An essay on the Reformation
October 3, 2006 at 12:58 am
The Reformation had an unprecedented effect upon the religiosity of the western world.The most common assessment of this revolution is concerned with the religiosity of the middle to upper classes and the religious elite.This essay seeks to assess the impact of the Reformation upon the religiosity of the masses.The Reformation can be seen to have had a revolutionary effect upon the ritual practices and conceptualisation of magic amongst the laity.In order to gain an understanding of this statement, it is necessary to explore the ritual and magical practices, at both an official and lay level, in pre-Reformation religion.The process of change must also be assessed, in relation to the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation.Finally, an assessment of the changes must be undertaken, with particular emphasis of the demonisation of magical practices, which can be seen to have been a direct cause of the witch hunts.This approach seeks to explore the religiosity of the masses, rather than the social elite.While this has often been overlooked, its effect upon religious history is deeply profound.
The function of the pre-Reformation Church was two-fold; it acted to facilitate human interaction with the divine, whilst providing the rites that recognised the important events in the human life cycle and the changes of the seasons: it provided “a cosmic order for existence”.It is essential when approaching pre-Reformation religion, to understand the significance of ritual behaviour.Ritual acted as the prime communicator of religiosity in a population that was largely illiterate and theologically ignorant, whilst being highly pious.
Furthermore, within both official and lay practice, the distinction between magic and religion, the sacred and the profane was significantly blurred if not interconnected.On an official level, the sacraments offered a vehicle through which the sacred may penetrate the profane via the human senses: Edward Muir notes that the experience of the Eucharist was derived from the priest elevating the host above his head, rather than its ingestion, which occurred infrequently.Further to this, the festivals and holy days of the Catholic Church, many of which replaced pagan feasts and festivals were characterised by their highly theatrical displays.Here, the importance lies within dramatised ritualism, rather than theological understanding.
The poorly defined distinction between religion and magic resulted in a wide range of sub-Christian ritual practices amongst the laity.However, it must be noted that these practices were primarily those of the masses, rather than the elite classes.Lay ritual practice was derived from a concern with the current existence; with acquiring security and protection within this life rather than the afterlife.This concern was reflected in their ritual practices, which were often derived from the ‘official’ practices of the Church.For example, a woman who was near full term in pregnancy, would be taken to the Church with a cymbal attached to her body.The cymbal would be struck three times in imitation of ringing the Church bell three times, after the safe birth of a child, signalling the requirement to say an Ave Maria in thanks.This is, in large part, an act of sympathetic magic, which is based upon the notion that “like attracts like.”
This period also saw the proliferation of individuals, particularly old women, who offered cures and charms based upon the sympathetic principle: holy water was used to cure infertility and candles blessed at the Purification of the Virgin were lit to ward off storms.While these practices were not encouraged by the Church, the individuals and communities that employed them, most certainly considered themselves to be practicing Christians.In summary, pre-Reformation religion offered the individual a variety of practices that enabled interaction with the divine and control over the unseen and supernatural in their environment.Further to this, religion can be seen as the prime act of religiosity and communicator of religious knowledge in this period.
The Reformation and subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation can be seen to be a turning point in ritual practices and the conceptualisation of magic within the lower to middle classes.The Protestant Reformation attacked both ‘official’ and lay magical and ritual practices.The Protestant conceptualisation of God as absolute in his sovereignty and wholly ‘Other’, in addition to the Justification of Faith, completely destroyed the basis of the sacraments.Rituals that were previously conceptualised to have divine authority or assured the individual’s progress towards divinity were reduced or completely disregarded.The Eucharist, which had previously been considered as the moment in which the divine entered into the profane world, was reduced into a representation of Christ.Penance, on the other hand was completely disregarded.Furthermore, the Protestant movement openly attacked magical practices amongst the laity.This was performed through placing a definite distinction between the divine and humanity: while the divine may enter into the profane world, it would not do so at the will of the individual.
This questioned the efficacy of religious rituals that had previously been based upon their ability to facilitate divine power in the world.The Protestants did not only question lay magical practices but outlawed them in some areas.Thomas Keith notes an Edwardian Injunction of 1547 that forbade the individual to perform such practices as: “casting holy water upon his bed,…bearing about him holy bread or
St John’s Gospel,…ringing of Holy Bells; or blessing with Holy Candle.”
The Protestant Reformation effectively acted as the catalyst for the Catholic Counter-Reformation.That the Reformation acted as catalyst must be emphasised: the theological and institutional controversies that the Counter Reformation approached had existed within the Church for centuries prior to the Reformation.In relation to magic and ritual, the reforms of the Counter-Reformation were primarily focused upon the technicalities of ritual practice, in an attempt to create uniformity against Protestant attacks.This process was largely achieved through the papal commissions of Pius IV, Pius V and Sixtus V.Pius IV and V produced missals which sought return official and lay practice to that of the Roman liturgy in the 11th century.Sixtus V produced the ‘Congregation of Rites”, to enforce the official practice of mass and liturgy.These acts removed from official practices the variety of local saint days and other localised variants of ‘official’ ritual, that had become an essential part of late Medieval Christianity.
In relation to lay ritual practice, the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation had similar goals and effects.Both sought to eliminate the ritual practices that were considered magical or superstitious, in addition to the localised cults: removing Saints days that had replaced pagan festivals in an attempt to create a ‘uniform’ Christianity.The Reformation and Counter-Reformation attacked and removed the ritual practices of the laity that were integral to the religiosity of the lower to middle class individual in the late Medieval and early modern period.This was replaced by, in short, a strong emphasis upon “exhortations to examine the conscious and cultivate moral virtue.”Replacing the rites and rituals, that acted not only as the prime communicator of religiosity, but also allowed the individual a sense of security and control led to a state of anxiety.Scribner notes that “the process of desacralisation, deritualising and demystifying daily life” must have had a highly shocking effect upon the psyche of the masses.Indeed, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation not only changed magical and ritual practices among the laity but radically transformed the conceptualisation of magic.
The Reformation denied the human ability to interact with the divine and direct divine power.This resulted in a solidification of the dualistic worldview that is now inherent in Christianity.Previously, the distinction between the sacred and the profane, magic and religion, was blurred and ambiguous. However, after this period, these concepts became binary opposites.Steven Ozment notes that “ideas, like energy, are transformed, not destroyed.”It is inevitable in a dualistic system, if a concept, that was once considered to be an act of right, light, God and man, is denied this place, will become an act of the left, dark, Satan and indeed woman.Magic, which had once been part of the Christian’s ritual repertoire became, with the advent of Protestantism an act of the witch.It is significant that the image of the ‘witch’ developed in the first half of the 15th century, in
Switzerland, in conjunction with the reform movement of Ulrich Zwingli.
The construction of the witch as a woman who is connected to the devil is also reiterated in Catholic thought.A Catholic contemporary advises: “for those who are most tempted by the devil, be obedient to the Church’s commandments… simple women shouldn’t cure children or other people…nor should you go to those who are dedicated to these cures.”While there were a number of witch trials prior to the Reformation, it is important to note that they did not assume the ferocity of the witch hunts that occurred from 1590-1750, due to the realignment of magic.
Evidently, the Reformation had a profound effect upon the religiosity of the masses.In removing the techniques by which a people acted as religious agents and sought to control their existence, the Reformation disenfranchised the laity of their religiosity.Furthermore, the way in which the Reformation placed magic as binarily opposed to Christianity has prime historical importance.It can be seen to have been one of the direct causes of the witch hunts.However, this conceptual understanding of magic can also be seen to be inherent in the growth of modern magical and occult movement, which draw their attraction out of their opposition to Christianity.Clearly, the Reformation acted as a revolution in terms of ritual and magical practice, and is of high historical importance.
Entry filed under: History of Christianity, Reformation - Effect on lay religiosity, Reformation - Social Effects, Reformation and magic, The Reformation, Uncategorized.
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General Rules for Writing an Essay
1. Essays should consist of a minimum of 5 to 7 paragraphs:
1 introduction with thesis statement
3 to 5 text paragraphs
1 conclusion / summary
2. Paragraphs must be well-developed with strong topic and supporting sentences. Make sure to use complete sentences, good grammar, and correct spelling.
Steps for Writing an Effective Essay
I. Question Analysis
Be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. Without a clear understanding of the questions you cannot write an adequate answer.
Be sure you understand key terms within the topic such as assess, explain, compare describe, etc.
Make sure you identify any subdivisions within the main topic question and address each of them in your essay.
II. Developing the Thesis
The thesis statementis the position you will take on the subject of the essay.
Your thesis should be stated in the introduction to your essay. Therefore, after reading your introduction, the reader should know both the subject of the essay and your position on the question.
III. Writing the Introduction
Introduce the general subject of the essay and paraphrase the topic question.
Express your thesis as an affirmative statement (take a positive position).
Indicate the major points that will be discussed in text of your essay.
IV. Writing the Text of the Essay
Each paragraph must have a strong topic sentence clearly identifying the point under consideration.
Text paragraphs must use factual information to support your thesis.
All information should be organized in logical sequence.
Each subdivision of the topic should be considered in a separate paragraph.
V. Writing the Conclusion
The conclusion or summary should bring the reader back to your thesis and the topic question, bringing the essay to a clear and definite end.
Do not introduce new information.
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Essay Writing Skills
1.Spelling. I assume that if you are unsure about a word's spelling on take-home essays, you can look it up in the dictionary. Remember - spell check is your friend.
2.Capitalization. Historical eras are capitalized e.g. the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Europe, the Age of Enlightenment. If you have questions about capitalization, look up the word in Palmer, noting if he capitalizes the word or phrase.
3. Always use past tense. The only exception to this is when you are using a person's quote; if his/her quote is in present tense, obviously you accurately record it as stated. But notice how this works: The Austrian Prime Minister Metternich stated, "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold."
4. Underline books, place artistic and musical works in quotation.
5. Avoid the verb "To Be" e.g. was, were. This verb is passive, bringing the flow of your essay to a halt. One technique in avoiding this problem is to condense your writing when possible. For example, "Shakespeare was a playwright. In his play, Romeo and Juliet, he stated..." Change to this, "Shakespeare, in his play, Romeo and Juliet, stated..."
6.Factual Density. In your essay body paragraphs, pack your writing with facts (e.g. names, dates, places, artistic works, quotes, etc.). To cite a good example, look at Palmer's paragraph on Florence on page 54 of your text.
7. Underline esoteric foreign words (words not frequently used in our language) e.g. sfumato, condotierri, Zurrisenheit, Ubermensch, fin de siecle, etc.
8. Never refer to today, never, never, NEVER.
9. Do NOT use contractions e.g. Don't, wasn't, can't, didn't, etc.
10. Avoid making absolute statements e.g. "The Renaissance totally transformed European culture." "Lenin and the Bolsheviks completely abolished the czarist traditions." Such comments are not accurate, hence find close synonyms, words such as "significantly, decisively, irrevocably," etc.
11. Avoid abstract nouns e.g. mankind, the world, man, humanity. Find more concrete nouns. Instead of constantly writing Renaissance man, be more specific, such as "Renaissance culture, Italian culture, Renaissance painters, artists, sculptors, princes, despots, etc. Let the context of the sentence shape the specific noun to be used.
12. Avoid making evaluation comments e.g. "tremendous, beautiful, wonderful," etc. Do not state, "The Renaissance witnessed the most wonderful achievements in..." Let the reader make up his / her own mind.
13. Avoid poetic phrases e.g. "A bright new dawn burst upon the earth spreading golden rays of sunlight to nurture the gardens of man's greatest ambition..." (I took this quote from an actual student's essay ) Historians are boring people, they pretend they are "Scientific" by writing in a flat, social science style. This is different from what is asked of you in English writing assignments. Always be as clear and concise as you can. Work on condensing your style.
14. Avoid repeating the same word (noun or verb) in close succession, find synonyms.
15. When citing quotes, use the following rules:
No footnotes in an essay.
Use only short quotes Ð never more than one sentence.
Most of your quotes will come from contemporaries of the era discussed in that particular essay Ð e.g. Luther, Calvin, Erasmus in the Reformation essay; Galileo, Newton, Voltaire in the Scientific Revolution/Enlightenment essay.
When quoting a modern historian (e.g. Palmer) only cite those large, evaluative comments, those comments commonly found at the beginning and end of chapters.
Never start or finish your essay with a quote.
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16.Introduction Paragraphs. Use the following rules:
No longer than 4-5 sentences, at the most.
Whenever possible, the first sentence should be dramatic, capturing the reader's attention.
The time span of the essay should be mentioned.
This paragraph should refer to the central themes/causes/subject of the essay, but only briefly.
Sample essay introduction: "On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, initiating a religious conflict which ultimately engulfed Europe for 150 years. Possibly Luther's cloistered training blinded him from recognizing the complex economic, social, and political forces at work which would transform and intensify his initial religious dispute into a revolution that irrevocably buried the Medieval world. The late Medieval Church must also take some of the blame, for its increased preoccupation with materialism and worldly power likewise blinded it to the spiritual needs of a troubled era. In response, Protestantism aspired to respiritualize Catholicism by simplifying its structure, doctrine, and practices. Ironically, however, the religious conflicts both sides bred would finally produce a Europe less interested in either faith."
17.Conclusion Paragraphs. Use the following rules:
No longer than 5-6 sentences, at the most.
It should summarize without simply restating.
Never finish with a last sentence quote. Finish with your own words, not someone else's.
Tie the essay, when possible, to a wider historical context...e.g. forthcoming historical developments.
Sample essay conclusion: "The Peace of Westphalia brought the religious struggle, hence the Reformation to an end. Luther's reforms had been successful in creating an alternative form of Christian practice, and half of Europe followed his cause. But his protest had also bred political chaos, religious fanaticism, and socio-economic upheaval without precedent in early modern history. Exhausted by civil war and international conflict, Europe would increasingly search for a new principal of authority guided by a more secular outlook. Hence, ironically, Luther's program for re-spiritualizing a decadent Medieval Church brought neither ministers or priests into political dominance; instead kings and princes would shape Europe's future destiny, and do so by largely ignoring the faith."
(Note how this sample conclusion fits closely with the sample introduction; in a sense bring the essay full circle.)
18.Topic Sentences. Use the following rules:
Try to avoid, especially in these key sentences, the verb "to be."
Try to make a few dramatic.
Tie some of them to other topic sentences.
Sample topic sentences:
"The aforementioned economic, social, political, and intellectual forces produced a more secular cultural atmosphere where worldly values could be cultivated and celebrated."
"Such wealth demanded new forms of political organization."
"For the Italian humanists, however, the rediscovery of Greece and Rome provided the most self-conscious stimulus for the Renaissance."
"Even in view of these overwhelming odds, German democracy might have survived."
"In contrast to the Enlightenment admiration for classical Greco - Roman culture, Romantic artists found their spiritual homeland in the Medieval past."
"Romanticism died on the barricades of revolutionary Europe in 1848."
19.Rhythm. This is hard to teach/learn, but constantly think of your essay in terms of flow. That is, it should move along with a quick pace. This is insured by keeping in mind a couple of strategies:
Vary the length of sentences
Use active, dramatic verbs e.g. Not Luther said, but Luther argued, advocated, commented, demanded, etc.
Put nouns before verbs: "The Reformation was initiated by Luther." Change that to "Luther initiated the Reformation."
Avoid those passive verbs e.g. was created, was developed, was initiated, etc. Change such sentences around, putting the noun before the verb, and dropping the "was."
20. Especially on the first semester take-home essays, devote sufficient time to their writing. Simply to sit down the night before the essay is due and wait for the muses to start talking is not going to get the job done. That's why you have unit syllabi, to give you sufficient time to plan ahead.
21. Above all, keep in mind that writing, like any other skill, only develops over time with concerted, purposeful work. You must desire to improve, and give self-critical analysis to this task.
As Ernest Hemmingway once commented,
"There is no such thing as good writing,
only good rewriting..."
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