03 June 2009
Germany's Politics and the Reformation
In the early fifteen hundreds the Roman Catholic Church held immense influence over nations and their rulers. Until the Protestant Reformation Christians were exclusively Catholic. People believed there was no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church and feared excommunication by the Pope in Rome. Because of this rulers were hesitant to make decisions without the Popes approval. It was their eternal soul at stake! In Germany however, unique political conditions were ripe for change.
Germany was divided into many territories called "Duchies". Each Duchy had its own prince or Duke as ruler. Over all the duchies presided the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Many rulers resented Romes control over their civil duties and the German rulers were no exception. And added to the Popes influence, German Duchies had to worry about Charles V. All these things came into play when a monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.
Political power and economics greatly influenced the success of the Reformations beginning. Dukes and Princes saw it as an opportunity to break away from Rome, both Emperor and Pope. The common people were eager to follow their princes because they no longer feared excommunication, salvation by faith alone had captured their hearts. ( And the Reformation encouraged the value of individuals before God, peasants too were a priesthood of believers.) Germany became a hotbed of action as wars and treaties came and went. Through it all the divided and distinct duchies were important in allowing the reformed faith to grow. When one duchy declared itself Protestant, the reformers fled there. If a duchy wavered or clung to Catholicism, Catholics migrated to that area. As the Reformation spread "Nationalism also played a part as countries turned Protestant while fighting to be free from Roman Catholic Countries." Streams of Civilization Vol 1, pg 377. The world was a sorry mess. Neither side is blameless in the bloodbaths that took place.
But, through it all we can see clearly Gods hand at work. Because of Germany's political state Luther's convictions were given time to develop and grow. Soon other nations took interest and the issues spread.In 1555 the "Peace of Augsburg" ended fighting in Germany when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V signed a treaty allowing each ruler to decide the faith of his subjects. In some ways this was little better than before because individuals were still often persecuted for their convictions. There was more freedom than before but the world was still a far cry from giving every man the right to choose his own religious beliefs based on conscience. But it was a step in the right direction.
Germany continued to uphold the peace treaty until 1806. It was a new concept of state sovereignty; also Duchies were separated by boundaries of faith and territory lines, a practice called Partition. The world was changing.