This is the third of three essays on Christianity that cover the three Christian breakthroughs from a Moral Innovator perspective:
1. The formation that started 2,000 years ago
2. The split between Orthodox and Catholics 1,000 years ago
3. The split between Catholics and Protestants 500 years ago
In Christianity #1 dated September 11th, 2016, the focus was on formation of Christianity 2,000 years ago. Pre-Christian communities like Essenes and Therapeutae focused on the soul or spirit. Several centuries after the death of Jesus, the writers of the Bible’s New Testament wanted believers to yield their souls to the consubstantial Jesus Christ, leaving all Christian believers only with their personalities. By adopting the Greek philosophers’ “Logos” (instead of Ethos or Pathos) to present compelling arguments for the soul and spirit, pre-Christian communities like Essenes and Therapeutae (and later Gnostics) had to become heretics. This story has not ended, as we may be able to find out more through the Dead Sea Scrolls which have been attributed to writings mostly of the Essenes.
In Christianity #2 dated September 18th, 2016, the focus was on the split between Orthodox and Catholics which was formalized in the year 1054, about 1,000 years ago. Orthodox Christians believe Jesus Christ is full human and full God, part of the trinity. Catholics believe in a consubstantial trinity. Both made Jesus a God even though Jesus himself did not proclaim to be God himself. On the surface, the divergence within Christianity was driven by power and rituals (e.g. should bread made with yeast be used or not during Eucharist/Communions. Catholics say yes, and Orthodox says no.
In Christianity #3, we focus on the Protestant schism from the Catholics. Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517 (in Germany) and John Calvin broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1530 (in France), leading a confederation of Christians that collectively are called Protestants.
500 years ago, Catholic Christians had achieved independence after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. Not only was there no longer an empire to backup Christians, the lure of treasures in the Americas led the Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI (1431-1504) to draft The Tordesillas Treaty adopted in 1493 by Spain and Portugal. This Treaty gave 90% of all of Americas to Spain, and the remaining 10% to Portugal which became Brazil today. 20% of all treasures collected in the Americas had to be turned over to Spain as royalty. Pope Alexander VI was one of the most controversial Popes, partly because he acknowledged fathering several children by this mistress, and partly because he expanded the practice of granting indulgences. For example, beginning July 13th 1495, up to 5,500 days less in purgatory can be purchased for reciting the Rosary, a Dominican meditation on Christians’ 15 greatest mysteries. Martin Luther’s protest in 1517 included the selling of indulgences such as reciting the Rosary.
Protestants generally believe the church belongs to the followers (or congregations), and not a separate institution like the Catholic Church. For example, Presbyterians are governed by their congregations, whereas some Calvinists’ believe in pre-destination. More recognized Protestants include Methodists (England), Baptists (Amsterdam), Episcopalian (USA), Pentecostal (USA), Churches of Christ (USA). Others include Salvation Army, Quakers, Mormons, Unitarianism, etc. Martin Luther’s marriage to a former nun Katharina von Bora also set the model for clerical marriage.
One of the most significant reasons Martin Luther (1483-1546) succeeded with the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into German, followed by the mass printing of German Bibles using Gutenberg movable type. We know that the printing of the Vulgate, or the Latin version of the Bible, started as early as 1450s. Up to 180 copies of were made, most of them in two volumes (the first volume ending with The Book of Psalms). We also know copies of vellum were heavier and sometimes bound into three or four volumes. The introduction of the movable type print was comparable to the internet as we entered the 21st century. No longer were scribes needed. Errors in reproduction were eliminated by the printing press. By adding several principles to the art of translation, Martin Luther also influenced the writing of the English Tyndale Bible (and later the King James Bible completed in 1611).
Martin Luther spent most of the last part of his life translating the Bible into German. After being excommunicated by the Catholic Pope (1521), the German New Testament first appeared in 1522 and the entire Old and New Testaments in German began to appear around 1534. In his later works, Martin Luther also expressed Jewish homes and synagogues should be destroyed, their money confiscated, and liberty curtailed, against some of his own congregation of Lutherans. There is still debate among scholars whether the World War II Nazis correctly characterized Martin Luther’s anti-semitic views.
Protestant congregations also adopted Logos to justify a new concept (such as Quakers) based on logical (moral) values, not credibility (Ethos) or emotions (Pathos). Many cult-like religions have been led by charismatic “lone wolf” leaders who attracted enough followers to sustain a congregation. For example, David Koresh believed he was the final prophet in the Davidian Branch. We probably recognize David Koresh as the child abuser who died in the FBI raid in Waco Texas in 1993.
What were the underlying moral values behind this Protestant Schism? It was the belief that scripture (e.g. Bible) has higher authority than the Catholic Church, and no institution or state such as Vatican can replace scripture. A clear example is Catholic confessions. Whereas Catholic followers confess to a preacher, Protestants repent directly to God in prayers.
Today, we know that Protestants and Catholics each have about 1 billion followers, which when combined with the 200-300 million Orthodox followers, make up 35% of humanity.
After 2,000 years, Protestants cannot reasonably expect the Vatican to just disappear because there is no need for Catholic Churches when congregations follow the scripture. An effective way to address this and other differences between Protestants and Catholics is to return to the original message Jesus himself preached during his three years of actual preaching: Love thy neighbor.
The next essay will introduce Islam. With 85% Sunni and 15% Shiite, there was a similar schism among Muslims. We will then introduce the Indian and Chinese civilizations. After we look at Christianity, Islam, Indians and Chinese, we will have addressed over 90% of the 7+ billion humans, and begin to address how Moral Innovations can facilitate a peaceful, homologous world. It will not be Utopia, but we can still thrive with knowledge of your places in the world, so we can do the right things and make it better.