Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doctrinal causes of the Reformation

In the past, I've cited Paul Johnson to the effect that 1/3 to 1/2 of all priests had concubines and illegitimate children, a system which perpetuated itself (Paul Johnson, "History of Christianity"). As bad as that was, it wasn't the cause for the Reformation.

Heiko Oberman, "Harvest of Medieval Theology," noted that
there is much to warrant the thesis that the later Middle Ages were born in Avignon and were shaped by the uncertainty and hierarchical confusion due to the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy (1309-1377) and the succeeding period of the Schism (1378-1415). The impact of this event can scarcely be overestimated, so much that we are inclined to advocate the terms "preschismatic" and "schismatic" Middle Ages to replace the traditional terms "early" and "later" Middle Ages. (323)
Avignon was the era when the papacy moved to southern France; the "Schism" was a time when there were two and even three popes excommunicating each other and their followers. But as bad and as fundamental as that was, it wasn't the cause of the Reformation.

Oberman continued to discuss "the extent to which hierarchy, Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are understood to have exchanged poverty for greed." (324) But even on top of all of these evils, it wasn't the worst thing, and it wasn't the cause for the Reformation.


All of these characterized the state of the church at the time of the Reformation. And we all need to be reminded of such things -- the evils present within the Western church, the church at Rome, at the time of the Reformation.

But there was a greater evil than all of these, and it was the doctrinal mess that was passed off as "the one true faith."

Of course, at the doctrinal heart of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification, how exactly God saved men.

In his Iustitia Dei, "A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification" (Third Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) Alister McGrath noted that "the medieval period saw the the justification of the sinner firmly linked to the sacramental life of the church" (126), notably, the sacraments of baptism as an entree and confession as a "second plank" (initially a one-time saving plank after a "shipwreck," but by this time available over and over again)."

It was this that prompted Martin Luther to comment:
Life is bad among us as among the papists. Hence, we do not fight and damn them because of their bad lives …. I do not consider myself to be pious. But when it comes to whether one teaches correctly about the word of God, there I take my stand and fight. That is my calling. To contest doctrine has never happened until now. Others have fought over life; but to take on doctrine—that is to grab the goose by the neck! … When the word of God remains pure, even if the quality of life fails us, life is placed in a position to become what it ought. That is why everything hinges on the purity of the Word. I have succeeded only if I have taught correctly. (Cited by Steven Ozment, "The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe" (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1980), pgs 315-316 (emphasis added).
It may have seemed a bit out of place to be talking about the earliest church at Rome on a site that's devoted to the Reformation. But the Reformation was, among other things, a discussion about authority as well as a discussion about doctrine. Rome claimed its own authority as the reason why it was able to stress doctrines (such as the sacramental system alluded to above).

That's why I want to take a little bit of time to discuss the "doctrinal system" that was in place at the time of the Reformation, and how truly far it had moved from its supposedly Biblical moorings.

15 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Alister McGrath noted that "the medieval period saw the the justification of the sinner firmly linked to the sacramental life of the church"

"Firmly linked" or "firmly dependent on"?

"Firmly linked" or "firmly based upon"?

John Bugay said...

I'm inclined to say not only "based upon," but rather "the justification of the sinner was the sacramental life of the church." I'm working on a picture now (based on what an elder in my church had put together) of what I've called "the sacramental treadmill" and I'm going to try to show how it all works together. He says it's completely derived from his reading of the CCC.

Tim Enloe said...

This is interesting, John, because you no doubt know that some Catholics argue that all previous reformations were just moral, and that the Protestant reform was utterly novel in focusing on doctrine as the reason for the reform.

As you point out in the post, using Oberman, there were plenty of moral reasons behind the outbreak of the Reformation, but these were not the main cause. The main cause was doctrine, because the Reformers rightly perceived that morals flow from doctrine, and that only reforming morals does not address the ultimate foundation of the morals. The ghastly state of the priesthood at the time of the Reformation was due not to "mere" moral failings, but to the corrupt doctrinal concept of the priesthood.

And that raises the rather interesting fact that if one traces the system backward in time, the key pivot point is the Gregorian reforms of the 11th century. In that movement, Pope Gregory VII and his followers did emphasize the severe moral corruption of the Church, but, in fact, they pressed DOCTRINAL claims as the basis for their moral reforms.

Two doctrines in particular stand out in this period: priestly celibacy (which was, via the Cluniac model to which Gregory VII passionately adhered the root of a Gregorian attempt to make both clergy and laymen function on a "monastic" model of the Christian life) and the sovereignty of the pope. Interestingly, bishops all over Christendom staunchly resisted Gregory's claims to be merely representing the ancient DOCTRINAL faith of the Church on these matters. Gregory's party eventually won the day, and that means Gregory's parties DOCTRINES won the day. This DOCTRINAL reform was the most conspicuous historical cause of the system which the Reformers fought almost 500 years later.

So the bottom line is that it isn't true that all reformations prior to the Reformation were just moral reforms, and the Reformers did something novel in pressing doctrinal claims. Life can't be separated from doctrine - which is, on another note, precisely why the Catholic claim that the popes never "teach" heresy in a formal doctrinal sense rings so hollow. The popes have indeed "taught" much heresy by their scandalous lives, as many Medieval theologians, including the very teacher of Pope Innocent III, Huggucio of Pisa, well recognized.

John Bugay said...

Thanks Tim -- I'm aware of the earlier doctrinal reforms that you mentioned (having just skimmed over them in some of the generalized history books that I've read); I'm going to move forward from here, and try to present some of the kinds of things that folks in our day will be able to relate to and contextualize from what they see today.

I think this period is just so foreign to all of us, that it's important to put down some time markers that we can then use to go back and fill in some of the gaps.

But in my view, this is a long term project, and as I've said elsewhere, I think it's worth doing right.

Tim Enloe said...

It's noteworthy that Luther traced the specifically doctrinal corruptions in the Church of his day back to Gregory VII's reforms.

A history prof of mine once said that the 11th century is the most neglected time period by Protestants, and I think he was right. So many things went wrong there, but at the same time, the seeds for the corrections of those errors were also planted. Although Gregory VII's party won the day in the 11th century, the catholic tradition (if I may treat it as a person for a minute) never forgot the radicalism of that time, and that radicalism gave slow, but inexorable, birth to the principles that eventually brought about its own end in the 16th century.

It's a really fascinating story for those who care to look into the numerous Medieval sources now available in English translation.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Tim Enloe writes:

It's a really fascinating story for those who care to look into the numerous Medieval sources now available in English translation.

If you were to recommend for the layman five sources in this area, what would they be?

Tim Enloe said...

Only five? Heh, let's see...how to whittle the list down....

1) Secondary text to give a view of the broad context - Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1350-1550.

2) Primary text - Giles of Rome, On Ecclesiastical Power (13th century papalist view of "primacy" - Giles explains the ultimate meaning of Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam in all its ugly glory)

3) Primary text - John of Paris, On Royal and Papal Power (13th century royalist view of "primacy")

4) Primary text - Marsilius of Padua, Defender of the Peace (14th century proto-conciliarist view of "primacy" - this guy was called "the most pestilent heretic" by the pope of his day, so you know he's GOT to be worth reading! Plus, much of what he says flows forward into Reformation arguments about the structure of church government.)

5) Primary texts - Conciliarism and Papalism (a compilation of papalist and conciliarist texts from the late 15th century)

These texts can be pricey sometimes, unless you get lucky, but the best way to get a large selection of highly relevant excerpts from these and many other sources is to get Oliver O'Donovan's From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought. O'Donovan presents key selections from all sides of the patristic, Medieval, Reformation, and early Modern debates over "primacy" and many other related subjects. This book is also usually spendy, but for what you get in just one volume, it's well worth it - not to mention cheaper than buying the individual works.

Tim Enloe said...

I forgot to mention in the last comment:

John of Paris' On Royal and Papal Power (#3 on my list) was written specifically to counter Giles of Rome and Boniface VIII, and in my studied opinion, John simply demolishes the papalist case with penetrating analyses of Scripture and tradition.

Conciliarism and Papalism (#5 on my list) contains papalist tracts by Cajetan, and an antipapalist tract by John Major, a Scottish conciliarist who was a teacher of John Calvin, and whose influence can be easily detected throughout Book IV of Calvin's Institutes).

Lastly, if you want to see a splendid demonstration of the early development of the pretensions to uncheckable power held by the popes for the last 200 years prior to the Reformation, you'll want to get hold of Michael Wilks The Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages. It's whopping huge and usually around $50 per copy, but if you care to wade through its 600 pages of painstaking analysis, you'll begin to see why I say that Newman's development theory is only one possible way to construe history, and it is very easily challengeable at every point of fact and interpretation.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Thanks very much, Tim. I suspect this will be helpful to those unfamiliar with the source materials. The prospect of diving into a period of history without any guidance is, I suspect, enough to deter most from even trying. Hopefully this will spark the interest of readers of this blog.

I realize limiting the list to five is exceptionally difficult. But I do like lists that are accessible to the layperson with a full-time job, a family, and other responsibilities. Obviously this entails certain and considerable concessions, but I think it's unrealistic to have laypersons do more than read a few works on most of these kinds of topics (not that you were suggesting otherwise, of course; I am merely reflecting aloud).

Viisaus said...

In tracing the roots of Reformation, one should not forget "the Bohemian interlude" - the Hussite movement among the Czechs that was ignited by Wycliff's ideas.

Rome managed only with greatest military investments to drown this abortive Bohemian reformation in blood and prevent its spreading to other countries.

The concept of "Sola Fide" was not yet distinctively at the forefront in Hussite debates, but the other foundational Protestant issue of Sola Scriptura was. After Jan Huss had been treacherously killed by the "ecumenical" council of Constance, it could hardly have been otherwise.

This is from an old book about an English Wycliffite theologian who after his emigration became a rebel leader in Bohemia - a Hussite embassy declares its stance to emperor Sigismund in 1429:

http://www.archive.org/details/forgottengreaten00bake

"A forgotten great Englishman; or, The life and work of Peter Payne, the Wycliffite"

pp. 56-57

"It was not they (the Bohemians) who had departed from the old true Christian faith, but their opponents; and there could be no peace until the Church returned from all its false ways again to the teaching of Christ and His apostles. As to the coming council, if it resembled Constance, to that they could not submit themselves, as there their bitterest enemies enounced the law; and it would be madness to appear before their enemies' judgment-seat.

Therefore there must be a higher and non-partisan judge between the council and themselves; that judge should be the Holy Scriptures and the law of God, and the writings of those learned men who stedfastly had built their work upon that law.*"

Tim Enloe said...

Yes, it is difficult to expect laymen to read a lot on these or other similar "deep" topics. It is certainly not easy to dive into the Middle Ages and get a good grasp on what was going on in any area of that period in a short amount of time. I have been studying Medieval subjects for 10 years, and I never crack open a new book on some Medieval subject that fails to challenge me with a dozen or more new things that despite all my studies I never knew before.

Nevertheless, I maintain that as Protestants, we OUGHT to be doing so even as laymen precisely because "ad fontes" is our heritage from the Reformers. They did what they did because they went "back to the sources," and studied those sources intensively and with highly-developed critical faculties.

The average laymen cannot reasonably expect to become well-versed in these topics in anything short of several years of consistent, serious study, but the effort alone is worth it - and will serve to demonstrate to all these RC hack convert-apologists that, although truth is always in and of itself clear and discoverable, it is not always easily discoverable or easily understandable.

You can't go from "0 to 60" in the Fathers, the Medievals, or even Catholicism. You can't start from not knowing anything about a subject and go to being a "contender" or a "champion" or an "apologist" just from spending 6 months reading sappy convert stories and blabbery convert-apologist essays filled with half-truths that you aren't equipped to recognize as half-truths precisely because you have expended no SERIOUS and SELF-CRITICAL effort to become informed.

We Protestants have our share of hack apologists on the lay level, to be sure. But we don't HAVE to be this way. We have better examples in the Reformers, and it's high time we got our collective act together and showed these RC laymen what real "faith seeking understanding" looks like.

Tim Enloe said...

Viisaus, oh, yes, the Bohemian angle also deserves thorough exploration. As you note, Huss was not exactly "there" in terms of Reformation theology (his major scholarly biographer, Matthew Spinka, says that Huss was fully orthodox in terms of the soteriology of his day), but he was nevertheless an important precursor to the Reformers.

I note in passing that Spinka also demonstrates that Huss' trial at Constance was more complicated than we usually like to think. The Council erred primarily in allowing those of his opponents who were simply unhinged fanatics to oversee his prosecution. Pierre D'Ailly, a major force at the Council whose works Luther would later read and be favorably impressed by, erred in too hastily judging Huss' cause because he (D'Ailly) was far more concerned with refuting the pope's specious arguments about primacy than with giving an obscure Bohemian a far trial. Huss also didn't help his case by adopting Wycliffe's very radical, and socially-subversive, notion of "dominion by grace," which essentially meant that no ruler, whether pope or emperor, could hold political power if he was in a state of mortal sin. This is what prompted Sigismund to withdraw his safe conduct from Huss - the Emperor recognized that if Huss' political principles were allowed to go unchallenged, the only logical result would be civil chaos. Hence he rebuked Huss' insistence on that principle on the floor of Constance by saying, "John Huss - no man is without sin."

Still, these judgments are very easy to make from a position of having hindsight. Constance was about destroying the papalist monopoly over Church government and returning to a more realistic, biblically-oriented and traditionally-sound ecclesiology. In this, the council pre-heralded the Reformation, and we should not judge it solely in terms of the sad, and at least partly unjust martyrdom of Huss.

James Swan said...

I'm sure somewhere I've wirtten about the doctrinal confusion that was the one true church previous to the Reformation.

A fun Romanist source on Avignon/papcy/reformation is Lortz:

See:
http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2010/05/roman-catholic-look-at-causes-of.html

Lortz said things like:

“Theological confusion within Catholic theology was one of the specially important preconditions which precipitated a revolution in the Church. It is one of those keys which to some extent unlocks the riddle of the colossal apostasy.”

“Theological confusion revealed itself even more profoundly however, amongst the guardians of the doctrine of the Church.”

“The darkness [religious life before the Reformation] became all the more ominous because Catholics suffered from the illusion that Catholic doctrine had long since been settled on the disputed points. Few theologians were exempt from this illusion. In the polemic of the day- as we shall see- most of them used the unanimous consensus of the Church as an argument, whereas, in fact, on important questions only a more or less hazy opinion was the substitute for sure knowledge. The deliberations at Trent are proof of this.”

Viisaus said...

"As you note, Huss was not exactly "there" in terms of Reformation theology (his major scholarly biographer, Matthew Spinka, says that Huss was fully orthodox in terms of the soteriology of his day), but he was nevertheless an important precursor to the Reformers."


There has been more scholarship on the Hussite movement since the days of Spinka. See for example "The magnificent ride: the first reformation in Hussite Bohemia" (1998) by Thomas A. Fudge.

Another book by Fudge, "The crusade against heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437: sources and documents for the Hussite crusades" (2002) is a most useful compilation of original sources (from all sides of the conflict) from the early 15th century.

Here is an excerpt from that latter book, from a document (dated about 1430) entitled "Manifesto of the Captains of Tábor". It shows that Sola Scriptura principle was firmly held by the Taborite party at least:

pp. 287-288

"Therefore, if the pope and the entire clergy have truth, there is no doubt they will be superior to us and defeat us with the word of God. However, if they are on the side of lies, it will be impossible to prove their conviction and intention. For this reason, beloved and sincere people and lords, rich and poor, we exhort you and all Imperial cities together with the king, dukes, and the lords in the name of divine justice to come to a written agreement among yourselves for a day of negotiation which shall be certain and opportune for both of you and us. At this time you may bring your bishops and scholars and we shall bring our scholars. We will permit them to do battle using the word of God before all of us and no one shall triumph using violence or evil cunning, but shall use only the word of God! If your bishops and doctors demonstrate the superiority of their faith from Holy Scripture and our faith pronounced unrighteous in that case we will desire to correct ourselves and repent according to the Holy Gospel. On the other hand, if your doctors and bishops are the ones defeated with reasoning from the Holy Scriptures, then in that case you will repent and unite with us and remain with us. If your bishops, doctors and priests do not wish to cast aside their spiritual arrogance and correct themselves or do acts of repentance we will then exercise our power in order to force them to correct themselves and be converted; otherwise we will expel them from Christianity.

If your bishops and doctors say that it is not the responsibility of the laity to interfere and demand a hearing this is to be understood to the effect that they are fearful of defeat and embarrassed before the people and thereby to forfeit the public respect. But if they thought they could win there is no doubt they would want many people to listen because it would increase their honour and glory as well as their reputation across the land.

On the other hand, if your bishops and doctors advise you that you should have nothing to do with us or listen to us and gladly abide by this you should do at least this one thing: Do not allow yourself to be deceived in such a silly manner as it will happen with their false indulgences. Instead, stay at home with your wives, children and property and let your Roman pope with his cardinals and bishops and all the clergy face us personally in order to do battle. In this way they could gain for themselves these indulgences and remission of their sins as well as the grace they offer to you since they themselves apparently have no need of the remission of sins, of grace or of indulgences! We will have almighty God to help us and we will give them indulgences!”


(This last sarcastic paragraph was meant to discourage any potential new Crusaders whom the pope was promising a full pardon of sins, should they sign up for Bohemian campaigns…)

Viisaus said...

"As you note, Huss was not exactly "there" in terms of Reformation theology (his major scholarly biographer, Matthew Spinka, says that Huss was fully orthodox in terms of the soteriology of his day), but he was nevertheless an important precursor to the Reformers."


There has been more scholarship on the Hussite movement since the days of Spinka. See for example "The magnificent ride: the first reformation in Hussite Bohemia" (1998) by Thomas A. Fudge.

Another book by Fudge, "The crusade against heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437: sources and documents for the Hussite crusades" (2002) is a most useful compilation of original sources (from all sides of the conflict) from the early 15th century.

Here is an excerpt from that latter book, from a document (dated about 1430) entitled "Manifesto of the Captains of Tábor". It shows that Sola Scriptura principle was firmly held by the Taborite party at least:

pp. 287-288

"Therefore, if the pope and the entire clergy have truth, there is no doubt they will be superior to us and defeat us with the word of God. However, if they are on the side of lies, it will be impossible to prove their conviction and intention. For this reason, beloved and sincere people and lords, rich and poor, we exhort you and all Imperial cities together with the king, dukes, and the lords in the name of divine justice to come to a written agreement among yourselves for a day of negotiation which shall be certain and opportune for both of you and us. At this time you may bring your bishops and scholars and we shall bring our scholars. We will permit them to do battle using the word of God before all of us and no one shall triumph using violence or evil cunning, but shall use only the word of God! If your bishops and doctors demonstrate the superiority of their faith from Holy Scripture and our faith pronounced unrighteous in that case we will desire to correct ourselves and repent according to the Holy Gospel. On the other hand, if your doctors and bishops are the ones defeated with reasoning from the Holy Scriptures, then in that case you will repent and unite with us and remain with us. If your bishops, doctors and priests do not wish to cast aside their spiritual arrogance and correct themselves or do acts of repentance we will then exercise our power in order to force them to correct themselves and be converted; otherwise we will expel them from Christianity.

If your bishops and doctors say that it is not the responsibility of the laity to interfere and demand a hearing this is to be understood to the effect that they are fearful of defeat and embarrassed before the people and thereby to forfeit the public respect. But if they thought they could win there is no doubt they would want many people to listen because it would increase their honour and glory as well as their reputation across the land.

On the other hand, if your bishops an doctors advise you that you should have nothing to do with us or listen to us and gladly abide by this you should do at least this one thing: Do not allow yourself to be deceived in such a silly manner as it will happen with their false indulgences. Instead, stay at home with your wives, children and property and let your Roman pope with his cardinals and bishops and all the clergy face us personally in order to do battle. In this way they could gain for themselves these indulgences and remission of their sins as well as the grace they offer to you since they themselves apparently have no need of the remission of sins, of grace or of indulgences! We will have almighty God to help us and we will give them indulgences!”


(This last sarcastic paragraph was meant to discourage any potential new Crusaders whom the pope was promising a full pardon of sins, should they sign up for Bohemian campaigns…)