Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts

Münster Commune

city of Münster
city of Münster

The Münster commune is a bizarre chapter in the history of the Reformation. Lasting slightly over a year beginning in 1534, it involved some revolutionary Anabaptists who took over the city of Münster and instituted a new order while defending against besieging troops.

In 1533, a Lutheran named Bernard Rothmann, a former Roman Catholic priest, succeeded in bringing Lutheran control to the city of Münster, a good-sized city in northwest Germany. Rothmann, who had only been Lutheran since 1531, became more convinced of the Anabaptist beliefs and in May 1533 formally renounced infant baptism.

Later that year, he began preaching in favor of primitive Christianity, interpreted to mean sharing of all goods in common and living a simpler, morally upright life. This caused much controversy with those citizens continuing to hold Lutheran beliefs.

The success of Rothmann drew other Anabaptists flocking to the city, increasing the tension between the merchants and guildsmen in the town and those emigrating from other places in Germany and the Netherlands. In early 1534, Rothmann and nearly 1,400 others were rebaptized in Münster.

Around this same time, there was a heightened expectation by more radical Anabaptists of the end of the world described in the book of Revelation in the Bible. Associated with this were the rise of many so-called apostles and prophets ready to prepare the people for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In February 1534, Jan Matthys (Matthijs) and Jan Bockelson, immigrants from the Netherlands, ran through the streets of Münster crying for all people to repent of their sins. This caused a mass hysteria, ending in an armed revolt against the town council (still predominately Lutheran).

The town council did not act aggressively, instead continuing to allow the Anabaptists their freedom. Many Lutheran citizens, concerned that the town would revolt, departed. This event, coupled with the continuing stream of immigrants, resulted in the town’s becoming Anabaptist.

On February 27, 1534, armed groups of men, led by Jan Matthys, went through the city, driving out all those not Anabaptist, calling, “Get out, you godless ones and never come back, you enemies of the Father.” By early March, the town was completely Anabaptist, with forcible rebaptizing of all those not already declaring themselves Anabaptist.

Matthys, Bockelson, and Rothmann, along with a leading merchant named Knipperdollinck, took over the control of the city. They declared that all possessions were to be held in common, threatening the wrath of God and public execution against those who withheld possessions from the community. After three days of prayer, Matthys appointed seven deacons to administer these goods.

All of this activity did not escape the notice of the Roman Catholic prince-bishop of Münster. While he did not live in the city and failed to get the support of those in the town in the early days of the conflict, the problems in Münster concerned the other princes enough to allow him to raise funds for troops to besiege the city.

By mid-March 1534, the city was somewhat ineffectively besieged. In early April, Matthys, believing God would give him power over the besiegers, went out with a band of troops, but he and all the troops were killed immediately.

Matthys’s death gave opportunity to Jan Bockelson to strengthen control over the town. Though the son of a tailor, Bockelson was an effective organizer and had, if anything, a more radical approach than Matthys.

In May 1534, Bockelson ran through the town naked and then sat silent for three days. He then prophesied that God had a new plan and organization for the town, with himself as chief apostle and 12 elders.

A morally strict code was at first enforced, but eventually the lack of men in the town (and probably Knipperdollinck’s very attractive daughter) led Bockelson, who was already married, to declare that God had ordained polygamy. Bockelson eventually married 15 wives, and many other men took multiple wives. This caused many problems in a few short months, resulting in an increasingly loose approach to sexual relations.

In August 1534, an attack by the bishop’s forces was effectively fought off by the town militia. Bockelson took the opportunity to declare himself the king of Münster, and the short-lived kingdom began. Bockelson appointed many immigrants as his councilors and had a gold-covered throne placed in the market square.

He thought of himself as a new King David and dressed in magnificent robes and held court with his equally well dressed counselors. At the same time, a reign of terror began for any of those who opposed the king and his counselors.

By January 1535, the blockade of the town was increasingly effective. A time of famine followed, though the king and his court managed to escape it for the most part by requisitioning supplies. In March, the king predicted that the town would be saved by Easter, but when this day passed, he quickly asserted it was a spiritual salvation and continued to proclaim the imminent return of Christ.

Finally in June of 1535, aided by some residents, the forces of the prince-bishop invaded the town, killing Rothmann during the battle. The deposed king and Knipperdollinck were put to death by torture after the king was hung in a cage and then led around the town on a chain.

While a few smaller Anabaptist uprisings occurred after this, most Anabaptists distanced themselves from these more radical uprisings and somewhat in reaction would disavow any kind of military role for their followers in future generations.

Philip Melancthon - Religious Reformer

Philip Melancthon
Philip Melancthon
Philip Melancthon was a key Lutheran reformer. He worked very closely with Martin Luther and was the author of many of the major Reformation documents, including the Augsburg Confession.

Philip Melancthon was born Philip Schwarzerd on February 16, 1547, in Bretten, Germany. A brilliant boy, he was tutored in Greek and Latin and entered the University of Heidelberg just before his 13th birthday in 1509, graduating at age 14.

The university would not allow him to study for his master’s at such a young age, so Philip moved to Tübingen, studying both philosophy and humanistic thought. He completed his master’s degree in 1514 at age 17. He was offered a position as an instructor at Tübingen and taught there until 1518.

During his time at Tübingen as an instructor, Melancthon began to study theology and continued his studies of Greek, producing a Greek grammar in 1518. Offered a position at Wittenberg as a professor of Greek in 1518, Melancthon eagerly accepted. It was there he met another professor, the monk Martin Luther, who had posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, on the church door at Wittenberg.

Melancthon was an early supporter of Luther, attending the debates that preceded Luther’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. By the time of his publishing a defense of Luther against Johann Maier von Eck in 1519, Melancthon was considered a part of the Lutheran camp.

Augsburg Confession

Melancthon was the primary author of the Augsburg Confession, written in 1530. This is a key Reformation document, explaining the Lutheran position on various theological issues. Written in Melancthon’s clear and lucid style, it represented the Lutheran position in a manner that many hoped would bring about reconciliation between the Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Melancthon would prove always to take the more moderate position in the various Reformation controversies.

Melancthon worked closely with Luther on many of Luther’s writings. He assisted in Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, revised many of Luther’s commentaries on the Bible, and assisted Luther in some of the Luther’s most important polemical works.

Yet Melancthon would not always agree with Luther. In 1537, at a meeting in Smalcald, Luther had previously prepared what are commonly called the Smalcald Articles (a part of the Book of Concord), attacking the pope virulently.

Melancthon, writing his own “Treatise on the Primacy and the Power of the Pope,” persuaded the others present to adopt his more moderate position. Melancthon married Katharina Krapp, daughter of the mayor of Wittenberg, in 1520. They had four children and their marriage lasted 37 years until Katharina’s death in 1557. They lived in Wittenberg throughout their marriage.

Melancthon had many roles at the University of Wittenberg. He gave immensely popular lectures in over 100 courses to thousands of students (some of his most popular lectures had over 2,000 in attendance). His lectures included theology, philosophy, philology, and world history. He served as rector and academic dean at various times, helping to establish the university as a leading educational institution.

Melancthon published many books. His most famous book, a systematic theology called the Loci communes, was first published in 1521 and revised several times by Melancthon.

Melancthon reached out to many church and public figures including Henry VIII, king of England; King Francis I of France; and the patriarch of Constantinople. He also counted as friends many Calvinists, including Oecolampadius, Bucer, and John Calvin himself. This would leave him open to later charges of being a crypto-Calvinist.

The most tragic event in Melancthon’s life was his role in the document called the Leipzig Interim. Soon after Luther’s death in 1546, Emperor Charles V invaded the German area of Saxony and forced the defeated princes to adopt a document that was designed to be an interim document until the theological matters were settled by the Council of Trent, which had begun recently.

The authors of the document were two Roman Catholic bishops and Luther’s old nemesis, John Agricola. The resulting document so favored Roman Catholicism that the defeated princes refused to sign it.

Melancthon was asked to improve the document to make it more palatable. This he did, but just barely. The document compromised on justification by faith, a key Lutheran tenet, and Melancthon’s association with it would unfairly brand him as a traitor to the Lutheran cause for the rest of his life.

Melancthon provided a kind of balance to Luther that Luther himself appreciated. He was not a strong leader, and many rightly accuse him of being too eager to compromise. Yet his key role in many of the Reformation documents and his personal influence and friendship with many of the reformers clearly show how essential Melancthon was in the early years of the Reformation. Melancthon died in 1560 and was buried next to Luther in the castle Church of Wittenberg.

Lebna Dengel - Ethiopian Ruler

 Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia
 Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia

Emperor Lebna Dengel of Ethiopia, also known as Dawit II, or David II, was one of the celebrated Christian kings of Ethiopia. Lebna Dengel succeeded to the throne of Ethiopia at the age of 12, partly through the maneuverings of his grandmother, the empress Eleni.

The empress was the daughter of King Hadiya, a Muslim, and she officially served as Lebna Dengel’s regent. Eleni had begun her rise to power when she became one of the four wives of Zara Yakob (1438–68) in 1445, thereby joining her prominent Muslim family with the Christian family of Zara Yakob.

As one of the celebrated evangelizing emperors of Ethiopia, along with Amda Tseyon (1314–44) and Sayfa Arad (1344–72), Zara Yakob holds a unique place in Ethiopian history. When he built a new royal residence at Debre Berhan, Eleni, who had converted to Christianity, established a church on the grounds.

Zara Yakob died after designating his young son Ba’eda Maryam (1468–78) as his heir, and Eleni became even more prominent in Ethiopian politics. Since his mother was dead, Ba’eda Maryam designated Eleni, to whom he was close, as the queen mother and chose her to serve as his regent.

Eleni also served in this capacity during the troubled reign of her son Na’od (1494–1505), who had succeeded his half brother Ba’eda Maryam to the throne. When Na’od was killed in a battle against the Muslims, his son Lebna Dengel was only seven years old.

Throughout much of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Eleni served as the power behind the Ethiopian throne, essentially serving as the reigning monarch. As a devout and active Christian, Eleni is credited with founding the modern church of Ethiopia. Although her exact birth date is unknown, Eleni was born sometime in the 1430s and died in the early 1520s in her 90s.

While Christians and Muslims coexisted in Ethiopia during Lebna Dengel’s reign, it was far from a peaceful relationship. In 1516, when the emir Mahfuz of Haran invaded the Ethiopian highlands, Lebna Dengel ambushed the invaders and continued to press his advantage by killing the emir and following them back to Haran, where he again attacked.

Lebna Dengel returned to his home a hero, convinced that the Muslims would no longer threaten Ethiopian Christians. He was fatally wrong. Suspecting that a Muslim attack was imminent, Eleni sent out a plea for assistance from Portugal. Consequently, in 1520, a Portuguese expeditionary force arrived in Ethiopia, led by Dom Ridrigo da Lama.

Despite the presence of the Portuguese in Ethiopia, in March 1529, Muslim forces under Ahmed Ibn Ghazi (c. 1507–43), popularly known as “the Gran,” triumphed over Lebna Dengel’s forces. By 1531, Muslim forces were in control of Ethiopia and remained so until 1543.

During the period of Muslim dominance, Emperor Lebna Dengel actively resisted all efforts to make him renounce his faith. When Ahmed ibn Ghazi demanded the hand of Lebna Dengel’s daughter in marriage, warning Lebna Dengel that he had no other course than to comply, the emperor summarily refused.

Assuring the Gran that he would not allow his daughter to marry a nonbeliever, Lebna Dengel wrote to him that he was determined to retain his trust in the Lord rather than in the Gran. Afterward, Lebna Dengel’s faith was repeatedly tested as he was forced to flee for his life. For the rest of his life, he was often hungry, uncomfortable, and in physical danger.

Lebna Dengel was still hiding from Muslim forces when he was killed in battle on September 2, 1540, near the monastery of Dabra Dam in Tigre. Subsequently, the tide turned for Christian Ethiopians. Lebna Dengel had appealed to Portugal for assistance in 1535, but help did not arrive until after his death.

The emperor Galawdewos (Claudius) succeeded to his father’s throne, and the Ethiopian Empire was restored with the help of the Portuguese who arrived in Ethiopia in 1541. This force of 400 Portuguese musketeers was led by Cristóvão da Gama, the son of the celebrated explorer Vasco da Gama.

After Lebna Dengel’s death, his son Galawdewos, assisted by the Portuguese musketeers, led an attack in which the Gran was killed in 1543 in a battle near Lake Tana. Once the Muslims were ousted, the Christians performed a penitential and reinstatement ceremony and proclaimed the return of Christianity to Ethiopia.

Although the Muslims had been ousted from Ethiopia, the Gran’s widow, Bati Del Wambara, continued raids on the Christians. Galawdewos was killed in battle in 1559, and the Muslims triumphantly displayed his head on a stake.

Many of the Portuguese who survived the various battles remained in Ethiopia when the troops pulled out of Ethiopia in 1547. They were soon joined by a group of Jesuit missionaries. The presence of the Portuguese was evident in Ethiopia in a number of ways since the Portuguese government fully intended to retain a certain amount of power in the country The Portuguese taught the Ethiopian soldiers how to use firearms and converted a number of locals to Western Catholicism.

By the mid-17th century, however, the Ethiopian government had expelled the Jesuits and denied other missionaries admission to the country. For the next two centuries, Ethiopia rejected all foreign overtures, preferring to exist in isolation.

Bartolomé de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas
Bartolomé de Las Casas
One of the most influential figures in the history of Latin America, the Spanish priest and historian Bartolomé de Las Casas became known as the “Apostle of the Indians” for his impassioned and relentless susila condemnations of the excesses of violence and cruelty perpetrated by Spanish conquistadores and encomenderos against the native inhabitants of the Americas.

His book, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account, first published in 1552, caused a sensation across Spain and at the highest levels of church and state. Translated into many languages, it also formed an important component of the “Black Legend” of Spanish atrocities, a perspective that continues to hold enormous sway in considerations of the Spanish impact on the Americas. An indefatigable writer and activist, he continued writing, publishing, and speaking in favor of Indian rights from 1514 until his death in 1566.

His writings were an important element of later Enlightenment discourses on the universality of human rights and continue to resonate among liberation theologians, human rights activists, and indigenous rights activists across Latin America more than 450 years after his “brief account” was first published.

Born in Seville in 1484, son of a well-to-do merchant, Las Casas first came to the New World in 1502, at age 18, in the company of his father and some 2,500 other adventurers in the fleet of Nicolás de Ovando. Around 1506–07, he returned to Europe, was ordained a deacon in Rome, and returned to the Indies, where he was granted an encomienda.

In 1512, he became the first priest ordained in the Americas. Over the next two years, an encomendero himself and eyewitness to the forced labor, enslavement, and violence that characterized the conquest of the Caribbean, he gradually came to an understanding of Spanish actions that diverged radically from that of the vast majority of his countrymen.

His first public condemnation of Spanish excesses was in a Pentecost Sunday sermon in 1514. Freeing his own Indians, henceforth he preached incessantly about the evils of encomienda and other forms of forced labor and violence, making many enemies in the process.

In 1520, King Charles granted him an official hearing to expound his views and defend himself against his many detractors. A handful of other ecclesiastics, most notably Antonio de Montesinos and Juan Quevedo, had been advancing similar arguments.

The king sympathized with Las Casas’s position and decreed that the Indies would henceforth be ruled without recourse to force of arms—an unenforceable edict that was largely ignored. After a failed attempt to establish an economically self-sustaining Indian commune in Venezuela, in 1522 Las Casas became a Dominican monk.

Over the next four decades, he wrote prolifically and became an obsessive collector of documents that later proved of inestimable value to scholars. He was instrumental in persuading the king to issue the New Laws of 1542, which placed severe restrictions on encomienda, sparked furious resistance by encomenderos across the empire, and were repealed in 1545–46.

In 1544, he was appointed bishop of Chiapas (Mexico), where he continued his work on behalf of the Indians. Three years later, in response to mounting opposition to the radical bishop, the Council of the Indies recalled him to Spain.

In 1550, came one of the most memorable and important public debates in early modern Europe, on the question of the morality of Spain’s actions in the Americas. Pitting two intellectual giants—Las Casas versus the eminent humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who argued from Aristotelian premises that Indians were “natural slaves” and that Spanish actions were therefore just and appropriate—the great debate of Vallodolid failed to resolve the question, even though most council members sided with Las Casas.

In the coming years, he wrote many other works of enduring historical importance, most notably his Brief Account (1552), Apologética historia, and Historia de las Indias. He continued denouncing the institution of encomienda and Spanish cruelties and championing Indian rights until his death in July 1566. His body was interred at Our Lady of Atocha in Madrid.

Diego de Landa

Diego de Landa
Diego de Landa
Among the first Spaniards to venture into the Maya heartland of the Yucatán Peninsula, the Franciscan friar Diego de Landa owes his fame, and infamy, to two distinct but related actions.

His infamy rests on his systematic destruction of dozens of Maya texts (or codices) and thousands of Mayan idols in his crusade to extinguish idolatry and spread Christianity among the Maya in the 1560s—a crusade accompanied by tortures, burnings at the stake, and many other atrocities against the region’s indigenous inhabitants.

Yet Landa was also among the earliest experts on Mayan language and culture, his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán (Account of the Things of Yucatán, 1556) representing a landmark document that provided an exceptionally vivid, detailed, and important description of Maya language and culture, and that proved key in the eventual decipherment of ancient Maya texts in the second half of the 20th century.

Landa thus occupies a peculiar and highly ambiguous position as both the most important early destroyer and preserver of knowledge on the preconquest Maya of Yucatán.

Born in Cifuentes, Guadalajara, Spain, on March 17, 1524, Landa entered the Franciscan monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo in 1540. Nine years later he journeyed to Yucatán as part of the broader missionary effort to convert the New World’s indigenous inhabitants to Christianity.

His first several years were spent at the monastery at Izamal, learning Mayan, revising an existing grammar, and undertaking the routine duties of Franciscan missionaries: preaching, tending to the sick, performing sacraments.

Growing restless, Landa sought and received permission to venture alone into the interior, where he spent many months wandering through large parts of the peninsula and acquiring intimate knowledge of Mayan language and culture.

In 1553, he returned to the monastery at Izamal and supervised the construction of a permanent structure at the prominent Maya religious center. Eight years later, in 1561, the General Chapter of the Franciscans appointed the 37-year-old Landa as the region’s first provincial.

By 1562, Landa had overseen the construction of 12 monasteries and the baptism of thousands of Maya, who Landa believed had abandoned their idols and embraced the Christian faith.

In May 1562, a chance discovery of a cave near the village of Maní containing numerous idols and human skulls launched Landa on a crusade to extirpate, once and for all, idolatry among the natives.

Employing a torture technique known as the garrucha, or hoist (in which the individual was bound at the wrists, hoisted into the air, and lashed, sometimes with large stones attached to the feet and hot wax hurled onto the body), the friars gained numerous “confessions” from the natives on their continuing adherence to non-Christian religious beliefs and practices.

Soon afterward, on Sunday, July 12, 1562, the friars celebrated a massive auto-da-fé at Maní, in which great piles of idols (including at least 27 Maya manuscripts, or codices) were set to the torch, and various punishments meted out to offenders against the Christian faith, including floggings, incarceration, and fines.

The inquisition continued for the next three months. Altogether an estimated 4,500 natives were tortured, with many hundreds left permanently disabled and 158 dying in consequence of the interrogations.

Landa’s illegal and unauthorized excesses led to a prolonged power struggle with the region’s bishop, Francisco de Toral, whose authority he was charged with usurping. Ordered back to Spain, he was absolved by the Council of the Indies, and in 1573 he returned to Yucatán as second bishop of Mérida, in which capacity he served until his death on April 30, 1579.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation in 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was a controversial figure in his day, with great friends and foes during a period of tumult in the Roman Catholic Church.

Born in 1483, Luther was the son of a reasonably prosperous copper miner. An intelligent boy, he was sent away to school by his father, who hoped he would be a lawyer. That was not to be. At the end of his university studies at Erfurt in 1505, Luther was caught in a terrible thunderstorm, where he prayed to St. Anne for deliverance, vowing to become a monk. Soon after that, he made good on his promise and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

The monastic life at that time varied greatly, depending on the monastery. The Augustinian monks were quite strict, with fasting and a rigorous schedule of prayer, study, and work. Luther was ordained a Catholic priest in 1507 and completed his doctoral studies in 1512.

He then was assigned by his superior to teach biblical studies at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. Preparing his lectures on the Bible (especially the books of Romans and Galatians), he became increasingly dissatisfied with the current practice of the church compared to what he saw in the Bible. His lectures were quite popular among the students, and he drew together a circle of other professors around him for discussion.

In 1517, he decided to tackle the issue of the sale of indulgences (a document granting a person exemption from the penalty for his or her sins) by writing a document that contained 95 statements (or theses) that argued against the practice of the sale of indulgences.

Many knew that Prince Albert of Germany had arranged with Pope Leo X to turn over half of the proceeds from the sale of indulgences to the pope, who needed money to finish building St. Peter’s Basilica, and turning the rest over to bankers who had funded Prince Albert’s purchase of bishoprics. But it was the shameless manner in which the indulgences were sold that was too much for Luther.

Freedom from the penalty of even the gravest sins was promised by the Dominican monk Tetzel as he sold the indulgences in the neighboring areas. At that time, Luther did not imagine the storm of controversy that his few pages would cause. Because of the recently invented movable type printing press, within a few short months, Luther’s 95 Theses were printed and sent out all over western Europe.

The Catholic Church’s response was first to wait and see whether the controversy would die down. When it did not, Luther was approached by high-ranking church officials who asked him to retract or recant his statements. Finally in 1521, Luther was summoned before the emperor at the Diet of Worms.

There, with his books and pamphlets in front of him, he was asked to recant his writings. His response, considered apocryphal by some, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning ... then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

Luther knew that his statements would probably cause his expulsion (excommunication) from the Roman Catholic Church and that he would have to flee for his life. Fortunately for Luther, a sympathetic German prince, Frederick the Wise, “kidnapped” him and hid him in the Wartburg castle till the storm blew over.

Because of the support of Frederick and other German princes, the “Lutheran” movement grew in strength over the next 10 years. Excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, Luther and his followers took over the churches in the areas in Germany that had sympathetic princes.

Luther continued to teach and write at the University of Wittenberg. He married a former nun, Katherina von Bora, in 1525 and had six children. Luther died in 1546. Luther wrote a great many books and shorter articles. (There are more than 100 volumes of his works.) These include Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther’s Large Catechism, The Bondage of the Will, and On the Freedom of a Christian. He also translated the Bible into German—prior to this time it was only available in Latin.

Luther was an outspoken man, tending to make outrageous statements, especially at the dinner table (e.g., “When I die I want to be a ghost and pester the bishops, priests, and godless monks so that they have more trouble with a dead Luther than they could have had before with a thousand living ones”).

Some controversy has arisen in more recent years about Luther’s statements in his later years against the Jews. These were not unusual for their time but are seen by Lutherans today as very unfortunate.

Many people try to simplify the Reformation as if Martin Luther appeared out of nowhere with a strident call for reform. This was not the case. There were many calls for reform and many attempts at it during the previous 100 years.

Luther was also heavily influenced by the humanists, especially Erasmus of Rotterdam, who were arguing for an intellectual reform, returning to the original Greek and Hebrew sources for both philosophical and Christian thought.

“Luther hatched the egg that Erasmus laid” is a common phrase describing the intellectual development of Luther. Luther was a somewhat reluctant, but certainly courageous leader and thinker during a time of great change in the church and society.

Pope Leo X

Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X was born Giovanni de’ Medici in Florence on December 11, 1475, and died in Rome on December 1, 1521. He was the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He became abbot of Font Douce in France in 1483, at the age of eight. Under political pressure by Lorenzo Giovanni, he was made a cardinal at age 13 by Pope Innocent VIII.

His family’s political dealings caused friction in late 15th century Italy, and Giovanni fled to France at the election of Ravenna, probably for purposes of ransom.

Giovanni was elected pope on February 21, 1513, at age 38, again because of the political pressures of his family on the college of cardinals. He lived a lavish life and expended the papal treasury within two years of his election; he also sold offices within the church to raise money to support the papacy.

This practice, known as simony, led in part to the Reformation in Germany and other parts of Europe. The reformers argued against the selling of church offices and indulgences, practices taken up by Leo X and other popes and bishops. Leo never recognized the gravity of the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation did not come about until after his death.

He was a great patron of the arts and prepared a critical edition of the works of Dante. His greatest contribution was his support of the collection of historical Christian manuscripts and the merging of the Medici family library with the papal library.

John Knox - Religious Leader

John Knox
John Knox
The country of Scotland is well known for its fiery, individualistic spirit, which is combined with a deep loyalty to the Scottish people and their religion. John Knox, the “thundering Scot,” was no exception to this tradition.

Knox is best known as the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, and he lived during a tumultuous time in the history of Scotland. Not known for his tact, Knox viewed himself in the style of an Old Testament prophet, being God’s “trumpet,” blasting against every king and queen reigning during his lifetime.

John Knox was born around 1513 in the region of Lothian, Scotland, to a middle-class farmer. Little is known of his upbringing or education. It is likely that he studied at St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Knox was listed on the rolls in 1540 of St. Andrews as a papal notary, leading most historians to believe that he was ordained to the Roman Catholic clergy by that time. Unlike England to its south, which became Protestant in 1533 under King Henry VIII, Scotland had remained Roman Catholic.

However, many lairds and nobles of Scotland were increasingly influenced by Protestant preaching and thought. In 1543, Knox became a tutor to the two sons of a Protestant-leaning laird named Hugh Douglas. During this time, Knox became a convinced Protestant. In 1544, Knox became a bodyguard for a fiery theologian and preacher named George Wishart.

Wishart preached against Catholic cardinal Beaton and Scotland’s queen mother, Mary of Guise, who were aligning themselves with Roman Catholic France against the military might of England under King Henry VIII. Wishart was eventually captured by the Roman Catholics and strangled and burned in March 1545. The death of Wishart was a turning point for Knox, making him determined to continue the work of Protestant reform in Scotland.

In 1546, men conspired successfully to murder Cardinal Beaton and take over his Castle of St. Andrews. Knox was not involved in the initial conspiracy but came into the castle in 1547, simply as a tutor for three boys. Soon after, he was asked to take over the spiritual leadership of the people in the castle.

Agreeing reluctantly, Knox preached his first sermon in the castle church in 1547. The castle was eventually forced to capitulate later in 1547 to a fleet of French galley ships and Knox was captured. Knox served two years as a galley slave, then was freed in 1549, and moved to northern England, where he began to preach in Newcastle.

In 1553, the Catholic Mary I ascended the throne of England, forcing Knox to flee to Frankfurt, Germany, and eventually to Geneva, Switzerland, home of John Calvin. Knox greatly respected Calvin’s thought and writing and their meeting in Geneva led to a long period of friendship and correspondence.

Knox became increasingly convinced that the only way for England and Scotland to have freedom for Protestant worship was by military intervention. He began writing pamphlets, the most controversial of which was entitled “A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England.”

In it, he called the preachers to rebuke more aggressively those leading sinful lives, but then went on to thunder against Queen Mary I of England, who at the time was considering marriage to the Roman Catholic king Philip II of Spain, charging her with usurping the government and handing it over to a foreign ruler. This pamphlet proved influential in strengthening the Protestant resistance to Mary I, which continued to her death in 1558 when her Protestant half sister Elizabeth I took the throne of England.

In 1557, Knox published his most famous pamphlet, entitled “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [unnatural reign] of Women.” Arguing from the Old Testament, Knox contended that it is wrong for a woman to be the head of state, especially turning over the reign of a country to a foreign husband. While there were exceptional times when a woman could reign, he felt that the normal result was disaster.

In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland via England, where he received a frosty reception from Queen Elizabeth. By this time, Scotland had several influential Protestant nobles who could protect Knox.

Knox was called to serve in St. Giles, the most important church in Edinburgh, where the queen mother, Mary of Guise, and her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, lived. In 1560, a treaty was signed by England, Scotland, and France, and as a result, Scotland became officially Protestant, though Queen Mary remained Roman Catholic. Thus began 12 years of conflict between Knox and Queen Mary, often resulting in public rebukes on both sides.

From 1560 till his death in 1572, Knox did much to establish the Protestant church in Scotland, from which the current Presbyterian Church takes much of its form. He was a tireless preacher but also organized a system of discipline for both pastors and church members. Knox was against any practice not found directly in the Bible (such as kneeling during communion or devotion to the saints).

He also organized a system of financial help for the poor, out of funds raised for the churches. Knox married his wife, Marjory (Bowes), around 1555. Marjory bore him two sons (Nathaniel, Eleazer) but died in 1560. He married a second wife, Margaret (Stewart), in 1563, who bore him three daughters (Martha, Margaret, Elizabeth). He died November 24, 1572.

Justification by Faith

The trial of Martin Luther in Diet of Worms
The trial of Martin Luther in Diet of Worms

The term justification by faith refers to a Christian doctrine that has its roots in the Bible but became crucially important during the Reformation controversy in the 16th century. In recent years, progress has been made on resolving this key issue, which divides the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.

In order to understand the term, it is helpful to take it apart. Justification is a word often used in a legal sense. A person may be justified in breaking the speed limit if it was necessary in order to get someone to the hospital.

Instead of getting a fine, he or she is excused before a judge who has authority to declare that the person is not guilty for a particular reason. Faith is a word that implies belief and trust. People have faith that their parents want the best for them.

Justification by faith then refers to Christians’ belief that they have been declared or made “not guilty” by reason of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. It has to do with the foundational aspects of a person’s relationship to God according to Christian teaching.


The concept of justification by faith is found in the Bible, most clearly in the letters of Paul. His letter to the Romans uses the example of the biblical figure Abraham. Abraham believed in the promises of God, and as Paul puts it, that faith “was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22).

St. Paul applies the example of Abraham to all Christians, holding that Abraham’s faith was the same faith as a Christian’s, looking forward to God’s saving action for his people. Justification is a freely given gift of God.

Paul also drew a contrast between faith and works (or good deeds) in justification. The good deeds done by a person, while counting for something, count nothing in his or her meriting eternal life. On this issue turned much in the Reformation controversy described later.

But if the gift is freely given, why do most Christians teach that some people go to heaven and others to hell? What is the role of human will? If we need to do something in order to get to heaven, how much do we need to do? Will it be enough? If we have done something in order to merit eternal life, does that take away from what Jesus did on the cross? While the questions may seem finicky, much ink and blood have been spilled over them.

In the centuries following the events of the Bible, those very questions resulted in various theological points of view. Augustine of Hippo is best known for his clarification and refinement of the doctrine of justification by faith, which set the stage for the rest of Western Christianity.

Against his opponents (particularly those advocates of the Manichean and Pelagian heresies), Augustine taught that a person has free will, but one that is limited and tainted by the human condition. Thus a person participates in justification, but more in the sense of standing before a judge. Echoing St. Paul, Augustine would hold that there is no good work a person can do to balance out his or her justly deserved sentence.

Martin Luther and the Reformation

More than 1,000 years after St. Augustine the issue of justification by faith boiled into a raging controversy, which resulted in the fracturing of the Roman Catholic Church. In the years preceding 1517, the sale of indulgences had become increasingly popular.

Indulgences were certificates issued under the authority of the church that absolved people from certain penalties due to their sins. These were now sold, and those selling them promised forgiveness of all sins and seemingly an easy entry to heaven. While this was not official church teaching, the way the indulgences were sold implied this easy entry.

Martin Luther objected strenuously to the sale of indulgences, arguing that a piece of paper could not gain entry to heaven, since nothing a person could do could result in entry to heaven. God’s grace alone was the cause of the justification of the sinner.

While Luther first intended a theological debate, his argumentative style and the various political undercurrents of the time resulted in a defensive posture on the side of the Catholic Church. All agreed that one is justified by faith, but the nuances of the role of works (and the related issue of indulgences) were positions of sharp disagreement.

Luther was excommunicated for his beliefs in 1521, but that did not put the issue to rest. Several attempts to reconcile the issue were made, with the Marburg Colloquy in 1538 nearly bringing the issue to a positive resolution.

Council of Trent

When the Council of Trent was called by Pope Paul III, there was initial hope that the issues between Catholic and Protestant would be resolved. Luther had originally called for such a council in the early years of the Reformation, but by 1545 there was little hope that the council would include Protestant participation.

Nevertheless, when the council took up the issue, it produced a fairly nuanced statement on justification by faith. The council was concerned to refute the Lutheran position but had to take care not to condemn positions held by differing schools within the Catholic Church (most notably the Augustinians).

Long discussions regarding the wording of the statement were held, and finally after seven months of debate, the statement was issued. In the statement, there was a definition of justification by faith, and then followed 33 Canons, each ending with “let him be anathema” (cast out of the church). It is interesting that the very first canon states something with which Catholic and Protestant would heartily agree:
If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema.
On the other hand, Canon 9 was aimed well at the Lutheran position:
If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will: let him be anathema.
Thus the Council of Trent worked to clarify Catholic teaching and draw a firm line between it and Lutheran teaching. Between the end of the Council of Trent in 1563 and the Vatican II Council in 1963, there were few significant changes to the positions of the Catholic and Protestant Churches.

Vatican II did not revisit the issue of justification by faith, but did open the door for further dialogue with other churches. Dialogues began in earnest in 1967 patterned after dialogues that had been held in the previous 40 years by various Protestant churches, bringing together both leaders and theologians from the churches.

Such dialogues are limited in their authority. Agreement on an issue in a dialogue is similar to two ambassadors’ negotiating an agreement on behalf of their country. If the ambassadors come to an agreement, the agreement must still be ratified by the leaders of the countries before it is accepted.

Dialogues were held on the specific issue of justification by faith between the Lutherans and Catholics both in the United States and in Germany. The result of these dialogues was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

The Joint Declaration did not “solve” all the differences between Catholic and Protestant on the issue, but did resolve some of the differences that were matters of misunderstanding and worked to provide a common basis for further dialogue.

Pope Julius II

Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II was born Giuliano della Rovere on December 5, 1443, at Albissola, Italy, and died November 28, 1503, in Rome. He was of Roman and Greek heritage and followed his uncle (the future Pope Sixtus IV) into the Franciscan order and was educated at Perugia. Rovere was elevated to cardinal in 1471. Although a bishop, he became the father of three daughters, a scandal even then.

He was a skilled papal diplomat and was sent to restore papal authority in Umbria; to France and the Netherlands to settle the Burgundian inheritance; and to France to obtain help against the Turks and free Cardinal Balue, a prisoner of Louis XI, king of France.

In the next two conclaves, he fought against the election of Pope Innocent VIII and Pope Alexander VI and thus earned disdain from them. Rovere was elected pope on October 31, 1503.

He saw as the chief aim of his papacy to extend the temporal power of the pope and fought the influence of Casare Borgia and the Republic of Venice, entering the League of Cambrai in 1509 to continue this fight. He is chiefly remembered for his establishment of the Papal States. He also laid the cornerstone of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Jesuits in Asia

Jesuits in Asia
Jesuits in Asia

The missionary enterprise of the Jesuits in Asia is comprehensible only against the background of three foundational principles. The first two are from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the order: Following Jesus as a Jesuit entails missionary outreach, and being a missionary implies cultural adaptation because Jesus adapted himself to the human condition.

The third theological principle is that missionary activity should reflect the shared life of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) as documented in the Formula of the Institute and Constitutions.

The nascent Society of Jesus was yet to receive full papal approbation (September 27, 1540) when a request arrived from João III the Pious, king of Portugal, for Jesuits to work in the Portuguese domains of Asia. Ignatius of Loyola chose two of his first companions, Simão Rodrigues and Nicolas Bobadilla, for the mission.

However, before they could leave for Portugal, Bobadilla fell ill. Providentially, Francis Xavier was then in Rome and Ignatius decided to send him instead. The king of Portugal, impressed by the two Jesuits, decided to keep Rodrigues in Lisbon. Xavier, accompanied by Micer Paul, a secular priest recently admitted into the Society of Jesus, and Francisco Mansilhas, a Jesuit aspirant, set sail for India.

They finally reached Goa in India on May 6, 1542. Xavier would labor in Asia for 10 years as a missionary, baptizing and catechizing the inhabitants of the Fishery Coast of southern India; Malacca on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula; the Moluccas, also known as the “Spice Islands”; and Japan.

While in Japan, Xavier heard about China and resolved to preach the Christian message there. While awaiting Chinese government permission to land, he died on the island of Sancian in 1552, unable to fulfill his dream of converting the Chinese to Christ.

That dream would be partially realized not much later as thousands of Jesuits of various nationalities followed Xavier in the Asian missionary enterprise. Missions were conducted in West Asia, for example, with the appointment of Jesuits as papal legates in establishing relations with the Maronites and in negotiating church unity with Orthodox, Nestorian, and Monophysite Churches. But the majority of Jesuit missionaries worked farther afield, chiefly in South Asia and in East Asia.

After India, Jesuits would find themselves laboring in places in peninsular (Malacca, Indochina) and insular (Indonesia, the Philippines) Southeast Asia, and in Japan and China. The primary goal was of course the spread of Christianity, but the diverse cultures who populated the huge continent called for various missionary strategies and tactics.

The chief architect of the Asian missionary enterprise was an Italian Jesuit named Alessandro Valignano. He called for cultural adaptation to Asian ways where this was legitimate and did not compromise the Christian message.

Perhaps the most significant cultural adaptation was the use of Asian languages in the preaching of Christ and teaching of doctrine. They also extended this cultural adaptation to the manner of dress, civil customs, and ordinary life of their target audience.

His principles were put to good use by such as Matteo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri. Aside from exploiting European sciences and arts of their day to gain entrance into the educated elite of China, Ricci and his companions decided to study the Confucian classics esteemed by the Mandarin ruling class.

In a similar way, the Jesuits working in the south of India decided on a two-pronged strategy that enabled them to reach out to both the higher and lower social castes, tailoring their manner of living to gain initial acceptance from their respective audiences.

“Dressed in cloth of red-ochre, a triangular sandal mark on his forehead, high wooden sandals on his feet,” Roberto de Nobili lived in the manner of a Hindu man of God (sannyasi), learned Sanskrit, and memorized the Vedas so that he could share the message of Christ and his church with the Indian people.

In other Asian places not as highly developed in civilization and culture, the Jesuits were animated by the same principles of cultural adaptation. In the Philippines, they creatively replicated strategies that were used elsewhere.

Because local populations were dispersed far and wide, the Jesuits encouraged people to set up permanent communities in planned settlements (a method they used in Latin America called reduction), thus laying the foundation of many towns and cities that exist today. They also set up schools wherever these were needed and constructed churches and other buildings that transformed European architectural designs to suit Asian artistic sensibilities.

They learned the various local languages and dialects and produced grammars, vocabularies, and dictionaries, thus systematizing the study not just of the languages themselves but of the cultures of the peoples that they were seeking to convert. They wrote books that mapped the ethnography of Asia and were keen observers of Asian ways and traditions, including their interaction with the natural environment.

The Jesuit missionary enterprise in Asia met with obstacles along the way. Some of these obstacles arose from European ethnocentric fears and prejudices that burdened the church of their times. Cultural adaptation was denounced as syncretism, and the missionaries themselves were often at loggerheads on the appropriate strategies to use in mission work.

It was not always clear for example whether Chinese categories used to translate Latin ones were without ambiguity, but a lack of understanding, trust, and generosity created a poisoned atmosphere that did not produce the requisite witness to Christian charity.

The distance between Rome and Asia proved to be not only a geographical dilema but also a psychological barrier that prevented church authorities from being more sympathetic to the needs of the missionary enterprise in Asia. Furthermore the political, economic, and social burden imposed by Portuguese and Spanish royal patronage of the church in the Indies proved too heavy at times to carry.

Rome itself would be forced to set up the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in 1622 to loosen the viselike grip of the European monarchs who wished to manipulate the missionary enterprise for political and economic gain. Also, Jesuits allowed themselves to be caught in political controversies of their host countries, thus inevitably creating enemies for themselves among members of the ruling classes.

In 1759 the Portuguese king expelled all Jesuits working in Portugal and Portuguese Asia. In Spain, the Spanish king followed suit and banished the Jesuits from his domains in 1767. Finally, in 1773, Pope Clement XIV, under extreme political pressure from the Bourbon monarchs of Europe, could no longer prevent the inevitable from happening.

Through the bull Redemptor ac hominis, the pope suppressed the Society of Jesus, thus bringing an end to their missionary work in Asia. This work would be resumed only in the 19th century, when Jesuits would return to their former mission fields now besieged by new historical forces.