Church History: A Biblical View
Part V - The Reformation: Lesson No. 33 Final Protestant Struggles
I. Protestantism in Scotland
The triumph of Protestantism in Scotland is largely attributable to John Knox. Because of complicity with Protestant Scottish rebels, Knox spent nineteen months in France as a galley-slave. Returning to England, he became a chaplain to the Protestant king, Edward VI, but was forced to flee in 1554 by the accession of Catholic Mary ("Bloody Mary"). He made his way to Geneva and there became a devoted disciple of John Calvin. The Scottish obsession with independence provided Knox with the opportunity to return and plant Protestantism in Scotland. Many Scots resented the efforts of their queen and others to bring Scotland into the fold of Catholic France, so that Scottish nationalism became more and more identifiable with Protestantism. With English help Scotland successfully revolted against France and Protestantism was firmly established.
In 1560 the Scottish Parliament began to give the Calvinistic system legal status. Papal jurisdiction and the mass were abolished, and the Calvinistic creed was officially adopted. Knox also desired that the Calvinistic system of church government be adopted on a national scale. Known as "Presbyterianism," it directed that each congregation be under the supervision of a pastor and elders chosen by each congregation (Acts 14:23; Eph. 4:11), that pastors and elders organize into "presbyteries" and the presbyteries into larger "synods", and that all be under the "General Assembly" (Matt. 18:15-17; Acts 15; 20:28; I Pet. 5:2). Mary (Queen of Scots) eventually aroused the antagonism of her subjects, to the point that she was forced to abdicate in 1567, thus ensuring the final triumph of Protestantism in Scotland.
II. The Counter-Reformation
The Reformation caught the Catholic Church at a time of moral and doctrinal weakness. The popes in the early years of the Protestant revolt failed to appreciate its seriousness and did little to arrest it. However a new spirit which had begun in Spain began to pervade the Catholic Church It called for spiritual zeal and sincerity, correction of moral and doctrinal abuses, enforcement of strict orthodoxy, and suppression of heresy. This revival in Roman Catholicism has been called the Counter-Reformation. Thus, in 1542 Pope Paul III was induced to enact the inquisition on a universal scale, thereby extinguishing the small Protestant movements in Spain and Italy.
Other results of this Counter-Reformation are noteworthy.
(1) Ignatius Loyola organized the Company of Jesus (Jesuits), which received papal authorization in 1540. Loyola led a valorous military life until convalescence from battle wounds brought him to a closer contemplation of the life of Christ and a commitment to be a knight of the Virgin. He and his followers were to constitute a spiritual army for Jesus. The head of the Jesuits was a "general", and Loyola prepared a manual of discipline, entitled Spiritual Exercises, for the training of his spiritual soldiers. Militant devotion to Catholicism and almost unquestioning obedience to the "general" and the pope were to characterize the Jesuits.
(2) The Catholic Council of Trent met in 1545-63 (except for an adjournment in 1552-62) to address matters raised by the Reformation. The result was a definitive rejection of Protestantism. Basic Catholic doctrines were reaffirmed. Tradition, as well as the Scriptures, was retained as a source of truth (Matt 15:1-9; Jn. 17:17; II Tim. 3:16,17; Rev. 22:18,19), and the Church alone had the right of interpretation (Acts 17:11; II Pet. 1:20). Works of merit and the seven sacraments were also upheld. Any compromise with Protestantism was made impossible by the decrees of the Council of Trent.
(3) A renewal of mysticism - characterized by tranquility, deep contemplation, and sometimes asceticism - also resulted from this Catholic revival. Mystic practices were intended to bring one to a state of ecstasy in which he experienced inner revelation and a union in divine love (II Tim. 3:16, 17).
(4) There was also a revival of the missionary spirit. Spearheaded by Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans, it was responsible for the spread of Catholicism in North, Central, and South America, India, China, Japan, and the Philippines.
III. Politics and War
From the beginning Protestant advances had been closely tied to political expediency. This inevitably led to civil strife and war. In France the Protestants, known as Huguenots, were multiplying rapidly. Persecution of them by alarmed Catholics led to eight devastating wars (1562-1592). A noteworthy instance of Catholic violence during this period was the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre which occurred on August 24, 1572. Tiring of their efforts to undo Protestantism in France by other means, Catholics arose on this day and slaughtered 8,000 Huguenots in Paris alone and many times that number in all of France (cp. Esther 3). Ultimately, the Catholics were unable to exterminate the Huguenots, so -the Edict of Nantes, granted by Henry IV in 1598, permitted them basic religious freedom. 'However, this edict was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, thus forcing many Huguenots into exile.
During this period the Netherlands, or at least the northern portion thereof, were taken for Protestantism. Led by William of Orange, a Calvinist, the Netherlands revolted against Spain and finally declared their independence in 1581. Yet, strong Spanish military efforts held the ten southern provinces for Catholicism, and they eventually became modern Belgium. The seven northern provinces, the Netherlands, extended to their citizens a degree of religious toleration unusual in that age and which made the Netherlands a haven for religious refugees.
Germany also suffered great turmoil after the death of Luther. The Lutherans themselves were seriously divided over some points of doctrine, such as Melanchthon's views on the free will of man and the non-physical presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. Calvinist and Jesuit advances in Germany also aggravated the situation. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the ultimate military struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, broke out in Bohemia but moved into Germany where it was fought out by German, French, Swedish, and Spanish factions on a scale which reduced the population of Germany from 19 to 6 million and left the land in ruins. The war closed with the lines drawn essentially where they were in the beginning. Germany was still divided between Catholics and Protestants with each territorial ruler given the right to determine, within certain limits, the religion of his subjects.
IV. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) (T or F) Church tradition is equally as authoritative as Scripture.
(2) (T or F) The church alone has the right to interpret the Scriptures.
(3) (T or F) Mysticism is an additional means of ascertaining God's will.
(4) (T or F) Protestantism incited great civil conflict and war in France and Germany.
(5) ______ John Knox A. French Protestant
(6) ______ Ignatius Loyola B. Leader of Scottish Protestantism
(7) ______ Huguenot C. Founder of Jesuits
(8) What is wrong with the "Presbyterian" form of church government?
(9) What were five results of the Counter-Reformation?
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