“As I am the image and presence of the divine substance of God, my father, so you shall be the image of my substance in humanity. Your glorified soul shall receive the indwelling of my divinity as the air receives the light of the sun’s rays. You will be transformed by this so that you can attain the closest union with me.”
Most noble balm of the divinity! Like an ocean of live, you empty yourself in eternal light and in eternal budding of life. You transform as you diffuse yourself until the end of time. O invincible strength of the hand of the most high God! You enable a weak vessel to receive such a precious liquor within itself when that vessel is only fit to be cast away in contempt. O most divine goodness, what greater testimony can there be to the depth of your care!
The period of the Reformation, some would say reformations, began in 1517 when a monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses challenging the Church’s authority to sell indulgences (explained below). The plural “reformations” reflects the large number of people and movements that flourished within the general spirit of reevaluating beliefs based on individual conscience. Also in the sixteenth century the Council of Trent can be counted as a reformation in its own right, although not protestant. The term “protestant” began as a description of those who protested the 1529 council which prohibited Luther’s 95 theses. There is no one protestant church. Today the term refers to all Christian churches that trace their heritage through Western Europe but reject the authority of the bishop of Rome (pope), which basically means all Christians other than Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Just as there is no one protestant church, there is no one protestant set of beliefs. There are, however, some major re-evaluations of specific theological questions, and more importantly, new ways of asking theological questions. The following sections will go into specific theological questions. This first section will address the historical context of the period of the Reformation.
Martin Luther can certainly be counted as a man who changed history, but history had to be ready for the change. Many of his ideas did pop up in earlier centuries, but did not take off. For that matter, many of the changes associated with the Reformation went against Luther’s own ideas. He can be credited as a deep thinker, a charismatic speaker, and a persuasive writer, but along with the theologian we should understand the historical context of the Reformation, starting with the Renaissance.
The word “renaissance” means rebirth, specifically the rebirth of the classical period. Renaissance thinkers thought of themselves as reviving the art, literature, philosophy, political thought, and general intellectual climate of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They called the period between the classical period and the Renaissance the “Middle Ages” reflecting their view of that time as standing in the middle of the original and reborn classical periods. They did not desire to live in the past, but carry forward the spirit of the classical period in new ways. The Renaissance is usually counted as beginning around 1300 in Italy, particularly with the poet Dante.
You did not abandon me when I wandered in the devious ways of sin, but kept joining me to yourself as far as my own misery would allow
The Renaissance can be explained and characterized in different ways. My preferred explanation is that it resulted from the Crusades and Christian encounter with Islam. Around the year 1000, few people in Europe ever traveled beyond their local area. Many were completely unaware of other ways of thinking or doing things. With the Crusades, many European males traveled to the Middle East to take Jerusalem from Muslim rule. On the way, they encountered other European Christians, Middle-Eastern Christians, and Muslims. These encounters have the effect of opening one’s mind, which is why many universities encourage study abroad and require learning another language and culture. Christian Europe also encountered Islam in the conflict for control of Spain, and through Italian merchants and travelers. Islamic art, literature, architecture, philosophy, and science were particularly advanced. It is not that Christendom impersonated Islamdom in these regards, but it is the case that the encounter led Europe to think more about and glorify its own heritage from Greece and Rome. Encountering others has the general effect of giving perspective.