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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 Calvins 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 sinsthat 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 persons merits
or demerits. Calvins view seems at odds with Gods 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 Gods 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 Lords 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 Luthers
belief in the Real Presence on the one hand and Zwinglis purely symbolic,
memorial view on the other. Christs 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 Christs 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
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 (Luthers 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 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 everythingincluding many
elements of the Magisterial Reformationthey deemed compromise of the
The Radical Reformation began in Zurich, in the early 1520s. In part, it
was a response to Zwinglis 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
Although the Radical Reformers believed in justification by faith alone,
they also insisted that those truly justifiedand often they understood
by this those who could point to some experience of conversionhad
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 NorthEngland, Scandinavia,
Denmark, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Prussiaand the Catholic
SouthSpain, Portugal, France, Italy, southern Germany, Hungry and
Success or failure often depends on leadershipwhat leaders do or fail
to do. When it comes to the Reformation, the lions 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 wouldnt
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 Reformationindeed,
of the worldwould 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 Emperors sack and invasion of Rome in 1527,
itself due to Clements 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. Whats more, the Popes
decision in the matter was bound to seem politically motivated. In 1533,
Henry broke with the Catholic Church over Clement VIIs refusal to
annul Henrys marriage to Catherine, with dire consequences for English
Catholicism and the Catholic cause against nascent Protestantism on the
Pope Paul III (1534-1549). Although Gods Spirit doesnt 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 sameif not worst. He
was worldly and unchastehe fathered four illegitimate childrenbut
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 Churchs 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 IIIs 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 mans 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
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 didnt
become dead letters. A pope of austere life, he managedwith the help
of people such as St. Charles Borromeoto 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 hasnt 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 werent 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. Thats neat
but not always helpful, since it isnt always clear which reform is
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 Reformations
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 Loyolas 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
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 chargeand it seems problematic given
that medieval Christianity created a Christian culture very much in this
world as well as in the monasteryit would be utterly false to make
such an accusation of the Catholic Reformation. No aspect of daily lifewhether
of the cleric or of the laymenwent 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.
Belloc wrote a little book called Characters of the Reformation.
The work is marvelous, as Bellocs 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 hasnt been exhaustivea scorecard cant be.
Even so, its hard to tell the players apart without one.
[This article originally appeared in the September/October 2001 issue of
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Geoffrey Saint-Clair writes from the Bay Area.
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