31 October: The Reformation Day [Author: Femi Cakolli]
The continent of Europe, which stands upon three pillars of civilization (pagan culture, Greek-Roman philosophy, Christian religion) for more than 2000 years, the greatest change has taken place in the start of the XVI century with the coming of Reformation, respectively with the appearance of the protestant movement of Martin Luther, and this date is 31 October. Hence, we are approaching 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In America preparations are underway to celebrate the 500 years of Reformation.
Premises for a European Reformation
Right from the time when Christianity fell into the hands of the Illyrian origin Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, from the first quarter of the IV century AD, to the first quarter of XVI century AD, (a total of 1200 years), is the long part of history known as medieval or the period of the Byzantine Christianity. The entire life and culture of Europe is controlled by the Church of Rome and the church of Constantinople, which has slipped away in many aspects from the teaching of Christ and from other principles of the Bible and the Gospel. During the medieval people could not read the Bible, and it was considered that humans are so sinful so they are not worthy to hold the Word of God into their hands. Those days’ church, which in Western Europe was the Catholic church only, was telling the nations that the Bible belonged to church alone and its clergymen, therefore leaders may read it, but due to the ‘ignorance’ of the people, it is dangerous for the people to read it.
Apart from this, Christians are to do many more works in order to gain their salvation, and it was the church gaining out of this labour, which was going in contradictory to the church. In year 1382, Englishman John Wycliffe translated the bible from the Latin into English and now the people could read it. Later on, a Czech cleric raised the voice of protest requesting everybody should be allowed to read the Bible in its own language, and not simply listen to it from the priests as they share it in Latin. In the dawn of the XVI century AD, many Europeans shared the opinion that Erazmo Roterdami was sitting like a broody-hen over the eggs until Martin Luther hatched. As a matter of fact the true Christian church (Evangelical church) had always stood in opposition from its submerging from the state church in the IV century AD.
Who is Martin Luther?
Martin Luther was born 10 November 1483 in Eisleben of Saxony, Germany. From his childhood he attended various schools as it was the passion of his father John for his son to know the truth. John loved books, and his son is brought up with the similar spirit. In year 1505 Luther graduated from the University of Erfurt in Philosophy and Arts. Because of his hard studies he got ill several times during his young age. He would say, “Knowing how to pray is the best half of the study”. In 1507 Luther is ordained as Catholic priest. In year 1508 he become a Professor in the University of Wittenberg. Since he had studied both Greek and Hebrew, he was able to also lecture on the subject of the Holy Scriptures – The Bible.
For Luther it came as a revelation from the Lord the Bible verse which says: “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), and it is from this moment on that his heart and mind begun reforming. The visit he made to the papal Rome in 1510 was very significant for Luther’s convictions as there he met much of hypocrisy and many non Christian doctrines. Pope Leo X had ordered declaring of indulgences and all those who accepted them had to pay money, where as it is with this money that those day’s Pope begun the construction of the St. Peter’s church in Vatican. Indulgencies and its requirements had gone as far as providing people with papers promising them all their sins are forgiven, and even the sins that will be committed in the future – the only issue remaining is paying money! Therefore, such scandal faced resistance particularly in Germany under the leadership of the eminent reformer. Luther is the first priest to get married since he found no support at the Catholic Church but on the Bible. He got married to Katarina Bora and had six children. On 31.X.1517 (which is the Reformation Day), in Wittenberg, on the doors of the church in the town, Luther nailed his 95 theses, with the announcement that in the next three days he was going to publicly defend them. The three days are symbolic to the resurrection of Christ, therefore by such symbolism it is understood that the church of Christ in Europe was to raise again. The demand of such theses was the reformation of the Catholic Church, but it is Pope that opposed it. After the public defending of the theses, papal attacks followed. In the Assembly gathering of the year 1524, definitely the Protestant church is born. On 1529, in the Assembly of Schppeier, a small number of princes, announce a protest against the attitude of the German king and the majority of other princes, and also gave a support to the reformation of Luther. On 1531, Protestant princes found the Protestant League.
Martin Luther passed away on 18 February 1546. Luther is not a prophet for the Protestants, but only God’s minister. Besides Luther the following were the key figures of Reformation: J. Calvin, U. Cvingle, K. Grebel, M. V. Ilirik, F. Melanchthon, J. Hus, J. A. Kaminski, H. Bollinger etc.
Reformation or Luther’s Theses
On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther being angry with the Catholic church which had become state owned, pagan, cultured, copulated with the noble men, oppressing farmers and the poor; being upset that those day’s humans had no freedom and no thought; being angry that the Gospel of Christ was not being preached – he announced his 95 known theses right at the doorstep of the church of Wittenberg. Such theses were the way, the program and the platform of the Reformation. The five main theses, which grasped the attention and the interest of peoples of all levels in Germany, Switzerland, England, France, etc, were the following:
Sola fide (Faith Alone)
Faith comes by believing in God alone and humans are not bound to do good deeds in order to be saved. In the Bible (Paul’s Epistle to Romans 4:5 says, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness”.
– Sola gratia (Grace Alone)
Salvation, and life as believer, comes from God’s grace alone, and humans cannot earn it or merit it. At Paul’s Epistle to Ephesians 2:8, it says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.
– Solus Christus (Through Christ Alone)
Salvation comes from Jesus Christ alone, and no other mediator is needed. In the Bible at Acts of the Apostles 4:12 it says:“Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person” (GWT).
– Sola Scriptura (Holy Scriptures Alone)
God’s Word is the ultimate Word of God in our lives as believers. No other council can match to the righteousness of the Word of God. At Acts 17:11 it says: “… for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”.
– Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)
Glory does not belong to us. The ultimate purpose of our life is not to be successful, wealthy, adroit, or to fulfill our needs. God has created us and has saved us by the power of his love. He has accomplished everything in our lives and he is worthy of all praise from all the peoples of the earth. At Ephesians 1:11-12 it says: “In him (God) we were also chosen,… that we might be for the praise of his glory….”
Luther’s Reformation turned to be a powerful nationwide movement, and its main purpose was individual’s freedom, appliance of Christ’s teaching, de nationalization of the church, church decentralization, demolition of Pope’s cult and his role over lives of Christians, translation of the Bible in national languages, praise and worship to be carried in mother tongues, removal of statues and icons from the Lord’s church, denial of the Catholic sacraments, removal of the law on beautification, stopping the selling of indulgences, denial of the doctrine of the Purgatory, reinterpretation of the transubstantiation, removal of the influence of the tradition over the Bible, declaring marriages of the clergymen as legal, etc.
Spread of Reformation and its challenges
Reformation spread very fast particularly in Switzerland, France, England, Holland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, etc., and in these countries almost all people passed from the Catholic Church into Protestant church. Those days’ Pope was French, and he in an agreement with the king of France and other princes of Spain made the fiercest opposition known in the history of Europe as far as the issue of religious conviction is concerned. Out of fear that the entire continent was getting reformed (protestantized), then they started what is known as “Nights of St. Bartholomew”, which was similar to the notorious actions of “killing of witches” when during one night alone, on 23 August 1572, in France over 6000 French Protestant noblemen are murdered, and this way such violent actions and killings of the Protestant Christians continued also in other countries where as the head of such atrocities was the appointee Ignatius of Loyola (Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola), who became the major figure of Counter-Reformation. Reformation spread fast in all the borders of Europe, right to the borders with the Ottoman Empire, this way leaving the Balkans without Reformation because of the Ottoman rule here. Since many Christian Protestant were persecuted from Europe, they began seeking for a new land, this way immigrated to America in big numbers, and it is these people who became the basis of guarantee of the human freedoms which is today built in America.
Reformation and Albanians
At the beginning of the appearance of the reformation, the Catholic Church imitated the doctrine of Protestantism by allowing translations of the Bible in other languages, provided that until the XVI century AD the Bible in Europe was mainly in Greek and Latin, but soon after the Catholic Church changes its mind and begins the counter-reformation. Hence, all those publications which were financed by the Pope himself are now declared heretic and those caught possessing them were persecuted.
Gjon Buzuku remains the first known author to have written a book in the Albanian language, and that is the “Missal”, a masterpiece which is a translation of many portions of the Scripture from the Latin. This book is first published in 1555, right at the time of counter-reformation, and this far we only know of one copy of this book as other copies were burned down after it was declared forbidden, hence still today very little is known of its author and the place of its publication. All these speak that it is very likely that Buzuku was related more to Luther’s Reformation then to the Catholic Church for the fact that his masterpiece is published right during the time of the papal counter-reformation. Anyhow, the roots of the Albanian writings trace at Reformation.
It is only in year 1887 that the first Protestant church opens among the Albanians in Manastir (present day Macedonia) and in Korçë (present day Albania) in the year 1892. The church is first opened under the leadership of Gjerasim Qiriazi, and from this on, there have always been Protestant churches among the Albanians. Lately more documents have been discovered to support the claim that in 1882 there was such a church Protestant (Evangelical) church in Prishtina. Over 100 documents today are found in The United Kingdom, America, Austria, Turkey, Albania, etc., that speak of the spreading of Protestantism among Albanians. In the year 1884 Qiriazi himself visited the Prishtina church.
The following figures have given their contributions to the consolidation of Protestantism among Albanians: Vangjel Meksi, Grigor Gjirokastri, Panajot Kapitari, Naum Veqilharxhi, Koto Hoxhi, Nikollë Naço, Gjerasim Qiriazi, Gjergj Qiriazi, Grigor Cilka, Petro Nini Laurasi, Konstandin Kristoforidhi, Thanas Sina, Kristo Shuli, Sevasti Qiriazi etc., whereas the following other figures admired this movement: Elena Gjika, Asdreni, Konica, Noli, Naim Frashëri and many, many more.
Hegel and From about Protestantism
The Protestant church has provided the mankind independence from the 12 century Christian dogmas. The church is discharged from its authority and the faith and salvation concept is passed to the individual. This made individuals both responsible and valuable by creating the direct GOD-Man connection. Such Reformation components influenced the development of the spiritual, political, cultural, artistic, and economic freedoms, laying the foundations of the modern European society. Erich From has searched that in Protestantism the most important psychological developments have been reached ever. This psychologist says: “Protestantism is the answer for the needs of the fearful and isolated human, who is disassociated with its roots, which in the new world should be found and reconnected with”. Hence, according to From the Protestant church “prepared humans psychologically also for inception of labour as well as for humans role to play in the industrial system”. Another philosopher called Max Webber in his masterpiece, “Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism” reflects deeply into the influence of Protestantism in the economic development and diplomacy. Such role has been accomplished because Protestantism demolishes other authorities for individuals and strengthens God’s authority alone. This philosopher reached the conclusion that Protestantism saved humans spiritually and capitalism politically. The Protestant church started such a process that pushed humans to personally face God and not through other chains of command. Hegel, paid gratitude to Luther saying, it is with him that the spirit of freedom begun. Luther is considered the warrior for the freedom of reason and conscience.
Protestants in the world today
Over 10% of world’s population is Christian Protestant, therefore over 600 million people worldwide testify their Christian Protestant conviction, where as the largest number is in America, followed by European nations such as United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, etc. Luther’s and Calvin’s Reformation is alive still today and is still spreading through many nations of the world, such as China (with over 40 million, Brazil over 25 million, South Korea over 80% of the country’s population etc.) The present most well known worldwide preacher and theologian of the Protestants is Billy Graham.