It's unbelievable, but there it is. Josh S., of Cruising Down the Coast of High Barbaree fame (and lately contributing on the Reformed Catholicism blog as well), has, after repeated challenges from yours truly, decided to defend, rationalize, sanction, and justify the incredible mass plunderings of the so-called "Reformation."
And he does so, not surprisingly, using the exact same grounds that were used at the time by Luther and Henry VIII and the other revolutionaries (and money-grubbing, opportunist Lutheran princes and English "nobles" etc.). They were just as dead-wrong and unethical then as they are now, and the passage of time doesn't make them any less so, as true ethical principles and right and wrong are eternal entities (being grounded in God Himself) and don't change over time.
Historian Eamon Duffy of Cambridge
I had mentioned in passing, in the combox for his post "The Invisible Church": "Censorship of Catholics does go way back in Lutheran circles, though." This caused the usual non sequitur replies:
*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***
HA, HA, HA, HA, HAAAAA!!!
***Pounds desk while weeping tears of delirious laughter***
Oh, that's wonderful. Simply wonderful.
Josh S. (his words will be in blue henceforth):
I laughed out loud for a good thirty seconds. The very idea of a Catholic complaining about censorship truly engenders more hilarity than anything I've ever seen in the comments on my blog.
Catholics, by and large (not always), were willing to let the Lutherans worship as they pleased (e.g., the Emperor's demeanor at the Diet of Augsburg), but Lutherans forbade Catholic masses in their territories and simply stole Catholic property. It's not arguable; it is historical fact (just as in England). I've copiously documented it in many papers.The Emperor saw the Augsburg Confession as an act of insubordination, and war ensued. Only after bitter and bloody conflict and with the looming threat of the Turk being far more serious than the Lutherans was the Peace of Augsburg signed in I think 1555. However, Trent overturned the terms of the PoA, and various revolts and suppressions continued for around three decades. However, the power of the Reformed and Lutheran princes was sufficient that non-papally sanctioned worship was a political reality that Rome simply had to accept by the middle of the 17th century.
Luther censored Catholic versions of the Bible, and lied about (as did the movie, Luther) the plain fact that many German translations (some 14 or so, as I recall) had been available for several generations before he was born.
[actually, this should read, "several generations before his own Bible translation came out in the 1520s" -- since they dated from the movable-type printing press in the mid-15th century]
. . . But as I have shown, there was plenty of scandal and intolerance among early Lutherans. For heaven's sake, under Luther and Melanchthon, current-day Baptists could be put to death, whereas not many Catholics were executed. Yet I once talked to a Lutheran pastor's wife who was so exceedingly ignorant that she denied that Luther accepted the death penalty for heresy. I said that she need only go as far as Bainton's Here I Stand to see the falsity of that.
None of that overthrows the facts I cited. Are you denying that Lutherans forbade Catholic masses in their territories or that they confiscated Catholic property (i.e., stealing, outright theft) on a huge scale? I'd love to see you do that.After John H. hemmed and hawed, I opined:
The facts on that score are so utterly obvious and non-debatable, that I wouldn't waste time even documenting them here (and you'd complain that it made my post too long anyway). Anyone familiar at all with my blog can find many papers dealing with this.
. . . just answer the cotton-pickin' question (or I suppose the reluctance is already the answer). Everyone knows all sides have done bad stuff. No sense beating around the bush about it. It doesn't disprove anyone's theology.Josh then decided to take the bull by the horns and (most astonishingly) defend the outrages of that sad period:
My frustration as an apologist is to see the continual double standard about Catholic "bad stuff" (trumpeted incessantly) vs. Protestant scandal (hardly known, denied, or rationalized away). so part of my mission in life is to even that score at every opportunity.
. . . the context of all this talk of "sins of the [Lutheran / Catholic] fathers" was John's and Josh's uproarious laughter over my remark about Lutheran censorship, as if it were the silliest thing ever uttered by man in human history.
So I made indisputable references to some of the things that happened in those days among Lutherans, showing, of course, that my statement was not ridiculous at all.
Dave, you are superimposing 20th century concepts of property ownership back onto the 16th century. German, English, and Swedish political authorities did not regard the cathedrals and chapels on their soil as the property of the pope (this attitude long predates the Reformation--who do you think paid for them?). Hence, reforms of worship in those territories did not by any means entail "stealing" from the papacy. Besides, from our point of view, they continued to be used by the Church, so what's the problem? The Church isn't the pope; it's all believers in Christ. That the Church in many places was released from bondage to the papacy doesn't mean that the pope still retains some natural right of control over her property when it was never his to begin with.
If you really want to talk about stealing, let's talk about how the papacy raped Germany for cash to build St Peter's by selling those lying indulgences.
Wow. Where to begin? I was especially surprised to see him include England and Sweden in his justifications, as the plunder in those countries (especially England) was, arguably, the most indisputably unethical and wicked of all such instances during the "Reformation." Very well, then; if Josh wishes to defend Henry VIII's plunder, then let us use that as an example and pursue it a bit. Can it be defended according to any semblance of Christian, biblical morality? Absolutely not.
And to just make a tiny dent into the massive documentation of the indefensible outrages, why don't we consult the famous work A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland (1826), by the non-Catholic social reformer William Cobbett (1763-1835). The online introduction to the book notes:
Cobbett's ideas found little favour with "respectable" historians then or for long afterwards . . . It is interesting, however, to note that one of Cobbett's theses -- that the Reformation in England had little popular support and was the product of a handful of fanatics backed by the awesome power of the Tudor Monarchy and supported by the greed of those who looted the monasteries and Churches -- is now increasingly being accepted by historians. See for example the TV series and book A History of Britain by Simon Schama, or the more specialised and detailed account The Stripping of The Altars by Eamon Duffy.
A review of Duffy's book by R. Post, on the amazon page, sums up his thesis:
"The Stripping of the Altars", Eamon Duffy's erudite, meticulous yet flowing analysis of what he refers to as "traditional religion" in England in the years from 1400 to 1580 is a masterpiece of scholarship and also of presentation. Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, he states in his preface to the second edition (the book was originally published in 1992) that his intentions were academic and that he was himself surprised to find that it developed an audience among the general public. . . .
Duffy's thesis is that, contrary to what has been taught and generally believed about the Protestant Reformation in England, satisfaction with the Roman Catholic "traditional" religion, its fêtes, rituals and observances was almost universal at the time of the Reformation and that the Reformation, itself, was imposed upon the people by royal and civil authority, not popular will. . . . he makes a convincing case.
He does so systematically, painting the nature of English existence at the time, largely rural, generally peaceful in the wake of the Hundred Year's War, isolated, provincial and soaked in pervasive religiosity. Suggesting that the abuses, indulgences and corruption of the Continental church had few echoes in England, Duffy works through the nature of categories of traditional practice -- liturgy, catechesis, mass, gild, prayers, primers (in preference to Bible study), and the sometimes cultish fixations on death and purgatory -- and in doing so creates an image of an idyllic world, cohesive, communal and warmly and constantly involved with its faith. In the process he uses plentiful plates and illustrations that correlate with specifics in the text and which, themselves, are a pleasure to review.
Voices around Henry VIII, who despite his quarrels with the papacy remained ambivalent about his religious identification, radicalized his policies in the persons of ranting Hugh Latimer and Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, culminating in 1533 in the ultimate break with the Roman church and, in the name of removing idolatrous objects, the subsequent eponymous stripping of the altars, art, and statuary of the churches and the destruction of abbeys and monasteries, a sad price to pay for the concepts of religious individualism and personal responsibility for salvation.
The reaction of the traditionalists was varied. Some resisted while others went underground or accommodated and accepted the new authority; however, given the opportunity, Duffy emphasizes, the "vast majority" of the people quickly reverted to traditional religion after the deaths of Henry in 1547 and of the young King Edward VI in 1553 and the brief accession to the throne of Catholic Mary Tudor. As the reign of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and the Protestant Church of England was reinstated, many quickly changed sides of the aisle again, but, Duffy asserts, the ultimate defeat of the traditionalists was the result only of lengthy systematic repression, an effort that finally subverted the true will of the people.
* * * * *
4. Now, my friends, a fair and honest inquiry will teach us, that this was an alteration greatly for the worse; that the "REFORMATION," as it is called, was engendered in beastly lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of innocent English and Irish blood; and that, as to its more remote consequences, they are, some of them, now before as in that misery, that beggary, that nakedness, that hunger, that everlasting wrangling and spite, which now stare us in the face and stun our ears at every turn, and which the "Reformation" has given us in exchange for the ease and happiness and harmony and Christian charity, enjoyed so abundantly, and for so many ages, by our Catholic forefathers.54. When I come to speak of the measures by which the monasteries were robbed, devastated and destroyed in England and Ireland, I shall show how unjust, base and ungrateful, this railing against them is; and how foolish it is besides. I shall show the various ways in which they were greatly useful to the community; and I shall especially show how they operated in behalf of the labouring and poorer classes of the people. But, in this place, I shall merely describe, in the shortest manner possible, the origin and nature of those institutions, and the extent to which they existed in England.
60. England, more, perhaps, than any other country in Europe, abounded in such institutions, and these more richly endowed than any where else. In England, there was, on an average, more than twenty (we shall see the exact number by-and-by) of those establishments to a county! Here was a prize for an unjust and cruel tyrant to lay his lawless hands upon, and for "Reformation" gentry to share amongst them! Here was enough, indeed, to make robbers on a grand scale cry out against "monkish ignorance and superstition"! No wonder that the bowels of CRANMER, KNOX, and all their mongrel litter, yearned so piteously as they did, when they cast their pious eyes on all the farms and manors, and on all the silver and gold ornaments belonging to these communities! We shall see, by-and-by, with what alacrity they ousted, plundered, and pulled down: we shall see them robbing, under the basest pretences, even the altars of the country parish churches, down to the very smallest of those churches, and down to the value of five shillings. But, we must first take a view of the motives which led the tyrant, Henry VIII., to set their devastating and plundering faculties in motion.
64. By making himself the supreme head of the Church, he made himself, he having the sword and the gibbet at his command, master of all the property of that Church, including that of the monasteries! His counsellors and courtiers knew this; and, as it was soon discovered that a sweeping confiscation would take place, the parliament was by no means backward in aiding his designs, every one hoping to share in the plunder. The first step was to pass acts taking from the POPE all authority and power over the Church in England, and giving to the King all authority whatever as to ecclesiastical matters. . . . 96. And yet, the calculating, cold-blooded and brazen BURNET has the audacity to say, that "such a man as Henry VIII. was necessary to bring about the Reformation!" He means, of course, that such measures as those of Henry were necessary; and, if they were necessary, what must be the nature and tendency of that "Reformation?" 97. The work of blood was now begun, and it proceeded with steady pace. All who refused to take the oath of supremacy; that is to say, all who refused to become apostates, were considered and treated as traitors, and made to suffer death accompanied with every possible cruelty and indignity. As a specimen of the works of BURNET's necessary reformer, and to spare the reader repetition on the subject, let us take the treatment of JOHN HOUGHTON, Prior of the Charter-house in London, which was then a convent of Carthusian monks. This Prior, for having refused to take the oath, which, observe, he could not take without committing perjury, was hanged at TYBURN. He was scarcely suspended when the rope was cut, and he alive on the ground. His clothes were then stripped off; his bowels were ripped up; his heart and entrails were torn from his body and flung into a fire; his head was cut from his body; the body was divided into quarters and parboiled; the quarters were then subdivided and hung up in different parts of the city; and one arm was nailed to the wall over the entrance into the monastery! 98. Such were the means, which BURNET says were necessary to introduce the Protestant religion into England. How different, alas! from the means by which the Catholic religion had been introduced by POPE GREGORY and Saint AUSTIN! These horrid butcheries were perpetrated, mind, under the primacy of Fox's great Martyr, CRANMER, and with the active agency of another ruffian, named THOMAS CROMWELL, whom we shall soon see sharing with CRANMER the work of plunder, and finally sharing, too, in his disgraceful end. 99. Before we enter on the grand subject of plunder, which was the mainspring of the "Reformation," we must follow the King and his primate through their murders of Protestants, as well as Catholics. But, first, we must see how the Protestant religion arose, and how it stood at this juncture. . . . 118. Of the means by which the natural leaders of the people were seduced from them; of the kind and the amount of the prize of plunder, we are now going to take a view. In paragraph 4, I have said, that the "Reformation" was cherished and fed by plunder and devastation: In paragraph 37, I have said, that it was not a Reformation, but a devastation of England; and that this devastation impoverished and degraded the main body of the people. These statements I am now about to prove to be true. 119. In paragraphs from 55 to 60 inclusive, we have seen how monasteries arose, and what sort of institutions they were. There were, in England, at the time we are speaking of, 645 of theee institutions; besides 90 Colleges, 110 Hospitals, and 2374 Chantries and Free-Chapels. The whole were seized on, first and last, taken into the hands of the King, and by him granted to those who aided and abetted him in the work of plunder. 120. I pray you, my friends, sensible and just English men, to observe here, that this was a great mass of landed property; that this property was not by any means used for the sole benefit of monks, friars, and nuns; that, for the far greater part, its rents flowed immediately back amongst the people at large; and, that, if it had never been an object of plunder, England never would, and never could, have heard the hideous sound of the words pauper and poor- rate. You have seen, in paragraph 52, in what manner the tithes arose and how they were disposed of; and you are, by-and-by, to see how the rents of the monasteries were distributed. 145. There is now come that which is calculated to give our reasoning faculties fair play. We see the land covered at last with pauperism, fanaticism and crime. We hear an increase of the people talked of as a calamity; we hear of projects to check the breeding of the people; we hear of Scotch "feelosofers," prowling about the country, reading lectures to the manufacturers and artisans to instruct them in the science of preventing their wives from being mothers; and, in one instance, this has been pushed so far as to describe, in print, the mechanical process for effecting this object! In short, we are now arrived at a point which compels us to inquire into the cause of this monstrous state of things. The immediate cause we find to be the poverty and degradation of the main body of the people; and these, through many stages, we trace back to the "Reformation," one of the effects of which was to destroy those Monastic institutions which, as we shall now see, retained the produce of labour in the proper places, and distributed it in a way naturally tending to make the lives of the people easy and happy. 156. We have already seen something of these pretences, motives and acts of tyranny and barbarity; we have seen that the beastly lust of the chief tyrant was the groundwork of what is called the "Reformation"; we have seen that he could not have proceeded in his course without the concurrence of the Parliament; we have seen that, to obtain that concurrence, he held out to those who composed it a participation in the spoils of the Monasteries; and, when we look at the magnitude of their possessions, when we consider the beauty and fertility of the spots on which they, in general, were situated, when we think of the envy which the love borne them by the people must have excited in the hearts of a great many of the noblemen and gentlemen; when we thus reflect, we are not surprised, that these were eager for a "Reformation" that promised to transfer the envied possessions to them. 160. The monks and nuns, who had never dreamed of the possibility of such proceedings, who had never had an idea that Magna Charta and all the laws of the land could be set aside in a moment, and whose recluse and peaceful lives rendered them wholly unfit to cope with at once crafty and desperate villany, fell before these ruffians as chickens fall before the kite. The reports, made by these villains, met with no contradiction; the accused parties had no means of making a defence; there was no court for them to appear in; they dared. not, even if they had the means, to offer a defence or make a complaint; for they had seen the horrible consequences, the burnings, the rippings up, of all those of their brethren who had ventured to whisper their dissent from any dogma or decree of the tyrant. The project was to despoil people of their property; and yet the parties, from whom the property was to be taken, were to have no court in which to plead their cause, no means of obtaining a hearing, could make even no complaint but at the peril of their lives. They, and those who depended on them, were to be, at once, stripped of this great mass of property, without any other ground than that of reports, made by men, sent, as the malignant HUME himself confesses, for the express purpose of finding a pretence for the dissolution of the Monasteries and for the King's taking to himself property that had never belonged to him or his predecessors. [ . . . ] 265. The intention to change the religion of the country became, in a short time, so manifest, that all the Bishops but one refused to crown her [Queen Elizabeth]. She at last found one to do it; but even he would not consent to do the thing without her conformity to the Catholic ritual. Very soon, however, a series of acts were passed, which, by degrees, put down the Catholic worship, and re-introduced the Protestant; and she found the plunderers and possessors of plunder just as ready to conform to her ecclesiastical sway, as they had been to receive absolution from Cardinal Pole, in the last reign. CRANMER's book of Common Prayer, which had been ascribed by the Parliament to the suggestions of the "Holy Ghost," had been altered and amended even in Edward's reign. It was now revived, and altered and amended again; and still it was ascribed to the "dictates of the Holy Ghost"! 266. If these Acts of Parliament had stopped here, they would certainly have been bad and disgraceful enough. But such a change was not to be effected without blood. This Queen was resolved to reign: the blood of her people she deemed necessary to her own safety; and she never scrupled to make it flow. She looked upon the Catholic religion as her mortal enemy; and, cost what it might, she was resolved to destroy it, if she could, the means being, by her, those which best answered her end. 267. With this view, statutes the most bloody were passed. All persons were compelled to take the oath of supremacy, on pain of death. To take the oath of supremacy; that is to say, to acknowledge the Queen's supremacy in spiritual matters, was to renounce the POPE and the Catholic religion; or, in other words, to become an apostate. Thus was a very large part of her people at once condemned to death for adhering to the religion of their fathers; and moreover, for adhering to that very religion, in which she had openly lived till she became Queen, and to her firm belief in which she had sworn at her coronation! 268. Besides this act of monstrous barbarity, it was made high treason in a priest to say mass; it was made high treason in a priest to come into the kingdom from abroad; it was made high treason to harbour or to relieve a priest. And, on these grounds, and others of a like nature, hundreds upon hundreds were butchered in the most inhuman manner, being first hung up, then cut down alive, their bowels then ripped up, and their bodies chopped into quarters: and this, I again beg you, sensible and just Englishmen, to observe, only because the unfortunate persons were too virtuous and sincere to apostatize from that faith which this Queen herself had, at her coronation, in her coronation oath, solemnly sworn to adhere to and defend! 269. Having pulled down the altars, set up the tables; having ousted the Catholic priests and worship, and put in their stead a set of hungry, beggarly creatures, the very scum of the earth, with Cranmer's prayer-book amended in their hands; having done this, she compelled her Catholic subjects to attend in the churches under enormous penalties, which rose, at last, to death itself, in case of perseverance in refusal! Thus were all the good, all the sincere, all the conscientious people in the kingdom incessantly harassed, ruined by enormous fines, brought to the gallows, or compelled to flee from their native country. Thus was this Protestant religion watered with the tears and the blood of the people of England. Talk of Catholic persecution and cruelty! Where are you to find persecution and cruelty like this, inflicted by Catholic princes? Elizabeth put, in one way or another, more Catholics to death in one year, for not becoming apostates to the religion which she had sworn to be hers, and to be the only true one, than Mary put to death in her whole reign for having apostatized from the religion of her and their fathers, and to which religion she herself had always adhered. Yet, the former is called, or has been called, "good Queen Bess," and the latter "bloody Queen Mary." Even the horrid MASSACRE of ST. BARTHOLOMEW was nothing, when fairly compared with the butcheries and other cruelties of the reign of this Protestant Queen of England; yes, a mere nothing; and yet she put on mourning upon that occasion, and had the consummate hypocrisy to affect horror at the cruelties that the King of France had committed.
* * * * *
Etc., etc. Further Examples could be multiplied forever. Will Durant, not a Catholic himself, writes in the Epilogue of his massive work The Reformation, posing 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.(The Reformation, [volume 6 of 10-volume The Story of Civilization, 1967], New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 936-937)
Durant had written earlier in the book (pp. 438-439):The cities found Protestantism profitable . . . for a slight alteration in their theologicalCatholic historian Hilaire Belloc makes the obvious observation:
garb they escaped from episcopal taxes and courts, and could appropriate pleasant
parcels of ecclesiastical property . . . The princes . . . could be spiritual as well as
temporal lords, and all the wealth of the Church could be theirs . . . The Lutheran princes
suppressed all monasteries in their territory except a few whose inmates had embraced
the Protestant faith.There came - round about 1536-40 -- a change . . . The temptation to loot Church property and the habit of doing so had appeared and was growing; and this rapidly created a vested interest in promoting the change of religion. Those who attacked Catholic doctrine, as, for instance, in the matters of celibacy in the monastic orders . . . opened the door for the seizure of the enormous clerical endowments . . . by the Princes . . . The property of convents and monasteries passed wholesale to the looters over great areas of Christendom: Scandinavia, the British Isles, the Northern Netherlands, much of the Germanies and many of the Swiss Cantons. The endowments of hospitals, colleges, schools, guilds, were largely though not wholly seized . . . Such an economic change in so short a time our civilization had never seen . . . The new adventurers and the older gentry who had so suddenly enriched themselves, saw, in the return of Catholicism, peril to their immense new fortunes. (Characters of the Reformation, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1958, 9-10)Protestant historian A.G. Dickens wrote:In Sweden Gustavus Vasa deprived the Church of all its landed properties . . . The proportion of land held by the crown increased during his reign from 5.5% to 28%: that of the Church from 21% to nil.And Erasmus stated with great disdain, on 10 May 1521, just weeks before the Diet of Worms:
(Reformation and Society in 16th-Century Europe, London: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966, 191)This certainly is a fine turn of affairs, if property is wickedly taken away from priests so that soldiers may make use of it in worse fashion; and the latter squander their own wealth, and sometimes that of others, so that no one benefits. (Christian Humanism and the Reformation, [selections from Erasmus], edited and translated by John C. Olin, New York: Harper & Row, 1965 [orig. 1515-34], 157)I have engaged in two lengthy dialogues on this general topic, with my Lutheran friend and history professor "CPA" (he has asked me -- as Josh has -- to refrain from using his full name). He candidly admitted in the first debate:I'm not proud as an Evangelical in much of the "how" in England or SwedenI had written in that debate:
becoming Protestant. (In Germany much less bloody compulsion was used.)
Reading about the martyrs under Queen Mary is a good deal more comfortable
for me than about the martyrs under Queen Elizabeth. I would likewise hope
that you as a Catholic are not proud of the details of how the Czech lands became
Catholic, or how Protestantism basically disappeared in France and
Austria (or indeed how the Saxons became Christian in the first place).
The Catholics had already tolerated these upstarts coming in piilaging and stealing churches. But they were willing to let them worship as they wanted in their own territories. I fail to see how that is "intolerant." The Catholics had every right to go in and put down the mass insurrection by force, just as Luther advised the princes in 1525. That's what happens today, right? If a riot begins and folks start stealing things and looting, the police go in and put it down, using force where necessary.CPA wrote:
Are you saying the Catholics had no right to defend their property from being stolen, and priceless religious treasures being destroyed ore trampled on by horses, etc.?
The Protestants were breaking civil laws; not just the laws and doctrines of the Church. Note, e.g., one incident from the Diet of Augsburg in 1530:
Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious processions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: 'The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another.' He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . .
(Warren Carroll, The Cleaving of Christendom; from the series, A History of Christendom, Volume 4, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 103-107)
[Y]ou can surely understand that the Evangelicals, being convinced that Catholicism is false, and that the church of Christ must teach true doctrine, were understandably concerned with bringing all of the church and its properties into the hands of the true religion.And I replied:
Sure, I understand it. They thought Catholicism wasn't Christian; therefore, they felt like they had a duty to steal their properties and "Christianize" them. But of course this is wrong on two major counts:CPA engaged in a second lengthy (I thought, constructive, and amiable as always) debate on this topic of theft of Church properties. I wrote:
1) Catholicism is, in fact, Christian, and a consistent Protestant argument otherwise is impossible to make; indeed, almost inconceivable.Moreover, your huge problem here is that you are defending a movement which held to some basic assumptions that you reject; viz., that Catholicism is not Christian, and that the Mass is in no way, shape, or form a Christian worship service. This is the dilemma you find yourself in. Anti-Catholic Protestants can defend all this as consistent with their self-defeating beliefs. But you cannot, since you are not anti-Catholic (far as I know).
2) Stealing is against civil and natural law (and against the Ten Commandments).
But your premises are wrong here insofar as you overlook the common ground of ethics between Catholics and Protestants (which applies without regard to theological differences). We both follow the Ten Commandments, remember? We both think it is wrong to steal. It is wrong to steal the property of another Christian. If I came rummaging through your town with a band of rag-tag, self-righteous zealots and simply came into your church, destroyed works of art, smashed windows, booted out the pastor, and stole the building and made it a Catholic Church, what would you think? Would you feel that a grave injustice had been done? Would you rightly believe that you would have ample recourse to civil law to deal with your grievances and return to you what is rightly yours? Of course you would. But when we talk about the 16th century, all of a sudden you want to play games and act as if this is not indefensible behavior and fundamentally outrageous.CPA still resisted my argument, and so I decided to make an analogy to his perspective as a Lutheran:
I already agreed that the issues raised in conquering of pagan lands and cultures are difficult and thorny. I have not claimed to have worked through all of that (indeed, I would like to give it some serious consideration at some point, as something I have long wondered about).
But I don't have to have all that worked out to know that it is wrong for one Christian to steal another Christian's property, and banish their religion in the land where they have always lived, and require them to move in order to get their religious freedom back.
Stealing is wrong. Period. However it works out in analyzing the ethics of conquering and evangelizing lands, that doesn't undo the fact that stealing is a grave sin. Because one issue is more complex and more difficult to decipher does not make a much simpler situation ethically neutral or indecipherable. No; this is a clear case of injustice. You admit it yourself in the cases of Sweden and England, but you have tried to argue that it was a lot different in Germany. As a quantitative matter of degree, yes, but when the rabble-rousing Protestants came to my town and stole my church, then it was a clear matter of wrong and injustice.
These things cannot be defended. The very fact that you have to appeal to extraordinary, inapplicable analogies in order to bolster up a lost cause (stealing of churches of fellow Christians) shows the very weakness of your case.
. . . Lax, greedy, power-hungry princes (Melanchthon's own descriptions) determining what is heresy and what isn't, even to the point of death? This is even more ridiculous than the situation in England. At least there everyone knew it was a raw power play originally motivated by lust (as they say, "all heresy begins below the belt"). Here, there is the hyper-naive pretense that such a caesaropapist state of affairs could bring about something other than disaster (spiritual and civil).
You don't seem to realize what it is you defend in this particular discussion. Let me try as exact of an anology as I can, which applies to your own situation, to bring the point home to you.Lastly, I should like to summarize Martin Luther's rationalizations of theft, plunder, and stealing (his words in orange):
You are a Lutheran, with a nearly 500-year-old tradition at this point of history. Now, I assume that you would freely grant that there is a great deal of corruption of one sort or another in world Lutheranism. There is liberalism, there is caving into the pro-abortion mentality in many forms of it (ELCA, etc.), and other sorts of decay. This is true of every Christian tradition.
So all of a sudden, one day there arises a new form of Christianity, led by a fiery visionary who claims to be a sort of pseudo-prophet and God's man of the hour, and who is willing to confront the entire Lutheran tradition if needs be.
Let's give them the name "Believers of the True Gospel" (henceforth known as "BTG's"). This is analogous because the early Protestants claimed to be the sole possessors of the Christian gospel, while Catholics had supposedly forsaken the same.
These folks take it upon themselves to overrun Lutheran cities. The procedure is usually something like the following. This time, it occurs in your town, though. They come in, enter your church building, kick out the pastor and any staff, break the stained glass windows, smash any religious art that they see, destroy the organ, and in the end, steal the entire building with its property.
When you protest, they reply that "the goods are no longer yours," because you proclaim a false gospel, and they have the true gospel; therefore, they have the right to your property. Your congregation takes to someone's house to worship as you see fit.
But that is not sufficient for the BTG's. They not only steal your property and refuse to give it back because that is against their "conscience." They also go a step further and proclaim that you cannot worship as a Lutheran at all, in your own town. You are forced to leave, split, with all your possessions.
Your Baptist friends fare even worse. They are burned, drowned, tortured, crucified, or (in some more fortunate cases) lose their tongues and other body parts before being forced to leave town. You are relatively fortunate, being a Lutheran, but even so, your worship is declared by the BTG's as blasphemous, idolatrous, and an abomination; no Christian thing at all.
At length they take over the city or state government and institutionalize all their theological and ecclesiastical claims. The mayor and governor, city concil and state congress decide what is true religion and what is not.
But of course, none of this poses any problem for you, because you have your abstract analyses which can overcome all this supposed injustice and wickedness. You seem to think all of this would be fine and dandy because, well, because the BTG religion is every bit as valid and worthy of civil protection or legitimacy as the Lutheran religion. After all, it is still Christian (it's trinitarian, and so forth). But it does not regard your faith as legitimately Christian. So it makes perfect sense for it to suppress your religion entirely, and boot you out and take your property (and to kill Baptist and Pentecostal friends and family of yours), because it has every right to do so and no one could possibly object!
Will you concede the outrageousness of such a state of affairs yet? Or do you insist that the Lutherans in this instance had less cause for crying injustice than the BTG's? The latter were more justified in their actions, and the Lutherans deserved what they got? And this shall be how history views the situation for the next 500 years? The Lutherans deserved everything they got, and the BTG's were the "good guys" - the true Christians doing what they had to do?
. . . No one of their right mind - of any religion - can possibly condone such a thing. Once Protestants learn what happened, and how this happened over and over, most of them would not, either. Yet I can't seem to convince you of this. I wonder why that is, since you are an intelligent, fair-minded, knowledgeable, and ethical guy? What am I missing here? Admitting this was wrong no more harms your Lutheran faith than my admitting as a Catholic that a lot of the Inquisition and Crusades were unethical.
. . . How do you defeat my analogy? It describes exactly what happened, from the Catholic standpoint, simply switched over to a present-day Lutheran perspective. Would you just sit and stand by and let these guys come destroy your church, take the property, boot you out of town, kill certain Christian friends of yours, and defend their right to do it with abstract arguments? Or would you agree with me that it is an outrage (having nothing to do with religious differences [i.e., in terms of the debate we are having]) which has to be condemned as a wicked thing?
. . . The BTGs come to your town and don't give a rat's rear end about what you think is truth, or how old or established your denomination is. They are here with the true gospel and that's that! How do you argue against them, seeing the position you have staked out here? They see you as decrepit and their religion as the new, exciting, godly thing. How do you argue without getting into relative theology? But in the meantime it is easy to see how stealing and banishment is wrong, even more so when committed by one Christian against another.
'If they are not the church but the devil's whore that has not remained faithful to Christ, then it is irrefutably and thoroughly established that they should not possess church property.'
(Wider Hans Wurst, or Against Jack Sausage , LW, vol. 41, 179-256, translated by Eric W. Gritsch; citation from p. 220)
"For it is not unlawful, indeed, it is absolutely right to drive the wolf from the sheepfold . . . A preacher is not given property and tithes in order that he should do injury, but that he should labor profitably. If he does not work to the advantage of the people, the endowments are his no longer."
(12 December 1522)
. . . there is need of great care, lest the possessions of such vacated foundations become common plunder and everyone make off with what he can get . . . the blame is laid at my door whenever monasteries and foundations are vacated . . . This makes me unwilling to take the additional blame if some greedy bellies should grab these spiritual possessions and claim, in excuse of their conduct, that I was the cause of it . . .
In the first place: it would indeed be well if no rural monasteries, such as those of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Celestines, and the like, had ever appeared upon earth. But now that they are here, the best thing is to suffer them to pass away or to assist them, wherever one properly can, to disappear altogether. This may be done in the following ways. First, by suffering the inmates to leave, if they choose, of their own free will . . .
[then follows an exhortation to charitably provide for those who won't or can't leave]
I advise the temporal authorities, however, to take over the possessions of such monasteries . . . it is not a case of greed opposing the spiritual possessions, but of Christian faith opposing the monasteries . . . I am writing this for those only who understand the Gospel and who have the right to take such action in their own lands, cities and jurisdiction . . .
. . . the third way is best, namely, to devote all remaining possessions to the common fund of a common chest, out of which gifts and loans might be made, in Christian love, to all the needy in the land, whether nobles or commons . . .
I am setting down this advice in accordance with Christian love for Christians alone. We must expect greed to creep in here and there . . . it is better that greed take too much in an orderly way than that the whole thing become common plunder, as it happened in Bohemia. Let everyone examine himself to see what he should take for his own needs and what he should leave for the common chest.
In the third place: the same procedure should be followed with respect to abbacies, foundations, and chapters in control of lands, cities and other possessions. For such bishops and foundations are neither bishops nor foundations; they are really at bottom temporal lords sailing under a spiritual name . . .
In the fourth place: part of the possessions of the monasteries and foundations . . . are based upon usury, which now calls itself everywhere "interest," and which has in but a few years swallowed up the whole world . . . God says, "I hate robbery for burnt offering." [Is 61:8] . . .
But whosoever will not follow this advice nor curb his greed, of him I wash my hands.
(Preface to an Ordinance of a Common Chest , PE, IV, 92-98, translated by A.T.W. Steinhaeuser; WA, XII, 11-30; EA, XXII, 106-130; citations from 93-98)
"Who does not see that all bishops, foundations, monastic houses, universities, with all that are therein, rage against this clear word of Christ . . .? Hence they are certainly to be regarded as murderers, thieves, wolves and apostate Christians . . .
". . . the hearers not only have the power and the right to judge all preaching, but are obliged to judge it under penalty of forfeiting the favor of Divine Majesty. Thus we see in how unchristian a manner the despots dealt with us when they deprived us of this right and appropriated it to themselves. For this thing alone they have richly deserved to be cast out of the Christian Church and driven forth as wolves, thieves and murderers . . ."
(The Right and Power of a Christian Congregation or Community to Judge all Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proved From Scripture,  PE [Philadelphia edition of Luther's works], IV, 75-85, translated by A.T.W. Steinhaeuser; WA, XI, 406 ff.; EA, XXII, 141 ff.; citations from 75-79)
I shall conclude this lengthy paper with my words in that discussion:
Where are the Catholic laws which sanctioned stealing? If you produced any, I would roundly condemn them, so will you join me in also condemning such laws when passed by Lutherans? Remember, my argument is that stealing is part of natural law, understood by all societies as wrong. It should not be a point of controversy between Catholics and Protestants.
The real conflict here is whether the early Protestants could rationalize stealing on theological grounds (the Catholics are evil murderers, etc., and so they [deserve] whatever they get, including stealing and banishment and having a host of lies told against them in hideous, vulgar pamphlets). Last time I checked, bearing false witness is also condemned in the Ten Commandments, along with stealing and covetousness.
CPA: "I think all such laws and all such practices to be atrocious."
Great. Then we can agree that Luther- and Lutheran-sanctioned theft was also atrocious, and I assume you know that this was a major way in which the "Reformation" was spread (along with massive propaganda literature campaigns mocking Catholicism and largely cynical, Machiavellian political machinations). If we agree on that, then that is about the best outcome I could have hoped for in this dialogue.
. . . Lastly, I have never denied that Catholics did things wrong in history. Of course they did. Only a fool or an ignoramus could deny it. My point is always that the Protestants were either just as bad or worse, and more hypocritical, in light of their supposed foundational principles. I am always opposing what I call the "Protestant myth of origins" and the silly notion that Protestants were especially noble and righteous over against the Catholics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The more both sides face up to historical facts (whatever they are), the better we can communicate today regarding theological issues, because we're starting with a clean slate, so to speak, without being burdened by the baggage of historical falsehoods and myths.