Catholicism and Protestantism - two ways of looking at the world?

Seminar Paper, 2005

15 Pages, Grade: 1-2



1) Introduction

2) Catholicism, Puritanism and the Historical Background of late 18th century England
2.1 Catholicism
2.2 Puritanism
2.3 The historical and intellectual background in England at the publication of “The Monk”

3) “The Monk” and Religion
3.1 Catholicism: Superstition and Hypocrisy?
3.2 The role of the bible in “The Monk” and the reaction of critics

4) Conclusion

5) Bibliography

1) Introduction

Catholicism and Puritanism are important elements of the Christian religion. For about 19 % of today’s world population (about 995 million people) Catholicism still plays a major role in their lifes and also Puritan effects can still be observed by looking for instance at the society of the United States of America. But what are the main elements of these religious movements?

Chapter 1 is supposed to give a general introduction into the topic. In order to do so Catholicism and Puritanism are separately examined. Chapter 2.1 and 2.2 therefore take a closer look at historical developments, main content elements, standpoints and attitudes of these two religious groups.

Since this is a literary studies paper it is going to examine a literary work.

In 1796 Matthew Lewis published his first book called “The Monk”. The 19 year old author created it in only ten weeks. The book became extremely popular which made Lewis very well known, often under the name “Monk” Lewis.

Chapter 2.3 “The historical and intellectual background in England at the publication of ‘The Monk’ describes the situation in late 18th century England before starting to analyse the text in chapter 3. This seems adequate since it is supposed to provide the reader with background knowledge and help him to understand the intense public reaction towards the publication of the book and also helps to understand contemporary views and issues that preoccupied many people of the time. Thereby general historical facts are neglected. Chapter 2.3 rather takes a closer look at the English society and its attitudes towards moral, religion and reason at the end of the 18th century and tries to find out topic relevant particularities.

As can also be concluded by the title “The Monk”, it is religion which plays an important role in Matthew Lewis’ book. But what is his attitude towards religion, especially towards Catholicism, and how does he present it literary, i.e. which metaphors and comparisons does he make use of? Are there hidden or unconcealed assaults on Christianity and if so, what is being criticised? Chapter 3.1 preoccupies with these questions.

Lewis’ famous criticism of the Bible on page 259 was an important reason for a vehement and mostly indignant reaction of the critics. In 1798, after a law suit, he was even forced to produce a censored version of his work. Chapter 3.2 is recapitulating the famous “Bible scene” and trying to interpret it in an objective way. It then finally describes the rough reaction of the critics towards that scene and illustrates the main content of the criticism.

2) Catholicism, Puritanism and the Historical Background of late 18th century England

2.1 Catholicism

The term Catholicism is derived from the Greek word “katholikos” meaning “in general, concerning everybody”. In contrast to the numerous other Christian churches the catholic church acknowledges the pope as the bishop of Rom and successor of Peter as its universal head. Due to an uninterrupted succession of the bishops since Peter, the catholic church regards itself as the only legal heir of Jesus Christ’s authority.

The catholic origin lies in the foundation of the church by Ignatius of Antichoa in the 1st century AD. In time it separated more and more from the other existing contemporary Christian groups. Emperor Constantine accepted the legitimacy of the catholic church in 313 AD. About 700 years later, in the year of 1054 the catholic Church separated from orthodox church and became known as Roman Catholic Church.[1] The reformation of 1517 again lead to a separation. The protestant church was born. In England this result “was imagined as a recovery of the original, pure form of Christianity, before it had been corrupted by the false (Catholic) systems of mediation that stood between a man and his God; (…)”[2]

During enlightenment, especially after the French Revolution, the Catholic church was harshly criticised for its dogmatic views which were often estimated as intolerant.

Still it is important to ascertain that eighteenth-century England was a very Christian country although “English Roman Catholics remained a tiny, inoffensive, and ineffective minority, though they provided a convenient bogey for politicians (…)[3] There was a great concern about religion, especially in educated circles. As a result of this the greatest volumes of book production still consisted of devotional works and churchgoing was habitual.[4] Religious values were also embodied in the minds of most people.[5]

Those fundamental religious values had their origins in the Catholic belief although that was eroding through the emergence of different religious groups like for instance Puritanism. But it is nevertheless necessary to determine that basic religious values, as they were found in Catholic reflections, still played an important role for contemporary ideologies which existed in large numbers.

2.2 Puritanism

Puritanism was a religious reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late sixteenth century. The church and also the crown fought against that new movement which was why there had been an offshoot in the middle of the 17th century to the northern English colonies in America. This migration was the foundation of the development of the religious, intellectual and social order of New England.[6]

Historians argue that the origin of Puritanism has to bee seen in the conflict between Henry VIII and the church of Rome in the 1530s. Even though he repudiated papal authority and transformed the church of Rome into a state church of England, for many it only seemed insufficiently reformed. In the following decades the puritan movement grew although it was not homogeneous. Some favoured a Presbyterian church[7] others wanted to achieve autonomy for individual congregations. Although the Puritan movement was at first even made fun of in dramas and satire, it were especially merchants who were at that time discontent with the economic situation became supporters of Puritan views.

The main component of Puritan service was the sermon. Therefore the preacher did not receive his right to speak in God’s name by some superior church offices. It was him and not sacraments that announced the will of God in his community which was a very important constituent of the Puritan parish.

Doctrinally Puritans had similar views as did the Calvinists. They both believed in unconditional election, i.e. God had decided who was damned and who was saved even before the beginning of the world. Since humanity was completely depraved it was only due to God’s irresistible grace that a limited number of believers was able to obtain eternal life. These few elected ,despite their backsliding and faintness of heart, could not fall away from grace.[8]


[1] Cf., 24th of May 2005; 12:19

[2] Maggie Kilgour, The Rise of the Gothic Novel, London 1995: 14 f.

[3] James Sambrook, The Eighteenth Century. The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1700 – 1789, New York 1986: 25 f.

[4] Cf. Ibid.: 26

[5] Chapter 2.3 will take a closer look on the issue of religiousness.

[6] Cf., 30th of May 2005; 11:49

[7] The Presbyterian church was a branch of 16th century reformation based on the Presbyterian constitution, i. e. with own theological views.

[8] Cf. ., 30th of May 2005; 12:05

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Catholicism and Protestantism - two ways of looking at the world?
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Joachim von Meien (Author), 2005, Catholicism and Protestantism - two ways of looking at the world?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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