Major Differences Between the Thought of Martin Luther and the Ideas of the Medieval Latin- Rite Tradition

Topics: Protestant Reformation, Eucharist, Catholic Church Pages: 6 (2136 words) Published: June 6, 2012
In this essay I will first briefly discuss the background that led to the revolt of Martin Luther against the Christian Church. Next I will discuss the major differences between his thoughts and the ideas of the Medieval Latin-Rite tradition in a systematic way and finally conclude this essay by evaluating the thoughts of Martin Luther.

It is believed that the western Church needed to be reformed at the beginning of the sixteen-century[1] for various reasons. One of the major reasons that led to the revolt of Martin Luther an Augustinian friar against the Church was over the questions of indulgences.[2] Martin Luther directly launched an attack on the western Church by posting his ninety-five theses during an annual festival on the Castle Church of Wittenberg[3] when many people were visiting to inspect the Elector’s relics.[4] These ninety-five theses mostly criticised the Papal authority, the doctrines of the church and the abuses of indulgences.

According to Luther in his radical work The Babylonian Captivity of the Church he wrote that the sacraments were clerically dominated.[5] Luther thus did not agree with the traditional seven sacraments, for him the most significant sacraments were Baptism, Holy Communion and Penance.[6] It is also noted that Luther’s view on the Mass and the Eucharist was quite contrary to the view of the Christian Church of the medieval times.

The most fundamental element of the Medieval Christian Church and till this day in the Latin rite is the Mass. “To appreciate the Mass an explanation of what Christians believe about the Christian Eucharist is needed.”[7] It is seen as the high point of Christian faith since it “…breaks down the barrier between the physical and spiritual, between earth and heaven, death and life.”[8] During the Eucharist the bread and wine from this earth are transformed (doctrine of transubstantiation) into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which is deemed to be very sacred and powerful, thus in the twelfth century “laity dared to approach the Lord’s table only infrequently, perhaps once a year at Easter, otherwise leaving the priest to take the bread and wine while they watched in reverence.” [9] It is also believed to be the re-enactment of Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. Hence Christians believed in the true presence of Jesus in sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Although Luther believed in the true presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper he condemned the doctrine of transubstantiation[10] and introduced his own Eucharistic teaching that is know under the title consubstantiation.[11] His argument for consubstantiation is as follows: Why could not Christ maintain his body within the substance of bread as truly as within its accidents? Iron and fire are two substances, which mingle, together in red-hot iron in such a way that every part contains both iron and fire. Why cannot the glorified body of Christ be similarly found in every part of the substance of the bread?[12]

Luther also rejected the sacrificial nature of the mass and denied it to be a good work performed to gain merit from God but rather the last will and testament of Christ. [13]

Medieval Christian church believed in the middle state between heaven and hell, “in which those whom God loved would have a chance to perfect the hard slog towards holiness that they had begun so imperfectly in their brief earthly life.”[14] It is still believed to be the “…place of purging in wise fire, with its promise of an eventual entrance to heaven” [15] and hence given the name Purgatory. Luther’s view of purgatory in his ninety-five theses condemns the Pope’s motives of the teaching. In his theses he writes as follows: 82 They ask, e.g., Why does not the Pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons....
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