the shared life. In terms of design and atmosphere, it was – pre-Luther – characterized by almost as great a diversity as the cultures with which it was interwoven. The Roman Catholic churches in France, England and Bohemia are much more similar today than in the Middle Ages. In Bohemia, for example, at the end of the fifteenth century, as a layman you could communicate under two guises (with bread and wine), a concession that the Pope should have made if he did not want to lose all Bohemians in the aftermath of the burning of Johannes Hus. touch. Priestly marriage was also still being discussed and the doctrine of transubstantiation had been established, but not yet promulgated as dogma. The previously mentioned Cajetanus had calmly written down in one of his books that this doctrine could in any case not be found in the Gospel. In response to Luther’s questions (i.e. within his framing of the question ), the council now radically opts for clarity, unity and uniformity, centralization of authority and standardization of the rite. Precisely because the Pope was so massively attacked by the Protestants, he became the symbol of the Catholic Church. He became the symbol of unity, which he was certainly not before. It is also at this council that his absolute teaching authority is stipulated for the first time. His infallibility not yet, but you can already feel it coming. He is the only one who can definitively explain the Bible. The criticism from Protestant quarters of the Bible and especially of the many flaws in the translation of Jerome that the church used as a standard, the Vulgate, led to the decision at the last minute (last session in 1563) to publish the Latin text of the Bible. to review the Bible. The new Vulgata Sixto-Clementinawas born in 1592, from a translation point of view a thing, neither flesh nor fish, but according to the council decision to be regarded as ‘the literal word of God’. The liturgy has also been uniformed: The Missale and Breviarium Romanum are mandatory everywhere. End of local color . End of the Missale Gallicanum, for example, which had previously served the French Church. Not that the decrees of Trent were implemented immediately. The Pope did not have that much authority. Venice continued to print and use its own versions of the missal well into the seventeenth century, much to the chagrin of Rome. And the battle for the introduction of the Missale Romanum in France lasted until the 19th century . Be that as it may, diversity in the Catholic Church declined significantly after the council. The Roman Catholic Church also presented itself as a ‘confessional church’ and therefore zealously participated in the religious debate about the ‘doctrine’ started by Luther. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church remained in people’s minds what it was before, namely a form of shared ritual life, strongly anchored in local devotional traditions. The council also contains all kinds of impulses to deepen and broaden the experience of this. Some of this certainly cannot be classified as ‘reactionary’ (reacting to the Protestant protest). The mystical movements and the numerous monastic foundations speak for themselves and are certainly an offshoot of a ‘reform-oriented’ trend that goes back to the period before Luther. Furthermore, the Jesuits made a name for themselves during this period, especially in the implementation of the decisions of the council. Anyway, what else could I write about this? Flanders is scarred by it. Without Counter-Reformation, no Rubens.

It is clear that many points affirmed as essential to Roman Catholic identity are responses to Protestant challenges, but not in an accommodating but always in a restrictive sense. The intercession of the saints, the veneration of Mary, transubstantiation, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the efficacy of the sacraments, indulgences, the merit of good works, celibacy, etc., all matters which the Protestants had attacked, were now declared essential for the Catholic identity. Did you still have some room for maneuver on these points before Trent: After Trent they were defined and prescribed very precisely and the local clergy were also encouraged to teach these points to the people, starting with the pastors, who from now on would be in the – to be noted focus – diocesan study center had to undergo training. In a decree entitled ‘the reform of the church’, all kinds of matters that the Protestants had also denounced were cleared up. However, we never read that ‘the Protestants’ might actually have a point. On the contrary: the Protestant position is often explicitly mentioned, invariably introduced with the sentence: ‘whoever says this… let him be cursed’ ( anathema sit ). The insults that were rife in theological polemics from 1520 onwards are reflected in the doctrinal position definition. In the Protestant catechism that appeared in Heidelberg in 1563 (the year that the council decided in its last sessions to compile a ‘Roman catechism’), the discussion of the ‘Holy Communion’ makes just as strong a point to the Roman Catholic doctrine as well as at the council after the Protestant: There we read, for example, that ‘the Popish Mass is basically nothing other than a denial of the only sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a cursed idolatry’ (fr/answer 80) . This catechism is still an official basic document of most Dutch Protestant churches. In certain segments it is also used as a textbook. Combating each other’s positions, bouncing the ball back, the invectives going back and forth, that becomes a standard exercise that every Christian, regardless of denomination, must be able to accomplish. And not only Bible-oriented Protestants will be trained in this, rite-oriented Catholics must also be able to express their faith, starting with Mr. Pastor, but also through the catechism lessons ‘John with the cap’ and ‘Mary with the hat’.

Excursion: Scherpenheuvel

The story of Scherpenheuvel illustrates the change in identity that Catholicism underwent in the sixteenth century. From a diffuse communally experienced ‘superstition’ around the sacred oak of Scherpenheuvel (but that is already the term of the later reviewer) to a specifically interpreted Marian pilgrimage in a Baroque basilica. Since time immemorial, a mysterious oak has stood on a lonely hill between Diest and Zichem. Its leaves were known to have magical power. Christians also went to the tree to find healing. The people of Zichem in particular knew how to find their way there. It seemed to work especially well against fever. In the early fifteenth century, a statue of the Virgin Mary suddenly appeared in the tree. The clergy made it clear to the pilgrims that it was not actually the tree or the leaves that had medicinal properties, but that the Virgin Mary was the miracle worker. When Scherpenheuvel literally found itself on the front line between Protestant and Catholic troops in the seventeenth century, the journey to Scherpenheuvel became an act of strong Catholic faith, heroic, at times bordering on an application for martyrdom. The outrage was enormous when the State troops removed the statue of Mary from the tree and destroyed it. At the same time, stories multiplied about miraculous healings, especially for wounded Spanish soldiers. The army eventually drove out the Beggars. The victory was dedicated to Mary, and the tree of Scherpenheuvel was provided with a new Marian chapel, now a symbol of militant Catholicism, with a strong patriotic element. Pilgrims flocked in droves and every healing was proof that Catholicism was the true faith. Especially after the archducal couple visited the chapel in 1603. The priest had a wooden chapel made in which he housed the statue that had hung in the tree until then. However, the higher clergy found it increasingly difficult with the explosion of healing stories, each more spectacular than the last. Pilgrims seemed only interested in physical well-being, and hardly in ‘spiritual matters’. They also suspected that not all stories of miraculous healings were equally reliable. The Protestants were already mocking it anyway. Bishop Miraeus of Antwerp was sent to investigate and found that the ‘oak was becoming a danger to pilgrims’ because souvenir hunters were systematically hollowing out the tree. In 1604, the Archbishop of Mechelen ordered the sacred oak to be cut down. Thus the oak and Mary were separated. He had new statues of Mary made from the wood. Pieces of the wood turned up years later, deep into Spain, and were highly sought after. A basilica was built on the hill by the archducal couple’s resident architect, Wensel Cobergher, entirely according to the ideas of the Counter-Reformation. The shape of a castle, and a private court at the same time. The symbolism couldn’t be clearer. A strong Marian devotion colors the entire plan. The liturgy celebration according to the official rite thus takes center stage and Mary now has the opportunity to fully conquer the hearts of the faithful. Something she has succeeded in with flying colors.9 In less than 50 years, throughconfessionalization,has become an identitarian statement of the Roman Catholic Church, in which it emphasizes its own identity in terms of content (Mary doctrine) and does so emphatically by profiling itself vis-à-visthe competitor (or better ‘enemy’. The castle shape was chosen for a reason).

New definition of religion, after Luther

What remains at the end of this chapter is that Luther’s démarche had major consequences for the way in which the Christian religion came to define itself. Please note, I am not saying that the experience of most Christians has fundamentally changed. I suspect that’s not too bad (or disappointing, depending on how you look at it). It is not without reason that I was able to use a sketch of Flanders from less than a century ago above as an example of the ‘naturalness of an experience of religion embedded in culture’. And the story of Scherpenheuvel also clearly indicates that there is quite strong control by the spiritual and secular government (the clergy and the archducal couple). In any case, what has changed is the way in which religion ‘appears’ in the public domain, how ‘it is talked about’. As a postmodern thinker avant la lettre, Luther had deconstructed the entire ecclesiastical structure with the help of the Bible and he had done so thoroughly that the institution had to reconstruct itself afterwards and he did so diligently, as a confessional identity. To put it bluntly: before Luther you could still ‘just be a member of the club and participate’ without asking many questions, after Luther everyone had to be able to answer the question: ‘what do you believe?’ And because the individual appropriation of the religious contents left much to be desired, that question largely coincided with: ‘Which church do you belong to?’. In response, you could either roughly describe the content of the faith yourself (you had learned the catechism well) or you could refer to a religious professional, but he would also answer ‘catechism-like’, that is. That would be the set of beliefssum up. And just as important: You also had to know what reprehensible things the others believed. That was also neatly stated in the catechism, with or without smaller letters. The rejection of the other was part of your religious identity. And this back and forth, and repeated ad infinitum within the Protestant movement, in order to define themselves in relation to each other. So people start to give ‘catechism-like’ answers when they are asked about their faith. The fact that I now use the word ‘faith’ as ​​a synonym for ‘religion’ or ‘religion’ is itself a symptom of this. In addition to catechisms, countless textbooks were published, in which each point was clearly explained and provided with the necessary arguments. The result was that the attention in all confessions quickly switched from innovative linguistic Biblical research and Biblical theology (Luther’s favorite area of ​​research, which he was reluctant to leave) to systematic theology. The Bible became a book full of evidence to substantiate the doctrines specific to the confession in question. It could be used to beat dissenters over the head. University courses specialized in theological disputes. The scholastic manuals that Luther had burned together with the papal bull were back in the reading room within one generation, including among Protestants. And before the sixteenth century was over, a new Lutheran scholasticism had already emerged. Polemics dominate the religious market. The points of difference are explored and of course further refined during the debate. The line between orthodoxy and heresy was drawn increasingly sharply by each party. These insights were also spread through popularizing manuals and became so commonplace in areas where the various confessions lived close together that a Roman Catholic visitor to Germany must once have sighed that ‘some farmers knew the 10 points of difference better than the 10 commandments’ (Kaplan, 40).

The mutually exclusive religious identities are therefore becoming increasingly closed and religion also seems to increasingly coincide with a set of beliefs that is/is not accepted. The Christian religion is therefore transformed through discussion into a ‘well-defined view of faith, with a practice based on it, which must be individually agreed to and known in broad outlines.’ All churches carefully formulated their views on faith in the course of the sixteenth century. Acceptance of the set of beliefs seems to be the core of the Christian religion. Certainly in the Protestant branch, this is accompanied by a strong emphasis on knowledge of it (a lot of work is being done on this, but people are always complaining about it. Apparently it is difficult to achieve), and over time, increasingly, on personal experience. of it. In Roman Catholic regions, this aspect is now also important for identity, but the other emphasis always remains a priority: participation in sacraments and devotion. After the Council of Trent, the veneration of Mary rose to unprecedented heights. Because religion and culture, the body social, and the body political and the body of Christ , are still intertwined, this means that the mutually exclusive religious identities cannot actually coexist. If, due to a quirk of fate (usually a political fact), different variants of the Christian religion are both present in one city or region, people look for pragmatic solutions to settle the ‘issue’ in such a way that the tensions are manageable. stayed. The pacifying and regulating role of the secular government is always essential. Church leaders are the most resistant when a compromise has to be found to make this possible. Significant. Such compromises could consist of allowing ‘others’ to go to church just across the border, or of organizing their own celebrations at a specific distance outside the city wall, or of allowing more or less a blind eye to meetings taking place in ‘ hidden churches’ (as in the Netherlands and – more difficultly – also in Flanders). Sometimes – surprisingly – it even comes to sharing the same church building. Simultaneumthis was called. From 1548 onwards, this has been an almost uninterrupted tradition in Biberach am Riss (Baden-Württemberg), among others, not of choice, but on the express orders of Emperor Charles V, who thus protected the Roman Catholic minority against the vast Protestant majority. (Kaplan, 198). Because the Peace of Augsburg froze the ‘status quo’ in terms of religious options, this emergency measure remained in force. So people ‘bear with’ each other, if there really is no other option. Intolerance is the norm, ‘tolerating’ the exception. It is difficult for all parties to accept that there are people who will live and die in that other ‘church’ (but it is not a church!) according to the doctrine taught there. Their soul is lost. One can never accept that. And back and forth anathema sit is heard … ‘accursed idolatry’, schismatics, heretics, anti-Christ! The new style churches could not really co-exist, but because none of them succeeded in making the other(s) disappear from the face of the earth, this meant that at the end of the day they had to have some form of religious plurality. accept. Under duress, not willingly. During the pacification of the conflicts (1648-1650), the concept of religion – in line with ‘framing’ – was defined as, limited to, ‘a set of beliefs with the associated rituals’. The religious discussion was thus placed outside politics. This was the only way to ‘put the genie back in the bottle’. Under the heading of freedom of conscience, religion is relegated to the private world. An exercitium religionis privatum applied there . In public life there is then theoretically only one religion per territory (country, state, principality, city of refuge): cuius regio, eius religio. Europe becomes a patchwork of confessionally distinct areas: living apart together . Tolerating each other at the border: Good fences make good neighbors. Where a significantly large group of people of a different confession lives on the territory of one, forms of ‘pragmatic tolerance’ arise (toleration, not tolerance), but the ‘state of war’ continues to exist – minus the weapons. Forms of violence against people of other faiths continued well into the eighteenth century, either incidentally (Calas affair) or expulsion of entire groups (Huguenots in France, Lutherans in Austria, Waldensians in Savoie), sometimes with the obligatory abandonment of children. So this is what the Christian religion looks like as it enters the modern age. And that’s how she stayed until – not so long ago. Progressive secularization caused the church to shrink socially and the impact of official doctrine on its members decreased accordingly. The confessional quarrel was still there on paper, but most ‘church members’ gradually began to find it ridiculous themselves. Apparently the teaching was more important to theologians and church leaders than to many ordinary believers. Their religious identity was much broader and more diffuse.

Not the church reformed, but religion in crisis

The Reform Movement did not lead to a reformation of the church but to a reformation of religion : From now on it is about a set of beliefs, personally experienced, legitimized by a reference to sources of knowledge unverifiable by outsiders.

The concept of religion that emerged from the crisis of the church still dominates our view on and dealing with the various religious phenomena that occur in our society and how religion is discussed to this day. Essential to ‘religion’ is a set of beliefs that are more or less known by the ‘adherents’ and systematized by an institute (internal consistency). That institute should also preferably have a legally clear organizational form. The physical and material raison d’être of such a religion lies in its admission by the secular government. At the time we were talking about, this usually meant that the government made that religious variant of Christianity mandatory for every citizen. After the Peace of Munster/Westphalia (1648-1650), people were free in their conscience to accept or not accept that set of beliefs , but if they wanted to have civil rights, they had to conform – at least externally – to the prevailing religion. This is the well-known principle of Cuius regio, eius religio . It had already been the conclusion of the first religious war in Augsburg in 1555, but was subsequently brought up for discussion again, with words and violence. After 1648 this principle became general and therefore applies to the situation in large parts of Europe. The big exception was France, where in certain well-defined areas it was also allowed to have another religion, in this case Protestant. If one came from such an area, one would have civil rights throughout the country. With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1682, the Sun King actually simply conformed to the European standard. The other exception was the Dutch Republic, where the Protestant religion was privileged, but membership was not mandatory. The astonishingly high number of citizens not affiliated with the ‘Reformed or Reformed Church of the United Netherlands’ in the seventeenth century is thought-provoking. At the same time, this also gave the Dutch Republic the status of a ‘free port’ for people expelled elsewhere. The tolerance (here too ‘toleration, not tolerance’) of other religions therefore takes concrete forms more quickly and goes hand in hand with thinking about whether such a thing as ‘religious freedom’ might not be possible after all. More about that in the next chapter.

A second aspect that Luther’s actions brought to the concept of ‘religion’ is that the Bible, the holy book of the Christian religion, received much more attention than before. This means that research into the text and interpretation of the Bible (linguistic, explanatory, historical) is forever linked to at least the Christian religion. The Roman Catholic Church also fully participated in this, even though it continued to honor Tradition as a source of faith in addition to the Bible. In the ‘public conversation’ about religion, that book and the teachings referring to it ( set of beliefs ) always play a leading role. In fact, the theologians and exegetes predominated so much in discussions that over time almost everyone automatically became of the opinion that the most important side of faith was the religious conviction and that the ritual side (the experience side) was actually only had a right to exist if it could be motivated ‘from that belief’. Catholic authors also shared this view in the heat of the polemic. In that debate, the term ‘religion’ moved towards that external, visible aspect, whereby the term ‘faith’ would indicate the inner, real thing, the core of what really matters (they thought). Once again a signal of how far the Protestantization of the Christian religion has penetrated the Dutch-speaking area. Something similar applies to the United States of America. It is said that the brilliant Catholic apologist, GK Chesterton, once sighed ‘that in America even the Catholics are Protestant’.

Finally, the strong emphasis on the personal experience of God’s grace has opened the gate to a more subjective view and experience of religion. Luther’s emphasis on fides qua , the faith with which you appropriate salvation, was an important moment in this. However, Luther was thus part of a movement of internalization that had been going strong since the late Middle Ages. It goes without saying that the general tendency towards individualization and the romantic fascination with personal experience have strengthened this element. This emphasis made it possible for the diplomats in 1648-1650 to partly detach religion from communal life and refer it to the ‘living room’ (privatim). Freedom of religion was now a fact there. The line from intense personal experience (Luther) to individualization and privatization of religion is certainly not a straight line, but it can still be drawn with some justification.

We are so familiar with these three aspects of the (Christian) religion (set of beliefs, reference to a book, personal experience) that we run the risk of thinking that they will generally apply to everything related to religion. has to make. And even if we know in theory that this is not actually the case, this view of religion still determines our perception (or non-perception) of religious expressions. The Reformation movement around Luther may not have succeeded in a reformation of the one church into a better version of itself, but it did – by accident – ​​succeed in a reformation of the phenomenon of religion.


This new format has a number of consequences that I will finally list again. They are all related to the crucial role that the set of beliefs plays within this format. The concept limits our perception of reality. We find it difficult to recognize human behavior that is not based on, or appears to result from, certain religious beliefs as forms of religion. We would like people to present a set of beliefs to explain a ritual. At least then we can ‘talk about it’. If someone lights a candle in church, he has to say: I do this because I believe that… And if he doesn’t know it soon, he will come up with a rationalization. We don’t think it’s enough to simply say: ‘I do that because it feels good, or because my mother did that too’. We don’t actually take answers that are provided more or less via standard templates that seriously. There needs to be catechism. Or if it concerns a foreign religion, an expert must be brought in to explain to us why people in India actually bathe in the Ganges so en masse. I find this a regrettable and even dangerous development, because making behavior explicit is always secondary and the absence of (or inability to make) explicitation should not determine the truthfulness and importance of that behavior. Why should only eloquent religions with elaborate metaphysics and ditto moral teachings be worthy of the word ‘religion’ and deserve our attention? I find this a shame , because it makes it difficult for other forms of reality to make their possible positive contribution to society; and dangerous because it is precisely the eloquent religions that have high pretensions. They very often claim to ‘know it’ and because their argumentation is circular (based on a ‘holy book’ and therefore on a logic that cannot be communicated to outsiders), that knowledge does not communicate well. The Western Christian format of religion, which became dominant through the Protestant Reformation, contains a lot of explosives, which in the past at least often added fuel to the fire of existing conflicts.

An example of both (a regrettable and a dangerous consequence) to conclude this chapter.

Unfortunately:  The Western-Christian format of religion leads to tunnel vision.

It blinds us to a culture where people experience reality very differently than we usually do. This applies, for example, to the Far East (India, China). There, most people perceive the world and themselves in a completely different way than we do. In short: not dualistic (human-divine, mortal-eternal, nature-supernature), but holistic (the divine in everything, life and death are one). When we become acquainted with this, we usually get stuck in a fairly superficial fascination with the exotic and colorful character of many of the rituals, buildings and images, but get lost in the multitude of gods, goddesses and traditions. And if the sacred scriptures of what we call Hinduism are full of the most fantastic and mutually contradictory stories, and if we search in vain for a bit of systematically elaborated metaphysics, then we get a headache and we stop thinking. The fact that ‘Hinduism’ does not exist at all, but is merely a collective name given by Westerners at the end of the eighteenth century to all the very diverse autochthonous cultural, ritual and philosophical traditions that they found in India, is already significant at this point. Apparently the Eastern experience of reality cannot easily be accommodated in our ‘religion’ format. And if we do try to do that, the format distorts reality. To take another Eastern phenomenon: Buddhism, which is not a religion and has no teachings (just ask), only received attention in the West when the Buddha’s teachings were published in the form of a catechism in English (Henry S. Olcott, 1881). People now suddenly recognized the formal characteristics of what is called a religion (or a philosophy, that is discussed, but that is also related to the limited formatting). The catechism form made Buddhism fit into our mental frame and so we take it seriously. However, due to this formatting, the ‘real otherness’ (the alterity) of other religious expressions can easily disappear under the table. It is significant in this context that it is often Western ‘converts’ who make that translation and very often do so in order to answer questions from ‘the people here’. The author of the said Buddhist catechism, for example, was a Protestant army officer, lawyer and journalist who converted to Buddhism, and was also chairman of the theosophical association. He is even aware of the fact that he is doing a real injustice to Buddhism by calling it a ‘religion’. He also mentions this in a footnote in later editions.10 In this catechism the Buddha has many traits of an empathetic liberal freethinker, but this is beside the point. And one more thing: In Sri Lanka this catechism caused a real revival among the Buddhist part of the population. Formattingin spiritual matters can apparently also form spiritual matters and perhaps even call them into existence from nothing. It can certainly strengthen certain trends while suppressing others. Something to think carefully about if we want to regulate ‘religions’.

Dangerous consequence: theological formatting of the ‘religious’ issue

Because the set of beliefs is so central in this format, the social conversation about religions very quickly takes on a ‘quasi-theological’ color. As a result, it takes the form of a ‘debate’. It is about views, ideas, beliefs, etc., that are just as self-evidently correct for the in-group as they are arbitrary and unconvincing for the out-group. Debate can be fine, but it is not the most suitable form for conducting an empathetic dialogue and binding people together. Hot heads, cold hearts. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, groups of people came to face each other and once separated, it was no longer possible to get them together. The people do not meet, but the belief systems clash. Two consistent sets of beliefs collide. And there is no common ground to settle the debate. Theologians are apologists. They organize the arguments optimally within their own belief system. This is particularly persuasive for those who accept the premises. Everyone else is often like ‘what is he talking about?’ or thinks: ‘How can you believe that?’. The distinction between atheist and follower of a religion is only relative, as Etienne Vermeersch rightly emphasizes. The atheist rejects the rationality of all stories, the believer of all stories minus 1 (their own story) A profound and sensitive reflection on the divine Trinity can have a very strong impact on a Christian, but it means nothing to an atheist, irritates a Jew immensely and makes a Muslim think: shirk (idolatry). A rational debate (or better: a debate with rational arguments) around sets of beliefs promotes the formation of mutually exclusive religious identities . That was true in the sixteenth century, and there is no reason to think it is true in the 21stcentury will be different. The nuanced people at all parties involved will also quickly be overtaken by the hardliners, because their story is always tighter, especially when a holy book is involved. A moderate view is achieved by looking at something from multiple sides at the same time (tiring). Making a sacred text speak by contextualizing it twice (in the time of the past, and then in the time of the present) requires quite an intellectual effort, while a fundamentalist can simply say: it’s there anyway! We have become friendlier to each other, but essentially not much has changed since the sixteenth century. Mutually exclusive truth claims can hardly coexist quietly, precisely because those claims are not without obligation, but also concern the faith and life of the other. There are unmistakable value judgments in every belief system about those who do not fall within that belief system. If these are made explicit (which must happen in a real meeting), then it will take revenge that that set of beliefs has first been declared the essence of the religion and that the form of debate has been chosen.

In my opinion, it is therefore not desirable to put forward the Western articulation of human religiosity as a template for all religions in a plural philosophical context. This gives too much attention to theologically systematically developed religions, condemns non-doctrinally interested religions and anarchist forms of spirituality to a marginal existence, and suggests that interreligious encounters should be about religious beliefs. In my opinion, the religious impulse that has driven man to all kinds of beautiful and less beautiful deeds over time is so much more than ‘acceptance of a set of beliefs with associated rules of life (morals and rituals)’.

I also suspect that for most people it is still not really about the teaching itself, but about what that teaching ‘provides’ for life. Even among confessional Christians, it is the experience that comforts rather than the thought. The word ‘philosophy’ that is currently in use as an umbrella concept (where one distinguishes between ‘with and without reference to God’) is far too theoretical. The human questions that are addressed in most religions are much more concrete and the answers much more primary, much more emotional. Does it strengthen my spirit? Does the rite or spell give me comfort? Do I feel the ground under my feet? Do I experience connection with other people? Do I get the idea that my life is about something? Do I find a place in the world? Does it give a sense of direction to life moving in all directions? Does it provide tools to deal with my own mortality? Does it help us not to completely lose those who have died? Does it offer rituals to celebrate your wonder about life (at birth, when finding a partner)? I am just listing what many people associate with religion, without any claim to objectivity or completeness. What I just want to say is that I think there are few people who demand doctrinal correctness in the answer to such major and minor life questions. What one expects is that something is done with these types of questions that ‘works’, that convinces not so much the mind, but the mind. Religion as part of human culture moves in the field of stylization of life in the light of life’s questions (and that does not have to be capitalized). Of the segment of humanity that demands strict theoretical justification for this, and who subsequently considers knowledge thereof essential, a relatively large part is probably in the leadership of a church or is theologian (or philosopher or ideologue). By the doctrine ( set of beliefs) to the forefront again and again, we deprive ourselves of insight into many things that play in the background (underground) and which I suspect are actually much more important to people than whether it is exactly this or that with the learn about the office/baptism/grace/fasting/feasts or the explanation of why a ritual act is supposedly effective. These are side issues, literally: they were added later. I called pre-Luther religion a cumulative cultural tradition. Well, I think religion still is. A historically grown cultural asset. Anyone who reduces religion to a doctrine that you have to accept, and who does not say a word about how those views are rooted in the broad culture in which people live and move, is guilty of reduction. I described the church (the dominant organizational form of part of the Christian religion) as a living organism. I still think that is a good description, open enough not to be a definition. It is about people who are on their way through life and are looking for their way in it. The institutional (organization and articulation of why people do it and why this way and not that way) is certainly a part of it, but nothing more. Seen in this way, religion is a cultural activity par excellence. A person is a person precisely because he always transcends himself. In the religious contribution to this, many – not all – refer to a ‘more than ordinary’ actor, usually called God in the West. Point. Making that aspect, God, explicit, what exactly one means by that and how it works is also part of it, certainly, but it should not attract all the attention. Theology is a religious activity of the second order. It is a linguistic articulation of a human experience. It should not obscure the view of the experience itself. It is itself part of what religion has produced as a cumulative cultural tradition.


The body social, the body political, and the body religious are still so closely intertwined as to be inseparable . I quoted this beautiful sentence from Barbara Dieffendorf before, and I repeat it now because it is so true. And it also applies if the body religion is characterized by hyperdiversity. This cannot help but create tension in the body social , the fabric of society, and in the body political, the various institutions of civil administration. It is high time to take a closer look at the way in which religious plurality is framed and managed in our society. Is there a format that does justice to the aforementioned plurality and at the same time does not jeopardize coexistence and politics? In my opinion, the Western Christian concept of religion does not meet these criteria, on the contrary: it easily adds fuel to the fire because it strengthens identities and interprets the conversation as a debate.

To move forward here, we also revisit the insights that the first part gave us. Religious expressions and local culture were like brother and sister, we saw there. Ethnography and religious studies were born at the same time, almost identical twins. In the reflection on this we saw that an idea began to circulate in which the existence of a ‘general natural religion’ was assumed. This is said to underlie all religious manifestations. Consciously and unconsciously, this idea played a major role when people believed that freedom of religion (coexistence of different religions in one society) would be possible and desirable. By combining this idea with the format ‘religion as a set of beliefs with associated rules of conduct’, the tensions between the various religious institutions have been resolved by establishing religious freedom in legal frameworks. This was an enormous improvement after the religious wars and the relentless religious strife in the Western world. On the other hand, this means that freedom is defined in such a one-sided way. The format used for ‘religion’ is the Western one, i.e. the view-limiting idea that religion is about a set of beliefs, etc. All other forms of religious creativity are ‘invisible’ within this framework and are therefore not protected. As a result, man’s religious creativity has degenerated into doctrinal dry-watering and institutional system coercion. To see this clearly, we will have to go back in time, to the end of the eighteenth century, when the idea of ​​freedom of religion appeared in various statements about the ‘inalienable rights of man’. If, as a legislator, you want to put [God] in brackets and at the same time not want to patronize the people, then you have to make sure you do it right.

© Dick Wursten: fair use policy : ie all use is permitted provided the source is mentioned.


  1. After the enormous commotion and intense debate that followed, Iserloh published a more extensive version in 1967 with a summary of all the new knowledge and insights that had been added. The question mark has disappeared from the title. Iserloh now knows for sure: ‘Luther swischen Reform und Reformation. Der Thesenanschlag fand nicht statt’. For more information, see the  page about Iserloh  on my Luther site
  2. Assertio omnium articulorum M. Lutheri per bullam Leonis X. novissimam damnatorum , 1520.
  3. “…per sese certissima, facillissima, apertissima sui ipsius interpres, omnium omnia probans, iudicans, et illuminans”. WA 7, p. 97.
  4. WA 7, 317 (Grund und Ursach, German version of the  Assertio ): Es muss yhe holy writing, clearer and clearer, the other writing. Syntemal, all teachers, because of their own reason, because of their own writing, to argue, because of their own writing, because they are affirmed and to have good knowledge, so no one may argue about a tunnel of reason because of a more tunnel of speech, because of this It is not necessary to have all the written texts, if you read the library and read all your writings and read them, they are the only ones who are right to read them and the masters of all the written texts and read them. So aber das not sein sol, was sol uns die Scripture? So more people will be present, and we will enjoy our people and learner. (Ed. Wittenberg, a iv- verso (p.8)
  5. Nisi convictus fuero testimoniis scripturarum, aut ratione evidente (nam necque Papae necque Conciliis solis credo, cum constet eos errasse saepius, et sibi ipsiis contradixisse) victus sum scripturis a me adductis, captaque conscientia in verbis Dei, revocare necque possum, necque volo quicquam. Cum contra conscientia agere neque tutum, neque integrum. More info about this passage on my Luther site .
  6. Barbara B. Diefendorf,  Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth Century Paris  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 48.
  7. Title of a booklet from 1523:  Daß eine christliche Versammlung oder Gemeinde Recht und Macht habe, alle Lehre zu urteilen und Lehrer zu berufen, in- und abzusetzen, Grund und Ursache from Schrift .
  8. The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church. … This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [ subsistit in ] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”, Thus the current self-definition of the Roman Catholic church according to Vatican II. The formulation ‘subsistit in’ gave hope for recognition from other churches, but later documents expressly stated that this was not the intention. At most, ‘elements of the truth’ can be found there:  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus .
  9. B. Kaplan, divided by Faith, p. 33-34; theme issue ‘Public Art Property in Flanders’ 2005/1. For more information about Scherpenheuvel as a ‘Marian castle’ and ‘Enclosed courtyard’ at the same time, see this post
  10. See the explanation for the PDF version of this catechism in a separate post elsewhere on this website.