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.

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