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University of Toronto Scarborough
Political Science
Andy Lee

POLB70Classic Texts in Political Theory IProfessor Lee Lecture 11 November 22 The Political Thought of the Protestant ReformationSome Background on the Political Significance of the Protestant Reformation We studied earlier in our course how the CatholicUniversal Church claimed universal jurisdiction and how it was understood to be not only a religious institution but also a legal and political institutionBy the Catholic doctrinesepitomized in the Papal Bull of Boniface VIII Unam Sanctamthe whole world was thought to be under the power of the Pope and its priestly hierarchy which represented God on earthAll other secular rulers with temporal powers the power of the temporal sword was granted to them on loan from the PopeWhat made the Church so powerful was the belief in its monopoly on salvationthat was its trump cardThe Church could indirectly control and shape policy by the threat of cuttingoff or excommunicating people from the Church and thus God The Church was thus very deeply involved in earthly mattersin fact it had its own separate court system it owned extensive landed property and collected the functional equivalent of taxesBut not everybody was happy with this situation believing that this kind of power and secular influence exercised by the Church was not what the original founders of the Church had intendedWe saw one example of this dissatisfaction in the Church in the writings of Marsilius who denied that the Church was a proper state because of his argument that the Church has no real coercive jurisdictionOnly a human legislatora political community or peoplecan properly make lawBroader reform efforts were attempted within the Church throughout the later Middle Agesone of the more wellknown were those of John Wyclif in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia both of whom were burnt at the stake for their heterodox views against Roman CatholicismBut the most important and radical change in Church politics came with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the early C16 Germanynote that this is the same time that Machiavelli is writing The Prince in ItalyThe familiar story of the Reformation is that an obscure German Augustinian friar Martin Luther disgusted with the abusive venal practices of the Church such as the collection of indulgences posted up 95 Theses or complaints about the illegitimate powers exercised by the Church and its theological doctrinesThis set in motion a series of events that led to uprisings revolts excommunications and ultimately a clear break away from the authority structure of the Roman Church entirelyThe Reformation was not simply a reform from withinits essential to observe that this represented a break from the Roman Catholic ChurchWhyTheologically the answer was to be found in Scripture a reading that Martin Luther providedIn the medieval understanding the priesthood functioned as the intermediary between humans and GodYou could not get salvation except through them and the requirements imposed by the ChurchLuthers idea was that the priesthood was redundantevery person could individually bypass the priestly intermediary and make a direct connection with GodEverybody who had a genuine faith was in a sense a priest this is the idea of the priesthood of all believersBut the only way to do that was through ones own individual faithnot through works or performance of Churchinstituted rituals or requirementsLuthers idea made the medieval Church as an institution unnecessary in spiritual mattersLuthers idea was a radically democratizing idea in the Christian religion theres no need for the priestly middlemanPolitically it meant that there was no need for Christians to look to Rome for any spiritual authorityWhy should a German like Luther have to look southward to Rome with all its Church bureaucracy and ritual customs and laws in order to have a connection with GodSince Luther thinks every person can do it for him or herself the Pope has no special divine authorityIt also means that new churches can be set up by individual believers rather than having churches set up from the higher Roman authoritiesThus it is in this period that we begin to see the establishment of national churcheslike the Church of England or the particular churches of the various German principalities and cities
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