Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering

The So-Called Reformation

Or the Origin of Protestantism

132. Q. Can the Church of God be reformed?

R. No; a divine institution like the Church, cannot be reformed by men. The work of man and the morals of man can be reformed, but not the work of God.

133. Q. What do we call the teachings of men, who undertake to change the doctrines of God's holy Church?

R. We call such teachings "heresy." (For instance, the heresy of Arianism, or Nestorianism.)

134. Q. Which heresies have become most notable after the Middle Ages?

R. The heresy of Martin Luther in Germany, of Zwingli in Switzerland, of Calvin in Geneva, and that of the Anabaptists.

135. Q. Who was Martin Luther?

R. Luther was born at Eisleben, Saxony, of Catholic parents (1483). Frightened by the sudden death of his friend, he became an Augustinian monk without sufficiently probing his vocation. His nature was passionate and soon led him into religious errors. When in 1517 the Dominican monk, John Tetzel, preached at Wittenberg the Jubilee indulgence, granted by Pope Leo X., Luther challenged him to a debate. Soon his heretical views betrayed themselves, and when he refused to submit to the authority of the Church, he was excommunicated. Then he publicly declared his apostasy, broke his vows, and married an eloped nun.

136. Q. What were the false doctrines of Luther?

R. Luther taught:

1) That in consequence of original sin, man has no free will, and is in his nature totally depraved;

2) that therefore all his works are sinful;

3) that faith alone, i.e.  the belief that Christ saved us, covers all sins and gives eternal salvation; that good works therefore are useless;

4) that private interpretation of the Bible is the sole rule of faith.

137. Q. What principal Catholic doctrines did Luther reject?

R. Luther rejected the authority of the pope and bishops, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments of Penance and Confirmation, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and. Matrimony; fasting, prayers for the dead, invocation of the saints, the evangelical counsels, the hierarchy, and many other doctrines.

Luther admitted the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but only in the moment of communion and together with the substance of the bread. Calvin and Zwingli completely denied the Real Presence, but differed on another point. Calvin taught that certain grace is obtained by the communicant's faith, whereas Zwingli called communion a mere figure or ceremony in memory of Christ. This difference of opinions about the Blessed Sacrament gave rise to a bitter, abusive and noisy quarrel between these so-called reformers.

138. Q. How did Luther support his false doctrine?

R. Rejecting the teaching authority of the Church and divine Tradition, he claimed that the Bible alone contains God's word and that his interpretation of it was true and infallible.

When the papal bull, containing Luther's excommunication, arrived, the rebellious and proud monk cast it publicly into the fire before the gate of Wittenberg with the blasphemous words: "Because thou hast offended the holy one of the Lord (meaning himself), may eternal fire consume thee."

139. Q. What does the Bible say to such a principle?

R. We read in the Bible that Christ says: "He that does not hear the Church let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican;" and St. Paul says: "The Church is the pillar and ground of all truth." Hence to discard the teaching authority of God's Church, and to place private interpretation in its stead, is heresy.

Luther was a man of proud and overbearing character, brooking no opposition. Passionate of temper, he spent his life in fierce hatred and strife against the Church of his baptism, and against its venerable pontiff, whom he called Antichrist. His nature was sensual, his language was that of a demagogue, abusive and often vile.

For instance. After an angry dispute about the Real Presence at a saloon in Jena he left his opponent Carlstadt with the words: "I wish that I could see thee on the rack." In his violent pamphlet against the Jews he called them "young devils condemned to hell."

Against the poor peasants, who had been incited to open revolt by his incendiary writings about evangelical liberty, he wrote: "The governments must strike, hang, burn, behead and torture this rabble, so that the people may be filled with fear and kept in order."

In his fierce attack on the papacy, he wrote: "Why do we not attack with all weapons these teachers of perdition, cardinals, popes . . . and wash our hands with their blood."

The language of his printed "tabletalk" is too foul for reproduction. And such a man posed as a reformer of the Church, whose children were seraphic St. Francis of Assisi, angelic St. Bernard, gentle St. Elisabeth of Thuringia and ecstatic St. Catherine of Siena.

140. Q. Who was Zwingli, and what was his teaching?

R. Zwingli was a priest in Switzerland, deposed by his bishop for immorality. He denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and other Catholic doctrines, and adopted many of the errors of Luther.

By his fanatical preaching he provoked violent mobs, destruction of sacred images and desecration of churches. This finally led to a civil war between the apostatized and the catholic cantons of Switzerland. The fierce reformer fell in the battle of Kappel (1532 A.D.).

141. Q. Who was John Calvin, and what did he teach?

R. John Calvin was a student at the university of Paris and became tainted with Luther's heresy. He taught salvation by faith alone, total depravation of human nature through original sin, and absolute predestination, i.e.  that God had predestined a certain part of mankind for heaven and the other for hell. John Knox, founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland, was his disciple.

Calvin established himself in Geneva, Switzerland, which became the stronghold of Calvinism, and was ruled by him with tyrannical power and intolerance. While claiming private interpretation of the Bible for himself, he ordered Servetus to be burnt at the stake for denying the Blessed Trinity.

142. Q. What did the Anabaptists teach?

R. The Anabaptists taught that the baptism of infants is invalid and therefore they rebaptized every one. They announced another kingdom of Christ on earth, in which neither government, nor laws, nor property should exist.

In Munster, northern Germany, they established by open revolt an Anabaptist kingdom of communistic character and chose John of Leyden, a Dutch tailor, for their prophet and king. He took 17 wives and ruled in a cruel and eccentric manner, defending his crimes by quoting bible texts. Finally, the government restored order and the king and his councillors were punished according to law.

143. Q. Who was Henry VIII., and how did he apostatize?

R. Henry VIII. was king of England. He demanded a divorce from his lawful wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, a young lady of his court. When Pope Clement refused, he fell away, contracted this criminal and invalid marriage, and forced all England into apostasy. He had in quick succession six wives, of whom he beheaded two. The Schism of Henry finally developed into the Anglican or Episcopalian sect.

Henry declared himself head of the English church and demanded an oath recognizing his spiritual supremacy. Cardinal Fisher, Sir Thomas More and 72,000 Catholics who refused, were cruelly put to death. Monasteries were plundered, all church lands confiscated and the religious orders blotted out. Under Edward, Henry's son, and Elisabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter, the persecution grew still fiercer. Priests were hunted like wolves, hanged and quartered; laymen, who refused to assist at Protestant services, were fined and imprisoned. Under King James I., Cromwell and William of Orange severer measures followed. The test oath excluded all Catholics from office. A Catholic child that turned Protestant, would inherit the whole estate to the exclusion of its Catholic brothers and sisters and even during the lifetime of its parents.

144. Q. What were the main causes that led princes and peoples to follow these heresies?

R. 1) The doctrine of salvation by faith alone without good works was easy and pleasing to sensual man; so also divorce and the abolition of the religious vows, while the doctrine of total depravity furnished a convenient excuse for yielding to passion.

Luther and his friend Melanchton, afraid of losing the support of Philip of Hessia, gave him permission to have two wives at the same time.

2) Princes, city governments, and the nobility found through it an opportune pretext for robbing the Church of her possessions, lands, convents, universities, and schools.

In Germany and England, the property thus stolen amounted to about one-fifth of the entire territory.

3) The governments forced the people into their apostasy by establishing the principle that the prince who rules the territory also rules the religion, and holds supreme power in spiritual as well as in temporal things (according to pagan Roman law).

When King James I. ascended the throne of England and was informed of his supreme power in spiritual and temporal affairs, he exclaimed: "Do I make the judges? Do I make the bishops? Then, forsooth, I make what likes me, law and gospel." And he did so. Thus Protestantism introduced the system of state churches with princes as their rulers. Instead of the great commonwealth of Christian nations under one spiritual head, the pope, according to the word of Christ: "One shepherd and one fold", there were now, (so a Protestant writer confessed) as many churches as there were states and as many little popes as there were Protestant princes.

4. The shameful misrepresentations of Catholic truth, and vile slanders, continually uttered against Popes, bishops, priests and religious orders by pulpit and press, led the people astray, and filled them with bitter prejudices against the old Mother Church.

Veneration of sacred images and relics, invocation of saints and of the Blessed Virgin, adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament were blasphemously denounced as idolatry; good works, even if performed in the service of charity, as proud self-justification, and the three evangelical counsels, as injurious to the merits of Christ. The sacrament of penance, indulgences and prayers for the souls in purgatory were made the butt of vilest abuse. Verily the gates of hell seemed to have opened to vomit forth foul slander and fierce hatred against the Spouse of Christ.

145. Q. How was Sweden torn away from the Church?

R. Gustav Wasa, who had freed his country from the power of Denmark, became King of Sweden in the year 1523, and, seeing that by seizing Church property and abolishing the hierarchy, he would obtain absolute power, he introduced Lutheranism by force and deceit, and thus destroyed what the great St. Ansgar had founded.

For fifty years the Swedish people were deceived into the belief that they still belonged to the Catholic church; the preachers feigned saying mass with the ancient vestments, and the semblance of the ancient liturgy and the hierarchy was retained. Finally Catholics were excluded from office and their worship was forbidden by law. When Queen Christine daughter of Gustav Adolf, returned to the Church, she was forced to resign and died in Rome. King Sigismund of Poland, heir to the Swedish crown, was asked to become a Lutheran or yield his claim; but he answered: "I do not esteem worldly power so high as to barter heaven for it," and left the kingdom.

146. Q. How was Denmark separated from the Church?

R. Christian II. and Frederic I. introduced Protestantism into Denmark, Norway, and Iceland against the will of the people. Bishops were beheaded or imprisoned, and all Church property was confiscated.

147. Q. How did Holland fall away?

R. William of Orange led the people into rebellion against their King Philip II. of Spain, and became the head of the Dutch republic in 1578. The Catholic religion was forbidden and Calvinism adopted as the state religion.

The Orange government sent out an army to introduce Calvinism. Bishops were imprisoned or banished, the clergy of Amsterdam were put on a ship and sent out to sea, whence they never returned. 19 priests, mostly Franciscans were tortured and hanged at Gorcum, as martyrs of the B1essed Sacrament. Sacred images were burnt, churches desecrated and turned over to the Calvinists. Nevertheless Belgium and several provinces of Holland remained true to the faith.

148. Q. What happened in France?

R. The heresy of Calvin seduced many who were called Huguenots. They conspired against the king in order to bring one of their party upon the throne, and waged bloody wars against their lawful sovereign.

149. Q. Give some account of St. Bartholomew's night.

R. In the year 1572 King Charles of France was informed that the Huguenots had conspired against his life. He then commanded that during the night (St. Bartholomew's) his soldiers should fall upon the Huguenots and kill them.

150. Q. Did the Church ever approve of such a cruel act?

R. No, she always has condemned any such acts, which are contrary to law, order, and Christian charity.

The Huguenots had wantonly provoked the anger of the Catholic people. In southern France they tortured and killed priests, monks and sisters, desecrated altars and the Blessed Sacrament, burnt churches, convents, sacred images and relics. In Orthey, 3000 Catholic men and women were massacred, and at Nimes hundreds of captured Catholics were killed with daggers, in one night. This does neither justify nor even excuse Bartholomew night, but it set the example.

151. Q. What happened in Prussia?

R. Prussia was a land, taken from the heathens and civilized by German knights in the name of the Church. But in the year 1522 Albrecht of Brandenburg, who was then superior of the order, became a Lutheran, broke his vows and married. He then made himself prince of the country and introduced Lutheranism.

152. Q. What happened in Scotland?

R. John Knox preached Calvinism and open rebellion against the lawful government to the Scotch people. He advised the nobility to join him and take the property of the Church. They followed his sordid advice and rebelled against their Catholic Queen, Mary Stuart. She fled to England, where she was beheaded at the command of her treacherous cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England, because Mary was the legitimate heir to the English throne, and would not renounce her faith.

Pope Benedict XIV. did not hesitate to say that Mary Stuart died a martyr. Firmly professing her faith and holding the crucifix in her hand she went to her doom, a noble example of Christian fortitude and profound piety.

153. Q. What happened in Ireland?

R. Ireland refused to accept Protestantism from England. Cromwell came with an English army and devastated Ireland with fire and sword. About ten million acres of land were confiscated and twenty-nine thousand people sold as slaves to America. The remaining Catholics were driven into the poverty-stricken province of Connaught with the words: "To hell or to Connaught." Priests were hunted like wolves, and a price of five pounds was paid for every head.

Up to 1800, England treated Ireland in a most tyrannical manner and declared through the court: "For Catholics there is no law" (that is in the land). Notwithstanding all this, Ireland has always remained faithful to the Church, and finally, in 1829, forced England through her great son Daniel O'Connell, to grant religious liberty.

154. Q. What followed the establishment of Protestantism?

R. Bloody wars and revolutions. In Germany the Thiry Years' War between Protestants and Catholics was waged, so that Germany became a desert and its former population of seventeen millions was reduced to four millions. In France the Huguenot wars laid waste the land. In England, Mary, Queen of Scots, and King Charles I. were beheaded, and bloody wars followed each other in quick succession. War was waged in the Netherlands and in Switzerland. Cities, convents and churches were destroyed in countless numbers, priests and nuns were massacred, and libraries and the finest works of art perished.

The fanatic hatred against sacred images resulted not only in a widespread destruction of great art treasures, but in bringing the arts of architecture, painting, sculpture and carving to a long standstill in many lands.

The so-called reformers had styled reason the handmaid of the devil, decried all philosophical studies and confined theological study to the Bible; so that a great decline of universities, elementary schools and the book trade followed.

Luther wrote: "The higher schools ought to be ground to dust, for nothing more hellish has come into the world." (Luth. W. 7. 63.) To the mayors and city councils he wrote: "Under the papacy convents and schools were so numerous, that not a boy could escape without God's miracle; now they are going down everywhere."

Finally: "If we had it not from our forefathers' mild alms and endowments the gospel (his) would have been wiped out long ago and not a poor preacher could live. But we take and rob by force, what others (Catholic forefathers) have given and endowed." (L. W. 14. pg. 389.)

155. Q. What does this show?

R. It shows that these new religions were not of God; for Christ has said: "Thereby the world shall know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

156. Q. What was the practical result of the chief principle of Protestantism, private judgment?

R. The principle of private judgment, according to which every one may frame his religion from his own understanding of the Bible, resulted in the rise of numerous sects.

157. Q. Did these sects remain unchanged?

R. These sects have continually changed, and were split and subdivided into other sects, so that at the present time Protestantism is a Babel of conflicting sects. There are about 150 sects in the United States.

158. Q. Which are the more prominent among the later sects?

R. The Methodists, founded by John Wesley, an Episcopalian preacher, at Oxford, England, 1738.

The Baptists, founded by Roger Williams, at Providence, Rhode Island, 1639.

The Congregationalists, also called Puritans, founded by Robert Browne in England, about 1600. Over one hundred of them, the socalled "Pilgrim Fathers," came in the Mayflower to America and landed at Plymouth Rock (1620).

The Quakers, founded by George Fox in England 1647.

One of the latest sects is the Salvation Army, founded by General Booth of London, England.

NOTE.—That the principle of private judgment resulted in the rise of so many different and conflicting sects, proves that it is false.

Protestantism has destroyed the great Christian common-wealth of nations, established during the Middle Ages. It has driven the wedge of religious dissension between nations, heretofore united by the bond of the same faith, between rulers and subjects, even between the inhabitants of the same country.

Having rejected the ancient hierarchy, it transferred the ecclesiastical power to the princes and made them almost absolute rulers, supreme in temporal and spiritual things.

The sweeping confiscation of church property, theretofore devoted to charity and to higher and elementary education, retarded for a long time educational and social progress, as Luther and his friend Melanchton confessed. The bloody wars and revolutions, which followed in its wake, interrupted the development of science and art.

The large number of contending sects, which have sprung and still spring from the Protestant doctrine of private judgment, has given to the Christian world so sad an aspect of discord and contradiction, that not only the minds of many in Christian lands are unbalanced by doubt and uncertainty, but also the conversion of heathen nations has been rendered extremely difficult. To the present day this religious separation and antagonism runs like a deep chasm between the citizens of the same country and sorely affects the equality of legislation, individual rights, and national unity.