Roots of the Reformation was written by the late German Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the infamous University of Tubingen in the first half of the twentieth century. It is a small work but prodigious in learning, extremely well written and free from logical fallacies. It reaches a happy medium in the state of discussion between Catholicism and Protestantism, it is not severely polemical nor blindly ecumenical.
What we are given by Adam is a masterful presentation of the roots (philosophical and cultural), the reasons for the Protestant Reformation. The very first chapter "Weakness in the Church" gives the main origin for the reforms, namely corruption, abuses and underhanded tactics by some not all of the Catholic clergy,
"The Pope's yearly income was greater than that of any German Emperor. John XXII, for instance, died leaving three quarters of a million gold coins in his treasury: a figure so high, considering the values and conditions of the time, that it was bound to have a catastrophic effect on the believer when he pictured against this background the poor tent-maker Paul, or the still poorer fisherman Peter, coming with dusty sandals to Rome and bringing nothing with them but a deep and noble desire to preach Christ and to die for Christ."1
Or in another example Adam notes,
"Innocent VIII, in his bull Summis desiderantes (1484), gave the Dominicans in Constance plenary powers in the matter of witch-burning, and threatened with ecclesiastical punishment anyone who opposed the prosecution of witches. He thus did all that the highest ecclesiastical authority could do to encourage and legalize the obsession. Christ had healed those possessed by devils, but now, in the name of the same Christ, they were to be burnt."2
In chapter two "Luther" Adam records the rise of the German reformer and his quest to his particular understanding of Christian theology. A fascinating psychological reading of Luther is given as well as his dependence on Ockhamism for his novel ideas on justification and the nature of the church. Luther's departure was not (contrary to popular belief) a careful study of the Greek Scripture in one hand and the slogan of ad fontes on the other but rather was primarily driven by subjective-esoteric epiphanies of Christian truth,
"it was not the objective spirit of the Church's tradition speaking and witnessing in the Church's teaching which interpreted this objective word of revelation, but his own spirit alone; not the We of the members of Christ inspired by a common faith and love, but his own unique, individual I. In this formal, though not material, sense Luther was always a subjectivist."3
Adam then gives a thorough defense of the Catholic doctrine of Sola Gratia - and that it was not originated by Luther but was already held and defended by Catholics for 1500 years. Moreover, Luther viciously attacked the Papacy, Adam must be quoted on this in full,
"It was night indeed in a great part of Christendom. Such is the conclusion of our survey of the end of the fifteenth century: amongst the common people, a fearful decline of true piety into religious materialism and morbid hysteria; amongst the clergy, both lower and higher, widespread worldliness and neglect of duty; and amongst the very Shepards of the Church, demonic ambition and sacrilegious perversion...Had Martin Luther then arisen with his marevlous gifts of mind and heart...had he brought all these magnificent qualities to the removal of the abuses of the time...had he remained a faithful member of his Church...then indeed we should today be his grateful debtors. He would be forever our great Reformer...comparable to Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. He would have been the greatest saint of the German people...But - and here lies the tragedy of the Reformation and of German Christianity - he let the warring spirits drive him to overthrow not merely the abuses in the Church, but the Church Herself, founded upon Peter, bearing through the centuries the successio apostolica; he let them drive him to commit what St. Augustine called the greatest sin with which a Christian can burden himself; he set up altar against altar and tore in pieces the one Body of Christ."4
The Catholic Church due to all this reformed herself. Abuses have been cut away and the focus of Christ and Apostolic teaching has been re-emphasized. It is the conclusion of professor Adam that had Luther come today, he would not protest the Church as violently as he did.
1. Roots of the Reformation. 14.
2. Ibid., 25.
3. Ib., 42, Adam's emphasis.
4. Ib., 25-26.