Confession and Society
Confession and Society
Tridentine Catholicism

Confession and Society : Lutheranism

Church and State . . Martin Luther called upon his followers to obey state authority, i.e. the prince respectively city council. The Lutheran church was organized in accordance to political borders (LANDESKIRCHE). The territorial lord had an influence on the appointment of the superintendents; in Sweden the king formally even was head of the nation's Lutheran state church.
The Lutheran church organization, nevertheless, at times was to stand up against their ruler when the existence of the church, or her orthodoxy, were threatened. When Duke Elector Johann Casimir of Brandenburg converted to Calvinism (1613), the Lutheran church of Brandenburg acquired a guarantee of Lutheranism remaining state church in Brandenburg. Similarly, when FREDERICK AUGUSTUS I. of Saxony converted to Catholicism in 1697, the Lutheran church of Saxony acquired a guarantee of the Duke Elector that Lutheranism would remain state church in the motherland of the Lutheran reformation. In both territories, the Lutheran state church learned to coexist with a non-Lutheran dynasty. The modus vivendi was based on the formula - the Lutheran church does not interfere in state affairs, the state does not interfere in church affairs. Martin Luther had been concerned about the lifestyle of the common priests and parishioners; in case of heads of state he had been willing to turn a blind eye, for instance regarding PHILIP OF HESSE's morganatic (hence bigamous) marriage. The Lutheran state church of Saxony did not criticize Frederick Augustus I. having mistresses.

Clergy and Laymen . . Martin Luther insisted on clergymen needing proper education. In this belief, he was confirmed by the experience of self-appointed uneducated migrant preachers like MELCHIOR HOFMANN, whom he held responsible for having promoted socio-political chaos. Protestant territories therefore needed institutions of higher learning - high schools (GYMNASIUM) and a UNIVERSITY. In the days of the reformation, such institutions often were founded in the buildings of deserted monasteries, and endowed with their property or part of it.
Due to the perception of the time, only men were accepted into the clergy (until into the second half of the 20th century). Women could express their devotion to religion by joining the diaconesses, which served the sick in hospitals.
Laymen could actively participate in community life as PRESBYTERS (parish elders). The emphasis Martin Luther placed on the educated clergy laid the responsibility concerning the implementation of ethical rules on the clergy rather than on the individual christian. The oral confession was abolished; Lutherans soon lived routine lives rather than regularly questioning their own conduct, as the Anabaptists and early Calvinists stressed. In the late 17th and 18th century, the PIETIST MOVEMENT emerged to counter this development.

Lutheranism and Literacy . . Martin Luther stressed that everybody should learn to read, write and count. Every parish was to have a school. While this did not translate into mandatory elementary schooling - there were always some cottage owners who could not afford the fees or decided they needed their children on the field - the population in Lutheran territories had a much higher literacy rate than those in Catholic areas. Luther's bible translation and catechism became standard texts and therefore had a great impact on the development of German orthography. Also, ethnic minorities in Eastern Germany and in Prussia now were confronted with the intense use of German; in some cases, their original Slavic or Prussian language became extinct in the 17th or early 18th century, in other cases these languages were marginalized.

Women in Lutheran Society . . Martin Luther defined the role of the woman as being that of a mother and housewife. Luther was married to Katharina von Bora, a noblewoman who had be abbess of a nunnery and who bore him several children. She played a low-key role in public life; at home she candidly gave Martin Luther her opinion on theological matters, and she is regarded as having had considerable influence on him. Most women in the 16th century were confined to household and marriage, the Lutheran view thus being not particular. Institutions of higher learning would bar access to women for some time to come (in the 18th century, some institutions were to grant access to women, but that was a controversial topic into the early 20th century). It should be noted that Lutherans, as well as Catholics, believed in the existence of WITCHCRAFT; Lutherans tried and executed presumed witches, in most cases single women who did not fit into the standard role perception of women.

Festivals .. The Lutheran Church abolished the celebration of saints' days and carnival and abolished processions and pilgrimages. Those christian festivals celebrated were done so in the spirit of humility, without extravagance. The Lutheran church, not having the influence on society the Calvinist church had, did not go as far to ban card playing, gambling, soccer and theatre performances.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 19th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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