Luther’s Assault on Church Authority

Yesterday I began a series of posts on Martin Luther and the Reformation in commemoration of Reformation Day. I have been looking for video clips that help to illustrate various elements of Luther’s life and theology. The challenge is that there are very few complete videos, at least that are both pretty good and relatively brief. So instead I will share a couple of clips that illustrate various elements of Luther’s life and, when possible, direct you via hyperlink to larger segments.

The clip we watched yesterday, from, illustrated the early part of Luther’s life, tracing his journey from a planned career in law to the monastery, and from the monastery to an unintended career as a Reformer.

Today’s segment, a part of PBS’s wonderful The Reluctant Revolutionary, deals with Luther’s attack on the sacramental system of the church in his 1520 treatise, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” As Mark Edwards, former President of St. Olaf College, says in the video, the sacramental system functioned something like the water works, as the church controlled access to grace with a series of sacraments that started with baptism and ran through last rites. Luther’s Reformation, to keep with the analogy, was like giving people permission to drill their own wells.

The video then touches briefly on the “priesthood of all believers,” the assertion that any Christian can speak a word of forgiveness and grace to another. This was, as Edwards says, like eliminating the middleman between God and humanity. It was, in other words, an outright attack on the power of the Roman Church and ensured that he would be excommunicated, that is, excluded from the sacramental system that was supposed to make possible one’s eternal salvation. Though Luther stared out trying to reform the church he loved and served, with his burning of the papal bull of excommunication, he’d moved from reformer to revolutionary.

I’ll see what I can find for the rest of the week, but – as with, I’m afraid, most of my posts – I don’t have a plan, so stay tuned to see what emerges or suggest some of the resources you’ve found most helpful in the comments below.

Notes: 1) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.
2) For those interested, you can find an online copy of Luther’s treatise “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” here.