Chapter 11 The Reformation

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Switzerland would also be the site of an even more influential Protestant Reformation which would replace Lutheranism as the predominant Protestant force in Europe. The founder of this movement was John Calvin (1509-1564), who was born into a wealthy French family, the son of the secretary of the Bishop of Noyon. Calvin received benefices that allowed him to receive a superior education in Paris where he was ordained a priest and received a degree in law.

In the late1520s, he became a follower of the reformers and in 1533, he underwent a conversion experience which brought him to Protestant Christianity. He said it was a difficult move which was only made possible because God made his long-stubborn heart teachable (Calvin wrote: God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame). This experience led him to sternness and severity on others whom he felt needed conversion so that his theology came to stress the sovereignty of God and man’s obligation to obey God’s will. In 1534, he formally surrendered the benefices which had supported him and dedicated himself to the Reformation.

The site of Calvin’s work would be Geneva, Switzerland, where a political upheaval paved the way. In the late 1520s, the Genevans revolted against their prince-bishop and civil authority was placed into the hands of a city council. In 1533, two reformers from Bern, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) and Antoine Froment (1508-1581), arrived in Geneva and, after much dissension, helped the Protestant party to triumph and in 1536 Geneva officially became a Protestant city. Although Calvin was French, the French monarchy remained so adamantly Roman Catholic that Calvin was forced to flee to Geneva, arriving in 1536. Calvin immediately drew up articles for the governance of the new church as well as a catechism (a summary of teachings) to guide and discipline the people. So pervasive were his measures that he was accused of creating a new papacy.

Calvin organized a tightly knit religious community and he became a sort of theological dictator. He wrote his ideas in a book called, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Even more than Luther, Calvin wanted a simplifying of religious services which even passed over into daily life. Calvinists displayed simplicity in their dress and daily living habits. In an age of ornate clothing, they wore simple black clothes, avoided ostentatious living and worshiped in plain and simple churches, which had no pictures, statues, vestments, stained glass and even most musical instruments.

Like Luther, Calvin rejected the Catholic hierarchy (the pope, bishops and their authority) and most of Luther’s attitudes towards the ministry and the sacraments. Also like Luther, he believed in Justification by Faith and that all that a Christian needs for authority is the Bible. But Calvin also made his own unique contributions in that he looked to St. Augustine and denied that even human faith could merit salvation. Salvation, according to Calvin, was God’s free gift to those whom God predestinated. These doctrines are called Absolute Predestination and Certitude of Salvation.

Absolute Predestination is the belief that God appointed or predestined some people to salvation by his grace, while leaving the remainder to receive eternal damnation for their sins. Certitude of Salvation teaches that God the Holy Ghost works to bring about the salvation of preordained individuals by means of grace and without the cooperation from the individual.

Thus Calvin taught that believers may be assured of their salvation through God’s Predestination and by looking into the character of their lives; hence the importance of Calvin’s strict moral codes. Therefore, if Christians believed God's promises and sought to live in accord with God's commandments, then their good deeds (done in response with a cheerful heart) provided proof that would strengthen their assurance (i.e., certitude) of salvation against all doubt.

After 1555, Geneva became the refuge of thousands of exiled Protestants who had been driven out of more Catholic areas, especially France, England and Scotland. Those who came to Geneva had to become utterly loyal to Calvin’s theocracy and model all their actions to God’s law - as Calvin saw it.

Women gained a new freedom because Calvin’s regulations severely punished men who beat their wives.

It is also important to note that Calvinists had a strong Iconoclastic streak reminiscent of the Iconoclasts of the Byzantine Empire in 8th and early 9th centuries - and they destroyed much priceless religious art, including altarpieces, sculpture, paintings and stained glass. Calvinism spread quickly and established strong churches in Scotland, France, the Low Countries and even Hungary. They were most successful in the Netherlands and Scotland where they became the state religion.

The Establishment of the Reformation

During the 1520s, as Lutheranism was establishing itself in Germany despite the Peasant’s Rebellion, the H.R. Emperor Charles V was distracted by wars with the Ottoman Turks and Francis I of France. But in 1530, he returned to Germany and summoned the Diet of Augsburg which was an assembly of both Lutheran and Catholic representatives. The purpose of the Diet was to solve the growing religious divisions within Germany and reconvert the Lutherans to Catholicism. Charles demanded that the Lutheran princes reconvert and they defied him and forced Charles to listen to a confession of their faith, called the Augsburg Confession. Their defiance proved that the Reformation was too firmly entrenched in about half the German people so that a return to Rome was impossible.

In 1531, the Schmaldkaldic League was formed by the Lutheran princes under the leadership of Philip of Hesse and John Frederick, the elector of Saxony. The league won a stalemate with the Emperor who was soon distracted by new conflicts with France and the Ottoman Empire.

In the 1530s, German Lutherans created Consistories, which were judicial bodies of theologians and lawyers whose purpose was to oversee and administer the new Protestant churches. This led to educational reforms which included compulsory primary education, schools for girls, a Christian humanist revision of the old curriculum and instruction in the new religion.

King Christian II of Denmark (r. 1515-1523) introduced Lutheranism into Denmark where it took root and thrived under his successor (and uncle) Frederick I (r. 1523-1533), who himself remained Catholic. But his son, Christian III (r. 1536-1559) made Lutheranism the state religion and all subsequent Danish kings were Lutheran. In Sweden, King Gustavus Vasa (r. 1523-1560) embraced Lutheranism and was supported by the nobility who were anxious to seize church lands. In Poland, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Calvinists and even Antitrinitarians found a place to practice their religions even though Poland remained overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

In 1544, after Charles V made temporary peace with Francis I, he focused on suppressing Protestant resistance within his empire. From 1546 to 1547 in the Schmalkaldic War, Charles and his allies fought the League and crushed them at the Battle of Mühlberg, capturing John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse. The emperor then established puppet rulers in Saxony and Hesse and issued an imperial law requiring Protestants to reconvert and again become Roman Catholics. Even though Charles allowed some concessions (such as allowing reception of Holy Communion in both bread and wine) many Protestant leaders went into exile. The city of Magdeburg refused to comply and became a center of Lutheran resistance. Even though Charles had crushed the league, the bottom line was that (as at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530) Protestantism was too firmly entrenched to be extirpated [rooted out].

So in 1550, Maurice of Saxony, who had fought with the emperor’s victorious forces at Mühlberg and had been given the title of Elector (in place of the captured John Frederick) was picked by Charles V to capture the rebellious Lutheran city of Magdeburg (1550). But Maurice, who was a Protestant, felt that he had betrayed his faith and seized the opportunity to sign anti-Habsburg compacts with France and Germany's Protestant princes thus changing sides. Confronted by this new resistance and exhausted by three decades of war, the emperor was forced to relent. With the Peace of Passau in 1552, a prematurely aged and emotionally broken Charles V guaranteed religious freedom to Lutherans in the empire which marked his exhausted quest to make his empire Roman Catholic. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg (not to be confused with the Diet of Augsburg of 1530) made a law the principle cuius regio, eius religio (whose kingdom, his religion), meaning that the prince of any principality determined the religion that would be practiced in his domain. That meant that if a person did not like his prince’s religion, then he had to emigrate. Thus, the division of Western Christendom was permanent.

The Peace of Augsburg, however, did not give recognition to Calvinists or Anabaptists. After Münster, the Anabaptists simply formed separate communities but Calvinists remained determined to secure their right to exist, openly practice their religion and shape society as they believed it ought to be shaped. Thus, Calvinism was a much more radical and aggressive form of Protestantism than Lutheranism or Anabaptism. Thus Calvinists (such as the Puritans in England and Huguenots in France) organized in order to spread national revolutions throughout Northern Europe during the latter half of the sixteenth century, as we shall see in the next chapter.

The English Reformation

The English Church and Monarchy were always more independent of Rome than the continental churches. Edward I (1272-1307) had resisted Pope Boniface VIII’s attempt to tax the clergy. In 1350, Edward III passed the Statute of Provisors which took the election of English bishops out of papal hands and in 1392, the Parliament of Richard II, passed the Statute of Praemunire, which prohibited the assertion of papal jurisdiction over the English king. This independence along with much anti-clerical feelings (i.e., the Lollards) and growing humanism set the stage for the English Reformation.

In the early 1520s, Lutheran ideas were smuggled into England were they were discussed by scholars and future reformers at Cambridge University. One of these reformers was William Tyndale (1492-1536) who translated the Latin New Testament into English in 1524-25 while he was in Germany. His English New Testament was printed in Germany and taken to England where it quickly circulated. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, King Henry VIII’s chancellor, and Sir Thomas More, Wolsey’s successor, both opposed the growing Protestant movement in England. In 1521, Henry VIII himself wrote The Defense of the Seven Sacraments which was an attack on Luther’s theology. In gratitude Pope Leo X rewarded Henry with the title Defensor Fidei, (Defender of the Faith), which can be seen on English coinage with the letters DF in our century. Luther's reply to Henry’s treatise was, in turn, written by Thomas More, who, many feel, helped Henry compose his Defense of the Seven Sacraments.

Lollardy and humanism laid the foundation but it would be Henry VIII who would be the catalyst of the Reformation in England. His father, Henry VII, had arranged a political marriage between his oldest son Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, the younger daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella and aunt of Charles V. Within five months of the marriage (1502) Arthur had died of fever and so Henry, not wanting to return Catherine’s marriage dowry to Ferdinand, paid Pope Julius II for a dispensation to allow Catherine to marry his younger son, and now heir, Henry. The dispensation was necessary because church law forbade a man from marrying his brother’s widow [Leviticus 18:16-21]. The marriage took place in 1509 just after Henry VIII succeeded his father and was - at first - a happy one. The only irritant was a string of still born children with only one child surviving, a sickly child named Mary. It is important to understand that Henry had inherited from his father a terrible fear of dynastic war (from the War of the Roses) and so the thought of a daughter succeeding him was unthinkable. At some point he began, honestly or pragmatically, to believe that his marriage to Catherine had been a sacrilege in eyes of God, which implied that Julius II had not the power to grant a dispensation.

So Henry began a campaign to have his marriage annulled so he could marry again and hopefully produce a male heir. He did not want a divorce; he wanted an annulment. [A divorce says that there was a marriage and is dissolved; an annulment that there never was a marriage because of an impediment, in this case because Henry married Arthur’s widow.] So Henry applied to Rome for a dispensation from the dispensation, that is, an annulment. The pope, Clement VII, would have granted the annulment without hesitation (and for a fee, of course) but there was a problem.

The year was 1525, the year that Charles V’s mercenaries sacked Rome and took Clement prisoner. [Remember that Charles V was Catherine’s nephew and so he naturally kept the pope from granting the annulment.] Henry lashed out in anger. In 1529, he dismissed Wolsey, who had worked for years to gain the annulment, and, although Thomas More became chancellor, Henry took as his principal advisors Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), soon to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), both of whom had Lutheran leanings. Their solution was simple: declare the king the head of the Church in England; then the king could solve his own problem.

In 1529, Parliament was convened for a seven year session that would earn it the name, the Reformation Parliament. During these years, in a torrent of legislation, Henry was made head of the Church in England. Henry skillfully finessed Parliament making whatever changes he wanted to that Church in England. In 1532, Parliament published a list of grievances against the Roman Catholic Church which ranged from indifference to the needs of the laity to an excessive number of religious holidays. In the same year, Parliament passed the Submission of the Clergy, which placed Canon [church] Law under the king’s control thus making the clergy subservient to the king. This was called the Principle of Royal Supremacy.

In October 1532, Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In January 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn (who had become pregnant by Henry). In May, Cranmer judged Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid (he even issued a threat of excommunication, if Henry did not stay away from Catherine) and granted the annulment which allowed the Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cranmer then validated the new marriage, crowned Anne Queen of England in June and baptized their child Elizabeth in September. In the same year, Parliament made the king the highest court of appeal of all Englishmen. In the following year (1534), Parliament ended all payments (clerical and lay) to Rome and gave Henry sole jurisdiction over all high ecclesiastical appointments. Parliament also passed the Act of Succession which made Anne Boleyn’s children the legitimate heirs to the throne and the Act of Supremacy which declared Henry the supreme head on earth of the Church of England.

Both Thomas More, who resigned his chancellorship, and John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, refused to sign the acts and were executed. Europe was shocked but Henry was determined to have his way regardless of the cost. Between 1536 and 1541, Parliament at Henry’s behest, dissolved England’s monasteries and nunneries. It is important to understand that there were numerous religious houses in England that owned large tracts of land worked by tenants. When Henry dissolved them, he transferred a fifth of England's landed wealth to new hands. This was a calculated move on Henry’s part designed to create landed gentry beholden to the crown.

Henry’s personal life was a disaster at best. Anne Boleyn produced only one child, Elizabeth. Anne soon lost favor with Henry who had charges of adultery and treason trumped up against her; and finally had her executed in 1536. Both Elizabeth and Mary, her half-sister by Catherine of Aragon, were both declared illegitimate although Henry saw that they were well cared for. Henry then married Jane Seymour, who finally gave Henry a son, Edward, but she sadly died shortly after from the effects of the childbirth. Henry then married Anne of Cleaves on the advice of Thomas Cromwell, who hoped to create a marriage alliance with a Protestant German prince. Henry was not pleased with Anne; the alliance was dropped; Anne agreed to a quick annulment and Cromwell was beheaded. Henry next married Catherine Howard, half his age, but she did commit adultery and was beheaded in 1542. Henry’s last wife was Catherine Parr, a well-educated widow and patron of humanists and reformers, who was Henry’s nursemaid until he died.

Henry broke from Rome but he was in most aspects religiously conservative. He did allow English Bibles to be placed in English churches; moreover in his Ten Articles of 1536, he made only mild concessions to the Protestant thinking reformers in England. The Articles stressed the Bible and the Creeds; the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrament of penance, the use of images and pictures; the invocation and honoring of saints; purgatory and prayers for the dead; and the traditional rites and ceremonies of the Church. However, in a major concession, the Articles did stress Justification by Faith, joined with charity. Henry also, despite his own hypocritical liaisons and adulteries, threatened to execute any clergyman who was caught twice in concubinage (living with a woman as her husband). Even Archbishop Cranmer had to keep his own wife hidden from Henry.

Nevertheless, Protestant ideas continued to spread and drew Henry’s anger. Henry intended to be head of the Catholic Church in England, not a reformed church. So three years later, Henry issued the Six Articles of 1539, which reaffirmed transubstantiation, Holy Communion in the bread only, clerical celibacy and the continuance of private masses and confessions. Protestants angrily called the Six Articles a “whip with six stings.” About all the reformers got was the Bible in English (Tyndale’s New Testament which grew into the Cloverdale Bible of 1535 and finally the Great Bible of 1539) and slight concessions like Justification by Faith. The reformers would have to wait, but not for long. The Reformation would come to England with Henry’s death in 1547.

When Henry died, he was succeeded by his ten year old son, Edward VI, who was a morose [sad] and sickly child, tutored by Calvinist reformers. During his reign, England was governed by a Regency Council, which was led by his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, (1547–1549), and then by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, (1550–1553), who later became Duke of Northumberland. Edward and his regents were deeply committed Calvinists and corresponded with John Calvin. Henry’s Six Articles were repealed and both clerical marriage and communion in both kinds were legalized. The Reformation had now come to England; not political like Henry’s but religious.

In 1547, the Chantries (places where Masses for the dead were offered) were dissolved. In 1549, the Act of Uniformity imposed the Book of Common Prayer on all English churches. It was a conservative revision of the old Latin Mass - simplified and translated into English. In 1550, images were ordered to be removed from churches and altars replaced with Communion Tables. After Charles V’s victory at Mühlberg many Protestants fled to England, among them Martin Bucer, a reformer of both Lutheran and Calvinist traditions, who assisted the pushing forward of a Protestant agenda. A Second Act of Uniformity was passed in 1552 and imposed a more reformed Book of Common Prayer on the English Church. It contained Forty-Two Articles, written by Archbishop Cranmer, which set forth a moderate Protestant position. The Articles included Justification by Faith, a denial of Transubstantiation (but not the real presence,) and recognized only the Sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

But all these changes were short lived because Edward died at the age of seventeen in 1553 and, after some intrigue, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter came to the throne as Mary I. Mary was steadfastly Roman Catholic and determined to reverse the Reformation in England. She has been unfairly given the name Bloody Mary because she dealt so harshly with the reformers. Some indeed were burned at the stake including Archbishop Cranmer but compared to her father and his longer reign, relatively few people died under Mary’s persecutions. Mary married the son of Charles V, Philip II of Spain, and made him king of England. The English hated Philip and never accepted him. When Mary died in 1558, her half-sister, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, came to the throne as Elizabeth I. It would be Elizabeth who would strike a middle course for the English Church known as the Via Media.

The Counter Reformation

The Roman Church was unprepared for the hammer blows of the Reformation. Nevertheless, it must be understood that there were loyal Roman Catholics, who were eager for reform and only too willing to help the Church and – at the same time - beat back the Protestant threat. The Councils of Constance and Basel had both stripped the popes of much of their secular power but the popes continued to delay real reform. To this end, many new religious orders were founded to push reform from within. The Theatines were a Roman Catholic religious order, founded in 1524 by Saint Cajetan, to groom reform-minded leaders at the higher levels of the church hierarchy. One of the co-founders was Gian Carafa, who became Pope Paul IV (r. 1555-1559).

The Capuchin Order arose in 1520 when Matteo da Bascio, a Franciscan friar [monk] in Italy, sought to return the Franciscans to the primitive and holy ways of St. Francis of Assisi. The Capuchins became immensely popular with ordinary people to whom they directed most of their efforts. The Somaschi Order, founded in Italy in 1534 by Saint Jerome Emiliani (and named after the mother-house at Somasca), their goal was to dedicate themselves to the giving of aid and caring for the poor, to orphans, abandoned youths and the sick. The Barnabites, or the Clerics Regular of St. Paul, were founded in 1530 by three Italian noblemen, who vowed to seek no personal gain in their ministry and to give themselves entirely to teaching, hearing confessions, establishing missions, educating youth and ministering in hospitals, prisons and to the dying. It is important to understand that both the Capuchins and the Barnabites successfully repaired much of the moral, spiritual and physical damage done to the ordinary people of war torn Italy.

In 1535, the Ursulines (Ursuline Order) was founded for women in Italy and France to give religious education to girls of all social classes. The Oratorians was society of priests and lay-brothers who lived together in a community bound together with no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. Founded by St. Philip Neri, they were an elite group who devoted themselves to the promotion of religious literature and church music. Among their members was Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina, a composer of sacred music who had a profound influence on the development of church music, especially Renaissance polyphony.

In addition to these movements, there were the Spanish mystics, Saint Theresa of Avilla (1515-1582), a Carmelite nun who wrote about personal prayer, and Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Carmelite monk, whose most famous literary work, Dark Night of the Soul, tells the story of a human soul leaving its bodily home to find mystical union with God. The journey is called "The Dark Night", because darkness is symbolic of the hardships and difficulties that the soul meets in trying to detach itself from the false values of the world as it struggles to reach the light of union with the Creator.

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