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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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III. THE REFORMATION AND
COUNTER-REFORMATION

1. The Pre-Reformation Church. The Church at the
beginning of the sixteenth century confronts us with
the variety which we should expect to find when we
look at the manifold life of a whole continent. There
were abuses and disorders—indeed an unusual number
of grave scandals at certain levels—but also in many
places even deep piety and reforming zeal. The
Renaissance itself could bring attempts to enrich the
Christian outlook with the new humanism, projects
for a further alliance between Platonism and religion,
and a fresh interest in the ancient texts—the Scriptures
and the Fathers of the Church. Even in Italy there
were many localities that had their religious revivals,
some of them medieval in character, popular and even
perhaps superstitious, though the one associated with
Savonarola in Florence captured some of the famous
figures of the Renaissance. The monastic system, from
its very nature, was subject to ups-and-downs, espe-
cially as its rules took for granted a certain intensity
of spiritual life. But if in some regions monasteries had
sunk into immorality, there had been a number of
reforming movements, some of them emerging from
within and arising spontaneously. There had been edu-
cational developments—the religious schools under the
Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands, for
example, and the founding in fifteenth-century
Germany of universities under the patronage of the
clergy or the pope. Many of these movements were
local in character, arising from below. Even a wicked
pope would normally have no reason for checking
them, or for discouraging piety as such.

On the other hand, the leading officers of the Church
could be too remote from these things and ordinarily
too indifferent in respect to them. It is doubtful
whether the directors of the Catholic system took even
the minimum measures that were required to maintain
their guidance over religious life or ensure the survival
of the system as a whole. In some regions the state
of the priesthood and the work of the pulpit had sunk
so low that a prince who wished to plunder the Church
had only to open the door to the missionaries of
Protestantism, who might bring an awakening or a
revolt without meeting with an adequate reply. Too
much of the burden of the Church had come to be
borne by a lower clergy who seemed sometimes hardly
trained to realize the nature of their own religion, and
had every reason to be discontented with their lot. A
surprising number of them (and particularly of those
who belonged to the minor and mendicant orders) were
to become Protestants, and some of those who had been
unsatisfactory before their conversion were by no
means contemptible after it. It would appear that there
was often too much of what might be called paganism
or superstition still mixed into the popular Christianity
of the period—too great a readiness on the part of the
authorities to exploit the willingness of ignorant people
to rely on wonders that were mechanically operated,
salvation-devices that had lost their connection with
the inner man.

Apart from the more technical controversies at a
higher level the Reformers were to attack in the world
at large the attitude which the lowest classes were
encouraged to take towards images, relics, indulgences,
the invocation of saints, and the like. There were now
too many people who were coming to be too mature
for this; and the Reformation (which could have
achieved nothing without the success of its preaching)
came in one aspect as a religious revival, a call to a
more personal faith, a demand for a more genuine
“Christian society.” The Reformation was to have its
dark sides but it was to secure its successes because
so many people were ready to be earnest, ready (when
called upon) to bring religion home to themselves and
to feel that they had some responsibility in the matter.
In a sense the Reformation occurred because (on a
long-term view) the medieval Church had done its
work so well, producing out of barbarian beginnings
a laity now capable of a certain self-help, a certain
awareness of responsibility. And as the Church of
Rome, once it had been provoked into reexamining
itself, was to recover its hold on people by its own
preaching and its spiritual intensity, the opening cen-
turies of modern times see the reassertion of religion
both in the individual and in society.

The Reformation was to be helped at the same time
by what on the one hand was a colossal envy and
covetousness, and on the other hand a great resent-
ment. The abuses in the ecclesiastical organization
itself were sufficient to provoke a revolt, and if they
offered an opening for zealous reformers they pre-
sented too great a temptation to monarchs and mag-
nates. In the Middle Ages there had been serious oppo-
sition to the development of the power of the papacy
in particular—the capture of the spiritual prerogatives
into a single center and the insertion of papal authority
into every corner of the European system. At a certain
stage in the story the process had been understandable;
the papacy had often stood as the most beneficial
agency on the continent; abuses, disorders, and lapses
into superstition had tended to occur in the regions
which the hand of the pope could not reach.

But the centralization did not prevent benefices,
offices, indulgences, dispensations, etc., being used as
a means of making money, and new offices being cre-
ated in order that they could be sold—the Church, and
particularly Rome, being saddled with dignitaries who


389

had to find the means of recouping themselves for the
initial outlay. Early in the sixteenth century the posi-
tion of the papal states was so difficult that the pope,
as the ruler of a principality, had a desperate need
for money; and he used his spiritual prerogatives in
order to procure it—an evil that was liable to show
its consequences throughout the length and breadth of
Western Christendom. A higher clergy who were too
often like the sharers in a colossal spoils system did
too little for the earnest people, though they seemed
to stamp very quickly on any enterprise that might
threaten their own profits. The Church lost much,
therefore, through the nature of its entanglement with
the world; and its vested interests—the mundane pos-
sessions that were supposed to guarantee its position—
became in fact a terrible weakness, an abuse to some
people, and, to others, the primary object of cupidity.

2. The Reformation in Germany. The Reformation
is to be regarded as essentially a religious movement
and all our history becomes distorted unless we see
it as arising primarily out of the spiritual needs and
aspirations of earnest men. Social conditions might
place certain sections of the population in a favorable
position for hearing propaganda or for welcoming
it—rather in the way that townsmen may be more
ready than peasants to open their minds to a new
thing—and such factors might have an effect on the
social or geographical distribution of a new religious
system. The current forms and the current needs of
society might affect that fringe of ethical ideas and
practical precepts in which a new form of faith works
out some of its more mundane implications.

In history, everything is so entangled with every-
thing else that for many students the political or eco-
nomic consequences of the Reformation might appear
more momentous than any other aspect of the move-
ment. But religion is the stone that is thrown into the
pool, the agency that starts all the ripples. In the
Reformation itself we are dealing with people for
whom religion was not merely a matter of opinion or
speculation, leaving an opening for alternatives. They
were people who superstitiously feared the powers of
hell, and reckoned the afterlife as clear a vested interest
as anything in the world—people, also, who believed
that only one form of religion could be right, and
regarded it as a matter of eternal moment that God
should be served and propitiated in the proper way.

Martin Luther, while still a young man, and a mem-
ber of the Augustinian order which was to produce
so many supporters of the Reformation, became re-
markable through the intensity of his inner experience
and his exaggerated attempts to secure the salvation
of his soul by his own works and religious exercises.
In this whole endeavor he would seem to have over
looked certain aspects of theological teaching that had
not been lost in the Middle Ages, and he was brought
into the predicament of Saint Paul—powerless to
achieve the good that he so greatly wanted to achieve.
After a distressing time, the help of his own superior
and the study of the Epistle to the Romans brought
him further light, and he came to the view that man
is justified by faith alone, but that the Catholicism of
his time was preaching salvation by “works,” even by
religious exercises.

In reality historical Christianity had always excluded
as Pelagianism any idea that a man could save himself
by his own efforts; and Luther, though he had seized
on something that had been part of the Church's tradi-
tion—going back to certain aspects of Saint Augustine
and Saint Paul—went to the opposite extreme, insisting
on the corruptness of man and his inability to have
a part in his own salvation, so that he ran to predes-
tinarian ideas which were later systematized by Calvin,
and which gave the Reformation an antihumanist
aspect. The later Middle Ages had seen a concentration
on the problem of both freedom and the will in both
man and God; and it seems clear that unfortunate
consequences followed from too intent a consideration
of the power and sovereignty of God, if these were
regarded as separate from His love.

In a sense Luther's views sprang from the intensity
of his own spiritual experience and his feeling about
what had happened in his own case; and they answered
to what many people throughout the ages had felt to
be their own experience—the sense of being drawn
by a power greater than themselves, pulled into salva-
tion by forces which they tried in vain to resist. Luther
therefore had been open to the criticism that he in-
ferred too much of his theology from his personal
experience.

In Wittenberg he was one of those people who
promoted a local religious revival, and his immediate
superiors were encouraging him in his work, advancing
him to a professorship so that his influence would be
enlarged. He was a mountain of a man, capable of great
profundities and giant angers, but possessing a vein of
poetry, and, at times, the heart of a little child. But
he was liable to be intellectually erratic, and when in
1517 the abuses of indulgence-selling led him to offer
his ninety-five theses as a debating-challenge, he en-
larged the issue by his theological assertions and pro-
vided his enemies with a basis for attack. Instead of
calmly reasoning with him, they too set out to enlarge
the issue, driving him from one logical conclusion to
another and into positions that he had not anticipated.
And he—incited by the wave of feeling that he had
aroused in Germany as well as by his own mighty
passions—was glad to be provoked, moving forward


390

until he had denied the authority of popes and councils,
and denounced the condition of the whole Church.

Carefully measuring his power, he enlarged the
whole campaign in 1520, setting out to undermine the
sacramental system of the Church which contributed
to the power of priests. He called in the secular au-
thority to carry out the work of reform which the
Church seemed unable to achieve for itself. Against
the power of a vast organization that had long had
the governments of Europe behind it, he asserted what
he called “the liberty of a Christian man.” Soon he
was attacking the monastic system to which he had
once been devoted. And he convinced himself that the
pope was Anti-Christ.

He was helped by a certain religious dissatisfaction
and by the anger, particularly in Germany, against
ecclesiastical abuses that were associated with Italy.
He was enabled by the printing press, and by his own
prodigious energy, to conduct what was perhaps the
first really large-scale publicity campaign of the kind
that makes its appeal to general readers.

An enormous factor in the case was the weakness
in Germany of the Emperor Charles V, who was dis-
tracted by the problems of the many countries over
which he ruled, and by the princes of the separate
states in Germany who sought to aggrandize their
authority and were sometimes ready to see the advan-
tage of an alliance with Lutheranism. The Emperor
was to be held up still further by the advance of the
Turks, which made it necessary for him to postpone
the solution of his German problems. When the cause
of the Reformation came to be preached—in the cities
of South Germany for example—it found an eager
reception; and for a considerable time even regions
like Bavaria and Austria—regions that later became
renowned for their Catholicism—seemed to be moving
over to Protestantism.

In reality Luther seems to have been a man of con-
servative and perhaps authoritarian disposition. He had
been moved to action because he could not bear the
manner in which the Church was tolerating both prac-
tical abuses and misrepresentations of the faith. But
in the period of the great revolt he put forward certain
theses which were to be remembered as the great
Reformation principles, and were to have a broader
historical influence than even his theology. They as-
serted the right of the individual to interpret the
Scriptures; the priesthood of all believers; and the
“liberty of a Christian man.” When others took these
theses according to their obvious meaning but at the
same time came to conclusions that were different from
his, he made it plain that he could not tolerate their
individualism, and that indeed he had no use for rebels.
There was one interpretation of Scripture, and that
the true one; and only sheer perversity could induce
a man to read anything else into the text. Neither the
Roman Catholics nor the Zwinglians nor the Ana-
baptists were free to interpret the Scriptures for them-
selves. And when Luther came to the construction of
his own system, he showed himself in many respects
a conservative at heart. Clearly it had not been his
desire to divide the Church, but his theological
teaching—and his persistence in it after it had been
condemned—was almost bound to produce that result.
The general historian of Europe would have to say that
the most momentous consequences of the Lutheran
revolt were things of which Luther would have
disapproved.

Lutheranism itself remained essentially Teutonic,
and, outside Germany, it established itself at the time
only in Scandinavia. There was a moment when it
seemed likely to sweep over Germany, a politico-
religious unheaval of the kind that can create a nation.
Once it failed to carry the whole country however,
it was bound to have the opposite effect, creating a
new, confessional division, in some respects more bitter
than any of the others, more difficult to overcome. It
resulted in one important contribution to the German
nation, however—Luther's translation of the Bible into
a language which was to prevail over local dialects
and to have a unifying effect. But, though Luther, when
he called for the aid of princes, thought of them as
servants of the Church, bound by duty to serve the
lofty cause, he produced a situation in which princes
had the power to choose between competing systems
and so acquired great authority in religious matters.
His pessimistic ideas about man and the world may
have had the effect of diminishing the role and the
influence of religion in the political realm, making
Lutheranism too uncritical an ally of monarchy.

In the period immediately after his condemnation
at the Diet of Worms (April 1521), Luther was in
hiding at the Wartburg castle, and during his absence
more radical developments began to take place. In
Wittenberg itself, Andrew Karlstadt (or Carlstadt)
promoted a further movement against the Mass and,
on the strength of the Old Testament attacked images
and called for a stricter sabbatarianism, so that signs
of the later Puritanism were already visible. This, in
March 1522, provoked Luther's return to Wittenberg,
for he did not give the same authority to Old Testament
law, and, in regard to the things that the populace
loved, he deprecated a destructive policy conducted
without sufficient previous explanation. In the mean-
time the reform movement had been establishing itself
in towns where the social conflict had made the situa-
tion almost revolutionary; and by the spring of 1521
Thomas Müntzer had combined the religious cause


391

with civic revolt in the town of Zwickau. Before the
end of the year he had proclaimed in an apocalyptic
manner the downfall of the Church; he insisted that
a scriptural religion was not enough since the voice
of God spoke directly within the believer, and he
threatened the opposition with punishment at the
hands of the Turk. Also some of the other “prophets”
of Zwickau moved in 1522 to Wittenberg, where they
produced trouble for the Lutherans. Soon the objec-
tions to infant baptism became significant.

Forms of apocalypticism and mysticism had made
their appearance in various regions in the later Middle
Ages, and in Germany not only the peasantry but the
lower classes in the towns provided promising soil for
these movements. Now, as so often in history, religious
radicalism could quickly lead to political extremism
and to the feeling that the time had come for the
destruction of the godless. Thomas Müntzer came to
be connected with the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, and,
when speaking to the rebels about the enemy, could
say: “They will beg you, will whine and cry like chil-
dren. But you are to have no mercy, as God com-
manded through Moses.” Yet he is deeply moving when
he writes of his spiritual experience and the voice of
God in the believer: “Scripture cannot make men live,
as does the living Word which an empty soul hears.”
The sects for which Luther so unwillingly opened the
way did not know how to apply the brake, and when
they captured Münster in 1534 they established polyg-
amy, while in Moravia they experimented in commu-
nism. It was they who carried the seeds that were to
be so important to the far future—the insistence that
God regarded men as equal, that Christ had made them
free and that there was an Inner Light which men had
to obey. The twentieth century has shown that even
the apocalypticism can be deeply ingrained in man and
admits of being secularized. It goes back to biblical
times, but (at least when the pattern has once been
established) it can exist without a supernatural religion.

3. Calvin. In the Swiss Reformation the city-state
made its last contribution to history; for it communi-
cated to a nascent church something of the pattern
of its own organization (and particularly government
by councils) as well as something of its spirit, so that
the secular and the spiritual seemed to have kinship
with one another, just as the development of the Cath-
olic hierarchy had fitted neatly into the feudal world.
Here, moreover, the transformation that occurred was
more radical—organized Christianity reshaped itself,
producing a palpably different landscape.

Signs of this are apparent in the case of Zwingli,
the original leader of the revolt within the Swiss Con-
federation. The initial breach occurred on matters of
discipline, but the changes in doctrine and thought
were more radical, more rationalistic than in the case
of the Lutheran Revolt. Here, however, the identifica-
tion of the movement with the political ambitions of
Zürich turned the Reformation into a politico-religious
affair—a patriotic cause—Zwingli meeting his death
in battle.

What we might regard as the international Refor-
mation is associated with John Calvin and with
Geneva—a city which was not yet part of the Con-
federation, and which belonged to no country, though
it stood at the point where France, Germany, Italy
and Switzerland came together. After trying to estab-
lish himself in the city from 1536 and being driven
out in 1538, Calvin from 1541 gained the mastery, and
held it till 1564, though this involved the expulsion
of many of the ancient families and the granting of
citizenship to hosts of refugees from abroad. At the
beginning of this period, the Reformation itself had
arrived at a critical stage. Many people had become
weary of the conflict, and there were distinguished
intellects as well as political leaders who had come
to desire ecclesiastical reunion. Under Melanchthon,
the Lutherans seemed to be trying to discover how
far they could go towards a reconciliation with
Catholicism. After the Peasants' Revolt in Germany
in 1525 there had been the spectacle of the revolu-
tionized city of Münster in 1534, and this had shown
what could happen if religious rebellion was not re-
strained. Calvin represented a new generation, and an
important part of his work was the stabilizing of the
Reformation—conceiving it as an international affair,
and erecting it if possible into an international order
comparable to the Catholic one of the Middle Ages.

In 1536, by the first version of his Institutes of the
Christian Religion
(which was to prove the best-seller
of the sixteenth century), and then, in the following
year, by his part in the “reunion” discussions in
Germany, he had been qualifying himself to become
an international leader. In 1539 his Letter to Cardinal
Sadoleto
had proved to be the most successful of the
popular defences of the Reformation. The wheel had
come into full cycle, and he saw that what was needed
was the reestablishment of ecclesiastical authority. He
realized that the situation called for three important
things: a confession of faith, a doctrine of the Church,
and an ecclesiastical discipline. His originality lay not
in the generation of new doctrines but in the better
coordination of received ones, and their adaptation to
the purpose of achieving a coherent system. Difficulties
concerning the question of the “real presence” in the
Eucharist prevented a union with the Lutherans, who
preserved something of the Catholic point of view, and,
for a long time, also, with the Zwinglians, who treated
the sacrament as rather a symbol and a remembrance


392

of Christ. These latter began to be reconciled, however,
from 1549.

It is in Calvinism that the Reformation, at least in
externals, begins to wear the aspect of almost a new
type of religion—like a new style in art or, as some
would think (perhaps unfairly) a change from poetry
to prose, if not a reaction against aestheticism itself.
It becomes clear now that religion is a very serious
matter; the preaching holds a great importance; and,
under the tighter authority that is possible in the city-
states, there arises a severer control of private life.
Calvin was ready (as Zwingli had been) to follow the
Bible more consistently than Luther, and this was
bound to give an increased importance to the Old
Testament. He put the idea of the sovereignty of God
at the center of his whole system, whereas Luther
might be said to have been preoccupied by the idea
of Grace. The emphasis on sovereignty had its
counterpart in the demand for obedience from the
human side. Here was the basis for a firm authoritar-
ianism—an insistence that the Christian life should be
a severe discipline.

It has been said that Catholicism is the religion of
priests, Lutheranism the religion of theologians, and
Calvinism the religion of the believing congregation.
In spite of its inaccuracies, this comparison throws light
on the Calvinist system in which, theoretically at least,
the Church was the congregation of believing Chris-
tians, independent of mystery and ceremony and ex-
ternal paraphernalia. The system governed through
assemblies, synods, consistories; pastors were elected
by congregations; and all pastors were equal, just as
all churches were equal. The layman was given a part
to play in ecclesiastical affairs; and the ministers were
to have no special immunities, no territorial lordships,
and they were to pay taxes like anybody else. The
ecclesiastical system was to have no prisons, no instru-
ments of mundane power; their sole weapon against
the offender was to be exclusion from the Lord's Sup-
per. In other words, sacerdotalism was at an end; and
it was Calvin rather than Luther who broke the power
of priests. It was all congenial to the pattern of a
city-state, and suggests a Christianity that is being
reshaped in the context of a more modern world.

Yet it was authoritarian, and only with the greatest
difficulty did Calvin impose it on an unwilling city.
Coming later than Luther, and having a more re-
morselessly logical mind, he did not pretend that the
individual might interpret Scripture for himself. If
congregations elected their ministers the qualifications
of these had to be approved, and their ordination
carried out, by other ministers, and in Calvin's time
the congregation would be provided with a nominee;
all it could do was to give or refuse its consent. In
reality, the system was governed by an oligarchy which
recruited itself by cooptation and closely superintended
its members, entering private houses, and exercising
control over private life. It was even something like
a police-state, with spies, informers, and occult agents,
and with neighbors and members of families betraying
one another—the culprit being handed over to the civil
magistrate, who carried out the requirements of the
Church. If the influx of foreign exiles enabled Calvin
to clinch his mastery of Geneva, it also provided him
with the means of extending his influence abroad. The
city became like a modern nest of international revo-
lution, where the foreign guests received their training,
and then departed to continue the work in their home
country.

Though he repressed freedom of conscience and
personal liberty, and, like Martin Luther, gave the
individual no right to rebel, he did allow disobedience
to rulers who commanded what was contrary to the
word of God, and he gave currency to a theory of
resistance to monarchy which was to be of great im-
portance in the subsequent period. Individuals had no
right to rebel but representative institutions (the
States-General in France, the Parliament in England,
for example) were justified in fighting the king. The
doctrine was quoted from Calvin by the early Whigs
and debated by the nascent Tories in seventeenth-
century England and it had already been significant
in other countries. It inaugurates the modern theory—
the modern paradox—of “constitutional revolution”
where the organ of revolt (as in France in 1789) is
the representative system itself.

It happened that, in various countries, Calvinism
spread originally in opposition to government, and its
leader approved of these movements and guided them.
Calvinism, in fact, often emerged in the attitude of
rebellion, and Calvin's warnings against this were not
always heeded, if indeed he himself was quite consis-
tent about the matter. It is not an accident that liberty
extends itself in the modern world via Holland, Great
Britain and the United States—countries where politi-
cal rebellion was allied to Calvinism.

4. The Counter-Reformation. The Catholic revival
of the sixteenth century has two aspects. On the one
hand, like the Protestant Reformation itself, it can be
regarded as a religious revival, a reaction against the
ecclesiastical abuses that had been accumulating, and
a protest against the secularization of Church and
society. In this sense, if it ran parallel to the Lutheran
movement, it had in fact begun at an earlier date. And
one of its important features had been a purification
of the Church in Spain—a remarkable reform of
monasteries for example—before the end of the fif-
teenth century, that is to say, under Ferdinand and


393

Isabella, and chiefly through the piety of the latter.
One result of this was the fact that even the “Renais-
sance” in Spain had a peculiar character—it was
largely a regeneration of ecclesiastical scholarship, and
for a time it gave Erasmus a considerable influence
on the religious life of that country. In their program
for the New World the Spaniards gave a high place
to the idea of transplanting Christianity and a Christian
civilization to the other side of the Atlantic. Spanish
monks, using the Bible, canon law, and scholastic writ-
ings, assisted the transition to modern international law
by their works on the laws of war and the rights of
the native population, as they related to the overseas
empire. At the same time, the fanaticism and intoler-
ance of the Spaniards seems to have been an acquired
characteristic, a product of history. At an earlier date
they had been reproached by other Christians for their
laxity, their resort to infidel doctors, their visits to
Moorish courts, so long as the Muhammadans remained
in the peninsula. The enduring conflict with the infidel,
and the religious propaganda connected with it, helped
to make Spain more firmly Catholic, more intolerantly
orthodox, than any other country.

On the other hand there was a Counter-Reformation
in a stricter sense—the reaction against the Protestant
movement, which, to a Catholic was the greatest of
the disorders of the time. There was a moment when
some men were able to feel that the Catholic revival
might combine with the Lutheran movement, espe-
cially when more radical revolts had broken out and
a section of the Lutherans had taken a conservative
turn. A group of important Catholics were even sym-
pathetic to a certain form of the doctrine of justifica-
tion by faith; and when the accession of Pope Paul
III brought something of a turn towards a reformation
at Rome itself, the appointment of a number of cardi-
nals in the year 1534 was significant in the story, for
a handful of these belonged to this more liberalizing
group, including Cardinal Contarini and the English-
man, Cardinal Pole. The years 1537-41 saw the failure
of reunion negotiations which had been promoted in
France as well as Germany, and, from that time, the
men who had seemed prepared to broaden the basis
of the Church were in disrepute—indeed, more than
one of the Cardinals involved in this aspect of the
reforming movement was himself in danger from the
Inquisition.

The years 1540-43 have special importance in the
history of the Counter-Reformation. In 1540 the Soci-
ety of Jesus was formed, and quickly attained an influ-
ence, though its widespread results were only to be
apparent in the second generation. In 1541 came the
failure of conferences between Catholics and Lutherans
at Ratisbon, so that the movement for comprehension
and reunion was now virtually at an end. And though
at this time there were disturbing manifestations of
Protestantism in a number of localities even in Italy,
effective action was now taken against the movement.
In 1542, Cardinal Contarini, the leader of the reformist
group died, and at about this time the stronger mem-
bers of that party passed off the stage, leaving Cardinal
Pole—a less effective personality—in the leading posi-
tion. In 1542, moreover, a General Council of the
Church was summoned; and, by this time, it had be-
come apparent that it would not represent an opposi-
tion to Rome in the way that the conciliar movement
of the fifteenth century had done. It would itself be
under the leadership of Rome.

Some controversy has been caused by the question
how far the leadership of Spain was responsible for
the turn which the Counter-Reformation took. Every-
where—in the peninsula itself, in Africa, in the Medi-
terranean and in America—Spain's enemy seemed to
be the infidel and the championship of orthodoxy had
become a major part of the national tradition. The
Jesuit Order was founded and organized by Spaniards
and its first generals were Spaniards. The new form
of papal Inquisition was influenced by the more pow-
erful and modern form of Inquisition that had been
established in Spain. The pope's chief assistants and
advisers at the Council of Trent, particularly on theo-
logical questions, were Spaniards. In the latter half of
the sixteenth century the Catholic party in the French
Wars of Religion and the supporters of Mary Tudor
in England looked to Spain, and the Counter-Reforma-
tion came to be identified with the aggressive policies
of Philip II.

At the same time one must not overlook the deter-
mined manner in which the popes set out to hold the
leadership in the Counter-Reformation. They were not
Spaniards; they were often anti-Spaniards, and now,
as in the past, they tended to be hostile to the Spanish
preponderance in Italy. The severest of the anti-
Protestant popes, Paul IV (Caraffa) had been a Domin-
ican and his religion may have been affected by his
residence in Spain at an earlier period in his life. But
even as Pope he found himself at war with Philip II,
and Spanish troops besieged him in Rome, where he
was defended by Lutheran mercenaries. The popes
were even a little hostile and jealous in their attitude
to the Jesuit Order at first, and this was partly because
that order seemed so closely connected with Spain. The
popes indeed would have liked to see the reform of
the Church carried out through committees and com-
missions in Rome, where in 1552 Julius III established
a Congregation of Reform.

Important sections of the Catholic world, headed by
the Emperor Charles V, had long wanted the summon-


394

ing of a General Council of the Church to reform
abuses, particularly the abuses in Rome. On various
occasions—in Germany early in the 1520's and in
France early in the 1550's—there had been threats of
a National Council of the Church to bring about eccle-
siastical reform within a single country. When the
Council met at Trent it made sure that its decrees
should reserve the rights of the pope, and should be
subject to his confirmation; also that he should have
the sole right of interpreting them. Throughout the
proceedings (which took place in three sessions be-
tween 1545 and 1563) papal diplomacy proved to be
remarkably effective. Perhaps the great dynamic fea-
tures of Protestantism, as it developed in later cen-
turies, lay in the way in which it confronted a man
with the Bible and allowed him to seize upon the things
which he internally ratified, the things which in his
spiritual experience he grasped as living and true; the
way also in which it could cut its way to the original
sources, and, by returning to the fountain of the faith,
disengage Christianity from the accidents of a long
period of intervening history.

Perhaps the great stabilizing feature of Catholicism
has been that it sought rather to preserve a tradition
of doctrine, so that a man did not just think out the
things he was to believe—he sought to discover the
teaching which had united Christians throughout the
centuries. On this system, at least one did not persecute
on behalf of doctrines that one had only recently
worked out for oneself. The impressive feature of the
Council of Trent is the way in which doctrine, instead
of issuing from some brilliant book by an individual
theologian, was threshed out by commissions that
sought to discover what had really been the tradition
of the centuries. On questions of dogma, a conservative
position was maintained. Against Luther's teaching
about the interpretation of the Bible it was agreed that
the Bible must be interpreted by the tradition and
conscience of the Church. And the authoritative ver-
sion was the Vulgate, which had been related to the
development of Church doctrine through so many
centuries. The Bible in the original languages was
available for academic work, but the decision of the
Church's doctrines was not to be transferred in a spirit
of literalism to the experts in philology.

Luther's doctrine of justification by faith was con-
demned at the first session of the Council in 1545, but
an opening was still left for the resurgence of the
tradition of Saint Augustine in the Jansenism of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The doctrine of
predestination was condemned, but the Church had
never tolerated Pelagianism, and there was still room
in Catholicism for long quarrels between the Jesuits
and the Dominicans about the proportion to be attrib
uted to Divine Grace and to a man's free will in the
work of salvation. And though transubstantiation was
confirmed there was still room for controversy within
Catholicism about the interpretation of even this doc-
trine. In regard to an important dispute concerning
the question whether bishops held their power direct
from God or only through the pope—a controversy
in which the Spanish bishops were hostile to the
papacy—the Council failed to come to a clear decision.

In order to have a picture of the Counter-Reforma-
tion, however, it is not sufficient to see what was
happening at headquarters and in the central institu-
tions of Catholicism—one must have some impression
of what was taking place in the world at large. One
thing that was involved was the revival of preaching,
and in this connection some of the Observantine section
of the Franciscans, who reformed themselves in 1525
and became known as the Capuchins, become impor-
tant amongst the common people in Italy, France, and
Germany. During the numerous outbreaks of plague
that occurred in Italy, their fidelity and courage made
a great impression.

The Jesuits attacked the problem at a different level
and became important at first through their teaching
and influence in universities, though later they became
powerful at royal courts. Even in Spain where they
gained most adherents, and in France, where the sup-
porters of Gallican claims and particularly the Parle-
ment of Paris had special reasons for jealousy, they
suffered some opposition at first. When they went to
Cologne in 1544, some said that the urgent need was
rather for good bishops and parish priests. Just after
the mid-century, not only were many of the German
bishops still worldly-minded and indifferent to the
religious cause, but there were regions where it was
impossible for good Catholics to be served except by
priests who were actually married or living with con-
cubines, and preaching semi-Lutheran ideas. In the
1550's, however, the famous Jesuit, Canisius, began the
important work which saved the city and university
of Vienna from the Protestants who had come to ac-
quire almost absolute control. His influence extended
to Prague as well as to Ingolstadt, which became the
great Catholic educational center in the next genera-
tion. The same Canisius was responsible for the issue
of a catechism which was to be of great importance
in Catholic teaching. At the humblest level of all,
moreover, great efforts were made to inspire and nour-
ish popular piety.

Even so, it is difficult to see how the new influences
could have found a footing if they had not been
patronized by princes, particularly the Wittelsbachs
in Bavaria and the Habsburgs in Austria. The papacy
was wise enough now to make concessions to princes


395

who might have become Protestant for the sake of the
spoils; and the Bavarian princes were to acquire a good
deal of revenue from ecclesiastical sources on which
they were now permitted to draw. For a few years
from about 1563 the Duke of Bavaria sought to bring
his principality back to Catholicism but this imposed
upon him a difficult conflict with his parliamentary
estates and with the nobility. He succeeded in restoring
the Church only by high-handed measures and by
making encroachments on ecclesiastical jurisdiction
himself. In general, the restoration of the clergy and
the care for the educational work were calculated in
themselves to have a great effect, and even in Bohemia,
a traditional home of heresy, Catholic preaching and
Catholic saintliness began to exercise their influence
again.

5. The Results of the Reformation. It is more clear
to the twentieth century than it was to the sixteenth
that a great deal of the evil and the suffering which
arose from the Reformation—a great many of the wars,
atrocities and crimes that came to be associated with
it—arose from the beliefs that the various parties had
in common. The world had changed greatly since New
Testament days, and all were agreed that religion was
not a matter for the Individual only; that the uniform
“Christian Society” was the important thing; and that
only one form of faith could be true, the rest standing
not merely as errors but as diabolical perversions. It
was the duty of rulers to support the true faith and
there were precedents for the view that when all else
failed—when the ecclesiastical system was too deca-
dent to rectify itself—the secular arm should reform
the Church. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the Ana-
baptists sought to capture the government—if only the
government of a city-state. And this only highlighted
the fact that the papacy needed the support of the
secular authority too.

Many of the results of the Reformation—particularly
the more paradoxical results—sprang from the fact that
neither the papacy, on the one hand, nor Luther (or
any other Protestant leader) on the other, was able to
secure a total victory that would have reestablished
unity in the West. This itself contributed to the power
of princes, for it left them the choice in matters of
religion, so that they tended to become masters rather
than servants at the most crucial point of all. A mon-
arch like Henry VIII of England could evade the alter-
natives before him, simply setting up a system of his
own.

Furthermore, besides confiscating much of the prop-
erty of the Church, they became accustomed to con-
trolling religious affairs—even (in the case of Lutheran
princes and Henry VIII, for example) replacing the
pope as the superior over bishops. Each state tended
to become its own “Christian Society,” and authority—
being now closer at hand—was liable to become more
tyrannical than before. Although the tendencies were
already in existence and may have contributed to the
growth of an antipapal movement, the Reformation
gave a fresh stimulus to the rising power of kings, and
the development of nationalism. It was a great blow
to such international order as had previously existed.

A revival of religion had occurred, and both pub-
lished works and private letters bear evidence of in-
spiring thought and deep sincerity—a tremendous re-
exploring of Christianity. But it was also a revival of
religious passions, religious hatreds and religious wars,
and it showed what a scourge a supernatural religion
could be to the world if it were not tempered by the
constant remembrance of the dominating importance
of charity. In sixteenth-century Europe the rivalry
between one set of doctrines and another, and even
the negotiations between the parties—indeed all the
transactions which related to doctrinal tests—inaugu-
rated a period in which the confessional issue was too
momentous, and there was too hard an attitude toward
intellectual statements of belief.

In the long run, the very conflict of authorities was
bound to leave a greater opening for individ-
ualism—even a tendency to see all the religious parties
with relativity. But the process to this was slower than
one would have imagined and for nearly two centuries
the conflict had a politico-religious character. In a
given country the Reformation, particularly in its
Calvinist form, was likely to arise in the first place
amongst a minority; and there were signs of it even
in countries that were to remain Catholic—signs in
Italy and even Spain, and a formidable movement in
France. The irrepressibility of these nonconformists,
even when they failed to capture the government,
added a dynamic quality to the history of a number
of states, particularly England. Yet for the most part
it was due to their predicament rather than to their
theology that the dissenters made their great contri-
bution to the modern world. They wished to capture
the whole body politic; and because they failed they
were in the mood for opposition to the Establishment,
both Church and State; and they could better afford
to judge society and government by reference to
Christian principles and fundamental ideas.

The elevation of the Bible by the Protestants, and
particularly the Calvinists—what has been called the
bibliolatry of the sixteenth century—was to have im-
portant and widespread consequences. Even the trans-
lation of the book had a wide general significance,
especially in France and Germany. In an age when
everything is being thrown into the melting pot, it
becomes more easy to note the equality of men before


396

God, the Christ who makes men free, the idea of
communism in the New Testament. One of the effects
of the concentration on the Bible was the unprece-
dented importance which the Old Testament acquired
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In some
respects it replaced the volumes of canon law which
Luther had burned, and it proved less flexible than the
canon law, to which Luther objected, partly because
of the development that had taken place in it; he
objected not to its prohibition of usury but to the
loopholes which it had come to admit. Now, economic
regulations, political theories, ethical ideas—and even
science, even one's views about the physical universe—
would be taken from the Old Testament, which was
more relevant for these mundane purposes than the
New. Monarchy itself found its justification there and
Luther's view of what we should call the state was
Old Testament rather than medieval—the king having
the power while being expected to listen to the prophet
(the Reformation leader) at his side. And over and over
again the early Protestants would refer to their mon-
arch as the King Josiah, who had reformed the Church
after discovering the books of the Law.

The conception of the covenant, which was so fa-
miliar amongst the ancient Hebrews, was now revived
and seems to have played its part in the development
of the Social Contract theory. When the Pilgram Fa-
thers went to America, they signed what they called
a “covenant,” in which they constituted themselves as
a body politic. Amongst the Puritans the prohibition
of images may have tended to the discouragement of
the visual arts. In England, Sundays (which had at first
been deprecated, along with the excessive number of
saints' days) came to be equated with the Jewish
Sabbath. The Old Testament provided textual bases for
witch-burnings, which multiplied at this period, as well
as for religious intolerance and severe theories of per-
secution, including the view that heretics should be
destroyed as blasphemers.

It has been held by Max Weber and others that
something in the nature of Protestantism itself played
an important part in the rise of capitalism, and the
advance of England and Holland (together with a
decline in Belgium and a backwardness in Spain and
Italy) has lent plausibility to this view. But capitalism
and the spirit of capitalism were highly advanced in
Italy and the Netherlands before the Reformation, and
the famous Fugger family in Germany was Catholic.
Luther, joining in the hostility that had already arisen
against it—said that the greatest misfortune of the
German nation was the traffic in usury, and he blamed
the pope for having sanctioned the evil. Calvin, coming
at a later date, recognized the changed condition of
the world and attacked the Aristotelian view that
money is “barren” but he was a little troubled lest this
should assist the capitalists and encourage usury. He
would have liked to drive the latter out of the world,
but since this was impossible, he said that one must
give way to the general utility. He sought to prevent
the evil which explained the antipathy of agricultural
societies to usury—namely, the practices which took
advantage of the misfortunes of the poor—and to him
Venice and Antwerp were an exposure of the mam-
monism of the Catholics.

In fact the traditional medieval policy was pursued
in Geneva in Calvin's day; and, after his time, the
prejudice against usury continued in that city, where,
indeed, business life proceeded as formerly, without
receiving any great impetus from the religious move-
ment, and in 1568 the influences of the Calvinist parties
prevented the formation of a bank. In Amsterdam the
biggest capitalists belonged to families that were
working on a large scale before the Reformation and
it was the poor who became the most fanatical Calvin-
ists. It was preached that everything beyond a reasona-
ble subsistence should be set aside for the poor, and
disciplinary action was taken against bankers—the old
prejudices continuing until the middle of the seven-
teenth century. So long as a religious revival retains
its character, it is not in its nature to encourage mam-
monism, a point which even the Puritans of seven-
teenth-century England illustrate.

The view that a believer should praise and serve God
in his daily avocations should not be strange in any
religion; and the Middle Ages (as well as the Jesuits
later) began wisely to adjust their ethical precepts—
their views on commerce and man's daily tasks—to
the needs of a changing world. It is surprising that
anybody should hold the view that capitalism was
encouraged because the Reformers separated salvation
from “works”; for the Puritans were far from repre-
senting an easy view of Christian conduct, though they
held that a man did not win salvation by the effort.
When Baron von Hügel read Bunyan he said that the
book was “curiously Catholic in its ideas... certainly
very strong about the necessity of good works.” Puri-
tanism encouraged work, reprobated waste of time in
idle talk and mere sociability, and held that leisure was
equivalent to lasciviousness. It also reprobated luxury
and promoted virtues like thrift, no doubt giving reli-
gious sanction to qualities that were particularly useful
in the capitalistic world that had been developing. It
is therefore open to the charge of regarding the making
of money as laudable while the spending of it was a
vice.

John Wesley, when he drew up his first printed rules
for Methodists in the eighteenth century, condemned
usury on biblical grounds and had to be made to see


397

that this was demanding the impossible, so that he
retreated and prescribed only a moderate rate. He
sketched out the view that the very virtues of Chris-
tians might lead to prosperity and thence to a decline
of religion. But it is only very late in the day that
Puritanism is in any sense the ally of mammonism.

Apart from the fact that Protestantism could spread
more easily in town than in country, it provided an
example of a new movement in religion which, in its
formative period, when so many things were malleable,
confronted what men were recognizing to be a new
economic world. Besides its theological doctrine, it was
bound to acquire an attendant social outlook—a fringe
of more mundane prejudices and associations—and
these showed it in the first place bitterly hostile to
capitalism. But, as time went on, it was almost bound
to give the support of religion to the ethical ideas
which corresponded to the needs of the new social
world. Catholicism had fixed many of its principles in
a different state of society, and was likely to be less
malleable, though it, too, made its adjustments (perhaps
more slowly) as society changed. Late in the day, and
almost as ratifying a fait accompli, Puritanism did
perhaps become the support of a capitalist society; and,
even so, it was a Protestantism that had changed its
character; in a sense it was not religion but a decline
in religion, or an injection of secularism which had this
result.

Protestantism, more than Catholicism, tended to
change its general character as the centuries passed;
it moved from its initial sixteenth-century form and
preoccupations, and at least presented a different
spectacle and assumed a different role. It was at a later
stage that it became consciously and avowedly the ally
of individualism, liberty, rationalism, capitalism, and
the modern kind of state.