Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Church of Ireland Theological Institute,
Church History Elective (TH 7864)
Friday 8 February 2013, 11 a.m.:
8.3: The Anglican Reformation.
As we have seen this morning, throughout the Middle Ages there were many movements to reform the Church, including the growth of the monastic orders, the reforms introduced by reforming popes in Rome, such as Gregory the Great, and the contrasting pressures from John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Erasmus and others.
Then, as we looked at the ideas of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, I hoped we realised how wrong it would be to see the Reformations of the 16th century as one, single, focussed movement. Alongside the movements inspired by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, there were other Reformations too, including the Anglican, and Anabaptist Reformations ... and the Tridentine Reformation.
The need for reform
Successive popes at various stages made brave efforts to reform the Western Church. This is why Innocent III called the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
Some of the popular movements for reform and their leaders found a place within the Church – notable Francis of Assisi and his friars. But others did not – such as John Wycliffe and the Lollards.
Despite the cruelty of the Crusades, and the relentless pursuit of dissent in the shape of the Albigensians and the Waldensians, the spirituality of Julian, and of Thomas à Kempis, the theology of Aquinas and the poverty of Dominic and Francis point to a Christianity that continued to develop new riches and thinking.
Although the integrity of the Western Church was weakened by the Crusades and its claims further weakened by the Avignon captivity of the Papacy (1309-1377), Western Christianity was alive intellectually and spiritually.
The questioning faith of Peter Abelard in France in the 12th century, the Waldensians in Italy and further afield in the 13th century, and of John Wycliffe and the Lollards in England in the 14th century were nurtured in a Church that would soon find itself ripe for the challenges of the Reformations and the Counter-Reformation.
Duns Scotus and the early Cambridge Franciscans commemorated on a plaque in Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... the Irish Franciscans were integrated into the intellectual life of European Christianity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
So why were some reformers acceptable, and others not? Despite the efforts of Francis of Assisi and others to call the Church to reform, by the 15th century the Western Church had become totally identified with the interests of the State and power, and the very notion of Christendom made the powers of Church and State inseparable. Those who challenged the status quo faced being marginalised or condemned as heretics.
The 15th century Church could live with a visionary like Julian of Norwich, so long as she lived (symbolically) outside the walls of the Church, but not with a visionary like Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft and heresy in 1431.
Among the common people, a popular religion had developed with the veneration of saints (particularly the Virgin Mary), relics, shrines and pilgrimages. But the vast majority of people were excluded from taking part in the central sacramental life of the Church – when they were present at the Mass, they were present as spectators, excluded by and large from the Communion or the Eucharist – and from any role in administering Church affairs.
No longer was the Bible available in the common language, and many received their religious education only through the street plays, the carvings, paintings and stained glass windows in churches, or the popular cycles of folk religion. While the early primitive Church could benefit from Saint Jerome’s translation of the Bible into the common Latin of daily commerce, the Vulgate, the Church in later centuries was unable to accept the demands for translation.
John Wycliffe in a window in Wycliffe Hall, Oxford … initiated a new translation of the Bible into English (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
John Wycliffe (ca 1329-1384) initiated a new translation of the Vulgate into English, but was soon deserted by his friends in high places, and his followers, the Lollards, were suppressed. However, the demands to have the Bible translated continued apace in England and on the Continent, and the move to return to the original texts and meanings would become an essential part of the scholarship of the Renaissance.
At the Council of Constance in 1415, Wycliffe was condemned for heresy and an order was made that his body be disinterred from holy ground; Hus too was condemned as a heretic, and without an opportunity to defend his ideas he was burned at the stake. On the other hand, Thomas à Kempis (ca1380-1471) was able to remain within the Church, and influenced many through his preaching, counselling and books, particularly The Imitation of Christ, which opened the hearts and minds of many to receive the teachings of the Reformers.
Certainly, by the beginning of the 16th century there was a widespread understanding, even in Rome, that the Church was need of reform, structurally, liturgically and in the monastic houses.
The quality of leadership provided throughout the Church by the Popes, at diocesan level by the bishops and at parochial level by the clergy was a long-standing source of complaint. The office of the papacy was in disarray in disrepute as two and sometimes even three rival claimants were proclaimed as Pope, the main claimant living not in Rome but in Avignon in France, and other pretenders to the papacy living in Florence and elsewhere. With the deposition of rival popes in 1409, 1415 and 1417, the Councils of Pisa and Constance established an important principle: a council could deprive a pope of his claims to supremacy.
The wealth of the Church was being used for private and personal gain and profit, and the liturgy of the Church was no longer accessible to the vast majority of Church members.
And so, the spread of the Reformation was facilitated by the preconditions for change across northern Europe.
During the early centuries of the Church, the central emphases of the Eucharist were on doing what Christ had done, and a fellowship meal. The congregation, together with their president, had together prepared a meal of Thanksgiving; the people brought forward the gifts of bread and wine, and received them again in the sacrament.
By the late Middle Ages, however, these emphases had shifted so the average mediaeval parishioner was removed from the centre of the action, and had become an onlooker or spectator, watching and witnessing the performance of a mysterious rite, a role emphasised in the architecture of mediaeval churches and cathedrals, and their emphasis on sacred space and on what is above.
The emphasis had shifted to from a meal at which God was thanked for the whole of the salvific story, centred on the life of Christ, to merely remembering, commemorating and almost, as it were, re-enacting his sacrifice on the Cross.
Most people in Church no longer understood the miming actions or the words recited by the priests at the Eucharist, which had become known as the Mass – from the words of dismissal at the end: Ita missa est (‘Go, it is sent,’ or ‘Go, the dismissal is made’), to which the response was: Deo Gratias (‘Thanks be to God’).
This ought to have been a weekly celebration and fellowship meal, but by the late Middle Ages, most people communicated once a year or, perhaps even, once in a lifetime. The emphasis had shifted to the priest ‘saying Mass’ and on the laity ‘hearing Mass.’ Only the celebrating priests had the texts for the prayers, readings and liturgy, so the people were reduced not only to the role of spectators, but also to praying their own private prayers rather than praying collectively.
Even the priests found all this too difficult to cope with. So many books were needed, and so many variations had to be taken account of, a priest needed a manual or handbook to pick his way through them skilfully. One such book was known as The Pie and is referred to in the preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer:
“Moreover the nombre and hardnes of the rules called the pie, and the manifolde chaunginges of the service, was the cause, yt to turne the boke onlye, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more busines to fynd out what should be read, then to read it when it was faunde out.”
In addition, matters were made more intricate and more complicated because from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards – despite the unifying influence of Rome – there were five principle ‘uses’ or variations of the Western liturgy in these islands. The most widespread of these was the Sarum Use, named after Salisbury Cathedral. The other four were: the Use of Hereford, the Use of Bangor (Wales), the Use of York and the Use of Lincoln.
As the preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer notes, there was ‘great diversity in saying and singing.’
And so two of the great impulses for the Anglican Reformation were: a yearning to return to the simplicity in worship of former days; and to overcome the barriers created by diversity so that the people of these islands could truly have a Common Prayer.
The dawn of the Reformations:
The moon dial at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where Erasmus lived while he taught Greek in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The intellectual milieu that preceded the Reformations was created to a degree by the great Christian humanists, intellectuals such as Erasmus, who moved easily between England Continental Europe. The emphasis of the humanists on returning to the foundations of Christianity came as the exodus of scholars from Byzantium following the collapse of Constantinople in 1453 brought fresh knowledge of patristic sources and Greek philosophy through Venice and into the rest of Europe. With the invention of printing, books were more accessible – including the Bible, the great philosophical works, and the writings of the Early Fathers of the Church.
The age of discovery coincided with the Renaissance, which gave the Church great artists, including Michelangelo and Titian, and the wisdom and erudition of scholars such as Erasmus (1467-1536) and Rabelais (1494-1553).
This was also a time when national languages were taking identifiable shape: Chaucer’s English developed into the English used by Tyndale, and later by Shakespeare, the compilers of The Book of Common Prayer and the translators of the King James Version (Authorised Version) of the Bible; Dante is seen as the creator of modern Italian; Martin Luther’s Bible would play a similar role in standardising German.
Martin Luther … posted his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517
A year after Erasmus published his Greek New Testament, the Reformation began on 31 October 1517, when the Professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenberg University nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church. Decay and decline left the Church too weak to accept or to meet the demands for reform.
The reformers had to be dealt with brutally – as the Dominican friar Savonarola had been burned at the stake in Florence – or marginalised and cut off by excommunication.
But the demands for reform were coming from within the Church, and those leading the demands were among the most able and loyal members of the church: the Augustinian friar Martin Luther (1483-1546), the French ecclesiastical lawyer John Calvin (1509-1564); a French Dominican friar Martin Bucer (1491-1551), who tried to mediate between Calvin and Luther; and their English contemporary, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), a quiet and reluctant scholar from Cambridge who was summoned to become Archbishop of Canterbury as late as 1532, and who would shape the English language through The Book of Common Prayer, the Psalms and his collects.
When it came, the Reformation ought to have been a breath of fresh air through the whole Church; instead, it threatened to bring down the whole edifice.
Martin Luther’s reforms initially attracted widespread popular sympathy, but ultimately his success and the continuation of his ideas were guaranteed because of the support of secular princes and city magistrates.
The Reformation in England:
Henry VIII … initially opposed the reforms championed by Luther
In England, and in English-speaking Ireland, the Church was, by-and-large, in a fairly good condition at the end of the early Middle Ages: ant-clerical attitudes were contained among lawyers and theologians; Christian humanists were generally supportive of the Church; parish life was flourishing and vibrant; and the most cogent critique of Luther came from the king. For his tract, Assertio Septem Sacramentum (A Defence of the Seven Sacraments), written in 1520, Henry VIII was honoured by Pope Leo X with the title Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith, on 11 October 1521.
The unity of Church and State was maintained in England when Henry VIII became entangled in a dispute with Rome after failing to receive papal sanction for his planned divorce. Part of the process of generating support for Henry’s campaign involved creating public anger against the excesses of clerical power and the wealth of the monastic orders.
The excommunicated Henry remained a Catholic in doctrine and in practice until death in 1537, and it was only during the reign of his son Edward VI (1537-1553) that the Reformation was effectively introduced.
The English reformers, led by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, Bishop Nicholas Ridley (ca1500-1555) and Bishop Hugh Latimer (ca1485-1555), fused Lutheranism and Calvinism in a State Church that retained Catholic order and much of Catholic liturgy.
Introducing the Reformation to Ireland
Ireland was largely untouched by the intellectual and cultural upheavals introduced during the Renaissance. Only the Pale kept apace with developments in England, and so the Church in Ireland was effectively divided into two zones of the ecclesia inter Anglicos and the ecclesia inter Hibernicos. In the former, diocesan and parish life was now functioning in a very similar way to its counterpart in England, with very little expressed anti-clericalism or anti-papalism. In the Gaelic Church, Church life was very different, with a largely hereditary clergy presiding over large rural parishes and deaneries.
As in England, the Tudor Reformation was an act of state in Ireland, implemented by parliamentary legislation, so that Ireland experienced the Reformation by extension, and was part of the process of centralising English government control in Dublin in the aftermath of the fall of the Kildare Geraldines in the 1530s.
The Reformation was accepted by most of the bishops in 1536, when papal supremacy was replaced by the supremacy of the State. However, the bishops made no changes in doctrine, liturgical change was minimal and many of the first reforming bishops are counted in the diocesan lists of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland.
The names of the early Reformers in Ireland show they were drawn from the mainstream of Irish life – names such as Browne, Butler, Cullen, Devereux, Nugent, Purcell or Walsh – and the episcopal succession continued uninterrupted.
Many of the monasteries were suppressed, but their communities continued living among the people. The Prior and canons of the Augustinian community in Christ Church Cathedral became the dean and chapter, for example, and by and large parish life continued as before.
During the reign of Edward VI (1537-1553), a reformed liturgy was introduced from England and The Book of Common Prayer, first used in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day 1551, was the first book printed in Ireland.
The first Book of Common Prayer (1549) was authorised for use in Ireland, but the second Book of Common Prayer (1552) was never legislated for in Ireland. John Bale insisted on using the second book when he was consecrated Bishop of Ossory in 1552, but his reception in Kilkenny was so hostile that he was forced to leave his diocese on the death of Edward VI in March 1553.
Under Queen Mary (1553-1558), some Reforming bishops were deposed and married clergy punished, but the Reformation returned under Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603), and was accepted by all but two of the bishops.
In 1560, the Irish Parliament again repudiated the authority of the Pope and passed the Act of Uniformity, making Anglicanism the state religion in Ireland.
Why did the Reformation fail to take hold in Ireland in the same way as it did in England?
A concluding profile: Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer … his legacy includes The Book of Common Prayer, the Collects and the 39 Articles
In Year II, in the module EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, we shall more closely at the unfolding of the Anglican Reformation and the development of The Book of Common prayer, the Articles of Religion or the 39 Articles, and other aspects of the Anglican Reformation.
But I would like to conclude this morning’s explorations in Church Histry with a brief introduction to the key figure in the Anglican Reformation.
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), who began his career as a theologian at Jesus College, Cambridge, was perhaps the key figure in the Anglican Reformation in England as Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI.
He helped build the case for Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, with Thomas Cromwell he supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, and as Archbishop of Canterbury he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England.
During the reign of Henry VIII, Cranmer did not introduce many radical changes, but succeeded in publishing the first officially authorised vernacular service, the Exhortation and Litany.
During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was able to promote major reforms. He as the main author and editor of the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer, and in consultation with refugee Continental reformers, he developed new doctrinal standards in areas such as the Eucharist and clerical celibacy, promulgated through The Book of Common Prayer, The Homilies, and other publications.
The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Baliol College in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Cranmer was tried for treason and heresy during the reign of Mary I. He was jailed over two years and made several recantations, apparently being reconciled to the old order.
However, on the day of his execution in Oxford, 21 March 1556, he dramatically withdrew his recantations. As the flames drew around him, he placed his right hand into the heart of the fire and his dying words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
His legacy lives on through The Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles.
Next: Week 6 (22 February):
9.1: Trent and Jesuits: Catholic expansion;
9.2: Missions and colonies: Protestant expansion
9.3: Revolution and enlightenment: old certainties challenged
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 8 February 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.
Friday, 8 February 2013
Church of Ireland Theological Institute,
Church History Elective (TH 7864)
Friday 8 February 2013, 10 a.m.:
8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli
Martin Luther … posted his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517
1, Martin Luther (1483-1546):
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of the Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money or secured through a believer’s good works. He confronted the sale of indulgences with his 95 Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication.
Luther taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptised Christians to be [art of the holy priesthood.
His translation of the Bible into the vernacular made it more accessible, and had a tremendous impact on the Church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the translation into English of the King James Version of the Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing clergy to marry.
In his later years, while suffering from several illnesses and deteriorating health, Luther became increasingly antisemitic, so that these views have contributed to his controversial status.
The locus classicus of Martin Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone is found in the ‘Introduction’ he wrote to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as part of Luther’s famous translation of the Bible of 1522. It is worth reading the passage in which Luther defines what he means by “faith”:
Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith:
An excerpt from ‘An Introduction to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans,’ Luther’s German Bible of 1522, by Martin Luther (1483-1546), translated by the Revd Robert E. Smith from Martin Luther’s Vermischte Deutsche Schriften, Johann K. Irmischer (ed), vol. 63, (Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp 124-125, August 1994.
Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn't come from this ‘faith,’ either.
Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1: 13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.
Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.
This text was translated for Project Wittenberg by the Revd Robert E. Smith of Concordia Theological Seminary and is in the public domain.
2, John Calvin (1509-1564):
John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Reformation, and is the principal figure in the development of Calvinism, which we also know as the Reformed or Presbyterian tradition. Calvin was trained originally trained as a humanist lawyer. He broke from the Rome ca 1530. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel in Switzerland, where he published the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.
In 1536 also, Calvin was invited to help reform the church in Geneva. The city council resisted the implementation of his ideas, and he men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin moved to Strasbourg, where he became the minister in a French refugee church. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and was eventually invited back to lead its church.
Following his return to Geneva, Calvin introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. During this period, the Spaniard Michael Servetus arrived in Geneva. He was denounced by Calvin and executed by the city council. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new elections to the city council, Calvin’s opponents were forced out. Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva and throughout Europe.
Calvin was a tireless but controversial writer. He also corresponded with many reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In addition to the Institutes, he wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible, as well as theological treatises and confessional documents. He regularly preached sermons throughout the week in Geneva. Calvin was influenced by the Augustinian tradition, which led him to expound the doctrine of predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God.
From John Calvin, Institutes, Chapter 17:
Of the Christian Life
In undertaking to form the life of a Christian person I am entering upon a full and varied subject, which could fill a great volume if I wanted to pursue it at length. For we see how prolix are the exhortations of the early church doctors which treat only one particular virtue. That prolixity does not come from excessive babbling, for whatever the virtue we want to praise and commend, the abundance of material means that it does not seem we have discussed it well if we have not used many words. Now my intention is not to extend the teaching about Christian life which I am offering to the point of discussing each individual virtue and making long exhortations. One can find that in other people’s books, and chiefly in the homilies of the early church doctors, that is, their sermons to the populace. It is enough for me to show by what order a Christian should be led and directed to the right end of ordering his life well. I will be content, I say, to show briefly a general rule by which he can measure all his actions. Perhaps we will sometime have the opportunity to make such orations as there are in the sermons of the early church doctors. The work which we have in hand now requires that we comprise a simple teaching with the greatest brevity possible.
Now the philosophers have some goals of decency and uprightness from which they deduce the particular duties and all the acts of virtue; and so scripture also has its way of doing that, which is much better and more certain than the practice of the philosophers. There is only this difference: since they are full of ambition, the philosophers have pretended to the most noteworthy perspicacity possible to demonstrate the order and arrangement which they practice, in order to show their own subtlety. On the contrary, because He teaches without pretence or pomp, the Holy Spirit has not always observed a certain order and method, or practiced it so strictly. Nevertheless, because He sometimes uses it, He lets us know that we should not despise it. Now this scriptural order of which we speak consists in two parts. One is to imprint on our hearts the love of righteousness, something to which we are not naturally inclined. The other is to give us a certain rule which does not allow us to wander here and there or to go astray in directing our life.
As for the first point, scripture offers many very good reasons to incline our hearts to love the good; we have noted a number of them in different places, and will touch on still others here. In warning and exhorting us that we must be sanctified and hallowed, what better foundation could it begin with than to say that “our God is holy” (Lev. 19; 1 Pet. 1)? To this foundation it adds the reason that, as we were scattered like sheep gone astray and dispersed in the labyrinth of this world, He has gathered us to be united with Him. When we hear the mention of God’s uniting with us, we ought to remember that the tie of this union is holiness. Not that we come into the company of our God by the merit of our holiness, since we must first adhere to Him in order to be holy: adhering to Him so that He may pour out His holiness on us. But because it pertains to His glory that He have no association with iniquity or impurity, we must resemble Him because we are His. Therefore scripture teaches us that this is the goal of our calling, which we must always consider if we want to (cor)respond to our God (Isa. 35 and elsewhere). What purpose did it serve for us to be delivered from the filth and pollution in which we were plunged, if we want to roll in that filth our whole lives? Moreover, scripture warns us that if we want to belong to the company of God’s people we must live in Jerusalem, His holy city. He consecrated and dedicated it to His honour, so it is also not lawful for it to be contaminated and polluted by impure and profane inhabitants. That is the source of these sentences: “One who walks without stain and who strives to live well, will dwell in the Lord’s tabernacle” (Ps. 15[1-2]). Moreover, in order to arouse us, scripture shows us that as God reconciled us to Himself in Christ, so He has also established us in Christ for Him to be an example and model to whom we must conform [Rom. 8:29].
3, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531) was a leader of the Swiss Reformation. He was educated at the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, and continued his studies while he was a pastor in Glarus and later in Einsiedeln, where he was influenced by the writings of Erasmus.
In 1518, Zwingli became the pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich, where he began to preach ideas on reforming the Church. In his first public controversy in 1522, he attacked the custom of fasting during Lent. In his publications, he noted corruption in the hierarchy, promoted clerical marriage, and attacked the use of images in places of worship. In 1525, Zwingli introduced a new communion liturgy to replace the Mass.
The Reformation spread to other parts of the Swiss Confederation, but several cantons resisted. Zwingli formed an alliance of Reformed cantons that divided the Swiss Confederation along religious lines. In 1529, a war between the two sides was averted at the last moment.
Meanwhile, Zwingli’s ideas came to the attention of Luther and other reformers. They met at the Marburg Colloquy and although they agreed on many points of doctrine, they could not reach an accord on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In 1531, Zwingli’s alliance applied an unsuccessful food blockade on the Catholic cantons. The cantons responded with an attack at a moment when Zurich was badly prepared. He was killed in battle at the age of 47. His legacy lives on in the confessions, liturgy, and church orders of many Reformed churches of today.
Letter of Ulrich Zwingli to Erasmus Fabricius about the proceedings, on 7, 8 and 9 April 1522, of the delegates sent to Zurich by the Bishop of Constance.
How the Reverend Lord Bishop of Constance, through his delegates, the suffragan Melchior [Wattli], John Wanner (who, however, I know took part in the affair against his will), and N[icholas] Brendlin, dealt with Huldreich Zwingli, preacher at Zurich, before the Board of Ecclesiastics and the Senate on 7, 8 and 9 April.
Zwingli to Erasmus Fabricius
On 7 April the before mentioned Fathers came to our city pretty early, and I, knowing that they were coming, was trying to discover what their design was, and yet could not until late at night, when our beloved deacon, Henry Lutius, came and gave me warning that the clerk, as they call him, was getting together the whole body of priests for a meeting early next morning at the usual place of assembly of the canons. I regarded it as a happy omen that the thing had been thus neatly set on foot by a courier both lame and without grace, and began to consider in my mind how they were likely to begin their job. At length I understood, as I thought, and when day dawned and we had come together the suffragan began in the fashion that will follow when I come to describe how the matter was carried on before the Senate. His whole speech was violent and full of rage and arrogance, though he took pains to hide the fact that he had any quarrel with me. For he avoided mentioning my name as scrupulously as if it were sacred, though meanwhile there was nothing that he didn’t say against me. When the tragedian had finished shrieking out his part, I stepped forward, feeling that it was unbecoming and disgraceful to allow a speech which might do so much damage to go unrebutted, especially as I saw from their sighs and their pale and silent faces that some of the feebler priests who had recently been won for Christ had been troubled by the tirade. Therefore I made answer upon the spur of the moment to the words of the suffragan, with what spirit or feeling the good men who heard me may judge. The general gist of what I said, however, you shall hear when we come to the proceedings before the Senate. The delegates abandoned this wing as routed and put to flight, and hurried quickly to another, to the Senate, namely, where, as I have learned from Senators, the same harangue was delivered and my name was avoided in the same way, and the Senate was persuaded not to have me summoned. For they said they had no concern whatever with me. After this the opinions varied for some time, but finally they decided that the Commons (that is, two hundred men, called the Greater Senate), should meet in full assembly on the following day, and that the bishops of the city, of whom there are three of us, should be warned not to be present. For nothing was going to be said in reply to our friends, no one could contradict so sound a speech, and so on. When I discovered this, I devoted all my energy to getting us admitted to the meeting of the Senate to be held on the following day. For a long time I turned every stone in vain, for the chief men of the Senate said it could not be done, inasmuch as the Senate had voted otherwise. Then I began to cease my efforts and to plead with sighs to him who heareth the groans of those in bondage not to abandon the truth, but to come to the defence of his gospel, which he had willed to have us preach. At length on the ninth the citizens assembled, and loudly vented their indignation at their bishops not being admitted, but they of the Senate which from its number is called the Less resisted because they had voted otherwise previously. The Greater Senate, however, compelled them against their will to put the matter to vote, and it was decided that their bishops should be present and hear everything, and if need be make answer. Thus, not, as Livy says, did the greater part prevail over the better; for here both the greater and the better part prevailed. And this I have allowed myself to write, not for the sake of laying any blame upon the Lesser Senate, but to show what plotting and underhand action can accomplish. For what else were the delegates of the Bishop of Constance after but to say without witnesses whatever came into their mouths before the simple minded commons? Thanks be to God. For when the delegates were brought into the Senate, we bishops of Zurich were also admitted, Henry Engelhard, LL.D., of the nunnery, Rudolph Röschlin, Bishop of Saint Peter’s, and I, Huldreich Zwingli. Then when they had been given permission to speak, and the suffragan had extended to the assembly greeting and blessing from his Most Illustrious Leader and Bishop (for this must now at least be admitted), he began with that wonderfully sweet voice of his, than which I have scarcely ever heard one sweeter in speech. Indeed, if his heart and brain were as good, you might say that he could excel Orpheus and Apollo in sweetness, Demosthenes and the Gracchi in persuasive power. I should like to set down his speech in its entirety, but I cannot, partly because he spoke in an involved and jumbled together style, without order, and partly because so long a speech could not, I think, be remembered even by a Porcius Latro. But since I had my note-book at hand and took down the main headings, in order to be able to meet and answer them more fitly, I will first put down these headings and then subjoin what I said in reply to each of them.
With the manner of a consummate tragedian he said that
(1) certain persons were teaching new, obnoxious and seditious doctrines (wieder wärtig und aufrührig lehren in German), to wit: that
(2) no human prescriptions and no ceremonials ought to be regarded. If this doctrine prevailed, it would come to pass that not only the laws of the state but even the Christian faith would be done away with, although
(3) ceremonies were a sort of manuductio or “leading by the hand” to the virtues (for he was pleased to use this word manuductio even before people who did not understand Latin, because, no doubt, the German term eine einleitung, “an introduction,” did not seem to him strong enough (or, if you will, fine enough). Ceremonials were in fact, he said, a source of virtue (ein ursprung), though he afterwards had the boldness to deny before all those witnesses that he used the word;
(4) they were also teaching that Lent ought not to be kept, for certain persons in this city had ventured to withdraw from other Christians and from the Christian Church, though this statement also he afterwards denied with as much shamelessness as stubbornness. My lord Brendlin bore witness that he had not used that expression, though the whole Senate still bears witness that he used it. So persistently do these people fancy that they are free to say off-hand whatever they please and to deny off-hand what they have said, almost at the moment of saying it. He said
(5) that they had eaten meat in Lent to the scandal of the whole republic of Christ; though
(6) this was evidently not permitted by the gospels, they yet ventured to declare that they might do it in accordance with the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles; they had violated
(7) the decrees of the Holy Fathers and the councils, and
(8) a most ancient custom which
(9) we never could have kept so long if it had not emanated from the Holy Spirit. For Gamaliel in the Acts of the Apostles had said: “Let them alone; for if this work is of God,” etc. Then he urged the Senate
(10) to remain with and in the Church, for outside of it no one had salvation. For
(11) the things which were being taught so wrongheadedly were being taught without grounds. And not having satisfied himself in what he had said before about ceremonials, he fell
(12) to speaking of them again, saying that they were the only means by which the humbler Christians were brought to the recognition of salvation, and that it belonged to the duties of the people’s priests (for that is the way bishops and preachers are named now-a-days by those counterfeit bishops, to keep their name sacred) to teach the simple-minded populace that there were certain symbols which denoted certain things, and that it was their function to explain and set forth the meaning and value thereof. At length, after the above turn in his speech, he began to discourse
(13) upon grounds of offence, not unlearnedly, I confess, only I wish that he had cited as happily the things against himself as those for him. He added that Christ enjoined with as much emphasis as he put upon any precept, that offences be avoided, for he added that most clear mark of indignation, “Woe!” “Woe to the world from offences!” Going back also to Paul, from whose epistles he had quoted many things before he discoursed upon “Woe,” he called to witness
(14) that in order not to offend the Jews he had suffered Timothy to be circumcised. And what he ought to have said among his first remarks about seditious teachings, he talked on after everything else, saying
(15) that no one ought to trust his own ideas; for that even Paul had been unwilling to depend upon his own notions, and had gone to Jerusalem to compare his gospel with the Apostles, etc. And after a very beautiful peroration to his remarks he rose, and was on the point of going away with his allies, when I addressed them in the following terms:
“My Lord suffragan” (and in this I made an indiscreet and ignorant enough blunder; for they tell me I should have said “most merciful Lord,” but being unskilled in polished ways I take hold like a clophopper) “and fellow-ecclesiastics,” I said “wait, I pray, until I make explanation in my own behalf.” For that my fellow-bishops allowed me to do. To this he said; “It has not been enjoined upon us to engage in discussion with any one.” “And I,” said I, “have no intention of entering into discussion, but what I have thus far been teaching these excellent citizens I would willingly and gladly set forth to you who are both learned men and delegates sent here, so to speak, with full powers; that the greater faith may be had in my teachings if you shall have voted them right, and if not, that the opposite may take place.” “We have said nothing,” said he, “in opposition to you, and therefore there is no need for you to make explanation.” But I said: “Though you have refrained from mentioning my name, yet all the force and power of your words were aimed and hurled at me. For, as a matter of fact, they were dealing with me in the style of the old gladitorial combats between Mirmillons and Gauls, wherein the Mirmillon cried: “It is not you I am aiming at, Gaul, it is the fish I am aiming at.” So my name was kept out of sight and not mentioned, in order that most serious charges, if it please the gods, might be developed against me, whose name is Zwingli. While we were thus contending together, M. Roest, President of the Senate, tried by entreaty to persuade the men of Constance to listen, to which entreaty the suffragan replied that he knew with whom he should have to deal if he listened. Huldreich Zwingli was too violent and choleric to make any duly and moderately carried on discussion possible with him. I answered: “What wrong have I ever done you? And what kind of a way of doing is this, to worry so harshly and bitterly a guiltless man who has done his duty by Christianity, and to refuse to hear any explanation? I have always felt myself bound to hope, unless I am mistaken (but perhaps I am mistaken), that if anyone ever came forward to contradict the truth and teachings of the gospel, it would come to pass that the High Prelate of Constance would rush to its aid before all others and hear the whole case, and this by your help especially, whom he has even now employed as delegates because of your pre-eminent learning. For what would ye do if I wanted to go to him without your knowledge? If I feared to meet you? If I refused to have your opinion in the matter? Now, when I do nothing of the kind, but ask your presence in order to give an account of my faith and teachings, how have you the face to venture to refuse it? It could not have failed to rouse suspicion if I had allowed you to go away, even though you desired it; now when I appeal of my own accord to your judgment and justice, do you dare to abandon me?” Then said they: “Our Reverend Master did not wish us to enter into a dispute with any one, so it is impossible for us to hear you. If you wish to take any point of doctrine to the bishop you are free to do so; if you need anything apprize him of it.” But I said: “I beg of you if you are not willing from any other consideration to vouchsafe me this favour, yet grant me this wish for the sake of our common faith, our common baptism, and for the sake of Christ, the giver of life and salvation, and if you may not listen as delegates, you still may as Christians.” When I had thus adjured them the citizens began to murmur in their indignation, so that at last, driven by the urgent request of the president and the unworthiness of their course, they went back to their seats. Thereupon I began to speak in defence of the teachings of Christ to the best of my ability, and made answer to their main heads in about this fashion:
1. My lord suffragan has stated that certain persons were teaching seditious and obnoxious doctrines, but I cannot be persuaded that he means this to be taken of me, who for nearly four years now have been preaching the gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Apostles with so much energy. And yet it savours somewhat of this, inasmuch as he made the statement before the Senate. For what concern were it of mine if such teachings were preached elsewhere, provided they were not preached at Zurich? Therefore, since it is not likely that the suffragan spoke of the affairs of outsiders, it is clear that his remarks were aimed at me. However much they disguise it, it is evident that here is the David to whom this Nathan imputed the wrong. But as to the gospel, it is no wonder that in one place or another there should be differences between those who cling doggedly to ἐντάλωατα, that is, human prescriptions, and those who are unfriendly to the same. For Christ prophesied most clearly that this would come to pass, saying: “I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and it shall come to pass that a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Yet there was no need of this answer either. For Zurich more than any other of the Swiss cantons is in peace and quiet, and this all good citizens put down to the credit of the gospel.
2. As to the reproach, in the next place, that it is taught that no human prescriptions nor ceremonials ought to be kept, I will acknowledge frankly that I desire to see a fair portion of the ceremonials and prescriptions done away with, because the things prescribed are in great part such as also Peter in the Acts says cannot be endured. Nor am I going to listen to those who say that Peter spoke of the old ceremonials and prescriptions. Be it understood, though, that if I should grant them this it is still clear that Peter was of opinion that Christians ought to be free from burdens and bitterness of the kind. But if Peter deprecated that old yoke so greatly, which was yet much lighter than that which we bear to-day, what think ye he would have done if there had been question of a heavier one? Now that the old yoke would have been more endurable to Christians than ours (to say nothing for the nonce of the decrees of the pontiffs, which are much more numerous and onerous than the commands of Moses,) is shown well enough by the excessive observation of fasts, the careful selection of foods, and the enforced leisure of feast days. For how trifling will the fasts of the Jews become which they ordained at times for those in great sorrow, if you compare them with these stated forty days’ fasts of ours, institutions fit for serfs, and those that are ordained in a sort of unbroken and continuous row in honour of the saints! Furthermore, if you compare the selection of foods, its observation is more onerous among the Christians than among the Jews. They abstained from certain kinds of food, but not at a fixed period, with the exception of the Passover. We abstain from numerous kinds and for long seasons. And in the enforced leisure of feast days we surpass the Jews very greatly. But if Peter did not want the Christians worried by the lighter yoke much less would he approve the heavier. I denied, however, that I was of opinion that no human prescriptions at all ought to be kept or enacted. For who would not joyfully accept what was decided by the concurrent opinion of all Christians? But on the other hand, the decrees of certain most unholy spirits, who after the manner of the Pharisees would lay unbearable burdens upon the necks of men and not touch themselves even with the tip of their fingers, were an abomination. And as to his having said, with a view to rouse the Senate to anger, that we should fail to obey the laws of the state, I said this was not the spirit of Christ or of the Apostles. For Christ had said: “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” etc., and had paid the tribute or tax. Nay, at his birth his parents reported his name according to the proclamation of Cæsar; while the Apostles taught “Render unto all their due, tribute to whom tribute is due, etc., and obey them who are set in authority over you, and not only the good,” etc. Hence it was evident that he had spoken more vigorously than truly, as would be made still clearer by an illustration. For all the peoples of the whole world had obeyed the laws most rigorously, even before the man Christ was born. Nay, Christianity was the most powerful instrument for the preservation of justice in general, and the faith of Christ could not be done away with even if all ceremonials were done away with altogether. Nay, ceremonials achieved nothing else than the cheating of Christ and his faithful followers and doing away with the teachings of the Spirit, calling men away from the unseen to the material things of this world, but this could not be described and explained in short compass.
3. Then I showed that the simple-minded people could be led to the recognition of the truth by other means than ceremonials, to wit, by those by which Christ and the Apostles had led them without any ceremonials as far as I had been able to learn through the sacred writings, and that there was no danger that the people were not capable of receiving the gospel, which he who believes can understand. They can believe, therefore they can also understand. Whatever takes place here is done by the inspiration of God, not by the reasoning of man, as Christ also thanked the Father, saying: “I thank thee, O, Father, etc., because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” And Paul (I Cor. 1) says that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”
4. I had nowhere taught that Lent ought not to be kept, though I could wish that it were not prescribed so imperiously, but were left free to the individual. But he for whom Lent was not enough might fast for the rest of the year also; there would not be wanting men to advise fasting, and I presaged that they would be likely to effect more than those who thought that at the frown of their power and the threat of excommunication, everything would fall to pieces with a crash as at the frown of Jove.
5. Certain persons, and they by no means bad ones, had ventured to eat flesh, and they were not tainted, but since they had not been forbidden by the divine law to eat flesh, they seemed rather to have eaten it in witness of their faith than to any one’s reproach. And this was clear from the fact that presently when told by me that they ought to take into account the possible cause of offence they stopped, so that there was no need of this fine delegation, inasmuch as the evil died out of itself, granting that it was an evil. Still I wondered exceedingly that I had been a minister of the gospel in the diocese of Constance for fifteen years and had thus far never known of the men of Constance having sent anywhere so magnificent a delegation to investigate how the affairs of the gospel were going on, but now when they had found a very trifling observance not broken as much as they seemed to wish, they filled everything with their lamentations, and accused the people of Zurich of being the only ones who had the effrontery to meditate withdrawing from the Christian communion. Yet when the suffragan denied that expression, as I have said, and Brendlin supported his denial, though the whole Senate cried out in rebuttal, I allowed their denial in somewhat these terms: Since you deny the expression, show that it escaped you unawares and I will easily pardon it; as far as I am concerned you shall be free to correct any utterances you please. But the Republic of Christ has suffered no offence and no disgrace if some few persons have failed to keep human tradition.
6. And I showed that it was an unsound contention that the gospel writings nowhere clearly allowed the eating of flesh. For Mark (ch. 7) speaks in this fashion: “There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him.” Here I showed by the argument from the preceding (in the way they manipulated the sacred writings) that the argument of the following held good in this way: Therefore, whatever is outside of a man cannot by entering into him defile him. Words are signs to me. A general negative is no sign. If he had said “no food,” he would have left out the category of drinks; if he had said “no drink,” he would have left out that of food. Therefore, it pleased him who is the Truth to say “nothing.” Then he added “cannot even defile.” Hear! The Voice of Truth declares it cannot; man, who is a liar, for all men are liars, says it can. Here the man squirms and says these words are not so clear, and must be interpreted in this way, but the preceding words must be regarded and the words that follow, though this is what follows: “Do ye not perceive that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man it cannot defile him, because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” What can be said more clearly, if you please, even though you regard the preceding and the following?
7. They added the words “contrary to the decrees of the Holy Fathers and the councils.” I answered that Engelhard, the ornament of our city, had carefully weighed with me those in which our friends placed greatest confidence, and that no such asseveration could be made from those which they treated as a sacred anchor. For the question was not whether Lent ought to be done away with, but whether it was permissible by the law of Christ to eat meat at that time. While I forbid no man’s fasting, I leave it free to him.
8. They had also added: “and contrary to very ancient custom.” Here I frankly granted that it was the custom, and not a bad one. But if it were the custom, why was a proclamation added? I promised that I would certainly see to it that the custom should not be wantonly interrupted.
9. And if this custom (he continued) had not been inspired by the divine spirit it would not have lasted so long, in accordance with the words of Gamaliel. I answered that this and other things which were not from the mind of God would be done away in their own good time. For “every plant,” says Christ in Matthew, “which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” But selection of foods neither Christ nor the Apostles had prescribed. Therefore no one ought to be surprised if unhappy mortals are turning their eyes towards freedom, since Christ in his loving kindness has now illumined the world more brightly with his gospel by a sort of second revelation.
10. After this the weighty speaker made his turn to the Senate, appealing to them to stay with and in the Church, for outside of it none were saved. This I met thus: “Let not this exhortation move you, most excellent citizens, as if you had ever abandoned the Church of Christ. For I am persuaded of you that you hold in fresh remembrance what is said in the narrative of Matthew, that the foundation of the Church is that rock which gave his name to Peter the faithful confessor. No one lays other foundation than this, nor can do so. Nay, in every nation and place, everyone who confesses the Lord Jesus with his tongue and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead shall be saved, whether he be among the Indians or the Scythians, and it is fixed beyond controversy that outside of that Church none is saved, within which we all believe ourselves to be the more firmly as we glory the more certainly in the hope of the glory of the sons of God.” Here I might have dragged the man forth and laid bare his notion of the Church, but I preferred to spare him, that he might repent at length of having said before the whole Senate that I was too rough spoken to make it possible to discuss with me. When he had thus made his exhortation I began to look to the end of his remarks, but things turned out differently from what I hoped. For he turned back to this other point and said:
11. That rubbish (for thus, if I mistake not, that crowd call the gospel teaching) was taught without foundation in Scripture. Here again I fled to the protection of the words of Mark vii., as a sort of Achilles’ shield, and shot forth these shafts: Do you want clearer proofs presented to you? Is not Christ worthy of belief? Or Mark? I have gathered many passages together, but I abstain from giving the rest now in order not to nauseate the Fathers. Here my lord Englehard opportunely drew a New Testament from his pocket and bade me interpret the passage of Paul’s Epistle to Timothy i. 4. I took the book and translated the passage into German, and it is wonderful how they all breathed a sigh of relief, recognizing the passage, most of them, from the exposition of that epistle that I had made the year before. So much difference does it make at what point things are said.
12. Immediately leaving these points, he brought the ceremonials out into battle line again, wounded however, and I attempted to rout them completely again thus: His point that it was the duty of the people’s priests to set forth the meaning of the ceremonials I upset in this way. The gospel of Christ had been committed to me to preach assiduously; what the ceremonials indicated those would set forth who lived by them. I admit that I purposely, though quietly, meant to touch the man’s sore point in this. For what else do those suburban bishops do but stuff their purses with illusions of consecrating things? But if any master of ceremonials ventured to preach other than the truth to the sheep entrusted to me, I declared I would not stand it.
13. Now what he had said about offences I should have approved in general, if all his words had not seemed to point toward keeping those who were weak always weak, though it is the duty of the stronger, as those fellows wish and ought to be regarded, προσλαμβάνεσϑαι, that is, to take up and comfort and help the weak, that they may also be made strong. Yet this one thing I added: Since he had spoken much of the anxious care of the High Prelate of Constance to avoid or guard against offence to the Church, had he no exhortation to his priests at last after Christ’s fashion, bidding them to put their own immunity behind them and bear the general burdens with the rest of the Christian brethren, and to pay tax and tribute? For Christ, in order not to give ground of offence to those who exacted the tribute money, paid it and performed a miracle besides, but it could not be denied that all the people in every nation were complaining because the priests and monks and nuns were supported in idleness, contributing neither labour nor money for the uses of the State. They complained bitterly after they had left the Senate that this had been brought in outside the subject, as they say, but it seems to me that nothing could have been said more appropriately at this point, when they were talking of the High Prelate of Constance being so anxious about grounds of offence.
14. In the next place, though I was aware that Paul had suffered Timothy to be circumcised, yet I maintained that he could not be persuaded by any means to allow Titus to be circumcised, and I tried to give the reason for both acts, namely, that with Timothy, while Christianity was still in the green blade, he had suffered the Macedonians to be circumcised that no breach of the peace might arise, but after the new doctrine had grown somewhat more vigorous, and Paul had learned by his perception of this that Titus could be saved without any disturbance, he saved him. Here I put forth all my strength to persuade the Senators to abide by the ancient custom until either the bonds of that yoke were loosened for us or the world itself consented together more clearly for the taking up again of freedom.
15. Finally I said that those could rightfully be said to rely on their own notions and ideas who struggled against the accepted Scriptures and put human traditions before the teachings of heaven, not those who protected themselves by no other weapons or defences than the sacred writings, for the former trusted in flesh and blood, the latter in the truth of heaven alone, not one jot of which could ever pass away.
Though I was aware that Paul had compared his gospel with the Apostles finally, I also knew that he did not do it for fourteen years. And though I perceived what they were after with that illustration, their side was weakened rather than propped up by it. For I had insisted a little while before so obstinately that they should be present at my explanation for no other reason than that they might see clearly how I handled the sacred writings; nay, that I was ready to give an account of the faith that was in me before the dwellers in heaven, or on earth, or in hell. And finally, having begged the Senate to take in good part all that I had said, I stopped speaking, except that when the suffragan began to snap out something more and to drive it in vigorously, that it had been decreed by the Holy Fathers and the councils that meat should not be eaten in Lent, I also began to contend more recklessly and to deny that it had been decreed by any councils, at least by any general ones. At last when he had finished his appendix we adjourned the Senate.
These, dear Brother Erasmus, are the wounds I received and inflicted in the assembly of the Ecclesiastics and Senators; these the means with which I ran to the aid of the feeble. It has all been written down off hand as it was spoken, for the suffragan had brought a prepared speech with him, but I was forced to fight and defend myself as I stood. If I have said anything more briefly or more fully than it occurred, I think this should be attributed to human weakness, which hardly recognizes how little power it has in remembering. Yet the main drift of the proceedings in general I have touched upon, whether in the Senate or in the body of Ecclesiastics or in private discussion. For the evening after the morning they had spoken before the body of Ecclesiastics, I stumbled upon them by accident and talked much with them. Thus I learned just where their sore point was. Good by, and if you write to my friend Oechsli, greet him for me.
Zwingli’s Works, ed. Schuler u. Schulthess, iii., 7-16. Translated from the original Latin by Henry Preble, New York.
The City Council, hence the members in it are called councillors, but the Latin form Zwingli used has been allowed to stand. This body was in two parts, the Small Council, which contained only 50 members, and only half of these were on duty at any one time, and the Great Council, also called the Council of the Two Hundred, which included the Small Council. The Great Council was the deciding body on all legislative matters of importance, the Small was the executive committee, and both were representative bodies. The chief officer was the burgomaster, here called the President of the Senate. See my biography of Zwingli, pp 42-44.
Zwingli uses this term of the people’s priests or preachers of the three parish churches in Zurich, viz., the Great Minster, Minster of Our Lady, and Saint Peter’s.
Henry Engelhard had been people’s priest at the cathedral of Our Lady since 1496. He had also been a canon of the Great Minster, but in 1521 resigned so that Zwingli might be appointed. This act of disinterestedness shows what a fine character he was. He remained ever one of Zwingli’s friends. He died in 1551, a very old man. Rudolph Röschlin, people’s priest at Saint Peter’s, was very slow in accepting the Reformation, was at the time of this episcopal visit an old man, and a few weeks after it resigned his place and was succeeded by Zwingli’s bosom friend, Leo Jud.
Next: 8.3: The Anglican Reformation
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes and readings were prepared for presentations at a seminar on 8 February 2013 as part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.
Church of Ireland Theological Institute,
Church History Elective (TH 7864)
Friday 8 February 2013, 9 a.m.:
8.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus
8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli
8.3: The Anglican Reformation.
When we last met, we discussed the ways in which Church developed in the wake of the Crusades, in both the Byzantine world and in Western Europe.
We also looked at key thinkers and developments in the Church on Continental Europe, including the development of the mendicant orders of Friars, including the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Carmelites.
We looked at key figures and thinkers that shaped the late mediaeval period, including Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus and Francis of Assisi.
We also discussed the we had looked at the Church in Ireland in the late Middle Ages, looking at the Anglo-Norman Church and how it moved closer in its liturgical practice and its diocesan structures to the Church in the rest of Western Europe.
We took note too of the way the Church was in need of reform, how these demands were articulated, for example, by people like Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus and Francis of Assisi, by the friars in Ireland and England, and, of course, by women, who were often an invisible dynamic in the demand for change and reform in the Church.
With the benefit of hindsight derived from today’s debates, it would be easy to ask why women were never fully incorporated into the visible expressions of the Church, including ministry and administration, when you consider the contribution to developing Christian thinking by such diverse women as:
● Julian of Norwich (ca 1342-post 1416),
● Saint Catherine of Siena (ca 1347-1380),
● Lady Margaret Beaufort (ca 1443-1509), who founded Saint John’s College and Christ’s College, Cambridge and was the grandmother of Henry VIII,
● the later Teresa of Avila (1515-1582),
● or perhaps even Joan of Arc (1412-1431).
Was the Church’s reaction to women’s contribution to brick them up, marry them off or burn them, or marginalise them as mystics rather than recognise them as theologians?
This morning we are going to look at some of the key figures and movements that prepared the way for the Reformation movements of the 16th century; introduce ourselves to some of the key figures in the Continental Reformation movements; and then at the beginnings of the Anglican Reformation on these islands.
8.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus
But perhaps the question that has exercised many Church Historians until now is why the Church could incorporate the Franciscans but not the Lollards, could find a place for Francis of Assisi but not for John Wycliffe, could revere Thomas Aquinas but burn John Hus.
And, we must ask too, to what degree did John Wycliffe and John Hus at one level of criticism of the late Mediaeval church, and Erasmus of Rotterdam at another, prepare the way for the 16th century Reformation movements?
1, John Wycliffe and the Lollards:
The Lollards were a political and religious movement that lasted from the mid-14th century up to the English Reformation. The Lollards were the followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticising the Church, especially in his teachings on the Eucharist.
The word “Lollard” was a popular derogatory nickname and was given to people without an educational or academic who were reputed to be followers John Wycliffe and were fired by reading the translation of the Bible into English.
By the mid-15th century the term Lollard came to be used for any heretic. The alternative, “Wycliffite,” is generally accepted to be a more neutral term and was usually reserved for people with an academic background. The modern Dutch word lallen means to babble, to talk nonsense, to talk drunkenly.
The word is probably from the Middle Dutch, lollaerd, meaning “mumbler” or “mutterer.” However, some people trace the term back to Lolhard, a Franciscan friar who converted to the Waldensian way, becoming eminent as a preacher in Guienne, in a part of France was then under English rule. He was burned at Cologne in the 1370s.
John Wycliffe (ca 1330-1384) was an early Reformer and an early translator of the Bible into English, whose principles led to him losing his academic posts at Oxford. He was a close follower of Augustine and is seen as one of the first writers to formulate two major principles of the Reformation: the unique authority of the Bible, and justification by faith.
Wycliffe has been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” His followers were known as the Lollards, are their movement is seen as a precursor of the Reformation. At the end of his life, he completed his translation of the Bible directly from the Vulgate into common English in 1382-1384. In those final years of his life, he increasingly argued for Scriptures as the authoritative source of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.
He was a member of the Wycliffe family of Richmond in Yorkshire and was born in the village of Hipswell in North Yorkshire, before 1330, probably in the mid to late1320s. His family took its name from Wycliffe-on-Tees, about 15 km north of Hipswell.
By 1345, he was at Oxford, where his influential cotemporaries included Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, William of Occam, and Richard FitzRalph, later Archbishop of Armagh.
Wycliffe showed an early interest in the natural sciences and mathematics, but concentrated his efforts on theology, canon law and philosophy. He became deeply disillusioned both with the Scholastic theology of his day and with the state of the Church and the clergy.
He was a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and by 1361, Wycliffe was the Master of Balliol College, Oxford. In the same year, the college appointed him the Rector of Fylingham, Lincolnshire. He had to retire from Balliol, but he continued to live at Oxford, where he had rooms in the Queen’s College.
In 1365, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Islip, appointed him Warden of Canterbury Hall, Oxford, where 12 students were preparing for ordination to the priesthood. That year, Pope Urban V claimed a feudal tribute that dated back to the reign of King John but that had not been paid for 33 years. In response, Parliament declared that neither King John nor any other had the right to subject England to any foreign power. Pope Urban recognised his mistake and dropped his claim. Wycliffe, who served as a theological adviser to the government, wrote a tract on the Pope’s claims.
Archbishop Islip died the following year, in 1366, and his successor, Simon Langham, replaced Wycliffe at Canterbury with a monk. Wycliffe appealed to Rome, but lost his case.
Later, Canterbury Hall would be incorporated into Christ Church, Oxford.
In 1368, he moved from Fylingham and became Rector of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire. The parish was near Oxford, allowing Wycliffe to keep his connections with the university. Six years later, in 1374, he received the crown living of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where he remained rector until he died.
In that same year (1374), when France and England were involved in negotiations in Bruges, Wycliffe was one of commissioners sent from England to deal with papal delegates from Avignon about Church complaints.
Soon after his return from Bruges he began to write his great work, De civili dominio, in which he argued that the Church should renounce all claims to temporal dominion.
Sometime between 1372 and 1384, Wycliffe became a Doctor of Divinity, giving him the right to lecture on theology at Oxford.
He was summoned before William Courtenay, Bishop of London, on 19 February 1377 “to explain the wonderful things which had streamed forth from his mouth.”
Meanwhile, Pope Gregory XI had issued a bull condemning Wycliffe, and on 22 May 1377 he sent five copies to England from Rome – one to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the others King Edward III, to the Bishop of London, the Chancellor, and Oxford University. The Pope also denounced 18 theses of Wycliffe as erroneous and dangerous to Church and State. But Edward III died on 21 June 1377 and was succeeded by Richard II, so that the bull against Wycliffe did not become public until 18 December.
In March 1378, he appeared at a church court in Lambeth Palace and for a time he was confined by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in Black Hall. Wycliffe was released on threats from his friends, but he was excommunicated.
However, before any further steps were taken against him, Pope Gregory XI died in 1378.
In the space of two years, Wycliffe tried to refute his opponents by writing books dealing with the Church, the office of king, and the power of the Pope. For Wycliffe, the Church is made up of all who are predestined to holiness, including the Church triumphant in heaven, those in purgatory, and the Church on earth. No one who is eternally lost has part in it. There is one universal Church, and there is no salvation outside.
However, his denial of the teaching of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as expressed in the concept of transubstantiation – not yet an officially defined dogma – lost him his royal protection. In the summer of 1381, when Wycliffe formulated his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper in 12 short sentences, the bishops of England acted against him, and the Chancellor of Oxford University had some of the declarations pronounced heretical.
In the midst of the controversy, the Peasants’ Revolt broke out in 1381. Although Wycliffe disapproved of the revolt, he was blamed for it. William Courtenay, now Archbishop of Canterbury, called an ecclesiastical assembly in London in 1382, but as it met the city was hit by an earthquake. Those present were terrified, but Courtenay declared the earthquake a favourable sign, indicating the earth’s purification from erroneous doctrine.
Of the 24 propositions attributed to Wycliffe, 10 were declared heretical and 14 erroneous. On 17 November 1382, Wycliffe was summoned before a synod at Oxford, and while he was not excommunicated or ejected from his parish, he was forced from his offices at Oxford University.
He returned to his parish in Luttertworth, where he wrote tracts and preached sermons castigating the monks and Pope Urban VI, who disappointed Wycliffe’s hopes of being a reforming pope. He completed translating the Bible directly from the Vulgate into common English in 1382-1384.His last work, Opus evangelicum, was never completed.
While he was celebrating Mass in his parish church on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December 1384, John Wycliffe suffered a stroke. He died three days later, on 31 December 1384.
A law passed in 1401 extended persecution to Wycliffe’s remaining followers. The Constitutions of Oxford in 1408 banned Wycliffe’s writings and made unlicensed translation of Scripture into English a punishable crime and a heresy.
In 1415, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic and decreed that his books should be burned and his remains exhumed. At the command of Pope Martin V, his body was dug up and burned, and the ashes were thrown into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth.
Wycliffe and the Lollards
Although Lollardy can be said to have its origins in Wycliffe’s writings, the Lollards had no central belief system and no official doctrine. Indeed, Lollardy was a decentralised movement, without any single authority.
The movement associated itself with many different ideas, but individual Lollards did not necessarily have to agree to every tenet. Indeed, some Lollards may have been anti-Trinitarian in their thinking.
The Lollards looked to the Bible as the basis for their beliefs. They sought a translation of the Bible into the vernacular so that those who could read English could read the Bible. Wycliffe had already translated many passages before his death in 1384.
Lollardy taught the concept of the “Church of the Saved,” holding that there was an invisible true Church that was the community of the faithful. This Church overlapped with, but was not the same as, the visible Church.
One group of Lollards petitioned Parliament with ‘The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards’ by posting them on the doors of Westminster Hall in February 1395. These ‘Twelve Conclusions’ allow us to discern certain basic Lollard ideas. These include:
1, A rejection of the acquisition of temporal wealth by Church leaders, as accumulating wealth leads them away from religious concerns and toward greed.
4, The Sacrament of the Eucharist is a contradictory topic that is not clearly defined in the Bible. Whether the bread remains bread or becomes the body of Christ is not specified uniformly in the Gospels.
6, Church officials should not concern themselves with secular matters when they hold a position of power within the Church, because this constitutes a conflict of interest between matters of the spirit and matters of the State.
8, The Lollards object to the reverence shown to images: “If the cross of Christ, the nails, spear, and crown of thorns are to be honoured, then why not honour Judas’s lips, if only they could be found?”
The Lollards argued that the Church had been corrupted by temporal matters and that its claim to be the true Church was not justified by its heredity. Among the corruptions they identified were prayers for the dead and chantry chapels. These were seen as corrupt since they distracted priests from other work and that all should be prayed for equally.
The Lollards also exhibited a type of iconoclasm. Expensive church artwork was seen as an excess; they believed the needy should be helped and the Gospel preached rather than spending time and money on expensive decorations. Icons or images were seen as dangerous as many people seemed to be worshiping them rather than God.
They believe in a lay priesthood, and challenged the Church’s authority to invest or deny the divine authority to make a man a priest. Denying any special status to the priesthood, the Lollards said confession to a priest was unnecessary because priests did not have the ability to forgive sins.
The Lollards challenged the practice of clerical celibacy and believed priests should not hold government positions as temporal matters interfered with their spiritual responsibilities.
They denounced teachings such as transubstantiation, exorcism, pilgrimages, and blessings, believing these led to an emphasis on Church ritual rather than on the Bible.
The other Conclusions expressed their opposition to capital punishment and their belief that the clergy should be held accountable to civil laws.
Outside the ‘Twelve Conclusions,’ Lollards held many diverse opinions. Their scriptural focus led them to refuse to take oaths. They believed in millenarianism or the imminent second coming of Christ and his Kingdom on earth. Many believed that in their time they were approaching the end of days.
Some Lollard writings denounced the Pope as the Antichrist. Although generally the Lollards did not believe any particular Pope was the Antichrist, they believed the office of the Pope embodied the prophecy of the Antichrist.
At first, the Lollards was denounced as heretics. Wycliffe and the Lollards were sheltered by John of Gaunt and other anti-clerical nobility, who may have wanted to use the demands of the Lollards for clerical reform to acquire new sources of revenue from the monasteries.
The Lollards first faced serious persecution after the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. While Wycliffe and other Lollards opposed the revolt, one of the peasant leaders, John Ball, preached Lollardy.
The Lollards then came to be seen not only as a threat to the Church, but as a threat to English society in general, and the small measure of protection they had once received was dissipated. They lost further protection in 1386 when John of Gaunt left England to pursue his efforts to become King of Castille.
A group of gentry active during the reign of Richard II (1377-1399) were known as “Lollard Knights” because of their acceptance of Wycliffe’s ideas. Henry Knighton, in his Chronicle, identifies the principal Lollard Knights as Thomas Latimer, John Trussel, Lewis Clifford, John Peachey, Richard Storey, and Reginald Hilton. Others may have included William Nevil and John Clanvowe. However, there is little evidence that they were known as Lollard during their lifetimes and they rarely gave any hint of open rebellion.
A key opponent of the Lollards was Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1397, 1399-1414), assisted by bishops like Henry le Despenser of Norwich.
Although King Henry IV was the son of John of Gaunt, he passed the De heretico comburendo in 1401. The statute declared in its preamble that it was directed against a certain new sect “who thought damnably of the sacraments and usurped the office of preaching.” Although this legislation did not specifically ban the Lollards, it prohibited translating or owning the Bible and authorised burning heretics at the stake.
It empowered the bishops to arrest, imprison, and examine offenders and to hand over to the secular authorities such as had relapsed or refused to abjure. The condemned were to be burnt “in an high place” before the people.
The passing of this act was followed immediately by the burning of William Sawtrey, curate of Saint Margaret’s, Lynn. He had previously abjured but had relapsed, and he now refused to declare his belief in transubstantiation or to recognise the authority of the Church.
By the early 15th century, stern measures by Church and State were driving the Lollards underground. In 1407, Archbishop Arundel presided at a synod in Oxford that passed a number of constitutions to regulate preaching, the translation and use of the Scriptures, and theological education at schools and the university. In 1410, a body of Oxford censors condemned 267 propositions collected out of Wycliffe’s writings. These measures seem to have been successful as far as the clergy were concerned, and Lollardy came to be more and more a lay movement, often connected with political discontent.
No further Lollards were executed until 1410, when John Badby, a layman and craftsman who refused to renounce his Lollardy, was burned at the stake, becoming the first layman executed in England for the crime of heresy.
Sir John Oldcastle was a close friend of King Henry V and his character provided the basis for Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. In 1413 he was put on trial when evidence was uncovered indicating his Lollard beliefs. Oldcastle escaped from the Tower of London and organised an insurrection, including an attempt to kidnap the king. The rebellion failed, and Oldcastle was executed. About 70 or so supporters of the Oldcastle Revolt were hanged in 1414, and a minority of these were also burned.
Oldcastle’s revolt made the Lollards seem a greater threat, and they were persecuted more severely. Many Lollard martyrs were executed in the century that followed, including the Amersham Martyrs in the early 1500s and Thomas Harding (1532), who was one of the last Lollards to be executed.
With the beginning of the English Reformation, the demands of Lollards moved into the mainstream, so that it is difficult to estimate how widespread the Lollards and their ideas were at the time of the Reformation.
Thomas More and other critics of the Reformation identified the Reformers with Lollards. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to Lollardy too, and Bishop Cuthbert of London called Lutheranism the “foster-child” of the Wycliffite heresy.
We could debate whether the Reformers were influenced by the Lollards or whether they referred to Lollardly to create a sense of tradition. The similarity between Lollards and later English Protestant groupings such as the Baptists, Puritans and Quakers may suggest some continuity of Lollard ideas at the Reformation.
2, John Hus (1369-1415) and the Hussites:
Jan Hus (1369-1415), often referred to in English as John Hus or John Huss, was a Czech priest, philosopher, reformer, and theologian at Charles University in Prague. After John Wycliffe, Hus is considered the first Church reformer, coming a century before Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.
Hus was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415 for heresy on ecclesiology, the Eucharist, and in other areas. We can see Hus as a key predecessor to the Reformation movements of the 16th century.
Between 1420 and 1431, the Hussite forces defeated five consecutive papal crusades against followers of Hus. A century after the Hussite Wars, as many as 90% of inhabitants of the Czech lands may have been followers of Hus and his successors.
Hus was born in Husinec, Bohemia, in 1369. He moved to Prague at an early age and there he supported himself by singing and serving in churches. He graduated at the University of Prague in 1393, and earned his master’s degree in 1396. He was ordained priest in 1400 and became rector of the university in 1402 or 1403. At the same time, he was appointed a preacher at the new Bethlehem Chapel.
Hus was strongly influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe, although many of Wycliffe’s works were proscribed, and he translated Trialogus into Czech.
Hus’s demands for reform began by criticising the morals of the clergy, the bishops and the Pope from his pulpit. Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc was lenient with Hus and appointed him preacher to the biennial synod. However, in 1405, Pope Innocent VII to counter the heretical teachings of Wycliffe, especially the doctrine of impanation in the Eucharist.
In 1406, a document was brought by two Bohemian students to Prague bearing the seal of the University of Oxford and eulogising Wycliffe. Hus proudly read the document from his pulpit. Pope Gregory XII wrote to Archbishop Zbyněk in 1408, condemning Wycliffe as a heretic and King Wenceslaus’s sympathies for non-conformists. The university handed over all Wycliffe’s works and Hus, condemning the errors in these writings.
Meanwhile, the Church was divided by the continuing papal schism, in which Pope Gregory XII in Rome and Pope Benedict XIII in Avignon both claimed the papacy. King Wenceslaus, who was ambitious to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor, ordered his bishops to observe strict neutrality towards both claimants.
However, Hus avowed neutrality. At his instignation and the instigation of others, King Wenceslaus issued a decree that led to thousands of foreign doctors, masters, and students leaving the University of Prague in 1409. This exodus resulted in the founding of the University of Leipzig and other universities. Prague University lost its international importance and became a Czech-only school, and rumours of Bohemian “heresies” spread throughout Europe.
Archbishop Zajíc became isolated and Hus was at the height of his fame. He became a rector of the Czech university, and enjoyed the favour of the court.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to end the papal schism, the Council of Pisa met in 1409, and elect Alexander V as a new pope and a third claimant to the papal throne. Hus, his followers, and King Wenceslaus transferred their allegiance to Alexander V.
Alexander V issued a papal bull on 20 December 1409, empowering Archbishop Zajíc to proceed against Wycliffism. All books of Wycliffe were to be given up, his doctrines revoked, and free preaching discontinued. Hus appealed to Alexander V in vain, and Hus and his adherents were excommunicated.
Riots broke out in Bohemia, and the government took the side of Hus, who continued to preach in the Bethlehem Chapel. Prague and the churches in the city were put under an interdict but without effect.
Archbishop Zajíc died in 1411, and the religious movement in Bohemia entered a new phase, focused on debates about indulgences.
The Antipope John XXIII succeeded Alexander V in 1410, and in 1411 John XXIII proclaimed a crusade against King Ladislaus of Naples, the protector of Gregory XII. This crusade was preached in Prague as well, and this developed into a traffic in indulgences that was seen as a sign of the corruption of the church.
Hus spoke out against indulgences, and in 1412 he delivered his address Quaestio magistri Johannis Hus de indulgentiis. In it, he quotes directly and fully from Wycliffe’s book, De ecclesia and from his treatise De absolutione a pena et culpa. Hus stated that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church; he should pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him; and sins are forgiven by true repentance, not money. A few days later, some of Hus’s followers burnt the Papal bulls publicly.
In response, three men who had called the indulgences a fraud were beheaded. They were later considered the first Hussite martyrs. Meanwhile, the theology faculty in Prague condemned the 45 articles and Hus’s teaching as heretical.
In 1412, the called a synod that met in the archbishop’s palace in Prague, but no reconciliation was achieved.
“Even if I should stand before the stake which has been prepared for me,” Hus wrote “I would never accept the recommendation of the theological faculty.”
Hus wrote his De Ecclesia in 1413 in a castle of in Kozí Hrádek and sent it to Prague, where it was publicly read in the Bethlehem Chapel. From Kozí Hrádek, his teachings were carried into Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Austria.
The Council of Constance was called in 1414 to put an end to the papal schism and Hus likewise agreed to go to Constance with a promise of safe passage from the Emperor Sigismund.
Hus made his will before setting out for Constance, where he said Mass and preached each day, in violation of a prohibition order. He was imprisoned and then held in the dungeon of the Dominican monastery.
Hus was put on trial as a heretic in 1415, but refused to accept all formulae for his submission, declaring he was willing to recant only if his errors could be proven from the Bible. He said that he could only wish his soul might some time attain unto that place where Wycliffe’s was. But he denied having defended Wycliffe’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper or the 45 Articles.
At the last trial, on 8 June 1415, 39 sentences were read to him, 26 of which had been excerpted from his book on the Church, seven from his treatise against Páleč, and six from that against Stanislav ze Znojma. Hus again declared himself willing to submit if he could be convinced of errors. This declaration was considered an unconditional surrender, and he was asked to confess:
● that he had erred in the theses which he had hitherto maintained;
● that he renounced them for the future;
● that he recanted them;
● that he declared the opposite of these sentences.
He asked to be exempted from recanting doctrines he had never taught. But he was condemned on 6 July 1415 before the council in the cathedral. After the High Mass and Liturgy, he was led into the church, where the Bishop of Lodi preached on the duty of eradicating heresy, before quoting from both Hus and Wycliffe.
When the sentence of condemnation of Hus and his writings was pronounced Hus protested, saying he did not wish anything but to be convinced from the Bible. He fell on his knees and asked God with a low voice to forgive his enemies.
His priestly vestments were taken from him, he was cursed, and he was led to the stake under an armed guard. At the place of execution he knelt down, spread out his hands, and prayed aloud. As he was about to die, he cried out: “Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!”
The people of Bohemia reacted with horror to the news of his execution. Pope Martin IV issued a papal bull against all supporters of Hus and Wycliffe, but three crusades against the Hussites failed. A century later, as much as 90 per cent of people in the Czech lands were said to be followers of Hussite teachings.
The Legacy of Jan Hus
For some, Hus was first and foremost trying to rid the Church of ethical abuses, rather than demanding sweeping theological changes. Others see in the writings of Hus and Wycliffe the seeds of the Reformations. The Hussite Wars resulted in the Basel Compacts which allowed for a reformed church in the Kingdom of Bohemia – almost a century before the Lutheran Reformation, and Hus had a strong influence on Luther.
After Hus’s death, his followers, the Hussites, split into several groups including the Ultraquists, the Taborites and the Orphans.
In 1999, almost six centuries after Hus’s execution, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted” on Hus. The Unitas Fratrum or Moravian Church considers itself the spiritual heir to many of Hus’s followers and formally entered dialogue with the Church of Ireland at talks in Kilkenny last week.
3, Erasmus (1466-1536), Bible translator and ‘Prince of Humanists’:
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536), or Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. He was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. He was an early proponent of religious toleration and was known as the “Prince of the Humanists” and the “the crowning glory of the Christian humanists.”
He prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, raising questions that would be influential in the Reformations and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
Erasmus was critical of the abuses in the Church and called for reform, but he kept his distance from Luther and Philip Melanchthon and continued to recognise the authority of the Pope. He emphasised a middle way, with a deep respect for traditional faith, piety and grace, and he rejected Luther’s emphasis on faith alone and was committed to reforming the Church from within.
Desiderius Erasmus was born on 27 October, in 1466 or 1467. Although identified with Rotterdam, he lived there for only four years. His father, Gerard, was a priest and curate in Gouda; but little is known of his mother other than that her name was Margaretha Rogers and she was a doctor’s daughter. His parents died from the plague in 1483.
Erasmus was educated in monastic and church-run schools. In 1492, poverty forced him into the religious life. He took vows as a canon regular in Stein, and was ordained a priest when he was 25.
Soon after his ordination, he became secretary to Henry Bergen, Bishop of Cambrai, and was given a temporary dispensation from his vows, although he remained a priest.
In 1495, he went on to study at the University of Paris. He was in Italy from 1506 to 1509, received his DD (Doctor of Divinity) degree in Turin in 1506 and later spent time in Venice.
Later, in England, he became friends with the leading English intellectuals during the reign of Henry VIII, including John Colet, Thomas More, John Fisher, Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn. While he was the Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge from 1510 to 1515, he was a member of Queens’ College, where he mastered Greek and began to prepare a new edition of Jerome’s translation of the Bible.
The moon dial at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where Erasmus lived while he taught Greek in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
From Cambridge, he moved to Leuven, where he lectured at the Catholic University, before moving to Basel.
His revolt against some forms of monasticism and scholasticism was not based on doubts about the truth of doctrine, nor on hostility to the Church. He saw himself as a preacher of righteousness by an appeal to reason, but sought to remain faithful to traditional doctrine, and was convinced he could criticise all.
In 1512, he began work on his Latin New Testament, and collected all Vulgate manuscripts to prepare a critical edition, saying “It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin.”
The first New Testament printed in Greek was part of the Complutensian Polyglot (1514).
Erasmus synchronised or unified the Greek and the Latin traditions of the New Testament. His Greek text is the main basis for his Latin translation, but in places he edits the Greek text to reflect his Latin version, including the last, missing six verses of Revelation which he translates from the Vulgate back into Greek.
His hurried first edition was published in Basel in 1516 and became the first published Greek New Testament. His second edition (1519) was used by Luther in working on his German translation of the Bible.
The first and second edition texts did not include the passage known as the Comma Johanneum (I John 5: 7-8) because he was unable to find these verses in any Greek manuscript. However, one was supplied to him while was working on his third edition (1522). This 1522 edition was probably used by Tyndale for the first English New Testament (1526) and was the basis for the 1550 Robert Stephanus edition used by the English translators of the Geneva Bible and King James Version of the Bible.
A fourth edition (1527) contains parallel columns of Greek, Latin Vulgate and Erasmus’s Latin texts. In this edition, Erasmus also supplied the Greek text of the last six verses of Revelation from Cardinal Ximenez’s Biblia Complutensis. The fifth (and final) edition (1535) was published without the Latin Vulgate column. Subsequent versions of his Greek New Testament became known as the Textus Receptus.
Ersasmus and the Reformation
Luther’s movement for reform began a year after the publication of Ersamus’ New Testament. Erasmus, now at the height of his literary fame, was called upon to take sides, but he refused to be partisan.
“Free will does not exist,” Luther said in his letter to Erasmus in 1526. Noting Luther’s criticism of the Church, Erasmus described him as “a mighty trumpet of Gospel truth,” while agreeing “it is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” Erasmus had great respect for Luther, while Luther spoke with admiration of Erasmus’s superior learning.
Luther expressed an early admiration for Erasmus for advancing a sound and reasonable Christianity and urged him to join the Lutheran party. But Erasmus argued that this would endanger his position as a leader in the movement for pure scholarship. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion.
When Erasmus hesitated, Luther accused him of avoiding responsibility due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose. However, any hesitancy on the part of Erasmus stemmed from his concern over the mounting disorder and violence of the reform movement.
He wrote to Melanchthon in 1524: “I know nothing of your church; at the very least it contains people who will, I fear, overturn the whole system and drive the princes into using force to restrain good men and bad alike. The gospel, the word of God, faith, Christ, and Holy Spirit – these words are always on their lips; look at their lives and they speak quite another language.”
Again, in 1529, he writes “An epistle against those who falsely boast they are Evangelicals” to Vulturius Neocomus (Gerardus Geldenhouwer). In this letter, Erasmus complains of the doctrines and morals of the Reformers:
“You declaim bitterly against the luxury of priests, the ambition of bishops, the tyranny of the Roman Pontiff, and the babbling of the sophists; against our prayers, fasts, and Masses; and you are not content to retrench the abuses that may be in these things, but must needs abolish them entirely...
“Look around on this ‘Evangelical’ generation, and observe whether amongst them less indulgence is given to luxury, lust, or avarice, than amongst those whom you so detest. Show me any one person who by that Gospel has been reclaimed from drunkenness to sobriety, from fury and passion to meekness, from avarice to liberality, from reviling to well-speaking, from wantonness to modesty. I will show you a great many who have become worse through following it... The solemn prayers of the Church are abolished, but now there are very many who never pray at all ...
“I have never entered their conventicles, but I have sometimes seen them returning from their sermons, the countenances of all of them displaying rage, and wonderful ferocity, as though they were animated by the evil spirit ...
“Who ever beheld in their meetings any one of them shedding tears, smiting his breast, or grieving for his sins?... Confession to the priest is abolished, but very few now confess to God... They have fled from Judaism that they may become Epicureans.”
Erasmus dreaded any change in doctrine, citing the long history of the Church as a bulwark against innovation. In book I of his Hyperaspistes he puts the matter bluntly to Luther: “We are dealing with this: Would a stable mind depart from the opinion handed down by so many men famous for holiness and miracles, depart from the decisions of the Church, and commit our souls to the faith of someone like you who has sprung up just now with a few followers, although the leading men of your flock do not agree either with you or among themselves – indeed though you do not even agree with yourself, since in this same Assertion you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before.”
Although Erasmus remained firmly neutral, each side accused him of siding with the other. “I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature,” he wrote. “I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”
In his catechism or Explanation of the Apostles’ Creed (1533), Erasmus took a stand against Luther, asserting tradition as a source of revelation alongside the Bible, by listing the Deutero-canonical books in the canon of the Bible and by acknowledging seven sacraments. He described as “blasphemers” anyone who questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary and those who defended the need to occasionally restrict the laity from access to the Bible.
In a letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Luther objected to Erasmus’ Catechism and called Erasmus a “viper,” a “liar,” and “the very mouth and organ of Satan.”
On the other hand, the monks who stood against the Reformation accused Erasmus, saying he had “prepared the way” and was responsible for Luther. They said Erasmus had laid the egg and Luther had hatched it. Erasmus wittily dismissed the charge, claiming Luther had “hatched a different bird entirely.”
In his De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collation (1524), he lampoons the Lutheran view on free will. In response, Luther wrote his De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will) (1525), in which attacks Erasmus, claiming he was not a Christian. Erasmus responded with a lengthy, two-part Hyperaspistes (1526-1527).
When Basel was officially “reformed” in 1529, Erasmus moved to Freiburg im Breisgau. From there, he planned to move to Brabant, but he died suddenly in 1536 during a visit to Basel, and was buried in the Basel Minster, the former cathedral.
Erasmus is credited with phrasing the adage: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” He is also credited with originating the phrase “Pandora’s box,” arising through an error in his translation of Hesiod’s Pandora in which he confused πίθος, pithos (storage jar) with πυξίς, pyxis (box).
Erasmus translated the greatest classical and patristic writers, including Saint Ambrose, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Cicero and Saint Jerome.
Moderate Catholics see him as a leading figure in attempts to reform the Church, while many Protestants recognise his initial support for Luther’s ideas and the groundwork he laid for the future Reformation. His writings were banned by Pope Paul IV. Yet he had an incalculable influence on the English Reformation, and he remains an important figure too in European culture and academic life to this day.
8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 8 February 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.