The United States was founded on many principles, such as the right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the freedom of religion. Each of these principals has helped to make the United States a nation where differing religious beliefs are tolerated. America’s plural religious heritage was the result of a movement that occurred in Europe started by a German monk, priest, named Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546). This movement was known as the Protestant Reformation and it was responsible for breaking down the power of the Catholic Church that once influenced most of Europe. The Protestant Reformation began at a time period in European history when many people began to question the practices of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church before the Reformation
Up until the time of the Reformation, many people accepted the Church’s authority on religious matters. The Catholic laity not only controlled matters of religion, they also governed areas of politics and economics. Many Catholic priests and clergy grew rich by allowing people to pay money in order to be forgiven for their sins. Another problem that was occurring was the Catholic Church’s close involvement with the political affairs of Europe. The Catholic Church had immense power all throughout Europe, because it was closely connected to powerful rulers and kingdoms.
The Pope was authorizing monarchs to freely divorce their wives and to marry other women in order to strengthen their alliances and their kingdom’s political position. These were but a few of the problems that many people began to take notice of and speak out against. Martin Luther became a Catholic monk in 1505 because of a life-changing event. A lightning bolt had struck near him on his way home, and he started to look at his life as though God was going to judge him harshly for his sins. He chose to be a monk because of the promise that he made to a St. Anna to keep him from Christ’s judgment. He soon became a well renowned monk by his peers.
Spreading the Ideas that Led to Protestantism
In 1517, Martin Luther posted a 95-page thesis on the door of the Church of Wittenberg. Once this thesis was attached to the door, the ideas contained within it began to spread to the many different parts of Europe. People everywhere used Luther’s ideas to help form their own ideas about God and to start their own church denominations. Protestantism sprang up from this movement and the prominent idea behind this branch of Christianity was justification by faith: that God saved people by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The Catholic Church did not like Luther’s ideas, nor did many kings and emperors. Within a few years, many people all over the continent were breaking away from the Catholic Church and began to worship God in their own way. Many European rulers were making themselves the head of their own churches, and the Pope was also doing everything in his power to maintain the Church’s control. Many people lost their lives during this chaotic period and many religious wars broke out all over Europe. The primary problem was that the Catholic’s were in charge and they didn’t want to let go of the people or their power. People were also being rounded up and killed or jailed. Many people who disagreed with the Catholic Church had to flee their homelands and travel to different parts of Europe to worship as they pleased.
The Spread of the Protestant Reformation
Meanwhile, Martin Luther was steadily promoting his new ideas and constantly printing information that was changing how Europeans believed in God. Luther fueled the Protestant Reformation during the time when European powers were starting to colonize America. The whole notion of leaving America and traveling to another world to worship God on their own terms began to appeal to many people. Many nations were already funding expeditions to the New World ever since Spain established the first American colony. Many European dissenters began to leave England and other parts of Europe in order to travel to America. Once they arrived, they began to separate into their own religious groups and constructed various societies based off their own beliefs and values.
Martin Luther also wrote about separating political power form church power. He espoused the idea that kingdoms should handle the affairs on the Earth but they should not mettle in matters of religion or spirituality. In some of the printed works that he created he spoke out about how kingdoms should wage wars against Turkish powers, but he stated that they should fight a spiritual battle against the Islamic belief through prayer and repentance. Luther’s views on church and governing powers helped to establish a principal for the separation of church and state. Luther’s work on this matter is one of the earliest printed materials about this subject. Luther’s views also helped to establish the doctrine of freedom. Before the Reformation, people did not live their lives according to personal rights to choose as they believed. They had to follow the established order of things from the time they were born up until the time they died but the Protestant Reformation had helped to change this by having people to realize that they were allowed to worship as they pleased. Other freedoms naturally sprang up from this concept as well. It could be argued that First Amendment rights such as the freedom of speech could be tied to Luther’s work.
It was over 250 years from the time of the Protestant Reformation till the U.S. Constitution was formed and America became a nation. During that time, Martin Luther’s ideas were still being scrutinized and remembered by a few people who deemed them to be important to all of mankind. His ideas helped to make America a place where religious tolerance and freedom was to be accepted. No longer would one particular religious ideology dominate a country and force people to serve under its rule whether they believed in it or not. Martin Luther might not have directly influenced the forming of America but his ideas play a part with creating the ideological framework for the U.S.