In the history and tradition of Christianity, there are two very significant events. One of these is the role played by Martin Luther in the Protestant reformation.
The other important concept concerns mysticism in Christian practice. The first part of this paper deals with the role played by Martin Luther in inspiring exodus from the Roman Catholic Church. The second part deals with the practice of Christian mysticism and some of the defenses put forth by mystics.
Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was born in Germany after a catholic monk (Martin Luther) posted rhetorical works popularly referred to as ‘the 95 Theses,’ which appealed for the transformation of the Christian Church (Somervill 96). Martin Luther was born in 1483, in a town known as Eisleben, in Germany. He grew to become one of the most influential controversial people in the history of the Church.
Though he was relatively unknown in his early years as a monk, Luther gained recognition in 1517 after authoring a manuscript that was perceived to attack some of the doctrines practiced in the Roman Catholic Church such as absolution of sin, which he accused of entailing the purchase of ‘indulgences.’ In his ‘95 Theses,’ Luther emphasized the centrality of the Bible to religious conviction. He asserted that human salvation could be achieved only via faith and not by deeds.
That document marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Despite the fact that those ideas existed before Luther, he publicized them at a time when people were ready to challenge the power of the Roman Catholic Church (Hastings 244). At the time of his writing, Christians had started questioning the apparent over the involvement of the papacy in worldly matters rather than the spiritual needs of his followers. Luther’s, writings significantly transformed the way Christianity was practiced.
The nature of the revolution instigated by Luther was literary. In the ’95 Theses,’ Luther argued that the faithful ought to seek God’s forgiveness by faith. That was contrary to the Roman Catholic Church teachings about faith and good works being essential for salvation. He also raised concerns about the authority bestowed upon the Papacy. A different point raised by Luther in his document concerned the equality of Christians in the eyes of the Church.
He believed that Christian faithful did not require priests and bishops for the interpretation of the Bible. He tucked the documents to the door of a church in Wittenberg. The author of this paper agrees with Luther that there should be only one source of authority in the Christian faith. This authority is God. All believers are equal in the eyes of the Lord and no one should perceive himself better than the other. Christians ought to be allowed to read the Bible on their own and decide for themselves the meanings therein.
Even after his excommunication by the pope in 1520, the writings of Luther gained much popularity due to the growing popularity of the printing press in his time. He was put on trial and proclaimed an outlaw by Emperor Charles V after which he had to go into exile. It was during his exile that he interpreted the Bible into German.
Most of the changes that Luther advocated for were implemented during his lifetime. For instance, he came from exile and found that priests dressed in regular clothes and were referred to as ministers. Some clergy had even begun to commit to matrimony.
Rather than advocate for changes from within the Roman Catholic Church, Luther’s followers started calling themselves the Lutherans. The message of reform carried by Luther resonated well with various sections of discontented Christians for other reasons besides spirituality. Some western political figures accepted the Lutheran way due to their resentment for the political authority accorded to the papacy. Merchants supported the reform due to their loathing for the taxes imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
In his dissent with some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther did not consider joining the Eastern Orthodox Church probably due to the similarities in doctrines shared between the denominations. That was despite the fact that he had a relatively positive view of the Orthodox Church.
The support was mostly because the Eastern Orthodox Church also denounced priestly celibacy, purgatory, supremacy of the pope, and indulgences among other practices. It was worth noting that some followers of Martin Luther indeed got in touch with the Orthodox Church patriarch Jeremias II. That effort did not bear much fruit and was later abandoned.
While Luther’s early texts initiated the Protestant Reformation, he was barely engaged in it through the years that followed. Luther became more atrocious in his opinion claiming that the pope was an antichrist and allowed polygamy based on the Old Testament tradition observed by the patriarchs.
However, the most stringent of Luther’s views was his advocacy for the ejection of Jews from Germany, which many people saw as one of the reasons that led to the Holocaust (Bainton 273). During the Holocaust, over one million Jews were killed. The views propagated Jews played a significant role in the way his followers perceived Jews and may have contributed to the Holocaust.
The concept of Christian mysticism is used in reference to the growth of mystical traditions and mystical theory within Christianity (McColman 23). Christian mysticism is usually linked with mystical theology that is often practiced in the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern orthodox practices.
Christian mystics study and practice their faith based on ecstatic visions about the coming together of the human soul with God. They also observe prayerful contemplation of the Bible. In this regard, mysticism means the spirituality offered by seeking direct involvement with God. The life of the mystic is rooted in religion not just as an accepted belief, but on a level in which the believer seeks direct experience with deity.
Due to the constant criticism of their unique way of praying and practicing their religion, Christian mystics often feel the need to justify themselves and the authenticity of their practice. They justify their ritualistic ways of offering prayers as a fundamental routine in any religious practice. Prayers such ‘the Lord’s prayer’ are traced to the times of Christ, and are used to justify mechanically repeated prayers performed by the mystics.
In Mathew 6:7, Jesus reminds his followers not to heap too much praise in prayer like the gentiles and not to use too many words in prayer. Another practice defended by mystics is that of secluded meditation aimed at building a spiritual connection with God. Though some mystical practices such as protracted periods of seclusion and self-annihilation seem extreme, their philosophy of seeking a personal relationship with deity is understandable.
The author of this paper perceives Christian mysticism as a noble way of practicing faith in a close and direct experience with God. However, it appears to contradict the Christian doctrine that God resides in all believers. All Christians can obtain experience with God only by believing in Jesus Christ. Christian mysticism appears to want to capture spiritual experiences that cannot be attained by intellectual techniques or by reading the Bible.
It seeks to do this by encouraging its followers to emulate Christ. However, the Bible teaches that likeness to Jesus Christ can only be attained through dying of the self rather than trying to emulate him. 1 Corinthians 2:14 also teaches that spiritual truth can only be understood via the intellect, directed by the Holy Spirit (who dwells in all faithful).
The history of the Christian church is adorned with various mystics like Teresa of Ávila, who employs allegories of irrigating a garden and taking a tour of the chambers in a castle to illuminate how meditation encourages a union with God. Others like Ignatius Loyola, Johann Arndt and Lorenzo Scupoli play major roles in advocating for meditations and secluded prayer aimed at seeking direct experience with God. Mystic practice in Christianity or any other religion is an indication of devotion and search of spiritual perfection.
However, I do not see myself becoming a mystic due to the controversies surrounding their practice. I am a Buddhist who believes in meditation that is not intended for union with deity. Buddhist meditation is a procedure that nurtures and improves awareness, clarity, emotional positivity, and a composed perception of the true makeup of things.
Martin Luther was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of the Christian church. The role played by his writings in the protestant reformation shaped Christianity as it is practiced today. However, the perceived role played by some of his rhetorical works on the violence witnessed against Jews during the Holocaust was quite unfortunate. This paper also elaborated the practice of Christian mysticism. Though some mystic practices appeared extreme, most of them were geared towards establishing a union with God.
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009. Print.
Hastings, Adrian. A World History of Christianity, United Kingdom: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Print.
McColman, Carl. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality, Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2010. Print.
Somervill, Barbara. Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation, Minneapolis: Capstone, 2006. Print.