Christian Europe. . .The Sixteenth Century
CHRISTIAN EUROPE...THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Knights of Columbus
A United Christendom
Henry VIII's Royal Obstinacy
Calvin's Welfare Church
If we go back to the year 1500 in Christian Europe, the first thing that history tells us about our problem of a divided Christendom is that four hundred and fifty years ago, it did not exist. A Christian of that time, asked to what Church he belonged, would be puzzled at such a question. Pressed for an answer, he might reply: "Why, of course, I belong to the only Christian Church, the Catholic Church, the Church with the Vicar of Christ at its headthere isn't any other."
To be sure, he would be speaking of Western Europe, but far off in the East were the Greek Orthodox Church and other mid-Eastern religious bodies, little known because of difficulty of travel and a lack of means of communication. A sixteenth century traveler, however, could report that while the Greek Orthodox Church, the largest of these groups, had a different language, ritual, and culture, it yet professed the same Christian doctrine and possessed the same priesthood and sacraments as the Catholic Church in the West. In fact, the Greeks' chief difficulty was acknowledging the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Their difficulty seemed in large part nationalistic and political, since their separation from the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, dated merely from 1054, and twice since then they had officially reunited, only to break away again.
Differences of language and custom had created an unfriendly atmosphere in regard to Western Europe; only the sparks of verbal misunderstanding or mistranslation, or the tactlessness of personal conduct were needed to cause disunion.
One Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius (1043-58), seems to have deliberately fanned the flames of racial ill-feeling in order to advance his personal ambition for independence. Constantinople, following Cerularius into rebellion and schism in 1054, had not, however, shut the door fast against reunion. One of his successors, Patriarch John Beccos, had made no scruple about accepting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome at the General Council of Lyons in 1274. Politics once again drove Greeks and Latins apart, but the Greek Patriarch Joseph had mended the breach at the General Council of Florence in 1439.
In 1500, then, the latest Greek break-away was less than fifty years old, and there was every reason to believe that these personal and national differences would finally yield to complete unity. For the moment, most Eastern Christians lay behind an "Iron Curtain" of Mohammedanism stretching around the southern Mediterranean up into the Balkans. Renewal of communion with the Church in Rome, therefore, would have been difficult for them even if they had desired it. The average Christian in the Western world could not be blamed too severely for assuming that the Church of Rome had no real rival in its claim to be the Church of Christ. For nearly fifteen centuries, the Vicar of Christ had received the allegiance of the majority of Christians in the West, and for a thousand years after Christ, most Eastern Christians were loyal to him as well.
This is not to say that the unity of the Catholic Church has never been threatened. Almost every century had witnessed some new threat to Christian unity. It is sufficient here to mention by way of example the most serious and widespread of these movements, those of the Arian Unitarians of the fourth century, and of the Albigensian Puritans in the thirteenth. But these and other sects, whether having their source in personalities, politics, nationalism, or economics, disappeared in the course of time.
In each successive crisis, the Roman Bishop's claim to be Christ s vicar and Peter's successor was acknowledged to be true. Indeed, it was such a commonplace of Christian teaching that even the forces of opposition tried to win the Pope to their side, and only began to revile the Papacy when the decision went against them.
In a united Christendom, brotherhood was a powerful ideal for international understanding and solidarity. But to the logical medieval thinker, brotherhood presupposed fatherhood. God was of course, the invisible Father of mankind, especially of Christians, and Christ had also given to the latter Mary as their mother. But early Christians had recognized earthly and visible parents as well. St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) had already said this well: "He cannot have God for a father, who has not the Church for a mother" (<Unity of the Church>, 6). For Christians, then, the Church was not a harsh, impersonal government like that of the State; she was "Holy Mother Church." And even before St. Cyprian, the martyrs of Lyons, writing in 177 to Pope Eleutherius of Rome, had respectfully addressed him as "Father Eleutherius" (Eusebius, <Ecclesiastical History>, V, 3-4).
With the coming of the Germans into Western society during the fifth century, the Church and its chief Bishop began to receive secular as well as spiritual paternity. For the new nations growing up in Western Europe-French, Germans, English, Spaniards, Italians-were indebted to the Church for guidance to civilization and culture in addition to spiritual instruction. Thus ordinary folk of the Dark Ages (400-1000) instinctively looked to their common spiritual father at Rome for protection as well against political and economic oppression.
Higher Law Of Christendom
During this "Iron Age" of Feudalism, lords and knights were often little more than gangsters, and at best they tended to be the most rugged of individualists. In such a society, some world authority was needed to preserve at least the basic principles of justice. Only the Pope, the common father of Christendom, enjoyed the prestige, only he had the disinterestedness to fulfill this role. With scarcely a dissenting voice, then, Christian "constitutions" made provision for appeals from tyrannical civil rulers to ecclesiastical authority, especially the papacy. Thus King Charles the Bald of France acknowledges that "by no one could I be cast down from the height of royal power without at least the consideration and judgment of the bishops by whose ministry I was created king" (Petition to Synod of Savonieres, 859). The laws of King Edward the Confessor held that the English monarch is "above all to venerate the Church," and "unless he does these things, the name of king shall not cling to him" (Anglo-Saxon Code, xiv). The Germans in their Swabian Code admitted that "only the Pope can put the Emperor under the ban" (xxix). The medieval king, therefore, was no absolute monarch; by the will of the people he was subject to the higher law of Christendom.
Nor were the Popes, on the whole, unworthy of this popular trust in their integrity. Earnestly, unwearyingly, patiently, they intervened to save their children from tyranny, political or economic. They introduced law and order into civil administration; cooperation and just prices into business; they tried to abolish or at least limit war by the "Truce of God." Murderers, arsonists, usurers were not only outside polite society; they incurred ecclesiastical censure as well (Second Lateran Council: 1139, canons 11-14; 18-20).
Even emperors and kings proved unable to defy papal rebuke: a Henry IV of Germany did penance in the snow before Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-85); the irresponsible King John Lackland of England was obliged to yield to Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) . These common fathers of Christendom alone fully appreciated the magnitude of the Moslem threat to Western civilization. At their bidding, Christendom mobilized to defend itself in the Crusades. Yet the Popes were also solicitous for the arts of peace: the Lateran councils of 1179 and 1215 insisted that in every cathedral church there be a "scholastic" or teacher to give instruction, if need be gratis, to promising scholars (Lateran III, canon 18; Lateran IV, canon 11).
By these and many other acts of inspiring leadership, the Popes convinced Christians that they had their best interests at heart. Hence men's reverence for the common father of Christendom was profound and sincere. Like all children, they might sulk, murmur, or even rebel at times, but even when they did so, even while they denounced their father's human failings, they knew in their hearts that his spiritual authority was of God. In the long run, then, after they had let off steam, they would invariably submit once again, with the realization that the Pope's yoke, like that of Christ, the Master, was sweet and his burden light. For just as Christians acknowledged "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," they had come to belong to one society under one visible head, the United Christian Commonwealth of Nations, or in St. Augustine's phrase, "The City of God on earth."
The medieval ideal just sketched was admittedly lofty. Certainly for a time (about 1050 to 1300) it inspired a degree of international solidarity perhaps never equaled in history. But in medieval society, as in all things perhaps, practice lagged behind the ideal. By the fourteenth century many Christian leaders seemed increasingly distracted from their spiritual concerns; during the fifteenth, they began to nod; when the sixteenth century opened, they gave the impression of profound slumber.
What put Christendom to sleep is a long story and cannot be given completely here. A basic cause was that many churchmen had become too important for the good of the Church. If the Church was the hub of Christendom, her clergy had become the spokes of nearly every wheel that turned in medieval society. But if the divinely-founded Church could stand prosperity, her human agents could not. It proved difficult for the clergy to keep their spiritual balance when they found themselves universally esteemed, holding indispensable offices, in constant demand for advice on almost every subject.
One of the early Popes, Gelasius I (492-96), had said that "While before the coming of Christ there were some who were justly and legitimately kings and priests," yet "Christ, knowing the weakness of human nature and careful for the welfare of His people, separated the two offices."
Not that Popes and Bishops ever actually usurped the offices of emperors and kings, but they sometimes became so absorbed in teaching the latter their duties in this life that they came to neglect their chief concern of guiding souls to heaven. This preoccupation not only unduly enmeshed the clergy in things of this world; it also provoked resentment among civil rulers. By 1300 these began to assert themselves by reappropriating those civil tasks which during the Dark Ages they had entrusted to the clergy, as the only educated class. By now the universities founded under Church sponsorship were turning out civil as well as church lawyers, lay scholars as well as priests. These lay lawyers, the "legists," became kings' research scientists. And from pagan Rome they dug up the old absolutist principle sure to please ambitious rulers: "Whatever pleases the prince, has the force of law." St. Thomas Aquinas and Christian thinkers had defined law as an "ordination of reason," but this reactionary idea made it depend on a king's whim.
Attacks On The Papacy
It was a grandson of St. Louis, King Philip the Fair of France (1285-1314) who first flung down the gauntlet to the temporal leadership of the papacy. To Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) he denied that role of international arbiter bestowed by earlier Christian public opinion and loyalty. Philip had his wayby force.
During the next three centuries the secular attack on papal temporal leadership began to threaten papal spiritual headship as well, so closely were these powers linked in one person. Nationalism played at least a part in plunging Christendom into the confusion of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417). Again the pieces were put together, but Christian unity was now fragile. And meanwhile, on the local scene, the secularist movement to exclude Bishops and clerics from "politics"an elastic termwent far beyond its original mark to demand royal supervision of their persons and confiscation of their property.
Participation of some of the clergy in the worldly affairs of the times, caused some laymen to condemn them as a class and to develop an anti-clerical animus. But the angry laymen met an obstacle. Clerical offices were appointive, not elective. Laymen could not vote out clerics as they might see fit. Thus it was that many exasperated laymen, who had no direct grievance against any of the Church's doctrines, began to toy with certain unorthodox opinions only to attack the clergy.
Already in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, men like Wycliffe and Hus came forward to deny the Church's teaching on hierarchical authority and priestly orders. By denying that the Church was an external and visible society at all, they hoped to do away with clerical rulers; but saying that the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders, were not necessary, they would cut away the ground from beneath the priests. In this way did anti-clericalism breed anti-ecclesiasticism: the club intended merely to frighten the clerics boomeranged into a denial of doctrines. But Christians who allowed themselves to become so exasperated with their priestly rulers had forgotten that the Master Himself had said even of the Scribes and Pharisees: "All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not" (Matt. 23:3).
More in particular, these are some of the things that went wrong with the medieval ideal. The Popes had to preserve impartiality among Christian civil rulers and peoples. To this end Christian piety had given them temporal rule over the city of Rome and neighborhood (the Papal State, a sort of international zone similar to the District of Columbia in the United States). To guard their independence, energetic Popes entered into Italian politics and played a part in the international balance of power. However expedient this may have been, papal dignity was thereby lessened: if a cleric will play ball with professionals, he must expect considerable roughing up. By the sixteenth century there had been enough of this to make some Christians forget that the Popes were the Vicars of Christ over and above their position as petty Italian rulers. And all over Europe, especially in Germany, prince-bishops combining spiritual and temporal authority took part in minor league politics and war.
Another weapon of international politics was diplomacy, a cynical and heartless business as pursued by Renaissance civil authorities taught by Niccolo Machiavelli (d. 1527). With intrigue rife in every court, the Popes felt the need of diplomats and aides whom they could trust.
Patrons Of Learning
The Popes, moreover, were expected to patronize learning and to subsidize needy scholars. It is not that the Roman Pontiffs proved narrow-minded or obscurantist; if anything, they were far too broad-minded. For from the best of motives they gave positions to humanists, masters of the new Renaissance learning, whose morality was often not above reproach. A pretext for laxity was thereby given in a self-indulgent age. The Popes may have felt that they had to tolerate much in order to keep the new intellectuals in the Christian orbit, but the humanists themselves were intolerant of their patrons: they accepted favors and bit the hand that fed them.
In many cases the humanist seemed anxious to illustrate the saying that "knowledge puffeth up." Brilliant, witty, free-thinking, caustic, the typical humanist tended to be so elated by his "rediscovery of the pagan classics" as to come to believe that none before him had been wise. Humanist wits poured scorn on the Scholastics, the medieval theologians and philosophers who lectured in the schools. By humanist standards, the latter were old-fashioned ignoramuses. At their worst, the Scholastics were not fools, but they were very human. Long unchallenged, they had lapsed into an intellectual rut. When attacked, they were liable to retort by name calling or haughty silence instead of courteous and honest argument. If it came to verbal blows, a contest was likely to develop between Scholastic pedantry and humanist superficiality. If the Scholastic had more truth behind his rude exterior, restless men were more likely to be attracted by the daring wit of the humanist.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), peer of the humanists, is somewhat flippantly accused of "laying the egg that Luther hatched." It is true that Erasmus died a Catholic, and that at all times he probably distinguished more or less correctly between doctrine and clerical abuses. Yet in his younger days, he may have done immense harm by scandalizing the weak. What was the unlearned man to think of theology and theologians when he heard Erasmus making generalizations more clever than true?
When these debates of the intellectuals waxed hot, many plain men became disgusted with learning. In such a mood they would be disposed to endorse Nicholas of Cusa's saying that all philosophy is but "learned ignorance." And a Thomas a Kempis could call for an end of everlasting classification: "What matter is it to us of genera and species? He whom the Eternal Word speaketh is delivered from a multitude of opinions" (<Imitation of Christ>, iii). To a degree this was not valid criticism, but not all critics were as sound and moderate. Revivalists might call for a truce to logic in order to hear the "warm promptings of the heart," but when the enthusiastic mood had passed, men would find that the heart seldom beats well after one has lost his head. Men might try to by-pass reason to rely on faith alone, only to find out too late that true faith presupposes sound reason.
Negligence on the part of the clergy was, perhaps, more fatal than humanist attacks, for actions speak louder than words. Whatever clerics were supposed to do, there can be no doubt that they should have been feeding the flock of the Good Shepherd. But too many Bishops and pastors were unable to do so even if they had wished, for they did not habitually reside in their dioceses or parishes.
This absenteeism was growing: Milan was without a resident Bishop for about a century, before St. Charles Borromeo arrived in 1565; Narbonne had seven successive absentee cardinals from 1502 to 1570. In 1503 twenty-six out of thirty-seven Cardinals were absentees. Many or all may have been engaged in useful work at Rome, but that did not help the local situation. These absentee prelates either neglected their flocks or provided inadequate substitutes. In the monasteries, more often than not, laymen were elected as abbots, a situation which frequently resulted in physical and spiritual mismanagement. Such arrangement seldom gave the resident monks proper nourishment for soul or body.
The situation at this time gave encouragement to the anticlerical proposal to confiscate church property and give it to the poor. Historians are agreed that this pocket-book appeal was a major cause of the religious revolts of the sixteenth century.
Yet such "share-the-clerical-wealth" programs seldom, if ever, brought about the reformation which all men of good will desired. For those who were attracted by this appeal forgot at least two things. First, if some prelates did waste their incomes, there still remained an ecclesiastical capital consisting of land, buildings, and personal services of the monks and nuns. Despite occasional abuses, this capital was still being used by clerics and monks for essential works of social welfare-the relief of the poor, the sick, the orphans, and the aged. Transfer such capital wealth to the State or to individual capitalists, and such welfare functions would still have to be continued. But, second, the State might not be as warm-hearted an almoner as Holy Mother Church, and profit-conscious lay capitalists might prove far more selfish than the average cleric or monk who was pledged to personal frugality. To give but one concrete instance, the royal confiscation of the English monasteries meant far more than the driving of 8,000 monks and nuns from their homes-unfair as it was. In addition it displaced an estimated personnel of 100,000 dependents who thereby lost their jobs or their support. Yet a few years later the royal government was complaining with seeming innocence about the great increase of paupers and vagrants.
With these and many other grievances simmering beneath the surface, the Christendom of 1500 was united only in appearance. The call for reform "in head and members" was growing louder, and yet the pilots seemed to slumber on. But at last, at the beginning of the sixteenth century came a series of explosions professedly aimed at reform but which actually produced revolution.
Nowhere were conditions more apt for revolt than in Germany. For nearly three hundred years the industrious, thrifty, and liberty-loving Germans had been suffering from what may be described as a "papal persecution complex." They believed that they were being fleeced of hard-earned money to finance the political schemes or extravagance of an "Italian" papal court.
During the thirteenth century, papal collectors for a proclaimed crusade had been driven from Magdeburg. In the next century the German Emperor, Lewis the Bavarian (1314-47), had defied French Popes for a generation. During his schism, Lewis had endorsed the anti-papal propaganda of Marsiglio of Padua's Defender of Peace. Now Marsiglio's "peace plan" denounced the papacy as a mere human institution which had usurped divine authority. As for the papal function as a world court in temporal matters, this had been productive of nothing but "civil discord and dissension."
Marsiglio's teachings were rejected by the majority of his contemporaries, even in Germany. But they were not forgotten and were revived by new insurgents. During the fifteenth century the German civil rulers participated in a movement which proposed to use part of Marsiglio's program. Exasperated by the length of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417)when Italian and French rivals claimed the papacycertain German theologians, Langenstein and Gelnhausen, introduced a novel idea. They and others proposed to remodel the constitution of Christ's Church on an aristocratic or quasi-democratic basis. According to this project, the Pope, instead of being by Christ's appointment unquestioned holder of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, would become a sort of prime minister responsible to a Christian parliamenta general councilor a president acting "by and with the advice and consent" of a senate.
Whatever may have been the alleged advantages or disadvantages of such a plan on the score of politics, it was quite a different matter to apply it to the Church. For fourteen centuries of Christian history had testified that the Church was not a human, but a divinely-established institution. Therefore, according to Catholic Faith, Christ's bestowal of the primacy on St. Peter and his successors could not be changed, whatever men might wish to do about it.
A Century Before Luther
This theory was rejected, but not so firmly as to prevent its being brought forward again. The Germans in particular seem to have been overborne by the other "nations" at the Council of Constance. Though they gave in, they did so only after a vehement protest that it would not be their responsibility if the papacy were not reformed. The date of this great German remonstrance is 1417just one century before Luther's protest.
In succeeding years: 1437-47; 1460; 1478-79; 1510-12German kings and princes blackmailed the papacy for financial concessions by the threat of raising up against it a general or a national council. In Luther's time, then, an appeal to a general council was an excellent club with which to threaten the papacy, and such was the confusion in the minds of even conscientious men that such an appeal would enable a religious revolter to divide the ecclesiastical authorities and thus delay his suppression.
While the Germans doubtless felt they had legitimate grievances against existing papal financial methods, it must be remembered that they and other peoples of the sixteenth century were becoming more nationalistic and to that extent more selfish. Though the Papacy was still concerned with the defense of Europe as a whole against the ever-present Turkish menace, only those nations immediately concerned responded. Thus Germans complained of papal appeals for men and money to defend the Balkans, and the Balkans fell to the Turks. Next, appeals on behalf of Hungary fell on deaf ears, and two-thirds of that country was lost.
This is part of the background for Luther's notorious protest against indulgences. The Pope had decided to build a new St. Peter's church. He can scarcely be blamed for this since the old one, erected in the fourth century, had been enlarged and patched as far as possible; for fifty years it had been "condemned" as unsafe. In order to stimulate contributions, the Pope promised an indulgence. This, of course, did not mean a license to commit sin. It could not mean this because one of the requisite conditions for gaining an indulgence is to properly confess one's sins so as to be able to receive Christ in Holy Communion. Now confession, according to immemorial Christian tradition, could free a man from sin, but not necessarily from its temporal punishment. For God, like a human father, could forgive a sin and still insist on his child doing penance the better to remind him not to do it again. Since, however, Christ and His saints had done more than enough penance for sin, a "treasury of merit" existed in the Church. From this the Pope, with Peter's power of binding and loosing, could make dispensations, commutations of sentences, or "indulgences": for the living by way of absolution; for the dead by way of recommendation to God. Now this teaching was not something newly thought up to "sell" St. Peter's bonds to the Christian public, for Pope Clement VI had started the doctrine clearly enough in 1343.
In Germany, unfortunately, the real spiritual meaning and purpose of indulgences were often forgotten. Certain clerics, notably Friar John Tetzel, resorted to crude salesmanship by offers of indulgences in return for financial support. This was offensive to pious Germans. It was the last straw for Martin Luther.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was himself a priest, a very intense and devout religious, even scrupulous in his observance of the rules of the community of monks to which he belonged. Emotional, self-centered, brilliant, he was easily roused to indignation. Of peasant extraction himself, he loved the poor and hated to see them imposed upon. He himself was not avaricious, and this commended him to the laity. Civil rulers covetous of ecclesiastical possessions appreciated that he might be an excellent "front man" for their designs.
Luther, then, had a receptive audience when on October 31, 1517, he offered ninety-five criticisms of indulgences. These criticisms were tentative "theses" or topics of debate. They were hastily put together and included doctrinal errors which the angry friar might otherwise have omitted, for he had preached correctly on indulgences as recently as 1516.
In a short time, once his protest had been spread by speeches and pamphlets, Luther had become a popular German champion. His hearty, humorous, and frank speech, won him many followers among the common people.
Rome, however, was more embarrassed than angered by Luther's accusations. Pope Leo X (1513-21), a man of the world from the great Medici banking family, was not easily scandalized about money matters. But at the same time the Pope recognized that Luther, knowingly or not, had intermingled doctrinal errors among his denunciations. Now Leo X was quite willing to compromise on matters of discipline and conductbut doctrine was another thing. Catholic doctrine was not the Pope's to change at his discretion; rather, it was a sacred trust from Christ and the Apostles, which he must keep free from error.
Discreet efforts, therefore, were made from Rome to induce Luther to abandon his errors. He was asked to come to Rome for an explanation, but when this invitation was denounced as a trap, the tense friar was allowed to render his account in Germany. Both to save Luther's reputation and to avoid scandal, Rome's rebukes for two years were administered semi-privately. First his religious superiors, Volta and Staupitz, were asked to correct him, and then papal representatives, the cleric, Cardinal Cajetan, and the layman, Karl von Miltitz, tried their hands. But no matter who remonstrated with him, Luther could not or would not see any doctrinal errors in his statements.
Luther was not peculiar in having a lower nature from which he felt at times lustful promptings of the flesh. But he was novel in identifying these movements with sin. In short, he seems to have fallen into a pitfall of the scrupulous; he had come to mistake temptation for sin. Appalled at the number and duration of these fleshly revolts, he had come to the conclusion that human nature had been so ruined by Adam's original sin that human free will was now utterly powerless to do any good whatsoever. In such a state, what good were external works, indulgences, almsgiving, mortification, the very sacraments themselves? And if the sacraments were useless, why have a priesthood, a hierarchy, an external visible Church at all?
In place of this, Luther would substitute faith, an emotional, blind confidence that Christ's good works, once performed, were enough for mankind's salvation. Christians need only believe that Christ had saved them, that though He had not taken away their sins, He would forget these, covering them over as with a cloak. For all his devotion to St. Augustine, "Friar Augustine"for this was Luther's name in religionhad forgotten that the great Father of the Church had said that God "Who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation" ( Sermon 169, 11).
How had Luther come to be so sure of all this? Again from his emotions, his feelings: an inner light told him how to interpret the Scripture. Hence the Bible alone, as interpreted by Luther, was to prevail against all the teachings of the Church. To every argument of his superiors, therefore, Luther henceforth proposed this novel form of Christianity: the Bible is the sole rule of faith. But if his opponents would concede this for the sake of argument, they found it useless to follow him onto his own Scriptural ground. For then they were blasted with: "I am Dr. Martin Luther, God's own notary and witness of the Gospel . . . I am the prophet of the Germans. . . I understand the Scriptures a great deal better than the Pope and all his people." Later Luther was to prepare a German translation of the Bible, a literary but not a doctrinal masterpiece. For here his arbitrary private judgment enabled him to make alterations in the text to suit his own teachings: for instance, he added the word "alone" to "faith" in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (3:28).
Again such a subjective, even anarchical stand, no legitimate authority worthy of the name could endure. Both Pope and Emperor saw in Luther's principles the germs of utter social disorder. After exhausting their efforts to induce him to change his opinions, they could do nothing but condemn him. The Pope in January, 1521, passed definitive sentence against Luther; the Emperor followed in May of the same year. Thereafter Luther was under papal excommunication and imperial ban as a rebel against the unity of Christendom.
Defense Forms For Luther
In a healthy and alert Christendom, such an outlaw would have quickly been brought to justice. But now many German princes, headed by Luther's own civil ruler, Frederick of Saxony, came forward to protect him. With their eyes on the church lands, they shielded Luther from enforcement of the imperial ban. They aided him in spreading his religious ideas throughout their territories, either putting force at the disposal of Lutheran disciples, or withholding police protection from those institutions which desired to remain Catholic. They were quick to take property from Catholic priests; they proved far less prompt in handing it over to Lutheran ministers. In the long run, the civil rulers formed a military alliance, the Schmalkaldic League, to protect all this stolen property against the efforts of the Emperor to enforce the rights of the Church. Thus was Luther's desire to assist the poor of Germany thwarted by those very aristocrats who styled themselves his supporters and protectors. Luther himself did not share the loot, but his influence was not great enough to check others.
To shorten a long and complicated story of war and politics, the Lutheran civil rulers made good their rebellion and confiscation. Imperial authority was forced to condone their seizure of church property in the Peace of Augsburg (1555). Germany was thereby divided in religion, a portent of that wider rift effected in Christendom as a whole by the Protestant Revolution.
The Peace of Augsburg had awarded the civil authorities supervision of the churches in their states according to the absurd and intolerant principle: "A person's religion, Lutheran or Catholic, is determined by where he lives." But Lutheran organization, once severed from the parent Church, was not destined to remain itself undivided. Luther's principle of the private interpretation of the Bible, his rejection of all ecclesiastical authority save his own, contained social dynamite. Presently many of his followers began to make more radical changes than he himself desired.
The Radical Anabaptists
According to these innovators, images, crosses, vestments must be destroyed; in a word, everything not explicitly authorized by the Bible must go. Inasmuch as these radicals stated that infant Baptism was worthless and that adults must be rebaptized, they were given the name of Anabaptists. They stirred up the peasants and soon riots endangered good order in Saxony. Frederick of Saxony thereupon summoned Luther to quiet his unruly followers. Luther had not scrupled to retain many Catholic practices which could not be justified by his idea of the Bible alone. Now he rallied his disciples: "Follow me, I have never yet failed; I was the first whom God set to work on this plan." By sheer force of personality he imposed his will on some to retain a conservative liturgy to be carried out "decently and in good order." But Luther failed to impress the Anabaptist leaders. One of them, the ex-priest Munzer, snarled back at him: "We can quote the Scriptures as well as you, you pope of Wittenberg " Thus most of the Anabaptists went their separate way, the first of the many sub-sects within revolting religious bodies.
Melancthon, Luther's chief assistant, disagreed with him on doctrine even during the latter's lifetime, though he prudently refrained from contradicting him. Another aide, Agricola, pushed Luther's denial of good works to the extreme of condemning the Ten Commandments as useless. Luther, as dean of the theology department of Wittenberg University, dismissed and "excommunicated" Agricola for disobedience and "heresy." "But why then," others reasoned, "was not Luther himself wrong in revolting against the Pope?" Only the realization of the need of a solid front against the Catholics secured a degree of external unity among Lutherans for a time. But within a generation of his death, his complete original doctrine had ceased to be held.
The Effects Of Luther's Revolt
Luther, then failed to win Germany or Europe for his doctrines, and the Catholic Church was unable to extinguish the revolt. An emotional outburst against correctable abuses had ended by shattering Christian unity and undermining all moral authority. In their place there remained only the physical force of the State, a State that was allowed to go from power to power until in modern times it threatened to crush all other social groups, the Church, the labor unions, even the family.
Luther, to be sure, had not foreseen this result. His first idea was to found a "church apart," an invisible body of true believers. His ministers were to be "without jurisdiction in the legal sense." But after the Anabaptist disorders and the laxity of the new church discipline, Luther acknowledged that the civil ruler was "the principal member of the church" and permitted him to appoint superintendents and ministers. This was "Caesaro-papism": it was to substitute Caesar, the civil ruler, for the Pope.
Luther himself admitted that "in the past the Pope was all in all; now the prince is all in all." Yet this could not have been his original intention, for Christ Himself had already made the matchless distinction; "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:22). Luther repudiated a spiritual authority without military force, only to deliver society to a secular power which would impose its rule with an iron hand. Did he not see that he was reviving paganism, making law a plaything of the ruler's will, preparing the totalitarian state? Yet he declared: "A prince may be a Christian, but he must not rule as a Christian." This was to banish religion from public life.
Luther had intended to liberate his people but he had destroyed one of the means of enlightenment. The destruction of Catholic schools long proved irreparable, and Luther's substitutes were chiefly for the purpose of training ministers. Erasmus, disillusioned in the Lutheran movement, lamented that "wherever Lutheranism prevails, there we see the downfall of learning." Nor were the poor helped, for Luther's schemes for their assistance fell on deaf ears, those of noblemen and townsmen gorged with stolen church goods. Even Luther in dismay at Anabaptist disorders, turned on the peasants in 1525, bidding the civil authorities to "hew them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret."
During his later days, Luther sometimes doubted whether his movement had brought about any reform at all: "I confess that I am much more careless now than I was under the papacy, and that now under the Gospel there is nowhere the same zeal to be found as before . . . Several times I could notice no error in the whole of popery; in short, no one but I had ever erred." Even his jokes sometimes boomeranged. Once he laughingly referred to himself as the "Lutheran pope." But the Protestant Paulsen justly observes that thereby he "reduced himself to absurdity," for thus all of Luther's anti-papal criticisms rebounded on himself, and his whole life work was repudiated.
Luther's protest had produced not reformation, but revolution.
Henry VIII'S Royal Obstinancy
England, separated from the continent of Europe by the channel, had held somewhat aloof from the general affairs of Christendom. This "splendid isolation," however, had nourished a nationalism perhaps more vigorous than that thus far developed in other medieval kingdoms.
Though a member of the papal world court, the English appear to have viewed its decisions with suspicions. Certainly they had been quick to accuse the Holy See of favoritism when French Popes resident at Avignon had tried to arbitrate in the Hundred Years' War (1338-1453) between England and France. They had especially objected to receiving Italian appointees for English bishoprics and clerical posts. This jealous desire of "England for the English" had never resulted in actual schism, but an almost ingrained sensitiveness to "papal aggression" had developed.
It was this concern for independence that most threatened English loyalty to Christendom at the beginning of the sixteenth century. As far as such things can be determined, English morals were good. English clerics are described as above the Renaissance average, and the piety of the laity left little to be desired. At the turn of the sixteenth century the chief servants of the English crown were still Bishops, men like Morton, Foxe, and Wolsey. The last named became not only chief royal minister from 1515 to 1529, but after 1518 papal legate as well. For a time he was almost a "vice-pope," sole intermediary between England and Rome. This ambitious, worldly prelate was as much an occasion of the Anglican revolt as Archbishop Albert was of the Lutherans in Germany. The Church in England, therefore, was not without its dangers, for the interests of the Bishops were merged with those of the king.
Under these circumstances, the personality and temperament of the English monarch during the religious crisis was most important. In 1509 there mounted England's throne Henry Tudor (1489-1547), who seemed to enjoy every gift of mind and body, of nature and of God's grace. Those who know Henry VIII only from his later portraits revealing an obese debauchee of fifty, literally an "old goat," cannot properly appreciate the favorable impression made on loyal Englishmen by Henry in his athletic and handsome youth. His popularity was increased by the contrast between him-the young "King Hal"-and his suspicious and penny-pinching father. Yet that father, King Henry VII (1485-1509), had made secure the family of Tudors' hold on the throne, had built up a secure treasury, and had made an alliance with the great power of that day, the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella.
The public symbol of the Spanish alliance was the daughter of Spanish royalty, Catherine of Aragon, married to Arthur, Prince of Wales. So important was this alliance to Henry VII, that when his elder son died, he retained Catherine in England to be the bride of his second son and heir, Henry. For this a dispensation from the Pope was needed to sanction the marriage of a brother's widow, but Pope Julius II made no difficulty in permitting this in 1503. Henry Junior was still too young to marry, but on ascending the throne at the age of eighteen, he did not delay in carrying out his father's arrangements. But Catherine, originally intended for Henry's older brother, was about five years older than Henry. This may have seemed to him a slight matter in 1509 when both were young. But some ten to fifteen years later, a passionate, self-willed man in his thirties found himself wedded to a fat, sickly, prematurely aging woman of forty.
But if Henry had merely considered his passions, he probably would have continued to satisfy his unchecked lust by a series of new mistresses, such as Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn. But one favorite, Anne Boleyn, refused to be Henry's mistress; she would be queenhis wife. And there was the throne to consider. Queen Catherine had borne the king only one sickly daughter, Mary Tudor (1516-58). Even if she survived, it was uncertain whether she would reign: so far history knew no woman who had made good a claim to the English throne. Failing Mary, the English crown would pass to the Scottish Stuarts, a terrible prospect to English nationalists in the sixteenth century.
These are but some of the reasons why historians cannot be blamed for a certain amount of scepticism about the king's motives when Henry VIII began to have scruples about the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Henry's Divorce Case
It is impossible here to go into all the details of the "divorce case" that was argued from 1527 to 1534. The facts of the matter are not seriously questioned by unbiased historians. Briefly, Henry demanded that Pope Clement VII (1523-34) declare his marriage with Catherine null and void: no marriage at all. The king stated that Pope Julius' dispensation was no good: he had exceeded his powers. Such a claim was impertinent, for it seemed to question whether the Popes had really received Peter's power of binding and loosing, and whether they could be trusted not to fall into error.
As it turned out, the dispensation of Julius II was judged good. Christian teaching, moreover, permitted separation for just cause, but not divorce with remarriage. Pope Clement, therefore, could not conscientiously grant what Henry askedhowever much as he would have liked to please his powerful petitioner and thereby save a nation to the Church. The Pope knew, however, from common gossip that Henry's real objective was a new wifeAnne Boleyn. Given time, Henry's passion for Anne might cool, as it had toward so many others in the past; then the king might abandon the case. The Pope delayed his unfavorable decision from year to year in the hope that Henry would master his passion.
But this time Henry was completely infatuated. He wanted his way at all costs; he had been accustomed by now to have it for twenty years. If the Pope would not give the annulment with permission to remarry freely, perhaps he could be bullied into doing so.
In 1529 the king began to urge the English Parliament to protest against excessive clerical fees, and in particular to threaten to cut off the papal revenues from England. The English Bishops were blackmailed into recognizing Henry as "supreme head of the Church and clergy of England." To be sure, the frightened prelates qualified their statement with the phrase, "so far as the law of Christ allows." But in their hearts, they must have been aware that for fifteen centuries the law of Christ had not included headship of the Church among the "things that are Caesar's."
When the Pope was finally obliged officially to deny Henry his annulment on March 24, 1534, the king was ready to strike back. Indeed his lust had maneuvered him into a position from which he could not retreat without loss of face or admission of guilt. For while his case was still pending at Rome, Henry had entered into relations with Anne Boleyn. When she had become pregnant, he had rushed through a quiet divorce and remarriage before his creature, Thomas Cranmer, named Archbishop of Canterbury for just that purpose.
Cranmer, however, was prepared to render additional service. Though he had taken the customary public oaths of loyalty to the Pope on becoming Archbishop in 1533, he had previously made a secret declaration to the king that the public oath would not count. With such a compliant tool at the head of the Church in England the king was now (1534-35) able to secure unrestricted acknowledgment of his headship from the clergy.
Cranmer, it is true, sugar-coated the unpleasant pill. He toured his province gathering clerical signatures approving the statement: "There is nothing in Scripture regulating the relations between Rome and England." Many terrified clerics were willing to sign on the childish excuse that England is not mentioned in the Bible. St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was the only Englishman among the Bishops to refuse to admit royal supremacy over the Church, and for this he was put to death on June 22, 1535. With him suffered Sir Thomas More, former Lord Chancellor and literary wit, who refused either to be deceived or bullied by the royal lawyers. A relatively small number of parish priests and monks also died for their convictions.
Weakness Of The Clergy
But the greater part of the clergy thought martyrdom inexpedient. This reluctance had more causes than human weakness. There was the tradition of suspicion of foreigners. There was the memory that Popes and kings had fought and made up again in the past; why lose one's life or ruin one's career by getting involved in their battles? There was some affection, not yet dead, for the one-time idol, King Hal. And there was the power of that king, his anger at being crossed for as St. Thomas More was warned: "The wrath of princes is death." Few retorted with him: "Then, my lord, the only difference between me and you is this, that I die today and you die tomorrow."
In addition to these prudential motives for submission, there was an inviting reward for so doing. All ecclesiastical possessions now lay at the disposal of the new "Supreme Head of the English Church," and why should not his friends share in the pickings? Here also Henry's course seemed already marked out for him. His father's extended treasury had taught him extravagance, but now he had squandered it and needed more money. Parliament would grant new taxes, but probably with strings on them. Except for the unthinkable alternatives of government by the people or economy, the king's only way out was to take the wealth of the Church, especially that of the monastic orders.
Confiscation Of Church Properties
To excuse his confiscation, Henry made use of charges of clerical immorality which were either highly exaggerated or completely invented. A popular rising in defence of the monasteries, the "Pilgrimage of Grace" in 1536, was deceived, divided, and conquered by the king's diplomats and generals.
And so Henry took what he wanted. But at the same time many of his aides also filled their pockets. Through royal negligence and extravagance there arose a class of sharers in the monastic loot whose vested interests lay in continued separation from Rome. This group of newly-rich henceforth opposed reconciliation with the Pope lest this involve surrender of their stolen goods.
As head of the English Church, King Henry professed to hold all Catholic teachings except that of papal primacy. Despite a little political flirtation with the German Lutherans for a time, his Catholic doctrinal preferences remained fixed until his death. But if he continued to hold most Catholic teachings, he did so not because they were Catholic, but because he liked them. In this sense he was a heretic, for heresy really means self-willed religious picking and choosing of what is to be believed as the Word of God. But the king insisted in no uncertain terms that his choice should be that of all Englishmen. Accordingly woe to the Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist who might disagree with him. "How these people live," a foreign observed exclaimed at the time, "here papists are hanged; there anti-papists are burned"sometimes on the same day and in the same place.
Unchecked lust of the king, then, may have given rise to the Anglican establishment, but self-willed royal absolution preserved it. For on the score of self-will, the subsequent Tudor rulers of England (1485-1603) were all very much alike. As far as religion was concerned, under Henry VIII the royal will claimed to be Catholic without the Pope. Under his son Edward VI (1547-53) a boyish royal will was successively advised to be Lutheran and then Calvinist. Englishmen, after a few unsuccessful revolts, externally conformed and kept their opinions in secret.
With Mary Tudor (1553-58) the royal will was once more Catholic, and Englishmen made no great difficulty in returning to their allegiance to the Pope. But then Anne Boleyn's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) once more changed the royal will, reaffirmed the doctrine of royal supremacy, and summoned weary Englishmen to yet another religious somersault.
Elizabeth realized, however, that her subjects' patience was being sorely tried by these frequent changes. The generation born before the first break with the papacy was dying out, and younger Englishmen were more disposed to accept any settlement so long as it was stable. Elizabeth personally cared little about theology, but she was a shrewd politician. She succeeded in working out a respectable compromise which commended itself to her exhausted people. In 1563 the <Thirty-Nine Articles> set forth an Anglican theology made up of odds and ends, and described in such loose and ambiguous language that few could understand or be offended by them. Though the papacy was rejected, the institution of Bishops and many Catholic externals were retained. Protestants should have been pleased by the doctrine of the Bible as the sole rule of faith which was in the Thirty-nine Articles. Though the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass was rejected, this particular article was not published until 1570 when all hope of winning over papists was gone. By that time perhaps a majority had conformed and the Catholic minority could be put down by force.
But this Anglican "middle way" between Catholicity and extreme Protestantism displeased more than Catholics. Another minority accused the Crown of lax religious compromise. These extremists became known as Puritans because they wished to "purify" the Anglican establishment from "papist remains." But even they were divided on church rule: Presbyterians wished a rule by elders on the Calvinist pattern; Independents or Congregationalists desired democratic rule by the community. This religious "dissent" from the Anglican establishment brought on persecution and civil war during the seventeenth century, and not until 1689 were dissentersexcept Catholicsgranted toleration.
Anglicanism, therefore, proved no more successful than Lutheranism or Calvinism in preserving Christian unity once it had broken away from Roman Christendom. If Anglicanism secured outward obedience for a time, this was achieved only forcibly and at the expense of conscience. Thus Anglicanism, like the other religious revolts of the sixteenth century, proved to be a "protest" rather than a positive reform. Even less than Lutheranism or Calvinism, it was no popular movement for doctrinal change. Rather it was the product of a king's lust and royal obstinacy fixed on an unwilling, but cowed people.
In time new generations were pleased by the literary excellence of the Book of Common Prayer and King James Bible. The decorous rites may have satisfied neither heart nor head, but they soothed the feelings and calmed nerves ragged from rapid religious change. In time there arose a people "who knew not Peter" for whom the Anglican rites had the affectionate respect of old customs. But this came only after those were dead who had known the "old faith," not a royal "English Church," but the Catholic Church in England, integral part of the unity that once was Christendom.
Calvin's Welfare Church
John Calvin (1509-64) was to prove the second most persuasive religious innovator in the sixteenth century Though at first influenced by Luther, Calvin proved a decided contrast. Luther was a German peasant; Calvin a French townsman. Luther was violent, eloquent, rash, with a certain crude humor; Calvin was calm cautious, a cool, classical reasoner. Though intellectually gifted, Luther scorned logic and scholarship to become an active popular champion. Calvin, on the other hand, shrank from contact with the masses, but impressed his ideas on chosen disciples through whom he hoped to win the world for his teachings.
John Calvin's father and elder brother were laymen, but Church lawyers and treasurers of the bishopric of Noyon in Picardy, where he was born. Though Calvin himself was never ordained, he profited by the clerical system of his day. From the age of twelve he enjoyed the revenues from established Church jobs without discharging his duties either as chaplain or pastor. These incomes financed his education at the universities of Bourges-Orleans and Paris.
Though John Calvin's own preference was for theology, until 1531 he deferred to his father's wish that he pursue legal studies. In that year occurred an event that changed his life. His father, Gerard, had been involved in financial difficulties with the Bishop of Noyon, for whom he was treasurer. Refusing to render his accounts, he had been excommunicated and, dying under censure and in disrepute had been denied ecclesiastical burial. Five or six years later, Calvin's elder brother, Charles, met a similar end. If Calvin had intended to follow the law as a profession, these unfortunate events were enough to discourage him. And there can be little doubt that he was embittered against ecclesiastical authority whose hand had fallen so heavily on his wayward relatives.
In his studies Calvin henceforth pursued his own inclination for theology. In this he doubtless made progress, for from early youth to old age, he is consistently described as a studious, austere, reserved, even timid man. The pleasures of the flesh seemed to have had no attraction for him.
Nonetheless, he was highly introspective and disposed to melancholy: "The more I considered myself, the more my conscience was pricked with sharp darts, so much so that only one consolation remained and that was to deceive myself by forgetting about myself." In such a case, Luther's doctrine of salvation by faith alone would naturally appeal to a despondent and bitter man. Lutheran ideas were infiltrating France.
Views Become Known
Even Calvin's closest disciples were never entirely certain from whom and when he received Lutheranism. All that can be safely said is that it was only in 1533 that his views become manifest. On November 1 of that year, Nicholas Cop, incoming rector of the University of Paris, delivered an address that was in large part "ghost-written" by Calvin. This speech seems to have tried to claim that the Catholic Erasmus held much the same as Luther by comparing the most daring passages of the former with the least offensive of the latter. Two Lutheran ideas were stressed: the opposition between the Gospel (of Luther) and the Law (of the Church); and men's justification in the eyes of God by faith alone without good works.
This speech seems to have been a trial balloon to sound out the French king's sentiments toward the new religion. King Francis I (1515-47) had been wavering, but now he left no doubt as to his views. He began to arrest suspects as enemies of the State and eventually burned Etienne de la Forge, at whose house Calvin and others had met.
Calvin, finding his native land too hot for him, soon became a refugee. He visited Germany and Italy before settling down in Switzerland. From this retreat he rebuked the king of France for persecuting teachings which he did not understand. To enlighten the royal mind, Calvin then proceeded to draw up a logical statement of the new religious ideas. This work, which appeared at Basle in 1536 and was often revised, was the <Institutes of the Christian Religion>. By common consent it is acknowledged to be the clearest and most forceful presentation of Protestant teachings in the course of the sixteenth century.
Calvin set out to improve upon Lutheranism. Whereas Luther was chiefly concerned with the feeling that he was here and now justified before God, Calvin's cold logic carried the problem beyond time. What Calvin demanded was not merely certainty of present Justification, but assurance of salvation hereafter. This point he settled to his own satisfaction by his doctrine of absolute predestination: from all eternity God by an unchangeable decree of His omnipotent will saves or damns human souls and there is nothing that men can do about it. Men, therefore, do not "receive" God's grace, but the elect may "perceive" that they are predestined.
The ultimate authority for all this is nothing else than the infallible interpretation of Scripture by Calvin, for "God has deigned," as he said, "to make known to me what is good and what is evil." And be it noted here that Calvin profited by Luther's embarrassment. Instead of conceding full private judgment to his followers, Calvin carefully explained the desired interpretations to his chief aides, who then passed them on to the people.
With Luther, Calvin also rejected Christ's seven sacraments in the Catholic sense, though his denial was more thorough and consistent that Luther's.
Opposition To Secular Government
But unlike Luther, Calvin vigorously defended the independence of the Church from the State. He held for rule of this Church by an elite of "presbyters" or elders who inherited all the temporal privileges of the medieval Catholic clergy. Thus whereas Lutheran groups tended to be quite submissive to civil authority and thus paved the way for absolute monarchy and totalitarian dictatorship, Calvinist bodies were likely to be highly critical of the secular government. Wherever they could, as at Geneva, they subjected the State to their control. But where this was not wholly possible, they opposed governmental dictation. Particularly in Anglo-Saxon lands this attitude harmonized with democratic traditions so that Calvinism to a large degree became the ancestor of modern political and economic liberalism.
Calvin had created his "religion"; it now remained for him to find his "region" in the sense of the maxim of the Augsburg Peace. A promising field was opened up to him in Geneva, Switzerland. This town had long been at odds with its Bishops, who were both the spiritual and civil rulers. Here was another classic case of confusion between Church and State, where a rebellion at first directed merely against the civil rule of the clergy ended by overthrowing spiritual authority as well. The Bishops of Geneva were usually nominees of the Dukes of Savoyof the same noble family which ruled in Italy until 1946. Against this foreign rule a group of Swiss patriots called "Libertines" had banded together to win home rule or independence. Like most rebels, they were not over-scrupulous about accepting allies; hence they gladly received help from the Swiss Zwinglians, radical reformers not unlike the Anabaptists. By 1536 the Libertines had succeeded in driving out their Bishop-count, but a new struggle had begun in their own ranks between the Catholics and Protestants.
Religious Program Enacted
For the moment the Protestants were on top, but they feared that the Catholics would put religion before politics and bring back the Bishop. What the wrangling Libertines needed above all was a dictator to enforce a sort of martial law. Farel, one of the Zwinglian leaders at Geneva, felt that Calvin was their man. According to Calvin, Farel insisted "by a frightful adjuration" that he participate in the new regime. Thereupon Calvin drew up a program which would at one and the same time crush out dissent and realize his own somewhat sombre plan of a community of predestined-elect Christians. On January 16, 1537, Farel and Calvin got the city council to enact their religious program, to be enforced by a code of "blue laws."
The following description of the Calvinist regime at Geneva is taken from the Protestant historian, Ranke: "Outward life was subjected to regulations of the strictest discipline. The amount to be spent on clothes and meals was fixed; dancing was forbidden, as was the reading of certain books, for example, <Amadis>. Card players might be seen locked in the public pillory with their cards in their hands. Once a year, an inquiry was made in every house as to the knowledge and observance of religious precepts. There was introduced into the City Council the practice of reciprocal admonition for the failings that one member might observe in another. No indulgence was extended to offenders. One woman was burned for singing indecent songs; one of the principal burghers, who had made fun of the doctrine of salvation and of the person of Calvinthe Great Preacherhad to kneel down in the public square, holding an inverted torch, and to ask pardon before the people. On the proposal of the general assembly, the death penalty was enacted for adultery; a man, convicted under this law, when about to be executed, had to bless God for the stern laws of his country" (<Histoire de France>, I, 164).
This new type of "welfare church" was not established without difficulty. The Libertines, after all, had revolted in order to win liberty, and this sort of thing was more than many Protestants could endure. In 1538 they won a majority in the city council and exiled Calvin and Farel. But Catholic efforts to regain control of the city discredited the Libertines, and substantial and conservative persons who desired peace and independence decided to accept the Calvinist alternative.
In September, 1541, Calvin was invited to return to Geneva where he remained supreme until his death in 1564. The Libertines continued in opposition until 1555 when death and exile had reduced their strength. For between 1546 and 1564 in a town of 20,000 inhabitants, there were fifty-eight executions, seventy-three sentences of exile, and nine hundred of imprisonment. On the other hand, population gradually increased from Protestant refugees, though these had to measure up to Calvinist requirements. Michael Servetus fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition, was burned at the stake in Geneva (1553) for holding unsound views on the Trinity. Thus the people of Geneva paid a high price for the authoritarian efficiency of John Calvin.
The Spread Of Calvinism
The Academy, later known as the University of Geneva, was founded by Calvin in 1558 to become the central seminary and missionary center of the Calvinist movement. It served as the Mecca for Calvinists all over Europe, and from it went ministers for Germany France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Soon French "Huguenots," Dutch "Reformed," Scottish "Presbyterians," and English "Puritans," were pressing the Calvinist system on their fellow-citizens. Calvin's chief assistant, Theodore Beza (1519-1605), edited Calvinist versions of Scripture and apologeticand biasedhistory. Beza made strong efforts to win over Queen Catherine de Medici of France, but in 1561 he was refuted in a conference with the Jesuit general, Jaime Laynez. Beza was the last patriarch of the fully-united Calvinism, for at the beginning of the seventeenth century Hermann (Arminius) in Holland challenged Calvin's basic teaching of absolute predestination. The resulting Arminian disputes divided the Calvinists radically.
Luther has been accused of being a genius in disorder. Calvin's genius was perhaps equal to Luther's, but it can never be charged with untidiness. Calvin seems to have carried clerical paternalism to such an extent as to anticipate modern socialism. For it would not seem to be unfair to describe his institution at Geneva as a "welfare church" which in virtue of its predestination formula, would not merely take care of man from "the cradle to the grave," but beyond it. Calvin's frozen logic planned for men the slightest details of their moral conduct, but history by now seems to have demonstrated that he did not make enough allowance for human free will. For it often happens that the most fanatical atheists and communists are rebels against a Calvinist or puritanical upbringing. If Luther's honest indignation led him to lose his head, Calvin's icy logic seems to have made him forget that man has a heart. And mankind has ever need of both head and heart.
The psalmist uses of God a phrase which no merely human author would dare employ: "The Lord was awaked as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that hath been surfeited with wine" (Ps. 77:65). Following this precedent, we might presume to describe the Catholic revival as the awakening of a giant from sleep, a slumber all too blameworthy.
It is true that ever since the General Council of Vienna in 1311, Catholics had been calling for reform "in head and members." But for two centuries good intentions had not sufficed to produce widespread and lasting results. Luther's protest proved to be the alarm bell that at last roused the sleeping pilots, and perhaps we may date the Catholic rally from the papal document condemning Luther in 1520. It is entitled "Exsurge Domine""Arise, O Lord, and let Thy enemies be scattered."
It is true that even then there were initial diffuse movements, the unsteady steps of one still but half awake. But in 1534, alone and unnoticed, much like an earlier St. Peter, there came to Rome a new apostle. This was St. Philip Neri, called the "Second Apostle of Rome." At first by solitary prayer and penance, and later by many forms of "Catholic Action," he contributed to the introduction of a new spirit into the Eternal City.
In 1535 Pope Paul III (1534-49) selected for the College of Cardinals vigorous and virtuous men, thus swamping those opposed or indifferent to reform. In 1536 the same Pope named a reform commission which made frank recommendations the next year. Abuses in the preaching of indulgences were at once stopped; absentee clerics admonished; a reform program drawn up. In 1536 also a General Council of all the Bishops of the Church was planned, though war and politics delayed its opening at Trent in Italy until 1545. Even then it was often interrupted in its labors by the same causes so that it could not finish its task until 1564, the year of Calvin's death. The spirit of humility which animated the Bishops in their efforts to give the Church the kind of reformation which it so sorely needed is expressed in the address of the English Cardinal Reginald Pole in the second session of the Council.
An English Cardinal Speaks
"Since the Church," he said, "has been beset for many years by these woes, let us now look and think what is their source, and if we gave them birth or increase. Consider, then, the birth of these heresies which in these days are everywhere rife. We may indeed wish to deny that we have given them birth, because we ourselves have not uttered any heresy. Nevertheless, wrong opinions about faith, like brambles and thorns, have sprung up in God's garden entrusted to us. Hence, even if, as is their wont, these poisonous weeds have spread of themselves, nevertheless if we have not tilled our field as we ought-if we have not sowed-if we took no pains at once to root up the springing weedswe are no less to be reckoned their cause as if we ourselves had sowed them. And all the more since all these have their beginning and increase in the tiller's sloth.
"In all these afflictions of ours we see God's judgment . . . this has been our motive for somewhat sharply and lengthily recalling these things. Unless indeed these things are well known and seen to, it is useless to enter this Council and useless to call upon the Holy Spirit, who is wont to make His first step in men's soul when men condemn themselves so that they may afterwards condemn the world of sin. Therefore, unless this Spirit first condemns us before ourselves, we cannot profess that He had yet come to us; nor will He come if we refuse to hear about our own sinfulness" (<Acts of the Council of Trent>, Latin Version, Vol. 4, first part).
In spite of the difficulties presented by frequent wars, the Bishops at Trent went to work without stint, re-examining all the teachings challenged by Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII and others. Far from changing the traditional Christian teachings, the Bishops at Trent restated these doctrines in unmistakable terms. Original sin was truly removed by Baptism, not just covered over. Justification was by good works as well as by faith; it was a real interior cleansing.
There were still the same seven sacraments instituted by Christ as the means of justification and salvation. The Mass was a true sacrifice, but without prejudice to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Penance required sincere confession; it involved a real judgment and absolution. Holy Orders constituted a true sacrament established by Christ at the Last Supper; Bishops and priests received their powers from God and not from men. Matrimony was not the mere civil contract that Luther would have it, but a supernatural means of grace. Curiously enough, after setting forth once more these and other Catholic teachings, the Council ended where Luther began: by restating the Church's power to grant indulgences, though condemning abuses in its exercise.
But if the Council of Trent could not and would not budge on dogma, on disciplinary questions it showed no respect for old abuses. Bishops were ordered to stay on the job and told exactly how much time off they might take. And they were not merely to reside quietly in their dioceses, but must visit them. The clergy under their rule must be supervised, new clerics carefully examined, and prospective candidates well prepared. And to this last end the Council struck boldly at the old hit-and-miss training of clerics which varied with the diligence or interest of the local Bishop.
Improved Training Of Priests
Henceforth all the candidates for the priesthood must go through a regular course of training at a "seminary " a boarding school under quasi-military discipline. These clerical "West Points" were to do everything humanly possible to see that future priests should be both pious and learned, leaders and not stumbling-blocks for their flocks. Monks and nuns were also reprimanded. Their rules, based on Christ's counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, must be kept in their primitive spirit, and the right superiors appointed to see that they were so kept. This should mean an end to commendatory lay abbots and abbesses "in trust." Parents and guardians must neither force their daughters into convents, nor interfere with their liberty to enter.
Civil authorities were warned not to interfere in ecclesiastical affairs by usurping clerical rights and confiscating church goods. If there was delay in some Catholic countries in carrying out these and other detailed prescriptions, it was not the fault of the Council, but owing to the obstructive tactics of civil rulers. Nonetheless, a real reform had been launched.
Reform had been launched, but would it sink in the harbor like so many previous ones? Had there been any danger of relapse it was averted two years after the Council's close by the election of a saint to the papacyPius V (1566-72).
St. Pius' own example influenced Roman administration as mere words could not have done. He also began the revision of ecclesiastical books, the missal, the breviary, and the catechism. The revisionliterary, not doctrinalof the Bible took longer, and a new version of the Vulgate did not appear until Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605). St. Pius also gave Christendom a last demonstration of papal temporal leadership when Don Juan of Austria led the papal-Spanish-Venetian fleet to victory over the Turks at Lepanto, October 7, 1571. St. Pius' successor, Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85), erected or reorganized colleges at Rome to provide for the training of missionaries for the lands undergoing persecution. A revision of church law was attempted and a new martyrology or record of saints edited. Pope Gregory also left his name on the modern calendar, for under his direction the Julian calendar, sixteen centuries old and ten days off astronomical time, was corrected.
Away from Rome, at Milan, St. Charles Borromeo took the all-important first plunge into the icy waters of the reform of the clergy. Clerical grumbling, strikes and even bullets did not deter the holy Cardinal from setting up a model seminary according to the directions of the Council of Trent. His efforts and trials blazed the way for other great organizers of seminaries, St. Vincent de Paul, St. John Eudes, Father Olier. St. Charles, however, can merely be mentioned here in passing as one example of the labor of Bishops and priests set on fire with the zeal inspired by the Council of Trent.
New Orders Founded
Meanwhile, not only were the older religious orders undergoing reformation, but new ones came into being to meet contemporary problems. The Jesuits, among other tasks, took over the training of a wide-awake Catholic laity in schools and colleges. Southern Germany, Poland and Hungary were saved for the Church largely through their efforts, while they did more than their share in keeping the Catholic Faith alive in the British Isles. St. Angela Merici (1474-1540) founded a group of nuns, the Ursulines, to specialize in the education of girls. St. John of God (1495-1550) founded his Brothers Hospitalers to serve the sick, and was followed in this work by an ex-soldier and reformed gambler, St. Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614). Another ex-soldier, Cesare Bus (1544-1607) founded a community to specialize in teaching the catechism, while St. Joseph Calasanctius (1556-1648) concentrated on elementary education. These and many other. religious communities, revitalized or newly founded, seemed resolved to make up to the Church for those priests, monks and nuns who had lost the Catholic Faith.
Nor did the Scholastics remain idle. Stimulated especially by Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534) and Francesco de Vittoria (1488-1546), they drove out Nominalism from Catholic schools and rebuilt theological and philosophical education on the sober and moderate rationalism of St. Thomas. While Dominicans and Franciscans returned to their tasks with renewed vigor, the Jesuits furnished the Council of Trent with able theologians in Jaime Laynez (1512-1565) and Nicolas Salmeron (1515-85).
St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) furnished all would-be reformers with a spiritual diet in his famous <Spiritual Exercises>, a method of prayer and reflection. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) and St. Theresa of Avila (1515-82) scaled the heights of mysticism, while remaining within the bounds of sound doctrine, and St. Peter Canisius (1521-97) descended to the lowly with his <Catechisms>, which came in all sizes. When the "Centuriators" of Magdeburg began to edit a biased version of ecclesiastical history, Cardinal Baronius (1538-1607) was spurred on by St. Philip Neri to write his <Ecclesiastical Annals> which are recognized today as the landmark in the development of documented, scientific, unbiased history, as contrasted with merely partisan "history." All this was reform, genuine reform. Unfortunately this sketchy description of the revival of Christ's Church cannot touch upon Palestrina's work for church music, Michelangelo's great contributions to ecclesiastical art, and so on.
Suffice it to say that when the Catholic heart at Rome again beat soundly, it diffused vigor into the works of all the Catholic members. Catholics, moreover, were put on their mettle by Protestant competition; with a mighty upsurge they rallied to halt the advance of the new religions in Europe. Abroad missionary zeal reawakened as in the apostolic age: Canada, Louisiana, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines India, China, Japan, Madagascar were all ports of call for intrepid missionaries. Whole nations were added to the Church in the New World to make up for her losses in the Old. If, then, the Church of Rome lost her monopoly of Western European Christendom, she did not lose her Catholicity, which means universality. Revived in spirit, expanding to all quarters of the world, she could still exclaim with the fourth century Bishop of Barcelona, St. Pacian: "Christian is my name; Catholic is my surname." We are told in Genesis how early men, for their pride, were put to confusion at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). It may be that Christians of the sixteenth century had to some extent forgotten that the glories of medieval Christendom were due less to their own talents and efforts than to Christ's doctrine. If so, they have sorely paid for their presumption in the babel of religious tongues that followed the Protestant Revolt. Whatever may have been the original good intentions of a Luther, Calvin, or Tudor, we can now see from the vantage point of four centuries of "blood, sweat, and tears" that their work introduced more confusion than reform into Christendom. This historical review, hasty as it was, has presented causes of some prevailing Christian disunities. Such divisions offer a true challenge to all Christians interested in the unity of Christ's Church. In his encyclical letter entitled "Paths of the Church," Pope Paul VI has expressed the mind of all Catholics in the following words: "We want to give our assurance, once again, that we have an attentive, reverent interest in the spiritual movements connected with the problem of unity, which are stirring up vital and noble religious sentiments in various individuals, groups and communities. With love and reverence we greet all these Christians, in the hope that we may promote together, even more effectively, the cause of Christ and the unity which He desired for His Church, in the dialogue of sincerity and love."
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Copyright Knights of Columbus 1953