Bible History for the Use of Catholic Schools - R. Gilmour

Third Period:
From the Reformation to the French Revolution

24.—Causes of the Reformation.

1. Two causes largely contributed to the success of the religious revolt, or the so-called Reformation, in the sixteenth century—one the decline of morals, the other the spread of the heresies of Wyclif and Hus. The great progress in manufactures and commerce made it possible for merchants to accumulate great wealth. This opened the way to abuses of all kinds, and soon led to a general looseness of morals. At that time the nobles were permitted to nominate bishops and abbots, and only the wealthy could obtain these offices. This brought about great laxity among the clergy and in the monasteries, whence it gradually worked down through the masses. The discovery of printing about the time of Luther rendered possible the rapid spread of heresy, to which must be added the long contest between the Church and the secular powers, which had greatly weakened authority.

2. In the year 1356, John Wyclif, a fellow of Oxford University in England, began to preach against the Mendicant Orders. Four years after, he attacked the whole ecclesiastical order, teaching that the Pope was not the head of the Church, nor were the bishops superior to priests; that priests and civil magistrates lost their authority when they fell into mortal sin, ending all by the denial of Transubstantiation.

3. These doctrines readily found followers, who, under the name of Lollards, created great disturbance, assuming the right to preach when and where they pleased. In 1380 Wyclif translated the Bible into English, and four years later died, after having been condemned by the Pope and several Councils in England. His doctrines were finally condemned at the Council of Constance (1414).

4. In 1402 Jerome of Prague returned from Oxford, where he had been studying, and began to preach the doctrines of Wyclif. He was seconded by John Hus of the same place, who not only taught the condemned doctrines of Wyclif, but went further—denying the authority of the Pope, attacking the clergy, the doctrines of the Church on indulgences, the Blessed Virgin, the Saints, and communion under one kind,

5. Hus's doctrines spread rapidly through Bohemia. In 1414 the Council of Constance was held, before which he appeared, was condemned, and burned at the stake (1415). The same fate befell Jerome of Prague, May 30, 1416. The followers of Hus rose in great force, overran Bohemia, and were not finally subdued till 1436; but by this time his doctrines were widespread. The tares had been sown, and in 1517 brought forth their fruit in the heresy of Luther, when he began to preach against indulgences, and to maintain the heresies taught by Wyclif and Hus.

6. It can not be denied that the laxity of morals greatly contributed to the spread of these heresies, while the wealth of the Church afforded a specious pretext to attack the clergy. Besides, as will be readily seen, the doctrines of Wyclif and Hus appealed to the worst passions, exciting directly to rebellion against authority. The same was true in a worse degree of Luther's doctrines, exciting not only to rebellion against authority, but appealing to the worst form of intellectual pride.


1. November 10, 1483, Martin Luther, the chief of the Protestant Reformers, was born in Eisleben, in Saxony. In 1505 he became a monk of the Order of St. Augustine, and shortly after was appointed professor in the University of Wittenberg.

2. In 1517 Pope Leo X published a jubilee, and directed that the alms to be given should be sent to Rome to help complete the great Cathedral of St. Peter, then being built. Tetzel, Superior of the Dominicans, was appointed to preach this jubilee throughout Germany, which greatly displeased Luther, because of the slight, as he supposed, that had thus been thrown upon the Augustinians by not inviting them to preach the jubilee.

3. At first Luther attacked only the Dominicans, but in a short time he also attacked the doctrine of indulgences itself, publishing, October 31, 1517, his famous declaration of principles, in which were embodied the germs of the Protestant Reformation. In 1520 his doctrines were condemned by the Pope and he himself excommunicated.

4. In 1522 Luther translated the Bible into German, and with it proclaimed the doctrine of "an open Bible and free interpretation" as a fundamental doctrine. He also denied the supremacy of the Pope, the authority of the Church, the celibacy of the clergy, the efficacy of the sacraments, the doctrine of purgatory, and the teachings of the Church on justification and original sin.

5. He forbade his followers to honor the Saints or to obey the commandments of the Church, rejecting all the sacraments except Baptism and the Lord's Supper. He also taught that faith without  good works would secure man's salvation, contrary to the Catholic doctrine, which teaches that men are saved by faith with good works.

6. Luther with his "open Bible and free interpretation" paved the way to the multiplicity of sects and the vagaries of opinion into which Protestantism has divided. In 1525 Luther married Catherine von Bora, a nun whom he had persuaded to leave her convent, and in 1546 he died, with Protestantism torn into pieces by contending sects.

7. The doctrines of Luther spread rapidly throughout Saxony, the north of Germany, and Prussia. Thence they passed into Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, encouraged by princes and kings, and everywhere accompanied with bloodshed and disorder.

8. In 1545 the Council of Trent was convened, and, after seventeen years of careful examination, condemned the heresies of Luther, at the same time affirming the true doctrine on the sacraments, grace, original sin, justification, and free will. The Canon of Scripture was more precisely determined, and many wise laws published. For over three hundred years no new Council was held till 1869, when the Council of the Vatican assembled, but in 1870 was forced to adjourn in consequence of the seizure of Rome by Victor Emmanuel, as has been seen.

26.—Spread of the Religious Revolt.

1. Protestantism had overthrown the old religion, and had substituted nothing but disorder and division in its place. The chiefs of the religious revolution, fearing the universal destruction of Christian virtue, now called upon the temporal rulers to come to the rescue. One State after another saw its sovereign embrace Lutheranism. Everywhere the churches were violently taken from Catholics, priests and monks were driven away, and the possessions of the Church were confiscated.

2. In Switzerland the eastern cantons were lost to the Church mainly through the influence of Zwingli, an apostate military chaplain. He began to preach his heretical doctrines in Zurich and Constance in 1523, and in the next year he married. Some of the western cantons adopted the teachings of the Anabaptists, who denied the validity of infant Baptism. Thus it followed that rival leagues were formed, and in 1531 war broke out between the Catholic and Protestant cantons, in which the former were victorious. In the following year a convention was held which granted each canton the liberty to establish its own belief and form of government.

3. Frederick I of Denmark permitted the Lutheran preachers to spread the new creed in his kingdom, and soon after (1526) openly professed the heresy himself. His son and successor, Christian II, made Lutheranism the established religion of the country. Bishops were imprisoned and robbed of their possessions, Religious of both sexes had to leave their monasteries, and their property was confiscated.

4. To prevent the clergy from holding too much power in Sweden, the king, Gustavus Vasa, introduced the "Reformed" religion, much against the will of the people. The king and the nobles appropriated the Church lands, monks and nuns were driven out of their monasteries, or put to death with great cruelty. At a diet held in 1544, all the feast-days were suppressed, and most of the Catholic customs were done away with. Moreover, the declaration was made that the country would "never again abandon the word of God and the pure Gospel," referring to the Protestant Bible, which had been translated into the language of the people.

5. Norway was still subject to Danish rule, and the government took advantage of its power to force the new gospel on the people. Protestantism found its way even to Iceland, about the year 1550.

6. The new sects made inroads into Austria and Bavaria, and gained many adherents in Hungary and Poland, though these countries never abandoned the true Faith. At the opening date of the Council of Trent, 1545, Protestantism had almost reached its high-water mark in Europe. From the time that the Council, after many interruptions, was brought to a close in 1563, various causes combined to bring about a gradual retrogression.

7. Previous to the religious revolt, the Netherlands consisted of a number of provinces, each having its own governor. One of these, William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, by his intrigues, drew the people into revolt against the Church and their sovereign. Heretical preachers spread their doctrines with great boldness, and in 1578 the provinces split into two distinct groups. Those of the north formed a league called the Union of Utrecht, and demanded freedom of worship for the Protestants; while those of the south firmly upheld the supremacy of Catholicism. The united provinces gradually formed the independent republic of Holland. It was recognized as such at the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and was universally regarded as the champion of Protestantism.

27.—Calvin and Knox.

1. John Calvin was born 1509 at Noyon, France, and died at Geneva, 1564. At first he studied for the priesthood and received Minor Orders, but afterwards studied law. In 1532 he adopted the doctrines of Luther, and in 1535 published his celebrated "Institutions," in which he taught that all men were predestined by the forewill of God to heaven or hell; thus destroying free will, and making God the author of sin.

2. In 1536 he went to Geneva, whence, two years later, he was banished because of his great rigor and vehemence. In 1541 he returned, and from that time to his death (1564) ruled Geneva with a rod of iron. In 1553 he burned Servetus, because he taught doctrines on the Trinity objectionable to Calvin, thus denying to others the freedom he claimed for himself.

3. Calvin forbade all religious ceremonies, denying the Mass, the Real Presence, and the sacramental character of bishops and priests.

4. From Geneva, Calvin directed his disciples and followers in France. The French Calvinists, called Huguenots, became both a political and a military power in their country. They formed a great secret society, and gradually threatened to overthrow the government itself. They brought on the civil wars called "wars of religion," which during thirty years devastated the country, and were marked by rude vandalism and many bloody massacres.

5. Calvin was a man of strong character, great rigor, and deep, resolute will. He is by many deemed the soul of the Reformation. He was perhaps the most highly gifted of all the reformers, and his writings, especially on the Scriptures, are still held in great esteem by Protestants. His doctrines were condemned by the Council of Trent, together with those of Luther.

6. John Knox, author of the Reformation in Scotland, was born in the year 1505. He was ordained a priest, but in 1547 began to preach against the Pope and the Mass. He was a man of violent temper and rude manners. In 1554 he adopted the doctrines of Calvin, and succeeded in having them so universally adopted in Scotland that Catholicity was almost entirely rejected by the Scotch. He died in 1572, revered by the Scotch, but known in history as the "ruffian of the Reformation."

28.—The Protestant Reformation in England.

1. In the beginning, Henry VIII, King of England, was strongly opposed to the doctrines of Luther, writing a book against him, for which he was called by the Pope "Defender of the Faith," a title still retained by the kings and queens of England.

2. In 1509 he married Catherine of Aragon, but twenty-four years after conceived an unlawful passion for Anne Boleyn, waiting-maid to the queen. Because the Pope refused to divorce him from his lawful wife, Catherine, he declared himself head of the Church in England, forced Parliament to divorce him (1533), then publicly married Anne Boleyn, to whom he had been already privately married some months before.

3. Three years later (1536) he had her beheaded, and on the next day married Jane Seymour, who died the year following, when he again married. Within six months this marriage was also annulled, and he married Catherine Howard, who was beheaded the next year, when he married again. He was preparing to have his sixth wife divorced when he himself died, despised and detested by all. Such was the man who began the Reformation in England.

4. After the death of Henry VIII (1547), the Reformation was continued by Edward VI (1547–1553) and Elizabeth (1558–1603). During the reign of Elizabeth, the ancient hierarchy became extinct in England, and Catholicity was almost entirely destroyed. The persecution of Catholics continued under her successors, with short intermissions, until the end of the eighteenth century.

5. When Henry VIII separated from the Church, he began a most violent persecution, seizing upon the monasteries, driving out the Religious, and dividing their lands among his partisans. Prison, fines, confiscation, torture, death, was the doom of all who refused to acknowledge him as the head of the Church. He beheaded Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Thomas More, Chancellor, two of the most distinguished men of England, because they would not sanction his divorce or acknowledge his supremacy in spiritual matters.

6. To the schism of Henry, Edward and Elizabeth added heresy, suppressing the Mass, destroying images, pillaging and profaning churches, changing dogma and ceremonies, the nation basely accepting all at the beck of its rulers. From the death of Elizabeth (1603) to the present day, the "English Church," as it is now called, has been but the slave of the State, the kings and queens of England being its head.

7. To make converts, Catholicity has ever appealed to reason; Protestantism, like Mohammedanism, to force and violence. In England and Scotland Protestantism was forced upon the people by fines, imprisonment, and death; in Germany and Prussia, Sweden and Denmark and Norway, the same. In America the Puritans acted in like manner.

8. Protestantism began with "an open Bible and free interpretation," and has ended in division and disbelief. By this principle every one becomes judge of what he will or will not believe. Hence, amongst Protestants there are almost as many religions as there are individuals, the churches divided and torn into pieces, ending in infidelity. On the other hand, Catholicity remains ever the same; because Catholicity is truth, and truth changes not.

29.—The Church in Other Lands.

1. Of all the northern nations, Ireland alone held fast to the true religion, and defied the assaults of heresy. After a long and bloody struggle for liberty, the country was conquered by Elizabeth, Queen of England. She imposed upon the people a whole hierarchy of Protestant archbishops, bishops, and rectors, whom the nation had to support, although they did nothing, for they had no flocks to tend. Laws were made forbidding Catholics to own property, and rewards were offered to those who would apostatize. Hundreds of priests were martyred for the Faith, and thousands were sent into exile. These persecutions tended but to strengthen the faith of the people, and this, along with the glorious record of saintly martyrs, proved a consolation to the Church. Many of the exiled priests went to America, where they planted the old faith in the virgin soil of the Western Continent.

2. Spain was another Catholic country which resisted the strong current of Protestantism. The number of illustrious saints raised up by God, during this period of spiritual desolation, in some manner compensated for the losses which the Church sustained through the apostasy of so many of her children. St. Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491, the founder of the Society of Jesus, was called by God to defend the Church against Luther, Calvin, and their followers. Other saints were St. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of India; St. Francis Borgia; St. John of the Cross; and St. Teresa.

3. In North America the labors of the missionaries were most consoling to the Church. In a few years whole tribes of natives submitted to the teachings of the Gospel. French missionaries founded churches among the Hurons and Algonquins, and the fierce Iroquois became fervent Christians by the power of Divine grace. Las Casas, a Spanish Dominican, labored during fifty years among the Indians of the Antilles and converted thousands to the Faith.

4. In South America every country had its flourishing missions. In 1555 Spanish missionaries civilized the wandering tribes of Paraguay, formed them into a nation, taught them the arts and sciences, and erected schools and workshops. Many of these converts served God with all the piety and zeal of the first Christians.

5. The Church made wonderful progress in Asia. St. Francis Xavier and his companions converted many in India. In Japan the number of Christians rose to several hundred thousand, many of whom, amid the fiercest persecutions, glorified God by their holy lives, and won the martyr's crown.

6. China, too, had its martyrs. The Jesuit missionaries were the first to open this new field to the fructifying seed of the Gospel. Later on (1631), the Dominicans landed in China, and converted many to the Faith.

7. The Philippines, discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, had been named by him San Lazaro. Later on, the name was changed to Filipino, in honor of Philip II of Spain. In 1564 Legaspi left Mexico for the Philippines, taking with him some Augustinian Fathers, who began at once to labor at the conversion of the natives. A few years later Bishop Salazar, a Dominican, arrived, with a few Jesuits. He is one of the most prominent figures in the history of the Philippines. The Franciscans came to the islands in 1577, and a few years later the Dominicans. These zealous missionaries won the natives by their self-sacrificing devotedness, and converted them in great numbers. The missionaries wrote books in the native dialects, established schools, and labored untiringly at the material and moral improvement of the people.

8. The Capuchin missionaries labored successfully in Africa. They converted many in Mozambique and along the eastern coast. The King of Abyssinia was converted in 1626, but his successors drove the missionaries from the country.

9. Besides these consoling conquests of souls among pagan nations, another feature stands out prominently in the history of this period. The Church of God was guided through these troublesome times by a number of illustrious and saintly Popes. When the Protestant revolt began in 1517, the See of Peter was occupied by Leo X. He was a great promoter of science and art, and he contributed largely to the cultural development of the West. Paul III (1534–1549) was a Pope of commanding virtue and great personality. He actually turned the tide of the times in favor of religion. He especially encouraged the many Religious Orders which appeared at that time, such as the Capuchins, Barnabites, Jesuits, Ursulines, and others. St. Pius V (1566–1572) was a Dominican. He brought about the coalition of fleets that defeated the Turks in the famous battle of Lepanto in 1571. Gregory XIII (1572–1585) gave to the world the reformed calendar. He spared no efforts to restore the Faith in countries that had become Protestant. Sixtus V (1585–1590) published the Vulgate edition of the Bible. He also established the Roman Congregations, each of which is charged with special ecclesiastical affairs. Paul V (1605–1621) was very zealous in preserving the purity of the Faith. He did very much for the education of the clergy, and promoted the works of the missions. Gregory XV (1621–1623) instituted the Congregation of the Propaganda, which controls and sustains the work of foreign missions.

30.—Religious Orders.

1. Various causes prevented the continuous sessions of the Council of Trent, so that eighteen years elapsed before the Council closed in December, 1563. Never before had the Christian doctrine been so ably defended and so clearly defined, and never had it been so evident that the Spirit of God was at work in the guidance of the Catholic Church. The Fathers of the Council, returning to their homes, carried its decrees to all parts of the world, and labored earnestly to have them put into practice.

2. During the period of years covered by the sessions of the Council, the work of God was going on in England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and the Church was full of promise. Many of the older Religious Orders had been reformed, and new Religious Congregations were established. In many places nations were won back to the unity of the Faith, and a great impetus was given to the Christian education of youth. Although these glorious works developed as time went on, the fact that not more was really accomplished was due to the constant struggle going on between the Church and the spirit of heresy and infidelity, which had its origin in the Protestant Reformation.

3. At the time when Henry VIII was drawing the English nation from their allegiance to the Church, St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was a Spanish nobleman. While on a bed of suffering, he read the lives of Jesus Christ and of the saints. Enlightened by grace, he resolved on doing great things for the cause of God and religion. He prepared himself for his lifework by prayer and penance, and by years of study at the University of Paris. Here he gathered about him a few generous souls among the professors and students, and these formed the nucleus of the Society. As his plan developed, the new institute was approved by Paul III. The virtue and learning of these apostolic men soon won universal admiration. As teaching was a fundamental duty of the Society of Jesus, schools, colleges, and universities were soon established under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers. St. Ignatius himself founded two colleges in the Eternal City.

4. Of St. Philip Neri it may be said that he was the principal cause of the spiritual renovation in Rome. Although he had influence even as a layman, after his ordination to the priesthood his power over men grew all the more. He loved to gather the young about him, and he was eminently successful in making virtue attractive to them. A number of priests gathered about him, and lived under his guidance. Large crowds of people repaired to the churches where he held the services. These churches of St. Philip were called oratories, and his disciples, Oratorians. The Oratorians did not form a Religious Order, but they lived in community, without being bound by the vows of religion.

5. The Congregation of the Mission, or the Lazarists founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul (1624) were the first to begin the work of giving missions to the people. They went in bands, and passed from one town to another. They preached, explained the Catechism, heard confessions, and brought thousands to the profession and practice of their Faith.

31.—Religious Orders. (Concluded.)

1. The first Order devoted to the education of girls dates back to the sixteenth century. St. Angela Merici is claimed to be the founder. Separate Congregations were formed in '.different centers. They chose St. Ursula as their patron and were called Ursulines. During the first hundred years of its existence, the Order established houses in almost every country of Europe.

2. The Order of the Visitation was founded in 1618 by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. The members of the Order devote themselves to works of mercy, and to the education of girls.

3. The Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul were founded in 1633. The members devote themselves to the relief of suffering in hospitals, in prisons and orphanages, and on the battlefield. Before the French Revolution, the Sisters of Charity, by which name they are more generally known, had 426 establishments in different parts of Europe.

4. In 1680 St. John Baptist de la Salle founded the Congregation known as the Christian Brothers. He established schools for the purpose of teaching children and youth the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the practice of Christian virtue.

5. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, whose members are generally known as Redemptorists, was founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori. The object of this great saint and doctor of the Church was to multiply the number of apostolic missionaries, who would win back to God multitudes of misguided men. The secret societies met no greater foe than the Redemptorist missionaries.