Christianity A History: Reformation

antichrist and the devil - detail from  Deeds of the Antichrist

antichrist and the devil - detail from Deeds of the Antichrist

Luther Bible

Luther Bible

For a thousand years there was only one Christianity in Western Europe, Roman Christianity. It tolerated no rivals as the Cathars learnt. Heretics were burnt at the stake.

The Reformation hit the church like an earthquake.

A humble monk Martin Luther nailed his demands to the church door. Those hammer blows still reverberate around Christendom.

The demands of Martin Luther were simple. An end to corruption by the clergy. An end to indulgences, the veneration of bones and other relics. Salvation was to be sought through direct communication with God, it was the Scriptures that should take precedence over the words of priests. The Scriptures to be in the vernacular, not requiring the interpretation of priests.

The Pope damned Martin Luther as a heretic and demanded that he be burnt at the stake. Martin Luther in turn called the Pope the antichrist, the only leader of the church was Jesus.

Luther saw himself as a prophet at the End of Days fighting the antichrist.

Under the sentence of death, Luther fled into exile. In exile he translated the Latin Bible into German.

The revolution that Martin Luther instigated coincided with the printing press. It was no coincidence that one of the first books to roll off the Gutenburg press was the Bible in German, though that was a commercial rather than religious decision.

Europe was torn apart in religious wars. It seemed that the End of Days had indeed arrived.

England never had a religious Reformation, which is why it is still ongoing unfinished business.

The Reformation in England was political. Henry VIII wanted a divorce and he wanted church property to finance foreign wars. Prior to the split with Rome, Henry VIII had followers of Martin Luther hunted down and killed and German Luther Bibles destroyed.

At the time of Henry VIII, the monasteries owned 2 million acres of prime land, a sixth of the land in England. They were incredibly rich. They housed vast libraries, they were centres of learning and education, helped the poor, were local employers. As self-declared Head of the church, all this wealth now belonged to Henry VIII.

The most wicked act of Henry VIII was the destruction of the monasteries.

An afternoon walk along the River Wey to Waverley Abbey

The Abbot of Glastonbury who spoke out against the looting and destruction of the Abbey was executed under false charges.

Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward, a devout Protestant, who in turn was succeeded by his sister Mary, a devout Catholic. Both waged religious wars on their own people. Your faith was decreed by your King or Queen, the people had no say in what they believed. To challenge the ruler in belief was to risk execution.

A far cry from what Martin Luther believed that the people should be free to choose.

In France, thousands of Protestants were slaughtered by their Catholic neighbours. The Pope had a special medal struck to celebrate a glorious Catholic victory.

In England, Elizabeth I banned Catholicism. Catholics were banned from celebrating Mass, priests were outlawed. It was illegal to be a practicing Roman Catholic and would remain so for 200 years. Priests practiced at risk to their lives.

catholics were forced underground. Services were held in houses, not churches. Houses had priest holes, a secret room within a house where a priest could hide with his symbols of office should the house be raided.

Archbishop George Abbot had his own network of spies and informers. Catholics were rooted out and executed.

To this day the British Monarch can be neither a Catholic nor married to a Catholic. The British Monarch is Head of the Church, Defender of the Faith.

In Amsterdam, under the eyes of their Protestant neighbours, the lovely Church in the Attic, a Roman Catholic church.

Today in Northern Ireland, Liverpool and Glasgow, sectarianism still exists. Both sides in Northern Ireland speak of ill deeds done by the other as though yesterday but which took place centuries ago. Secatarian marches still take place.

A central tenet of Christianity has been love thy neighbour. For most of its history it has been denounce and slaughter thy neighbour.

For the last 100 years the Catholic and Anglican churches have been in discussion about a possible merger, though in reality a takeover by the Catholic Church. Discussions that the laity are blissfully unaware of. Discussions that apart from a few documents and points of agreement have got nowhere and are unlikely to get anywhere. The supremacy of the Pope would never be accepted by Anglicans nor the relegation of women to second class citizens.

Bishop Christopher on closer Anglican ties with Catholic Church

To placate the Catholics, ordination of women as bishops has been put on indefinite hold. Anglicans in US have been all but excommunicated for their embracing of homosexuals

People are free to choose what church they go to or to go to no church at all. There are churches of various flavours, Anglican churches which are Catholic in all but name.

Maybe the church of the future is that of St George, an Anglican church in Baghdad, where all are welcome.

The followers of Jesus, a Jewish sect that morphed into Christianity was inclusive not exclusive, it welcomed Jews and Gentiles, women and children, sinners, everyone.

To heaven with Scribes and Pharisees

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