Martin Bucer: so-called "reformer" (1491-1551)
C O N T E N T S
I. PREFACE AND DISCLAIMER (PARTICULARLY FOR PROTESTANTS)
II. SHORTCOMINGS OF LUTHER AND ZWINGI
III. NEVER-ENDING DIVISION AND MULTIPLICATION
IV. THE SEXUAL LIBERALISM OF EARLY PROTESTANTISM
V. THE IMMEDIATE ILL EFFECTS OF PROTESTANTISM ON MORALITY
VI. EARLY PROTESTANTISM AND THE DECLINE OF EDUCATION
VII. THE EARLY PROTESTANT ANTIPATHY TO ART AND TENDENCY TOWARDS ICONOCLASM
VIII. THE LARGELY POLITICAL BASIS OF THE PROTESTANT REVOLT
IX. PROTESTANTISM AND CAPITALISM
X. HENRY VIII AND THE SO-CALLED ENGLISH "REFORMATION"
XI. CONCLUSION: THE SINS AND FOLLY OF THE REVOLUTIONARIES
BRIEF DESCRIPTIONS OF THE LEADING PROTESTANT FOUNDERS
The following material is definitely controversial and will no doubt be offensive in part or in entirety to many Protestant readers. However, its intention is not to insult or to excite needless quarreling. It is not meant to be an attack on the merit and personal character of present-day Protestants, but rather a very straightforward and critical examination of various aspects of what is known as the "Protestant Reformation" (as a Catholic, I prefer the term "Revolt" and the phrase "Protestant Founders" rather than "Reformers" -- both sides are biased even in terminology). Nevertheless, it is my opinion that some "controversy," although painful at times, is necessary and useful for the purpose of determining the relative merits of competing truth claims.
Such reflection and the process of discovery resulting therefrom, need not be undertaken with a spirit of maliciousness or self-aggrandizement. It is my sincere hope that these defects are absent from my writing, difficult though that may be with such a delicate topic, which elicits deep feelings of partisanship and allegiance in both parties. I only ask the Protestant reader to accept my good faith and to believe that I bear no ill will towards non-Catholics in general. I hope that I can be received not as an "enemy" but instead, as an honestly critical "friend" and fellow Christian, albeit across a rather large and unfortunate chasm.
True ecumenism, to which I am passionately committed, does not "paper over" profound disagreements in a delirious, "warm fuzzy" atmosphere of self-deluded bliss. Rather, the profundity of authentic ecumenism is a fellowship despite major differences, in a special and delightful environment of mutual respect. Despite, then, my persistent forays into distressing subject matter (which might be considered "mudslinging" by Protestants), I maintain a deep love and respect for my "separated" Christian brethren, realizing that, in all likelihood, most are totally unaware of the historical events to be forthwith chronicled -- just as I myself was before I began this research.
History is particularly instructive in showing us how ideas (in this case theological ones) "play out" in the lives of real people and cultures through time. The initial and lasting consequences of the Protestant Revolt are more than enough, I believe, to cause one to seriously question the premises of this upheaval within Christendom. Although history doesn't ultimately determine truth, it is filled with lessons. We ignore it at our own peril, whatever our viewpoint, and remain prisoners of our own time and its intellectual fads if we fail to take history into consideration.
This work, it must always be remembered, is intended to offer an opposing view to the prevalent (Protestant) one, which is, by and large, also adhered to by secular historians of the period. When one is an "underdog," or the purveyor of a relatively unknown or misunderstood viewpoint, one has to heavily document "novel" claims and sometimes even deliberately shock, in order to get the attention of an incredulous audience. I merely "throw out" the documented evidences, using the words of the early Protestant Founders themselves, eyewitnesses, and Protestant and secular historians as much as possible.
The reader is free to decide how the information herein should be interpreted within a given frame of reference. In all honesty, I must state that I believe every Protestant is obliged to "deal" with the disturbing information to be presented, just as Catholics must come to grips with certain uncomfortable facts in the history of Catholicism. Such difficulties are not necessarily fatal to one's position, but they must be faced nonetheless, in the interest of intellectual honesty and openness.
What kind of men were the leaders of the Protestant revolt against the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 16th century? A certain widespread Protestant mythology would have us believe that they were of the highest caliber, although no one claims they were "saints" in the Catholic sense of exalted holiness. Protestants apparently think that sainthood is ultimately irrelevant with regard to doctrinal and even moral reform. This is difficult to understand, since a dichotomy between wisdom and righteousness is not a biblical notion. At the very least, one should reasonably expect an above-average level of holiness commensurate with the stupendous claims of being reformers of the Church and restorers of pristine simplicity and purity. Sadly, such is not the case. But the Bible does not oppose wisdom to righteousness:
- James 3:17: The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
Proverbs 2:7: He stores up sound wisdom for the upright . . .
John 5:36: . . . the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.
John 8:46: Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?
A. General Considerations
It seems self-evident to me that Luther, as the founder of a new movement within Christianity, should be held up to the utmost scrutiny, given the fact that so many basic Protestant assumptions originate from him (e.g., imputed justification by faith alone, assurance of salvation, absolute double predestination, sola Scriptura, private judgement, the denial of an infallible Church with binding tradition and hierarchy, abolition of five sacraments and the veneration of saints, etc., etc.).
It is undeniably important to ascertain both the theological expertise and character of a person who presumed to overturn much of the accumulated Christian wisdom of 1480 years, and who ultimately claimed more authority for himself than any pope ever dreamt of. This by no means is a judgment on the character of Protestants today -- it is more of an analysis of the roots of present-day Protestant theology as derived from Luther. I have attempted to "set the record straight" and to subject Luther to the same standards with which he railed against Catholicism -- indeed, that of Scripture, which he championed. One should expect this from a Catholic.
It is foolish for any Protestant (some of whom reject even the appellation "Protestant") to deny the inescapable link between current-day denominational Protestantism and Martin Luther. To do so is to be uninformed about a crucial element in Protestant thought -- its own history and root presuppositions. Any Christian body claiming to be a (or the) legitimate manifestation of historical Christianity must have a plausible and coherent story to tell. This necessarily involves historical study, and additionally, some kind of theological interpretation of the history of one's own group.
No Protestant can deny an organic relationship to Luther, any more than a Catholic can disavow all ties to the historic papacy, the Crusades and Inquisition, etc. If the Catholic must be constantly subjected to taunts about the "baggage" and "skeletons in the closet" of Catholicism, then the Protestant must likewise face up to the unsavory and less-than-saintly elements in Protestant history. Both sides must have the courage to fairly acknowledge their own shortcomings and the other side's positive, godly attributes.
I am by no means "anti-Protestant" and in fact, have great respect for my former communion (I converted to Catholicism in 1990, after 13 years as an evangelical Protestant), while, at the same time, I disagree with it in many ways. The views set forth here are certainly one-sided, and purposely so, in order to form a conscious counter-argument to the accepted Protestant "mythology," so to speak, of Martin Luther. His real and many strengths are well-covered in any Protestant biography. The objective Christian seeker and student of Church history needs to consult works written from a critical Catholic perspective as well, in order to foster a closer examination and perhaps a partial reappraisal of Luther.
B. Language and Lack of Control of the Tongue
Luke 6:45 (Phillips): . . . For a man's words express what overflows from his heart. (cf. Matt 12:37)Luther described Catholics as "the devil's whore-church" (Grisar, IV, 288) who "stuff our mouths with horse-dung" (Grisar, IV, 321), along with hundreds of other similar denigrations unworthy to repeat save for their tragi-comic and psychological value. He said of himself, on the other hand: "Not for a thousand years has God bestowed such great gifts on any bishop as He has on me." (Grisar, IV, 332)
Of Luther it might be said, as it was of another: "Never a man spake like this man" (Jn 7:46), yet in quite another sense. That man, contrary to Luther, was "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt 11:29), and told His followers that "whosoever shall say 'Thou fool' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matt 5:22). Despite all that, here are some of Luther's typical descriptions of various Catholics:
- Crowned donkey, abandoned, senseless man, excrement of hogs and asses, impudent royal windbag, arrant fool.
(Grisar, IV, 302; describing King Henry VIII)
Liar, mad bloodhound, murderer, traitor, assassin of souls, arch-knave, dirty pig and devil's child, nay, the devil himself.
(Grisar, IV, 302; describing Joachim I, Elector of Brandenburg)
Mad, bloodthirsty murderer, a blind and hardened donkey, who ought to be put to scratch for dung-beetles in the manure-heaps of the Papists.
(Grisar, IV, 302; describing Hoogstraaten, a Cologne Dominican)
Stick your tongue ________. . . You are a sickly, syphilitic sack of maggots.
(Grisar, IV, 304; describing Pope Leo X or another pope)
- Titus 1:7-8: For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry . . . a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate. (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-10)
C. Heinrich Bullinger on Luther's Language
Fellow Protestant revolutionary Bullinger gives telling testimony:
- He sends to the Devil all who do not entirely agree with him. In all his fault-finding there is an immense amount of personal animosity, and very little that is friendly and paternal . . . Too many - are the preachers who have gathered out of Luther's books quite a vocabulary of abuse, which they fire off from their pulpits . . . Through the evil example of such preachers the habit of reviling and slandering is spreading . . . and most clergymen nowadays who wish to appear good 'evangelicals' season their preaching with abuse and calumny.
(Janssen, III, 211)
Luther's view on solemn religious vows obviously affected his eventual relinquishing of the vows he himself had made as a monk:
- The vow of no monk is of any account before God; priests, monks, nuns, are even bound in duty to abandon their vows, if they find that they are potent to engender and increase God's creatures.
(O'Connor, 9; EA, XX, 58-59)
- It is no sin to vow or not to vow, but if made . . . a vow is as sacredly binding as an oath (Deut 23:21-23) . . . The seriousness of oaths is emphasized in the laws of Moses (Ex 20:7, Lev 19:12) . . . Ezekiel speaks as if perjury were punishable by death (Ezek 17:16 ff.) . . . Christ taught that oaths were binding (Matt 5:33) . . . Christ himself accepted the imprecatory oath (Matt 26:63 ff.), and Paul also swore by an oath (2 Cor 1:23, Gal 1:20) . . . God bound himself by an oath (Heb. 6:13-18).
(Douglas, 1313, 902)
Oaths were solemn commitments and not to be taken lightly. The 3rd commandment of the Decalog forbids oaths that are made thoughtlessly (Ex 20:7, Deut 5:11); the 9th commandment forbids perjury. An oath must be fulfilled . . . (Ecc 5:4-5).
The apostle Paul . . . had his hair cut off . . . 'for he had taken a vow' (Acts 18:18) . . . Vowing was voluntary. But after a vow was made, it had to be performed . . . Deception in vowing is an affront to God and brings His curse (Mal 1:14) . . . Lying about an oath could result in death (Ezek 17:16-18). Jesus Himself was bound by an oath (Matt 26:63-4), as was Paul (2 Cor l:23, Gal 1:20). Even God bound Himself by an oath.
(Lockyer, 1088, 767)
3. Huldreich Zwingli
Zwingli's immoral sexual ways are abundantly affirmed by historians:
- He did not let his sacerdotal vows exclude him from the pleasures of the flesh; he had some affairs with generous women.
A very plague of immorality . . . had taken hold of him . . . Zwingli's own words,
I succumbed, and like the dog returned to his vomit.
. . . In 1518 . . . he had been in this wretched state of relapse for a year or so. And he had given up all hope of recovery. For in this letter he first defends himself (relatively) by saying he has rigorously left alone women who are married, and virgins.
In 1518 . . . he admitted . . . to a few sexual lapses.
Zwingli . . . had taken a wife in 1522, although he did not legally marry her until two years later.
With an unparalleled cynicism, Zwingli himself acknowledges his immoral conduct, even with a public prostitute (*) . . . In the year 1522 he wrote to his immediate relatives:
If you hear it said that I sin through pride, gluttony, and unchastity, believe it; for unfortunately I am enslaved to these and other vices (+).
Later on he took to wife a widow with whom he had long kept up an unchaste intercourse.
(Janssen, V, 130; citing Zwingli's Works, * VII, 54-57 and + I, 86)
Extending his own experience to others, Zwingli preached:
Among a thousand spiritual persons, be they monks, priests, or nuns, there shall not be found a single one who does not practice unchastity.
(Janssen, V, 130)
It is beyond cavil that in the year 1522 Zwingli began a carnal intimacy with the widow, Anna Reinhard, whom he did not publicly marry until the April of 1524, and who, four months later, on July 31, bore him a child.
(Janssen, V, 130; Additional note by Pastor)
. . . at any rate a certain blemish attaches to the connection [of Zwingli and Reinhard].Despite all this infamy, Zwingli, a compulsive adulterer by his own admission, continues to be called a "reformer" of Christianity. Granted, the facts are not well-known, but when they are brought out, they must be grappled with. For here we are dealing with the very originators of Protestantism (which is not the case with, for instance, the Inquisitors and Crusaders -- they did not deliver the doctrine which Catholics are bound to receive). In the case of Protestantism the very same men who have these grievous faults are also delivering the new and novel doctrines.
(Zwingli: His Life And Works, Basel, 1895, I, 224)
1. Philip Melanchthon
- I am extremely afflicted by the universal trouble of the Church. Had Christ not promised to be with us until the end of the world, I should fear lest religion be totally destroyed by these dissensions.
- There are nowadays almost as many sects and creeds as there are heads.
- There was to be not one Reformation but many, and all tended to split up into sects . . . Calvinism . . . proved itself incapable of disciplining the whole . . . possibly because the true genius of the Reformation lay in its conception of religion as a purely personal affair . . . This message, the essence of the new Christianity, had been carried to the world not by Calvin but by Luther.
- The problem Protestantism has never resolved is the problem of the Church: never resolved in fact, because never clearly stated . . . The movement was tempted to take refuge in the chimera of an invisible Church. Faced with the results of Anabaptism and with the purely destructive anarchy to which this chimera was obviously leading, Luther took the irrational course of invoking the secular arm . . . Considering the remedy worse than the disease, Calvinism then tried to recreate by an individual effort . . . an authoritative Church. But this Church, never absolutely conformed with its ideal, stirred up other subjectivities in reaction to that of Calvin and its imperiousness, and these were no less individual, unjustifiable and tyrannical. Hence the perpetual tension between Churches, which are only dictatorial attempts to impose a particular school of thought and spirituality, and rebellious individuals, who can only escape from anarchy by setting up new dictatorships of their own . . .
The various Churches of Protestantism were built up on a basis of opposition to the one Church of all time, an opposition latent within the Protestant synthesis . . . They are, therefore, incapable of ceasing to paralyse these principles, or of ceasing to oppose the only Church postulated by the commission given to the apostles by the authority of the Incarnate Word of God . . .
A professor at Wittenberg, Matthew Blochinger, expressed his dismay at the omnipresent divisions, around 1560:
- Nowadays we hear voices in all directions praising up the enemy . . . The papists, at any rate, it is said, agree among themselves, and so do even the Turks. We Protestant Christians, on the contrary, are at ceaseless war together, fighting one another with frenzied, implacable hatred, while every breath of new opinion scatters us about like a whirlwind.
(Janssen, VII, 278; Dollinger, II, 171-172)
The distinguished author of a 16-volume history of Germany from 1450 to 1648, gives his informed opinion:
- In the year 1525 complete anarchy already prevailed in the domain of religion. Between Lutherans and Zwinglians . . . one attempt after another was made at reconciliation; but each in turn failed, and then fresh quarrels followed.
(Janssen, XIV, 145)
They were all . . . pitted one against the other in the fiercest warfare. They carried on this intersectarian contest with the same weapons . . . which they used against the Catholics. All the iniquities of which they accused the Catholic Church -- seduction of the people, idolatry, service of the devil -- they laid with equal virulence at each other's doors. Each . . . appealed to the Word of God and to his own true interpretation of it.
(Janssen, X, 256)
- Each man, as Luther complained, interpreted the Holy Book according to his own brain and crazy reason. The old saying that the Bible was the book of heretics, came true. It was in vain for the Reformers to insist that none but the ministers . . . had the right to interpret Scripture. It was in vain for the governments to forbid, as the Scotch statute expressed it, 'any to dispute or hold opinions on the Bible'; discordant clamor of would-be expounders arose, some learned, others ignorant, others fantastic, and all pigheaded and intolerant.
The Anabaptists, who represented the most radical and decentralized wing of the Protestant Revolt, suffered from the same anarchical tendencies. Two Mennonites - a pastor and professor of theology, admit this in an evangelical magazine:
- Menno Simons died faithful to his vision but disappointed with divisions in his flock. He would have been aghast to know that both his name and the tendency for his flock to divide -- sometimes over such issues as buttons or the appropriateness of radios -- would survive him by four centuries . . .
In America, Mennonites have divided so often . . . that the largest of their 'conferences' . . . contains only a third of the entire family. Many of the conferences have not been willing officially to do mission work together.
(John L. Ruth, "America's Anabaptists: Who They Are," Christianity Today, October 22, 1990, 26)
Ask twenty Anabaptists what they believe and you will probably get twenty different answers. This diversity stems from differences among the earliest Anabaptists.
(Marlin E. Miller, "America's Anabaptists: What They Believe," Christianity Today, October 22, 1990, 30)
- The discord in religion, the rancour and acrimony of spirit, and the general distracted state of the empire were fomented and increased year by year to an almost incredible degree by the innumerable theological sects which had neither any complete and definite code of teaching, nor any Church organism with recognized head and members . . . In the opinion of most Separatists, the Lutheran and Zwinglian theologians were worse enemies and corrupters of 'true Christianity' than the Pope himself and the Catholic clergy . . . Not the dead, outward letter of the Bible, but the inward light, was the one source of divine revelation . . . 'The new gospel,' says the Anabaptist preacher, Melchior Rink . . . 'is a hypocritical, humbugging religion.' At first Luther had been filled with the Spirit of God, but now he had become the real Antichrist; he and his followers were leading people to the devil.
(Janssen, V, 149-153)
One graphic example (among scores) of truly absurd "diversity" was mentioned by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.:
- In 1577, at Ingolstadt in Germany, the book Two Hundred Interpretations of the Words, This is My Body was published. Theories ranged from complete symbolism to some kind of spiritual presence.
10. Donald Bloesch
This well-known and respected evangelical theologian excoriated the divisions of Protestantism (which are characteristic of its whole history), in a section entitled The Scandal of Disunity:
- The disunity of the Christian church today . . . is indeed deplorable. But even more scandalous is the disunity that plagues the evangelical family . . . Christian disunity is a contradiction of Christ's prayer that his people be one (John 17:20-23). It also conflicts with Paul's declaration that there is only one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:4-5). Disunity on theological and even sociological grounds betrays an appalling ignorance of the nature of the church. Indeed the classical marks of the church of Jesus Christ are oneness, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity. The last term denotes universal outreach and continuity with the tradition of the whole church. It is incontestable that the church, and especially the evangelical church, has lost much of its credibility on the mission field because of the bitter infighting between missionary boards and churches.
(The Future of Evangelical Christianity, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1983, 64)
- But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
The affair concerning the bigamy of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse is well-known and almost universally detested by Protestant observers. Having heard of Luther's sexual liberalism, Philip petitioned him, asking permission to take another wife, so as to ameliorate his continuous adultery. At first Luther counseled the Prince to have "secret relations," comparing this to the concubinage of the Patriarchs in the Old Testament.
Even the Prince thought this too morally lax and persisted in his request for a sanctioned bigamous marriage (which was illegal). This was granted in a document (issued on 10 December 1539) written by Luther's right-hand man Philip Melanchthon, and signed by Luther and six other "reformers," including Martin Bucer.
The "Rev." Denis Melander, a signer of the letter, who himself had been married three times, officiated at the shameful "marriage" of Philip. The secret soon became public and caused much consternation among Lutherans, whereupon Melanchthon "sickened almost to death with remorse." Luther, unabashed, pretended that he knew nothing about the debacle, and counseled the adulterer to "tell a good, downright lie."
As a representative sampling, here are four Protestant sources to verify the above:
- This double marriage was not only the greatest scandal, but the greatest blot in the history of the Reformation and in the life of Luther.
(J. Kostlin, Life of Luther, Stuttgart: 1901, 2, 481, 486)
Luther . . . cited the polygamy of the Old Testament patriarchs as a precedent. He advised that the second marriage be kept secret . . . When the news leaked out, Luther advised 'a good, strong lie.'
(Latourette, II, 728)
There are several incidents over which one would rather draw the veil . . . The most notorious was his attitude toward the bigamy of the Landgrave, Philip of Hesse . . . Luther counseled a lie . . . Luther's solution of the problem can be called only a pitiable subterfuge.
. . . Philip's bigamous marriage (1540), which had been approved by Luther . . . Melanchthon . . . advised both Henry VIII and Philip of Hesse to take two wives.
(Cross, 1081, 899)
Catholics believe, following Paul (see my paper: Clerical Celibacy: The Biblical Rationale) that the celibate priest is able to singleheartedly devote himself both to God and his flock. The practical advantages of having more time and not being burdened by multiple loyalties are also obvious to common sense. Why, then, is there so much uproar today (and in Luther's era) over this disciplinary requirement (it is neither a dogma nor irreversible, although it is firmly entrenched in Catholic tradition)? I submit that it is a lack of belief in the power of God to assist one in such a difficult life-choice.
Opponents of celibacy often simply assume, like Luther, that a life without sex is utterly impossible, whereas our Lord Jesus and St. Paul undeniably teach the contrary. One must make a choice for or against the biblical teaching. It needs to be stressed at this point that no one is forced to be celibate. It is both a matter of personal choice, and, on a deeper level, an acceptance of one's calling, as given by God. Paul acknowledges both the divine impetus (1 Cor 7:20) and the free will initiative of human beings (7:37). These two are not contradictory, but rather, complementary. In other words, if one is called to celibacy (or further, to the priesthood), one will be given both the desire and the ability to carry out this lifestyle successfully (see Phil 2:13). If one is not called -- like most of us -- to celibacy, then he or she ought to get married (1 Cor 7:7,9,20,28,38).
When (most of) the leaders of the Protestant Revolt forsook their vows of ordination and took on wives (sometimes several), this was no disproof of the Catholic doctrine of the desirability of celibacy, but rather, an indication that something was awry in the integrity of those men, ultimately causing them to deny the clear affirmations of both Jesus and Paul on this subject.
3. Luther on Marriage to Non-Christians
Who should a Christian marry?:
- "Marriage is . . . like any other worldly transaction. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride, talk, and do business with a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, a heretic, so also I may marry any of them. Do not give heed to the fool's law which forbids this."
(Janssen, III, 130 / LW, vol. 45, 25; "Sermon on Married Life," 1522)
- 1 Corinthians 7:39: . . . she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
2 Corinthians 6:14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? (cf. vss. 15-17, Deut 7:3)
4. Further Examples of Protestant Sexual Liberalism
- Martin Bucer . . . became the husband of no less than three ladies in succession, . . .
(Spalding, I, 176)
[Theodore Beza] in 1548 . . . went to Geneva, where he formally married Claude Desnoz, with whom he had concluded a clandestine marriage in 1544.
- in addressing a petition to the Bishop of Constance . . . for the abolition of celibacy among the clergy, urging as their reason . . .
the scandalously dissolute lives which we . . . have hitherto led with women, whereby we have given frequently scandal and offence.
(Janssen, V, 129-130; Zwingli's Works, I, 30-51)
- and some other cities, the brothels were left open, but were put under the supervision of an officer who was to see that no married men frequented them.
- In Scotland there was indeed a sort of trial marriage . . . by which the parties might live together for a year and a day and then continue as married or separate. But, beginning with Luther, many of the Reformers thought polygamy less wrong than divorce . . . Luther advanced this thesis as early as 1520 . . . he did not shrink from applying it on occasion . . .
- The Reformation seems to have had no other purpose than to turn monks and nuns into bridegrooms and brides.
1. Historians' General Observations
Preserved Smith writes:
- The Reformation had no permanent discernible effect on moral standards . . . It was too often followed by a breaking up of conventional standards and an emphasis on dogma at the expense of character, that operated badly. Latimer thought that the English Reformation had been followed by a wave of wickedness. Luther said that when the devil of the papacy had been driven out, seven other devils entered to take its place.
- The . . . 'modus operandi' of the founders of the new religious system, with their utter absence of respect for all ecclesiastical rights, all church possessions, all freedom of conscience, caused general anarchy and demoralisation among the people . . .
All contemporaries unanimously make the same statements. The writings and letters of the founders of the new Church system overflow with complaints . . . Quite openly they all acknowledge that it was only after the introduction of the new doctrine that this unhallowed change took place, and that the condition of things was nowhere so bad as among those who called themselves evangelical.
(Janssen, XVI, 1-3)
- The man in the street is not sorry to hear that 'good works' . . . constitute a danger to the soul . . . The inevitable result was that in the reformed Churches in Germany from the very start there were accusations of moral laxity and a want of serious purpose in the sanctification of life . . . But religion is not only a state of the heart; it is a deed as well . . . The Reformation . . . was also incapable of perceiving all the conclusions to which its new ideas led, and of giving them pure effect.
(Adolf von Harnack: Liberal Theology at its Height, edited by Martin Rumscheidt, London: Collins, 1989, 222-223, from What is Christianity?, 1900)
- By and large, religion was flourishing in Germany, and the overwhelming majority of the people were orthodox and . . . pious. The German family was almost a church in itself, where the mother served as a catechist and the father as priest; prayer was frequent, and books of family devotions were in every home.
No Protestant need consult anyone beyond the Protestant Founders themselves for proof of the ensuing decline of morals. Luther is quite graphic:
- Godly servants of the Most High become rarer and rarer.
Who would have wanted to begin preaching, had we known beforehand that so much disaster, riotousness, scandal, sacrilege, ingratitude, and wickedness were to follow. But now . . . we have to pay for it.
(Janssen, XVI, 13; EA, vol. 50, 74; in 1538)
Worse still than avarice, whoring and immorality, which had the upper hand everywhere nowadays, was the general contempt of the gospel.
(Janssen, XVI, 16; EN, IV, 6; in 1532)
Now that . . . we are free . . . we show our thankfulness in a way calculated to bring down God's wrath . . . We have got the Evangel . . . but . . . we do not trouble ourselves to act up to it.
(Janssen, XVI, 16-17)
I have well nigh given up all hope for Germany, for . . . the whole host of dishonesty, wickedness, and roguery are reigning everywhere . . . and added to all else contempt of the Word and ingratitude.
(Janssen, XVI, 19; LL, V, 398, 407; letter to Anton Lauterbach, November, 1541)
I am weary of living in this abominable Sodom . . . The Day of Judgment is at hand, the world deserves destruction.
(Janssen, XVI, 20; LL, V, 502-503, 552, 703, 772; letter to Amsdorf, October 29, 1542)
- worse even than any Sodom . . . They are bent on being damned; well, then, let them have their wish.
(Janssen, VI, 276; LL, V, 773; January 1546)
Our manner of life is as evil as that of the papists. But . . . they preach not the truth . . . When I can show that the papists' doctrine is false, then I can easily prove that their manner of life is evil.
(Giorgio de Santillana, The Age of Adventure, New York: Mentor, 1956, 145)
Under the papacy it snowed alms, foundations, legacies. Under the Evangel, on the contrary, no one will give a farthing.
(Janssen, XV, 465)
Those who ought to be good Christians because they have heard the gospel, are harder and more merciless than before . . . Tell me, where is there a town . . . pious enough to . . . maintain one schoolmaster or pastor? . . . Thanks also to the dear Evangel, the people have become . . . abominally wicked . . . diabolically cruel . . . growing fat . . . through plunder and robbery of Church goods . . . Ought we not to be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves?
(Janssen, XV, 466-467)
I fear . . . that we are a greater offence to God than the papists.
(Janssen, XV, 467)
- Never before, has the attitude of the world been so unfriendly and odious as today.
(Janssen, XV, 480; in 1528)
I am seized with agony beyond all conception, when I contemplate the conditions of our times. Nobody hates the evangel more bitterly than the very people who pretend to be of our party. The wickedness of the peasants is intolerable.
(Janssen, XVI, 21; in June 1528)
- The condition of Church affairs causes me anxiety which nothing can mitigate. Not a single day goes by on which I do not wish that my life was at an end.
(Janssen, V, 220; BR, I, 1110)
I am unable to suggest anything that could heal this anarchy.
(Janssen, VII, 140; BR, VIII, 504; letter to Hardenburg, c.1558)
4. Martin Bucer's Confession of Protestant Laxity
- With us in Strassburg there is scarcely any Church at all; there is no respect for the Word; no one receives the sacrament.
(Janssen, V, 145-146)
- Depravity increases continually among the followers of 'the Gospel'.
(Dollinger, II, 26-35 -- in 1528)
The majority of people despise and neglect the whole of the Church service, the Word and the sacraments, the comfort of absolution and of prayer, in short the whole fellowship of the Church . . . Only too true, is the reproach levelled against us that while we condemn lustily the prayers, fasts . . . hitherto in vogue, and neither pray nor fast ourselves, we are losing all piety . . . and leading . . . sensual, easy lives.
(Janssen, V, 145-146; Dollinger, II, 26-35 -- in 1538)
All this . . . prevalent sin and immorality which exist among our people is a source of great scandal . . . The Emperor himself is indignant at our constant parading of our conscience . . . for he says,
If we really attached so much importance to the Word of God . . . we should not confine ourselves . . . to altering religious ceremonies and seizing Church property.
(Janssen, VI, 245; letter to Philip of Hesse, January 8, 1544)
- Among them the most evangelical did not so much as know what true repentance was.
(Bossuet, I, 156; in 1542)
God has punished the injury we have done to his name by our long and pernicious hypocrisy.
(Bossuet, I, 156; in 1547)
Musculus, a Lutheran preacher, described his time (1560) as "unspeakably immoral compared with the Germans of the 15th century." (Durant, 765)
6. Erasmus' Horror at Protestant Immorality
- Nothing was ever seen more licentious, and, withal, more seditious; nothing, in a word, less evangelical than these pretended evangelists. . . All is carried to extremes in this new Reformation. They root up what ought to be pruned; they set fire to the house in order to cleanse it. Morals are neglected; luxury, debauchery, adulteries, increase more than ever; there is no order, no discipline among them . . . I find more piety in one good Catholic bishop than in all these new evangelists.
(Bossuet, I, 155-156)
- When he wrote in this way to his Protestant friends regarding the unhappy fruits of their reformation, they candidly agreed with him . . . He reproaches them with the malice of Capito, the malignant falsehoods of Farel, whom Oecolampadius, at whose table he lived, could neither suffer nor restrain; the arrogance and violence of Zwingli . . . What he said was not to flatter the Catholics, whose disorders he impeached with sufficient freedom. But, besides that he disapproved their boasting of the reformation, without any superior merit of their own, he judged there was an essential difference between those who neglected good works through weakness, and those who lessened their dignity and necessity by maxim.
(Bossuet, I, 155-156)
- What can be more ruinous than to let such words as the following come to the people's ears? - 'The Pope is Antichrist; Bishops and priests are mere grubs; man-made laws are heretical; confession is pernicious; works, merits and endeavors are heretical words; there is no free will; everything happens by necessity' . . . I see, under the pretext of the Gospel, a new, bold, shameless and ungovernable race growing up - in a word, such a one as will be unendurable to Luther himself.
1. Martin Luther
- In 1522 Luther pours out his ire on the "asinine coarseness of the Thomists," on "the Thomist hogs and donkeys," on the "stupid audacity and thickheadedness of the Thomists."
(Grisar, I, 163; WA, X-2, 188-190, 206)
In my opinion dialectics can only be harmful to theologians . . . In theology . . . all syllogisms should be set aside.
(Janssen, XIV, 123; LL, I, 127; letter to Spalatin, June 29, 1518)
- St. Basil was utterly good for nothing . . . Origen he had already placed under the ban; and as for Gregory the Great, the devil had misled him with a childish heresy. St. Augustine also he would not trust, because he . . . had also often erred. St. Jerome: . . . of the faith, and of the true Church and way of life there was not a single word in his writings.
(Janssen, XIV, 190)
Early Protestantism caused:
- a decline in . . . learning. Complaints on this score begin to make themselves heard even in the first years after the introduction of the religious innovations; not only from Erasmus and other humanists, but also among the leaders of Protestantism itself, especially from Melanchthon, in whose letters and speeches, from 1522 till his death, laments on the decay of all the fine arts and all learning never cease.
(Janssen, XIV, 235)
Numberless persons . . . speak in the bitterest language of the continuous decay of all high morals and fine culture . . . of the increasing depreciation of classical knowledge and of learning in general.
(Janssen, XIII, 377)
- a time when culture penetrated to all classes of society . . . a time of extraordinary activity in art and learning . . . religious knowledge was zealously diffused, and the development of religious life abundantly fostered . . . The universities attained a height of excellence and distinction undreamt of . . .
(Janssen, II, 287)
- His efforts for the revival of liberal culture in Wittenberg were completely shipwrecked. In his private letters he had no hesitation in attributing to the Wittenberg theologians the responsibility of the contempt of learning.
(Janssen, III, 357; BR, I, 575, 604, 613, 679, 683, 695, 726, 894)
- The schools in Germany are deserted . . . among the people learning is universally hated, and even the princes . . . are filled with contempt and hatred for study.
(Janssen, XIII, 328-329; BR, I, 756; letter to Arnold Burenius in 1542)
In Germany learning has become an object of contempt.
(Janssen, XIII,328; letter to King Henry VIII in 1535)
- The Melanchthonian Henry Moller, professor at Wittenberg, actually complained in 1569 of the:
general decline of philosophical studies . . . How many ministers . . . are there at present in Germany who are not completely ignorant of these sciences? . . . The coarse, uneducated books scattered broadcast among the people in which philosophy is slandered and distorted, . . . can have no other result than the complete downfall of learning, the inroad of barbarism into the Church.
(Janssen, XIV, 132-133; Dollinger, II, 496)
- The intolerant dogmatism of the Reformers, their violence of speech, their sectarian fragmentation and animosities, their destruction of religious art, their predestinarian theology, their indifference to secular learning . . . all these shared in alienating the humanists from the Reformation.
- Luther has covered us and good learning with hatred . . . The Church is overburdened with abuse of authority and . . . man-made decrees for the purpose of gain . . . but often an imprudent attempt at a cure makes things worse. What a mass of hatred Luther is bringing down on good learning and Christendom!
(Phillips, 171; in 1521)
I greatly wonder . . . what god has stirred up the heart of Luther, in so far as he assails with such license of pen the Roman pontiff, all the universities, philosophy, and the mendicant orders.
(Erasmus, 152; letter to Jodocus Jonas, May 10, 1521)
Wherever Lutheranism prevails, learning and liberal culture go to the ground.
(Janssen, III, 355; letter to Pirkheimer)
The study of tongues and the love of fine literature is everywhere growing cold. Luther has heaped insufferable odium on it.
(Grisar, VI, 32)
- All this laziness came in with the new Evangel.
(Grisar, VI, 32)
- I hate Erasmus! . . . I hate him from the bottom of my heart . . . I consider Erasmus to be the greatest enemy Christ has had these thousand years past.
(Daniel-Rops, 77; Table-Talk)
- When I admonished Zwingli in a friendly way he wrote back disdainfully:
What you know is of no use to us; what we know is not for you.
As if he had been caught up like Paul to the third heaven and learnt some mystery which was hidden to us earthly creatures!
- Since the middle of the 16th century religious art had come entirely to an end in all the Protestant parts of Germany . . . Nothing but sectarian narrowness could deny that German . . . art stood higher before the Reformation than after it. For nearly two centuries architecture, sculpture, and painting produced nothing more in Germany that could be compared with the creations . . . immediately before . . . the Schism in the Church.
(Janssen, XI, 50-51)
Hans Holbein the younger, one of the greatest painters of all ages, was obliged to undertake house painters' work, and to paint Coats of arms. in order to make a living . . . In consequence of being thrown out of work he saw himself compelled to migrate to England . . . 'The art of painting,' Albert Durer complains in a pamphlet addressed to Wilibald Pirkheimer, 'is greatly despised among us Germans nowadays by many people, and they say it tends to produce idolatry.'
(Janssen, IV, 165)
- In the northern countries, in Germany, Holland and England, artists were confronted with a much more real crisis . . . whether painting could and should continue at all. The great crisis was brought about by the Reformation. Many Protestants objected to pictures or statues of saints in churches and regarded them as a sign of Popish idolatry . . .
We can witness the effect of this crisis in the career of the greatest German painter of this generation . . . Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) . . . In 1526 he left Switzerland for England . . . 'The arts here are freezing,' Erasmus wrote commending the painter to his friends . . . When Holbein had left the German-speaking countries painting there began to decline to a frightening extent, and when Holbein died the arts were in a similar plight in England. In fact, the only branch of painting there that survived the Reformation was that of portrait painting which Holbein had so firmly established . . .
There was only one Protestant country in Europe where art fully survived the crisis of the Reformation - that was the Netherlands . . . Artists . . . specialized in all those types of subject-matter to which the Protestant Church could raise no objections . . . [e.g., still-lifes]
The more the Protestants preached against outward show in the churches, the more eager did the Roman Church become to enlist the power of the artist. Thus the Reformation . . . also had an indirect effect on the development of Baroque.
(E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, London: Phaidon, Revised 11th edition, 1966, 274, 277, 279, 326)
- Even when the Reformation was not consciously opposed to art, it shoved it aside as a distraction from the real business of life. Thus it has come about in Protestant lands that the public regards art as either a 'business' or an 'education.'
- Reformed churches would not permit organs . . . It filled the church with ornamental and non-Scriptural sound . . . an instrument of the elaboration and clutter which their cleansing stream of simplicity was washing away . . . In Calvinist countries, except Holland . . . they preferred to have no organs . . . There is a story of the organist of . . . Zurich weeping as he watched the axes smashing his great organ . . . All the English organs were sold or demolished again in 1644 . . .
- Another Puritan, Dr. Reynolds of Oxford, was the scourge of Elizabethan theatre which . . . he wished to ban completely. The Puritans forced the theatres to move from . . . London to Southwark. If they had triumphed nationally, many of the greatest works of English literature would never have been written . . . Shakespeare, Jonson and Webster, no doubt, would have turned to other professions.
(Paul Johnson, A History of the English People, New York: Harper & Row, Revised edition, 1985, 162)
- the theater was denounced from the pulpit . . . attendance on plays was forbidden.
The Book of Discipline in Scotland forbade attendance at theaters. Calvin thoroughly disapproved of them, and even Luther considered them 'fool's work' and at times dangerous.
Luther himself was moderate in this regard:
- I do not hold that the Gospel should destroy all the arts, as certain superstitious folk believe . . . The law of Moses forbade only the image of God.
- Wherever one goes one sees . . . caricatures of priests and monks" so that "one now experiences a feeling of disgust on seeing or hearing of a clerical person.
(Janssen, XI, 56; LL, II, 674; letter to Archbishop Albert of Mayence, June 2, 1525)
- assail the . . . idolaters of the Roman Antichrist by means of painting. Cursed is he who remains idle in this matter, while he knows that he can do God a service.
(Janssen, XI, 56)
3. Protestant Iconoclasm (Are Artistic Images Idolatrous?)
The early Protestant antipathy to art was most graphically displayed in their iconoclasm with regard to "images" in churches, which they considered idolatrous:
- Reformers less human than Luther, less cautious than Calvin, preferred to outlaw religious painting and sculpture altogether, and to clear their churches of all ornament; 'truth' banished beauty as an infidel. In England, Scotland, Switzerland, and northern Germany the destruction was wholesale and indiscriminate; in France the Huguenots melted down the . . . shrines, and other vessels found in the churches . . . The demolition was brutal and barbarous.
Amongst the preachers of the new religious opinions there were multitudes who, like Wickliffe of old, denounced all arts and sciences as devil's traps. Zwingli and his followers designated Christian art, within the churches at any rate, as a snare of the devil . . . They assumed a hostile attitude towards Christian art in general . . . Zwingli would not even tolerate the pictures of Christ. The Helvetian confession of faith, drawn up by Bullinger, rejected images of Christ as though they were pagan idols . . . In the Basle Church Regulations of the year 1529, introduced by Oecolampadius, it is said: God has 'cursed all those who make images.' William Farel went so far as to denounce the making of pictures and images as a sin against nature . . . Calvin called the setting-up of pictures and images in churches a . . . 'miserable folly which had been the destruction of all piety on earth;' it was also iniquitous to give representations of events from sacred history. Theodore Beza directed his fury especially against pictures of the Crucifixion, which he 'abominated.' He wished that 'the Christian magistracy would reduce all pictures to powder.'
(Janssen, XI, 28-29)
- Whatever finds no mention in the Scriptures must be cast out. Crucifixes and images go, and all decorations . . . along with altars.
The churches . . . were stripped of their ornaments, statues and pictures were destroyed, and even crosses -- 'the insignia of papal deviltry' were condemned.
(Daniel-Rops, 153; Articles on Ecclesiastical Discipline, 1536 -- with William Farel)
- It would be . . . ridiculous . . . to fancy that we render God more worthy service in ornamenting our temples and in employing organs and toys of that sort. While the people are thus distracted by external things the worship of God is profaned.
- The church must be light, the walls must be white, and stained glass was believed by most Protestants to be unfitting and distracting in worship.
- On February 21, 1548, the King's Council would order that all images be taken out of the Churches . . . A clean sweep was made of the churches in London; the frescoes were covered over with a heavy coat of white, the walls adorned with selected texts from Scripture.
This iconoclastic riot took place in Oecolampadius' Basle, Switzerland, on February 9, 1528, in which there was,
- a general attack on the churches, the crowd surging in to smash the images and break the stained glass. Erasmus described it graphically in a letter to his friend Pirckheimer; he must have watched sadly from the windows of his house as the mob wreaked its will on . . . inanimate objects . . .
Not a statue has been left, in the churches . . . or in the monasteries; all the frescoes have been whitewashed over. Everything which would burn has been set on fire, everything else hacked into little pieces. Neither value nor artistry prevailed to save anything.
- It was purely and simply by means of this league between the princes and the preachers and theologians that the new religion, thus thrust upon the people, was enabled to endure.
Were it not for the princes and lords,' says Luther, 'we could not stand much longer. Let us then pray for our Elector, that he may be able to preserve the Church.
(Janssen, V, 286; HA, I, 2444)
No instructed Roman Catholic now denies the appalling condition of Western Christendom at the beginning of the 16th century . . . No instructed Protestant now denies that political and personal motives bulked very large in the Protestant Reformation.
(Rumble and Carty, II, 66)
How could it ever be imagined that, in such revolutions, the new doctrines succeed, with the mass of mankind, by the force of their own inherent superiority as truths? . . . That Lutheranism carried all before it by its own mere power as an evidently truer theory of grace than what it displaced? . . . The mass of the German princes were utterly indifferent to religion as such, of any kind . . . But . . . when the monks walked out and set up as married men, the abbey, its buildings, its lands, were not left for all and sundry to occupy . . . All this went to the prince - the process dignified with the noble-sounding word 'secularization': the first theft, on the great scale, of a subjects' property, where the state is the thief. Wherever the Reformation succeeds it does so because a government takes it up or because the party of the Reform succeeds in displacing the government.
In Lutheran Europe civil courts became the only courts, secular power the only legal power. Secular rulers appointed Church personnel, appropriated Church property . . . The Church became subject to the state. The Lutheran movement, which thought to submit all life to theology, unwittingly, unwillingly, advanced that pervasive secularization which is a basic theme of modern life.
A. Martin Luther
- Luther . . . despised the common people . . . Luther had to transfer to the state most of the authority that had been held by the Church; therefore he defended the divine right of kings.
The hand that wields the secular sword is not a human hand but the hand of God. It is God, not man, who hangs, and breaks on the wheel, and decapitates, and flogs; it is God who wages war.
In this exaltation of the state . . . lay the seeds of the absolutist philosophies of Hobbes and Hegel, and a premonition of Imperial Germany.
(Durant, 448; WA, XIX, 626)
- Melanchthon followed Luther in . . . upholding the divine right of kings.
Melanchthon had afterwards abundant reason to regret his appeal to secular power . . . Hence his exclamation: 'If only I could revive the jurisdiction of the bishops! For I see what sort of Church we shall have if the ecclesiastical constitution is destroyed.'
(Grisar, VI, 270; BR, II, 234; letter to Camerarius)
- In the eyes of Zwingli's more radical supporters the movement had ended in reaction . . . Arising in an atmosphere of Christian liberty and congregational autonomy, it had swiftly hardened into a State Church. In his treatise Of Divine and Human Justice (1523), Zwingli accepted this as inevitable. Moreover, he now rejected the notion that any ideal society could be shaped within this sinful world . . . Like Luther he had been compelled to reconcile his social idealism with his need for the support of existing governments.
Zwingli exalted the authority of the pious magistrate as ecclesiastical reformer in terms more decisive than those of Luther. Whereas Luther had primarily undertaken the task of restoring a Christocentric religion, Zwingli undertook a further phase of the Reformation: the systematic imposition of Christian discipline upon the community. The theocracy composed of magistrates and pastors was the invention of Zwingli's Zurich, and it was bequeathed by them to Calvin, who consummated their experiment in Geneva.
Martin Bucer had the most absolutist position of all:
- Subjects, he said, must be submissive to all government whatever, without any distinction. Even when rulers gave commands which were contrary to God's Word, the subjects must obey them, for it was to be presumed that it was God himself who was sharpening the rod for punishment.
(Janssen, IV, 367-368)
E. Norway and Sweden
- Frederick I imposed Lutheranism upon Norway. In Sweden, Gustavus Vasa . . . king of Sweden . . . was a Catholic, and the people were much attached to the Catholic faith. But Gustavus needed money for his new kingdom, and to get it he decided to confiscate the estates of the Church. Not from religious conviction, but solely through political expediency, he decided to impose Lutheranism also by civil authority.
(Rumble and Carty, II, 64)
- In 1556 the Pfalsgraf, Otto Heinrich, declared the doctrine of Luther to be the exclusive religion of the land. But his successor, Frederick III, only three years later, established Calvinism as the State religion. His son, Ludwig, however, in 1576 brought Lutheranism in again, and banished from the country all Calvinist ministers, teachers and officials. In 1583 the pendulum swung back once more, and Ludwig's brother Johann re-established Calvinism. Thus the unhappy people, in the space of less than forty years, were compelled to change their religious faith four times, to say nothing of the original change from Catholicism to Protestantism!
What was life like in a city -- Geneva, Switzerland -- in which a leading Protestant Founder, John Calvin, was given the power to fully implement his social, religious and political agenda? The actual history will serve to illustrate many of the shortcomings of early Protestantism:
- Geneva at this period experienced a moral dictatorship such as has scarcely a parallel in history. It had begun at the time of Calvin's return in 1541, but it went on perfecting itself all the time. The police or 'guardians' watched everything, even the most intimate details of men's private lives. Anyone thinking evil thoughts or doing evil things was punished with brotherly ferocity.
There was prison for those who liked dancing . . . enjoyed drinking . . . cardplayers . . . Barbers were forbidden to tonsure priests passing through the city, and jewellers prevented from fashioning chalices. Both these offences were punishable by hanging. It was regarded as a confession of blasphemy and heresy to murmur 'rest in peace' over the grave of a dear departed . . . Two small children were beaten with rods for having eaten two rounds of cake on leaving Church, and another young ragamuffin was nearly beheaded because he returned a box on the ears given him by his mother . . .
It is common knowledge that dictatorships inevitably end by seeking to regulate every single thing.
- There were, of course, the five weekly sermons which all must attend . . . The fashion of dress and of shoes . . . was regulated, and the women's hair styles also . . . Needless to say, every least sign of the old religion was most rigorously forbidden . . . Anabaptists were banished, with death as the penalty should they return. The rare atheist . . . was put to death, tortured and beheaded. The heretic was burned . . . Few crimes were more swiftly and decisively punished than that of contradicting the master's teaching. Intellectual give-and-take had no place in Geneva . . . Even to say that Calvin was not a good preacher could mean prison . . .
Naturally there was a censorship of books -- even Bullinger, Against the Anabaptists, was forbidden . . . Real sins, of course, were dealt with mercilessly . . . And the inquisition dreamed of from the beginning became a reality. Twice a year a commission of ministers and elders descended on every house in the town to see that all was well and godly . . . All this was entered in a huge register, with notes against the name, 'pious,' 'lukewarm,' 'corrupt.' . . . Add to this the immense body of the pious who voluntarily spied on their neighbours and even drew them on in talk until they tripped.
- From year to year the aversion of the people towards the new doctrine and its apostles had gone on increasing, even at Wittenberg, the hearth and centre of the innovation.
(Janssen, V, 283-284)
If the Elector were to grant freedom of worship to the Catholics of his dominions, there would be great danger, the preachers feared, in view of the general feeling of the people that the old faith would gain a decisive victory over the new.
(Janssen, V, 286)
- You know well what sort of friendship lords and peasants entertain for me.
(Janssen, V, 284; LL, III, 550, February 15, 1530)
The attachment of the people to Luther's doctrine was no greater than to his person . . .
'They accuse us of being rebels, of having destroyed the unity of the Church, and of being the authors of all the evils of the day . . . Many are saying, "Religion is going to the dogs; there is no reverence for God . . . What good has come out of the Gospel. Everything was formerly in a far better state."' . . .
The people would willingly drive him, 'together with the Gospel -- sheer out of the country, or else starve him to death.'
(Janssen, V, 284-285)
The peasants themselves turned against the Reformation as a lure and a betrayal; some called Luther 'Dr. Lugner' -- 'Dr. Liar' -- and 'toady of the princes.' For years after the revolt he was so unpopular that he seldom dared leave Wittenberg . . .
'All is forgotten that God has done for the world through me,' he wrote (June 15. 1525); 'now lords, priests, and peasants are all against me, and threaten my death.'"
'The majority of Germans,' wrote Melanchthon in 1548, 'hate the Word of God as much as they hate us.'
(Janssen, XVI, 22; BR, VI, 778)
Another widespread myth is that of the organic connection between Protestantism and capitalism (as if Catholicism had no relation to the latter). Although there is an element of truth in this, as in all good lies, particularly with regard to Calvinism, the actual causative factors are much more complex:
- Luther . . . hated commerce and capitalism . . . Like Melanchthon, Luther thought that the most admirable life was that of the peasant, for it was least touched by the corroding spirit of commercial calculation . . .
The greatest misfortune of the German nation is easily the traffic in interest . . . The devil invented it, and the Pope, by giving his sanction to it, has done untold evil throughout the world.
(R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, New York: Mentor, 1926, 82-83, 85)
Zwingli . . . insists on the oft-repeated thesis that private property originates in sin . . . and, while emphasizing that interest must be paid when the State sanctions it, condemns it in itself as contrary to the law of God.
(Tawney, ibid., 92)
- Apart from its qualified indulgence to interest, Calvinism made few innovations in the details of social policy, and the content of the program was thoroughly medieval.
(Tawney, ibid., 104)
Nowadays no one has a kind word for Max Weber's thesis that Calvinism created a new 'dedicated' capitalist outlook, the 'worldly asceticism' of modern business. It seems difficult to construct any defense of this specious theory . . . Almost every feature of the 16th century business world, including double-entry book-keeping, had already existed in late Medieval Europe. The Fuggers and most of the Augsburg bankers remained Catholics at the Reformation; while Europe's other chief centres of high finance -- Antwerp, Lyons, Genoa, Venice -- lay in Catholic countries. Again, the ideal of the hard-working and methodical life was preached by the 17th century Jesuits . . . as well as by their Puritan contemporaries. On the whole, Calvinism fought the practices of unfettered capitalism more consistently than did any other of the Christian churches. Calvin . . . regarded the charging of interest as a dubious activity for a Christian.
Capitalism existed, both in form and spirit, before Calvin's day . . . Economic forces outside the stream of rellgion contributed to its growth before the Reformation. The capitalistic spirit was strong in Venice, Florence, South Germany and Flanders in the 15th century, though these were Catholic areas. The development of capitalism in England and Holland was due in large measure to economic causes . . . Calvin's emphasis on the middle class virtues was not new, for similar injunctions to industry and thrift are found in ancient philosophy and in medieval Catholicism . . . Aquinas' emphasis on abstemious living, with his condemnations of extravagance . . . idleness and dishonesty, gave a marked incentive to middle class thrift . . . The idea of secular calling as divine vocation . . . was not a new idea . . .
Capitalism was in the field before Calvinism appeared and was the product of many complex forces . . . The dominant factor in the capitalistic revolution was the change from a natural economy to a money economy. This took place some centuries before the 16th, and paved the way for a new era . . . Calvin originated neither the capitalistic system nor the capitalistic spirit.
(Harkness, 187-188, 190, 192-193)
1. The Political and Non-Popular Basis of the English "Reformation"
- In England the Reformation, in every sense, depended on the initiative of the Crown . . . The Reformation of Edward VI's reign was brought about by an alliance between politicians utterly worldly, devoid of morality, and Reformers so bigoted as to play blindly into their hands.
(Hughes, 165, 196)
At Henry's death a rickety child, his diseased little son Edward, nominally succeeded. But real power was . . . in the hands of the unscrupulous men who formed the Council. They rigorously pursued and increased the loot of religious endowments and even made an effort to impose a new Protestant religion repugnant to the vast majority of Englishmen (the secretary to the Government, who had all the evidence available, sets that majority at eleven-twelfths of the people).
Never before in history, not even in Lutheran Germany, had the state engineered such a total confiscation of spiritual authority to its own advantage.
The people escaped from an infallible pope into the arms of an absolute King. In a material sense they had not benefited . . . William Cobbett thought that,
viewed merely in its social aspect, the English Reformation was in reality the rising of the rich against the poor.
(Durant, 577-578; Cobbett [1763?-1855] was an English working class leader and central figure for parliamentary reform)
(Johnson, ibid., 156)
How politics could react upon religion," was "most strikingly demonstrated in England . . . No country . . . seemed more soundly orthodox . . . Yet the pope's authority had hardly been called into doubt before it was altogether removed . . . That it took its origin in a political revolution, only the wilfully blind would deny . . . doctrine and belief were secondary matters.
The English Reformation was emphatically a political revolution.
The Reformation in England was determined mainly by the interests of the Crown.
- The Church of England in its 'Homily of Idolatry' distinctly states that 'for 800 years and more, laity and clergy, learned and unlearned, all ages, sects and degrees of men, women and children of the whole of Christendom have been at once drowned in abominable idolatry, of all vices most detested of God and most damnable to man.'!
In 1548, Edward VI, as supreme Head of the Church, caused it to be ordained that any clergyman not using the Book of Common Prayer, or using any other form of prayer, should suffer imprisonment for life! Three years later, this was extended to the laity . . . In fact, both priests and many of the laity were forced to adopt Anglicanism, or suffer death in ways of which the axe was the most merciful . . .
All Catholics were placed under the harrow of oppressive laws. To become a Catholic was to commit an act of high treason . . . No christenings, marriages or burials could take place among them except according to the rites of the Church of England. Espionage and treachery were well rewarded. A statute of Parliament, passed in 1605, reads: 'Any person discovering where Mass was said, shall have his own pardon and one-third of the goods forfeited by the attainder.' . . .
No man could enjoy security in the privacy of his own house, where he was liable at all hours, but generally in the night, to be visited by a magistrate at the head of an armed mob . . . All the inmates were interrogated; their persons were searched . . . and there are instances on record of females of rank whose reason and lives were endangered from the brutality of the officers' (Lingard, History Of England, vol. 6, pp. 166-167) . . .
As a proof that these atrocious laws were pitilessly carried out, we may recall the fact that, in 1626, Lord Scroop was accused of being too lenient, because he had convicted only 1,670 Catholics in the limited area of East Riding in Yorkshire.
Moreover, being divided by internal dissensions, its dogmas cannot be defined with certainty . . . The differences in the Church of England are not limited to trivialities . . . 'High Church' and 'Broad Church' . . . look upon the Sacrament of Holy Communion from entirely different standpoints. One holds that it involves the miracle of transubstantiation; the other claims that it is merely a memorial service . . . Moreover, while some Anglicans regard the Church of Rome as the 'Scarlet Woman' and the very embodiment of idolatry and blasphemy, others in the same Church believe in the Divine Presence in the sanctuary, adopt auricular confession, and . . . approach as nearly as possible the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. Still more remarkable is the fact that, while some members of the Anglican communion call themselves Protestants . . . many of the High Church clergymen and laity repudiate the name, and even declare that Protestantism is a heresy!
Who is to decide, and to enforce decisions, in a Church like this? Theoretically, a King or Queen is supposed to do so, but really, in any test case, the decision rests . . . with Parliament. And what is Parliament? A legislative assembly, mostly composed of laymen, many of whom are atheists, agnostics or Israelites . . . The actual Head of the Church of England is the chief of that particular political party which happens to be temporarily in power. Today this chief is Mr. Lloyd George, a Welsh Dissenter; and not long ago the world beheld the still more remarkable spectacle of a Jew - Benjamin Disraeli - appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury and other prelates in the Established Church!
James Anthony Froude, an Anglican historian and "ardent defender of Henry VIII" (Durant, 765), described conditions in England in 1550:
- The movement commenced by Henry VIII . . . had brought the country at last into the hands of mere adventurers . . . Not only the highest virtues of self-sacrifice, but the commonest duties of probity and morality, were disappearing. Private life was infected with impurity to which the licentiousness of the Catholic clergy appeared like innocence.
- There was a moment when Oxford and Cambridge seemed about to suffer the fate of the abbeys. The act of 1547 . . . expressly exempted the colleges of the two university towns . . . After nearly twenty years of general upheaval they were in a parlous state - 'wells that had almost dried up,' one Reformer declared, preaching before the little king. Nine tenths of the student body had disappeared, he also said, and England was likely to become 'more barbarous than Scythia.' There were, indeed, two years in this reign when at Oxford not a single degree was conferred. Thousands of books had been destroyed in the various royal visitations, as thousands had been destroyed when the abbeys came down. The university library had disappeared. At Cambridge, from about 1538, the university, hard-driven for money, began to sell its books, and what had once been the library was used as a lecture room. The testimony to this decay, from the indignant Reformation divines, is general.
1. Bias in History of Religion (Rumble and Carty)
Fathers Rumble and Carty discuss the problem of bias in accounts of religious history:
- The textbooks of history in the English language have for the most part been written by men whole-heartedly Protestant, or by conviction anti-Catholic . . . If only unconsciously, bias and prejudice creep into their writings . . . In histories of the Protestant Reformation feeling and sentimental loyalties have again and again got the better of dispassionate reason . . . On both sides history has been written in a partisan spirit . . . The Catholic Church has nothing whatever to fear from the results of such historical research . . . The best Catholic and Protestant historians are not far today from agreement about the facts, though they do not regard them in the same way.
(Rumble and Carty, II, 65-66)
G.K. Chesterton, the witty convert to Catholicism, makes the following observations about the general course of the Protestant Revolt in its early stages:
- A fact not always emphasized, but which always strikes me as the most outstanding fact of the mysterious business [is] the incredible clumsiness of the Reformers. The real Protestant theologians were such very bad theologians. They had an amazing opportunity; the old Church had been swept out of their way, along with many things that were really unpopular, and some things that were deservedly unpopular . . . They made every mistake that they could make. They waged an insane war against everything in the old faith that is most normal and sympathetic to human nature; such as prayers for the dead or the gracious image of a Mother of Men. They hardened and fixed themselves upon fads which anybody could see would pass like fashions. Luther lashed himself into a sort of general fury, which obviously could not last. Calvin was logical, but used his logic for a scheme which humanity manifestly would not long find endurable. Perhaps the most successful were those who really had no ideas to offer at all; like the founders of the Anglican Church . . . but even they showed the same blindness, in binding themselves instantly to the Divine Right of Kings, which was almost immediately to break down . . .
The Protestants . . . were wrong-headed. They did not really think what they were doing; and this was chiefly because the real driving force behind them was the impatient insolence and avarice of new nobles and rebellious princes . . .
It is the simple fact that the moment men began to contradict the Church with their own private judgment, everything they did was incredibly ill-judged; that those who broke away from the Church's basis almost immediately broke down on their own basis.
(Chesterton, 26-27, 29)
- Sound human reason teaches me that a man cannot honestly further the cause of God, who excites so great an uproar in the world, and finds delight in abuse and sarcasm, and cannot have enough of them. Such an amount of arrogance, as we have never seen surpassed, cannot possibly be without some folly, and such a boisterous individual is not at all in harmony with the apostolic spirit.
All good people lament and groan over the fatal schism with which you shake the world by your arrogant, unbridled and seditious spirit.
(Spalding, I, 464)
- This most miserable anarchy causes me such anguish that I would gladly leave this life . . . Anarchy strengthens the presumption of the wicked, and the neglect of learning threatens to bring on another age of darkness and of barbarism . . . Contempt of religion parades quite openly.
(Janssen, XVI, 23-24; BR, V, 852; VII, 543)
- The first class . . . detest the bonds of Church laws and usages and prefer the dissolution of all discipline . . . the greater part of the common people who understand nothing of the grounds of the teaching . . . The second class are the . . . nobles . . . who approve . . . not because of conviction, but because they do not wish to oppose the princes. The third class . . . make a great pretence of piety . . . but under this cloak they seek only to gratify their own lusts . . . The fourth class is those whose convictions are based on their own understanding; but of these there are few.
(Janssen, XVI, 22; BR, V, 725-726)
Finally, we quote the great historian Will Durant, not a Catholic himself, and somewhat of a secularist. In the Epilogue of his massive work The Reformation, he poses as a Catholic responding to the massive turmoil and socio-political upheavals of the Protestant Revolution (and does very well):
- Your emphasis on faith as against works was ruinous . . . for a hundred years charity almost died in the centers of your victory . . . You destroyed nearly all the schools we had established, and you weakened to the verge of death the universities that the Church had created and developed. Your own leaders admit that your disruption of the faith led to a dangerous deterioration of morals both in Germany and England. You let loose a chaos of individualism in morals, philosophy, industry, and government. You took all the joy and beauty out of religion . . . you condemned the masses of mankind to damnation as 'reprobates,' and consoled an insolent few with the pride of 'election' and salvation. You stifled the growth of art, and wherever you triumphed classical studies withered. You expropriated Church property to give it to the state and the rich, but you left the poor poorer than before, and added contempt to misery . . . You rejected the papacy only to exalt the state: you gave to selfish princes the right to determine the religion of their subjects . . . You divided nation against nation, and many a nation and city against itself; you wrecked the international moral checks on national powers, and created a chaos of warring national states . . . You claimed the right of private judgment, but you denied it to others as soon as you could . . . Every man becomes a pope, and judges the doctrines of religion before he is old enough to comprehend the functions of religion in society and morals . . . A kind of disintegrative mania, unhindered by any . . . authority, throws your followers into such absurd and violent disputes that men begin to doubt all religion, and Christianity itself would be dissolved . . . were it not that the Church stands firm amid all the fluctuations of opinion and argument . . . the one fold that can preserve religion.
[P = Protestant work / S = secular work]
WA = Weimar Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works (Werke) in German, 1883. "Br." = correspondence.
EA = Erlangen Ausgabe edition of Luther's Works (Werke) in German, 1868, 67 volumes.
HA= Werke, Halle edition, 1753, (J.G. Walch, editor).
WI = Werke, Wittenberg edition, 1559.
LW = Luther's Works, American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955.
LL = Luther's Letters (German), edited by M. De Wette, Berlin: 1828
EN = Enders, L., Dr. Martin Luther's Correspondence, Frankfurt, 1862
BR = Bretschneider, editor, Corpus Reformation, Halle, 1846.
Bainton, Roland H. (P), Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (P), New York: Mentor Books, 1950.
Belloc, Hilaire, Characters of the Reformation, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1958.
Bossuet, James (Bishop of Meaux, France), History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, 2 volumes, translated from French, New York: D. & J. Sadler, 1885 (orig. 1688).
Bouyer, Louis, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, translated by A.V. Littledale, London: Harvill Press, 1956.
Chadwick, Owen (P), The Reformation, New York: Penguin, revised edition, 1972.
Chesterton, G.K., The Well and the Shallows, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935.
Conway, Bertrand L., The Question Box, New York: Paulist Press, 1929.
Cross, F.L. & E.A. Livingstone, eds. (P), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd ed., 1983.
Daniel-Rops, Henri, The Protestant Reformation, vol. 2, translated by Audrey Butler, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1961.
Dickens, A.G. (P), Reformation and Society in 16th-Century Europe, London: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966.
Dollinger, Johann, The Reformation, Regensburg, 1848.
Douglas, J.D. (P), editor, The New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.
Durant, Will (S), The Reformation, (volume 6 of 10-volume The Story of Civilization, 1967), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957.
Erasmus, Desiderius, Christian Humanism and the Reformation, (selections from Erasmus), edited and translated by John C. Olin, New York: Harper & Row, 1965 (orig. 1515-34).
Grisar, Hartmann, Luther, translated by E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917.
Hardon, John A., The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1975.
Harkness, Georgia (P), John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics, New York: Abingdon Press, 1931.
Hughes, Philip, A Popular History of the Reformation, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1957.
Huizinga, Johan (P), Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, tr. F. Hopman, New York: Harper & Bros., 1957 (orig. 1924).
Hurstfield, Joel (P), The Reformation Crisis, New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Janssen, Johannes, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumess, translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891).
Latourette, Kenneth Scott (P), A History of Christianity, 2 volumes, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1953.
Lockyer, Herbert, Sr. (P), editor, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
Lucas, Henry S. (P), The Renaissance and the Reformation, New York: Harper & Bros., 1934.
Myers, Allen C. (P), editor, Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987 (English rev. of Bijbelse Encyclopedie, edited by W.H. Gispen, Kampen, Netherlands: J.H. Kok, revised edition, 1975), translated by Raymond C. Togtman & Ralph W. Vunderink.
O'Connor, Henry, Luther's Own Statements, New York: Benziger Bros., 3rd ed., 1884.
Phillips, Margaret (P?), Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance, New York: Collier Books, 1965.
Rumble, Leslie & Charles M. Carty, Radio Replies, 3 vols., St. Paul, MN: Radio Replies Press, 1940.
Smith, Preserved (S), The Social Background of the Reformation, New York: Collier Books, 1962 (2nd part of author's The Age of the Reformation, New York: 1920).
Spalding, Martin J. (Archbishop of Baltimore), The History of the Protestant Reformation, 2 volumes, Baltimore: John Murphy, 1876.
Stoddard, John L., Rebuilding a Lost Faith, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1922.
1. Theodore Beza (1519-l605): French. Friend and biographer of Calvin, who succeeded him as Pastor in Geneva, Switzerland. He published a Latin translation of the New Testament in 1556 and a critical Greek text in 1565.
2. Martin Bucer (1491-1551): German. Introduced and promoted Protestantism at Strassburg (now in France). He held to a view of the Eucharist intermediate between Luther and Zwingli, and for a time acted as a sort of moderator between parties. He wrote On the Kingdom of Christ (1550), the first Protestant treatise on social ethics.
3. Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75): Swiss. Succeeded Zwingli as chief Pastor of Zurich, Switzerland, and was the most moderate and tolerant of all the Protestant Founders, but not as influential as many of them. He was the author of the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, and was an aide to Queen Elizabeth of England.
4. John Calvin (1509-64): French. Chief Pastor at Geneva from 1541-64, and author of Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536 with many revisions), the most influential work of Protestant systematic theology. Calvin's commentaries also set the tone for Protestant exegesis. He became the central figure of the Protestant Revolt after Luther's death and ultimately was even more important historically, with Calvinist churches thriving especially in the Netherlands, Scotland, England, and America.
5. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556): English. The first Archbishop of Canterbury after the Church of England broke with Rome, and Henry VIII's chief agent for overthrowing papal supremacy. He annulled Henry's marriages to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and was the primary author of the Book of Common Prayer.
6. William Farel (1489-1565): French. He introduced Protestantism to Neuchatel, Switzerland in 1530, and to Geneva in 1535, and later presided at Berne. His marriage at 69 to a young widow met with the disapproval of Calvin.
7. John Knox (1505?-72): Scottish. He closely followed the doctrines of Calvin and brought the Protestant faith to Scotland in 1560. He was perhaps the most anti-Catholic and virulent revolutionary of all the early Protestant leaders.
8. Martin Luther (1483-1546): German. "Father of the Reformation", who started it with his 95 Theses, posted at Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. His most important works (and his own favorites) were the Commentary on Galatians and The Bondage of the Will. He also translated the Bible into German, and wrote innumerable pamphlets which circulated widely. He was a dazzling orator, but his thought was unsystematic, and often slanderous and/or vulgar. He believed that the body and blood of Christ were literally present in the Eucharist "in, around, and with the bread" ("consubstantiation") - the view closest to Catholicism.
9. Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560): German. Right-hand man and successor to Luther, but with a much milder temperament. He wrote Loci Communes Theologici (1521, rev. 1555), the first Protestant systematic theology, and the Augsburg Confession (1530), a relatively conciliatory document which contained what could be considered many "Catholic" elements.
10. Johannes Oecolampadius (1482-1531): Swiss. Introduced Protestantism to Berne and Basle, Switzerland, and was Chief Pastor at Basle; friend of Zwingli, with whom he shared his symbolic view of the Eucharist. He was overwhelmed with shock at the news of Zwingli's death on the battlefield, and died soon afterwards.
11. Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531): Swiss. Chief Pastor of Zurich; "Reformer" of Switzerland. He held that the Eucharist was purely symbolic, and was the most "radical" of the Protestant revolutionaries, apart from the anarchical Anabaptists. He died in a battle at Cappel, Switzerland, along with many of his preachers.
Original version: 11 June 1991 by Dave Armstrong; major revision on "Reformation Day": 31 October 2003. Further revisions on 8 March 2007.