The Reformation. 1517-1917 -- By: Preserved Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 075:297 (Jan 1918)
Article: The Reformation. 1517-1917
Author: Preserved Smith


The Reformation. 1517-1917

Preserved Smith, Ph.D.

During Luther’s lifetime the world passed through a transition such as men have rarely, if ever, passed through in an equal period before or since. It is no metaphor but the simple fact that the Reformer’s contemporaries discovered a new heaven and a new earth. Then, Copernicus established his momentous theory that our globe circled a much larger sun. Then, Vasco da Gama and Columbus and Magellan opened the paths to the new lands beyond the seven seas. The world, that seemed thus to burst its physical bounds, burst many an old spiritual mete as well. During Luther’s lifetime was largely accomplished the economic revolution from the medieval, cooperative society of guild and feudal due to our modern capitalistic and industrial civilization. Partly as a result of this, partly owing to new methods of warfare, the nobility lost much of their old prestige and privileges. Simultaneously the other privileged order, the clergy, were expropriated from their monopoly of learning, and many of their pretensions discredited. In place of the noble and sacerdotal orders, the third estate, or at least that part of it consisting of the wealthy city bourgeoisies, took the leadership in the state. In the things of the mind medieval scholasti-

cism was giving way to modern science, while the greatest artists of the Renaissance were transforming the earlier Gothic twilight into the full blaze of the newer beauty. Last, but not least in importance, the monarchy of the Roman Catholic Church was broken, and a large portion of her dominions seceded to form new organizations, governed by other powers and animated by a different spirit.

In various ways the Reformation represented or fell in with many of the changes of a secular nature contemporaneous with its rise. That in one aspect it was the revolt from the Latin spirit and the Roman ecclesiastical state cannot be doubted. As a racial, or cultural, movement, it was one of the representative manifestations of the Teutonic spirit. The philosopher Fichte called it the consummate achievement of the German people, “its perfect act of world-wide significance” (vollendete Weltthat). We need not exaggerate its importance to recognize that the Reformation has for mankind a value equal to, though characteristically different from, that of the Italian Renaissance, or the English, American, or French Revolutions. Where the Italian strove for intellectual or artistic ends, where the French demanded political equality and the Anglo-Saxon economic freedom, the German sought and won spiritual and religious emancipation. The great characteristic of the German mind is its idealism, its emphasis on the inward condition rather than on th...

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