Reformation or Revolution?

The liturgy in the vernacular? Eamon Duffy has shown that with the invention of moveable type missals with English translations were widely available and popular. Devotional books and spiritual guides in the vernacular were widespread and an increasing number of people were learning Latin.  Was it the Bible in the vernacular? The Catholic Church had for centuries, been translating the Bible into the vernacular. The expense and rarity of hand copied books was the only thing that prevented the people having access. With the invention of the printing press the Catholic Church was also producing Bible translations. If they objected to the Protestant versions it was not because the people could read the Bible, but because translations like Tyndale’s and Wycliffe’s were full not only of translation errors, but were full of anti-Catholic notes and comment.

What other benefits from the Protestant Revolution shall we celebrate? Emphasis on the Bible? It was the Protestants who tore the Bible apart, removing the apocryphal books, adding words to boost their theological opinions and ultimately coming up with the extreme Biblical interpretations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Fundamentalism, Seventh Day Adventism and the modernist and rationalist interpretations that have eviscerated the supernatural from the Bible. Protestantism boosted the Bible? In the end it has destroyed Sacred Scripture.

What is to celebrate? Popular piety? Individual faith experience? Again, Eamon Duffy shows that the English Church at the end of the fourteenth century was extremely popular with the people and the new religion had to be imposed upon them by force. The Protestant Revolution, like most revolutions, was driven by an ideological elite who manipulated people with power to put force their ideologies on the populace.

What I wonder in all of this ecumenical hug fest is how much of the recent history of the Reformation everyone has actually read.

I am not familiar with the books on the continental reformation, but what took place in England in the sixteenth century was very different than the history we are usually given in which, “Well now there were some monks back then who were fat and jolly, and good old King Henry came  along and cleaned things up. Most English people were just ignorant Catholics and then we gave them the Bible to read and they all lived happily ever after.”

When you read Duffy, Scarisbrick and Christopher Haigh you realize you have been sold a bill of goods.

Celebrate the Reformation? I suppose ecumenical discussions must be helpful, but they are facilitated by both Protestants and Catholics looking squarely at the events of the last 500 years and not whitewashing them. Pope St John Paul II famously led a service of repentance about the sins of Catholics against other Christians on Ash Wednesday of the Jubilee Year 2000, and Archbishops Welby and Sentamu of England did a good thing when they recently did the same on the part of the Church of England. You can read their statement here.

Their sober and realistic assessment and call to return to the heart of the gospel is what the commemoration of the Reformation should be about.

But as for celebration…

You can include me out.

This post discusses Pope Francis’ advice to a Lutheran woman about receiving communion with her Catholic husband.

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