Luther & Protestant Reformation's Political Repercussions on America's Founding - American Minute with Bill Federer

Luther & the Protestant Reformation's Political Repercussions on America's Founding

LISTEN (text to speech)

Download as PDF ...

On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted 95 debate questions or "theses" on the door of Wittenberg Church, which began the movement known as "the Reformation."

Luther's initial objection was to the methods employed by Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences. He was then fiercely attacked by Johann Eck.
In 1521, 34-year-old Martin Luther was summoned to stand trial before the most powerful man in the world, 21-year-old Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth.
Charles the Fifth of Spain had an empire that spanned nearly 2 million square miles.
The sun never set on the Spanish Empire.
It included lands from Europe to the Netherlands, to the Far East, North and South America, and to the Caribbean.
The Philippine Islands were named after his son, King Philip the Second of Spain.
At a trial, called the Diet of Worms, Charles the Fifth initially dismissed Luther's theses as "an argument between monks."
Luther was ordered to recant without having had his theses addressed. He responded: "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Luther was declared outside the protection of law.
He was kidnapped and hid by Frederick the Third of Saxony in the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German.
Earlier, in 1054, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches split in the Great Schism.
In 1378-1417, the religious fabric of Europe was torn again during what was called the Papal Schism.
John Wycliffe, 1330-1384, attempted a translation of Scriptures into English, for which he was declared a heretic and, after his death, had his bones burned.
The General Prologue of Wycliffe's 1384 translation of the Bible has the inscription:
"The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People."
In Prague, Jan Hus, 1369-1415, shared Scriptures translated into the Czech language.
He was summoned to the Council of Constance where he was willing to recant if his errors could be shown by Scripture.
Without having his issues addressed, he was declared a heretic and burned at the stake.
Whereas Wycliffe and Hus lived before the invention of the printing press, Martin Luther lived after.
Johannes Gutenberg, circa 1400-1468, invented the Western world's first moveable-type printing press.
The first book of significance ever printed was the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, known as the Mazarin Bible, 1455.
Pope Pius the Second wrote of it to Cardinal Carvajal, March of 1455::
"All that has been written to me about that marvelous man seen at Frankfurt is true. I have not seen complete Bibles but only a number of quires of various books of the Bible.
The script was very neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow - your grace would be able to read it without effort, and indeed without glasses."
Victor Hugo wrote:
"Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenberg is the precursor of Luther."
Martin Luther gave his account:
"I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, 'the justice of God,' because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.
My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.
Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him.
Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know that he meant ..."
Luther continued:
"Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement 'The just shall live by faith.'
Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through sheer grace and mercy God justifies us through faith.
Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.
The whole of Scripture took a new meaning, and whereas before 'the justice of God' had filled me with hate, now it became inexpressibly sweet in greater love.
This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven ..."
Luther concluded:
"If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and over-flowing love.
This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.
He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face."
As the Reformation spread, it unintentionally fueled a peasant uprising called the German Peasants' War in 1524.
Mobs of poorly armed peasants threatened the aristocratic ruling class. The revolt was put down with over 100,000 peasants being slaughtered.
Meanwhile, in 1527, Charles the Fifth's unruly troops sacked Rome and imprisoned Pope Clement the Seventh for six months.
This was the same Pope that refused to annul the marriage of Henry the Eighth and Charles the Fifth's aunt Catherine of Aragon, leading Henry break away from Rome and start the Church of England.
Catherine had been married for six months to Henry's older brother Arthur before he died in 1502.
Charles the Fifth oversaw the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and began the Counter-Reformation.
He eventually responded to the pleadings of the priest Bartolome' de Las Casas and outlawed the enslavement of native Americans.
Gold from the New World was used by Spain to push back the Muslim Ottoman Empire's invasion of Europe.
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's Ottoman fleet dominated the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Suleiman conquered into Christian Hungary, Christian Serbia, and Christian Austria, in addition to controlling the Middle East and North Africa.
Deuteronomy 28 lists blessings and cursings.
If a nation "shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God ... all these blessings shall come on thee."
But if a nation does not hearken to the voice of the Lord, "all these curses shall come upon thee," including:
"The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low ... and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed."
How did God judge Ancient Israel when it sinned?
He let the strangers invade: Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites. Egyptians, Assyrians Babylonians, and others.
When Israel repented, God raised up deliverers.
Martin Luther referenced this:
"The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God ...
If the Turk's god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat ... Christian weapons and power must do it ..."
Luther continued:
"The fight against the Turks -- must begin with repentance, and we must reform our lives, or we shall fight in vain.
-- The Church should -- drive men to repentance by showing our great and numberless sins and our ingratitude, by which we have earned God's wrath and disfavor, so that He justly gives us into the hands of the devil and the Turk."
In an attempt to unite the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Muslims, Charles the Fifth 
agreed to a truce recognizing the Protestants, as Eric W. Gritisch wrote in Martin-God's Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983, p. 69-70):
"Afraid of losing the much-needed support of the German princes for the struggle against the Turkish threat from the south, Emperor Charles the Fifth agreed to a truce between Protestant and Catholic territories in Nuremberg in 1532 ...
Thus the Lutheran movement was, for the first time, officially tolerated and could enjoy a place in the political sun of the Holy Roman Empire."
As the Islamic threat intensified, reformer John Calvin wrote to Philip Melanthon in 1543, (Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts & Letters, I: 373):
"I hear of the sad condition of your Germany! ... The Turk again prepares to wage war with a larger force. Who will stand up to oppose his marching throughout the length and breadth of the land, at his mere will and pleasure?"
Followers of the reformers who "protested" certain doctrines, were generally referred to as "Protestants."
Notable Protestant Reformers include:
  • John Calvin,
  • Thomas Crammer,
  • John Knox,
  • Philip Melanchthon,
  • William Tyndale, and
  • Huldrych Zwingli.
Some Protestant countries refused to help Charles the Fifth who was defending Europe from the Muslim invasion.
Finally, Charles the Fifth made a treaty with the German Lutheran Princes by signing the Peace of Augsburg, September 25, 1555, ceasing the religious struggle between Lutherans and Catholics.
A line in the treaty, "cuius regio, eius religio," allowed each king to decide what was to be believed in his kingdom.
A month later, October 25, 1555, suffering from severe gout, Charles the Fifth abdicated his throne and lived the rest of his life secluded in the monastery of Yuste, leaving his son Philip the Second to rule.
Three years before he died, Luther penned an indefensible anti-semitic work that contributed to future Jewish persecutions.
Luther influenced John Wesley, who influenced George Whitefield, who preached the Great Awakening Revival in Colonial America.
Wesley wrote:
“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a Society in
Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed
I felt I did trust in Christ; Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
In the two centuries following Luther, different kings in Europe chose different denominations for their kingdoms.
This resulted in millions migrating from one country to another simply for conscience sake.
Many of these Christian religious refugees fled Europe to settle colonies in America.
New York University Professor Emeritus Patricia Bonomi, in her article "The Middle Colonies as the Birthplace of American Religious Pluralism" wrote:
"The colonists were about 98 percent Protestant."
One to two percent of America's population at the time of the founding were Catholic, and one-tenth of a percent were Jewish.
The 56 signers of the Declaration were predominantly Protestant, with a notable exception being Catholic Charles Carroll of Maryland.
British Statesman Edmund Burke addressed Parliament, 1775:
"All Protestantism ... is a sort of dissent.
But the religion most prevalent in our Northern Colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion."
Samuel Adams stated when he signed the Declaration of Independence:
"This day, I trust, the reign of political protestantism will commence."
John Adams wrote in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765:
"Desire of dominion ... becomes an encroaching, grasping, restless, and ungovernable power ...
Tyranny, cruelty, and lust ... was soon adopted by almost all the princes of Europe ...
The people were held in ignorance ... till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation.
From the time of the Reformation to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England; and in proportion as that increased and spread among the people ... tyranny ... lost ... strength."
Consistent with Adams' view are those of Robert D. Woodberry of the National University of Singapore, who wrote a paper titled "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy" (American Political Science Review, Vol. 106, No. 2, May 2012).
It it, Woodberry demonstrated statistically that countries where Protestant "conversionary" missionaries went to in the 19th century became more prosperous in the 20th century:
"The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses."
Luther wrote:
"I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth.
I advise no one to place his child where the scriptures do not reign paramount.
Every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt."
Luther wrote:
"The Bible was written for men with a head upon their shoulders."
Luther died in 1546.
A quote attributed to him was published in the Weimarer Ausgabe edition of Luther’s works (D. Martin Luther’s Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe, publisher Hermann Böhlau Nachfolger, 1933, Briefwechsel, 18 volumes, 3. Band, ed., 81-82):
"Also it does not help that one of you would say: 'I will gladly confess Christ and His Word on every detail, except that I may keep silent about one or two things which tyrants may not tolerate' ... For whoever denies Christ in one detail or word has denied the same Christ ... in all details, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken together or individually."

Download as PDF ...

American Minute is a registered trademark of William J. Federer. Permission granted to forward, reprint, or duplicate.
Image Credits: Public Domain; Luther Before the Diet of Worms; Artist: Anton von Werner (1843–1915); Date: 1877; Collection: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Source/Photographer: ;

Older Post Newer Post

  • Richard on


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published