Warsaw School of Economics
Spring term 2007/2008
Protestantism was a movement whose aims, motives and actions were primarily of theological nature. The leaders of protestant reformation considered reason and philosophy as secondary to the Biblical revelation and useful only in the way that helps in furthering their religious cause. That is why their teachings are rarely considered as “philosophy”. At the same time, the philosophical implications of their teachings were of significant influence on the daily lives and historical development of Protestant individuals and societies. I will therefore present the basic foundations of Protestant thought in the way I consider most useful for our Philosophy course. I therefore describe each of the main protestant ideas as close as it is possible to the themes of our classes: metaphysics (what is being?), epistemology (what can be known?), ethics (how people should live?) and political philosophy (how a society should be organized?).
What is Protestantism?
The protestant reformation, initiated in the early sixteenth century in Central Europe, was a theologically-inspired movement led by rebellious Catholic scholars and theologians. These scholars opposed what was perceived by them as the corruption of the Catholic Church’s doctrine and practice. They saw it particularly in the widespread acceptance by the Church of material and financial gains in exchange for the interpretation of its doctrines favorably to its client members but often in stark contrast to the founding principles of the Christian faith. Originally aimed at reforming the Catholic Church (hence the name “reformation”), soon the reformers and the movement they initiated were faced by the Church authorities’ affirmation of the Pope’s infallibility and primacy to the Bible. Condemned as heretics, their fate seemed to repeat that of their century-earlier predecessors, whom the Pope ordered to be executed by burning. The spiritual leaders of the reformation appealed then to their political rulers – the princes and city councils in many of contemporary Northern and Central European duchies and city-states. Enjoying at the time a political power already strengthened by the significant demographic, technological and economic progress, most of these rulers embraced the reformers’ ideas of individual responsibility in matters of religion and the rejection of the Catholic Church’s authority. The official statement of “protestation” by these rulers against the Church’s condemnation of the reformers was the reason the term “Protestant” refers since then to all adherents to the reformation doctrines. Apart from the rejection of the Catholic doctrines specified below, Protestants share the core beliefs and founding principles of Christianity.
The most important and founding characteristic of Protestantism was its affirmation of the earlier historical claims (most notably that of XIV century Catholic dissident theologians John Wycliffe of England and Jan Hus of Bohemia) that the Christian Bible is the only and complete authoritative source of the knowledge of God and God’s will for human beings. The Bible is the word of God, not only because it describes all known instances of God’s words and actions in the human world, but as it is itself God’s gift to the humanity. It can be therefore read literally, personally and universally. The Protestants considered the Christian Bible to be the ultimate authority on all questions of existence and knowledge, rejecting any human claims that directly contradict it or oppose it. This idea contradicted the Catholic and Orthodox doctrines, which stated that only theologically educated priests have the power to understand the scriptures and use reason to interpret it. Protestantism rejected the idea of a central authority other than the Bible that could oppose it in the matters of faith and...