Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages -- By: Peder Stiansen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:419 (Jul 1948)
Article: Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages
Author: Peder Stiansen


Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages

Peder Stiansen

(Continued from the April-June Number, 1948)

Evangelical Mysticism

Introduction. It is not difficult to draw a dark picture of the Roman church if we base it upon what we see in the Middle Ages. The church is an ecclesiastical organization in which religion consists of external forms and the merit which may be received through them. The priest has become the mediator between God and man, and that means that God has disappeared from the life of the individual. The clergy as a group, from the Pope down to the monks, were often unspeakably corrupt. The monetary system of the church was exceedingly oppressive. Such financial methods as annates, collations, reservations, expectancies and indulgences led to the most unscrupulous practices.

The church was other-worldly in its outlook. This life did not count; a human being was a candidate for heaven or hell or for purgatory, and complete submission to the will of the church was expected of everyone. The Bible had disappeared from the common people, and the Schoolmen gave hairsplitting speculations to those who were asking for the bread of life.

Under such circumstances, earnest souls were crying out for reform, and attempts were made through the reformatory Councils to reform the church in its head and in its members. But it was not easy to reform the church. The task was

tremendous, and time and again the reformers found out that their efforts were hopeless. The church was too big to be lifted on a high spiritual level, and it was too heavily loaded down to be moved. Many reformers gave up their attempts to reform the whole church, but they knew that if the outlook was dark the uplook was bright. No dead church could prevent a seeking soul from entering into direct communion with God.

The result was Christian mysticism, which will be discussed in this lecture as a way of escape.

Different Types of Mysticism. (1) Pagan Mysticism. Mysticism is not Christian in its origin. Paganism knew mysticism. One type of mysticism or another has always been common to man. Buddhism had its mysticism, namely, pantheistic mysticism, and Hinduism revealed a high form of mysticism in the Bhagavat-Gita. In such mystery religions as the Orphic cult and the Eleusinian mysteries, there was a strong emphasis on a mystical experience, and in Neo-Platonism Plotinus showed how mystics might experience the supernatural.

(2) Early Christian Mysticism. The highest type of mysticism is found in the Christian religion: communion with God. Through the new birth the soul is entering into a personal relatio...

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