Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 08, 2012

Comparing Faiths: 16th Century Style

What was the bloodshed about? What did Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists find so difficult to reconcile? Where did the heart of the arguments really lie? I have been interested in these questions for years. I have always loved religious comparisons, have always been interested in the 16th century, and come from a strong Protestant tradition, so I decided to try to figure it all out. 

I do not claim to be an authority on this subject and I may be mistaken on a few theological points, but this is my own personal opinion on the differences between the faiths in this time period. I also will admit that many of these arguments are still ongoing and I do not hope to decipher current issues . . . I am only writing from the springboard of the Reformation era. Of course, I am also writing from a Protestant perspective, so I apologize if my judgment is clouded a bit :-)

Between Catholics and Protestants, there were, I think, four major issues: Sacraments, iconography, authority, and Communion. Catholics had been following seven sacraments since the formation of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Matrimony, and the Anointing of the Sick. They used both Scripture and other religious writings to base these sacraments upon. The writings of the Church Fathers were also considered indispensable. 

Yet Protestants insisted on using only the sacraments that were found in Scripture: Baptism and the Eucharist. Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, was their cry. Anabaptists insisted that baptism needed only be given to an adult who understood the sanctity of the sacrament. This splinter group lived an austere life that seemed to take the Protestant Reformation’s “reforms” even further, and both Catholics and Protestants saw them as a threat both politically and religiously.

Iconography and religious statuary was another area in which Catholics and Protestants clashed. Catholics used religious statuary, stained glass windows, and other visual aids that many Protestants, especially those of the Calvinist persuasion, found offensive. Protestant dissenters used Exodus 20:4 to explain their dislike of these things: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” On this note, die-hard iconoclasts would often desecrate religious statuary used to decorate churches and cathedrals.

Catholics accepted the ultimate authority of the pope; Protestants did not. Lutherans and Calvinists, especially, preached that only Christ had the right to be the supreme head over Christendom and no mortal man could fulfill this position. This vitriol might have also stemmed from the fact that the pope held almost unswayable power in much of Europe and could deal with “dissenters” as he liked . . . a fact which, in that time, filled many Protestant hearts with fear. 

If there was a “Grand Dame” of troubles between Catholics and Protestants of this era, it was Communion. The Catholic Church championed transubstantiation, the doctrine of bread and wine consecrated during the Mass transforming into Christ’s body and blood, while the Lutherans believed in consubstantiation, the idea that Christ is present “in and among” the bread and wine. 

Calvinists saw both expressions as a violation of Scripture and insisted that Communion was to be done only symbolically. They reminded followers that Christ had often referred to Himself by way of inanimate objects (as a door through which followers could enter, or as a vine) and that, as He was not literally giving His blood and breaking His body when He spoke such words, it was meant symbolically.

These divisions made it impossible for the new denominations of the 16th century to make peace with the Catholic Church, and each side vehemently defended their own positions. Protestants quickly discovered that new ideas were dealt with quite harshly. They began to feel an unbearable compulsion to return to the folds of the Church and abandon their newfound doctrines. This they refused to do.

There was to be no reconciling in the era of the 16th century or far beyond. Clinging so tenaciously to the truth of the Gospel meant remaining in Europe and being put to death or fleeing to a promising new land just as they had fled to the newfound doctrines pulled from the pages of Scripture.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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