Lecture 12: Catholicism and British Protestantism in the 16th Century
Course: Church History II
Top Down – Imposed by Government
Where were we last time? I finally got round, through all this sex and scandal, and so on, to the actual reformation. We were talking about the introduction of the English language in the worship of the church, and the changes which that brought about. Now the essential thing that you need to remember about the English reformation, what makes it different from the reformation in every other country is that it was from the top down. It was imposed by the government. This determines its nature and also the kind of fall-out that there was afterwards. On the one hand, we can say with more or less complete certainty that if the reformation had not been imposed from the top down, it either would not have happened at all, or it would have taken a very lot longer to take place. We know this because in England, unlike France, unlike Germany, there was no large group of people who wanted reform in the church, at least not the kind of reform that Luther promoted. As I pointed out during this course, you can of course find odd people here and there who supported Luther, yes, a few people who read Protestant literature, yes, but large numbers of people who were agitating for reform, no. This there was not. When the reformation came, one of the problems was finding supporters, people who would not just go along with what they were told to do, but would actually, positively, take that line, who knew enough about what was going on to support it whole heartedly. That was one thing.
The other side to this, of course, is that once the door was opened to reformation, it didn’t take long for what you might call the genuine reformation. That is to say, people who really wanted what we call Protestantism, the grass roots desire for spiritual change, this kind of thing. It didn’t take long for that to enter in. The defenses against it had been removed. So that once the door was opened, gradually popular Protestantism became a real phenomenon. By the time you get to 1549, you are getting ordinary people who are genuinely converted to the new way of thinking. And as their numbers grow, this took several generations, but as Protestantism as a belief implanted itself in the population, then there was agitation for further reformation, for further change.
Conflict over when to stop reforming
And of course at this point the government dug its heels in. They weren’t going to have any further change. And they justified this position very largely by saying something like, well, we’ve already changed, and we’ve changed quite far enough, thank-you very much, and we don’t need to change anymore, and you people who want further change, are really just trouble makers who aren’t satisfied with what you’ve been given already. And so the later history of the English reformation is really a history between the radicals, if you want to call them that, you see it depends who you are what you call them. If you don’t like them, you call them hot-prots or something like that. If you like them you call them things like consistent, people who wanted a full and complete reformation verses supporters of the establishment who were not against reformation, but they thought things had gone far enough and it was time to stop. This always makes a very difficult situation because both sides feel that they are in the right. Both sides feel that they are being attacked unfairly by the other. The radicals attacking the moderates because the moderates don’t really believe what they say they are supposed to believe. And the moderates feeling very upset, because yes they do and they just don’t think things should go to extremes. It’s a very difficult situation.
But this is the situation out of which Puritanism arose. Puritanism is the name which we generally give today to the radical wing of the English reformation in its early stages. Puritanism, I hasten to add, is an extremely difficult term to define. We all know one when we see one. We all have a sort of picture, like the man on the Quaker Oats, what you king of imagine a puritan was like. But it’s very hard to pin down precisely who they were. Once you start trying to define them, it becomes very difficult. However, a puritan tendency, a tendency for a more pure form of reformation manifests itself for the first time after the publication of the 1549 prayer book. That is to say the first English language prayer book and the change to the liturgy from Latin to English. Why? What happened at this point?
The archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, who introduced these changes believed that he was introducing Lutheran teaching on justification by faith, but he was doing it in a subtle manner by leaving in tact most of the outward form of worship. So, if you went to church, apart from the change of the language, you wouldn’t necessarily notice a great deal of alteration from what had been there previously. As far as Cranmer was concerned, this was deliberate. He was very sensitive to the fact that most people care more about things like which hymn book we use, where we place the flowers, who sits where, what they’re wearing, etc, than what they do about things like theology. He was aware enough of the ordinary person and their point of view to know this. And he wanted the new theological teaching to be introduced wit a minimum of disruption, so that it would not be thrown out by people who were fed up because they changed the hymn book. You can always split the church over something like that, and the point gets totally lost, if anybody was ever concerned about it to begin with. So he understood that.
Conservative element accepted
However, something happened which he didn’t expect. And that is that the conservative element in the church, those who did not want a change of theology, those who thought Luther was anathema, the kind of people who supported Henry the 8th, yes, we’ll get along without the pope, we don’t need a pope, but we don’t want to change our theology we want to have transubstantiation, we want to have all the Catholic theology, just not the pope. These people looked at the new services of worship and said there is nothing here that goes against our beliefs. We can accommodate our beliefs to these new ways of doing things.
Protestants want more reform
And this alarmed those of protestant sympathies around the archbishop, because they said these Catholic minded people can carry on in the way that they have always done, then the message is not getting across. The archbishop may think that he has put justification by faith alone into this worship service, but that is not what is being read or heard by these people who don’t want to hear it. These people should be upset by the change in worship and they are not. So, this clearly means things have not gone far enough. Now, that was one reaction.
Reformers and the Prayer Book
It just so happened that at this very moment, people began to arrive from continental Europe who were authentic bearers of the reformation message. This again has to be remembered because up until this point hardly anybody in England had ever met a reformer, had ever had any close contact with one of the reformers from the continent. It is true that William Tyndale had gone to be a student in Wittenberg. So he at least knew who Luther was. But Tyndale never went back to England. He was an outlaw, so he doesn’t really count as far as that goes. Then there was Robert Barnes, whom I mentioned, but he also was a student in Wittenberg and he did go back to England. So you might make an exception of him. He had actually had direct contact with Luther. But apart from that, their knowledge of the reformation was from books, and from intermediaries, people who communicated through second, third, and fourth hand. But from 1548 onwards, genuine protestants, continental protestants, turn up in England, the most prominent being Martin Bucer. And Bucer who was a teacher of Calvin was a very major catch indeed. He arrived in England just about the time that Cranmer’s prayer book was being produced, and he went to Cambridge where he became a professor of divinity, that is to say theology in Cambridge. Bucer took one look at Cranmer’s attempts at producing a reformed style of worship, and said this isn’t good enough. There’s a 101 ways in which you can improve this, and he drew up a list of things that ought to be changed. Another person who came along at the same time, another continental reformer, again, very much along with Bucer in those circles, a man called Peter Martyr Vermigli who was an Italian but he accompanied Bucer to England. He became professor of theology at the University of Oxford, and he came up with more or less the same kind of conclusions as Bucer did about the liturgy. They said this is how you need to change it if you want to make it genuinely protestant. Cranmer at this point was convinced that further reformation was necessary. And so very shortly after the prayer book of 1549 was produced, he sat down to revise it. It took him a couple years to try to do that. So he was revising it in a more protestant direction.
John Hooper – Cranmer differ on tactics
However, before that happened, one of his nominees for the bishopric of Roster, a man by the name of John Hooper, was appointed and nominated as bishop. But he refused to wear the robes which he was expected to wear as a bishop, because he argued that these were relics of popery. The point was the English church had not altered anything of the declaration or what the priests wore from what had gone on in the Middle Ages. Now, there was and to some extent still is a major controversy over this, because what is it that a Catholic priest wears in the service. If you go to a Catholic Church and see the priest all dressed up, you say to yourself, what is he wearing and what does it mean. Well, the truth is that what the average Catholic priest wears is really handed down over many centuries from the kind of clothing that prominent people wore in the late Roman Empire. A bishop, for example, will be dressed in purple always, because purple was the color of the emperor. In the Roman Empire, only the emperor wore purple. But a bishop was emperor in his church. So, the wearing of the purple was a sign of his authority. And today you see a Catholic bishop or an Episcopalian bishop I don’t know about Methodists but the others, they wear purple as a sign of this Episcopal authority. The other things that they wear are basically elements of clothing which were reasonably common in late Roman times. Of course, by the 16th century, they were incredibly out of date. Unfortunately, the medieval church had developed alternative explanations for the clothing. They forgot, or preferred not to remember that this was just the way the Romans dressed in the early centuries, and began to devise all kinds of theological reasons for wearing these vestments as they are called. The clerical vestments came to be associated with the theology of transubstantiation. So that a priest dressed in a certain way was dressed for sacrifice in order to perform what is called the Eucharistic sacrifice. And when you saw someone wandering around in that kind of clothing, you knew what was coming. This was part of the performance. As I told you the other day a very important part of the England church worship is the acting. I know this sounds terribly unbelieving, but it’s actually true. If you lead worship you realize it’s true. This isn’t a blasphemous thing to say, it’s simply making things flow more smoothly.
I was in church on Sunday morning and I just about threw the hymn book at the woman who was leading it. Not because she was a woman, I hasten to add, but she did exactly what I tell everybody never to do. The lighting failed in the church, they hadn’t paid their bill or something. It’s a Presbyterian church so you can imagine counting every penny. It’ll be worse next week because they haven’t gotten to the end of the month yet. But anyhow the light had gone. She’s a lovely person, but really she needs her head read. She had decided she was going to have us all read psalm 100, but of course nobody could see anything, it was too dark. So she said that. She said I was planning to do this this morning but it’s too dark. But let’s do it anyway. So, of course you are fumbling around in the dark to find the bible in the pew. She said, I realize there are three or four different translations of the bible in the pews so you all have a different version. So not only could you not read it. Of course you can all say it memory can’t you? Ha ha ha. So we mumbled and fumbled through this dreadful rendering of Psalm 100. I was sitting there myself the whole time thinking this is the very thing you don’t do. If the situation requires flexibility, be flexible. Read it yourself dear, you are not coming to my church to carry on like this. She hadn’t learned lesson number one which is to adapt to the circumstances. It wasn’t her fault that the lighting wasn’t working. This is my point; you have to know how to adapt.
But anyway, the Eucharistic vestment as they were understood by the time of the reformation in this way. And Hooper, his argument was I am not a Mass priest. I am not here to perform Eucharistic sacrifice. That is not what God has called me to do, or what I am ordained to do. I am rather a preacher of the word. And he raised a very important issue, which is; what is the ordained ministry for? And Protestantism as a movement shifted the basis of the ordained ministry from the sacrament to the word. An ordained minister is no longer there primarily to perform various sacramental acts, but is there primarily to be a preacher of the word. And this implied, you were not able to preach the word unless you were educated. So to be a preacher required having university training. The reformers began to insist that only university graduates could be ordained. And therefore Hooper argues it is more appropriate given the nature of the ministry which we are performing that we should wear clothing which indicates our academic status, not clothing which indicates that we are going to perform some kind of sacrifice. In other words, the clothing we wear tells people what sort of thing we are there to do. And if we wear academic dress, black gowns, and this kind of thing, if we dress as academics, then people will expect an academic kind of ministry. In other words they will expect a preaching and teaching ministry primarily. His argument was change the clothing to suit the change in function.
Now Cranmer, true to his basic way of thinking, said to Hooper; of course I agree with everything you say as far as the nature of the ministry is concerned, but if you do what you intend to do, you are only going to upset people. It’s all very well for you to play around like this. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does. It’s better to let these things just develop according to their own momentum. Don’t rush it. I would rather you go there and preach the gospel dressed like a medieval priest, never mind that, do the preaching and teaching and so on, then when people are converted and they understand your motives for change, then change. We’ll let that happen a bit later. Let’s get our priorities right. Well, how do you choose between these two people? It’s quite clear that they are heading in the same direction in one sense. Their basic outlook, their basic intentions are identical. They differ on tactics. Strategy was the main difference between them.
Are you sure that is where Cranmer was heading. Sometimes when people give an explanation like Cranmer, what they really mean is never.
Yes, that’s now. No, I think Cranmer was sincere. He did want change, but he was a gradualist. The fact is he was changing the liturgy; he was always thinking it through and changing it a little bit more. He wasn’t a revolutionary type. He wanted to do it slowly and gradually, and he imagined at this point that he would have several years of experimentation and practicing, and just doing things in a step-by-step way. He didn’t know that he didn’t have a very long time ahead of him. No, I think he was sincere on the whole. But, he was trying to restrain those who wanted to go too fast. He felt that they were going to rock the boat and just upset everything.
In the end, Hooper had to be forced to conform, to what Cranmer wanted, but he did it very much against his will. And, in the process of the argument, managed to attract to himself certain people who were going to carry the flame into the next generation of whom the most notable was John Knox. Now, you say to yourself, what is John Knox doing in this particular story. But, John Knox had turned up in England at this point, uninvited. Knox had been one of the very small band of people in Scotland, who had been affected by reformation ideas.
Scotland as an independent country at this time did not undergo any of the upheaval of Henry the 8th. They didn’t have Henry the 8th in Scotland. They maintained on the whole, a fairly conservative Catholic church. And the number of people who were in any way affected by the reformation was really very small.
However, the situation was complicated by the fact that Scotland never seemed to be able to keep a king for very long. They went through several generations of kings dying or being killed in battle, and leaving behind baby children who didn’t rule until they grew up. And this happened in the 16th century. James the 4th, who had married Margaret the daughter of Henry the 7th of England, was defeated in battle with the English and died shortly after in 1513, leaving behind an infant son who was James the 5th. But no sooner than James the 5th grew up and started fighting, then he fought the English as well, and was killed in battle in 1542. He left his baby daughter Mary, who was only about six months old at that time, as the heir to the Scottish throne. This situation led to weak government.
And Henry decided, after he killed James the 5th in battle, he decided to put an end to the Scottish problem once and for all by proposing marriage between his son Edward, who was at this time about 5 or 6 years old, and Mary. He figured that if Mary who was heiress to the Scottish throne and his son Edward got hitched, they would unite England and Scotland, and this would be the end of the Scottish problem. In other words, Scotland wouldn’t be there as an independent country to attack the English from behind. Well, this idea was half accepted in Scotland. About half the Scottish nobility said alright, we’ll do this, because they were a bit fed up about having yet another child ruling over them, and the idea of having a girl was much worse in their eyes, so they took this as the best deal they could get. The other half of the Scottish nobility said under no circumstances is any Englishman ever coming anywhere near here. We would rather die than have this. Now, James the 5th had in fact married a French princess. And so the anti-English faction in Scotland decided that the only way they could get out from under Henry the 8th… Henry threatened invasion of the country if he didn’t get his way. And so the Scottish parliament, fearing the worst, agreed. But the opposition waited for its chance. They thought one of these days things might move in another direction, and we will just see.
And as soon as Henry was dead in 1547 they seized the moment, because Edward was still only 9 years old. They broke off the engagement between Edward and Mary. They called on a French Army to invade Scotland, to liberate 5 year old Mary and her mother, from a difficult situation. In 1547, A French Army landed in Scotland, backed Mary and her mother, and the Scottish party which rebelled, the pro-English group in Scotland, which included anybody who was in favor of any sort of reformation of the church, these people were defeated.
Now, among those defeated was John Knox. As someone interested in reformation, he was one of the Pro-English parties. And one of the ironies was Mary the queen was taken off to France at the age of 5 in order to be brought up in the French court and John Knox as taken in the same fleet as a galley slave. This of course endeared him deeply to the French, to Mary, and so on. This was not the best way to begin. Anyway, Knox eventually escaped, made his way to England, where he was a kind of hero, as a defender of Protestantism. I don’t know how much of it was his personality and how much of it was his experiences which had radicalized him, but in the Hooper controversy, he took the side of Hooper. He was one of the extremists. Because he was an articulate person, he was a very impressive speaker, a very powerful personality and imposed himself on everybody; he got his way, he was feared, generally a charismatic figure. So he went a long way in England, had a lot of influence at this particular time. Therefore, around him there gathered the more radical types of people who wanted a more consistent, more thorough going kind of reformation.
Well, in 1552, the revised prayer book appeared. This was much more protestant in tone. Now, for the first time, the furniture in the church was moved around, the clothes the ministers were expected to wear were greatly simplified, if not as much as Knox would have wished, and various other changes were made. So, nobody could be in any doubt whatsoever that now they were worshipping in a protestant church. The kinds of things the Catholics felt they could live with were taken out almost systematically. It was deliberately done so nobody could claim that there was anything Catholic left in this new form of worship. That was introduced on All Saints Day, November 1, 1552.
Lady Jane Grey
But, it didn’t have a very long life, because, the following year, on the 6th of July, the king died. He’d never been very well. He was a sickly child. He died of tuberculosis when he was only 16 years old. Now, this opened a can of worms. The regency council which was governing the country in his name, did not want Edward’s sister, Mary, who was next in line in succession – did not want Mary to succeed, because Mary was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Mary was Catholic. So they put up their own candidate for the throne who was a protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey was actually proclaimed queen and she ruled for 9 days. This has never been accepted as official. Her so called reign does not exist in any official records. But she was theoretically in charge of the government for 9 days.
But loyalty to the family of Henry the 8th, loyalty to the wishes of the King, who had said he wanted his daughter to succeed, this was strong enough in the Country, and resentment of the regency council from the other members of the nobility was also strong enough, that Mary was able to make good her claim. On the 19th of July in 1553, she entered London as queen, thirteen days after the death of her brother. This of course created an extremely difficult situation. Because, not only was Mary Catholic and wanting a return to Catholicism, but she had to do something about the people who had ruled in her brother’s reign and who had tried to prevent her from succeeding. She couldn’t very well just let them go free. So, she arrested them, put them on trial, and had them beheaded, more or less immediately.
Cranmer’s position as archbishop was extremely difficult. Cranmer did not want to support Lady Jane Grey. He was a legitimist in this sense. He was not particularly friendly to the leading people in the Regency Council who were pressing Lady Jane’s claims. In fact, he was extremely unfriendly to them. So, he wasn’t really a supporter of Lady Jane. But, of course, neither did he want Mary on the throne, because Mary was going to undo everything which he had done, everything which he had tried to do.
What is worse, from Mary’s point of view, is that Mary had a deep seated dislike of Cranmer, because Cranmer was the one who had approved the annulment of her parent’s marriage, making her illegitimate. And you have to look at the time scale. Mary was born in 1516. Cranmer approved the annulment in 1533 when Mary was 17. Now, we are talking about 1553. Mary is 37. Her life was undoubtedly a very tragic one. Just at the moment when she would normally have been expected to have been married off to some reasonably important person, because she was the daughter of the King of England, she was in fact shut away as a liability, because she was the daughter of a marriage which Henry did not want to recognize. She was however old enough and this was the problem, because she was 17, so she was old enough to be fully aware of what was going on and to take mother’s side. She felt her mother had been fairly badly treated, which of course was true. However, Mary determined in her heart that if she ever got the opportunity, she was going to avenge what had been done to her mama. Although that is a very understandable thing, it’s not very wise, because twenty years later, the world had changed. She was just as determined to get her pound of flesh, as she had been on the day when her mother was put away. As I say, it’s very understandable, but it’s not politically a very wise thing to do. Politically she should have said, that’s happened, it’s finished now, mother is long dead, you can’t do anything about it, maybe issue a proclamation saying it was all wrong and then leaving it at that. But Mary was not that type. She was very determined, and she was going to press on with what she wanted to do. And of course, Cranmer was enemy number one. Daddy was dead; she couldn’t really do much about him. But Cranmer was an acceptable substitute when it came to beating people up.
So she insisted that Cranmer be arrested, and tried, not for treason, which would have put him to death more or less immediately, he would have got off on a treason charge because he didn’t really support Lady Jane Grey, but on the charge of heresy, for introducing the protestant reformation. But, the difference between a treason trial and a heresy trial was that a treason trial would take place in the queen’s court, in the secular court. It could have been very quick and very swift and off with your head and that would have been the end of it. That’s what happened to the others in the Regency Council. A heresy trial, though, meant going through the church. And anything that went through the church was slow. And not only slow, but fraught with all kinds of impediments. You couldn’t just put someone on trial in a church court and expect a quick result, because they had to go through all sorts of various complicated procedures of one kind or another. And of course, ironically, Cranmer had the right of appeal to the pope. Remember, the pope is in Rome. It takes a long time to get to Rome. So, you are stringing the procedure out a couple of years. So this was a long, slow process.
In the meantime, though, Mary didn’t have any time to loose, because the essential thing if she was going to get anywhere in the long term, she had to produce a successor. There was just no way that anyone would believe her or take her seriously, unless she had a credible successor. She was 37 and unmarried, never and easy situation, but in the 16th century, much more difficult than it would be today. Well, who is she going to marry? In any case, Mary was not going to settle for any oldTom, Dick, or Harry. She wanted the right sort of match. She managed to land her second cousin, Phillip II of Spain. Now, the relationship, you will recall … it was the son of Charles V, his mother was Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Juana’s sister was Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine’s daughter was Mary, so Mary and Charles were first cousins, and Phillip is a second cousin to Mary Tutor. Somehow or another they managed to get this act together and Phillip who was twenty was told by his father that he had to make sacrifices for his country was married off to Mary who was 37. And he went with, I imagine, a very heavy heart, to England. Obviously, the whole point of this marriage was pregnancy, and the sooner, the better. But, it didn’t happen. Mary was a very sad person.
Mary was so desperate that she faked pregnancy for five months. She pretended that she was pregnant. This caused enormous consternation in the country. Because, as you know with these things, everybody suspects that she was faking it. She wasn’t widely believed. But what they were afraid of was that she would manage to fake it right through to the nine months were up, and then substitute another baby, and claim this other baby as her own. That’s what people thought she was up to; get a lady in waiting pregnant or something like that. This was a great fear among people. The Protestants didn’t want that, because it would guarantee a Catholic succession. The legitimists, the people who had supported Mary in the first place didn’t want that either, because it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right. They believed the successor should be legitimate, and not fake.
Anyhow, this little drama was being played out for the better part of two years, because the marriage didn’t take place until a little over a year after Mary had ascended the throne. The marriage took place in 1554 on the 25th of July. The pregnancy was announced some months after that, so it was in September or so. It was through the latter part of 1554, the beginning of 1555, that this little charade was being played out.
Meanwhile, during all of this time, Mary was busy undoing the reformation. Cranmer was in jail, waiting for his heresy trial. Most of Cranmers supporters were either in jail as well, or had fled the country. Parliament agreed to go back to Rome, to reconcile the country to the Catholic Church, but with one very important proviso. Remember the parliament didn’t care about the Mass, or about transubstantiation, or that kind of thing. As far as they were concerned that was all theology and they weren’t that interested. But the one thing that they were determined was not going to happen was that the Church was not going to be allowed to reclaim the monastic lands. And of course, I pointed this out the other day, when the monasteries were dissolved, the land was sold off to people who wanted to buy land, and there was no way that they were going to give it back. And so parliament did a deal, so they thought, with the queen. They said alright, we’ll let the pope back into England; we’ll go back to Rome, provided it is very clear on all sides that under no circumstances is the monastic land going to go back to the Church. The dissolution of the monasteries is going to remain a fait accompli. There is no way we are going to reverse that. Mary had very little choice. She knew that if she didn’t agree, there would be a revolt on her hands, so she agreed to this. And the pope of the time was sufficiently political in his motivation to realize that he would have to accept this as well. And so they agreed. And in 1554, England was officially reconciled to the Catholic Church on Saint Ambrose Day, the 30th of November.
Now, the person the pope chose to effect this reconciliation was a man called Reginald Pole, who is a very interesting person in his own right. Reginald Pole was one of Mary’s relatives. He was a cousin on Henry the 8th’s mother’s side - in other words, on the side which had lost in the civil wars of the 15th century, the so called wars of the roses, when Henry the 7th defeated and killed Richard the 3rd, in 1485. In order to patch things up, he married Elizabeth who was the daughter of King Edward the 4th, in other words, he married a woman from the other side. So, Reginald Pole was on that side of the family.
And in fact the Pole’s, not Reginald himself, but other members of his family had earlier on in the century revolted against both Henry the 7th and Henry the 8th, claiming the throne. So, Reginald Pole was in fact a candidate for the throne, a possible rival. Now, nobody took this terribly seriously in his case, until Henry the 8th broke with Rome in 1534. It just so happened at that particular moment that Reginald was in Italy. He got very nervous about what was going on in England, and realized that he couldn’t go back. So instead of going back to England, he went to Rome. He was welcomed in Rome by the pope, and rose quite high up in the papal bureaucracy; in fact he was made a cardinal of the Roman Church. Now Henry reacted to this by killing all of Reginald Pole’s immediate family, including his mother. His mother was something like 83, was executed just because she was of that family, and the fear that he was a potential rival for the throne. So Reginald Pole had no cause to love Henry the 8th. He could say that his family had been Catholic martyrs in the reformation. However, Pole spent these years in Rome and rose to be quite high in the papal service.
He also spent a good deal of time in dialogue with the Lutherans. Because, although he was who he was, by Catholic standards he was quite open minded. He believed that Luther had something to say. He was quite a sympathetic dialogue partner in dealing with Luther at this particular point. Well, as you know, that didn’t work out in the end. Pole returned to Rome in 1541 empty handed, after having negotiated for some time with Luther. This was a bad moment in Rome for people like Pole, because 1541 was a year that a very different type of person appeared on the scene, a man whom we know as Ignatius Loyola.
Ignatius Loyola was a Spaniard, a soldier who had led a typical soldier’s life until he was wounded in battle with the French. During his recovery, which took a rather long time, he repented of his earlier life and decided that henceforth he would serve Christ, in the way that he thought was right. His service for Christ was of course not the sort of thing that Luther indulged in, but rather the opposite, because Loyola was converted to a very strict kind of papalism, not just Catholicism, but papalism. The defense of the pope was one of the top priorities on his particular agenda. Loyola gathered around himself an army. He was a soldier, after all. He wanted to create a spiritual army which would defend the pope. This spiritual army he called the Society of Jesus and its members are the people we today call the Jesuits. Jesuits were monks, but they were monks of a different kind. Up until this time, monastic orders had been of different kinds but they had mainly been concerned with the contemplative life, going off into a monastery, praying, and this kind of thing. That’s what Luther did. He went into the monastery and studied. The Jesuits did not have monasteries. The Jesuits were to live in the world and to fight in the world as soldiers, soldiers of the pope. The Jesuits were to take an oath of loyalty to the pope as their commander in chief.
They were to struggle on two fronts; one against Protestantism, but two against the heathen. The scope for this was very great, because just at the time that Loyola was getting all this together, Spain and Portugal were settling down to their newly acquired colonial possessions and there were two huge empires out there which desperately needed evangelists. And it’s very important to realize that the Jesuits operated on two fronts at the same time. Yes, they were anti-Lutheran and anti-protestant. But they also went out of their way to spread Catholicism in what we today would call the third world. And they did so with the kind of military methods that Loyola used. In other words, you line up people in front of you, and you say: you are going to get baptized, just as you would do with the army. Anyone who doesn’t doesn’t live to tell the tale. So, or course you have mass baptisms in places like Mexico. Now, that was the bad side.
The good side is that the Jesuits believed in looking after their converts. Remember, they have a military organization. They have to be credited with trying to protect their Indian converts against Spanish and Portuguese colonists. This was particularly true in Paraguay where they set up a whole Indian civilization in the jungle. They did their best to preserve the Indians and their culture from European aggression. This part of it they did extremely well. The Jesuits who went to the East with the Portuguese to India, to China, and to Japan did their best to adapt Christianity to those cultures, to those societies. They preached Christianity in a way which would be understood and accepted by those cultures. In different places, they did extremely well. In China, for example, the Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, was so successful that he was accepted as a Chinese. He was actually adopted as a Chinese, and he rose very high in the Imperial administration in China and was very deeply respected by the Chinese mandarin class, the ruling class in China. And a number of prominent Chinese became Christians, Catholics, as a result of Ricci’s form of evangelism. They were a very extraordinary group of people in this respect.
Because Ricci sort of adapted, so much to Chinese culture … of course eventually with all … Rome repudiated it.
Well, it’s very hard to say, the Chinese have no way, what they were going to compare it with? To them that was it, that was all there was. No, I don’t think you can blame Ricci. I think Ricci was doing what today you would call contextualization, cross-cultural communication, this kind of thing. I personally think he was very sincere in what he was trying to do. He wasn’t trying to corrupt Christianity, or downplay it or anything like that. How far can you do this? How much is possible before you start to loose the essence of what you are trying to do. That’s a whole other problem. It didn’t last, because Rome pulled the rug out a couple generations later, and said the Chinese rites and all that has all got to stop. Now this is a debate. You can argue back and forth whether this was right or wrong. But the important thing is they tried. They made a serious effort to evangelize beyond the European world, which had not ever been done before. Not since the time of the early church, had there been a serious evangelistic effort. And Protestants of course didn’t do anything similar for several hundred years. Not until William Carey in the 1800’s did Protestant missions really begin. So the Catholic missions of the 16th century, however much they may be criticized, nevertheless were doing something that nobody else was doing. They’ve left some very interesting remains in different places. In Africa, for example, where the Portuguese landed around the coast of Africa, you often find, even now, churches, mission stations and so on that they built, which are still there as architectural monuments.
There is a remainder, a residue of this. It’s important when you think about the Jesuits to realize that this was one of the aspects of their mission, as well as attacking Protestants.
It was just at the moment that Pole came back from his last doings with the Lutherans, that Loyola turned up in Rome, and managed to persuade the Pope to license his order. It wasn’t automatic. You might think that the pope would be just delighted at the thought of some Spanish soldier turning up with a gang of supporters, saying here we are; we’re your army. But the pope took one look and said: I didn’t ask for this. Where did you come from? Things were not as friendly as they might seem initially. However, Loyola managed to win the pope over about this time. The Jesuits became officially recognized. What this meant was that the policy of the Roman Church towards Protestants became much tougher.
In 1545, the pope was finally persuaded to call a Council of the Church to meet in the Northern Italian city of Trent. Trent was going to be the place where the Catholic Church was going to sort out its theology. Now, initially, thanks to the efforts of people like Pole, Luther and the Protestants were invited to attend. It was going to be a pan-Christian Council in which Catholics and Protestants would sort out their differences. That’s what the Emperor, Charles V, wanted. But, Loyola and his friends, said, hey, we didn’t come her for this. We’re not going to sit down with heretics and sort out our differences. We’re right, they’re wrong. Any sorting out that is going to occur is going to be they are going to repent and come back into the fold and we’re not going to have any more of this nonsense about dialogue and compromise and all getting along together in one big happy family. Forget that.
And so the Protestants who were very wary about whether they should go or not, initially, they held back; they didn’t particularly want to go. They were afraid of what might happen to them once they got there. The Council opened without protestant participation. But it also opened without French participation. So it wasn’t just the Protestants who didn’t turn up, initially. But, the Jesuits very much got the upper hand. As the Council went on, it became quite clear that the Council of Trent was going to be a Catholic Council called to define the position of the Catholic Church over against the Protestants. It was going to be an anti-Protestant meeting. And any language of compromise or reconciliation was from this point on abandoned.
Now Reginald Pole, because of his position in Rome played a major part in the Council. During these years, it appears that he abandoned his earlier open mindedness. So, when the time came for him to be sent to England, in 1554, he had already had several years of experience in anti-protestant polemic. He was there when Loyola and his friends came along and said we’ve got to put a little bit of backbone into the Catholic Church or it will never survive. And so, when Pole finally went to England on his mission, he was all fired up for the task.