Don’t Mince Words, GKC. What Do You *Really* Think?

Don’t Mince Words, GKC. What Do You *Really* Think? May 29, 2015

“I am firmly convinced that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was as near as any mortal thing can come to unmixed evil. Even the parts of it that might appear plausible and enlightened from a purely secular standpoint have turned out rotten and reactionary, also from a purely secular standpoint. By substituting the Bible for the sacrament, it created a pedantic caste of those who could read, superstitiously identified with those who could think. By destroying the monks, it took social work from the poor philanthropists who chose to deny themselves, and gave it to the rich philanthropists who chose to assert themselves. By preaching individualism while preserving inequality, it produced modern capitalism. It destroyed the only league of nations that ever had a chance. It produced the worst wars of nations that ever existed. It produced the most efficient form of Protestantism, which is Prussia. And it is producing the worst part of paganism, which is slavery.” – New Witness, June 20, 1919

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  • honzik

    Voegelin is not much of a fan either.

    He wrote that in Luther we see “the first major instance of a political thinker who wants to create a new social order through the partial destruction of the existing civilization order and then is appalled when more radical men carry the work of destruction far beyond the limits that he had set himself.”

    And: “When the order of tradition and institutions is destroyed, when order is put at the decisionist mercy of the individual conscience, we have descended to the level of the war of all against all.”

    • Marthe Lépine

      As well as an early example of a revolutionary person who knew what he wanted to destroy, but had not thought through what to put in its place and allowed other to take over and continue to destroy instead of beginning to build.

  • MT

    GKC spot on as usual.

  • If you were to ask Satan, “What are your greatest achievements?”, I think he’d say:
    1. Getting Eve to eat that fruit.
    2. The Reformation (or splitting up Christ’s Body)

    • Joejoe

      Agreed, and redefining marriage coming in soon at #3.

      • Maybe.
        I wonder too if “Getting Mohammad to accept my revelation.” should have gone between #1 and #2?

        • James H, London

          Ooh, yeah!

    • Lucretius

      Peter Kreeft argues that regardless of who’s side you are on, the Reformstion should not be considered a good thing.

      Christi pax.

  • captcrisis

    A very good argument against educating the laity. Otherwise not historically well informed and as usual with GKC, he sees only in black and white.

    Honestly — what purpose does it serve in 2015 to revive antagonisms that caused so much bloodshed (by Catholics as well as by Protestants) 500 years ago?

    • Mike

      do you know what emergent properties are?

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      Since there are those who would claim the analysis is not historically well informed, it would seem to be a very necessary point to make.

      As for your latter point, what good does it do to ask such questions on Friday? (Hint, the calendar has nothing to do with truth. )

    • Marthe Lépine

      It is not a matter of reviving antagonisms, but of showing the roots of a lot of actions and attitudes, from people living in our times and were deeply influenced by the ideas spread by the Reformation. Many of those ideas have spread, grown and developed, and are a poison attacking our society. It is very useful to better understand where they came from originally.

      • captcrisis

        Most of these “poisonous”
        Protestant ideas, pilloried by Chesterton, have since been embraced by the Church. You can start with the importance of Bible reading.

        • Alma Peregrina

          I do admit some credit to your critic of Chesterton’s critics of Protestatism, but your critic right here is also misinformed.

          Chesterton doesn’t condemn Bible reading. He condemns the substitution of the sacraments by Bible reading (IOW Sola Scriptura).

          He condemns having a pedantic caste of those who can read, while at the same time doing away with something that would allow communion between the learned *and* the common man.

          • SteveP

            Amen! The consequence of the reforms–perhaps intentional, perhaps not—is every man for himself. No common union, no charity; no charity, no common union.

    • Dave G.

      In fairness, there are still Protestants who give as good as they get. Usually more Fundamentalist, but they’re there. Oddly enough, I mentioned an article I read about the Greek financial crisis a week or so ago, where apparently there are Orthodox who have the same basic impression, they just move the timeline of blame back 500 years. Of course outside the Church, many dispense with the distinctions altogether and just point to Christianity in general. In a bit of a twist, one of the things that helped me become Catholic was the growing tendency among some conservative Evangelicals to say ‘let’s back off this ‘evil harlot of Babylon stuff’, since we’re noticing that when we fire volleys at Catholicism, the increasingly hostile non-Christian world just sees ‘Ha, even Christians admit Christianity is stupid and evil!” As a result, some were actually trying to find places where the Catholic Church deserved credit, and even praise. Given the impact that had on me is why, apparently like you, I prefer a different approach.

      • captcrisis

        Instead of riffing off the (typically ill informed) pontifications of Chesterton, I recommend the illuminating article from catholic entitled “Who’s Who in the Reformation”.

        • Joejoe

          Nah, Chesterton nailed this one. I wonder where Dante would’ve put Luther.

          • Dave G.

            And yet the Reformation only came out of an exclusively Catholic civilization. The Protestant Reformation was unique to the West, and the Reformers were Catholic. Why is that?

            • Alma Peregrina

              Hum… maybe because every single non-catholic church (copt, orthodox, nestorian, etc…) was founded in non-christian soil or quickly conquered by non-christians… and only in Catholic West was Christianity so widespread as to allow an heresy to become so prevalent?

              • D.T. McCameron

                Russia would be a major exception to that, I think.

                • Pub


                • Pub

                  It took Christianity way longer to establish in Russia than in the West. The arrival of Christianity into Russia is late compared to the West. The heresy of Communism, born of Marx, was also embraced by Russian bishops.

                  • Dave G.

                    The Russian bishops embraced Communism? That’s not what I’ve read about the history of the church in the East. Nor those Orthodox I’ve spoken to. They dealt with it as it was a force of oppression. Many complain that they were too quick to compromise, but that’s different than embracing. There is a difference.

                    • Pub

                      No, what I wrote is true. I’ve spoken to Russian immigrants & Ukranian Greek Catholics. Russians (who are now all of a sudden uber-religious again) attempt to re-write their history. But despite how many times they try to re-write it, they’re wrong. Most Russian Orthodox bishops were in bed with the Communist regime. Russian Orthodox bishops also ordered the Communists to steal the church land that belonged to Greek Catholics (which they derogatorily labeled as “Uniates”).

                    • Dave G.

                      Again there were those who compromised. And no doubt you had bad apples. See the renaissance popes for a western example. But the church was under siege during that period. As for trying to seize lands it isn’t as if that’s unique either. Nobody is saying the church in the east had no problems. It’s just that nothing comparable to the reformation happened there.

                  • D.T. McCameron
                • Alma Peregrina

                  Good point. But, even though it was nothing compared to the Reformation, may I point out:

                  1) The Russian Orthodox are frequently at odds with their head, the Constantinopolitan Patriarchy.

                  2) This schism:


              • Dave G.

                Not sure what you mean by that. Founded in non -Christian soil? What do you mean?

                • Alma Peregrina

                  Doh! Sorry… nonsense due to bad comment editing on my part.

                  What I meant was that the other christian churches never became so widespread in their respective countries as to allow something like the Reformation to exist.

                  • Dave G.

                    Suddenly it makes sense! 🙂

                    Yes, I get what you’re saying. And there is something to the fact that many non-Latin churches spent a goodly amount of their existence under someone else’s thumb. But there is also a set of unique circumstances that the West also had, not the least of which was, of course, the printing press, and many non-Catholics say scholasticism was its own seed being put into what would flower as the Reformation. And there were the problems in the Church at the time. We must never forget that there were many others challenging the Church at that period, circumstances simply came together to allow Luther a degree of influence (and survival) that others had not enjoyed.

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Very good points.

                      I would just add that those Church problems you mentioned were the result of secular corruption that could only happen when the Church wields power in society. Said power could only be achieved in places where Christianity was widespread, in order for it to be a societal force to be reckoned.

                      Thereby ilustrating my point even further.

                      But you’re right… there were more factors into play.

                    • Sue Korlan

                      The Church was greatly harmed by the plague. Those religious who were holy helped the victims, caught the plague, and died. Those religious who cared only for themselves hid out and survived. Monastic life was disrupted because in order to hold on to their properties the members of religious orders split their surviving members up so there would be someone in all their houses. Attempts to reform the Church after that time were fairly constant until Luther. For instance, the University of Paris condemned the selling of indulgences and the claim that a person was always benefitted about 50 years before Luther posted his theses. So indeed there was a huge problem of corruption in the Church at the time.

          • Alma Peregrina

            I have little doubt that he would put Luther in the eighth circle of Hell, in the schismatics zone.

        • Pub

          I’ll stick with Chesterton’s “pontifications” instead of your ill-informed ramblings & websites, thank you very much

          • Alma Peregrina

            The website seems legit, though.

        • Alma Peregrina

          Could you please provide the link to the article you quoted please? I would like to read it.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Still thought-provoking, though.

  • Mike

    so true.

  • David Charlton

    There are many Protestants who would agree with Chesterton’s critique of Protestantism. They would say that there was a Catholic Luther and a Protestant Luther. They embrace the former but seek to correct the excesses of the latter. Most of these are committed to an ecumenism which has as its goal reconciliation with the Bishop of Rome. Many also believe that without Tradition and the Magisterium, the Protestant churches are relatively defenseless in the face of modernism and post-modernism.

  • Alma Peregrina

    I would join something else, that is, in my opinion, the worst fruit of the Reformation:

    It was with Protestantism that modern propaganda was born.

    Yes, protestants had the merit to make the Bible (and by extension, reading) more accessible to the masses.

    But, at the same time, those bibles were mistranslated to accomodate what they wanted. And as they distributed bibles, they also distributed leaflets that demonized and/or defamed the Church.

    And since then, people read untrue things and claim that are wise and learned while believing widespread prejudices. Or in other words, being ignorant while believing themselves as intelectually fulfilled (and so, never having a chance to break away from their ignorance).

    It was the birth of “inteligent stupidity”.

    • Lucretius

      Intelligent stupidity has been around since forever. Have you ever read Socrates’ debates with the Sophists?

      Christi pax.

      • Alma Peregrina

        I haven’t read those debates, even though I heard of them. If you could provide me with links or bibliography, I would be very grateful.

        But I stand corrected. You are indeed right. Even more so, because the human nature has been the same since the birth of Humanity itself.

        Even though I still mantain that inteligent stupidity is directly proportional to the easiness with which information spreads. I think that it became more widespread with the printing press and even more so with the Internet.

        Pax Christi

  • Mark R

    Maybe so. It was worse than the isolation of the Western from the Eastern Churches, which denigrated theology into an academic subject in the West…warrior bishops and monks were hardly in the Christian vein either. However the Reformation did elevate the livelihoods of a lot of the ordinary people who had some wit and determination and gave them a form of sound devotional life far from a lot of the superstition that passes for devotions in the West.

    A lot of GKC’s seminal works were written when he was still Anglican. I wonder when this was written.

    • Pub

      GKC was definitely Catholic when he wrote it. Anglican Protestants are too lukewarm & heretical to write something as strong as this. Anglicans want the best of both worlds but have failed epicly. Their claims to “Via Media” are an epic joke as funny as those who claim to be open-minded Agnosticism. Good day & I hope I helped you clarify the situation

      • Lucretius

        In Orthodoxy, when Chesterton writes about how the vices run wild and do damage, and the virtues run wilder and do more damage, he actually uses the Reformation as an example:

        The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern
        world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues.
        When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was
        shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that
        are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they
        wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also;
        and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more
        terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian
        virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have
        been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.


        Now, Orthodoxy was written in 1908, and Chesterton converted to the Catholic Church in 1922, so he held negative views as an Anglican, for 14 years. Does anyone know when Chesterton met Belloc?

        Christi pax.

    • Lucretius

      Can you give examples of some of the superstitious devotions? I’m curious 🙂

      Christi pax.

  • Lucretius

    I think many commenters here are missing the big picture that Chesterton is pointing out: for a millennium, Western civilization was strongly Christian, and then the Reformation happened, and within a couple centuries our culture has told people to freely and joyfully choose to become their own gods. At least we should ask: what happened?

    And it’s not that there are more sinners today than yesterday, rather, it is that back then, the culture was imbedded with a solid, virtuous framework, enough that those sinners were well aware that what they did was wrong, while our culture reeducates in order to make evil seem virtuous. The medieval sinned, as the modern sins, but the medieval at least didn’t delude himself to think that he wasn’t a sinner (as well as have access to mustard gas and atomic weapons).

    When Christianity goes wrong, it’s the worse thing ever. Corruptio optimi pessima. That’s what Chesterton is saying.

    Christi pax.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Exactly. When people read Chesterton, they must understand that he always points to the big picture. He wants us to think about things that we take for granted as true, because our contemporary culture has said so.