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Medieval Reform and Modern Utopia

March 8, 2008

The Medieval understanding of “Reformation” carried eschatological connotations.  Orders which espoused chiliasm sought to elicit the comming of God’s Kingdom by reforming the monastic rule – this reform was seen as progression not regression – and giving authority to the mendicant friars who followed strictly the rule of St. Francis (the aristocracy at this time was denying one of the three monastic vows – poverty).  Heiko Oberman draws an applicable conclusion,

From the United States to the Soviet Union experience is shaped by the hope, and sometimes the unshakable conviction, that one day this kingdom of peace will be established and flourish; or even that it has already become reality in God’s own country, wherever that may be, and however imperfect as yet.  These are medieval ideas of reformation which, in secularized form, infulence the modern world, seeking fulfilment in communism, American popularism, or international pacifism.  This belief in progress becomes an empty, materialistic shell or a dictatorship devoid of respect for humanity when the renewal of society is no longer sustained by the vision that, however dark it may be, the present can be endured as the birthpangs which mark the coming ‘reformatio’  (Heiko Oberman, Luther:  Man Between God and the Devil, pp. 61, 62).

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