Reformation And Ritual

.. as best performed intellectually rather than physically16. The rationality behind this is attributable to the Reformations promotion of the believed hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. For the Protestant Reformer, the Pope and his Church were political, hypocritical and even evil. A poem written in the fourteenth century by Raimon de Cornet, criticizing the Avignon Papacy is much indicative of this attitude.

De Cornet begins: I see the pope his sacred trust betray, For while the rich his grace can gain alway, His favors from the poor are aye withholden. He strives to gather wealth as best he may, Forcing Christ’s people blindly to obey, So that he may repose in garments golden and concludes: While round the church still growing evils fester17. Essentially, the poem highlights the fight of the Protestant Reformer. Whilst Catholicism focused upon unbelief, the Reformation movement was an attempt to attack misbelief. Whilst the Catholics were preoccupied with eliminating devil worship, heresy and witchery, the Reformer focused upon eliminating idolatry and the alleged hypocrisy within the Church18. Aside from this, the Reformation and its followers, possessed a far more aesthetic and philosophical theory for deeming the physical sacrifice to be of little worth and rather maintaining that the ultimate sacrifice was mental.

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For the Protestant Reformer, the one man is actually divided into two parts, the flesh and the soul, that is, the outward and inward man respectively. It is believed that whilst it is inevitable that the outward man perishes, inward man is constantly growing and flourishing and is thus being renewed. As a result of the inevitability of physical mortality, physical devotion serves to accomplish little, it cannot serve to purify the soul. For the Protestant Reformer, only the Word of God and a true belief in same, could serve to purify the soul19. Thus, the Reformation Movement attempted to promote the need for an understanding of the mass and not simply a blind devotion to God whereby such devotion could be demonstrated physically.

For the Reformer, physical devotion could be practiced by anybody, even those who were not true believers. It was maintained that the purest form of devotion was mental. As such, most ceremony and ritual were condemned for there superficiality. Any sense of the magical or belief in miracles performed other than by God, were attacked. Within the Catholic faith there was much reliance placed upon the ‘magic’ contained in sacraments and sacramentals and the miracles performed by Saints. Whilst the receiving of sacraments involved the performance of physical action, this action was said to lead to a much higher and transcendental, or magical, experience20.

Via sacramentals and the worship of same, the individual Catholic could himself attempt to invoke a sense of something miraculous or magical21. However, For the Catholic there existed both positive and negative magic. The positive magic was that which benefited the world or that nonetheless came from God or Saints. However, negative magic was that practised by the devil and resulted in much devastation22. The Reformation attempted to rationalize the Christian Faith and its secular world. It attempted to separate the magical from the spiritual.

It attempted to separate religion from superstition via a method of internal rationalization23. For the Reformist it was not possible to gain an understanding of God’s teachings via man-created means. As such, for the Reformer, the performance of ritual and the worship of small icons became theoretically useless24. However, the Reformation Movement failed in its attempts to be rid of the magical, superstitious, ritual and ceremonial traditions of Christianity25. In actual fact, the Reformation served to heighten the perceived need of the masses for practitioners of magic26. Furthermore, although the initial movement was essentially anti-ritual it seems that the average Protestant believer felt the need for ritual. Protestantism failed to give its followers any foundations for understanding anything regarding the supernatural.

This ambiguity and uncertainty regarding the supernatural has been deemed to be a result of the denial of sacraments and sacramentals27. However, this denial was not necessarily general. Since Protestantism held the Word of God to be superior to all else, prayer books, hymnals and catechisms became the Protestant form of sacramental28. Finally, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the need of the masses for sacramentals became evident and the consecration of objects such as; church foundation stones, fonts and bells took place. Whilst it was insisted that such sacramentals did not impart any sacred power or magic, Protestants failed to take notice and valued these sacramentals as much as did their Catholic counterparts29.

The difference between Catholic and Protestant ritual is one of degree and not kind. The beliefs are very much the same. The differences lie in the fact that Protestantism has attempted to capture and contain the ‘spiritual’. Catholicism allows for a variety of spiritual presence’s, Protestantism does not30. Clearly, Protestantism did not abandon the fundamental sacraments and basic forms of ritual. However, even within the Reformation’s attempted de-sacrilization of Christianity and ritual, even within this process, evidence of ritual can be found. The Reformers developed their own form of ritual within their acts of desecration. The Reformation can itself be described as a ritual process31.

The desecration of ritualistic and ceremonial objects can be argued as having possessed the same characteristics as a right of passage. First, the object is removed from it’s environment. Second, it is tested. Finally, it is returned to its initial environment, de-sacrilized. This seems to be representative of some sort of ritual process of humiliation.

The irony is that in order to attempt to destroy the ritual of sacrifice, the desecrated images were themselves sacrificed by the Reformers32. The Protestant believed that in destroying such objects a rite of purification took place whereby the Christian was given the opportunity to forget any perceived need for images and rather, remember and focus upon God’s Word alone33. The Reformation movement employed the use of the ritual of carnival to convey its message. The carnivals of the period served to, in the light of fun and good humour, invert the status quo. As such, the carnivalesque atmosphere was the perfect opportunity for the Reformer to denounce Catholic teaching, de-sacrilize holy objects, and question the Catholic hierarchy34.

Initially, the Reformers were extremely skeptical of ritual. For the Reformer ritual only served to detract from the all important Word of God. Theoretically the argument may have been sound. However, whilst the Reformation was somewhat successful amongst the literate elite, the masses relied upon ritual in order to gain an understanding of their faith. Hence, the primarily stringent Protestant stance upon ritual later became flexible to somewhat accommodate the masses. Further to this however, is the irony that within the de-sacrilization of Catholic ritual and relics by Protestant Reformers, there existed characteristics attributable to, and fundamental to, the practice of ritual.

Bibliography Bibliography Clark.S., Thinking With Demons, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, pp 489-508. Cressy.D., Birth, Marriage & Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor & Stuart England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp 97-123. Muir.E., ‘The Reformation as a Revolution in Ritual Theory’, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, 1997, pp 155-184. Scribner.R., ‘Reformation, Carnival and the World Turned Upside Down’, Social History, Vol 3, No 3, 1978, pp 303-329. Scribner.R., ‘The Reformation, Popular Magic, and the Disenchantment of the World’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXIII:3, Winter 1993, pp 475-494 Internet Sites Martin Luther: The Freedom of a Christian Medieval Sourcebook: Raimon de Cornet – Poes Criticizing the Avignon Papacy ml The Small Catechism of Martin Luther, Part Four: Holy Baptism, Translated by Robert E Smith on 10 June 1994 . .

. erg/luther/ The Small Catechism of Martin Luther, Part Six: The Sacrament of the Altar, Translated by Robert E Smith on 10 June 1994 . . . erg/luther/ History Essays.


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