Absolutism and the Lutheran Reformation

By Anonymous


Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a Reformer, German priest and a Professor of theology who strictly opposed the ideology that freedom from God’s punishment of sin could be purchased with money. The main argument of his was that salvation is not the result of good deeds but is only received as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as a redeemer from sin. He also initiated the Protestant Reformation.

What was the Church?

God created man and the woman. He named them Adam and Eve respectively. He let them live in the Garden of Eden and that is where man committed his first sin, the original sin. Man and woman, had eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, the one explicit thing that his Father, God had asked him not to do. As a result of this, he was banished from the Garden of Eden and sent to earth. Here, he suffered from sickness, gloom, sadness and many such pains that he had not known of in the garden. Then, to absolve man from this state, god sent his son, Jesus, who went on to give the ultimate sacrifice. He tried to redeem man’s soul by giving his own life. The church was then created after the death of Christ and Christianity was recognized as the word of god and the church was to help spread this message or word of god so that man might redeem his soul and achieve salvation. The church was the “middle man” between the human and his Creator and it was the Church’s duty to help man achieve salvation for no man was beyond saving and all souls could be redeemed.

Hence, the church was the supreme authority in the Spiritual Realm. However, it went on to misuse its special position in society for the sake of acquiring riches and monetary supremacy, ultimately becoming an imperialistic power whose powers were challenged by a significant part of the populous it sought to impose its will upon.

Why and how did it sell indulgences?

In catholic theology, Indulgences were the “full or partial remission of temporal punishments due for sins which have already been forgiven” as quoted from Wikipedia. Indulgences were sold for money by the church after the act of confession and receiving of absolutism by the sinner. They were granted for specific good works and prayers. Alleged abuses about selling and granting indulgences were a major part of Luther’s initiative of ‘Protestant Reformation.’For payment of money they made unrighteousness into righteousness.

Why Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was a German reformer whose theology challenged the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church with teachings such as the Bible being the only source of divinely revealed knowledge. He also considered those Christians who performed baptism to be holy priesthood. He translated the Bible into the language of the people (instead of Latin) which made it more accessible causing a tremendous impact on the church and the German culture.

  • The Principles of Lutheranism

Middle Ages are the perfect time to start the theory of Lutheran Reformation at its traditional level. The famous act of enclosing a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which came to be known as ‘The Ninety Five Theses’  in a letter to bishop Albert of Mainz slightly marks the culmination of a long religious journey in which he has been travelling so far. Luther completely reformed the selling of the indulgences and also confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety Five Theses in 1517. He was completely obsessed with the idea of man’s complete unworthiness. But his doctrine of man presented some obvious attacks against his humanist talents of which the outcome was the treatise On the Freedom of the Will by Erasmus in 1524. In it, Erasmus not only opposed his views about man, but also remarked that he would suggest men to not to waste their time and talents in the passages of such kind. Another fact worthy of mention here is that Luther was not opposed to just the selling of indulgences but the alarming corruption of the church and its unethical practices and actions.

However, what is very important to realize here is that Luther, even though, probably the most successful reformer of Christianity, was not the first to make an attempt to do so. Two other names that come to mind are John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

John Wycliffe was a (1328 – December 31, 1384) was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher. He was sometimes referred to as the ‘Morning Star’ of the Reformation because of his Lollard movement being the precursor to the protestant reformation. His followers were known as Lollards and he was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th. Century. Wycliffe’s Bible completed around 1384 and its additional updated versions were done by his assistant John Purvey and others in 1388 and 1395.

Jan Hus (1369 – 6 July 1415) was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague. He was often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss. He was the first actual church reformer before Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. He was burned at the stake for his contradicting believes and opinions about traditional religious doctrines. It also included those on the branch of theology concerned with the nature, constitution and the functions of the church and many other theological concepts.

It also included two political implications which were of major importance. First of all, Luther clearly repudiated the idea that the church possessed jurisdictional powers and had the authority to direct and regulate the Christian life. The churches asserted that the Pope had the powers to do things of such kind. The main focus of Luther’s attacks was on the church’s right to claim any such powers in Christian society at all. This first of all insisted him to repudiate all the institutions of the church which were based on the assumption that the clergy constitutes a separate class with special jurisdictions and privileges.

These attacks were the results of his belief of the spiritual nature of the true church. His representation about the rule of the spiritual kingdom was that it is a purely inward form of government, basically a government of the soul which has no connection with the temporal affairs and is entirely dedicated to helping the faithful attain salvation. He also said that Christians live in two kinds of kingdoms, that of Christ and that of the world. Then he equated the kingdom of Christ with the church and that of the world with the realm of temporal authority. The church is entirely taken to be ruled by Christ with spiritual powers and at the same time, the temporal authority is equally claimed to be ordained by God but is seen as completely separate since the charge is given to the secular rulers in order to ensure that civil peace is maintained among sinful men.

All coercive powers were considered to be of temporal nature and the powers of the bishops and pope were said to consist of nothing more than the inculcating of God’s word and were not a matter of authority and power in the worldly sense at all. Luther’s theory not only attacked the jurisdictional powers of the church but also filled up the power vacuum it created by mounting a corresponding defense of the secular authorities.

Finally, he demanded that there must be a sound basis of civil law and every soul must be subject to the governing authority which is God because there is no other authority except him. Also, Luther’s final word was always based on the words of God.

  • The forerunners of Lutheranism

Luther’s new theology, like the political and social doctrines he derived became officially accepted throughout a wide area of northern Europe very soon. The reasons for this acceptance were many. Up to a large extent, Luther’s distinctive theology was derived from two powerful currents of late medieval speculation about the relationship between god and man. Also his attacks on clerical abuses echoed a number of attitudes already prevalent in later medieval Europe. His main attention was on the shortcomings of papacy insisting on the need to return to the authority of the scriptures and to re-establish a simpler and less worldly form of apostolic church.

There were many affinities between Luther and the humanists and the main reasons for such affinities was that, as soon as Luther made his initial attack on indulgences in 1517, a number of distinguished humanists found themselves attracted towards his cause. This happened most obviously in Germany, in the case of such leading humanists as Crotus Rubianus (1480-1545), Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530) and Jacob Wimpfeling (1450-1528) as quoted from Quentin Skinner’s “The Foundations of Modern Political Thought” (volume 2). However, the most important reason for the affinities between Luther’s theology and that of the humanists was that, as soon as he made his definitive breach with the church, many prominent humanists felt impelled to follow him. But this really helped in strengthening the intellectual foundations of the reformation and thereby played a key role in fostering its wider influence.

As we have already seen that Luther’s concept of the church implied a strong dislike on the Papacy’s role as a landlord and tax-collector and also of operating its own code of canon law and cutting across the jurisdictions of the secular authorities with its own system of ecclesiastical courts. These kinds of criticisms have already been notified throughout the later middle ages both by the opponents of Papal monarchy and spokesmen of the secular authorities themselves.

  • The spread of the Lutheranism

Luther had many enemies who frequently compared his reformation with plague, seeing it as a bringer of death on a terrifying scale. The initial stage in the evolution of Lutheranism as a political ideology took the form of a propaganda campaign in which a number of his closest disciples began to clarify and extend his relatively fragmentary insights by producing a series of more connected treatises on social and political life. Some of the most influential contributors of this development were Osiander, Eberlin von Gunzburg and Melanchthon.

The political writings of many of the early Lutherans (followers of Martin Luther) were based exclusively on the themes we have just now discussed. This can be related to one of the contributors of this development, Melanchthon in his Common Topics whose sole concern is with the question of political duty, and especially with the duties of the godly prince. The main theme of this case was Luther’s concept of the church. Furthermore, the political theories of early Lutherans played a very big role in helping to legitimate the emerging absolutist monarchies of northern Europe. They argued that church is nothing more than a congregatio fidelium, which automatically assigned the exercise of all coercive authority to kings and magistrates and finally extended the range of their powers. This led them to reject one of the traditional limitations on the authority of secular rulers. They explicitly denied the orthodox catholic claimed that a tyrant may be judged and deposed by the authority of the church. They also introduced a new note of passivity into the discussion of political obligation.

It would be very wrong to say that the political theories associated with the spread of the reformation were of a deeply conservative character. Firstly, it would be a mistake to say, although it has often been argued, that Luther along with his immediate followers never allowed the right of over existence and at all times, there has been no justification in any case for active opposition of the rulers and magistrates. A doctrine of absolute non-resistance being vehemently defended by all the leaders of the Lutheran church can be easily found if we focus on the earlier years of reformation. Basically, there were two Anabaptist sections which attacked and repudiated his social and political assumptions about ‘magisterial’ reformation. Some of them were undoubtedly genuine political revolutionaries.


Luther’s Reformation was concerned with essentials, with the very heart of Christianity. It is for this reason that it swept through Europe and had such amazing results. Without this Reformation, there would have been no salvation, for the Gospel would have remained largely hidden. When we celebrate the Reformation, we are celebrating this rediscovered Gospel that we believe in; and we are celebrating our salvation through Jesus Christ.


Absolutism or The Age of Absolutism is a historiographical term used to describe a form of monarchical power that is unrestrained by all other institutions, such as churches, legislatures, or social elites. Absolutism is typically used in conjunction with some European monarchs during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and monarchs described as absolute can especially be found in the 16th century through the 19th century. Absolutism is characterized by the ending of feudal partitioning, consolidation of power with the monarch, rise of state power, unification of the state laws, and a decrease in the influence of the Church and the nobility. (Wikipedia)

Absolute monarchs can also be associated with the rise of professional standing armies, professional bureaucracies, the codification of state laws, and the rise of ideologies that justify the absolutist monarchy.

Monarchs depicted as absolute rulers include Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France, Ivan III, Ivan IV, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great of Russia, Leopold I of Austria, John V of Portugal, Frederick III of Denmark, Charles XI and Charles XII of Sweden, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I of England.


Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther’s efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s writings disseminated internationally, spreading the ideas of the Reformation beyond the ability of governmental and churchly authorities to control it. By “reform” we mean to correct abuses and to restore it to what it should be.

However, one thing to be pointed out is that this was not the only reformation or was not the very first reformation. There were many such practices in church’s history prior to this over the fifteen hundred years. Yet, none of such practices of other reformers were like those done by Luther. He sought to reform various abuses in morals. He also attacked the Pope and the domination of the Roman Church. What made his reformation unique was that it was more concerned with doctrine than life. The heart of the Lutheran Reformation was a recovery of sound New Testament doctrine.

The split between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics began with the Edict of Worms in 1521, which officially excommunicated Luther and all of his followers. The divide centered over the doctrine of Justification. Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone” which went against the Roman view of “faith formed by love”, or “faith and works”.  (As quoted from Wikipedia)

Finally, to conclude I would like to mention here that Lutheranism had its roots in the efforts of a great reformer namely Martin Luther who sought to reform the ideas of the Catholic Church to a much relating forms of the bible. Today, in present, a million of people belong to the Lutheran communities which are present on all populated continents and majorly in places such as Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Latvia, Namibia and the Dakotas and many other such places.

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