Introduction to the Reformation
Why study the Reformation? Why look at the Catholic church before and during the Reformation? As Protestants, we study the Reformation and Roman Catholicism to better understand where we came from, where we are going, what we believe, and why we believe it. We also learn from the past in order to not repeat it. Knowing history, especially the Reformation era, will serve as a guide to lead, a template to emulate, a harbinger to warn, a mirror to reflect, and a tool to sharpen. The Reformation and studies of the reformers do not take the place of Scripture. But, they do serve as examples to follow. We must learn from those who came before and not make the same mistakes.
The Reformation was a major movement that aimed at reforming or purifying the Roman Catholic Church. The dates for the reformation are approximately 1517-1648; there were attempts at reforms prior by John Huss, John Wycliffe and others. The reformation was both positive and negative. It was positive toward the truth but negative toward error and falsehood. Philip Schaff provided a helpful summary:
Romanism and Orthodox Protestantism believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in one divine-human Lord and Saviour of the race. They accept in common the Holy Scriptures and the ecumenical faith. They agree in every article of the Apostles' Creed... But Romanism holds also a large number of 'traditions of the elders,' which Protestantism rejects as extra- scriptural or anti-scriptural; such are the papacy, the worship of saints and relics, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and masses for the dead, works of supererogation, purgatory, indulgences, the system of monasticism with its perpetual vows and ascetic practices, besides many superstitious rites and ceremonies.
Protestantism, on the other hand, revived and developed the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace; it proclaimed the sovereignty of divine mercy in man's salvation, the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, and the sufficiency of Christ's merit as a source of justification; it asserted the right of direct access to the Word of God and the throne of grace, without human mediators; it secured Christian freedom from bondage; it substituted social morality for monkish asceticism, and a simple, spiritual worship for an imposing ceremonialism that addresses the senses and imagination rather than the intellect and the hearts. (History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, pg. 5)
At the heart of the Reformation was the desire to purify the church of God, rid it of corruption, remove false doctrine and traditions, and get back to the scriptures and biblical and Christ-centered worship and practice The Reformation centered around a series of questions: What must man do to be saved? How can a sinner be justified before a holy and righteous God? Who defines the gospel? Who or what has authority in the church? Who interprets Scripture?
Corruption in the Catholic church
There were many ungodly and iniquitous things happening within the Catholic church prior to and during the Reformation. The church was corrupt. Often, the rottenness began at the top and flowed down. This was one of the major motivations of the Reformation- to purge the church of its abuses and unbiblical practices and teachings. Not every church was corrupt, nor did the corrupt churches have all of the degenerate implementations mentioned below. These abuses were widespread, but not all of the church or its leaders were corrupt in all of these matters. And, those who were corrupted, were not necessarily corrupted in all of these areas. Nonetheless, the church was polluted and needed purifying. Listed are a few of the prominent corruptions:
-Simony: the sale of church offices; led to unqualified people becoming bishops and cardinals
-Pluralism: the holding of more than one office at a time; based on money and led to abuses and irresponsibility
-Absenteeism: officials not participating or accomplishing duties but still receiving payment and privileges
-Indulgences: the sale of salvation; absolution and forgiveness for money; led to many abuses; took advantage of the poor in order to gain wealth or finance construction.
-Nepotism: favor shown to relatives; unqualified people elevated to positions above other more qualified people
-Immorality of papacy: some popes had affairs, children out of wedlock, and concubines
-Clerical ignorance and immorality: many priests were illiterate; accepted sexual favors for absolution
Teaching of the Church of Rome
Scripture, authority, Magisterium, and councils
The Roman Catholic Church believes the scriptures to be the inspired word of God. However, they add a number of books to the canon and elevate traditions to the level of Scripture. As a consequence, their many extra-biblical traditions are seen as authoritative along with the word of God. The sole authority does not belong to Scripture alone, but is shared between the Magisterium, councils, and the Bible. Scriptures can only be interpreted by the magisterium, which includes bishops and popes. The result- a monopoly on the interpretation and application of the word of God and control over the masses.
Quotations will be reproduced from actual Catholic sources in order to show that what is written is indeed taught by the church. Three sources will be consulted. The Council of Trent met between 1545 and 1564. The primary task of the council was to solidify the church's teaching. These meetings took place during the height of the Reformation and may be seen as an answer to the teachings of the reformers or a counter-reformation. Vatican II will be referenced. This council met during the early 1960's. Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be sited. This is the most modern and complete source of the Catholic church and its doctrine having been written in 1994.
These three have been selected because they represent the Catholic faith during the time of the Reformation through today. These demonstrate what the church believed and taught five hundred years ago, and also what they continue to teach. The Catholic church that exists today is the same church that existed during the Reformation. In fact, other doctrines and false beliefs have been added since, so in actuality, it is not the same church. The church that exists today may be worse and more corrupt!
Quotations from sources
[S]eeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament- seeing that one God is the author of both- as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (Trent, Session 4, pg. 18)
But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. (Trent, Session 4, pg. 19)
It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (CCC 95)
Church and the mass
Rome teaches that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. It is the Catholic church that posses and gives grace in the sacraments and the mass, and teaches the word and traditions which reveal the example of holiness. The mass is viewed as a celebration wherein the elements of the Eucharist (bread and wine) actually become the body and blood of Christ and are viewed as another sacrifice on the behalf of the living and the dead. Therefore, the mass is a continuation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross; there is no salvation without it. It is through the mass that Christ communicates his grace to his church. It is to the Catholic church that belongs salvation and the grace of God because they possess the truth of Christ's continual sacrifice.
Quotations from sources
If any one saith, that in the mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 22, pg. 158)
If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 22, pg. 158-159)
It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. and it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. (CCC 1410)
By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity. (CCC 1413)
As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God. (CCC 1414)
Merit and the sacraments
Rome teaches that no one can merit salvation or justification at the beginning of conversion. However, believers can then merit grace for themselves and others needed for sanctification and eternal life. What God begins, man must finish. Grace is earned through the sacraments. These sacraments are powers that come from the body of Christ and give life. So, the sacraments, seven in number, are necessary for salvation.
What this means is that salvation in the Catholic church must be earned. It is a works based salvation. Rome will deny this, but it cannot be avoided. Catholicism teaches that God initiates conversion, but then it is up to the Catholic to continue to earn his favor by celebrating the mass and observing the sacraments. One can never know if they have done enough. It is never enough! Catholics believe and teach that they must then suffer in purgatory for their sins. It follows then, that Christ's atonement is insufficient, that man must work to be saved, and a Catholic can never have assurance. What a horrid and joyless religion. There is no hope and there can be no salvation if it depends on depraved men and women to “save” themselves.
Quotations from sources
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 7, pg. 54)
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 7, pg. 54)
If any one saith, that by the said sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 7, pg. 55)
Sacraments are "powers that comes forth" from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are "the masterworks of God" in the new and everlasting covenant. (CCC 1116)
The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. the Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. the fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior. (CCC 1129)
Justification and works
Rome combines or adds sanctification to justification. Justification is granted through baptism. The fruit of justification is not a declared righteousness (as Protestants believe), but the establishment of cooperation between God and man which results in merited grace in order to increase grace and love, attain eternal life, and gain temporal goods such as health and friendships. Rome's view of justification is not permanent; it may be undone by committing mortal sins (sins that destroy sanctifying grace and causes the supernatural death of the soul, as opposed to venial sins which do not destroy sanctifying grace and the soul remains alive). Justification then, in Catholicism, is conditional and dependent upon the faithfulness of the person. Grace, as noted above, is communicated through the sacraments and is necessary in order to be justified.
Quotations from sources
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 6, pg. 47)
If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church-instructed by Christ and his Apostles-has hitherto professed, observed, and taught; let him be anathema. (Trent Session 6, pg. 48)
If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema. (Trent Session 6, pg. 48)
Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man. (CCC 2019)
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God's mercy. (CCC 2020)
The pope, Mary, and the saints
The pope is viewed as the Vicar of Christ (Christ's priest on earth), the pastor of the entire Catholic church, supreme, and possessing universal power over the church. Mary is revered with a special devotion. She is called the Mother of God and has been elevated to the place of co-Mediatrix (mediator along side of Christ). The saints are those who are more closely united to Christ. They intercede with the Father for believers and proffer or give their merits that they earned while on earth.
All of this is unbiblical. There is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that the church is to be ruled by a pope. Scripture knows nothing of Mary being a redeemer along side of Christ. Nor are merits transferred from saints to sinners. The heights to which the Catholic church has soured are repulsive. This is what happens, however, when Scripture is replaced with the teachings and traditions of men.
Quotations from sources
The holy Synod enjoins on all bishops, and others who sustain the office and charge of teaching, that, agreeably to the usage of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, received from the primitive times of the Christian religion, and agreeably to the consent of the holy Fathers, and to the decrees of sacred Councils, they especially instruct the faithful diligently concerning the intercession and invocation of saints; the honour (paid) to relics; and the legitimate use of images: teaching them, that the saints, who reign together with Christ, offer up their own prayers to God for men; that it is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, (and) help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is our alone Redeemer and Saviour; but that they think impiously, who deny that the saints, who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, are to be invocated; or who assert either that they do not pray for men; or, that the invocation of them to pray for each of us even in particular, is idolatry; or, that it is repugnant to the word of God; and is opposed to the honour of the one mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus; or, that it is foolish to supplicate, vocally, or mentally, those who reign in heaven. Also, that the holy bodies of holy martyrs, and of others now living with Christ,-which bodies were the living members of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Ghost, and which are by Him to be raised unto eternal life, and to be glorified,-are to be venerated by the faithful; through which (bodies) many benefits are bestowed by God on men; so that they who affirm that veneration and honour are not due to the relics of saints; or, that these, and other sacred monuments, are uselessly honoured by the faithful; and that the places dedicated to the memories of the saints are in vain visited with the view of obtaining their aid; are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and now also condemns them.
Moreover, that the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints, are to be had and retained particularly in temples, and that due honour and veneration are to be given them; not that any divinity, or virtue, is believed to be in them, on account of which they are to be worshipped; or that anything is to be asked of them; or, that trust is to be reposed in images, as was of old done by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols; but because the honour which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which those images represent; in such wise that by the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover the head, and prostrate ourselves, we adore Christ; and we venerate the saints, whose similitude they bear... (Trent Session 25, pg. 233-235)
The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. the bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth. (CCC 936)
The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls. (CCC 937)
But while in the most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness, and so they turn their eyes to Mary: in her, the Church is already the "all-holy." (CCC 829)
"All generations will call me blessed": The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.... This very special devotion ... differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration. The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an epitome of the whole Gospel, express this devotion to the Virgin Mary. (CCC 971)
We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ. (CCC 975)
The intercession of the saints. Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.... They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus.... So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. (CCC 956)
The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the trans-mission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were put in charge of many things. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world. (CCC 2683)