This episode is titled, “Reform Around the Edges.”
Stay tuned to the end of this episode for some important news about the CS 2017 Reformation Tour.
It’s difficult living in the Modern World to understand the Late Medieval norm that a State had to have a single religion all its subjects observed. You’d be hard pressed to find a European of the 16th C who didn’t assume this to be the case. About the only group who didn’t see it his way were the Anabaptists. And even among them there were small groups, like the extremists who tried to set up the New Jerusalem at Munster, who did advocate a State Church. Classic Anabaptists wanted religious tolerance, but were most often persecuted for this stance.
As we have seen in the story of the Church in Germany & as was hammered out in the Peace of Augsburg, peace was secured by deciding some regions would be Lutheran, others Catholic by the principle of cujus regis eius religio [coo-yoos regio / ay-oos rel-i-gio] meaning, “Whose realm, whose religion.” Whatever the religion of the ruler of a region determined what the subjects religion. Under Augsburg, people were supposed to be free to relocate to another region if a ruler’s religion didn’t square with their convictions.
The many wars of religion that washed over Europe in general and France in particular is evidence of the idea that ruled that a State could have but one religion. Even the Edict of Nantes, passed by King Henry IV after the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, only guaranteed the survival of French Protestantism by granting a number of Protestant cities as enclaves in an otherwise French Catholic realm.
We’ve given a thumbnail sketch of the spread of the Reformation over Germany, France, England, Scotland, the Low Countries & in Scandinavian.
Let’s take a look now at Spain.
Before the Reformation reached the Iberian Peninsula, many hoped the Spanish Church would lead the way in long-overdue reform. Queen Isabella’s faith was earnest. She & Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros implemented a massive reform—including a renewal of biblical studies centered on the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. We know a polyglot today as a parallel Bible; only a polyglot doesn’t have several versions in the same language; It’s several languages side by side in parallel columns. The Complutensian Polyglot had the Hebrew, Latin & Greek texts of the OT as well as the Aramaic of the Torah. The NT was contained in both Greek & The Latin Vulgate. Spain also had many humanists like Erasmus—some of them in high places—who longed for reform.
The arrival of the Protestant Reformation saw attitudes in Spain changed. At Worms, the upstart monk Martin Luther defied Emperor Charles V, who just happened to be King Charles I of Spain. Charles became the champion of opposition to Protestantism. The Spanish Inquisition, previously aimed at Jews & those accused of practicing the occult, turned its attention toward those calling for reform & anything that smacked of the dreaded “Lutheranism.” Several leading humanists fled to places like the Low Countries where they were welcomed. Others stayed in Spain & tried to lay low, devoting themselves to their studies & hoping the storm would pass them by.
The Inquisition wasn’t able to halt the “Lutheran contagion,” as it was called. Valladolid & Seville became centers of Reformation despite frequent burnings at the stake by the Inquisition. A monastery in Santiponce near Seville was a reform center where Bibles & Protestant books were smuggled in barrels labeled as oil & wine. When one of the smugglers was captured and burned, a dozen of the monks fled, agreeing to meet in a year in Geneva. One of them became pastor to a Spanish congregation there. Another, Casiodoro de Reina, spent the rest of his life translating the Bible into Spanish; a recognized masterpiece of Spanish literature released originally in 1569. A few years later, another of the 12, Cipriano de Valera, revised de Reina’s version, which is now known as today as the Reina-Valera Bible. Back in their monastery in Santiponce & throughout the area around Seville, the Inquisition cleansed the Church of all trace of Protestantism.
We hop over now to Italy.
Among the inaccessible valleys of the Alps, some more reachable parts of Northern Italy & Southern France, the ancient community of the Waldensians continued a secluded but threatened existence. They were repeatedly attacked by armies hoping to suppress their supposed heresy. But they’d long stood firm in their mountain fastness. By the early 16th C the movement lost steam as constant persecution suppressed them. Many among them felt that the price paid for disagreeing with Rome was too high, and increasing numbers returned to Catholicism.
Then, strange rumors were heard. News of a great Reformation arrived. An emissary sent to inquire about these rumors returned in 1526 announcing they were true. In Germany, Switzerland, France, and even more distant regions dramatic change was afoot. Many of the doctrines of the Reformers matched what the Waldensians had held since the 12th C. More delegations met with leading reformers like Martin Bucer, who warmly received them & affirmed most of their beliefs. They suggested some points where they differed & the Waldensians ought to consider revising their stand to bring it into closer alignment with Scripture. In 1532, the Waldensians convened a synod where they adopted the main tenets of the Protestant Reformation. By doing so, they became the oldest Protestant church—existing more that 3 Cs before the Reformation.
Sadly, that didn’t make things easier for the Waldensians. Their communities in Southern France, whose lands were more vulnerable than the secluded Alpine valleys, were invaded and virtually exterminated. The survivors fled to the Alps. Then a series of edicts ensued, forbidding attendance at Protestant churches & commanding attendance at Mass. Waldensian communities in southern Italy were also exterminated.
Large armies raised by the Pope, the Duke of Savoy, & several other powerful nobles wanting to prove their loyalty to Rome repeatedly invaded the Waldensian mountain enclaves, only to be routed by the defenders. On one occasion, 6 men with crude firearms held back an entire army at a narrow pass while others climbed the mountains above. When rocks began raining on them, the invaders were routed.
Then, in what has to be a premier, “Can’t a guy catch a break?” moments, when the Waldensians had a prolonged respite from attack, a plague broke out decimating their population. Only 2 pastors survived. Their replacements came from the Reformed centeres of Switzerland, bringing about closer ties between the Waldensians and the Reformed Church. In 1655, all Waldensians living in Northern Italy were commanded under penalty of death to forfeit their lands in 3 days, selling them to Catholics.
In the same year the Marquis of Pianeza was given the assignment of exterminating the Waldensians. But he was convinced if he invaded the Alps his army would suffer the same fate as earlier invaders. So he offered peace to the Waldensians. They’d always said they’d only fight a war of defense. So they made peace with the Marquis & welcomed the soldiers into their homes where they were fed & housed against the bitter cold. Lovely story huh? Well, wait it’s not over yet. Two days later, at a prearranged time, the guests turned on their hosts, killing men, women & children. This “great victory” was then celebrated with a Te Deum.
Yet still the Waldensians resisted, hoping their enemies would make peace with them. King Louis XIV of France, who ordered the expulsion of all Huguenots from France, demanded the Duke of Savoy do likewise with his Waldensians. This proved too much for many of them who left the Alps to live in Geneva and other Protestant areas. A few insisted on remaining on their ancestral lands, where they were constantly menaced. It wasn’t until 1848 that the Waldensians and other groups were granted freedom of worship in Italy.
Ah, time for a breather, we’d hope. But again, it was not to be. Because just 2 years later, famine broke out in the long exploited & now over-populated Alpine valleys. After much debate, the 1st of many Waldensian groups left for Uruguay & Argentina. Where they flourished. In 1975, the 2 Waldensian communities, 1 on each side of the Atlantic, made it clear that they were still 1 church by deciding to be governed by a single synod with 2 sessions, 1 in the Americas in February, the other in Europe in August.
The Waldensians weren’t the only Protestant presence in Italy. Among others, Juan de Valdés & Bernardino Ochino deserve mention.
Valdés was a Spanish Protestant Humanist of the Erasmian mold. When it was clear Charles V was determined to wipe Protestantism out of Spain, he was fled to in Italy in 1531. He settled in Naples where he gathered a group of colleagues who devoted themselves to Bible study. They didn’t seek to make their views public, and were moderate in their Protestant leanings. Among the members of this group was Giulia Gonzaga, a woman of such fame that at 1 point in her life the Sultan in Constantinople sought to have her kidnapped. But it was another member of this group, Bernardino Ochino, a famous & pious preacher who twice was elected general of the Capuchins. Ochino openly promulgated Protestant principles. When the Inquisition threatened him, he fled to Geneva, then kept going to Basel, Augsburg, Strasbourg, London, and finally Zürich. His wanderings wasn’t just geographical, it was also doctrinal. He became ever more radical, eventually rejecting the Trinity and defending polygamy, which partly explains why he had to move around a lot. He kept getting kicked out of town. He died of the plague in 1564.
Now we take the CS train to HUNGARY
At the beginning of the Reformation, Hungary was ruled by the 10 year old boy-King Louis II. 10 years later, in 1526, the Ottoman Turks defeated the Hungarians and killed him. The Hungarian nobility elected Ferdinand of Hapsburg to take the throne. Nationalist named John Sigismund as king. After complex negotiations, Hungary was partly under Hapsburg & mostly under Ottoman, rule. The Hapsburgs were devoted Catholicism, and took every measure to prevent what they considered the Protestant contamination. But theirs was only the western edge of Hungary. The rest of the realm was ruled by the Ottomans. Royal Hungary, known to us as Transylvania, enjoyed a measure of autonomy, and eventually King Sigismund, realizing religious division weakened the kingdom, decided 4 forms of Christianity would have equal standing: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, the Reformed tradition, & Unitarianism, which we’ll take a closer look at when we consider Poland. The Ottomans promoted divisions among Christians precisely because they knew it would weaken the Western Hungary. Whatever Christian group was strongest was opposed by the Ottomans as they gave support to the weaker elements until THEY emerged as the leading group, then Turkish support would switch.
Lutheranism reached Hungary early. There’s evidence Luther’s 95 theses circulated in Hungary only a year after their original; posting in Wittenberg. By 1523, the Hapsburgs ordered Lutherans be burned to prevent their spread. A few years later, Zwingli’s teachings entered on the scene, and similar measures were taken against them.
Though Ottoman rule was harsh & atrocities were committed against all Christians, it was in the territories occupied by the Ottomans that Protestantism grew most rapidly.
Hungarians preferred the Reformed Tradition coming out of Switzerland to the church government advocated in Lutheranism. They already suffered under a highly centralized. In the Reformed tradition, pastors and laity shared authority. Also, this decentralized form of church govt made it more difficult for Ottoman authorities to exert pressure on church leaders. Records make it clear that Ottoman authorities accepted the appointment of a parish priest on the condition the congregation pay if the priest was arrested for any reason. So, priests were often arrested, & freed only when a bribe was paid.
Both Hapsburgs and Ottomans tried to prevent the spread of what they called heresy by means of the printing press. In 1483, long before the Reformation, the Sultan issued a decree condemning printers to have their hands cut off. Now the Hapsburg King Ferdinand I issued a similar ruling; except that, instead of having their hands amputated, they were drowned! But that didn’t stop the circulation of Protestant books. These books were often printed in the vernacular, climaxing in the publication of the Karoly Bible in 1590 and the Vizsoly Bible in 1607, which in Hungary played a role similar to that of Luther’s Bible in German. It’s estimated that by 1600 as many as 4 out of 5 Hungarians were Protestant.
Then conditions changed. Early in the 17th C, Ottoman power waned, & Transylvania, supported by Hungarian nationalists, clashed with the Hapsburgs. The conflict was settled by the Treaty of Vienna, granting equal rights to both Catholics & Protestants. But the Thirty Years’ War—in which Transylvania opposed the Hapsburgs & their allies—brought devastation to the country. Even after the end of the War, the conflict among the Hapsburgs, Royal Hungary & Ottomans continued. The Hapsburgs eventually gained the upper hand, & the Peace of Karlowitz in 1699 gave them control over all Hungary—a control they retained until 1918 & the end of WWI. In Hungary, as elsewhere, the Hapsburgs imposed virulent anti-Protestant measures, and eventually the country became Catholic.
We end with a look at POLAND.
When Luther posted his theses on that door in Wittenberg, there was already in western Poland a growing number of the followers of the Pre-Reformer, Jan Hus; Hussites who’d fled the difficulties in Bohemia. They were amped by the prolific work of the German monk. The Poles, however, had long been in conflict with Germans, and distrusted anything coming from such a source. So Lutheranism did spread, but slowly. When Calvinism made its way to Poland, Protestantism picked up steam.
The king at the time was Sigismund I who vehemently opposed all Protestant doctrine. But by the middle of the 16th C, Calvinism enjoyed a measure of support from Sigismund II, who even corresponded with Calvin.
The leader of the Calvinist movement in Poland was Jan Laski, a nobleman who had connections to a wide circle of people with Reformed leanings, including Melanchthon & Erasmus. He even purchased, Erasmus’ library. Exiled from Poland for being a Calvinist, he was called back by the nobility who’d come to favored the Reformed Faith. Laski translated the Bible into Polish, & worked for a meeting of the minds between Calvinists & Lutherans. His efforts led to the Synod of Sendomir in 1570, 10 years after Laski’s death.
The Polish govt followed a policy of greater religious tolerance than most of Europe. A large number of people, mostly Jews & Christians of various faith flavors, sought refuge there. Among these was Faustus Socinius, who denied the Doctrine of the Trinity, launching a group known as the Unitarians. His views were expressed in the Racovian Catechism, authored not by Socinius, but by 2 of his followers and published in 1605. This document affirms and argues that only the Father is God, that Jesus is not divine, but purely human, and that the Holy Spirit is just a way of referring to God’s power and presence.
Throughout most of the 16th C & well into the 17th, Protestantism as affirmed at the Synod of Sendomir, had a growing number of followers—as did also Socinian Unitarianism. But as the national identity of Poland developed in opposition to Russian Orthodox to the East, and the German Lutherans to the West, with both Russia & Germany repeatedly seeking to take Polish territory, that identity became increasingly Roman Catholic, so that by the 20th C, Poland was one of the most Catholic nations in Europe.
This brief review of the Reformation around the edges of Europe reveals that within just a few decades of Martin Luther’s time the ideas of Protestant theology had covered the continent & caused large scale upheaval. What we HAVEN’T considered yet, is the impact of the Reformation further East. In a much later episode we’ll take a look at the impact it had on the Eastern Church.
And that brings us to the end of this episode and an important announcement about the CS 2017 Reformation Tour. We have dates – March 7-19, 2017. We’re still working the costs bu can let you know we’ll be starting in Prague, then visiting Dresden, Wittenberg, Erfurt, Eisenach, Marburg, Worms, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Constance, Zurich, & end in Geneva.
We’re going to limit the tour to a total of 45, so we can keep it to one bus. I’ve learned from experience that this maximizes our agenda since we don’t; have to coordinate between multiple vehicles. It’ll also make the tour more intimate & personal.
The main point of departure will be from the International airport at Los Angeles CA. But as people sign up, we’ll see if it’s good t also select some other major departure ports. There will also be a land only option for those already in Europe or those who have air miles they want to redeem.
As soon as we have firm costs, we’ll let you know where you can go to get more info and to make a deposit.