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Preface and Book 1

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

For a full treatment of the Reformation, see my work: The Reformation Made Easy – C. Matthew McMahon.

Preface and Book 1 – State of Europe before the Reformation

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Preface

History cannot be documented simply as chronological events, but the intrusion of God into time to establish His redemptive purposes in and through men. Two epochs in this Spirit’s work point to the greatest revolutions ever documented: the entrance of the Lord of Glory in the fullness of time in the little town of Bethlehem, and the era of the Reformation breaking out of a reign of eclipsing doctrinal darkness and superstition. Christ brought forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Reformers rescued the Gospel from drowning in a sea of ecclesiastical expedience. Since the Gospel writers, inspired as they were, have given an accurate account of the life of Christ and the early church, here, d’Aubigne desires to set forth a sound history of the Reformation given that no one up until his time had done so in a complete fashion, or to his liking.

God does not intrude into time to arrange events, but to begin revolutions that cover over the face of the earth. Revolutions accompany two key aspects seen in historiography: the invisible hand of God, and the actions of men used in the milieu of secondary causes. For the historian to accurately document redemptive history, or history at all, these two considerations must be taken into account.

Though God has His providential hand in the affairs of Alexander the Great as well as the apostle Paul, the greater question that should concern the historian surrounds the remedy of the fallen soul. To document history is to set one’s historical eye upon the Gospel of Christ and its affect on the world. D’Aubigne’s account of the Reformation demonstrates the continuation of God’s hand in the furtherance of the Gospel.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 1

The outward transformation of Christianity into Romanism in both its ministers and worship can be likened to the Greco-Roman world conquered by the Caesars. Though the greatest event in the history of the world took place within the Roman culture (the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ), it appears that this same culture, harnessed by the unregenerate who thirst for power, over a period of 1500 years, would come crashing in upon the structure of the church to renovate it to its ancient and bygone secular counterpart. The papacy progressively utilized the tactics of Roman warfare, subtly disguised as spiritual guidance, to affect not only the parishioners under their power, but the princes and kings who opted for their support. Christianity, under popery’s aberrations, turned from serving men by the Gospel, to ruling them by it.

The copied secular realms of “political forms” and “associations” strengthened these men to overturn the spiritual Kingdom of Jesus Christ into a religious political power. The greatest weapon utilized in this modification was the channel of the means of grace through the hierarchy of the priests, cardinals and popes, without which, no one – not peasant or prince – could attain favor with God without the permission of the Roman Church. And their use of the Latin vulgate sealed their ability to hide the Gospel from the greater portion of unlearned mankind.

Instead of nourishing the priesthood of believers, the Roman pontiff set himself as the head of the church, and the Vicar of Christ on earth destroying the equality of believers in Christ. No nation remained unaffected by this counterfeit makeover.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 2

True Christianity had declared grace through faith, where the papacy molded ecclesiastical grace in their own image over the oppressed people of the Catholic Church. Popery turned salvation into works made by men. The British monk Pelagius threw the church into disarray by his errors, exemplifying the highest regard for such a system. Faith became a “mere submission to authority” through acts of penance rather than the transforming grace of Christ by His work through the instrumental power of the Spirit.

The Reformation would bring back justification by faith alone, where the popes has set up a capitalistic endeavor to make faith something to be bought, and achieved by works. The indulgence rapidly affected the superstitious that had already been familiar to a submission of their will under the Vicar of Christ on earth. The clergy had become the conduits by which the grace of God, or the favor of the popes, was to be dispensed. The works of bygones saints, even the supererogatory merits of Jesus Christ, could be bought for a price in order to secure the salvation of the buyer, or aid in the release of those already captive to the purging of sin in purgatory. Financial advantage to the Roman Church did not go unnoticed, and purgatory became one of the chief doctrines to validate indulgences in the thirteenth century, and to furnish the livelihood of the Pope.

The Reformation brought man face to face with God rather than having popery “interpose the Church between God and man.” Popery separates men from God and hides the Gospel from them, where the Reformation, through the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and justification by faith alone, will unite men to God.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 3

The tyrannical suppression of biblical Christianity lead the clergy of the Roman Church to become spiritual apprentices of the physical and moral corruption of absolute power. The church had given itself over to a man-centered religion filled with relics, indulgences and moral debauchery. Priests not only took advantage of the financial gain bound up in the spiritual whoredom of popery, but engaged in illicit relationships with women they sustained, with their new progeny, on tithes and offerings from the people under this immoral oppression. Consequently, their theological prowess was that of Bunyan’s Ignorance. Such a state within the church cried out in silence for Reformation.

The powerful inducement of a sold indulgence propagated the spiritual evils in the lives of the people – they depended on the clergy for these indulgences believing they were partaking in the welfare of their own souls. This caused those who sold them to make the “wares” as attractive as they could in seducing people to buy such counterfeit graces in spiritual ignorance.

Erasmus relates the disposition of the clergy in relation to propagating sexual sin. In one year eleven thousand priests presented themselves before him in order to partake in the regular tax they could pay to the church for sleeping with a woman. They also paid this tax for any children they may have had as a result of the union, while “simultaneously” abiding by their vow of celibacy. Such an intricate web of corruption sustained these acts of immorality since Christ was portrayed by the priest as a cruel Judge, ready to condemn all to hell unless they partook of indulgences and penance.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 4

It is impossible that Christianity would ever be ultimately overthrown, for that would quench the decrees of God – something even more impossible to accomplish. Above and beyond the devices of corrupt men, even within the man-made mist of superstition, ignorance and the corruption of moral virtues exemplified by the clergy of Rome, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ remained. In the process of time, God’s providences manifested the practical outworking of a revival by setting the stage of Gospel proclamation within the now political Church of Rome. Political turmoil and power struggles eclipsed the spiritual nature of the Roman Church.

God’s stratagem and preparation for Reformation permeated three spheres of life: the political, the ecclesiastical and the literary. Though all of these, especially the literary world, were used for the transformation of the entire world through the Reformation, one small seed was planted as the catalyst for the spark of the Reformation to take place – the elector Frederick of Saxony, surnamed Frederick the Wise. He had immense influence, great wealth, and exercised both with liberality above any other before him. This gained him favor in every court, with commoners, clergy and the nation’s politics.
Frederick was also personally moved by the power of the Word of God. In response, Frederick placed a high value on good preaching from God’s Word. He was the prince that God would use to raise the Reformer, and spark the Reformation of the church, as well as secure the protection of the movement as it unfolded under his “wise” rule.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 5

The state of Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century varied from country to country because of ecclesiastical and political ramifications. The reception of the Gospel in each of the countries surrounding the central locale of the country Germany, and the uprising of the Reformation from Germany, fluctuated based on conditions peculiar to each nation and its economic system. For example, the intellectual and spiritual life of the Middle Ages had flourished readily in France and heightened its sensitivity to the Reformation. Bernard had taught piety, and Abelard heightened theological study through the rational principle. The university of Paris stood up against the Church, and had no fear in its opposition to her. Like France, every country in its own providence was primed for revival.

Germany was more fine-tuned than the other countries before the Reformer slowly engaged the scene. Germany was a confederate based country, and the revival about to embark could have been more popular in one side of the country, or one confederacy, over another. It was more probable that in such a confederacy the Reformation would not be quenched as if the country was based on a dictatorship, or monarchy, such as in England. The university structure that arose within the free cities of each confederacy allowed the accessibility of information to become a free-flowing conduit to the people. Because the country was being molded in many ways to begin thinking, rather than simply a slave to superstition, it was likely that Reformation would not be quenched in such an environment.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 6

The preparations of the Reformation were extensive, in contrast to the new religious additions made by the last two popes to Catholic doctrine. God raised up men to attest to the truth of His Word in counter to the Catholic superstition prominent of the day. Pierre Valdo, John Wickliffe, John Huss, a monk named Arnoldi and Jerome Savanarola were some of these reformation precursors.

There were more and more sparks of light attesting to the truth as the Reformation drew near, though Luther would bring the torch. In primitive manner the Reformation existed quite some time before the formal Reformation of the church exploded in the hands of Luther. John of Goch extolled the virtue of Christian Liberty as the “essence of every virtue.” He even said that the prevailing doctrines within the Catholic Church were in fact Pelagianism reborn, even denouncing Thomas Aquinas as “the prince of error.” John Wessel taught justification by faith alone, and Luther says that he wished he had read this man’s works sooner than he did, for it would have helped him greatly in his endeavors for understanding the truth.

Just before the time that Luther was put in motion by God’s providence and was in the midst of his own transformation, men like Nicholas Kuss were preaching openly against the Pope, and John Hilten wrote vigorously against the abuses of monastic life. Hilten exasperated his fellow Franciscan monk to the point that they threw him into prison. And Andrew Proles (an Augustinian provincial leader of which would have authority over Luther who would become an Augustinian monk) “prophesied” that reformation was just around the corner and that it was “already approaching.”

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 7

The scholastics and the theologians of the church were working in their own individual spheres to providentially set the stage for the Reformation that would take place soon under the torch of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. Even the poet Dante said that faith renders us citizens of heaven, which was the same message the reformers would soon shout from the rooftops. Later, Laurentius Valla applied scholastic study to the Roman church in a more critical method. Men of great thinking arose to redefine a new way in which the church would approach academics – such as Rodolph Agricola in Italy, Wessel and Reuchlin.

Reuchlin was an academic genius of sorts. At twenty he was teaching Greek and later he was invited to teach at the University in Tubingen. He was known as one of the best orators of France and Italy. He spent considerable time learning Greek and Hebrew and spent his money on acquiring the best texts to study. He wrote a Latin dictionary, a Greek grammar, translated and commented on the Penitential Psalms, corrected the Vulgate and was the first to publish a Hebrew grammar and dictionary.

Reuchlin’s practical claim to fame was in teaching Schwarzerd, his cousin, whom he named later, Melancthon. Melancthon would later befriend Luther and be used mightily in the cause for the Lutheran Reformation.

Reuchlin came under attack when Cologne slanderers (Pfefferkorn and Hochstraten) rose up to chose out of his writings certain passages to pervert their meaning in order to overthrow, or simply retaliate, against his decision to give the Jews their books back. These books had been collected with the intention of having them burned, and instead, Reuchlin thought it would be better to have theologians taught Hebrew in order to wrestle academically with the Jews, than, by force, to burn their books.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 8

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the most prominent precursor to the Reformation. He pursued his studies though he lived in extreme poverty after his mother died. He was attentive of the ancients, and this study placed him above the contemporaries of his day.

His influence on the Reformation was varied. He was no reformer, and could never become one based on his attachment to Rome. However, his sarcasms were strewn into every theological circle of the day. He wrote against the monks, the clergy and the schoolmen, and yet still coupled his sarcasm in the teachings of science, philosophy and language (Greek and Latin). He spoke out against the church-regulations of dress, fasting, feast-days, vows, marriage and confession. Though he saw these abuses, he did not see them through the spectacles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This, said Luther, demonstrates that he does not know how to teach the truth though he may be very capable at exposing error. In any case, his main maxim was “Give light, and darkness will disappear of itself.” However, this is only half the battle. For when the wicked rise up to take the light from Erasmus’ hand, his courage failed him. He was grounded in his flesh rather than in the Spirit of the Lord.

Though the pen of Erasmus aided the cause of the preparation for Reformation, when it actually came upon him, and overwhelmed the world, Erasmus did not take kindly too it. He was confused as to the direction he should take, whether to go with the Reformation, or to stay with Rome. His Diatribe, though, sets him in the camp of those opposed to the light. Yes, Erasmus laid the egg of the Reformation, so to speak, but as the saying goes, “it was Luther who hatched it” bears testimony to the torch of the truth.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 1, Chapter 9

As much as we have seen so far that God raised up monks, schoolmen and clergy to fight for the truth, so we must also look towards the nobles, knights and warriors for regenerated men who love the truth of Christ. There were various small reformations going on in the midst of the nobles as much as the schoolmen. Ulrich of Hutten was the link that united the knights and the schoolmen. Not only was he famous as advancing himself with his sword, but also by his writings. Though he was set aside to be a monk, he ran away at age sixteen to the university of Cologne in order to study literature and poetry. He wrote against the papal court and its corruptions, and consequently was sought by the Inquisition. He desired the protection of Charles V, who, at that time, was in opposition to the Pope. He took refuge in the castle of Ebernburg where he sought asylum. Here he wrote to the nobles of his country in order to take up arms for the Reformation and for the Gospel.

The same fervor may be seen in Francis of Sickingen, a friend of Hutten. He was a genuine adversary of Rome, loved the Word of God and study of the schoolmen. Many reformers took refuge in the castle of Sickingen – men such as Hutten himself, Bucer, Aquila, Schwebel and Oecolampadius. (Even at that time Oecolampadius had the honorable duty of preaching in the castle each day.) He declared war against the Archbishop of Treves but wound up mortally wounded.

Another knight, Harmut of Cronberg, was a friend to both Hutten and Sickingen, and had a profound knowledge and love of the truth. He wrote letters to Leo X exhorting him to allow the Emperor his rightful power over the lands, and even explained the Gospel to him in those letters.

In each of these instances, and more, foundations for the Reformation were laid. These did not advance the Reformation, for that task would be given to the monk, Martin Luther, and the generational reformers that would follow. However, though these nobles, and other scholastics, laid a simple foundation, it is by God’s providence that they helped in setting the stage for Luther to arise.

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