Friedrich Nietzsche explained Luther’s Reformation as a dramatic spiritual revolution within Europe of the northern sentiment and character, which demanded simplicity, with the southern, liberal sentiment that allowed for unending complication under the simple structure of the Church. Whatever can be said of Nietzsche, he was a fabulous writer. His imagery viscerally cast light on the spiritual facts going on around him, that cleared the clutter of culture to allow the simplicity of “modern science” but eventually pushed Europe into the maw of gore and madness that reigned there in the first half of the 20th century.
Nietzsche explains, with at least a bit of lament, the ruins of the Church as he saw it in Europe in the 1880s:
. . . were there ever finer ruins? Overgrown with weeds, large and small. It is the Church which is this city of decay: we see the religious organisation of Christianity shaken to its deepest foundations. The belief in God is overthrown, the belief in the Christian ascetic ideal is now fighting its last fight. Such a long and solidly built work as Christianity it was the last construction of the Romans! It could not of course be demolished all at once; every sort of earthquake had to shake it, every sort of spirit which perforates, digs, gnaws and moulders had to assist in the work of destruction. But that which is strangest is that those who have exerted themselves most to retain and preserve Christianity, have been precisely those who did most to destroy it, the Germans. . . The Lutheran Reformation in all its length and breadth was the indignation of the simple against something “complicated”.
He describes Luther’s revolution as that of the thinking of simple, good-natured folk over the complexities of culture that shone in the Church because the church retained “the luxury of skepticism and toleration which every victorious, self-confident power permits.” While Nietzsche acknowledged the fact that Luther spiritually revived Christianity as a worldview, and his simplicity allowed for modern thinking, but to him, Luther’s German reasoning meant an unraveling:
“[H]e tore asunder with honest rage, where the old spider had woven longest and most carefully. He gave the sacred books into the hands of everyone, they thereby got at last into the hands of the philologists, that is to say, the annihilators of every belief based upon books. He demolished the conception of “the Church” in that he repudiated the belief in the inspiration of the Councils: for only under the supposition that the inspiring spirit which had founded the Church still lives in it, still builds it, still goes on building its house, does the conception of ” the Church ” retain its power.”
Nietzsche also puts his finger on the simple fact that the Reformation made the Church, which had enforced its superiority since Theodosius, the vassel of the state rather than its rightful superior. Christianity became “good-natured” in its simplicity, and cleared the way for infecting law with modern thinking in the form of modern science.
The consequences of Luther’s simplification of Christianity Continue reading →