“Let us clearly understand the meaning of these words — Catholic, Protestant, and Reformation. Catholic means universal, and the religion which takes this epithet was called universal because all Christian people of every nation acknowledged it to be the only true religion, and because they all acknowledged one and the same head of the Church, and this was the Pope, who …was the head of the Church… in every part of the world where the Christian religion was professed. But there came a time, when some nations, or rather, parts of some nations, cast off the authority of the Pope, and of course no longer acknowledged him as head of the Christian Church. These nations…declared, or protested against the authority of their former head, and also against the doctrines of that Church… They therefore called themselves Protestors or Protestants… As to the word Reformation, it means an alteration for the better…
Now, my friends, a fair and honest inquiry will teach us that this was an alteration greatly for the worse; that the ‘Reformation’, as it was called, was engendered in lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of innocent…blood. 1
The author of this commentary, William Cobbett, is correct in his estimation of the so-called Reformation. It certainly cannot be called a biased opinion, for you see, Mr. Cobbett was a Protestant when he penned these words back in 1824. He was only stating the facts that an honest inquiry into the events of the 16th and 17th centuries presented him.
As to this “devastation”, its effects are with us today. What occurred almost 500 years ago in Europe has grown to monstrous proportions in our own time to afflict the minds and souls of even those Christians who do not call themselves Protestants.
Before examining the events of this revolt against the Roman Catholic Church and her authority, a look at what constitutes the Church’s authority is in order so that we may understand the consequences of such a rejection.
The Authority of the Roman Catholic Church
One of the chief attributes of the Roman Catholic Church is her authority. This authority is most clearly defined in the infallible pronouncement Unam Sanctam by the last great Pope of the Middle Ages, Pope Boniface VIII (Nov. 18, 1302) :
We are compelled, our Faith urging us, to believe and to hold — and we do firmly believe and simply confess — that there is one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins ; her Spouse proclaiming it in the Canticles, ‘My dove, my undefiled is but one, she is the Choice one of her that bore her’; which represents one mystical body, of which body the head is Christ, but of Christ, God. In this Church there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. There was one ark of Noah, indeed, at the time of the flood, symbolizing one Church; and this being finished in one cubit had, namely, one Noah as helmsman and commander. And, with the exception of this ark, all things existing upon the earth were, as we read, destroyed. This Church, moreover, we venerate as the only one, the Lord saying through His prophet, “Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.” He prayed at the same time for His Soul — that is, for Himself the Head, and for His Body — which Body, namely, He called the one and only Church on account of the unity of the Faith promised, of the sacraments, and of the love of the Church. She is that seamless garment of the Lord which was not cut but which fell by lot. Therefore of this one and only Church there is one body and one head— not two heads as if it were a monster: namely Christ and Peter, the Vicar of Christ and the successor of Peter , the Lord Himself saying to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” My sheep, He said, using a general term, and not designating these or those particular sheep; from which it is plain that He committed to him all His sheep. If then the Greeks or others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they necessarily confess that they are not of the sheep of Christ; for the Lord says in John, that there “is one fold, and one Shepherd.” And we are told by the word of the Gospel that in this His fold there are two swords — a spiritual, namely, and a temporal. For when the Apostles said, “Behold here are two swords” — the Lord did not reply that this was too much, but enough. Surely he who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter wrongly interprets the word of the Lord when He says, “Put up thy sword in its scabbard.” Both swords, the spiritual and the material, therefore, are in the power of the Church ; the one, indeed, to be wielded for the Church, the other by the Church; the one by the hand of the priest, the other by the hand of kings and knights, but at the will and sufferance of the priest. One sword, moreover, ought to be under the other, and the temporal authority to be subjected to the spiritual . For when the Apostle says, “There is no power but of God, and the powers that are of God are ordained,” they would not be ordained unless sword were under sword and the lesser one, as it were, were led by the other to great deeds.
…the spiritual exceeds any earthly power in dignity and nobility we ought the more openly to confess, the more spiritual things excel temporal ones…
For the truth bearing witness, the spiritual power has to establish the earthly power, and to judge if it be not good . Thus, concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power, is verified the prophecy of Jeremias: “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,” and the other things which follow. Therefore if the earthly power err, it shall be judged by the spiritual power; but if the lesser spiritual power err, by the greater. But if the greatest, it can be judged by God alone, not by man, the Apostle bearing witness. A spiritual man judges all things but he himself is judged by no one. This authority, moreover, even though it is given to man and exercised through man, is not human but rather divine, being given by divine lips to Peter and founded on a rock for him and his successors through Christ Himself whom He has confessed; the Lord Himself saying to Peter: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind,” etc. Whoever, therefore, resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordination of God, … Indeed we declare, say, pronounce, and define that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (Emphasis mine)
The five points that are infallibly stated in this famous document are :
- there is one holy, Catholic, apostolic Church outside of which there is neither holiness nor salvation,
- the head of this Church is Christ’s Vicar — the Roman Pontiff,
- to this Church, God has ordained a two-fold authority — a spiritual and a temporal authority,
- the Church’s authority is greater than the authority of the State, and
- by virtue of this authority, it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
Illustrating how the Church’s authority supersedes the authority of the State,
St. Robert Bellarmine uses the comparison of the body and the soul or the flesh and the spirit to explain this subordination of the temporal to the spiritual authority. St. Robert explains that the body and the soul have distinct functions and are even found separate from one another in the angels and the animals without reason. In the animals we find flesh without spirit; in the angels we find spirit without flesh. Nevertheless, they are found united and joined together in the unity of the human person in such wise that the soul commands and the body obeys. The soul has the right of chastising the body and keeping it in subjection, by fasts and other means, lest it may hamper the activity of the spirit. The soul may even compel the body to sacrifice itself and sacrifice everything that it holds dear, up to and including life itself, as the martyrs have done, if this is indispensable in order that the soul may attain its end. In the same way, and for similar reasons, there must exist between the ecclesiastical and the civil power a union and ordered relation such that, when the eternal salvation of souls is concerned, the ecclesiastical authority may direct the political authority and command it to take a certain course of action. If necessary, the ecclesiastical authority can and ought to compel and force it to do so, lest the political authority may become an obstacle to the attainment of the supernatural final end of man. So the terrestrial kingdom must be at the service of the heavenly kingdom. 2
St. Thomas Aquinas writes,
Both the spiritual and the temporal power derive from the divine power; consequently the temporal power is subject to the spiritual to the extent that this is so ordained by God; namely, in those matters which affect the salvation of the soul. And in these matters the spiritual power is to be obeyed before the temporal. 3
In our own century, this Catholic teaching has been echoed by Pope St. Pius X. In the Consistory Allocution of Nov. 9, 1903 he stated:
We do not conceal the fact that We shall shock some people by saying that We must necessarily concern ourselves with politics. But anyone forming an equitable judgement clearly sees that the Supreme Pontiff can in no wise violently withdraw the category of politics from subjection to the supreme control of faith and morals confided to him.
Don Luis Tosti, author of The History of Pope Boniface VIII , comments on this teaching:
Subjection to the Roman Pontiff, as Vicar of Jesus Christ, not only in all that affects faith and morals, but also in that which affects civil society, is for Catholics a dogma like those of the Trinity and the Eucharist. And as this dogma is proposed to our belief by an absolute revealing principle, not liable to a human contingency, so the belief ought to be also absolute, invariable and one. Now to say that some believe in a greater, and others in a lesser supremacy in the Roman Pontiff, is absurd, just as it would be absurd to speak of greater or less affirmation of the dogma of the Trinity. Dogma is one like God; it is so rigorously concentrated in unity, that it allows no room for a diversity of opinions. 4
The Church’s authority was found universally recognized by the people and rulers of the Middle Ages. This recognition was even incorporated into the constitutions of the various nations of Christendom. The sovereigns of several states were vassals of the Holy See, making the Pope’s authority more direct in the temporal sphere. Moreover, one of the Rulers of the group of Christian States held from the Pope, with the title of Emperor, the additional title of Defender of the Holy See and of all Christendom. This formed the basis of what became known as the Holy Roman Empire. 5
With the Church claiming a temporal authority over that of any state, the Church came into direct and many times violent contact with the power of rulers and kings. That is why it required a man of great faith, courage, and character to ascend the throne of Peter and bear the awesome responsibility incumbent upon Christ’s Vicar on Earth — his enemies were many and powerful. As a result, up through the Middle Ages, a high percentage of Popes died violently for defending this principle. In the ages of faith, respect for the Papacy was the greatest because recognition of his authority and mission was at its greatest, and because of this the power of the state was held in check. Consequently, the Church was able to accomplish its work unhindered and great prosperity fell upon those people who conformed their laws to the teachings of Christ’s Church. In disputes, right would conquer might! Archbishop Martin J. Spalding writing in 1860 remarks,
No other power than that of the Catholic Church, wielded by its chief executive — the Roman Pontiffs — could ever have checked lawless and overwhelming tyranny, could ever have effectually shielded popular rights from oppression, could ever have successfully defended female chastity from imperial and royal licentiousness, by fully guaranteeing to all the sacred rights, and by defending the duties of Christian marriage; could ever, in one word, have arrested the torrent of mere brute force, which was sweeping over Europe and threatening it with destruction. If the Middle Ages were pre-eminently ages of faith, they were none the less ages of violence and of brute force. But woe to European civilization, if there had not existed at the time a great moral and religious power, which was alone respected by the masses of the population… If right finally triumphed over might, and the passions had to yield at length in the struggle against reason and religion, we owe the result mainly to the beneficial influence of the Papacy. This is as certain as anything else in all history. 6
Many examples are found in history of this ongoing confrontation between the Papacy and the State: William II of England and Pope Urban II, Henry IV (of Germany, the Holy Roman Empire) and Pope St. Gregory VII, Frederick Barbarossa against Popes Alexander III and Adrian IV, and King John (Lackland) of England and Frederick II of Germany against Pope Innocent III.
With an understanding of what the Catholic Church’s authority is and what it means for the maintenance of a prosperous and peaceful world, one can see how tragic the step mankind made in the 1500s when it threw off the benevolent protection of Holy Mother Church. This was not a single step, however, but the culmination of many causal events. This path to destruction we will now examine briefly.
The Eastern Schism
In the year 1054, a tragic event for the Church occurred when the See at Constantinople went into schism for the final time taking most of the Eastern churches of Christendom with her. The foundation of this schism was based on that rejection of the Church’s authority as realized in the person of the Pope. The long history of the Church at Constantinople was a history of a branch of the Church being led by bishops whose loyalty was not to Christ and His Vicars but to the Byzantine Emperor and his court. 7 At Constantinople, the spiritual authority became subservient to the temporal authority. A scholar of Byzantine history, Professor Ernst Gerland alludes to this when he describes the relation of the Church at Constantinople with the other Eastern churches:
The Constitution of the Eastern Church was rather imperial than universal. Its administration was seriously influenced by the politics of the empire; the boundaries of the empire bounded the Church’s aspirations and activities…
For the people of the Orient, the adoption of Christianity went hand in hand with nationalism. Opposed to this nationalism in many important aspects was the Greek imperial church. Precisely because it was only an imperial church, it had not yet grasped the concept of a universal Church. As the imperial church, and constituting a department of the state-administration, its opposition to the national churches among the Oriental peoples was always very emphatic. Thus it is that the dogmatic disputes of these [Eastern] churches are, above all, expressions of politico-national struggles. In the course of these contests Egypt, and Syria, and finally Armenia also were lost to the Greek Church…
The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches thus reveals a fundamental opposition of viewpoints: the mutually antagonistic ideas of the universal Church and of independent national churches… 8
As we shall see, this state of affairs in the East will serve as a model to what will occur later in the West during the Reformation.
Pope Boniface VIII
A great turning point in the history of the Church and the world occurred after the death of one of our most glorious popes— Boniface VIII, who reigned as supreme Pontiff from 1294 to 1303. As Sister Catherine Clarke, M.I.C.M., writes, “There is no Pope in the whole history of the Church whom men have been more at pains to misrepresent, dishonor, besmirch, and revile than the noble and heroic Pope Boniface VIII.” 9 And why is this? Pope Boniface fought to preserve “unimpaired the rights of the Church and of the Holy See, not only in the sanctuary of the Church, but also in the heart of civil society.” 10 He “tried with every breath of his priestly heart, every effort of his extraordinarily gifted mind, every pleading, every diplomacy, every benevolence, every patience, every censure, every anathema, every excommunication within his power to stem the tide of revolution…” 11
In this we know Boniface failed. The powerfully evil king of France, Phillip IV (the Fair) was the instrument of Boniface’s (and the Papacy’s) downfall. To stem the growing usurpation of the Church’s rights and property by Phillip in France, Pope Boniface called together a Council in Rome from which came forth the famous document, Unam Sanctam . As we have seen, this Bull reiterated the Church’s teaching regarding her spiritual and temporal authority and how important this authority is to “every human creature”. Because of this document and its issuance, Phillip the Fair trumped up wild charges against Boniface, called for the removal of this “false” Pope, and sent his lackeys to Rome to depose him. And this is exactly what occurred! Boniface was physically dragged from his throne and struck in the face by the iron glove of a sacrilegious invader. Boniface died 35 days later as a result of the abuse heaped upon him by Phillip’s hirelings. A witness to this tragic turn of events, the Cardinal who became Pope Benedict XI, wrote in a Bull the following, “A sovereign Pontiff has been outraged; and with her spouse a captive, the Church herself has been a captive. Where henceforth find a safe place? What sanctuary will be respected, after the violation of that of the Roman Pontiff? O, inexpiable crime!” As a result of this defense of Pope Boniface, one month later, Benedict XI was poisoned to death. 12
Why was this treatment accorded to Pope Benedict XI, and for that matter, why the historical abuse of truth regarding Boniface VIII? Don Tosti gives an explanation,
For when a man comes to be identified with a theory in such a manner that war against the theory means war against him who defends it, it must be that the soul of this man is capable of comprehending it, and able to defend it alone. Hence hatreds have survived against Boniface, because the truth he defended has survived. And whenever the hand of the powerful attacks the Church in her rights, it digs up from the tomb the ashes of that magnanimous soul in order to execrate them. 13
The Suppression of the Temporal Authority
Some Pontiffs have been persecuted and tortured for the faith, the fury of the people or the tyranny of Christian kings have made others suffer the tribulation and sorrows of exile; not one had been judged and condemned. The first one to be put to this sad ordeal was Boniface. The first and the second in persecution and in blood obtained the palm of martyrdom, and were raised up to heaven from the throne on which they sat. Boniface did not find even compassion in his ignominy; he descended from his throne and with him the Pontificate, or rather he was dragged from it and led into the Sanhedrin of lawyers and sophists, to force him like Jesus Christ to tell what truth is. All classes of believers in the Gospel once reverently stopped at the doors of the Church, and they did not dare to ask how far their limits extended, what was the book of their rights, nor of what temper was the sceptre he carried in hand. But Boniface dead, they did not merely enter into the sanctuary of God, they rather invaded it, and they pounced upon the Church to show her that the limits of her inheritance were no longer the limits of the earth, but precisely those that men marked out accordingly to their will around her; that her code of laws were obsolete, powerless, and had no light or value except from the will of men; in fine this sceptre by whose touch human societies had been constituted and the throne of a hundred kings had been raised and cast down, was only spiritual, purely spiritual. 14
And so, the Temporal Power of the Church, or the Civil Pontificate, as Don Tosti describes it, “went out from that temple in which a double unity assembled the people; unity of faith which still assembles them and will ever assemble them; and that unity of filial confidence with which they entrust to the Pontificate the direction of their civil destinies. The proceedings of Phillip against Boniface drove it from the States, and rendered it invisible; it no longer existed in the temple of civil justice.” 15 After being removed, as citizens of the state, from the civil empire of the Roman Church, believers became miserably confused. “They began to be wanting in charity, which is the bond of hearts; in faith which is that of the soul, and later they began to be wanting in the civil order, which is the social bond.” 16
Replacing the Christian influence of the Church upon the civil laws of Europe was the growing influence of French legists and jurists who advocated the Roman law as the prevailing type. These antiquated ideas convinced king and prince alike that each had a destiny to rule in the manner of the pagan Roman Emperors, responsible to no one for the morality of their acts. One deadly manifestation of this “new” law was an increase in the despotism of the various rulers who embraced it.
Further decay and confusion in the minds of men and the growing absolutism of rulers was aided by two events which loomed large on the European stage in the 14th Century — the “Babylonian Captivity” (1308 — 1377), and the Great Western Schism (1378— 1417).
For 70 years, the papacy existed for the good of but one nation — France, during which time 7 popes took up residence in the southeast part of that country at a place called Avignon. Here, they fell under the complete domination of the French kings. As a result, the various nations of Christendom became increasingly nationalistic in their outlook towards the Church, and the allegiances of the Christian Princes of Europe towards the Holy Father became more nominal.
The Great Western Schism
In 1377, the papal sojourn to Avignon ended when St. Catherine of Siena was able to convince Pope Gregory XI to return himself and the Papal Court to Rome. The Pope died the following year and what followed for the next 40 years further eroded papal prestige and prominence in the hearts and minds of Christians.
Not happy with their election of Urban VI as the next pope, several of the Cardinals left Rome to elect another pope, Clement VII, who proceeded to take up residence in Avignon. Europe became divided as to who was the legitimate pope. France, Spain, and Scotland sided with the Avignon successor; Germany, Italy, England, and Flanders claimed for Rome. If this wasn’t bad enough, in 1409, a third claimant to the papacy was crowned at Pisa, Italy— Alexander V! It was no longer possible to know what pastors to obey; and the confusion became such that even the instincts of the Saints were faulty (Saint Colette and Saint Vincent Ferrer, to name two).
The Black Death (1346-1353)
In the middle of the 14th century, the Black Death ravaged Europe and Asia wiping out 25 million souls and taking with it a greater portion of the Catholic priesthood.
The Black Death turned Christendom into a house of mourning, and had dreadful results of every kind: the worst being that priests became so few, and bad priests so easily became priests, that the whole great Christian philosophy and morality were brought into contempt… The Black Death decimated the priesthood, leaving hardly enough priests to go round and admitting a good many who had better not have gone round. 18
In St. Lydwine of Schiedam , J.K. Huysmans writes of this time:
It was the most absolute disorder, and Christianity had never been reduced to such chaos. God consented to show the divine origin of His Church by the disorder and infamy of His creatures; no human institution could have resisted such shocks. It was as if Satan had mobilized his legions and the gates of hell were open; the earth belonged to the Spirit of Evil, and he besieged the Church, assailing her without respite, gathering all his forces to overthrow her…
The people lay crushed both by what they heard and what they saw; they cried for justice and consolation among all these ills, but heard no answer to their prayers. They turned to the Church, with no better result. Their faith was shaken, and in their simplicity they said that Christ’s representative on earth had no longer divine powers since he could not save them. They began to doubt the mission of the successors of St. Peter; they could not believe in them, they were so human and feeble. 19
The Age of Faith was coming to an end.
With the return of the popes from Avignon, the character of the Papacy had changed. The Pope now ruled more in the capacity of a civil prince rather than in the manner of a zealous defender of the Faith and untiring Apostle for the salvation of souls. As a result, abuses arose in the Church, due to misuse of ecclesiastical wealth by these men of worldly character seated upon the papal throne. Among these abuses several can be enumerated: pluralism — the simultaneous possession by one man of several benefices; nepotism — favoritism shown to relatives, particularly by the showering of dignities and lucrative offices on them; too frequent “Indulgences” were preached, abusing a sacred prerogative of the Church; the higher and richer positions of the Church were now monopolized by the nobility — many of these lacked real vocations to the priestly or religious life, or the necessary training; some prelates derived large revenues from accumulations of rich benefices while there were numerous priests who had hardly enough to live on; clerical education became defective — priests were not being properly trained; and the wealthier monasteries and convents were becoming social clubs for the rich and famous, religious community life became lax. 20
The Modern Philosophy of Ockham
Along with these tragedies befalling the papacy and the faithful, a movement grew in the field of philosophy which would lay the ground work for all modern thought. This philosophy gained great numbers of adherents while the philosophia perennis as embodied in the Scholasticism of St. Thomas Aquinas was ignored. This new way of looking at the world was called “Nominalism” or Ockhamism after William of Ockham (1280-1349) the individual with whom its codification is associated. Nominalism, as a philosophy, “constituted the wedge which was driven between theology and philosophy, and which broke apart the synthesis achieved in the thirteenth century” 21 by the Thomistic philosophers. The Nominalist philosophy would help form the foundation of all those philosophies of “subjectivism” which have come down to our own time.
The philosophy of the Church as perfected in Thomism teaches that through the knowledge of universal concepts, man can attain a knowledge of the objective reality of the world — of things visible and invisible. Universals help him understand the nature of things, and they help him see the order and unity that is present in the world.
The object apprehended by means of a universal concept is called a universal because it is something which is conceived as common to many things, something that is or may be attributed to many things in our judgments, something that is conceived as common to all the members of a class. What is this something? It is a reality which is present in the individual things of sense, helping to constitute the essence or reality of those things. 22
Opposed to this, Nominalism denies that universals have anything to do with the nature or essence of things.
According to Nominalism, the universal as such is not a reality, it is not even an idea; it is a mere name (hence, the title Nominalism), a mere term. This term (e.g. man) has nothing real corresponding to it except individuals (John, James, Thomas); and it has nothing mental corresponding to it except our perceptions of actual individuals or our imagination images of individuals formerly perceived. 23
In denying the reality of universals, nominalism states that one’s ideas about the nature of an object is only a collection of individual experiences one has had with that object. Hence, the natures or essences of things in the world become subjective , and one’s idea of the nature of a tree, for instance, may or may not be the same as another’s idea of the same tree. Objective reality is no more — all that now exists are the individual realities of each person living in the world.
As we shall see, the nominalist mentality would have a great effect upon the thinking of Martin Luther and other Protestant “reformers” of the next century.
Ockhamism and Luther
Martin Luther was a student of Gabriel Biel (1425-1495), a noted teacher of Nominalism in the 15th Century. In the preface to the second volume of Luther’s Works, Melancthon states that,
Taking one point of Ockhamism, that of the separation of Grace and nature, we can show how Luther uses this to begin his new religion. The Ockhamists said that,
it is not Sanctifying Grace which by its nature renders us agreeable to God, but rather God’s free acceptance of us as pleasing. Strictly speaking, it is not because he is in the state of Grace that a man is pleasing to God; it is exclusively because he is accepted as such by God. It follows that Sanctifying Grace is an unimportant mark designed by God to distinguish from others those whom He accepts as being agreeable to Himself. Grace itself does not secure for us either His favor or His friendship. Consequently, it is not Divine Grace which makes us worthy of eternal life. We are worthy of eternal life, exclusively because God accepts us. 25
While not denying the existence of Sanctifying Grace and the infused virtues, the Ockhamists belittled their necessity and stressed repeatedly that everything depended on God’s acceptance of us. Luther took this one step further. Luther stated that God accepts us even without Sanctifying Grace!
We are declared friends of God by an “extrinsic arrangement”. This arrangement comes from the justice of Christ, that is, a justice which is not ours. According to Luther, God considers the sinner as just on account of the justice of Christ, but the sinner remains a sinner. The sin is not effaced, but God regards the sinner as just, because Christ’s justice is imputed to him. 26
Added to this error, Luther took another Ockhamist principle, that of the exaltation of individual reason (remember that the Ockhamist arranged the universe into a collection of individual things), and he developed a system of a purely individualistic relationship with Christ. No more would man work out his salvation “in common”, now that he had Christ as his “personal savior”!
Catholic teaching insists, not on the separation of the supernatural and the natural but on their distinction and connection. For the Catholic Church, there is no inevitable contradiction between invisible Grace and visible organizations, between interior liberty and external power, between the supernatural world and the material universe. The Kingdom of God amongst us consists, essentially and principally in the supernatural society of the Catholic Church, secondarily and as a consequence of the influence of the Catholic Church, in an organization of the social life of States, political and economic, in accordance with the Divine Plan for order. 27
“Lutheranism, on the other hand, separates the world into two halves so independent that they have only accidental relations with each other. This is the inevitable result of the separation of Grace and nature, of faith and works. According to Luther, each individual, while his natural equipment remains intrinsically corrupt, by an act of blind confidence, holds up the justice of Christ as a fire-screen between God’s anger and his own corruption. In this way there is brought into existence the invisible Church of those who believe, while the One True Visible Church, through which alone one becomes a member of the Mystical Body, is done away with. This is the invisible Church of human relations with God and of divine action. All the rest, all that concerns the life and action of the external man, including the ecclesiastical organizations entered into to stir up faith in Christ, in a word, all the affairs of this world, are relegated to the State. This results in a clear-cut separation between the Christian and the Citizen. ‘You are a prince or judge,’ said Luther, ‘you have people under you and you wish to know what to do. It is not Christ you are to question concerning the matter but the law of your country. Between the Christian and the ruler, a profound separation must be made. Assuredly, a prince can be a Christian, but it is not as a Christian that he ought to govern. As a ruler, he is not called a Christian but a prince. The man is a Christian, but his function does not concern his religion. Though they are found in the same man, the two states or functions are perfectly marked off one from the other, and really opposed.’ (Luther’s Works , Vol. XXXII, Weimar Edition, pp. 391, 439, 440.)
So all man’s external activity, springing from a nature deprived of Supernatural Life and subject to the dictates of a ruler who must look upon himself not as a Christian but as a ruler, is completely naturalistic. By this individualism and separation the way is made smooth for modern Naturalism and Liberalism. Thus the life of the Citizen is separated and sectioned off from the life of the Christian. Accordingly, each Protestant State, after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, expressed this separatist ideal by organizing its national form of religion as a State Department. [Does this remind one of what happened in the East six hundred years previous?]” 28
Eventually, the philosophy of Ockham led to the Rationalism of Rene Descartes and Goffried Leibnitz; it would find its logical conclusion in the Pantheism of Baruch Spinoza; and it would greatly contribute to the uprise of Social Materialism (modern capitalism) as formulated by John Locke, David Hume, and Auguste Comte. Further, we know that John Locke became a great influence on the thinking of such philosophic “giants” as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill of England, as well as Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau of France. 29
The effect of Nominalism on common sense was devastating. In the field of science for instance, “the old way of common-sense observation was abandoned in favour of a very different approach. Though it may sound strange to say so, physical science became less ’empirical’: it was set free not only from Aristotelian physical theories but also from the common-sense idea of an observational method which had tended to prevail among earlier physicists.” 30
It is interesting to note that Ockham has been called “the first Protestant” for his attitude towards the Church and its established order. He denied the right of the Popes to exercise temporal power, or to interfere in any way whatever in the affairs of State. He was an advocate of secular absolutism. 31
The Council of Constance and the Conciliar Heresy
Another step towards the precipice of Reformation was taken in 1414 when the 16th Ecumenical Council in the history of the Catholic Church was convoked at Constance, a city on the shores of the Boden Sea in southern Germany. 32
By the will of the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, the anti-pope John XXIII summoned the council with the express purpose of re-establishing the Papacy under one head, namely his own. As the Council proceeded, the three claimants to the papal throne resigned in accord with the wishes of the Council, and a new Pope was elected — Martin V (his coronation was Nov. 21, 1417), thereby ending the Great Western Schism.
The Council also dealt with the matter of John Wyclif’s heretical teachings. Over 260 of his teachings were censured as heretical, all of his writings were ordered to be burned, and his body was condemned to be dug up and cast out of consecrated ground. John Wyclif (1324-1384), a Nominalist, and his followers — the Lollards — attacked the dogma of Transubstantiation; they attacked the divine institution of the Church hierarchy, as well as denying the authority of the Catholic Church. To supplant the Church’s teaching authority, Wyclif held that the Bible was the sole rule of faith. (This idea originated with him.) He and his followers argued that the Church could not hold temporal possessions and that it was lawful for kings and princes to deprive them of what the Church held unlawfully. And, the Lollards taught that the validity of the Sacraments was affected by the sinfulness of the minister — they refused to distinguish the official from the personal character of the priesthood. 33 Wyclif’s disciple, John Hus, was tried as a heretic at the Council, condemned, and then burned at the stake. Don Tosti comments on the consequences of Wyclif’s teachings, “The prolific germ of so much ruin is in the Trialogue the principal book of Wyclif. In that work he introduces as disputing, Truth, the symbol of the good, Error, the symbol of the bad Theology, and Science, which is the figure of Wyclif himself. Here is the throne erected to individual reason , and the first to sit upon it is Wyclif, a place which he bequeathed later to Luther…” 34 To the rulers of Christendom, this “individual reason” “had secured an infallibility which could at once guarantee them against the important supervision of the Supreme Priesthood, and the impertinent inquiry of the people… This is why Luther found favor in the courts of Germany, because he generously made use of this reason towards the Princes;… The heresy of Luther first infected the princes, and afterwards the people.” 35
However, while ending the Great Western Schism and dealing effectively with the erroneous ideas of Wyclif and Hus, the Council of Constance sowed the seed of a more deadly manifestation of state intervention in the affairs of Church.
From the 3rd through the 5th sessions of the Council (that is, March 26 — April 5, 1415), an attempt was made to establish the authority of the Council in the declaration of 5 articles under the name of “The Articles of Constance”. Of these five articles, two hold primary consideration. Article 2 stated that “in all that pertains to faith, the extinction of the schism and reformation in head and members, every Christian, even the Pope, is bound to obey it [the Council]”; and Article 3: “that in case of refusal to obey the Council all recalcitrant Christians (even the Pope) are subject to ecclesiastical punishment and in case of necessity to other (civil) sanctions.” 36 In simple English, this was saying that the Council, independently of the pope, was the final depository of supreme ecclesiastical authority — the Council, not the Pope, was supreme in matters of faith and morals! This idea became known as “the Conciliar Heresy”. (Its origin is generally attributed to Peter d’Ailly, chancellor of the University of Paris, another Nominalist.)
For the Church’s side, Pope Martin V declared that there could be no appeal from a Pope to a Council, and Pope Pius II formally condemned this error in 1459. In the meantime, however, one Jean Le Charlier De Gerson, a bishop of France, and a student of D’Ailly, wrote extensively for the heresy, and his opinions were greatly received in France. Gerson once wrote that “the ‘Articles of Constance’ were dogmas and should be carved on the stone of all the churches.” 37
The “Articles of Constance” “eased the conscience of French kings as often as the Papal authority appeared to them importunate and excessive.” 38 “For them, the Council of Constance removed them from the immediate authority of the Pope, who could err and be summoned, as a party, before the Council.” 39
The Council of Florence and the Pragmatic Sanction
As a result of this kind of thinking on the part of the French and others as well, a decree known as Frequens, was promulgated in the 35th session of the Council, according to which an ecumenical council should be held every ten years or so. The council would become a permanent, indispensable institution — a kind of religious parliament meeting at regular intervals. The papal monarchy would be no more; it would give way to a constitutional oligarchy, the membership including the ambassadors of Catholic rulers! 40
Essentially, kings and princes were trying to rid themselves of papal interference. Of course the Pope would not go along with these decrees of the council, but he was unable (i.e. too weak) to do anything about it. So, for the moment the pope compromised and convoked a council at Pavia for 1423 and again in 1431 at Basle, Switzerland in accordance with this infamous decree. Martin V died in 1431, and Eugene IV became the next Pontiff. A dispute began to grow at Basle regarding the identity of who would run the Church — Pope or Council. At the first public session Eugene IV issued a Bull dissolving the council, but the council continued to meet. In its third session, the council commanded the pope to withdraw his Bull of dissolution and to appear at Basle within 3 months. Through a compromise, the pope withdrew all his manifestoes against the Council of Basle.
However, the compromise did the Pope little good, for the council had been taken over by the radical Cardinal Louis Allemand. Allemand, at the head of a revolutionary faction, deposed Eugene IV as a heretic and schismatic and proceeded to elect the Duke of Savoy as the next (anti-)pope Felix V. (Just prior to this deed, Eugene IV had dissolved the Council at Basle and had transferred it to Ferrara. Ferrara proceeded to declare all the future acts of Basle null and void. Later, Ferrara was transferred to Florence in 1439 whence the 17th Ecumenical Council of the Church derived its name.) The Western Schism was not yet dead!
In 1438, delegates of the Pope met with the French clergy to gather support for Eugene IV. Yet another compromise was made by the Pope wherein the clergy of France promised continued loyalty to the Pope at the cost of the Pope accepting many of the reforms reached at Basle with certain modifications. King Charles VII of France issued a decree called the Pragmatic Sanction in which he accepted this agreement between France and the Pope. The Sanction contained the following: 1) the Council was supreme in matters of faith and morals, 2) general councils would be held periodically, and 3) limits were placed on papal reservations and demands of tribute. “As the law was recorded in the French Parliament, the Parliament received the right of interfering in the internal affairs of the Church.” 41
The temporal sovereignty of the Pope had all but been taken away and now his spiritual authority was being tampered with by the very same nation that provoked the usurpation of the former— France, eldest daughter of the Church. Germany would follow France with its own version of the Pragmatic Sanction in 1439.
One of the positive aspects of the Council of Florence was the temporary union of the Greek churches with Rome. After much debate and discussion, the Greek delegation, consisting of 700 Greeks, the Byzantine Emperor, and the Patriarch of Constantinople, conceded on July 6, 1439, the existence of purgatory, that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son , and they also admitted the supremacy of the Pope. This recognition by the Greeks helped restore to Christendom a temporary rehabilitation of the fact that the Pope was the foremost ecclesiastical authority in the Church. The growing (Western) schism was averted and nine years later Felix V submitted to the true Pontiff.
Tragically for the Greeks who returned home after the Act of Reunion was signed, bitter reproaches and a determined opposition from the Byzantine clergy and people met them on their homecoming. And before official acceptance of the decree could be secured, Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, and the new patriarch, appointed by the Sultan, repudiated the agreement.
The Renaissance (1450— 1527)
The next step toward Reformation took place beginning in the middle of the 15th century with the advent of that social phenomena known as the Renaissance. Under the guise of a “blossoming” of classical learning and study, much of the Renaissance was nothing more than the revitalization of old pagan philosophies and culture to replace the dying Christian civilization and way of life of Europe.
After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, Greek scholars crowded into Italy, France, and Germany, bringing with them the treasures of classical literature and art, which they had rescued from the fallen city. The sudden spread of pagan Greek learning and culture, combined with debased pagan ideals masquerading as ‘humanism’ together with an unprecedented accession of wealth consequent upon the discovery of the New World and the opening up of the maritime routes to the Far East, tended to produce a great deterioration of morals, especially among the leisured and privileged classes. 42
Some of the aspects of the Renaissance that are worth noting can be divided into three categories — intellectual, political, and economic.
In the intellectual realm, Scholasticism was admittedly in a condition of decline, not so much because of an inherent weakness but because of a more highly advertised Nominalism. Humanism, or Humanist Rationalism, having its way paved by nominalism, and using the ancient classical philosophies at its basis, professed a getting-back to the “pure Gospel” of Christ. Catholic historian Newman Eberhardt observes, “Humanist Rationalism was a dangerous substitute for even the worst Scholasticism. Blind faith, some Humanists believed, absolved a scholar from all limitations upon freedom of thought: they called themselves Christian; after that they might speculate as they willed. Some assumed license to criticize anything in the church that failed to correspond to their internal faith, and many presumed that what did not explicitly agree with the Bible could not pertain to Catholic faith. For such, scholastic theology was but human opinion, so that some might suggest that papal and conciliar decrees ultimately rested on nothing more than scholastic theses.” The trends prevalent in the previous 200 years of Church history for them, “hinted at a papacy of merely human institution, a government susceptible to unrestrained criticism and to drastic correction like any other. Anticlericalism, moreover, was a deceptive bridge to antiecclesiasticism: men could castigate clerics without drawing the line at their conduct. Finally, so very much could be insinuated through tentative, academic, ‘as if’ propositions: for example, the Eucharist would be more reasonable if it were mere bread though that is contrary to tradition; sound reasons could advanced for divorce — were this not forbidden by the Gospel. But wait, perhaps it is not banned; perchance the ‘original text’ would contradict the ‘barbarous’ and corrupt Vulgate.” 43
Politically, Machiavellianism reared its ugly head as national monarchs and petty tyrants applied many of the teachings found in Il Principe . 44 State Absolutism was on the ascendancy; feudal armies were becoming obsolete and mercenaries were taking their place.
Economically, the Renaissance was simply a revival of greed. Canonical bans on usury became dead letters as capitalists came into their own. And, profit, not need, was becoming a prevailing dictum of distribution. 45 The Guild system, owing to the new spirit of the time, began to lose its religious character and began to decline in utility and influence. 46
Sadly for the Church, the Papacy was not free from the allurements that this “rebirth” offered. “Breathing the poisonous atmosphere of the Renaissance with its immoderate luxury and heathen vice, [the popes] scandalized Europe by their readiness to honor men whose conduct and writings were indescribably filthy. Powerful cardinals, each supported by a friendly state, fought for their own election to the Papacy… Nicholas V was at least incautious in his tolerance of paganism at the Vatican; Sixtus IV was certainly remiss; and the closing years of the [15th] century brought to the papal throne a man who recalled Pagan Rome’s darkest days, Alexander VI, so wicked ‘as to shock the public opinion of a profoundly corrupt age to a degree hitherto unexplained.’ (History of the Popes , Pastor, Vol. V, p. 522) Scandals accumulated until many persons believed that the devils were in possession of the principals parts of Rome.” 47
The Revolt would soon take place. We have seen its coming for some time now. The Church’s authority has been undermined by weakness and compromise on the part the Papacy; and a growing boldness of the secular state towards the Bride of Christ has manifested itself by kings and princes interfering with the Church’s work on Earth. Both have led to a great loss of faith among the peoples of Europe. So, we will witness the logical outcome of this undermining of faith and authority. However, just before the inevitable takes place, it seems as if God gives His churchmen (and the world) a last chance to correct the situation before letting the tragedy unfold.
Lateran Council V
This last chance came in the form of the 18th Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church— the Fifth Council of Lateran. Presided over by Pope Julius II from 1512 to 1513, and by Pope Leo X until its completion in 1517, the Council dealt with many important issues facing the Church. These were, in no particular order of importance: the calling of a Crusade to defend Europe against the Turks who were invading from the East (this call for a Crusade fell on deaf ears in Europe, mainly due to the in-fighting taking place amongst the Christian princes, and due to the way the rulers looked at the Papacy— as just another temporal principality); the placing of France under interdict for convoking a schismatical council at Pisa (the council was repudiated by its adherents, the French bishops, and they were later absolved); the condemnation of the “Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges” and a demand for its abolition in France; the call for reform in the Church— the forbidding of commendatory benefices, the punishment of blasphemous, incontinent, negligent, and simoniacal ecclesiastics, and the restriction of Church revenues for secular purposes. The Council sanctioned “Mountains of Piety”, a lending agency set up for the poor, its main reason was to offset the usurious banking practices growing in an age of mammonism; and the Council reiterated the doctrine that the Pope only has the right and authority to summon, prorogue, or dismiss a council.
The calls for reform remained dead letters as they were not enforced. Tragically, pluralism, commendatory benefices, and granting ecclesiastical dignities to children remained customary. As for the Pragmatic Sanction, Francis I, King of France, in a meeting with Pope Leo X abolished it, but at a high cost for the Church— the king was given the right of nomination to all sees, abbeys, and priories of France, the French clergy was taxed, and other concessions pertaining to ecclesiastical jurisdiction were given to the French ruler, thereby ensuring royal influence over the French Church. 48 From this point on, the French King had little temptation to revolt, “for he had received already all that King Henry VIII of England and other princes hoped to gain by [their rejection of the Papacy].” 49
The Revolt Begins in Germany
“The spiritual power of the Popes had gradually declined, and their authority had lost most of its influence. Germany had, in a public diet, declared itself independent of the Pope, and even the minor princes of Europe disregarded or despised the thunders of the Vatican.” 50 Essentially, this was the German attitude towards the Church at the beginning of the sixteenth century. For Emperor Maximilian, being true to the traditions of Germany since the days of Frederick Barbarossa, had laid the groundwork for Revolt in the Holy Roman Empire. An historian comments:
“We are bound to mention one determinative fact that marks the end of the operation of that process of development which we have been noting as the characteristic of the changes in medieval society and civilization: the establishing throughout the Empire, under Maximilian I, of Roman Law as the accepted legal standard… It had the effect of arresting and crystallizing a social structure that had been subject to repeated changes without revolution, in such a way that future changes were more likely to take radical and revolutionary forms.” 51
These radical and revolutionary changes were about to manifest themselves. All that was needed was a spark to start the fires of apostasy burning. The spark came in the form of the preaching of an Indulgence for the building of a Basilica in Rome dedicated to St. Peter. The princes of Germany became highly incensed.
“The rapacious princes of Germany who wished to rule supreme both in Church and State, were particularly sensitive to the subject of money going out of Germany to the Holy See, no matter how ancient the custom had been which authorized it, or how reasonable the motives for which it had originated.” 52
So they weren’t too upset when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, began an attack on the Indulgence and various evils he saw present in the Church. Maximilian, a declared enemy of the Pope, “far from opposing the first attacks of Luther against indulgences, was pleased with his spirit and acuteness, declares that he deserves protection, and treats his adversaries with contempt and ridicule.” 53 Maximilian will recommend Luther to his second in command— Frederick, Elector of Saxony— with these words: “there might come a time when he would be needed.” 54 “There was little seeming need for this recommendation, for Frederick was already [Luther’s] patron and protector, and he had already openly taken sides in his favor, by prohibiting [the Dominican Friar] Tetzel from preaching the indulgence within the boundaries of Saxony.” 55
On November 1, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Church door in Wittenburg, “appealing with much tact to the passions of the German people, and to their old-time prejudices against the Holy See on the subject of money.” The Revolt was on.
The next year Maximilian opened a diet in Augsburg with several of the German princes and leaders to complain about the sale of indulgences and other ecclesiastical disorders. Maximilian made use of this diet to “humble the Pontiff and compel him to retract some of his inordinate demands” 56 regarding the indulgence and the command by the Pope that Luther appear in Rome. Maximilian would not allow the Church to exercise her authority by requiring Luther to answer for his activities. And so Luther would continue to spread his heresy with impunity.
The German historian Menzel furnishes us the key to all of Luther’s movements and the reasons why they were favorably regarded by many of the princes of Germany. He states that Luther “cherished an almost biblical reverence for the anointed of the Lord, by whose aid he hoped to succeed in reforming the Church.” 57 Contrary to popular belief then, Luther was devoted to the doctrine of the divine right of kings, and consequently opposed to the modern ideas of popular freedom, of which he has been usually considered champion! 58 “Never was there a greater popular delusion than that which holds Luther was the advocate of popular liberty… [Luther] relied for success, not on the people, but on the strong arm of the princes; and the latter warmly seconded his views, which were so evidently to their own advantage.” 59
“The Reformation dwindled down into a mere affair of groveling avarice and of worldly ambition on the part of the princes; and Luther, the arch-reformer, the bold adversary of the Pope, and the vaunted champion of liberty, sinks down into the position of a mere crouching and subservient tool of rapacious and unprincipled men, who sought only their own interests, and who wished to lord it over their subjects with supreme power in Church and in State! In casting off the yoke of Rome, the German people had another riveted on their necks, which was infinitely more galling; and they have had to bear it ever since!” 60
Consequently, the Church lost all her property in those German districts that apostatized. “The wealth of the Church, which hitherto had been the patrimony of the poor; all the ecclesiastical institutions, including hospitals, schools, homes of refuge, etc. passed into the hands of the kings, princes, and the town magistrates.” 61 To see just how important a part greed and avarice played in the continuance of the Revolt in Germany, consider this. In 1530 and in 1535, two attempts were made by conciliatory Reformers and the Church for reconciling the Protestants to the Catholic Church. “The Catholic theologians insisted on two things: that the married priests should abandon their wives, and that the Protestant princes should restore the goods of the Church upon which they had seized. The former condition would probably have been complied with; but, as Erasmus remarks, ‘the Lutheran princes would not hear anything about restitution.’ (Erasmus Ep ., p.998)” 62 So the German revolt continued, not for “the purity of a doctrine, or the propagation of light, the triumph of a creed, or the improvement of morals, but for the profane and miserable interests of this world.” 63
The new organization of church administration set up in Germany at this time, and the part played by the princes, is described by Menzel:
The whole system of the church was simplified. The sequestered bishoprics were provisionally administered, and the affairs of the Lutheran church controlled by commissioners selected from among the reformers, and by the councils of the princes, Luther incessantly promulgating the doctrine of the right of temporal sovereigns to decide all ecclesiastical questions. His intention was the creation of a counterpoise to ecclesiastical authority, and he was probably far from imagining that religion might eventually be deprived of her dignity and liberty by temporal despotism. Episcopal authority passed entirely into the hands of the princes. 64
Liturgically, Luther preserved certain features of the Mass to avoid exciting opposition among the common people, but he gave private instructions to his ministers to change the intention of the words of consecration, henceforth pronounced merely by way of narration. Luther avowed, “If I succeed in doing away with the Mass, I have completely conquered the Pope.” 65
The new Lutheran services varied from district to district, but in most, the offertory was omitted, the canon said aloud, and the communion stressed as the most essential part. The prayers and vestments used depended on the locality. Since the nobles and burghers had appropriated most of the goods of the Church, the Lutheran ritual was necessarily drab. 66
From 1525, Protestantism emanated from Saxony to incorporate the districts of Hesse (in 1527), Nassau (1528), Prussia (1525), Brandenberg (1539), Brunswick (1545), Mecklenburg (1548), and parts of Wurtemberg in the south (1545). By Luther’s death in 1546, most of the north German states became Lutheran, and his teachings were being introduced into the otherwise Catholic south.
After 1530, this conglomeration of state churches had no official doctrine. The Augsburg Confession attempted to codify in 21 articles an official Lutheran creed. This, however, did not stop the numberless differences of opinion in doctrine that soon developed among the various rebel churches. Every new Protestant sect had its own ideas about what Christ taught. Fewer and fewer agreed with Luther as time went on, and by 1546, Luther had essentially become the last Lutheran! 67
Before going on to describe the Revolt in the rest of Europe, let us hear Luther himself comment on the moral results of his “glorious” reform: “Every thing is reversed, the world grows every day the worse for this teaching; and the misery of it is, that men are nowadays more covetous, more hard-hearted, more corrupt, more licentious, and more wicked, than of old under the Papacy… Our evangels are now sevenfold more wicked than they were before. In proportion as we hear the gospel, we steal, lie, cheat, gorge, swill, and commit every crime. If one devil has been driven out of us, seven worse ones have taken their place, to judge from the conduct of princes, lords, nobles, burgesses, and peasants, their utterly shameless acts, and their disregard of God and of his menaces… Under the Papacy, men were charitable and gave freely; but now, under the gospel all almsgiving is at an end, everyone fleeces his neighbor, and each seeks to have all for himself. And the longer the gospel is preached, the deeper do men sink in avarice, pride, and ostention.” 68
Elsewhere, Luther, in his volume Table Talk , tells us, “One thing no less astonishing than scandalous, is to see that, since the pure doctrine of the gospel has been brought to light (!) the world daily goes from bad to worse… The noblemen and the peasants have come to such a pitch, that they boast and proclaim without scruple, that they have only to let themselves be preached at; but that they would prefer being entirely disenthralled from the word of God: and that they would not give a farthing for all our sermons put together. And how are we to lay this to them as a crime, when they make no account of the world to come? They live as they believe: they are and continue to be swine: they live like swine and they die like real swine.” 69
The German Revolt spread its way south into Switzerland under the form of Zwinglianism (named after Ulric Zwingli, an apostate priest) in the 1520s. Zwinglianism was a more radical type of Protestantism than Luther’s in that Zwingli manifested a much more rationalist spirit verging on Pantheism: “Everything is in God, everything which exists is God, and nothing exists which is not God.” In addition, Zwingli was a great inconoclast. 70
In 1521 Zurich, the city council protected Zwingli from Church authorities and allowed him to preach his poison to the populace. By 1525, after the city council had given their official approval to Zwingli, all external signs of Catholicity were destroyed. The Mass had been replaced with a “purer form of worship — the altar disappeared, some plain tables, covered with the sacramental bread and wine, occupied their places, and a crowd of eager communicants was gathered around them.” 71
The Swiss revolution became more radical and was more thorough than the German. Like the German, however, “its progress was everywhere signalized by dissensions, civil commotions, rapine, violence, and bloodshed. And like the German, it was also indebted for its permanent establishment to the interposition of the civil authorities. Without this, neither revolution would have had either consistency or permanency.” 72
From Zurich, the poison spread to Berne where she far outstripped her preceptor in religious zeal and fanaticism, and Berne took the lead in all the subsequent religio-political affairs of the country. A Zwinglian council was held there in 1528 wherein ten articles of the new faith were adopted. Then the new faith was forced upon all the people of the Canton (Switzerland is made up of cantons or districts). The Mass was abolished, altars demolished, images burnt, priests were permitted to marry and the religious made to vacate their convents. This new religion, established by law, caused great violence, sacrilege, and robbery throughout the Bernese canton.
The old Catholic religion was tyrannically suppressed. To enforce the new religion, commissioners were sent from Berne to all the communities in the canton, with instructions to address the people, and to use every effort to induce them to embrace the new gospel. After they preached, the matter would be put to the popular vote. (Fourteen year old boys were allowed to participate!) If the majority went for the new religion, the minority were compelled to abandon the old religion, and the Mass was declared publicly abolished throughout the city. If on the other hand, the majority stayed with the old religion (as often was the case), the Protestant minority retained the freedom to publicly practice theirs. Even if a town voted unanimously to keep the practice of Catholicism, their priests were banished and Protestant preachers put in their place! All this was enforced by the civil authority. 73
Add to the tyranny of the Protestants, the note of hypocrisy: “The [tyranny] of the Protestant party was surpassed only by its utter inconsistency. The glorious privileges of private judgment, of liberty of conscience and of the press, were forever on their lips; and yet they recklessly trampled them all under their feet! Each one was to interpret the Bible for himself, and yet he who dared interpret it differently from their excellencies, the counsellors of Berne, was punished as an enemy of the government!” 74
In 1535, the Revolution made itself known in Geneva, chiefly through the intrigues of Berne. As a result, the Catholic churches were seized, after having been first sacrilegiously defaced and desecrated; the Catholic clergy were hunted down and forced to flee the city; nearly half of the populace was compelled to emigrate in order to secure to themselves peace and freedom of conscience, and after they left, their property was confiscated and they were disenfranchised in punishment for having dared to leave the city. By 1536, the Reformation was established in Geneva by the great council and enforced by the swords and bayonets of the army.
It was five years later that John Calvin (1509-1564), an apostate priest, entered the city and began consolidating the Calvinist system. This system absorbed Zwinglianism and realized an ideal of a community of predestined elites. Calvinism built upon the existing Lutheranism — justification by faith alone, the denial of sanctifying grace, the bible is the sole rule of faith. Add to this list Calvin’s absolute predestination — independent of a man’s actions, he is predestined to heaven or to hell. There is no free will.
Like Lutheranism, the Calvinist doctrine practically identified Church and State as one entity; however, unlike the Lutherans, the Calvinists advocated the Church’s dominance over the State, i.e. a theocracy, where one entity governed things both spiritual and temporal. Some historians mistakenly point out that this arrangement is what the Catholic Church teaches. They seem to forget that the Roman Church recognizes two distinct bodies endowed with authority, and not a single organization.
Interestingly, Calvin’s theocratic claims were based on “an intense individualism deriving from the certainty of election and the duty of the individual Christian to co-operate in realizing the divine purpose against a sinful and hostile world.” 75
Again, like Lutheranism, which ascribed a merely earthly, naturalistic value to earthly activity, Calvinism maintained the separation of Grace and Nature. Calvin, however, added powerful incentives to the observance of this naturalistic value and to the pursuit of wealth. “He taught that industrial energy and success in business were a proof of one’s election to salvation, a clear indication that the purely interior act of faith — confidence in Christ had been rightly performed, and that on the other hand, lack of eagerness for gain and ill-success were a proof of eternal damnation. Accordingly, political action and business dealings, instead of being [motivated by supernatural charity towards one neighbor, they] were left to the guidance of private judgment, that is, inevitably, to the promptings of self-interest. Thus, individualism in religion prepared the way for individualism and separatism in political and economic activity.” 76
In Geneva, John Calvin stamped out the last vestiges of Catholic sentiment, the city reverted to the Old Testament, patriarchal names were imposed in baptism, and the Saints names were eradicated from the Calendar leaving the days of the year blank. Only the Sabbath was observed in a spirit of Jewish legalism. 77
Calvin founded the Academy, later known as the University of Geneva, which became the new Holy Office for this “Protestant Rome”, the central seminary, missionary nucleus, and center of learning for the Calvinist movement in Europe. 78 The Academy served as a Mecca for Calvinism in other lands — the Huguenots in France, Dutch Reformed in Holland, Presbyterians in Scotland, and Puritans in England and New England.
The Scandanavian Revolution
The Reformation visited itself upon the Catholic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway soon after it first made its ill-effects known in Germany.
The strong-willed, unscrupulous ruler of Denmark, King Christian II, who was imbued with the same spirit that motivated his fellow “Catholic” princes, began an assault on the Church’s rights in 1519. Over the next four years he introduced five clerics into the primatial see, only one of whom received papal confirmation, and he promulgated new edicts regulating clerical property and subjecting episcopal jurisdiction on the crown. Along with his meddling into Church affairs, Christian II worked to realize his absolutist ideas in the realm of politics. This he attempted to accomplish by resolving to assert his royal supremacy throughout the Kalmar Union. (The countries of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark were all united under the domination of the Danes by this treaty.) He wanted also to destroy any power the nobles of his own country had. He failed in both endeavors, and thereby caused his expulsion from Denmark in 1523. A war in Sweden against the Kalmar Union was also an effect of Christian’s policies.
The nobles of Denmark placed Christian’s uncle, Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein, into power. Frederick was a secret Lutheran, and in violation of his coronation oath to support the Church and repress heresy, began the revolt against the Church in earnest. In 1526, he came out of the closet, so to speak, with his Lutheranism, and in the following year at the Diet of Odensee, enacted the infamous Ordinance of Odensee. The Ordinance 1) transferred confirmation of bishops from the Holy See to the crown, 2) permitted clerical marriage, 3) granted royal protection alike to Catholic and to Lutheran preachers, and 4) proclaimed complete freedom of conscience. 79 This law in effect, put the Danish church in schism. “When Frederick I died in 1533, there could be no doubt that the court was Lutheran, the bishops servile schismatics, and the vast majority of the populace Catholic.” 80
After Frederick’s death, the Catholic population rallied behind Count Christopher of Oldenburg, who was able to retain the throne for two years. However, the powerful nobles, with the help of the Swedes (Sweden had revolted by this time), captured Copenhagen, the seat of power in 1536 and placed Frederick’s Lutheran son Christian III on the throne. Under Christian III, Denmark lost its Catholicity. The king had all the bishops arrested on August 20, 1536. They were offered their freedom and a small pension on condition of resigning their sees and treasuries into royal keeping, and promising to offer no further resistance to religious change. All but one accepted these terms, Bishop Ronnoow of Roskilde. He would die in prison eight years later. 81
The next year, Christian III invited Martin Luther’s right hand man, John Bugenhagen, to supervise the establishment of the Lutheran system in Denmark. After this, priests who refused to introduce the new religion were deprived of their parishes. Since some of the clergy and laity continued to oppose the new religion, stricter laws were enforced in 1544 and 1546. All remaining ecclesiastical property was confiscated, all Catholic priests exiled under pain of death should they return, and all Catholic laymen deprived of the right to hold office or to transmit property to their heirs. We will see the same repressive measures enacted by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in England and Ireland.
For Norway, still under the dominance of Denmark through the Kalmar Union, it was only a matter of time before the populace became infected with Lutheranism. First, Denmark deprived Norway of her chief pastors by banishing and imprisoning them. By 1537, thus deprived of Church leaders, the Norwegians fell to the mercy of the Danish government; which immediately took active measures to force the new religion on them. Laws were passed by which all the clergy were compelled to embrace Lutheranism or flee the country. To their credit, many of the monks preferred exile to apostasy. 82
“Thus the Reformation, which everywhere had the promise of liberty upon its lips, cast a blight over the social, material, and political prospects of Norway, from the effects of which she has not been able to recover.” 83
Iceland, also under the domination of the Danes, was forced to embrace Lutheranism, only after a large contingent of Danish troops defeated the Catholic insurgents and killed the last Catholic bishop in 1550. The laws enacted in Denmark were enforced here and it would be over 300 years before a Catholic priest would receive permission to land in Iceland. 84
The history of the Revolt in Sweden does not present any great exception to the general laws which governed the movement elsewhere. As in England, the work of the Reformation was wholly and exclusively carried out by the crown. The man who carried it out was Gustavus Vasa. Vasa came to power as a result of leading the Swedes to victory in a war of independence with Denmark and dissolving the Kalmar Union. In 1523, he was crowned king of Sweden by popular acclaim. He took the name Gustavus I. Unfortunately for Sweden, Gustavus was an undeclared Lutheran. He passed himself off as a zealous Catholic and in the meantime conducted a secret campaign to introduce Lutheranism into Sweden. His instruments were two of Luther’s “master” disciples, the brothers Olaus and Lawrence Petersson. A Protestant historian supplies the details of the royal hypocrisy:
The dauntless Olaus Petri had presented himself at the diet held at Strangas in 1523, and sought to expose the errors of popery before the states. It caused much excitement, and reached the king’s ears, who called for Olaus and his patron, the venerable and learned Laurentius Andreae. They must now explain their sentiments before him, and it was impossible for him not to approve what agreed so well with his own convictions and advantage; but he did not explain himself openly yet for some time, fearing by gaining the name of a heretic to draw on himself the detestation of priests and people; he therefore appeared to take no part in these religious quarrels, but protected the new doctrines secretly, and, for their further dissemination, placed Lawrence as doctor of theology at Upsala, Olaus as preacher in the High Church of Stockholm, and Laurentius Andreae he nominated his own secretary. 85
Three years later in 1527, two bishops who held strictly to the Faith, Peter Sunnanwader and Magnus Knut, were executed as traitors by the king for rejecting the heresy spreading from the cathedral in Stockholm. (This was eight years before the martyrdoms of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher in England.)
The Church in Sweden was now well aware of Gustavus’ new religion and of his designs for the Church’s property. At the Diet of Westeraes, held in late in 1527, an act was passed by the crown that contained the following: 1) the superfluous riches and revenues of the bishops, the Churches, and convents should be applied to the use of the kingdom and the crown, and 2) the “pure” word of God should be preached in all churches of the kingdom. 86
In a separate determination called the Westeras Ordinantia , it was fixed that bishops, deans, etc., should be nominated by the king without the advice of the Pope, that the king depose unqualified clergymen, and that priests in worldly affairs should appear before temporal tribunals. 87
Consequently, the crown and the nobility pounced upon the riches and the property of the Church with great rapacity and avarice. The Church was despoiled and enslaved.
Two years later, the Diet of Odebro formally established a national church with a hierarchy subordinate to the crown and Lawrence Petersson was made archbishop of Upsala — primal see in Sweden. The diet called for the adoption of a vernacular liturgy and a married clergy (the people of Upsala were greatly startled and scandalized at seeing the new archbishop of Upsala escorting his wife into the city’s venerable cathedral!)
This year, 1529, was the year before the famous Diet of Augsburg in Germany was held. And, it would be 63 years before any doctrinal statements would appear from the new Swedish church.
In comparing Gustavus with Henry VIII of England, Archbishop Spalding stated, “Both [Henry and Gustavus] began their reigns well, as the idols of the people, and both ended them badly, as objects of popular detestation. Under both reigns, there was popular liberty at the beginning, and popular slavery at the end. Both made themselves supreme heads of the Church in their respective kingdoms by fraud and violence; and both, by and through this sacrilegious usurpation of spiritual sovereignty, succeeded in crushing the liberties of the people, and in establishing an unmitigated royal despotism.” 88
The English Schism
In England, the revolt against the Church hit very hard. Nowhere would Protestantism produce a greater disaster. This disaster was produced not so much by the spreading of false doctrines but from the crown forcibly tearing the church away from Rome. Another national church was brought into being and there was a tremendous toll taken in lives and property on the road to building the Anglican Church.
As we have seen elsewhere, the civil power’s encroachment into Church matters had reached such a point that much of the higher clergy of England became estranged from the Holy See and more subservient to the king. Also, general recognition of the Primacy of the Pope had waned in the minds of many — ruler and ruled alike. Under such circumstances, it was only a matter of time before the right person would appear on the scene and take advantage of the deteriorating situation. For England, that person was Henry Tudor — the Eighth of England.
“The whole merit or demerit of having caused the separation of England from the Catholic Church belongs fairly to Henry VIII. He was the real father of the English Reformation, which was peculiarly his own work, molded according to his royal will, and made to his own image and likeness. This fact is incontestable. But for him, there would have been no schism, and consequently no Reformation in England — at least not then.” 89
Henry VIII came to power in the year 1509, a full 8 years before Germany began the revolution. It took Henry very little time after that to sever England from the One True Church. After 1515, Henry became an absolutist in political matters, exacting a blind obedience from both nobles and clerics. 90 And in tune with the prevailing spirit of the times, Henry began harboring a defiant attitude towards the Holy Father as well.
The process of separation started when Henry attempted to divorce his wife of 17 years, Catherine of Aragon, on the pretext that their marriage was invalid due to an impediment of affinity. Catherine was the widow of Henry’s brother Arthur, who had died before the marriage was consummated. Pope Julius thereby granted a dispensation allowing Catherine to marry Henry. Henry called this dispensation into question, so the Pope, Clement VII, appointed a commission to look into the facts of the case. This happened in 1528. In 1529, a formal hearing was held by the commission in England. All but one of the Bishops of England who were present were in favor of the divorce. The lone dissenter was Bishop John Fisher of Rochester. Cardinal Wolsey, who made up one half of the two man commission, called for an immediate verdict in the case; however, Cardinal Campeggio, the Pope’s legate, adjourned the case to the autumn. Queen Catherine, seeing the blatant bias proceeding from the hearing, appealed to the Pope, so Pope Clement had no choice but to summon the case to Rome for a decision. The decision in this case was not made public until July 1533, 4 years later.
Before that time was up, however, Henry began taking steps towards separating his country from the Church. Thomas More, a layman, replaced Cardinal Wolsey as chancellor of England, a signal to many that anti-clerical activities on the part of the king would result. This proved to be correct. A “Reform Parliament” came into being in October, 1529 from which came forth legislation designed to restrict the Church’s freedom in England and place all her authority into the hands of one man — Henry VIII. Though the Parliament was not hand picked by Henry, it was quite complacent to his wishes. 91 The Parliament started out with some mild anti-clerical laws which addressed genuine ecclesiastical abuses that were decried by all. This legislation included the Probate Act, the Mortuaries Act, and a Pluralities Act, this last one denouncing the plurality of benefices, the nonresidence of benefices, and clerical worldly pursuits. These were just prefigurements of the real motives of Parliament because these last named statutes addressed abuses that Henry himself had previously condoned. After all, he had lavished several benefices on his clerical ministers, especially Cardinal Wolsey! 92
Next, came the revival of the Statute of Provisors nullifying papal appointments made without royal consent. The object of this law was obvious — Church authority could not cross national boundaries without Henry’s say so. Henry’s true intentions now became quite apparent. He proposed to the Bishops of England that to avoid any difficulties arising from the violation of this statute, such as taking an oath of obedience to the Holy See (these were customary vows made by candidates for high posts in the Church), that the Bishops and clergy of England go on the record to this effect: 1) “We recognize that His majesty is the special protector, the sole and supreme lord of the Church and clergy of England”, and 2) “the care of souls will be entrusted to His Majesty”. At the next convocation of clergy, these proposals were endorsed, but with a saving amendment added by Bishop John Fisher — “so far as the law of Christ allows”.
The pace of the English revolt quickened as Parliament, in January 1532, voted in the Mortmain Act which restricted clerical property rights and reduced papal annates. 93 Thomas More then resigned as chancellor foreseeing the hostile intent of the new legislation.
May 15, 1532 — the clergy of England subordinated the canonical courts to secular review, thereby ending any independent jurisdiction of the clerical estate. (This independence was the cause for which St. Thomas a Becket had been martyred in 1165.)
August, 1532 — Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Clement VII accepted his nomination as a final concession to avert Henry’s rebellion.
The next January Henry secretly exchanged vows of marriage with Anne Boleyn, who carried his child, Elizabeth.
March 30, 1533 — Cranmer took his Oath of Obedience to the Pope, but only after privately asserting that “although I swear this day to be obedient to the See of Rome, yet I shall swear but with my outward lips, and not with my inward heart and mind; neither do I intend to keep promise with the Pope that is absent…” 94 (This illustrates the utter hypocrisy evident in the character of one of the so-called great Reformers!)
April, 1533 — Henry’s Parliament passed an act restraining appeals to Rome — this is the revivification of the old Statute of Praemunire which had first appeared in the 14th Century by the rebellious English ruler — Edward III.
On May 23, Cranmer pronounced Henry’s marriage to Catherine null and void, and the king’s union with Anne Boleyn valid.
In July of the same year, Rome decided against Henry’s plea for annulment, declared his union with Anne illicit, and any possible children illegitimate. However, the Pope waited for the next year to publicly ratify this decision. It is speculated that he hoped Henry would not go through with the schism.
In repudiation of the Pope’s decision, Parliament then passed the Act of Succession in April 1534 which invalidated Henry’s marriage to Catherine and declared Elizabeth legitimate and heiress to the throne. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher refused to take an oath in conformance to this law, so they were imprisoned for high treason. (Thomas More had granted Parliament’s right to designate an heir to the throne, but he refused to accept Parliament’s authority in pronouncing on the validity of a marriage. This is certainly a far cry from what modern man allows the state in these matters!)
And finally, in November of 1534, Parliament sanctioned the Act of Supremacy: “Be it enacted by the authority of this present parliament that the king our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia ,” with the authority to “visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend” whatever “by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought to be reformed; …any usage, foreign law, foreign authority to the contrary notwithstanding.” 95 An accompanying oath of supremacy required subjects to “swear allegiance, fidelity, and obedience to His Majesty the King alone… and not to any foreign power.” 96
In January and February of 1535, Henry assumed his new title as supreme head of the church and the English hierarchy explicitly renounced the divine institution of the Papacy. The consummation of the schism was complete.
The oath of supremacy was enforced under the penalty of death. For refusing to take this oath, the Carthusian saints, John Houghton, Robert Lawrence, and Augustine Webster, along with the monk, St. Richard Reynolds, were put to death. St. John Fisher was martyred on June 22nd, and St. Thomas More on July 6th. Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry on April 30, 1535 and called for his deposition. However, no prince or king stepped forward to enforce the Bull.
So now, with all the legalities out of the way, Henry and company commenced what is known in history as the Great Plunder: from 1536 to 1540, the crown seized and suppressed 645 monasteries, 90 colleges, and 110 hospitals (the monastic property value alone represented 1/3 of the landed wealth of England at the time!).
As this property passed into the hands of Henry, it went out again as gifts to friends and supporters, and as bribes to potential enemies. Much of it was also squandered away by Henry on luxury. By Henry’s death in 1547, nearly 2/3 of the ill-gotten gain had left the crown and had been distributed among approximately 1600 supporters and fellow thieves, thereby creating a new landed gentry with a strong vested interest in continuing the Reformation. 97 This new plutocracy possessed enhanced economic power which enabled them first to control parliament and eventually to restrict the crown’s power. By the end of Elizabeth I’s reign in 1603, a new oligarchy was taking over the country. 98 The amount of Church property stolen totaled more than 2 million acres. 99
Some infamous individuals came into great fortunes and hence awesome power by the conclusion of the Great Plunder — William Cecil, Thomas Cromwell, John Dudley, and Edward Seymour, to name a few of them. These power brokers set the course for the future of Protestant England for hundreds of years to come.
Another result of the Great Plunder was that the vast majority of the 6500 monks and friars, and 1500 nuns were thrown upon their own resources. Besides this 8,000, another 92,000 monastery dependents — the aged, orphans, the sick were also thrown upon society. As a consequence, the first Poor Laws of England came into being to attempt to deal with the growing social problem.
As far as doctrine was concerned, Henry stamped out any novelty that appeared (except, of course, his own novelties regarding the primacy and infallibility of the Pope). 100 He kept the Mass intact — the belief in the Real Presence and Transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, and the seven sacraments. Only after his death in 1547 did the Lutheran and Calvinist innovations take over. These were brought by Edward VI’s reign, with the Duke of Somerset and Archbishop Cranmer injecting the poison into an already schismatic body. Cranmer’s first “Book of Common Prayer” appeared in 1548, and was imposed on the people in June 1549.
On January 31, 1550 Parliament voted in a new form of making and consecrating archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons. Called the Ordinal , it went through a shaky beginning, being revised in 1552; it was suppressed by the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, and finally re-adopted by Elizabeth I in 1559. It had the effect of invalidating subsequent Anglican orders, as it was deliberately designed to destroy any idea of a sacrificial priesthood. “In intention and until the 17th Century in form also, it was defective and incapable of perpetuating the apostolic succession of episcopacy and of holy orders.” 101
Cranmer then introduced a second “Book of Common Prayer” in 1550 which was more Zwinglian than Lutheran. All vestiges of the Mass disappeared along with any rites reminiscent of sacrifice. Tables replaced altars, and all vestments except the surplice were banned. All sacramentals were outlawed, and two sacraments were instituted — Baptism and the “Supper”, by an Act of Uniformity passed by Parliament in 1552.
To complete the new church, “42 Articles” appeared in June, 1553, which represented the official teaching of the now 18 year old Anglican church. These articles presented a fine balance between Lutheranism and Calvinism. 102
For Scotland, the Protestant revolt did not manifest itself until after the death of her strong Catholic leader, King James V. Up to that time, James successfully resisted all the efforts of his uncle Henry VIII to draw him over to the new religion. James, a loyal Catholic, was a zealous worker for the correction of ecclesiastical abuses in the Church, and a determined foe of heresy. 103
However, by 1535 there existed in Scotland two opposing camps — one side included many nobles, the queen mother — Margaret Tudor (Henry’s sister), and many religiously disaffected subjects of the realm who secretly supported Henry VIII’s schemes and the advancement of the new order; while on the other side was the king, the Church hierarchy, several Catholic nobles, and the great mass of Scottish Catholic people.
Among the loyal subjects of the King and the Church, was one David Beaton. Becoming Cardinal Primate of Scotland in 1538 by the authority of Pope Paul III, Beaton proved to be a valuable help to King James in withstanding the insane errors of the time.
In vain, Henry tried to shake James’ alliance with Beaton. Twice, Henry sent emissaries to James urging him to follow Henry’s example in usurping the supremacy of the Church in his dominions. After finding his intrigues frustrated and baffled by the King and the Cardinal, Henry had recourse to force. War broke out between England and Scotland in 1542, and King James died shortly after the Scottish forces were routed on the northern border of England.
The Earl of Arran, James Hamilton, was then declared regent of Scotland by some Scottish nobles who had sold their allegiances to Henry. The heir to the throne, Mary Queen of Scots, was only a week old when her father died, so Hamilton was authorized to rule in her minority.
Cardinal Beaton was then imprisoned by the new leader, who openly favored the new doctrines (Lutheranism at this time). Henry VIII formed a plan to have Hamilton arrange a marriage between Mary and Henry’s son, Edward VI. The Scottish people discovered the proposed alliance with England, and in protest, had Beaton released from prison, and forced Hamilton to renew his allegiance to the Pope.
With Cardinal Beaton now free to warn the country of the imminent danger from the south, Henry VIII openly encouraged a plot to remove Beaton from the scene. In 1546, Cardinal Beaton was martyred for his faith and country in the cathedral of St. Andrews by apostate nobles of the Leslie family. 104
Afterwards, civil war broke out in Scotland, and England launched an invasion in 1547. With the help of the French, Scotland was able to drive England from her lands in 1550. With the number of nobles in Henry’s camp growing, and the people being ruled by a foreign regent, Mary of Guise (Hamilton having been forced out), it was not long before the storm of revolution burst out over Scotland.
In 1555, the apostate priest, good friend and disciple of John Calvin — John Knox entered Scotland and preached against the ancient Faith in Edinburgh with impunity. Two years after that the “Lords of the Congregation” was formed by the Protestant nobles. This group was a quasi-military league set up to promote the English type of Protestantism in the territories ruled by these power hungry men. 105
In 1559, behind the instigation of Knox’s tirades against the Church, churches and monasteries began to be attacked and sacked. The next year, England (now ruled by Queen Elizabeth) invaded Scotland by both land and sea in support of the “Lords of the Congregation”. 106 Desecration and destruction of churches and abbeys continued to grow, and Mary of Guise, the queen regent died. Queen Mary of Scots, now old enough, took the reign of government from France.
In August, 1560, a Parliament was held in Scotland with the “Lords of the Congregation” in charge and John Knox present as the religious mentor. 107 This parliament had received no authority to meet by the new queen.
Knox proposed and Parliament accepted a Protestant “Confession of Faith”, substituting Calvinism for Catholic doctrine and discipline. Three statutes were then enacted: 1) Papal and episcopal jurisdiction were abolished, 2) all previous acts contrary to Calvinism were repealed, and 3) Mass was declared illegal under penalty of confiscation and imprisonment, and if need be, of exile and death. (Knox publicly declared that “one Mass was more fearful to him than 10,000 armed men.”) 108
The Book of Discipline and Book of Common Order embodying Knox’s views became the laws for the new religion, as established by Parliament. All the sacraments except baptism and a Calvinist “Supper” were declared abolished. The episcopal jurisdiction was replaced by a consistory of presbyters (hence Presbyterian church) assisted by elders and deacons. Ecclesiastical property was declared confiscated; and although Knox had decreed that the property should go to the new Presbyterian “Kirk”, the noblemen quietly enriched themselves with the booty. “As in England with the greed of a tyrannical king, so in Scotland the cupidity of a mercenary nobility, itching to possess themselves of the Church’s accumulated wealth, consummated a work which even Protestant historians have described as one of revolution rather than of reformation.” 109
Although Ireland never capitulated in the Protestant Revolt against Christ’s Church, a look at her suffering in this time period is worthwhile in order to illustrate the demonic hatred the revolutionists held for Catholics and the One True Faith.
When the revolt began in England, Ireland was a conquered country with English soldiers occupying the land. Therefore, Henry VIII was able to impose on a compliant Irish Parliament the Act of Supremacy in 1541. Immediately thereafter, a great desecration and destruction of the most venerable Catholic relics in Ireland took place. The shrines and tombs of Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Columbkille were desecrated and pillaged, and the sacred relics scattered to the winds. The English garrison at Athlone sacked and razed to the ground the Cathedral of Clonmacnoise.
Over the course of the next 200 years, all the monasteries and religious houses (some 550 in number) were pillaged and broken up in every part of the country; their lands were seized, and the churches and conventual buildings secularized or destroyed. The parochial and cathedral churches were also seized, and the buildings and revenues applied to the purposes of the heretical creed. “A religious persecution of unexampled ferocity was instituted which continued, with a few brief interruptions for more than two centuries. Priests and religious were banished or put to death, every public manifestation of the Catholic Faith was suppressed, shrines and religious emblems were destroyed or removed, Catholic holy days were secularized, the wearing in public of the religious dress was prohibited, the celebration of Mass even in private was made a criminal offense. Those who refused to conform to the heretical sect were harassed, impoverished, and degraded by a series of laws and a system of administration which have gained a unique notoriety in the history of the world. Writes the historian, Lecky: ‘The simple profession of the Catholic faith excluded a man from every form of political and municipal power; from all the learned professions except medicine, from almost every means of acquiring wealth, knowledge, dignity, or influence. It subjected him at the same time to unjust and oppressive taxation, depriving him of the right of bequeathing his property and managing his family as he pleased, enabled any Protestant who was at enmity with him to injure and annoy him in a hundred ways, and reduced him, in a word, to a condition little better than that of absolute serfdom.'” 110
“The fierceness and implacable cruelty which characterized the Tudor and Puritan conquests of Ireland during which about two-thirds of the population were cut off by famine and the sword; 111 and the oppression, robbery, and persecutions that followed borrowed much of their intensity from religious hatred and fanaticism.” 112
While the Revolt steam rolled its way through a great portion of Europe, there were those lands where Protestantism never gained a foothold — namely, Spain and Italy.
In Spain, the Church was strong and the state was run by powerful Catholic leaders — Charles V and Philip II. Through their efforts and through the workings of an effective Inquisition, the revolution never became a factor.
Likewise for Italy, the Roman Inquisition and the loyalty of the people to the Pope caused the Protestants to have very few inroads with which to stir men’s minds to revolution.
While this article will not concern itself with the Catholic Reformation, which took place soon after the Protestant one began, a few words may be stated about its causes and effects.
The Catholic Reformation can be considered as beginning in 1527 with the notorious Sack of Rome that occurred in late May of that year. It is generally acknowledged that Rome was punished by God for her laxness in morals, luxury, and great lack of resolve in correcting the various and sundry abuses which had grown over the years. Grown to such an extent, that is, so as to place a strangle hold on the primary mission of the Church.
Without going into great detail as to the cause of the Sack of Rome, suffice it to say that the Imperial army under Charles V, then occupying Italy due to wars with France and Italy, forced its way into the city of Rome looking for plunder. Lutheran and other anti-Catholic factions within the army “half-mad with a lust for gold and with hatred of the Catholic Church, swarmed over the walls of the city and commenced to slaying and burning. They sacked the sacred capital of Christendom with more cruel ruthlessness than anything history had ever recorded… Rome was utterly ruined.” 113 By the time it was over, thousands of people had been killed, altars and churches had been desecrated, sacred objects stolen, and the Pope made a prisoner. A brief reappearance of the Black Death ravaged those who had done the evil deeds.
So, from this chastisement of Rome and the imprisonment of Pope Clement VII for a time, the Catholic Reformation would commence. A reform minded pope, Paul III was elected in 1534, the same year that St. Ignatius of Loyola started the Society of Jesus. Eleven years later, at Trent, the Church’s most famous Ecumenical council began the long and arduous task of codifying the Catholic Faith and re-establishing a strong discipline in ecclesiastical affairs. 114 This reformation, a true one at that, would show the world that the Catholic Church was the divinely instituted Church of Christ.
However, as strong as the Church became when she emerged from the ashes of Reformation, she would never regain all that was lost in terms of prominence and influence in the world. Yes, she would continue stronger than ever in her efforts to convert pagans, Jews, heretics, schismatics, and infidels to the one true Church outside of which no salvation is found, but her influence over the minds and hearts of society would never attain its rightful place.
The Reformation accomplished two sad results, the one mortal, which was the separation of a large number of princes with their subjects from the Roman Church; and the other contagious, which was to chill more and more the devotion of all the other princes to the Papal See. The latter continued to adore Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; to believe in free will and Purgatory; they continued to say and show themselves, in all that did not offend their pride, loving children in Christ of the Pope; but, acting as not very affectionate children, they expelled him from their states, and they repelled the Church, forcing her to confine herself to the invisible sanctuary of her dogmas. They did not proclaim like Luther that the church was invisible; but they deprived her of her visibility, scarcely allowing her the sensible forms of her exterior worship. The Church is visible not only in the explicit confession of her dogmas, in the use of her sacraments, but also in that which is the essence of her visibility, subjection to the Pontiff, the Vicar of Jesus Christ. He presides over every Catholic man in the complement of his individuality, that is to say, in his reason. Now as the social life is the life of man, precisely because he is rational, the Vicar of Jesus Christ cannot rule every man without touching, with his authority, civil society in which there exists the complement of man. The princes expelled the Pope from this society, they confined him in the Church; and while they called themselves Catholic, and most Christian, political atheism dishonored the administration of their States. From political to religious atheism [would be] only a step… 115
Until the Civil Pontificate is re-established in the world; until the world once again recognizes the divine authority of the Vicar of Jesus Christ and submits itself to that authority, it will continue to stray like the prodigal son, destined to feed the swine of the reprobate. 116
33 “The Lollards”, F.F. Urquhart, The Catholic Encyclopedia , Vol. IX, p.334. The idea that the sinfulness of a minister affected the validity of the sacraments is borrowed from the Donatist heresy which afflicted the Church in the 4th Century. It is also noteworthy to add that this idea is with us today under the guise of “sedevacantism” albeit in a slightly different form.
100 As the Primacy of the Pope and Papal Infallibility were defined at Vatican I, Henry was not denying de fide definita teachings of the Church. However, in denying these doctrines, he did deny articles of Faith that were always universally believed – and can thus be called de fide catholica . Outside of this, Henry was very much against the new doctrines that were appearing in Europe at the time. Prior to his schism, the Pope had bestowed the title “Defender of the Faith” upon him for his work defending the Church and her teachings against the current heresies. Of course, none of this imputes any virtue to him, since he was guilty of a direct assault against the Mystical Body of Christ, it merely serves to clarify the historical point that Henry did not adopt the heresies of the other “reformers.”
114 We bring to the attention of the reader that the word codify means “to reduce to a code,” or to “put in systematic form, especially in writing.” Since the Catholic Faith is that same Faith which was entrusted by Jesus Christ to His Apostles, taught, in turn by them, and spread throughout the world by the Church, it goes without saying that what was done at Trent was the reduction on paper of certain dogmas that were always believed; neither the Council of Trent, nor any other ecumenical council could “invent,” “discover,” or “create,” doctrine. The phrase “codifying the Catholic Faith,” means the rendering of revelation into a specific language that condemned the peculiar heresy of the day (Protestantism).