In endeavoring to understand the sixteenth-century Reformation, most people seem to look at it much as they do at a tree, focusing their attention upon that which appears above ground. If one attempts to cut the tree down and clear away the stump, however, one soon finds that the roots are of equal if not more importance. In like manner, although one must give all due credit to men such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, and others, whoever would understand the Reformation must look to the roots whence it sprang. If one does this, he will find the roots of the sixteenth-century Reformation long and complex—almost too complex, in fact, for the human investigator to separate and unravel.
When endeavoring to study this movement, however, one quickly realizes that its tap root was religious. Ecclesiastical reform had had many advocates for over a millennium before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Within the ranks of the clergy, reformers had repeatedly appeared demanding radical changes, while among the laity a continual recurrence of millennial and ascetic movements had demonstrated that even the average man felt dissatisfaction with the Church’s spiritual condition. Basically, men seemed to feel that the Church stood between them and God, rather than providing a way to him.
In support of this interpretation one finds that many of the reform movements sought for a fuller and clearer statement of the Christian doctrines of grace. In the fifth century, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, had set forth in his anti-Pelagian writings and other works a view of grace which of necessity conflicted with the idea of grace coming to one through the instrumentality either of ...1
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