"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Von Balthasar makes an interesting observation on the effects of the reformation in which he claims that the reformation made legitimate religion based primarily on reason not Apostolic authority. Hence the need for the primacy of a written scripture which could be used to as case law to legitimize or condemn ideas and denominations. This took the power out of the hands of the clerics and placed into the hands of … the educated.
[If anyone thinks the correct answer is ‘the laity’ see me after class! Though that is what we have been told.]
The tools and power of the reformation lie in the ability to critically analyze text. This skill is only developed in Universities. The common person in those times could not do this; the common person today can not do this. [See Biblical Interpretation in Crisis; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger]. The claim that scripture is revelation becomes hollow when the text is subject to this kind of rational analysis.
“If Rudolph Bultmann used the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as a vehicle to represent the biblical word, then that vehicle stands in accord with his reconstruction of the essence of Jesus' message. But was this reconstruction itself not likewise a product of his philosophy? How great is its credibility from a historical point of view? In the end, are we listening to Jesus, or to Heidegger, with this kind of an approach to understanding?” [Ratzinger/Benedict]
In the final analysis the interpretive philosophy becomes the revelation with the text simply a vehicle with no meaning of its own. Scripture alone is a meaningless phrase.
Because of this the end result of the reformation was to push people away from each other and the push God away from the people. The reaction within Protestantism is polarization. On the one hand the Jesus seminar, John Shelby Spong liberals for whom Christianity is an academic curiosity, on the other the many mostly conservative bible churches which exist because most know that Christianity is something more than curious. It is noteworthy that this polarization continues in the bible church denominations with a split between the revelation based Pentecostal’s and the reason based evangelicals. This polarization is the result of people seeking God with no clear direction or boundaries. They find the edges.
At the heart of the protestant problem is the question of authority which manifests in polarization. Is reason primary or revelation? Modernism sought to answer the question by claiming the answer was reason [Boundary 1]. The post-modern response was “how can this be so?” “Look at reasons limits!”. [Post-Modernism finds the other boundary!]
The reformation was really the renaissance occurring in the church and the renaissance laid the foundation for modernism by elevating reason above revelation Protestantism is a child of modernism and as such contains in its doctrines all of the assumptions common to the modern paradigm. I will not list them all here but only comment that one of the more difficult for Christianity is the dis-belief in miracles. For a protestant theologian or philosopher to believe in miracles they must step outside their modern based [reformation based] model. They must borrow from something else; eastern mystics, Catholic theology, whatever. They find no support in their own backyard because of the modern foundation. Hence the tendency of Pentecostal churches to charge headlong into errors which have long since been settled. [Though this is changing see Thinking in Tongues article in First things March or April issue]. Evangelicals do not even bother. They claim all revelation is found in scripture and that is it. Once again the drift is to the edge and to extremes.
So, back to Luther; His question was one of authority. Look at the statement above. He demands that the proofs and arguments must meet his criteria. Since they did not he will not retract. What he is really saying is that he will not believe. He will not believe that the Apostolic Church hands on the teachings of Christ. He believes that the teachings of Christ can be ascertained through textual analysis and philosophical inquiry. To Luther Christianity was an academic endeavor. The Church was right to condemn his teaching because he was wrong, the Truth we believe can not be discovered by reason alone.