This episode of CS is the 3rd Overview in the series so far. We’ve spent quite a bit of time tracking the Reformation and need now to give a brief over view & analysis of what we’ve seen as we prepare for launching into the next era of Church History.
There’s a well-worn saying in English I’m not sure other languages duplicate. It says that “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” The idea is that the details of something can obscure the bigger picture. You fail to see a forest because all you see are a lot of trees.
As we’ve spent many episodes tracking the Reformation & Counter-Reformation, we may be so distracted by the many names, places, dates & movements, that we miss the larger picture and the summary effect of all this on the people of 16th C.
Trends from the previous century came to fruition in the 16th that made for a monumental shift in people’s idea of what The Church was. Consider a couple of the things that happened in the 15th C.
- Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453.
- The New World was opened to Europe in 1492.
Until then, European Christians felt hemmed in by Muslims to the S & E, & by the Atlantic to the W. Missions were conceived of exclusively as the conversion of Islam. Challenges to Christianity were limited to the threat of an aggressive Islam. That view seemed potent when news of the Fall of Constantinople arrived.
Yet in just the hundred years of the 16th C., the situation changed dramatically. To the E & S, Islam was countered by the Spanish Reconquista & the failure of the Turks to take Vienna. The Battle of Lepanto in 1571 saw the end of Muslim naval power in the Mediterranean. Muslims armies, which had seemed irresistible till then, began to be rolled back.
Then, the Atlantic, which had been a barrier, suddenly became a highway. New worlds opened with the discovery of The New World. Sailing W, Spanish conquistadors took a realm far larger than Spain itself. They took their faith with them.
The Portuguese sailed S around Africa, setting up traded centers & missions in the Far East. And suddenly, Islam, which had appeared the greatest barrier to Christian expansion, saw its central territory suddenly surrounded by the growing economic & military power of Europe. North Africa & western Asia shifted from being Muslim lands to European colonies.
In all these lands newly opened to the Europeans, Christianity established a foothold. Some of them would centuries later become their own vibrant center of missionary outreach at a time when Europe was growing increasingly secular.
But, few who lived in the 15th C time could comprehend the massive consequences of the events they witnessed. When Spain & Portugal came near to blows over who had the rights to what, the pope thought he could work a compromise by decreeing the W belonged to Spain while the E belonged to Portugal. But what about when sailing W leads to the E, and vice versa? The conflict then was played out in the Philippines.
King Ferdinand of Spain and his grandson the famous Emperor Charles V, before whom Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms, were far more concerned with the politics of Europe than the promises of a New World. That would be like a company in the year 2000 being more concerned with the telegraph than mobile cellphones.
During the 16th C, when these vast geopolitical changes were taking place, the towering edifice of medieval Christianity collapsed. The Council of Trent tried to salvage what it could & set the scene for what became modern Catholicism. Protestantism diffused into dozens of groups amid the ruins of the medieval Church. The long-held ideal of a single church, with the vicar of Christ as its visible head, never a view held firm by the Eastern Church, lost its power in the West as well. From then on, Western Christianity was divided among a plethora of groups that divided up along cultural & doctrinal differences.
In spite of corruption & the many voices calling for reform, there was agreement among Christians the Church was in essence one, and its unity ought to be seen in its organization. All the chief figures of the Reformation at first held such an understanding of the Church. Only a few went to the place where they rejected it. Most of the Protestant leaders believed the unity of the Church was crucial to its nature, and that although it was temporarily necessary to break unity to be faithful to God’s Word, that faithfulness demanded all effort at regaining unity.
As the Middle Ages had, people of the early 16th C took for granted that the survival of a nation-state required religious agreement among its subjects. That notion, which Christians rejected when a minority in the Roman Empire, became the prevailing view after the conversion of Constantine. All who lived in a Christian state must be Christian & faithful members of the Church. In a few scattered and special places Jews & Muslims were allowed an exemption, but even then were objects of disenfranchisement & persecution.
This view of national & concomitant religious uniformity is what led to the many wars of religion of the 16th & !7th Cs. Then, in some areas sooner than in others, a conclusion was reached that religious tolerance was preferable to the devastation these wars brought. So began the long process, as one after another the various European states adopted policies of religious tolerance. And that led to the modern idea of the secular state.
The 16th C also witnessed the collapse of the ancient dream of political unity under an Empire. Charles V was the last emperor who could harbor such illusions. After him, the so-called emperors were little more than kings of Germany whose powers were limited.
The Conciliarist hope for reforming the Church was also shaken. For several decades, Protestant reformers hoped a universal council would set the pope’s house in order. But the opposite took place. The papacy achieved its own reformation without help from a council. By the time the Council of Trent assembled, it was obvious it wouldn’t be an ecumenical council so much as a papal tool.
Sincere believers among both Protestant and Catholic saw many of the old certainties crumble around them. Even the discoveries taking place in the New World posed questions unanswerable by the old guidelines. Medieval foundations like papacy, empire, tradition—no longer held. Galileo demonstrated the earth wasn’t a fixed point of reference. Now it seemed there wasn’t ANY fixed point to be trusted.
Such were the times of Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Knox, & the other great reformers. While the world was in chaos, they resolved to stand firm in Faith & the power of the Word of God. Luther and Calvin insisted that the power of the Word was such that, as long as the Roman Church continued reading, even though the pope & his advisors refused to listen, there was always in the Roman communion a “vestige of the church.” So they anticipated the day when the Church would once again cleave to the Word & set aside their differences to emerge in a united church once more.
As I shared last episode, we now have dates for the 2017 Reformation Tour.
March 7-19, 2017. We’re still working the costs but 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 about 45, so we can keep it to one bus. 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 Los Angeles CA. But as people sign up, we’ll see if it’s good to 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.
The cost for the tour is right around $3800 for air & land, $2,700 for land only. For more information, you can go to the CS FB site or the CS site itself at www.sanctorum.us for a link to the tour. There you can see the details for the tour, download a brochure and even got to the Reformation Tours site to register.