There’s a video up on Prager University called “How the Reformation Shaped the World” (PDF transcript for those who prefer to read). Stephen Cornils of the Wartburg Theological Seminary gives an adequate, broad overview of the impact of the Protestant Reformation (albeit with some noise about Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, which, while accurate, smacks of throwing a sop to politically-correct hand-wringers). You can view the video in full below.
I’ve written about the influence of Christianity (and it was, notably, Protestant Christianity) on the founding of America, and I’ve discussed how shared Protestantism helped create an American identity. Indeed, I would argue that, without Protestantism, there would be no America, as such.
I would also argue—perhaps more controversially—that America’s commitment to Protestantism as opposed to Catholicism allowed the nation to avoid the anticlerical upheavals seen in France and other predominantly and officially Catholic countries. While there were official, established churches at the State level into the 19th-century—which I wrote about in “The Influence of Christianity on America’s Founding“—the lack of federal establishment, and the general movement towards greater religious liberty, ensured a proliferation of Protestant denominations in the early Republic.
Catholicism inherently insists upon a top-down hierarchy of control. Luther’s view of man’s relation to God is horizontal, as Bishop James D. Heiser argues in his extended sermon The One True God, the Two Kingdoms, and the Three Estates (one of my Christmas gifts, incidentally, and a good, quick read for just $5). That is, every man is accountable to God directly, and is responsible for accepting Christ and maintaining his relationship with God. That horizontal, rather than vertical, relationship infuses Western Civilization with a sense of individualism, the effects of which have been far-reaching and both positive and negative.
Regardless, the impact of the Protestant Reformation is staggering to consider. The Catholic Church in the 16th century was an increasingly sclerotic and corrupt institution, one that had fallen from its great height as the pacifying influence upon a barbaric, post-Roman Europe (of course, the Counter Reformation reinvigorated and, in part, helped purify the Church). With the advent of the printing press and translations into national languages, conditions were ripe for an explosion of religious reform in the West. The ripple effects of the Reformation still pulse through Western life and culture.
That said, I’m not anti-Catholic, nor is that the intent of this post. In today’s political and theological climate, committed followers of Christ must band together, be they Catholic or Protestant. I don’t “buy” Catholic theology in toto, but I respect the Catholic Church’s longstanding traditions and consistent institutional logic. Thomas Aquinas’s cosmological argument in the Summa Theologica is pretty much what I learned growing up as an Evangelical Protestant. And I’m broadly sympathetic to the traditional Catholic argument that the Reformation busted up the orderly cosmos of medieval European society (see Richard Weaver‘s various essays for further elucidation of this idea). A side effect of the Reformation naturally includes many of the cons of modernity.
Ultimately, too, Christians face the double-threat of modern progressive ideology and radical Islamism. I’ve written about the former in detail, but not so much the latter. For the moment, suffice it to say that the two are temporary, uneasy, but powerful allies against a traditionalist, conservative, Christian worldview, and both are deeply antithetical to Western values and culture.
These are some broad and slapdash thoughts, ones which I will gradually develop in future posts as necessary. Any useful resources or insights are welcome—please share in the comments.
Happy New Year!