The Impact of Reformation on the Historical and Social Development of Christianity in South-South Nigeria

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation 2013 111 Pages

Theology - Historic Theology, Ecclesiastical History


Table of contents



1.1 Background of the Study
1.2 Statement of Research Problem
1.3 Purpose of the Study
1.4 Research Questions
1.5 Research Hypotheses
1.6 Significance of the Study
1.7 Scope of the Study
1.8 Limitations of the Study

2.1 Conceptual Framework of Reformation
2.2 Theoretical Framework of Reformation
2.3 Religious Impact of the Reformation
2.4 Sociological Impact of Reformation

3.1 Historical Development of Reformation in Nigeria.
3.2 Reformation and the Fight against Slave Trade and Slavery in Nigeria
3.3 Reformation and the Christianization of Nigeria: Missionary Endeavors
3.4 Reformation and the Education of Nigerians
3.5 Reformation and the Health Institutions in Nigeria
3.6 Reformation and the Purging of Nigeria from Heinous Cultural Practices
3.7 Reformation and the Proliferation of Churches in Nigeria

4.1 Research design
4.2 Research area
4.3 Population of the study
4.4 Sampling procedure
4.5 Sample
4.6 Research instrument
4.7 Validation of instrument
4.8 Reliability of the instrument
4.9 Administration of the instrument
4.10 Scoring of instrument
4.11 Method of data analysis

5.1 General description of variables
5.2 Hypothesis-by-hypothesis presentation of result
5.3 Discussion of findings

6.1 Summary of the study
6.2 Conclusion
6.3 Recommendations
6.4 Suggestion for further studies



I wish to acknowledge my indefatigable Advisors, especially, great and amiable Prof. Franklin Valcin whose encouragement kept me focused in the program despite all odds. My other advisors like Linda Collazo and my tutor Edward Lambert have greatly helped me in this program. I wish to say to all staff of Atlantic International University (AIU), both the Academic Division and Finance Department, thank you. I wish to acknowledge my Head of Department Prof. E. A. Offiong, who has been an encouragement to me in this program. I wish to thank the Director, Center for General Studies and Communication Skills, Dr. C. A. Ekeopara for his great support which enabled me to pursue this program. I must mention Dr. Bernard Diwa Otu for his unalloyed support in proofreading and helping in the analysis of this work.

My dear wife Mrs. Favour and children Emeka Precious and Divinegift Chizaram deserve a great acknowledgement for making the home conducive while this program lasted. I will not fail to acknowledge my childhood friend Rev. P. P. Udom who has always been by my side. To all whose works were cited in this thesis, I say thank you. Lastly, I wish to thank Mrs. Blessing Bassey and Moses Ashikem for their support. There are many others who are not mentioned in this acknowledgement who in one way or the other have contributed to the success of this work. Thank you and God richly bless you.


Reformation was a great movement that began in Europe in the fourteenth century with far reaching implications on the religious, historical and social development of Christianity globally. It opened a new door of opportunity for missionary efforts around the world and culminated in the massive missionary expeditions of the eighteen and nineteen centuries. The main thrust of this study was to investigate the impact of Reformation on the historical and social development of Christianity in South-South Nigeria. To achieve the purpose of this study, five hypotheses were formulated to guide the study. Literature review was carried out according to the variables of the study. Survey research design was adopted for the study. A sample of one thousand (1000) respondents was randomly selected for the study. The selection was done through the stratified and simple random sampling technique. The questionnaire was the main instruments used for data collection. The instruments were faced validated by the supervisor who vetted the items developed. The reliability estimate of the instruments was established through the test-retest reliability method. Pearson product moment correlation analysis was employed to test the hypotheses under study. Each hypothesis was tested at .05 level of significance. The result of the analysis revealed that, Cultural development of Christianity, Slave trade, Educational development, development of health institutions and historical development in Nigeria significantly relate with Reformation. Based on the findings of the study, it was among others, recommended that those cultural nationalists who denigrate the missionary enterprise in Nigeria and Christianity in general should start appreciating their efforts as having contributed in no small measure to the development of the country.


1.1 Background of the Study

The 14th century clash of European Protestant religious leaders against the Catholic Church, popularly called the Reformation, remains a crucial turning point in both classical and religious history. The Reformation’s impact swept through the world with far-reaching implications. Initially, the pioneers of Reformation were castigated, brutalized, ostracized from the church, branded heretics and even burnt at the stake. Yet, they did not give in to such threats because of their unwavering convictions that they were pursuing a legitimate and divine cause.

This movement as it later became, brought a great transformation to many parts of the world. It started by liberating Christianity from the shackles of religious bigots who think that every other person’s religious views are wrong except theirs; and created a brand new world where opinions and views of individuals are accepted even when they are not in accordance with the formal religious order of the day. The movement literally transformed the religious order. Martin Luther, the professor of Wittenberg, was at the center of this movement.

Many scholars have tried to separate the Reformation from the massive transformation that followed arguing it was spontaneous. Others do not see any relationship between the Reformation and the Christian missionary work that swept through Africa and some parts of Asia stating it was Europe trying to gather raw materials for their ailing economies. However, this researcher sees the Reformation as the hen that lay the golden egg of transformation in Africa and in Asia. To this end, the work will x-ray the role of some prominent men in the Reformation such as Martin Luther, Zwingli, Erasmus, John Calvin, and Wycliffe. The work will trace the historical movement of Reformation from Europe to Africa and Nigeria in particular. This research work will show it was the impact of the Reformation that led to the fight against slave trade and also helped in minimizing many heinous traditional practices which were prevalent in Nigeria such as the killing or banishing of twins and their mothers to an ‘evil forest’. The work will also show that Nigeria today has become a fertile ground for the growth of many strands of Christianity because of the impact of Reformation.

Not only did Reformation help in reaching Nigeria with the gospel, it also supported, to a large extent, in educating Nigerians and building health institutions in many parts of the country. Reformation could be seen as the corner stone of present development in Nigeria.

Different scholars have divergent views about African pre-colonial development. Scholars like Rodney (1981: p.312) and Fokwang (1999: p.46-65) have argued that development in the West prior to colonization was almost at par with development in Africa. Others like Green (1998) sees development in Africa before colonial era as more advanced than the West. He argues that at the time when the West was suffering from fear, ignorance, oppression and all forms of disease in the Middle Ages, “the Soninke people of the Empire of Ghana enjoyed a world that was rich in culture and famous as a center of learning and trade” (Boon and Eyong 2005: p2)

Though this may sound true to the Afro-centric scholars, it must be stated clearly here that this research is not trying to prove whether there was development in Nigeria before the colonial era or not; but it is meant to show how the Reformation impacted on Nigerian Christianity.

There seem to be a huge gap between the Reformation which started in the late fourteen century and culminated in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of Wittenberg church and the 19th and 20th century Christian missionary movement that led to the planting of Christianity in Nigeria. Some scholars have concluded that due to this gap which covers about 300 to 400 years, it could not have been the Reformation that stirred the missionary zeal but it came spontaneously. This research is therefore set to prove such scholars wrong by showing the inevitable impact and outstanding contributions of the Reformation which led to Christianity having a strong footing in Nigeria.

This research considers the historical movement of the Reformation from Europe, where it was born, to Africa and how the movement transformed the continent from some of its heinous and barbaric culture to modernization based on the teaching of Christianity. Some personalities who played important role in the Reformation will be studied. These include one of morning star’s of Reformation Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus who was born in Rotterdam on October 27, 1466. Due to his brilliant writings, princes, cardinals and kings gave him many honors. His famous book titled The Praise of Folly was written in 1509 while he was a guest in More’s house. Kreis (2012) argues that the book was a mockery of the greediness of the merchants, lovers who were heartsick, scholars who were very quarrelsome and those priests who were pompous. The book was more of a Christian book with serious attack on the corrupt clergy. From Erasmus point of view, Christianity should be from the heart not just a ceremonial one based on rules. This great scholar taught that the society can only be improved when all people begin to read and study the Bible.

Another great Reformation scholar and clergy studied in this work include Martin Luther, the professor of Wittenberg who became the implementer of the Reformation. Kilkenny (2007) explains this Wittenberg scholar was born somewhere in the town of Eisleben in Germany on the 10th day of November 1483 to John and Margaret Luther who were his parents (p.5). Luther became the outstanding leader of the Reformation by his single act of nailing his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg church. Kilkenny (2007: p.6) explains “Luther had a near miss with lightening and almost got killed. That is why he decided to become a monk. By forsaking the world and hiding himself in a monastery, the monk believed that he was serving God. He soon learned that the thick walls do not keep out the lusts which burn within. He was deeply troubled that all his fasts, whippings, vigils, penances etc., etc. were unavailing in giving him peace within”. In his struggle with internal peace which has eluded him due to outward religion of his day, he accidentally found the Bible in the monastery hidden in the old dusty attic. This became the turning point in his life for he discovered that “the just shall live by his faith”. This research will explain in detail the role of Martin Luther in the Reformation.

Furthermore, the work traces the missionary zeal that brought about the planting of Christianity in Africa especially in Nigeria. The work shows that the missionaries were the product of Reformation directly or indirectly. The study also considers many missionaries who played important roles in reaching Nigeria with the Gospel. They include Mary Mitchell Slessor, Hope Masterton Waddell, and so many others. Stamoolis (2006) saw the European missionary enterprise as a product of the Reformation. He argues that it started in the movement known as pietism (p. 567).

This research also studies the role of Reformation in the educational development of Nigeria. In this regard the work analyses the role schools established by the missionaries played in the educational development of Nigeria. The study further explains the impact of Reformation on the historical development of the country. The Reformation encouraged men like William Carey to challenge “the generally accepted theological notions that the missionary mandate had ceased” (Stamoolis 2006: p.568). The Reformation could be seen as the bedrock on which national development of the southern part of Nigeria rests.

This thesis carefully analyzes the role of Reformation in encouraging or discouraging slave trade in Nigeria. It begins with the role of William Wilberforce in the British parliament and how that affected the missionary movement. Socially, the Reformation became the rallying point for Christians to fight against slavery and slave trade.

There are many heinous practices in Nigeria which were detrimental to human existence such as the killing or banishment of twins and their mothers. The carnivorous nature of some tribes in Nigeria and other traditional religious practices which gave credence to evil to thrive are also studied. This work investigates the role of Christianity in educating and healing Nigerians of diseases through the establishment of health centers most of which has become general and teaching hospitals today.

This work affirms with certainty the unequivocal contributions of Reformation in South-South Nigeria through the missionary enterprise which restored human dignity in the area, educated the people, took care of their heath needs, transformed the moral and cultural landscape of the area and gave them a new way of life centered on Christ and His teaching in the Bible.

1.2 Statement of Research Problem

Christianity has had its ups and downs from inception in the Roman Empire. It suffered serious setbacks in the days of persecution and during the middle ages when it negatively affected every sphere of human endeavor. But during the Reformation, Christianity came out of its cocoon of religious bigotry and embraced right thinking and adopted the Bible as the bases of life and teaching instead of totally depending on tradition which has plagued human mind for several centuries. Many scholars have tried to belittle the impact of the Reformation especially in Africa stating that colonization bedeviled Africa and Nigeria in particular. They stress if there was any program that contributed or impacted on the growth and development of Nigeria, it should rather be the voyages of Captain Cook (Stamoolis 2006: p.568) instead of the Reformation.

This work is therefore to show the role and impact the Reformation played in the missionary zeal that led to breaking new grounds with the gospel. It was the path the missionaries took that colonizers later followed.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

It is of utmost importance that a study should have a well thought out purpose for proper guidance and understanding of the work. Five major purposes are here outlined. This study is therefore aimed at:

1. Assessing whether Reformation has any impact on the cultural development of Christianity in Nigeria.
2. Assessing if Christianity contributed in any way to impact on slavery and slave trade in Nigeria.
3. Showing whether Reformation has any impact on the educational development of Nigeria.
4. Assessing whether Reformation does affect the historical development of Christians in Nigeria.
5. Assessing if Reformation has contributed in any way to the development of health institutions in Nigeria.

1.4 Research Questions

This research is set to answer some pertinent questions which arises out of the purpose of the study outlined above.

1. To what extent does Reformation impact the cultural development of Christianity in Nigeria?
2. How does Reformation impact on slave trade in Nigeria?
3. Does Reformation impact on the educational development of Nigerians?
4. To what extent does Reformation affect the historical development of Nigeria?
5. T what extent does Reformation contribute to the development of health institutions in Nigeria?

1.5 Research Hypotheses

As an empirical study, this work shows the various hypotheses that shall be tested in the course of the research.

Hypothesis 1

There is no significant relationship between Reformation and cultural development of Christianity in Nigeria

Hypothesis 2

There is no significant relationship between Reformation and slave trade in Nigeria.

Hypothesis 3

Reformation has no significant relationship with educational development in Nigeria.

Hypothesis 4

There is no significant relationship between Reformation and historical development in Nigeria.

Hypothesis 5

Reformation has no significant relationship with the development of health institutions in Nigeria.

1.6 Significance of the Study

The study is aimed at revealing the impact of Reformation on the history and social development of Christianity in Nigeria. It is a study that shows the trend of Reformation history from Europe to Africa and particularly Nigeria. To this end the work will be beneficial to many strata of Nigerian society. To the Christians in Nigeria, this work will boost their history by showing that Reformation helped in the establishment of the faith in Nigeria. Socially, this work shows the role of Reformation in ending slavery and slave trade in Nigeria. This is in direct opposition to the afro-centric scholars who believe that Christianity did not play any role in its stoppage but helped to aggravate it by participating in it themselves. Culturally, this work is meant to show the role Reformation played in the ridding Nigerian culture of some heinous cultural practices such as the killing or banishing of twins and their mothers in ‘evil forest’ to be killed by wild animals. Furthermore, this work is a wakeup call to the present generation of Christians to arise to the challenge of supporting economic and infrastructure development in Nigeria just as the Reformation stirred the building of schools and hospitals.

1.7 Scope of the Study

This research work is in the field of church history. It covers such area as Reformation and how it affected the coming of Christianity to Nigeria particularly, South-South zone or region. It is an empirical study that looks at the impact of Reformation on the culture, slavery, historical development, educational development and health development of the South-South region of Nigerian society. It traces the historic origin of Reformation in Europe especially Germany to Geneva, England and how it reached Nigeria.

1.8 Limitations of the Study

A research of this nature experienced a lot of challenges which stood as limitations to the work. The geographical spread of the area of study posed a serious challenge hindering the researcher from delving into more variables that would have given more data for the work. Being a rain forest zone, heavy rains this period also made this work to be limited to academic staff of selected universities alone. The challenge of funds to travel through six states of Nigeria in such a short time for data posed a critical upheaval. However, the researcher was able to surmount these challenges and gather facts as it is now presented.


The beauty of every research is the ability of the researcher to relate the current study with previous ones in the same or related fields. This is what this and the next chapter of the work is set to achieve. Many scholars have written considerable amount of works on this field and this work will try to review some that are available to this researcher.

2.1 Conceptual Framework of Reformation

There are various concepts that fuelled the Reformation. These include the concept that Christianity should be a moral guide to the society and not a supporter to immorality in the society.

1. Moral Laxity of the clergy and the Society under the Papacy: Under the papal leadership of the church during the medieval era, the moral standard of the church reduced to its lowest ebb. Durant (1950: p 784) explains that the decline of papal authority and influence on the society was brought about, neither by any special person nor by a group of persons. Ajah (1989: p. 110) elucidates that the popes did not become weak nor did they forget the exercise of their powers. Emperors and kings on the other hand did not become too overbearing for the popes to control as they used to. The issue was that times have changed and the ways in which the church was governed should be changed coupled with serious moral laxity fueled by the greediness and avarice of the clergy. King et al (1969: p. 316-317) see the decline in morality of the papacy as a result of their ignorance of the times which requires that they reform themselves. Robinson (1950: p. 307-309) argues that in addition to moral laxity of the clergy of the medieval period, there were other issues closely knit to it. He explains that at this time nationalistic tendencies were developing on all sides and powerful kings were emerging to replace the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire whose influence was now diminishing. He sees the emergence of the work force- the artisans and middle-men and the development of townships and commercial centers as instrument of dissolution of the feudal system which greatly supported the popes and the clergy. The development of universities and the study of philosophy had begun to instigate inquiry into scientific mind which challenged the monopoly of the clergy as the only cock that crows in learning.

2. The Power of the Inquisition. Another powerful concept that gave rise to the Reformation was the idea of inquisition. Inquisition was the papal authority to persecute and even burn at the stake anybody who opposes the Roman Catholic Church. This brutal authority led to the death of many scholars and great men who saw the need for reform and criticized the authority of the church for not adhering. Arnold (2012: p2) argues that numerous attempts had been made to reform the church prior to the 16th century but was stalled by the power of the inquisition. This squelching of Reformation by the Roman church affected the church seriously. Such groups as the Albigenses and Waldeses sought for reform but were killed because they spoke out against evil in the system. Arnold (2012: p.2) explains

John Wycliffe (1320-1384), John Huss (1360-1415), and Gerolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) spoke out against the papacy, auricular confession, purgatory, pilgrimages, worship of saints, relics, etc. Huss and Savonarola were burned at the stake as heretics. Rome herself made some half-hearted attempts to reform at the Councils of Pisa (1409), Constance (1414-1418) and Basel (1431), but these were not successful. There was a group within the Roman Church called The Brethren of the Common Life that came into existence around 1350 for the specific purpose of bringing reform. Some famous men who belonged to this group were John of Wessel, Erasmus and Thomas à Kempis.

Though these men were killed as heretics, they have sowed the seed of Reformation which germinated in1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis at the door of Wittenberg church.

3. The concept of universal authority of the papacy. This was another concept that triggered serious criticism against the church and paved way for Reformation. Norwood (2006: p. 458-460) argues that the popes of the middle ages saw themselves as the universal rulers of the world. Some of them like Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) “embarked on vigorous program of supervision of the rulers of Europe patterned after the noble precedent established by Innocent III some one hundred years before” Soon he found himself been challenged by the French King Philip IV ‘the Fair’ when he tried the use of two papal bulls (papal letters sealed with a bulla), called Clericis laicos and Unam sanctum to forbid the taxation of the clergy by secular princes and to establish universal authority of the papacy. Thatcher and McNeal (1905) narrates Pope Boniface’s speech thus:

Both swords, therefore, the spiritual and the temporal, are in the hands of the Church. The former is to be used by the Church, the latter for the Church; the one by the hand of the priest, the other by the hand of kings and knights, but at the command and permission of the priest. Moreover, it is necessary for one sword to be under the other, and the temporal authority to be subjected to the spiritual…. And we must necessarily admit that spiritual power surpasses any earthly power in dignity and honor, because spiritual things surpass temporal things (p.315-316).

By this statement, pope Boniface VIII declares the superiority of the authority of the clergy over the kings and princes. This caused serious anger among political leaders and led to the dethronement of Boniface VIII. Philip the Fair carried out the plot against the pope using his trusted aide Nogaret. The plot was successful when the pope was abducted from his home in Anagni in Rome but was later rescued by his townsmen and led to Rome where, infirm with age, and upset by his terrible ordeal in the hands of King Philip’s men, died barely one month later.

This episode at Anagni became a serious turning point in the history of papal authority in relation to temporal authority. As the Canossa dramatic episode served as the symbol of papal supremacy over temporal, so the Anagni episode became a symbol of independence of national monarchs from religious rulers. Thus passes the glory of the world- sic transit gloria mundi. Norwood (2006: p. 459) shows that the effects of the defeat of the papal authority over temporal powers, especially the rising powers of France and England, dealt a terrible blow on the medieval church. The death of Boniface VIII opened the way for a general attack on the church. The elected successor to Boniface VIII also died soon after his election forcing the cardinals at Perugia, under the influence of King Philip the Fair, to elect a French pope who assumed the title Clement V. Having the support of Philip the Fair, he chose Lyon in France instead of Rome for his coronation in the presence of the king of France with a delegation from the king of England. This action which took place in 1305 was consternation to the Italians and also caused outrage to the rest of Europe. This action began what eventually became known in church history as “Babylonian Captivity”. Clement did not go back to Rome or his successors until about seventy (70) years later. Instead the papal seat was moved to Avignon in France where many unchristian practices took place forcing more voices of criticism. Norwood (2006: p. 460) explains further that because of series of abuses during the Babylonian captivity, “new voices of opposition to the old claims of universal papal authority were raised, and new national monarchies like England declared their independence in such statutes as those of provisions, which forbade the pope to make appointments to ecclesiastical offices in England, and praemunire, which forbade appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the papacy”. This action of the English monarchy was in direct opposition to the doctrines of the Roman church which believes and teaches that the clergy were not subject to any national law or king “but were primarily under the authority of the supranational papacy” (p.460).

The Avignon papacy was so immorally debased that three persons at a particular time were claiming right to the papal throne. They have been branded antipopes and are not counted in the line of papal succession. This was another time of schism in the church different from the 1054 schism of the Eastern Church.

2.2 Theoretical Framework of Reformation

There are various theories surrounding Reformation. These theories could be seen as theological views which propelled the reformers in their action. The theoretical frameworks of Reformation are those theories which formed the backbone of Reformation. This part of the literature review looks at such theories and the materials that convey them.

1. Theory of Christendom as earthly kingdom of God. One outstanding doctrine or theory which was very prominent during the medieval period was the idea of “two estates”. Weaver (2007: p.2-3) explains that this theory was developed in the medieval era by the Roman Catholic Church. It is a theory which states that of the two estates, the clergy belonged to the spiritual estate while the laity belonged to the temporal estate. This theory further shows that though the spiritual estate, in most cases, does interfere with the temporal estate to achieve a certain divine goal but in no way and under no circumstance should the temporal estate interfere in the affairs of the spiritual estate. This became a cardinal point of departure between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation preachers. McGrath (2007: p.223) argues that Martin Luther opposed and strongly rejected this theory stressing that the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers instead of a selected few who are clergy. This is the theory that makes the pope the only one that could interpret the Bible and call a church council. This tradition was highly condemned by the reformers. In his own words, Luther (1999: p.142-145) argues thus: “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference between them except that of office”. By this statement, Luther debunked the age long traditional dichotomy that existed in the church between the clergy and laity and introduced the Old Testament doctrine into the New Testament. This theory became the cornerstone on which the Reformation rested.

As soon as Luther was firmly established in this theory of the priesthood of all believers, he went on to establish a new theory of the sphere of authority of believers based on the two kingdoms and the distinctions thereof. Pasichiel (2000: p.25-26) sees Luther’s theory of two kingdoms as based on his scriptural exegesis of the book of Mathew chapters 5-7, popularly called Sermon on the Mount and Romans 13. Luther’s view is that there are two kingdoms on earth. One is the kingdom of God ruled by the gospel and occupied by Christians while the other is the worldly kingdom occupied by the unregenerate ones where evil dwells and ruled by laws. He further opines that God is the ultimate ruler of the two kingdoms.

From Luther’s point of view the two kingdoms originated from God and ordained by him. The civil authority according to Luther was totally limited to the sphere of secularity or worldly kingdom. This worldly kingdom is not concerned with doctrinal issues but is only concerned with the things of Caesar-worldly affairs, instead of the things of God. In his words as recorded by Pasichiel (2000: p.30-31), Luther explains that “God’s kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy, not of wrath and judgement. In it there is only forgiveness, consideration for one another, love, service the doing of good, peace, joy, etc. But the kingdom of the world is a kingdom of wrath and severity. In it there is only punishment, repression, judgement and condemnation to restrain the wicked and protect the good” This means that as God rules his kingdom-the church through the instrumentality of the gospel, he uses the instrumentality of human authority in ruling the worldly kingdom. This shows that his kingdom is governed by the power of the Holy Spirit governing the conscience of the believers. This theory became an invaluable instrument for the liberty and freedom of conscience which became the driving force in Europe and American societies.

John Calvin on the other hand saw the relationship between state and church with regards to two kingdoms theory in a different dimension called “religious liberty”. He tried to avoid the two views propounded by the Anabaptist and Roman Catholics. The Anabaptist taught “radical liberalism”; a concept that Christians should not be obedient and subjected to any form of civil law or authority. According to Witte (1996) Calvin saw this as one of the extremes of the two kingdom theory and should not be applicable to Christianity. McGrath, (2007) explains further that Calvin opposed this view by Anabaptists which states that political authority was invalidated by the spiritual authority. Calvin according to Witte (1996: p360-364) also opposed the radical Catholic legalism which states that “Christian believers were free only when they submit to law and authority”. In explaining his theory of two kingdoms, he wrote a book titled: On Civil Government which was edited by Harro Hopfl in 1991 wherein he presented his treatise which shows “two governments to which mankind is subject”. The first according to Calvin (1991: p.47) “rules over the soul or the inner man and concerns itself with eternal life”. To Calvin this first government works mainly at the level of procuring redemption and eternal life for souls who will demonstrate faith and hope in Christ, and serve humanity in love. Vandrunen (2007: p.747-748) adds that this spiritual kingdom theorized by Calvin is a type, forerunner or foreshadow of Christ’s kingdom which will soon be unveiled in its full perfect state as it descends on earth as a bride dressed for the husband (Rev. 21: 2-3). The second government according to Calvin is the civil kingdom. This according to Vandrunen (2007: p.747-748) has the jurisdiction “of a merely civil and external justice”. Their responsibility is to create a natural condition favourable for civil life to function properly with the help of human reason, law and human passion. Calvin’s theory of two kingdoms in the era of Reformation shows that the two kingdoms, spiritual and civil, are totally different from each other; yet could be compatible with each other (Calvin 1991: p. 49). He explains further that the two governments should be complementary in their approach to each other. The civil government according to him must of necessity protect the physical or “outward worship of God, sound doctrine” and with the armament at its disposal encourage civil righteousness devotedly.

A careful study of these theories shows that each view was based mainly on people’s understanding of the scripture and its interpretation. The Roman Catholics emanated from a culture that based its government on full legalism. To this end every relationship is seen from the perspective of law and other. On the other hand Calvin who carefully studied both the Greek and the Latin culture could analyze the two kingdoms to show the relationship of compatibility and complementarities that must exist between them. This work tends to tilt towards the Calvinistic theory, which sees the spiritual and civil kingdoms or governments as complementary to each other. Though this theory is limited in its approach to the modern society, yet it is what this researcher has seen as the ideal.

2. The Conciliary Theory:

The conciliary theory was propounded by five great scholars namely D’Ailly, John Gerson, Marsilius of Padua, Langenstein and Guy de Maillesec during the 15th century as a check to the domineering and overindulgent powers of the papacy during the Great schism in the west. The theory argues that the General Council of the believers when properly constituted is superior to the supreme pontiff. They argued that “the church is the church even without the presence of a pope”. This argument therefore means, according to Schaff (1997b: Vol VI, p.138) “an oecumenical council is legitimate which meets not only in the absence of his [the pope’s] assent but in the face of his protest”. These theorists argued they have precedence in the great councils of the ancient church which “established the teachings of the church and had legislated for all Christian people” (Robinson 1950: p.375). Ajah (1989: p.113-114) and Robinson (1950: p.376) narrate that “the conciliary theorists insisted that since it was a council that created the college of the cardinals and entrusted them with the responsibility of electing a pope, a council could also set the cardinals aside if they were in error or in confusion…” Schaff (1997b: Vol VI, p.160) describes D’Ailly’s view in such graphic statements thus:

Christ’s mystical body gets its authority from its divine head to meet in a general council through representatives, for it is written, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’. The words are not in Peter’s name; or in Paul’s name, but ‘in my name’. And when the faithful assemble to secure the welfare of the church, there Christ is in their midst.

This theory became very outstanding prior to Reformation, and to an extent, became a spring board to motivate some to think of challenging the authority of the papacy; which took place during the Reformation when Luther challenged the leadership of the church to a debate.

One issue that posed a serious question to this theory was the idea that the pope is wedded to the church. This means that one who is elected the pope could not be deposed or resign since only death could separate him from his “wife”-the church. Gerson, one of the proponents of the conciliary theory answered them thus:

Christ is the church’s only bridegroom. The [supposed] marriage between the pope and the church may be dissolved, for such a spiritual marriage is not a sacrament. The pope may choose to separate himself from the Church and resign. The Church has a similar right to separate itself from the pope by removing him. All church officers are appointed for the Church’s welfare and, when the pope impedes its welfare, it may remove him…The pope may be deposed for heresy or schism (Schaff 1997b: Vol VI, p.140-141)

Gerson further explains according to Schaff (1997b: Vol VI, p.156) that “the gates of hell had prevailed against popes, but not against the Church”.

This kind of philosophical theory stirred the reforming councils that convened to resolve the Great Western schism that bastardized the papacy during the Babylonian captivity of the papacy. Though the papacy finally overcome this theory and took its supreme position but it was short lived because the Reformation that started in 1517 tore the foundation of such domination and liberated the church from the shackles of religious bigotry of the Medieval Age.

3. The Eucharistic Theory:

Another theory that affected the Reformation was the Eucharist. This is one the sacraments or ordinances of the church. Clouse (2006: p. 187) describes the Eucharist as the “re-enactment of the Last Supper of our Lord with his disciples before he was crucified. Bread and wine (or juice) represent the body and blood of Christ”. The theory of Eucharist has four (4) different variations or views as seen by different Christian organisations. These four views are propounded by the Reformation leaders and the Roman Catholic Church. Schaff (1997: p.528) explains the major arguments on the Eucharistic theory to be between Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the Roman Catholic Church. He explains that there is agreement among Luther, Zwingli and Calvin in opposition to the Roman Catholic theory of transubstantiation, known as “the sacrifice of the mass” which involves “the withdrawal of the cup from the laity”.

Clouse (2006: p. 187-188) explains the various views or theories of Eucharist as believed by the various Christian organization.

1. Roman Catholic view of Eucharist: In the Roman Catholic Church, the concept of Eucharist is transubstantiation. This is a view that the substance of the bread and wine, which are the emblems for the communion, when properly consecrated in prayer, actually, physically change into the original Christ’s body and blood, even though the physical appearance of the emblems remain unchanged.
2. The Lutheran view of Eucharist: Clouse (2006: p.188) explains the Lutheran view of Eucharist is called consubstantiation. This is a theory which states that Christ’s body and blood are substantially present with the consecrated bread and wine, even though these elements do not change physically.
3. The Memorial/Commemorative view of Eucharist: This view is today held by many Pentecostal Churches. It is a view which holds that the partaking of the bread and wine during communion is simply commemorative and so depicts a remembrance of the sacrificial and atoning death of Christ. Here the elements are seen as representative symbols of the body and blood of Christ. His presence is not believed to be physically of substantially present in them. They remain bread and wine but symbolically representing body and blood of Christ.
4. The Calvinistic/Reformed view of Eucharist: According to Clouse (2006:p.188) this view “stresses the mystical, spiritual communion between the Christian believer and Christ through the Holy Spirit”. This view holds that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the elements in the spiritual form. These views form the major point of departure from the Roman Catholic view of Eucharist to the reformers views.

In summary therefore, one could see the differences between the three views propounded by the reformers to counter the Roman Catholic view. Schaff (1997: p 528) explains they differ mainly on three points such as (a). How could Christ’s presence be perceived (corporeal or spiritual)? (b). What organ or how are these elements-body and blood of Christ received (by mouth or by faith) and (c). Who is to receive the elements (by all, or believers only)? A careful analysis of these theories shows that they are more logical than religious though the element of religiosity within it is very outstanding. The major fact should stand out clear that the Lord’s Supper is never meant for unbelievers. When Paul emphasized unworthiness in 1 Cor. 11: 27, he was speaking of moral unworthiness which depicts itself in irreverent attitude and spirit during the sacrament. Another issue is the reception either by mouth or by faith. This should not be an issue for debate because the emblems must first be taken by mouth and appropriated by faith. On the presence of Christ, there is no doubt that when believers gather in worship the presence of Christ is always there. Christ promised his church his ever abiding presence, yet the bread and wine are symbolic of the real body and blood of Christ. This means that when believers take the bread and wine during communion, they actually take bread and wine which symbolically represent the body and blood of Christ.

4. The Theory of Scripture Alone in Opposition to Tradition.

This was another spring board on which Reformation rest. It is the theory that shattered the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church who built their doctrines and dogmas around many extra biblical traditions. Schaff (1997: p.529) sees the Roman Catholic Church as recognizing and accepting the authority and divine inspiration of the Scripture in theory but prefers to avoid the laity access to the Bible and rather keep them under check and control through the teaching of the priests. They only allow the general reading of the Scripture in popular languages under some precautionary measures and serious restrictions for fear of abuse of Bible and profanation. “Pope Innocent III was of the opinion that the Scriptures were too deep for the common people, as they surpassed even the understanding of the wise and learned. Several synods in Gaul, during the thirteenth century, prohibited the reading of the Romanic translation, and ordered the copies to be burnt. Archbishop Berthold, of Mainz, in an edict of January 4th, 1486, threatened with excommunication all who ventured to translate and to circulate translations of sacred books, especially the Bible, without his permission” (p.529). In 1415, the Council of Constance which was instrumental to the burning of John Huss and Jerome of Prague issued a serious condemnation on the writings of Wycliffe, who was the first person to translate the whole Bible into English Language. Hunt (2008: p.281) observes that the focal point of the Reformation is the Bible, the inspired record of divine revelation, as the only authoritative and infallible truth and rule of faith and practice. This was in direct opposition to the Roman Catholic view which coordinates the Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition, as the joint rules of faith. Hyatt (2002: p73) agrees with Hunt and adds that “final authority resided with the Scriptures, not the church hierarchy”. Hunt (2008 p. 281) explains further that this does not in any way mean a rejection of the teaching of the living church, but must be subordinated to the word of God. This theory of the word as superior to church hierarchy and tradition revolutionized the 16th century. According to Hunt (2008: p.281), this theory prompted the printing of Bible into different languages. In his words “The achievement of the Reformation was a source of incalculable blessings for all time to come. In a few years Luther’s version [of the Bible] had more readers among the laity than ever the Latin Vulgate had among priests; and the Protestant Bible societies circulate more Bibles in one year than were copied during the fifteen centuries before the Reformation”. The art of printing which was invented earlier before the Reformation helped to achieve this fit. This researcher is therefore, of the view that the theory of Bible alone was the backbone that removed the scale of spiritual blindness off the eyes of humanity; thereby reintroducing the Bible as the infallible, authoritative and highest court of appeal in matters of faith and practice for Christians instead of Christian tradition and leadership.

5. Theory of Faith Alone for Salvation

Speaking during the great disputation or debate with Eck, Luther emphatically stressed the Roman pontiff does not have the power to make new articles of faith. Merle D’Aubigne in his celebrated 1409 page work History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1846: p.258) adumbrates Luther’s speech on that faithful day in June 1517 thus: “The Christian believer acknowledges no other authority than Holy Scripture. This alone is the right Divine. I beg the worthy doctor to concede that the Roman pontiffs were men and that he will not make them gods”. Luther continued his argument with Eck, who “according to his usual practice, quoted the scholastic doctors, the Dominicans, and the pope’s canons. Luther closed the disputation with these words: “The reverend doctor flees from the Scriptures, as the devil from before the cross. As for me, with all due respect to the Fathers, I prefer the authority of Holy Writ, and this test I would recommend to our judges.” Here ended the dispute between Eck and Luther” (Merle D’Aubigne 1846: p. 259).

This disputation between Luther and Eck was what served as setting of the scenery theory for the Reformation. In stressing the importance of faith alone for salvation Luther debunked the Roman Catholic view “that salvation was available only through the sacraments administered by those whom the church had ordained” (Hyatt 2002: p.73). He argued that justification and salvation by faith alone is different from justification by faith with works held unto by the Roman Catholic Church. Hunt (2008: p. 282) explains Luther’s formula as sola fide (by faith alone). In consolidating on Luther’s gain of faith alone, Calvin goes back to God’s eternal election as the basis for salvation and comfort in both life and death. However, Calvin and Luther “agree in the more general proposition of salvation by free grace through living faith in Christ” as enunciated by Acts of the Apostles 4: 12. This agreement between Luther and Calvin was totally in opposition to the theory of salvation propounded by the Pelagians and other Semi-Pelagians who divided the work and merit of salvation between God and man. The vehemently opposed this view of Pelagians. This doctrine of justification and salvation by faith alone became the soul of evangelical Protestantism which spread to different parts of the world including Africa and Nigeria in particular.

These theories briefly outlined by this researcher could be seen as some of the bases for the overwhelming attack on the Roman Catholic Church by the reformers. These theories now set the stage for our study of the historical development of events of the Reformation.

2.3. Martin Luther and the Historical Development of Reformation

The history of Reformation is somewhat complex to trace due to its connection with so many theologians, scholars and countries around the world. During the first quarter of the fourteenth century, medieval civilization reached its height. For three centuries, there had been almost uninterrupted progress. The Popes had freed themselves from secular rulers and had won recognition as the religious and moral leaders of the Western world. The clergy had been reformed and reformed again. According to Major (1970) “Gothic cathedrals had been built in numerous cities and their tall spires towered over the other buildings to proclaim the power and wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and the devotion of the people”(p.1). Political order had been established, the tiny urban population that had survived the decline of the Roman Empire had been greatly augmented, and the middle class had grown in numbers, wealth and power. Major (1970) thus opines again that “at the same time, the nobility had continued to prosper in spite of the emancipation of most of the self” (p.1). Thus, it was an age of optimism, of hope for the future in both this world and next, a fact clearly indicated by the smiling faces on many of the statues adoring the cathedrals.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
849 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Atlantic International University – Social and Human Studies
3.49 (A)
impact reformation historical social development christianity south-south nigeria




Title: The Impact of Reformation on the Historical and Social Development of Christianity in South-South Nigeria