In previous essays I discussed the topic of religion and state in the Western world, notably the role of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, in the development of Western civilization. For centuries the Catholic Church had authority in temporal affairs and collected taxes in much of Europe. Following the Reformation in the 16th century there were instances where Protestant Churches had authority in temporal affairs. Geneva under the rule of John Calvin (1509-1564), the founder of Calvinism, was governed according to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances which were administered by the Consistory. The Enlightenment in the 18th century introduced new thinking in the natural rights of man and the place of religion in society. Enlightenment thinkers valued religious liberty, but also favoured a strict separation between religion and the state. By the end of the 18th century there were the American and French Revolutions which introduced constitutional law and separation of church and state. In the 19th century the last vestiges of church authority in temporal affairs were swept away with capture of Rome and the Papal States in the drive to unify Italy as a nation. Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and separation of religion and state make religious pluralism an integral part of Western societies in the present, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, people are free to practice any religion they wish or none at all. How does the history and development of the Islamic world then compare to that of the Western world? Continue reading
Freedom of conscience is a cornerstone in Western Civilization. However, history demonstrates that freedom of conscience often carries a high price. The quotation listed as the title of this post is attributed to Martin Luther (1483-1546) who was said to have spoken these words at the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521. What he really said is as follows:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
What brought him to make this declaration was his protest against abuses in the Church, particularly the sale of indulgences, written down in his “95 Theses” in 1517. Prior to his appearance at the Diet of Worms, his “95 Theses” was forwarded to Rome where a number of sentences upon examination were condemned as heretical. After ignoring a warning from Pope Leo X, Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521. Excommunication in 16th century Europe meant proscription. You were made an outlaw, that is, you no longer had the protection of the law, it was forbidden for anyone to offer you food and shelter and you could be killed on sight without consequence. As it was the responsibility of civil authority to enforce the law, Luther was offered the chance to recant at the Diet of Worms which was the general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire with Emperor Charles V presiding. He refused, in doing so putting his life on the line. He was offered protection from Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and continued his efforts which led to the Protestant Reformation. Continue reading