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Part 2 of "Reformation 101: Who's Who in the Protestant Reformation" | Part 1


Occasionally, Catholic polemicists have attacked the notion of predestination per se, as if it were the invention of Calvin. But Catholic teaching also affirms a form of the doctrine, though not Calvin’s version of it. Catholic teaching holds that God predestines certain people to eternal life. It further teaches that God predestines certain people to eternal damnation on account of their foreseen sins–that is, on account of their actions that amount to either a direction rejection of God himself or a choice of something incompatible with love of God. Catholic teaching differs with Calvinism over whether God predestines or reprobates (to use the precise theological term) people without reference to their sins. Calvin said yes; Catholic teaching says no.

Calvin affirmed the unconditioned reprobation of some people to damnation. His doctrine is sometimes called double predestination, since it holds that God damns and saves equally without reference to a person’s merits or demerits. Calvin’s view seems at odds with God’s universal salvific will, as expressed by St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:4: "God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." The universal salvific will is compatible with God’s decision to allow men to be damned through the abuse of freedom, but it is hard to see how it fits with God actively consigning people to damnation without reference to their sins.

Regarding the sacraments, Calvin affirmed only Baptism and the Eucharist, which he called the Lord’s Supper. Unlike his Baptist theological descendants today, Calvin taught infant baptism, basing his reasoning on the analogy between the covenantal sign of the Old Testament, circumcision, which was given to infant males, and the covenantal sign of the New Testament, Baptism.

With respect to the Eucharist, he staked out a position between Luther’s belief in the Real Presence on the one hand and Zwingli’s purely symbolic, memorial view on the other. Christ’s Body and Blood were dynamically or virtually "present" in the Eucharist and received through faith. In other words, the grace of Christ was present, but not the substance of his Body and Blood. This view, sometimes called the Dynamic or Virtual Presence, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish Christ’s presence in the Eucharist from his presence in Baptism or any other occasion of grace. For the "power" of Jesus’ Body and Blood are present in other places as well. What distinguishes the Eucharistic presence of Jesus, then, from his presence in, say, Scripture attended to with faith or a sermon devoutly received?

Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were the "big three" of the Reformation, but others such as John Knox in Scotland, Martin Bucer of Strassburg, Philip Melanchthon in Germany (Luther’s associate and architect of the Augburg Confession) and Thomas Cranmer in England formed something of a "second string" of Reformers that nevertheless contributed significantly to the movement.

The Radical Reformation

Luther, Zwingli and Calvin led what is sometimes called the Magisterial Reformation, so named because it used the civil authority of the magistrates to further its agenda. But there was also the Radical Reformation, which was rejected by the Magisterial Reformers no less than by the Catholic Church. The Magisterial Reformers persecuted advocates of the Radical Reformation as much as the Catholic Church did.

The Radical Reformation went beyond Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, rejecting altogether any relationship between Christianity and the wider, secular society, especially civil authority, as well as institutional expressions of Christianity. The Radical Reformers saw themselves as returning to New Testament Christianity and they rejected everything–including many elements of the Magisterial Reformation–they deemed compromise of the pure gospel.

The Radical Reformation began in Zurich, in the early 1520s. In part, it was a response to Zwingli’s reforms, which the Radical Reformers thought insufficient. Zwingli disagreed, of course, and he dubbed the Radical Reformers Anabaptists ("rebaptizers") because they insisted on the rebaptism of those baptized as infants.

The Radical Reformers pressed the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura as far as they could. Where the Magisterial Reformation was, in principle, generally content to allow practices not contrary to Scripture, even if not explicitly affirmed by Scripture (infant baptism being a case in point), the Radical Reformation demanded explicit Scriptural warrant for everything. Furthermore, it tended to reject external authority, state churches or religious affiliation and stressed pacifism. In some cases, Radical Reformers called for common ownership of property. Elements of the Radical Reformation also inclined toward enthusiasm, quietism and illuminism. Many people in the Radical Reformation awaited the Second Coming of Christ to establish a millennial kingdom.

Although the Radical Reformers believed in justification by faith alone, they also insisted that those truly justified–and often they understood by this those who could point to some experience of conversion–had to produce good works and live according to a high moral standard. Those who failed to do so were often exiled from the community.

Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz were among the early leaders of the Radical Reformation or Anabaptist movement. Thomas Müntzer, the erstwhile colleague of Luther and fomenter of revolution in Saxony, is sometimes considered an Anabaptist, since he rejected infant baptism and affirmed on-going revelation. But because many Anabaptists were also pacifists, Müntzer is hardly typical. Menno Simons, an ex-Catholic priest and founder of the Mennonites, was also among the early Anabaptists.

The Role of Geography

Real estate is everything, even in the Reformation. "Real estate" means "territory" and the Reformers were not content merely to carve out a niche for the exercise of their own right to believe and live according to their interpretations of Scripture. They believed that the Gospel of Christ itself was at stake and therefore they felt compelled to spread their movement far and wide. That put them at odds with Catholics, who saw their efforts as heresy and as a threat to the stability of the social order. Protestants sought to expand and conquer; Catholics sought to contain them, if not convert them back.

The Reformation began in Germany, with Luther, but quickly spread throughout Europe, thanks in large measure to the printing press. Soon Reformers sprang up in Switzerland, France and England. And wherever Reformation ideas spread, so did the contest for political control and territory. Eventually, Europe was more or less divided between the Protestant North–England, Scandinavia, Denmark, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Prussia–and the Catholic South–Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, southern Germany, Hungry and Poland.

The Popes

Success or failure often depends on leadership–what leaders do or fail to do. When it comes to the Reformation, the lion’s share of the blame rests squarely with the hierarchy, including the papacy. Or at least so said Pope Adrian VI, who in 1523 sent his legate to confess the following before the German princes gathered in Nuremberg:
"We freely acknowledge that God has allowed this chastisement to come upon His Church because of the sins of men and especially because of the sins of priests and prelates . . . We know well that for many years much that must be regarded with horror has come to pass in this Holy See: abuses in spiritual matters, transgressions against the Commandments; indeed, that everything has been gravely perverted" (quoted in Karl Adam, One and Holy, p. 97).
Medieval papal scandals, including the so-called Babylonian Captivity of the Church and the Great Western Schism, in which there were first two, then three, claimants to the papal office, brought derision upon the papacy, as did scandalous living and nepotism. Furthermore, the popes themselves failed to reform the Church, even when they were in a position to do so. And when the Reformation eventually broke out, the papacy failed to understand the challenge to the Church and failed to act quickly to address the problems that gave rise to it. At the same time, when the Church finally did get around to reform, the papacy helped lead the way.

Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523)
sought to reform and convert the Church, but his short pontificate made that impossible. Adrian was thoroughly pious, even something of an anti-Renaissance pope. On coming to Rome, he wouldn’t allow the people to erect a triumphal arch in his honor on the grounds that it was a pagan custom. But was the Church at large ready to undergo the rigorous conversion called for by Adrian VI? It seems unlikely. It would take time for the papacy to regain credibility with respect to reform and, even when popes began taking seriously their apostolic responsibilities in that regard, the Reformers were attacking the papacy as an institution inherently contrary to the gospel, not merely the occupants of the office as personally unworthy. The doctrinal, not merely the moral, problems of the papacy had to be cogently addressed. Nevertheless, a reforming pope would have been better than a non-reforming one. Thus, the premature death of Adrian VI was a tragedy with tremendous consequences.







Pope Clement VII (1523-1534).
As far as reforming the Church or responding to Protestantism is concerned, the pontificate of Clement VII can be summed up in one word: disaster. This Medici pope followed the brief pontificate of the fierce reformer Adrian VI and preceded Paul III, whom many consider the first pope of the Catholic Reformation. If Clement had had half the spiritual energies of either man, the history of the Reformation–indeed, of the world–would have been drastically different.

Unfortunately, Clement VII was a throwback to the Renaissance papacy, although he seems not to have been morally bankrupt as were some others of his breed. He devoted much of his papal energies to enjoying art and culture, and involving himself in political intrigue. A vacillating man, in over his head, he was unable to bring order and discipline to the Church, much less be an instrument of conversion. While Protestantism spread, he sat in prison in castle Sant’ Angelo, as a result of the Emperor’s sack and invasion of Rome in 1527, itself due to Clement’s siding with Francis I of France against the Emperor. It was Clement who dealt with Henry VIII of England and the issue of the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the Emperor Charles’ niece. While Italy was dominated by Charles, there was little likelihood Clement would support Henry against Catherine. What’s more, the Pope’s decision in the matter was bound to seem politically motivated. In 1533, Henry broke with the Catholic Church over Clement VII’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine, with dire consequences for English Catholicism and the Catholic cause against nascent Protestantism on the continent.

Pope Paul III (1534-1549).
Although God’s Spirit doesn’t indefinitely strive with man, his promise always to be with his Church eventually kicks in, which is what seems to have happened with Pope Paul III. At first glance, Alessandro Franese appeared to be more of the same–if not worst. He was worldly and unchaste–he fathered four illegitimate children–but seems to have undergone something of a conversion after his ordination. As pope, he embarked on a series of reforms, elevating to the cardinalate some of the chief Catholic reformers of his age, including Reginald Pole, Gian Pietro Caraffa (later Pope Paul IV) and Mercello Cervini (later Marcellus II). A commission of cardinals appointed by Paul III issued a statement chastising four of his predecessors for their sins and the evils they allowed the Church’s shepherds and people to fall into. They called for the eradication of such evils and Paul III sought to oblige them. He set about calling the Council of Trent (1545) and staunching supported the renewal efforts of the new religious orders such as the Jesuits (which he approved in 1540), the Theatines and the Capuchins.

It was Paul III’s ecumenical council, the Council of Trent (1545-1563), that sent the Catholic Reformation into high gear. It simultaneously reformed the Church and responded to Protestantism. Catholic teaching and practice were clarified, despite constant interruptions of the Council and a succession of popes. Seventeen of the twenty-five sessions of the Council concerned doctrine and reform. The canon of the Bible and the authority of tradition were affirmed; justification by grace and man’s grace-enabled role in cooperating with grace, as well as the role of faith, hope and charity in justification were upheld, while Protestant views on these issues were rejected; the reality and nature of original sin and the distinction between mortal and venial sin were discussed; the seven sacraments as efficacious signs of grace, transubstantiation, the Real Presence and the sacrificial nature of the Mass were also affirmed. Theologians debate the extent to which Trent condemned the views of the main Reformers themselves, but it is certain that the ideas Trent rejected were widely believed, regardless of whether they were proposed by the Reformers precisely as condemned by Trent.

The Council also tackled discipline, insisting, among other things, that bishops reside in their dioceses and visit the parishes therein; that pastors be properly trained and qualified for office; that clandestine marriages be forbidden; and that religious reside in their appropriate houses and remain faithful to their vows. The willingness of Pope Pius V and his papal government to insist on these disciplinary reforms revolutionized the Church.

Pope Pius V (1556-1572).
It fell to Pope St. Pius V (Antonio Ghislieri) to see to it that the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent didn’t become dead letters. A pope of austere life, he managed–with the help of people such as St. Charles Borromeo–to reshape the Catholic Church into its Tridentine mold, a shape that was substantially to endure until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He issued the famous Catechism of the Council of Trent or Roman Catechism (1566), revised the Roman Breviary (1568) and the Roman Missal (1568). He also established a commission to revise the Vulgate (1568) and ordered the publication of a new edition of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas (1570). With Pius V, we find ourselves in the middle of the Catholic Reformation, about which we should say a bit.

The Catholic Reformation

We speak of "the Reformation," but what we usually mean is the "Protestant Reformation." Yet there is a sense in which the term "Reformation" can include both the Protestant movements and the reform movement within the Catholic Church. A hundred years or so ago, Catholic efforts at church reform in the sixteenth century were usually dubbed "the Counter Reformation." But some scholars objected to the term, on the grounds that it reduced Catholic reform to a response to Protestantism. Many scholars argued that the sixteenth century was an era of various reform efforts, with Protestantism being one particular approach. There were, these scholars noted, Catholic efforts that amount to much more than answering the Protestants or undercutting Protestant criticism.

Needless to say, the issue of terminology hasn’t been "officially" settled among scholars, since no one can settle anything "officially" for academics. "Catholic Reformation" is probably the dominant expression, although "Counter Reformation" persists in some circles. A compromise usage has also emerged: for those aspects of Catholic reform that weren’t in direct response to Protestantism, the term "Catholic Reformation" is used. But when reforms made in response to Protestantism are discussed, "Counter Reformation" is used. That’s neat but not always helpful, since it isn’t always clear which reform is which.

In any case, the point is what the Catholic/Counter Reformation did, not so much what we call it. What did it do? On the one hand, it limited the deleterious impact of the Protestant Reformation, by limiting the extent to which things needed reforming and the extent to which Protestants could influence things in a non-Catholic direction. Even throughout the worst of the Renaissance papacy, Catholic saints emerged, calling Catholics to repentance and modeling for them the life of sanctity. Without them, things would have been much worse. On the other hand, the Catholic/Counter Reformation assisted the Church in regaining much of what was lost by the Reformation’s initial successes.

Who were the leading figures of the Catholic/Counter Reformation? We have already mentioned some, such as St. Pius V and St. Charles Borromeo. Martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher contributed to the beginnings of the Catholic Reform. St. Ignatius Loyola and his Jesuits were majors instruments of Catholic renewal, as was Loyola’s thin, but spiritually potent volume, The Spiritual Exercises. Then there were the Spanish mystics and spiritual giants Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as St. Philip Neri, St. Peter Canisius, and St. Francis de Sales, whose apostolic work deeply penetrated the Catholic laity.

These saints changed the institutions of Church and society, to be sure. But their real work was the transformation of hearts and minds, as they called people back to God, to union with Jesus Christ, to living the Gospel in their daily lives in the world. It has sometimes been claimed that medieval Christianity was monastic and world-denying, in an almost Manichean sense. Whatever can be said for that charge–and it seems problematic given that medieval Christianity created a Christian culture very much in this world as well as in the monastery–it would be utterly false to make such an accusation of the Catholic Reformation. No aspect of daily life–whether of the cleric or of the laymen–went unaffected by the spiritual revolution of the Catholic Reformation. Consequently, while the Catholic-Protestant division of Europe had by the time of the Catholic Reformation become established, the spiritual vitality of the Catholic renewal won back many people to full communion with the Catholic Church.

Conclusion

Belloc wrote a little book called Characters of the Reformation. The work is marvelous, as Belloc’s books usually are, not because it provides the most accurate history, but because it helps us see the big picture, to follow the drama of the period or even, if you will, to know "the players in the game." The purpose of this essay has been to provide something of a "scorecard" to that "game." Of course it hasn’t been exhaustive–a scorecard can’t be. Even so, it’s hard to tell the players apart without one.

[This article originally appeared in the September/October 2001 issue of Catholic Dossier.]

Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles and links:


• Has The Reformation Ended? An Interview with Dr. Mark Noll | September 24, 2005
Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light
Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: An Interview with J. Budziszewski
The Counter-Reformation: Ignatius and the Jesuits | Fr. Charles P. Connor
Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick | Mark Brumley on Rev. Louis Bouyer



Geoffrey Saint-Clair writes from the Bay Area.



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