UNKNOWN AUTHOR, HISTORICAL ARTEFACT.—THE REFORMATION AND THE COUNTER-REFORMATION

 

This text below is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ , seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).

I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in  compiling this book I am studying:

THE REFORMATION AND THE COUNTER-REFORMATION

 

The Renaissance in Art and Literature is reflected in the history of the Church in the movement known as the Reformation. Inevitably the new spirit, at once critical and creative, produced not only artists and scholars, but men of religion who attacked the obvious faults of the Church and men who claimed inspiration and Divine guidance outside the Church. The Reformation began with an attempt to purify the Church from within, and ended by destroying the unity of Christendom.

For convenience the Protestant Reformation may be said to begin in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, publicly burned the Papal Bull containing his excommunication in 1520, and defied the Emperor Charles V in 1521 at the Diet of Worms. But Martin Luther was only one of a long line of reformers who were shocked by the abuses of the Church, and who dared to put their individual conscience and judgement before Papal authority, or who sought in the New Testament and in the life of Christ and His Apostles authority and example older and nobler than the Church of their own time.

 

The Early Reformers.

 

In the fourteenth century the most orthodox churchmen had much to criticise. The Papacy was in exile in France, and rival Popes issued bulls in the name of St. Peter.

In England, Wycliffe had national opinion behind him when he maintained that papal dues should not be paid until the schism in the Papacy was healed, and while the Father of the Holy Catholic Church lived in Avignon. Wycliffe translated the Bible into English that it might be read and understood by the unlearned. In spite of heretical doctrines he alone of the early reformers died a natural death, to the shame of the English, as it was said.

Early in the fifteenth century the Conciliar Movement was inaugurated in an attempt to reform the Church from within. Councils of the Church were called together (the first was held at Constance), to end schism, condemn heresy and reform the Church.

The heresies of Wycliffe had gone unpunished, but John Huss, a religious leader in Bohemia, was summoned before the Council of Constance in 1415 to answer for his opinions. Wycliffe heresies had been received sympathetically at the Bohemian University of Prague, and John Huss was the leader of a movement at once national and religious. The use of the Czech language in Church services, and a Czech Bible for the people was passionately desired. John Huss went fearlessly to the Council, and as fearlessly maintained his opinions there. The safe-conduct granted him by the Emperor Sigismund was disregarded, and in 1415 he was condemned to be burnt alive, and his ashes were scattered lest his remains should be recovered and venerated.

How little the Councils of the fifteenth century did to reform the Church may be measured by the denunciations of Savonarola (d. 1498), at the end of the century. He was no heretic, but was shocked by the worldliness of the Church, and of the Pope himself, no less than by the sins of the people of Florence. He failed to make any lasting impression on his contemporaries, and his attack on the corruption of the Church was punished by death.

When, early in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther defied the Pope and Emperor, many were reminded of the fate of John Huss and begged Luther not to appear at the Diet of Worms. After he had been condemned and outlawed by the Diet, the Elector of Saxony, taking no risks, hid him in his own castle, where Luther worked at the translation of the Bible into German. Many of the German princes declared for Luther against the Emperor, while others supported Catholicism and the old order against heretics and rebels. Thus the unity of Germany and the unity of the Church had been destroyed.

 

The Reformation in England.

 

In England Henry VIII (1509-1547), professed himself profoundly shocked at the heresy of Germany, and wrote a pamphlet attacking Luther and calling him a “scabbed sheep.” This earned him papal approval and the title of “Defender of the Faith.” Yet, some ten years later, Henry himself cast off papal authority, and launched the English Reformation. There was nothing of the spirit of Wycliffe, John Huss, or Savonarola, behind this quarrel with Rome, Henry wanted a male heir to the English throne and had therefore demanded to divorce his Queen and marry Anne Boleyn. Because the Pope would not sanction this, Henry VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the English Church, and sanctioned his own marriage to Anne Boleyn before the birth of her child. To his great chagrin the child was a daughter.

Henry’s son and heir, the child of Jane Seymour, was not born for several years after Anne Boleyn had been executed. He was still a child when his father died, and his advisers were Protestants. It was in this reign that the Protestant Reformation in England was really accomplished; the first English prayer book was issued, and an English Bible chained in the churches. There were, however, peasant revolts in the west country, where popular feeling was outraged by the unfamiliar English service.

Edward died in 1553, when still a boy. His eldest sister Mary, the daughter of the divorced Queen Catherine, half Spanish and wholly Catholic, succeeded him, and she determined to undo all that had been done.

 

The Counter-Reformation and the Jesuits.

 

It was less than forty years since Luther had launched the Protestant Reformation, but in that time the Catholic Church had at last been reformed. Ignatius Loyola (d. 1556), had fromed the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), soldiers of Christ who were ready to live and die for the Catholic Church. The Council of Trent had met in 1545 and “defined the faith and limited the faithful,” abuses had been remedied, sincerity and zeal were no longer lacking. This movement within the Church is known as the Counter-Reformation. The history of the sixteenth century is the history of the struggle between the two opposing forces of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, between the old order and the new.

Thus Queen Mary had power behind her in her attempt to restore in England the authority of the Pope and the services and faith of Rome. She married the most Catholic King Philip II of Spain, the arch-champion of the Counter-Reformation, and immediately aroused against herself the growing national feeling of England. A people who had disliked the recent changes disliked not less the presence of Spanish Jesuit priests in England and a Spanish King Consort.

 

Philip II of Spain (1558-1598).

 

Philip of Spain’s whole life was spent in combating the combined forces of Protestantism and nationalism. His loveless political marriage with Mary Tudor, and his appearance in English politics, is but an incident in his laborious struggle for Catholicism. He was by inheritance King of all the Spains in the Old World and in the New, Lord of the Netherlands, and Archduke of Austria.

Heresy in Spain he did combat successfully with all the grim power of the Inquisition. Heretics were burnt alive, maimed by “the thumbscrew and the rack and villainies of Spain.” Even recantation could not save a Spanish heretic. He too was burnt alive, but he could hope that the eternal flames might at last be quenched and his soul saved.

But victory for Philip and the leaders of the Counter-Reformation would mean no less than the restoration of the whole of Europe to the Catholic Faith, and national, no less than religious feeling made this impossible.

Before his accession, half of Germany was already lost to Catholicism, for Germany had won from his father, the Emperor Charles V, the religious Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which allowed each Prince or city-state to decide their religion for themselves.

The Netherlands resisted the worst that the Inquisition could do. and from 1566 were in a state of revolt. From 1572, with the advent of the dauntless “sea-beggars” into the struggle, Spain was fighting a losing battle, The Dutchmen were ready to flood their land with the sea rather than surrender. In 1579 William the Silent brought about the union of the seven Northern Dutch Provinces (modern Holland), and continued to fight for independence, when the ten Southern Provinces (modern Belgium) capitulated to Spain and the Catholic Religion.

 

Failure of the Counter-Reformation.

 

Long before this, in 1559, the Counter-Reformation had failed in England. Mary Tudor died childless and left Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth heir to the throne. With the accession of Elizabeth, England definitely ranged herself against Spain and so against Catholicism. For long years Philip II laboured to prepare a fleet or Armada which should destroy the power of England, depose Elizabeth and make safe his empire in the New World. In 1558 the long-expected Armada met the English fleet in the Channel and utterly failed in its purpose. Only a shattered remnant of the great ships found their way back to Spain.

In Ireland the reformed religion had been established, but the ceaseless work of the Jesuits after 1570 reconverted the people to a passionate adherence to Rome which no persecution could shake.

Scotland on the other hand was as passionately Calvinist. John Knox (d. 1572) spent some years in Geneva and returned to evangelize his own country. Only in the wildest parts of the Highlands did his influence fail, and there Catholicism may be found to-day.

 

The Huguenots in France.

 

No country in western Europe escaped the upheavals of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In France the Reformation resulted in civil wars between a minority of Protestants (Huguenots) and the Catholics. The Huguenots were disciples of Calvin (d. 1564), the Frenchman who made Geneva a Protestant city.

The Government of France was powerless to suppress and unwilling to accept the reformed faith. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew (1572) was an attempt to get rid of all Huguenots at a blow, and Coligny, Admiral of France, perhaps the finest of them all, was murdered. The civil wars dragged on until Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, succeeded to the French Throne. The French defended Paris against him, and it was clear that France as a whole was determined to be Catholic. King Henry IV, in order to enter his capital, surrendered his religion. “Paris is worth a mass” was his explanation and defence.

In 1598 the Edict of Nantes gave toleration to the Huguenots, and the reign of Henry IV (1594-1610) brought peace and unity to France.

 

The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648.

 

At the end of the sixteenth century there was a pause in the fierce struggle between Catholic and Protestant. In 1598 Philip II dies, France was at peace, England was united and triumphant under the rule of Elizabeth. But religious wars were still to come, and in 1618 the Thirty Years’ War broke out in Germany.

There, religious peace had endured since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, but recognition had then been given to Calvinists, and since the Catholic revival, German Protestants had grown increasingly to fear reaction and the missionary influence of the Jesuits.

The inevitable conflagration began in Bohemia. The Bohemians, after nineteen years of civil war following the burning of Huss in 1415, had submitted to Catholicism. only to declare for Lutheranism a century later. In 1618 the Bohemians elected a Protestant German Prince for their king, to secure Protestant religion for themselves under the terms of the Peace of Augsburg. “Only a winter king,” said the Jesuits of the new monarch of Bohemia, and indeed the combined forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, of Maximilian of Bavaria and of the King of Spain proved too strong for him. Bohemia was overrun by the troops of the Catholic League, and the king was an exile. Not only were the Protestants of Bohemia in danger but also the cause of Protestantism in Europe. Salvation was to come from the North, for Denmark, Norway and Sweden had become Lutheran.

The first of the Scandinavian countries to interfere in the Thirty Years’ War was Denmark. But the Danish armies, disappointed of promised English subsidies, were defeated and Denmark was invaded. King Christian IV of Denmark (1588-1648) made peace in 1629, and in the same year Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632) declared war. He dreamed of forming a mighty Protestant Empire in the North to balance the Catholic League of the South. In 1631 the Catholic forces were shattered by Gustavus, the “Lion of the north,” and again in 1632 the Swedes were victorious at Lutzen, having penetrated into the heart of Germany. But at Lutzen, Gustavus Adolphus was killed. His death ended the dream of a Protestant Empire, but it is scarcely too much to say that his heroic intervention at the darkest hour saved Protestantism in Europe.

When peace at last was made in 1648, the religious Peace of Augsburg was ratified, and extended to include Calvinists; and Sweden was compensated for her share in the War.

 

The Religious Settlement.

 

After the Peace of Westphalia (1648) the religious wars that had convulsed Europe for two centuries were virtually over. Europe had lost her unity, and independent states and nations had vindicated their right to a separate existence. Speaking generally, it may be said that northern Europe became Protestant and southern Europe (including Bohemia) remained Catholic. Poland and Ireland were both outposts of Catholicism in the north, whose reconversion was due to zeal and courage of Jesuit missionaries. Switzerland, home of Zwingli and Calvin, was a Protestant stronghold in the south.

Inevitably in all countries there were many individuals whose religious convictions were not those of their rulers, and these suffered persecution or disturbed the peace for many years to come. For the idea of religious toleration belongs to a later age. The principle cuius regio eius religio was the nearest approach to religious freedom.

In France the Protestant Huguenots suffered. Louis XIV (1693-1715), persuaded by Madame de Maintenon, influenced in her turn by the Jesuits, revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

In England, Catholics hoped to uproot the Protestant succession, and suffered under severe penal laws in the reign of Elizabeth and throughout the seventeenth century.

The last attack of the Counter-Reformation in England is bound up with the Stuart cause, and belongs as much to the constitutional history of England as to the history of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. After the execution of Charles I, his children grew up in France as Catholics. James II lost his throne in the attempt to restore Catholicism, and the Catholic and Stuart cause dwindled in England to spasmodic rebellion.

The religious map of Europe had indeed been made by the middle of the seventeenth century, and the religions of countries could no longer be changed. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries trade and not religion put the nations at enmity, and political rather than religious creeds produced revolution.

Office clerk.

Leave a Reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.