I just finished reading “What happened to the Reformation” for the second time. I very much enjoyed the book review, it was very informative. Before I tell you exactly what I thought of it, I’ll just give you an idea of the impression I got of Harm Klueting after I read your work. I looked into him before I read and only really got up to speed about his leaving the Lutheran Church and joining the Catholic Church and how he was allowed to stay married to his wife who had become a nun. May I say I think it’s bold and awesome that you sent a copy to Harm Klueting right off the bat. I think he’ll really appreciate it.
I really couldn’t understand why Klueting would want to be Catholic after having been a Lutheran minister. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Lutheran and the idea of not being able to marry and devoting one’s life to spreading the gospel of love just seems contradictory. How can you preach love when you yourself deny yourself one of the most beautiful aspects of love? Marriage.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Klueting falls into a category of people that I can most closely relate to celebrities who get involved in the church of Scientology here in Hollywood. They’re a kind of people who as opposed to championing the underdog and the free / individual thinker, they champion big brother, or secret societies/ secret knowledge. It’s an obsession for them and they’d rather be a small part of a bigger organization that claims to have an upper hand on the rest of the population as opposed to being a free thinking (play by your own rules) sort of person, who answers to no one but God. I myself fall into the second category.
Institutions of any kind I always approach with a watchful eye. Institutions, especially the bigger ones, always have a higher chance of corruption and I think the most important people involved in huge institutions are their internal affairs and human resources committees. I believe that even every film set should have an internal affairs person to make sure abuse is not present.
The other possibility, for which I would have to find evidence somehow, would be that Klueting left the Lutheran Church out of love because it was something his wife wanted and he wished to accompany her. I remember reading in the article I found on him that his wife had converted to Catholicism before him and because she was a nun already when he converted to a Catholic Priest they allowed them to stay married. In that case I guess Klueting might just be seen as a kind of lover who will take whatever side his wife may have taken out of support, even if it means writing a book in favor of Catholicism and discrediting the Reformation of the church he just recently was a member of. Once again, however, I’d have to find some kind of evidence for it.
Your Ph.D. really shines through in “What Happened to the Reformation” because you are really a master of that period of time and it’s very evident when reading the piece. Because I’m not super well versed in that period of history, as I’m sure Klueting most likely is, I’m not totally able to give you very insightful thoughts on the topic. However, I do feel like it was an amazing history lesson and it did give me anecdotal evidence in support of all the claims I’ve heard that the Catholic Church was full of a lot of rot throughout history. Particularly Pope Julius II and his interdicts.
With your scholarship in this subject it’s quite evident that Klueting has not gotten away with any of the major issues he has breezed over in his book. What was most comforting to me about that was the idea that if someone with little knowledge of that time period, like myself, were to read his book, perhaps they would question if the Reformation was a historical occurrence that had been blown out of proportion and was in fact just a European myth. That reminds me of when people say Jesus Christ is just a myth and a friend once told me that the same people who say that 500 to 800 years from now will be saying the same thing about George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. I would say in no more than 500 years they’ll definitely be saying Alexander the Great was a myth as well. I’ve heard there is more contemporary historical evidence to support Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great. I don’t know if that’s true or not however.
You set an interesting stage at the beginning of the book review. You noted that the Protestant Reformation was squeezed between two periods in history: the Late Medieval Period and the Confessional Age. It’s really mind boggling to me just how rich and complex the period surrounding the Reformation really was. I know sometimes when we’ve talked about it, it can transition from one landmark event to another even just spanning Luther’s lifetime. The opening preface also has a good shock with Tom Brady and Heinz Schilling’s claim that the Reformation is “A harmless foundational myth for the belated German nation.” And they are right about one thing in that statement. Now that Harm Klueting is in fact a Catholic Priest, the Lutheran Reformation certainly is Harm-less. Ha, ha – just kidding.
Although that is a shocking claim he makes and to me was one of the first things that made me think Klueting is a bit of a radical for the Catholic Church and as I said before for reasons I’m not entirely certain of.
The idea that European historians, especially German ones, study the Reformation as a universal revolutionary turning point, was interesting. I suppose it shows a pride in the German nation and not at all that the claim that it is a universal revolutionary turning point is false. I know you mention a few times in the book review that nationalism is a false ultimate. I also found it interesting that there is a camp of historians who look at the Reformation exclusively outside of the context of the church, that is, only from a political and sociological standpoint. They strongly criticize those who look at the Reformation as something intimately connected to the church by saying that they are doing theology and not history.
This reminds me so much of an argument regarding the Bible. The argument is whether to see it as a historical document or as a metaphorical and religious/ mythological document. I suppose a middle ground has to be found in that argument. I liked your statement that the way you approach the argument on the two camps of historical Reformation study, is you look at the Reformation/ Luther as helping usher in the modern times in the countries where it was dominant but not in the countries where it was not dominant.
But I really agree with you that the Reformation was essential in progress in the areas it was prevalent in and most certainly wasn’t some kind of myth that was blown out of proportion. I would say it does fit the description of a revolutionary turning point in history. I never really realized just what a big impact it had on the state before I read your book review. Because the church and state were so intimately connected a reformation of the church directly affected and changed the very nature of the state and that’s amazing. A historian who wants to argue the Reformation was just a harmless myth has to be pretty oblivious to that.
I felt like you set the foundation early in your book review to address the problem of the power that the Catholic Church was wielding during the time of the Reformation. I noticed it when you put forth the ideas that the Catholic monastic orders became transnational corporations and the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western State. You juxtaposed those statements with the goal of all the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. By the time I read deeper into the book review and was learning the history of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, it became clear to me that the Catholic Monastic order becoming the first Transnational corporation and the Roman Catholic Church becoming the first Western state in no way advanced the world toward the goal of the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. In fact it had made the Popes power hungry and greedy and unwilling to let go of power even if it meant using military force. That’s almost as far from Christ as one can get.
In the next part of my response to your book review I’ll mention some details I liked and thoughts I had. I’ll add a further observation I came up with about Klueting from reading more of your review of his book and I’ll mention some other anecdotal things you mentioned that I found informative.
I loved your concept of the sovereign suffering servant combating nationalism and even the subtle destructive divisions of religion. That, to me, is the ultimate power of Christ. He can truly unify us all in mercy, love and forgiveness. It made me say to myself Christ is bigger than the label “Christianity”. The name of Jesus is beyond Christianity and religion for that matter.
It was around this part of your review, I can’t remember the precise page number, that I started to really see how the Reformation affected the state as I’d never truly understood before. I think it’s good and reasonable that you stated it isn’t right to call Luther the father of modern individualism but that he did make scripture and faith a deeply personal thing. In my opinion, that is a huge contribution to individualism. Though you’re right it in no way makes him the father of it.
I loved the quote of Luther that “Christians should cherish excommunication”. That’s a classic kind of school-of-hell Luther perspective. I thought it was beautiful that you mentioned John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin. I’ve always liked John Paul as a Pope. It’s too bad he’s gone. I thought it was a brutal but informative anecdote about Henry VIII killing three Lutherans next to three Catholics.
But now going back to the discussion of what ushered in the modern times. I think it is valid to say, how you did say, Luther was a big influence in ushering in the modern times where the Reformation was dominant but you quote Klueting as saying “The onset of modern times remains ambiguous.” To me that just sounds like another cop out on Klueting’s part. His historical perspective in my opinion is not an intelligent one. Other details you point out from his book gave me the impression he’s downplaying the Reformation, covering it up, and even giving the Catholic Church a kind of credit for it as if it was a catholic reformation because the Catholic Church had gotten out of hand. Two things specifically you mention are the way he looks at the council of Trent in a good way when historians agree it was pretty pessimistic and much later in the book review you mention how just when Klueting could go into the 30 Years War, something you mention the Jesuits as having laid the ground work for, he just breezes by it and starts talking about the Baroque Era and the catholic reformation. So Klueting’s historical perspective doesn’t seem intelligent to me and that, to me, is one of the things that makes your book review good because someone with no knowledge of this time period, like myself, could take Klueting’s book as a well thought out scholarly work and suddenly say to myself, “Well, I guess the Reformation really wasn’t that big of a deal” or even “it was more of a myth”.
You have many terrific comparisons in your review. I notice also that you focus on the topic of the power of coercion versus not being allowed to coerce for a little while. Leading up to that you had some historical references and statements about nationalism and descriptions of the Catholic Church at that time that inspired some interesting thoughts in me.
I loved your comparison of the Jewish High Priest delivering Christ to the Romans to be crucified and a Bishop delivering a so called heretic to the civil authorities to be burnt at the stake. That is such a direct and blatant misuse of religious authority. They must have been so blind to the scriptures.
I loved your comparison of Luther to Galileo. The way Polanyi believed the Marxists trying to control scientists would destroy science. It made me think of the scientific method being corrupted to meet the kind of outcome the Marxists wanted. In the same way Luther felt the Papacy burning heretics was destroying the Christian conscience. If every one’s scared of being burned no one can be a Christ for someone else or worse yet, if they believe there are certain people who deserve to burn because the church deems it necessary then there’s no such thing as true Mercy, or at least the Mercy Christ wished to give.
To make a comparison of my own, I enjoyed how you boldly submitted the statement that “The authentic spiritual concern of the Secular Princes far surpassed that of the Roman Curia”. It made me think of Christ bringing the good news to the gentiles and how the gentiles were more passionate about it then God’s own chosen people the Jews.
Also it was a fascinating detail you mentioned about Luther listening to the quiet voice of his conscience. I thought to myself, is that where God resides? In our consciences? Like Elijah hearing the still small voice. And you mention later in the review how Luther quotes Christ as saying “Beware the kingdom of God is within you”. You manage to incorporate some really valuable insights into God being within and the kingdom of heaven as well in this book review.
Now one of the major insights I had from reading your review came from some of the very thoroughly described passages of exactly how the Catholic Church operated and appeared back then. You quote Berman about how the Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity and how they did it to combat the Emperor. I thought to myself, what’s worse, a legion of uniform, dogmatic, indoctrinated priests that make an immovable excommunicating institution with the power to burn people at the stake or an Emperor who is all powerful who can do whatever he wants. Are they the same thing? Thinking about it, there is such a thing as mob mentality and perhaps someone like a King can’t kill as many people as an institution can. Of course I really don’t know what the answer to that is. Though overall the idea the clergy mobilized so fast is frightening.
The excerpt from Berman you used really made me see how one could call the church the first state and reading about the German Bishops, the Bishop reforms, and the Princes who were Emergency-Bishops really amazed me at how religious authorities back then were so intimately connected to rulers.
And so the thought came to mind for me at this point that things were coming to a head, and that this had not been going on just since the founding of the Christian church back when Constantine declared Christianity the religion of Rome, but that it’s been going on since the beginning of time: Religion as a governing power. Looking back at all the ancient kings probably most of them were despots and high priests and so ruling over people went hand in hand with having religious authority. Thus when I read your passage about Luther burning the cannon law it struck a chord with me. It’s like Religion (as a code or guideline not as a ritual for comfort and connection to God) itself in many ways is like a symbol of human sin, and we need to rise above religion and see that religion should hold no Law above us. It’s like the very idea that religion should be supported and empowered goes against what religion really is and doesn’t make it religion any longer.
Like you mention later in the review an idea I loved very much. Taking away the power of coercion and excommunication from the church made it more Christ-like. Thus in many ways giving the power back to Christ. It’s like how is Christ all powerful if every time someone profaned his name we went and killed that person. It just shows me that Allah and Mohamed must in fact be the weakest and most insecure religious figures in all of history.
All of your statements really rang true for me in regard to coercion vs. non coercion. I love your quote “Christ invited us into the life of the Gospel, which cannot be legislated”. You bring up nationalism within your book review a few times. You restate it at the end as well: “Nationalism is a distortion of religious fervor and a nation is a false ultimate”. Earlier in the book review you state that “it is Catholic (universal) Christian fervor that I believe became transformed into nationalism”. This, to me though I have not really read up on the subject of nationalism, seems like a very unique and interesting idea. Your review definitely gives weight to the idea. Not only that, but you address it from a standpoint of why nationalism should not be considered from the Christian perspective: “Christian spiritual fervor should trump nationalism”. I felt a bit like you were relating this to the idea of following the sovereign suffering servant.
You also say that Muslims still need to get to that point and I couldn’t agree more. With your argument about nationalism, you beautifully utilize a quote of Luther that made me see some of Christ’s word through new eyes. That while people are searching for an ultimate in nationalism, and not finding it, we read in the scripture Christ’s own words telling us just where his kingdom is. You quote Luther talking about God’s non bodily kingdom using Christ’s words “My kingdom is not of this world”. What an implication that was to me. Looking at it from a political and sociological standpoint Christ’s kingdom cannot be one with a ruler and states and laws and boundaries because those are all earthly human sociological and political standards for a kingdom. If Christ’s kingdom is not of this world it simply cannot contain any of those. It has new and different standards and laws that govern it. Some we may never be able to understand in this lifetime, but all of them based in Love, mercy, forgiveness, hope and faith I would imagine.
To further illustrate the two kingdoms theory that you mention throughout the book review, toward the end you juxtapose two observations of the two kingdoms. In the sight of the world power, accomplishments, and wealth get people’s attention. God does not notice such things, however. To get God’s attention you do the things (and become good at the things) that are of value in his kingdom: meditation, teaching, counseling. Also the quote of Luther you mention that “The Popes’ excommunicating for material gain in truth meant that they spiritually excommunicated themselves in the end”. That is a very informative illustration of some of the laws that govern the kingdom of heaven.
I think it’s great that because you know the history so well you’re able to point out a lot of the ghastly things that the Catholic Church did during this time period that Klueting seems to breeze over. It’s better for the world in general to have different perspectives on historical periods like this. Although I will agree with you that I also found one thing interesting from Klueting’s work. You mentioned that he clarified the meaning of “Huguenot”: The idea that it meant “those who had taken oaths to be comrades together”. To me it was moving, because it made their persecution and suffering more real to me.
A question I had, and I believe the question came up simply because I’m not well versed in the history of the Catholic Church. You mention that the Pope remained a prisoner of the Vatican until Pope John Paul II, who was the most recent Pope and who just died. I know you mention that Pius the IX declared himself prisoner of the Vatican. Was there something that happened in history? Did John Paul II declare himself no longer to be a prisoner in the last century? Just curious. It was an interesting passage in your book review and it prompted me to want to know more about that situation.
The following are some more quotes and ideas of Luther, some anecdotal stories from your book review, and some of your quotes that I really liked. I liked the following Luther quotes “The only standing we have is God’s Mercy”. Also Luther’s classic idea of opposites coming into play. “Complete opposition between God and the Human, and in that dynamic tension, humanity itself becomes elevated into divinity”. It’s quotes like that one that always make me say talking with Luther must have been a really far out experience. He must have blown peoples’ minds often.
It was moving to read what Thomas Cranmer said about the Pope right before he was burned on the stake: “He denies him like Christ’s enemy and the Antichrist”. Pretty bold. It sounds like the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was a dude with some pretty strong religious convictions. The quote you use from Thomas Hobbes to describe the Catholic Church is often how I’ve thought of the Catholic Church. It really paints an amazing picture: “The ghost of the Roman empire on the grave thereof!”
At the bottom of page 39 and the top of page 40 you go into the topic of free will. This was a particularly interesting part for me as free will has been a topic on my mind regularly since I moved out from my roommates back in October. One thing to me that makes Luther’s words so applicable to my life in this day and age is his almost Buddhist or Zen-like thoughts on the will of God and human free will. As you state before, the Catholics say humans have a free will but that it does not always align with God’s will. Luther believes God miraculously acts through us so that even our free will is actually God acting in us to bring about his will.
To me this is just a groundbreaking understanding of life itself. We cannot know when our very sins are being used to aid God’s will. In this day and age, perhaps because I was raised Lutheran, I don’t like taking credit for good things I’ve done because I know it wasn’t me that did those things, but it was God inside of me. I know I can do nothing without God. If God truly took his hand away from me, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed in the morning. Thus sometimes when I’ve been angry with someone and I think of the terrible things I could have done or terrible things I could have said to them I’m not grateful to myself that I did not say or do the things, I see it as a blessing from God.
When I look back at my life and I see that I haven’t been to jail, or gotten some girl pregnant, or killed someone, I say that’s not because I’m scared or extra nice or just in the wrong place at the right time, but that it is because it has not been God’s will to have me do those things. Now if down the road I find myself in the unfortunate position that I have done some of those things, while I may feel terrible about it, it’s important for me to remember that it may be for God’s ultimate purpose and will that I did those things and God may be working on turning my sins into blessings. It makes sense to me now in my life more than ever Luther’s belief that a Christian has no free will and what seems like the will of a Christian is actually God working through them.
My co star for the film I just did is an Episcopal and he and I and another member of the crew where talking religion. He was explaining the Episcopal faith and asked me what it was exactly that we as Lutherans believe. I tried to explain to him but it was quite literally after he explained as an Episcopal he believed it was important to try to get God’s word out there and to help people. I tried to explain Protestantism to him right after that by simply saying we’re saved by faith and you can do whatever you want. For him it seemed too big of a leap of faith to believe that if a human being can do whatever they want that they will do good. I tried to explain that God can use our sin and the things we do wrong even to push his will further and that it might be a part of God’s plan for us to wind up in jail or something of that nature, but while he seemed to understand that on a kind of Zen, Ying and Yang kind of level, he didn’t seem to be able to grasp faith in one’s self: that the spirit of Christ is in all of us. And I don’t know if that’s what it comes down to, but often to me it feels like that. Like I need to have faith Christ is in me and is working through me and then I have to go with what feels right and even as Luther says “If you’re going to sin, then sin boldly, but more boldly still believe”.
And on that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book review with your own quote that really spoke to me.
“How much easier to burn an enemy of the faith at the stake, rather than burn with fervent love, hope, and faith, like
the burning bush whose fire did not consume its branches!”
Just like the cross, a symbol of death and despair became the very symbol of life and hope, so, as your quotes truly illustrate, the burning of all the martyrs in that rough period of history, each of them is like a fire that will never go out testifying to the truth of Christ. Great job Pop! This was an enjoyable and incredibly informative read and I hope my response is helpful to you.