Category Archives: Protestantism

2 different OTs?

“One evening I had the sad duty of attending my neighbor’s funeral.

My neighbors were not religious, but apparently a local “mega-church” offered to conduct the eulogy for them. The assistant pastor from the church stood up and after a few short remarks about the deceased began to give a lengthy sermon. The first ten minutes was dedicated to how he knew that my neighbor believed in Jesus and was in heaven, so there was no need to pray for her or offer Masses or anything like that.

The next thirty minutes or so (it’s difficult to tell since it seemed like eternity) was dedicated to explaining why it doesn’t matter which church one attends—Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran—they are all the same! None of them are more correct than any other. “We all believe in the same fundamental biblical truths about Jesus,” he said, “such as the need to put our faith in Jesus…” and so on.

Speaking at a funeral must not be an easy thing to do, so I walked up to the assistant pastor to thank him. After dispensing with niceties and explaining that I am a Catholic, I said to him: “Pastor, I just want to share with you a biblical verse that has always given me comfort in times like these, the book of Wisdom, chapter 3 says, ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.’”

The pastor gave me an odd look. “Book of Wisdom?” he said. “That’s not in the Bible!” To which I responded, “Well, I guess there are important differences between us.”

The assistant pastor seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Catholic and Orthodox bibles contain seven books in their Old Testament that Protestant bibles omit.

Catholics call these books the deuterocanon. Protestants, however, had rejected these books as inspired texts and call the Apocrypha.

Despite the assistant pastor’s best efforts to be non-denominational and dispel the importance of religious dogmas, he and his church actually held a very dogmatic view on which books belonged to the Bible. Going by the generic name of “Christian” didn’t release him from dogmatically committing himself to a particular doctrine on which books the Bible comprises. This position is undeniably important. Which collection or canon one adopts, whether Catholic or Protestant, will determine whether the first ten minutes of his sermon was “biblical” or a flight of fancy.

The question of which books belong to the Bible (especially the Old Testament, since Catholics and Protestant share the same New Testament books) is more fundamental of a question than anything in anyone’s theology, because theology is to be based upon divine revelation. What makes up God’s revelation, therefore, has a direct impact on one’s theology.

This is especially true for Protestants who believe in sola scriptura, which says that the Bible is the only source of Christian doctrine. It is, for nearly all Protestants, the norm that sets all norms and the standard that sets all standards: the highest court of appeal for judging all doctrine. But as we have painfully learned over the last few decades, those who are allowed to sit on the Supreme Court will affect how the court rules. This assistant pastor’s “Supreme Court” (i.e., the Bible) informed him that we should not pray for the dead, but Catholic and Orthodox bibles affirm that we should.

Each position is “biblical” given its respective Bible, but which Bible has the correct books? Which books are inspired by the Holy Spirit and which ones are mere human apocrypha? This question needs to be settled first.

How did Protestants and Catholics end up with two different Old Testaments?

Protestants claim that the Catholic Church added the seven books of the “Apocrypha” to the canon of Scripture in order to refute Protestantism. This is generally said to have occurred at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 8, 1546).

Catholics make the opposite claim; they claim that these same books were always considered inspired Scripture, but they were rejected by Protestantism because their teaching contradicts certain areas of Protestant theology.

Which is correct? Did the Catholic Church add books to the Old Testament or did Protestantism remove these books from the canon of Scripture?”

Love,
Matthew

Myth: the Catholic Church forbid the reading of Scripture

[Ed. “This is a time when literacy rates were around 1 percent for the population at large,” says Becker…”, Becker, Sascha, professor of economics at the University of Warwick and deputy director of the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, 2013, Oct 31, -https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-10-31/did-martin-luthers-reformation-500-years-ago-leave-its-mark-todays-eurozone]

Myth: Luther and other Reformers were the first to translate Scripture into vernacular languages, which the Church had previously forbidden.

“A main tenet of the false narrative about the origins of Protestantism is that the Catholic Church prevented people from reading the Bible. Enter John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, and others to translate Scripture into vernacular languages so that the people could be free of Roman tyranny.

From its beginnings, the Church recognized the crucial role of the written portion of divine revelation in fulfilling its mission of evangelization. Once the Church finalized the canon of Scripture in the fourth century, efforts began to make it more accessible to the laity.

Perhaps the most famous translation of Scripture is known as the Vulgate. The name comes from the fact that the translation, by St. Jerome (342-420), was from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, the “vulgar” (meaning everyday) language of the time.

The Church was not against vernacular translations of the Bible (indeed it actively fostered such translations), but was only against bad vernacular translations, which could easily lead to heresy and even violence.

The Church also dealt with the issue of “private interpretation” of Scripture during the fourth century, when a pernicious new heresy that denied the divinity of Christ arose in North Africa and quickly attracted millions of adherents. Arianism would plague the Church for centuries, proving extremely difficult to eradicate. One reason it spread so rapidly and endured so long was that, with the Roman Empire at peace, people had the time to debate theological matters.

Many used Scripture to justify heretical positions. Jerome lamented this when he wrote, “Builders, carpenters, workers in metal and wood, websters and fullers, makers of anything, cannot become an expert without a teacher; physicians are trained by physicians. The art of the Scripture is the only art which is claimed by all.”

Martin Luther is most often credited with freeing Scripture from its suppression by Rome by making it accessible to the people. An Augustinian monk, Luther earned a doctorate in theology with an emphasis on Scripture in 1512. He was sent to teach at the University of Wittenberg, and on October 31, 1517, he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. [Ed. Luther did this as it was a common means of inviting & engaging in scholarly debate. Luther, at the time had no intention of sparking the Reformation, but rather, a scholarly debate. The situation got out of hand and was handled poorly by Rome, taking the easier route of demanding of Luther fulfillment of his vow of obedience as an Augustinian monk.]. His document’s attack on papal authority led to a summons to Rome (which he ignored) [Ed. No one has ever accused Luther of being stupid, too many examples ending badly for that] and his eventual condemnation by Pope Leo X in the 1520 bull Exsurge Domine. Heresy was an ecclesiastical and civil crime at the time, so in 1521 Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1558) invited Luther to the Diet of Worms to give him an opportunity to repudiate his condemned works. Luther refused to go, prompting Charles to issue the Edict of Worms in which Luther was “regarded as a convicted heretic.”

Heresy was a capital crime in the temporal order, so Luther went into hiding in the Wartburg castle for almost a year. It was in his self-imposed exile that Luther began work on a new German translation of Scripture, which was published in its entirety in 1534. Luther was scornful of the Vulgate; For instance, he sneeringly dismissed St. Jerome’s translation of the angel Gabriel’s name for Mary as gratia plena (“full of grace”). “What German would understand that if translated literally?” Luther wrote. “He knows the meaning of a purse full of gold or a keg full of beer, but what is he to make of a girl full of grace? I would prefer to say simply, Liebe Maria (Mary, full of love).” Concerning translation of the Old Testament, Luther hoped to “make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew.” Contrary to popular belief, Luther’s German translation was not the first in that language, as there were thirty-six previous translations.

The Real Story: The Church has always supported the translation of Scripture into the vernacular, because it is charged by Christ to spread the Gospel throughout the world. It has opposed only faulty vernacular translations by heretics who used them to spread their errors.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Myth: John Calvin & Martin Luther were holy & pious men

[Ed. Certainly the selling of indulgences, and more importantly, the crass, scandalous, profit driven way it was done was a grievous offense, and needed to be reformed. In addition, the Catholic Church needed to unify and systematize the catechism, and better educate both clergy and laity.]

The Catholic Church of the Catholic Counter-Reformation era grew more spiritual, more literate and more educated. Orders, including Capuchins, Discalced Carmelites, Discalced Augustinians, Augustinian Recollects, Cistercian Feuillants, Ursulines, Theatines, Barnabites, Congregation of the Oratory, and the Jesuits, especially founded to combat the heresy of Protestantism, blossomed.

The Church self-imposed an ecclesiastical/structural discipline, reconfiguration dealing with corrupt and politically appointed clerics, and other financial abuses. Efforts to end “triumphalism, clericalism, and legalism” (Sounds like Vatican II? It might take a few millennia. Watch out for Catholic fascists, they bite! In SO MANY WAYS!!!) that had typified the Church in the previous centuries.

It is a truism times of crisis (Greek: decision) spawn the greatest concentrations of saints in those periods of history, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation is no exception. Teresa of Avila (1582), Ignatius of Loyola (1556), Charles Borromeo (1584), Peter Canisius (1597), Francis Borgia (1572), Edmund Campion (1581), John Duckett (1644), Ralph Corby (1644), Francis Xavier (1552), Peter Wright (1651), Robert Southwell (1595), Henry Walpole (1595), Nicholas Owen (1606), Claude de la Colombiere (1682). David Lewis, John Almond, Edmund Arrowsmith (1628), Ambrose Barlow, John Boste, Alexander Briant, Margaret Clitherow (1586), Philip Evans, Thomas Garnet, Edmund Gennings (1591), Richard Gwyn (1584), John Houghton, Philip Howard, John Jones, John Kemble, Luke Kirby, Robert Lawrence, Anne Line (1601), Thomas Greene (1642), Peter Faber (1546), John Lloyd, John Mason (1591), Cuthbert Mayne, Henry Morse, John Payne, Polydore Plasden (1591), John Plessington, Charles Mahoney, Richard Reynolds, John Rigby (1600), John Roberts, Alban Roe, Oliver Plunkett (1681), Ralph Sherwin, John Southworth, John Stone, John Wall, Margaret Pole, Margaret Ward, Augustine Webster, George Haydock, Thomas More (1535), John Fisher, William Richardson, Swithun Wells (1591), Eustace White, John Ogilvie, Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, William Carter (1584), Hugh Grant (1585), Marmaduke Bowes (1585), Alexander Crow (1586 or 1587), Nicholas Woodfen (1586), William Pichard (1587), Edmund Duke and Companions (1590), Roger Thorpe (1591), Thomas Watkinson (1591), George Errington (1596), William Gibson (1596), Peter Snow (1598), Ralph Grimstow (1598), Christopher Wharton (1600), Francis Ingleby (1586), John Fingley (1586), Robert Bickerdike (1586), William Thomson (1586), John Sandys (1586), Richard Sargeant (1586), John Lowe (1586), Robert Dibdale (1586), John Adams (1586), Edmund Sykes (1587), Stephen Rowsham (1587), John Hambley (1587), George Douglas (1587), Richard Simpson (1588), Edward Burden (1588), Henry Webley (1588), Sidney Hodges (1591), William Lampley (1588), Nicholas Garlick (1588), Robert Ludlam (1588), Robert Sutton (1588), Richard (Lloyd) Flower (1588), William Spenser (1589), Robert Hardesty (1589), Thomas Belson (1589), Richard Yaxley (1589), George Nichols (1589), Humphrey Pritchard (1589), Nicholas Horner (1590), Alexander Blake (1590), George Beesley (1591), William Pike (1591), Brian Lacey (1591), Mountford Scott (1591), Joseph Lambton (1592), Thomas Pormort (1592), William Davies (1593),Anthony Page (1593), Christopher Robinson (1597), John Bretton (1598), Edward Thwing (1600), Thomas Palaser (1600), John Talbot (1600), Robert Nutter (1600), John Norton (1600), Roger Filcock (1600), Thomas Hunt (1600), Thomas Sprott (1600), Robert Middleton (1601), Thurston Hunt (1601), Robert Grissold (1604), John Sugar (1604), Robert Drury (1607), Matthew Flathers (1608), Roger Cadwallador (1610), Thomas Atkinson (1616),Roger Wrenno (1616), John Thules (1616), William Southerne (1618), Edward Oldcorne (1606), Thomas Bullaker (1642), Henry Heath (1643), Arthur Bell (1643), Edward Bamber (1646), John Woodcock (1646), Ralph Milner (1591), Lawrence Humphrey (1591), Thomas Whittaker (1646), Roger Dickenson (1591), Nicholas Postage (1679), Charles Meeham (1679) …compare Franciscan Reform.]

Myth: The Reformers were holy men who struggled heroically to free the true Christian faith from the superstitions of Rome.

Martin Luther (1480-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) are generally regarded as holy and upright men appalled at the impiety, superstition, and corruption in the Catholic Church, and dedicated to returning the Christian faith to its pristine original form. But a closer look at their lives reveals that, in truth, they were arrogant men bent on refashioning the Christian faith to their own liking.

Luther suffered throughout his life from various physical and spiritual problems. He was desperate for certain knowledge of his own salvation, and came to believe that it is through faith alone that one is saved. He adopted the heresy that Scripture alone is the authoritative source of divine revelation. Luther’s image of God, which may have reflected that of his abusive father, was extremely negative and influenced his theology and his conflicts with authority. To Luther, God was not a loving father, as revealed by Christ, but rather was a tyrannical and wrathful judge who delights in tormenting sinners. As he later wrote, this belief drove him to “the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”

Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Although many of the theses dealt with ecclesiastical abuses, Luther’s contention that the pope had no authority to grant indulgences was outright heresy, and in 1520 Pope Leo X condemned it and forty other erroneous teachings. Luther’s response in the form of three treatises published late that year laid the foundations for his revolution against the Catholic Church. In these treatises he appealed to the German nobility to nationalize the Church in Germany and free it from Roman control. He also attacked the sacraments, denying that they are channels of efficacious grace when faith is absent. In the treatise he addressed specifically to Pope Leo, he denied free will; and he later called for the suppression and eradication of the Mass.

Luther’s revolutionary writings led to outbreaks of violence throughout Germany. By 1525, mobs had destroyed churches, burned sacred art, and profaned the Eucharist. Nobles sympathetic to Luther’s teachings appealed to him for help ending the violence.

In response, Luther wrote a pamphlet titled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he called on the nobility to suppress the rebellion with all necessary violence, which they did with ferocious efficiency, killing 130,000 peasants. That same year Luther married a former nun whom he helped “escape” from the convent. Several years later Luther’s break with Christian teaching on marriage was made complete when he advised Philip, landgrave of Hesse, that he could enter into a bigamous marriage so long as he kept it secret. When word of it leaked out, Luther advised Philip to deny it, writing, “What harm is there in telling a good bold lie for the sake of making things better and for the good of the Christian Church?”

Toward the end of his life Luther wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a treatise in which he put forth an eight-point plan to rid Germany of its Jews. “If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt,” Luther wrote, “we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country. We must drive them out like mad dogs.” In Luther’s last treatise before his death in February 1546, Against the Pontificate at Rome, Founded by the Devil, he called for the torture and murder of the pope and cardinals.

John Calvin was of a different temperament than Luther. Whereas Luther was bombastic, rude, and vulgar, Calvin was studious, quiet, and refined. Despite their differences, though, Calvin was just as much a revolutionary, and it was he who began the “war against joy” in Geneva. Hilaire Belloc pointed out that “it was the French spirit, but the northern French, the less generous, the people that have no vineyards, which produced Jean Calvin.”

By 1545 Calvin had created a theocracy in Geneva which enforced its own version of Christian morality upon the citizenry. Citizens were sometimes required to confess their sins in front of a civil magistrate, and were subject to biannual visitation by a commission of elders and ministers who investigated whether they attended church services regularly and lived moral lives in accord with Calvin’s creed, and classified them as “pious,” “lukewarm,” or “corrupt” in their faith. The death penalty was prescribed for adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, pregnancy out of wedlock, and striking a parent. It was also against the law in Calvinist Geneva to dance, sing (outside of church services), stage or attend theatrical plays, wear jewelry, or play cards or dice.

Calvin also railed against fellow Protestants when their theology did not agree with his. The most famous case involved Michael Servetus (1511-1553), whose 1531 work Seven Books on Errors About the Trinity landed him in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition. He fled Spain for France, where he began writing letters to Calvin asking his opinion on various points of theology. Servetus disputed Calvin’s answers, as well as many of Calvin’s teachings in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. When a marked-up copy of the Institutes arrived from Servetus, Calvin became incensed and vowed, “If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I will never let him depart alive.” When in 1553 Servetus did come to Geneva he was spotted by Calvin, arrested, tried for heresy, convicted, and burned.

The Real Story: Martin Luther and John Calvin were complex men who were anything but the pious reformers of modern myth. They viciously attacked their critics. Luther’s writings spurred an armed rebellion in Germany that had to be forcibly put down by the nobility. Calvin created a theocracy in Geneva that interfered in the private lives of all citizens. Both men rebelled against the Catholic Church and contributed to the fracturing of Christendom, which persists to this day.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Reformation: Myths & Revolution

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There’s a popular version of the Protestant Reformation that goes something like this: By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had become thoroughly corrupted. Its doctrines were tainted by superstitions and false “traditions of men”; its leaders were depraved, forsaking the gospel to indulge their worldly greed and lust; and its practices kept Catholics living in ignorance and fear.

Only the heroism of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the story continues, was able to break the Catholic Church’s grip on power and lead the Christian world out of medieval darkness into the light of true biblical faith.

Chances are you’ve heard this story before. But it’s just a big myth, says historian Steve Weidenkopf.  We recently sat down with Professor Weidenkopf to dig even deeper into this tumultuous time in the history of the Church.

Q. You refer to a period that most people know of as the Protestant Reformation as the Protestant Revolution. Can you explain?

A.  We must recall that the history taught in our country is presented primarily through an English-Protestant perspective. That perspective presents the events of the sixteenth century in the guise of a “reformation.” This false narrative, which is extremely prevalent even among Catholics, paints the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century as an evil, oppressive, power-hungry monolith that was bent on the destruction of religious freedom. Its leaders were motivated by greed and maintained their power through the creation of superstitious practices that played on the ignorance of the masses. The heroic actions of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the false narrative maintains, freed the Christian Faith from popery and made the Scriptures accessible to all Christians. In reality, Luther and Calvin were not interested in the authentic reform of the Church but desired her complete destruction. Authentic Church reform involves the correction of abuses, the restoration of good habits, and the maintenance of the foundational aspects of the Church, such as its hierarchical structure and sacramental constitution. Any movement that seeks to destroy the Church—its organization, its sacraments, its way of life—and replace it with something new and not in conformity with apostolic tradition and history is a revolution, not a reformation. Studying the writings and lives of Luther and Calvin reveals that these men were not reformers but revolutionaries who sought the abolition of the Mass and other sacraments and the destruction of the Church’s apostolic foundations.

Q. Luther seemed to be a polarizing figure. What was happening at this time and place in history that made his teachings so attractive to so many people?

A. There is no doubt the Church was in need of reform in the sixteenth century. Many ecclesiastical abuses needed to be corrected, such as simony (the buying and selling of Church offices), nepotism, absenteeism (bishops not living in their dioceses), pluralism (bishops holding more than one diocese), and immoral clergy. Many within the Church urged the papacy to implement a comprehensive reform, and some popes attempted to do so. As an example, Pope Julius II called the Fifth Lateran Council to address these ecclesiastical abuses, but it completed its work only seven months before Luther’s 95 Theses, which was not enough time to implement its reform decrees throughout the Church. Additionally, the popes of the early sixteenth century, known as the “Renaissance Popes,” were more concerned with being secular princes than universal shepherds. The papacy suffered a significant loss of prestige during the fifteenth century, when the popes lived in Avignon, France, for seventy years. Their return to Rome was then marked by a forty-year schism (known as the Great Western Schism) of anti-popes. These papal problems, along with the ecclesiastical abuses, produced a sense of disunity in Christendom that was ripe for rebellion. Other factors that attracted people to Luther’s revolution included the political constitution of Germany, which was a collection of hundreds of small independent territories nominally controlled by the Holy Roman Emperor. A rising German nationalist movement contributed animosity toward Rome (primarily due to the heavy taxes inflicted upon German dioceses by the papacy). So, political and religious conditions were suitable for a revolution against the Church.

Q.  Do you think that reform in the Church was a resultant by-product of the Protestant Reformation/Revolution, and that some of the abuses that were pointed out resulted in reform in a positive direction?

A. Another term often used to describe the actions of the Church in the middle and late sixteenth century is the “Counter-Reformation.” Again, our history is told primarily through an English-Protestant perspective, and that term clearly illustrates that viewpoint. The very words imply the Protestant movement was an authentic reform that the Church then had to “counter” with her own reform. A more appropriate term, and one favored by many Catholic historians, is the “Catholic Reformation.” The Church did reform herself, primarily through the Council of Trent, the establishment of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and the pontificates of Pope Paul III and Pope St. Pius V. The Church was on the path of reform before Luther and Calvin and would have ended the rampant ecclesiastical abuses without the Protestant Revolution. But I do think it’s fair to say the actions of Luther and Calvin focused the Church’s attention on the need for reform and provided a sense of urgency.

Q. The number of Protestant denominations is now very large and getting larger. Is it fair to say that the Protestant Revolution continues even today? If so, why?

A.  I think that’s a fair statement. The fundamental nature of Protestantism centers religious authority in the individual instead of in the Church (or, more specifically, the magisterium). The insistence on individual interpretation of the Scriptures, which is a foundational tenet of Protestantism, means there will always be competing and contrasting teachings embraced by rival groups.

Q. How soon after the teachings of Luther and Calvin were formulated did other Protestant denominations begin to branch off because of doctrinal differences?

A. Differences among Protestants were present at the very beginning of the movement. Both Luther and Calvin dealt with severe critics of their teachings as well as splinter groups that advocated a radical departure from the Protestant Revolution. Luther debated the Swiss revolutionary Ulrich Zwingli at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529, only twelve years after the publication of his 95 Theses. Zwingli disagreed with Luther on the nature of the Eucharist and other teachings, and both men detested each other. The Anabaptists violently captured the city of Muenster in 1534, where they destroyed the city’s Catholic churches, established a commune, and engaged in polygamy. Based on its interpretation of Scripture, this group rejected the validity of infant baptism in opposition to the teachings of Luther and the Church. John Calvin famously ordered the execution of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, who vehemently disagreed with Calvin’s teachings contained in his book The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Protestantism is a revolutionary movement, and like most such movements in history it spawned violence, destruction, and disunity, which have greatly impacted Church and European history for the past five hundred years.

Q. Besides being one of the fathers of the Reformation, is it fair to say that Luther was also the father of anti-Catholic rhetoric?

A. Actually, anti-Catholic rhetoric is as old as the Church itself. One can find clear examples of it in the early Church in the writings of various pagan Roman authors who wrote anti-Catholic tracts and pamphlets urging Romans not to convert to the Faith. Earlier “proto-Protestants” such as John Wyclif in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia attacked the Church and her teachings with vitriol. Luther, however, took anti-Catholic rhetoric to a new level in his writings when he referred to the Church as the “whore of Babylon” and the pope as the “anti-Christ.” Luther’s writings are full of hateful, sarcastic, and venomous attacks against the sacramental nature of the Church, her hierarchical organization, many of her pious practices, and even her embrace of Aristotelian philosophy in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, Luther called for the ban of Aristotle’s works in his 1520 treatise An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, writing that the “blind heathen” [Aristotle] was sent by God as “a plague” on the Church “on account of our sins.”

In The Real Story of the Reformation, Weidenkopf dismantles the mythical narrative about the two pivotal figures of the Protestant Reformation—or rather, Revolution, because what they wrought was not a reform of the Church but a radical break from it. He replaces that narrative with a true account of Luther and Calvin’s ideas, their actions and character, and their disastrous legacy for the modern world.”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 6 – Jan Hus, (1369-1415), Heretic, “John the Baptist of the Reformation”

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-from Anderson, C. Colt, Ph.D.. The Great Catholic Reformers: From Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day (Kindle Locations 1808-1816,1937-2040). Kindle Edition.

“Wearing a paper crown painted with three horrible devils about to greedily tear a soul to pieces and inscribed with the words, “This is a heresiarch,” the rector of the University of Prague was led to the stake on July 6, 1415. During his time as rector, Jan Hus had spearheaded the Czech reform movement. As he was stripped of his clothes and chained, Hus reportedly said, “The Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer and Savior, was bound by a harder and heavier chain. And I, a miserable wretch, am not ashamed to bear being bound by this one.”‘ After they had piled the wood up to his chin and lit the fire, Hus proclaimed that he had always been a faithful Catholic adhering to Scripture and Tradition. As we shall see, his claims of innocence were certain evidence of his guilt under the peculiar logic employed by the Inquisition.

Having affirmed his faithfulness, Hus began to sing, “Christ, you are the Son of the living God, have mercy on us; Christ, you are the Son of God, have mercy on me…” until the flames blew into his face. Peter of Mladonovice, an eyewitness to the event and a supporter of Hus, reported that Hus continued to move his lips in prayer though he could produce no sound. After the fire died down, the soldiers broke his bones and found his heart, which had not been fully consumed. They skewered his heart with a spit, rebuilt the fire, and reduced Hus’s heart and bones to ash….

Hus had all the charm and tact of an outraged goose. Since Hus means goose in Czech, his enemies made sport of him as the “Bohemian Goose.” Regardless of his lack of political acumen, Hus was a good theologian who was deeply committed to reform on a local level. He was not the type of man who would try to solve an international crisis like the Great Schism, though he did consider the implications of schism in his more academic writings.

Hus was five years old when the Great Schism began. He decided early on to pursue a clerical career because it afforded him an opportunity to escape poverty, which was a motivation that he was ashamed of later in life. The clerical establishment in Prague was already undergoing reform prior to the Great Schism. The struggles between the reformers and their opponents were formative for the young cleric.

Emperor Charles IV (1316-78), who was also king of the Bohemians, brought reformers to Prague to address the deplorable conditions in the 1360s. Charles had studied under Pierre Roger, who became Pope Clement VI (1342-52). He was a pious and knowledgeable ruler who cared about the spiritual lives of his subjects. Conrad Waldhauser, a famous Augustinian Canon, was recruited to clean up the situation. Waldhauser started a preaching campaign that brought the people back to Masses and he insisted on the moral reform of the people and the clergy. Almost immediately the Dominicans brought charges against the reformer for exposing the faults of the clergy among other things, but Waldhauser was able to clear himself in Rome.

What were the conditions in Bohemia at the time? Most of the priests who held the best offices were Germans. The Czech clergy, who were systemically excluded from the better schools, largely held rural benefices and tended to have substandard educations. Many Czech priests were keeping concubines, had problems with alcohol, and were using their positions to extort and swindle people out of their property. Prostitution, alcoholism, gambling, and violence were major problems facing the people of Bohemia.

The reformers began a series of initiatives to turn things around. More Czechs like Jan Hits were afforded an opportunity to study at the University of Prague. There was an effort to see to it that the Czech clergy would receive some of the better positions in the Prague diocese. As one might imagine, the policy embittered the German clergy in Bohemia. Finally, there were innovations in the liturgy that helped to spark a religious revival in Bohemia. The clergy began to preach in the language of the people, to incorporate folk songs that people could sing into the liturgy, and to provide people with vernacular Bibles. Special chapels, like the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, were set up for vernacular preaching.

One of Charles’s last acts was to see to it that he had a reformer, Jan of Jenstejn, installed as archbishop of Prague. Archbishop Jan (1378-96) ordained Hus. When Hus was twenty, Archbishop Jan came into conflict with the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Wenceslas IV (r. 1378-1419), who was Charles IV’s son. Unlike his father, Wenceslas was neither pious nor particularly knowledgeable. Wenceslas became emperor and king of Bohemia at the age of seventeen. His reputation was that of a vain and impulsive playboy. He was so disliked that there was an attempt to assassinate him in 1393. This was also the period when he decided to wage war on Archbishop Jan.

When one of Wenceslas’s administrators was excommunicated by Archbishop Jan in 1393, the emperor retaliated by dividing the archdiocese from a territory that was going to have both a new monastery and bishopric. By claiming these benefices, Wenceslas could sell them to the highest bidder and keep the money for himself; but the archbishop refused to recognize the legitimacy of the move and installed a new prior in the monastery before the emperor could act. Wenceslas was furious and had four principal officials of the archdiocese tortured in response. One official died from the torture.

Shocked by the audacity of Wenceslas, Archbishop Jan appealed to the Roman pope, Boniface IX (1389-1404). Boniface refused to hear the charges against the emperor. The Roman pope was afraid that he might drive the emperor to change his allegiance to the Avignon pope by disciplining him. Disillusioned by the pope’s refusal to protect the clergy of Bohemia from a tyrant, Archbishop Jan resigned his office in protest in 1396, which was the same year that Hus received his MA degree. Archbishop Zbynek, who succeeded Jan of Jenstejn, was much less scrupulous from the outset. He scandalized his clergy by buying his office.

The reformers had challenges within the University of Prague as well. The university was dominated by the German faculty. The Germans were solidly in the philosophical camp of nominalism, so the Bohemians chose to adhere to a strict realist philosophy. Due to the moral rigorism and realist commitments of the Bohemian clergy, they came to appreciate the works of the English reformer John Wyclif (1324-84). As the works of Wyclif came under attack, the Czechs found themselves defending his writings against the German theologians. Wyclif had gained symbolic value for the Czech reformers, and Hus can be seen as trying to salvage as much as he could from the English theologian as part of his polemics with the anti-reformers. This was, to say the least, something of a strategic and rhetorical blunder.

Before the controversy over Wyclif broke out, Hus grew famous as a fiery preacher. By 1402 he had been named as the rector and preacher of the Bethlehem Chapel, which was seen as the center of the reform movement. He preached some three thousand sermons in the course of his career. One of the favorite themes in his early sermons was that only faith formed in love, or faith expressed in works of charity, is saving faith.’ In 1405 and again in 1407, Hus was invited to preach to the clergy. On both occasions he emphasized the duties of the clergy and denounced clerical impurity.28 While he used very strong language on these occasions, he was not denouncing the clergy to the laity. Even so, his enemies remembered these sermons and used them against him.

Since 1403 the German masters at the university had been attacking the Czech masters by charging them with the heresy of Wyclifism, which was a vague accusation because it associated the Czech clergy with a series of disparate statements extracted from the writings of John Wyclif. The charges presented against the reformers did not have much effect initially. One reason was that the teachings of Wyclif had not ever been condemned by a council. Twenty-four of Wyclif’s propositions had been condemned by a synod in London in 1382, but this does not mean that he had the status of a heretic. It was common for a theologian to have some points that were seen as erroneous and still be seen as a valuable source on other issues. When the German masters at the University of Prague expanded the suspect propositions to forty-five, it still only represented forty-five statements out of volumes of work.

The anti-reformers at the university focused the debate on eucharistic theology. Hus’s opponents knew that Wyclif’s denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation was in clear opposition to defined doctrine. The German masters wove several propositions important to the Czech reform movement into a list that included Wyclif’s most clearly heretical statements. The strategy worked. Though Hus would eventually defend only five of Wyclif’s articles as having an orthodox meaning, his opponents were able to convince people that he had denied transubstantiation. Events in 1408 pushed this dispute out of the university and onto the stage of international affairs.

After several years of efforts, the German masters at the University of Prague had convinced the Roman pope, Gregory XII (1406-15), that there were problems with heresy in Bohemia. King Wenceslas, who had been deposed as emperor in 1400, was anxious to satisfy Gregory XII that he had purged the land of any heresy. Under pressure from the king, Archbishop Zbynek decided to move against the reformers. Hus was incensed and began to preach more publicly about heresy, simony, and the moral faults of the unreformed clergy. By September 1409, a group of clergy led by the German Dominicans charged Hus with making severe and critical statements about simony and the lives of the clergy. Hus easily defended himself and wrote a treatise explaining why it is permissible to speak charitably against the vices of the clergy, De arguendo clero pro concione.

After the Council of Pisa elected Pope Alexander V in June 1409, the archbishop was under increasing pressure to withdraw his obedience from Pope Gregory XII. When Alexander V started proceedings against Zbynek, the archbishop crumbled and switched his allegiance. As a concession, Archbishop Zbynek managed to obtain a bull from Alexander in December that condemned the forty-five articles and that forbade all preaching outside of diocesan and monastic churches. This last provision was aimed at Hus and the Bethlehem Chapel. Hus defied the bull and continued to preach. Alexander V died before he could act against Hus.

Once again, international affairs would intrude upon the work of the Czech reformers. After King Ladislas of Naples drove the Pisan Pope John XXIII out of Rome in 1411, Pope John XXIII issued a bull authorizing the sale of indulgences to support a crusade against Ladislas. The bull stated:

And also by apostolic authority granted me, I absolve you from all sins, if you are truly contrite and confess them to God and me. If you cannot personally take up the project [of joining the crusade], but wish to bring a contribution according to your ability in compliance with my and the commissioner’s terms in defense and aid of the above-named project I grant and concede you the fullest remission of all your sins, including punishment and guilt.

In order to bring in the support of secular rulers who were already wavering in their commitments to the Pisan papacy, John XXIII also had a provision that would give them a percentage of the revenues.

When Hus decided to oppose the bull authorizing the sale of indulgences, he must have suspected he would alienate his last powerful supporter, King Wenceslas. Hus’s zeal impelled him to throw caution to the wind and to publicly oppose the bull. He preached against the indulgences and held public disputations. Hus argued that it was improper for Christians to give money for the purpose of killing other Christians and that the pope and the clergy should not be fighting with the material sword or engaging in warfare. He also opposed the way the bull seemed to imply that no repentance was necessary for forgiveness. His critiques were perfectly orthodox on these points.

Wenceslas was furious and enlisted the aid of Hus’s opponents at the University of Prague to draft a series of articles that forbade preaching against the indulgences. Hus defended his opposition to the indulgences by citing the provision in canon law that whatever is contrary to the law of Christ is heretical and should not be obeyed.32 In a letter written in May 1412, Hus explained his actions:

‘As to my not obeying the wrong commands of my superiors, while offering no resistance to power which is of the Lord God, that I have been taught by the scriptures, and above all by the word and deed of the apostles who, against the will of the chief priests preached our Lord Jesus Christ’ saying that “we ought to obey God rather than rather than people.’

Like Gerson, Hus cited Acts 5:29 to show that the commands of superiors must be subjected to God’s law as expressed in scripture. To save the people of Prague from an impending papal interdict, which would have suspended all sacramental ministry as long as the people supported Hus, he voluntarily went into exile.

While Hus was in exile from Prague, he began to write a small tract called The Six Errors. He said he wanted it to be a shield for the people from the errors that the unreformed clergy were teaching in order to deny any accountability for their crimes. Some of the clergy were arguing that since a priest creates God’s body at the Eucharist, then a priest is the Father of God. As such, even a priest in mortal sin, which would include actions like simony or murder, cannot be called a servant of the devil. The antireformers used the eucharistic service of the priesthood to claim that the worst priest is better than the most virtuous member of the laity. According to Hus, these insane priests went so far as to exalt themselves over the Virgin Mary because she only bore Christ once whereas they create God repeatedly during the Masses they celebrate.

The second error had to do with the teaching that one must believe or have faith in Mary, the saints, and the pope. Hus argued that one must only believe in God and in what has been revealed in scriptures. The focus of his argument was on the claim that people had to believe in the pope. After discussing the high devotion that is due to Mary, he explained that we do not have faith in Mary. If we do not have faith in Mary, he reasoned, then it does not seem appropriate to have faith in the pope. Hus pointed to two scriptural passages to justify his position. The first was Peter’s denial of Christ (Matt 26:69-75), which was both apostasy and perjury; and the second was Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to identify themselves as belonging to Jesus Christ rather than to Peter, Paul, or Apollos (1 Cor 1:11-17). The first example proved that Peter can be wrong and the second demonstrated we should only believe in Christ. To shore up his argument, Hus cited statements from both the Venerable Bede and Augustine to demonstrate his continuity with the church’s tradition.”

The third, fourth, and fifth errors all had to do with the authority of the clergy. The third error was that a priest forgives sins by his own will rather than acting as a minister proclaiming God’s forgiveness. This teaching would mean that a priest would have almost absolute power over his people’s eternal salvation as a matter of his own whims. The fourth error naturally flows from the third: One should always obey his or her ecclesiastical superiors. Hus responded by teaching the Czech people that they must evaluate the commands of their clergy in light of the teaching of the scriptures, which Hus used in a sense that would include traditional materials like Augustine or creeds. If a command violates the teaching of scripture, he advised people to disobey. The claim that the church can excommunicate people for any reason the authorities might give was the fifth error. Hus argued that the church could only excommunicate people for mortal sin.

The sixth error was at the heart of the various problems in the Bohemian clergy. Hus claimed that priests and bishops were preaching that they could legitimately buy and sell offices in the church. Others justified the idea that ecclesiastical offices could be granted or received for political purposes. Hus argued that the only reason for anyone to be admitted into holy orders was to serve the common good .  In each case, he cited scriptural authorities and traditional theologians like Augustine and Gregory the Great. To provide a permanent shield against these errors for the laity, Hus inscribed The Six Errors in Czech on the walls of the Bethlehem Chapel.

The Six Errors represents the heart of Hus’s reform agenda. He was retrieving a reform theme that runs through the writings of Gregory the Great, Peter Damian, and Pope Gregory VII: The clergy are accountable to their neighbors as well as to God. The test was whether or not the clergy were following the law of Christ and serving the common good. Gerson’s reform agenda was fundamentally similar to Hus’s, but Hus was teaching laypeople to be discerning when it came to the lives and demands of the clergy. Hus’s denial that the clergy are more a part of the church than the laity, his rejection of the claim that priests and bishops should be regarded as holy simply because of their offices, his argument that tithes should be freewill offerings, and his defense of the idea that civil authorities may legitimately deprive bishops and priests of their possessions certainly set men like Jean Gerson against him.”

Other aspects of Hus’s theology were even more provocative for Gerson’s ecclesiastical colleagues. For example, they were offended by his argument that the church should not put heretics to death because Christ did not execute people. Instead, Hus advocated following the rule laid down in Matthew 18:15-17, which advised shunning those who sin against the community as publicans or Gentiles. He also cited the examples of Augustine and the fathers who willingly entered into discourse with heretics and schismatics in order to persuade them to reconcile themselves to the church. Gerson’s colleagues at the Council of Constance were also more than a little upset to find that Hus had compared the guilt of the clergymen who turned innocent people over to the secular arm for execution to the guilt of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees who turned Christ over to Pilate.”

In the end, the council members were not moved by Hus’s arguments, and the trial of Jan Hus was a foregone conclusion from the outset. Hus found himself inextricably caught in the peculiarities of inquisitorial logic. Even so, he could have saved himself but refused to do so. By all accounts, the council members were hoping Hus would recant so that they would not have to execute him. Perhaps Hus was naive, but he failed to see that the bishops and lower clergy were not willing to reform their behavior. The problems associated with the bishops and lower clergy, including their accountability to the laity, would only begin to be addressed after the cataclysmic events of the Protestant Reformation. The focus at Constance was resolving the Great Schism and preventing new schisms in the future, and anyone who stood in the way would be sacrificed for restoring unity.”

JanHusBBQ

Love,
Matthew