Even the most peaceful of religious reformers ended up involved in
violent episodes. An example: the Anabaptists.
The anabaptist movement was an attempt to get back to New Testament
Christianity. They advocated the following changes:
1. Adult baptism only. Baptism in infancy didn't count,
and, if one had been baptized as an infant, it was necessary to be
baptized properly as an adult.
2. Pacificim. Christ had said to turn the other cheek, not to take up the sword.
3. Millennialism. Christ would come back soon to establish his thousand-year reign on the earth. Time to be ready!
4. Communalism. The early Christians had held "all things in common," and we too should return to communal ownership (no private property).
5. The separation of church and state. ("My kingdom is not of this world" meant that the spiritual and earthly authorities should be separate).
Anabaptists were hated and persecuted by both Protestants and
Catholics. Many of their leaders were put to death.
Unfortunately, this opened the door to less qualified leaders and to
somewhat strange attempts to imitate Bible practice, e.g., adding
multiple wives, taking hot coals into their mouths or "streaking" in
supposed imitation of the prophets.
The Anabaptists found refuge in the city of Munster, and,
eventually, they took over the city, expelling the bishop and other
leaders. The Anabaptists declared Munster to be the "New
Jerusalem." Their leader declared himself a "new David"--and took
some 16 wives. Eventually, the expelled former leaders attacked
the city, slaughtering the Anabaptists, torturing the leaders,
mutilating theri bodies, and hanging the mutilated corpse in cages from
the church steeple.
Why so much violence? It's important to understand that these
conflicts were about far more than religion: or, rather, about more
than what we consider religion today. Religion was bound into the
fabric of society, and religous change meant social change, economic
and political change as well.
Now for centuries, the Roman Catholic church had helped to smooth over social, economic, and political tensions: but now, the religious unity of Europe had been destroyed, and religious differences tended to agravate the other problems.
Question: wouldn't it have been possible to carry out religious reforms within the Catholic church itself, to fix the church's problems without destroying the religious unity of Europe? Well, certainly it was possible: and during the 16th century there was a powerful reform movement within the Catholic Church itself. This reform movement is often called Counter Reformation, though Cathoics of course see it a the true reformation. Basically, what happens here that, in response to Protestant challenges, the Catholic church gets its act together.
One important figure in the Counter Reformation: St. Ignatius Loyola. Loyola was a Spanish soldier. He was wounded in one skirmish, and took a long while to recover. During the recovery, he read accounts of the saints lives and the Bible. This inspired in him what seemed to be a wonderful idea. He had been a dedicated soldier: disciplined, well-trained, fervent in his service. Wouldn't it be wonderful, thought Loyola, if people could be just as dedicated to Jesus Christ, if they could be soldiers for Jesus? And Loyola decided that he would become such a soldier--and, in fact, create a band of such soldiers. This led to Society of Jesus--the Jesuits--a new order within the Catholic Church.
Loyola's order provided discipline true soldier for Christ
Discipline in prayer (give thanks/request knowledge/examine yourself
pardon/ask for God's help in change). Discipline also in
The Jesuits ended up knowing the scripture every bit as well as Protestant preachers: but they came to different conclusions.
Loyola, like Calvin, emphasized the depravity of man and our great need for Grace. But unlike Calvin, Loyola and the Jesuits believed that God's grace was transmitted through the sacraments of the church: confession and the mass were particularly important, but fasting, reverence for the relics of the saints, decorating churches and respect for the church heirarchy were seen as very important as well.
The Jesuit's discipline made them effective soldiers for Christ: Loyola placed the services of these soldiers at the disposal of the Pope: they basically became a Papal army: wherever Protestants were making headway, Pope sent in the Jesuits. Into territory lost by Catholic church, Pope sent Jesuits to reclaim it.
And the Jesuits were in many ways successful. The old, corrupt Catholic clergy had been no match for the protestant leaders either in terms of intellectual ability or in terms of the examples of their own lives. But with the Jesuits it was a different story.
And the Catholic Church as a whole was reforming during this period. From 1545-1563 a great church council was held at Trent. This was a turning point in Church history. At Trent, the Catholic Church got its act together. No more drunken priests, no more live-in girl friends, no more simony.
But Trent also tried to reform by clarifying Catholic doctrine, deciding where Christians should stand on issues like purgatory, indulgences, transubstantion, and baptism. Prior to the Council of Trent, there had been: much room for disagreement within Catholic church: but now a good Catholic had to affirm belief in purgatory, transubstantiation, infant baptism, etc.
The Catholic church emerged from Trent purified and reformed: but far narrower than it had been in earlier centuries. This made reconciliation with the Protestants all but impossible. The Calvinist position in particular was at sharp odds with this narrowly defined Catholicism. Trent denied the Calvinist idea that we cannot do good if we choose to. It denied the Calvinist idea that once one was saved one could never fall. It denied the Calvinist idea that we could not by saved by our works.
And so what happened was that, after Trent, you had the Catholic Church convinced that it was the only true church, and that it was man's only hope of salvation. On the other hand, the protestant sects were convinced that they were the true churches and they were the only hope of salvation. A sure recipe for conflict! Catholics believed that the growth of Protestantism was sending people to hell. And Protestants believed that the continued presence of Catholicism was sending people to hell. And it's no wonder the wars the resulted were so bloody.
The worst of these, the Thirty Years' War that I've already
briefly. This war (1618-1648) involved much of Europe and caused
the death of millions of people.
[I sometimes read in class the
following passage from H.J.C
von Grimmelshausen's The Adventurous Simplicissimu. While this is a work of fiction,
Grimmilshausen had first-hand experience of the war and the behavior
described here was all too typical.]
The first thing these troopers did was, that they stabled their horses: thereafter each fell to his appointed task: which task was neither more nor less than ruin and destruction. For though some began to slaughter and to boil and to roast so that it looked as if there should be a merry banquet forward, yet others there were who did but storm through the house above and below stairs. Others stowed together great parcels of cloth and apparel and all manner of household stuff, as if they would set up a frippery market. All that they had no mind to take with them they cut in pieces. Some thrust their swords through the hay and straw as if they had not enough sheep and swine to slaughter: and some shook the feathers out of the beds and in their stead stuffed in bacon and other dried meat and provisions as if such were better and softer to sleep upon. Others broke the stove and the windows as if they had a never-ending summer to promise. Houseware of copper and tin they beat flat, and packed such vessels, all best and spoiled, in with the rest. Bedsteads, tables, chairs and benches they burned, though there lay many cords of dry wood in the yard. Pots and pipkins must all go to pieces, either because they would eat none but roast flesh, or because their purpose was to make there but a single meal.
maid was so handled in the stable that she could not come out; which is
a shame to tell of. Our man they laid bound upon the ground, thrust a
into his mouth, and poured a pailful of filthy water into this body:
by this, which they called a Swedish draught, they forced him to lead a
party of them to another place where they captured men and beasts, and
brought them back to the farm, in which company were my dad, my mother,
and our Ursula.
And now they began: first to take the flints out of their pistols and in place of them to jam the peasants thumbs in and so to torture the poor rogues as if they had been about the burning of witches5: for one of them they had taken they thrust into the baking oven and there lit a fire under him, although he had as yet confessed no crime: as for another, they put a cord round his head and so twisted it tight with a piece of wood that the blood gushed from his mouth and nose and ears. In a word, each had his own device to torture the peasants, and each peasant his several torture. But as it seemed to me then, my dad was the luckiest, for he with a laughing face confessed what others out of the midst of pains and miserable lamentations: and such honour without doubt fell to him because he was the householder. For they set him before a fire and bound him fast so that he could neither stir hand nor foot, and smeared the soles of his feet with wet salt, and this made our old goat lick off, and so tickle him that he well nigh burst his sides with laughing. And this seemed to me so merry a thing that I must needs laugh with him for the sake of fellowship, or because I knew no better. In the midst of such laughter he must needs confess all that they would have of him, and indeed revealed to them a secret treasure, which proved far richer in pearls, gold, and trinkets than ant would have looked for among peasants. Of the women, girls, and maidservants whom they took, I have not much to say in particular, for the soldiers would not have me see how they dealt with them. Yet this I did know, that one heard some of them scream most piteously in divers corners of the house; and well I can judge it fared no better with my mother and our Ursel than with the rest. Yet in the midst of all this miserable ruin, I helped to turn the spit, and in the afternoon to give the horses drink, in which employ I encountered our maid in the stable, who seemed to me wondrously tumbled, so that I knew her not, but with a weak voice she called to me, “O lad, run away, or the troopers will have thee away with them. Look to it well that you get hence: thou seest in what plight…” And more she could not say.
All this is incredibly painful--and a great tragedy. Europe was about to dominate the world: Columbus' 1492 discovery was leading to a great age of exploration and expansion. Had Europe been truly Christian and united, the world would have been a happier place. Question: what went wrong? Was it wrong to try to reform? No--reform was badly needed. Unfortunately, however, reform was carried out in the wrong way. Was there a better way? I believe so, and I believe two 16th century figures show clearly exactly what that way was, Sir Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus.
Both of these men were deeply influenced by Brethren of the Common Life. The Brethren started in late Middle Ages. It was an informal society of people who simply wanted to live as Christ-like as possible. The most famous book to come out of this movement is Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, a book that was for years and years a perennial best-seller, read by everyone. It's a great pity that it is not read and followed more today.
The spirit of the Brethren is clear in Sir Thomas More. More was a great scholar and writer and (also) chancelor to Henry VIII of England. More wrote a famous book that he called Utopia ("no place"). In the book, More describes imaginary society that we might well strive to imitate. In Utopia, everybody works. There are no nobles, priests or monks. Because all work, no one has to work too much--six hours a day is sufficient. The rest of time, one spends learning. Not interested in learning? That's ok too. You spend your time on other tasks and no one thinks the worse of you for that.
As far as religion goes, the Utopians are tolerant. They believe in religious truth, but if one doesn't agree, one uses peaceful means to try to convince them of that truth.
What More suggests in Utopia are radical changes: changes in
ways even more radical than those advocated by the Protestant
But More is more Christ-like in the way he advocates these
Typical is his reaction to Henry VIII.
More didn't approve of Henry's divorce and break with Catholic Church. But More didn't say anything: he simply resigned his Chancellorship. Henry didn't like this: More's resignation implied that what Henry had done was wrong. Henry wanted More to say that it was right, but More refused.. Henry imprisoned More, and put more pressure on him. More still wouldn't say anything against Henry, but he wouldn't say he approved either. What he did say was this:
"I do nobody no harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I desire not to live."
And More died a martyr's death--a death that made his lasting impact
probably greater than it would be otherwise. Even (or especially)
the agnostic 20th century playwright Robert Bolt found More a figure to
be admired. He borrows a line from one of More's cotemporaries
and calls More, "A Man for all Seasons," portraying More as the model
of letting conscience by one's guide.
Similar to More: Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus was one of the
greatest scholars of the 16th century. He taught Greek and
produced beautifully edited editions of Greek works including the New
Testament. Erasmus gave Europe
the first printed edition of Greek New Testament--and a very fine
Erasmus saw need for reform every bit as much as Luther and Calvin. If anything, he understood more clearly what was wrong with society. But Erasmus didn't launch a direct attack on societal instututions the way Luther and Calvin did, seeing (rightly) that this might lead to even worse problems. But this didn't mean silence on Erasmus' part. He wrote plenty of things exposing the weakneses of his society and suggesting improvements, using as his chief weapons satire and humor.
One example: Erasmus' Praise of Folly. The title itself reflects Erasmus' sense of humor. The Latin title is a pun. Folly (moria) is foolishness, and the book is a praise of foolishness. But it's also a book in praise of another "moria"--Thomas More to whom he dedicated book.
In this book, the goddess Folly claims she's most worshipped of gods: and then goes on to prove it. Worshippers of folly include lawyers who pay more attention to clever words than truth, theologians who spend their time investigating questions like how many days Christ was in Mary's womb, and monks who care more about rituals and ceremonies than about love of Christ.
Also foolish are people who rely on indulgences for pardon of their sins, thinking that gold can get them into heaven--and even more foolish the priests who encourage such thinking, not stressing the importance of prayer, repentance, and leading a godly life.
All this really stings: but it also makes us laugh. This is the key, I think, to getting people to change. Confront someone directly and they simply get billigernent and more set in their ways. But make them laugh at themselves, and maybe they'll begin to change. And Erasmus succeeds in part because he is willing to laugh at himself, too.
One of his dialogues is called "Cyclops: or the Gospel
Bearer." There's a great passage where one character asks another
about signs of the end
The list of signs hunger, war, thirst, war, plague, poverty, Eramus
dialogues. (I'd add to to the list Marmorstein lecturing about
history). Yes! Disasters everywhere! Surely a sign of the
But there's even better another passage in that same dialogue. There's a man here who considers himself a great Christian. Why? Is he generous to poor? No. Moderate? No. Chaste? No. A keeper of God's commands? No. Then why does he think himself a follower of Christ?
"A certain Franciscan in our neighborhood kept babbling from the pulpit against Erasmus' New Testament. I met the man privately, grabbed him by the hair with my left hand, and punched him with my right. I gave him a hell of a beating; made his whole face swell. What do you say to that? Isn't that promoting the Gospel?"
Erasmus is really on to something here. He sees that, over and over again, men consider themselves to be righteous, not because they themselves do what's right, but because they try to force *others* to do what's right. And, as I've mentioned to some of you, this is a particular problem with my generation. We are the most immoral and selfish generation in history of this country. Our personal lives are a mess, and we've thrown away a good deal of what made this country great. And yet my generation is incredibly smug in its self-righteousness. We think of ourselves as marvelously good people. Why? Because we protested the war in Vietnam, because we fight against the evil tobacco companies, or because we stand up for one social cause or another.
But there is a fundamental error here: and Erasmus sees it
clearly. The human tendency when confronted with sin to shove it
on to someone
Adam blamed Eve. Eve blame the serpent.
And as long as we keep doing that sort of thing, we are really
unpleasant to be around. My former pastor in California used to
talk of a lady in his church that, in every sermon, listened very
carefully and then pointed to people in the congregation who she
thought especiall needed particular bits of information. "Now
that's for you," she would say, picking out one person after another
and making sure they knew what part of the message they should be
listening too, "Now that's for you."
But one day, just as she was starting to shovel off the latest
message with her usual admonition, she stopped in mid-course.
"Now that's for--that's for me."
That discovery changed her whole life and, of course, her
relationships with other people.
In our study of history: looked at lots of societies, examining
and weaknesses. I hope you have realized that in looking at these
societies we're not just studying people long dead. As we look at
these societies, we are looking into a mirror. "History makes us
said Francis Bacon--and it makes us wise by showing us what we really
are. It shows us the forces we can control, and the forces we
can't. And it does suggest ways we might go about societal
change, and warns of mistakes we ought to avoid. But as we look
at the changes that need to made, we ought always remember where it is
that we need to start the process.
And I hope that, with at least some of what we have talked about in
class, you can say,
"That's for me."
Good luck on your final exam.