R.H. Tawney (1880-1962), author of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
This was in reply to a letter that came into The Coming Home Network. One of my tasks as a staff member of CHNI is to answer these "tough" questions. This one was fun, and required several hours to adequately answer (myths and falsehoods require a lot more time to refute than to state). As with most of these questions, I learned quite a bit as I went along.
I am a cradle Catholic who regularly listens to the Journey Home and Deep in Scripture online. I am hoping someone can help me reply to an article a Lutheran pastor put in our local paper concerning the Reformation. I am pretty sure there at least some of what he said is inaccurate, but need to have facts to be sure. I would like to respond to the article, at least to him personally, if not to the paper as well. Following are the main points of what he wrote [in green], I left out a bit, but not much.What religious movement gave us the Bible in our native tongue
This is a myth. There had been 14 editions in German in the 60-70 years prior to Luther's Bible and many English translations for centuries before Tyndale, etc., as one can easily read about even in the preface to the KJV. The biggest factor in the greater promulgation of the Bible from the 15th century on was the movable-type printing press, invented by Gutenberg in the middle of that century. He was a Catholic. See my papers:
Was the Catholic Church an Avowed Enemy of Scripture in the Middle Ages (or at any other time)?
and led to religious freedom, liberty of conscience,
This is a ridiculously false myth. I have an entire web page devoted to documenting widespread Protestant persecution and intolerance (every bit as bad as any Catholic persecution, if not far worse):
Protestantism: Historic Persecution and Intolerance
Martin Luther himself espoused the death penalty for the Anabaptists (fellow Protestants) and had atrocious views on religious liberty, as even his most famous biographer, Roland Bainton freely admitted and decried. Luther went so far as to think that even frigid wives and adulterers should be put to death.
the rule of law,
Huh? This can hardly have been a Protestant invention. It is embarrassing to even have to point this out. Has he never heard of the Athenian democracy, the Roman Republic, the Republic of Venice, Magna Carta (1215), etc.? Accordingly, the Wikipedia article, "Rule of Law" states:
The contrast between the rule of men and the rule of law is first found in Plato's Statesman and Laws and subsequently in Aristotle's Politics, where the rule of law implies both obedience to positive law and formal checks and balances on rulers and magistrates. The rule of law was later present in early Islamic law and jurisprudence, which recognized the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land, where no person is above the law and where officials and private citizens are under a duty to obey the same law. . . .
The rule of law is an ancient ideal first posited by Plato as grounded in divine reason and so inherent in the natural order. It continues to be important as a normative ideal, even as legal scholars struggle to define it.
the separation of powers and constitutionally limited government?
According to the Wikipedia article, "Separation of Powers":
If you said the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, congratulations!
For what? The article was factually dead wrong in every instance so far. Even the word "Reformation" as applied to the Protestant movement is a misnomer. It was not a "reform," it was a revolt against the Catholic Church.
But even if you did not, you still benefit from the Reformation, regardless of your religious affiliation or lack thereof.
The Reformation produced the most productive, prosperous, and free nations in history -
See my paper: The Protestant Revolt: Its Tragic Initial Impact
Here is my entire Section IX from that paper:
IX. PROTESTANTISM AND CAPITALISM
Another widespread myth is that of the organic connection between Protestantism and capitalism (as if Catholicism had no relation to the latter). Although there is an element of truth in this, as in all good lies, particularly with regard to Calvinism, the actual causative factors are much more complex:
- Luther . . . hated commerce and capitalism . . . Like Melanchthon, Luther thought that the most admirable life was that of the peasant, for it was least touched by the corroding spirit of commercial calculation . . .
The greatest misfortune of the German nation is easily the traffic in interest . . . The devil invented it, and the Pope, by giving his sanction to it, has done untold evil throughout the world.
(R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, New York: Mentor, 1926, 82-83, 85)
Zwingli . . . insists on the oft-repeated thesis that private property originates in sin . . . and, while emphasizing that interest must be paid when the State sanctions it, condemns it in itself as contrary to the law of God.
(Tawney, ibid., 92)
- Apart from its qualified indulgence to interest, Calvinism made few innovations in the details of social policy, and the content of the program was thoroughly medieval.
(Tawney, ibid., 104)
Nowadays no one has a kind word for Max Weber's thesis that Calvinism created a new 'dedicated' capitalist outlook, the 'worldly asceticism' of modern business. It seems difficult to construct any defense of this specious theory . . . Almost every feature of the 16th century business world, including double-entry book-keeping, had already existed in late Medieval Europe. The Fuggers and most of the Augsburg bankers remained Catholics at the Reformation; while Europe's other chief centres of high finance -- Antwerp, Lyons, Genoa, Venice -- lay in Catholic countries. Again, the ideal of the hard-working and methodical life was preached by the 17th century Jesuits . . . as well as by their Puritan contemporaries. On the whole, Calvinism fought the practices of unfettered capitalism more consistently than did any other of the Christian churches. Calvin . . . regarded the charging of interest as a dubious activity for a Christian.
(A.G. Dickens [Protestant], Reformation and Society in 16th-Century Europe, London: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966,178)
Capitalism existed, both in form and spirit, before Calvin's day . . . Economic forces outside the stream of religion contributed to its growth before the Reformation. The capitalistic spirit was strong in Venice, Florence, South Germany and Flanders in the 15th century, though these were Catholic areas. The development of capitalism in England and Holland was due in large measure to economic causes . . . Calvin's emphasis on the middle class virtues was not new, for similar injunctions to industry and thrift are found in ancient philosophy and in medieval Catholicism . . . Aquinas' emphasis on abstemious living, with his condemnations of extravagance . . . idleness and dishonesty, gave a marked incentive to middle class thrift . . . The idea of secular calling as divine vocation . . . was not a new idea . . .
Capitalism was in the field before Calvinism appeared and was the product of many complex forces . . . The dominant factor in the capitalistic revolution was the change from a natural economy to a money economy. This took place some centuries before the 16th, and paved the way for a new era . . . Calvin originated neither the capitalistic system nor the capitalistic spirit.
(Georgia Harkness [Protestant], John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics, New York: Abingdon Press, 1931, 187-188, 190, 192-193)
it was probably equally as political as it was religious, if not more so. In the same long paper on Protestantism, cited above, I have a lengthy section (VIII) entitled: "The Largely Political Basis of the Protestant Revolt." Many historians have argued along the same lines. This was clearly the case in England, in particular. Hence the Wikipedia article, "Protestant Reformation" states:
The same article notes about Lutheranism in Germany:
With the church subordinate to and the agent of civil authority and peasant rebellions condemned on strict religious terms, Lutheranism and German nationalist sentiment were ideally suited to coincide.And in the Netherlands:
I have noted how Lutheranism adopted the state church, over against the rule of bishops, and how Melanchthon (Luther's successor) later bitterly regretted this:
Philip Melanchthon in 1530 Longs For the Return of the Jurisdiction of Catholic Bishops / His Agonized Tears Over Protestant Divisions and Dissensions (+ Discussion)
It expanded the concept of vocation, or divine calling, beyond the clergy to the laity.
It's true that the early Protestants emphasized the "priesthood of all believers," but in so doing, they went too far (as was often their want), and started opposing not only the priesthood, but also (in many denominations) ordination itself. Catholics had always believed in the notion of a special vocation for priests and religious, or what we call the "evangelical counsels." But it has not denied that everyone is called according to their estate in life. See my related papers:
The Biblical Evidence for Priests
Dialogue With a Presbyterian Pastor Regarding Ordination, Priests, and Vocations for Everyone
In practice, there is often a "clergy-laity dichotomy" in both Protestantism and Catholicism. I wrote recently:
The daily occupations of lay people were viewed as divinely appointed offices through which God himself was at work to meet the needs of others. The Reformation gave dignity to labor.
This was not a new thing with the Protestant revolution, either. The traditional commitment of the Catholic Church to the dignity of labor is seen, e.g., in the strong commitment to unions in the 19th century. Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerurm Novarum excellently illustrated this. The fact that the Protestant revolution usually set kings, princes, and nobles against the common people shows again, that Protestantism was often an elitist movement: very much opposed to the common man and his aspirations. Henry VIII brutally crushed the populist Catholic movement from northern England, called the Pilgrimage of Grace, and Martin Luther sided with the authorities in the Peasants' Revolt.
The medieval Catholic institution of the guild showed how the common people in that era were highly valued by the Church; it also showed a thriving capitalism before Protestantism. The Catholic monasteries were the charitable system of that time, until they were annihilated by Protestants, especially in England (in that case, accompanied by mass slaughter). The Catholic principles of subsidiarity and distributism also champion the common man and local authorities over nationalistic ones. Catholic social teaching has long been far more developed and sophisticated than Protestant social teaching. It is so distinct that there is not even an entry for "Protestant social teaching" in Wikipedia.
It gave dignity to marriage and family life as well. The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc,) believed there was no better school for humility and for loving sacrificial service than marriage and parenthood. The home was viewed as the center for faith formation in children and Luther's "Small Catechism" was specifically written to equip parents to teach their children the Christian faith.
That is no different from Catholicism, and is a silly claim altogether, not even worthy of the dignity of a rebuttal. What did change, however, was the Protestant view on divorce (which certainly affected the family life and marriages). Luther's less than stellar morals in this regard were notoriously displayed in the scandalous bigamy of Philip of Hesse. See:
Luther's and Melanchthon's Duplicity and Sanctioning of Bigamy for King Henry VIII and Philip of Hesse (Hartmann Grisar) (+ Part Two)
Protestants clearly moved away from the traditional Catholic view of marriage and divorce and the indissolubility and sacramentality of marriage. We need only look at the early Protestant leaders to see that: most of them broke their original religious vows. See also:
Divorce: Early Church Teaching
Education for the common people grew out of the Reformation. Protestants established schools to teach the faith to the masses. Roman Catholics responded with schools of their own.
This is a greatly distorted picture as well. Public education for the masses is largely a 19th century development: hardly attributable primarily to the "Reformation." Prior to that time, most children were educated at home by parents, of whatever religious persuasion. What few children were able to attend private schools, were children of privilege (some things never change). See, e.g., the Wikipedia article: "History of Education in the United States":
By the time public schools really got off the ground, those who spearheaded them were not orthodox Protestants, but theological liberals or outright secularists. E.g., Horace Mann, one of the prime movers of public education in America, was a Unitarian, and believed, among other things, that "education must be free of religious influence." John Dewey (1859-1952) was the other major figure in the origin of modern American public education. He was an atheist:
The fact of the matter was that early Protestantism was in many ways highly hostile to education and learning per se. See my papers:
Early Protestantism and the Decline of Education
Early Protestant Hostility Towards Science
As to historic education for the masses prior to the "Reformation," there are many proofs that it was alive and well:
The history of education in England can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England, or even back to the Roman occupation. During the Middle Ages schools were established to teach Latin grammar, while apprenticeship was the main way to enter practical occupations. Two universities were established: the University of Oxford [late 12th century], followed by the University of Cambridge .. . .
From medieval times, the Church (or chapel) provided education to all classes of society, in monasteries, at public schools, orphanages, charity schools, grammar schools, church foundations, or by the chaplains to private households.
By the late medieval period in Britain there were many schools teaching Latin grammar.
(Wikipedia, "History of Education in England")
During the Early Middle Ages, the monasteries of the Catholic Church and the Celtic Church were the centres of education and literacy, preserving the Church's selection from Latin learning and maintaining the art of writing.
During the Middle Ages Ireland became known as the island of saints and schoolars. Monasteries were built all over Ireland and these became centres of great learning.. . .
Cathedral schools and monasteries ceased to be the sole sources of education in the 11th century when universities were established in major European cities. Literacy became available to a wider class of people, and there were major advances in art, sculpture, music and architecture.
(Wikipedia, "History of Education")
During the medieval period, Scotland followed the typical pattern of European education with the Roman Catholic church organising schooling. Church choir song schools and grammar schools were founded in all the main burghs and some small towns, early examples including the High School of Glasgow in 1124 and the High School of Dundee in 1239. The foundation of the University of St. Andrews in 1413 was followed by Glasgow in 1451 and King's College, Aberdeen in 1495. One nameworthy northern renaissance teacher in Scotland was Robert Henryson, associated (c.1470 - 1500) with the grammar school founded by Dunfermline Abbey.
(Wikipedia, "History of Education in Scotland")
With the foundation of the ancient universities from the late 12th century, grammar schools became the entry point to an education in the liberal arts, with Latin seen as the foundation of the trivium. Pupils were usually educated up to the age of 14, after which they would look to universities and the church for further study. The first schools independent of the church, Winchester College (1382) and Eton College (1440), were closely tied to the universities, and as boarding schools became national in character.
(Wikipedia, "Grammar School")
(Wikipedia, "History of Education")
It is incorrect, however, to characterize this as either the beginning or sole impetus of all such efforts, per the material presented above. The extreme nature of the claims made by this pastor are highly debatable, because their purpose is to advance a sort of "Protestant myth": whereby Protestantism was responsible for the origin of many positive cultural things (rather than Catholicism). This is demonstrably false. I do agree, however that Protestantism bequeathed us (and was primarily responsible for) many cultural things of dubious value: secularism, nationalism, the divine right of kings, caesaropapism, state churches, religious wars between Christians, radical individualism, ahistoricism, theological relativism, rampant sectarianism, a flurry of new heretical cults (especially in America), etc.
Congregational singing is another legacy of the Reformers. For centuries, congregational singing had been virtually nonexistent. The 16th century witnessed an explosion of Christ-centered hymnody in the vernacular and a fuller participation of the laity in worship.
This has some truth in it, at least, but is a gross distortion. Congregational singing of hymns: i.e., individual religious songs that are distinct from standardized liturgical worship, is, it's true, largely a characteristically Protestant practice, and many of the most loved hymns today derive from Protestantism: particularly those of Charles Wesley, from the Methodist tradition. The early Calvinist tradition, on the other hand, thought that a church organ was an idol, and many Calvinists went around smashing church organs along with statues of Mary and even Jesus Christ himself. But it is untrue to say that there was little or no "congregational singing" among Catholics prior to that time. Catholics sung parts of the Mass regularly (the Orthodox tradition in particularly, emphasizes congregational singing and chants):
The following parts, if not sung by the whole congregation, are traditionally sung by a choir. The texts are invariable except for the Tridentine Mass Agnus Dei.
- Kyrie eleison ("Lord have mercy")
- Gloria ("Glory be to God on high")
- Credo ("I believe in one God"), the Nicene Creed
- Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), the second part of which, beginning with the word "Benedictus" ("Blessed is he"), was often sung separately after the consecration, if the setting was long. (See Benedictus for other chants beginning with that word.)
- Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God")
(Wikipedia, "Ordinary of the Mass")
The most general definition of a responsory is any psalm, canticle, or other sacred musical work sung responsorially, that is, with a cantor or small group singing verses while the whole choir or congregation respond with a refrain. However, this article focuses on those chants of the western Christian tradition that have traditionally been designated by the term responsory. In the Roman Rite and rites strongly influenced by it, such as the pre-reformation English rite and the monastic rite of the Rule of St. Benedict, these chants ordinarily follow readings at services of the Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours;) however, they have been used as processional chants as well.
The non-psalmodic chants, including the Ordinary of the Mass, sequences, and hymns, were originally intended for congregational singing.
(Wikipedia, "Gregorian Chant")
Although there is not much known about the church music of the first three centuries, and although it is clear that the time of the persecutions was not favourable to a development of solemn Liturgy, there are plenty of allusions in the writings of contemporary authors to show that the early Christians used to sing both in private and when assembled for public worship. We also know that they not only took their texts from the psalms and canticles of the Bible, but also composed new things. The latter were generally called hymns, whether they were in imitation of the Hebrew or of the classical Greek poetic forms. There seem to have been from the beginning, or at least very early, two forms of singing, the responsorial and the antiphonal. The responsorial was solo singing in which the congregation joined with a kind of refrain. . . .
Plain chant has a large variety of forms produced by the different purposes of the pieces and by the varying conditions of rendering. A main distinction is that between responsorial and antiphonal chants. The responsorial are primarily solo chants and hence elaborate and difficult; the antiphonal are choral or congregational chants and hence simple and easy. . . .
While the simplest forms are quite fit for congregational use, and forms like the Introits and Communions are within the range of average choirs, the most elaborate forms, like the Graduals, require for their adequate performance highly trained choirs, and soloists that are artists. . . . At the Mass, the Ordinary, even in the most elaborate forms of the later Middle Ages, reflects the character of congregational singing.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Plain Chant")
The elements were placed in the hands (not in the mouth) of each communicant by the clergy who were present, or, according to Justin, by the deacons alone, amid singing of psalms by the congregation (Psalm 34), with the words: "The body of Christ;" "The blood of Christ, the cup of life;" to each of which the recipient responded "Amen."(Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325 [Vol. II], Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1976, from fifth edition of 1889, Chapter Five: "Christian Worship": § 68. Celebration of the Eucharist, 238-239)
From Rome and Carthage we hear of both congregational and solo singing of original hymns in the second century. . . .
Thus Augustine of Hippo took the hint from Arius, and wrote a psalm against the party of Donatus. As he wished it to be sung by the populace, he helped the memory by making it an acrostic. Dropping the classic dactyls and spondees, he adopted the steady beat, already tramped out by the soldiers on the march: . . .
At Milan, Ambrose popularized congregational song. It is well known how during a long contest with the civil power, his friends thronged the cathedral for some days. To keep up their spirits, they were set to singing the Psalms, one group singing one verse, another answering with the next.
(W.T. Whitley, Congregational Hymn-Singing, London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1933, pp.2, 7-8; see second source concerning Ambrose)
The singing of vernacular hymns by the congregation was practised in Germany during the Middle Ages, especially in juxtaposition with the Graduals and Sequences of the Mass.
(Philip Sheldrake, editor, The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005, p. 532)
Many assume that congregational singing indeed existed in the earliest Christian ages, but that it gradually disappeared in the course of the middle ages, being totally replaced by the song of the clerics. Though it may be correct to a certain extent, the statement is in any case exaggerated, for community singing never died out completely, even in the middle ages. We know that in the larger and more generously endowed churches, the song of the clerics assumed the form of truly artistic singing. But such song is not the product of the exuberant high middle ages, or of the renaissance, for the Church already knew such truly artistic song since the time of Ambrose and Augustine. As this type of song flourished, congregational singing receded into the background during the middle ages, but at no time did it disappear completely. The really new development is that in the middle ages, the organ gradually came into the Church.
(J. Handschin, Die historische Stellung von Gesang und Orgelspiel im Gottesdienst: H. Oesch [ed.], Gedenkschrift Jacques Handschin [Bern 1957] 161/5, here 161; cited in footnote 56 in the paper, "Participaio Actuosa In Theological and Musical Perspective: Documentary Considerations" [Sacred Music, Volume 117, Number 4, Winter 1990] )
Before the Reformation, Christians were divided into two classes - spiritual (clergy) and non-spiritual (laity). The Reformers, however, taught not only the spiritual dignity of labor but also that all baptized Christians are priests before God and therefore spiritual people (1 Peter 2:9).
I already dealt with this above.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Reformation is the rediscovery of and prominence given to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel, in contrast with the law, is the good news of God's love for sinners because of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, God assures us that we are already forgiven and that we are, even now, citizens of heaven. This Gospel is the true treasure of the church. That we live today in a free society and can freely hear and speak this Gospel illustrates how the 16th century Reformation still benefits people.
This was nothing new at all. The Catholic Church had always taught it. There are many ways to demonstrate this. One quick way is to note the greatly evangelical emphasis of Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380-1471), in his famous work, The Imitation of Christ. I present several of it's "Protestant-sounding" passages in my paper: "Personal Relationship With Jesus": Completely Foreign Notion to Catholics?. See also:
The Foolishness of the Commonly Heard Charge That Catholics Supposedly Never Hear the "Gospel" or "About Jesus" at Mass
How Do Catholics Hear the Gospel? (Gary Michuta)