Protestant Reformation reshaped Western Civilization

by John Steinberger | October 31, 2017 4:55 pm

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, launched by pastor Martin Luther’s publication of 95 Theses and his sermon on Indulgances and Grace.  Luther was protesting the practice by Pope Leo X of selling “indulgences” to fund the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, suggesting that people could pay their way into heaven.

The movement spread by the distribution of pamphlets in Luther’s Germany, made possible by the invention of the printing press a century earlier.  Merchants would purchase batches of pamphlets and distribute them to surrounding cities and villages.  Pamphlet owners would read them aloud in homes and public places.  The pamphlets questioned the infallibility of The Pope and contended that people should be able to read the scriptures in their native language, rather than Latin, which was only mastered by those who attended seminary or a university.   Luther also contended that people should confess their sins directly to God, rather than through a priest.

The Protestant movement encouraged self-determination and de-centralization of authority.  It led more people to become craftsmen and merchants and ultimately property owners.  The spirit of Protestantism inspired people to rebel against tyrannical monarchies, best symbolized by the American Revolution.  The human condition has advanced at a rapid pace since that history-changing movement was launched 500 years ago.

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