The Reformation in Germany

The Reformation in Germany

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The Reformation in Germany

The Reformation in Germany

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Excerpt

Luther taught nothing new. His doctrine was not new even in Germany. A generation earlier John of Wesel had attacked indulgences, and had taught justification by faith in Luther's own university, with equal boldness and superior learning. Wiclif in England, Hüs in Bohemia, and Savonarola in Italy had fully realized the corruptions of the Roman Church, and denounced them with a vigor that even Luther never exceeded. The characteristic doctrines of the German Reformation had been developed and proclaimed long before the Saxon reformer opened his eyes to the light of day, in terms almost identical, and quite identical in substance, with those found in his writings. It becomes, therefore, an interesting historical question, Why did Luther succeed in leading a Reformation while his predecessors failed? Some would answer, some have answered, by magnifying Luther's greatness. He has been pictured as the colossus who bestrode Europe, by his towering personality dwarfing all men of his age, and bringing the most wonderful things to pass by the sheer force of his character and will. The explanation is simple to naiveté, too simple to be convincing. Something is no doubt to be ascribed to the personality of a man so out of the common, but more is to be ascribed to Luther's greater opportunity. The difference between him and his predecessors is less a difference of men than of times. In Germany of the sixteenth century, as compared with England of the fourteenth, or Bohemia and Italy of the fifteenth, we are to seek and find the solution of our historical conundrum.

THAT series of events which we are accustomed to call the Reformation should be viewed as a continuation of that other great movement known as the Renaissance. Humanism was a purely intellectual revolt against the shackles of the scholastic philosophy and ecclesiastical authority. Nothing could be more natural, however, than that, once the liberty to think had been vindicated. the new-won freedom should be used to question whether scholasticism and ecclesiasticism had a more rightful authority over men's souls than over their minds. The spirit of intellectual freedom fostered by the Renaissance inevitably issued in the insurrection of the human mind against the absolute power claimed by the . . .

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