Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Early Protestants Were Ecumenical? NOT! (vs. Dr. Paul Owen)

Reformed Protestant / "Reformed Catholic" Dr. Paul Owen (words in green) stated in recent discussion on this blog:
. . . you need to be a bit more realistic about the way human discourse functions in the real world. I am not saying that context gives an excuse for duplicity, but the tone and emphasis of a presentation is going to be determined by the target audience and context. This is precisely why you continue to misunderstand Calvin and Luther. They were emphasizing their polemical criticisms of Rome (in the quotes you are always dredging up), in the context of frustration with a stubborn, immoral and theologically aberrant ecclesial hierarchy which had been shutting its ears to cries for moral and theological reformation for centuries. In other contexts (such as the ecumenical conferences at Leipzig, Hagenau, Worms, Regensburg, and Poissy) the Reformers were able to communicate with Roman Catholics on an entirely different level. You seem not to want to acknowledge this for some reason, I guess because it somehow serves your purposes to present the Reformers as ignorant anti-Catholics.

Later, he added:
I'm sorry but you just don't get it. There is no way to go through those dumb quotes of Calvin and Luther and explain what they "really" mean, because you just don't seem to understand the way human discourse functions. You seem to have no sensitivity to the nature of rhetoric, though you use it yourself all of the time. You just can't take a criticism of Catholic theology by Luther or Calvin that is fueled by frustration and uttered in the midst of bitter conflict, and calmly analyze it as though each insult embedded within the criticism has a direct, one-on-one correspondence to some theological truth. ("Now, I call the Papists 'dogs' for three reasons . . .") You are asking for wooden explanations of heated statements which do not lend themselves to point-by-point explanations.

I'm sorry that you just can't get the point that the Reformers were human beings, and so their emotions fueled their criticisms of the Roman Church just as much as purely "doctrinal" differences . . . If Calvin and Luther and other Reformers really despised all things Roman Catholic, to the degree that some of their more outlandish quotes would seem to indicate, then the sort of attempts at doctrinal compromise which played themselves out on at least five occasions during the years 1539 to 1561 would never have even been contemplated. Think about it Dave. Would Svendsen, King or White even THINK of participating in something like Regensburg? No, they would want NOTHING to do with such spineless "dialogues." After all, in their view there is really no common ground to "dialogue" about. Either the Catholics will abandon their false doctrines or they will not. That was NOT the view of Reformers like Bucer, Melanchthon, and Calvin, who were willing, at least in theory, to engage in such discussions, and try to draw up compromised theological statements.

After I offered my feeble replies to the above, Dr. Owen came back with:
Give me a break. Are you really so incapable of grasping a simple point? I am not saying that "emotion" means that we can't construct any kind of idea of what the Reformers believed; I am making the rather obvious point that historical conditions shaped the rhetoric and severity of tone within which those theological views were expressed.

And then came the disappointing personal insult which shut the discussion down just as it was beginning and when it very well could have produced some constructive result:
As for interacting with your voluminous internet postings, I will take your advice and not "bother." I simply have not found you to be a reasonable partner in dialogue, and I am not going to waste any more time attempting to have discussions with you. For some reason you have a vested interest in portraying the Reformers in the worst possible light, and you are continuing that tendency in your interactions with me and others (like Wilson). You seem terribly offended that I am not dropping all of my course preparations and research projects and spending the next six months urgently engaging in your important internet writings. Maybe if you had demonstrated the capacity to empathetically evaluate the opinions of others I would have been more motivated to at least make some attempt. As it is, I can only shake my head and leave you to your endless keyboard blubbering.

Whether this characterization is the case or not is for others to judge; I nevertheless press on. Despite the personal rudeness and unwillingness to substantiate his points, Dr Owen did raise some interesting issues that I would like to touch upon. I strongly disagree with his contention that when the early Protestant leaders railed against the Catholic Church and her doctrine, they were (merely) writing in sheer "frustration" and therefore made "heated statements." Of course that was the case sometimes, even much of the time (indeed, on both sides), but all of the time? That's what I rejected. And so I deny that my citations along these lines, showing that these men were anti-Catholic, or quasi-anti-Catholic, are "dumb" (as Dr. Owen described them) and able to be breezily dismissed, as of no import or relevance whatsoever.

Furthermore, I deny his second contention, that there were times when they became ecumenical, in the sense of wanting to compromise, and that this has to be counterbalanced against their "heated" statements, as if they were anything fundamentally different. Hence he writes:
In other contexts (such as the ecumenical conferences at Leipzig, Hagenau, Worms, Regensburg, and Poissy) the Reformers were able to communicate with Roman Catholics on an entirely different level.

If Calvin and Luther and other Reformers really despised all things Roman Catholic, to the degree that some of their more outlandish quotes would seem to indicate, then the sort of attempts at doctrinal compromise which played themselves out on at least five occasions during the years 1539 to 1561 would never have even been contemplated.

Contrasting today's anti-Catholics (Svendsen, King, and White) to the early Protestant leaders, he states:
Either the Catholics will abandon their false doctrines or they will not. That was NOT the view of Reformers like Bucer, Melanchthon, and Calvin, who were willing, at least in theory, to engage in such discussions, and try to draw up compromised theological statements.

I assert, then, the following propositions and opinions, contrary to the above:
1) The attitudes at these "ecumenical" conferences was NOT "entirely different."

2) "Doctrinal compromise" was never seriously considered, save for a few minor concessions willing to be made by the more temperamentally and theologically "moderate" persons, such as Melanchthon and Bucer.

3) "Reformers like Bucer, Melanchthon, and Calvin DID try to force Catholics (in the name of "compromise" to give up their false doctrines, rather than seek true compromises with them.

I have written about some of these conferences in the past:

The Real Diet of Augsburg (Protestant Intolerance in 1530)

Diet of Regensburg (1541) & Colloquy of Poissy (1561): Protestant "Ecumenical" Efforts at Christian Unity?

Readers can consult those papers if they are interested enough in the topic. For present purposes, I shall summarize their contents and add some new material further below (Luther's words will be in red; Calvin's in blue; Melanchthon's in purple):

Diet of Augsburg (1530)

1) The Lutherans "would have nothing to do with the Swiss and Strassburgers, although they agreed with them in fourteen out of fifteen articles of faith" (Philip Schaff).

2) "Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious processions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: 'The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another.' He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . ." (Warren Carroll)

3) On July 6 Melanchthon made the incredible dissembling statement:

"We have no dogmas which differ from the Roman Church . . . We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome, and are prepared to remain in allegiance to the Church if only the Pope does not repudiate us."

4) Luther wrote on the very same day: "Remember that you are not dealing with human beings when you have affairs with the Pope and his crew, but with veritable devils! . . ."

5) "On the 13th [of July] Luther announced from Coburg that the Protestants would never tolerate the Mass, which he called blasphemous, and said of the Emperor:

'We know that he is in error and that he is striving against the Gospel . . . He does not conform to God's Word and we do' . . .

"Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon August 26:

'This talk of compromise . . . is a scandal to God . . . I am thoroughly displeased with this negotiating concerning union in doctrine, since it is utterly impossible unless the Pope wishes to take away his power.'

"In subsequent letters he declared that no religious settlement was possible as long as the Pope remained and the Mass was unchanged . . ." (Warren Carroll)

6) ". . . no Catholic of spirit and courage could be expected, let alone morally required, to give up all his religious rights without a struggle; and few Protestants, at this point, would allow Catholics to exercise those rights if the Protestants were strong enough to deny them. These were the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which made those long and bloody years of conflict inevitable." (Warren Carroll)

7) "The city council [of Augsburg], however, set itself up in opposition, recalled (1531) the Protestant preachers who had been expatriated, suppressed Catholic services in all churches except the cathedral (1534), . . . At the beginning of this year a decree of the council was made, forbidding everywhere the celebration of Mass, preaching, and all ecclesiastical ceremonies, and giving to the Catholic clergy the alternative of enrolling themselves anew as citizens or leaving the city. An overwhelming majority of both secular and regular clergy chose banishment; . . . In the city of Augsburg the Catholic churches were seized by Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers; at the command of the council pictures were removed, and at the instigation of Bucer and others a disgraceful storm of popular iconoclasm followed, resulting in the destruction of many splendid monuments of art and antiquity. The greatest intolerance was exercised towards the Catholics who had remained in the city; their schools were dissolved; parents were compelled to send their children to Lutheran institutions; it was even forbidden to hear Mass outside the city under severe penalties." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Diet of Regensburg (1541)

1) ". . . the conferees took up their differences on the Mass and the sacraments, which were absolutely irreconcilable. The Catholic Faith cannot be practiced without the Mass, and the Protestants had totally rejected the Mass. Just a week after the illusory agreement on justification, Cardinal Contarini wrote that he had been astonished to discover that the Protestants rejected both the Real Presence and veneration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass. On May 16 Contarini wrote to Rome: . . . 'strife proceeds neither from the Holy See nor from the Emperor, but from the obdurate adherence of the Protestants to their errors.'" (Warren Carroll)

2) ". . . the Protestant rejection of transubstantiation was more serious and Bucer, unlike Melanchthon at Augsburg, was very insistent on the rejection of papal authority. Union failed . . ." (Roland Bainton)

3) So we see that the Catholic side was willing to "compromise" on the Protestants' leading ("cardinal") concern: justification, but the Protestants would not flinch on matters of supreme importance and "non-negotiability" for the Catholics: transubstantiation and papal authority. We see almost the same exact dynamic and Protestant inflexibility at the Colloquy of Poissy in 1561 . . . it was far more objectionable for the Protestants to be totally dogmatic about their "new stuff" than for Catholics to be totally dogmatic about their "old stuff." (Dave Armstrong)

Colloquy of Poissy (1561)

1) ". . . The colloquy itself began September 9 with another speech by [Chancellor] l'Hopital urging religious unity and pledging that the government would no longer persecute the Calvinists. But . . . the Colloquy of Poissy was no exercise in 'ecumenism.' Even less than the Lutherans were the Calvinists interested in ecumenism, Like all revolutionaries, they would accept it only on their own terms. On this first day of discussion Beza threw down the gauntlet with the explicit and shocking denial of the Real Presence . . .:
If we regard the distance of things (as we must, when there is a question of His corporeal presence, and of His humanity considered separately), we say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as is heaven from earth." [September 9, 1561]

. . . The Real Presence, like the Incarnation, is a doctrine on which there can be no compromise for a serious Catholic . . . (Warren Carroll)

2) "Theodore Beza was given unrestricted opportunity to state the Protestant case. In so doing he not only failed to conciliate the Catholics but succeeded also in alienating the Lutherans by stating in the baldest terms the Calvinist doctrine of spiritual communion only in the Lord's Supper, seeing that the body of Christ is as far from the bread and wine as heaven from earth. Agreement on any such basis was of course out of the question." (Roland Bainton)

And now some new material:

Colloquy at Hagenau (June 1540)

"In January 1540 Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwingli's Successor Bugenhagen signed a statement declaring that religious peace could be established simply by the Emperor and the German bishops renouncing 'their idolatry and error,' and that 'even if the Pope were to concede to us our doctrines and ceremonies, we should still be obliged to treat him as a persecutor and an outcast, since in other kingdoms he would not renounce his errors.' It was the first explicit public announcement that the ultimate goal of the Protestants was the total destruction of the Catholic Church throughout the world. The German religious conference finally opened June 12 in the little town of Hagenau . . .

"The chief Protestant spokesman at the conference was Martin Bucer. Luther had always regarded religious negotiations of any kind with Catholics as bargaining with the Devil. Melanchthon, known like Bucer for his willingness to seek verbal formulas of concord which to some extent would cover up enduring fundamental differences, was absent; he sent word that he was ill."

(Warren Carroll, The Cleaving of Christendom [A History of Christendom, vol. 4], Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 176)

Colloquy at Worms: November 1540

"Undismayed by the failure of the Hagenau conference, the emperor made more strenuous efforts for the success of the coming colloquy at Worms. He dispatched his minister Granvella and Ortiz, his envoy, to the papal court. The latter brought with him the celebrated Jesuit, Father Peter Faber. The pope sent the Bishop of Feltri, Tommaso Campeggio, brother of the great cardinal, and ordered Morone to attend. They were not to take part in the debates, but were to watch events closely and report to Rome. Granvella opened the proceedings at Worms, 25 Nov., with an eloquent and conciliatory address. He pictured the evils which had befallen Germany, "once the first of all nations in fidelity, religion, piety, and divine worship", and warned his hearers that "all the evils that shall come upon you and your people, if, by clinging stubbornly to preconceived notions, you prevent a renewal of concord, will be ascribed to you as the authors of them." On behalf of the Protestants, Melanchthon returned "an intrepid answer"; he threw all the blame upon the Catholics, who refused to accept the new Gospel.

"A great deal of time was spent in wrangling over points of order; finally it was decided that Dr. Eck should be spokesman for the Catholics and Melanchthon for the Protestants. The debate began 14 Jan., 1541. A tactical blunder was committed in accepting the Augsburg Confession as the basis of the conference. That document had been drawn up to meet an emergency. It was apologetic and conciliatory, so worded as to persuade the young emperor that there was no radical difference between the Catholics and the Protestants. It admitted the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishops and tacitly acknowledged the supremacy of the pope by laying the ultimate appeal with a council by him convened. But many changes had taken place in the ten intervening years. The bishops had been driven out of every Protestant territory in Germany; the Smalkald confederates had solemnly abjured the pope and scorned his proffer of a council; each petty territorial prince had constituted himself the head and exponent of religion within his domain. For all practical purposes the Augsburg Confession was as useless as the laws of Lycurgus. Moreover, as Dr. Eck pointed out, the Augsburg Confession of 1540 was a different document from the Confession of 1530, having been changed by Melanchthon to suit his sacramentarian view of the Eucharist. Had the theologians at Worms reached an agreement on every point of doctrine, the discord in Germany would have continued none the less; for the princes had not the remotest idea of giving up their lucrative dominion over their territorial churches."

(Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910, "Religious Discussions")

Calvin to Melanchthon: June 18, 1550:

This is the sum of your defence: that, provided purity of doctrine be retained, externals should not be pertinaciously contended for . . . But you extend the distinction of non-essentials too far. You are aware that the Papists have corrupted the worship of God in a thousand ways. Several of those things which you consider indifferent are obviously repugnant to the Word of God . . . You ought not to have made such large concessions to the Papists.

(in Schaff, History of the Church, Vol. VIII, Ch. 11, § 90. Calvin and Melanchthon)

Calvin to Farel: March 15th, 1539

The King [Henry VIII of England] . . . retains the daily masses; he wishes the seven sacraments to remain as they are: in this way he has a mutilated and torn Gospel, and a Church stuffed full as yet with many toys and trifles.

(in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 1, 1528-1545, vol. 4 of 7; edited by Jules Bonnet, translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House [a Protestant publisher], 1983, 125-126; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, vol. 1 [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858] )

Calvin on the Dissembling of Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon

If we think that Martin dissembles, why do we not thoroughly draw him out? Let us simply assent to the teaching of the Scripture, and we shall either win him over, with or against his will, to the light; or he certainly will not be able to use evasion, but will disclose whatever poison may be in his heart. But since we have not fully found out his opinion, we even shrink from confessing the truth, lest we may seem to assent to his views.

(Letter to Zebedee, May 19th, 1539, in John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971, 49-50)

. . . in the most important matters, catching at the approbation even of the philosophers, he [Melanchthon] openly opposes sound doctrine; or lest he should provoke the resentment of certain persons, he cunningly, or at least, with but little manliness, disguises his own opinion. May the Lord endow him with a more courageous spirit, lest posterity suffer great detriment from his timidity.

(Letter to John Sleidan: August 27th, 1554, in Dillenberger, ibid., 52)

Calvin Calls Lutheranism "Evil"

I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means, believe me, for checking the evil, would be that the conbfession written by me in the name of the Price of Conde and the other nobles should be published . . .

(Letter to Heinrich Bullinger: July 2nd, 1563, in Dillenberger, ibid., 76)

Protestant Suppression of the Mass

(see sources and further related documentation in my paper: The Protestant Inquisition: "Reformation" Intolerance and Persecution)

1) Zwingli's Zurich banned the Mass in 1525. Churches and monasteries were destroyed.

2) William Farel abolished the Mass in Geneva in August 1535, and seized all the churches and monasteries. Iconoclastic riots occurred and Church money (10,000 crowns) was stolen.

3) "Martin Bucer . . . though anxious to be regarded as considerate and peaceable . . . advocated quite openly 'the power of the authorities over consciences' . He never rested until, in 1537 . . . he brought about the entire suppression of the Mass at Augsburg. At his instigation, many fine paintings, monuments and ancient works of art in the churches were wantonly torn, broken and smashed. Whoever refused to submit and attend public worship was obliged within eight days to quit the city boundaries. Catholic citizens were forbidden under severe penalties to attend Catholic worship elsewhere . . . In other . . . cities Bucer acted with no less violence and intolerance, for instance, at Ulm, where he supported Oecolampadius . . . in 1531, and at Strasburg . . . Here, in 1529, after the Town-Council had prohibited Catholic worship, the Councillors were requested by the preachers to help fill the empty churches by issuing regulations prescribing attendance at the sermons." (Hartmann Grisar)

4) In 1529 the Council of Strassburg also ordered the breaking in pieces of all remaining altars, images and crosses, and several churches and convents weredestroyed (Janssen, V, 143-144). Similar events transpired also in Frankfurt-am-Main (Durant, 424). At a religious convention at Hamburg in April, 1535 theLutheran towns of Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburg, Luneburg, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar all voted to hang Anabaptists and flog Catholics and Zwinglians beforebanishing them (Janssen, V, 481). Luther's home territory of Saxony had instituted banishment for Catholics in 1527 (Grisar, VI, 241-242).

5) [In] Constance, on March 10, 1528, the Catholic faith was altogether interdicted . . . by the Council . . . 'There are no rights whatever beyond those laid down in the Gospel as it is now understood' . . . Altars were smashed . . . organs were removed as being works of idolatry . . . church treasures were to be sent to the mint. (Janssen, V, 146)

6) In Scotland, John Knox and his ilk passed legislation in which "It was . . . forbidden to say Mass or to be present at Mass, with the punishment for a first offence of loss of all goods and a flogging; for the second offence, banishment; for the third, death." (Hughes, 300)

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