The Protestant Revolution – Part 1 The Politics of Belief
More stuff I should have learned in school. Either I was absent that day or I wasn’t paying attention. .
In this documentary historian Richard Jones-Nerzic explores the major political upheaval brought about by the 1517 Protestant Reformation, led by German monk Martin Luther. The film asserts Luther’s willingness to challenge the authority and corruption of the Catholic church unleashed a flood of revolutionary ideas, as well as political upheaval that lasted centuries.
At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had immense political power, with authority to levy taxes, raise armies and wage war. Moreover there was already growing dissent in the Church about the sale of indulgences. For a price, anyone could purchase a guarantee of salvation for themselves, family members and even dead people.
In 1521, Luther was hauled before Holy Roman Emperor Charles, V, declared a heretic and banned from the Holy Roman Empire. Sheltered by a sympathetic prince, he grew a beard, Luther disguised himself as Squire George and spent his time translating the New Testament into German. At the time, the Church only allowed the Bible to be printed in Latin, Green or Hebrew. They maintained ordinary parishioners could only understand scripture if a priest interpreted it for them. Luther also made use of the newly invented printing press to churn out pamphlets promulgating his views.
Buoyed by these ideas, as well as heavy taxes and bad harvests, in 1524 German peasants staged a revolt, the largest in Europe prior to the French Revolution.
Jones-Nerzic goes on to trace Henry VIII’s split from Rome in 1538, followed by the Scottish Puritans, under John Knox, breaking from the Church of England in 1630. In 1642, the split would culminate in the English civil war led by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell.
The film then explores the close links between the radical idealism (emphasizing equality and justice) of the nonconformist Protestant movement and Britain’s Socialist Labour Party, formed in 1900. It makes the point that the founders of Britain’s Labour Party came to socialism via “the Methodist chapels of Yorkshire and Wales,” rather than Marxism.