The Rise of Protestantism

Up until the time of Martin Luther religion in the world consisted mainly of the Middle Eastern Jewish and Islamic sects, the Far Eastern Buddhist and Confucianism sects and in the “Western” world the Roman Catholic and the non-affiliated off shoots of the Eastern Orthodox sects. There was also still a variety of Pagan, multiple "gods" and spirit based beliefs held by an ever dwindling number of people in the world.

Where once stone and metal "idols" or figures representing "gods" (such as Ra, the Egyptian Sun God) and beliefs in "sprits" that took the form of wind, rain and fire were once the majority view of mankind, the God of Abraham (Yewah) or the Allah of the Muslim faith, was now in the majority view of most people in the "modern" world, along with the word of Jesus, considered a Prophet by Islam, the Savior (son of God) by Catholics and by most in the Jewish faith he was no more than a mortal man who was learned, religious and quite radical.

All the Christian sects (those people who believed in and followed the teaching of Jesus), owed part of their faith, heritage and rituals to some of the Jewish religious beliefs, with a lot of modification and adaptation of the Pagan sects that had dominated much of the Western world prior to the advent of Jesus. Also involved in the "creation" of the Christian religion were some of the remaining disciples of Jesus, along with the methods and ministry of John the Baptist, who was on the scene before Jesus began his ministry.

The sole origin of all the Christian sects, past and present, was the Roman Catholic Church, which was essentially founded by Peter (whose Hebrew name was Simon) and to a degree Paul (whose Hebrew name of Saul), both of whom were disciples of Jesus. After the crucifixion of Peter, other believers formally made what would become today’s Roman Catholic Church, designing the dress, rituals, formalities and hierarchy of Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Pope. The Pope is the surrogate incarnate of Peter or Jesus as the head of the religious faith.

The various off-shoots of the Roman Catholic Church essentially viewed themselves as “colloquial” adaptations holding to many of the rituals, formalities, dress and delivery of the Mass or liturgy, but not necessarily in Latin. Some Churches used the native language (Greek, Russian, etc.). Many of these churches allowed Priests to marry. None of these churches follow or obey the rules and edits that come from Rome, Vatican City or the Pope (Papacy).

It is strongly believed that concurrently to the development of the Catholic sects, Joseph of Aremethia, the man who gave up his tomb for Jesus (and possibly was Uncle of Mary, the mother of Jesus, making him distantly related by blood to Jesus), traveled to British Island area after the crucifixion and founded a church there, which eventually led to a Bible “college” started by a man named Columba on the Scottish isle of Iona around 560 A.D. This secret society of Bible study students from the “college” - known as Culdees -- existed on the isle of Iona and flourished as an underground, non-Catholic Christian movement for centuries.

Enter John Wycliffe in the middle of the 1300’s as we were moving out of the “dark ages” and into the renaissance.

Wycliffe, an Oxford Professor, Theologian and contemporary of author Roger Bacon, had basically been raised as a Catholic, as most people in this area and the Roman Empire were, but over the years his studies at Oxford, his work with the scriptures, the political climate around England, the influence of the Pope in Rome on the Kingdom eventually lead him to reevaluate religion, Christianity and Church of Rome. He, as in later times would Martin Luther, believed that the Bible should be in the hands of everyone and be written in the native language. That individual faith was the primary ingredient of Christianity, not the edicts of a Pope or Church in some distant land.

Wycliffe, along with his followers, known as Lollards, began translating the Latin (Catholic) Bible into English and this infuriated the Church in Rome. It also brought him problems at home and at Oxford where some began to brand him, his followers and his writings as being “heretic” or treasonously at odds with the Pope, the Church in Rome and the Roman Empire.

While Martin Luther is considered by most to be the grandfather and spear-heading leader of the Protestant or Reformation movement, John Wycliffe has become known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation” to many then and now, due to his work more than 100 years before Luther hit the scene in Germany.

These English "reformists" would eventually spear-head other non-Catholic sects, including the Anglican (Church of England) and Puritan sects, all of which had problems with the Catholics of old England, Scotland and Ireland, eventually leading the Puritans to depart for America in the 1600's to practice their faith as they saw fit without prejudice, fear or interference. But the truly great push on the envelop came from Martin Luther in Germany in the 1500's.

What Martin Luther had started (see our last issue by clicking the link) with his challenge to Papal authority and publication of his doctrines on religion was moving the religion into a new direction.

The tenets of the Judeo-Christian Orthodox religious views were simple: The head guys (Priests and Pope -- always men, never women) handled God, told you what to do, all you did was obey the rules and go to a church or temple, perform the expected rituals, then go home a live a good life as the head guys so instructed (of course now they were letting some pay money to get out of the sins of not living such a good life, which bothered Luther).

What was coming out of the work of Martin Luther and the Lutheran movement was that you got a bible, you read it, you believed in it, you had your own faith, you live your life as God and Jesus directed from that Bible (as you interpret it on a personal basis), then you go to Church to learn more, worship, express you faith and partake in a little bit of formal religious ritual.

This was a radically different view for religion -- making it a more personal interpretation -- and it was hard to get the powers that be to accept this radically new format. So much so, that Germany (through Roman Catholic Edict, no doubt) instituted a series of Reichstag or Diets (assemblies of Feudal Lords – Princes, Barons, etc.) to decide how to deal with this mess.

The Reichstag or Diet of Speyer in 1526 delayed or set aside the Diet of Worms (see last issue) and allowed each Lord of each German territory the right to decided to tolerate or not tolerate the teachings and views of Luther, but in 1529 the new Diet of Speyer reversed this view, largely because of pressure from the Pope in Roman and the King of Spain who ruled the area. Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire. At this time there were some objections to this new ruling from a minority of Princes who delivered a Protestatio (which basically means an emphatic declaration of strong, formal dissent).

It is from this point that the formal term Protestant is derived, meaning one who makes a declaration or avowal. In this instance, a declaration in favor of the views of Martin Luther (and the reformation movement as a whole).

This Protestant protest didn’t go quietly into the night, as these men who made the Protestatio at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 eventually formed the Schmalkaldic League (a mutual defense pact made between the various supporters of Luther) two years later which resulted in war with Charles V, which cost the Protestants dearly in the form of captured German lands. This was, essentially, a “Crusade” more than likely instituted by the Pope in Rome to “recapture” Holy Roman Empire lands in Germany that were now falling into the hands of Heretic, Protestant Lutherans!

Stamp out this Protestant menace they couldn’t and by 1580 the Protestant leaders had documented their views in the definitive The Book of Concord which included The Three Ecumenical Creeds -- Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed) – the Augsburg documents, the major works of Martin Luther and finally “Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope.”

In the last document the Protestants set forth the cornerstone for all Christians religious beliefs other than those of the Roman Catholic and how it differs:

The Roman Pontiff claims for himself [in the first place] that by divine right he is [supreme] above all bishops and pastors [in all Christendom].

Secondly, he adds also that by divine right he has both swords, i.e., the authority also of bestowing kingdoms [enthroning and deposing kings, regulating secular dominions etc.].

And thirdly, he says that to believe this is necessary for salvation. And for these reasons the Roman bishop calls himself [and boasts that he is] the vicar of Christ on earth.

These three articles we hold to be false, godless, tyrannical, and [quite] pernicious to the Church.

The Protestants then go on to cite Biblical passages that back up their views on these three matters.

The Protestant religions rejected other positions taken by Rome, such as the status of the “Virgin Mother” whom the Protestants still respect, but don’t basically revere! They also, by and large, dismiss the concept of or at least the ultra importance of so-called “Saint” – although many Protestant churches today’s world may often name the church after some Saint.

Many of the Catholic rituals, such as the people lighting candles (although there are candles at the "altar" in most traditional Protestant churches, but they are lighted by an assistant), doing “stations at the cross” and having to make the “sign of the cross” were also abandoned along with the concept of the confession of sins to the Priest. There is almost no kneeling in the Protestant religious ceremony (folding knee rests are a part of most Catholic church pews), although people do stand for the arrival of the Priest or Minister and when they sign hymns.

Hymns or religious songs are a concept still included in the Christian religion from the original Jewish traditions, where a male singer called a Cantor sings selected verses from the Torah or Bible at designated places in a given Jewish ceremony or ritual. The Jewish people, however, do this without music. Christians adopted music, especially from the pipe organ, into their singing elements of what remains from the original Jewish formalities.

The Mass or Liturgy is also very modified. The original Catholic methods, patterned much after the original Jewish ceremonies and traditions, are often fixed and reused each year. They have a verbal ritual for “this, that and the other” and do it again next year and the year after. Much like the Jewish people celebrate their Rosh Hashanah, Pesach and other yearly holidays. The Catholics have traditional Masses and special Masses for Easter, Good Friday, Christmas, etc.

The Protestants, by and large, stick to the same common format with a little extra ritual here and there in some churches. Each week the Priest or Minister gives a new “sermon” which is basically a story about the world and people, how they act and interact. This then leads to quotations from the Bible that show insight, give meaning, amplifies or glorifies the summation of the sermon, which is always a morality tale with either a happy or sad ending. The scriptures, then, show us why things happened or how we should deal with these things. Then everyone sings a song (hymn).

The idea behind this process is to get the people to read the Bible, as they are directed to open the Bibles found in the shelf behind each pew (Catholics, as a rule, don’t read the Bible) which is ultimately directed at giving each person a 100% reading of the Bible in church over their lifetimes, although Protestants are expected to have their own Bible at home and to read this book “religiously.”

From the early works of Wycliffe, the current works of Martin Luther and the forthcoming works of John Calvin and others, would arise many sects of Reformist-Catholic or non-Catholic Christian religions all grouped under the central heading of the Protestant faith.

While as a whole the “Protestants” come close to the total number of “converts” -- slightly more than a billion people today on a world-wide basis -- as the far more organized and centralized "Catholics" (another billion plus people). Joined together under the heading of "Christianity" the number just slightly more than the very partisan and somewhat splintered "Islamic" faiths (just under two billion strong) in total "believers". The amount of separate and distinctive sects within the ranks of the Protestants, however, is another story altogether and we’ll tackle this kindred, yet splintered religious group more in detail next time...

Our look at the history and origin of religion, its effect upon government and people continues with these offerings...

Islam, the religion | The Origin of Religion | Pesach (Passover) | 40 Days of Lent | Easter Recipes
Passover Foods | Crisis in Jerusalem | Holiday Special 2001 | Holiday Special 2002
Holiday Special 2003 | Holiday Special 2004 | Diwali or Deepavali, India's Festival of Lights
The Catholic Church | The Crusades | Orthodox Chrisitianity and the Reformation
Pope John-Paul II Biography, plus the Papal Election Process
Martin Luther and the Reformation (or Protestant) Movement
Profile:Pope Benedict XVI


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