The woodcut below by Hans Holbein the Younger, made some time before 1526, shows clearly and succinctly what the Reformation - as far as its religious aspects can be disentangled from its political - was all about. Christ is offering to an eagerly approaching group of wide-eyed laymen of all degrees, particularly lowly degrees, the pure, clear light of the New Testament, beaming from a candle on a candle-stick round whose column cluster St Paul and St Peter, and whose base is supported by the symbols of the Evangelists. Groping their purblind way from the light, their backs turned to it, towards a pit, is a group of scholars and dignitaries, chiefly churchmen, headed by the Pope. Aristotle, the scholastics' darling, is tumbling into the pit to join Plato, his pagan philosophical predecessor. The lesson is clear: Scripture and Scripture only is what counts. All things necessary for salvation are contained in it, accessible to all who approach it, through Christ, with humility, faith and love. No need for the interpretations of the ages, the tradition of the Church and its doctors, who are all part of a great conspiracy to keep the word of God from the laity and to exalt their own honour.
LRB 17 December 1992 | PDF Download