A brief look at major events and figures within the Protestant Reformation
In honor of its 500th anniversary
Dear Friends in October 2017 I put together for St. Luke & St. Peter’s Episcopal Church a brief look at the protestant reformation including an introduction, a brief look at two great figures of the reformation Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Church of England’s break from the Catholic church and how today the Anglican/Episcopal Church is both reformed and Catholic. Each article appeared on a Sunday in our bulletin and is now available as a booklet and online. I hope these five very brief articles are a blessing and help to you in your faith as we take a moment to remember the reformation and it’s legacy today as we mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his ’95 to the door of All Saints Church Wittenburg, Germany.
In Christ, Fr. Rob+
History, Legacy and Anglicanism today
On October 31st, 2017 protestant churches around the world will mark and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. The reformation is marked in time by the actions of the Catholic monk and priest Martin Luther nailing his ‘95 Theses’ on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany. This treatise we not meant as a break from the Catholic Church, but as an argument against the Church selling of ‘indulgences’ to absolve sin. However, Martin Luther’s ‘95 Theses’ which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation.
The Anglican Church, of which the Episcopal Church is a communion member, is the result of the English part in this reformation. The Catholic church in England and King Henry VIII originally resisted the ‘protesters’ of the protestant reformation and King Henry VIII penned a defense of the Catholic faith. For this Pope Leo X granted Henry the official title of ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1521. However by 1530, and for political reasons more than theological ones, King Henry VIII decided to break from the Catholic Church so to allow himself to be the supreme authority over the ‘Catholic Church in England’.
From this historical point forward the Anglican church was now separate from the ‘Catholic church’ yet retained much of the form of worship and Episcopal structure of the church. Today we as Anglicans/Episcopalians might be termed catholic and reformed. Over the next four Sundays, we will be offering you brief written summaries of the reformation and what it means to be a part of this reformation as Anglican/Episcopalians. These will include Luther’s protests, Calvin’s reforms, the English church, and our legacy today as Anglicans/Episcopalians.
Part II Martin Luther (1483-1546) instigates a reformation of the church.
Over the last 500 years Martin Luther has on one extreme been called ‘The ogre who destroyed the unity of the church.” On the other “A great hero whose efforts the preaching of the pure Gospel was restored.” Today among Christian scholars and historians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, “Few doubt Luther’s sincerity, and many catholic historians affirm that his protests was amply justified, and that he was right on many points of doctrine.”
Martin Luther was a monk before he became a priest and theologian. We was sent to a monastery in Wittenburg, Germany to both study and teach at the University of Wittenburg. Upon Luther’s ordination his demeanor changed in so much that it frightened and even terrorized him that in the Eucharist he was holding and offering nothing less than the very body of Christ. This fear turned into a feeling of unworthiness of God’s love and that he was not doing enough to be saved.
It was in his study of the Bible in preparation for his teaching duties that Luther began to study in depth the book of Romans. In this book he saw that Paul described a God whose justice was not based on punishment for sin but that in Romans 1:17 ‘the justice of God is revealed’ and that ‘The righteous shall live by faith’. Justice is then not determined by our sin, but on God’s grace. We receive that grace through faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. With this understanding in his heart Luther wrote, “I felt I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of scripture gained new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”
It was from this revelation in the heart of Luther in which he challenged his own Catholic Church’s sales of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins as incompatible with the Bible. The church can not sell that which God has already given freely. Neither can the church allow that which the Bible most clearly forbids. With his 95 Theses Luther called upon the church to reform it’s practices based solely on scripture. From this call Luther’s theses and the reforms for which they called began to gain traction and even made great strides inside and outside the Catholic Church.
Did Luther know that his 95 Theses calling the Church to recognize the Bible as the ultimate source of God’s authority and that salvation is not offered through the church, but only through faith in Jesus Christ cause the division and disunity of the church? Perhaps it was merely the spark to ignite what was already happening.
History tells us that Luther never desired to reject or leave the Catholic church and had great criticisms for those did. Yet in the end Luther was called by no less than the Pope to recant his theology. Luther refused and publically burned the Papal Bull which called him to do so. In the end Luther stood before the authority of the Church and declared he would be willing to recant if only someone could show him where he had erred. The result being he was excommunicated from the church. Yet Luther still found salvation in the grace of God offered freely through Jesus Christ and was a leader of the movement he began with his 95 Theses.
Part III John Calvin 1509-1560
Our Continued series in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 2017
‘Without any doubt, the most important systemizer of protestant theology in the 16th century was John Calvin. While Luther was the daring trailblazer for the movement, Calvin was the careful thinker who bound the various protestant doctrines into a cohesive whole. ’ The Story of Christianity, Justo Gonzales, pg. 61
John Calvin was born in a small town in Noyon, France in 1509 a part of the rising middle class. He was 8 years old when Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany and was a student during the firestorm of the early reformation. During his studies he became familiar with the doctrines of John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and Jan Huss. After receiving a Master of Arts degree Calvin then went on to study law under two of the great jurist of his day.
It was from his study of Theology and Law that Calvin found himself drawn to the issues and arguments surrounding the protestant reformation. In his early writings Calvin was obviously sympathetic to the reformation as he began writing treatise to help clarify the faith in confusing times. His first was on the state of the souls of the dead before the resurrection. It is not known when Calvin officially broke from the Roman church, but in January 1935 he went into exile in the protestant city of Basel in Switzerland.
From this time forward Calvin felt called to spend his time in study and literary labors and in 1536 His first Institutes of Christian Religion was published. This work would move from 6 chapters and 516 pages in its first edition in 1536 to 4 books and 80 chapters in its final definitive edition in 1560. This work would become the most famous work of the protestant reformation and spawn many Christian denominations such as ‘reformed’ Presbyterians, ‘United Church of Christ’, ‘reformed Baptists’, and influence greatly the Anglicans, Lutherans, the Methodists and really almost all protestant denominations.
The core of Calvin’s original work focused on Theology and ‘the Law’, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Sacraments, false sacraments and Christian Freedom. The most visible legacy of Calvin’s work in the Episcopal Church may be our understanding and practice of Holy Communion. Calvin argued against both the Catholic understanding of the ‘Real’ presence of Christ in Communion and the no presence of the memorialist. Communion in neither simply commemorating what Jesus did at the last supper. Calvin argued that in communion the real presence of Christ dwells within the bread and the wine in a spiritual way and so we partake of Jesus Christ and are taken into heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit and ‘share with Christ in a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet.’
Today many who adhere to Calvin’s Theology may be called a ‘Five point Calvinist’. This refers to his central five assertions of the Christian faith. These are the total depravity of man, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. If these terms are confusing to you I understand as they need more fleshing out than we can accomplish in this brief pamphlet.
Just as it is perhaps today, the understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Communion was the greatest source of division between the reformers and the Roman Catholic Church and between the reformers themselves. In this division is perhaps the greatest challenge we have faced in regards to the unity of the church. In his lifetime Calvin signed several accords with other great reformers respecting and holding together in fellowship even though they had different views of the presence of Christ in the sacrament of communion. Those who came after these first reformers were not so kind to each other and these divisions became both nasty and deadly with the killing of ‘Heretics’.
To understand Calvin’s legacy in the reformation we need to understand this: Through his systematic work of theology in The Institutes of Christian Religion and his founding of a university in Geneva, there is no reformer with a greater influence on our Christian life and worship today than John Calvin. -Fr. Rob+
The Reformation in England (1534 and counting)
Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and the breakaway of the Church in England
from the Catholic Church
The Formal break with the English Church from the Catholic Church happened in 1534 under the authority and leadership of King Henry VIII and the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. This is 17 years after Martin Luther began the reformation with his 95 Thesis against what he saw as abuses and corruption in the Catholic Church. Our Church History books tell us that the break happened because King Henry wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. But rarely are such incidents so cut and dry.
England was effected by the religious and political turmoil of the protestant reformation as much as anyone in Europe at that time. The teachings and religious leanings away from the Catholic church toward a reformed understanding of the Christian faith centered on the authority of Scripture and salvation through faith alone were finding quite a foothold in England. This was particularly true with religious leaders such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and Thomas Cranmer who would become the first independent arch bishop of Canterbury and the author of our first Anglican prayer book. Yet Henry VIII was not a fan of the reformation and published a treatise against Martin Luther which was acclaimed by Pope Leo X who conferred on him and His descendants the title of ‘Defender of the Faith.’ Yet by 1534 Henry VIII solidifies a break with the Catholic Church. Why was this?
Justo Gonzales writes, ‘As Henry saw matters, what was needed was not a reformation like the one on the continent, but rather a restoration of the rights of the crown against Papal Intervention.’ Where Luther criticized the abuses of the church upon its people through unbiblical requirements and practices, Henry VIII was tired of undue influence of the Pope upon the rights of princes. Henry, who was forced to marry the widow of his older brother Arthur, was seeking an annulment upon the grounds that such a marriage is unlawful according to church law and therefore should never have been granted. The denial of an annulment and divorce from Pope Clement VII should have been granted according to church law, but it was not. Thus this event precipitated and really solidified Henry’s decision to break from Rome. Upon the break from Rome All clergy were required to give an oath of loyalty to the King as head of the church in England.
For several years the break from the Catholic Church was little more than schism and no doctrinal content was put forward to justify the schism nor a reformation of the church (except the king was now it’s head) was attempted. Yet the reformation could not be held at bay and its influence which had been pressing upon the English church and clergy for years. In the years that followed, Henry’s motivations relating to the church we almost always political though he always sought to maintain the worship of the church be as close to the catholic ideal as possible.
Yet the King did begin reformation in England. He allowed Arch Bishop Cranmer to order the bible be translated into English and placed in every church where it could be read by all. Henry continued to suppress the monasteries, which were allied with the Catholic Church. All of this saw the allies of the reformation in England have a strong foothold in England and when Henry died took the opportunity to both push the reformation further with the Church and country of England. Yet as we will see next week, the English or Anglican church it is now known, of all the churches that are a part of the reformation, see itself most closely with the Catholic church in its worship and its theology.
The Anglican Church Today: Catholic and Reformed
Today’s Anglican Church has 38 provinces, over 300 million members and is the legacy of much more than a Church begun upon the political and marital machinations of a British Monarch. To understand who we are today as a church we really need to understand the Anglican Church as something much more than what it was when Henry VIII first broke away from the Papel Authority or what so many call ‘Catholic light.’
As you might imagine 500 years does something to a person or in our case a Church. Yes Henry VIII declared independence from Papal authority, but he still retained the structure of the Catholic Church in England and its worship. Churches did not look any different and the man in the pew would not have noticed much of any difference in the worship. In fact the church as we now see it has had several very significant changes in how it looked when it broke from the Roman Catholic Church and none of them came with Henry VIII.
Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth established much more of a protestant hierarchy in the church with key leaders from the English protestant movement being made bishops. She also passed the the Act of Uniformity for the church which says worship in all churches must follow the same form. This is why no matter where you go in the world a service at an Anglican or Episcopal Church will look very much like the service we have here at St. Luke & St. Peter’s.
Following well after Queen Elizabeth, the 1662 prayer book (which laid out Anglican forms of worship and theology) set forth what is even now is our standard for said worship and theology. Today we still consider ourselves a church whose theology is founded in the Bible, but whose worship is secured in the prayer book and it’s more modern revisions.
Though worship today actual would look familiar to the church in Henry and Elizabeth’s time, there was well over 100 years in which the worship of the church tended to move closer to the Anabaptist movement which got rid of things such as crosses, Altars, and stained glass windows. The focus of the church at that time tended be much more about the Bible, personal devotion and corporate worship without the use of anything that could be mistaken for an idol or an icon. In Shorts, churches were bare with only a pulpit and bible.
Yet in the Early 1800’s a movement began in England and in the United States which looked back upon the church in the era of Henry and Elizabeth and saw in it the deep connection to the worship of the Roman Catholic Church and brought back into our worship both the vessels and the Sacramental look of our sanctuaries for the purpose of Eucharistic Worship. It’s leaders were such Anglican clergy as John Henry Newman, John Keble, Edward Pusey and Richard Froude. They reminded the Anglican Church of its deep connection with and dedication to liturgical worship. Without their influence, today a worship service at St. Luke & St. Peter might look more like a non-denominational church than a Catholic one.
Today our worship is decidedly Eucharistic and Sacramental. Yet our preaching is more on the Authority of the Bible and the focus on a personal faith in Jesus Christ for Salvation. So to understand the Anglican Church as either Protestant or Catholic would be a false dichotomy for we are both. We are both steeped in the Bible as the authoritative word of God and trusting in our faith in Jesus Christ to receive salvation. And we share the ministry of the Sacraments, the three fold orders of ministry of Deacons priests and Bishops, and we hold to the Holy Eucharist as our primary act of corporate worship. Today’s Anglican Church then is not an either/or, but a both/and. We are distinctly reformed, we are distinctly catholic, we are…distinctly Anglican. –Fr. Rob Longbottom+
Research for these articles came from The Story of Christianity, by Justo Gonzales and the Living Church Magazine Article by Rev. Tony Clavier, protestant or Catholic, http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/10/27/protestant-or-catholic/