The Origin, Proliferation, and Institutionalization of Anti-Catholicism in America, and its Impact on Modern Christian Apologetics

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2011
145 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents


Part I: Origins

Chapter 1: Pre-Reformation
Chapter 2: The Reformation
Chapter 3: English Anti-Catholicism and Puritanism

Part II: Proliferation
Chapter 4: The Pilgrims and the Thirteen Colonies
Chapter 5: The “Founding Fathers”
Chapter 6: The Awakening and Catholicism

Part III: Institutionalization
Chapter 7: The Nativist Movement
Chapter 8 Anti-Catholicism and American Politics
Chapter 9: Catholics and the Media

Part IV: Anti-Catholicism and its Impact on Christian Apologetics
Chapter 10 Black Legends: Rewriting Catholic History
Chapter 11: Us and Them, Catholic vs. Protestant Apologetics
Chapter 12: Contemporary Anti-Catholicism
Chapter 13: The impact of anti-Catholicism on modern Christian apologetics



The Origin, Proliferation, and Institutionalization of Anti-Catholicism in America, and its impact on modern Christian Apologetics.

As a Catholic Christian I am indubitably confronted with open and sometime vehement anti-Catholic polemic, and sometimes downright blind anti-Catholicism. This is of course not confined to “radical” anti-Catholic Protestant circles, but shows itself today in a number of instances as a deeply embedded part of North American pre- and post modern culture.

Historian John Higham described anti-Catholicism as "the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history “ . Sentiment against the Roman Catholic Church and its followers, which was prominent in Britain from the English Reformation onwards, was exported to the United States. Two types of anti- Catholic rhetoric existed in colonial society. The first, derived from the heritage of the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars of the sixteenth century, consisted of the "Anti-Christ" and the "Whore of Babylon" variety and dominated anti-Catholic thought until the late seventeenth century. The second was a more secular variety which focused on the supposed intrigue of the Roman Catholics intent on extending medieval despotism worldwide .

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. characterized prejudice against the Catholics as "the deepest bias in the history of the American people" and conservative Peter Viereck once commented that "Catholic baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals." This dissertation is the attempt to give a clear and plausible explanation for the sometimes blatant and moreover ever present latent anti-Catholicism in American society. I offer an excursion from the 15th century European roots, through the colonial beginnings of the Puritan colonies up through the 19th century Nativism movement, to present day secular and religious anti-Catholicism.

I will also present the Catholic apologetic position to the various themes and positions. This work should in no way be seen as an attack on Protestant beliefs, but rather as an examination, explanation, and defence of the Catholic position. In a word; a true apologetic work.

Part I: Origins

Chapter 1: Pre-Reformation

In order to fully understand the roots of anti-Christianity and in particular anti- Catholicism, one must delve into the realm of the historic Church before the Protestant Reformation.

Ancient Persecution of the Church

From its very beginning and throughout history the Church has been persecuted and defamed.1 The vibrations of these “Bad Times” can still be felt in the modern, so called, enlightened world. Today the most persecuted of all religious groups world wide are Christians of all denominations.

"closely related to the denial of religious freedom is religiously-motivated intolerance and discrimination, especially against Christians. It is well documented that Christians are the most discriminated and persecuted religious group. Over 200 million of them, belonging to different denominations, live in difficult conditions because of legal and cultural structures" 2.

Before Constantine’s “Edict of Milan” in A.D. 313, and the declaration of Christianity as the state religion in A.D. 380, Christians had no rights, were persecuted to the extreme, and were considered enemies of the state. The great persecutions under Nero and Diocletian are only examples on how early Christians struggled and died for the right to freedom of worship.

Early church History and the struggle for Orthodoxy

It is a well known fact that the emperor Constantine was not of the substance of a “Bible Believing Christian.” He was a powerful head of state that had an empire to rule and maintain. He thought it best to assimilate the Roman Empire’s rapidly growing and tenacious Christian population rather than continue to persecute them as his predecessors did. He soon came to realize that the Christian world was not as homogenous as he would have liked.

In the pre-Constantinian centuries the church had split into a number of factions and a number of heresies developed which dearly threatened the existence of true apostolic doctrine. We can deem from the writings of the Apostolic Fathers3, that all was not well even a generation away from the Easter events. Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to be martyred in Rome, wrote a number of letters in which he describes orthodox teachings and denies the teachings of others outside of the Apostolic Church.4

Up until the Constantinian reform, the Church had remained mostly underground and in some areas was quite isolated. Nevertheless a misguided understanding of the person of Jesus led to a number of dualistic and monophysistic heresies, the most widespread of which was Manichaeism5, and to some it seemed that the church went to sleep and when it awoke it was heretical.

Constantine needed a clear and stable Christianity that could be integrated into the Roman world, so it would not do that Christians were not unified under one creed. Constantine ordered the world’s bishops to come together in Nicaea for the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325. The product of this was not only the well known and universally valid Nicene Creed, but also the idea of coming to council in order to define orthodoxy and to resolve disputes.

The Post-Constantinian development of Church

After the legalization of Christianity under Constantine the Church grew and spread throughout the known world. However, the development of the Church was still not without problems, especially in the area of doctrine, scripture, and creed. Many more ecumenical councils and synods were necessary to consolidate the legacy and teachings of Jesus. In fact this is an ongoing process.

Over the centuries we see a number of revivals of the very persistent ancient dualistic and monophysistic heresies. The Church reacted and did its best to prevent the spread of heresy. Unfortunately the Church -when viewed through modern eyes- reacted gravely and with harsh consequences for those not on the path of true doctrine. We also see a major schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. In 1054 we have the Eastern (Greek) Church separating itself from the Western (Latin) Church. This schism was not only doctrinal but also had the unfortunate taint of a power struggle. However, this schism did not hinder the west in coming to the aid of Constantinople for the first Crusade against the Muslim invasion of the Holy Land. This holy endeavour was sadly stained by the human failures demonstrated by the Crusaders.

One might ask: What does all this have to do with the subject at hand? Simply put; it is necessary to understand that the Church has never been free of any form of protest or persecution from within or without. The ancient and modern Church has more in common than one would like to believe. It is also important to realize that anti-Catholicism has its roots in the pre-reformation era. In fact there were a number of forerunners to Martin Luther et al which we must examine in order to really understand how anti-Catholicism came about and how it was transported from Europe to the English colonies which later became the United States of America.

Pre-Lutheran Reformers

It would be very simplistic to think that Martin Luther was unique and without precursors when it came to dissent within the Church. This is not the question of whether the Church was in need of reform in the way meant by the protestant watchword: Ecclesia semper reformanda est6, its rather more of a question of how to go about it without losing the essence of the apostolic legacy and the spirit of the Ecumenical councils. Here we present a few exampletary major players in the pre-reformation protest, namely John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and Girolamo “Hieronymus” Savonarola.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe -who attained the nick name „Doctor Evangelicus”- was born around 1330 in Yorkshire England and died on 31. Dezember 1384. He was a philosopher, theologian, and for some a church reformer.

Wycliffe was an accomplished professor and taught at Balliol College in Oxford as well as at the new collage at Canterbury Hall. He was later suspended from his teaching position and relocated to London where he turned to politics. As a Doctor of Theology, he had the authority to teach. He also was a Pastor in churches that were under the jurisdiction of secular princes. He taught that temporal authority was directly bestowed by God and at the same time questioned the Popes secular power as “Sovereign by the grace of God”. His works clearly denied the sovereignty of the Pope and purported that the Church is subordinate to the secular authorities. In a number of legal cases against the Pope, he also supported the position of the ruling powers in the Investiture Controversy, and also called for representatives of the Church to live in frugality while he himself lived quite high and well on the income from his rich parishes.

In 1373 King Edward sent him along with a delegation to Bruges to place the King’s complaints against the Holy See with the Papal Nuncio. The specific charge was that the Papal Curia was selling Church offices. These “complaints” served one main purpose, which was to prolong the 33 year old boycott of not sending the, contractual agreed on, yearly tithe to Rome. As the official advocate of the English King, Wycliffe gave himself the title "Pecularius regis clericus" (Royal Chaplin).

His acumen as a lawyer and theologian gave him great influence in the preparation of the King’s complaints against Rome. In the various legal battles against the Pope, Wycliffe gained the esteem of his University as well as that of the common people. Unfortunately for him, he never made much headway against the Pope. Much to the disappointment of Wycliffe, the whole affair finally just faded away leaving him very bitter. Thus having failed he turned his energy against the Roman Clergy and specifically against what he called papal “Anti-Christianity”.

In his main work, the "Trialogus", Wycliffe teaches pantheistic realism, Determinationism, and double Pre-destination.7 He teaches along the lines of: God is everywhere because all is God. Everything that happens, happens necessarily, even evil is of necessity as God’s freedom consists of him wanting the necessary to happen. Here Wycliffe becomes iconoclastic and anti-clerical when he attacks images of saints, relics, and priestly celibacy. His realism refutes the teachings of Transubstantiation and Auricular Confession. Furthermore, he trains and sends out a group of red robed travelling preachers named the “Poor Priests” who teachings can be seen as precursors to of those of Martin Luther 150 years later. Wycliffe’s teachings were well received by the people and were instrumental in influencing the English Peasants' Revolt in 1381.

In 1381-2, the Church hierarchy had his teachings declared heretical which led to him losing all his political positions as a theological advisor at the royal court. Out of fear of an uprising, the Church and The King did not charge Wycliffe personally, but rather let him continue his duties in the parishes he led. Left in peace, he completed his translation work on the English language Bible based on the Vulgate texts. This, contrary to popular belief, was not the first translation of the Bible into English, but rather a compilation and revamping of earlier translations.8 Wycliffe died of a stroke while celebrating Holy Mass.

The King and the Church would later persecute followers of the Wycliffite, Lollard heresy.

“ Lollardy taught the concept of the "Church of the Saved," that there was an invisible true Church which was the community of the faithful, which overlapped with, but was not the same as, the visible Catholic Church. It advocated apostolic poverty and taxation of Church properties. Other doctrines include consubstantiation instead of transubstantiation." 9

At the end of the persecution by the King in 1412, 267 of Wycliffe’s Sentences are declared heretical. Three years later the Council of Constance has all of his works burned, and 30 years after his death declared a heretic. His bones were dug up and burned

John Hus

John Hus (Jan or Johann, Hus or Huss), the Bohemia reformer of, was born on or around July 6, 1369 in a town called Hussinetz which is about 75 miles south west of Prague.

Hus was not as an astute a student as he would have himself seem, and this can be seen by his massive use of John Wycliffe’s writings in his works. He did however receive his Bachelor of theology (1393), his Master of Arts (1396), was ordained Priest (1400), and became rector of Prag’s philosophical faculty in 1402. He was also appointed as a preacher in the Bethlehem Church in Prague. In the beginning Hus has a good reputation and he was active as a synodical preacher.

The theological writings of Wycliffe spread widely in Bohemia. They had been brought over, as is said, in 1401 or 1402 by Jerome of Prague, and Hus was greatly moved by them. From the time of Hus’s first exposure to Wycliffe’s writings, he became enamoured with the idea of ecclesiastical reforms. Most of Hussism’s doctrine is rooted in Wycliffian ideas and principles and unfortunately for him, his severe attacks on the Church compelled his Bishop to remove him from priestly office.

As one of Wycliffe’s followers, he enthusiastically promoted the idea that people should have the possibility to read Holy Scripture in their own language. He also took on Wycliffe’s extreme dislike of Church authority. Upon examination, we can conclude that the so-called Hussism in the first decades of the fifteenth century was nothing but Wycliffeism transplanted into Bohemian soil. The views of Wycliffe spread rapidly throughout Bohemia and were, for a time, tolerated but in the end, the Archbishop brought charges against the Wycliffites for their ecclesiastical disturbances. Pope Alexander V empowered the Bishop to proceed against the Hussites. The writings of Wycliffe and Hus were ordered burned and the Hussites were put under the ecclesiastical ban. Hus’s appeal to the Pope was in vain.

Nevertheless, Wycliffian and Hussite thinking continued to spread and sometimes led to public unrest. The lay government took sides with Hus and he continued to preach in Prag’s Bethlehem Chapel. The churches of Prag were put under the ban and an interdict was levelled at the city. This was however with out any result.

Hus was summoned before the Council of Constance in 1415 to answer charges of heresy. He was promised safe conduct and appeared in good faith to the Council. The Holy roman Emperor, Sigismond was not true to his word and the Council condemned Hus to the pyre. He was burned at the stake in Constance on the 6th of July 1415. One ironic fact here was that the Writings of Wycliffe were used to kindle the fire.

The legend has it that Hus’s last words were a prophecy of the coming of martin Luther. “ In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed. ” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on to the church door at Wittenberg. If so; the prophecy of Hus had come true! There are efforts now under way in the Catholic Church to rehabilitate Hus. Girolamo “Hieronymus” Savonarola Girolamo (Latin: Hieronymus) Savonarola was born on the 21st of September 1452 in Ferrara, Italy and died on the 23rd of may 1498 in Florence. In 1475 he became a Dominican monk and was Lector at the Convent of St. mark in Florence. He was a well trained biblical theologian and an eloquent preacher. It was his stand against the vice of the ruling classes, and the decadence at the papal court that came to make him a celebrated preacher. He seemed visionary and prophesised God’s wrath if reform did not happen.

In 1487 he was removed from Florence, but continued preaching in the north of Italy. He taught a life of faith, love, and holiness. He called for political freedom for the common people and defended the poor and under privileged.

Lorenzo de’ Medici enabled Savonarola’s return to Florence and he preached there in the cathedral. In 1491 he was elected the prior of the Convent of St. Mark. Contrary to popular legend, he had no major hand in the evection of the Medici out of Florence. He nevertheless felt it was confirmation of his prophecies. He was involved in the forming of the new Florentine constitution, which had many democratic elements and principles. The down side is that his rule of the city was plagued by near despotic elements. His followers spread fear among the population and the tide turned from one of emancipation to one of mistrust and trepidation.

Pope Alexander VI tried to calm and pacify Savonarola by installing him as a Cardinal. This attempt to placate him remained without results. In 1497 he was placed under the high ban of the Church which gravely reduced his popularity. Finally, the Franciscans organized the Florentine opposition against him, he was arrested, tortured, hanged, and his body burned.


As we can deem from the above, we can see that the ground work of the reformation took place hundreds of years before Luther’s famous posting of his 95 articles against indulgences and Papal authority.

What does this tell us, with respect to anti-Catholicism? Initially the conflict was within the church and of the Church and not driven by separated Christian communities who saw the only way to reform in separation from the ancient Church which subsists in the Catholic Church.

In contrast to the Dualistic and Monophysistic heresies (which were true heresies), the early reformers had many points that call for reform. This is confirmed today by the efforts to come to peace with the personages of Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola.

When looking at the history of the Church we can see that there is a clear continuity of protest themes such as the authority of the Pope, the real presence in the Eucharist, Infant Baptism, Holy Orders, etc. Many of these subjects are the core of Catholic belief and have been so from the beginning.

The 16th century reformers can be seen as picking up on the legacies of Wycliffe, Hus and Savonarola, and implementing a final split in the Church. It becomes no longer a case of internal ecclesiastic strife and dispute over the articles of faith and power; it becomes an “us and them” situation which continues onto this day.

In the eyes of the reformers, the Pope becomes the anti-Christ, the Eucharist a

memorial meal, the Catholic Church the Great whore of the book Revelation, and further on. These are the roots of the 16th century reformation.

Chapter 2: The Reformation

The word Reformation has its roots in Latin and stands for rejuvenation or change. In the Historical sense, it stands for the religious reform movement that took place between 1517 and 1648. This highly fractioned movement resulted in the division of the Christian Church into various confessions (e.g. Lutherism, Calvinism, and Methodism, just to name a few) which we see today as contrasting poles to the Catholic Church.

As we can gain from chapter 1, the Reformation was a long and drawn out process that finally came to head with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church.10 John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland closely followed him. It ended with the so-called Westphalian Peace Treaty of 1648. This peace treaty was for the most part political and had in essence no theological value. The warring parties decided to cease military hostilities but in no way did they change their theological standing one against the other.11

In the beginning, the reformation movement was an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. A great number of Catholics -both clerical and lay- were insecure with some of the teachings of the church as well as the rife misconduct of the clergy and church hierarchy. Another problem was the rampant simony.

Not long after the initial phase, we see the reform movement splitting into various factions with in the movement itself. Luther had it out -verbally- with Andreas von Karlstadt, Ulrich Zwingli, and Erasmus (Desiderius) von Rotterdam. In fact the only reformer Luther didn’t have a conflict with was Philipp Melanchthon12.

Here we see a clearer formation of the reformed groups such a Lutheranism, Calvinism, and the more radical Anabaptist movements. We see each developing their own doctrine or “Confession” which not only separated them from the Catholic Church but also from each other.

Religious Factors

The Reformation was a highly charged theological environment of learned men formulating their religious ideas and beliefs, which they sometimes defended to the death. The debate was never an isolated case of united reformers protesting against the “all powerful” Church, it was more than that. We can see a great deal of inner discourse in the protestant camp and to be sure, the Protestants did not go easy on their contemporaries when it came to doctrinal disputes. The classic example here is Luther’s disputes with Zwingli and Karlstadt.

We have the various reformers vying for the correct definition of what the reformed doctrine should be. Here we see the questions on key disputed themes looking for resolution.13 As we saw in Chapter one, the Reformation had many “fathers” and many influences. There can also be no doubt that mysticism and the “Devotion Moderna” (modern piety) had a great influence on the thinking and actions of the Reformers.

Mysticism and the Devotio moderna

In contrast to scholasticism, which strives to take apart the world and make it rational, mysticism seeks and takes a holistic approach. One of the central themes of mysticism is the emptying of ones self and letting loose of desires and passions in order that the spirit can find room to expand around the soul of man. It is not theological speculation but rather the individual practical experience that is the goal of the mystic.

There are of course various schools of mysticism to name two; we have the Cistercensian “Romanic Mysticism” that was greatly influenced by Bernhard of Clairvaux and the “German Mysticism”14 whose main representatives were Meister Eckert, Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Seuse.

Romanic Mysticism had the goal of becoming one with Christ (uno cum Christo), and also to be able to identify and relate to his suffering. In German mysticism we have some very clear points that later turned up in Luther’s works and philosophy e.g. his focus on laymen as well as clerics, the emphasis on instruction, preaching, and the Bible, as well as downplaying ascetics. The use of the vernacular was in stark contrast to the Scholastics almost exclusive use of Latin.

The reform movement Devotio Moderna can be traced to the Dutch penance preacher Geert Groote. This movement was prevalent in the Netherlands and in the North East of the Holy Roman Empire. The movement merged mystical influences with a strong ethical and practically inclined piety. The Brotherhood formed itself into communities where they lived with out holy orders based on the principle of the church in the time of Acts. The movement had great influence on the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam. The main reference work for the community was the “ De imitatione Christi ” (the imitation of Christ) by Thomas à Kempis which was one of the most widely read books of the Middle Ages. It emphasises the personal relationship of the believer with God, a theme that the reformation held up very high. It is the basis for the “Born Again” believers “my God and I” thinking so prevalent in Protestantism.

Due to the great plagues of the high and late Middle Ages which depopulated vast areas and the extremely high infant mortality rate, death was ever present. The fear of death went hand and hand with the fear of what was to come after death; thus the fear of the particular judgement as well as the final judgement.

In awareness of their sinfulness, the middle age person searched for things that would ensure their salvation. These things included religious monetary trusts for monasteries, Holy Masses for the souls of the dead, pilgrimages, processions, and the purchasing of indulgences which were to shorten the time one spends in purgatory.15 All of these things could be purchased which give us what can be called a “Fiscalization” of religion.

The very strong personalization of piety went hand in hand with public demonstrations of sacramental piety which in some cases took on the appearance of “magical” events.


The people’s thirst for salvation contrasted sharply with the ecclesiastical reality. With the western schism, in which we had more that one claimant to the see of St. Peter, we witness a decline and relativation of the importance of the Pope for the average believer.

In spite of the inner Church conflicts the Pope came out on top when it came to maintaining his personal power not only as the head of the Church, but also as the secular sovereign of the Papal States. The Pope’s court did not differ very much from the Courts of the secular princes and the maintenance of which cost a great deal of money that the Pope received from tithes levelled on the individual believers. The “tax collectors” in this case were the local clergy. The average village priest was no better off than his flock, sometimes even worse off. He was often unread and lived very much like the general population even to the point of being married. The major difference was that the Priest paid neither tithes nor taxes and this made some of the peasantry very angry. On the other hand, high clerical office was very often in the hands of aristocrats who had little or no contact with the common people as did the poor village Priest. We can understand why Anticlericalism was for the most part a “grass roots” movement.

Another area of complaint was the rampant simony and nepotism that was involved in filling sometimes very lucrative church offices. All of this was tinder enough to kindle the fires of the Reformation.

The Reformation Movement

As we gained from Chapter one, we know that the Reform Movement was not something that happened overnight and in one place. Forerunners like Wycliffe and Jan Hus set the tone for their successors of the 16th century. The main character of the Reformation is with out a doubt; Martin Luther whose birth name was Martin Luder.16 I would say that in order for one to comprehend the Reformation, one must understand Lutheranism, and in order to understand Lutheranism we need to delve into the “life and times” of its founder Martin Luther

Lutheranism in Germany

The biography and writings of Martin Luther have filled many books and could be the subject of quite another dissertation. Here I’ll give just a short commentary on Lutheranism.

In 1505 Martin Luther entered the Augustine Order; he was ordained Priest and in 1512 became Professor of Bible studies at the University of Wittenberg. Here we have his exegesis of the Pauline letters -especially the Letter to the Romans- greatly influencing his thinking and theology.

At this point, Luther had an all too vivid awareness of his sinfulness, and had a great fear of God’s judgement. The term “God’s Justification” was greatly disliked by Luther. His understanding at the time was of a iusititia distributiva 17 in which one becomes what he needs or deserves a suum cuique.18 After his intensive study of pauline teachings on justification he came to a new understanding of God’s justification which he now understood as a iustitia passiva19 where each was given who has faith.

“ For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘ He who through faith is righteous shall live. ’” 20

He sees a just God who justifies the sinner who has faith. He purports that the sinner can not work toward justification through his own doing. Here we make out his stance as sola fide. 21

When the reformatory “breakthrough” came about is a matter of debate. Originally it was regarded to have taken place after Luther’s “Tower Experience”22 which he reported was the result of his contemplation of Romans 1:17. Today Reformation scholars now claim the structure of the Reformation movement was a gradually developing phenomenon that took place between 1514 and 1518.


One of the early political reasons for the Reformation was Bishop Albert von Brandenburg. He was the Archbishop of Magdeburg but aspired to become Archbishop of Mainz in order to become a Prince-Elector23 a title that was attached to the Bishopric.

Since the accumulation of offices was not generally permitted by Canonical Law he had to apply for (purchase?) a special Papal Dispense. There was also the problem of the Pallium24 duty for Rome which was levied on all new Archbishops. Since Albert’s coffers were empty, he had to find someway to pay for his new bishopric. In fact he was not the only Church prelate that was in need of money. The Pope himself was constantly looking for funds to support the re-building of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is for this reason that he introduced the selling of indulgences. The deal he made with Albert was that he should loan the money from the Fuggers and in return he would get an exclusive on the Indulgence trade in his area. The deal being that Albert retains 50% of the fees for him self so that he can repay the Fuggers, the other 50% going to the Pope to pay for the re-building St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is within this framework that we see the Dominican Monk John Tetzel entering the scene. Here was preaching and selling indulgences in the diocese of Magdeburg which bordered on Wittenberg. Many believers from Wittenberg, Luther’s parish, went to Magdeburg to purchase Tetzel’s indulgences.

Luther’s criticism of indulgences

The key to Luther’s 95 theses was that he believed that Tetzel was misleading his flock and giving them a false sense of their salvation. He taught that the inner sorrow for ones sins was enough for God to forgive them. According to him, one didn’t need the intervention of an indulgence. His posting of his 95 theses would eventually lead to the division of the Church, the Reformation and in effect the Thirty Years War.

Luther had sent his theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, not knowing that he knew of and approved of Tezel’s doings. The letter was dated 31 October 1517, a date which is now celebrated by Protestants as Reformation Day. Again, no one is sure whether Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, and there are indications that he did not want them translated into common German. Nevertheless a few months later Luther published a sermon against the trade in indulgences in German which was to find widespread application.

In April of 1518 Luther took part in a Chapter of his Augustinian Order which later came to be known as the Heidelberg disputation. For Luther this was fruitful ground and we find that a number of later Reformers took part e.g.: Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Bucer, John Brenz, Erhard Schnepf und Martin Frecht, who received Luther’s ideas enthusiastically.

After the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert von Brandenburg, received the 95 theses he immediately opened a church enquiry into Martin Luther’s doings. He also ordered the University of Mainz to prepare an assessment of the mater. In the hope of stopping this rebellious monk, Albert did not wait for the report from the university, but immediately sent the matter on to Rome.

The Heresy trail against Martin Luther

The final break with Rome took place after the dispute of Leipzig, in which Luther defended his beliefs that neither the Pope nor the Councils were the highest authorities in questions of faith. Here he formulates his arguments along the lines of sola scriptura. He also purported that not all of John Hus’ theses were heretical which Rome would not stand for.

The Curie at first ordered a preliminary investigation against Luther during which Silvester Mazzolini in his report potestate papae dialogues comes to the conclusion that alone the criticism of the Pope was a case of heresy. Luther was ordered to appear in Rome but avoided this through the intersession of Frederick “the Wise” Price Elector of Saxony. As a compromise he was ordered to appear before the Imperial Diet in Augsburg. Here he was questioned by Thomas Cardinal Cajetan who had the task of convincing Luther to recant or be placed under Church ban. Luther did not recant on his 95 theses; in fact he went a step further and stated that it was not the sacrament that justified but belief alone (sola fide). Frederick was ordered to hand over Luther, which he refused. Luther appealed to the Pope as he was of the opinion that he could defend his standpoint with Scripture.

In June of the following year it came to a renewed dispute in Leipzig. The dispute was organized by the University of Leipzig which viewed the younger University of Wittenberg as a rival. The Church was represented by the theology professor John Eck who held the initial discussions with the docent Andreas Bodenstein (aka Karlstadt) and the young history professor Philipp Melanchthon.

During the disputation Luther takes the lead for the Wittenberg side. Unluckily for Luther, Eck was successful in getting him to deny the infallibility of the Pope and the Church Councils; in fact he presented his view that Hus was a good evangelical.25 With this in hand, Eck unveils Luther as the new Hus. No one really saw a winner of the dispute as both side would come to claim victory. One thing is certain; the Disputation of Leipzig put an even greater wedge between Luther and the Church.

The Development of the Reformatory Programme

The turning point came in 1520 with the publication of Luther’s three main reformation tracts in which he sets the foundation for his theological programme and later Lutheranism:

- An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation -To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
- De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae - The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
- De libertate christiana - The Freedom of a Christian

In them we see the roots of future anti-Catholic Protestantism.

In the main tract to the Christian nobility, he incites the powers that be to take things into their own hands against Rome. Luther sees that church as unwilling and unable to perform any reforms and sees no other alternative for getting his will satisfied. He puts together a socio-political reform package that calls for state run education, social programs for the poor and the lifting of the celibacy requirement for clergy.26 He also formulates his position on the idea of the priesthood of all believers which was to eliminate the traditional hierarchy between the clergy and the lay population. Luther denied the Church’s magisterial prerogatives that only it had the sole right to definitively interpret scripture. He also disputed the fiscalization of the Church which gained him esteem among the Imperial Knighthood. The Tract was also a great financial success. When viewed and evaluated, a very modern program even according to today’s standards. For the 16th century, it was tearing at the roots of society and a thousand year old way of life.

The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, originally published in Latin Luther’s second tract was targeted for an academic / intellectual audience. In it he criticises the Church’s teaching on the sacraments. Referring only to hid interpretation of the Bible he, in his own right, reduces the number of sacraments from seven to three.27 He also criticises the teaching of concomitance and demands the lay chalice. Along with this he takes case with the teaching of Transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of Holy Mass.

In his third tract, The Freedom of a Christian, Luther to thematizes evangelical freedom. With an eye to the theory of the natures of man Luther formulates it as a coram Deo as well as a coram mundo. 28 He sees God as the giver of grace by which the sinner, through no effort of his own is justified. With the view to man in the world, he must manifest good works. Thus he is justified (saved) by God’s grace and at the same time he is a sinner, a sinner in need of salvation. - simul iustus et peccator.29 This docks on to Luther’s teaching of the Two Kingdoms in which the Christian exists. Her we have the world in which the law of the Sword applies and a world in which the holy Word applies. This was seen as a way to legitimize the temporal power’s use of force to maintain peace and order.

When we put this all together we have a very clear system being defined that is a complete break with the teachings of the Church at the time. All in all we can view the three Lutheran tracts as the basis for Luther’s new “confession” and the guideline for other contemporary and later reformers. With that we have in essence a new Christian Theology now generally called Protestantism.

Fundamental reformatory theology

The major points of the reformation are the foundation of most, if not all, protestant confessions. Most of which agree on the “Exclusive Particularies” which find themselves in the five Luthrn “soli” (only):

- sola gratia -by grace alone sola fide -by faith alone
- sola scriptura - by Scripture alone
- solus Christus -Christ alone or through Christ alone soli Deo Gloria - glory to God alone

The peculiar thing with the five soli is the fact that there are five “onlys”, where if we truly convinced of an only that there would be only one. The whole idea of these soli is quite foreign to Catholic theology. Which in no way excludes the fact that Catholics believe in the Grace of God, living a life in faith, the power of Scripture, Christ as the only way to the Father, and giving God (the Trinity) the glory.

Nevertheless they form the basic principle of Protestant thinking: justification and Scripture. It is on these five principles that all other Protestant theological teachings are based. This exclusivity is the basis for most of the theological disputes between Catholics and Protestants.

The Church Ban and the Diet of Worms

After the election of Emperor Charles V the proceedings against Luther were continued. On 15 June 1520 the Pope issued his Bull “Exsurge Domine” 30 in which he threatened to Excommunicate Luther if he did not recant within 60 days. One day before the deadline, Luther burned the Bull and the book of Canonical law. It is here that we see the first public display of disobedience and of Luther calling the Pope “The Antichrist”. This is important as this vehement insult will set the stage for the rest of the Reformation process against the Pope and the Church and continues on to this day in certain Protestant confessions. It will play a major role in the Puritan movement in England and the Colonies as well as later with the 19th Century anti-Catholic surges in the USA.

The Pope did not take long in reacting to Luther’s refusal to recant and on the 3rd of January 1521 he finally had enough of Dr. Martinus, and excommunicated him with the Bull “Decet Romanum Pontificem ” 31

This was not the end of it as Imperial Law called for the excommunicated person to become persona non grata, an outlaw, and he could be killed by anyone who wishes to do so without punishment.

Through the intercession of his liege lord, Friedrich the wise of Saxony, Luther was given the opportunity to appear at the Diet of Worms to be heard by the Emperor. Despite a papal protest, Charles received Luther on 17 April 1521 in worms. Luther was asked if he knew the documents presented and if he was willing to recant. After thinking about it overnight, Luther recognized the writings as his own and refused to recant. Here Luther gives his famous reply, “ Here I stand, God help me, I can do no other ” .

He not only refused to recant, he went much further and questioned the authority of the Pope and the Church Councils. His protest based on the reformatory thinking that Holy Scripture was the only authority. Thus placing himself outside the Church His stance became the “ Leitbild ” 32 for the future emphasis on the freedom of conscience. As admirable as Luther’s stance at the Diet of Worms was, it does not make him right in his theology against the Church.

On 30 April 1521 the Diet of Worms issues its Edict which levies the Imperial Ban on Luther and he is declared outlaw. Given twenty-one days to find safe haven before the Ban took effect, Luther set on his way back to Saxony. On the way, he was taken in a mock attack by the troops of Frederick the wise of Saxony and transported to the Wartburg fortress in Eisenach.

Luther in the Wartburg

Disguised as the “Junker Jörg”, Luther takes up residence in the fortress, and wastes no time in setting down the basic principles for what was to become his view on how the Protestant way of life should be lived. It is here that he eliminates the authority of the Church and begins to form his own congregations.

In his exegesis of the Magnificat33, Luther busies himself with the question of how a Protestant should view Mary’s role in the Church and the veneration of her altogether. He also publishes quite a number of sermons that become the preaching guidelines for the often poorly educated preachers. He we see the beginnings of a Protestant “Sermonic Culture.”34

In his tract “De votis monasticis ” 35 he deems that the monastic oath is against Scripture because he believed it to be based on justification through works. Removing oneself from the world is in conflict with the Christians “Great Commission”36 to live in the world, to work, and have a family. After this tract was published, many monks and nuns left their congregations to live a secular life.

The main work that Luther would accomplish during his stay in the Wartburg would be his translation of the Bible.

Bible Translation

There is no doubt that Luther’s translation of the Bible was an enormous task which he performed in record time. It is not, as some protestants would have us believe, the first translation of the Bible into common language. Before Luther, there were many common language translations in circulation.37 The thing that makes Luther’s translation so interesting is that he used the everyday German of his time. In fact, his Bible German became normative for the German language as a whole. The first ”Luther Bible” was the New Testament which was printed in September 1522. The more difficult Old Testament was successively finalized and published in 1534.

Again, Luther takes case with the Church as he has his own quite different views of what is to be considered canonical and what not. Putting aside the Synods of Rome (382), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397)38, he removes seven books from the Old Testament deeming them apocryphal. Luther also made an attempt to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon39 He calls the book of James an Epistle of straw:

“ The most important example of dogmatic influence in Luther ’ s version is the famous interpolation of the word alone in Rom. 3:28 (allein durch den Glauben), by which he intended to emphasize his solifidian doctrine of justification, on the plea that the German idiom required the insertion for the sake of clearness. But he thereby brought Paul into direct verbal conflict with James, who says (James 2:24), "by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" ("nicht durch den Glauben allein"). It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an "epistle of straw," because it had no evangelical character ("keine evangelische Art"). ” 40

Criticism of Church Tradition

Luther wasted no time in delving deeper into the differences of his teachings and those of the Church. He takes case with the traditions of the church and puts them to his hard test according to his sola scriptura. Any tradition not directly found in Scripture he deemed profane. He did however maintain those traditions he thought helpful to the Christian e.g. Images and the outward form of the Latin Mass.

His massive criticism of the office of the Pope was a mainstay of his reformatory enthusiasm, which Melanchthon and Zwingli shared. The basis for this was again a theological problem. The idea of the supremacy of the Pope was based on the text of the Gospel of Matthew 16:18f.: “ And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. ”

The simple logic here is that Christ calls Peter the fundament of the Church and imparts in him the power to loose and bind. Peter later becomes Bishop of Rome. For Catholics the See of St. Peter is a continuation of the St. Peter’s invested powers and power to create priests as representatives in persona Christi. Luther counters this with Matthew 18:19: “ Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. ” And he combines this with I Corinthians chapter 12 to formulate his idea of a lay priesthood. The Pastor is no longer representing Christ in persona Christi41, he is, in the eyes of the reformers, nothing more than the head of a congregation with no special priestly Orders. The Pastor no longer bases his position on a priestly consecration, but on his education.

This goes hand in hand with a new order of worship. A number of reformers e.g. Thomas Müntzer, Karlstadt and later Luther, attempt to create an order of church worship in common language. They quickly substitute the Latin Mass in all of the Protestant areas for a vernacular one. In the centre of these church services stands the reading and preaching. For most of the protestant world, the sacrifice of the Eucharist would eventually become just a memorial of the last supper. No transubstantiation and no real presence as believed by the Church.

Further Changes and the Reformations „Left Wing“

The Baptist researcher Heinold Fast, Mennonite Pastor and Theologian, could be said to have coined the term “Left Wing” Reform Movement within the Reformation. This type of reformation movement has no real cohesion and shows no clear unified picture. We see in them a movement with an apocalyptic world-view of their times.42 Each individual group had its own view of the end times and interpreted apocalyptic scripture very much in the here and now. The difference between the various groups was they came to various conclusions and saw different consequences.

The left wing was home to the radical reformers like Thomas Müntzer who was became one of Luther’s arch rivals. Their central cause was the radical reformation of the Church, and the complete revamping of the political and sociological situation. It is in the Left Wing movement that we have the roots of the German Peasant Revolt (1524-1526).

It is in this atmosphere that we see the Baptist movement taking form out of the Swiss reformation, and their wish to reconstitute the New Testament Christian community of Jesus. It’s their Believer’s Baptism (only) that sets them at odds with the mainstream protestant line of Luther et al. Thus they are given the name “Re-Baptizers” or “Anabaptists”. Their Ecclesiology was also one of a Believers congregation in which all social barriers were felled. They practiced the Priesthood of all believers and elected their elders and deacons by democratic means. The left wing called for a radical separation of Church and State.43

They also called for religious freedom not only for themselves but for others and refused to take oaths in any form. This made the powers that be very sceptical of the Anabaptist, Left wing, movement which was not entirely because of their religious practice but more for their criticism of the hierarchy. It didn’t take long for them to react and the establishment did not wait long to take counter measures and start the persecution of the Anabaptists of all colours but mostly the Hutterites and Mennonites. One must remember here that it was not only the Catholic Church that was doing the persecuting, but for the most part their Protestant brethren.

In many countries the Anabaptists had to go into exile to avoid the very harsh persecutions which included torture, drowning, and burning at the stake. Some eventually landed in America and are there to this day e.g. The Mennonites, Amish, and other smaller groups.


The Reformation peaks with theological and sometimes political Confessions of the various movements. From the very beginning the Reformation was not a homogenous entity. With the freedom to interpret Scripture came the problem of the different views conflicting with each other. The major groups were gathered around the ideas of Luther (Lutheranism), Zwingli (Reformed), and Calvin (Reformed). The two major parties became the Lutheran and Reformed congregations.


1 Cf. Acts 5:17f., 7:56-59, 12:1-4.

2 Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at an international gathering occurring under the auspices of the "Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe" in Astana, Kazakhstan. April 2010 (Document R023)

3 Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, The Author(s) of The Didache, and The Shepherd of Hermas.

4 E.g. his Epistle to the Smyraeans

5 Manichaeism was one of the major Iranian Gnostic religions, originating in Sassanid Persia. Manichaeism throve between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. The founder, Mani, was an Arsacid Iranian was born in Babylonia and lived approximately AD 216-276.

6 Latin for "the church must always be reforming"

7 A concept that John Calvin will later pick up.

8 It was never forbidden to translate the Bible into common language, it was however forbidden to disseminate unapproved translations. Wycliffe’s Bible translation was considered flawed, unauthorized, and not for use by the general public. It was later outlawed as it was the basic text for the heretical Lollard movement.

9 Lollardy. Accessed 7/2011:

10 Whether he actually nailed them on the door is a mater of contention that really has no bearing on the fact that he formulated and published his 95 Theses.

11 SIMON Edith: Great Ages of Man: The Reformation. Time-Life Books, 1966

12 He is reported to have said that he would rather die that be separated from Luther.

13 E.g. Infant Baptism, the Real Presence, Celibacy, and the position of Mary in the church.

14 Sometimes called Dominican mysticism or Rhineland mysticism.

15 For those not familiar with the nature of Purgatory it is important to realize that this was not a place for he dammed, but rather for the saved who required further purification before entering heaven. Cf. Rev 21:27, Mt 5:26.

16 Luther changed his name from Luder to Luther because the word Luder in German means poor/stupid creature.

17 A distributive form of justice.

18 To each his own.

19 Passive justice.

20 Rom 1:17

21 Justification by faith alone.

22 Cf. Martin Luther's Tower Experience, By Dr. Richard P. Bucher Accessed 7/2011:

23 Ger.: Kurfürst.

24 The Pallium is the symbol of the office of Archbishop.

25 In the sense of being true to the Bible

26 One must understand that there were education and services for the poor in place, but they were -for the most part- church and not state operated.

27 Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, and Penance

28 According to Luther there are various levels of relationship constitute human identity for him: We are always, four things: coram Deo (in relationship to God), coram mundo (in relationship to the world, which here means the concrete physical world of existence), coram hominibus (in relationship to other people), and coram meipso (in relationship to ourselves).

29 Righteous and at the same time a sinner. The is one of the mainstays of Reformed Theology in which the sinful nature of man is covered, cum, justified by the grace of God - sola gratia. Although justified by grace through faith -sola fide, he is still a sinner.

30 Accessed 8/2011:

31 Accessed 8/2011:

32 A strong German word that means: guiding principle, mission statement, or general orientation. Its More than just a guideline.

33 Cf. Lk 1: 46-55

34 Luther would have call this a „ Predigtkultur”

35 Concerning Monastic Vows 1521 Accessed 8/2011

36 Cf. Mt 28: 19f.

37 Most of which were based on the Latin Vulgate and not the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic as was Luther’s. Much to the consternation of the Church Magisterium, many of the translations were quite flawed. Contrary to popular evangelical belief, the reading and owning of the Bible or approved translations was never forbidden by the Church. At least I can find no documents to this effect.

38 These three synods made the final determination as to which books of holy writ should be contained in the Christian Bible. All lists of canonical books contain the seven deuterocanonical books Luther removed.

39 Cf.'s_canon. Accessed 7/2011

40 History of the Christian Church, book 7, chapter 4.Accessed 7/2011:

41 In persona Christi is a Latin phrase meaning “in the person of Christ,” an important concept in Catholicism and, in varying degrees, to other Christian traditions. An extended term, In persona Christi capitis, “in the person of Christ the head,” was introduced in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic Understanding In Roman Catholicism, the priest acts

in the person of Christ in pronouncing the words that comprise part of a sacramental rite. For example, in the Mass, the

Words of Institution, by which the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine becomes the Precious Blood. The priest and bishop act in the person of Christ the head in their leadership of the Church.

42 We also see this with some of the other reformers, but it seems to have more prevalent with the left wing. We can also see some parallels to today’s fundamentalist Christian groups.

43 We will see this later in the Supreme Court’s understanding of the United States Constitution.

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The Origin, Proliferation, and Institutionalization of Anti-Catholicism in America, and its Impact on Modern Christian Apologetics
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