Armstrong vs. Collins & Walls #13: “Reformed” Censorship & Intolerance

Armstrong vs. Collins & Walls #13: “Reformed” Censorship & Intolerance October 26, 2017


This is one of my many critiques of the book entitled, Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation, by evangelical Protestant theologian Kenneth J. Collins and Anglican philosopher Jerry L. Walls (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017).


Jerry Walls wrote on his Facebook page on 10-24-17: “apologetics gets its bad name from those who engage in simplistic, spurious arguments and defend their dogma at any cost.” And that is exactly the sort of pseudo-“argument” — made by his co-author –, that I am presently critiquing. It’s completely one-sided, with a huge double standard, presenting hyper-critical accounts of “scandalous” or objectionable Catholic behavior and beliefs in the 16th century (in breezy summary style, sans any actual argument), while utterly ignoring equally abundant and ubiquitous Protestant parallels, which were no better, or worse (not to mention, more self-contradictory, given the supposed / mythical Protestant emphasis on “freedom”).

Kenneth Collins, in his chapter 12 (“Machiavellian Machinations and More: The Later History of the Papacy”), lays it all out for gullible, wide-eyed readers, who love this sort of “red meat” tossed out at the expense of the Big Bad Wolf: the Catholic Church:

Pope Paul IV, elected in 1555, continued in the dialogue-repudiating ways of his predecessor Paul III and created yet another tool to cut off knowledge and to stifle expression: the Index librorum prohibitorum, quite literally, an Index of Prohibited books, which reads like a Who’s Who of Protestant authors . . . : Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley. . . .

The popes had good reason to fear scholarship and the dissemination of knowledge . . . Pope Paul IV . . . employed the Index as a conversation-restricting tool, the very antithesis of critical thinking and truth seeking. Ushering in an era of official censorship, the Index put Roman Catholics at a distinct intellectual disadvantage, especially in terms of the early phases of the scientific revolution. By the seventeenth century the works of both Copernicus and Kepler found their way onto this infamous register . . .

Oh boy! This sort of hyper-selective, hackneyed, jaded, utterly prejudiced historical revisionism is the very quintessence of anti-Catholic polemics. To read this, one would get the impression of, well, The Protestant Myth of Origins, whereby the Protestants were the superheroes and noble, selfless champions of religious and intellectual freedom (joyfully — in the “Holy Spirit”: as Collins affirms — allowing it to all and sundry in their brave new Tolerant World).

Every myth and legend and superhero comic needs the bad guy and antagonist, right? So that role is fulfilled here by (surprise!) the wicked Catholics, who were invariably the dastardly villains and opposers of all that is good and just, and fought those things at every turn: seeking to inhibit knowledge and truth in science as well as religion. Such an account is absurd and beneath contempt: all the more despicable, coming from a professor of historic theology. It does show, at least, that professors can be just as biased and wrong as anyone else.

Let’s start with the huge myth that Protestants were supposedly so open-minded about opposing views: far, far more than Catholics. Secularist scholar Preserved Smith provides a more balanced overview:

If any one still harbors the traditional prejudice that the early Protestants were more liberal, he must be undeceived. Save for a few splendid sayings of Luther, confined to the early years when he was powerless, there is hardly anything to be found among the leading reformers in favor of freedom of conscience. As soon as they had the power to persecute they did.  (The Social Background of the Reformation, New York: Collier Books, 1962 [2nd part of author’s The Age of the Reformation, New York: 1920], 77)

Secularist historian Will Durant concluded:

The principle which the Reformation had upheld in the youth of its rebellion — the right of private judgment — was as completely rejected by the Protestant leaders as by the Catholics . . . Toleration was now definitely less after the Reformation than before it. (The Reformation [volume 6 of 10-volume The Story of Civilization, 1967], New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 456)

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church — not a Catholic work — stated that “The Reformers themselves . . . e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church.” (p. 1383)

German historian Johann von Dollinger, who split off the Catholic Church in 1870 and began the “Old Catholic” schism, likewise observed:

Historically nothing is more incorrect than the assertion that the Reformation was a movement in favour of intellectual freedom. The exact contrary is the truth. For themselves, it is true, Lutherans and Calvinists claimed liberty of conscience . . . but to grant it to others never occurred to them so long as they were the stronger side. The complete extirpation of the Catholic Church, and in fact of everything that stood in their way, was regarded by the reformers as something entirely natural. (Kirche und Kirchen, 1861, 68; cited in Hartmann Grisar, Luther, translated by E. M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, six volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917; Vol. VI, 268-269)

Protestants acted in conformity with these intolerant beliefs:

With isolated exceptions . . . we find everywhere the opinions which are exactly in harmony with those of the territorial prince of the day, striving their utmost to suppress all differing views. The theory of the absolute Church authority of the secular powers was in itself enough to make a system of tolerance impossible on the Protestant side . . . (Dollinger: Kirche und Kirchen, 1861, 52 ff., in Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 volumes, translated by A. M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [originally 1891], Vol. XIV, 230-231)

In the Protestant towns numbers of preachers bestirred themselves zealously with the help of the municipal authorities to suppress the writings of all opposing parties. ‘When first Luther began to write books, it was said,’ so Frederick Staphylus recalled to mind (1560), ‘that it would be contrary to Christian freedom if the Christian folk and the common people were not allowed to read all sorts of books. Now, however . . . the Lutherans themselves are . . . forbidding the purchase and reading of the books of their opponents, and of apostate members and sects.’ (Janssen, ibid., Vol. XIV, 506-507)

When . . . he [Luther] learnt that Emser’s [Bible] translation . . . was to be printed . . . at Rostock, he not only appealed himself to his follower, Duke Henry of Mecklenburg, with the request that ‘for the glory of the evangel of Christ and the salvation of all souls’ he would put a stop to this printing, but he also worked on the councillors of the Elector of Saxony to support his action. He denied the right and the power of the Catholic authorities to inhibit his books; on the other hand he invoked the arm of the secular authorities against all writings that were displeasing to him. (Janssen, ibid., Vol. XIV, 503-504)

When the controversy on the Lord’s Supper was started at Wittenberg, the utmost precautions were taken to suppress the writings of the Swiss Reformed theologians and of the German preachers who shared the latter’s views. At the instigation of Luther and Melanchthon there was issued, in 1528, by the Elector John of Saxony, an edict to the following effect: “Books and pamphlets (of the Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, etc.) must not be allowed to be bought or sold or read . . . also those who are aware of such breaches of the orders laid down herein, and do not give information, shall be punished by loss of life and property.” (information and quotation from Janssen, ibid., Vol. XIV, 232-233)

Melanchthon demanded in the most severe and comprehensive manner the censure and suppression of all books that were hindering to Lutheran teaching. The writings of Zwingli and the Zwinglians were placed formally on the Index at Wittenberg. (information from Janssen, ibid., Vol. XIV, 504; cf. Durant, 424)

At Strassburg Catholic writings were suppressed as early as 1524 . . . The Council at Frankfort-on-the-Main exercised . . . strict censorship . . . At Rostock, in 1532, the printer of the Brethren of the Common Life was sent to prison, because he had used his printing press to the disadvantage of Protestantism. (Janssen, ibid., Vol. XIV, 502)

[for more along these lines, see my paper, “Protestant Inquisitions”]

Protestants were much more open to learning and “scholarship” and education and “truth seeking”? What a joke. The great Catholic Erasmus was cited in this same section by Collins, as a more enlightened Catholic. Yet here is what Erasmus said about Protestants and learning:

Luther has covered us and good learning with hatred . . . The Church is overburdened with abuse of authority and . . . man-made decrees for the purpose of gain . . . but often an imprudent attempt at a cure makes things worse. What a mass of hatred Luther is bringing down on good learning and Christendom! (in 1521)

I greatly wonder . . . what god has stirred up the heart of Luther, in so far as he assails with such license of pen the Roman pontiff, all the universities, philosophy, and the mendicant orders. (Letter to Jodocus Jonas, May 10, 1521)

Wherever Lutheranism prevails, learning and liberal culture go to the ground. (Letter to Pirkheimer)

The study of tongues and the love of fine literature is everywhere growing cold. Luther has heaped insufferable odium on it.

Zwingli, who, like Luther, had once admired Erasmus, also split from him. Erasmus gives the account:

When I admonished Zwingli in a friendly way he wrote back disdainfully: “What you know is of no use to us; what we know is not for you.”
As if he had been caught up like Paul to the third heaven and learnt some mystery which was hidden to us earthly creatures!

[for further sources in this portion on education, see my paper, “Astonishing Hostility to Higher Education in Early Protestantism”]

Art fared no better under the superior Protestant revolutionaries. And Collins was foolish enough to contend with a straight face that early Protestantism was more open to science? Wow! This is truly “alternate universe” stuff. I go through the gory details of the anti-scientific leanings of the “Reformation” in a paper on that topic. Here is a very brief summary for those unacquainted with this history (see sources in my cited paper):

  1. Luther wrote about Copernicus: “People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon . . . This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy.”
  2. His successor Melanchthon agreed: “Some think it a distinguished achievement to construct such a crazy thing as that Prussian astronomer who moves the earth and fixes the sun. Verily, wise rulers should tame the unrestraint of men’s minds.”
  3. Meanwhile, Melanchthon was neck-deep in astrology (as was Galileo); whereas both Augustine and Aquinas had rejected it as quackery.
  4. Calvin “answered” Copernicus with a line from Psalm 93:1: “The world also is stabilized, that it cannot be moved.”
  5. A young Lutheran scholar, Rheticus, left his chair of mathematics at Wittenberg . . . to work with Copernicus . . . A summary of Copernicus’ findings was released and it met with tremendous hostility from Protestant theologians; there was no such general hostility from Catholics. Rheticus was barred from returning to his post at Wittenberg.
  6. Johann Kepler (1571-1630) [mentioned by Collins], a German Protestant astronomer, was, in 1607, prevented from printing an article on comets by the Saxon theologians. Perhaps this type of antipathy to science was one reason why Kepler, two years earlier, “praised ‘the wisdom and prudence of the Roman Church’ for its public encouragement of scientific research.”
  7. Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon all rejected the sphericity of the earth, which had been held centuries before by Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and Vincent of Beauvais.
  8. Turretin, Calvin’s famous successor, even after Kepler and Newton had virtually completed the theory of Copernicus and Galileo, put forth his compendium of theology, in which he proved, from a multitude of scriptural texts, that the heavens, sun, and moon move about the earth, which stands still in the centre.
  9. Dr. John Owen [1616-83], so famous in the annals of Puritanism, declared the Copernican system a “delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture”
  10. John Owen declared that Newton’s discoveries were “built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture.”
  11. Eminent Lutheran doctors of divinity up through the first half of the 18th century wrote treatises to prove that the Copernican theory could not be reconciled with Scripture.
  12. Luther . . . in one of his Advent sermons . . . said, “The heathen write that the comet may arise from natural causes, but God creates not one that does not foretoken a sure calamity.”
  13. In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astronomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers’ Seminary. No attack on the whole system of astronomy could be more bitter . . .: “The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed” . . . The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times . . .
  14. Calvin maintained that those who assert that “the earth moves and turns” . . . [are] motivated by “a spirit of bitterness, contradiction, and faultfinding;” possessed by the devil, they aimed “to pervert the order of nature.” (See: Sermon no. 8 on 1st Corinthians, 677, cited in John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait by William J. Bouwsma; Oxford Univ. Press, 1988; A. 72)


Collins pretends (and wants his readers to believe that the revolutionaries of the so-called “Reformation” were one big happy family, all led by the Holy Spirit, and who got along famously (all being united against the evil papists). This is a complete myth, too. I could write 200 pages (summarizing existing research of mine), just on this.

Calvin said that Luther was a “half-papist” idolater, and that he was steeped “ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us in the beginning, when he said the bread is the very body!” [Letter to Martin Bucer, 12 January 1538] He called Lutheranism “evil” [Letter to Heinrich Bullinger, 2 July 1563] and Lutherans, “beasts” [Letter to Farel in August, 1557]. He later fought viciously against the prominent Lutheran Joachim Westphal.

Zwingli wrote on April 5, 1525, that his adversaries in the Lord’s supper controversy “are not led by the same Spirit.” He ridiculed the Lutherans’ “edible, impanated, baked, roasted, ground-up God.” He wrote about Luther in 1528: “May I be lost if he does not surpass Faber in foolishness, Eck in impurity, Cochlaeus in impudence, and to sum it up shortly, all the vicious in vice.” Martin Bucer wrote in 1527: “Let Luther acknowledge that he is being led by a spirit far different from that of Christ.”

Heinrich Bullinger excoriated Luther’s character: “Everyone must be astonished at the harsh and presumptuous spirit of the man . . . The opinion of posterity will be that Luther was . . . a man ruled by criminal passions. . . . What has already taken place leads us to apprehend that this man will eventually bring great misfortune upon the Church” (Letter to Martin Bucer, December 8, 1543). [see more along these lines in the paper I drew from]


Luther regarded fellow Protestant “reformers” like Zwingli and Martin Bucer and Oecolampadius as damned. Thus, he regarded Zwingli’s 1531 slaying on the battlefield as evidence of God’s judgment for his having forsaken the Christian faith. [see more on this] In his work, Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament, (September 1544; Luther’s Works, Vol. 38), Luther calls Zwingli, Karlstadt, Oecolampadius, and Caspar Schwenkfeld (on whose name Luther does a play on words throughout his tract, making it mean “Stinkfield”) -– and by implication those who believe as they do — “fanatics and enemies of the sacrament” (LW, Vol. 38, 287), men who are guilty of “blasphemies and deceitful heresy” (38, 288), “loathsome fanatics” (38, 291), “murderers of souls” (38, 296), who “possess a bedeviled, thoroughly bedeviled, hyper-bedeviled heart and lying tongue” (38, 296), and who “have incurred their penalty and are committing ‘sin which is mortal’,” (38, 296), “blasphemers and enemies of Christ” (38, 302), and “God’s and our condemned enemies” (38, 316).

He described Zwingli as a “full-blown heathen” (38, 290), and wrote: “I am certain that Zwingli, as his last book testifies, died in a great many sins and in blasphemy of God” (38, 302-303). [see more on this]

We know about the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, where Calvinists anathematized Arminian Protestants, in a way not dissimilar fro the Tridentine anathemas.

Collins mentions the Anabaptists. Really? Does he really wanna go there? Of course, Luther and Calvin (as well as Catholics) believed that they should be executed for the heresy of believing in adult baptism.

Luther even favored the death penalty for frigid wives and adulterers, and torture and execution for female sorcerers, and burning of witches. Philip Melanchthon favored execution for denial of the Real Presence, and then a few years later came to adopt the same condemned view himself (somehow escaping penalty). John Knox talked about exterminating entire cities of Catholics, including women and children. Martin Bucer called for the same sort of thing, including even cattle; and death for adulterers. John Calvin called the torment of an inept execution the “special will of God.” He was not only a key figure in getting the pantheist Michael Servetus executed, but still believed in execution for heresy four years after Servetus’ death.

Collins wants to mention English “reformers” like Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley? Well, then he might perhaps note that Catholicism was essentially illegal in England for almost 300 years; that Henry VIII forced an estimated 80% of the population in England who were Catholics to renounce their faith and become Protestants. Soon it was treason to believe in the pope, and attendance at Mass or being a priest was punishable by death: often by hanging, drawing and quartering, which was a partial hanging, disembowelling, having one’s heart cut out while alive, genitals cut off, and then head, both arms, and both legs cut off (all in view of the public).

Perhaps Collins will consider adding to the second edition the facts that at least 430 innocent Catholic martyrs perished under Butcher Henry VIII, from 1534-1544, 312 Catholics were tortured and killed under Queen Elizabeth, from 1558-1603, and that 444 Irish Catholics were martyred under Anglicans and Cromwellians, from 1565-1713. Or would that ruin the party and the celebration of vaunted, unequaled Protestant tolerance, to mention such delicate facts of history?

[for many papers collected about Protestant intolerance and persecution, see my web page on that topic]

One might also bring up such unpleasant and inconvenient facts as the plundering and theft of multiple thousands of Catholic churches on the “Reformers'” part. Or maybe we can note the ridiculous things that Luther said about himself and his self-declared “authority” as a quasi-prophet (since the imperiousness of various popes was brought up). Or is that a naughty no-no, too? Here is old Martin, waxing humbly:

I now let you know that from now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you – or even an angel from heaven – to judge my teaching or to examine it. For there has been enough foolish humility now for the third time at Worms, and it has not helped. Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world – I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3 ]) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved – for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s. (Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-CalledJuly 1522)

Well, that would shut anyone up, wouldn’t it? We mustn’t agree with God, after all, or his self-anointed, self-appointed “prophet.” But wait; there’s more!:

Against all the sayings of the Fathers, against all the arts and words of angels, men and devils I set the Scriptures and the Gospel . . . Here I stand and here I defy them . . . The Word of God I count above all else and the Divine Majesty supports me; hence I should not turn a hair were a thousand Augustines against me, and am certain that the true Church adheres with me to God’s Word. . . .

Whoever teaches differently from what I have taught herein, or condemns me for it, he condemns God, and must be a child of Hell. (Against Henry VIII, King of England, 1522)

[see further examples of Luther’s “Super-Pope” polemics and claims]

That’s really “dialogue” and “conversation”-inducing rhetoric, ain’t it? And of course, this was the mentality that the Church had dealt with the previous year, at the Diet of Worms, where Luther wouldn’t repudiate his books, that had departed from Catholic belief and practice in at least fifty ways.


Photo credit: Woodcut of Martin Luther (1521), by Hans Baldung (1485-1545) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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