Friday, August 21, 2015



There are four parts to this article leading from the early, first-century Church to the what is popularly called the "Protestant Reformation."  While we will adhere to the centuries-old designation of the Protestant innovation as a "Re-formation," in reality the title "Reformation" is not consistent with the historical situation leading to the revolt against Roman Catholicism that reached its pinnacle in the sixteenth century.  In actuality, the Protestant "Re-formers" had nothing to reform.  That is because they had not originally "formed" either the organization or the doctrine of the Church.  The initial formation of Church organization and doctrine was carried out by Christian leaders who founded what, within the first hundred years after Jesus' Ascension, came to be called a Church that bore in its official name the formal adjective, in Greek, katholikos, or Catholic, meaning "universal."  Thus while the phrase "Protestant Reformation" is spurious, the contemporary sixteenth-century phrase, "Catholic Reformation," is rhetorically and historically correct. That is because it was the ancestor of sixteenth-century Catholicism, namely, the Church of the first century, that did in fact form the Church. It was thus only that Church which could re-form the Church in the sixteenth Century. The Protestant Revolutionaries of the sixteenth Century introduced something new into the world's religious life that began sixteen centuries after the formation of the Catholic Church.

      By the late Middle Ages this Catholic Church suffered through the crisis of various forms of corruption, usually centered in its capital, Rome, and based principally on the efforts of lay political rulers, namely Italian princes and noblemen, to take over the papacy for their own families. This corruption was not denied or excused by popes who avoided it at the time of its worst effects in the sixteenth century; nor has there been any attempt by Catholic leaders up through today to attempt to conceal or gloss over the accurate history of what was a pattern of great sin on the part of Catholic Church leaders. In addition to the political thrust of the corruption, there was also an even more scandalous display of sins by a small, but powerful, minority of Church leaders in the areas of sexuality and money, with popes and Cardinals keeping mistresses and prostitutes in public and fathering illegitimate children, and with some Church leaders selling Church prerogatives like indulgences. If this corruption is shameful to the average Catholic, then average Catholics have no doubt experienced shame themselves over their own sins.

Human behavior, whether in an institution like the Catholic Church, or in the lives of ordinary Catholic believers, should not, by people studying such behavior, surprise or shock anyone to find that moral perfection is a difficult quality to maintain on earth.  In the Catholic Church sin and scandal in the sixteenth century was sternly admonished by popes and other Church leaders, so that any corruption that may have existed historically tarnished only the souls of some, and not of all. Consider, for example, the reforming Dutch pope, Adrian Dedel (1459-1523), who was elected to the papacy by a College of Cardinals no doubt sick to death of their own sins. Before leaving from Spain for Rome, Adrian wrote to the Cardinals that he was coming to Rome not to celebrate with them, but to chastise and correct them.  He wrote similar letters to Catholic princes throughout the Empire, one of which reads as follows:

All of us, prelates and clergy, have turned aside from the road of righteousness and for a long time now there has been not even one who did good...You must therefore promise in our name that we intend to exert ourselves so that, first of all, the Roman Curia, from which perhaps all this evil took its start, may be improved.  Then, just as from here the sickness spread, so also from here recovery and renewal may begin. *(Pope Adrian VI, "Instruction to the Diet of Nuremburg" (1522))

Let us now investigate the path the Church took from the first century to the sixteenth.

Part One:
"Who 'ran things' In the Early Church
After Jesus of Nazareth Ascended Into Heaven?"

First, let's keep in mind that the early "Christians" were not actually known by that name until the episkopos, or bishop, in the entire early church.
early second century, perhaps as early as 105 A.D. Before that date the Christians called themselves "The People of the Way." Then, in Antioch in Syria, roughly 300 miles north of and up the road from Jerusalem, the populace took to calling the People of the Way "Christians." It was probably St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107 A.D.) who coined the name "Christian" for the developing body of Jesus' disciples who were becoming organized after the Lord's Ascension into heaven. St. Ignatius was the first bishop of Antioch, and in fact he was the first church administrator who was actually called

But "Wait," you may be saying, "What about James who headed up the mother church in Jerusalem?" That James, who served from about 35 A.D. to 51 A.D. as something like the Jerusalem church's managing elder for the Apostles (though not at this early date "bishop"),is known as "James the Brother of the Lord." He differs from the Apostle James, or the older brother of the Apostle John (both of whom were sons of Zebedee). The Apostle James was executed by King Herod Agrippa the First in 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2), the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom. It may have been Paul who first gave James, who managed practical affairs for the church in Jerusalem, the honorific designation "Brother of the Lord." In Greek the word for "brother," adelphos, actually means something closer to a close kinsman or relative.

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (c. 37–c.100), acting on what he thought to be reputable authority, wrote that James was a member of Jesus’ household when Jesus was a boy. By this account, James was a son of the widower, Joseph, by his first wife, before Joseph married the Virgin Mary. Joseph, a much older man than the Virgin Mary according to Flavius Josephus, took his son, James, into his house with Mary and Jesus. According to Josephus, James had been present at Jesus’ birth. As Jesus’ step-brother, James taught the young Jesus the various skills of being a good Jewish boy – as well as of just being a boy. Naturally Jesus would have known James’ character very well, and before his Ascension Jesus likely instructed the Apostles to pick his step-brother James to officiate over the Jerusalem church. This would explain why James the Brother of the Lord just pops up suddenly in Acts of the Apostles without any statement concerning who he was, where he came from, and who designated him to "run the business" of the Jerusalem church. Having James the Brother of the Lord as administrator of the Jerusalem church was a foregone conclusion.

Why didn't this role devolve to one of the Apostles? First of all, the Apostles no doubt remembered quite vividly the dressing-down Jesus had given them when the mother of the Zebedee brothers, had asked for favored places for her sons in Jesus’ reign in glory (Mt. 20:20). The Apostles clearly would have remembered the moral of this story that Jesus gave them as recorded in Mt. 20:25-28, namely, not to be a ruler like the Gentiles had, "lording it over one another."

Further, as it turned out as judged by their work lives in the new Church, the Apostles saw their role as something other than administrative leaders. Most of them, so far as we know, chose initially to be peripatetic evangelists. For example, in addition to helping James run the Jerusalem church, 

Peter’s "ordinary job," until he eventually traveled to and settled in Rome c.50 A.D., was that of traveling preacher. Other Apostles did likewise. For example the Apostle Thomas went as far as India to spread the gospel, and founded a church there that named itself after their founder. To this day the small number of Christians in India (about 14 million among over a billion Hindus) bear a combined name in Hindi called "Thomasite Christians." 

Probably the Apostles, in yielding to James the Brother of the Lord as the supervisor of the ordinary daily affairs of the Jerusalem church, were impressed by several factors: James’ undoubted practical talent for "managing the business" of the church, his personal sanctity and, most importantly, that James had known the mind of the Lord from childhood. It is clear from Acts (especially Acts 15) that "the apostles and presbyters [elders]," taken together as a group, made the important doctrinal decisions in the Jerusalem church. And then James put these doctrines into practical effect, as when it was he and not one of the Apostles who made the decision to write a letter to a group of Gentile converts concerning which aspects of the Jewish law they should follow as new Christians. (Acts 15:13-21).

Part Two:
"Hellenists versus Hebrews," a Paradigm for Later Discord Between Christians

The early Church, like any other human organization, naturally was made up of members holding differing points of view about what it meant to practice their new faith. Two groups of new Christians ("Hellenists" versus "Hebrews") each attempted to define the identity of the early church differently. This resulted in a struggle beginning in the early to mid-30’s of the first century, which gradually wound down, and then resolved itself somewhat through the period 50 – 65. Largely because of increasing persecution of Christians by fanatical Roman emperors like Nero (Emperor 54 - 68 A.D.), Christians' suffering in common tended to overshadow their underlying differences of opinion. Yet these differences, perhaps submerged for a while, would reappear in later decades. We will opine further below in this article that the mutual opposition between Hellenists and Hebrews in the first-century Church grew out of an ingrained disposition toward discord among Christians that simmered beneath the surface in the Church all the way to the Protestant revolution against the established Church in the sixteenth century.

Our version of Acts’ glowing picture of the communal life of the believers in Acts 2:42-47("All believers lived together and divided their property and possessions according to each one's needs") depicts the situation probably during the early 30’s. Assuming the church portrayed in Acts 2:42-47 held together for very long, it certainly didn’t last forever. History depicts a different, persistently challenging situation: the often bitter conflict between, on the one hand, the group of Jewish-Christian converts called Hellenists, because most of them came from the lands dominated by Greek culture outside of Judea (especially Egypt), and spoke Greek rather than Aramaic. The Hellenists were opposed by the Hebrew party of Jewish-Christian converts, most of whom were native Judeans who spoke Aramaic as Jesus had. While St. Luke was the author and editor of the final version of Acts, roughly in 85 A.D., it is thought by scholars that Acts 2:42-47 was inserted later by someone trying to paint an overly rosy picture of Christian life, as Luke, by contrast, shows us the early Church "warts and all."     

The leader of the Hellenists was the deacon, Stephen, about whom we read in the original version of Acts (6:5-7:60), namely, the version written by Luke himself, which is antagonistic to the idealized portrait painted later in Acts 2:42-47. Stephen’s major offense, in the eyes of the Hebrew party, was that he preached against worship in the Jewish Temple, declaring that Temple worship was not necessary in order for someone to become or remain a follower of The Way. In presenting the Stephen narrative, Luke gives Stephen’s discourse before the Sanhedrin (depicting events c. 36) almost as much ink as he gives to other discourses by Peter or Paul. Hence, we can conclude that Stephen was an important, influential elder of the Jerusalem church.

In Stephen’s discourse, he responds to (though does not contest) charges brought against him by the Jewish Sanhedrin. He delivers the coup de grace as far as the Sanhedrin were concerned when he bluntly reminded them that "the most High does not dwell in buildings made by human hands." Acts 7:48. Stephen’s words were abrasive to those who believed Temple worship was the sine qua non of the Jewish faith. However, as Stephen asserted, this Jewish doctrine did not carry over into the new Christian Way. Stephen then sealed his fate by calling the Sanhedrin "stiff-necked people," Acts 7:51, and telling them that by opposing followers of The Way they were "opposing the Holy Spirit." Id.

The Sanhedrin’s persecutions of Christians that followed upon Stephen’s execution, described in Acts 7:60, were selective in their application. The Jewish leadership turned most of their punitive efforts against the Hellenist Christians, leaving the Hebrew party of Christians virtually a free hand to dabble in The Way, so long as the Hebrew party of Christians attended Temple services and otherwise kept to the rituals and practices required of faithful Jews. The Hellenists, however, openly shunned the core Jewish rituals and practices and thus, being ever more harshly persecuted by the Sanhedrin for their apostasy, were forced to leave Jerusalem.

In doing so they became evangelists for The Way to the non-Jewish regions of the eastern Mediterranean, converting Gentiles to Christianity without imposing on them the restrictions of the Jewish law. The issues that divided the Hellenists and the Hebrew party of Christians, far from going away, grew worse, causing great dissension in the church. The pot finally boiled over, c. 49, and came to a head in Jerusalem, where "the apostles and the presbyters [elders]," Acts 15:6, had to act to resolve the crisis. The church leadership, in the letter drafted by James the Brother of the Lord, resolved "in agreement with the whole Jerusalem church" (Acts 15:22) to impose only those Jewish restrictions on the Gentile converts that were most repugnant to Jewish sensibilities: namely, abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, from eating blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit sexual union.(Acts 15:29).

From the time of this "Council of Jerusalem," c. 49 onward, the church’s membership came to be drawn more and more from Gentiles rather than from Jews, as before. Then, after the deaths of Peter, Paul and James, all martyred before the year 65, the leadership of the church likewise shifted from Jewish to Gentile. Christianity gradually came to be seen not as a "subsidiary" of Judaism as before, but as a new religion in its own right. Church leaders began to look upon the traditions and practices of Judaism as a dead letter, no longer requiring the attention, devotion or obeisance of new followers of The Way. Between 65 and 100 the Jewish sacrifices in the Temple, which in the early days had many Christian adherents, now gave way exclusively to the Eucharist as the new and ultimate sacrifice for the believer to accept and celebrate on the Lord’s Day. (The Lord’s day now became commonly accepted as what we call Sunday rather than the former Jewish Sabbath, or what we call Saturday).

Part Three:
 "The Fathers’ Significance to  Catholicism
Versus the Protestant Rejection of the Fathers."

The honorific categorization of the "Fathers of the Church" consistently distinguished the authentic Church born in the first century from the innovators who created the new Protestant systems of belief, starting with Martin Luther (1483-1546), beginning in 1511. In fact a convenient way to highlight the divide that separated Catholics and Protestants is to discuss the attitude toward the Fathers held by the first Protestant innovators. In the sixteenth century, the era of the first Protestants, the innovators wanted to define the church solely on the basis of the Bible. For, as the leading Protestant revolutionary, John Calvin (1509-1564), put it best among all the first-line innovators, it was only the written pages of the Bible that could give humanity any knowledge of God whatsoever.
Calvin’s doctrine – called "Sola Scripture" ("the Bible Alone") -- would have made no sense to first-century Christians, who saw little distinction between the writings of the Church Fathers and the Scriptures, and who often looked upon these two sources of the Church’s essential doctrine as indistinguishable. In fact, in many cases it was an early Father who produced the final versions of books of Scripture. If someone asked the early Christians, "Who wrote the Bible?" their answer would likely not have been very different from something like, "Why, our holy Fathers, of course."

Catholics considered both the "Ante-Nicene" (pre-325) and "Post-Nicene" (post-325) Fathers of the Church, and their offspring the Creeds, differently than Luther’s and Calvin’s hindsight would have permitted. For Catholics, the Fathers contributed to one of the greatest gifts God gave the Church, namely, the formulation in short, clear, memorizable statements the great Creeds of the Church. For the sixteenth-century Protestants, however, it was precisely this consequence of the Fathers’ writings – the Creeds of the Church, whose crucial words were not drawn explicitly and verbatim from Scripture -- that had to be extirpated root and branch from anything one could consider authentically Christian.

Three qualifying statements should be made concerning the Catholic-Protestant split over the Fathers and the creeds:
(1) Even Luther and Calvin were dedicated students of the foremost Father of the western church, Augustine (d. 430). However, Luther and Calvin both extracted from Augustine only those points of his doctrine that supported their own teachings, especially on grace, predestination and the Trinity, while ignoring the formal Catholic interpretation of Augustine himself on such doctrines -- which he had labored hard to develop.

(2) Second, later Protestants reversed the first-generation Protestants' position by accepting the words of the Catholic Creeds as statements acceptable for use in communal worship services – more or less as worthy declarations of the congregation’s piety. Such Protestants, however, rejected Catholicism’s position that the Creeds were derived by the Fathers from the Apostles’ own teaching, or were continuations of the Apostles’ teaching, and thus denied that the Creeds were essential Apostolic formulations of normative Christianity. They also rejected Catholicism’s position that the Creeds were the Church’s efforts to restate the core doctrines of Scripture itself.

(3) Finally, we should note that while later Protestants always rejected the proposition that the writings of the Fathers of the Church constituted a portion of the authentic canon of foundational Church documents, later Protestants at least, found it of devotional value to the Christian’s spiritual life to read the Fathers’ writings. Consider, for example, what John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodists, wrote about the Fathers of the Church. For Wesley, the Fathers were:
"[T]he most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nicea. But who could not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? With St. Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, and above all, the man of a broken heart, [St.] Ephraim Syrus (d. 373)?"
And if one considered the reverence for the Fathers displayed in the scholarship of great Anglican Christians, such as C.S. Lewis, for example, one could easily see that, far from deprecating the Fathers, many post-Reformation Protestants added to Catholicism’s own appreciation of the Fathers.

The recent Catholic Church still praises the achievement of the Fathers in establishing the Creeds. Pope Paul VI stressed that the study of the Fathers:
"[I]s absolutely necessary for those who care about the theological, pastoral and spiritual renewal promoted by the [Second Vatican] Council and who wish to cooperate in it. In them [are to be found] all the constant factors that are at the basis of any authentic renewal."
Pope John Paul II later added:
"In the flow of living Tradition that continues from the beginning of Christianity over the centuries up to our present time, [the Fathers] occupy an entirely special place which makes them stand out compared with other protagonists of the history of the Church. They laid down the first basic structures of the Church together with the doctrinal and pastoral positions that remain valid for all times."
"Fathers" Contrasted With "Doctors:" The somewhat amorphous grouping, "Fathers of the Church," may be understood better if we contrast it with an actual identifiable, formal class of thirty-three "Doctors of the Church," each of whom was appointed as such by popes, beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing, thus far, through 1997. Included in the list of Doctors were several of the Fathers of the Church who flourished in the first four centuries of the church. These early Fathers/Doctors included the Greek Father, Athanasius (d.373), the progenitor of the Church’s first great Creed, that of Nicea; Ambrose (d.397), Bishop of Milan, the greatest opponent of the heresy of Arianism in the western Church; Augustine (d.430), who defined and clarified a long list of doctrines for the western Church; Pope Leo I (d. 461), "the Great," who had faced down Attila the Hun; Basil the Great (d.379) and Gregory of Nazianzus (d.389), who together enlightened the Church on the role of the Holy Spirit. While it would have been contradictory to name women as "Fathers," in the listing of Doctors, women were included. Among the thirty-three Doctors were three women: Catherine of Siena (d.1380), Teresa of Avila (d.1582) and Therese of Lisieux (d.1897).

Part Four:
 "Summarizing The Early Protestant Revolution
Against the Established Catholic Church."

Moral Reform or Doctrinal Reform?
 First we must ask, was Martin Luther simply upset with the corruption he saw in the Church? Or would he have disagreed with traditional Catholic doctrine even had the Church not been corrupt? If it were just the former, perhaps we could say that Luther was just an angry priest who should have been more patient and forgiving with human sinfulness. By this line of reasoning, we could say that the entire Reformation might have been avoided if the Church had rooted out the corruption and immorality among its leaders. Yet many Catholics looked Church corruption right in the face and recoiled from it in disgust, nonetheless remaining faithful, even heroic Catholics.

Luther was an angry, volatile man. Yet, despite his sometimes volcanic temper tantrums against the pope and the hierarchy, Luther’s anger at corruption was not all that motivated him. Although he despised and was even horrified by the corruption in the Church, his principal reason for breaking with Rome was doctrinal and not a desire to clean up the church’s corruption. Although we can never know for sure, history leads us to the firm conviction that even if the Church had been untainted by corruption, Martin Luther would still have broken with Rome. Thus, we need to see how his doctrinal disagreements took shape as the Lutheran phase of the Reformation took effect. We will outline these disagreements briefly as follows. 

Indulgences: The Bonfire is Lit

For Luther, the act of papal corruption that drove him over the brink, involved, of all things, a building project. Pope Leo X badly needed money – a great deal of money – to finish the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Leo had wasted the Vatican treasury on all sorts of trivial things. Consequently, as his papacy progressed, he found himself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Leo devised a scheme. He turned north to rich and pious Germany. The prince-elector of Mainz (one of the seven Electors of the emperor), Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg, was himself a poor steward of money. He was in arrears on his financial obligations to Rome. Leo proposed a deal. He would authorize a campaign in Albert’s diocese to sell documents promising the bearer a plenary indulgence. In other words, for purchasing indulgences, Catholics would be promised in a papal document that all their sins would be forgiven and all time in purgatory for those sins remitted. Albert could keep half of the money he collected, and the pope would get the other half. Albert’s back taxes would be wiped out, and Leo would raise money to continue building St. Peter’s.

Archbishop Albert put his priests into action on the case, promising them a handsome commission to hawk the indulgences. One of these peddlers, a Dominican named Johann Tetzel, hired a little band of singers to accompany him, serenading the gullible crowds with a little ditty guaranteeing, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory to heaven springs." When Catholics from Luther’s Wittenberg went to hear Tetzel and succumbed to his sales pitch, Luther grew furious – one time at least when his anger served the gospel – no doubt wishing he had a whip of cords to take to Tetzel’s well-padded hide.

Luther went to his cell in the Augustinian friary where he lived as a priest-friar seething, and hastily -- because now was the time for a quick and decisive blow against Albert and the pope -- he wrote his famous Ninety-Five Theses. There he attacked not only indulgences but the conception of papal and church authority that supported indulgences. The Theses were an overnight success. Spurred on by this favorable reaction, Luther began to compose pamphlets (in German) in which he further detailed his doctrinal disagreement with Rome.

Luther’s Theology

Point One. What is the Church? Luther’s principal grievance in the indulgence controversy was his opposition to the debased concept of the Church that the selling of indulgences implied. Indulgences in effect meant "withdrawing" grace from what the Church called the "treasury of merit." This turned God’s free gift of his grace into a ludicrous bank-account system. Luther insisted that Christians can go directly to Christ, bypassing the clergy and their treasury of merit. The institutional Church (which Luther wanted to keep), was for Luther Christ’s body on earth and was helpful to salvation. But if the Church is corrupt and does not truly represent Christ, Christians can receive Christ’s love and grace without the assistance of the institutional Church.

Point Two. What are the sacraments? Nor did Luther want to do away with the concept of sacrament. True, he wanted to limit the number of sacraments. He thought that only baptism and Eucharist were sacraments. Nor did Luther teach that the Eucharist was just a memorial of the Last Supper as later Protestants would teach. He did reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, that is, he did not believe that the bread and wine of the altar became Christ’s body and blood. Yet, he did believe that Christ was somehow truly present in the bread and wine. It was just that he did not believe that the bread and wine actually changed into the Body and Blood. Rather, for him, they remained bread and wine, but were somehow mysteriously permeated with Christ’s presence at the same time.

Point Three. The Bible as God’s Word. For Luther, Christ is most present to the believer in the gospel. That is why Luther placed so much emphasis on Scripture as the word of God. Yet, Luther was no literalist who opposed the written Bible to Church authority or Church tradition, as would be the case with later Protestants. For Luther, final authority in the Church is in the gospel that Jesus preached and lived. If the Church likewise teaches and lives that gospel, Luther believed, well and good. But if the Church does not, then the Bible is a better source for the gospel than the Church. He was not opposing the Bible to the Church. He was subordinating both Bible and Church to the gospel.

Point Four. Faith versus works. The final point we should make about Luther’s theology involves the difference between faith and works. He thought that indulgences, penance for the forgiveness of sin, the Mass and other means of grace were "works." He relied on Paul’s words in Galatians to the effect that "a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:16). In other words, Luther did not believe that anything one does makes one holy. Grace is not like a paycheck of God’s blessing that people can demand for doing their job. Instead, grace was entirely unmerited, based solely on God’s gift, not on anything the human person could do to cause God to live up to his side of the bargain. Attendance at thirty Masses, the making of two pilgrimages, storing a trunk full of relics in one’s house, buying several indulgences -- none of this meant to Luther that the person going through all this spiritual busy-work had the right ask the cashier at the treasury of merit to hand over a certain quantifiable measure of God’s grace.

Point Five. "Imputed Righteousness." Luther’s most lasting rejection of Catholic doctrine, a bridge that could not be re-crossed, especially as later Protestants would take the doctrine far beyond where Luther left off with it, was his doctrine of "imputed righteousness."

Here is what "imputed righteousness" meant in Luther’s and later Protestant teaching. Only faith, and not works, Luther believed, could "enlighten a man" toward good. Without God’s gift of grace, no man can do good before God. It doesn’t work the other way around, i.e., one doesn’t do good, thereby manipulating God to "pay off" in grace. So far, Luther was not far from Catholic teaching. Later, at the Catholic Council of Trent, the Council's Catholic fathers put it this way: "Without any merit on their part, [sinners] are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed …to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with grace."

Catholicism did not see the human will as frozen by predestination, from taking any action at all to cooperate with God’s grace. This was far different from Luther’s condemnation of Catholicism’s teaching that one could manipulate God into gracing one through the performance of good works.

But Luther went farther, deeper into the dark mine of his life-long, guilt-ridden, depressed psyche. He saw original sin as so destructive that he came deeply to mistrust the idea that humanity could be made whole by God’s grace ontologically, i.e., in humanity’s very being, through justification by faith by the grace of salvation. At first, the best Luther could muster was that Christ took sin away only "in hope."

Next came Luther’s far gloomier conclusion that would turn the Protestant god from Abba into Moloch, wrapping justification by grace in a shroud of melancholy and heavy-heartedness that lasted at least until the Methodist revival brought about in the eighteenth century by John Wesley. God doesn’t really save humanity, Luther said, in the sense of transforming and remaking the sinful human person, body and soul. Instead, turning to two legal concepts, Luther taught that God merely reckons man as free from sin.

In other words, Luther said, like a judge on the bench, God decides to give criminal humanity a pass. Even though humanity is irretrievably evil and beyond salvation, God acts as if humanity has been acquitted of its crime – the crime still being there after the acquittal. God, Luther said, like a judge who doesn’t really act in a law-abiding fashion, "credits" humanity with a holiness that is not really there. To nail the Protestant coffin shut -- although John Calvin’s later ideas would be much more terrifying -- Luther taught that righteousness in Christ was imputed to humanity – once again using a legal term to describe the justification that faith brings. Imputation is defined thusly:
"[It is the ascription [i.e., attributing] to a person, by deliberate substitution of the righteousness or guilt of another. This idea plays an important part in [Luther’s doctrine of Justification by Faith], which asserts that a man is formally justified by the imputation of the obedience and righteousness of Christ, without becoming possessed of any personal righteousness of his own. By a legal fiction God is thus held to regard the sinner’s misdeeds as covered by the imputation of the sanctity of Christ."
Here begins the slide by the Lutheran revolt, and all of Protestantism after it, into the avalanche of the frozen human will, a will that is so paralyzed by its own incorrigible wickedness -- forced on humanity by God himself at each infant’s birth -- that the soul can move neither to good nor to evil, so powerless is the will as affected by original sin.

Luther’s doctrine of imputed righteousness was irretrievably at war with the Catholic belief in sanctifying grace, i.e., the grace that truly transforms the sinner from a state of separation from God to incorporation into God’s own nature, into his very holiness. Sanctifying grace is an actual re-making of the human being, body and soul, completely at odds with Luther’s counterfeit righteousness, where God, holding his nose in the presence of smelly, sinful humanity, lets us get away with our sins, even though everyone knows that we are all still actually guilty, even after God’s act of justifying us. Thus it was in his book,"Table Talk," that Luther once said, in the rough German farmer’s descriptions he frequently used, that justified humanity is like "a dung heap covered with snow." Humanity may look white on the outside, but deep down inside humanity is just plain feces in the eyes of God.

Later, at the Catholic Council of Trent, c. 1546, the reforming Catholic Church clearly emphasized its disagreement with imputed righteousness as an idea that has never been taught by the Fathers of the Church, the popes, or the bishops meeting in council, and the doctrine was, in fact, not a Christian belief. The council Fathers at Trent stressed that, through justification by faith in Christ through grace, "[N]ot only are we reputed just, we are truly called and are just." (Emphasis added). Catholicism’s sanctifying grace truly changes human beings into the very holiness of God -- a belief that was heretical to Luther, but to Calvin it became even worse – Satanic, straight from the evil one himself. Given the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace, Clement of Alexandria’s statement, (d. c.215), that "God had become man so that you might learn from a man how a man may become God," takes on new meaning in light of Luther’s and then Calvin’s respectively different doctrines of predestination. For predestination was the logical consequence of imputed righteousness.

Here is the progression in this dreadful doctrine from Luther, who influenced perhaps several hundred thousands to his point of view on the doctrine, to Calvin, who influenced millions to his view of predestination. For Luther, God, up above the yardstick of linear human history, in his omniscience, knows who is bound for heaven and who for hell, because he knows in advance who will accept the grace of salvation wrought by faith and who won’t. Thus those who are foreknown to be damned are justly accused because an all-knowing God simply sees the future of their evil lives leading them to perdition.

Point Six. Luther’s Predestination Degenerates into Calvin’s. Calvin, on the other hand, based his doctrine of predestination not on God’s foreknowledge, but on his will to create -- straight from the beginning -- those who are headed for damnation. The human infant comes into existence already damned or saved, before he or she has any chance to be justified by God’s grace, because the human’s will is paralyzed by original sin and thus incapable of making any decision at all – whether for or against God. Thus the newborn has no choice in God’s designs on its life. Heaven or hell is imposed on the infant by an omnipotent God without any chance for the infant to grow up and make a decision to choose God. God doesn’t deny free will to his creatures, because his creatures don’t actually have a will at all – whether free or un-free. All "willing" is done by God, and when he wills to create someone for damnation, the only response that sinful humans can give is gratitude that their damnation gives glory to God’s majesty in having the power to create some for heaven and some for hell.

Calvin’s Theocracy:

 John Calvin (1509–1564) was actually more significant to the future development of Protestantism than Martin Luther. He was twenty-six years younger than Luther and had the time and energy to take up where Luther left off. He was a Frenchman, highly educated (in both theology and law) and intelligent. Persecuted in Catholic France for his theology, he traveled in 1536 to Geneva as a bleak, somber, funereal and pitiless man. In Geneva, Protestant reform was already well under way. A council of sixty men (presbyters, or collectively the Presbytery) had been elected by the populace to run the city according to "Reformed" principles established in Zurich by a reformer named Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531).

Oddly enough, Calvin and all sixty of his Presbyters praised God for having saved them and for leading them to heaven. How did a good Calvinist know he was among the saved instead of among the damned? By his living a sober, controlled, lifestyle in which he labored constantly in the new middle-class work styles to become financially prosperous. One could tell from a good Calvinist’s house, his long hours spent toiling at the shop or the bank, his perfectionism in every detail of his behavior, and above all his profiting from participating in the new financial tool of capitalism.

The good Calvinist was a good investor. God would triple or quadruple his investments, and thus Calvinists by and large were the originators of modern western capitalism. For Calvinists, capitalism was God’s greatest gift to humanity. Notice that a unique turnabout had happened with the arrival of this "Protestant ethic" invented by Calvinists. The Catholic idea of performing good works to earn God’s grace was transformed by the Calvinists into the notion that the blessings of constant work was the sign of grace already given.

Let’s briefly follow other points of Calvin’s doctrine, using the same schema we used for Luther’s doctrine above.

Point One. Reformed and Calvinist theology. Let’s say something about the word Reformed. It means something more than simply a church that is part of the reforming movement. "Reformed" came to take on denominational significance. In other words, just as some Christians were saying they were Lutherans, other people were now saying they belonged to the "Reformed church." Calvin moved into Geneva when the city was accepting and experimenting with Reformed theology. He added his own thoughts to Reformed doctrine. The result was a new presentation of Reformed doctrine known as Calvinism. In the future, more Protestants would belong to the Reformed churches than to the Lutheran church. This especially would be true in America, where Puritans, Congregationalists, Baptists, Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians all based their faith on certain tenets of Calvinism.

Point Two. Calvin’s theology. What was Calvin’s theology? It is set forth very clearly in his major work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). It was, and is, a tremendously influential treatise. Calvin went much farther than Luther in establishing the Bible as the sole source of church authority. For Calvin, it was impossible to know anything at all about God that is not in the physical, paper pages of the Bible. Thus, church tradition, especially the teaching of the Fathers of the Church and the teaching of Church councils were, for Calvin, demonic attempts to usurp the authority of the Bible. Unlike Luther, who emphasized the primacy of the gospel (whether preached, written, recited by memory or read from a Bible), Calvin stressed the primacy of the written document. The leather and paper and ink that went into making up a Bible, the precise arrangement of the words, the new system of versification, added in 1551 entirely by the printer, Robert Stephanus (1503 – 1559), with no input from any biblical scholar or theologian, were aided by the fact that Calvin had studied law and looked for the same minute precision in the Bible that he had found in his law books.

A central difference between Calvin and Luther concerns their respective views of the Eucharist. Both Catholics and Luther, although in differing ways (Catholics believing in transubstantiation, Luther in consubstantiation), believed Christ is present in the bread and wine of the altar. Calvin disagreed. For him, Christ remains in heaven during the liturgy. By receiving Communion, the believer is united with Christ in heaven by the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, Calvin was not willing to say that the Eucharist was merely a memorial service. He believed that the Eucharist was something like a traditional sacrament. Yet, he was unwilling to locate Christ in the bread and wine as Catholics and Luther had done.

Point Three. Calvin’s Further Elaboration of Human Depravity. Calvin wanted his theology to be applied on the political level. In 1541 he became head of the council of elders that governed Geneva. Calvin and the Presbytery established a theocracy in Geneva. This means that they united religious law and civil law. They believed that God — through them — was in direct charge of Geneva. The most recent example of this type of government is the Islamic notion of Sharia law, where people who sin against the Islamic law are likewise guilty of breaking the Islamic state’s civil law. So, too, in Geneva, Calvin ordered corporal punishment of fornicators and adulterers. He regulated dress, especially that of women, by forbidding jewelry and certain hairstyles. He forbade theater and other cultural works, and censored books and literature. He used torture to impose his doctrine.

All of this was based on the Calvinist notion that humanity was depraved, beyond the mercy of God unless haphazardly, randomly predestined from birth by God to salvation. To enforce this viewpoint of an angry God, controlling every single aspect of human behavior, as if God were a combination of a policeman and accountant, Calvin and the Presbytery emulated God as they saw him, stepping into God’s shoes as it were, displaying divine majesty by meting out punishment and an overweening control of every aspect of life. This was to reflect on earth God’s sovereign power and majesty in heaven.

If it was not clear enough that certain Genevans were eternally damned by God, Calvin and his elders would make it perfectly clear by showing the damned that they were indeed damned, for all to see. Thus it was, for example, that some women were declared witches, brides of Satan, and the courts of a theocratic government stood in for God in passing sentence of eternal hell fire on these women.

       Part Five:
The Catholic Reformation.

Point One: Catholic Reform Before Luther. It would be inaccurate to think that there was no reformation within the church before Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation. Well before Luther, Catholics had sought to reform the Church. In fact, the Church is always in need of reformation and the Church has repeatedly responded to this need. Think, for example, of the  debate in the fourteenth century over the Church’s wealth and ownership of private property by the clergy. Many Franciscan preachers condemned such ownership, allowing themselves only to "use" property, not own it. (Granted, these radical Franciscans were not very successful. Clerical ownership of property and clerical competition for money and power were commonly accepted in the late Middle Ages.)

Yet the reforming impulse within the Church continued. One of the most notable examples of this was the foundation of religious orders whose very purpose was to reform the church. The Theatine Fathers, for example, were founded shortly after Luther’s revolt by Gaetano di Tiene, Paolo Consiglieri, Bonifacio da Colle and Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa. Cardinal Carafa (1476 – 1559), who would later become the stern, reform-minded Pope Paul IV (reign: 1555 – 1559). The Theatines dedicated themselves to improving both the educational level of the clergy and the clergy’s spirituality. More than two hundred Theatine priests were appointed bishops. They carried Theatine reforming zeal into their dioceses.

Ironically, the very age in which Church corruption had sunk to the depths was also the age in which Catholic reform preaching reached a high point. John Capistrano, Bernardino of Siena, Vincent Ferrer and Archbishop Antoninus of Florence all flourished in the fifteenth century, well before Luther. They were all masters of reforming oratory. They preached reform to clergy and laity alike, calling many within the Church to return to the gospel. It was said that Bernardino of Siena, by his preaching alone, converted entire towns. Along with preaching there were reform writings, such as Cardinal Gasparo Contarini’s book On the Duty of the Bishop (c. 1536-37), in which he strongly criticized the lifestyles of bishops and urged them to reform.

Point Two. Catholicism Responds to the Protestant Reformation.
Yet, to be historically accurate, we must say that the Catholic Church didn’t take reform seriously until Luther’s revolt started succeeding. To be blunt, the Church didn’t reform until it had to. A clear sign that the Church was going to take internal reform seriously was given during the papal election following the death of Pope Leo X. Prior to Pope Leo’s death, Italian politics, including bribery and intimidation, assured that candidates only from wealthy Italian families could be elected pope. In 1522, however, the Cardinals who met in the electoral conclave turned to a reform-minded Dutchman. The new pope kept his own name, Adrian, and was known as Pope Adrian VI (See Introduction to this Article, Top).

Point Three: The reforming Dutch pope. Adrian Dedel (1459–1523) was one of the most interesting figures of his day. He had taught the famous Erasmus of Rotterdam—the most respected scholar in Europe and a leading Catholic advocate of reform. So scathing were Erasmus’s reform writings that it would later be said, "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched." In addition, Pope Adrian had tutored the boy who would become Emperor Charles V. Then, he had been appointed Archbishop of Tortosa in Spain, where he learned of his election by the Cardinals to the papacy.

Had Adrian lived to enforce his reforming policies, it is highly possible that the Protestant Reformation would have been nipped in the bud. The fact is, however, that Adrian served as pope for only a year, dying in 1523. It was well known that he had incurred enemies within the ranks of the Cardinals for proposing reconciliation with Luther. It was rumored that the pope wanted to make the following concessions to Luther and his followers: acceptance of a married clergy, acceptance of communion to be received by the faithful as both bread and wine, and acceptance of Mass in the vernacular. Indeed, twice conferences between Lutherans and delegates from Rome met to discuss these proposals. With Adrian’s death, the conferences came to nothing.

Point Four: Setback under Clement. Instead, the Cardinals meeting to elect Adrian’s successor returned to their policy of choosing wealthy Italians from powerful families. Adrian’s successor, Pope Clement VII (1523–1534), was a Medici. Clement profoundly underestimated the gravity of Luther’s movement. He should have turned all of his attention to the still-healable breach between Luther and Rome. Instead, Clement spent his papacy involved in political intrigues and schemes calculated to improve his political fortunes. He even plotted against the one man who could have helped him prevent the spread of Luther’s movement, namely, the Catholic emperor Charles.

Clement encouraged Charles’s enemies, and Charles grew so angry that he sent his German troops to sack Rome. During one week in 1527, both Catholic and Lutheran soldiers under Charles’s authority laid waste to Rome. In order to avoid arrest by Charles’s soldiers, Pope Clement had to sneak out of Rome in disguise.

Clement’s reign was a debacle. With Adrian, the Catholic Church had considered the possibility of reconciling with Luther. With Clement, all hope of reconciliation was lost. It was Clement who mishandled the English King Henry VIII’s demand for a divorce. The pope stood fast in disallowing Henry’s request, tactlessly and largely for political reasons: Spain wanted to uphold the honor of their Spanish queen, Catherine of Aragon, when she resisted the divorce. Henry’s rage against Rome was directed as much at Clement’s favoritism toward Spain as it was at the pope’s canonical reasons for denying Henry an annulment. Had Clement been more compassionate and tactful, Henry might never have broken with Rome. By Clement’s death in 1534, not only England, but many other areas of Europe had become firmly Protestant. This was due largely to Clement’s ineptitude in confronting the religious crisis that had engulfed Europe.

Point Five. The Council of Trent.
Clement’s blunders led to his successor’s call for a reforming Church council. Pope Paul III (1534–1549) announced the council in 1535. Yet, for six years, bishops and princes stalled and argued with each other about where they should meet. Finally, in 1541, Emperor Charles V intervened. He suggested that the council meet in the German town of Trent, which lay just over the Italian border. Even with the emperor’s urging, however, it took four more years for the bishops to quit fighting with one another and agree to meet.

The Council of Trent(1545–1563) was concerned with two agendas: (1) ending corruption in the church and (2) solidifying Catholic dogma against the new Protestant doctrines. The council was not as successful in achieving an end to corruption as it was in clarifying doctrine. The struggle to end corruption would be taken over by reform-minded popes like Paul IV. He would be aided by new religious orders that insisted on adherence to gospel lifestyles for its members. The most notable of these new reforming orders was the Jesuits.

Point Six. Trent on dogma. As for its doctrinal thrust, the Council of Trent made many lasting accomplishments. We can only highlight some of these. In response to Luther’s teaching on the Bible, the Council had this to say:
The church receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also, the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic church in unbroken succession.
In other words, the Council made it clear that God’s revelation is to be found both in Scripture and in Church tradition. This position was at odds with the teaching of Protestant theologians. They taught that "Scripture alone" is the source of God’s revelation — not Scripture plus church tradition.

On the key issue which led Luther to break with Rome, justification by faith, the Council stated that God alone, through Jesus Christ, justifies human beings. Further, the Council stated, the gift of justification is just that — a gift. It cannot be earned by human effort. Even in the sacraments, the council stressed, it is God’s initiative, and not human initiative, that makes the sacraments efficacious. So far, Luther would have been in agreement with the Council on this point.

Where they differed was in speaking of the role of human will. It is erroneous, the council taught, to say, as Luther and Calvin taught, that God saves people apart from any apparent good works they may perform. For Luther and Calvin, the human will was powerless to do any good at all until God had justified a person. The council, on the other hand, said that sinners can "convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with God’s grace." Thus, in this sense, the council taught that both faith and good works lead to salvation.

Yet, the council stressed that one can gain spiritual merits from good works only after one has been justified by God’s grace of salvation as received in baptism. For the council Fathers, salvation is both a "grace and a reward." It is a grace "promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ." It is "a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given" because of the believer’s good works and spiritual merits.

The means by which faith and works come together in the believer’s life is the sacraments. The council said the sacraments are necessary for salvation. It upheld the traditional seven sacraments (those tabulated by Peter Lombard during the Middle Ages), and upheld the doctrine of transubstantiation. It also said that the sacraments confer grace in and of themselves. That is, the sacraments do not give grace merely because of the believer’s faith, as some Protestants taught.

The Council taught that the grace of the sacraments is always present. This is so regardless of one’s state of holiness. The sacraments are efficacious by themselves. They are not "stirred into action," as it were, by the faith or holiness of the believer. Likewise, the lack of sanctity in a priest cannot nullify the effectiveness of the sacraments.

For Protestants, the council’s declaration on the sacraments meant that Rome still upheld "works" as a means to salvation. That is, Protestants believed that through its teaching on the sacraments the Catholic Church still held out to people the possibility of "earning their way" to heaven. The council insisted, however, that it is Christ working in the sacraments that makes them efficacious. Christ’s presence in the sacraments, the council said, means that God always takes the initiative in giving grace through the sacraments. Thus for the Council of Trent, the grace of the sacraments is not "earned," as the Protestants said. Rather, in the sacraments, the believer responds in faith to God’s initiative.

Point Seven. The Jesuits: Putting Trent’s Decrees Into Action.
Historically, the hierarchy had shown itself to be inadequate at implementing its own reform. Thus, all that was needed for the decrees of the Council of Trent to be implemented was someone to implement them. The Catholic Church found this someone in the Society of Jesus — the Jesuits. This religious society was founded by a Basque knight named Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556). Like Luther in many respects, Loyola was scrupulous and stern in his faith. Unlike Luther, he had been converted from a life of pleasure. He became the most ardent advocate of Catholicism in the entire age of Reformation. In opposition to the Protestant doctrines, Loyola and the Jesuits preached "the Tridentine faith" (the word Tridentine referred to the dogma clarified at Trent).

Showing his military perspective on things, Loyola made his followers take a vow "to serve the Roman pontiff as God’s vicar on earth and to execute immediately and without hesitation or excuse all that the reigning pope or his successors may enjoin upon them." Loyola wrote that the Jesuits "ought always to be ready to believe that what seems to us white is black if the hierarchical church so defines it." Within twenty-five years of their founding in 1540, the Jesuits had attracted over a thousand of the most educated, zealous and reform-minded men in Europe.

They fanned out from Rome on missions into every corner of the globe. They became the leading Catholic educators and missionaries, both in Europe and in the new world. After the Jesuits’ founding, Loyola himself served as "general" or administrator of the society. His associates — Francis Xavier, Peter Faber, Peter Canisius, Francis Borgia, James Laynez and other first-generation Jesuits — spread the Tridentine faith throughout the world. The Jesuits stemmed the Protestant tide. After they began preaching, no further principalities or countries in Europe would go over to Protestantism.

Point EightHealthy Reform—and Reform to an Excess—Under Pope Paul IV.
What happened to the Catholic church because of the Council of Trent? The most obvious answer is that the Catholic church now took reform seriously. The Jesuits took the lead by setting a no-compromise example of poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows had always been professed by the clergy, but now the clergy started to live them. The entire climate changed within the Church. Popes and bishops quit winking at corruption. They insisted that the lower clergy lead moral lives.

Bishops were appointed to their sees and told to live there. They could not be absentee administrators as before. Further, they could no longer serve as bishop or abbot of more than one benefice (place) at a time. The Catholic Church moved against simony by prohibiting the sale of Church offices. It likewise banned nepotism by prohibiting the appointment of one’s relatives to Church offices, a practice that had been common during the Renaissance.

The man who first imposed many of these tough restrictions was Pope Paul IV (1555–1559). Paul was known for his iron will and no-nonsense attitude toward Church reform. In a sense, he became a Catholic Calvin. Paul instructed the magistrate who administered the city of Rome to punish immoral conduct as a violation of the civil law. The pope also proclaimed that no book could be published unless it first cleared the church’s censors. The book must then bear the word Imprimatur, which means, "Let it be printed." In 1559, Paul published an Index of Forbidden Books and ordered mass burning of suspect books. All Protestant works plus any Catholic works critical of Rome were consigned to the flames. Paul then restored the dreaded Inquisition.

The pope turned the Inquisition into a means of persecution every bit as intolerant as the methods used in Calvin’s Geneva. Tolerance and acceptance of religious differences were not to be permitted within the Catholic Church. As Paul himself wrote, "No man must debase himself by showing toleration toward heretics of any kind, above all toward Calvinists." The Inquisition eventually became a means of Church-sponsored terrorism. One contemporary Cardinal observed, "From no other judgment seat on earth were more horrible and fearful sentences to be expected." Pope Paul even had people burned at the stake "by proxy." When the Inquisition acquitted a Cardinal whom Paul had accused of heresy, the pope burned the accused’s brother at the stake instead.

Point NineToward the Age of Religious Intolerance.
Was Paul’s papacy an aberration? The Jesuit, Peter Canisius, said of Paul, "Even the best Catholics disapprove of such rigor." Paul’s successor, Pius IV (1559–1565), sought to distance himself from Paul’s tactics by telling the papal inquisitors to "proceed with gentlemanly courtesy rather than with monkish harshness." Yet, the damage had been done. Paul’s actions encouraged overzealous Protestant reformers, in effect, to go the Catholics one better. Protestants thus developed their own cruel and violent means to squelch Catholicism.

The Reformation degenerated into a battle to prove one’s own faith "right" and the other side’s faith "wrong." At first a debate over doctrine, the Reformation would now be a war among Christians seeking to outdo each other by their intolerance. The age of "us versus them" in the Church had arrived, and in some respects is still with us today.
--Tony Gilles