Lecture 5: The Catholic Reformation
It can be assumed that the Catholic Church could never have predicted the force of the Protestant Reformation. This is especially so in terms of the numbers of noblemen and other wealthy individuals who were attracted to the theology of Luther and Calvin. The Church did try respond but their response -- internal reform -- was weak. One reform did come, it came from man who was not even a member of the clergy. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) was a soldier and Spanish reformer who sought to create a new religious order. He fused the best of the humanist tradition of the Renaissance with a reformed Catholicism that he hoped would appeal to powerful economic and political groups, that is, those types of people now attracted to Luther and Calvin.
Founded in 1534, the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, formed the backbone of the Catholic or Counter Reformation. The Jesuits combined the ideas of traditional monastic discipline with a dedication to teaching and preaching. Why they did this is pretty clear -- they wanted to win back converts. As a brotherhood or society, the Jesuits sought to bypass local corruption and appealed to the papacy to leading international movement -- they would not attach themselves to local bishops or local authorities. The purpose of this international movement was to revive a Catholic or universal Christianity.
As theologians, the Jesuits highlighted one central flaw in Protestant theology, that of predestination. Predestination offered hopes of salvation for the literate and prosperous. It also, however, included the possibility of doom, despair and the abyss for other individuals. In response, the Jesuits offered hope -- and that hope to the form of religious revival based on ceremony, tradition in the power of the priest to offer forgiveness. In essence, the Jesuits made Christianity more emotional. Keep in mind, that one of the reasons why the Reformation indeed took place was because the people wanted a more emotional and direct spiritual life. The Jesuits urged princes to strengthen the Church in their territories. They even developed the theology that permitted "small sins" in the service of a just cause. In other words, a small sin was okay if and only if it led to some greater good.
By the 17th century, the Jesuits had become some of the greatest teachers in your, especially in France. They had also become one of the most controversial religious groups within the Church. Was their religion merely a disguise for political power? Or, where they the true voice of a reformed Church? The Jesuits helped to build schools and universities, design churches and even helped to produce a unique style of art and architecture. This style -- called the Baroque -- was emotional and was intended to move the heart.
By the 1540s, the Counter Reformation was well underway. There were several attempts to reform the Church from within. For example, the Jesuits imitated the Dominicans and Franciscans. Oddly enough, many looked to humanists like Erasmus as a key to the Church's total reformation. Many reformers attacked abuses as had Luther, but they avoided any clash with the spiritual authority of the clergy or the Pope.
The Counter Reformation also took aggressive and somewhat hostile measures against the followers of Luther and Calvin. The Church tried to counteract Protestantism by offering something more dramatic, emotional and sentimental to the faithful. For individuals unmoved by the appeal of the Jesuits and who still adhered to Protestant heresy, the Church resorted to more severe measures. The Inquisition, founded in the 13th century, expanded its activities and heretics were subject to punishment, torture and death. Keep in mind, however, that wherever Protestantism obtained official status -- England, Scotland, Geneva, Germany, and Scandinavia -- Catholics were persecuted.
One instrument that the Catholic Church had at its disposal was censorship. After 1520, the Church was quick to censor and burn books which might have spread the Protestant Faith. The Church intended to destroy all heretical literature: all Protestant books were burned; so too were the works written by reform-minded Catholic humanists; Petrarch and Erasmus had to go as well. The Index of Prohibited Books became an institution within the Church and was not abolished until 1966. The policies of the Counter Reformation -- education, preaching, church building, persecution, and censorship -- did succeed in bringing some people back to the Church. And, in 1545, the Council of Trent met to institute concrete changes in policy and doctrine. Between 1545 and 1563, the Council modified and unified Church doctrine: it abolished numerous corrupt practices and abuses and also gave final authority to the Pope. In general, the Council purged the Church. It clarified issues like faith, good works, and salvation. It passed a decree that said the Church would be the final judge in biblical matters. The Council demanded that the Scriptures be understood literally.
All compromise between Protestant and Catholic was rejected. The Reformation had split Europe and the repair of that split was just not to be. The Reformation shattered the religious unity of Europe -- to this end, the Christian matrix was demolished. Within the matrix more windows were opened and more walls smashed, and the Church, as an institution, suffered a severe setback in terms of its moral authority and political power. By strengthening the power of monarchs, the Reformation helped to produce the modern state. Protestant rulers, of course, rejected papal claims to power. Not only that, these rulers asserted their own authority over their own churches (e.g. Henry VIII in England).
In an indirect way, Protestantism contributed to the growth of political liberty. Liberty as an ideal, however, was still 200 years in future. There were tendencies unleashed during the Reformation that provided justification for challenging the authority of monarchs. Since all men are governed by the laws of God, punishment should be given to those who break these laws -- kings included. So, in 1649, the English execute Charles I.
the Reformation also contributed to the establishment of an ethic of individualism. Protestants interpreted the Bible for themselves. They faced salvation or damnation on their own. The Reformation has also been seen as involving out of early capitalism. For Max Weber, Protestants found salvation without assistance. How? By hard work, thrift, sobriety and a work ethic. So, Protestants to fill the calling by a work ethic, the Protestant work ethic, an individualistic work ethic with.
The end result of the Reformation was basically this: (1) Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists and Jesuits all forced every man woman to make a choice. The Medieval Matrix implied that one had to conform to the standards of the Church and everything it represented. But what was now different was that the individual had a choice regarding what it was he wished to conform to. (2) The Reformation also split Europe, a division which would eventually lead to European wars, civil wars, king killing, revolts and rebellion. Europe would not truly recover from Martin Luther's Reformation until the 18th century, if it can be said it ever did recover.
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copyright © 2002 Steven Kreis