The Spirit of the Reformation was Profoundly Medieval
I am taking the following from The Making of the Modern Mind, a huge textbook that has been a success since 1926. I was under the impression that the Renaissance and Reformation were part of coming of the modern era, but it is not that simple. As he says on page 143:
But as far as we can disentangle the millions of threads binding great tendencies to each other, we can say that the Renaissance, as we have used the world, was not primarily the cause of the great revolt against the medieval church that shortly followed it in time. That was rather an independent expression of many of the same tendencies – above all the fundamental economic growth of European society and its rising middle class. In different forms we may find at work the same individualism, the same capitalism, the same nationalism…
Speaking of the Reformation, he says:
The expanding world had broken the bonds of every one of the old forms of life. Men were not ready to give up the old, however, and in diverse ways sought to effect some compromise, some remodeling of the old fragments. Such a compromise that could not but be overgrown in turn was the Reformation. Thoroughly medieval in belief, it was of the modern age in its ideals and its practices, and it contained within it the seeds both of dissolution and rebirth.
He then goes on to note:
The Age of the Reformation was not a particularly religious age, and its anti-clericalism was inspired by a multitude of motives with which the intensity of faith and the elevation of morals had little to do.
On other words, the German princes who protected Luther, did so because they wanted to be independent of Rome, and Luther provided a convenient theological cover for their political and economic motives.
He then defines what the Reformation consisted of, in religious terms:
- A simplification of the body of Christian belief and an emphasis on the doctrine of salvation and its means as the essentials.
- An individualistic emphasis upon salvation as a direct and immediate relation between the soul and God, as religion as inner and intensely personal.
- The consequent dropping away of the sacramental system of the medieval church and its attendant hierarchy of priests.
The Reformation rejected the Church as an institution, but not the basic Christian beliefs:
The drama of the destiny of man. The corruption and depravity of man’s nature; of God’s wrath, and the store of eternal punishment. Man’s intense need for salvation. The whole supernatural scheme of redemption through Christ’s sacrifice.
This was absolutely opposed to the spirit of the Renaissance, whose cardinal doctrine was the dignity and worth of the natural man.