Friday, October 8, 2021

Reformation. And Reconciliation?


The Protestant Reformation proved unstoppable, despite the vast coercive powers accumulated by the Roman Catholic Church during its five centuries of existence.

The Age of Division: Christendom from the Great Schism to the Protestant Reformation, by John Strickland

Strickland writes of Spain and Portugal, travels to the New World, colonization, the violence and illness that followed, etc.  He notes a debate in 1550 between Bartolomé de las Casas and Sepúlveda regarding the “wars of conquest against Spain’s helpless subjects.”  Sepúlveda would argue that the wars were just because they served the end of Christianization.  Being secondary to my purpose in this post, I only note this passage and otherwise will drop this can of worms.

Returning to Europe, the “witch hunt” craze was going full speed; according to Strickland, nothing similar had ever occurred in the East.  Thousands, both Protestant and Catholic, were charged with holding communion with the devil with many executed.  There was also the Spanish Inquisition – which, despite creating a tremendous and terrible bureaucracy, had executed only a relatively small number.

Which comes to what Strickland calls the “wars of Western Religion,” although, as I and others have noted elsewhere, were wars of state building using religion as a pretext.  Strickland notes that such wars of Christians against Christians were not fought in the East. 

If this understanding of the Christian East was better grasped by today’s intellectuals…

…the modern prejudice against a civilization with a supporting culture that directs its members toward the heavenly transformation of the world might indeed be less virulent.

The German Peasants’ War is noted, as is the Schmalkaldic League.  The subsequent wars led to the Peace of Augsburg, allowing that the prince of a given territory is free to determine the religion of his realm.

Still, little had been resolved.  Five centuries of internal pressure in the West had yet to be fully relieved.  Yet more pressure was building: Roman Catholics against Huguenots in France – and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; altogether, three million were killed, but the pressures hadn’t been meaningfully reduced.  The Dutch Revolt followed, with Protestantism suppressed by the Spanish Duke of Alba.

There was the English Civil War; violence in Ireland.  Cities burned to the ground, no quarter for the men, women, or children.  Yet all of this was secondary to the Thirty Years’ War, ignited when Protestant soldiers threw a pair of Roman Catholic agents of the Holy Roman Emperor out of a castle window in Prague.

The Holy Roman Empire and Spain would fight against Protestant Bohemians, Saxons, Prussians, the Dutch, English, Scots and Swedes.  Notably absent was Catholic France – choosing, for reasons of the state, to stay out of this religious fight….at least until much later in the conflict.  They would then fight against Catholic Spain and the Catholic Holy Roman Empire!  Are we sure this was a war of religion?

The Thirty Years’ War marked the near total dereliction of Western Christendom.  No previous event, no abomination of desolation, had so tarnished its history as the spectacle of Christians murdering each other in the name of the God of love.

…no evil done in the name of Christ during the course of a millennium and a half had ever done so much to discredit Christendom as this meaningless bloodbath.

Perhaps ten million had been killed, including half of the population of Germany.  It is difficult to argue Strickland’s statement even if one wishes to disagree with his views of the underlying causes (both theological and political).

One can also agree with Strickland when he states that Christendom never recovered.

From this, utopias were born.  From this, a Western hyperplurism regarding truth claims would develop.  Unlike many critics of the Thirty Year’s War and the Enlightenment that followed, Strickland identifies the roots of this reality in the Papal Reformation of five centuries earlier.

Instead of pursuing heavenly transformation, the West became preoccupied with the institutional project of reform for the better.  Yet, Strickland notes that the East fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453.  But this disruption had to do with outside forces, not Orthodoxy.

Perhaps.  True, one can say that a culture that survived in the lead position for over one thousand years was quite successful.  But the question can be asked: did that same culture lack what was necessary to fight off such outside influences and aggressors as the Muslim Turks?  We know this was successfully done in the West – both before and after the Protestant Reformation.  But not in the East, which was in any case losing ground for centuries before the fall of Constantinople.


Christianity would give way to deism, then romanticism, then atheism.  We now live in a post-Christian west, focused on nothing more than the satisfaction of worldly needs and wants.  Russia, having embraced these Western views under Peter the Great, would be the first to fall to the utopia of communism.  Next, Hitler and Germany.  Finally, liberal democracy – destroying unborn children by the millions. 

…we have seen in this book how traditional Christianity redeemed the world by filling it with paradise, not by abandoning it to utopia.

And, once again, we must agree with Strickland’s conclusions even if we do not fully agree with him regarding the causes.  We do not know how Eastern Christianity would have developed had it defended against Turkish invasion; we only know that it did not.

We are, and have been, in a battle – whether East or West, the devil prowls like a roaring lion.  I continue to pray that good Christian men and women – from all traditions and all denominations – understand the depths of that battle today and decide to come together to fight the common enemy. 

It should be much easier to do, now that Christendom holds the place of the underdog…as it did in the first centuries after Christ’s resurrection.


Fr. Strickland has written to me, aware of the work I have been doing regarding his books.  He was very supportive, and offered to send me the next volume when it comes out in November.  As I always want to support the work of such authors, I asked him to just let me know when it comes out and I will purchase it.


  1. You've had Bob Murphy and Jeff Deist comment on this blog. Now Strickland reaches out to you. Glad to see people recognize your work.

    "It should be much easier to do, now that Christendom holds the place of the underdog…as it did in the first centuries after Christ’s resurrection."

    This idea used to excite me and give me hope for the future of the church and society. My optimism has taken a huge hit over the last 2 years. With Corona and Climate Crisis religions gaining so much power, I think billions will die before the church will be able to make any kind of impact. It will take that level of destruction before most people will be willing to listen to the gospel and repent of all the sin leading society down the wide path.

    Maybe I just had a bad day?

    1. RMB, we know how the story ends. Unfortunately, many will suffer before that end.

    2. I wish I had that certainty born of revelation of how the story will end... as it is, I must be satisfied knowing that no matter how hard they try, the nutjobs can't remake reality.

      Besides, each time in the past when some unprecedented event seemed like it presaged the end times, things somehow kept on going. As much as my tired self would like to see a definitive end to the story, with the good guys free at last and the bad guys punished, I have to assume, based on precedent, that it just isn't in the cards.

      The hordes of fools, opportunists and plain evil people of the current time do seem like they call for a sweeping clean-up, but I suspect we'll have to keep dealing with them indefinitely.

    3. We know HOW it will end. Just don't know WHEN, and how many times of suffering and rebirth will be endured.

  2. Maybe we should just be thankful for all the wondrous joy that we have been allowed to have. Maybe we should focus more on the blessings of life that we have all experienced. Maybe there's no end to the trials and tribulations of our lives. Maybe we should try to improve our relationship with the Lord no matter what our fortunes are. Maybe the good and the bad we experience are both blessings. If we didn't experience darkness, then we could not appreciate light.

    1. To really feel the joy in life
      You must suffer through the pain
      When you surrender to the light
      You can face the darkest days

      If you open up your eyes
      And you put your trust in love
      On those cold and endless nights
      You will never be alone

      Passion glows within your heart
      Like a furnace burning bright
      Until you struggle through the dark
      You'll never know that you're alive

      - Illumination Theory, Dream Theater