This is part five in a six-part series on the Reformation by Dr Dingley (links to other parts below):
At the core of the Reformation was the idea of the individual, individual rights and the right to know for oneself.
Previously the world was understood as composed of fixed orders, where everyone and everything was in its God defined place in a God created order.
All was fixed and the lot of man was to simply accept his place and role as defined by the Roman Catholic Church and enforced by Lords and Kings (ordained by the church, who were the sole repository of learning and literacy). Submit and accept your lot, conform to your place in the collective whole and all would be well.
Consequently, traditional theology and learning placed the emphasis on the collective, not the individual, submission, not dissent. This the Reformation fundamentally subverted.
Not only did the Reformation stress reading the Bible and knowing the Word of God for oneself but it coincided with the invention of print (1455/6) which made this a practical possibility. Not only were cheap Bibles available for all, but print (meaning cheap books for all) meant the spread of literacy and the ability to read the Bible for oneself.
Additionally, Bibles were now translated into local native languages, instead of just in Latin, which meant the ability to read and understand. This freed men from knowledge dependency on the church and helped liberate their minds.
The practical basis for individual development and freedom of thought thus arose, from which came the desire for freedom of action and autonomy. This naturally undermined Papal authority, which naturally opposed such developments.
Freedom of thought and action were also intermingled with the rise of science and development of industry along with liberal democracy as natural concomitants.
The idea of and rights of the individual therefore helped break all the old bonds of servitude and submission, of divinely ordained natural socio-economic and political orders.
The right to individual dissent in politics as in theology, economics as in science, became a precious commodity, limited only by scientifically proven evidence and rational explanation.
This now provided the moral discipline to help maintain order, not physical force, mystery and repression. And the moral reason for this was that dissent had led discovery, innovation and change that had vastly improved God’s world by better understanding His laws.
The individual and dissent go together to improve God’s world by challenging old, lazy thinking and vested interests, giving us liberal democracy, freedom, science, technology and industrial development.
• This is the fifth in a six-part series on the Reformation by Dr Dingley. Links to the other parts in the series are below
• Dr James Dingley is an academic and chair of the Francis Hutcheson Institute. He has published on conflict analysis and nationalism and is author of ‘The IRA: the Irish Republican Army’
• Other parts in series:
PART SIX (August 10): The world is currently predicated on the Reformation and is likely to remain so
PART FOUR (July 12): The Reformation boosted science and economic success
PART THREE (May 18): Industry flourished after the Reformation
PART TWO (May 4): Papacy opposed the democracy that arose from the Reformation
PART ONE (April 13): The Reformation ushered in liberal democracy, science and industry