The Protestant Heresy
By Hilaire Belloc
What Was the Reformation?
The movement generally called "The Reformation" deserves a place apart in the story of the great heresies; and that for the following reasons:
1. It was not a particular movement but a general one, i.e., it did not propound a particular heresy which could be debated and exploded, condemned by the authority of the Church, as had hitherto been every other heresy or heretical movement. Nor did it, after the various heretical propositions had been condemned, set up (as had Mohammedanism or the Albigensian movement) a separate religion over against the old orthodoxy. Rather did it create a certain separate which we still call "Protestantism." It produced indeed a crop of heresies, but not one heresy_and its characteristic was that all its heresies attained and prolonged a common savour: that which we call "Protestantism" today.
2. Though the immediate fruits of the Reformation decayed, as had those of many other heresies in the past, yet the disruption it had produced remained and the main principle_reaction against a united spiritual authority_so continued in vigour as both to break up our European civilization in the West and to launch at last a general doubt, spreading more and more widely. None of the older heresies did that, for they were each definite. Each had proposed to supplant or to rival the existing Catholic Church; but the Reformation movement proposed rather to dissolve the Catholic Church_and we know what measure success has been attained by that effort!
The most important thing about the Reformation is to understand it. Not only to follow the story of it stage by stage_a process always necessary to the understanding of any historical matter_but to grasp its essential nature.
On this last it is easy for modern people to go wrong, and especially modern people of the English-speaking world. The nations we English- speaking people know are, with the exception of Ireland, predominantly Protestant; and yet (with the exception of Great Britain and South Africa) they harbour large Catholic minorities.
In that English-speaking world (to which this present writing is addressed) there is full consciousness of what the Protestant spirit has been and what it has become in its present modification. Every Catholic who lives in that English-speaking world knows what is meant by the Protestant temper as he knows the taste of some familiar food or drink or the aspect of some familiar vegetation. In a less degree the large Protestant majorities_in Great Britain it is an overwhelming Protestant majority_have some idea of what the Catholic Church is. They know much less about us than we know about them. That is natural, because we proceed from older origins, because we are universal while they are regional and because we hold a definite intellectual philosophy whereas they possess rather an emotional and indefinite, though characteristic, spirit.
Still, though they know less about us than we know about them, they are aware of a distinction and they feel a sharp division between themselves and ourselves.
Now, both Catholics and Protestants today tend to commit a capital historical error. They tend to regard Catholicism on the one side, Protestantism on the other, as two mainly opposed religious and moral systems, producing, , opposed and even sharply contrasted moral characters in their individual members. They take this duality for granted even in the beginning. Historians who write in English on either side of the Atlantic talk of so-and-so (even in the early part of the sixteenth century) as a "Protestant" and so-and- so-other as a "Catholic." It is true that contemporaries also used these terms, but they used the words in a very different sense and with very different feelings. For a whole lifetime after the movement called the "Reformation" had started (say from 1520 to 1600), men remained in an attitude of mind which considered the whole religious quarrel in Christendom as an one. They thought of it as a debate in which Christendom was engaged and on which some kind of ultimate decision would be taken for all. This decision would apply to Christendom as a whole and produce a general religious peace.
That state of mind lasted, I say, a whole long lifetime_but its general atmosphere lasted much longer. Europe was not resigned to accept religious disunion for yet another lifetime. The reluctant resolve to make the best of the disaster does not become evident_as we shall see_till the Peace of Westphalia, 130 years after Luther's first challenge, and the separation into Catholic and Protestant groups was not accomplished for another fifty years: say, 1690- 1700.
It is of first importance to appreciate this historical truth. Only a few of the most bitter or ardent Reformers set out to destroy Catholicism as a separate existing thing of which they were conscious and which they hated. Still less did most of the Reformers set out to erect some other united counter-religion.
They set out (as they themselves put it and as it had been put for a century and a half before the great upheaval) "to reform." They professed to purify the Church and restore it to its original virtues of directness and simplicity. They professed in their various ways (and the various groups of them differed in almost everything except their increasing reaction against unity) to get rid of excrescences, superstitions and historical falsehoods_of which, heaven knows, there was a multitude for them to attack.
On the other side, during this period of the Reformation, the defence of orthodoxy was occupied, not so much in destroying a specific thing (such as the spirit of Protestantism is today), as in restoring unity. For at least sixty years, even on to eighty years_more than the full active lifetime of even a long-lived man_the two forces at work, Reform and Conservatism, were of this nature: interlocked, each affecting the other and each hoping to become universal at last.
Of course, as time went on, the two parties tended to become two hostile armies, two separate camps, and at last full separation was accomplished. What had been a united Christendom of the West broke into two fragments: the one to be henceforward the Protestant Culture, the other the Catholic Culture. Each henceforward was to know itself and its own spirit as a thing separate from and hostile to the other. Each also grew to associate the new spirit with its own region, or nationality, of City-State: England, Scotland, Hamburg, Zurich and what not.
After the first phase (which covered, naturally enough, about a lifetime) came a second phase covering another lifetime. If one is to reckon right up to the expulsion of the Catholic Stuart kings in England, it covered rather more than a lifetime_close on one hundred years.
In this second phase the two worlds, Protestant and Catholic, are consciously separated and consciously antagonistic one to the other. It is a period filled with a great deal of actual physical fighting: "the Religious Wars" in France and in Ireland, above all in the widespread German-speaking regions of Central Europe. A good deal before this physical struggle was over the two adversaries had "crystallized" into permanent form. Catholic Europe had come to accept as apparently inevitable the loss of what are now the Protestant states and cities. Protestant Europe had lost all hope of permanently affecting with its spirit that part of Europe which had been saved for the Faith. The new state of affairs was fixed by the main treaties that ended the re- ligious wars in Germany (half way between 1600 and 1700). But the struggle continued sporadically for a good forty years more, and parts of the frontiers between the two regions were still fluctuating even at the end of that extra period. Things did not finally settle down into two permanent worlds till 1688 in England, or, even, 1715, if we consider all Europe.
To get the thing clear in our minds, it is well to have fixed dates. We may take as the origin of the open struggle the violent upheaval connected with the name of Martin Luther in 1517. By 1600 the movement as a general European movement had fairly well differentiated itself into a Catholic, as against Protestant, world, and the fight had become one as to whether the first or the second should predominate, not as to whether the one philosophy or the other should prevail throughout our civilization; although, as I have said, many still hoped that the old Catholic tradition would die out, or that Christendom as a whole would return to it.
The second phase begins, say, as late as 1606 in England, or a few years earlier on the Continent and ends at no precise date, but generally speaking, during the last twenty years of the seventeenth century. It ends in France earlier than in England. It ends among the German States_from exhaustion more than for any other reason_even earlier than it ends in France, but one may say that the idea of a direct religious struggle was fading into the idea of a political struggle by 1670 or 1680 or so. The active religious wars filled the first part of this phase, ending in Ireland with the middle of the seventeenth century, and in Germany a few years earlier, but the thing is still thought of as being a religious affair as late as 1688 or even a few years later in those parts where conflict was still maintained.
By the middle of the seventeenth century, in Cromwell's time, 1649-58, Great Britain was definitely Protestant, and would remain so_though possessed of a large Catholic minority. The same was true of Holland. Scandinavia had long been made Protestant for good and all, by her rich men, and so were many Principalities and States of the German Empire, mainly the north.Others (mainly in the south) would clearly be Catholic for the future_in bulk.
Of the Low Countries (what we now call Holland, and Belgium) the north (Holland) with a very large Catholic minority was to be officially Protestant, while the south (Belgium) was to be almost wholly Catholic with hardly any Protestant element at all.
The Swiss Cantons divided, much as the German States did. Some went Catholic, some Protestant. France was to be Catholic, in the main, but with a powerful and wealthy, though not very large, Protestant minority: 10 per cent, at the very most, probably nearer 5 per cent. Spain and Portugal and Italy had settled down to retain for good the traditions of Catholic Culture.
So we are about to follow the story of two successive epochs, gradually changing in character. The first, from a little before 1520 to around 1600, an epoch of universal debate and struggle. The second an epoch of clearly opposed forces, becoming political as much as religious, and more and more sharply defined into hostile camps.
When all this was over, towards the end of the seventeenth century_1700_more than two hundred years ago_there came new developments: the spread of doubt and an anti-Catholic spirit ; while within the Protes- tant culture, where there was less definite doctrine to challenge, there was less internal division but an increasing general feeling that religious differences must be accepted; a feeling which, in a larger and larger number of individuals, grew into the, at first, secret but later avowed attitude of mind that nothing in religion could be certain, and therefore that toleration of all such opinions was reasonable.
Side by side with this development went the political struggle between nations originally of Catholic culture and the regions of the new Protestant culture. During the nineteenth century the preponderance of power gradually fell to the Protestants, led by the two chief anti-Catholic powers, England and Prussia, symbolized sometimes under their capital cities as "London and Berlin." It has been said that "London and Berlin were the twin pillars of Protestant domination during the nineteenth century": and that judgment is sound.
This, then, is the general process we are about to follow. A lifetime of fierce conflict between ideas everywhere; another lifetime of growing regional separation, becoming more and more a political rather than a religious conflict. Then, a century_the eighteenth_of increasing scepticism, beneath which the characteristics of the Catholic and Protestant culture were maintained though hidden. Then another century_the nineteenth_during which the political struggle between the two cultures, Catholic and Protestant, was obvious enough and during which the Protestant culture continually increased its political power at the expense of the Catholic, because the latter was more divided against itself than the former. France, the leading power of Catholic culture, was half of it anti-clerical in Napoleon's day, when England was, as she remains, solidly anti- Catholic.
The origins of that great movement which shook and split for generations the spiritual world, and which we call the "Reformation," the preparation of the materials for that explosion which shattered Christendom in the sixteenth century, cover two full lifetimes, at least, before the first main act of rebellion against religious unity in 1517.
Many have taken as the starting point of the affair the abandonment of Rome by the Papacy and its establishment at Avignon, more than two hundred years before Luther's outbreak.
There is some truth in such an attitude, but it is a very imperfect truth. Everything has a cause, and every cause has another cause behind it, and so on. The abandonment of Rome by the Papacy, soon after 1300, did weaken the structure of the Church but was not in itself fatal. It is better, in seeking the main starting point, to take that awful catastrophe, the plague called today "the Black Death" (1348-50), forty years after the abandonment of Rome. It might even be more satisfactory to take as a starting point the opening of the great schism, nearly thirty years after the Black Death, after which date, for the better part of an active lifetime, the authority of the Catholic world was almost mortally wounded by the struggles of Popes and anti-popes, rival claimants to the awful authority of the Holy See. Anyhow, before the Black Death, 1348-50, and before the opening of the schism, you have to begin with the abandonment of Rome by the Popes.
The Holy See, as the central authority of all Christendom, had long been engaged in a mortal quarrel with the lay power of what was called "The Empire," that is, the Emperors of German origin who had general, but very complicated and varied and often only shadowy, authority, not only in the German-speaking countries, but over northern Italy and a belt of what is now eastern France, as also over the Low Countries and certain groups of the Slavs.
A lifetime before the Popes left Rome this struggle had been coming to a climax under one of the most intelligent and most dangerous men that ever ruled in Christendom, the Emperor Frederick II, whose power was the greater because he had inherited not only the old diversified rule over the German States and the Low Countries and what we call today eastern France, but also eastern and southern Italy. The whole of central Europe, except the States governed immediately by the Pope in the middle of Italy, were more or less under Frederick's shadow, under his claim to power. He challenged the Church. The Papacy won, and the Church was saved; but the Papacy as a political power had become exhausted in the struggle.
As so often happens, a third party benefited by a violent duel between two others. It was the king of France who now became the chief force, and for seventy years, that is, during all the bulk of the fourteenth century (from 1307 to 1377) the Pa- pacy became a French thing, the Popes residing in Avignon (where their huge palace remains to this day, a splendid monument of that time and its meaning) and the men elected to fill the office of Pope being, after the change, mainly French.
This change (or rather interlude, for the change was not permanent) fell just at the moment when a national spirit was beginning to develop in the various regions of Europe, and particularly in France. All the more did the peculiarly French character of the Papacy shock the conscience of the time. The Papacy ought of its nature to be Universal. That it should be National was shocking to the western European of that time.
The tendency of western Christendom to divide into separate compartments and to lose the full unity which it had possessed for so long was increased by the failure of the Crusades_which as long as they were active had been a unifying force, presenting a common ideal to all Christian chivalry. This tendency was increased also by what is called the Hundred Years War; not that it lasted one hundred years continuously, but that from the first battle to the last you may reckon nearly that space of time.
The Hundred Years War was a struggle between the French-speaking dynasty, ruling in England and supported by the French-speaking upper class_for all the upper class in England still spoke French even in the late fourteenth century_and the equally French-speaking monarchy and upper classes in France itself. The English, French-speaking royal family was called , and the French royal family we call .
The French Capetian monarchy had descended regularly from father to son for generations until there came a disputed succession after 1300, soon after the Pope went to Avignon in France. The young Edward Plantagenet, the third of that name, the French-speaking King of England, claimed the French crown through his mother, the sister of the last King, who had no son. The Capetian King Philip, cousin of the dead King, claimed as a male, his lawyers inventing a plea that women could neither inherit nor transmit the French monarchy. Edward won two remarkable campaigns, those of Crecy and Poitiers, and nearly succeeded in establishing his claim to be King of France. Then came a long lull in which the Plantagenet forces were driven out of France, save in the south-west. Later came a rally of the Plantagenets, after the usurping Lancastrian branch of that family had made themselves Kings of England, and consolidated their unjust power. They kindled the war in France again (under Henry V of England) and came much nearer to success than their forerunners, because France was in a state of civil war. Indeed, the great soldier of this period, Henry V of England, marrying the daughter of the King of France and saying that her brother was illegitimate, actually succeeded in getting his little son crowned as French King. But the dispute was not over.
We all know how that ended. It ended in the campaigns of Joan of Arc and her successors and the collapse of the Plantagenet claim for good and all. But the struggle had, of course, enhanced national feeling, and every strengthening of the now growing national feeling in Christendom made for the weakening of the old religion.
In the midst of this fell something much more important even than such a struggle, and something which, as I have said above, had most to do with the deplorable splitting up of Christendom into separate independent nations. This woeful incident was the terrible plague, now called "the Black Death." The fearful disaster broke out in 1347 and swept the whole of Europe from east to west. The marvel is that our civilization did not collapse, for certainly one-third of the adult population died, and probably more.
As is always the case in great catastrophes, there was a "time-lag" before the full effects were felt. It was in the 1370's and the 1380's that those effects began to be permanent and pretty much universal.
In the first place, as always happens when men are severely tried, the less fortunate men became violently hostile towards the more fortunate. There were risings and revolutionary movements. Prices were disturbed, there was a snapping of continuity in a host of institutions. The names of the old institutions were kept, but the spirit changed. For instance, the great monasteries of Europe kept their old riches but fell to half their numbers.
The important part of these effects of the Black Death was the appearance of England gradually, after about a lifetime, as a country united by a common tie. The upper classes ceased to talk French, and the various local popular dialects coalesced into a language that was becoming the literary language of a new nation. It is the period of and of Chaucer.
The Black Death had not only shaken the physical and political structure of European society. It had begun to affect the Faith itself. Horror had bred too much despair.
Another direct result of the Black Death was the "Great Schism" in the Papacy. The warring Kings of France and England and the rival civil factions in France itself and the lesser authorities of the smaller states took sides continually for the one claimant to the Papacy or the other, so that the whole idea of a central spiritual authority was undermined.
The growth of vernacular literatures, that is of literatures no longer generally expressed in Latin, but in the local speech (northern or southern French, or English, or High or Low German) was another disruptive factor. If you had said to a man one hundred years before 1347 "Why should your prayers be in Latin? Why should not our churches use our own language?" your question would have been ridiculed; it would have seemed to have no meaning. When it was asked of a man in 1447, towards the declining end of the Middle Ages, with the new vernacular languages beginning to flourish, such a question was full of popular appeal.
In the same way opponents of central authority could point to the Papacy as a mere local thing, an Italian, southern thing. The Pope was becoming as much an Italian Prince as he was head of the Church. Such a social chaos was admirably adapted for specific heresies; that is, for particular movements questioning particular doctrines. One very favourite opinion, founded on the social disturbances of the time, was the idea that the right to property and office went with Grace; that authority, political or economic, could not rightly be exercised save by men in a State of Grace_a most convenient excuse for every kind of rebellion!
Grafted on to this quarrel were violent quar- rels between laity and the clergy. The endowments of the Church were very large, and corruption, both in monastic establishments and among the seculars, was increasing. Endowment was beginning to be treated more and more as a revenue to be disposed of for rewards or any political programme. Even one of the best of the Popes of that time, a man fighting the corrupt habit of uniting many endowments in one hand, himself held seven bishoprics as a matter of course.
National and racial feeling took advantage of the confusion in movements like that of the Hussites in Bohemia. Their pretext against the clergy was a demand for the restoration of the cup at Communion to the laity. They were really inspired by the hatred of the Slav against the German. Huss is a hero in Bohemia to this day. During the Great Papal Schism efforts had been made to restore a central authority on a firm basis by the calling of great councils. They called on the Popes to resign. They confirmed new appointments in the Papacy. But in the long run, by shaking the authority of the Holy See, they weakened the idea of authority in general.
After such confusions and such complicated discontents, , came a vivid intellectual awakening; a recovery of the classics and especially a recovery of the knowledge of Greek. It filled the later fifteenth century-_(1450-1500). At the same time the knowledge of the physical world was spreading. The world (as we put it now) was "expanding." Europeans had explored the Atlantic and the African shores, found their way to the Indies round the Cape of Good Hope, and before the end of that century, come upon a whole new world, later to be called America.
Through all this ferment went the continual demand: "Reform of the Church!" "Reform of head and members!" Let the Papacy be recalled to its full spiritual duties and let the corruption of the official Church be purged. There was a rising, stormy cry for simplicity and reality, a rising stormy indignation against the stagnant defence of old privileges, a universal straining against rusted shackles no longer fitted to European society. The cry for change by amendment, for a purification of the clerical body and restoration of spiritual ideals, may be compared to the cry today (centered not on religion but on economics) which demands a spoliation of concentrated wealth for the advantage of the masses.
The spirit abroad, A.D. 1500-1510, was one in which any incident might produce a sudden upheaval just as the incidents of military defeat, the strain of so many years' warfare, produced the sudden upheaval of Bolshevism in the Russia of our day.
The incident that provoked an explosion was a minor and insignificant one_but as a date of origin it is tremendous. I mean, of course, the protest of Luther against the abuse (and, for that matter, against the use) of indulgences.
That date, the Eve of All Saints, 1517, is not only a definite date to mark the origin of the Reformation, but it is the true initial moment. Thenceforward the tidal wave grew overwhelming. Till that moment the conservative forces, however corrupt, had felt sure of themselves. Very soon after that movement their certitude was gone. The flood had begun.
I must here reiterate for purposes of clarity, the very first thing for anyone to realize who wants to understand the religious revolution which ended in what we call today "Protestantism." That revolution, which is generally called "The Reformation," fell into two fairly distinct halves, each corresponding roughly to the length of a human life. Of these the first phase was not one of conflict between two religions but a conflict within one religion; while the second phase was one in which a distinct new religious culture was arising, opposed to and separate from the Catholic culture.
The first phase, I repeat (roughly the first lifetime of the affair), was not a conflict between "Catholics and Protestants" as we know them now; it was a conflict within the boundaries of one Western European body. Men on the extreme left wing, from Calvin to the Prince Palatine, still thought in terms of "Christendom." James I at his accession, while denouncing the Pope as a three-headed monster, still violently affirmed his right to be of the Church Catholic.
Till we have appreciated that, we cannot understand either the confusion or the intense passions of the time. What began as a sort of spiritual family quarrel and continued as a spiritual civil war, was soon accompanied by an actual civil war in arms. But it was not a conflict between a Protestant world and a Catholic world. That came later, and when it came, it produced the state of affairs with which we are all familiar, the division of the white world into two cultures, Catholic and anti-Catholic: the breakup of Christendom by the loss of European unity.
Now the most difficult thing in the world in connection with history, and the rarest of achievement, is the seeing of events as contemporaries saw them, instead of seeing them through the distorting medium of our later knowledge. know what was going to happen; contemporaries did not. The very words used to designate the attitude taken at the beginning of the struggle change their meanings before the struggle has come to an end. So it is with the Catholic and Protestant; so it is with the word "Reformation" itself.
The great religious upheaval which so swiftly turned into a religious revolution was envisaged by the contemporaries of its origins as an effort to put right the corruptions, errors and spiritual crimes present in the spiritual body of Christendom. At the beginning of the movement no one worth consideration would have contested for a moment the necessity for reform. All were agreed that things had got into a terrible state and threatened a worse future unless something were done. The crying necessity for putting things right, the clamour for it, had been rising during more than a century and was now, in the second decade of the sixteenth century, come to a head. The situation might be compared to the economic situation today. No one worth consideration today is content with industrial capitalism, which has bred such enormous evils. Those evils increase and threaten to become intolerable. Everyone is agreed that there must be reform and change.
So far so good:_You might put it this way: there was no one born between the years 1450-1500 who did not, by the critical date 1517, when the explosion took place, see that something had to be done, and in proportion to their integrity and knowledge were men eager that something be done_just as there is no one alive today, surviving from the generation born between 1870 and 1910, who does not know that something drastic must be done in the economic sphere if we are to save civilization.
A temper of this kind is the preliminary condition of all major reforms, but immediately such reforms proceed to action three characters appear which are the concomitants of all revo- lutions, and the right management of which alone can prevent catastrophe. The first character is this:
Change of every kind and every degree is proposed simultaneously, from reforms which are manifestly just and necessary_being reversions to the right order of things_to innovations which are criminal and mad.
The second character is that the thing to be reformed necessarily resists. It has accumulated a vast accretion of custom, vested interests, official organization, etc., each of which, even without direct volition, puts a drag on reform.
Thirdly (and this is much the most important character) there appear among the revolutionaries an increasing number . Thus today we have in the revolt against industrial capitalism men proposing all at once every kind of remedy_guilds, partial State Socialism, the safeguarding of small property (which is the opposite of Socialism), the repudia- tion of interest, the debasing of currency, the maintenance of the unemployed, complete Communism, national reform, international reform, even anarchy. All these remedies and a hundred others are being proposed pell-mell, conflicting one with another and producing a chaos of ideas.
In the face of that chaos all the organs of industrial capitalism continue to function, most of them jealously struggling to preserve their lives. The banking system, great interest-bearing loans, proletarian life, the abuse of machinery and the mechanization of society_all these evils go on in spite of the clamour, and more and more take up the attitude of stubborn resistance. They put forward consciously or half consciously the plea, "If you upset us, there will be a crash. Things may be bad, but it looks as though you were going to make them worse. Order is the first essential of all," etc., etc. . . .
Meanwhile the third element is appearing quite manifestly: the modern world is getting fuller and fuller of men who so hate industrial capitalism that this hatred is the motive of all they do and think. They would rather destroy society than wait for reform, and they propose methods of reform which are worse than the evils to be remedied_they care far more for the killing of their enemy than they do for the life of the world.
All this appeared in what I here call "," which lasted in Europe roughly from 1517 to the end of the century, a lifetime of a little over eighty years. In the beginning all good men with sufficient instruction and many bad men with equally sufficient instruction, a host of ignorant men, and not a few madmen, concentrated upon the evils which had grown up in the religious system of Christendom. Such were the first Reformers.
No one can deny that the evils provoking reform in the Church were deep rooted and widespread. They threatened the very life of Christendom itself. All who thought at all about what was going on around them realized how perilous things were and how great was the need of reform. Those evils may be classified as follows:_
Firstly (and least important) there was a mass of bad history and bad historical habits due to forgetfulness of the past, to lack of knowledge and mere routine. For instance, there was a mass of legend, most of it beautiful, but some of it puerile and half of it false, tacked on to true tradition. There were documents upon which men depended as authoritative which proved to be other than what they pretended to be, for example, the famous false Decretals, and particularly that one called the Donation of Constantine, which, it had been thought, gave its title to the temporal power of the Papacy. There was a mass of false relics, demonstrably false, as for instance (among a thou- sand others) the false relics of St. Mary Magdalen, and innumerable cases in which two or more competing objects pretended to be the same relic. The list could be extended indefinitely, and the increase of scholarship, the renewed discovery of the past, particularly the study of the original Greek documents, notably the Greek New Testament, made these evils seem intolerable.
The next group of evils was more serious, for it affected the spiritual life of the Church in its essence. It was a sort of "crystallization" (as I have called it elsewhere) or, if the term be preferred, an "ossification" of the clerical body in its habits, and even in doctrinal teaching. Certain customs, harmless in themselves, and perhaps on the whole rather good than otherwise, had come to seem more important, especially as forms of local attachment to local shrines and ceremonies, than the living body of the Catholic truth. It was necessary to examine these things and to correct them in all cases, in some to get rid of them altogether.
Thirdly, and much the most important of all, there was worldliness, widespread among the officers of the Church, in the exact theological sense of "worldliness": the preference of temporal interests to eternal.
A prime example of this was the vested interest in Church endowment, which had come to be bought and sold, inherited, cadged for, much as stocks and shares are today. We have seen how, even in the height of the movement, one of the greatest of the reforming Popes held the revenues of seven Bishoprics, thus deprived of their resident pastors. The revenues of a Bishopric could be given as a salary by a King to one who had served him, who never went near his See and lived perhaps hundreds of miles away. It had come to be normal for a man like Wolsey, for example(and he was only one among many others), to hold two of the first-rate Sees of Christendom in his own hand at the same time: York and Winchester. It had been customary for men like Campeggio, learned, virtuous and an example in their lives to all, to draw the revenues of a Bishopric in England while they themselves were Italians living in Italy and rarely approaching their Sees. The Papal Courts, though their evils have been much exaggerated, were recurrent examples, of which the worst was that of Alexander VI's family, a scandal of the first magnitude to all Christendom.
Every kind of man would violently attack such monstrous abuses with the same zeal as men today, both good and bad, attack the wanton luxury of the rich contrasted with the horrible depths of modern proletarian poverty. It was from all this that the turmoil sprang, and as it increased in violence threatened to destroy the Christian Church itself.
Under the impulse of this universal demand for reform, with passions at work both constructive and destructive, it might well have been that the unity of Christendom should have been preserved. There would have been a great deal of wrangling, perhaps some fighting, but the instinct for unity was so strong, the "patriotism" of Christendom was still so living a force everywhere that, like as not, we should have ended by the restoration of Christendom and a new and better era for our civilization as the result of purging worldliness in the hierarchy and the manifold corruptions against which the public con- science was seething.
There was no plan in the air at the beginning of the loud protest during the chaotic revolutionary Lutheran outcry in the Germanies, seconded by the humanist outcry everywhere. There was no concerted attack on the Catholic Faith. Even those who were most instinctively its enemies
(Luther himself was not that) and men like Zwingli (who personally hated the central doctrines of the Faith and who led the beginning of the looting of the endowments of religion)could not organize a campaign. There was no constructive doctrine abroad in opposition to the ancient body of doctrine by which our fathers had lived, a man of genius appeared with a book for his in- strument, and a violent personal power of reasoning and preaching to achieve his end. This man was a Frenchman, Jean Cauvin (or Calvin), the son of an ecclesiastical official, steward and lawyer to the See of Noyon. After the excommunication of his father for embezzlement and the confiscation by his Bishop of much of the income which he, Jean Calvin, himself enjoyed, he, John, set to work_and a mighty work it was.
It would be unjust to say that the misfortunes of his family and the bitter private money quarrel between himself and the local hierarchy was the main driving force of Calvin's attack. He was already on the revolutionary side in religion; he would perhaps have been in any case a chief figure among those who were for the destruction of the old religion. But whatever his motive, he was certainly the founder of a new religion. For John Calvin it was who set up a counter-Church.
He proved, if ever any man did, the power of logic_the triumph of reason, even when abused, and the victory of intelligence over mere instinct and feeling. He framed a complete new theology, strict and consistent, wherein there was no room for priesthood or sacraments; he launched an attack not anti-clerical, not of a negative kind, but positive, just as Mohammed had done nine hundred years before. He was a true heresiarch, and though his effect in the actual imposition of dogma has not had a much longer life than that of Arianism yet the spiritual mood he created has lasted on into our day. All that is lively and effective in the Protestant temper still derives from John Calvin.
Though the iron Calvinist affirmations (the core of which was an admission of evil into the Divine nature by the permission of but One Will in the universe) have rusted away, yet his vision of a Moloch God remains; and the coincident Calvinist devotion to material success, the Calvinist antagonism to poverty and humility, survive in full strength. Usury would not be eating up the modern world but for Calvin nor, but for Calvin, would men debase themselves to accept inevitable doom; nor, but for Calvin, would Communism be with us as it is today, nor, but for Calvin, would Scientific Monism dominate as it (till recently) did the modern world, killing the doctrine of miracle and paralysing Free Will.
This mighty French genius launched his Word nearly twenty years after the religious revolution had begun: round that Word the battle of Church and counter-Church was fought out; and the destruction of Christian unity, which we call the Reformation, was essentially for more than a century to become the product of a vivid effort, enthusiastic as early Islam had been, to replace the ancient Christian thing by Calvin's new creed. It acted as all revolutions do, by the forming of "cells." Groups arose throughout the West, small highly disciplined societies of men, determined to spread "the Gospel," "the Religion"_it had many names. The intensity of the movement grew steadily, especially in France, the country of its founder.
The Reformation, unlike all the other great heresies, led to no conclusion, or at least has led to none which we can as yet register, although the first upheaval is now four hundred years behind us. The Arian business slowly died away; but the Protestant business, though its doctrine has disappeared, has borne permanent fruit. It has divided the white civilization into two opposing cultures, Catholic and anti-Catholic.
But at the outset, before this result was reached, the challenge of the reformers led to fierce civil wars. For the better part of a lifetime it looked as though one side or the other (the traditional, orthodox rooted Catholic culture of Europe, or the new revolutionary Protestant thing) would certainly prevail. As a fact, neither prevailed. Europe, after that first violent physical conflict, sank back exhausted, registering victory to neither side and formed into those two halves which have ever since divided the Occident. Great Britain, most of north Germany, certain patches of Germans to the south among the Swiss cantons, and even on the Hungarian plain, remained fixed against Catholicism; so did the northern Netherlands, in their ruling part at least. So did Scandinavia. The main part of the Rhine and the Danube valleys, that is, the southern Germans, most of the Hungarians, the Poles, the Italians, the Spaniards, the Irish, and in the main, the French, were found after the shock still clinging to the ancestral religion which had made our great civilization.
To understand the nature of the confusion and general battle which shook Europe is difficult indeed on account of the manifold factors entering into the conflict.
First of all let us fix the chief dates. The active Reformation, the eruption which followed two lifetimes of premonitory shocks and rumblings broke out in 1517. But fighting between the two opponents did not break out on any considerable scale for forty years. It began in France in 1559. The French religious wars lasted for forty years: i.e., till just on the end of the century. Less than twenty years later the Germans, who had hith- erto maintained a precarious balance between the two sides, began religious wars which lasted for thirty years. With the middle of the seventeenth century, i.e., 1648-49, the religious wars in Europe ended in a stalemate.
By 1517 the nations, especially France and England, were already half conscious of their personalities. They expressed their new patriotism by king-worship. They followed their princes as national leaders even in religion. Meanwhile the popular languages began to separate nations still more as the common Latin of the Church grew less familiar. The whole modern state was developing and the modern economic structure, and all the while geographical discovery and physical and mathematical science were expanding prodigiously.
In the midst of so many and such great forces all clashing, it is, I say, difficult indeed to follow the battle as a whole, but I think we can grasp it in its very largest lines if we remember certain main points.
The first is this: that the Protestant movement, which had begun as something merely negative, an indignant revolt against the corruption and worldliness of the official Church, was endowed with a new strength by the creation of Calvinism, twenty years after the upheaval had begun. Though the Lutheran forms of Protestantism covered so great an area, yet the driving power_the centre of vitality_in Protestantism was, after Calvin's book had appeared in 1536, Calvin. It is the spirit of Calvin which actively combats Catholicism wherever the struggle is fierce. It is the spirit of Calvin that inhabited dissident sects and that lent violence to the increasing English minority who were in reaction against the Faith.