Roots of the Reformation: What it Means for Today

Oct 1st, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

If you ask most people why there was a Protestant Reformation they answer, “Because of corruption in the Church.” That’s the common view. They might blame the indulgence controversy or Papal involvement in politics. If they’re Protestants, they probably claim the Church was doctrinally corrupt. Even Catholics give this answer. (I know. I just polled a roomful of Catholics on the question.) For centuries, in fact, this was the standard line for Catholic historians: if only the Church had done a better job, there would have been no Protestant Reformation.

Peasants torturing indulgence seller
Peasants Torturing an
Indulgence Peddler

There is one small problem with the corruption thesis, however. It’s just not true. I don’t mean there was no corruption in the Church. There was plenty of it. What I mean is corruption in the Church didn’t make the 16th century any different from every other century. It’s not like the 16th century was the worst time we’ve ever seen. We’ve seen far worse – the papacy bought and sold, ignorant, immoral prelates, schism, multiple claimants to the papal throne. You name it; there was some century that somebody was doing it, or even lots of somebodies.

The real cause of the Reformation was not Church corruption (moral, doctrinal, or otherwise) but how people felt about it. And here comes one of the greatest historical ironies: people grew intolerant of corruption in the Church at least in part because the Church told them to. One man who gets a lot of the credit for this is Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085). In his day, the Church was absolutely rife with corruption and he wanted to do something about it. He fought hard to eliminate simony (buying Church offices) and clerical incontinence. He strove to free the Church from the control of secular rulers. But he did something very radical, too. He called on laypeople to oppose corrupt clergy, absolving them of their obligations to obey.

In the aftermath of Pope Gregory’s reform, we saw centuries of religious movements and lay reforms both inside and outside of the Church. The most famous examples are St. Francis and St. Dominic, who rose up in answer to the Church’s call for Reformation. Others left the Church in a misguided search for evangelical perfection. The Waldenisans and Albigensians come to mind. But what they all had in common was an eager desire to reform the Church. Sometimes, even good religious would gin up popular agitation by decrying corruption in Church and state. The Dominican Savanarola (1452-1498) went to his death for such a display.

What all of this means is that the Church created the expectation that things should be better. Religious carried out centuries of catechesis and preaching. Books like The Imitation of Christ flooded the popular market once Guttenberg invented printing. The Church created such a demand for good religion that she couldn’t keep up with the demand. The Protestant Reformers merely stepped into a gap that would not have existed had the Catholic Church not been working for centuries to root out corruption and raise the level of lay spirituality. This is not simply my private theory. Lucien Febvre made the argument in 1929 in his famous essay, “Une question mal posée.” Today, this is the consensus view among historians. A good book on the subject is Steven Ozment’s, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550.

So why does this matter today? It matters because we need to be alert to how we frame our discussions about the Church and how we respond to propaganda. The Reformation era was not the worst in Church history, but people at the time became convinced that it was. People with a personal or a political agenda exploited the popular mentality and disseminated propaganda that caused centuries of bloodshed and suffering.

In a similar way, we suffer today from very biased reporting and outright propaganda about the Church. These condition the way we understand ourselves, even as Catholics. To illustrate, did you know that there is one hundred times more sexual abuse in California public schools than in the Catholic Church? This, according to Hofstra University researcher Carol Shakeshaft. But where is the outcry? Where the mass exodus of parents from the public school system? There is none, because the media elites didn’t see fit to report the facts in a way that would lead to that outcome.

There were many, many factors leading to the Reformation: economic and political changes, demography and societal attitudes, technology (printing), intellectual developments (scholasticism and the renaissance), religious sentiment, and the contributions of colorful personalities. It is impossible to point out one cause of the Reformation. These all came together at a critical moment in western history. “Corruption,” as such, was not the cause of the Reformation.

Reflecting on this, it is good to know that the Church has always had corruption, has always fought corruption, and has never made “absence of corruption” a mark of the true Church. Jesus told us to expect corruption in the Church until the end of time. (Matthew 13:24-30) And every attempt to create a perfect Church in this life has always ended in disaster. The Donatists tried it in North Africa. The Puritans tried it in New England. We could list other examples, but the result is always hypocrisy or tyranny. I, myself, am very grateful for my corrupt Church. I would never think of leaving it because of corruption but I suppose, if I did, it would be a little bit less corrupt.

32 comments
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  1. Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age would agree with this. He talks fascinatingly about the rise, particularly from the Thirteenth Century on, of an increased pressure from the Church to an increasingly personal and purified religion. His book is quite fascinating. I’m not sure I agree with everything he says, but I would say it is a very important book. He’s a Canadian philosopher, a Catholic – possibly a bit of what some would call a liberal – but very insightful, and a book I highly recommend (though I have been reading it for a year and am only a little over half through :-)).

    jj

  2. I am currently reading “How the Reformation Happened” by Hillaire Belloc, which explores some of the aspects of 16th century Europe leading up to, and during the Reformation. It’s definitely worth reading.

  3. «I, myself, am very grateful for my corrupt Church. I would never think of leaving it because of corruption but I suppose, if I did, it would be a little bit less corrupt.»

    Well said!!! Erasmus of Rotterdam said something pretty close to this to Luther who asked him to join his camp.

    Great article! Thanks!

    Will

  4. Thanks for this post David. Especially like the stat on sexual abuse in California public schools. That’s a good piece of ammunition to keep in the back pocket for conversations that stray in that direction. Just had a co-worker a couple weeks ago tell me that because of how the Church handled the sex abuse crisis, it demonstrates it’s an organization that should be done away with and marginalized as much as possible. We’ve got quite an uphill battle… blessings, Casey

  5. Partly right, partly wrong, but partly wrong and biased
    in the most important parts, and this NOT to say that the
    protest reform greats were perfect, but the reform doctrine
    Of justif by faith alone is worth dying for in amy century.
    Recommend reading Church History in Plain Language,
    by Bruce Shelly, Word Books, 1982, for perspective.

  6. Hi Robert,

    Whether or not justification-by-faith-alone is worth dying for, it remains a fact that no one was willing to die for it until the 16th century. So even if Luther recovered an authentic element of ancient christian faith, one would still have to explain why that “recovery” elicited the particular reaction it did in the 16th century.

    One of the things I looked at in my own study of 16th century social history was the way in which Luther’s personal narrative operated as a trope, a propaganda talking point to justify reformation. To illustrate, Calvin – in his address to Sadoleto – gives a first person account of conversion that relies on the “tormented conscience” motif. Note that I say “First person,” not “autobiographical,” because the “tormented conscience” motif is not reflected in the vast majority of Calvin’s autobiographical writing. Rather, Calvin accounts for his own conversion in terms of enlightenment, knowledge, embracing true piety vs. superstition, etc. In the same way, Calvin addresses the pastoral needs of common people in many of his sermons, letters, and consistory interventions and “tormented consciences” rarely figure.

    In other words, Luther crafted a particularly powerful personal narrative around justification by faith and that narrative encouraged the disaffected to adopt Luther’s theology for reasons that, subjectively, might have been very different from Luther’s. The popular reformation in Geneva before Calvin, for example, had much more to do with throwing out the Savoyard Prince Bishop than it did with justification by faith.

    Events in the 16th century came to a head in the way they did for complex, multifaceted reasons. Justification by faith proved a very effective tool to further the interests of those involved in the schism, whether those interests were theological, political, or social. All of this – irrespective of the truth of the doctrine.

    -David

  7. […] Augustine How to Understand Predestination from A Catholic Perspective – Aggie Catholics Roots of the So-Called ‘Reformation’ and What it Means for Today – David Anders Homosexual Acts Cannot be Approved or Celebrated by the Church – Msgr. […]

  8. When I knew that I had to become Catholic or deny our Lord, I also understood that I would be in the midst of people of various responses to the living God. Some unbelievably hot. Some cold. Others indifferent. Others quiet and unassuming but faithful. Some keenly knowledgeable. Others clinging to their beads and perhaps challenged by that minute bit of information.

    It did not matter. The Church was subject to her Head and Founder, and to the Holy Spirit Who, operating with Jesus, brings the Church to all truth. Her sons and daughters are immensely important, being the reason for the Church, but are not in charge and are unable to undo what our Lord is doing no matter how hard we occasionally seem to try and do so.

    Since I am working on about 40 years now, that understanding has deepened. The storms occur and the barque of Peter is still afloat when the storms pass. External enemies. Internal enemies. They come and they go and the Roman Catholic Church abides and grows and continues down the track laid for it by our Lord, rescuing the guilty from their guilt and feeding those on the journey to a place where things are right.

    I don’t miss what I once had. I have no pining for it. And when I fail, I go to confession. In response to a question, Peter said, “Where, Lord, shall we go?” and he stayed. I find myself standing next to Peter and I don’t want to go anywhere else.

  9. David Anders,

    How should someone react to corruption in the Church? From reading other material on this website, it seems that when someone commits themselves to the Roman Catholic Church, they are subjecting their whole person to the Teaching Magesterium as their God-appointed Shepherds in the faith. So how can an individual even “know”, in any degree above the level of opinion, that corruption is actually taking place? Much less begin to know how to properly react to it.

    Gentlemen such as Michael Liccione, Ray Stamper, and Bryan Cross, unless I have misunderstood them, have taught that when one comes into the Catholic Interpretive Paradigm (not to say every faithful Catholic does this, or must do this), they are giving an assent of faith that is supernatural in character, and then far exceeds the limits of human reason. Thus, “Whatever the Church says, Christ says” and “Whatever the Church does, Christ does”. Under this principle, one sees that Christ is working above and behind the whole ecclesial program. Any seceding or doubt that occurs in the heart is quickly repented of, because of the higher order of knowledge that is working behind the visible structure of the Catholic Church, and one must trust and commit themselves to this higher order. Therefore, how can one even know beyond his/her own opinion that there is corruption in the Church?

    I think of a scene that is in the old movie Martin Luther (from the early 1900’s) where there is a local friend of Fr. Luther who is walking around drunk who is walking around with a paper with the official stamp of the Pope’s approval that one had been given a plenary indulgence. The drunk says “I payed good money for it”. I think of when some days I ago I was looking old photos and documents of my family’s history and I found an official authoritative document concerning how the faithful are to pray for a member of our family who had died. From what my family tells me, this individual lived and died outside of communion with the Catholic Church, and died in the middle of the day when he was fighting Chickens in Puerto Rico. Aside from our being able to know the depths of the human heart, one questions how the Church had the authority to simply write it off as if he was in purgatory, and that all should pray for his soul.

    When these things occur, how does the faithful Catholic, holding to the Catholic Interpretive Paradigm (as above described), know when to identify something as “corruption” or whether he is in sin for even thinking that he had the right to have such a suspicion. And if it is the case that an individual must not identify anything as corruption, for in so doing one raises his himself up against the Church, then how does one “react” to what appears like “corruption” by anything other than submission and obedience?

    Another example would be Exsurge Domine (1520), which is a famous bull promulgated by Pope Leo X against Dr. Martin Luther. This Bull comes from the Pope himself, he is acting as Pastor of all the faithful (“In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor”….and “We forbid each and everyone of the faithful”), invoking his Apostolic Authority (“Rise Peter, and fulfill this pastoral office divinely entrusted to you as mentioned above. In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor..”), to an issue related to faith and morals (“We can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith…”) , in which the following is stated:

    “….we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these errors… 33) That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit”

    Dr. Luther is well-known to have decried the Church -approved practice of burning heretics at the stake. And here, it would appear very clearly, in an ex-Cathedra statement, the Church says that Dr. Luther’s position is “against the Holy Spirit”. The whole document is said to have been dealing with the faith and morals of the Church.

    In Canon 3 of the 4th Lateran Council of 1215, we read:

    “We excommunicate and anathemative every heresy that raises against the holy, orthodox, and Catholic faith which we have above explained, condemning all heretics under whatever names they may be known…Secular authorities, whatever office they may hold, shall be admonished and induced and if necessary compelled by ecclesiastical censure, that as they wish to be esteemed and numbered among the Faithful (faith/morals/church membership), so for the defense of the faith they ought publicly to take an oath that they will strive in good faith and to the best of their ability to exterminate in the territories subject to their jurisdiction all heretics pointed out by the Church….If [a ruler] refuses to comply let the matter be made known to the supreme pontiff, they he may declare the ruler’s vassals absolved from their allegiance and may offer the territory to be ruled by lay Catholics, who on the extermination of the heretics may possess it without hindrance, and preserve it in the purity of faith…>Catholics who have girded themselves with the cross for the extermination of the heretics, shall enjoy the indulgences and privileges granted to those who go in defense of the Holy Land”.

    Now, how would anyone who was Catholic at the time be able to respond to such an Ecumenical decree as corruption (for no doubt today Catholics believe this is corruptible) with anything but obedience and submission. I mean, he is told, for the sake of his soul, that is is bound to obey such decrees, and that if he does so, he does so to his eternal ruin.

    Now, before we begin by distinguishing what is “infallible” and what is “not infallible”, I would like to keep this consonant with Dr. David Anders original post. Despite the fact that today some Catholics will argue that these teachings of the past are dead and buried in the ground of fallible teaching, it still does not answer how one was to react to these teachings, which, for the modern Roman Catholic is totally corruptible. To say that one would not be held accountable because the Church was speaking with her authority, and the laymen is bound to subject himself to the Church, is to put the eternal law of God under the living Voice of the Church, however shape or form that it comes. The authority of the Church did not come with any flexibility, and if you disobeyed the Church, you were to be considered, by all as well as yourself, not in communion with Christ.

    So this all goes back to the question of how is one to react to corruption in the Church. For this does not bear upon just the window of history wherein the European Reformation took place, but also for today and forevermore. For just as the Church has revised things, calling one thing binding in one place and not binding in another, in the past, presumably, it can do so in the future. And for all we know, we are living in a time wherein there is teaching and practice, that will be later seen as unacceptable by the very same Church.

    This is not to deny that one must be able to see the hand of God in history. The limits of our understanding in what God does is clearly testified by the Scriptures “My ways are above your ways, my thoughts are above your thoughts”. And we also know that Salvation and Redemptive history was not always “ideal” (Abraham’s fornication w/ Hagar, the sins of the 12 sons, Joseph’s betrayal into Egyptian slavery, etc,etc,etc), but that God is moving his plan through it anyhow.

    But when there is an exercise of Ecclesiastical authority which binds the conscience, and the conditions and qualifications for such authority to be binding or not binding are different throughout the ages, how is one to really “react” properly when the Church acts in ways, that, in heinsight, we now know to be, in fact, false??

  10. “How do I resolve the Reformation? Is it faith alone that justifies, or is it faith and good works? Very simple. No tricks. On this issue I believe Luther was simply right; and this issue is absolutely crucial. As a Catholic I feel guilt for the tragedy of Christian disunity because the church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was failing to preach the gospel. “

    Peter Kreeft, (Roman Catholic convert, former Protestant) “Toward Re-Uniting the Church”

    I noticed Kreeft has changed that article a lot. If I recall correctly, he took a lot of heat for that comment and it seems he re-wrote / edited that article.

  11. Here is Kreeft’s original article:
    http://www.christlife.org/evangelization/articles/C_reuniting.html

    Here is a totally different version that has replaced the one I quoted from:

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/toward-reuniting-the-church.html

  12. Hi Ken,

    Joseph Lortz, in his famous book The Reformation in Germany argues something similar. He felt that Luther had recovered the Catholic doctrine on justification that had been obscured in the 14th and 15th centuries. But to make sense of these claims, it is necessary not to equivocate on the meaning of “justification.” I think this is something that McGrath does well in his iustitia dei, wherein he distinguishes between the meaning and the mode of justification. It is with reference to the former that McGrath calls Luther’s doctrine “a complete theological novum.”

    Peace,

    David

  13. Re: #9.

    Eric Y – thank you for your thoughtful post. I’ve (less eloquently) asked a similar question of the CTC folks, to no satisfactory avail.

    One can hope that you would get a thoughtful reply to your post of 23 days ago…….

  14. Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn exchanged letters over this issue and after reading the material Hahn sent to him Kreeft accepted Hahn’s correction. In this audio link, Hahn reads the humble letter Kreeft sent back to him in which he retracted his hearty endorsement of Luther.

  15. Erick, (re: #9)

    How should someone react to corruption in the Church?

    With prayer and fasting, and other positive acts to rectify it, depending on the nature of the the corruption.

    So how can an individual even “know”, in any degree above the level of opinion, that corruption is actually taking place?

    By observing when the behavior of the person in question contradicts the natural law and/or the Church’s authentic Magisterial teaching. Your question presupposes a false dilemma: that we have to choose between Catholic faith and the capacity to discern corruption. But there is no incompatibility between the two, and hence it is a false dilemma.

    Therefore, how can one even know beyond his/her own opinion that there is corruption in the Church?

    Faith in Christ and in His Church is fully compatible with perceiving corruption and sins by individuals in the Church.

    When these things occur, how does the faithful Catholic, holding to the Catholic Interpretive Paradigm (as above described), know when to identify something as “corruption” or whether he is in sin for even thinking that he had the right to have such a suspicion.

    See above.

    And if it is the case that an individual must not identify anything as corruption, for in so doing one raises his himself up against the Church, then how does one “react” to what appears like “corruption” by anything other than submission and obedience?

    Again, see above. Your question (which is the same question repeated) continues to presuppose the false dilemma I described just above.

    And here, it would appear very clearly, in an ex-Cathedra statement, the Church says that Dr. Luther’s position is “against the Holy Spirit”.

    This has already been addressed here. See comment #16 of the Religious Liberty thread.

    for no doubt today Catholics believe this is corruptible

    It is not safe to presume that this Canon is corrupt.

    I would like to keep this consonant with Dr. David Anders original post.

    You began your comment by addressing it to David by name, and here you move into the third person. This isn’t a soapbox, in which you get to preach to onlookers, and speak of fellow participants in the third person. Regarding that, see our comment guidelines.

    You asked:

    But when there is an exercise of Ecclesiastical authority which binds the conscience, and the conditions and qualifications for such authority to be binding or not binding are different throughout the ages, how is one to really “react” properly when the Church acts in ways, that, in heinsight, we now know to be, in fact, false??

    The question needs to be qualified, because by its very form it conflates and glosses important distinctions. First, whenever there is an exercise of ecclesiastical authority that binds the conscience, we must obey it. We can never rightly disobey what binds our conscience. Second, we must distinguish between authentic Magisterial teaching on faith and morals on the one hand, and on the other hand prudential judgments, disciplines, or practices. The former do not change by contradiction; they develop only in continuity. The latter, however, can come and go, and even contradict previous decisions, because they are temporally conditioned, and the Church’s leaders are fallible with respect to them. (On prudential judgments, see “The “Catholics are Divided Too”” post.) In the case of the latter [i.e. prudential judgments], we are to be guided by an informed conscience (informed by the natural law and the authentic Magisterial teaching on faith and morals). It is incumbent upon us all to seek to inform our conscience, so that it may be a more reliable guide. As the Catechism teaches:

    Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (CCC 1783)

    I discussed this in more detail in comment #239 of the Apostolic Succession thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. David,
    Thanks for your response!

    Why do you think someone at the “catholic education” website completely changed the content of the Peter Kreeft article but kept the same title? They are two completely different excerpts from his book. It is the same url that had previously contained the content that Kreeft said Luther was right and no tricks. Protestants were quoting Kreeft, as I do, and then someone at that web-site changed the content but kept the url the same and title of the article the same, “Toward Re-Uniting the Church”. Both excerpts are from different sections of Kreeft’s book. I wonder if any one who writes here at CtC and/or comments and visits this blog has the book and the section that says Luther was right is still being published as Kreeft’s belief.

    James Swan has an excellent analysis of the famous McGrath statement of “theological novum”
    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com.tr/2006/08/alister-mcgrath-on-augustine-and.html

    McGrath also agrees that the Greek word for justify is “to declare righteous” and that Augustine read the Latin meaning back into the Hebrew (Genesis 15:6) and Greek usage (Romans, Galatians).

    McGrath also says that it was Augustine who made a theological novum in his time (about 400-430 AD) by reading the Latin meaning back into the Hebrew and Greek. justification was inchoate and undefined in the writings of the early church before that time. Therefore, Luther and Melancthon were actually recovering the Biblical meaning, because justification had been clouded and eclipsed by the Latin language and the emphasis on merit, Tertullian starting a lot of that material that later developed into the whole system of venial sins vs. mortal sins, penance rather than the original meaning of repentance, major sins after baptism issue, church disciple and apostacy issues, prayers for the dead, visiting graves, the Eucharist, grace as a substance that adheres to the soul, etc. then, much later – treasury of merit and purgatory, etc.

    Roman Catholics should read James Swan’s article and see that the way they use the famous “theological novum” statement is not the whole story.

  17. David,
    James Swan has also analysed aspects of your article here:
    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com.tr/2014/10/called-to-communion-on-roots-of.html

    I wrote an article on Kreeft’s statement back in 2009, and quoted from Kreeft’s statement where he says Luther was right and “no tricks”, etc. Then later, sometime ( I don’t know), someone chose another section from Kreeft’s book and kept the url and same title. I am wondering if they just wanted to hide Kreeft’s original statement (from easy access on the internet), or has Kreeft changed his mind on Luther?

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com.tr/2009/08/gods-soverignty-history-reformation.html

    Peter Kreeft rightly lays the blame for the Protestant Reformation on the Roman Catholic Church itself, for failing to preach the gospel:

    “This is the root issue because the essence of the gospel is at stake here. How do I get right with God? This was the issue of the first century church at Galatia, a church Protestants see as making the same essential mistake as the Catholics — preaching the gospel of good works. Protestants dare not compromise on this issue or they would be turning to what Paul calls “another gospel”. Thus his harsh words to the Galatians, the only church for which he has not one word of praise:

    “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. “ [from Galatians 1:6-9]

    How do I resolve the Reformation? Is it faith alone that justifies, or is it faith and good works? Very simple. No tricks. On this issue I believe Luther was simply right; and this issue is absolutely crucial. As a Catholic I feel guilt for the tragedy of Christian disunity because the church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was failing to preach the gospel. “ Peter Kreeft, “Toward Re-Uniting the Church” (my emphasis) http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0028.html

  18. Ken, (re: #10, 11)

    This thread isn’t about Peter Kreeft, but I’ve addressed that objection in 2012 in comment #117 of the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” thread; especially see the link therein.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. James Swan at Beggars All has written a response to my blog post. Thank you, James, for taking the time to read the post and for offering your reflections.

    I am very pleased that you have found some things you agree with. You and I agree that many Catholics are ignorant of Reformation history. And, you and I agree that corruption has been a feature of Catholic life since the inception of the Church (and, presumably, will be until Christ returns).

    I also appreciate aspects of your summary of my argument. You are correct that I believe “Reformism” to have been part of Catholic ideology centuries before Luther and that that ideology was highly significant for the development of the Protestant theology.

    This is one reason I cited Ozment. His book highlights the development of a reformist agenda from 1250 to 1550. 15th century thinkers like D’Ailly, Gerson, Nicholas of Cusa, and Nicolas de Clamange anticipated many of Calvin’s concerns. Calvin was familiar with Gerson, in particular, and his influence on Calvin’s thought is important to Oberman’s interpretation of the Calvinist Reformation. I’m sure I need not tell you about the influence of the Catholic Erasmus, Jacques Lefevre D’Etaples, the Devotio Moderna, or more populist reformers like Savanarolla or Vincent Ferrier.

    You are also correct that I believe the Reformers emerged in a popular cultural milieu already rife with anticlericalism and reformist agitation. In appealing to this sentiment, they certainly engaged in Propaganda.

    Consider Guillaume Farel’s Summaire of 1529 as an example. (The following quotes and paraphrases are taken from a facsimile of the 1529 edition. My translations.)

    Farel writes about the demonic origins of the Papal system. He warns, for example, against those human traditions which “seem to be of Jesus” (ayant ombre destre de Jesus), but are really from Antichrist. Farel lives in the age in which Antichrist “has changed and destroyed everything, such that there is nothing pure left on earth.” The aim of the Papal antichrist, moreover, is simply to “oppress and destroy.” The Pope gives pardons, indulgences, and remission only to those with money, while Jesus gives the kingdom to the poor. Superstitious pilgrims “search for God here and there, [but] have no care for their domestics.” The Catholics are not content with the simple name of Christian, but divisively become “confreres of Saint James, of Saint Sebastian, of Our Lady of Comfort …of the first or second order of Saint Francis.”

    I don’t know what you would call this kind of language if not propaganda. It is clearly inflammatory and intended to persuade by appealing to emotion.

    So, I am glad that we agree on some things and that you have accurately reported at least part of my thesis. However, I must protest that you ascribe to me a few arguments I do not make.

    You say, for instance,

    The Reformers were not reformers but were simply disseminating propaganda against the true church.

    I never made this claim. I certainly did not say the Reformers were “simply disseminating propaganda.” They were propagandists, to be sure, but with real grievances that had been the subject of discussion among Catholics for decades if not centuries.

    You also say this:

    Whatever their motivations were, the Reformers weren’t motivated to reform due to church corruption.

    Again, I never made this claim. In fact, I said the opposite. The Reformers were clearly motivated by the perception of corruption.

    I am also puzzled by this statement:

    It isn’t really an argument based on factual data. It’s an argument based on a presupposition that only those approved by Rome (at some point) are the actual reformers of the church.

    I have listed a number of historical facts concerning the presence of Reformism in the Roman hierarchy and Catholic culture prior to the Reformation. Precisely what point have I made that you think lacks factual support?

    Finally, you correctly point out Ozment’s discussion of corruption, and his differences from Lefebvre. My reference to Ozment was meant simply to support the thesis that “Reformism” is not something invented by the Protestant Reformers.

    In closing, you are correct that I do not believe “corruption” is a sufficient explanation for the Reformation. Corruption is a feature of the Church (and society) in any and every age. Corruption was not “the cause.”
    But I never deny that corruption was an occasion for the Reformation, or that the Reformation was framed by its supporters as a response to corruption. In fact, my little blog post argues just this.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts on the short blog post. May we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    Peace,

    David

  20. Dave,

    Do I understand you to say that what motivated Luther and Calvin did not motivate the Reformation? That it was more about politics or economics?
    Much has been written about Luther’s mental state. What say you? Was he mentally ill as I believe (?) David Rix asserts?

  21. Bryan,

    Can you clarify. In #15 above, you said “whenever there is an exercise of ecclesiastical authority that binds the conscience, we must obey it.”

    What is the antecedent to “it” in that sentence? That is, we must obey the “ecclesiastical authority”, or we must obey our “conscience”?

  22. David,

    What works besides Ozment’s (unless you feel Ozment is pretty comprehensive) do you recommend for discussions of “reformers before the Reformers” – or is it mainly just looking at Ozment’s bibliography?

  23. cletus,

    There are many, many works apart from Ozment. Ozment is simply very accessible. Heiko Oberman was Ozment’s teacher, and far more eminent than Ozment. try his “Dawn of the Reformation,” or the Harvest of Medieval Theology. David Steinmetz is another Oberman student who wrote “Reformers in the Wings.” John Bossy is good on medieval religion. Philip Benedict is wonderful on the social history of Calvinism. Caroline Walker Bynum is always interesting. If you read French, get ahold of Denis Crouzet and Jean Delumeau. Natalie Davis is outstanding on the social history of the 16th century. Eamon Duffy is outstanding on pre-reformation England. Carlos Eire is interesting and has good bibliography, but I don’t buy his thesis. Lucien Febvre is essential on the history of mentalities. Alexandre Ganoczy is essential on the development of the young Calvin.

    The most accessible apart from Ozment is probably Steinmetz. Oberman’s Luther biography is a great place to start, too.

    -David

  24. Bryan, ( # 18)
    Thanks for that. I know that David’s article is not about Peter Kreeft. I didn’t say it was. I was pointing out that the content of what he wrote is basically the same charge as what David is trying to say is not true. Kreeft said the RC was failing to preach the gospel in the 15 and 16 th centuries. ie, doctrinal corruption. So what Kreeft said contradicted what David claims.

    All I was showing was how Kreeft agreed that at least part of the cause was the failure to preach the Biblical gospel, so that is pertinent to the topic of this article. It doesn’t matter who said it. but apparently Kreeft changed his mind later and agreed with Scott Hahn’s rebuke. I think it was actually the earlier Kreeft who was right and Hahn was wrong.

    The first paragraph of David’s article shows the content and issue is the same as what Kreeft was addressing.

    If you ask most people why there was a Protestant Reformation they answer, “Because of corruption in the Church.” That’s the common view. They might blame the indulgence controversy or Papal involvement in politics. If they’re Protestants, they probably claim the Church was doctrinally corrupt. Even Catholics give this answer. (I know. I just polled a roomful of Catholics on the question.) For centuries, in fact, this was the standard line for Catholic historians: if only the Church had done a better job, there would have been no Protestant Reformation.

  25. David Anders wrote: (# 12)

    It is with reference to the former that McGrath calls Luther’s doctrine “a complete theological novum.”

    James Swan pointed out that the word “complete” is not in the sentence by McGrath. He and others also have pointed out that the “theological novum” was the separating of the doctrine of justification from sanctification, not the root meaning of the word or concept.

    And here comes one of the greatest historical ironies: people grew intolerant of corruption in the Church at least in part because the Church told them to.

    It would seem to me that the church was teaching that, because it was doing what the Bible was saying to do – grow spiritually, repent of sin and corruption, walk in the light (1 John 1:5-2:2), confess your sins(1 John 1:9), and strive for the unity of the Spirit around the truth of God’s word. (John 17:17, Ephesians 4:1-16) “. . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith”. The call for Reform comes from obeying the Bible, in other words, Sola Scriptura and Toto Scriptura. Leaders have to repent and walk in the light and follow correct doctrine, and admit their mistakes, both moral errors and doctrinal errors. The letter to the Ephesians does not distinquish between leaders and lay people – all are called to not be tossed and fro by false doctrines.

    ” . . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

    25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. ”

    Ephesians 4:13-25

    James Swan wrote (at Beggar’s All) in response to David Ander’s article:

    What was the cause of the Reformation? Certainly Dr. Anders is correct that there were “many, many factors.” Arguing though that every social aspect of human existence was a factor save the ill-working institution that was involved with virtually every social aspect of human existence appears to me to be nothing more than a scholarly parlor trick.
    see:
    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com.tr/2014/10/called-to-communion-on-roots-of.html

    I think this analysis is key. You cannot exclude the doctrine corruption, because of the Medieval Synthesis, which included everything. The Roman Catholic Church had total control of every aspect of life of Europe (called the “Medieval Synthesis”) from the 600s AD to the Reformation. The Reformation was the spark that broke up the Medieval Synthesis. The Reformers main concern was correct doctrine, but also moral corruption was a secondary concern; but we also agree with you, David, that other factors were involved and played their parts. (politics, economics, social issues, etc.)

  26. Bryan, ( # 18)
    Do you know if Peter Kreeft changed his book, Fundamentals of the Faith, ? The url I gave above has the same title, “Toward Re-Uniting the Church”, but just quotes from a different section of his book to replace the original article. I don’t see a new edition at Amazon or other book sales sites. They all say “1988”. The video of him admitting that Scott Hahn is right, is there, ok; but did he update and change his book?

  27. Hi Ken,

    For the purposes of this blog post, it is really unimportant whether or not Kreeft believes the Church to have been in error, or, for that matter, whether or not the Church was in error. I really haven’t addressed that question at all. Moreover, my article explicitly argues that the Church experienced corruption in the 16th century, and that the Protestant Reformation took the form of a Protest against doctrinal corruption in the Church. Again, whether or not that protest was justifiable, whether or not Augustine misinterpreted St. Paul, whether or not the Church fell away from its pristine purity – none of that is really at issue in what I wrote.

    The thesis of the article is that corruption alone, whether doctrinal, moral, institutional, or what-have-you, is not a sufficient explanation of the Reformation. But, rather, a change in religious mentality (along with other social, political, and technological developments) was required before claims of corruption could have the force necessary to move an entire culture the way they did.

    So, arguing that “the Church really was corrupt” just misses the point of the article. I’ve never said otherwise.

    Thanks for your interest,

    David

  28. Perhaps Bryan is busy. Could another CTC’er clarify something for me? Many thanks.

    In #15 above, Bryan said “whenever there is an exercise of ecclesiastical authority that binds the conscience, we must obey it.”

    What is the antecedent to “it” in that sentence? That is, we must obey the “ecclesiastical authority”, or we must obey our “conscience”?

  29. Corn-Czar, (re: #28)

    What’s odd about your question is that your question presupposes that in such a case there is a difference between what is required by ecclesiastical authority, and what is required by one’s conscience. But per hypothesis the exercise of ecclesiastical authority binds the conscience, such that to go against the magisterial decree would be contrary to the dictate of one’s conscience.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  30. Re: #29.

    Bryan, my question has to do with how your views on the conscience-binding character of ecclesiastical authority works out in practical reality. May I ask three followup questions to enhance my understanding?

    1. Am I correct in understanding that you think if the church tells someone to light the match to burn a heretic, that the person (if their conscience is fully formed) is duty bound to obey the church and do it? (This is not a hypothetical inquiry — as you know, situations like this were very real in history.)

    2. For someone who chose to not light the match (out of their own personal conscientious objections), how would the church view them, or view their conscience? Would that person be considered anathema for disobeying the church? Or, would the church just consider that person to be in need of additional sanctification and forming of their conscience?

    3. If the person is not duty-bound to light the match, and thus disobey the Church, why not?

    Many thanks, ahead of time, for your help in clarifying these things for me.

  31. Corn-Czar, (re: #30)

    1. Am I correct in understanding that you think if the church tells someone to light the match to burn a heretic, that the person (if their conscience is fully formed) is duty bound to obey the church and do it?

    No, you would not be correct. But the question is also well-poisoning (e.g. “Am I correct in understanding that you’ve stopped beating your wife?”), because I’ve said nothing that would even suggest such a thing. In fact, I explicitly distinguished (in #15) between authentic Magisterial teaching on faith and morals on the one hand, and on the other hand prudential judgments, disciplines, or practices. Individually directed imperatives would fall under prudential judgments, which, as such do not bind the conscience.

    2. For someone who chose to not light the match (out of their own personal conscientious objections), how would the church view them, or view their conscience? Would that person be considered anathema for disobeying the church? Or, would the church just consider that person to be in need of additional sanctification and forming of their conscience?

    See below.

    3. If the person is not duty-bound to light the match, and thus disobey the Church, why not?

    The Church can bind the conscience absolutely regarding an act or belief only in teaching a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. No imperative directed to an individual is conscience-binding as such. For this reason your language of “duty-bound” presupposes a duty that does not exist.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  32. […] Roots of the Reformation: What it Means for Today – David Anders – 10/01/2014 Objections to the Hail Mary (Leo XIII, the Rosary, and Christian Unity) – Beth Turner – 10/15/2014 […]

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