Martin Luther was very vocal in speaking against papal indulgences. He dismissed them as acts of earthly vanity that were devoid of any form of spiritual redemption. In his writing “Theology task”, he openly rebukes the church’s teachings with respect to papal indulgences. Martin Luther felt that it was wrong for the church to amass wealth at the expense of poor believers. Girolamo Savonarola was a devout Christian who departed from home and joined a religious order to lead a spiritual life. Savonarola set out to lead a holy life. He acknowledged that there were many false prophets and that is the reason why he taught on the need to pray for discernment. “Pray to God to grant you the spirit of discretion, so that you might discern and know true good people from false and evil people.” Savonarola and Luther called on believers to diligently pray and follow the path of God. It is instructed in the Gospels, and believers should be wary of false teachings and hypocrisy.
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Savonarola reaffirmed the Council’s instruction on penance and confession. All believers were supposed to denounce their mortal sin and seek God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, they were condemned to the great misery of hell. “He will begin to fear and from fear he will come to love God. He should pray to God to help him find a good confessor, and in fact, he should diligently search for him. After the confession, he should humbly receive his penance from him and do it devoutly.”
Luther’s works were contrary to the decrees of the council of Trent and the teachings of John Calvin. John Calvin makes emphasis on predestination and the role of grace (unmerited divine favor) in the lives of men. According to Calvin, there is predestination, by which God adopts some to the hope of life and adjudges others to eternal death. Predestination is God’s eternal decree in which he determines the prevailing fate of every individual. In other words, the role of human beings is predestined. In life, one is predestined to be either good or bad. Calvin cites the example of Jacob. His descendants, the Israelites, were God’s remnant/chosen people. People of other races were destined for eternal damnation. Divine favor is dependent on grace. Savonarola disputes this in his fifth rule. He asks believers to ardently pray for God’s mercies. “Pray to God fervently that, by the way of these tribulations, he might make good people perfect, purge the imperfect, and rouse many sinners to penance, because in tribulations many turn to penance, while in prosperity they do not convert, but on the contrary become worse.”
In his writings, Calvin makes reference to the teachings of St. Augustine. The words of the scripture are meant to bring universal salvation. However, the scripture verse “who hath ears to hear, let him hear” is a manifestation of the existing discrepancies in the world, as those who cannot hear the words of the scripture, cannot gain spiritual redemption. It is regarded as a manifestation of God’s foreknowledge since God is also faithful to those who cannot hear. Irrespective of their deficiency they will act according to God’s ways if they are predestined to be good. According to Calvin, those destined to be good will remain good any existing wickedness notwithstanding. Conversely, those destined to be wicked will remain so irregardless the exposure to goodness. Calvin asserts that this is the truth and the concept of God’s foreknowledge should not be buried in silence. The message of predestination ought to be preached despite of its controversial nature. Most pious believers are bound to condemn such a teaching as there is salvation via repentance. Upon hearing the words of the scripture, the wicked will be provoked to repent and change their ways. Such people gain redemption and anyone stands to gain God’s favor. According to believers, there is no predestination. Christ came to bring universal salvation to all mankind. Therefore, the gentiles and all mankind can receive God’s mercies. Before, the Israelites were the only ones (via divine predestination) who had a claim to God’s mercies and protection.
The Council of Trent issued decrees that were intended to guide Catholic faith. The decrees concern the justification of sacraments, original sin, scripture, and tradition. The council’s thoughts on the life of believers were summed up as following “Let the salvation of souls be the supreme law.” It is contrary to Calvin’s belief in predestination. The council was intent on winning as many souls to Christ as possible through spreading the Gospel of repentance for the salvation of all men. All men had a stake in God’s kingdom/salvation. No man was destined to be wicked or good. Every individual was a sinner at birth because he/she inherited the original sin. Therefore, without partaking of the sacrament of baptism, man could not receive salvation. It was through baptism that man became absolved from the original sin. Those who were baptized and acted in accordance to the church’s teachings became good in the presence of God. Every man has a chance to become right by God via repentance and embracing a life in servitude to God.
Luther dared to contravene the council’s decree which prohibited individuals from making individual interpretations of the Scripture in opposition to what is held by the Holy Mother Church. Such individuals would be subjected to the penalties and punishment imposed by Bishops and Fathers. The decree on purgatory stipulated that this core belief on purgatory should be taught and expounded everywhere as it was handed down from sacred councils and holy fathers. No opposition in form of queries would be tolerable. The souls in purgatory would be saved via the prayers of believers. However, a more powerful way to redeem the souls was by offering alms at the altar. Bishops were charged to oversee the offerings which comprised of masses, prayers, alms, other acts of piety that were customarily done by the faithful for any departed relations. It would be performed piously and with devotion according to the laws of the church.
Luther speaks against the giving of alms to redeem the souls in purgatory. In fact, he disputes that the pope bears power to forgive sin and absolve the sinners. If that were the case, “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of the holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build the church?” Luther exposes the irony on canonical belief as the lost souls in purgatory are most deserving and needy of papal absolution. Luther feels that the church enriches itself on the alms received for the departed souls in purgatory. He continues to criticize the pope when he adds: “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?” The anniversary masses should not be celebrated since the souls of the dead are already liberated via prayer. Luther also admonishes the papal system for selling indulgences to believers. The rich would pay the church as a means to atone for their sins, and they were assured of a place in heaven. This belief was totally unfounded and was contrary to biblical teachings. Man would receive salvation via repentance and accepting to abide to Christian teachings. According to the great command, religious authorities were instructed to preach the Gospel. At no point were these religious teachers given powers to pardon sinners or even receive money in exchange for sin redemption. “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for the consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?” Luther teaches that Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their head through penalties, death, and hell.
The council also made rules concerning the Eucharist. However, Luther affirms that the Holy Eucharist was instituted by Christ. Man need to believe that the bread and wine would be received by everyone as the body and blood of Christ as is stipulated in the Gospels and by Paul. Luther admonishes those believers who partake of the Eucharist as fulfillment of the council’s decrees. Instead, believers should be following the command of Christ. There are those who blindingly listen to the religious officials instead of understanding the ways of Christ. Luther asks, “Do you trust in the words of men more than in the words of God? What idolatry can be compared to the superstitious regard in which you hold the council of men?” Luther feels that the councils are guilty of exalting themselves above God.
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