Reformation was Mostly about Religion
I would say that the Reformation was mostly about religion. The majority of the documents shown to us pertained to the religious problems with the Church officials. Document 7 is a painting that depicts the bad things the church officials are doing. They are shown indulging in wealth and glory. Some men are also depicted with concubines and illegitimate children. In document 11, John Calvin writes “Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends.” This is showing what a Reformist is thinking about the Church. Calvin doesn’t believe that it is right for people to rely on the Church to interpret the Bible for them.
No one had a way to know if they were being coerced into doing what the Church founded government wanted them to do. There, we kind of dip our toes into the government form of things. This is similar to the type of communist government that North Korea has, in that the people are only told what the government wants them to be told. If the Europeans had no way to actually see what the Bible is telling them, they have no way of knowing if they are actually following the religion they are told they are following. The Church would just be able to decide what they told the people whatever would get them to do what they wanted. As I said, we kind of get into the political realm there. I still think it is mostly religious though.
In document 4, Martin Luther writes “under that law of matrimony of which we have spoken above, by which all that is the husband’s is also the wife’s.” This is calling into question the religious side of marriage and whether or not the wife has an equal hand in the family as her husband does. At the time, and for a long time after, women were viewed as unable to do things that men could do. An aspect of this was likely the belief that men owned everything in the house and the wife did not. Martin Luther was stating that, Biblically, the wife was the husband’s equal, and “weaker vessel” only means that men should treat their wives like a flower that he must cherish. Not that men should treat their wives as unwilling or unworthy.
While I still believe that the main points made in the majority of these documents were more of the religious realm, I do know that there were some that were about the political role that the Church played. In document 1, Martin Luther discusses the government directly, saying “In your government you do nothing but flay and rob your subjects in order that you may lead a life of splendor and pride, until the poor common folk can bear it no longer.” This quote is primarily talking to the German lords. Martin Luther is saying that the government officials are taking from the poor, and aren’t doing their job; the job that they are to help the people. Instead, they are enjoying splendour and wealth while the poor live in filth.
Niccolo Machiavelli discusses a more social problem with the society he knew in The Prince, when he says “that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you.” This is a really long quote, but I felt that all of it was important, and that taking too much out would have ruined the meaning. The last quality that Machiavelli discusses in this is that one must be religious in order to be socially accepted. He says the reason this is essential in surviving in the “dog-eat-dog” world is because people too often judge by what they see. He says this is the first thing people do. He uses the word “touch” to tell us that a very select few people ever have the opportunity to be invited into your life to get to know you, and to judge you based on your characteristics.
He is basically saying that religion really has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good person, but the society thinks it is. Just to compare, if you look at the Salem Witch Trials, many of the people that were convicted of witchery were simply not showing “enough Christian characteristics,” and were witches simply because of that. Being a Christian or not really has little to do with a person’s character. Sure, the Bible talks about characteristics that a good Christian should possess, and then a devout Christian would inevitably be a “good person.” I would argue, however, that only a pure hearted person would be able to follow those morals, because there has to be some good to start from. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my experience. So I would say that religion has little to do with your character, outside of high devotion to the religion. That’s why the reformation was sort of social. People began to see each other as people that make mistakes, and that being a Christian doesn’t dictate if you’re pure hearted. Finally, document three is a depiction of the printing press.
The printing press was a fantastic invention that allowed for the mass production of just about every document, including the Bible. This, of course is a religious development. This made it possible to put Bibles in more people’s hands, which would not only spread Christianity, but also would allow them to interpret it for themselves. This is also a political impact. This would make more governmental documents accessible to more people. It also would allow for more people to learn of things happening in the world; that would be a social impact. So while it is a very religious-friendly invention, the printing press does allow for the rapid spread of information and ideas, and that is incredibly important to the Reformation.