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Perhaps the most intriguing and controversial doctrine to spring forth from the Reformation is Luther’s <i>Sola Scriptura</i>, Latin for “scripture alone.” Luther believed that the only authority needed to guide the church, doctrinally and morally, was that of Sacred Scripture.<ref> Schilling, Heinz. Martin Luther: Rebel in an Age of Upheaval. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pg. 404 </ref> In many ways this was a warranted reaction against the rampant clericalism that dominated Western Europe during the sixteenth century. However, it had very interesting ramifications. For starters, prior to the dawn of <i>Sola Scriptura</i>, now the dominant doctrinal position in contemporary Protestantism, the scriptures did uphold an especial authority in the Church; it was simply not the only authority. As far as Catholic understanding is/was concerned, the Tradition and Scripture shared a co-dependent and equal authority. In other words, the Tradition could not be trusted without Scripture and Scripture could not be properly interpreted without the Tradition, specifically the divine revelation entrusted to the Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church). This remains the Catholic understanding to this day. <ref> Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, <i>Dei Verbum</i>. Vatican II, November 18, 1965</ref>
So, Luther’s proposal was not merely asserting the authority of scripture, but positing that any and every Christian had, by themselves, the authority to properly interpret it. This describes what we might call a transfer from a social epistemology to an individual epistemology (mode of knowing). Essentially, in Protestantism knowledge of the scriptures and the lessons they were intended to convey moved from being a social, dialogical process (as purported by the Catholic Church) to something that each individual had the autonomy to do by himself. Certainly, this prevented hierarchical corruption, being that the Tradition was no longer viewed as authoritative and
transferred power to individual Christians. However, it ushered in several novel problems of it’s own. For example, it became increasingly difficult to maintain unity throughout Christendom. Several contemporaries of Martin Luther followed suite and began their own reform movements proffering different understandings of the Gospel (Calvin and Zwingli to name a few), appealing to this doctrine of <i>Sola Scriptura</i>.
So the, because the authority of the Church was no longer binding on the reformers, they were free to read and posit their own unique and novel interpretations of the Scriptures. In other words, this autonomy brought forth by the doctrine created a wave of diversity and new Christian sects, all reading and understanding the Bible differently, but each steadfast in the conviction that his way was correct. This was magnificent for establishing individual autonomy in the realm of divine revelation, but divided Christianity substantially. This was, indeed, a very radical idea compared to the reverence and dependence that the medieval church placed on authority. So, as many scholars have suggested, a seed of individualism was planted by Luther’s <i>Sola Scriptura.</i> <ref> Smith, David S. "Luther's Contribution to Positive Individualism." <i>Concordia Journal </i>22, no. 3 (July 1996): 263-278. </ref>