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    Bateza, Anthony M. 2018. Reconciling Rapacious Wolves and Misguided Sheep: Law and Responsibility in Martin Luther’s Response to the German Peasants’ War. Political Theology, Vol. 19, Issue. 4, p. 264.

  • Print publication year: 1991
  • Online publication date: March 2008

6 - Christian obedience and authority, 1520–1550

from II - Religion, civil government, and the debate on constitutions


Continuities with the medieval past are no less evident in the political ideas to which the Protestant Reformation gave rise than in the religious and theological commitments that characterised it. In both respects, however, it constituted also a striking break with the centuries preceding, and scholars have devoted an enormous amount of attention to wrestling with the problem of continuities and discontinuities. By a long-established route, the characteristic approach to Martin Luther's startling departures in word and deed from the norms of medieval orthodoxy and the dominant patterns of late medieval political thinking sets out from the decline of the later medieval papacy into legalism, fiscalism, confusion, and corruption. Encompassing the onset of the Great Schism in 1378, the emergence in the conciliar movement of a constitutionalist opposition to the jurisdictional claims of Rome and in the policies of European rulers of a set of comparable claims that overlapped and rivalled them, that approach moves on to the more radical challenges posed to the whole hierarchical order of the church by such heretics as the Waldensians, Wycliffites, and Hussites. It takes special note of the rise of the nominalist theology and of the retreat from the externals of religion reflected in the mysticism of Germany, the Netherlands, and England, as well as in the later flowering of the devotio moderna and the humanist philosophia Christi. And it terminates on the eve of Luther's great challenge with an emphasis on the deepening tension between the intense piety – ‘churchliness’ even – of the populace and the increasing calcification of the ecclesiastical establishment, and a concomitant emphasis on the growth of anti-clericalism (Moeller 1965, pp. 3–31, 1966, pp. 32–44).

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The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450–1700
  • Online ISBN: 9781139055406
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