Reformation and Counter Reformation in Europe. Protestant lands in blue, Catholic in olive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
[It strikes me upon reading this that it reads more polemical than I meant it to be. For that I’ll have to say that we are talking here of our historic churches, and they were polemical, and very definitely able to see the evil in each other. And so, as always, if we are to understand the past; we must see the past through its own eyes. That does not mean that our current churches are like that, for indeed they are not. As we have written here, all of us, over and over, we share very much the same belief system. But this is part of how we got here.]
Geoffrey and I have both touched lightly on something that seems to keep coming up. Namely, the Petrine authority and why we don’t accept it. It seems that some have a bit of trouble understanding why that is. Our beliefs do parallel the Orthodox but there is a lot of western history tied up in it as well.
Most Protestant churches to a greater or lesser extent resist authority, outside of the congregation, Anglican and Lutherans both have a smattering of Archbishops and do have bishops but, at least here in the States ours have little authority, really. As far as I remember the only extant Lutheran Archbishop is in Sweden.
But one of the main things I have noticed is that Protestant doesn’t mean what you think it does. It does not refer to us protesting Rome. Instead as Peter Escalante, writing on the Calvinistinternational.com reminded us the other day, it originally meant
[Do not take]“Protestant” to mean “protestor” in the modern sense, when in fact it originally meant “confessor,” “proclaimer,” “testifier.” A brief consideration of this point can be found here. The Reformers were not defined by protest against Rome, they were defined by protestation of the truth.
Protestants are “evangelical” Christians, and evangelical means “of the Gospel” (Remember, the Lutherans were the original “evangelicals.”). This indicates that we stand on the plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments regarding the Gospel, in a way which is less mixed than churches which have not been reformed, although we warmly acknowledge that they are Christians too despite their imperfect understanding or problematic practices. Our faith is Biblical, and therefore “catholic,” which means, “universal.” We are also called Protestants, because the Christians who called the church back to a purer Biblical faith in the 16th century had to bear witness to Biblical truth, and originally, “protest” meant just that: to testify before an audience. And this is what our fathers in faith did.
As we still do. And to be completely honest, that is also what drove the Reformation. Because the one thing that the medieval Roman Church did in all times and in all place was to suppress the Bible from the people, We saw it with Wyclif, we saw it with Tyndale, and we saw it with Luther as well.
Although it’s not strictly necessary to the discussion the following video lays it out well, from the English side.
And I have seen reports that by the time of the Act of Supremacy, roughly half of all English people were more or less literate.
As Geoffrey will tell you, although it mandated putting the Bible in the hands of the people, the Church of England wasn’t necessarily much friendlier to dissent, and neither was the Lutheran church, it’s a function of a state church.
As an aside, the famous religious freedom in the United States came to be to try to tamp down religious conflict. Otherwise you would have Congregational New England, fighting with Catholic Maryland, Episcopal Virginia, Quaker Pennsylvania, Methodist Georgia and all the other variants. And note that originally our Constitution did not restrict the states from any religious test, the only prohibition was a prohibition on a religious test for an office of the United States. States could still have an established church, and some did. In other words, they quite rationally and consciously swept the whole mess under a rug in Philadelphia and got on with making a country.
But if we believe, as we all do that
Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Why would a church of that God seek to suppress that Word. The only reason that seemed to be in the mind of those reformers was that that church was not preaching the Word properly. That perhaps that church was
- Not educating it’s clergy well enough. Wyclif particularly commented on this
- Had become corrupt with worldly power (and pleasure) Luther particularly began to doubt the church after his summons to Rome, when he observed the practices of the clergy there. and/or
- Had corrupted the message for its own corrupt ends.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we hold that we did not leave the catholic church, Rome did. In American Constitutional terms, we are an originalist church, going back to the origins of the Faith.
In short, while we are perfectly willing to grant the Bishop of Rome respect, often even Primus inter Pares, perhaps even Patriarchal status, we do not recognize his authority as authority, any more than the Orthodox or the Copts do.
It strikes me further that there is an interesting side issue here. The Protestant lands, almost without exception are those which, never acknowledged the Emperor of Rome either. Is there also a folk memory acting here? You disagree because of England? Why? Yes, there was Roman Britain, but Britain was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons (and Jutes) after that; pushing the Celts into Wales, leaving little trace, and then again by the Normans, who while they came from France were by blood also Scandinavian. I don’t have any theory here, it’s merely an interesting set of facts, which may or may not be relevant to anything.
And some to make mirth · as minstrels know how,
And get gold with their glees · guiltlessly, I hold.
But jesters and janglers · children of Judas,
Feigning their fancies · and making folk fools,
They have wit at will · to work, if they would;
Paul preacheth of them · I’ll not prove it here —
Qui turpiloquium loquitur · is Lucifer’s hind.
Tramps and beggars · went quickly about,
Their bellies and their bags · with bread well crammed;
Cadging for their food · fighting at ale;
In gluttony, God knows · going to bed,
And getting up with ribaldry · the thieving knaves!
Sleep and sorry sloth · ever pursue them.
Pilgrims and palmers · pledged them together
To seek Saint James · and saints in Rome.
They went forth on their way · with many wise tales,
And had leave to lie · all their life after —
I saw some that said · they had sought saints:
Yet in each tale that they told · their tongue turned to lies
More than to tell truth · it seemed by their speech.
Hermits, a heap of them · with hooked staves,
Were going to Walsingham · and their wenches too;
Big loafers and tall · that loth were to work,
Dressed up in capes · to be known from others;
And so clad as hermits · their ease to have.
I found there friars · of all the four orders,
Preaching to the people · for profit to themselves,
Explaining the Gospel · just as they liked,
To get clothes for themselves · they construed it as they would.
Many of these master friars · may dress as they will,
For money and their preaching · both go together.
For since charity hath been chapman · and chief to shrive lords,
Many miracles have happened · within a few years.
Except Holy Church and they · agree better together,
Great mischief on earth · is mounting up fast.
There preached a pardoner · as if he priest were:
He brought forth a brief · with bishops’ seals thereon,
And said that himself · might absolve them all
From falseness in fasting and of broken vows.
Laymen believed him · welcomed his words,
Piers The Plowman, Prologue, p. 2