What was the relationship of laws and gods in the time of Gregory VII, Urban II, and Martin Luther?

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Gregory VII (1015–85) was on the papal throne in Rome from 1073 to 1085. Urban II (1035–99) served as pope from 1088 to 1099. Both of these popes ruled during the so-called Investiture Controversy. Martin Luther (1483–1536) was a Catholic monk and later reformer and founder of Lutheranism.

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Gregory VII (1015–85) was on the papal throne in Rome from 1073 to 1085. Urban II (1035–99) served as pope from 1088 to 1099. Both of these popes ruled during the so-called Investiture Controversy. Martin Luther (1483–1536) was a Catholic monk and later reformer and founder of Lutheranism.

During these two general periods, the late 1000s and early 1500s, Christian teaching and the law were closely connected. While both religious understandings (or theology) and the law evolved in Europe over the centuries, a general characterization of the relationship can be provided for these periods based on scholarly research. Each period can be seen as one of major flux, even revolution, in the realm of law and its relationship to the Church in Western Europe.

In 1075, Pope Gregory VII, within the context of a papacy that was growing in stature and power, declared the political and legal supremacy of the pope over other bishops and secular rulers. Controversy and warfare ensued between church and imperial powers, with a final resolution only in 1122 and the Concordat of Worms. During this "papal revolution," canon law, or church law, was systematized in the West. The system of law was based on the concept of the Two Swords: the church was the "spiritual sword" and the secular authorities the "temporal sword." In this new model, the spiritual would predominate, establishing the moral law and thus leading Christendom, a corporate entity, to salvation. The role of the state was subordinate to that of the Church of Rome.

In 1517, Martin Luther posted his famous Ninety-Five Theses, setting off what would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. In 1520, he burned Catholic canon law books, which shows that the jettisoning of Catholic canon law was not incidental in his reforming efforts. Luther introduced a new model that can be called the Two Kingdoms, which regarded the church as a spiritual or invisible community, part of a heavenly kingdom.

For Luther, every person had a private relationship with God and was saved through faith by God's grace. Secular laws were to guide people, who for Luther were depraved and lacking in will to do good, toward the doing of good. In other words, one can say that the church removed itself from the world of law and the law itself was framed in positive terms in its secular realm. Princes were placed administratively above the church. Canon law was secularized, as was education.

Some interesting comparisons can be made between the Roman Catholic pre-Reformation law and the new Lutheran law. Punishments in the former were seen as retributive, as a payment, and severity was commensurate with the severity of the infraction. In the latter, punishments were utilitarian, used to keep generally depraved humans on the straight and narrow.

These differences certainly extended from theological differences: one theology implied an emphasis on good deeds as a means for salvation, and the other, viewing salvation as a personal affair, regarded law as a means to earthly order. One of the original objections Luther had to Catholic teaching was that God was a judge and that justice was punishment for sins. In his "Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans" (1522), Luther shows that he chose to interpret justice as God's salvation based on a person's faith. He framed justice in a positive way, as a promise of sorts.

In looking at these two models, it is important to recognize, first, that they are generalizations of two tendencies and, second, that they should be seen within their specific contexts. The relationship between Christianity and the law is an enormous and rich topic that can be explored in far greater depth, and understanding worldviews and theology take time and effort.

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