In the Reformation, Martin Luther did not want to create a new church but sought far-reaching reforms. What began as a reform movement 500 years ago would eventually influence the entire western world, according to Gergely Prőhle, the national superintendent of the Hungarian Evangelical Church, and played a significant role in bringing about translations of the Bible and contributing foundations to the Enlightenment and the capitalist work ethic.
Speaking at the opening of the “Soli Deo Gloria,” an exhibition sponsored by the Balassi Institute in Brussels to feature the five-century history of the Reformation, Prőhle said that the economic and theological foundation of the reformation in fact started years earlier at Germany’s Wittenberg University. In societies where the literacy rate reached barely three percent, the Reformation popularized biblical stories through images and, at the same time, promoted a return to the biblical roots of the faith.
The opening ceremony, sponsored by the Magyar Hullám Társaság and the Embassy of Hungary in Brussels, also featured MEP Csaba Sógor, a Lutheran clergyman, who spoke about the way the Reformation planted the seeds for social self-organization and what would become civil society.
The Enlightenment, said Prőhle, is also a consequence of the Reformation. Those European values to which we so frequently refer are actually a fine mixture of Judeo-Christian tradition and the values of the Enlightenment. This is a fine line, however, and one has to be cautious not to descend to libertine tradition from Enlightenment, he cautioned, nor descend from Christian values to the denial of Enlightenment. The last 300-400 years of European history remind us how easy it is to fall off course.
The Reformation and the Bible translations it inspired also strengthened national identity. This new national consciousness, until its growth in the 19th-20th century, maintained a fine balance with the Christian universalist way of thinking. The Reformation brought an exciting new perspective, Prőhle said, as a delicate mixture of local and global thought that would reduce the national and the universalist vision of the world to a common denominator. Interestingly, he said, European discourse reflects this dynamic still today in the way it debates whether the Europe of nations or some kind of a universal federation will emerge.
MEP Sógor said that the Reformation laid the groundwork for social self-organization and civil society, and this inner local governmental system and the presbytery of the church, at least technically speaking, proved immune even to the challenge of communism. Prőhle added that the principle promoted by Luther, that work well-done glorifies God, grounded in very practical terms the capitalist work ethic. If the financial world had followed the Lutheran and Calvinist credit practice, he said, perhaps the world would have been spared the financial crisis in the 2000’s.
The Reformation also plays an important role in stopping total secularization, said MEP Sógor, and brings knowledge of Holy Scripture closer to young people. Concerning the challenge of Islam in the western world today, Mr. Prőhle explained that fundamentalist Islam does not deny Christianity but the values of the Enlightenment, thus the problem is not the typical Muslim-Christian conflict, and the liberal-Christian debate should be re-written in defense of European culture.