Developments in Western Christianity from Martin Luther to Pope John XXIII

Apr 09,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Kamel Abu Jaber

Martin Luther’s “opening” of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, to his followers caused Western Christians, initially Protestants and, five centuries later, Catholics, to rediscover the link between Christianity and Judaism.

The licence given to the average man to read the Bible opened the gates for the eventual rehabilitation of the Jews in the West. Until that time, the Jews, accused of being Christ’s “killers”, were expelled from almost every European country, most notoriously Spain in 1492.

The rediscovery of the Old Testament, with its rich images, stories, names, places and ideas captivated the imagination of the intelligentsia, whether clergy or laymen, as well as artists, poets, litterateurs and musicians.

The Jews were rehabilitated first into the fold of Protestantism and, following the Nazi atrocities of the 20th century, which led to the issuance of the Nostra Aetate by the second Vatican Council in l965, finally rehabilitated into the fold of Catholicism.

Since then, both Western Protestantism and Catholicism celebrate their “roots’” in Judaism: the Old Testament.

On this 500th anniversary of Martin Luther, it is important to note the impact of this historic event on the life of every Arab, until today, and to also note that in the Arab Muslim culture and tradition, no edict was necessary to make the Jews acceptable in their societies.

Such racism as exists in the West never existed at religious or political levels in the Arab Islamic civilisation. 

On the contrary, Jewish prophets and certain traditions are shared, with frequent reference to them found in the Holy Koran.

This year will mark the 500th anniversary of the historic second major split within Christianity, after that of 1054.

The leader of this second schism, Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, was angry and disgusted not only with the sale of “indulgencies” by the Catholic Church but, more importantly, with the philosophical and doctrinal underpinnings of church teachings that made such sales permissible.

In an open letter to Pope Leo X, in 1520, he vented his anger, stating: “… the Roman Church, once the holiest of all, has become the most licentious den of thieves…”

It is the Protestant Reformation, that overwhelming revolution, that even now reverberates with cataclysmic echoes casting a shadow on the world of today and even beyond.

Luther was tempestuous and an honest man with a knack for expressing himself in a most direct way regarding not only his harsh critique of the Pope, whom he once called the “Anti-Christ”, but other theological and temporal issues as well.

He was once called “the last man of the Dark Ages and the first of the modern age”, ushering in the Renaissance era with its emphasis on individual liberties and the major ideas of the Age of Reason.


The writer was director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and former foreign minister of Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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