Sunday, April 23, 2017

Suppression of the Jesuits

The Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits or the Company of Jesus, became the first religious order to span the globe. These highly skilled men, who observed the evangelical counsels of poverty and chastity, as well as obedience to superiors in the faith, came to be viewed by the powerful as so threatening that their order was disbanded for slightly over a quarter century.

The Jesuits were persecuted in England by several monarchs, starting with Henry VIII, and were banished from Japan, Protestant German principalities and Orthodox Russia—mostly as part of anti-Catholic measures that indirectly affected the order. It was a different story when the Jesuits were the pope’s advance men of evangelization in territories acquired by Catholic countries and their monarchs.

The original Jesuits were remarkable men whose order, which includes among its members Pope Francis and is still today regarded as the clergy’s intellectual elite, found novel ways to make the gospel understandable to non-European social cultures. In French North America, for example, Jesuits told the Iroquois that Jesus had been born in a longhouse; in Spanish Paraguay, they developed Guaraní dictionaries, which led to the first writings in that indigenous language.

The 1986 British film The Mission, starring Robert De Niro, is set in 1740. It dramatizes the conflict the Jesuits encountered in Spanish and Portuguese colonies. De Niro’s Father Gabriel character is based on the life of a Paraguayan saint, Roque González de Santa Cruz, S.J., and is loosely adapted from the book The Lost Cities of Paraguay by C.J. McNaspy, S.J., a consultant on the film.

The incident portrayed in the film occurred when Spain was competing for land and labor with the Portuguese, who were harsher toward natives and coveted both the land and the people supervised by the Jesuits. The Treaty of Madrid sought to end warring with Portuguese bandeirante slavers by ceding Spanish Jesuit settlements to Portugal. The cinematic Father Gabriel takes up arms in protest. In reality, the warriors were Indians, who loathed the Portuguese slavers. Although they trained the Indians to use weapons, the Jesuits obeyed their government and withdrew.

Also distinct from the film, what Americans call “Missions,” located in what Chicano historian Rodolfo Acuña called “occupied America,” are the remains of Franciscan colonial establishments known as congregaciones (gatherings), which aimed to make the natives docile in order to use them as laborers. The Jesuits set up entirely different kinds of settlements, known as reducciones, or “Indian reductions,” which cleverly turned on its head the colonial policy of subduing the natives.

In French North America, the Jesuits had tried to convert Eskimos, Micmacs, Algonquins and Hurons, initially to little effect. Their success with the Iroquois had an unintended consequence. This fierce warrior tribe took the gospel of peace to heart, abandoned war and was mercilessly decimated by neighbors who hated them. In the 1740s, the British conquered Quebec and Catholicism became illegal. Clergy and missionaries left what would become Canada, most fleeing with many of their French-speaking parishioners to the Louisiana territories.

In South America, Jesuits first went into the jungles of Brazil and later to colonial Paraguay, Peru and Mexico, where they excelled at negotiating special deals with colonial governors that kept the new landowners and the government away from the natives. Apart from conversion, the dwellers in these communities were not required to adopt European languages, values or lifestyles.

The typical Jesuit reduction was a compound that grouped a church, priests’ quarters, commissary, stables, armory, workshops, hospital, storehouses and housing for the natives around a central square. Each family had a separate apartment connected by a roofed walkway. Buildings designed by the likes of Rev. Martin Schmid, S.J., a Swiss architect, composer and instrument maker, were sometimes stone but more often adobe or cane, with homemade furniture and religious pictures—often made by the natives themselves. Populations varied from 2,000 to 7,000.

A typical day started with children’s hymns followed by Mass and breakfast, after which the workers went to their tasks. At noon each group assembled for the Angelus, after which came dinner and a siesta; work then resumed until evening. After supper came the rosary and sleep. On rainy days they worked indoors. Festivals with contests, fireworks, concerts and dances entertained the community.

The settlements had a main farm, where they raised cattle and grew crops, including yerba mate for a brewed drink, mate (or Jesuit tea). Each family also had its own garden. Jesuits introduced European arts and trades. They trained natives in a broad range of occupations, from boatbuilding to carpentry, garment making, silversmithing and more. The reductions initially produced manuscripts copied by hand, but later built printing presses. Goods produced were sold in large cities and proceeds were divided between a community fund and the workers and their dependents.

These idyllic communities’ success was their undoing. Historian Virginia Carreño in her work Estancias y Estancieros del Río de la Plata underscores how “at the outset of the 18th century, with the worse perils of colonization overcome, the Jesuits, with Indians who made up at most about a quarter of the population, were advanced by at least a century compared with the Spaniards and that was humiliating.”

She notes that huge herds of cattle raised under Jesuit supervision fed several colonial cities, including all of Asunción, today capital of Paraguay. A colonist who wanted to build called on a Jesuit architect; one who wanted the best education for his son turned to a Jesuit school in Chuquisaca or Córdoba. “When the need arose for a musician, an astronomer, a botanist, an agronomist, people went to a member of the Society, were he Italian, Hungarian or German, a doctor in theology or simply a religious superior,” Carreño writes.

Attacks came from three quarters.

In 1750, Portugal quarreled with the Jesuits over an exchange of territory with Spain in which a Portuguese settlement in what is today Uruguay was exchanged for the Jesuits’ seven reductions in Paraguay. The Jesuits were expelled.

The Jesuit superior in French Martinique managed the settlements’ business so well that he was able to leverage their production for loans to speed development of the colony. But when war broke out between England and France, ships carrying goods worth millions were captured; in the 1760s creditors in Paris courts won orders forcing the Society to pay or relinquish the settlements. The order lacked the funds and withdrew.

In the European dependencies of Naples and Parma, Jesuits were accused in 1767 of producing pamphlets that incited the people to riot against Spanish rule. Hundreds of Jesuits were marched like convicts to the coast, where they were deported to the Papal States.

Following the expulsion of Jesuits in European countries and their overseas territories, Pope Clement XIV issued a papal bull in 1773, declaring that “the Company of Jesus ... shall be, and is, for ever extinguished and suppressed.” It was not until 1814, when all the absolute monarchs who hated the Jesuits were no longer in power, that Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus in Catholic Europe and the Society decided at its first General Congregation thereafter to keep its original organization.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


The third among the Methodist founders, George Whitefield (1714-1770), became one of the figures that set in motion a distinctly U.S. and British Protestant phenomenon known as the “Great Awakenings.” These were sweeping waves of popular religious enthusiasm that burst forth more or less spontaneously and among rural and marginal groups of society in response to powerful preaching campaigns by charismatic figures and incidentally spawned new denominations.

Although traditional histories speak of only two Awakenings, modern reassessments argue plausibly that there were four, each lasting several decades: 1730-1755, 1790-1840, 1850-1900 and 1960-1980.

They were instrumental in reshaping the Congregational church (the institutional successor of the Pilgrim Puritans) and changing the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed and the German Reformed denominations; at the time of the First Awakening, it boosted the then-small Baptist and Methodist Anglican denominations. None of the Awakenings, however, had much influence on most Anglicans, Lutherans and Quakers; save for the last one, and even then very briefly, they had no effect at all on Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Notably for our present time, the Awakenings gave rise to the Protestant interdenominational religious movement known as Evangelicalism. The evangelicals—today associated with figures such as the Rev. Billy Graham—became significant in religion and politics in Britain and the United States; they should be distinguished from the Protestant denominations Evangelical Lutheran and Evangelical Reformed and similarly named churches. The movement’s name is also distinct from “evangelical” in theological or religious discourse about matters pertaining to the gospel, in Greek evangelion.

The original Great Awakening is traceable to the 1730s field preaching of John and Charles Wesley in Britain, but its North American origins go back to Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), with Whitefield contributing when he moved to the New World in the 1740s and the work of Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies (1723-1761), notable for preaching to African slaves.

The phenomenon was spurred by fiery preaching at public “revival” meetings, originally directed at church-going folk, to stir up or “awaken” their fervor. The preaching aimed to generate a personal experience that encouraged each person to look inward and commit to a new faith in Jesus Christ and standard of personal morality.

The mostly Calvinist-leaning preachers aimed to avoid formal ceremony and sacramentalism—still, the revival came to acquire a distinct performance art form, including preaching, followed by public declarations of conversion and even assertions of healing. Revivals also rejected hierarchy and denominationalism, yet notably pointed attendees to “Bible centered” churches—somehow these were never Catholic or Orthodox, the traditions that had put together and preserved the Christian Bible.

The Second Great Awakening began around 1790 in the United States. After 1820, the movement fed members to Baptist and Methodist churches whose pastors led the movement, then lost steam by the 1840s and 50s. The movement reflected society’s romanticism, with its appeal to emotion and an appeal to the supernatural that came in response to the skeptical rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment. It was during this period that Adventism emerged, the earliest African-American denominations were established and the earliest stirrings were felt leading to Mormonism, which arguably is not a Christian faith.

The Third Great Awakening has been proposed by historians looking back at U.S. religious activism in the latter half of the 19th century. As shifts in theology and church organization occurred, American Christians began progressive movements to reform society during this period, in particular antebellum abolitionism, temperance and women’s rights. As with the second outbreak, it led to further splintering of Protestantism, including several groups associated with the social gospel, Holiness and Nazarene movements, Fundamentalism and lastly Christian Science, which like Mormonism fell off the table of Christianity.

The idea of a Fourth Awakening—in the late 1960s and early 1970s—is also largely a hypothetical construct, one that is not widely accepted. The phenomenon supposedly takes in the Jesus Movement, the Pentecostal movement that crossed denominations and even outside Protestantism in the form of the Charismatic movement and possibly Messianic Jews (also known as “Jews for Jesus”).

In essence, the Awakenings, whether they were the traditional two or the arguable four, represent the ever greater fragmentation of Protestantism spurred by non-dogmatic and more or less spontaneous popular movements, mostly in the English-speaking world but particularly in the United States. They explain how the handful of “mainline” Protestant traditions spawned by the Reformation and its immediate aftereffects became the myriad of Protestant denominations, large and small, that exist today.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Strange Warming

The second largest Protestant denominational family in the United States—and fourth largest church in Britain—arose when three young men broke away from the Church of England after launching what I would dub the first Oxford Movement. The young men were John Wesley (1703-1791), his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and their friend George Whitefield (1714-1770), the founders of Methodism.

The ringleader was decidedly John Wesley, an Anglican cleric ordained a priest in 1728. While at Oxford he founded a group in 1729 initially of three students (his brother Charles became the fourth member) who met three or four evenings a week to read and discuss the classics. This group is the origin of Methodism.

One of those classics was the Novum Testamentum Graece, a source document printed in 1514 as part of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the first printed version of the entire Bible in all its original languages. The work was directed by Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, a Franciscan priest, later cardinal, Grand Inquisitor and religious reformer, at the Complutense University in Madrid, which he founded.

It may have been their engagement with this work that led to a more religious character of the club, whose activities began to include praying, examining their spiritual lives and studying the Bible and then putting their deepened faith into action. The club took food to poor families, visited prisoners and taught orphans to read. With at least two priests among its members, it frequently celebrated the Eucharist.

Their more ascetic practices—they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays until 3:00 p.m., the reputed hour Jesus died on the cross—were widely blamed in the broader Oxford community for the death of one of their members. John Wesley, however, protested that the member has contracted an illness a good year and a half after he stopped fasting. Several students jeeringly dubbed Wesley’s group the “Holy Club,” and a popular ditty said, “By rule they eat, by rule they drink, by rule do all things but think.”

That ditty also unwittingly gave the movement its lasting name when, as had occurred before, a taunt was turned into a token of pride. The students chanted, “Method alone must guide ’em all, when themselves ‘Methodists’ they call.” Indeed, John Wesley defined “Methodist” for the 1753 English Dictionary as “One that (or who) lives according to the Method laid down in the Bible.”

That was long after a disastrous venture that led to the real institutional beginning of Methodism. In 1736-37, John and Charles Wesley were infused with fervor for their still tiny movement and decided to go to the new colony of Georgia in America and help spawn a revival of “primitive Christianity” (meaning that of the Apostolic Era) among the native inhabitants. The episode ended badly after John left the colony only a little ahead of the authorities, who sought him on charges of harassing a woman he had fallen in love with but who spurned him and married another. Charles followed shortly after.

Back in England, John turned to the Moravians, a pre-Luther, originally Czech Protestant denomination that traced back to rebel Jan Hus, and was counseled by a Moravian missionary who was awaiting papers to travel to Georgia himself. On May 24, 1738, John attended a Moravian meeting in London,  which Wesley described memorably: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The conversion, commemorated by Methodists as Aldersgate Day, turned Wesley around. He began to preach about his evangelical-style change of heart and personal salvation by faith, then on God’s grace.

Although less famous than his older brother’s, the conversion of Charles Wesley three days earlier is worth noting. It took place at what would be today 12 Little Britain, in the vicinity of Aldersgate, where a plaque at no. 13 reads: “Adjoining this site stood the house of John Bray. Scene of Charles Wesley's conversion by faith in Christ on May 21st 1738.” Charles was not ordained, but after his conversion was a frequent field preacher. His lasting contribution to the Methodist movement are the 6,000 hymns he wrote.

Methodism now began to spread in earnest throughout England. Methodist “societies” worshipped in chapels, the first of which was the New Room in Bristol, built in 1739. At this point John Wesley began to lay the foundation of what would eventually be the structure of the Methodist Church, starting with societies, circuits, quarterly meetings and annual conferences. The General Rules issued by the Wesley brothers in 1743 state the conditions for admission into the “United Societies.” The first annual conference was held in 1744 by John and Charles Wesley, four clergymen and four lay preachers, who met in London.

Societies were made up of “classes” of a dozen members that met weekly for “spiritual fellowship” and guidance and “bands” of select members deemed “spiritually gifted.” By 1744 these select members were said to number 77. From this categorization of members also comes the term “backslider,” for a convert who falls back into preconversion habits. As the movement grew, John Wesley appointed "helpers" who visited societies (at least 30 a month) in “circuits.” To keep the preaching fresh and effective, he rotated preachers among circuits about every year or two, setting up the “itinerancy.”

The growth of the movement brought new problems, most notably with the mother institution, the Church of England.

Some of these problems stemmed from the reality the Methodists’ successful ministry to laborers and criminals and others on the margins of society who were not served by the established church. In the United States, Methodism became the faith of slaves who formed black churches in the Methodist tradition. More egregious to the Church of England, however, was that most Methodist leaders were not ordained. They flouted parish boundaries and rules on who had authority to preach, and initially Methodists encouraged women to preach, both at home and at outdoor events where they gave witness of their faith.

Differences with the Church of England divided the Wesley brothers. Like John, Charles was born the son of an Anglican priest, and disagreed vehemently with his brother concerning the widening breach with the Church of England. He preached his own faith in the fields, but not in churches. When, in 1765, he became too ill to be active he settled around the northern London Anglican parish of St Marylebone. Near death, he sent for the priest and told him, “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” He was.

John Wesley originally believed that the Church of England was “with all her blemishes, [...] nearer the Scriptural plans than any other in Europe” and was willing to make concessions to keep the peace with the Anglican clergy. However, by 1746, while reading an account of the early Church, he became convinced that apostolic succession was a “fable” and that he was “a scriptural episkopos [bishop] as much as many men in England.” Nonetheless, in 1763, John took the additional step of allowing Erasmus of Arcadia, a Greek Orthodox bishop of the Diocese of Arcadia in Crete, to consecrate him a bishop—secretly because it was illegal in England to do so.

The public break with Anglicanism did not come until 1784, as a by-product of the American Revolution, which led to mass departure of Anglican priests out of loyalty to the king and an enormous clerical shortage. The newly formed United States disestablished all churches, and the Anglican affiliate, the Protestant Episcopal Church was formed. The joke among Episcopalians is that the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, then repaired to a tavern to found the new church.

As the Church of England dithered about appointing a bishop to ordain replacement U.S. priests, Wesley took action. He ordained Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest, as “superintendent” of U.S. Methodists by the laying on of hands. Coke sailed to America and ordained Francis Asbury superintendent. Both then asked the Americans to call them “bishops,” over John Wesley’s objections, in the Methodist Episcopal Church they formed in 1784. That same year, John made the British Annual Conference of United Methodist Societies his institutional successor.

Methodism has no formal creed of its own comparable to the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. John Wesley wrote 25 Articles of Religion that abridge and adapt the Church of England’s 39. Much more important are the Scriptures—meaning the Protestant 66 books. Methodists draw from these the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, the universality of original sin. They believe that the universal distribution of grace through human cooperation is necessary for eternal salvation and that although offered to all it may be freely rejected.

John Wesley split with Whitefield, the third founding Methodist from the original Oxford group, on the question of predestination. Whitefield developed Calvinist leanings that moved him to become a fiery preacher and effectively start the Protestant evangelical movement. He preached a series of “revivals” in late colonial North America that led to a whirlwind movement eventually known as the Great Awakening, to which we shall turn next.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jansenism’s Enduring Controversy

Just as the Reformation swung to Calvinist extremes that eventually were disconnected from the relatively moderate and sensible protest of an Augustinian friar, the Catholic revival experienced in the 17th century a similar swing that also found fertile ground in the Low Countries, Jansenism. This theological movement, condemned as heresy early on, lived on among the French and Irish clergy as an underground Catholic Puritanism influential in the teaching of morals well into the 20th century.

The school of thought traces its origins to Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), Bishop of Ypres, known also as Cornelius Jansenius. However, the originator never intended to start a school of thought, much less a theological movement, especially not against papal censure.

Jansen was a poor rural Catholic boy born in Acquoy, Holland (today Gelderland, Netherlands), whose defining intellectual experience was studying at the University of Leuven in 1602-04. At that time the university was embroiled in a fierce academic conflict between Jesuits and their scholastic party and the followers of Michael Baius, who pitted against Aquinas and his contemporaries the ancient father St. Augustine of Hippo.

Cornelius became strongly attached to the party that became known as “Augustinian” (they did not belong to any of the Augustinian orders). At that time he developed a close and long-lasting friendship with fellow student Jean Duvergier, later abbot at Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne (today Saint-Michel-en-Brenne). In his lifetime, Jansen wrote a number of small works, including a tirade against the Spanish influence in the Low Countries, which accounts for his continuing celebrity in that part of the world, and was an otherwise unexceptional cleric who was eventually ordained bishop.

Significantly, however, he penned a voluminous work in Latin, Augustinus seu doctrina Sancti Augustini de humanae naturae sanitate, aegritudine, medicina adversus Pelagianos et Massilianses (The doctrine of St. Augustine on human natural health, trials and medicine against the Pelagians and Massilians), better known by the short title Augustinus. Jansen commended the volume to his chaplain asking that it be published as faithfully as possible, specifying that “If, however, the Holy See wishes any change, I am an obedient son, and I submit to that Church in which I have lived to my dying hour. This is my last wish.”

The massive, largely opaque and highly specialized theological work on Augustine’s view of the heresy of Pelagianism, and related ideas about original sin and divine grace, was published in 1640. It also covered an offshoot of that heresy, Semipelagianism, and denounced an unnamed “modern tendency” that scholars have identified as Molinism. Before going into the controversy of Jansenism, let’s first clarify these terms.

Pelagianism was the teaching of Pelagius (354-440?), an Irish or Scottish monk, who taught that the human will, as created by God, could guide people to a sinless life. This teaching came to be understood, whether Pelagius actually intended it or not, as meaning that people can effectively earn their own salvation. The doctrine was much debated by several synods and eventually condemned in the fifth century by two popes.

Semipelagianism (also known as Massilianism, a reference to the Latin name for Marseilles) was an attempt by monks in the vicinity of Marseilles around 428 to find a compromise with the teachings of Pelagius, whom even Augustine called “a saintly man.” Semipelagians make a distinction between the beginning of faith and its growth. They argue that the choice to adopt faith is an act of human free will, with divine grace intervening in response, but development in faith is the work of God. This teaching was condemned as heresy at the local Council of Orange in 529, a position maintained ever since.

Complicating the palette of ideas in Jansen’s work, however, between 1590 and 1600 the term “semipelagianism” was applied to the teachings of Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600) concerning the doctrine of grace. Molina was a staunch Renaissance defender of human liberty in his attempt to reconcile some of Augustine’s ideas with free will, appealing to God’s foreknowledge of how human beings will use it. A controversy raged in Rome around these ideas until 1611, when Paul V simply prohibited all further discussion of the question. In this way, Molinism was subsumed into the Jansenist controversy, to which we now return.

Augustinus was widely read in theological circles in France and the Low Countries, then throughout Europe, igniting a controversy that also became political. Jansen’s university friend Duvergier publicly preached Jansenism before the book was even printed, and it spawned enormously heated debate among Catholics.

Debated was whether only divine grace could tip a person toward perfect contrition (sorrow for sins for love of God alone) and salvation or if grace could make up for imperfect contrition (sorrow for fear of punishment). It was an issue related to the sacrament today known as Reconciliation (Penance or Confession) and all penitence involving remorse, which the Council of Trent had not addressed.

In May 1638, Duvergier was imprisoned by order of the gray eminence behind the throne of France, Cardinal Richelieu, and was not released until after Richelieu’s death in 1642.

Jansen’s mainly Jesuit opponents condemned his teachings for alleged similarities to Calvinism. Blaise Pascal attempted to mediate, arguing that both were partially right: Molinists were correct about the state of humanity before the Fall, while Calvinists were right about the state of humanity after the Fall.

In 1642, the Holy Office of the Inquisition condemned Augustinus and forbade its reading; Pope Urban VIII followed up with a papal bull titled In eminenti, which also condemned it. What led to Jansenism being declared a heresy is the assertion that God’s role in the infusion of grace cannot be resisted and does not require human assent. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “God’s free initiative demands man’s free response,” meaning that people may assent to or refuse God’s grace.

Jansenism went underground and resurfaced in myriad ways. The apostolic constitution Unigenitus Dei Filius by Pope Clement XI in 1713 officially ended tolerance for Jansenist doctrine, but it kept resurfacing among overly pious groups. Some odd spiritual practices included the Jansenist idea that Holy Communion should be received very infrequently because it required much more than being free from mortal, or very grave, sin. This idea was condemned by Pope Pius X in the early 20th century; the pope endorsed frequent communion so long as the communicant was free of mortal sin.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Absolutist Christendom

The next challenge to the Christian faith came to span all Europe and involved Protestants in the British Isles and Catholics in France: it attempted to turn the new European Renaissance nation-states ruled by a monarch into the default form of Christian government.

The idea of a Christian political order has enthralled many over the years, but it is not easily derived from Scripture without doing violence to the text. Since Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become a Christian, many rulers have claimed God’s favor, with some assent from the clergy. Yet throughout the Middle Ages the Church put limits on the power of kings and made sure that Christian kings followed laws and traditions, as well as God’s ordinances and justice. Popes and patriarchs claimed the right to crown and depose kings.


The Church’s power of persuasion eventually declined, and certain monarchic dynasties pulled medieval fiefdoms together into countries. Some people, such as Britain’s King James (VI of Scotland and later I of England), argued that the circumstances that led to a government such as his own were a sign of divine favor, implying a divine right to rule. In 1598, James published The True Law of Free Monarchies, a general treatise on the subject and a response to populist political theorists in Scotland. He also published Basilikon Doron (Greek for Royal Gift), a manual for his son on being a king.

“The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth, for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God's throne,” James expounded to the English Parliament in 1610. “Kings are also compared to fathers of families; for a king is truly parens patriae [Latin, parent of the country], the politic father of his people.”

In the Anglican and broader Protestant understanding, the divine right of kings of the 17th century is a political and religious doctrine of royal legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch answers to no earthly authority; his right to rule comes directly from the will of God. The king is not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other group, including the Church, he governs. As we have seen, Martin Luther urged secular authorities to crush the Peasant Rebellion of 1525 based on his interpretation of Pauline writings.

In England, the idea was rejected by the Puritans and other nonconformists under Cromwell, who committed the then-shocking crime of regicide in 1640; however, Cromwell and his order were overthrown. The disconnect between the divine right of kings and the English way of life erupted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Whig overthrow of James and permanent installation of Protestantism as the sole legal form of Christianity (Catholicism remained illegal until 1840), with limited rights for Nonconformists, notably set in motion in the 1689 Bill of Rights of the modern constitutional British monarchy, which gives the king or queen the right to reign but not rule.


A very different story can be told of developments across the English Channel, where Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), a bishop and theologian, became court preacher to Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), also known as the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil), and notably tutor to his son.

Bossuet is the principal French Christian theorist of the divine right of kings, although monarchical absolutism in France can be traced to Cardinal Richelieu and the Sun King himself, whose well-known saying “L'état, c'est moi (I am the State)” is more accurately rendered “The interests of the state come first. When these have priority, one labors for one's own good. Advantages to the state redound to one's glory.”

The writings of Bossuet helped define monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries, in his country and through much of Europe. He is most notable today for three classics he wrote as royal tutor: Traité de la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même (Treatise on the Knowledge of God and Oneself—1677), followed by Discours sur l'histoire universelle (Discourse on Universal History—1679) and Politique tirée de l'Écriture Sainte (Politics Drawn from Holy Scripture—1679).

Like Luther, Bossuet got some of his ideas about authority from Paul, but at the heart of Bossuet’s theology is the notion that human history is under the protection of divine providence. This is a perfectly orthodox, biblically rooted Catholic doctrine found in St. Augustine’s City of God, which Bossuet updated in his Discourse on Universal History. It teaches that God preserves the universe. Despite evil arising from human misuse of free will, God continues to direct all things, even evil and sin itself, to the purpose for which the universe was created: that all should manifest the glory of God and reach full development and eternal happiness therein.

The book of Wisdom, for example, speaks of the world as a ship captained by God under a “fatherly Providence that brings her safe to port” (14:3). Similarly, in Matthew 6:25-34 we see Jesus admonishing his disciples, “Do not fret over your life, how to support it with food and drink; over your body, how to keep it clothed,” for “If God, then, so clothes the grasses of the field, which today live and will feed the oven tomorrow, will he not be much more ready to clothe you, men of little faith?”

Bossuet, however, got carried away and came to see Louis XIV’s France and Solomon’s Israel as equivalent moral and holy examples of national rule. His attitude is clear in his reference in a letter to “le roi, Jesus-Christ, et l'Eglise, Dieu en ces trois noms” (the king, Jesus Christ, and the Church, divine in these three names). In fact, he hoped in the future to see France ruled by a Christian philosopher on the throne, presumably his pupil. Louis’ son, however, died before his father and never occupied the throne. Still, Louis XIV became an absolute monarch who, with his successors, claimed to rule by divine right.

Monarchism as a heresy

The core of all heresy or heterodoxy, meaning teaching that is simply not in accord with the Christian faith yet claims to be, is that it takes elements of a teaching and distorts it, usually by aggrandizing its place. Luther turned elements of faith, such as the Bible and the divine gift of grace, and turned them into the unique and only (sola) core of all Christian belief.

The divine right of kings is embedded in contemporary strands of political thinking that still claim Christian support for authoritarian rule (including many a murderous dictator claiming to defend “Western Christian Civilization”), but a careful distinction will disabuse the reader of such a thought.

The Bible does not easily and glibly support monarchy, even though that was the predominant form of government when it was being composed. When the people ask Samuel for a king, the last of the biblical judges reminds them that God is the their only king, but the people want one of flesh and blood like those of their neighbors. This is Israel’s disloyalty, ultimately its ruin.

Similarly, Jesus famously sidestepped political issues of his day, such as paying taxes (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:9-18), and refused to claim a territory (John 18: 33-37), while asserting that the rule (mistranslated “kingdom”) of God began with his ministry (Mark 1:15). The words “king” and “kingdom” are misused in worship (feast of and hymns about Christ the King) and in biblical translations where other terms are more accurate (David, for example, is anointed as a maschiah, or savior, and secondarily put in place as a monarch). The passages translated as praising kings and turning the rule of Christ into a “kingdom of God” are examples of Christian pandering to kings by clergy and not entirely accidental.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, however, provided grist for the mill for the likes of Luther and Bossuet in a well-known passage, 13:1-7. The passage begins with a seemingly unfettered endorsement of the state: “Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance.”

However, those who appeal to the passage pretend that it is the only and final word on the matter. In fact, while Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; and Titus 3:1—all Pauline texts—present a positive view of the state,  Matthew 4, Luke 4, 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, Ephesians 6:12 and Revelation 13 show government in more negative terms.

Romans is the source of much controversy in Christianity, mainly because it is one of Paul’s most complex writings, obviously written for people who lived in the sophisticated capital of the world at the time. Yet even in this government-positive Romans 13 passage Paul makes clear that the state serves God and has no intrinsic authority. There is no suggestion that Christians should obey state orders contrary to the gospel of love and peace.

Indeed, the history of the early Church shows that when Roman soldiers converted, the first thing they did was quit the army. Tertullian remarks, “shall a Christian serve in war? Nay, how shall a Christian serve even in peace?”

Drawing on Romans, Augustine narrowed the distance between faith and the state, although he was among the first major Christian thinkers to live in the peculiar circumstance of a government whose ruler proclaimed himself a Christian. In the late Middle Ages, with a longer experience of what the mix actually meant, Thomas Aquinas drew on Romans to allow the overthrow of a king to the point of regicide when the king was a usurper, but he forbade the overthrow by his subjects of any law-abiding king.

Christendom, or the earthly social culture of monarchical caste societies organized under the veneer of barely skin-deep faith, died a deserving death in 1914. That year, on Christmas, World War I soldiers from both sides were brought to stop their industrial-scale murder by the sound of carols. An informal truce broke out for miles along the front—a peace brought about by the faint echo of faith in nominally Christian Europe—which was ended swiftly by orders from both sides’ high commands.

Such a faith-inspired outbreak of peace was never to recur; within three years, the first overtly atheist European state was proclaimed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Orthodoxy Responds to the Reformation

Eastern Christianity did not feel Reformation rumblings until about a century after it broke out in the West. The Orthodox Catholic Church, as it officially calls itself, put together its own response in the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem.

A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine or practice, in Orthodoxy a gathering of bishops. The term comes from the Greek synodos meaning assembly or meeting, which is a synonym of the Latin concilium, meaning council. The Jerusalem synod was convened by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Dositheos Notaras in March 1672.

Attended by the metropolitan bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Moscow, along with 63 other bishops, the synod was called primarily to respond to charges of heresy in the form of Calvinism. The charges grew out of a 1629 work attributed to Cyril Lucaris, Patriarch of Constantinople, which offered an 18-point summary of beliefs that embraced Calvinism.

Lucaris denied having anything to do with The Confession of Cyril Lucaris, but its reputed authorship gave rise to the idea that the bishop thought Calvinism was the faith of the Eastern Church, a controversy that continued after his murder in 1638 while in Ottoman custody. The problem was made worse by Western Protestant writers who began to claim Greek Church support for their positions.

At this point it is worth recalling the state of affairs in the Eastern Church. From the 1054 break with Rome until this synod, the Orthodox communion was a network of autocephalous, or independent, churches headed by either patriarchs or metropolitan bishops in sees that traced back to the apostles. To these were added, in the early Middle Ages, churches in the lands of various Slavic peoples, especially Russia. The Crusades put Orthodoxy between Western Catholicism and Islam, whose military conflict led to the eventual capture of Constantinople and the Balkans, with the Orthodox churches suddenly subject to the political control of what would become the Ottoman Empire.

Otherwise, Orthodoxy remained very traditional and Nicene in doctrine and practice. Its bishops, who had enough trouble dealing with Islam, were not about to let the Protestant ruckus in the West disturb their peace. Like the Council of Trent, the meeting on Calvinism was the right moment to define a number of doctrines in a set of 18 decrees called the Confession of Dositheus, whose statements in number echoed the propositions of the errant Calvinist work but in content went far beyond.

The bishops restated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, emphasizing that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, a nudge against the Latin Church. Next, however, they echoed Trent’s rejection of sola Scriptura (only Scripture), including affirming the Holy Scriptures with the stricture that “not otherwise than as the Catholic Church has interpreted and delivered the same.” Lest anyone miss the point, they stated that “every foul heresy accepts the Divine Scriptures, but perversely interprets the same, using metaphors, and homonymies, and sophistries of man’s wisdom, confounding what ought to be distinguished, and trifling with what ought not to be trifled with.”

The bishops accepted the traditional teaching that an all-knowing God was aware of who would make “a right use of their free will,” but they argued that “the most wicked heretics,” who claim “that God, in predestinating, or condemning, did not consider in any way the works of those predestinated, or condemned, we know to be profane and impious.”

The synod held “the first man created by God to have fallen in Paradise … And as a result hereditary sin flowed to his posterity,” but the council fathers added a strong statement anticipating the immaculate conception doctrine: “the Mother of God the Word, the ever-virgin Mary, did not experience these.” Moreover, Christ is “the only mediator,” but the synod points out that “in prayers and supplications unto Him, we say the Saints are intercessors, and, above all, the undefiled Mother of the very God the Word; likewise, the holy Angels—whom we know to be set over us—the Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, Pure Ones, and all whom He hath glorified as having served Him faithfully.”

As for authority, the bishops assert that “the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in which we have been taught to believe, contains generally all the Faithful in Christ, who, being still on their pilgrimage, have not yet reached their home in the Fatherland.” They specify that “the Holy Spirit has appointed Bishops as leaders and shepherds over particular Churches.” The bishops are, as successors of the apostles, “a fountain of all the [Sacraments] of the Catholic Church, through which we obtain salvation.”

The 15th decree lists the seven sacraments also recognized by Trent, albeit with biblical references citing each instance in which Jesus Christ instituted them. When it comes to transubstantiation the synod’s response went a bit beyond Trent: “we believe that by the word ‘transubstantiation’ the manner is not explained, by which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord—for that is altogether incomprehensible and impossible, except by God Himself.”

In an addendum to the decrees, the synod answered four questions, three about Scripture and one about saints and icons.

On the Bible, the synod affirmed a canon identical to Trent, which later varied in local usage. However, the synod fathers made the points that Scriptures “should not be read by all, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired into the deep things of the Spirit” and should not be translated to “the vulgar tongue.” They demolish the Reformation’s claim to individual interpretation, saying: “If the Divine Scriptures were plain to all Christians that read them, the Lord would not have commanded such as desired to obtain salvation to search them (John 5:39); and Paul would have said without reason that God had placed the gift of teaching in the Church (1 Corinthians 13:28); and Peter would not have said of the Epistles of Paul that they contained some things hard to be understood.”

Orthodoxy did not have the burden of indulgences to contend with, but it did have icons and in its past the parallel iconoclasm controversy. The synod therefore clarified that “it is appropriate to adore the Holy Icons.” However, the synod “anathematises, and subjects to excommunication, both those that adore the Icons with adoration as well as those that say that the Orthodox commit idolatry … and we ascribe adoration to the only God in Trinity.” Thus Jerusalem matches Trent in reaffirming the theory behind controversial practices (the use of indulgences and icons), while placing clear limits.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Three Nonconformist Sects

While Christianity began to move beyond the Reformation—and its mirror Catholic Revival—a splintering process gave rise to ever more numerous and smaller Christian denominations whose characteristics required a name all their own, the sect.

The difference between a sect and a church type of denomination was explored in the late 19th century by sociologist Max Weber and theologian Ernst Troeltsch. Weber focused on the common way membership recruitment took place, by birth or family affiliation (church) or by personal decision (sect). In his work The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, which is still in print, Troeltsch focused on the entire religious experience and the denomination’s behavior in or toward society in general.

To Troeltsch, the church type is primarily institutional, with an organized clergy and hierarchy who mediate grace by virtue of their office rather than their sanctity as individuals. A church compromises with the world (just war, slavery, oppression of women, etc.) because it sees itself as a holy institution whose members can all be saintly thanks to its influence. Churches see the New Testament and the early Church as a starting point from which doctrine developed and compromised.

In contrast, sects are smaller and aim to encourage inward perfection and fellowship within them, without clergy and focusing on the moral demands of Jesus’ teaching. They draw more enthusiastic, less theologically minded members who convert through a personal experience of inner change. Generally, they treat society at large with either indifference, tolerance or hostility (they might dissent from civil law) because they see the kingdom of God as opposed to all secular interests and institutions.

The three examples that follow are notable 16th and 17th century examples still influential today.


Baptists today make up a collection of Evangelical Christians—“evangelical” not in the sense of observing the evangelical counsel of poverty or perfect charity (Matthew 19:21–19:21), but rather in the sense of biblical literalism. Baptist denominations all trace to the 1609 church known by that name in Amsterdam, led by English separatist pastor John Smyth (1570-1612).

The unwitting founder underwent a conversion after departing from his post as a Fellow at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and leaving the Church of England. In Amsterdam he baptized himself and then about 60 others. He then began to doubt the validity of his self-baptism and applied to become a Mennonite, dying before being admitted. Some of his followers became Mennonites but others simply continued being Baptist. In 1638, Roger Williams established the first Baptist congregation in what is today Rhode Island, and Baptist churches thrived in the United States, where it is now the largest single Protestant denomination, 33 million, the second largest Christian group after the 80 million Catholics.

Baptist doctrine holds that baptism is limited to professing adult believers (they borrow from Anabaptists’ opposition to infant baptism) and must be by complete immersion. In addition to the two original solas (faith alone and Scripture alone), the Baptists hold to “soul competency”: what they describe as utter individual liberty to interpret the Bible. To this should be added their congregational model of local church autonomy, with two ministerial offices: elders and deacons.

Because of the individual’s liberty and local autonomy of each local church, it is difficult to speak with precision of a Baptist confession of faith until as late as the 20th century—even then there are decided limits. The Baptists split over slavery in 1845 and later on race, with branches distinct ever since.


The historically Christian movement known as the Religious Society of Friends was founded in the middle of the English Civil War by George Fox (1624-1691), who was dissatisfied with the Church of England, but also with nonconformists.

Fox had a revelation that “there is one, even, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” He came to believe that it was possible to have a direct experience of Christ without the aid of ordained clergy. He recounted that in a vision on Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England, “the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” Following the vision’s mandate, he traveled in England, the Netherlands and Barbados preaching his new faith. The central theme of his message was that Christ came to teach his people directly; his followers view their movement as the restoration of the true Christian church, after centuries of apostasy (a view that would guide many splinter groups thereafter).

The epithet that attached to the Friends came around 1650, when Fox was brought before magistrates on a charge of religious blasphemy and one of the judges called him a “Quaker,” according to his autobiography, “because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord.” Fox may have been referring to Isaiah 66:2 or Ezra 9:4. In the classic pattern of epithets against believers, a term that was first a form of ridicule became widely accepted and even used by some Quakers, but the official name remained Friends.

In North America, as we have seen, Quakers were persecuted by Puritans in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, although the colonies of West Jersey and Rhode Island tolerated them. Affluent Quaker William Penn in the 1670s and 80s established Pennsylvania (Penn’s forest) as a commonwealth run under Quaker principles. Penn signed a peace treaty with Tammany, leader of the Delaware tribe, which held until the Penn’s Creek massacre, an Indian raid in 1755 encouraged by the French army.

Quakers’ beliefs, expressed in the policymaking Yearly and Five Year Meetings, vary considerably, with tolerance of dissent also varying among the five branches of Quakerism today, which range from theologically conservative and evangelical to liberal and almost agnostic.

In general, Friends believe in continuing direct revelation to individuals from God and reject the idea of priests, believing in the priesthood of all believers. Some Friends express their idea of God as “the inner light,” or “inward light of Christ.” In a typical service, called a “meeting,” Friends will stand up, prompted by “the Spirit” (which may or may not refer to the third Person of the Trinity), to share visions or insights. This “leading of the Holy Spirit” means that statements of faith and practice are not codified and that the group lacks written doctrine.

The Quakers are better known for their deeds than their theology. Quaker dynasties were prominent in business, including the families of Sampson Lloyd, founder of the Lloyds Banking Group, and those who made their fortunes satisfying the British working class’ sweet tooth with chocolates (the Cadbury family), confectionery (Rowntree) and cookies (Huntley & Palmers). Others founded schools, colleges and universities. More controversially, seemingly more aligned with the gospels, Quakers in North America and Great Britain became well known for their support for the abolition of slavery and opposition to war.


The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships of Swiss Anabaptist origin, related to but distinct from the Mennonites. Their name comes from Jakob Ammann (1644-1730) and, as with the Quakers, it was first used as a schandename (German, name of disgrace) in 1710 by his opponents.

Ammann was a tailor from Bern, Switzerland, a man of little education who probably could neither read nor write. He converted to Anabaptism and died in Alsace, expelled from Calvinist and Zwinglian Switzerland. From dictated letters, it seems he was a firm disciplinarian, uncompromising in belief, who expected others to “conform to the teachings of Christ and His apostles.” In practical matters, he opposed long hair on men, shaved beards and clothing that showed “pride.” Liars were excommunicated. Unlike most Amish married men of today, however, he had a mustache, which is largely forbidden today in the faith.

He denied he was trying to start a “new faith” but believed that baptism brought about a new birth experience that would radically change a person. He declared: “If a [sinner] does not turn from his fornication, and a drunkard from his drunkenness, or other immoralities, they are thereby separated from the kingdom of God, and if he does not improve himself through a pious, penitent life, such a person is no Christian and will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. Today, the most traditional descendants of the Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as “Pennsylvania Dutch.”

The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology; they value rural life, manual labor and humility. Church membership begins with baptism between the ages of 16 and 25, which is a requirement for marriage. Once a person is baptized, he or she may marry only within the faith.

Church “districts,” led by a bishop, ministers and deacons, average between 20 and 40 families and worship every other Sunday in a member’s home. The church is governed by the Ordnung (German, rules), which covers almost every aspect of daily life, including barring the use of power-line electricity, telephones and automobiles; regulations on clothing and prohibitions against commercial insurance and participating in Social Security. As present-day Anabaptists, the Amish will not perform any type of military service nor swear allegiance to the flag, which they view as idolatry.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Eppur si muove

The Protestant Reformation was not the only challenge posed by the Renaissance to what I have called the “Medieval cathedral” of Europe. Humanism’s departure from a theocentric worldview delivered by the Church opened up an unfettered search for knowledge (in Latin, scientia), sparking the first run-ins between the teachers of Christian faith and those of science and broader secular philosophy.

In the middle of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, faith and rational scientific inquiry  clashed as ecclesiastical authorities in Rome lined up on one side and two notable scientists and a theologian defended free thought. At the heart of the disputes that entangled Christianity in Rome, and later Protestantism, was a literal reading of the Bible, combined with the largely medieval conceit that Christian theology, then known as “the queen of the sciences,” could solve almost any puzzle the human mind could throw at it.

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), a Polish polyglot and polymath, obtained a doctorate in canon law (he received minor orders and may have been ordained a priest) as well as advanced degrees in mathematics, astronomy and medicine. He was a classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat and economist (who anticipated what came to be known as Gresham’s Law, the principle that “bad money drives out good”).

His major contribution was formulating the modern model of the universe, which places the sun at its center. Aristarchus of Samos had formulated such a model in ancient Greece, but writings on the subject were lost and unknown by the Renaissance, when most believed that the earth was static and the sun revolved around it. The significance to Christianity lay in the current reading of a passage in Joshua 10:12-14 concerning the defeat of the Amorites, as follows:
On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Renaissance Christian scholars and theologians read the passage as implying that the sun and moon revolved around the earth. Arguing quite the contrary, Copernicus’ work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death, triggered the Copernican Revolution, which in turn brought about the thinking that set off the Scientific Revolution.

Oddly enough, the immediate result of Copernicus’ book was only mild controversy. The Council of Trent discussed neither Copernicus’ theory nor the actual calendar reform it approved, which used tables deduced from Copernicus’ calculations. It was not until 60 years later that the Catholic Church took official action and only because of another genius, an Italian.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian polymath, astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher and mathematician. He played a major role in the scientific revolution of the 17th century and has been called the father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method and science itself. He was a pious Catholic, but the three children—two girls and a boy—who made him an actual father were born out of wedlock.
Galileo’s scientific contributions are vast and beyond the scope of this blog. His confrontation with Church authorities arose from remarks by a man who would become his ecclesiastical adversary and a key player in the two remaining conflicts in this episode of Christianity, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). An Italian Jesuit, Bellarmine was a cardinal, professor of theology and later rector of the Roman College. In 1602 he became archbishop of Capua.

Galileo, a professor at the University of Padua, took it almost as a dare when Bellarmine observed in 1615 that Copernicus’ system could not be defended without “a true physical demonstration that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun.” Galileo thought his theory of the tides provided the required physical proof of the motion of the earth and said so in a work initially titled Dialogue on the Ebb and Flow of the Sea (the reference to tides was removed by order of the Inquisition, which retitled the work Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems).

But he added to the theories a series of observations from a new instrument, the telescope, which he devised in 1609 drawing on work by a Dutch optician who had developed lenses that magnified the apparent size of remote objects. This allowed him to observe Jupiter's moons, Venus, Saturn, Neptune, sunspots, and the moon and to discover the Milky Way, which bolstered his theories on nearby earth.

Galileo’s defense of heliocentrism and Copernicanism flew in the face of what the learned of his day believed. They mostly held to the Ptolemaic earth-centered system supported by Aristotle. Alternatively, the Tychonic system, developed by Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman, combined the Copernican system with a philosophical and “physical” approach to the Ptolemaic system.

Facing opposition from astronomers, including Tycho, the matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615. It deemed heliocentrism “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Passages at 1 Chronicles 16:30 (“the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”), Psalm 104:5 (“the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” and Ecclesiastes 1:5 (“And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place”) were cited in support.

Speaking before the Inquisition, Father Niccolò Lorini accused Galileo and his followers of attempting to reinterpret the Bible, which smacked of Protestantism. At the start of 1616, Monsignor Francesco Ingoli launched a debate with Galileo by sending him an essay disputing the Copernican system.

In March 1616, the Sacred Congregation of the Index, established in 1571 to investigate writings denounced as containing errors, issued a decree suspending the late Copernicus’ De revolutionibus until it could be “corrected,” on the grounds of ensuring that Copernicanism, which it described as a “false Pythagorean doctrine, altogether contrary to the Holy Scripture,” would not “creep any further to the prejudice of Catholic truth.”

Galileo went to Rome to defend himself and his Copernican and biblical ideas. Bellarmine had the job of examining him, and their exchanges are a remarkable record of the controversy. The Jesuit, believed to have developed great compassion toward Galileo, was ultimately charged with delivering the verdict of the Inquisition in 1633.

Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” and required to “abjure, curse and detest.” Publication of his works was banned, and he was sentenced to prison. The sentence was reduced to lifelong house arrest, thanks, perhaps, to Bellarmine. Reputedly, Galileo submitted—but under protest. As related in a 1757 narrative in English, “The moment he was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, ‘Eppur si muove,’ that is, ‘still it moves,’ meaning the Earth.”

The third wrestle with scientific ideas was with those of the lesser known Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet and cosmological theorist in the then-novel Copernican mold. He proposed that stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets, raised the then-heretical possibility that these planets could even foster life, and insisted that the universe is infinite and could have no celestial body at its “center.”

Bruno was tried by the Roman inquisition beginning in 1593. He was charged with denying several core doctrines, including eternal damnation, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary and transubstantiation. Bruno’s pantheism, reminiscent of the beliefs of the 20th century Dominican Matthew Fox—removed from the Catholic priesthood on similar charges—was also a matter of grave concern. The Inquisition found him guilty, and he was burned at the stake in Rome.

After his death, Bruno gained considerable fame, becoming celebrated by 19th and early 20th century rationalists as “a martyr for science.” However, historians debate whether his heresy trial was a response to his astronomical views or to other aspects of his philosophy and theology.

Unlike what happened with Copernicus and Galileo, Bruno’s case exemplifies the way, from Trent onward, the Catholic hierarchy put a tight lid on new ideas in a broad array of fields, with fateful consequences—including the relative underdevelopment of science, industry and wealth in Catholic countries over the next half millennium.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Pilgrims

Much as the search for a new trade route to the East ended up bringing Christianity to America, the forces brewing toward an English civil war brought Protestantism. The foundational moment of that process is regarded today as the arrival in November 1620 near the hook of present-day Cape Cod of some 102 men and women, all Separatists from the Church of England.

The significance of the event was far from obvious at the time. The Puritans who became known as Pilgrims were not the only Protestant English dissenters—collectively known as Separatists. Nor was Massachusetts, much less their settlement near today’s Plymouth, their intended destination (it was Virginia). Their settlement was not the first in today’s U.S. territory (that’s St. Augustine, Florida, founded 1565) and only the third English one (after the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke in 1585 and Jamestown in 1607).

The Pilgrims were not a notably distinct subset of English Puritanism, theologically. They sought to “purify” the Anglican Church of its “Catholic” trappings and believed, with Luther, that the Bible was the only true source of Christian teaching and held, with Calvin, against traditional church ritual and order and in favor of predestination. What was distinctive was their doctrine on church organization.

What makes Plymouth Colony stand out, retrospectively, is that it is the first instance of a Protestant polity—or governing entity. It was a “pure” Protestant society, established from almost nothing else, in as close to laboratory conditions as history ever allows.

The Plymouth Puritans considered the church a community of Christians bound to God and one another. Far from the control of the king, they penned The Mayflower Compact, a document that gives the religious congregation a uniquely political and governmental role. They “solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant, & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick” charged with the duty to “enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient.”

The emphasis on social cohesion may reflect the fact that—unlike the Spanish and French, who came to the New World in contingents of unattached men—the Puritan migration was made up of families. They were literate (they had to read the Bible), and their many surviving diaries, sermon notes, poems and letters attest to an intense devotional life.

In such a society the Bible stimulated their intellects; they developed an interest in classics and were encouraged to write poetry. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Puritans founded the two oldest schools in the United States, Boston Latin School and Roxbury Latin School, and the first university, Harvard. They welcomed the first printing press.

In Plymouth Colony, each congregation elected its ministers, teachers and church elders—who effectively were colony officials. Each town was a congregation, a political, religious and social unit ultimately and directly subject to God’s rule. This made the congregationalist polity democratic, but also theocratic. People—actually, only free white men—voted as they thought God willed. The result was an ecclesiastical order that was ultimately more intolerant than the one they had fled.

In their Calvinist zeal, they saw themselves as a new Chosen People, if you will, and brought to the New World an Old Testament understanding of current history as a drama under divine direction.

In a 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” delivered aboard the Arbella en route to Plymouth, John Winthrop spoke of the community the passengers would be joining as “a city upon a hill” watched by the world. The phrase is from Matthew 5:14, in which Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Winthrop said his listeners should, accordingly, set an example of communal charity, affection and unity and warned that if they failed to keep their end of their covenant with God, “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world” of God’s judgment.

Condemnation did come, at least by the world and history, for the Puritans. Yet it gave rise to the notion that the United States was “God’s country,” a notion so ingrained that President-elect John F. Kennedy, the first and so far only Catholic elected to the position, recalled Winthrop’s sermon in a speech before the General Court of Massachusetts, remarking, “Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us.”

Plymouth Puritanism had another legacy: its work ethic, today known as the Protestant work ethic, a term coined in 1904 by German sociologist Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The idea is particularly Calvinist: hard work, discipline and frugality are a result of values espoused by the Protestant elect. Given the doctrine of predestination, divining whether one was among the elect became a preoccupation that ranked very high in the Calvinist mind.

This explains why so many people in the United States, who have heard Jesus’ kind and merciful words for poor people and his wrath toward the rich, nonetheless believe that the poor are to blame for their misery. Weber viewed the Calvinist work ethic as a way of coping with the apparent contradiction of Christian ethics in an increasingly scientific and industrial world. It balanced charity with self-discipline and proposed moderation while suggesting that worldly prosperity was a sign of divine favor.

The third legacy was American Puritanism’s undoing. The doctrine of predestination kept Puritans working to do well in this life, in hopes that hard work, as an honor to God, would lead to a prosperous reward. With no margin for error, deviation from the Puritan norm met with strict disapproval and discipline, directed initially toward the first “Strangers” (or non-Puritans) who came with them, even on the Mayflower. Then it led to internal dissent.

Church elders were also political leaders, so any break with church discipline was regarded also as a social and legal wrong. From the start, for example, Plymouth Colony Puritans frowned on Christmas celebrations and festivities on Saturday nights. By 1659 both were outlawed in Boston. To protect themselves from temptation, the Puritans banned drama, religious music, erotic poetry and games of chance.

These measures represented, in part, a break with their own tradition. Contrary to popular belief, Puritans were not prudish and deemed marriage a civil contract between a man and a woman.

No limits were placed on enjoying sexuality within marriage; in fact, those who failed to perform marital sexual duties (such as in 1 Cor. 7:1-16) were criticized. Women and men were equally expected to fulfill these responsibilities and either one could file for divorce based on this issue alone. In Massachusetts Colony, one of every six divorce petitions was filed on the basis of male impotence.

Now put in that context this extract from a poem of early colonist Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), titled “To My Dear And Loving Husband” for a sense of what Puritans would have called hot: “If ever two were one, then surely we / If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.”

The new discipline irked some Puritans. Thomas Hooker went off to found the colony of Connecticut. He is cited as the inspiration for the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut,” one of the world’s earliest written democratic constitutions. Another dissenter, Roger Williams, was expelled by the Puritan leaders, who thought he was spreading “new and dangerous ideas” (he became a Baptist). He founded the colony of Providence Plantation in 1636 (today Rhode Island) as a refuge for religious minorities.

Puritans were also intolerant of the religious views of others. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting Jesuit Roman Catholic priests from entering territory under Puritan jurisdiction. Toward the 1660s, they mounted attacks against Anglican and the emerging Quaker and Baptist theologies. The hanging of four Quakers on Boston Common in 1659 and 1660 may have spelled the beginning of the end for Puritan theocracy. In 1661, King Charles II explicitly barred Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism.

These and several other events led to the naming of a governor of the Dominion of New England, unifying all the colonies. But for the region’s Puritanism the straw that broke the camel’s back was a bizarre episode concerning witches in Salem (present-day Danvers), Mass., in 1692-93. Witchcraft was listed as a capital crime in the 1636 code of laws of Plymouth Colony, but there had been only two formal accusations, in 1661 and 1677, with little consequence.

However, in February 1692 in the village of Salem, Betty Parris, age 9, and her cousin Abigail Williams, age 11, the daughter and niece, respectively, of Reverend Samuel Parris, began to have fits described as “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect.” The girls screamed, threw things about the room, uttered strange sounds, crawled under furniture and contorted themselves into peculiar positions. Imagine Linda Blair in the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Initially, three stereotypical suspects, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; Sarah Osborne, who rarely went to church; and Tituba, a black or Indian slave from one of the Caribbean islands, were interrogated intensively and publicly, jailed and ultimately released. The trials, perhaps the only legal public entertainment at the time, unexpectedly generated widespread panic of a demonic presence in the village and a steady stream of accusations against more than 40 people. By May 1693 a succession of trials ended in the execution of 20 people, 14 of them women and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two infants) died in prison.

A public call for justice by the families of the accused and a vast legal and political campaign forced a reversal of convictions by 1711, monetary compensation to 22 people and the reversal of all excommunications by the Salem church by 1712.

A Salem judge who never repented was John Hathorne, ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who added the “w” to hide the relationship. The 19th century author wrote the novel The Scarlet Letter and short stories such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister's Black Veil,” which say more about the author’s revulsion toward his family’s Puritan past than about history. Playwright Henry Miller used Hawthorne’s Puritans in The Crucible to speak out against the ideological anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The English Puritans

While Scotland played out its drama, even in Elizabethan times there were nonconformists who sought to “purify” the Church of England of what they called its “Catholic” practices. These activists claimed—with some merit—that the established church was not fully reformed; they were called Puritans.

One of the earliest to use the term was Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575, who also called them “precisians,” meaning that they were sticklers. Puritans preferred to call themselves “the godly.” However, a noted figure in the movement, William Bradshaw, used the term in his 1605 work English Puritanisme, purporting to expound on “the maine opinions of the rigidest.” In modern usage the term is synonymous with prudery, although they were emphatically positive about married sexuality and—mostly in opposition to Catholicism—did not revere virginity.

Puritans adopted the Reformed theology of Calvinism, with its opposition to ritual and emphasis on preaching, a stricter observance of the Sabbath and preference for a presbyterian system, albeit leaning toward the congregational. They opposed religious practices that came close to Catholic ritual.

They fled or went underground when Queen Mary attempted to restore Catholicism. They resurfaced, many returning from exile in continental Europe’s hotbeds of Calvinism, in the England of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, whose order was established by two laws. The Act of Supremacy of 1558 restored the Church of England’s independence from Rome and the queen as its supreme governor; the Act of Uniformity of 1559 outlined the form the English Church would take, including the reestablishment of the Book of Common Prayer. This is known as the Elizabethan Settlement.

As proposed, the laws defined Holy Communion in terms of Reformed Protestant theology, opposing transubstantiation, ordering that ministers wear a surplice only without other vestments and that priests be allowed to marry, as well as banning images from churches. Faced with opposition from Catholic bishops and lay peers in the House of Lords, revisions allowed for belief in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, liturgical vestments, celebration of Communion on the altar or on a table against the wall and permitted kneeling out of reverence to receive communion.

The laws were echoed in the Thirty-nine Articles of 1563 composed by 46 theologians, including bishops and other clergy. The document tiptoes toward accepting Trent’s biblical canon by adding, to the Protestant 66-book Old Testament, “the other books (as Hierome saith) … yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Articles bow to Calvin’s Geneva, declaring predestination “sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.” There’s a salute to Luther’s Augsburg stating, “We are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine.” The Articles wrap up with a rousing Protestant rant on the “Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, [which] is a fond thing vainly invented.”

One would have thought this would appease all Protestant parties, but efforts were made to push things further toward Reform, including the Lambeth Articles, a series of nine doctrinal statements by Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift in 1595. When Elizabeth heard of them she became enraged, ordered them suppressed and the bishop deposed; it would be the high tide of Calvinism and Continental Protestantism in Elizabethan England.

Indeed, many Puritans decided to leave the country again. Some went off to found expatriate English Nonconformist and Separatist communities and churches in the Netherlands in the 1590s. From among them came the leaders of a group known today as the Pilgrims, who sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth to the New World in 1620, whose story deserves separate treatment.

The English pot continued to boil, however, under James I. A 1603 Puritan manifesto, the Millenary Petition, called for reform of the English church, naming in particular the use of vestments during services, the sign of the cross in baptism and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. James was not inclined to support them, although he made other minor conciliatory gestures.

Puritanism rose finally to the forefront of life in England under Charles I, who acceded to the throne in 1625, facing almost open revolt from Protestant lawmakers. In 1629, Charles dissolved Parliament with no intention of summoning a new one; it was an attempt to neutralize his enemies there, but it had the opposite effect.

Added to the complaints concerning an established Church kept mildly within Reform by a conservative nobility, was Charles’ perceived sympathy with a new current of thought seeping into England from the Netherlands, Arminianism. It was based on the ideas of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a theologian at the University of Leiden who disagreed with certain interpretations of Calvin in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Arminius agreed with other Reformers, especially Calvin, that humanity is morally depraved and that atonement is intended for all through Jesus’ death, which satisfies God’s justice. However, to Arminians, grace is resistible, human beings have a free will to respond or resist and election is conditional as is eternal security.

The Puritans viewed Arminianism as a deceptive path to reintroducing Catholicism and away from Calvinism in a more traditional and sacramental direction, a direction they saw as “irreligious.” As if to confirm their suspicions, in 1633, Charles appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he began a series of anti-Calvinist moves restricting nonconformist preachers, insisting on the use of the Book of Common Prayer and reorganizing the internal architecture of English churches so as to emphasize the altar.

Into this cauldron entered one Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), a man of the middle gentry, descended from the sister of King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. He became a Puritan after undergoing a religious conversion in the 1630s and took a generally tolerant view of many Protestant sects of his time. He was an elected member of Parliament in the House of Commons when civil strife broke out.

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Royalists (“Cavaliers,” mostly long-maned noblemen known for their horsemanship) and Parliamentarians (“Roundheads,” mostly commoners, including peasants and tradesmen pressed into the infantry, who were known for their short haircuts, as shall be explained). At heart, the war was about class power in England’s government: the primacy of the monarch and nobility, as opposed to that of Parliament and the more common people.

Cromwell took the side of the Roundheads as a military leader. An intensely religious man, a self-styled Puritan Moses, he fervently believed that God was guiding his victories.

The nickname Roundheads was first used in derision around 1641, when debates in Parliament concerning church matters were causing riots. According to a contemporary, the rioters “had the hair of their heads very few of them longer than their ears.” It was a class slur, as the rioters included London apprentices who were bound by regulations to keep their hair closely cropped.

The war also had a powerful religious undercurrent. It was a conflict between what would eventually be called the “high church,” the more traditional faith and rites favored by the Anglican king and nobility on one hand and on the other the “low church” of the middle and working classes leaning toward a more Continental Protestantism, including Puritanism.

Cromwell was one of the signers of King Charles I’s death warrant in 1649. After the regicide, he was at first a leading member of the so-called rump Parliament, which established the Commonwealth of England (1649-53). This Parliament included supporters of religious independence who did not want an established church and sympathizers with the Levellers, who emphasized popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance, along with Presbyterians who could live with the trial and execution of the king.

The Church of England was retained, but the episcopacy was suppressed and the Act of Uniformity 1558 was repealed in September 1650. Mainly on the insistence of the Army, many independent churches were tolerated, although everyone still had to pay tithes to the established church.

In 1653, Cromwell became Lord Protector, ruling England effectively as a dictator. He was religiously tolerant, but appointed “triers” who assessed the suitability of candidates for parish ministry and “ejectors” to dismiss ministers and schoolmasters deemed unsuitable—both were the vanguard of Cromwell’s reform of parish worship.

England’s American colonies at the time consisted of the New England Confederation, Providence Plantation, Virginia Colony and Maryland Colony. Cromwell secured their submission and largely left them alone. He intervened only to curb his fellow Puritans against Maryland, by confirming the Catholic proprietorship and edict of tolerance there. Of all the English dominions, Virginia most resented Cromwell’s rule, and Cavaliers flocked there during the Protectorate.

Another unusual religious initiative was an effort encouraging Jews to return to England in 1657, over 350 years after their banishment by Edward I, in the hope that they would help speed up the recovery of the country. There is some evidence that he also thought he could convert the Jews and hasten the Second Coming, based on his interpretation of Matthew 23:37-39. He was serious enough about that to ban Christmas as a pagan festival.

The Puritan outbreak in England, which briefly spread to Scotland and Ireland through military forays by Cromwell, ended shortly after Cromwell’s death. His son inherited the title Protector, but without support, and resigned in May 1659, ending the Protectorate. In 1660 Charles II was invited back from exile to be the rightful king, whose reign said legally to have begun in 1649, when Charles I was beheaded.

The Church of England was restored as the national Church in England in 1662 and people reportedly “pranced around May poles as a way of taunting the Presbyterians and Independents.” This was known as the Caroline Settlement, which ushered in the Caroline Divines, deemed to have fostered a golden age of Anglican scholarship and devotional writing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dissent and Nonconformity in Britain

Although Westphalia calmed the waters on the Continent and Queen Elizabeth I set her realm in the direction of the Reformation, two broad groups of Protestants in Britain remained unhappy: one in Scotland, the other in England itself.

In Scotland, the Reformation came with humanist ideas that included criticism of the Catholic Church and, in the 1520s by Patrick Hamilton, an abbot executed in 1528 on charges of heresy for espousing the views of Luther while at the University of St. Andrews, in the locality of the same name. His only known writing, based upon Melanchton’s Loci Communes, a summary of Lutheran theology, was given the name of Patrick’s Places by an editor; it echoed the doctrine of justification by faith and the contrast between the gospel and the law.

Hamilton was caught in the early stages of Scottish Reform. James V avoided the changes to the church that occurred with Henry VIII in England. However, thanks to the rebellion to his south he negotiated new terms that, in exchange for loyalty to Rome, he was allowed to tax the institution and appoint his many illegitimate children and favorites to office, particularly David Beaton, who became Archbishop of Saint Andrews and a cardinal. Beaton headed the church tribunal that ordered the execution of Hamilton.

The actual reformation did not come until a series of political changes took place. The story is not, strictly speaking, about the Christian faith, but it sheds light on secular impulses behind the Scottish Reformation.

The death of James in 1542 left the crown legally in the hands of six-day-old Mary, Queen of Scots, his heir, child of the king and his French second wife, Marie de Guise. This left Scotland’s body politic divided between a pro-French faction uninterested in Church reform, led by Beaton and the queen’s mother, and a pro-English faction that leaned somewhat toward Protestantism, headed by Mary’s prospective heir, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran.

Arran was initially regent, backed by an “evangelical” party of Protestant nobles at the court. Under him, the Scottish Parliament removed the prohibition against reading the Bible in the vernacular. A marriage was arranged between Mary and Edward, the son of Henry VIII of England, who reputedly bribed Arran, and agreed under the 1543 Treaty of Greenwich. A backlash in Scotland spawned a coup led by Cardinal Beaton, who opposed reform and any possibility of an English marriage for the queen.

The English were now angry and launched a series of invasions of southeast Scotland later known as the “rough wooing” (presumably by the English child Edward of his Scots infant cousin Mary). The English also sought to change hearts in a different way, bringing Protestant books and Bibles to the Lowlands when they invaded in 1547. These sowed a seed seen after the execution of the Zwingli-influenced George Wishart in 1546, burned at the stake on the orders of Beaton.

The execution prompted a number of nobles to rebel, assassinate Beaton and soon after seize St. Andrews Castle, which they held for a year until they were defeated with the help of French forces. Protestant survivors of the siege included chaplain John Knox, who was among those condemned to serve as galley slaves. In 1549, the defeat of the English with French support led to a regency over Scotland by the queen’s mother. De Guise arranged the marriage of Mary, then about seven, to three-year-old Dauphin Francis, son of Henry II of France. In 1548, the Scottish Parliament agreed to a French marriage treaty and Mary was sent to France to spend the next 13 years at the French court.

The reform proper did not begin until about a decade later and was inspired in part by Knox (1513-1572), a Scottish minister and theologian, considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church. As we have seen, Knox was a slave on a French galley. He escaped to England, then fled from Mary Tudor after she restored Catholicism in England, then went to Geneva, where he met John Calvin, then went to Frankfurt to head an English refugee church there.

From Calvin, he learned of Reformed theology and the presbyterian polity, a form of church governance so named for its ruling presbyters or elders (from the Greek presbyteros, originally meaning old man, a term used in the apostolic era for a priest).

Under this polity, local churches are governed by a body of elected elders known as a session, consistory or church board. Groups of churches report to a higher assembly known as the presbytery, above which are synods. The system represents a rejection of the episcopal hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, which has New Testament roots; unlike its offshoot, the congregationalist polity, local churched are not independent.

Knox was initially in accord with the development of the Church of England under Cranmer, but later broke with it over his development of a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the reformed church in Scotland.

Back in Scotland in 1559, Knox had set himself against the regent.

De Guise, who was more interested in gaining Scottish support for her pro-French policies and against England than in religion, had developed a policy of limited tolerance of Protestants, and a measure of peace was maintained, particularly after 1553, when Catholic Mary Tudor ruled England. In 1558, two things happened: the arranged marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the dauphin raised fears that Scotland might become a French province, and the accession in England, of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, established a confessional frontier in Great Britain but gave Reformers hope for change.

Knox had been abroad, but everyone knew he detested Marie de Guise long before he stepped off the boat. His passion went beyond mere hatred for a French woman accidentally regent of his country. His 1558 pamphlet The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regimen of Women is a broadside against the female sovereigns of his day, specifically de Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent, and her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Mary I of England. He argued that “God, by the order of his creation, has [deprived] woman of authority and dominion” and put men in that place.
“For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.”

An unintended target, Queen Elizabeth I, took offense and denied him safe passage through England.

Two days after Knox arrived in Edinburgh, he went to Dundee, where a large number of Protestant sympathizers had gathered. Declared an outlaw, he preached a fiery sermon at the church of St John the Baptist that stirred a riot that gutted the church. The mob then attacked two friaries in the town, looting their gold and silver and smashing images. In response De Guise gathered nobles loyal to her and a small French army, with a call for troops from France. A series of military clashes followed that evolved into a civil war of sorts, with French troops coming to aid the regent and English troops to aid the rebel Protestants, some say with the Elizabethan goal of annexing Scotland. The sudden death of Marie de Guise in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1560, brought about an end to hostilities and with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh both French and English troops withdrew from Scotland. On 19 July, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St Giles in Edinburgh.

Under orders of the Scottish Parliament, Knox helped write the new confession of faith, the Scots Confession, a document with Lutheran influences and bows to Calvinism, yet which asserts a very un-Protestant list of specific moral imperatives, including actions that “displease and offend his godly Majesty.” He also set up an ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church, called the Kirk, the Book of Discipline.

Reputedly, Knox’s ideas influenced the development of another document after his day, the 1643 Westminster Confession of Faith, holding a Calvinist theological position that Presbyterians came to accept as foundational. The Presbyterian Protestants developed into their own, originally Scottish, but now worldwide denomination.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Continental Catholics and Reformers Reach a Settlement

Once the heat of conflict surrounding the Reformation’s key events abated, each strand of the Protestant movement coalesced around foundational documents. On the European continent, the parties to political and military conflicts set off by religious revolt reached a settlement.

Foundational Documents

As for coalescing, there emerged the Augsburg Confession for the Lutherans and other such confessions, which are not very long. Their language conveys the temper of each movement and contains terms often regarded as pejorative and divisive today, such as “popish.” They differ on a variety of topics, but concur in the central epistemological view of Protestantism: all truth in matters of the Christian faith comes from the Bible. In the end, the Bible is the foundational Protestant document. Of course, not just any Bible.

The Reformation prompted a veritable surge of biblical translation beyond versions direct from St. Jerome’s Vulgate, in Latin. First came Luther’s Bible in German. Its 66 Old Testament books and 27 in the New Testament set the informal Protestant canon, later affirmed in the various confessional documents, just as its direct appeal to Greek texts set a standard for translation. In English, the first translation was the Tyndale Bible, begun in 1526, followed by the first “authorised version” known as the Great Bible (1539), which we have mentioned as unsatisfactory to Henry VIII.

The Geneva Bible (1560), notable for being the first divided into verses, was produced by a number of Protestant scholars—among them William Whittingham (who supervised the OT work) and Anthony Gilby (who supervised the NT)—who fled Mary Tudor’s reign in England to Geneva, then a republic under the primary spiritual and theological leadership of John Calvin. Its annotations—a hugely important element in the Reformation, which discarded all Catholic notes—were of a Calvinist leaning disliked by the ruling Anglicans of the Church of England. However, the literary, political and social significance of this translation cannot be overstated; it was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne and John Bunyan.

Indeed, the Bishop's Bible (1568) was an unsuccessful attempt by Elizabeth I to put together a new authorized version, an effort crowned by the version approved by King James I in 1611, still today a standard Protestant translation, despite its many flaws and what is currently archaic language.

The Protestant Bibles prompted a translation of the first English Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims, from the Latin Vulgate into English made by members of the English College, Douai, France. The New Testament portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582.


The Reformation led to a series of religious wars that erupted into the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), pitting the Catholic House of Habsburg and its allies against the Protestant princes of Germany, plus supporters in Denmark, Sweden and France. In Germany alone it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the population was killed. Thus, the resulting 1648 Peace of Westphalia—signed by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (sixth emperor after Charles), Philip IV of Spain and representatives of the Kingdom of France, the Swedish Empire, the Dutch Republic, the various other imperial princes and sovereigns of the free imperial cities—was a major continental watershed.

The treaty recognized a principle enshrined a century earlier in a 1555 settlement in Augsburg between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes: cuius regio, eius religio, a Latin phrase meaning “whose realm, his religion.” The principle established the idea that the religion of the ruler would dictate the religion of the ruled. Westphalia modified the terms: princes could choose Lutheranism or Catholicism as the official state religion—Westphalia added Calvinism.

The treaty also established another landmark principle: that Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during specified hours and in private at their will. This principle is one precursor to the notion of separation of church and state, an idea that would have to wait a whole century and a half to become enshrined in law, even then only in a new country far away from Europe.

In a move expressing the papal view of a new world in which the medieval cathedral was smashed and abandoned in ruins, Pope Innocent X declared the treaty “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all times.” This remained the Vatican’s gut reaction to almost all major historical events that followed until the latter half of the 20th century.

However, Rome was not alone in its dissatisfaction. There were also Protestants who were not yet ready for such a settlement. They were located in the British Isles, where the Treaty of Westphalia had no force. To them we will turn next.