Monday, October 26, 2009

October Revolution: Protestantism & the West Pt. 1

On October 24, 25, 1917, after overthrowing the tsar in February, the Bolsheviks and Soviets united in toppling the newly establish Russian government. This is popularly known as the October Revolution.

On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk nailed 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg door, beginning the overthrow of papal power. This too is an October Revolution.

The former brought about repressive communism. The latter brought about the beginning of liberty and democracy.

Introduction

Naturally, any logical, historical or religious arguments that this author could employ would be held with great suspicion. Such a claim about the transforming power of the Reformation requires more substantiation than the clever writing of a pro-Reformation pastor.

Many scholars of the past and present readily, if not begrudgingly, admit to the dynamic and positive impact of the Reformers and their progeny. In fact, the fire of liberty of conscience lighted by Luther was fanned ever brighter by Calvin and the Puritans.

The influence these scholars write about is not a monolithic force that transformed Western civilization in one fell swoop. It was not the only historical source of change either. And as a rising force in the early modern era, Protestantism, especially the Reformed/Presbyterian brand, matured in its self-understanding and application of the basal principles nascent within its religious soul. Such nascent (and sometimes fully articulate) principles included liberty of conscience, liberty of vocation (work), liberty of church from state and liberty of the people from tyrants.

Unlike today, religion was determinate of that time period. Even though many of the historians to be quoted are not Reformed (Calvinists) themselves and may even repudiate it in favor of another system of thought, they honestly admit to its importance in the historical development of the West in general and in particular wide-spread education, republican self-rule, political revolution and the formation of America.

First Principles

The quotes from various notable historians are best understood against the fundamentals of the Reformation. One of the first principle doctrines of the Reformers (Lutherans and Calvinists alike) is the primacy of the Bible. As God's written will for His people it is considered not only the guidebook for the individual but for the society as well. This belief so permeated the early modern period that the US Congress condoned an American edition of the Bible, and the public schools included Bible reading well into the 20th century.

Three other basal principles included the sovereignty of God, the moral depravity of man and covenant theology. The first doctrine emphasized God's rule over all creation (providence), eventually becoming the bedrock for resistance to tyrants who claimed absolute rule. The second doctrine emphasized the sinfulness of man, even in his intellect, eventually becoming the bedrock for limited government. The third idea of covenant was especially developed in Reformed churches, emphasizing that formal and public agreements between different parties. This became the social glue for republican self-rule.

These and other Protestant doctrines are now being explicitly analyzed by historians for their social impact. Even if many readers deny these Christian doctrines, they were certainly believed by many in the past and acted upon. What a man believes that he will do.

In General

Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect, Servetus notwithstanding.


John Adams, Essay XIX, Works, vol. 6, 1851


“While the Calvinistic faith was rather grim and forbidding, viewed from the modern standpoint, the Calvinists everywhere had a program for political, economic, and social progress which has left a deep impress on the history of mankind."

Ellwood Cubberley, A Brief History of Education, 1922, 175.


"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings."

Religion and Ethics, Hastings, Part 5, 2003, 153.



“Grave as we may count the faults of Calvinism, alien as its temper may in many ways be from the temper of the modern world, it is in Calvinism that the modern world strikes its roots, for it was Calvinism that first revealed the worth and dignity of Man. Called of God, and heir of heaven, the trader at his counter and the digger in his field suddenly rose into equality with the noble and the king.”

John Green, History of the English People, vol. II, 1903, 280.



Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st


More readings: Law & Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition, Harold Berman, 2003.

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