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Political Collapse and Reformation

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on November 1, 2019 13:48

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Fears of a global collapse of economic and political structures abound. Perhaps we should remember that similar crises threatened the world five hundred years ago, and while many died, and many politicians were discomfited in its making, the Reformation and concomitant Renaissance improved the lives of thousands of millions.

A time of crisis: The political structures of Europe threatened with total collapse. Moral and religious bases of society questioned. The economic system tottering and being swept away by radical new ideas. Technology threatening the authorities' control of information. 

Sounds familiar? Indeed. In the early 1500s the age-old structures of the Holy Roman Empire and the Church in Rome began to show cracks. Heretics had come and gone, often to the scaffold or the fire. Islamic forces threatened the very heart of civilization: a Turkish Army camped at the gates of Vienna. The Church in Rome firmly controlled politics, economics and finances through tithes and indulgences to finance Crusades. Banking was in the hands of those who could could lend money and practice usury, since they had no hope of heaven: the Jews. Or so the Church taught. 

In this charged atmosphere an unknown, unimportant monk in the rural town of Wittenberg defied the church in Rome. Nothing new here, many monks and others had similar views. Except that technology enabled Luther's ninety-five theses to be published instead of being forgotten. And then they were translated and republished all over Europe. 

Refusing to recant. Anton von Werner

 

In 1519 these writings reached the ears of disaffected students in England, France and Italy. Delegations from Constantinople, and even Ethiopia reached Wittenberg to hear the views of this suddenly famous monk. 

Luther's teachings fractured the structures that were thought essential to peace and prosperity. Teaching that the matter of sin was something between the individual and God, he removed the control of access to heaven and the scripture from the Church. He set civil authorities free from control by Rome, and made them responsible to represent the citizens. Banking and financial reforms began.

The structural breakdown caused uprisings of peasants, revolutions and hundreds of thousands of deaths, but triggered the creation of modern democracy and the modern idea of a global community of people who are all equal before God. Of course Popes, Princes and politicians fought to maintain national exclusivity, borders and controls, but these were inexorably swept away. 

Luther's views of Islam and the Jews were rather unpleasant, and should be questioned. But the long term effects of the Reformation are clear: five hundred years of growth and economic development. 

Fast forward five hundred years: Wars threaten Europe with the invasion of hundreds of thousands of refugees. An Islamic threat worries world governments. Financial structures are creaking under the weight of vested interests. Political structures are increasingly unable to represent people at grassroots levels. In remote schoolyards children are unhappy at the way the world is governed. And technology enables school strikers to gain recognition and challenge the leaders of the world. 

Autumn Peltier, Chief Water Commissioner, Anishinabek Nation. CBC.ca

 

Retreat behind national boundaries, trade barriers and controls did not work 500 years ago; they won't work now. Creation of communities, recognition of common humanity did then. And will again.

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on November 1, 2019 13:48

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Source: WashPost
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