The Renaissance

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What was Martin Luther's contribution during the Renaissance?

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It may seem strange to suggest that Luther was a figure of the Renaissance, with its inquiring spirit and its taste for classical models of learning. Yet the appellation of Luther as Renaissance Man is by no means a misnomer. One of the key foundations of the Renaissance was the recovery of classical authority. Many of the great learned texts of antiquity had been thought lost to posterity forever. However, when they were recovered, gathering dust in some remote monastery library, for example, a new era was born.

"Ad fontes!" was the Renaissance cry, "Back to the sources!" If humankind wished to progress and move on from the intellectual aridity of medieval scholasticism, it must look back to the example of the ancients, whose wise insights could illuminate the darkness that devotees of the Renaissance believed had fallen upon the European mind.

Luther accepted the Renaissance caricature of medieval learning, albeit for different reasons. Scholasticism for him was inextricably linked to what she saw as a corrupt (and corrupting) Catholic Church. One of his main doctrines was sola sciptura which meant that the Bible was the sole source of truth, not the authority of the Church. Individual Christians should be able to discover the truth of Scripture for themselves by being permitted to read the Bible in their own language.

Inevitably, this meant going "back to the sources," examining carefully what the Bible said and how its wisdom could help us get at the truth. There are, then, clear similarities between Luther's regard for Scripture and the Renaissance veneration for ancient literature. But there's also a crucial difference. In Luther's bibliolatry, the authority of the Church and of the ancients is replaced by the authority of Scripture, the Word of God.

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Martin Luther contributed much to both the Renaissance and early Modernity. One of his chief contributions was the translation of the New Testament into German. Historically, the Catholic Church had opposed to the translation of Scripture into the common or "vulgar" languages, because they believed only the priests (as instructed by the Church) could accurately interpret what the Bible meant. Luther argued for the "priesthood of all believers," the idea that all Christians could directly communicate with God and thus had the ability--through the help of the Holy Spirit--to interpret Scripture alongside the Church.

The proliferation of translations of Scripture increased the need and desire for public literacy (the ability to read and write), and Luther became a strong proponent of the creation of public Christian schools that would teach pupils to read the Bible. This coincided well with the Renaissance movement for educational reform.

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Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an unwitting religious reformer. In other words, he did not set out to start what would be known as the Protestant Reformation, but that is exactly what he did. So, in short, Luther's contribution to the Renaissance was to create a religious movement and give birth to Protestantism. 

Luther was able to accomplish this, because during the Renaissance people questioned things, thought critically, and were open to new ideas. So, when Luther saw the unjust practices of the Catholic church, such as the selling of indulgences, he called the church to reform its way. By his famous 95 theses, which he put on the castle door of Wittenberg, he threw down the gauntlet. Luther asserted that his conscience was captive to the Word of God and that he could not go against his conscience.

His contribution, therefore, was the ability of people to question religious authority and follow their conscience. 

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