On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church

On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church

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Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520) was the second of the three major treatises published by Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 in 1520, coming after the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation is the first of three tracts written by Martin Luther in 1520. In this work, he defined for the first time the signature doctrines of the Priesthood of all believers and the two kingdoms.-History:...

(August 1520) and before On the Freedom of a Christian
On the Freedom of a Christian
On the Freedom of a Christian sometimes also called "A Treatise on Christian Liberty"...

(November 1520). It was a theological treatise
Treatise
A treatise is a formal and systematic written discourse on some subject, generally longer and treating it in greater depth than an essay, and more concerned with investigating or exposing the principles of the subject.-Noteworthy treatises:...

, and as such was published in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 as well as German, the language in which the treatises were written.

Content


In this work Luther examines the seven sacraments
Sacraments of the Catholic Church
The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are, the Roman Catholic Church teaches, "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper...

 of the medieval Catholic Church in the light of his interpretation of the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

. With regard to the Eucharist
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

, he advocated restoring the cup to the laity
Laity
In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

, dismissed the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation
Transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

 while affirming the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and rejected the teaching that the Mass is a sacrifice offered to God.

With regard to Baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

, he taught that it brings justification
Justification (theology)
Rising out of the Protestant Reformation, Justification is the chief article of faith describing God's act of declaring or making a sinner righteous through Christ's atoning sacrifice....

 only if conjoined with saving faith in the recipient; however, it remained the foundation of salvation
Salvation
Within religion salvation is the phenomenon of being saved from the undesirable condition of bondage or suffering experienced by the psyche or soul that has arisen as a result of unskillful or immoral actions generically referred to as sins. Salvation may also be called "deliverance" or...

 even for those who might later fall and be reclaimed.

As for penance
Penance
Penance is repentance of sins as well as the proper name of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Anglican Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation/Confession. It also plays a part in non-sacramental confession among Lutherans and other Protestants...

, its essence consists in the words of promise (absolution) received by faith. Only these three can be regarded as sacraments because of their divine
Divinity
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...

 institution and the divine promises of salvation connected with them; but strictly speaking, only Baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments, since only they have "divinely instituted visible sign[s]": water in Baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist. Luther denied in this document that Confirmation, Matrimony
Catholic marriage
Catholic marriage, also called matrimony, is a "covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring...

, Holy Orders
Holy Orders
The term Holy Orders is used by many Christian churches to refer to ordination or to those individuals ordained for a special role or ministry....

, and Extreme Unction
Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick, known also by other names, is distinguished from other forms of religious anointing or "unction" in that it is intended, as its name indicates, for the benefit of a sick person...

 were sacraments.

In this treatise, Luther regarded the first "captivity" to be withholding the cup in the Lord's Supper from the laity, the second the doctrine of transubstantiation
Transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

, and the third, the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that the Mass was a sacrifice and a good work.

The work is angry in tone, attacking the papacy. Although Luther had made a link tentatively in the address To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation is the first of three tracts written by Martin Luther in 1520. In this work, he defined for the first time the signature doctrines of the Priesthood of all believers and the two kingdoms.-History:...

, this was the first time he forthrightly accused the pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 of being the Antichrist
Antichrist
The term or title antichrist, in Christian theology, refers to a leader who fulfills Biblical prophecies concerning an adversary of Christ, while resembling him in a deceptive manner...

. It certainly heralded a radicalisation of Luther's views — only a year before he had defended the validity of the sacraments, yet was now attacking them fiercely.

Although published in Latin, a translation of this work was quickly published in German by Luther’s opponent, the Strasbourg Franciscan
Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

 Thomas Murner
Thomas Murner
Thomas Murner was a German satirist, poet and translator.He was born at Oberehnheim near Strasbourg. In 1490 he entered the Franciscan order, and in 1495 began travelling, studying and then teaching and preaching in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Paris, Kraków and Strasbourg itself...

. He hoped that by making people aware of the radical nature of Luther’s beliefs, they would realise their foolishness in supporting him. In fact, the opposite proved true, and Murner’s translation helped to spread Luther’s views across Germany. The virulence of Luther's language however, was off-putting to some. After the publication of this work, with its harsh condemnation of the papacy, the renowned humanist Erasmus, who had previously been cautiously supportive of Luther's activities, became convinced that he should not support Luther's calls for reform.

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