Thursday, May 23, 2019

The New World

The Reformation is a paradox: a religious revolution that led to the secularization of society.

What does Gregory mean by “secularization”? 

…[secularization] refers specifically to the declining influence of religion in public life…politics, law, economics, education, social relationships, family life, morality, and the culture at large.

This secularization is described by Gregory as the broadest and most far-reaching outcome of the Reformation.  A major impact of this secularization is the loss of any ability for the Church (or some form of unified Christianity) to stand as a decentralizing force in governance. 

Gregory points to two other unintended consequences: first, the proliferation of versions of “Protestants.”  I would say that they multiplied like rabbits, but then one of you would make a Catholic joke and all hell would break lose in the comments section.  So I take that back.

Second is the relationship of Magisterial Protestantism (Lutherans and Calvinists) and Catholicism; they agreed that non-Lutheran and non-Calvinist Protestants had to be done away with.  Neither Catholic nor Protestant leaders intended to divide Christendom or bring on recurrent violence.  It seems to me that this could be true of much of the clergy given the number of councils and other attempts at reconciliation over many years.

The Reformation cemented heresies as far as the Catholics were concerned; it also gave new life to the Antichrist (as far as Protestants were concerned) in Rome.  It resulted in religion being controlled by politics, as opposed to informing politics and providing a check on power.  Religion became an individual matter, which meant it would play no institutional role in society.

Intellectually, theology had to be separated from philosophy and the investigation of the natural world.  I don’t even know how the former is possible; as to the latter, it only means artificially limiting the definition of the term “natural world” by introducing the concept of the supernatural (as if all of the “natural” in the universe can be comprehended by man).

It is no accident that modern philosophy and the Enlightenment emerged in the seventeenth century as intellectual reactions to the problems of the Reformation era.

Two of the major thinkers of this Enlightenment, René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes, were directly and adversely affected by the so-called wars of religion: the former as a soldier during the Thirty Years’ War and the latter who took refuge in Paris during the English Revolution.  They would attempt to base morality on reason alone – reason devoid of religion and tradition.  As Gregory describes this effort: “Or at least that was the plan.”

The plan has seen its fruits in the twentieth century, and is now being replace by a new plan – a post-modern plan, where there is never such a thing as a knowable objective truth.  New atheists are attempting to combat this with the same tools used by Descartes and Hobbes: reason devoid of religion and tradition.  Edward Feser has examined the claims of these new atheists and found them lacking.

In the Dutch republic, religion was restricted and in its place commerce was unleashed. 

According to the Union of Utrecht (1579), the Dutch republic’s most important founding document, each province is allowed to address religion as it sees fit, without interference from other provinces, “so long as each person shall be permitted to remain free in his religion and that no one shall be permitted to be investigated or persecuted for reason of religion.”

Shortly thereafter and as a result of the continuing wars with Spain, Catholic worship is outlawed altogether.  Meanwhile, the southern provinces establish the Union of Arras, which mandates Catholicism as the established religion.  Protestant refugees flee to the north.

With numerous religions and sects present, the one thing that binds the Dutch community is trade.  Trade is open to all: Calvinists, Arminians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Catholics, and Jews are all represented in the wealthier class.  Yet magistrates continue to monitor religion, out of a concern that some might decide to get overly political.

It turns out that regardless of their religion, almost everyone likes more and better material things.

This mix still works as at the time, because for the most part, Christians are Christian.  They share much more in common than they are divided by their differences.  Marriage, family relationships, responsibilities to others, civic duties, and a common sense of morality remain; differences regarding interpretation of scripture, grace and salvation, the sacraments, etc., are pushed to the rear – at least as far as political life is concerned.

Within about a century, the Dutch are replaced by the English as a global trading empire.  The English have learned something about religious toleration and commerce from the Dutch, with London replacing Amsterdam as Europe’s leading commercial city.

John Locke publishes his Tolerations, arguing for a sharp separation between church and state; Isaac Newton’s discoveries inspire a new variety of Protestantism – Deism: God created the universe and set its laws in motion, then took a long nap from which He is yet to wake.  Scripture might be useful for moral teaching, but nothing more – even here, it is good for moral teaching that conforms to reason derived absent scripture!  Which eventually pretty much renders scripture useless.

America’s founding documents make clear that religion is completely separable from the rest of life.  There is no publicly supported church – at least at the federal level; many states, for a time, offer such support.  Madison and Jefferson continue in the Dutch tradition:

Religion has to be construed as something that will not disrupt public life or divide citizens.  That means its scope has to be restricted, and what it applies to has to be limited.

Jefferson famously offered: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Easy enough to say when virtually all Americans were Christian of some sort, although it took the horrors of almost two centuries of European conflict to get to even this point.

The modern Western understanding of religion succeeds in the early decades of the United States, but not because Americans are rugged religious individualists, each eager to go her or his own way.  It succeeds because most of them are Christians, especially English-speaking white Protestants, who continue to share so much in common despite the disagreements that divide their churches.

It is best that I have no comment to any of this….


We look at the founding documents as establishing some form of common culture: “America is an idea,” we are often told.  This is not correct.  The founding documents presupposed a common culture; it was this common culture that was the foundation for the ideas in the documents.

What happens to the ideas in the documents when even the remnants of this common culture are lost?  Are the documents any longer of functional use, or are they merely museum pieces?  And then what?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


The French really were amateurs when compared to Portugal and Pombal…

In this prison there are nineteen cells: two are almost totally dark, and among the others there are two that have the reputation of being the worst, by their small size, and because they are close to a pipe where filth pours out.

-          Marquês de Alorna, the prisons of Junqueira

If only life returned to normal in Lisbon within a few months of the earthquake.  No such luck.  Eight months later – in the summer of 1756 – tremors continued, along with riots, murders, and robberies.  Gangs would start fires in the tent cities in order to rob from the residents that would flee the flames.

Pombal’s powers would increase, along with his list of enemies.  His tyrannies would also increase, yet order was nowhere to be found.  A conspiracy was formed to remove and replace him.  The conspiracy was discovered, and with royal support Pombal moved quickly against even the most highly placed conspirators.  Some would find a new home in Junqueira; others were banished from the city.  These were the lucky ones.

Pombal reserved a special hatred for the Jesuits – and it was not due solely to the preaching of Malagrida and others who were blaming the earthquake on Lisbon’s sins.  In the New World, the Jesuits had built a power base – converting the natives in numbers beyond imagination.  The natives would now labor for the Jesuits – where 200 Jesuits would control a workforce of 140,000.

Spanish and Portuguese colonists complained that the Jesuits controlled too much of the native workforce.  The colonists would raid villages in order to capture workers – call them slave-hunters.  The Jesuits felt they had no choice but to arm the natives.  Now the Jesuits were also in charge of vast armies, often successful in battle.

Portugal and Spain sent armies to crush the Jesuits.  In their place, Pombal created government enforced monopolies.  In addition to the Jesuits, smaller businessmen were out and state control increased.

Pombal acted in a similar manner in Portugal – for example, identifying certain areas of the Douro as the only ones authorized to sell port wines to the British.  Of course, the choice of these areas concentrated wealth in the hands of those favored by the state – to include vineyards owned by Pombal.  Pombal would write in 1756 that he took such actions because “I know their interests better than they do themselves, and the interests of the whole kingdom.”

The smaller vineyard owners would riot; Pombal’s retribution was swift and severe.  Of 478 accused, 442 were convicted.  Fourteen were hanged with their limbs thereafter hung on pikes and displayed for the public.  Fifty-nine were exiled to India and Africa; others were imprisoned or delivered to the galleys.  Most had their property seized to the benefit of the state.  Porto was thereafter placed under martial law.  Pombal’s cousin was placed in charge, staying in power as military governor of northern Portugal for over 20 years.

An assassination attempt, supposedly against the king, was used as pretext for countless arrests – including some of the most powerful nobility of the kingdom.  All were interrogated; many were tortured.  The trial was quick, the defense had twenty-four hours to prepare.  The accused were executed the next day – including many members of the noble family who once rejected Pombal as inadequate for one of their daughters.

A platform was erected; ten-thousand were in the audience.  The punishment for attempted regicide was always brutal, but rarely public when the “guilty” were members of the nobility.  Pombal would change this.  One by one, the prisoners were brought out: some beheaded, some strangled with limbs broken thereafter, some had limbs broken while alive.  Finally, Antonio Alvares Ferreira was brought out to be burned alive.  He was burned, along with the pile of corpses and limbs of those who were executed before him.

The French Reign of Terror lasted eleven months; Pombal’s lasted eighteen years – from 1759 to 1777.  The prisons were bursting, with many who were never even charged, let alone tried and convicted.  Some remained in their cells for years.

Ordinary people feared making even private comments that might be construed as critical of Pombal.  The despotism of the enlightened first minister had started to take on features of a police state.

His war with the Jesuits continued as well: stripped of positions, removed from universities and schools.  Pombal’s attacks were not limited to Portugal – he sent books and pamphlets throughout Europe.  In 1764, the Jesuits were expelled from France and Spain; in 1773, they were suppressed by Pope Clement XIV.

Pombal, described as a “practicing Catholic,” nevertheless never deferred to the authority of Rome.  It was the state’s right to remove any bishop or cleric from office.  In 1760 he even removed the papal nuncio and also orchestrated a formal break with Rome – a break that lasted for ten years until the pope gave in to his every demand. 

Pombal ended slavery in Portugal – not for humanitarian reasons, but so they could return to Brazil to work in the fields and mines.  Slavery was not abolished in Brazil for another century.  He founded state schools throughout the empire – replacing the Jesuit schools that were by then disbanded.

Portugal’s economy would languish for years after the earthquake.  Understandable on the one hand, yet compounded by the establishment of state-enforced monopolies, increases in regulation, taxes and tariffs.

Dom José died in 1777, and with him went Pombal’s power. 

Upon learning the news, jubilant priests ran door to door announcing the end to the tyranny, and ballads deprecating Pombal filled the air.

The king’s daughter, Maria I, opened the prisons.  Eight-hundred came out, some who hadn’t been seen for twenty years.  Perhaps two-thousand died in their cells.

Many were calling for Pombal’s head.  He tendered his resignation and fled with his family into exile.  While it would have been politically expedient for the queen to condemn Pombal, she knew that by doing so she would also be condemning her father – every major edict had been signed by the king, and in any case Pombal served at the king’s pleasure.

Pombal lived six more years, dying a slow and painful death in poor health.


Voltaire would only grow more pessimistic.  “The universe is ‘completely mad,’ Voltaire wrote.”  Yet optimism did not immediately die out in Europe nor in Enlightened philosophy, though as the century wore on this optimism would wane.

To assert, as some have, that the Lisbon disaster represents an abrupt break or transformation in European thought – or that it signaled the onset of modernity – would be to distort the historical record.

Certainly.  History rarely offers abrupt breaks, and certainly not in an era when communication was hindered and Christianity – albeit post-Reformation Christianity – still was infused into the culture of the continent. 

Yet the earthquake raised many questions for the theologians.  As man applied reason to these questions, Europe would be changed.  No single event can be identified for a transformation from what we call pre-modernity to modernity, but the Lisbon earthquake certainly belongs in the discussion.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


What started as a reform of one Church produces an open-ended array of competing churches, which virtually no one at the time considers a good thing.

The Reformation played out differently in Germany, France, England, and the Low Countries.  Gregory examines each in turn.  This post will run a bit long; I am treating it more like a history lesson (for me) and I want to get through it in one post.  If this isn’t of interest for you or is otherwise unnecessary, feel free to stop here.


Gregory spends some time on The Council of Trent – spelling out the Church’s views on various aspects of Reformation theology and practice.  I will spend no time on the details of this – a mine field I would rather not traverse.  For those interested, I offer three sources: one Catholic, one Reformed, and Wikipedia.

According to Gregory, Catholic leaders reject the most fundamental Protestant premise: The Church offers false doctrines.  On a second and also important premise, there are plenty of Catholic leaders that recognize that there are and have been sinful abuses and a lack of holiness among both clergy and laity.

Further attempts are made at some sort of reconciliation between the Reformers and the Church.  The final meaningful attempt was made at Regensburg in 1541, the Colloquy (or Diet) of Regensburg.  A summary:

…a conference held at Regensburg (Ratisbon) in 1541, during the Protestant Reformation, which marks the culmination of attempts to restore religious unity in the Holy Roman Empire by means of theological debate between the Protestants and the Catholics.

Agreement was easily reached on some articles, tenuously reached on a few, and not at all on others.  Even where agreement was reached, it mattered little if Luther did not also accept these positions.  Before Luther offered any formal rejection, Rome rejected the formula for justification.  That was that.

Returning to Gregory: then come the wars.  Catholic against Protestant; Catholic and Magisterial Protestants against other Protestant sects.  Next comes the Peace of Augsburg, “a Holy Roman Empire with two religions, Lutheran and Catholic.”  Wow.

Noticeably missing from this peace is Reformed Protestantism (Calvinism).  This is a problem as one and then more princes convert from Lutheranism to Reformed – sometimes referred to as Germany’s Second Reformation.  However, there is generally peace for some decades after Augsburg.  This peace would end with what is now known as the Thirty Years’ War, beginning in 1618.

The Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague.

This war ended with the Peace of Westphalia, creating a framework for Protestant and Catholics to coexist – in neighboring principalities.  Religion and politics will align within any given political border.  This basic structure would persist until the nineteenth century.

By 1650, it looks as though all the political leaders who were confident God was on their side were wrong.  Perhaps God had never been on anyone’s side.


There is no Lutheranism in France.  Calvinism arrives in the form of the Huguenots.  Pamphlets, trials, executions.  As late as 1554, there are still no established Calvinist churches in France – although the number of underground believers is growing.  By 1562, perhaps 800 such churches exist.  Most are far from Paris, in the south.  The growth emboldens the Huguenots: they destroy church art, deface alters and harass clergy.

They make up perhaps ten percent of the population, but a much larger proportion of the nobility – a problem because still in the sixteenth century no ruler could rule without noble support.

In 1561, Catherine de' Medici, queen-mother and regent of the eleven-year-old King Charles IX, called the Colloquy of Poissy.  It was an attempt to reconcile the Catholics and Protestant Huguenots.  Gregory describes the meeting as an utter failure.

Beginning in 1562, a series of eight civil wars ensue; from start to finish, these last longer than the Thirty Years’ War with perhaps 3 million deaths.  As in Germany, what is described as French Wars of Religion might be better described as wars for political power: a dynastic power struggle between powerful noble families in the line for succession to the French throne – one Catholic and the other Reformed – with the reigning royal family trying to stride the middle in the form of Catholic conciliation. 

Massacres, conversions, refugees, assassinations, acts of revenge.  After thirty-six years, in 1598, King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, granting the Huguenots substantial rights but leaving them with no army.  Fearing an erosion of these rights – as would soon enough prove a rational fear – hundreds of thousands of Huguenots flee France for Calvinist territories in England, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Carolina Coast of the New World.


During the sixteenth century, England was religiously whipsawed more than any other major kingdom in Europe.  Henry VIII authored a Latin defense of the Catholic faith; within a decade he would denounce the “Bishop of Rome” as a usurper and declared himself head of the Church of England.  A few years later, he started severing the heads of those who wouldn’t take an oath confirming this status.