Outside the world of religion, the Reformation gave birth to several societal changes:
Prior to the Reformation, book publishing was limited largely to religious and educational texts. Books were in Latin and Greek and were intended for scholars. Publishing was centered in just a few cities in Europe with easy access to the trade routes.
The written discussions and arguments and defenses that arose from the posting of the 95 Theses created an industry that made Wittenberg the center of book publishing in the mid-1500s. Original Reformation-oriented works would be printed in Wittenberg, and quickly reprinted by other markets. Distribution from was major publishing centers was no longer a problem. Printing and distribution became local. Print runs could be small and profitable for the many small printers who came into the growing market.
The number of titles printed in Germany doubled between 1517 and 1520. Almost all of the increase was related to the Reformation.
By writing in the German language, the content of the books because accessible to the general public.
The rejection of the Catholic Church also brought a rejection of Catholic art. There was destruction of art in the Catholic Churches, but a modified form of religious art grew in many Reformation churches. Throughout Europe, Protestant artists also turned away from religious themes and diversified to secular art forms such as historic themes, landscapes, portraits and still-life drawings.
Decorative art, such as painting on furniture, moved away from religious themes to themes of the every-day lives of farmers, merchants and families.
Luther had the good fortune to be friends with Lucas Cranach who was the court painter in Wittenberg. Cranach is famous for the portraits he did of Martin Luther over the years.
Cranach also played a critical role in creating a "look" for the many Reformation pamphlets that were printed. His decorative woodblock creations were used to frame the title, author and publication city for the many new works being printed in Wittenberg.
The integration of artistic title-pages had previously been confined to large, expensive books. Now even simple pamphlets could be graced with art work. Reformation publications had a look that was easily identifiable on the bookstall shelves.
Martin Luther's name featured prominently in these printings. which was unusual for the time. But Luther's name was a selling point.
As early as 1523 Luther was urging a model of duties which should be assumed by church parishes, including collecting and disbursing funds to care for the poor and needy. This became the Community Chest. Income for the Community Chest initially came from endowment funds which had been designated for private masses in the Catholic churches. Other townspeople contributed based on what they could afford.
The Community Chest was carefully controlled by a board of noble men, city council members, citizens and peasants. Perishables were distributed daily, non-perishables were distributed as needed. Careful records were kept. No one who able to work was allowed to beg.
Funds were used to pay for school or occupational training for boys, and provided a marriage dowry for girls. Funds paid for medical care for those who otherwise could not pay for it. Funds could be used to provide a leg-up for artisans or merchants hoping to build a self-sufficient life.
Luther and his followers were strong supporters of education, primarily to raise up a new generation of ministers. By working with the civil authorities, school attendance became a requirement, at least for younger children.
The Latin-based education remained largely in the hands of the nobility and upper-classes.
But through the growth of Lutheran churches and community chest programs, rural schools proliferated.
Education was not just for boys, it was considered equally important for girls. They studied the same curricula. By 1587, in many rural areas, close to half the school population was female.
Martin Luther is often credited as being the father of the German language. Before Luther, the German language was largely a series of dialects., particularly Upper German and Low German. Luther was familiar with both dialects.
During his exile, while translating the New Testament into German, he used his knowledge of both dialects and melded them into a language that could be understood by all. His writings over the years solidified that blended German as a common national language.
The Reformation was in part a move away from dominance of religious thought as the basis for all belief. It took until the 1600s for Copernicus’ ideas that the Earth revolved around the Sun to be scientifically proven. But the acceptance of new ideas which allowed Copernicus to exist were a result of the changes which occurred during the Reformation. The growing printing industry allowed new scientific thoughts and discoveries to be more broadly and quickly shared.
Under Saxon law, wives were entitled to nothing except "a cane, a coat and a chair" upon the death of a husband. Property was inherited by the children, who may or may not choose to care for their mother. Younger children were frequently taken away to became wards of the state.
In 1541, following a serious illness, Martin Luther created a document transferring all their property into his wife Katharina's name. He also stated that she should remain the guardian of their children, as she was the one who had borne and cared for them.
After Luther's death there were legal efforts to nullify these actions, but Luther’s will was ultimately upheld by Elector John Frederick. John Frederick also gave Katharina permanent use of the Black Cloister, which had been the Luthers' home since marriage.
Katharina still died in poverty, largely as a result of the Thirty-Years War which forced her to abandon her property and flee.
There were no laws immediately changed because of Luther's action. It did, however, create a legal precedent for women's inheritance rights. It was a trend which spread (slowly) throughout Western Europe and America over the next two hundred years.
On the seventh day…
Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses was an invitation to discuss a problem he saw with the actions of the Roman Catholic Church. He did not intend to start a worldwide movement, or a new religion, but when he saw what was happening, he embraced the movement and used all the resources available to enhance the changes that were occurring.
On Sunday, we will honor the lasting effect of Martin Luther’s simple act of protest.
At 10 am we will worship at St. Stephen’s. Wear red! And stay for a group photo so we have a lasting memory of the people who make up the Church of God.
At 4 pm, we will celebrate this lasting movement as we gather at Trinity Episcopal with other Lutheran congregations and with our partner churches.
- Ann Warner