Reformed thinking

Exactly 500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, Dr Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses (Pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum) to the door of the church in Wittenberg, thereby setting in train the events that led to what is now referred to as the ‘Protestant Reformation’. The accumulation over a short period of time of the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Renaissance, the printing press and widespread debate on issues raised in these processes changed western civilisation fundamentally and permanently.

Luther, like many of the leaders of the Reformation and for that matter many of those who opposed it, was not necessarily an altogether pleasant man. His strongly anti-semitic views gave a toxic prompt to some rabble rousers, with his influence stretching into 20th century fascism. But nevertheless, his actions opened up a new chapter of intellectual engagement and strengthened the position of Europe’s leading universities, as well as their capacity to engage in critical analysis and research – although Luther also opined that universities could be ‘the great gates of hell’.

Theologically, politically and socially, the Reformation was complex, and if it led to intellectual empowerment for some it also prompted narrow-mindedness in others. But the anniversary is worth celebrating, because our freedom of thought and of academic debate was reinforced through the posting of the 95 Theses and what followed. We are, in some respects at ;east, products of the Reformation.

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4 Comments on “Reformed thinking”

  1. paulmartin42 Says:

    I attended a packed lecture, by a Polish Prof, at Aberdeen Uni Library last night on James VI causing similar havoc in a nearby area of Germany in the early 1600’s. He was interested in suppressing a libel which no one was prepared to reveal (oh its in Latin, ahem). Key were the Gordons of Aberdeen & various (protestant) Marischal College people.

    There was rioting in the streets of Old Aberdeen when the then academic religious institutions were merged and James Clerk Maxwell got the sack despite being married to the boss’s daughter. In the 90’s I remember wandering the (still vacant) former campus of RGIT and then discussing the establishment of one HE place hereabouts. I wonder what act of God preserved the status quo and created the new Garthdee Cathedral and what reformations are about to be visited on post-Brexit Academe.

  2. Vince Says:

    And O’Leary introduced indulgences and nary a person raises a whimper.

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    “But nevertheless, his actions opened up a new chapter of intellectual engagement and strengthened the position of Europe’s leading universities..”
    Yes, the way in which this was achieved is fascinating and, if you read the extract below, resonates with contemporary academia: ““One scholar has described the post-Reformation university as one of ‘academic mercantilism’ in which political authorities competed for resources, students, professors, and prestige to strengthen their own position in central Europe…What is more, princes often extended their power over the management of internal academic affairs by founding specific chairs and lectureships; by retaining authority to approve of faculty appointments and changes in the statutes and by appointing special commissions to inspect universities. In short while the corporative status of universities persisted at this time, the freedoms that this status entailed were increasingly eroded by new political dynamics set in motion by the Reformation” T.A. Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University, (2006)

    I hope the Daily Mail does not get hold of the definition of universities as ‘great gates of hell’, that might give them the opportunity to coat gutter journalism with a patina of erudition.

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