The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers

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Luther’s detestations towards the power of the Catholic Church and the’ legitimacy of the Pope’s indulgences, for instance, were marked by the dictates of his belief in political realism which was coupled with the ‘ethical consequences of his doctrines’ (Davies 37. Scholars contend that Luther was an ‘accomplished theologian politician’ whose struggles were ‘inner’ and spiritual yet, he likewise took controversial political stands in order to defend his goals of religious reformation. This clearly depicts Luther’s ambivalent position on religion and politics. Luther asserted that men needed the restrictions that laws provide and advocated absolute obedience to authority while upholding spiritual freedom (New 34). This contention on absolute obedience is dubious since Luther decried the same absolutism brought about by the ‘indulgences’ of the Pope. Furthermore, his overly passionate stance on the foreigners’ exploitation of Germany evoked hostile resentment against the foreigners, as well as patriotism and indignation from the Germans (New 35). For many liberals and humanists in that period, Luther’s type of reformation was fundamental – overly passionate and almost bordering on rebellion.
John Calvin employed the same kind of radicalism in order to alter the political and social environments of his day. Fashioning social and political organizations completely from biblical principles, Calvin impressed on the people of Geneva, a very stringent moral system obtained from a literal reading of the Bible. These new impositions went through protestations as the people believed that they successfully dislodged the Papacy only to be disappointed by the experience of a similar form of the papacy with Calvin at the helm. Calvin’s innovative political philosophy and social reforms had brought about a radical transformation in Europe. Zwingli, as compared Luther and Calvin who discussed various theologies in their writings and arguments, opted for a unified theme. Nevertheless, Zwingli tackled an analogous fundamental movement in the form of a very stringent Protestantism in which the Gospel was almost treated as a law (Bromiley 121).
Zwingli’s contribution to the social life of his generation cannot be discounted as his teachings became the foundation of social and organizational principles of the fundamentalist Protestants and the Puritans which later became the basis of the political and social structures of the English colonies in the United States. Zwingli’s ideas were so pervasive that up until this day, the principles of a social organization still persist. Hence, Zwingli’s reformation movement can be characterized as rather revolutionary and political as observed in his preoccupation with both clerical and secular politics (Bromiley 128).