Friday, July 09, 2004

His Holiness James White Pope Doll. Only $19.95! Now you can be infallible when reading Scripture too! Idea courtesy of Matt Janiszewski.

Early Protestant Hostility Towards Science (Revised and Expanded)

[I have incorporated some remarks I originally made in the comments, and removed a supposed remark by Calvin which could not be verified. Also, Luther's remarks will be in red, Calvin's in blue, and Philip Melanchthon's in green]

Accustomed as we are to hearing about the Catholic Church and Galileo, it isn't often realized or recognized that classical "Reformational" Protestantism, generally speaking, was out and out hostile to the burgeoning scientific discoveries and endeavors of its time. No thoughtful and honest Catholic denies that the Catholic Church, too, had a less than perfect record of positive regard for modern science in its infancy in the 16th and 17th centuries (most notably with the Galileo case - which Pope John Paul II has recently acknowledged). The point of this essay, however, is to show that Protestantism has often, if not always, been guilty of the same shortcomings for which the Catholic Church is constantly harangued. In other words, one should not notice the speck in another's eye while neglecting the "log" in one's own eye! It's high time to balance the "historical scales" a bit on this topic. With that intention, and no malice, the following historical information is offered for reflection:

Will Durant, the noted (non-Catholic) historian, summarized: "Luther rejected the Copernican astronomy . . . Calvin had little use for science; Knox none." (1)

Luther vs. Copernicus

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), a devout Catholic (one of his degrees was in Church canon law), originated the heliocentric theory in astronomy, in which the earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. This new theory in particular provides fascinating insight into Protestantism's view of science, since it arrived roughly simultaneously with the Protestant Revolution. Thomas Kuhn, in his important book, The Copernican Revolution, notes Luther's reaction to Copernicus:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon . . . This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy, but sacred Scripture tells us (Joshua 10:13) that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.(2)

Luther's Cohort Philip Melanchthon Rejects Copernicus, Accepts Astrology

Some think it a distinguished achievement to construct such a crazy thing as that Prussian astronomer who moves the earth and fixes the sun. Verily, wise rulers should tame the unrestraint of men's minds. (3)

Certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves . . . Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it . . . The earth can be nowhere if not in the centre of the universe. (4)

Meanwhile, Melanchthon (considered the father of German liberal arts education and one of the more "humanist" and rational-minded Reformers) thought superstition and astrology more worthwhile:

One of the most curious features of Melanchthon's character . . . was his morbid tendency to superstition. For example, at the time of the Diet of Augsburg he wrote that several prodigious portents seemed to favour the success of Lutheranism: the bursting of the Tiber's banks, the prolonged labour of a mule, the birth of a two-headed calf were all signs which suggested Rome's ruin. By contrast, when his daughter fell ill, Melanchthon was filled with terror by the unfavourable aspect of Mars. He never did anything without consulting astrologers. (5)

Melanchthon changed the date of Luther's birth to give him a more propitious horoscope, and begged him not to travel under a new moon. (6)

Calvin's Hostility to Copernicus and Science

There is not a single indication that the reformer was at all interested in the scientific discoveries . . . for example, the findings of Copernicus in 1530 . . . of which Calvin was still ignorant in 1560. (7)

Calvin's Academy of Geneva, which he founded in 1559, provided:

. . . a most thorough education . . . but not the natural sciences, "diabolica scientia," whose study Calvin regarded with fear as "imprudent curiosity and rashness." (8)

Calvin answered Copernicus with a line from Psalm 93:1: "The world also is stabilized, that it cannot be moved." (9)

Examples of Catholic Acceptance & Protestant Dismissal, of Science

Protestant leaders like Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon led in citing Scripture against Copernicus and in urging the repression of Copernicans . . . Protestants . . . provided the first effective institutionalized opposition . . . For sixty years after Copernicus' death there was little Catholic counterpart for the Protestant opposition to Copernicanism . . . The Church itself was silent . . . Copernicus himself had been a cleric and a reputable one . . . His book was dedicated to the Pope (10), and among the friends who urged him to publish it were a Catholic bishop and a Cardinal. During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries the Church had not imposed cosmological conformity on its members . . .

Before the De Revolutionibus the Church had spawned even more revolutionary cosmological concepts without theological convulsions. In the fifteenth century the eminent cardinal and papal legate Nicholas of Cusa had propounded a radical Neoplatonic cosmology . . . Though he portrayed the earth as a moving star, like the sun and the other stars, and though his works were widely read and had great influence, he was not condemned or even criticized by his Church. (11)

A young Lutheran scholar, Rheticus, left his chair of mathematics at Wittenberg . . . to work with Copernicus . . . A summary of Copernicus' findings was released and it met with tremendous hostility from Protestant theologians; there was no such general hostility from Catholics. Rheticus was barred from returning to his post at Wittenberg. At the insistence of Clement VII (12), the material was expanded into the great work of Copernicus' career, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres . . . . Copernicus' work on the heliocentric theory would not have been completed had not Churchmen urged him on. (13)

Johann Kepler (1571-1630), a German Protestant astronomer, was, in 1607, prevented from printing an article on comets by the Saxon theologians (14). Perhaps this type of antipathy to science was one reason why Kepler, two years earlier, "praised 'the wisdom and prudence of the Roman Church' for its public encouragement of scientific research." (15)

The Encyclopedia Britannnica reiterates the above:

Lectures on the principles [of the Heliocentric theory] . . . were given [by Copernicus] in Rome in 1533 before Pope Clement VII, who approved, and a formal request to publish was made to Copernicus in 1536 . . . His pupil and disciple Georg Joachim Rhaticus . . . was permitted [in 1540] to take the completed manuscript to Nurnberg, Germany, for printing. Because of opposition from Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and other reformers, Rhaticus left Nurnberg and went to Leipzig . . . (16)

Andrew D. White, in a massively-researched two-volume work on the relationship of science and Christianity (17), makes several shocking observations with regard to the outlook of Protestantism in this respect:

Eminent authorities . . . like Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and Vincent of Beauvais, felt obliged to accept the doctrine of the earth's sphericity, and as we approach the modern period we find its truth acknowledged by the vast majority of thinking men. The Reformation did not at first yield fully to this better theory . . . Even Zwingli . . . held to the opinion . . . that a great firmament, or floor, separated the heavens from the earth; that above it were the waters and angels, and below it the earth and man . . .

[the author also states that Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon rejected the sphericity of the earth]

All branches of the Protestant Church - Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican - vied with each other in denouncing the Copernican doctrine as contrary to Scripture; and, at a later period, the Puritans showed the same tendency . . . Turretin, Calvin's famous successor, even after Kepler and Newton had virtually completed the theory of Copernicus and Galileo, put forth his compendium of theology, in which he proved, from a multitude of scriptural texts, that the heavens, sun, and moon move about the earth, which stands still in the centre. In England we see similar theological efforts, even after they had become evidently futile . . . Dr. John Owen [1616-83], so famous in the annals of Puritanism, declared the Copernican system a "delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture"; and even John Wesley [who also - like Melanchthon - indulged in superstition] declared the new ideas to "tend toward infidelity" . . . The people of Nuremburg, a Protestant stronghold, caused a medal to be struck with inscriptions ridiculing the philosopher with his theory . . .

John Owen declared that Newton's discoveries were "built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture" . . . John Wesley . . . while giving up the Ptolemaic theory and accepting in a general way the Copernican, . . . suspect[ed] the demonstrations of Newton . . . In Germany even Leibnitz [Lutheran philosopher, 1646-1716] attacked the Newtonian theory of gravitation on theological grounds . . . In Germany, especially in the Protestant part of it, the war was even more bitter, and it lasted through the first half of the eighteenth century. Eminent Lutheran doctors of divinity flooded the country with treatises to prove that the Copernican theory could not be reconciled with Scripture. In the theological seminaries and in many of the universities where clerical influence was strong they seemed to sweep all before them . . .

Luther . . . in one of his Advent sermons . . . said, "The heathen write that the comet may arise from natural causes, but God creates not one that does not foretoken a sure calamity." Again he said, "Whatever moves in the heaven in an unusual way is certainly a sign of God's wrath." And sometimes, . . . he declared them works of the devil, and declaimed against them as "harlot stars." Melanchthon, too, in various letters refers to comets as heralds of Heaven's wrath, classing them, with evil conjunctions of the planets and abortive births, amongst the "signs" referred to in Scripture. Zwingli, boldest of the greater Reformers in shaking off traditional beliefs, could not shake off this, and insisted that the comet of 1531 betokened calamity . . .

In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astronomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers' Seminary. No attack on the whole system of astronomy could be more bitter . . .: "The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed" . . . The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times . . .

Nothing is more unjust than to cast especial blame for all this resistance to science upon the Roman Church. The Protestant Church . . . has been more blameworthy . . . The direct influence of the Reformation was at first unfavourable to scientific progress . . . There is much reason to believe that the fetters upon scientific thought were closer under the strict interpretation of Scripture by the early Protestants than they had been under the older Church.

Non-Catholics Whitehead and Harnack Praise Catholic Scientific Thought

Professor Whitehead . . . insists that the Middle Ages "formed one long training of the intellect of Europe in the sense of order." It was the medieval theologians, he tells us, who were responsible for "the faith in the possibility of science." . . . Harnack (18), the Liberal Protestant, was no friend of Catholicism, and yet Harnack writes:

Scholasticism is simply nothing else but scientific thought . . . The science of the Middle Ages gives practical proof of eagerness in thinking and exhibits an energy in subjecting all that is real and valuable to thought to which we can perhaps find no parallel in any other age. (19)

Additional Material

Steve Jackson, a Lutheran (LCMS) wrote:

I don't think most experts consider Will Durant to be a particularly serious historian & many have questioned his use of sources. Also, A.D. White was anti-Christian and his book was used by, among others, [Bertrand] Russell in his inaccurate history of philosophy . . . Here is a more balanced discussion of the Luther, Calvin & Copernicus issue.

Interesting article. Thanks, Steve. Here is a portion:

. . . 1971, when a French scholar noticed that in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, Calvin denounced those "who will say that the sun does not move and that it is the earth that shifts and turns." Here, however, Calvin neither mentioned Copernicus by name, nor did he invoke any Scripture against heliocentrism itself.

I see; so Calvin denounces heliocentrism and the rotation and movement of the earth and speaks out of ignorance, but he gets off the hook to some extent, according to this guy and Christianity Today, because he didn't use Scripture to support his ignorance and failed to mention Copernicus.

But the latter might be explained by Copernican scholar Edward Rosen, who — so the article informs us —, "concluded that Calvin had never heard of Copernicus, let alone critiqued him."

This is highly impressive, too. Calvin had never heard of Copernicus? Doesn't that establish almost beyond doubt that he had a less-than-adequate knowledge of science (and might correctly be deemed to be opposed to science?)? Yet he deigns (in his usual self-appointed dogmatism) to denounce those who do . . . I find all this highly instructive and more evidence of my overall thesis, so I heartily thank Steve for the additional information.

One must see Calvin's wider remarks about heliocentrists, to get the full effect (the CT article conveniently clipped out much of this). Calvin maintained that those who assert that "the earth moves and turns" . . . [are] motivated by "a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;" possessed by the devil, they aimed "to pervert the order of nature."

(See: Sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma; Oxford Univ. Press, 1988; A. 72)

Fortunately, this major (Protestant) biography of Calvin didn't try to hide (or inadvertently overlook) any of these highly embarrassing facts. Calvin, typically, cannot stop with mere disagreement; he has to pontificate on the motivations of such wicked people (heliocentrists) and imply that the devil is behind all such idle speculation. Of course, it is not unusual at all for the "Reformers" to dogmatize about that which they know little or nothing about.

In his Dedicatory to his commentary on Genesis, Calvin writes:

We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the center.

The translator's footnote 30 for this passage informs us:

The erroneous system of natural philosophy which had prevailed for ages was but just giving way to sounder views, at the time when Calvin wrote. Copernicus, in the close of the preceding century, had begun to suspect the current opinions on the subject; but the fear of being misunderstood and ridiculed caused him to withhold for some time the discoveries he was making; and it was not till 1543, a few hours before his death, that he himself saw a copy of his own published work. Up to that period, the earth had been regarded as the center of the system, and the whole heavens were supposed to revolve around it.

Calvin wrote his commentary here in 1554.

In his commentary on Genesis 8:22, he states:

. . . Peter speaks of the old world as having perished in the deluge, [2 Peter 3:6.] Moreover, the deluge had been an interruption of the order of nature. For the revolutions of the sun and moon had ceased . . .

Calvin is even more explicit elsewhere:

The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion — no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wandering, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God's hand? By what means could it [i.e., the earth] maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it? Accordingly the particle, aph, denoting emphasis, is introduced — YEA, he hath established it.

(Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Psalm 93, verse 1, translated by James Anderson; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, Vol. 4, p. 7)

The case of Martin Luther is (also as usual) more fun and humorous than that of Calvin. In the Internet article, "Luther and Science," by Donald H. Kobe, a professor of physics (See: http://www.phys.u…), the author utilizing astonishing obscurantism, in trying to minimize the embarrassment by Luther's remarks about Copernicus and astronomy. First he provides background to one of the notorious Luther statements:

The famous (or infamous) remark of Luther was made in 1539. In the spring of that year, Georg Joachim Rheticus, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wittenberg, was granted a leave to visit Nicolaus Copernicus in Frauenberg, Poland to learn more about his new theory that the earth and planets revolve about the sun. At that time not very much was known about the new theory, except from hearsay. The purpose of Rheticus’s trip must have prompted discussion among the faculty and students of Wittenberg, especially in Luther's home.

Anthony Lauterbach, who dined with the Luthers, quotes the conversation pertaining to Copernicus as follows:

There was mention of a certain astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked] "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12]."

To put this remark in perspective, it was made four years before the publication of Copernicus's book On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Thus, if Luther is to be excused because of the earliness of the date of his silly remark, what of Calvin, who spoke his nonsense in 1554, eleven years after the publication of Copernicus' work?

Kobe then attempts to minimize Luther's name-calling:

Even if Luther had called Copernicus, who was not mentioned by name, a fool, that would have been a rather mild epithet coming from Luther.

One can only smile at that! He also contradicts himself, giving two disparate accounts of how Luther views on astrology relative to astronomy. First:

Luther accepted astronomy as a science, but rejected astrology as a superstition because it cannot be confirmed by demonstration. Astrology, according to Luther, is idolatry and violates the first commandment. He was both amused and distressed by Melanchthon's interest in astrology, a belief system that was widely accepted at the time.

But then in his interpretation of the Luther utterance above, he writes:

The use of the word "astrologer" in the introductory remarks should not necessarily be interpreted as disparaging, since at that time the terms "astrologer" and "astronomer" were often used more or less synonymously.

So Luther thinks astrology is idolatry, superstition, and a violation of the first commandment, yet when he applies it to heliocentrists (particularly, by strong implication, Copernicus), it is likely merely a synonym for astronomy. I submit that this is an incoherent and implausible explanation.

This is classic Protestant polemical sophistry (I dealt with a lot of that in the area of biblical commentary and exegesis, in my latest book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, to be released later this month by Sophia Institute Press). Protestants too often do the same with regard to unfortunate events in their own history. But despite the obfuscation and spin present, the author commendably admits outright:

Luther saw that Copernicus's view was indeed a revolutionary one. He could not accept it because it was contrary to his common sense and his interpretation of the Bible.

Philip Melanchthon, Luther's associate and successor, was equally hostile to Copernicus:

It is true that in the first edition of his Elements of Physics published in 1549, Melanchthon wrote [43]

But some dare say, either because of the love of novelties or in order to appear ingenious, that the earth moves, and contend that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun moves while they assign other movement to the celestial spheres and place the earth among the stars. The joke is not new. There is a book by Archimedes … in which he reports that Aristarchus of Samos defended this paradox, that the sun remains fixed and the earth turns around the sun. And although clever workers investigate many questions to give expression to their ingenuity, the young should know it is not decent to defend such absurd opinions publicly, nor is it honest or a good example.

This passage was most likely first written in 1545. After the publication of his book, Melanchthon had ameliorated his views on Copernicus. Thus in the 1550 edition, he omitted such phrases as "the love of novelties" and "the joke is not new," and showed a more favorable attitude towards heliocentrism as a mathematical hypothesis [44].

Notes for Kobe article:

43] Quoted by Moran, loc. cit.[Bruce T. Moran, "The Universe of Philip Melanchthon: Criticism and Use of the Copernican Theory," Comitatus 4 (1973): 1-23], pp. 13-14.
[44] Moran, loc. cit., p. 14.

So Melanchthon must be understood and we must have compassion on his fathomless imbecility on this issue because, well, he removed his gratuitous phrases of "love of novelties" and "joke" in later editions. This coming from a man enthralled with astrology!: something even Luther could readily see the folly and wickedness of; and from one considered one of the more enlightened and humanistic of the "Reformers."


1. Durant, Will, The Reformation, (vol.6 of 10-vol. The Story of Civilization, 1967), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 849.
2. Kuhn, Thomas, The Copernican Revolution, New York: Vintage Books, 1959, l91 / Luther quote from Table Talk (ed. William Hazlitt, London, 1884), 69 (June 4, 1539).
3. In Kesten, Hermann, Copernicus and His World, New York: 1945, 309 / Letter of October 16, 1541. From Durant, ibid., 859.
4. Kuhn, ibid., l91 / Melanchthon quote from Initia Doctrinae Physicae, (Elements of Physics), 1549.
5. Daniel-Rops, Henri, The Protestant Reformation, vol. 2, tr. Audrey Butler, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1961, 315.
6. Durant, ibid., 851.
7. Daniel-Rops, ibid., 163.
8. Ibid., 199.
9. Durant, ibid., 858.
10. Pope Paul III (1534-49), who urged him to publish his new findings, and accepted the dedication.
11. Kuhn, ibid., l96-197.
12. Pope Clement VII reigned from 1523 to 1534.
13. Wheeler, Mark, "Nicolaus Copernicus," This Rock, January, 1991, 20-21.
14. Janssen, Johannes, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., tr. A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891), vol. 14, 506-507.
15. Conway, Bertrand L., The Question Box, New York: All Saints Press, rev. ed., 1962, 223.
16. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985 ed., vol. 16, 815.
17. White, Andrew D., A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, New York: George Brazilier, 1955 (orig. 1895), vol. I: 97, 126-128, 148-149, 155, 182, 150-151, 168, 212.
18. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a philosopher and Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) a theologian and Church historian.
19. Lunn, Arnold, Now I See, London: Sheed & Ward, 1944, 127.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Response to an Orthodox Critic Concerning My Supposed Ignorance of Orthodoxy & Illegitimate Apologetic Methodology

For background see a thread and subsequent discussion on Pontificator's blog (where I first posted this). Perry Robinson's words will be in blue; the words of Christopher Jones (a former Orthodox who is now a Lutheran) will be in red.

Note: I had to slightly modify some remarks since both Perry and I thought Christopher was Orthodox at first.

* * * * *

Hi Perry,

Note that I apologized for the word “fudge.” There is such a thing as graciously accepting an apology. Secondly, you interpreted that as me calling you a liar, but that was neither my intention nor the necessary definition of the term. In my dictionary, the first definition is “empty, foolish talk; nonsense.” Another given is “to make or put together dishonestly or carelessly; fake.” Even part of that one is not necessarily an accusation of dishonesty or “lying.” A third definition given is “to refuse to commit oneself or give a direct answer; hedge.” This was what I had in mind. You can either believe that or not, but it was my intention. And I have apologized for it (not that I think much of the comment you made which brought out my observation).

I noted that the way you seem to treat Orthodox theology and Orthodox people speaks of something else other than admiration.

I carefully noted what it is I dislike. If that is not enough for you, I can’t do anything else. Your attitude towards Catholicism is far more hostile than mine “against” Orthodoxy (as I will demonstrate below with your own words), so this is a bit silly coming from you.

Sure you may be sincere, but just not consistent.

Good. Likewise with you.

My point was that you had encountered popular views expressed by Orthodox but it doesn’t follow that those views are Orthodox views.

Of course not. But on the other hand, if a certain attitude is widespread (at least on the Internet, which – granted – does not represent the whole at all), then at some point it seems to me that one is entitled to draw some causal inferences from that. Many Calvinists, e.g., are anti-Catholic, whereas the majority of Protestants are not. So it is fair to ask why this is; to delve into Calvinist thought, theology, and history to determine why the anti-Catholic motif has become so prominent. Likewise with Orthodox. And indeed we find that many converts to Orthodoxy from anti-Catholic Protestantism bring this prejudice right along with them.

Hence you are wrong to impute them to Orthodoxy.

In the sense I have just described above, it is perfectly proper, I think, but I agree that generalization is always a tricky business.

Just like someone going off of what the nonsense that most Catholics spew.

We all have our liberals, don’t we (and our “traditionalists")? I oppose both poles, and am interested in orthodoxy within each tradition, not distortions of and dissent from same.

I generally have a good grasp of Roman theology and most Catholics I know, though there are plenty who do, wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the rear.

I agree. Don’t you think I am well aware of that, as a Catholic apologist?

If its not legit for prots to generalize about Catholics from hearsay, why is it legit for you to do so about Orthodox?

It isn’t; I agree, but I vigorously deny that this is what I have been doing. More on this below, as I reply to Christopher.

I didn’t accuse you of ethno-racism. I noted that that is what you had come into contact with and that if you spent some time and effort you would see that there is a lot more to Orthodoxy than that nonsense.

Fair enough. Thank you. I’m still looking. To be fair to the Orthodox, I should state that I am disgusted with the state of Internet discussion generally-speaking. I tried for some seven years looking for a decent forum and finally gave up. I have become just as disgusted with Catholic forums (both the liberals and “traditionalists") as with Protestant ones, or the Orthodox correspondents I have met. So I think a lot of it has to do with the medium itself. I have found, to my delight, that the blog community offers a substantially higher level of discourse and thought (this very blog is a prime example).

That said, I still have had plenty of negative encounters with Orthodox. I could name several who are not ignoramuses: they are quite well-educated and versed in Orthodoxy and Orthodox folks here would likely recognize their names. But I won’t do that because it would only cause more controversy. In any event, it is not the case that I have talked to ignorant fringe wackos and draw my conclusions from that. Unless those who are in ROCOR are placed in that undesirable category.

Now onto Christoper Jones’ remarks:

It’s not “defensive” to respond to an ad-hominem attack.

I deny that it was. As far as I am concerned, I was sticking to the ideas that Perry expressed. But I could see how it might be considered borderline.

To be “defensive” is to respond as if one had been attacked when there has been no attack; to defend oneself from actual attack is not defensive.

Again, one has to look at my actual argument. I would characterize it as an intellectual disdain, not a personal one.

Your original attack on Perry - not just the word “fudge,” but the whole thing, with its elaborate and eloquent attribution of views which Perry did not express, and its guilt-by-association with all the other Orthodox on the internet with whom you have disagreed “a million times before” - was inexcusable. And you continue to write as if the issue were the attitude, rather than the ideas, of the Orthodox.

I don’t think the prevalence of such attitudes can be quite so easily dismissed. Several commenters here (including Pontificator in his initial post, which cited an Orthodox person) have noted the same general tendency of anti-westernism among the Orthodox. There is something to this. I may have expressed myself in a dumb and/or offensive way. That is my own fault and responsibility. But it doesn’t follow from that, that the general problem here noted by several does not exist.

I recommend that you participate in these discussions when you are prepared to engage the ideas of Orthodoxy with respect, when you have read and understood some of the works of serious Orthodox theologians like Lossky, Ware, Farrell, Meyendorff, Zizioulas, and Khomiakhov.

Okay; now here is where you speak out of ignorance, because you don’t know what I have read or studied, or who I have talked to in my now eight years of almost-constant Internet dialogue. Perry asked the same thing on my blog. I answered, but it wasn’t good enough for him. Perhaps it is for you. Here is that exchange:
Since you are writing a book on Orthodoxy, what works from Orthodox writers have you consulted or plan to consult?

The book will be like most of mine: strictly laymen’s apologetics: trying to help people work through the issues of comparing and contrasting the two communions. In this case, it will often be based on many many dialogues I had with Orthodox. As for citing folks, I used Kallistos Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church, a lot; also I have read and/or cited / compiled information from books such as, e.g.:

Peter E. Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox
Stanley S. Harakas, The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers
Alexander Schmemann, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy
John Meyendorff, editor, The Primacy of Peter

I also utilize material from Fr. Seraphim Rose (several books in my library, and Frank Schaeffer’s The Christian Activist magazine.

I have heard Fr. Thomas Hopko, Franky Schaeffer, and Fr. Gillquist speak, and have had an Orthodox priest in my house for one of my ecumenical discussion groups. I also cite many Eastern fathers.
Now, you see that I read and utilize at least two of the books by people you recommended: Ware and Meyendorff.
Well I don’t take those works to be much use, except for Meyendorff and Schmemman’s and those are of somewhat limited value.
So Perry thinks Kallistos Ware is not “much use” and Meyendorff and Schmemann “somewhat limited.” Thus even you and he (in criticizing my knowledge of Orthodoxy) cannot agree as to what sources I should read in my studies. You call them “serious Orthodox theologians” but Perry thinks they are of little use and he described these elsewhere as merely “popular” works. So how can I decide even who to read in order to get a good grasp of Orthodoxy? And of course, this has long been a frustration in my dealings with Orthodox themselves.

Daniel Jones then asked Perry: “When do you believe Rome lost her orders, and for what doctrinal basis did she lose them?” Perry replied: “Basically false doctrine and cutting herself off from the Church.”

Gee whiz. That really sounds like Perry admires Catholicism more than I admire Orthodoxy, doesn’t it? I would never in a million years say such a thing about the Orthodox. Perry continued, having rejected my list of books about Orthodoxy:
I think the approach you are taking is as reliable as taking what your average Catholic thinks of Catholicism as representative of Catholicism. Hardly profitable or representative of Catholicism. This is why it is better to consult standard works, representative texts and authoritative declarations. To the extent that you rely on the God-knows-what opinions and views expressed by God-knows-who and on God-knows-what basis on the Internet the book strikes me as worthless to furthering dialog or actually engaging Orthodoxy. You won’t be engaging Orthodoxy.

If you take your book to be a corrective of false views that certain Orthodox people popularly express, the best way to do that is to get at what Orthodoxy actually teaches and not looking at what is popularly expressed by whatever loud mouth happens to cross your path.
Again, now we are back to determining what one should read to understand Orthodoxy. Christopher Jones (though a former Orthodox, so his opinion may not count for much in their eyes) likes Ware and Meyendorff. Perry Robinson does not. Now how does an outsider Catholic like myself choose between the two, and on what basis? But whatever Perry thinks of these various Orthodox (or reputed Orthodox) writers, it is not the case that my information and opinion on Orthodoxy is based solely on dealing with loose cannons on the Internet who know little about that which they speak.

Both of you are dead wrong about that, and quite presumptuous to make these charges when you clearly do not know what you are talking about in my case.

Later Perry condescended:
It might help to first figure out what other people actually believe before constructing arguments against their positions. I suppose though just limiting yourself to popular works will lend itself to those kinds of mistakes.
And so on and so forth . . .

Cardinal Ratzinger on Pro-Abortion "Catholic" Politicians Receiving Holy Communion

[Note by my friend Jared Olar, who sent me this]

Here is the note sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to the U.S. bishops to make
sure what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had to say about
pro-abortion politicians and Communion would agree with the doctrine and
canon law of the Church. Compare his observations to the recent
statement of the USCCB:

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles

by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious
decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one's worthiness to do
so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions
as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of
grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict)
that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by
fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately
presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The
Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions
or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states
that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by
conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust
law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore
never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propoganda campaign in
favour of such a law or vote for it'" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave
obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which,
even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.
Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate
formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by
invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact
that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and
euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy
Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to
wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present
himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil
authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy
in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take
up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.
There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about
waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to
abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individuals' judgment about his worthiness to present
himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may
find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy
Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a
declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin
(cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's
formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a
Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for
permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with
him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he
is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end
the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be
denied the Eucharist.

6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in
which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate
persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the
minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical
Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced,
Civilly Remarried Catholics" [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly
speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy
Communion passing judgment on the person's subjective guilt, but rather
is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion
due to an objective situation of sin.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Discussion With a Reformed Protestant (Catholic) on Art, Early Protestantism, & Catholic Corruption (w/ Kevin Johnson)

Kevin replied to my post, Calvin, Calvinism, and Violent Iconoclasm, which was a follow-up of the related paper, The Early Protestant Attitude Towards Art & Strong Iconoclastic Tendency. His blog post was entitled, A Response to Dave Armstrong on Art during the Reformation. I reply to almost all of it below. Kevin's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for an (as always) amiable and well-stated expression of your perspective. Your reply gets into broad, general areas that require long discussions in and of themselves, but I will respond to the things that are a bit more specific.

Before I counter-reply, let me note for readers (since you are so keen on context), that the main (immediate) reason I did my last post chronicling Reformed iconoclasm was because it seemed to me that you wanted to shuffle the responsibility for most of that off onto the "Anabaptist" or "radical reformers," rather than (as you call it) the "classical Reformation." Thus, you wrote:
Many times this was the work of the radical wing of the Reformation—the Anabaptists and not classical Protestants.
I think we can safely say now (in light of all the documentation I produced -- if indeed it was even necessary) that this is a significant oversimplification. It is quite clear that iconoclasm was mainstream Reformed thought. I didn't even mention Beza or Bucer, who were both overtly iconoclastic and perhaps (judging by some tidbits of information I gleaned while doing my research) directly involved in riots of that sort.

As far as my present knowledge goes, I view Calvin's role in this as highly analogous to Luther's with regard to the Peasants' Revolt of 1525. He (i.e., Luther) didn't directly call for violence or condone it; yet much of his inflammatory teaching and rhetoric against Rome made such actions arguably inevitable among the less-sophisticated masses. We are responsible for what we say, which is why the apostle James warned, "let not many teach."

I argued this at length in a paper devoted to that topic. So if I were to delve into it in even more depth, studying Calvin himself concerning this matter, I suspect that would be my position as to his responsibility (it is now, as much as I know about it). One need only look at the subsequent development of art, imagery, symbolism, architecture, in Reformed circles to see what effect Calvin's teaching had (as the primary figure in the movement).

Just look at the Puritans, for heaven's sake, who would have banned Shakespeare if they had had their way. Calvin had no use even for organs (again, I thank God -- as a serious amateur musician and classical music devotee -- that Bach was born in Lutheran Germany). So this need not even be argued, or any more time taken up to belabor the obvious.

The main thing I was trying to get across (the idiocy and wrongness of iconoclasm) you agree with, so we need not beat that dead horse. I objected to your argument that this was mostly "radical reformers" doing this stuff, and that a lion's share of the blame must be laid on the Catholic Church's doorstep. That was our disagreement, as I saw it.

I continue to strongly disagree with your contention in that regard, simply because the artistic, visual, and iconic element of spirituality was something the Catholic Church "got right" -- even from a current Protestant perspective. Not one Protestant in a hundred today (I dare say) would try to disparage or tear down Chartres Cathedral. Its beauty, profundity, and sublimity is patently obvious. But Calvin and many of his followers quite likely would have (and in fact, did do this to many beautiful places of worship) take an axe to its altar, statuary, and stained glass. And this was my point.

If Protestants expect Catholics to look honestly at the "skeletons" in their closet, then they need to look at their own. That is, in fact, almost always my reason for presenting this sort of historical material. I want all Christians to be aware of ALL Christian history, whether good or bad, and to honestly face and accept it. The so-called "Protestant Reformation" was not a bunch of super-pious, goody-two-shoes holy men going around restoring the gospel which had been lost. Many Protestant historians, in fact, readily admit that the motivations were even primarily political, not spiritual.

Stealing hundreds of churches and convents and abolishing the worship which had been going on continuously for 1500 years is
not just some harmless, pious "reform." As I said, we all have our skeletons, and it is high time that Protestants better understand the full dynamics of what occurred in the 16th century, and why Catholics were compelled to fight for their most treasured beliefs, practices, and possessions (all of which -- where they differed from Protestants -- would have been annihilated, had Luther, Calvin and more radical "reformers" had their way).

----- sermon mode off. Thank you for listening. :-) -----

The reason my comments are important is because you have lifted the comments of Reformers and scholars of their activities and writings out of the original historical context and did not really address the full reasons behind them doing what they did.

One can only do so much in any given paper. This seems to be the Reformed Catholic mantra lately: always complaining about lack of "historical context." But I think it is an ultimately unrealistic demand. Papers (even most books) are devoted to limited subject matter. I was writing about iconoclasm. In such a treatment, I can't possibly get into every jot and tittle of Catholic corruption, as that is a different subject. Most people today understand (and I assume this) that iconoclasm is both wrong and wrongheaded. That is apparent and self-evident. So I don't really see the need to attach blame for these activities on the Catholic Church, when they were not the ones encouraging iconoclasm at all.

I suppose you could argue that "idolatry had become so bad that who can blame the 'reformers' for getting extreme and smashing all images whatsoever?", etc., etc., but that is, of course, yet another entirely distinct topic to be dealt with. My view would not be nearly as "cynical" or "critical" as yours. Protestants who (like Calvin) are inclined to view the Mass as an abomination and blasphemy, etc., will see things one way and we will differ fundamentally with them. For Calvin, the Mass is an abomination, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege, that robs the very cross of Christ of its power, and makes a mockery of it. For us, it is the most sublime, moving, powerful, life-giving worship possible, short of being in heaven with Jesus, or having met and worshiped Him while He walked the earth. We view it as being present at Calvary; quite the opposite of any kind of idolatry.

In other words, if we want to talk "corruption," Calvin locates it right smack dab in our central act of worship. Thus, the discussion on corruption inevitably becomes one of theology (and historical theology, and development), by the nature of the case. This is precisely why I have been challenging reformed Catholics as of late to face up to the implications of historical views concerning the Holy Eucharist (since you want to claim historical continuity with what came before), which (if you want historical -- or liturgical -- context), also includes adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, and some notion of conversion of the elements into the literal Body and Blood of Christ. There is no middle ground. But reformed Catholics are notably, markedly non-committal or of ambiguous mind concerning the sacrifice of the Mass. I asked one such person if he thought it was idolatry and he said "I don't know." What do you think, Kevin? Are you courageous enough to address that crucial question head on? :-)

It's not that what you are saying is illogical or that you've offered an argument that can't be made. It's simply that there is more to interpreting history than placing blame on the initial group of people committing the acts that you have been criticizing.

Again, one can always play the game of multiple causation. Who caused what? As far as I am concerned, iconoclasm offers a classic example of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." That particular extreme, might, I suppose, be blamed (on some logical plane) on those on the opposing side, but essential blame lies with the one who does it. For example, when more liberal and secular elements of American society succeeded in establishing a strict (blatantly unconstitutional) separation of church and state, including removal of prayer and the Ten Commandments from public schools, was that their fault for being historically-ignorant and dim-witted about the history of church-state interaction for the previous 300 years? Or was it more so or equally the fault of the Christians who perhaps committed some excesses when these things were permitted, alienating Jews or atheists or the occasional Muslim or Hindu?

Clearly the former. This is another baby/bathwater scenario. The fact remains that Calvin's theology (and much of Protestant theology, generally) lends itself to an iconoclasm, or at least a radical minimizing of symbolism and imagery, by its very nature -- being "Word"-based. Protestant altars oftentimes consist of a stand with an open Bible on it, or not even that: just a place for a pastor to place his sermon notes. The Word predominates. It's like the first part of the Catholic Mass without the second. This is why many Reformed Churches didn't even offer communion every Sunday. Obviously, it wasn't considered central to worship if it didn't occur but once a month. The sermon was the overwhelming emphasis.

In my opinion, you have over-simplified the matter especially because even now you still refuse to admit that the corruptions of Rome and her hierarchy had anything at all to do with the later actions of the Reformers and others who did endorse a sort of iconoclasm.

You are the one who has oversimplified, as I think I am demonstrating. I never denied all responsibility of Rome altogether. But in the present case, I am saying that iconoclasm cannot be laid at our door because we never espoused it. It was always a corruption of the East and of Protestantism. Rome never fell into that stupidity. At best, you can claim that we were guilty of rampant idolatry:
1. Catholics worshiped statues.

2. This dishonors Christ and is idolatry.

3. Therefore, it is perfectly right and proper to tear the statues down for the sake of souls and Christian truth.
The fallacy here is obvious. Even you agree that statues are not inevitably and necessarily idolatrous. But this was the reasoning of the Calvinist iconoclasts. Stained glass was wrong. Organs were improper in worship. Altars were idolatrous because the blasphemous sacrifice of the Mass took place on them, and the only altar now (post-Calvary) is in heaven, etc. Even crucifixes and crosses are evil (in many examples I gave yesterday, the mobs went after them, too). So again, the discussion necessarily descends into a discussion of things like:
1) what exactly is idolatry?,

2) Are all images necessarily idolatrous and graven images -- even those of our Lord Jesus, crosses, and crucifixes?,

3) Are the Sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation and adoration of the consecrated host all idolatrous by the nature of the case?,

4) Does stained glass and iconography aid or hinder worship?,

5) Is a clapboard, plain white church more conducive to reverence and worship than Chartres Cathedral?
It's all ultimately theological in nature. That's why I say the discussion must deal with all those sorts of issues, because this is what Calvin himself would argue: Catholic worship is by nature and essence blasphemous and idolatrous; therefore it is not wrong to abolish it or destroy the churches which foster and perpetuate it (by the sanctioned governmental authorities, of course, but still destroy them if at all possible).

In other words, you are providing all of us with an anachronistic and overly simplistic look at historical events without really explaining the why of the matter--or at least providing us with any sort of view that is something other than a full presentation of how one Roman Catholic might look at the matter.

I believe I am doing so now, in far more depth than you have dealt with it (I dare say -- look at all the historical material I produced in my last post -- whereas you provide nothing but your own bald opinions), and at much greater length. I'll discuss this stuff with you till we're both blue in the face, but I need you and your reformed catholic comrades to give straight answers to very important questions. I've been waiting over a week now for replies from both you and Josh, that you promised to give me, concerning Calvin's eucharistic theology (actually, weeks or months in some cases, where discussions end quite prematurely, just as they were possibly getting somewhere). Now we're off on another tangent.

I'm not sure you're willing to deal with all the facts.

Readers can judge that. They see what I write (and ask) and what you write. They see me answering all your questions in depth and you often passing over many of mine. Since you want to insinuate that I am the one unwilling to deal with facts, I must say this.

For example, you quote Kuyper briefly but you miss him crediting Christianity being of "invaluable significance to the development of art" as well as questioning the validity of blaming Calvin or his followers for devaluing art. You can quote Kuyper but you didn't really deal with the full force of what he said.

This gets old. No one deals with every jot and tittle of context of all that they cite. As I have said before, Internet link technology allows readers to go read all the context they wish. I provided that link. That's a lot different from citing books that most readers do not have available. So this is an empty complaint. Furthermore, I included several remarks that let Calvin off the hook (you overlook that entirely). I suspected that I would have to point this out, since the same charges would be made. Here are some of those:
Calvin himself did not support iconoclastic violence, but many of his associates and followers did (further reading: C.M.N. Eire, War Against the Idols [Cambridge, 1986]).

(Paul Corby Finney -- who looks to be a non-Catholic historian)

. . . For all of Calvin’s influence on the Protestant movement, however, he was not its sole opinion-leader, nor can its early history be written exclusively from Genevan sources, no matter how strong a pull they exercise because of their exceptional richness and accessibility. The fact that Calvin and the Genevan-trained ministers denounced or sought to remove pastors whose preaching encouraged unsanctioned iconoclasm demonstrates that some French ministers endorsed removing the ‘idols’ without tarrying for the magistrate.

(Philip Benedict, also, I believe, a non-Catholic)
You want more context? There it is: it was already there. But you overlook it and go on to make the same tired charge. I was being as fair as I could be to Calvin, just as I am with Luther in my papers dealing with him. I give him every benefit of the doubt and judgment of charity that I can. But some historical facts are undesirable and cannot be glossed over, no matter how charitable and unassuming we wish to be. You are quick to admit that early Protestants were not perfect men. Yet whenever one of us Catholics agrees with that and gets specific, then all of a sudden we haven't provided enough "context" and don't want to deal with all the facts.

C'mon. You can do better than that, and I think you know me better than that by now. You are familiar with folks who ignore facts, and they are on your own Protestant side (though not reformed catholics). You know who I am talking about. I need not mention them. The difference between their attitude to history and discussion compared to my own could not be any different than it is.

. . . to the extent that art was devalued during the Reformation or even after those who unjustly devalued it should be blamed.

Good for you. But then why are we having this discussion? Why am I spending 3-4 hours of my time on a would-be holiday to belabor the obvious? I submit that it is because you wished to (or seemed to wish to) place more blame on the Catholic Church than the early Protestants in your first response, and you sought to shift blame away from Calvin and the mainstream Reformed movement onto the radical Protestants. This is not historically-accurate; sorry. I am the one who brought a ton of historical documentation to the table. All you have given thus far are a bunch of claims. But you are not (as far as I know) an historian. I cited folks who are.

But, the historical context is bigger than that and the stakes are higher than merely leveling criticism at those who are immediately responsible.

I need not keep answering this. The discussion of corruption in the Church is one which needs to take place on its own. I have no problem with acknowledging any corruption. As an old pastor of mine used to say: "original sin is, of all Christian doctrines, the most obvious, just by observing human beings." But for the "reformers," much of what they thought was a "corruption" was simply Catholic doctrines that they no longer held.

And to be fair, Dave, I think you are glossing over some of the terribly corrupt behavior of the Church prior to the Reformation by merely labeling it "mostly sexual and power-play stuff". In point of fact the Church was so corrupt that even when popes, such as Adrian VI, tried to reform the Church they miserably failed. In Pope Adrian's case for example the indulgences offered by previous popes were done through payment plans that lasted several years and it was impossible for Adrian to alter such obviously absurd agreements without huge consequences to the Church.

Case in point: indulgences is another huge discussion that is multifaceted itself. I can tell you, as a Catholic apologist, that not one Protestant in 200 has ever correctly explained back to me what the Catholic Church thinks an indulgence is. I highly doubt that you would be the exception (with all due respect). The first responsibility in any critique is at least accurately understanding and describing the viewpoint we are disagreeing with. That is Argument 0101.

To minimize this sort of corruption is not really dealing with the history of the matter and while it is convenient to criticize Protestants where criticism is due it certainly rings hollow when on the flip side you as a Roman Catholic are seemingly unwilling to face the stark reality and severity of the ecclesiastical corruption of the time.

On what basis do you conclude this? You are obviously unfamiliar with my writing regarding this topic. I have always freely admitted the widespread nature of Catholic corruption prior to Luther. I don't know any Catholic who would not do so. I agree with Karl Adam's view about medieval Catholic corruption. The following is from the first draft of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, written in 1991 (um, that is 13 years ago):
Catholics today (more so than formerly) freely admit that the Church in Luther's time sorely needed reforming. The eminent German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, in his book The Roots of the Reformation (translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951 [portion of One and Holy, 1948] ), devotes nearly a third of its space to "weakness in the Church." He states that "the Renaissance Popes seem to have carried out in their own lives that cult of idolatrous humanism, demonic ambition and unrestrained sensuality" (p. 14). He quotes the words of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23), who in turn cited St. Bernard: "Vice has grown so much a matter of course that those who are stained with it are no longer aware of the stink of sin" (p. 20). He is quite frank and descriptive of other abuses:
The majority of this clerical proletariat had neither the intellectual nor the moral capacity to so much as guess the profundity of the questions raised by Luther . . . In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the Spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people . . .

There was no sacramental impulse towards an interiorizing and deepening of religion. So the attention of the faithful was directed towards externals . . . This hideous simoniacal abuse of indulgences corrupted true piety . . . indulgences were perverted to a blasphemous haggling with God. Night fell on the German Church . . . (pp. 22-26)
The whole of Europe could not have been turned upside down by the Reformation if there wasn't any real significant corruption.

I agree, but this proves no more than saying that Lenin's revolution in Russia improved what came before (and all agree that Czarist Russia was quite corrupt), or that the French Revolution improved the previous state of affairs (and all agree that the French monarchy and aristocracy were corrupt). I agree with Louis Bouyer: he holds that there were many positive, Catholic elements in "Reformation" thought which were praiseworthy and entirely good. But these were already present in catholic tradition (albeit poorly understood in many cases). In other words, the best of what the "Reformers" offered was already Catholic and had to merely be regained or re-emphasized, but the negative elements in Protestantism have been troublesome internally ever since (doctrinal relativism, sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism, anti-sacerdotalism, etc.).

Some day I'd like to see an entry by you and others that details out much of that corruption so that we can get to both sides of the story.

I have no problem with that, but my custom is to cite historians. They do, however, have a bias on both sides, to the extent that they have theological views which color their analysis.

But, back to art. The corruption of the Church is relevant to the Protestants' devaluing of art for several reasons: 1) If we grant your case concerning the nature of the Roman Catholic Church being the Church, then the ones who bear the larger responsibility for what happened during the Reformation are the very leaders in power at the time,

This is fallacious as well. That would be like saying that Arianism is the fault of Nicene Trinitarianism, or that Monophysitism was the fault of Chalcedonian Christology, or that Donatism and Montanism were the fault of those (including Calvin) who taught that the wheat and the tares were both in the Church. There is a sense of secondary cause, but when people do stupid stuff they are ultimately to blame themselves. This is true of all of us individually. We'll all stand before God one day and give account, and God won't settle for any of the customary human blameshifting.

2) You will forgive me for pointing this out I hope but it is no accident that the most corrupt periods of the Church also saw some of the greatest accomplishments in art. We should be asking ourselves why that is the case,

For the same reason that Richard Wagner was a scoundrel, liar, and cheat, but wrote, in my opinion, some of the most magnificent music of all time. This is the nature of the beast. Beauty (like truth) stands on its own, apart from the righteousness of those who create or financially support it.

and 3) Historically speaking, if there had been no corruption (morally or doctrinally), there would have been no Reformation. I don't see how you can deny this.

The Church always needs to be reformed. My argument here is: "what precisely is reform, and what is revolution? At what point is the line crossed?"

This does not deny the culpability of those who unjustly devalued art during the Reformation but it instead points to the fact that something, perhaps many things were wrong in the Church just prior to the Reformation and because the Church failed to correct what was ailing her, the Reformation took shape.

Okay, Kevin, I'll call your "bluff" (since you want to press this): what exactly do you think the Church should have done in order to prevent the excessive and extreme Protestant reaction of iconoclasm? You tell me. Not hire Michelangelo and Raphael? After all, Michelangelo's David is clearly an idol, right? The Pieta is even more so, since it depicts (GASP!) Mary as a goddess-figure. Right?

I do know one thing, Dave. The Church, whether Protestant or Catholic, is full of men. And men are not always doing the right things. And usually from what I see these days (and historically) often they are not interested in doing what is right for whatever reason. I do think that the Protestants, like their Roman brothers, have many things to 'fess up about and change. I do think we need to work harder to remove the shackles of our own almost ethnic prejudices from how we view the Reformation to how we view our Roman Catholic brothers--and certainly in terms of how we view art.

Amen! Thank you for this.

And, I wouldn't be interacting with you if I didn't feel there was some value in what you are saying.

Good, and likewise. I wouldn't spend all this time, either, if I didn't feel that way about your opinions.

The Protestant Church needs the flesh-and-blood reality of the Christian faith that it lost when she separated from her Catholic brothers during the Reformation. We could use a few statues to actually remind us that the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and even the Christ child himself were real.

Not to worry. You still have your statues of Luther and Calvin and John Knox here and there. :-)

We could use more churches that reflect the beauty and glory of the Sistine Chapel or the Cathedral at Chartres--a beauty and glory that as far as I am concerned is simply undeniable. We could use painters and other artists who are able to magnificently tell the stories of the Christian faith in a way that doctrine can't. These are things that, understood properly, could strengthen the Church and specifically strengthen who we are as Protestants.

Magnificently stated. I would, of course, have said exactly the same when I was Protestant. I loved all those things then as you do now. Francis Schaeffer was one person who helped me admire that artistic Christian heritage.

But on the flip side and one point the Reformers made--it is no good to think that these things are useful at all if there is no change of life based on the all-powerful work of the Holy Spirit through Christ our Lord, no purity in doctrine and in living (in fact, quite the opposite), and a reliance on the mere trappings of religion that marked the Church prior to the Reformation.

I agree wholeheartedly. I merely hasten to add that I would say this was the widespread practice; not necessarily the doctrine that the Church held. We were never dogmatically Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian. But in practice, many people certainly were, including even several of the prominent nominalist theologians, who had lost the classic Augustinian, Thomist doctrine of grace, and sola gratia. And as the iconoclasts went too far with regard to imagery, so Luther went too far in his soteriology, in reaction (so we would say), though we certainly understand the dynamics and sincerity of his passion for the doctrine of grace, given all that was going on at the time. Louis Bouyer and Karl Adam both freely and joyfully admit this.

The connection is simple. There needs to be a connection between the outworking of our faith in art and the actual reality of repentance and faith in Christ.

Absolutely! Amen! Preach it, brother!

To the degree that many Reformers eschewed the art of the high middle ages is directly due to the fact that there was the outward appearance of great faith in the Church through her works of art and other external trappings, but all along there was this hypocritical corruption, moral failure, and an overt reliance on what men accomplished for their salvation rather than what Christ accomplished.

To the extent that that was occurring in individuals or being falsely taught by teachers, I agree. But then the proper response is to restore the true doctrine, not invent new ones that were never held (not even by Augustine), and to teach a proper interpretation and use of images (teach about what idolatry is and isn't); not smash the images. In other words, you and I can agree on a lot of the corruption, but disagree somewhat as to the cure, and whether Protestant doctrine was indeed a reform which hearkened back to earlier purity, or a revolution in many respects, which overthrew precedent in an unacceptable way.

In some sense, the men of the Reformation linked those works of art quite rightly with the bedrock hypocrisy of those priests and bishops of the time and rightly so. It is no wonder, from this point of view, why they emphasized a faith quite apart from things such as art. Taking the next logical step and devaluing art was a mistake, in my opinion and certainly some during the Reformation made this mistake more severely than others (the Anabaptists come to mind).

Human beings, unfortunately, tend to go to extremes, in reaction. I've often noted this, in many areas of life, not just theology.

I am thankful we live in a day when such things can be examined again, when art can be valued and used in the Church in a way that pleases Christ and recognizes the gifts and talents He gives his Church through art, and where we can discuss these issues a bit apart from the heated rhetoric of past ages.

Yes; good point. Me, too. I think this is a most helpful discussion for both sides to engage in.

Here is what you will get from me, Dave. Men are men. Christ is God and He is working through His Church to call men to Him. I pray that all would answer His call even if some don't, be they Protestant or Catholic. Yes, Protestants have made mistakes and have sinned and have been hypocritical over the centuries and we lament that on our side as much as we lament the fact that it happens or has happened in Roman Catholicism. It has been given to us today to stand as others historically have stood--before our God and repent when we err as well as obey His commandments through Christ and by His Spirit. We can do no less if we are to be called Christian.

Yes. Again, I agree 100%, and eloquently stated.

. . . The Reformers were men, not gods. They had foibles, they made mistakes, they didn't always do the right things. We have no problems admitting this . . .

Well, sorry; it sure looks like you did in this case, by your unsuccessful attempt to distance Calvin and "classical Protestantism" from the bulk of the iconoclasm which occurred. Let's face it: the Anabaptists never had enough power, pure and simple, to do much more than local damage (and most of them were peaceful and anti-institutional and culturally-withdrawn, anyway). The Protestant power was held by Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans. The Lutherans eschewed iconoclasm. Calvinists accepted it, and so they acted upon their convictions.

The Anglicans and later Puritans also did, in England, and we see the results: all images were banned in churches (in 1550, by law); plays were forbidden, etc. Note that in both cases, it was a resort to force: stealing and plundering and smashing, or gaining political power and quickly making such things unlawful. But so what? This doesn't make it right just because it becomes legal, any more than legal slavery or legal abortion are right.

and to the extent you point out these things, more power to you as long as they are historically accurate.

Hey, that's MUCH more than I have heard from many many of your friends! Good for you. History is what it is . . . an elementary truth. And we can learn from history. I hope we can all agree on that.

But, I hope you will note (and maybe someday you can blog about it) the positive contributions of the Reformers because if anything you must admit that they transformed European and Western society in ways that even they didn't conceive of when they worked to change the Church for the better.

In some ways, yes, absolutely. God works with anyone who sincerely seeks to serve Him. But of course, as a Catholic, you'll understand that I don't think any positive change comes from what I believe to be false doctrine. Whatever good Protestantism does has to come from truth. If it is true, then we already believe it (so I hold in faith, as a good Catholic).

What I have always said about Protestantism is that you guys (and I was one of you for 13 years as a committed evangelical missionary and apologist and pro-life activist) often excel Catholics in practice and in purity of life and morals. The obvious examples are Bible study, and probably prayer as well. I've noted this many many times. Protestants have done tons of good work, whether it be more basic apologetics or cultural transformation (the Schaeffer / Colson wing of "Christ as Lord of all of life") or pro-life activities, or a host of other things. What is true and good is that, whoever does it. I can acknowledge all this wonderful stuff, while maintaining a Catholic critique of doctrines which I feel diverge from Catholicism and historic Christianity.

And though I suppose you may disagree with me here, they did change the Church (and society at large) for the better.

I will simply appeal to the above paragraph. I think individual Protestants (e.g., Wesley, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, various missionaries, etc.) have and continue to do lots and lots of great things for the Kingdom. Institutionally, however, the record is not so glowing or praiseworthy.

Just think about it...without the Reformation, the Council of Trent would never have happened. :)

That's correct. And without Arianism and Monophysitism, the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon would never have happened. It is always the corruptions which produce better developments. :-) Do you wish to pursue this analogy? LOL

You do see the Council of Trent as a positive development in Catholicism, don't you? :)

Yep, just as I see ecumenical Protestants like you thankfully reacting against the empty-headed anti-Catholicism of many of your Protestant brethren, and (here's the controversy again) that of Luther and Calvin themselves.

Thanks for the discussion!

In Him,


Sunday, July 04, 2004

Calvin, Calvinism, and Violent Iconoclasm

My Reformed friend Kevin Johnson responded to my post, The Early Protestant Attitude Towards Art & Strong Iconoclastic Tendency. I counter-replied, and a new mini-discussion was generated. I shall reproduce his remarks (in blue) and my replies below:

One wonders, had there been no cause for reformation in the early sixteenth century, whether or not we would have faced such artistic devastation.

In other words, had the Western Church's hierarchy prior to the Reformation been faithful to the dictates of God's Word both doctrinally and in terms of the living out of the faith—we wouldn't have to talk about the excesses of the Reformation. I'm not sure you should lay the blame at the feet of the Protestant Reformation when clearly we all know that however wrong the Reformation implemented reform, reform was necessary and needed.

If we lay blame anywhere, I think it would be most appropriate to lay blame with THE ecclesiastical leaders that caused the surrounding context of the Reformation to occur in the first place.

Interesting reasoning, Kevin. Perhaps you can elaborate as to your meaning here. I don't get it. You argue as follows:

1. The Church needed reform (particularly its hierarchical leaders).

2. Traditional, crucifixes, stained glass, church architecture, organs, music, and painting and art in general are good things (hidden common assumption). Maybe statues are idols, but all this other stuff is good and wholesome.

3. These were destroyed by the so-called "reformers" because the Church (and/or the people in it) was corrupt.

4. Therefore, the primary blame for such "artistic devastation" and "excesses" lies with the Catholics who believed in these things, rather than the Protestants who destroyed them and who thought that organs and stained glass were idolatrous, etc.

I don't understand this. Can you explain it to me? I don't have the foggiest comprehension of the nature and rationale of #3 or how and why #4 supposedly follows from #1-3. Note, folks, that Kevin refused any blame at all to the "Reformers" for all this artistic philistinism and hostility to beauty and the visual. He thinks the blame should lie with Catholics if anyone is to be blamed.

Following Steve's excellent point above, we could reason, by your logic:

1. Czarist Russia needed reform in 1917 (particularly its governmental leaders).

2. The government and previously broadly Christian-based traditional way of life was destroyed by Lenin and the Communists because the Czar and his minions were corrupt.

3. Therefore, the primary blame for such cultural "devastation" and "excesses" (such as destroying churches and killing Orthodox priests by the thousands) lies with the Orthodox Russians who believed in these things, rather than the Communists who destroyed them and who thought Christianity was the "opiate of the masses," etc.

Thus, Lenin's Communist revolution is ethically and logically justified by the corruptions of the Czarist regime (and indeed this is how he and subsequent Marxists / Communists would justify it, per Marxist ideology). Following your reasoning, this is straightforward logic.

All the nonsense and ecclesiastical and cultural destruction that occurred during the course of the so-called "Reformation" is justified in the same manner (and you did so, right before our eyes). How do you attempt to deny the relevancy of this analogy (assuming you would want to — which I think is highly likely)?

Perhaps I was unclear or poorly stated my point but you have taken my words far beyond their meaning.

First, those men who were directly responsible for the tearing down or devaluing of art during the Reformation are of course directly responsible for their actions. Many times this was the work of the radical wing of the Reformation—the Anabaptists and not classical Protestants.

Second, I don't believe there is anything inherently evil about statues or other representations in art. Most of them (especially created during those historic times) are quite beautiful and to the extent idolatry existed (or today exists) regarding any of those things it existed because the heart of man is "deceitful above all things". My personal opinion is that such "statue worship" is a misleading caricature of the Catholic view by Protestants and doesn't adequately take into account the full Catholic view on the matter.

That being said, however, both sides bear blame. The historical circumstances that created the Reformation were not just one-sided. That is what I was attempting to say. Yes, those who destroyed or discouraged art and its development particularly in the culture of the liturgy and the Church are culpable but we both recognize the legitimate authority and responsibilities that their superiors had within the hierarchy of the Western Church. The Reformation was birthed out of an environment where clearly those leaders did not do (or even believe) as they should and the Reformation was a response to that corruption.

For any man to deny the corruption of the Church in this regard would be simply astounding however one feels about the way that the Reformation responded to such things. Even certain popes felt a need for reform and tried to the extent possible to make that happen.

But, the reason I brought all this up is because your initial post seemed somewhat anachronistic and did not appear to take into account the full historical context behind the reasons any of the Reformers disparaged images.

Failure to admit some amount of culpability on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the time makes your argument appear stronger than necessary and I for one would have preferred a more balanced look at the matter.

I'm delighted to hear your view regarding statues.

I still, however, don't see how this responded to my analogy or objection to your logic. It is no reply to a critique of offensive, wrongheaded behavior, to simply try to blame those who were not essentially at fault. Whatever the corruptions of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy at the time (and they were many and great: mostly sexual and power-play stuff), I don't see the relevance to the valuing of art and imagery. If anything (rhetorically-speaking) was good in the corrupt popes of the period, it was their support of art (Raphael and Michelangelo immediately spring to mind).

So I still don't follow your point. The "Catholic corruption must be invoked as the cause for virtually any silliness and kookiness of early Protestantism" argument just doesn't fly, and it is getting old real fast. You must face the glaring faults of early Protestantism, just as we must (and do) face the issue of Catholic corruption. I can't think of a single Catholic I've ever talked to on the subject, who denied that the Catholic Church was widely corrupt in its practices, and in its leadership, in this period.

I know few Protestants, however, who will squarely face the glaring faults and sins and hypocrisies which were equally (if not more so) apparent among early Protestantism. It is the "myth of Protestant origins" again.

As this lovely fictional (quite entertaining) story would have it, the Protestant founders were noble souls of the highest personal integrity who only wanted what was best for Christianity and all and sundry. Things were so bad that we must understand those few things that Catholics like me annoyingly point out (i.e., stuff that goes directly against the propaganda of the Protestant Myth of Origins).

As for Calvin and classical Protestantism not being anti-art, I accept that only insofar as Luther and Melanchthon and early Lutheranism are concerned. They (by and large) got it right. But Calvin? Well, this is much more difficult to establish. In a page, "Reformation and Iconoclasm", the statement is made:

Among the reformers, it was Calvin who adopted the most radical attitude towards religious works and demanded that believers should make no images of any sort of God. The iconoclasts who viciously wrecked art works throughout the northern Netherlands in 1566 and "cleansed" churches from top to bottom justified their actions by reference to Calvin's doctrine. This act of devastation explains why so few paintings from before 1566 have survived in Holland.

Georgia Harkness, in her biography, John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics (New York: Abingdon Press, 1931), observed, summarizing some of Calvin's opinions:

We should despise all crosses and mitres, all the flourishes of this world and the horns of the Pope by which he seeks to exalt himself up to God; and should look upon them as abominations full of rottenness and infection through which Satan, our mortal enemy, seeks to poison us.

(p. 94; summarizing Calvin's Sermon on Galatians 1:8-9, from Opera, I, 326)

Calvin, in his Antidote to the Council of Trent (1547), wrote:

About the year 800 was held a Council of Nice, which both restored Images that had been overthrown under leo and decreed that they were to be worshipped. That Council, because it supports idolatry, the Papists deem holy and lawful . . . But if such interpreters of sacred things are to be listened to . . . the religion of the Egyptians will be preferable to the Christian. To prove from Scripture that churches were properly adorned with images and pictures [in other words, Calvin is denying that this is proper and good], the following passages were adduced . . .

(in John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, edited by John Dillenberger, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971, 151)

A web page called "Image Breakers and Image Makers in Early Modern Bohemia" offers the following opinion:

The relationship of the Reformation to the visual arts is of course a complicated matter. Lutherans were generally conservative while Calvinists often assumed a more aggressive stance. In the Institutes Calvin concluded that religious images were contrary to Scripture. He did not, however, advocate iconoclasm. According to Calvin it was the role of the magistrate to remove such objects from former Catholic churches in an orderly fashion. The problem arose when local authorities were resistant to these views. In regions such as France and the Low Countries Calvinist adherents found no support from secular rulers and thus took it upon themselves to execute this commission. As a result, there would be waves of violence when mobs ransacked churches and destroyed sacred art.

Calvinist Scotland offers an example:

Scotland has had its own experience of iconoclasm - the breaking of images. During the Reformation in the 16th century, religious imagery and even buildings associated with the Roman Catholic Church were destroyed by Protestants keen to see the vestiges of the old order removed.

In 1559, the authors of The First Book of Discipline, a handbook of Reformation principles, decreed that symbols of "idolatry" should be "removed from the presence of all persons within this Realm". Such symbols included not only crucifixes and statues of the Virgin, . . .

(Neil Cameron, in The Scotsman; Edinburgh, Scotland, 4/3/2001)

Prominent Calvinist Abraham Kuyper (1837 - 1920), even tries to justify iconoclasm in some sense, by absurdly dichotomizing art and spirituality:

And so, arrived at their highest development, both Religion and Art demand an independent existence, and the two stems which at first were intertwined and seemed to belong to the same plant, now appear to spring from a root of their own.

Consequently Calvinism was neither able, nor even permitted, to develop an art-style of its own from its religious principle. To have done this would have been to slide back to a lower level of religious life. On the contrary, its nobler effort must be to release religion and divine worship more and more from its sensual form and to encourage its vigorous spirituality. This it was enabled to do because of the powerful pulse-beat by which at that time the religious life coursed through the arteries of mankind. And the fact that in these days our Calvinistic churches are deemed cold and unhiemish, and a reintroduction of the symbolical in our places of worship is longed for, we owe to the sad reality that the pulse-beat of the religious life in our times is so much fainter than it was in the days of our martyrs.

(Excerpted and abridged from Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. Used with permission. From: Credenda Agenda, Volume 8, Issue 2: The Puritan Eye; Calvinism and Art)

Paul Corby Finney, professor emeritus of history, University of Missouri-St. Louis, wrote in a very informative article, "The Visual Arts in the Reformed Tradition":

[S]ince in Calvin’s view God is always misrepresented in visual symbols, there must be no pictures and no statues in Reformed places of worship. Pictures designed to encapsulate divinity necessarily diminish God’s honor and transcendence and sovereignty. Worship must be word-centered, because words in Calvin's view are the only fitting vehicles for communicating symbolically God’s spiritual being. It is impossible to capture God’s power and majesty in a visual image, and all attempts to do so deteriorate into magic, superstition, and idolatry. Images in worship destroy the human spirit; they distort God’s spiritual identity; they promote the lie of idolatry.

Calvin was a warrior. He saw himself and his coreligionists continuing the battle that the Israelites had initiated against the Canaanites, those proverbial idolaters. Calvin’s Canaanites were the papists, the Antichrist pope and his priests, along with the Catholic laypeople whom Calvin characterized as mired in the muck of superstition, magic, and idolatry.

Calvin himself did not support iconoclastic violence, but many of his associates and followers did (further reading: C.M.N. Eire, War Against the Idols [Cambridge, 1986]). In Switzerland, in the Rhenish and Netherlandish territories, and in England, sixteenth-century Calvinists defaced, destroyed, and confiscated a great many medieval Catholic works of art, paintings, sculpture, stained-glass windows, ecclesiastical furnishings, and even whole buildings. The iconoclasts’ purpose was to purify Christendom, as we see graphically represented (see Figure 1) [posted above] in an anonymous sixteenth-century print showing on the right virtuous iconoclasts sweeping away papist idols (chalices, candlesticks, patens, statues), while to the left kneeling idolaters worship their papal Antichrist elevated on a monumental stone pagan altar and astride a seven-headed beast. This is a strong visual polemic, designed in part to embolden the righteous in their cause of purification. The multiple episodes of Reformed iconoclasm in the sixteenth-century raise a difficult question, namely the degree to which anti-idolatry violence against property was endemic to the early Reformed tradition.

Calvin’s word-centered reform promoted a religiosity that was strong in the moral, political, and social arenas and relatively weak in cultural expression, arguably at its weakest in painting and sculpture. Calvin himself was not so much hostile as he was indifferent to the visual arts, but the place where his reform program came into open conflict with the visual arts was the worship space, which he felt must be purged of idolatry—an issue of vital concern to Calvin on which he was unwilling to make even the slightest compromises. There would be no religious pictures in Reformed places of worship.

Protestant historian Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church (VIII, ch. 3, § 19. "The Abolition of the Roman Worship. 1524"), describes the Zurich of Zwingli and Bullinger. Note how he casually states that this sort of outlook passed widespread into Calvinism in many areas (and also that this iconoclasm included crosses and crucifixes):

The old order of worship had to be abolished before the new order could be introduced. The destruction was radical, but orderly. It was effected by the co-operation of the preachers and the civil magistracy, with the consent of the people. It began at Pentecost, and was completed June 20, 1524.

In the presence of a deputation from the authorities of Church and State, accompanied by architects, masons and carpenters, the churches of the city were purged of pictures, relics, crucifixes, altars, candles, and all ornaments, the frescoes effaced, and the walls whitewashed, so that nothing remained but the bare building to be filled by a worshiping congregation. The pictures were broken and burnt, some given to those who had a claim, a few preserved as antiquities. The bones of the saints were buried. Even the organs were removed, and the Latin singing of the choir abolished, but fortunately afterwards replaced by congregational singing of psalms and hymns in the vernacular (in Basle as early as 1526, in St. Gall 1527, in Zurich in 1598). "Within thirteen days," says Bullinger, "all the churches of the city were cleared; costly works of painting and sculpture, especially a beautiful table in the Waterchurch, were destroyed. The superstitious lamented; but the true believers rejoiced in it as a great and joyous worship of God."

In the following year the magistracy melted, sold, or gave away the rich treasures of the Great Minster and the Frauenminster, chalices, crucifixes, and crosses of gold and silver, precious relics, clerical robes, tapestry, and other ornaments. In 1533 not a copper's worth was left in the sacristy of the Great Minster. Zwingli justified this vandalism by the practice of a conquering army to spike the guns and to destroy the forts and provisions of the enemy, lest he might be tempted to return.

The same work of destruction took place in the village churches in a less orderly way. Nothing was left but the bare buildings, empty, cold and forbidding.

The Swiss Reformers proceeded on a strict construction of the second commandment as understood by Jews and Moslems. They regarded all kinds of worship paid to images and relics as a species of idolatry . . .

The Swiss iconoclasm passed into the Reformed Churches of France, Holland, Scotland, and North America. In recent times a reaction has taken place, not in favor of image worship, which is dead and gone, but in favor of Christian art; and more respect is paid to the decency and beauty of the house of God and the comfort of worshipers.

Church historian Warren H. Carroll describes the Calvinist iconoclastic riots in the Low Countries in 1566:

[O]n August 20 came the 'Calvinist fury' in Antwerp. Almost all the religious images and paintings in the 42 churches of Antwerp were destroyed without opposition by gangs working through the day and night. The iconoclasm was planned by Calvinist leaders and carried out by young men mostly paid by them or their supporters . . . Monasteries and convents were also despoiled and their libraries burned . . .

The fury spread like wildfire. More than 400 churches, monasteries, and convents in Flanders alone were sacked during the next three or four days. Tabernacles were broken open, Hosts taken out and trampled, and the bones of saints disinterred and dragged through the dirt . . .

In Amsterdam the mayor and the city council attempted to resist the iconoclasts, but were overwhelmed. In Utrecht 'great heaps of art treasures and vestments, including the entire library of the Friars Minor [Franciscans], were put to the torch.' In Delft the iconoclasm was directed by Adrian Menninck, a leading businessman, who went on to direct more of the same at The Hague. (Evidence is strong that the iconoclastic attacks were very well organized and coordinated.) The Count of Culemborg chopped down the altar in his own chapel with an ax, ordered his servants to bring tables into the wrecked church, sat down to dinner there, and fed consecrated Hosts from the ciborium to a parrot sitting on his wrist . . .

. . . the Calvinists had a new opportunity, and they seized it by taking control of the principal cities of Flanders — Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges — in the spring of 1578. On the feast of Corpus Christi in June Calvinists attacked Catholic religious processions in Brussels and Liege, desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, smashing crucifixes and images, and killing many worshippers. On June 10 there was a Calvinist uprising in Utrecht, with more iconoclasm; on June 28 six Catholic religious were burned to death in Ghent.

(The Cleaving of Christendom, vol. 4 of A History of Christendom, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 323, 380)

Philip Benedict, in his paper, "The Dynamics of Protestant Militancy: France, 1555-1563," states concerning (mostly) Calvinist iconoclasm in France:

Few historians of the Low Countries would deny that that at several critical junctures during the Revolt of the Netherlands the actions of militant Calvinists drove the revolt forward or destabilized the situation just when it appeared that a solution to the religio-political crisis besetting the region might be found. Dutch historiography depicts the Reformed as establishing their privileged position in the Northern Netherlands through a ‘revolutionary Reformation’ in which the Calvinists sought the eradication of Catholic worship, compulsory participation in the rituals of the Reformed Church, and a new moral and legal order, although they ultimately were only able partially to obtain these goals, since they comprised too small a fraction of the total population to impose their will entirely. (1) Belgian historians discern similar goals to the movement and call the period of Reformed dominance in the cities of Flanders and Brabant the time of the ‘Calvinist Republics,’ suggesting a return to the insurrectionary traditions of the medieval commune. (2)


1 Van Gelder, Revolutionnaire Reformatie.
2 Despretz, ‘Gentse calvinistische Republiek’; Decavele (ed.), Rebelse droom; Marnef, Calvinistisch bewind.]

. . . many recent historians have located destabilizing or even revolutionary implications closer to the ideological heart of the Protestant movement. This is especially true of those scholars who have studied Huguenot crowd actions in the wake of Natalie Zemon Davis’s pathbreaking article on the rites of violence. (6) That particularly ambitious and idiosyncratic work within this tradition, Denis Crouzet’s massive canvas of religious violence, identifies a ‘revolutionary radicality’ lurking at the heart of the French Protestant movement because of the rationalizing thrust of Calvin’s theology, and speaks of ‘the French “Volksreformation” … a lost revolution of history’. (7) Janine Garrisson-Estèbe notes impulses within the movement that sought to annihilate the Roman Church in crusade-like fashion so as to leave the kingdom’s rulers no choice but to rally to the new Church. (8) A considerable volume of recent work has reconstructed the scope and character of Huguenot iconoclasm and related this convincingly to core Calvinist beliefs. (9)


6 Davis, ‘Rites’.
7 Crouzet, Guerriers de Dieu, 508-10, 552-3.
8 Garrisson-Estèbe, Protestants du Midi, 161.
9 Sauzet, ‘Iconoclasme’; Benedict, Rouen, 58-62; Crouzet, Guerriers de Dieu, chs. 7-10; Christin, Révolution symbolique, chs. 1-3.]

. . . No work in this tradition has reopened the full dossier of the Protestants’ aims and actions, nor has any explored how and why the effort to establish a new Church order quickly also gave rise to an organized para-military system. Such are the goals of this essay. Informed by an awareness of what the historiography of the Low Countries has shown about the Calvinist movement there, it will attempt to answer the following questions. Just what did those who rallied to this cause in France seek? What steps were they willing to take to achieve their goals? Why did crowd actions, religious violence, and an organized para-military system follow so quickly upon the organization of independent Reformed churches? Did this agitation stem from the core values of the movement, or is it to be attributed to the symbiosis of the movement with other contemporaneous groups or movements with agendas of their own?

. . . The excellent recent studies of Huguenot iconoclasm have both revealed the basic chronology of French iconoclastic incidents and helped make sense of this once ill understood phenomenon. (49) From the summer of 1561 onward, the isolated attacks on


49 Christin, Révolution symbolique, chs. 1-3, and Crouzet, Guerriers de Dieu, chs. 7-8, both provide detailed treatments of iconoclasm in France and form the basis for this paragraph, except as otherwise noted. Among the many studies devoted to this phenomenon elsewhere in Reformation Europe, Eire, War Against the Idols, provides a particularly compelling account of both crowd iconoclastic activities and the theologians’ critique of the veneration of images.]

Catholic shrines or holy objects that had previously typified French iconoclasm gave way to the systematic purification of many local churches across important stretches of Languedoc, Gascony, and Dauphiné. The same followed in the regions elsewhere in France secured by the Protestants at the outbreak of the First Civil War soon after these areas came under Huguenot control. The very first normative document of the French Reformed churches, the ‘articles politiques’ of the proto-synod held at Poitiers in 1557, warned sternly against knocking over crosses, idols, or churches — a prohibition that was transformed by later provincial synods into interdictions against doing so without magisterial authorization. When the surge of major iconoclastic episodes began to break over France, by far the most common pattern was for the work to be carried out by groups of individual believers, with the ministers and consistory publicly proclaiming their non-involvement after the event. (50) Christin has nonetheless shown on the basis of judicial investigations that community notables played a leading role in certain incidents, and while no evidence has yet been unearthed of consistorial involvement comparable to that found for many cases of Wonderyear image-breaking in the Netherlands, (51) indications do exist not only that certain French ministers encouraged the iconoclasm, but also that some local authorities sanctioned it, either before or after the fact. A Catholic historian who claimed to have been an eyewitness to key scenes reported that the iconoclasm in Caen in April 1562 followed a meeting before the town’s judicial authorities in which the minister Cousin told the assembled officials ‘that we have suffered too much from this idolatry, and that everything would be toppled’. After his threat was made good, those who carried out the destruction returned with arms to the council chambers and demanded and received payment for their work. (52) Even in the cases where the iconoclasm occurred without magisterial or ministerial sanction, the most persuasive analyses make it clear that the image-breaking is best understood as ritualized action expressive of core Reformed ideals and the psychology of conversion. It was at once a pedagogical demonstration of the pure materiality of the images, a cleansing of the temple in obedience to divine commandments, and an expression of the anger that the newly converted felt about the continuation of the frauds that had once ensnared them. Tracts written after the event in the name of the larger Church community, even while denying that the Church approved the image-breaking, depict it as providential and pleasing to God, thereby suggesting a measure of approval. (53)


50 Remonstrance des habitans de Rouen; Apologie des ministres et anciens de Rouen; Barbot, La Rochelle, II, 171; Romier, Royaume, II, 225-6.
51 Pettegree, ‘Exile Churches’, 86-7; Marnef, Antwerp, 89; Rooze-Stouthamer, Hervorming in Zeeland, 227-8 (I owe this last reference to Guido Marnef).
52 De Bourgueville, Recherches et antiquitez de Normandie, 162, 170. For other instances of ministerial encouragement of iconoclasm: Christin, Révolution symbolique, 115; Crouzet, Guerriers de Dieu, 504-8. For other cases of magisterial sanction: Faurin, ‘Journal’, 9-10; Christin, Révolution symbolique, 102-13.
53 Apologie des ministres et anciens de Rouen; Christin, Révolution symbolique, 100.

. . . John Knox is known to have considered the reestablishment of idolatry in places where it had once been abolished even more reprehensible than its sufferance where it had long existed. Many Huguenots evidently agreed. Although the ministers and deputies of the churches gathered at court urged compliance with the edict, the authorities of Castres resisted returning the churches they had seized. Nîmes’ consistory and conseil de ville voted to permit the mass to resume, but angry crowds prevented Catholic clergymen from performing the ritual in two parish churches. In Montpellier the sole attempt to resume saying the mass had to be quickly brought to a close after a howling Protestant crowd gathered outside the church and rock throwing began.

. . . For all of Calvin’s influence on the Protestant movement, however, he was not its sole opinion-leader, nor can its early history be written exclusively from Genevan sources, no matter how strong a pull they exercise because of their exceptional richness and accessibility. The fact that Calvin and the Genevan-trained ministers denounced or sought to remove pastors whose preaching encouraged unsanctioned iconoclasm demonstrates that some French ministers endorsed removing the ‘idols’ without tarrying for the magistrate. A number of churches and ministers, including several pastors of both Paris and Geneva, appear to have been involved in the conspiracy of Amboise even if Calvin kept his distance from it. As many historians have seen in recent years, examining the actions taken by the Protestants in the different corners of France provides the best way of grasping the aspirations and convictions of the full universe of those drawn to the movement. Also of great value are the under-utilized records of the earliest Reformed synods and consistorial assemblies. These enable us to determine which of the actions taken by groups of Protestants in the localities occurred with the probable approval of local Church authorities, which were consistently condemned, and which were taken without prior approval but were subsequently accepted as legitimate by Church bodies within the kingdom.

As already noted, Calvin’s encouragement of the formation of Reformed congregations and his dispatching of ministers to France suggest that he believed it acceptable to defy the laws prohibiting heretical assemblies.

[From the book: Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and
the Netherlands 1555-1585
, edited by Philip Benedict, Guido Marnef, Henk van Nierop and Marc Venard, Amsterdam: 1999]