What do “roses” represent in the history of Protestant vs Catholic conflict?

What do “roses” represent in the history of Protestant vs Catholic conflict?

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My history is a little rough, but I am aware that Ireland's past, particularly that of North Ireland, is wrought with conflict. I know there are multiple causes, but that -- whether as cause or excuse -- the fact that the English and Scottish colonists were Protestant while the rest of the island was predominantly Catholic. Through generations of conflict many atrocities were committed by both sides.

I was recently listening to some Irish folk songs, one of which is a lament of the blind nature of this rift and the lives lost in revenge killings in both directions. At the end there is an unidentified reference to "Roses", as if that symbolized something in the conflict between religious traditions. In fact the name of the song is "There Were Roses" (youtube), but it is entirely about Catholic vs. Protestant relations.

Did the rose symbolize something religious during the North Ireland conflicts or would this be a reference back to the War of the Roses (which was more a struggle for power between two related houses not an extension of Catholic/Protestant aggression).

The róisín dubh, “little dark rose” or “little black rose,” is a symbol of Ireland, and has been used as a term of endearment for Ireland by Yeats and other poets.

The 15th-century folk song “Róisín Dubh” is a love song in which Ireland is personified as a woman nicknamed Róisín Dubh, not unlike the way France is “Marianne” or the United States is “Columbia.” It is not related to the use of the rose as a symbol for the Lancastrians and Yorkists, which anyway predates Henry VIII's Reformation as well as the English plantations in Ireland by some years.

The poet James Clarence Mangan wrote a more explicitly nationalistic translation entitled “Dark Rosaleen” in the early 19th century.

APCK Leaflet 2 - Protestant & Catholic

1. Is the Church of Ireland Protestant or Catholic?

It is both Protestant and Catholic. For this reason it is incorrect to refer to members of the Church of Ireland as &lsquonon&ndashCatholic&rsquo.

The terms Protestant and Catholic are not really opposites.

There are Catholics who accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often in consequence they are called Roman Catholics. But there are other Catholics who do not accept the Pope&rsquos jurisdiction or certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Some are called Protestant or Reformed Catholics. Among them are members of the Church of Ireland and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion.

It follows therefore that the terms &lsquoProtestant&rsquo and &lsquoReformed&rsquo should be contrasted with &lsquoRoman&rsquo and not with &lsquoCatholic&rsquo.

The Church of Ireland is Catholic because it is in possession of a continuous tradition of faith and practice, based on Scripture and early traditions, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, together with the sacraments and apostolic ministry.

The Church of Ireland is Protestant, or Reformed, because it affirms &lsquoits constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid.&rsquo (Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland of 1870, 1.3)

So there are Catholics who are in communion with Rome and Catholics who are not. But all by baptism belong in the one Church of Christ.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The Nicene Creed &ndash said at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland.

2. How does the Church of Ireland differ from other Protestant Churches?

Churches which resulted from the sixteenth century Reformation, and from the subsequent divisions in these churches, although varying in their beliefs and practices, and not always in any official relationship with each other, are generally known as Protestant Churches.

The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Church in so far as it shares with these churches opposition to those innovations in doctrine and worship that appear contrary to Scripture and led to the Reformation.

However it differs from these churches in retaining elements of the pre&ndashReformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost.

The Church of Ireland maintains a liturgical pattern of worship, observing the feasts and fasts of the Catholic liturgical year. It remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints on special days. It retains many of the rites and ceremonies of the pre&ndashReformation Catholic Church.

The Church of Ireland has within its fellowship religious orders of men and women, under the traditional threefold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The Church of Ireland emphasises the importance of the Sacraments. It administers the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the sacramental ministries of confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, absolution and healing. (Church of Ireland Revised Catechism)

The Church of Ireland has retained the structure of the pre&ndashReformation Catholic Church and is no stranger to words like parish, bishop, diocese, priest, sanctuary, confirmation, eucharist, synod and to all for which they stand.

As a result [of events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation] many communions, national and confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist the Anglican Communion occupies a special place. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, III, 13.

3. What is the difference between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church?

The chief difference is that one Church is under the jurisdiction of the Pope and the other is not. This results in certain importance differences of belief and practice. However, it should be noted that the beliefs and practices held in common greatly outweigh those that separate the two Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has, by divine right, jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that in certain circumstances his utterances are infallible. The Church of Ireland does not accept either of these teachings, and resists the claim of the Pope to rule over and speak for the universal Church.

Furthermore the Roman Catholic Church teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in her Corporal assumption, are necessary for salvation. These beliefs had for a long time been widespread in Catholic Christendom, but were regarded with varying degrees of certainty. However, within the last hundred and fifty years, the Roman catholic Church has pronounced them to be necessary for salvation.

The Church of Ireland teaches that neither Holy Scripture, nor the understanding of the Scriptures by the early Fathers of the Church, support these doctrines.

The Church of Ireland, as a Reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby re&ndashaffirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship whereby the Primitive faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject. (Preamble and Declaration of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland 1870, 1.3)

The Northern Irish Conflict: A Chronology

By Ann Marie Imbornoni, Borgna Brunner, and Beth Rowen

Click here for recent news on the Irish peace process.


Political separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland did not come until the early 20th century, when Protestants and Catholics divided into two warring camps over the issue of Irish home rule.

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A Centuries-old Conflict

The history of Northern Ireland can be traced back to the 17th century, when the English finally succeeded in subduing the island after successfully putting down a number of rebellions. (See Oliver Cromwell Battle of the Boyne.) Much land, especially in the north, was subsequently colonized by Scottish and English Protestants, setting Ulster somewhat apart from the rest of Ireland, which was predominantly Catholic.

The Nineteenth Century

During the 1800s the north and south grew further apart due to economic differences. In the north the standard of living rose as industry and manufacturing flourished, while in the south the unequal distribution of land and resources?Anglican Protestants owned most of the land?resulted in a low standard of living for the large Catholic population.

The Twentieth Century

Political separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland did not come until the early 20th century, when Protestants and Catholics divided into two warring camps over the issue of Irish home rule. Most Irish Catholics desired complete independence from Britain, but Irish Protestants feared living in a country ruled by a Catholic majority.

Government of Ireland Act

In an attempt to pacify both factions, the British passed in 1920 the Government of Ireland Act, which divided Ireland into two separate political entities, each with some powers of self-government. The Act was accepted by Ulster Protestants and rejected by southern Catholics, who continued to demand total independence for a unified Ireland.

The Irish Free State and Northern Ireland

Following a period of guerrilla warfare between the nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British forces, a treaty was signed in 1921 creating the Irish Free State from 23 southern counties and 3 counties in Ulster. The other 6 counties of Ulster made up Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom. In 1949 the Irish Free State became an independent republic.

"The Troubles"

Although armed hostilities between Catholics and Protestants largely subsided after the 1921 agreement, violence erupted again in the late 1960s bloody riots broke out in Londonderry in 1968 and in Londonderry and Belfast in 1969. British troops were brought in to restore order, but the conflict intensified as the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups carried out bombings and other acts of terrorism. This continuing conflict, which lingered into the 1990s, became known as "the Troubles."

Despite efforts to bring about a resolution to the conflict during the 1970s and 80s, terrorist violence was still a problem in the early 90s and British troops remained in full force. More than 3,000 people have died as a result of the strife in Northern Ireland.

An Early Attempt

A serious attempt to bring about a resolution to the conflict was made in 1985 when British and Irish prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Garrett Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which recognized for the first time the Republic of Ireland's right to have a consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland. However, Protestant politicians who opposed the Agreement were able to block its implementation.

The IRA Declares a Cease-fire

Further talks between rival Catholic and Protestant officials and the British and Irish governments occurred during the early 1990s. Then, in late Aug. 1994 the peace process received a big boost when the pro-Catholic IRA announced a cease-fire. This made it possible for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, to participate in multiparty peace talks hitherto Sinn Fein had been barred from such talks because of its association with the IRA and its terrorist tactics.

On Dec. 9, 1994, the first officially sanctioned, publicly announced talks took place between Sinn Fein and British officials. Negotiators for Sinn Fein pushed for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland Great Britain countered that the IRA must give up its weapons

Sinn Fein Participates in Official Talks

On Dec. 9, 1994, the first officially sanctioned, publicly announced talks took place between Sinn Fein and British officials. Negotiators for Sinn Fein pushed for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland Great Britain countered that the IRA must give up its weapons before Sinn Fein would be allowed to negotiate on the same basis as other parties. The issue of IRA disarmament would continue to be a sticking point throughout the negotiations.

An Anglo-Irish Proposal for Peace

In late Feb. 1995, the British and Irish governments released their joint proposal for talks on the future of Northern Ireland. The talks were to be held in three phases involving the political parties of Northern Ireland, the Irish government, and the British government. The talks would focus on the establishment of a form of self-government for Northern Ireland and the formation of Irish-Northern Irish "cross-border" bodies that would be set up to oversee such domestic concerns as agriculture, tourism, and health. Results of the talks would be put to referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The U.S. Gets Involved

In Dec. 1995, former US senator George Mitchell was brought in to serve as mediator for the peace talks. His report issued in Jan. 1996 recommended the gradual disarmament of the IRA during the course of the talks, thus breaking the deadlock caused by the IRA's refusal to disarm.

Multiparty Talks Open in Belfast

On June 10, 1996, multiparty peace talks opened in Belfast. However, because of the breakdown of the IRA cease-fire the preceding Feb., Sinn Fein was turned away. Following the resumption of the cease-fire in July 1997, full-scale peace negotiations began in Belfast on Oct. 7, 1997. Great Britain attended as well as most of Northern Ireland's feuding political parties, including Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the largest Protestant political party in Northern Ireland. The more extreme Democratic Unionist Party and the tiny United Kingdom Unionist Party refused to join.

Click here for who's who in the Good Friday Agreement.

Good Friday Agreement

The historic talks finally resulted in the landmark Good Friday Agreement, which was signed by the main political parties on both sides on Apr. 10, 1998. The accord called for an elected assembly for Northern Ireland, a cross-party cabinet with devolved powers, and cross-border bodies to handle issues common to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Thus minority Catholics gained a share of the political power in Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. In return Catholics were to relinquish the goal of a united Ireland unless the largely Protestant North voted in favor of it.

Real Hope for Peace

With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, hope ran high that lasting peace was about to become a reality in Northern Ireland. In a dual referendum held on May 22, 1998, Northern Ireland approved the accord by a vote of 71% to 29%, and the Irish Republic by a vote of 94%. In June 1998, voters chose the 108 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the locally elected government.

International recognition and support for peace in Northern Ireland came on Oct. 16, 1998, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to John Hume and David Trimble, the leaders of the largest Catholic and Protestant political parties, respectively, in Northern Ireland.

Hope Proves False

In June 1999, the peace process stalled when the IRA refused to disarm prior to the formation of Northern Ireland's new provincial cabinet. Sinn Fein insisted that the IRA would only give up weapons after the new government assembled the Ulster Unionists, Northern Ireland's largest Protestant party, demanded disarmament first. Consequently the new government failed to form on schedule in July 1999, bring the entire process to a complete halt.

Sinn Fein, Over to You

At the end of Nov. 1999, David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, relented on the "no guns, no government" position and agreed to form a government before the IRA's disarmament. If the IRA did not begin to disarm by Jan. 31, 2000, however, the Ulster Unionists would withdraw from the parliament of Northern Ireland, shutting down the new government.

New Parliament Is Suspended

With this compromise in place, the new government was quickly formed, and on Dec. 2 the British government formally transferred governing powers over to the Northern Irish parliament. But by the deadline Sinn Fein had made little progress toward disarmament, and so on Feb. 12, 2000, the British government suspended the Northern Irish parliament and once again imposed direct rule.

A New Beginning

Throughout the spring, Irish, British, and American leaders continued to hold discussions to try to end the impasse. Then on May 6 the IRA announced that it would agree to put its arms "beyond use" under the supervision of international inspectors. Britain returned home rule powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 30, just three days after the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland's largest Protestant Party, again voted in favor of a power-sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein.

On June 26, 2000, international monitors Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa announced that they were satisfied that a substantial amount of IRA arms was safely stored and could not be used without detection.

However, while the IRA did allow for the inspection of some of its arms dumps, the months limped by without any real progress on disarmament. Caught in the middle was David Trimble, who was accused by his fellow Protestants of making too many concessions to the Republicans. On Oct. 28, 2000, he was nearly ousted by his own party, a move that surely would have spelled the end for the Good Friday Agreement. But Trimble survived, pledging to get tough by imposing sanctions on Sinn Fein.

Into 2001, Still No Major Progress

Through the first months of 2001, Catholics and Protestants remained at odds, especially over the establishment of a neutral police force in Northern Ireland and IRA disarmament. In early March 2001, the IRA unexpectedly initiated a new round of talks with Northern Ireland's disarmament commission, but no real progress was made.

Trimble Resigns

Shortly before Britain's general election on June 7, Northern Ireland's first minister David Trimble announced that he would resign on July 1 if the IRA did not start disarming. The announcement helped bolster his position among his constituents, and Trimble managed to hold on to his seat in the British Parliament. However, his pro-British Ulster Unionist Party fared badly overall. In the weeks that followed, the IRA took no steps to dismantle its arsenal, and Trimble resigned as planned.

Violence Renewed as Marching Season Begins

The fragile peace process faced another crisis in mid-June when sectarian violence broke out again in Belfast. The clashes began after a group of schoolgirls and their parents were stoned by Protestant youths as they left a Catholic primary school. In what was deemed the worst rioting in several years, rival mobs hurled gasoline bombs, stones, and bottles and set fire to cars. The violence coincided with the start of the annual "marching season" when Protestant groups commemorate past victories on the battlefield against the Catholics.

IRA's Offer to Disarm Rejected

On Aug. 6, 2001, the commission responsible for the disarming of paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland announced that the IRA had agreed to a method of permanently placing its weapons arsenal beyond use. Although the commission did not disclose any details or indicate when disarmament might begin, Britain and the Republic of Ireland hailed the plan as a historic breakthrough. Protestant leaders in Northern Ireland were less enthusiastic and rejected the proposal as falling too short of action.

On Aug. 11, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, John Reid, suspended the power-sharing government for one day, a move that allowed Protestant and Catholic politicians six more weeks to negotiate before British authorities would be required to call for new elections to the assembly. (In the event of new elections, moderate David Trimble stood little chance of being reelected, since Protestants as well as Catholics have become increasingly opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.)

The IRA withdrew its offer to disarm on Aug. 14, but veterans of the process were confident that the matter remained on the negotiating table.

Northern Ireland Government Suspended Again

With some small progress having been made on policing and arms decommissioning, Britain suspended the devolved government again on Sept. 22, creating another six-week window for the parties to resolve their differences. The move was criticized by UUP leader David Trimble, and on Oct. 18, the three remaining Ulster Unionist cabinet ministers resigned, in an attempt to force Britain to impose direct rule again indefinitely.

However, on Oct. 23, the IRA announced that it had begun to disarm, and it appeared that the peace process had once again been rescued from the point of collapse. Guns and explosives at two arms dumps were put beyond use.

Trimble regained his position as first minister in the power-sharing government in a vote rerun on Nov. 6, after narrowly losing his reelection bid in the initial vote a few days earlier. Mark Durkan, who succeeded John Hume as leader of the largely Catholic SDLP (Nov. 10), was elected deputy first minister.

IRA Scraps More Weapons

On April 8, 2002, international weapons inspectors announced that the IRA had put more stockpiled munitions beyond use. The move was welcomed by British and Irish leaders alike, who expressed the hope that Protestant guerilla groups would also begin to surrender their weapons.

However, in mid-June British and Irish political leaders called for emergency talks to try to stem the rising tide of violence that had been ongoing in Belfast for several weeks. Police believed that the nightly outbreaks of firebombing and rioting were being organized by Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups in direct violation of standing cease-fire agreements. The street disturbances continued into July, and a 19-year-old Catholic man was shot?the first death caused by sectarian violence since January.

IRA Members Arrested in Colombia

The call for talks also came hard on the heels of a BBC report concerning three IRA members who had been arrested in Aug. 2001, in Bogota, Colombia. According to the BBC, one of the men involved in the weapons activity was Brian Keenan, the IRA representative charged with disarming the guerilla group in Ireland. The three Irish guerillas were accused of testing new weaponry and teaching bomb-making techniques to Colombian rebels. They were scheduled to go on trial in Colombia in July.

Also in July, during the annual Orange Order parade through Portadown, Northern Ireland, Protestant supporters of the Orangemen hurled stones and bricks to protest the ban on marching down Garvaghy Road, past a Catholic enclave in the town. Throughout Northern Ireland, members of the Orange Order march to celebrate the military victory of Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholics in 1690. Two dozen police officers were injured and several people were arrested.

IRA Apologizes for Deaths

On July 16, 2002, the IRA issued its first apology to the families of the 650 civilians killed by the IRA since the late 1960s. The apology was released several days before the 30th anniversary of the IRA's Bloody Friday attack on July 21, 1972, which left 9 people dead and some 130 injured. During the attack in Belfast, 22 bombs exploded during a period of only 75 minutes.

Trimble Threatens to Resign Again

In late Sept. 2002, First Minister David Trimble announced that he and other Unionist leaders would force the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly by resigning unless the IRA disbanded by Jan. 18, 2003. The ultimatum came under pressure from hard-line constituents within the Unionist Party, following a number of incidents (including the trial of IRA guerillas in Colombia on weapons-related charges) that pointed to continued IRA military activity.

Britain Suspends Home-Rule Government Again

By early October, the situation had deteriorated, with Trimble threatening immediate mass resignation unless the British threw Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, out of the Assembly. The discovery of an alleged I.R.A. spy operation within the Northern Ireland Assembly was the last straw. Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, suspended the power-sharing government on Oct. 14, 2002. It was the fourth time the British government had had to take back political control of Northern Ireland since the Northern Ireland Assembly came into being in Dec. 1999.

On Oct. 30, in response to the British move to impose direct rule again, the IRA suspended contact with the arms inspectors who were overseeing the disarmament of Northern Ireland's guerilla and paramilitary groups. The Council on Foreign relations has estimated that Protestant paramilitary groups have been responsible for 30% of the civilian deaths in the Northern Irish conflict. The two main Protestant vigilante groups are the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Strongest during the 1970s, their ranks have diminished since then. While Protestant paramilitaries have observed a cease-fire since the IRA declared one, none of these groups has made any moves toward surrendering their weapons as stipulated by the Good Friday Accord.

Showdown in 2003

In March and April 2003, negotiations were again underway to reinstate the Northern Ireland assembly. But Sinn Fein's vague language, weakly pledging that its "strategies and disciplines will not be inconsistent with the Good Friday Agreement caused Tony Blair to challenge Sinn Fein to once and for all make a clear, unambiguous pledge to renounce paramilitary for political means." According to the New York Times (April 24, 2003), "virtually every newspaper in Britain and Ireland has editorialized in favor of full disarmament, and the Irish government, traditionally sympathetic to Sinn Fein, is almost as adamant about the matter as London is."

In Nov. 2003 legislative elections, the Ulster Unionists and other moderates lost out to Northern Ireland's extremist parties: Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. The prospect of power-sharing between these antithetical parties looked dim.

Deadlocked in 2004

An effort to revive the deadlocked powersharing negotiations was broached in March 2004 by Tony Blair and Ireland's Bertie Ahern, who announced, "The elections were in November, this is March, we must move on." In Sept. 2004, another round of talks, aimed at ending the impasse, broke up with no significant progress. A $50 million bank robbery in Dec. 2004 was linked to the IRA, although Sinn Fein has denied the connection. Sinn Fein's growing acceptance as a political organization suffered a severe setback as a result, putting power-sharing negotiations on hold indefinitely. Evidence of the IRA's criminality as well as its continual refusal to give up its weapons has strained its relations not only in Northern Ireland and Britain but in the Republic of Ireland as well.

Violence and Vigilantism in 2005

The brutal murder on Jan. 31, 2005, of Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney by the IRA, and the campaign by his five sisters to hold the IRA accountable, further diminished the IRA's standing, even in Catholic communities that had once been IRA strongholds. The IRA's subsequent offer to kill the men responsible generated further outrage. Instead of inviting Northern Irish political parties to the White House?the custom for the past several years?the U.S. invited the McCartney sisters instead.

Real Hope in July 2005

On July 28, the IRA stated that it was entering a new era in which it would unequivocally renounce violence: The statement said that IRA members have been "instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively political means," and that "all I.R.A. units have been ordered to dump arms" and "to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use."

Delays in 2006

In Feb. 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), a watchdog agency monitoring Northern Irish paramilitary groups, reported that although the IRA "seems to be moving in the right direction," dissident republican paramilitaries are still engaged in violence and crime.

On May 15th, Northern Ireland's political parties were given six months (to Nov. 24) to come up with a power-sharing government or else sovereignty will be revert indefinitely to the British government.

In October, a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission in Northern Ireland indicated that the IRA had definitively ceased all paramilitary activity and declared that "the IRA's campaign is over."

Milestone Meeting in 2007

Shortly after parliamentary elections in March 2007, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, and Rev. Ian Paisley, the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, met face to face for the first time and hashed out an agreement for a power-sharing government.

Former Enemies Resume Power-Sharing Government

Local government was restored to Northern Ireland in May 2007 as Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, and Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, were sworn in as leader and deputy leader, respectively, of the Northern Ireland executive government, thus ending direct rule from London. "I believe we are starting on a road to bring us back to peace and prosperity," said Paisley. British prime minister Tony Blair praised the historic deal. "Look back, and we see centuries marked by conflict, hardship, even hatred among the people of these islands," he said. "Look forward, and we see the chance to shake off those heavy chains of history.?

On Feb. 5, 2010, with the signing of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, Gordon Brown of Britain and Brian Cowen, prime ministers of England and Ireland, respectively, created a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. According to the terms of the accord, Britain will hand over control of the six counties' police and justice system to Northern Ireland. The shift to local control of the courts, prosecution system, and police has been the most important and contentious of the issues plaguing the tenuous power-sharing government. The agreement passed its first test on March 9, when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted its support 88?17, setting the stage for the April 12 power transfer deadline. "For the first time, we can look forward to policing and justice powers being exercised by democratic institutions on a cross-community basis in Northern Ireland," Cowen said.

The Reformation: Germany and Lutheranism

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an Augustinian monk and university lecturer in Wittenberg when he composed his � Theses,” which protested the pope’s sale of reprieves from penance, or indulgences. Although he had hoped to spur renewal from within the church, in 1521 he was summoned before the Diet of Worms and excommunicated. Sheltered by Friedrich, elector of Saxony, Luther translated the Bible into German and continued his output of vernacular pamphlets.

When German peasants, inspired in part by Luther’s empowering “priesthood of all believers,” revolted in 1524, Luther sided with Germany’s princes. By the Reformation’s end, Lutheranism had become the state religion throughout much of Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltics.

Bohemian Revolt

In response to Ferdinand II’s decision to take away their religious freedom, the primarily Protestant northern Bohemian states of the Holy Roman Empire sought to break away, further fragmenting an already loosely structured realm.

The first stage of the Thirty Years’ War, the so-called Bohemian Revolt, began in 1618 and marked the beginning of a truly continental conflict. Over the first decade-plus of fighting, the Bohemian nobility formed alliances with the Protestant Union states in what is now Germany, while Ferdinand II sought the support of his Catholic nephew, King Phillip IV of Spain.

Soon, armies for both sides were engaged in brutal warfare on multiple fronts, in present-day Austria and in the east in Transylvania, where Ottoman Empire soldiers fought alongside the Bohemians (in exchange for yearly dues paid to the sultan) against the Poles, who were on the side of the Habsburgs.

Protestant Confessions of Faith

Faith, PROTESTANT CONFESSIONS OF.—That the Catholic Church, which claims the prerogative of teaching revealed truth with infallible certitude, should have drawn up articles of faith and demanded for them the internal assent and outward confession of her children, was logical and consistent but it is difficult to understand with what logic or consistency Protestantism, which proclaimed the Bible, as interpreted by the private judgment of the individual, to be the sole and sufficient rule of faith, could follow her example. It is said that Protestants look upon their doctrinal standards as authoritative only in so far as they agree with the “word of God“ but each sect so imbues its members from early childhood with its peculiar tenets, that long before they are able to read the Bible intelligently, their religious views are fixed. Stray individuals may change their religion and may be able to gather a sufficient number of followers to form a separate communion but the bulk of the population remain true to the faith of their parents, or of their native land. In the palmy days of Protestantism, it was not the reading of the Bible that held the denominations together, but their respective Confessions of Faith, inculcated by the preachers and enforced under severe penalties by the civil power. As a practical result, the “word of God” was interpreted in accordance with formulae devised by men the Anglican read into his Bible the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lutheran the Augsburg Confession, the “Reformed Churches” the Heidelberg Catechism. Each new sect being obliged to prove its raison d’ètre by showing just how far it differed from others, a very large number of Confessions appeared, varying in size from a few articles to long theological treatises. As a rule, the later Confessions are merely modified copies of the older ones, altered to suit local circumstances or personal views.

TYPES.—Since the Protestant revolt originated almost independently, and simultaneously, in Germany and in Switzerland, there has been, from the beginning, a sharp distinction between the Lutheran and the “Reformed” tenets of Zwingli, afterwards merged into Calvinism. The cleavage between Lutheranism and Calvinism goes deeper than the divergence of views concerning the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Luther drifted into heresy gradually. In spite of his hatred of the pope, he preserved a lingering reverence for the Church in which he had been a monk and a priest for so many years. He retained as much of the ancient beliefs and liturgy as could be made to fit into his peculiar views on sin and justification. So adroitly and tentatively were the changes made in Catholic phraseology and worship, that but few of the Lutheran common people felt they had drifted away from the Church of their fathers. Luther himself, in a famous passage, boasted that the eye of the ordinary layman could detect little or no difference between the Lutheran service and the Catholic Mass. As to the theological opinions, the layman was equally deceived for it was not new for him to be taught that we are saved by the free grace of God through the merits of Christ’s Blood. That the temporal ruler was zealous in the extirpation of “abuses” rather edified than shocked the common man, for a certain jus reformandi had always been claimed, and had frequently been exercised, by Catholic German princes. Quite different was the case with Zwinglianism and Calvinism. Laying no claim to identity or continuity with the ancient Church, the “Reformed Churches” began, generally amidst iconoclastic riots, by rooting out the entire fabric of Catholicism. After the futile attempt of Philip of Hesse, at the Marburg Conference (I-October 4, 1529), to reconcile the German and Swiss Reformers, these went their several ways, hating and reviling each other little less than they hated and reviled the Church of Rome. It is scarcely needless to add that since the collapse of dogmatic Protestantism, its conflicting creeds possess little more than an historical interest. Even where subscription to a Confession is still exacted as a condition for holding office, the ceremony is regarded as a mere formality.

THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS.—(I) The oldest and most authoritative of the Lutheran creeds was the Augsburg Confession. It was drafted chiefly by Melanchthon, on the basis of Luther’s Marburg, Schwabach, and Torgau articles, and bore the signature of seven German princes, Elector John of Saxony, his son John Frederick, Ernest and Francis, Dukes of Luneburg, Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, Wolfang, Prince of Anhalt, and of the representatives of the two imperial cities, Nuremberg and Reutlingen. On June 25, 1530, copies of it, in Latin and German, were presented to Charles V, at the diet of Augsburg, and the German version was read aloud before the secular and ecclesiastical Estates of the Empire. Charles retained the Latin copy which he brought with him to Spain, giving the other into the custody of the Archbishop of Mainz. Both seem now to be irretrievably lost. The document ought to have retained its original title of Apologia, for it is an artful attempt to persuade the Emperor and the Estates that in the Lutheran doctrine, “there is nothing discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Catholic Church, or with the Roman Church, so far as that Church is known from its writers”.

The Lutherans teach (Art. I) the Nicene belief in God and the Trinity (Art. II) Original Sin (Art. III) the Incarnation Death and Resurrection of the Son of God (Art. IV) Justification by Faith. By leaving out the obnoxious word sola (alone), the article might be glossed in a Catholic sense. They believe furthermore (Art. V) in a Divinely appointed ecclesiastical ministry, no mention being made of Luther’s universal priesthood of believers. They teach (Art. VI) that “faith should bring forth good works, and that men ought to do the good works commanded by God, because it is God‘s will, and not on any confidence of meriting justification before God by their works”, as if any one had taught differently. In Articles VII and VIII, “On the Church“, instead of asserting the heresy of an invisible Church, they define it to be “the congregation of saints [the German version has it the assembly of all the faithful], in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered”. They condemn the Donatists and others who held that the ministry of evil men is useless and inefficacious. In Article IX, “On Baptism“, they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that infants are to be baptized. The famous Article X reads as follows: “Of the Lord’s Supper they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat of the Lord’s Supper, and they reject the contrary teaching.” Here Luther’s theory of companation is sedulously slurred over. Art. XI teaches that private absolution must be retained, though in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all sins committed.

Art. XII, “On Penance“, teaches that those who fall, after Baptism, may obtain the remission of sins, whenever they repent, and that it is the duty of the Church to absolve the repentant. Penance, they teach, consists of two parts, confession and faith. In the hazy Article XIII, “On the use of the Sacraments“, they “condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify ex opere operato, without teaching that faith in the remission of sins is requisite in the use of the Sacraments“, which statement shows how scant was Melanchthons acquaintance with Catholic doctrine. Art. XVI, “On Ecclesiastical Orders”, limits itself to the harmless assertion that “no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, unless he be rightly called.” Art. XV, “On Ecclesiastical Rites“, retains such rites “as may be observed without sin” instancing “fixed holy days, feasts and such like” but “consciences are not to be burdened by such things, as if necessary to salvation.” Art. XVI inculcates the duty of obedience to civil rulers. Art. XVII deals with the Last Judgment. Art. XVIII, “On Free Will“, is a bold departure, on the part of Melanchthon, from Luther’s fundamental heresy of the enslaved will of fallen man. “They teach that man’s will hath some liberty to work a civil righteousness, and to choose such things as reason can reach unto but that it hath no power to work the righteousness of God or a spiritual righteousness, without the Spirit of God.” This sounds Catholic enough. Art. XX repels the accusation that the Lutherans “forbid good works”, and falsely accuses the Catholics of relying on good works for justification. Art. XXI teaches that we should honor the memory of the Saints, but not invoke their aid.

They conclude the doctrinal part of the Confession with the words: “This is about the sum of our doctrine,” with the protest of agreement with the Roman Church given above. “We have no dogmas”, Melanchthon wrote to the papal legate, July 6, “which differ from the Roman Church. Moreover, we are ready to submit to the Roman Church, if Rome, with the leniency she has at all times shown to all nations, will consent to overlook and keep silence on some slight matters which we cannot alter, even if we wished to do so. We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome“, etc. Meanwhile Luther was denouncing “the Pope and his crew” as “veritable devils”, and Melanchthon styled the pope “an Anti-Christ, under whose rule they would be like the Jews under Pharaoh in Egypt” (Janssen, History of the German People, tr. St. Louis, 1903, V, 254). The “slight matters”, which Rome was asked to connive at, are enumerated in seven articles in Part II of the Confession, with such prolixity that we can scarcely blame the emperor if during the reading on a hot day he fell into a slumber. They are grouped under the headings of (I) Communion under both kinds (2) The Marriage of Priests (3) The Mass (4) Compulsory Confession (5) Distinction of Meats, and Traditions (6) Monastic Vows and (7) The Authority of Bishops. To any one who had followed the course of the Lutheran revolution, it must have been amusing to read the following statement: “Our churches are wrongfully accused to have abolished the Mass. For the Mass is retained still among us, and celebrated with great reverence, yea, and almost all the ceremonies that are in use”—evidently the omission of the Canon was a slight matter—”saving that with the things sung in Latin we mingle certain things sung in German.”

We have given this synopsis of a document often spoken of, but seldom read, to show the spirit in which it was drawn up. It has been aptly termed a political campaign document, calculated to impress the Estates that the Lutherans, themselves supremely intolerant towards Catholics, should be permitted to proceed in peace in the uprooting of the ancient Faith. The Confession was accompanied with a Preface, written by Chancellor Bruck of Saxony, in which the engagement was made that should the controersy not be settled at the Diet, the signers were “ready to compare views and defend their cause in a general, free, and Christian Council”. What this engagement amounted to was made manifest later on when the council convened at Trent. The studied moderation, not to say disingenuousness, of the Augsburg Confession is said to have deceived some members of the Diet, as to the importance of the issue at stake between Catholics and Lutherans but it could not deceive such veteran controversialists as Eck, Wimpina, Cochlus, and the other theologians to whom Charles referred the document for discussion.

In a remarkably calm and able “Answer”, afterwards called “Confutation”, they analyze the Confession, giving praise and censure where either is due.

Melanchthon retorted with an “Apologia” which Lutherans generally regard as their second symbolic book Charles refused to accept it, because of the violent language used against the Catholic Church. Since Melanchthon looked on the “Confessio Augustana” as his private property, he continued ever after to comment on it, and revise the text to suit his wavering views. Most notorious, and the source of endless controversies amongst Lutherans, was the altered edition of 1540, issued at a time when Melanchthon was under the spell of Calvin. Art. X lost its Catholic tone and was made to read that “with the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ are truly exhibited to those who eat in the Lord’s Supper”, a statement to which a Calvinist might subscribe. We must not, however, throw too much blame on Melanchthon and other preachers the political magnates have to be considered.

THE SMALCALD ARTICLES.—Any hopes of a reconciliation which were founded on the studied moderation of the Augsburg Confession were rudely dispelled seven years later when the Protestant Estates, assembled at Smalcald, spurned the pope’s offer of that General Council for which, with more than dubious sincerity, they had clamored so long, and commissioned Luther to expound the articles in which they differed from the Roman Church. Following the general lines of the Augsburg Confession, Luther, by injecting his strongest anti-papal virus into the document, changed it from an olive-branch into an open declaration of war with the Catholic Church. The pope and the devil are identical the Mass is the dragon’s tail, producing all sorts of abominations and idolatries purgatory is a Satanic delusion, etc., etc. When asked to affix his signature to this insane effusion, Melanchthon did so, with the proviso that “if the pope would admit the gospel, we might permit him, for the sake of peace and the common concord of Christendom, to exercise by human right, his present jurisdiction over the bishops, who are now or may hereafter be under his authority.” The princes, resenting this covert attack upon their spiritual sovereignty, compelled the weak man to write a pamphlet denouncing the pope as anti-Christ.

The Formula of Concord.—Scarcely were Luther’s remains placed in the tomb than, as he had foreseen, fierce contentions broke out among the preachers, which shook the Lutheran Churches to their foundations. The earliest of these theological battles raged about the person of Melanchthon, who in his later years departed more and more openly from the two most important tenets of his master on the subject of free will in fallen man, he approached closely to the Catholic position regarding the Eucharist he became ever more Calvinistic. He also incurred the reproaches of the orthodox by accepting, with modifications, the “Interim Religion” of Charles V. In course of time, new topics of controversy rose to divide the theologians, until, in 1570, Jacobus Andreae could write “that there were scarcely a couple of preachers among them who did not disagree about some article or other of the Augsburg Confession” (Janssen, op. cit., VIII, 403). Tired of their endless wranglings, which were as destructive of moral and social as of religious order, the Elector Augustus of Saxony proposed to cut the knot “by princely edict”. He suggested to the Lutheran princes to convene an assembly to which each would bring his own code of doctrine. From all these different formulae they would then, with the help of a few amicable theologians, construct a general code which should be printed, and should be considered binding on the whole body of preachers. This convention was held at Torgau, in June, 1576. In addition to twelve Saxon divines, whom the Elector had cowed into submission, there were present, Andre, Chemnitz, Chytraeus, Musculus and Koerner.

A new “Formula of Concord”, known as the “Torgau Book”, was drawn up entirely in the spirit of Luther, eliminating Calvinism and Philipism. This book not being favorably received by several princes, Augustus summoned a fresh convention in the monastery of Bergen, near Magdeburg, where several alterations were proposed. As finally revised, the “Formula of Concord” was sent to the princes to be promulgated and enforced. Augustus of Saxony, John George of Brandenburg, and other princes, gathered their preachers together and compelled them publicly to subscribe their signatures, “not only with their hands, but with their hearts”. Many of the princes repudiated the book the King of Denmark threw his copy into the fire. The only Lutherans at the present day who attach any importance to it are in Missouri. The “Formula” is divided into two parts (I) the Epitome, and (2) the Solida Declaratio. The Epitome sums up Luther’s “pure doctrine” in succinct form the second part goes over the same ground more at large. Although the “Formula” begins with the stereotype Protestant declaration that the Bible is “the only rule and norm” of faith, yet, as Dr. Schaff remarks, it quotes Dr. Luther “as freely, and with at least as much deference to his authority, as Roman Catholics quote the Fathers”.

CONFESSIONS OF THE “REFORMED” CHURCHES.—The so-called Reformed creeds, of which thirty or more are extant, are based on the radical tenets of Zwingli and Calvin. We can only notice the most important of them. The Confessio Tetrapolitana.—As the Strasburg preachers, Bucer and Capito, inclined to the Zwinglian view of the Eucharist, they were shunned by the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg (1530), and were not allowed to sign the Augustana. They therefore drew up a separate Confession, following the general lines of the Lutheran document, a copy of which had been given to them by Philip of Hesse. Bucer touches upon several topics that Melanchthon had cautiously avoided, among them “the invisible church”, the rejection of tradition and of images. The Mass is denounced as “an intolerable abomination”. Art. 18, “On the Eucharist“, is given so enigmatically, that it is impossible to discover the real meaning. After great trouble the Strasburgers were able to secure the adhesion of three Southern German towns, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau. From these four cities the Confession obtained the name of Tetrapolitan. It was delivered to the Emperor, July 9. Charles refused to permit it to be read at the Diet, and commissioned the Catholic theologians to confute it. It was printed in the autumn of 1531 at Strasburg, together with a “Vindication”. It did not long remain in authority, for the towns subscribed to the Augsburg Confession in order to join the Smalcald League. Zwingli himself sent to the Diet, July 1530, a Confession of Faith in which he openly denied the Real Presence, and denounced purgatory as “an injurious fiction which sets Christ’s merits at naught.” He also, shortly before his death, sent a Confession to Francis I.

The First Confession of Basle, also called of Müllhausen because adopted by that city, was drafted in 1531 by Oecolampadius and after his death elaborated by his successor, Oswald Myconius. It was promulgated by the city authorities of Basle, January 21, 1534. It is a brief document, moderate in tone and calculated to conciliate the Lutherans. The text, as we now possess it, was revised in a Calvinistic sense in 1561. Of more importance is the Second Confession of Basle, known also as the “Helvetica Prior“. In the “Wittenberg Concord” Luther had forced his peculiar views, regarding the Eucharist, on Bucer and several other mediating preachers. The formula was reluctantly accepted by the Southern German towns, whose only protection was to be admitted into the Smalcald League but it was rejected by the independent Swiss. At the same time, it was recognized that some means should be devised of healing the dissensions among the Protestants, now that the convening of a General Council was in prospect. It was resolved to draft a new Confession which should be presented to the council as the national creed of the Protestant Cantons. An assembly met at Basle, January 30, 1536, composed of the most prominent Swiss preachers and delegates from Zurich, Bern, Basle, Schaffhausen, St. Gall, Mülhausen, and Biel. A committee consisting of Henry Bullinger, Oswald Myconius and Simon Grynus, was commissioned to draw up the document. It was written in Latin, and a free German translation made by Leo Judd was adopted by the meeting. Its tone is decidedly Zwinglian, but on the disputed points of the sacraments and the Lord’s Supper there is an evident effort to approach as near as possible to the Lutheran phraseology.

A copy of the Confession was brought to Luther by Bucer and it was a great surprise to the Swiss that the Wittenberg reformer declared himself satisfied with it. Luther’s change of attitude was due partly to the political needs and wishes of the Smalcald princes, and partly to the altered phraseology of the Confession on the subject of the sacraments, due to the growing influence of Calvin. Whereas the Zwinglian flatly denied the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Calvin preached His “spiritual presence,” which really amounts to the same thing. The “Helvetica Prior” remained for some years the national creed of the Swiss Protestants but it was superseded in 1566 by the “Helvetica Posterior”. This latter document was originally the private confession of Henry Bullinger of Zurich but it was formally accepted as a symbolic book by nearly all the Reformed Churches of Europe. It follows the main lines of the earlier confessions, but is much lengthier, and more in the nature of a theological treatise. It is the storehouse from which later framers of Reformed Confessions have copiously drawn. These documents of Calvin have been looked upon as of dogmatic authority, viz. “The Catechism of Geneva” (1541), the “Consensus of Zurich” (1549), which in twenty-six articles expounds Calvin’s views on the sacraments, and the “Consensus of the pastors of the Church of Geneva” (1552), which proclaims the Calvinistic dogma of absolute predestination.

The Gallicana, for the use of the French Protestants, was the first of the purely Calvinistic Confessions. The original draft was made by Calvin himself. It was revised in various synods, from the first of Paris (1559), to the seventh National Synod at La Rochelle (1571), from which latter town it drew its popular name of “the Rochelle Confession“. Its Calvinism is undiluted, and it offers all the peculiar doctrines of that innovator. The Roman Church comes in for a fair share of vituperation, for its “corruptions”, “superstitions”, and “idolatries” “Nevertheless”, it says, “as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy… we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism.” This concession does not imply that “idolaters” are to be tolerated for the Author of just government “has put the sword into the hands of magistrates, to suppress crimes against the first as well as against the second table of the Commandments of God.” This Confession remained in authority among French Protestants, until the Voltairianism and Rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries deprived it of all value. In the thirtieth General Synod of the Reformed Church of France (June 6 to July 10, 1872), the only approach to a Confession of Faith that could be made was the adoption by the slender majority of sixteen votes of the following vague resolution:

“The Reformed Church of France, on resuming her synodical action, which for so many years had been interrupted, desires, before all things to offer her thanks to God, and to testify her love to Jesus Christ, her Divine Head, who has sustained and comforted her during her successive trials. She declares, through the organ of her representatives, that she remains faithful to her principles of faith and freedom on which she was founded. With her fathers and her martyrs in the Confession of Rochelle, and with all the Churches of the Reformation in their respective creeds, she proclaims the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures in matters of faith, and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification. She preserves and maintains, as the basis of her teaching, of her worship and her discipline, the grand Christian facts represented in her religious solemnities, and set forth in her liturgies, especially in the Confession of sins, the Apostles’ Creed, and in the order for the administration of the Lord’s Supper.”

The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563 by order of the Elector Palatine, Frederick III, was generally accepted by Calvinists throughout the world as a faithful and authoritative exposition of the faith of the Reformed Churches. It was written by two professors at the Heidelberg university, Zachary Bär (commonly known as Ursinus) and Caspar Olewig (Olevianus). It was drawn up with the twofold purpose of furnishing a manual of Christian doctrine and serving as a public profession of faith. In 129 questions and answers, it treats of man’s sin and misery (3-11), the redemption by Christ (12-85), and the gratitude of the redeemed (86-129). The second part is the largest, as it gives an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed and the sacraments. The third part deals with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. The general tone of the document is moderate, with the exception of the truculent 80th question, for which the professors are not responsible for it did not appear in the first edition, and was later inserted by the fanatical Elector. Since it has been in no small measure the source of Protestant anti-Catholic intolerance, it is worth while to lay it before the reader:

“What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the Popish Mass? The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have full forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross and that by the Holy Ghost we are engrafted into Christ, who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and is to be there worshipped. But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead have not forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is still daily offered for them by the priests and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. And thus the Mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and passion of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.”

Dr. Schaff doubts the “wisdom of inserting controversial matter into a catechism” but strangely enough pronounces, that “it must be allowed to remain as a solemn protest against idolatry” (Creeds of Christendom, I, 536). If the central dogma of the Catholic worship is really idolatrous, what is the harm in proclaiming it as such in a Confession of Faith? The Heidelberg Catechism was translated info all the languages of Europe, and into several extra-European tongues. It obtained great authority in Scotland and England but during the following century it was supplanted by the Westminster Confession. It was introduced into America by the Dutch and German Reformed churches, and is said to be now more highly prized by the American Reformed Churches than by the Germans in the Fatherland.

The Confessio Belgica is venerated as of symbolic authority, together with the Heidelberg Catechism, by the Reformed Churches in Belgium, Holland and their offshoots throughout the world. This document, consisting of thirty-seven articles, was written in French about 1561, by Guy de Bray, assisted by other preachers. The intentions of the authors, we are told by one of themselves, was not to issue a new creed, but to prove the truth of their belief from the canonical writings. They follow closely the Confessio Gallicana, seeking to support their theses by texts of Scripture. Translations were made into Dutch and Latin, and the document was submitted to Calvin and many other Reformed divines. In 1562 a copy was transmitted to Philip II with a letter protesting the innocence of the innovators from crime and rebellion. In the opinion of Calvinists, the wrecking of churches and maltreatment of priests and nuns were not crimes but imperative duties. Art. 36 admonishes magistrates of their obligation “to remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship that the kingdom of anti-Christ (i.e. popery) may be destroyed.” The Confessio Belgica was revised and adopted by the successive synods in the Netherlands, until finally the Synod of Dort, in its 149th session (April 29, 1619), subscribed to it as the public creed of the Reformed Churches. The Synod of Dort, the most representative gathering of the Calvinists, was convened by the authority and at the expense of the States-General. It opened its sessions at Dort, or Dordrecht, November 13, 1618, and concluded its labors after 144 sessions, May 9, 1619. In addition to the Dutch and Belgians, there were delegates from Great Britain, the Palatinate, Hesse, and Switzerland. The delegates chosen by the French Huguenots were forbidden by the crown to leave France. The occasion of this international gathering was the defection from pure Calvinism of the Remonstrants (see Arminianism). Since the members of the synod were orthodox on the subject of predestination absolute, the condemnation of the Remonstrants was a foregone conclusion. The canons were framed in the most unbending form, and 200 ministers who refused to subscribe were deposed. Although the foreign delegates attached their names to the canons of Dort, yet, outside of the Netherlands, these were never regarded as authoritative. In England, especially, there was fierce opposition, and from rival pulpits the pros and cons of God‘s (or Calvin’s) eternal decree were thundered into the ears of the bewildered people.

The numerous Minor Reformed Confessions, such as the Marchica (Brandenburg), the Hungarian, the Bohemian, and the Polish, being of a local and for the most part of an ephemeral nature, need not detain us. For an account of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church the reader is referred to the article Anglicanism. When the American colonies achieved their independence, the Anglicans in America, until then subject to the Bishop of London, formed themselves into “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” and, after lengthy debates, in a General Convention held at Trenton, New Jersey, 8-September 12, 1801, adopted the Thirty-Nine Articles, omitting in Art. 8 the Athanasian Creed and making such other alterations as were demanded by the changed political conditions. They retained the offensive coda to Art. 31, in which “the sacrifices of Masses” (i.e. the public worship of the vast majority of Christens) are denounced as “blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits” but in later editions the milder statement is substituted, that Transubstantiation “hath given occasion to many superstitions”. Episcopalians, also, have not yet eliminated from their articles the calumny (Art. 22), that the “Romish” doctrine sanctions the “Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics“.

The Scottish Confession—By the year 1560, Protestantism in Scotland, through the aid of English gold and troops, had gained complete ascendency. Losing no time, the Protestant “Lords of the Congregation”, convened a revolutionary Parliament of the estates of the realm, at Edinburgh, August 1, whose first act was to repudiate the Catholic religion, and commission John Knox and other preachers to compile a new creed. Familiar with the Swiss Confessions, Knox performed his task in four days. The document, amended by the leaders, was submitted to Parliament and with very little discussion and a mere handful of dissentient votes, ratified by the estates, August 17 Though repudiated by Queen Mary, who was at the time in France, it was imposed upon the people as the religion of Scotland and the exercise of the ancient worship was forbidden under penalty of confiscation, exile, and death.

The “Confessio Scotica”, or “Confession of the Faith and Doctrine belevet and professit be the Protestantis of Scotland“, begins with a brief preface, in which the writers “take God to recorde in our consciences, that fra our heartis we abhorre all sectis of heresie and all teachers of erroneous doctrine.” They do not claim to be infallible. “Gif onie man shall note in this our Confessioun onie Artickle or sentence repugnand to God‘s halie word” they “do promise unto him satisfactioun fra the mouth of God, that is, fra his holy scriptures, or else reformation of that quhilk he sal prove to be amisse.” This hypothetical admission of fallibility, so remarkable in a Calvinistic document, was practically harmless for no one ever convinced John Knox that he was in error.

The Confession presents, in twenty-five articles, a summary of the Christian Faith as held by the Scottish Protestants. The articles follow broadly the lines of the Apostles’ Creed. They are written in a vigorous, original, and, for a document proceeding from the pen of Knox, in an extremely moderate style. The moderation was obviously due to the necessity of securing, if possible, for the sake of legality, the signature of the Catholic sovereign. Although the ground tone of the Confession is Calvinistic, yet the Calvinistic tenets are not set forward with prominence. It is only when treating of the “Kirk” and the Sacraments that the “Papistical Kirk” and the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Mass are denounced and misrepresented: “The notes, signes, and assured tokens whereby the immaculate Spouse of Christ Jesus is knawen fra the horrible harlot, the Kirk malignant, we affirme, are nouther Antiquitie, Title usurpit, lineal Descence, Place appointed, nor multitude of men approving ane error.” In addition to the usual Protestant notes of the true Church, viz. “the trew preaching of the Word of God” and “the right administration of the Sacraments“, the Confession assigns a third element peculiar to the Scottish Kirk, i.e. “Ecclesiastical discipline uprightlie ministered, as Goddis Worde prescribes, whereby vice is repressed, and vertew nurished”. The development of Presbyterianism was a lucid commentary on the new principle herein tentatively propounded. In Art. 24, “Of the Civile Magistrate”, the Confession proclaims openly the duty of suppressing the Catholic religion. “To Kings, Princes, Rulers and Magistrates, wee affirme that most chieflie and most principallie the conservation and purgation of the Religioun apperteinis so that not onlie they are appointed for Civill policie, bot also for maintenance of the trew Religioun, and for suppressing of Idolatrie and Superstioun whatsoever.”

After the forced abdication of Queen Mary in 1567, Parliament again proclaimed the Confession as the creed of “the only true and holy Kirk of Jesus Christ within this realm” and it remained the doctrinal standard of the Scots, until superseded by the Westminster Confession. In the estimation of the Presbyterian preachers, the Confession of Knox was sadly defective it had failed to denounce with sufficient vigor the Roman Antichrist. This omission was deemed particularly unfortunate about 1580, when the young King James VI had fallen under the spell of his French kinsman, Esme Stuart, upon whom the king had bestowed the earldom of Lennox, and who reigned supreme in his councils. It was probably at the suggestion of this able and unscrupulous politician, that James commissioned the preacher John Craig to draw up the most violent condemnation of Papistry that ever issued from a Calvinistic pen. It is known to historians as the King’s Confession, sometimes as the “Scotica Secunda”, later, when the religious conflicts in Scotland turned on the question of prelacy in general, as the “National Covenant”. After endorsing the Confession of Faith in 1560, it proceeds to “abhor and detest all contrary Religion and Doctrine but chiefly all kind of Papistry in general and particular heads”, among others, “the usurped tyranny of the Roman Antichrist upon the Scriptures of God, upon the Kirk, the civil magistrate, and consciences of men all his tyrannous laws made upon indifferent things, against our Christian liberty… his five bastard sacraments, with all his rites, ceremonies, and false doctrine added to the ministration of the true sacraments without the Word of God his cruel judgment against infants departing without the sacrament his absolute necessity of baptism his blasphemous opinion of transubstantiation his devilish mass his blasphemous priesthood his profane sacrifice for sins of the dead and the quick … his worldly monarchy and wicked hierarchy his three solemn vows his erroneous and bloody decrees made at Trent, with all the subscribers and approvers of that cruel and bloody band conjured against the Kirk of God.” This “Confession” was subscribed by James and his Court at Edinburgh, January 28, 1581 afterwards by the Presbyterian Assembly and by persons of all ranks. It remained for generations the strong spiritual pabulum which fortified the Scottish people against Papistry, until men began to think for themselves.

The Westminster Confession.—In the Reformed Churches of English speech, all the earlier standards were practically supplanted by the “Westminster Confession of Faith” and the “Longer” and “Shorter Catechisms”. These documents, together with a “Directory of Worship”, were the fruits of the long labors of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, convened in Westminster Abbey by authority of the Long Parliament at the opening of the Civil War. After the abolition of prelacy in September, 1642, the religious condition of England was completely chaotic. In order to stem the evil, Parliament by an ordinance dated June 12, 1642, “thought fit and necessary to call an Assembly of learned, godly and judicious divines, to consult and advise of such matters and things, touching the premises, as shall be proposed unto them by both or either of the Houses of Parliament, and to give their advice and counsel therein to both or either of the said Houses, when, and as often as they shall be thereunto required.” Lest any of these invited “divines” should be tempted to dispute the omnipotence of Parliament, they are admonished that “this ordinance, or anything therein contained shall not give unto the persons aforesaid, or any of them, nor shall they in this Assembly assume to exercise, any jurisdiction, power, or authority ecclesiastical whatsoever, or any other power, than is herein particularly expressed”. The ordinance provides that forty members shall constitute a quorum “that William Twisse, Doctor in Divinity shall sit in the chair.” Should he die, or be “letted, Parliament shall appoint’ his successor.” Furthermore, “in case any difference of opinion shall happen amongst the said persons so assembled, touching any of the matters that shall be proposed to them, as aforesaid, that they shall represent the same, together with the reasons thereof, to both or either the said Houses respectively, to the end such further directions may be given therein as shall be requisite in that behalf.” The ordinance mentions by name one hundred and twenty-one “divines” but, as if these were not sufficiently muzzled, it adds ten lords and twenty commoners as “lay assessors”. On June 22, King Charles, from Oxford, issued a decree condemning the proposed assembly, annulling beforehand all its proceedings, and prohibiting his subjects from taking any part in it. This had the consequence of keeping nearly all the Episcopalians away, thus placing the Puritans in supreme control. The assembly was formally opened in King Henry VII’s chapel in the historic abbey but since no matter for discussion was submitted to the divines by the Parliament, and they were inhibited from taking the initiative, an adjournment was taken until the following week, when, as its first task, the assembly was ordered to revise the Anglican “Thirty-nine Articles”, “for the purpose of simplifying, clearing, and vindicating the doctrines therein contained”. Ten weeks were devoted to this work the divines had remodeled the first fifteen, when they were ordered to lay aside the “Articles” and engage in matters of more pressing importance to the Parliament. The war with King Charles was proceeding with disastrous results to the Parliamentary party. Success seemed possible only through the aid of the Scots.

Now the Scots demanded, as an indispensable condition of alliance, “the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches”. In other words, they insisted upon the adoption by the English of Presbyterianism in its integrity, a system repugnant to the national instincts and traditions of Englishmen. But there was no alternative, except the collapse of the rebellion. A “Solemn League and Covenant”, framed by the Presbyterian preacher, Henderson, was sworn and subscribed by the Scottish and English Parliaments, by the General Assembly of Scotland, and by the Westminster divines, and afterwards by the lords and commons of both nations. To aid the inexperienced English divines in drawing up Presbyterian formularies, six Scottish commissioners, four preachers and two laymen, were sent to Westminster, with authority to take part in the discussions, but without votes. On October 12, 1643, the Assembly received an order from the Lords and Commons to forthwith confer and treat among themselves, of such a discipline and government as may be most agreeable to God‘s Holy Word, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, and nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland and other Reformed Churches“. Also, “touching and concerning the Directory of Worship, or Liturgy, hereafter to be in the Church“. This order was the signal for protracted and at times bitter disputes between the Presbyterian majority and the Scottish commissioners on the one side, who advocated the adoption of the full Presbyterian machinery of Church government, and on the other the Independents and the Erastians, the former of whom argued for the complete independence of each separate congregation (see Congregationalism) while the latter opposed any kind of jurisdiction independent of the civil power. Although the Independent members numbered scarcely a dozen, and the Erastians were fewer still, their influence was vastly in excess of their numerical strength for the Independents were in close touch with Cromwell’s army and the Erastians could count on the sympathies of an Erastian parliament. Into the details of this debate, we need not enter. While it was still raging, an order was sent down to the Assembly “to frame a Confession of Faith for the three kingdoms, according to the Solemn League and Covenant”. This task presented no extraordinary difficulties all the Puritan factions were) as regarded matters of doctrine, more or less strictly Calvinistic, and there was not one Arminian in the assembly. Moreover, the Westminster divines had copious material to work upon in the numerous Reformed symbols already in existence. The Confession occupied their attention from August 20, 1644, until September 25, 1646, when the first nineteen chapters were sent to the Commons, and a few days later a duplicate copy was presented to the House of Lords. The Lords gave their assent to “The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines”, so the title ran but the Commons refused to take definite action until they had the complete Confession before them. This took place on December 4, 1646. A limited number of copies was printed for the use of the Parliament and the assembly but the House of Commons, probably to gain time, demanded that each assertion should be supported by Scriptural texts. This was promptly done by the divines (April 29, 1647) whereupon the Commons ordered 600 copies, “and no more”, to be printed. This edition was received as authoritative by the Scottish Church and Parliament, and was regarded by Presbyterians generally as their authentic Confession of Faith. But in the eyes of the Erastian Parliament of England, it was simply “The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines”, convoked by its authority, and valueless without its sanction. After intermittent discussions, which extended above a year, the Parliament, June 20, 1648, ordered an expurgated edition to be printed by its authority, in which every reference to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church is carefully eliminated.

As to its contents, the Westminster Confession of Faith, is the most elaborate, as it is the latest of the Reformed creeds. In thirty-two chapters, divided into sections, it labors to give a full and logical exposition of Christian doctrine as understood by the Reformed Churches. Chap. i, “Of the Holy Scripture” gives a list of the inspired books, including the deutero-canonical books of the New Testament and rejecting the “Apocrypha” of the Old. “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the authority of any man or church, but wholly upon God“. “The Supreme Judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in Whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture.” Chap. ii repeats the ancient doctrine “Of God and of the Holy Trinity“. Chap. iii, “Of God‘s Eternal Decree“, teaches that “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass”. The divines strive to ward off the obvious objection to this fatalistic tenet by denying that it makes “God the author of sin”, or that violence is offered to the will of the creature. Yet, in the same breath, they insist, that “He hath not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future”, and that “by decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death”. The elect, who fell in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, effectually called and eventually saved but “neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of is own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.” The “Confession” judiciously warns the preachers that “the doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care”. In Chap. v, “Of Providence”, we find the unintelligible utterance, evidently having in view the Supralapsarians, that God‘s providence “extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding”. Chap. x, “Of Effectual Calling”, teaches that “all those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only” are effectually called and saved. “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.” Chapter xxi, “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day”, differs from the Continental creeds by adding the injunction that the Sabbath is to be kept holy by observing “a holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations”, and that a man be “taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy”. Chap. xxii, “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows“, gives the divines an opportunity for denouncing “popish monastical vows” as “superstitious and sinful snares”. Chap. xxiii, “Of the Civil Magistrate” (one of the chapters expunged by the Parliament), states that “the civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and the Sacraments or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven yet he hath authority, and it is his duty to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed”. In the American revision, this is made to read that “as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest” etc. In Chap. xxiv, “Of Marriage and Divorce“, “such as profess the true reformed religion” are admonished that they “should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolators”. Divorce is permitted on grounds of “adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate”. Chap. xxv, “Of the Church“, speaks in no complimentary terms of the “Pope of Rome“, who is denounced as “that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God“. The doctrine of the Sacraments differs in nothing from the earlier Calvinistic creeds. Chap. xxix, “Of the Lord’s Supper”, proclaims that “the Popish Sacrifice of the mass”, as they call it, “is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice”, whilst the doctrine of transubstantiation “is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason overthrowing the nature of the sacrament and hath been and is the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries”. These are the main features of the “Westminster Confession of Faith” which are of interest to a Catholic. For many generations, the “Westminster Standards”, viz., the Confession and the Catechisms, leavened the religious thought and controlled the conduct of the Presbyterians of Scotland, Ulster, and America. They were also accepted, with modifications of various sorts, Congregationalists, the Regular Baptists, and other newer sects.

4 Protestant Reformation & America

We need to understand some basics of Christian history to understand colonial, Revolutionary, and 19th century America. We won’t delve far into theology or matters of faith, but some basic church history will help explain the Protestant Reformation: a major schism within Christianity that changed history in ways so embedded in the Western world that they’re easy to overlook or take for granted. For one, in a classic case where history “makes for strange bedfellows,” the Reformation’s challenge to Catholic doctrine reinforced the Scientific Revolution. Also, the Reformation sparked Western notions of representative government and equality and provided ideological justification for modern banking and capitalism. In short, it’s impossible to unravel America’s Revolution, culture, or economy without taking Protestant doctrine into account. If these fundamentals aren’t enough to warrant investigation, there is religion itself. The Reformation gave rise to all forms of Protestant Christianity outside the established Church — or what we now call the Roman Catholic Church — including Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Reformed, all forms of evangelical fundamentalism, and Mormonism. Here we’ll trace some early Christian history forward through the Reformation and connect the dots from Europe through England to American history.

Early Christianity
Christianity grew out of the Jewish religion that emerged in the Near East during ancient times. From that Judaic trunk sprouted Christianity in the 1st century CE and Islam in the 7th century CE. Together, these “desert faiths” are sometimes called the Abrahamic Religions since they all trace to the Biblical patriarch Abraham (Muslims also believe that Adam, Noah, David, Solomon, Moses, and Jesus were prophets). There have been major splits within both the Islamic and Christian branches. Monophysite Christianity, prominent in Africa and the Middle East (e.g. the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), branched off in the 5th century, stressing that Jesus was purely divine rather than a combination of human and divine. A second major fork-in-the-road for Christianity was between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century, resulting in the former being based in Constantinople with no Pope or celibacy requirements for priests and the latter based at the Vatican (Holy See) in Rome, Italy. That Great Schism also resulted from disagreements over the Holy Trinity, the type of bread appropriate for communion, and the Roman Bishop claiming superiority over bishops of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Then there was a major split within the Western church in the early 16th century when Protestant denominations broke away from Catholicism during the Reformation.

It’s helpful to know something about early Christianity to see why later Protestant reformers like Martin Luther came to distrust the institutional (Catholic) church’s authority. Early Christians started out as a small sect on the outskirts of the Roman Empire along the eastern Mediterranean, in Judea. As historians learned in the 19th and 20th centuries, they varied widely in their interpretations before there was an agreed-upon Biblical canon. In the 1st century CE, apostles led by Paul spread their gospel to (non-Jewish) Gentiles, especially in Asia Minor (now Turkey) and Greece. Gradually, these followers of Christ came to be called Christians. Paul took advantage of the Romans’ vast road system (e.g. Via Egnatia), designed to move soldiers and trade, to spread the faith. Also, Romans relocated slaves captured in the unsuccessful Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE) throughout the empire, inadvertently spreading Christianity along with them. The sheer size of the empire helped disseminate the religion as early “proto-orthodox” theologians from Lyon (France), Carthage (Tunisia), and Smyrna (Turkey) worked out its accepted interpretations and set up hierarchies of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Interestingly enough, the very early Christian Church predated the New Testament.

Painting of Ignatius of Antioch from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD), WikiCommons

Romans persecuted these early Christians for not worshiping state-sanctioned gods, most dramatically throwing some to the lions along with other criminals for spectators’ amusement. According to the historian Tacitus, after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, Emperor Nero scapegoated Christians and they executed Paul, apostle Peter, and others. They steamed to death or beheaded some martyrs and, at first, Christians built their churches to look like houses to stay undercover. Others saw Christians as cannibals for ceremonially “eating Christ” in their communions (Eucharist), incestuous for calling each other “brother” and “sister,” or just strange for providing healthcare to the poor. In 250 CE, Christians selflessly aided plague victims. Persecution helped bind Christians together, just as it had for Jews and would later for Mormons in 19th-century America.

Byzantine Mosaic of St. John Chrysostom, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Over time, Christians found common ground with Romans. In keeping with Roman society, many Gentile Christians remained anti-Semitic, overlooking that Jesus himself and his disciples were Jewish, at least according to the Synoptic Gospels, the first three accounts of Jesus in the New Testament (divergence). The fourth gospel author, John, and early church fathers like Marcion of Sinope, Barnabas, St. Augustine (of Hippo), St. Athanasius (of Alexandria), and St. John Chrysostom distanced the religion from Judaism, focusing instead on most Jews not accepting Christ as their Messiah and Jewish priests acquiescing in Christ’s arrest and crucifixion. Many Jews interpreted prophecy as foretelling a warrior king messiah that would vanquish foreign rulers from Judea rather than a martyr who was killed by Romans. If John (the gospel writer) was right that Christ was divine, then obstinate Jews, by misinterpreting their own sacred writings, had even “killed God.” In the words of Biblical historian Bart Ehrman, “One of the real ironies of the early Christian tradition, [is] that the original form of the religion [was] cast out and denounced…The profoundly Jewish religion of Jesus and his followers became the viciously anti-Jewish religion of later times, leading to the horrific persecutions of the Middle Ages and the pogroms and attempted genocides that have plagued the world down to recent times.” One of the exceptional things about colonial America, as we’ll see toward the end of this chapter, is that it took the first baby steps in the Western world toward overcoming the centuries of ugliness engendered by these theological disputes.

Mosaic of Christ as Sol or Apollo-Helios in Mausoleum M in Pre-4th-Century Necropolis Beneath St. Peter’s, Vatican (Rome)

Early Christians had other things in common with their fellow Romans. As they gradually came out of hiding, early churches adopted the nave–apse-rectangular basilica style of Roman courts. The style of early Christian hymns drew on Roman street music. Just as Romans celebrated December 25th as the birth of their Sun God, Sol Invictus (later Mithras), Christians adopted that date as Christ’s birthday, though Pope Benedict XVI argued that was a coincidence. While historians reject the coincidental theory, some see the Christmas date as a challenge to Roman religion while others see the overlap as an effective way for Christians to recruit pagans to their faith. Some art historians interpret the mosaic on the left from the pre-4th-century necropolis beneath St. Peter’s in the Vatican as a hybrid of Christ and either Sol or Apollo Helios, the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology. Like later Christians, Romans also used trees to celebrate their weeklong December Saturnalia holiday. Likewise, Easter celebrations morphed out of earlier traditions, though, in that case, unlike Christ’s birth, the New Testament clarified the chronology of the Resurrection.

The takeaway is that future Protestants saw this blending with other religions as compromising even if, at the time, it was probably necessary for Christianity’s survival as it assimilated into mainstream Roman life. Early Christianity may not have survived, in other words, if it hadn’t adapted by soaking up some aspects of existing mythologies, even as it maintained its essential messages. Eventually, Christianity grew popular enough that Emperor Constantine legalized the prevailing Roman version of it after his conversion in 312 CE. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, codified the 27 books in today’s New Testament in 367 CE and Emperor Theodosius I declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE.

John Wycliffe, by Thomas Kirby (1775-1848), Oxford University

Protestant Reformation
As the Roman Empire fell into political and military decline over the next few centuries, its main institutional remnant was the Christian church. Medieval Christianity split into two seats of power: Rome (west) and Constantinople (east). Fast-forwarding five-hundred years and through numerous smaller schisms, the Western church grew politically powerful and prone to the same imperfections as a secular government. The Church expanded its temporal powers under Pope Gregory I (590-604 CE). The Pope was sometimes called the “pope-king” and much of what’s now Italy was divided into the Papal States while uniting, or attempting to unite, much of central Europe was a Holy Roman Empire that critics derided as neither holy, Roman nor an empire (pink, left).

Some theologians challenged the canon, or which gospels had been included or left out of the New Testament (that varied regionally), but even more protested against the Church itself and its controversial policies. Included among their complaints were ongoing instances of child abuse and extramarital affairs caused (presumably) by its priestly celibacy requirement, church-sponsored brothels, corruption of the papal throne by wealthy and influential non-theologians, conducting of masses in Latin, and selling of indulgences to grieving relatives for the Church to liberate lost souls from Purgatory, a purported stage of afterlife between Heaven and Hell. Indulgences started as awards given to soldiers during the Crusades but the Church started selling them to parishioners. While Catholic rituals provided great comfort to many, Latin was a “dead language” unspoken in most parts of Europe, making it impossible for most parishioners to understand what was said during mass (American Catholic masses switched to English after Vatican II, 1962-65). The Church was also harsh in stamping out Europe’s traditional folk religions that it defined as pagan, or different interpretations of Christianity that it defined as heretical. Many peasants resented the relative comfort of monasteries, where monks stayed warm in the Winter and had plenty to eat and drink though, to their credit, they labored at farming, construction, and transcribing. Protests by early heretics like the Waldensians, John Wycliffe (1330-1384) of England, and Jan Hus (1369-1415) of Bohemia met with harsh repression. Wycliffe (right) led a movement to translate the Bible from Latin into English in the late 14th century.

Wycliff Giving ‘The Poor Priests’ His Translation of the Bible, By William Frederick Yeames, 1835-1918

In 1517, one protester — root of the term Protestant — expanded on Wycliffe and Hus’ earlier complaints but with more lasting success. Catholic Augustinian monk Martin Luther escaped his predecessors’ fate and had a bigger impact due to a fortunate combination of circumstances that had less to do with theology than with politics, war, and technology. According to a story that first appeared a century or so after Luther’s death, he boldly nailed Ninety-five Theses (complaints) onto the door of his home cathedral in Wittenberg, in what’s now Germany. The legend likely stemmed from stories about Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, who had nailed their complaints to the door of England’s Westminster Hall in 1395. Luther actually submitted his theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Branden, who forwarded them to Rome and accused Luther of heresy. Luther condemned a recent sale of indulgences and most of his early controversy surrounded indulgences, the proceeds from which lined monk’s pockets with the rest toward construction of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Per protocol, he submitted his theses to call for a debate, or “disputation.” The monk selling the indulgences that set off Luther had a sales pitch translating to: “ As soon as the coin in the coffee [cup] rings, so the soul from purgatory springs. ” Luther won widespread popularity by postulating about wine-drinking Italians in the luxurious Vatican laughing at the stupidity of duped tax-paying Germans. Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, aka the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, didn’t question Catholic authority in any fundamental way, though. His more revolutionary ideas weren’t sparked until the Church pushed back on his complaints about indulgences. If Albert of Branden was trying to defend Catholic orthodoxy, he shouldn’t have picked a fight with Luther.

Luther wasn’t initially envisioning a new church, just debate and reform within Catholicism. His writings were in Latin, the language of the Church. At first, not much came of his protest. No one accepted the challenge to debate and he had nearly forgotten about it until he learned that local printers had copied and distributed the Disputation on the Power of Indulgences. Printing, as we’ll expand on more below, was one critical difference between Luther and proto-Protestants like the Waldensians, Wycliffe, and Hus. In the ensuing controversy, the plucky monk doubled down during interrogations and expanded his critique beyond indulgences to challenge Church authority altogether, perhaps even surprising himself when the words came out of his mouth. Luther wanted to wash away the Catholic bureaucracy, including the Pope, whom he denied was divinely ordained, and the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy of cardinals, bishops, etc. beneath him. The monk’s idea was a religious version of what economists later called disintermediation, or “cutting out the middleman.” Despite being an ordained Catholic priest, monk, and theology professor, the institutionalized Church was, for Luther, an unnecessary intermediary between people and their faith. Based on his reading of St. Paul’s words in Romans 3:28, faith alone justified salvation, even without a church. This salvation-by-faith-not-deeds doctrine was known in Latin as sola fide. His notion of faith had less to do with belief than with trust in God’s grace. At this point, Luther and his followers were far beyond the initial too-many-coins-in-the-coffee cup (indulgences) critique.

You’ll note this was called the Reformation, not the Formation. Protestants hoped to return the Church to an earlier, purer state – the way they imagined it to have been before its assimilation into the Roman Empire. Luther’s initial protest symbolically came on All Saint’s Day, also known as All Hallow’s Eve (10.31), the sort of neo-pagan holiday he abhorred. Luther wanted the early Roman corruptions like Christmas celebrations washed clean, though a story developed later (perhaps as a way to reconcile traditions) that Luther put the first candles on winter evergreens to commemorate Christ’s birth. German Protestants viewed the Christmas Tree as a less anthropomorphic representation of Christ or the Three Wise Men and less profane than the mistletoes pagans used in mid-winter fertility rituals. Legend credited Luther with popularizing the medieval German “paradise tree” after a 1536 vision walking in the woods and German colonists brought the yule tree to Pennslyvania. Sélestat, along the French-German border, claims the first recorded Christmas tree earlier, in 1521. Nonetheless, many early Protestants, including Puritans in America, banned Christmastide or portions thereof. Colonial New Englanders outlawed Christmas between 1659 and 1681 and English Puritans did so in the mid-17th century when they controlled the country.

Banning Christmas was just a start, though, especially once Luther’s ideas spread to others, like his friend Andreas Karlstadt. If the Ten Commandments forbade graven images of God, then Karlstadt argued that statues, paintings, relics, and stained glass should be removed from churches as well. While reformers unfortunately destroyed and vandalized much traditional art, the Reformation nonetheless freed art from its strictly religious domain, giving rise to still lifes, landscapes, and depictions of everyday life. Novels about everyday life also rose in popularity.

Protestant services were conducted in local languages, or vernaculars, rather than Latin, so that people could understand what was being said. They streamlined the Seven Catholic Sacraments to three: Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance. A key hallmark of Protestantism was sermons, of which Luther wrote and published many. In the spirit of participation rather than being administered to, Protestant congregations sang their own hymns. Luther himself wrote hymns, most famously “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” as did Lutheran J.S. Bach a century later. Most importantly, Protestants believed that the Bible should be in the hands of the congregation, translated into their respective vernaculars. Luther was a Bible professor who promoted sola scriptura: vesting authority in Scripture and Scripture alone, not the Church, with verses used as talking points for sermons, Sunday School, etc. This Scriptural emphasis was incidentally revolutionary in another way because it required literacy and future Protestants led the movement for compulsory public education. The back-to-basics focus on participation, simplicity, equality, and Scripture created what early Protestants called the Priesthood of All Believers. Though they left room for ministers to sermonize and administer baptism and communion, everyone in the congregation was a “priest” in his or her own right. You can see the democratic implications of the Reformation, that we’ll connect below to American politics.

Luther in Worms, Woodcut, Artist Unknown, c. 1577

These ideas obviously didn’t sit well with the Catholic Church. When Pope Leo X (born Giovanni Lorenzo de’ Medici) issued a bull correcting Luther’s views, Luther excommunicated himself before the Church could excommunicate him. He burned the papal bull and renounced his allegiance to the Church at the Diet of Worms in 1521. In response to Luther calling the Pope the Antichrist, Leo X called Luther a “roaring sow.” Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain condemned Luther and convicted him of treason but allowed him to escape. The Pope and Charles V, who organized and attended the trial at Worms, might have seen fit to follow through and deal with Luther the way the Church had earlier heretics — over the open flame or on the rack — were it not for the threat of Muslim invasion in central Europe. This geopolitical context helps explain Luther’s survival and success.

As we saw in Chapter 2, Islam made inroads into Byzantium , southeastern Europe, and Iberia, including the takeover of Constantinople , seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, renaming it Istanbul in 1453. Other Europeans wanted to avoid this fate and even launched several preemptive Crusades in the Middle Ages to destroy Islam in the contested Holy Land . Now, with Ottoman (Muslim, Turkish) armies threatening central Europe from the east (red arrows below) and French armies from the west, German princes (or electors) took a sudden liking to Luther’s criticism of Catholic authority. Some may have had genuine theological motives, but power can be a zero-sum game and leaders like Frederick III of Saxony (aka Frederick the Wise) stood to gain money and property at the Church’s expense by extracting a price for their military protection — the Holy Roman Empire’s military really being just a sum of its many parts. As of 1517, the Catholic Church owned

50% of all land in Europe. In short, the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire needed the princes’ cooperation in fending off the Ottomans and French and keeping that land and the princes were exacting a price by using Protestantism as a pretext to wrest power from the Church. Frederick was one of the electors within the loose conglomeration of kingdoms in present-day Germany under the Holy Roman Empire (below). The Pope didn’t want to alienate Frederick any more than he had to and that meant going easier on Luther. This context provided Luther political shelter that John Wycliffe and Jan Hus never had.

Ottoman Siege of Vienna, 1529

Frederick’s men kidnapped Luther and provided sanctuary (technically house arrest) at the Wartburg castle in what’s now eastern Germany. Luther grew a beard and went by the alias “George.” With his only allegiance to Scripture, Luther was now what theologians started calling a Lutheran (later a Protestant denomination) instead of what we’d now call a Catholic. After release from house arrest, Luther condemned priestly celibacy and married a nun. Six children later and enjoying his newfound domesticity — and ignoring the key historical role of monks in keeping Scripture intact for centuries — Luther wrote that “household chores are more to be valued than all the works of monks and nuns.” The Reformation shaped modern Christianity’s emphasis on the nuclear family.

Over the next decade, regional princes formed an alliance around Luther, especially after the Protestant Augsburg Confession of 1530 that Lutherans drafted just as Charles V was looking to unite Germans and fend off invasions from the east and west. There were even some Protestants that would’ve preferred Muslim over Catholic rule because, at the time, Islamic empires offered more religious freedom. Charles V was juggling a lot of balls, in theory ruling over huge swaths of America (New Spain) and the Netherlands and trying to defend central Europe from an external threat while tamping down a religious civil war within the empire. Another concern was a brewing divorce between the English King Henry VIII and Charles V’s aunt, Catherine of Aragon (more below). He condemned the Augsburg Confession but initially didn’t wage war against Protestants.

Meanwhile, the German princes and nobles also had to fend off their own revolutions from below that Luther’s combustible ideas inadvertently sparked. Though Luther discouraged challenging political authority, he’d brought attention to Acts 5:29, which argued to obey God, not men. Religious and political authority were so intertwined in late medieval Europe that it was impossible to challenge one without the other. In 1524-25, German Protestant Thomas Münzter led a failed Peasant’s War that ended in his decapitation and the death of 50-60k peasants but foreshadowed future class struggle. The image below depicts the fate of Lutheran rebel Little Jack Rohrbach.

The Burning of Little Jack (Jacklein) Rohrbach, Leader of the Peasants, in Neckargartach, Originally from Peter Harrer, Beschreibung des Bauernkriegs, 1551

The religious side of the Reformation fared better because Luther also had technology that earlier heretics like Wycliffe and Hus lacked: the printing press. His revolution coincided with the technological revolution in print and paper that we discussed in Chapter 2. Philosopher and Catholic theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam (Netherlands) published updated versions of the New Testament in Greek and Latin, sparking Scriptural debate and inadvertently setting the stage for the Reformation. Luther’s works wouldn’t have caught on if his followers were hand-copying onto animal parchment manuscripts. His original Disputation on the Power of Indulgences was copied and translated into German and he personally transcribed the New Testament from Latin into German “for the ploughboy” in 1522 and shuttled it to the presses. He finished the Old Testament in 1534. In the Reformation’s first decade, the Disputation, sermons, illustrated catechisms in poster form, and pamphlets were even more influential than the Bible itself, with roughly a third of the six million documents sold in Germany penned by Luther. He wrote three other books in 1520, alone. Many Germans had portraits of Luther hanging in their homes next to the catechism sheets. His writing was earthy and humorous, even scatological, filled with colorful insults toward his “evil scum” detractors. There were also songs, paintings, and woodcuts, including crude images of she-devils, defecating popes and monks and the like — images with currency among regular folks who enjoyed his association of Catholics with the devil with human waste. Conversely, when Catholics countered the Protestant message it was usually in Latin, legible only to their own theologians and academics.

Continent-wide, other transcribers soon copied sermons and Bibles into French, Dutch, Czech, Scandinavian languages, etc., setting off a theological firestorm and turning the Bible into an early and perennial bestseller. While Wycliffe didn’t live to see it, his dream of seeing a widespread English Bible came to fruition. By then it wouldn’t have mattered much if the Church had dealt with Luther the way the nobility dealt with Little Jack Rohrbach the Bible had already “gone viral.”

Religious Conflict
Erasmus hoped for reform within Catholicism, but both sides ignored his call for moderation. The Catholic Church neither took Luther’s challenge lightly nor agreed to shore up its act and make fundamental changes — at least not in the short-term. At first, they retrenched, clarified their positions, and condemned Protestant heresy in a series of Councils in Trento, Italy. Thus began the Counter-Reformation and a 150-year period of sporadic, violent factionalism known collectively as the European Wars of Religion (1524-1628). The Religious Wars started with book burnings and insults but degenerated into mass murders and rapes and the burning of villages. Charles V eventually led his army into Protestant areas, including Wittenberg where he destroyed Luther’s farm. This was not an era of live and let live in the spirit of modern religious freedom or tolerance. Tolerance, in general, was thought of as a weakness until modern times. Most agreed that life’s hardships – epidemics, famines, earthquakes, fires, etc. – resulted from God’s anger at the way the community as a whole, the body politic, worshiped or didn’t. Consequently, Protestants and Catholics felt compelled to slaughter each other in order to save Europe. Without understanding this background, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the religious freedom pioneered by future Americans like Roger Williams, William Penn, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington or, for that matter, why so many Americans resisted their efforts.

The Roman Inquisition (Catholic tribunal) also stepped up its attack on Jews and, following Rome’s lead, most European cities segregated Jewish ghettos. Within Italy, the Inquisition actually went pretty light on Lutherans and other heretics as long as they recanted their views and agreed to a proper education. For his part, Martin Luther missed an opportunity to expunge anti-Semitism from the Protestant fork of Christianity. At first, he advised kindness and toleration in That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (1523). But Luther grew frustrated at his inability to convert Jews. In On the Jews and Their Lies (1543) he wrote that their synagogues and prayer books should be destroyed, their homes smashed, their property and money confiscated, and that the “envenomed worms” should be forced into labor camps or expelled “for all time.” History’s most important Protestant theologian even wrote of Jews, “We are at fault in not slaying them.” He also wanted to execute Catholics, witches, and rival Protestants like followers of Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland, who denied that communion bread was actually Christ’s transformed flesh. We should be careful not to draw too deterministic a line from “Luther to Hitler” (see Rear Defogger 26-9 in menu above) Luther didn’t exist to lay a foundation for Nazism. However, it’s true that they exploited his writings. Four centuries after Luther’s book, Nazis opportunistically displayed and read from it at their Nuremberg Rallies. Yet, around that same time, one American visiting Germany saw inspiration in Luther instead of hate, attracted to his peaceful revolt against authority. Michael King changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. and his son’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Around 10-20% of the European population was killed in the Religious Wars, mainly in the course of nine conflicts that culminated in the Thirty Years’ War. The fighting was worse in France than Germany, partly because in France the wars were enmeshed in political disputes among the nobility, while Germany fragmented into tiny kingdoms within the Holy Roman Empire in which local princes decreed religious faith and, after the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, those that disagreed could easily move to a neighboring kingdom. The many other reasons humans fight, including power, resources-land, money, and generic cruelty, sadism, revenge, and vindictiveness were, in turn, swept up in the hysteria and framed or rationalized under the religious rubric. In other words, Europe obviously wouldn’t have experienced 150 years of uninterrupted peace and tranquility if the Reformation hadn’t happened. Yet this was the prevailing framework of conflict, just as capitalism and communism were during the Cold War of the 20th century. By comparison to the Religious Wars’ 10-20% of Europeans, World War II killed roughly 3% of the world’s population in the 1930s and 󈧬s, though its 60-70 million dead constituted a higher total and it only lasted eight years.

Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre (The Great Miseries of War, aka The Hanging), Jacque Callot, ca. 1633

The violence was spotty and sporadic. Italy, whose kingdoms surrounded the nearby Vatican, remained Catholic. Christians closed ranks around Catholicism in Spain, as well, because their energies had been exhausted fighting Muslims and co-existing with Jews in previous centuries. The Spanish Inquisition eventually cracked down on Protestants but only after their emperor Charles V initially legalized Lutheranism, seeing it understandably enough as an inter-Catholic dispute since Luther was Catholic. Germany and northern Europe were more evenly split with Scandinavia leaning toward Protestantism. In the Thirty Year’s War Sack of Magdeburg (Germany), a Catholic League army killed

20k Protestants in a single day. France was mostly Catholic but had enough Protestants to warrant an entire subset of massacres and edicts called the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) severe enough to disrupt France’s colonial American agenda (Chapter 3). In his essay “Of Cannibals,” Michel de Montaigne wrote of rival Christians who “hack at another man’s limbs and lop them off, and would cudgel their brains to invent unusual tortures and new forms of murder.” In one notorious event foreshadowing the Rwandan genocide of 1994 among others, French Catholics simultaneously murdered Huguenots (Protestants) en masse on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, mostly in Paris but also subsequent massacres in a dozen other cities. France nonetheless ended up with a Protestant King, Henry IV, who survived twelve assassination attempts before finally being killed by a Catholic fanatic.

Catherine de Medici Gazing at Protestants Massacred in the Aftermath of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, Edouard Debat-Ponsan (1880)

Portrait of John Calvin, Titian, 16th c.

Calvinists, Jesuits & Puritans
Luther’s most devout French follower, John Calvin, agreed with Luther’s doctrine of sola fide, or salvation by faith alone not “works” (good deeds). Calvin established a community of rigorous Protestants across the French border in Geneva, Switzerland who ruled themselves politically in their own republic and believed in sanctification and predestination: that an elect of God was chosen before birth to be saved. Some of his Huguenots fled to America to escape Catholic persecution, though in smaller numbers than their English counterparts would a couple of generations later. However, the Religious Wars accelerated all European missionary work because both Protestants and Catholics thought it important to beat the other to the punch in converting heathens in Africa, Asia, and America. For many American Indians of the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Canada, the first Europeans they encountered were Jesuit Black Robes — missionary followers of Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus in Spain in 1534 as an arm of the Counter-Reformation. Missionaries from other Catholic orders such as Dominicans and Franciscans went to Northern New Spain, or what’s now the American Southwest (Chapter 3). Partly since Loyola was a knight before becoming a priest but mostly because of their role abroad as missionaries, Jesuits were called “foot soldiers of the Pope.”

In England and Scotland, a Protestant group called Puritans who hoped to purify the Church spread Calvinist doctrine. Some of these Puritans migrated to America, where they set up replicas of Geneva such as Boston, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Calvin also influenced Protestants to loosen up restrictions on credit and lending at interest, helping to establish the capitalist system that fueled exploratory joint-stock companies like the Massachusetts Bay Company and Virginia Company of London (Chapter 2). While Calvinists believed in predestination, the elect had to constantly prove themselves worthy of God’s grace and that translated into hard work that, in turn, translated into money. Wealth was seen as evidence of God’s grace (today’s version of the idea is Prosperity Theology). In the interest of breaking down the old Catholic dichotomy of profane and sacred — the outer world versus the church or monastery — Calvin and Luther preached that professions outside the Church could be just as Godly as those within. Keeping track of one’s hard work on the job or around the house involved cataloging it, and the Reformation thus gave rise to the diary and autobiography.

English Reformation
The Reformation and Wars of Religion in England had implications for America. There, Tudor Dynasty soap operas, rather than actual theology, triggered the unraveling of Catholic authority at first. Then genuine theological disputes kicked in among subsequent generations of rulers and their subjects, leading to over a century of turmoil. You don’t need to learn the gory details, but we’re going to run through some of them anyway to give you an idea of what transpired. That will help you understand why colonial Americans later avoided hereditary rule and separated church and state.

Pope Clement VII, Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531

The Tudor dynasty’s first monarch, King Henry VII, wanted to consolidate power with Spain through inter-marriage because of the power and wealth that the Castilians acquired colonizing America (Chapter 3). He arranged for his son Arthur to marry Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter, Catherine of Aragon. However, Arthur died of tuberculosis four months after the wedding and, through a special dispensation from the Pope, Catherine then married Arthur’s brother, Henry VIII. The two had a long marriage and one daughter, Mary, but weren’t able to produce a male heir (they lost one male infant, Henry). Despondent, Henry fell in love with a conniving courtier named Anne Boleyn after having an affair with her sister, Mary (he’d had at least one earlier affair and a male son, Henry Fitzroy, before he met the Boleyn sisters). Desiring to marry Anne Boleyn and divorce Catherine, Henry’s only recourse given the laws of the time was to seek permission for an annulment from the Pope. But Pope Clement VII denied the request because marriage was for life and he didn’t want to alienate the emerging Spanish monarchy at a time when the Church was desperately hanging onto whatever power it had left over the rulers of Europe. Pope Clement christened Spanish king Charles V Holy Roman Emperor in 1530 after Charles invaded Italy and, as mentioned, Catherine of Aragon was Charles’ aunt. Outraged, Henry thought the Pope owed him a favor for having burned several English Lutherans at the stake in the 1520s. After accusing Catherine of having consummated her brief marriage with his brother Arthur — which would have invalidated his own — Henry took matters into his own hands and severed England’s ties with the Catholic Church.

The Family of Henry VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor Succession (Anachronistic, Mixing 1540s-50’s), Lucas de Heere

With the blessings of Canterbury Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (himself secretly married) and lawyer Thomas Cromwell, King Henry declared himself Pope of a new church in 1534 known as the Church of England or Anglican Church. By virtue of his Act of Supremacy, Henry’s first act was to grant himself a divorce. The Reformation had helped turn marriage into more of a civic than religious practice and the Vatican’s unwillingness to sanction Henry’s divorce led to the English Reformation. Henry had his Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More beheaded for opposing the break with Rome and his troops plundered the country’s Catholic monasteries, selling off the proceeds to the nobility that stood to gain from the Reformation in the same way German princes had. Henry’s crown collected the same taxes collected by the Catholic Church prior to 1534, known as first fruits and tenths.

Henry’s subsequent marital life is the stuff of legend. The increasingly gluttonous sociopath went through six wives total, beheading two of them, all the while failing to produce a healthy male heir to assume power upon his death (likely caused by his own undiagnosed medical complications). The final count read: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” His one son, Edward VI (with his third wife Jane Seymour), ruled from age nine until his death at 15, at which point Henry and Catherine’s daughter Mary ascended to the throne even though the dying young Protestant Edward had directed otherwise.

By then, the problems with England’s Anglican Church were apparent. Nearly everyone on either side of the Catholic-Protestant divide was unhappy with the ambiguity of the new church, and both groups ended up feeling the brunt of persecution at one point or another as Henry’s children vacillated back and forth along the theological spectrum. The respective zealotries of Protestant Edward VI and Catholic Mary could squelch debate by force in the short run, but only fueled free thinking about religion in the long run. Catholics resented the break with Rome, while Protestants viewed the “pseudo-Catholic” Anglican Church as reformed in name only. The Anglican Church retained Catholic vestiges such as a leader (the king or queen) and bishops and the traditional rituals and liturgy — what Protestants derisively called the “smells and bells.” Old habits die hard. When protestors said that “only 80 miles separated the new church from Catholicism,” they meant that the short geographical distance from (Anglican) Dover, England to (Catholic) Calais, France matched the superficial differences between the Anglican and Catholic faiths. Anglicans didn’t take down paintings. They still celebrated Christmas. Mainly the seat of power had just shifted from the Vatican to London.

Reformed Protestants wanted to take the country further in their direction and the new queen, Mary I, dealt with them harshly enough to earn the sobriquet “Bloody Mary.” The name wasn’t entirely accurate since she burned 300 Protestants Inquisition-style rather than the traditional English manner of dragging (drawing), near hanging, castration, disembowelment, and quartering (being chopped into four pieces). Thomas Cranmer, who’d helped Henry break away from Rome, was among her victims. A graphic little page-turner called the Book of Martyrs (1563) chronicled Bloody Mary’s butchery, becoming the second-most-read book in heavily-Protestant colonial America after the Bible. Under Mary, England rejoined the Catholic Church and she cemented ties with Catholic Spain by marrying Philip II, Charles V’s son.

Queen Elizabeth I @ Coronation, 1559

After Mary died from cancer her step-sister Elizabeth (Henry and Anne Boleyn’s daughter) vied for the throne with her Scottish first cousin-once-removed Mary Stuart, aka Mary, Queen of Scots. Catholics in Britain and across Europe hoped that Mary Queen of Scots would win out and establish a dynasty through a marriage to either young Frances II of France or the Duke of Norfolk. A Papal Bull had excommunicated Elizabeth as a heretical bastard child after Henry beheaded her mother, Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth spent time imprisoned in the Tower of London. But Elizabeth got the upper hand after Frances’ death, imprisoned Mary Stuart for eighteen years, and eventually signed her death warrant after her spymaster William Cecil rightfully convinced her that Mary was conspiring to overthrow her. The following account reveals how Mary’s upset, confused dog witnessed her execution. Elizabeth went easier on Catholics than Bloody Mary had on Protestants, usually letting them practice as long as they laid low, plead their oath, and paid their taxes to the Church of England — all this despite surviving seven assassination attempts by Catholics. Still, according to the law of the land outright Catholic priests could be tortured and executed. Meanwhile, she allowed in Protestant refugees from across Europe on merchant ships.

Treachery often accompanied transitions of power in the monarchical system of dynastic succession (inherited power), just as it had in Classical Rome and throughout medieval England. Politics in Reformation-era England was an endless labyrinth of conspiracies, betrayals, and double-crossings. Elaborate spy rings employed hundreds of agents and double-agents. If the 16th and 17th centuries weren’t bad enough, the late 15th was a similarly chaotic bloodbath known as the Wars of the Roses. On the bright side, such personalized politics spiced up plots ranging from William Shakespeare’s plays to Showtime’s The Tudors (2007-2010) to PBS’s Secrets of the Six Wives (2017), based on Henry VIII’s reign. Likewise, HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019) was true to life for the late Middle Ages, if not modern wars fought over ideologies like capitalism/communism and democracy/fascism.

If such treacherous soap operatics seem confusing and you’re consulting your course catalog to re-check what class you signed up for, remember that you don’t have to know many details about the Tudor and Stuart monarchies for the upcoming exam. Your author recounts these sordid tales mainly so that you understand why Americans starting a new country from scratch saw fit to avoid the chronic violence of hereditary rule and to separate church and state, which also relieved the government of tedious, hair-splitting theological debates and, in theory, put up a firewall between religion and war. Nineteenth-century American Robert G. Ingersoll said of the English Reformation that “God was compelled to study acts of Parliament to find out whether a man might be saved or not…Our [founding] fathers were the first men who had the sense, had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword.”

Moreover, Elizabeth’s rivalry with Spain directly impacted colonial America’s settlement, as we’ll unpack in the next two chapters. The histories of colonial Massachusetts and Virginia are inseparable from the English Reformation. Queen Elizabeth was a moderate but resolute Protestant and Catholic Spain tried to lure her into a marriage to mitigate her influence. She refused, instead aiding Dutch Protestants as they fought to drive Spain from the Low Countries of northwest Europe. She re-severed England’s Catholic ties with her Act of Supremacy leading the papacy to encourage her assassination. Today, that’s how you’d expect the Taliban to treat infidels but, in the 16th century, such intrigue was common fare in Europe.

Route of the Spanish Armada

With Mary Queen of Scots dead and their hopes of an English alliance dashed, the spurned Spanish proceeded with plans to conquer England and overthrow Elizabeth. Philip II, the Hapsburg King of Spain, assembled the largest armada (navy) yet built. Under the Duke of Medina Sidonia, it sailed from Cadiz for the British Isles in 1588 hoping to pick up seasoned soldiers in the Low Countries. They encountered several obstacles in the English Channel, including excellent fortifications that Elizabeth’s father Henry had built along the coastline and, most importantly, bad weather. England’s fledgling navy had cast-iron guns that, unlike Spain’s, didn’t overheat and they and the Dutch set fishing boats on fire and used them to set ablaze the larger Spanish ships (the floating torches were called hellebranders, hellburners or fireships). Elizabeth rallied the troops with a speech on the coast at Tilbury that English schoolchildren still recite, depicted in the red circle in the painting below. After three weeks of high casualties in the Channel, the disastrous Spanish expedition finally ended with the Armada’s remnants sailing north all the way around Scotland and shipwrecking on the Irish coast.

For Elizabeth, the storm in the English Channel was “God’s breath,” similar to the purported Divine Wind in Japanese tradition that defended that island from Chinese invaders in the 13th century. The conclusion in England’s case was obvious: God preferred Protestants to Catholics. This unfolded right when England coveted the riches Spain was plundering from America and now they wanted some for themselves. Under Elizabeth, Protestantism cloaked England’s patriotic identity and their religion’s superiority justified why America should be theirs, not Spain’s. Elizabeth’s approval ratings were probably soaring at this point, though it’s hard to tell because she outlawed free press criticism and polling didn’t exist. England defeated the Spanish again outside Cadiz in 1596. England’s colonizing efforts had barely begun when Elizabeth died childless in 1603. Power passed to Mary Queen of Scot’s son, James Stuart (James VI of Scotland and, now, James I of England). The House of Tudor gave way to the House of Stuart.

Elizabeth I & the Spanish Armada, Artist Unknown, n.d., Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London

Under James I and his successor Charles I, the center didn’t hold in England religiously. The Church of England vacillated, leaving neither Catholics nor Protestants satisfied. James relied on Catholic support throughout Europe to lay claim to the crown after Elizabeth’s death and promised increased tolerance toward Catholics as long as they continued to lay low and pay their taxes. However, it wasn’t enough and, in 1605, Catholic terrorists led by Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes tried unsuccessfully to “blow King and the whole company (Parliament) when they should there assemble (in Parliament)” with 36 barrels of gunpowder stashed in a basement vault under Westminster Palace, connected by tunnel to an adjacent house. Authorities caught wind of the plan and discovered the explosives before they went off, catching Fawkes red-handed near the unlit fuse. For centuries afterward, including in colonial America, Protestants celebrated the failed Gunpowder Plot — often with either the Pope or Fawkes burned in effigy — and England still celebrates what’s evolved into Bonfire Night on November 5th. Poems and folk songs begin with “Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot…”

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, c. 1823, By Henry Peronett Briggs, Tyne and Wear Museums

With Catholics on the defensive, Protestants transcribed the Bible and the King James Version is still the most famous and authoritative in the English language. Then, in the “Catholic Drift” under Charles I persecution toward extreme Protestants (Reformed Calvinists) reared its ugly head once more. Yet, as that was happening, England’s conquest of neighboring Ireland emboldened Protestants because of Ireland’s Catholicism. Exaggerated reports of violence against English soldiers in Ulster (Northern Ireland), made possible by the recently freed press, stoked a patriotic Protestantism similar to what the Spanish Armada had. One of the military leaders charged with suppressing the Irish, Oliver Cromwell, rose quickly in popularity and eventually took over England as “Lord Protector.” According to the Calvinists’ reading of the Book of Daniel, kings who ruled in an ungodly fashion had to be overthrown and Charles had dissolved Parliament, justifying Cromwell’s takeover.

Frontispiece to the King James’ Bible, 1611

The English Civil Wars (1642-1651) between Cromwell’s Parliamentarian-Protestant Roundheads and Royalist Cavaliers resulted in Charles I’s decapitation and an 11-year interim known as the Commonwealth, a republic with no monarchy and Cromwell serving as leader until his son took over after his death. Roundheads took their defeat of Charles as evidence that he wasn’t divinely ordained. Protestant onlookers soaked their handkerchiefs in Charles’ blood to symbolize the purification of their revolution. Cromwell tolerated Anglicans and even legalized Catholicism, but the Puritans outlawed Christmas, Easter, and theater. While the monarchy returned in 1660 to Charles’ son, Charles II during the Restoration, English kings never regained the absolute forms of dictatorship enjoyed by other European leaders. Especially after another uprising known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688, they had to share power with an increasingly powerful parliament and ministers.

These early republican revolutions in England set the stage for the American uprising a century later, when British-American rebel leaders needed to look no further than their mother country’s history for seeds of their own revolution, tracing back as far as the Magna Carta of the 13th century. Representative government as yearned for and practiced in colonial America originated in the English Reformation and English Civil War.

America Bound
In the midst of the English turmoil, a small group of reformed Protestant Pilgrims had seen enough and slipped away across the big pond to America on the Mayflower, aiming for but missing Virginia. Today, 1/30 Americans share some DNA with passengers aboard the Mayflower. Another larger group of more mainstream Puritans followed a decade later. Leaving during the reigns of James I and Charles I, these Calvinists missed out on the dramatic English Civil War of the Cromwell era but founded colonies in New England that later became part of the United States. Their colony of Massachusetts instigated the Revolutionary War against England 150 years later. We’ll trace their story in more detail in coming chapters.

Pilgrims Signing the Mayflower Compact in a Cabin Aboard the Mayflower, Edward Percy Moran, ca.1900, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA

The Reformation impacted these colonists and others in many ways. The Renaissance was important because it gave rise to the navigational technology and mercantilist economics that drove Europeans overseas in pursuit of material wealth. The Reformation, though, inspired missionaries and religious refugees to come to America, augmented a rivalry with Spain that inspired England to claim Virginia, and inspired Calvinists to settle New England. Protestants also put a premium on earning worldly wealth, dovetailing their religious motivations to colonize with the economic motivations detailed in Chapter 2. American colonists were familiar with the English Civil War in which Protestant republicans rose up and challenged a monarchy, laying a foundation for the American Revolution the following century. American Protestants often suspected “papist” Catholic colonists in Canada, Maryland or elsewhere of conspiring against them with Indians, adding another complication to frontier warfare.

Even aside from the English Civil War, the Reformation encouraged democratic revolt against authority elsewhere and Protestants thrived in areas of Europe like Switzerland and the Netherlands that contained small pockets of republican rule. These were the same areas, along with England, that embraced capitalism. By freeing the soul from the Catholic Church, Martin Luther had unleashed individual freedom and the prospect of questioning all forms of absolute authority. Just as Luther rebelled against the top-down authority and divinity of the Pope, Protestant Dissenters in both England and colonial America rebelled against the divinely ordained authority of the monarchy. English monarchs, after all, were anointed by Bishops in Westminster Abbey, not appointed by ministers in the Palace of Westminster. Protestants also emphasized equality among worshippers and that carried over into a similar emphasis on equality that slowly but surely worked its way into American politics between its Revolution and the 21st century.

American Protestants developed a greater sense of religious freedom than their European counterparts. While the early settlers were far from tolerant in the modern sense of the term and maintained generally anti-Catholic, anti-Quaker and anti-Semitic views, religious pluralism made America fertile soil for long-term toleration. To wit: there were so many different groups that it was in everyone’s best interest to get along otherwise, their own group could easily be the next target of discrimination, just as it likely had already been the target at some point previously in Europe. It took a long time, though, for that new dynamic to play out. For one thing, despite pluralism among Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, free-thinkers, etc., English law still applied in the British colonies. All landholders still had to pay a tithe (or tax) to the Church of England regardless of their faith.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Ma

Such laws continued within various states even after American independence. Yet, in 1790, 183 years after the Mayflower landing, the first American president George Washington wrote a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island guaranteeing their full citizenship. The “father of the country” boldly stated that the U.S. government offered “to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance…Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree [sic], and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Washington not only disliked religious intolerance, he idealistically even hoped that tolerance would become obsolete because the concept implied the potential power or desire of one group to dominate another. He didn’t take this stance lightly, telling a British historian, “I walk on untrodden ground.”

Many of the early state governments didn’t comply with those ideals, continuing to charge tithes of their own and denying full citizenship to Jews, Catholics, Deists, Atheists, and even evangelical Protestants. But the national government set a very high standard in comparison to most of the states, to say nothing of what went on in England and Europe in previous centuries. Washington’s words were a far cry from Martin Luther’s in On the Jews and Their Lies. After passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, American states had to fall in line with the full-blown religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Dozens of Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Church of Christ, Mormons, and various fundamentalists would put their own distinctly American stamp on the Reformation. What they didn’t impact as directly as some people argue is the founding of the United States as an official, legally Christian nation, and neither can we connect the New England Pilgrims to the founding as easily as some might try to. New England’s colonial history was well known, important, and influential to the Founders, some of whom shared their views. But New England was just one of several colonial regions, and Pennsylvania and Virginia pioneered models of religious freedom that influenced the Constitution more than Pilgrim/Puritan society. The Pilgrims’ sense of religious freedom is overrated unless one defines freedom merely as the desire to not be discriminated against. That sense of religious freedom is cheap, though, considering that everyone in the world, past or present, would agree with it. Even the Taliban believe in their own religious freedom. Compared to Massachusetts, colonists in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, and (eventually) Virginia set a higher, more meaningful standard of religious freedom — defined not just as fleeing one’s own persecution but as living alongside and not persecuting those with different views. Virginian James Madison co-authored the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791 and Virginian Thomas Jefferson, as president, coined the phrase “separation of church and state” that future judges used to interpret the amendment.

Pilgrims and Puritans would not have approved of such religious liberty and, moreover, weren’t involved in founding the United States. While we don’t dwell on exact dates much in history classes anymore, it’s important to realize that the Pilgrims settled New England 150 years before anyone ever conceived of the United States. For perspective: nearly as much time transpired between the First Thanksgiving and the Declaration of Independence as between ourselves and the Civil War. The Pilgrims were important in shaping American identity, though, and the Reformation continued to influence America in significant ways through the founding up to the present. Other Americans in other colonies established the sort of religious freedom Americans rightfully cherish today.

The Tudors – Protestant or Catholic?

During the period 1500-1700 Protestants could practice their religion freely during the following dates:


Churches should be plain, not decorated, so that people can concentrate on what the minister is saying.

Church Services

Church services should be in English so that everyone can understand them.

We believe that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and everywhere.

The Bible

Everyone should be able to read the Bible for themselves. It should therefore be available in English.

People are sinful. Sins can only be forgiven by God and Jesus.


Priests are ordinary people, they do not have the power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

Priests should wear plain clothing.

Priests should speak in English

Priests should be allowed to get married.

Priests should be punished if they break the law.

Church Services

Church services should be in Latin. They have always been in Latin and help the church to keep control over the people.

People need a priest to help them find God.

The Bible

People should not be able to read the Bible for themselves. It should only be available in Latin and it should be read to them in Latin by priests.

People are sinful. Sins can be forgiven by praying or paying money to the church.


Priests are divine beings that have the power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

4 1947: The Partition Of India

As most of us have realized by now, the British Empire had a partition problem. Many modern world issues exist because the Brits decided to have fun with their borders before leaving their colonies, making things even more complicated for the independent countries.

Nowhere is that more visible than in the partition of India into the countries of India and Pakistan on religious lines. Overnight, millions of people embarked on one of the biggest and most perilous mass migrations in history. That is, of course, if they could leave at all.

Many of the Muslims in India, and conversely Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan, weren&rsquot that lucky. Around 1 million died in the ensuing riots that included horrors like literal trains full of dead bodies. They were one of the bloodiest riots in history, and true numbers of the casualties would probably never be known due to lack of records. [7]

On the same side

Only a few years after Kennedy’s election, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), a meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops that proclaimed a new spirit of openness to modern culture. In a remarkable set of documents addressing liturgy, scripture, ecumenism, and the role of the Church in the modern world, the council emphasized that Church teachings could develop over time. One, Dignitatis Humanae (1965), reversed centuries of Catholic opposition to religious freedom by insisting that all individuals had the right to practice their faith without coercion.

But the American Catholic experience reminds us that religious minorities have struggled to practice their faiths freely in the United States. Other religious groups, especially Muslims, have taken Catholics’ place as the targets of suspicion. We can only hope that we eventually achieve John F. Kennedy’s vision of a more perfect nation—a nation where people of faith “will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.” CH

By Catherine A. Brekus

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #102 in 2012]

Catherine A. Brekus is associate professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School and the author of several books on early American Christianity.

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