The Reformation—The Search Took a New Turn
1, 2. (a) How does one book on the Reformation describe the medieval Roman Catholic Church? (b) What questions are raised concerning the condition of the Church of Rome?
“THE real tragedy of the medieval church is that it failed to move with the times. . . . Far from being progressive, far from giving a spiritual lead, it was retrograde and decadent, corrupt in all its members.” So says the book The Story of the Reformation about the powerful Roman Catholic Church, which had dominated most of Europe from the 5th century to the 15th century C.E.
2 How did the Church of Rome fall from its all-powerful position to become ‘decadent and corrupt’? How did the papacy, which claimed apostolic succession, fail even to provide “a spiritual lead”? And what was the outcome of this failure? To find the answers, we need to examine briefly just what kind of church it had become and what role it played in mankind’s search for the true God.
The Church at a Low Ebb
3. (a) What was the material condition of the Roman Church by the end of the 15th century? (b) How did the church try to maintain its grandeur?
3 By the end of the 15th century, the Church of Rome, with parishes, monasteries, and convents throughout its domain, had become the largest landholder in all Europe. It was reported that it owned as much as half the land in France and Germany and two fifths or more in Sweden and England. The result? The “splendor of Rome grew immeasurably during the late 1400’s and early 1500’s, and its political importance prospered temporarily,” says the book A History of Civilization. All the grandeur, however, came at a price, and to maintain it, the papacy had to find new sources of revenue. Describing the various means employed, historian Will Durant wrote:
“Every ecclesiastical appointee was required to remit to the papal Curia—the administrative bureaus of the papacy—half the income of his office for the first year (“annates”), and thereafter annually a tenth or tithe. A new archbishop had to pay to the pope a substantial sum for the pallium—a band of white wool that served as the confirmation and insignia of his authority. On the death of any cardinal, archbishop, bishop, or abbot, his personal possessions reverted to the papacy. . . . Every judgment or favor obtained from the Curia expected a gift in acknowledgment, and the judgment was sometimes dictated by the gift.”
4. How did the riches coming into the church affect the papacy?
4 The large sums of money that flowed into the papal coffers year after year eventually led to much abuse and corruption. It has been said that ‘even a pope cannot touch pitch without soiling his fingers,’ and church history of this period saw what one historian called “a succession of very worldly popes.” These included Sixtus IV (pope, 1471-84), who spent large sums to build the Sistine Chapel, named after himself, and to enrich his many nephews and nieces; Alexander VI (pope, 1492-1503), the notorious Rodrigo Borgia, who openly acknowledged and promoted his illegitimate children; and Julius II (pope, 1503-13), a nephew of Sixtus IV, who was more devoted to wars, politics, and art than to his ecclesiastical duties. It was with full justification that the Dutch Catholic scholar Erasmus wrote in 1518: “The shamelessness of the Roman Curia has reached its climax.”
5. What did contemporary records show regarding the moral conduct of the clergy?
5 Corruption and immorality were not limited to the papacy. A common saying of the time was: “If you want to ruin your son, make him a priest.” This is backed up by records of that time. According to Durant, in England, among “accusations of [sexual] incontinence filed in 1499, . . . clerical offenders numbered some 23 per cent of the total, though the clergy were probably less than 2 per cent of the population. Some confessors solicited sexual favors from female penitents. Thousands of priests had concubines; in Germany nearly all.” (Contrast 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:5.) Moral lapses also reached into other areas. A Spaniard of the time is said to have complained: “I see that we can scarcely get anything from Christ’s ministers but for money; at baptism money . . . at marriage money, for confession money—no, not extreme unction [last rites] without money! They will ring no bells without money, no burial in the church without money; so that it seemeth that Paradise is shut up from them that have no money.”—Contrast 1 Timothy 6:10.
6. How did Machiavelli describe the Roman Church? (Romans 2:21-24)
6 To summarize the state of the Roman Church at the beginning of the 16th century, we quote the words of Machiavelli, a famous Italian philosopher of that period:
“Had the religion of Christianity been preserved according to the ordinances of the Founder, the state and commonwealth of Christendom would have been far more united and happy than they are. Nor can there be a greater proof of its decadence than the fact that the nearer people are to the Roman Church, the head of their religion, the less religious are they.”
Early Efforts at Reform
7. What feeble efforts were made by the church to address some of the abuses?
7 The crisis in the church was noted not only by men like Erasmus and Machiavelli but also by the church itself. Church councils were convened to address some of the complaints and abuses, but with no lasting results. The popes, basking in personal power and glory, discouraged any real efforts at reform.
8. What was the result of the church’s continual negligence?
8 Had the church been more serious at housecleaning, there would possibly have been no Reformation. But, as it was, cries for reform began to be heard from inside and outside the church. In Chapter 11 we have already mentioned the Waldenses and the Albigenses. Though they were condemned as heretics and ruthlessly crushed, they had awakened in the people a dissatisfaction with the abuses of the Catholic clergy and had kindled a desire to return to the Bible. Such sentiments found their expression in a number of early Reformers.
Protests From Within the Church
9. Who was John Wycliffe, and against what did he preach?
9 Often referred to as “the morning star of the Reformation,” John Wycliffe (1330?-84) was a Catholic priest and a professor of theology at Oxford, England. Well aware of the abuses in the church, he wrote and preached against such matters as corruption in the monastic orders, papal taxation, the doctrine of transubstantiation (the claim that the bread and wine used in the Mass literally change into the body and blood of Jesus Christ), the confession, and church involvement in temporal affairs.
10. How did Wycliffe show his devotion to the Bible?
10 Wycliffe was particularly outspoken when it came to the church’s neglect in teaching the Bible. Once he declared: “Would to God that every parish church in this land had a good Bible and good expositions on the gospel, and that the priests studied them well, and taught truly the gospel and God’s commands to the people!” To this end, Wycliffe, in the last years of his life, undertook the task of translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English. With the help of his associates, particularly Nicholas of Hereford, he produced the first complete Bible in the English language. It was undoubtedly Wycliffe’s greatest contribution to mankind’s search for God.
11. (a) What were Wycliffe’s followers able to accomplish? (b) What happened to the Lollards?
11 Wycliffe’s writings and portions of the Bible were distributed throughout England by a body of preachers often referred to as “Poor Priests” because they went about in simple clothing, barefoot, and without material possessions. They were also derisively called Lollards, from the Middle Dutch word Lollaerd, or “one who mumbles prayers or hymns.” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) “In a few years, their numbers were very considerable,” says the book The Lollards. “It was calculated that at least one fourth of the nation were really or nominally inclined to these sentiments.” All of this, of course, did not go unnoticed by the church. Because of his prominence among the ruling and scholarly classes, Wycliffe was allowed to die in peace on the last day of 1384. His followers were less fortunate. During the reign of Henry IV of England, they were branded as heretics, and many of them were imprisoned, tortured, or burned to death.
12. Who was Jan Hus, and against what did he preach?
12 Strongly influenced by John Wycliffe was the Bohemian (Czech) Jan Hus (1369?-1415), also a Catholic priest and rector of the University of Prague. Like Wycliffe, Hus preached against the corruption of the Roman Church and stressed the importance of reading the Bible. This quickly brought the wrath of the hierarchy upon him. In 1403 the authorities ordered him to stop preaching the antipapal ideas of Wycliffe, whose books they also publicly burned. Hus, however, went on to write some of the most stinging indictments against the practices of the church, including the sale of indulgences.a He was condemned and excommunicated in 1410.
13. (a) What did Hus teach was the true church? (b) What was the outcome of Hus’ steadfastness?
13 Hus was uncompromising in his support for the Bible. “To rebel against an erring pope is to obey Christ,” he wrote. He also taught that the true church, far from being the pope and the Roman establishment, “is the number of all the elect and the mystical body of Christ, whose head Christ is; and the bride of Christ, whom of his great love he redeemed with his own blood.” (Compare Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:25-27.) For all of this, he was tried at the Council of Constance and was condemned as a heretic. Declaring that “it is better to die well than to live ill,” he refused to recant and was burned to death at the stake in 1415. The same council also ordered that the bones of Wycliffe be dug up and burned even though he had been dead and buried for over 30 years!
14. (a) Who was Girolamo Savonarola? (b) What did Savonarola attempt to do, and what was the outcome?
14 Another early Reformer was the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) of the San Marcos monastery in Florence, Italy. Swept along by the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, Savonarola spoke out against the corruption in both Church and State. Claiming as a basis Scripture, as well as visions and revelations that he said he had received, he sought to establish a Christian state, or theocratic order. In 1497 the pope excommunicated him. The following year, he was arrested, tortured, and hanged. His last words were: “My Lord died for my sins; shall not I gladly give this poor life for him?” His body was burned and the ashes thrown into the river Arno. Fittingly, Savonarola called himself “a forerunner and a sacrifice.” Just a few years later, the Reformation burst forth in full force all over Europe.
A House Divided
15. How was Christendom in Western Europe divided by the Reformation movement?
15 When the storm of the Reformation finally broke, it shattered the religious house of Christendom in Western Europe. Having been under the almost total domination of the Roman Catholic Church, it now became a house divided. Southern Europe—Italy, Spain, Austria, and parts of France—remained mostly Catholic. The rest fell into three main divisions: Lutheran in Germany and Scandinavia; Calvinist (or Reformed) in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scotland, and parts of France; and Anglican in England. Scattered among these were smaller but more radical groups, first the Anabaptists and later the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Puritans, who in time took their beliefs to North America.
16. Ultimately, what happened to Christendom’s house? (Mark 3:25)
16 Through the years, these main divisions further fragmented into the hundreds of denominations of today—Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, to name just a few. Christendom truly became a house divided. How did these divisions come about?
Luther and His Theses
17. What could be given as the official starting point of the Protestant Reformation?
17 If a decisive starting point of the Protestant Reformation has to be given, it would be October 31, 1517, when the Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg in the German state of Saxony. However, what provoked this dramatic event? Who was Martin Luther? And against what did he protest?
18. (a) Who was Martin Luther? (b) What prompted Luther to issue his theses?
18 Like Wycliffe and Hus before him, Martin Luther was a monk-scholar. He was also a doctor of theology and a professor of Biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg. Luther made quite a name for himself for his insight into the Bible. Though he had strong opinions on the subject of salvation, or justification, by faith rather than by works or by penance, he had no thought of breaking with the Church of Rome. In fact, the issuing of his theses was his reaction to a specific incident and was not a planned revolt. He was protesting the sale of indulgences.
19. In Luther’s time, how were indulgences being exploited?
19 In Luther’s time, papal indulgences were publicly sold not only for the living but also for the dead. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” was a common saying. To ordinary folk, an indulgence became almost an insurance policy against punishment for any sin, and repentance fell by the wayside. “Everywhere,” wrote Erasmus, “the remission of purgatorial torment is sold; nor is it sold only, but forced upon those who refuse it.”
20. (a) Why did John Tetzel go to Jüterbog? (b) What was Luther’s reaction to Tetzel’s sale of indulgences?
20 In 1517 John Tetzel, a Dominican friar, went to Jüterbog, near Wittenberg, to sell indulgences. The money thus obtained was partly to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was also to help Albert of Hohenzollern repay the money he had borrowed to pay the Roman Curia for the post of archbishop of Mainz. Tetzel mustered all his skills of salesmanship, and the people flocked to him. Luther was indignant, and he made use of the quickest means available to express publicly his opinion of the whole circuslike affair—by nailing 95 points of debate on the church door.
21. What arguments did Luther use against the sale of indulgences?
21 Luther called his 95 theses Disputation for Clarification of the Power of Indulgences. His purpose was not so much to challenge the authority of the church as to point out the excesses and abuses regarding the sale of papal indulgences. This can be seen from the following theses:
“5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties, except those which he has imposed by his own authority. . . .
20. Therefore the pope, when he speaks of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean really of all, but only of those imposed by himself. . . .
36. Every Christian who feels true compunction has of right plenary remission of punishment and guilt even without letters of pardon.”
22. (a) What developed as Luther’s message spread? (b) What happened in 1520 involving Luther, and what was the outcome?
22 Aided by the recently invented printing press, these explosive ideas did not take long to reach other parts of Germany—and Rome. What started out as an academic debate on the sale of indulgences soon became a controversy over matters of faith and papal authority. At first, the Church of Rome engaged Luther in debate and ordered him to recant. When Luther refused, both the ecclesiastical and the political powers were brought to bear upon him. In 1520 the pope issued a bull, or edict, that forbade Luther to preach and ordered that his books be burned. In defiance Luther burned the papal bull in public. The pope excommunicated him in 1521.
23. (a) What was the Diet of Worms? (b) How did Luther state his position at Worms, and what was the result?
23 Later that year, Luther was summoned to the diet, or assembly, at Worms. He was tried by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, a staunch Catholic, as well as by the six electors of the German states, and other leaders and dignitaries, religious and secular. When pressed once again to recant, Luther made his famous statement: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason . . . , I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Consequently, he was declared an outlaw by the emperor. However, the ruler of his own German state, Elector Frederick of Saxony, came to his aid and offered him shelter in Wartburg castle.
24. What did Luther accomplish while in Wartburg castle?
24 These measures, however, failed to curb the spread of Luther’s ideas. For ten months, in the security of Wartburg, Luther devoted himself to writing and to Bible translation. He translated the Greek Scriptures into German from Erasmus’ Greek text. The Hebrew Scriptures followed later. Luther’s Bible turned out to be just what the common people needed. It was reported that “five thousand copies were sold in two months, two hundred thousand in twelve years.” Its influence on the German language and culture is often compared to that of the King James Version on the English.
25. (a) How was the name Protestant coined? (b) What was the Augsburg Confession?
25 In the years following the Diet of Worms, the Reformation movement gained so much popular support that in 1526 the emperor granted each German state the right to choose its own form of religion, Lutheran or Roman Catholic. However, in 1529, when the emperor reversed the decision, some of the German princes protested; hence the name Protestant was coined for the Reformation movement. The next year, 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, an effort was made by the emperor to mend the differences between the two parties. The Lutherans presented their beliefs in a document, the Augsburg Confession, composed by Philipp Melanchthon but based on Luther’s teachings. Although the document was most conciliatory in tone, the Roman Church rejected it, and the rift between Protestantism and Catholicism became irreconcilable. Many German states sided with Luther, and the Scandinavian states soon followed suit.
Reform or Revolt?
26. According to Luther, what were the fundamental points dividing Protestantism and Catholicism?
26 What were the fundamental points that divided the Protestants from the Roman Catholics? According to Luther, there were three. First, Luther believed that salvation results from “justification by faith alone” (Latin, sola fide)b and not from priestly absolution or works of penance. Second, he taught that forgiveness is granted solely because of God’s grace (sola gratia) and not by the authority of priests or popes. Finally, Luther contended that all doctrinal matters are to be confirmed by Scripture only (sola scriptura) and not by popes or church councils.
27. (a) What unscriptural Catholic teachings and practices were retained by the Protestants? (b) What changes did the Protestants demand?
27 In spite of this, Luther, says The Catholic Encyclopedia, “retained as much of the ancient beliefs and liturgy as could be made to fit into his peculiar views on sin and justification.” The Augsburg Confession states regarding the Lutheran faith that “there is nothing that is discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Church Catholic, or even with the Roman Church, so far as that Church is known from writers.” In fact, the Lutheran faith, as outlined in the Augsburg Confession, included such unscriptural doctrines as the Trinity, immortal soul, and eternal torment, as well as such practices as infant baptism and church holidays and feasts. On the other hand, the Lutherans demanded certain changes, such as that the people be allowed to receive both wine and bread at Communion and that celibacy, monastic vows, and compulsory confession be abolished.c
28. In what did the Reformation succeed, and in what did it fail?
28 As a whole, the Reformation, as advocated by Luther and his followers, succeeded in breaking from the papal yoke. Yet, as Jesus stated at John 4:24, “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” It can be said that with Martin Luther, mankind’s search for the true God only took a new turn; the narrow path of truth was still far off.—Matthew 7:13, 14; John 8:31, 32.
Zwingli’s Reform in Switzerland
29. (a) Who was Ulrich Zwingli, and against what did he preach? (b) How was Zwingli’s reform different from Luther’s?
29 While Luther was busy battling the papal emissaries and civil authorities in Germany, Catholic priest Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) started his reform movement in Zurich, Switzerland. That area being German-speaking, the people were already affected by the tide of reform from the north. Around 1519, Zwingli began to preach against indulgences, Mariolatry, clerical celibacy, and other doctrines of the Catholic Church. Though Zwingli claimed independence from Luther, he agreed with Luther in many areas and distributed Luther’s tracts throughout the country. In contrast with the more conservative Luther, however, Zwingli advocated the removal of all vestiges of the Roman Church—images, crucifixes, clerical garb, even liturgical music.
30. What was a key issue dividing Zwingli and Luther?
30 A more serious controversy between the two Reformers, however, was on the issue of the Eucharist, or Mass (Communion). Luther, insisting on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words, ‘This is my body,’ believed that the body and blood of Christ were miraculously present in the bread and wine served at Communion. Zwingli, on the other hand, argued, in his treatise On the Lord’s Supper, that Jesus’ statement “must be taken figuratively or metaphorically; ‘This is my body,’ means, ‘The bread signifies my body,’ or ‘is a figure of my body.’” Because of this difference, the two Reformers parted ways.
31. What was the outcome of Zwingli’s work in Switzerland?
31 Zwingli continued to preach his reform doctrines in Zurich and effected many changes there. Other cities soon followed his lead, but most people in the rural areas, being more conservative, clung to Catholicism. The conflict between the two factions became so great that civil war broke out between Swiss Protestants and Roman Catholics. Zwingli, serving as an army chaplain, was killed in the battle of Kappel, near the Lake of Zug, in 1531. When peace finally came, each district was given the right to decide its own form of religion, Protestant or Catholic.
Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Hutterites
32. Who were the Anabaptists, and how did they acquire that name?
32 Some Protestants, however, felt that the Reformers did not go far enough in renouncing the shortcomings of the Catholic papist church. They believed that the Christian church should consist only of the practicing faithful who become baptized, rather than of all the people in a community or nation. Therefore, they rejected infant baptism and insisted on separation of Church and State. They secretly rebaptized their fellow believers and thus acquired the name Anabaptists (ana meaning “again” in Greek). Since they refused to bear arms, take oaths, or accept public office, they were viewed as a threat to society and were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike.
33. (a) What aroused violent action against the Anabaptists? (b) How did Anabaptist influence spread?
33 At first the Anabaptists lived in small groups scattered through parts of Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. As they preached what they believed everywhere they went, their numbers grew rapidly. A band of Anabaptists, swept along by their religious fervor, abandoned their pacifism and captured the city of Münster in 1534 and attempted to set it up as a communal, polygamous New Jerusalem. The movement was quickly put down with great violence. It gave Anabaptists a bad name, and they were practically stamped out. In reality, most Anabaptists were simple religious folk trying to live a separate and quiet life. Among the better organized descendants of the Anabaptists were the Mennonites, followers of the Dutch Reformer Menno Simons, and the Hutterites, under the Tyrolean Jacob Hutter. To escape persecution, some of them migrated to Eastern Europe—Poland, Hungary, even Russia—others to North America, where they eventually emerged as Hutterite and Amish communities.
Emergence of Calvinism
34. (a) Who was John Calvin? (b) What important book did he write?
34 The reform work in Switzerland moved ahead under the leadership of a Frenchman named Jean Cauvin, or John Calvin (1509-64), who came in contact with Protestant teachings during his student days in France. In 1534 Calvin left Paris because of religious persecution and settled in Basel, Switzerland. In defense of the Protestants, he published Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which he summarized the ideas of the early church fathers and medieval theologians, as well as those of Luther and Zwingli. The work came to be regarded as the doctrinal foundation for all the Reformed churches established later in Europe and America.
35. (a) What was Calvin’s explanation for his doctrine of predestination? (b) How was the austerity of this doctrine reflected in other aspects of Calvin’s teaching?
35 In Institutes, he set forth his theology. To Calvin, God is the absolute sovereign, whose will determines and rules over everything. In contrast, fallen man is sinful and totally undeserving. Salvation, therefore, is not dependent on man’s good works but on God—hence, Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, on which he wrote:
“We assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom He would admit to salvation, and whom He would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment.”
The austerity of such a teaching is also reflected in other areas. Calvin insisted that Christians must live holy and virtuous lives, abstaining not only from sin but also from pleasure and frivolity. Further, he argued that the church, which is made up of the elect, must be freed of all civil restrictions and that only through the church can a truly godly society be established.
36. (a) What did Calvin and Farel attempt to do in Geneva? (b) What strict regulations were instituted? (c) What was one notorious result of Calvin’s extreme measures, and how did he justify his actions?
36 Shortly after publishing Institutes, Calvin was persuaded by William Farel, another Reformer from France, to settle in Geneva. Together they worked to put Calvinism into practice. Their aim was to turn Geneva into a city of God, a theocracy of God-rule combining the functions of Church and State. They instituted strict regulations, with sanctions, covering everything from religious instruction and church services to public morals and even such matters as sanitation and fire prevention. A history text reports that “a hair-dresser, for example, for arranging a bride’s hair in what was deemed an unseemly manner, was imprisoned for two days; and the mother, with two female friends, who had aided in the process, suffered the same penalty. Dancing and card-playing were also punished by the magistrate.” Harsh treatment was meted out to those who differed from Calvin on theology, the most notorious case being the burning of Spaniard Miguel Serveto, or Michael Servetus.—See box, page 322.
37. How was Calvin’s influence extended far beyond the boundaries of Switzerland?
37 Calvin continued to apply his brand of reform in Geneva until his death in 1564, and the Reformed church became firmly established. Protestant reformers, fleeing persecution in other lands, flocked to Geneva, took in Calvinist ideas, and became instrumental in starting reform movements in their respective homelands. Calvinism soon spread to France, where the Huguenots (as the French Calvinist Protestants were called) suffered severe persecution at the hands of the Catholics. In the Netherlands, Calvinists helped establish the Dutch Reformed Church. In Scotland, under the zealous leadership of the former Catholic priest John Knox, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was established along Calvinist lines. Calvinism also played a role in the Reformation in England, and from there it went with the Puritans to North America. In this sense, although Luther set the Protestant Reformation in motion, Calvin had by far the greater influence in its development.
Reformation in England
38. How was the Protestant spirit in England engendered by the work of John Wycliffe?
38 Quite apart from the reform movements in Germany and Switzerland, the English Reformation can trace its roots back to the days of John Wycliffe, whose anticlerical preaching and emphasis on the Bible engendered the Protestant spirit in England. His effort in translating the Bible into English was followed by others. William Tyndale, who had to flee from England, produced his New Testament in 1526. He was later betrayed in Antwerp and strangled at the stake, and his body was burned. Miles Coverdale completed Tyndale’s work of translation, and the entire Bible appeared in 1535. The publication of the Bible in the language of the people was no doubt the single most powerful factor that contributed to the Reformation in England.
39. What role did Henry VIII play in the Reformation in England?
39 The formal break from Roman Catholicism took place when Henry VIII (1491-1547), named Defender of the Faith by the pope, declared the Act of Supremacy in 1534, setting himself up as the head of the Church of England. Henry also closed the monasteries and divided their property among the gentry. In addition, he ordered that a copy of the Bible in English be placed in every church. However, Henry’s action was more political than religious. What he wanted was independence from papal authority, especially over his marital affairs.d Religiously he remained Catholic in every way but name.
40. (a) What changes took place in the Church of England during the reign of Elizabeth I? (b) What dissenting groups eventually developed in England, the Netherlands, and North America?
40 It was during the long reign (1558-1603) of Elizabeth I that the Church of England became Protestant in practice though remaining largely Catholic in structure. It abolished allegiance to the pope, clerical celibacy, confession, and other Catholic practices, yet it retained an episcopal form of church structure in its hierarchy of archbishops and bishops as well as orders of monks and nuns.e This conservatism caused considerable dissatisfaction, and various dissenting groups appeared. The Puritans demanded a more thorough reform to purify the church of all Roman Catholic practices; the Separatists and Independents insisted that church affairs should be run by local elders (presbyters). Many of the dissidents fled to the Netherlands or to North America, where they further developed their Congregational and Baptist churches. There also sprung up in England the Society of Friends (Quakers) under George Fox (1624-91) and the Methodists under John Wesley (1703-91).—See chart below.
What Were the Effects?
41. (a) In the opinion of some scholars, what effect did the Reformation have on human history? (b) What questions are of serious concern?
41 Having considered the three major streams of the Reformation—Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican—we must stop to assess what the Reformation accomplished. Undeniably, it changed the course of history of the Western world. “The effect of the Reformation was to elevate the people to a thirst for liberty and a higher and purer citizenship. Wherever the Protestant cause extended, it made the masses more self-asserting,” wrote John F. Hurst in his book Short History of the Reformation. Many scholars believe that Western civilization as we know it today would have been impossible without the Reformation. Be that as it may, we must ask: What did the Reformation accomplish religiously? What did it do in behalf of mankind’s search for the true God?
42. (a) What undoubtedly is the highest good achieved by the Reformation? (b) What question regarding the Reformation’s true accomplishments must be asked?
42 The highest good the Reformation achieved, no doubt, was that it made the Bible available to the common people in their own language. For the first time, people had before them the whole of God’s Word to read, so that they could be nourished spiritually. But, of course, more is needed than just reading the Bible. Did the Reformation bring people freedom not only from papal authority but also from the erroneous doctrines and dogmas that they had been subjected to for centuries?—John 8:32.
43. (a) To what creeds do most of today’s Protestant churches subscribe, professing what beliefs? (b) What have the free spirit and diversity resulting from the Reformation done for mankind’s search for the true God?
43 Nearly all the Protestant churches subscribe to the same creeds—the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’ creeds—and these profess some of the very doctrines that Catholicism has been teaching for centuries, such as the Trinity, immortal soul, and hellfire. Such unscriptural teachings gave the people a distorted picture of God and his purpose. Rather than aid them in their search for the true God, the numerous sects and denominations that came into existence as a result of the free spirit of the Protestant Reformation have only steered people in many diverse directions. In fact, the diversity and confusion have caused many to question the very existence of God. The result? In the 19th century there came a rising tide of atheism and agnosticism. That will be the subject of our next chapter.
a Letters of pardon issued by the pope for sins.
b Luther was so insistent on the concept of “justification by faith alone” that in his translation of the Bible, he added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. He was also suspicious of the book of James for its statement that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17, 26) He failed to recognize that in Romans, Paul was speaking of works of the Jewish Law.—Romans 3:19, 20, 28.
c Martin Luther was married in 1525 to Katharina von Bora, a former nun who had escaped from a Cistercian cloister. They had six children. He stated that he married for three reasons: to please his father, to spite the pope and the Devil, and to seal his witness before martyrdom.
d Henry VIII had six wives. In opposition to the pope’s wishes, his first marriage was annulled, and another ended in divorce. He had two wives beheaded, and two died natural deaths.
e The Greek word e·piʹsko·pos is translated “bishop” in English Bibles such as the King James Version.
[Box/Pictures on page 322]
“Errors of the Trinity”
At age 20, Michael Servetus (1511-53), a Spaniard trained in law and medicine, published De Trinitatis erroribus (Errors of the Trinity), in which he stated that he “will not make use of the word Trinity, which is not to be found in Scripture, and only seems to perpetuate philosophical error.” He denounced the Trinity as a doctrine “that cannot be understood, that is impossible in the nature of things, and that may even be looked on as blasphemous!”
For his outspokenness, Servetus was condemned by the Catholic Church. But it was the Calvinists who had him arrested, tried, and executed by slow burning. Calvin justified his actions in these words: “When the papists are so harsh and violent in defense of their superstitions that they rage cruelly to shed innocent blood, are not Christian magistrates shamed to show themselves less ardent in defense of the sure truth?” Calvin’s religious fanaticism and personal hatred blinded his judgment and smothered Christian principles.—Compare Matthew 5:44.
John Calvin, left, had Michael Servetus, right, burned to death as a heretic
[Chart on page 327]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Simplified Outline of Christendom’s Major Religions
Start of Apostasy - 2nd Century
Roman Catholic Church
4th Century (Constantine)
5th Century Coptic
1054 C.E. Eastern Orthodox
Romanian and others
16th Century Reformation
American and others
[Pictures on page 307]
These 16th-century woodcuts contrast Christ’s rejection of money changers and the pope’s sale of indulgences
[Pictures on page 311]
Jan Hus at the stake
The English Reformer and Bible translator John Wycliffe
[Pictures on page 314]
Martin Luther, right, protested the sale of indulgences by the friar John Tetzel