The Holy Roman Empire Narrative Essay Example
The Holy Roman Empire Narrative Essay Example

The Holy Roman Empire Narrative Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1429 words)
  • Published: December 24, 2017
  • Type: Analysis
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In the early 16th Century, Germany was divided into hundreds of states. Many of them semi-independent.

These state's were governed by princes of the Holy Roman Empire. 1 However, their power was limited by existing City laws and ecclesiastic authority. The Holy Roman Empire was a political conglomeration of lands in Western and Central Europe. The title of Holy Roman Emperor brought with it influence and prestige. This made it a much sought after title. The Roman Catholic Church at that time was the dominant religion in Europe and was an extremely powerful institution.

It is important to note that the Pope at this time was more than a mediator between Man and God. He had immense wealth and power, He went to war like a soldier and ruled like a King. However, the church was becoming questionable in its spiritual character. I


t was corrupt and immoral in many ways. Priests and Bishops were selling indulgences 2 to the masses and used the profits to fund their lavish lifestyle.

The church benefited greatly from the sale of indulgences .The proceeds of which funded the buildings and decorating of the most opulent churches and cathedrals, including St Peters Basilica in Rome. Other faults found with the clergy involved drinking, gambling and living with concubines. Many Catholics had been seeking a return to earlier Christianity, with the laity becoming more involved. By the early 1500's there was much discontentment and disillusion with the Church and it's hierarchy. Martin Luther an Augustinian monk was one of the disillusioned.

He had found himself with a new understanding of salvation. He found assurance in the Bible in the idea of forgiveness of

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sins: that God forgave individuals by their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, without the intercession of a priest. This to Luther ruled out the need for indulgences. Luther found no support in the scriptures for the sale of indulgences and believed that they were of no value to a sinner. Salvation was a free gift from god. "He claimed that faith alone (informed by good works etc) could justify and save man" 3The churches sale and subsequent profits of these indulgences ran counter to Luther's new understanding of salvation.

In his address to the Christian Nobility of the German nation Luther urged a reformation of the current political system through the use of religious analysis. What at first glance seems like a purely religious document, through further examination it becomes apparent that it is actually more of a political document. Luther attacked what he called the three walls of Jericho or the three walls of the Romanists.In his address he points out these three walls that he claims the Romanists have built around them.

" First, when pressed by the temporal power, they have made decrees and said that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the other hand, that the spiritual is above the temporal power. Second, when the attempt is made to reprove them out of the Scriptures, they raise the objection that the interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to no one except the pope. Third, if threatened with a council, they answer with the fable that no one can call council but the pope. 4 The presence of political content can be seen in the second paragraph

taken from The three walls of the Romanists 5 "First when pressed by the temporal power, they have made decrees and said that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the other hand that the spiritual is above the temporal power".

Luther shows the desire for change in a political context in the first of the three walls of the Romanists, but he appeals to the masses through religious arguments. It is pure invention that Pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the 'Spiritual state' ; princes, lords, artisans and farmers the 'Temporal state' that indeed is a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy" 7 Luther states that all Christians are of the spiritual state. This of course allows the same privileges to prince as to pope. Luther proposes that the Papal system is not above the common Christian people.

Religious evidence is cited here in order to justify the political proposition, while no purely religious change is called for. Just as though ten brothers, all king's sons and equal heirs were to choose one of themselves to rule the inheritance for them all,... they would all be kings and equal in power, though one of them would be charged with the duty of ruling.

"8 On the one hand Luther is saying we are all equal in the eyes of God. On the other hand, he is asking if this is the case then who decided on who should be Pope. This is a political attack at the hierarchy of the Church and an appeal to the laity to see the unjust and unnecessary power of the papacy.In Luther's refutation

of the second wall he concludes that "they (popes) wish to be the only Masters of the Holy Scriptures , even though in all their lives they learn nothing from them. They assume for themselves sole authority..

.. they have themselves usurped this power; and although they allege that this power was given by Peter when the keys were given to him, it is plain enough that the keys were not given to Peter alone, but to the whole community" 9 This is clearly a call for a change in a reliance on the Pope for scriptural interpretation.This analysis of the second wall is undoubtedly aimed at a religious reformation, and is used to support the third wall.

Luther's analysis of the third wall of the Christian nobility is a clear example of his political proposal backed up by religious context. "When the Pope is a cause of offence to Christendom, the first man who is able should, a faithful member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council" 10 This is the most obvious application of political reform, for it even alludes to a democratic council, where the Pope is superseded by a group that is not only non-ecclesiastical, but also non-noble.Luther uses the scriptures as evidence for this argument. To validate this reasoning he quotes Mathew 18:15 "If thy brother sin against thee, go and tell him between thee and him alone, if he hear thee not then take with thee one or two more, if he hear them not, tell it to the church, if he hear not the church, consider him a heathen" 11 Luther

uses the word of God as reasons and validation for his modification of political structure. It is apparent that Luther was largely influenced by political events in the years preceding the 16th century. It is also essential to consider the importance of printing at this time.

Prior to this only the wealthy and educated, usually those with influence and power could gain access to written documents as these were expensive pieces of work. "In 1450, Johann Gutenberg invented movable type in Mainz, Germany and the mass production of relatively cheap books became possible for the first time "12 Because more people were literate and had access to literature, people were more aware of what was going on in politics and other affairs. For Luther this meant he could reach the public without seeking approval from religious or political authorities.It also meant that the Bible was now available not only to the church and its leaders but to everyone.

This allowed Luther's scriptural evidence to be viewed by the masses and supported by many. Initially, Luther had no intention of reforming the church. He simply wanted to bring his views to the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities, and maybe bring about some healthy debate. However, the church viewed Luther's opinions as heretical. This motivated Luther to stand up to the authorities. He responded by issuing pamphlets denouncing the government and the theology of the church.

He believed "if all men were priests, able to seek salvation without intercession, the priesthood were not only unnecessary but a hindrance, blurring and destroying the truth behind a magic mumbo jumbo of ritual in order to preserve a privileged position" 13 Luther

denounced the claim of both church and secular authorities. His argument lay in the fact that secular rulers alone controlled worldly affairs. This was music to the ears of the German princes. The laity also benefited from this, as they rather than the priests and bishops were responsible for their own salvation.

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