Results tagged “protestantism” from Reformation21 Blog

The Road Not Taken


As we remember the Reformation this week, those who stop to think about the anniversary (too few of us, no doubt) will probably either celebrate it as the birthday of the Protestant churches, or lament it as the beginning of a great schism that still divides the western church today. We will think of such revolutionary figures as Luther and Calvin, men iconoclastic and charismatic enough to have whole traditions named after them. This way of thinking about the Reformation, though, is liable to blind us to its most significant feature: It was a reform movement, an attempt to purify and heal the Catholic Church of its corruptions. Had events played out a bit differently, the Reformation might have been exactly what its name implies, rather than a lasting schism or the birth of a new family of churches. With contemporary ecumenical zeal finally taking hold of conservative Reformed churches, and Protestant-Catholic dialogue becoming an ever more prominent fixture of the ecclesiastical landscape, it is worth pausing to remember this road not taken, the road of Catholic reform, and reflecting briefly on the causes of its failure.

The peripatetic figure of Peter Martyr Vermigli, the Italian reformer who found himself successively in Lucca, Zurich, Strasbourg, Oxford, and then Strasbourg and Zurich again, may serve as a useful reference point for this little-known side of the Reformation. Vermigli was born in Florence in 1499, when the ashes of Savonarola had scarcely cooled and Michelangelo was just beginning work on his David. Entering the Augustinian order in 1514 and the University of Padua in 1518, Vermigli soon acquired a reputation for piety, preaching, and phenomenal erudition. In Padua he formed a friendship with a student a few months his junior, a like-minded humanist from England by the name of Reginald Pole, one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures of the Reformation.[1] 

Both Pole and Vermigli had found themselves in an ever-widening circle of priests, scholars, and devout laymen committed to the cause of church reform in Italy. This movement sought a revival of lay spirituality and devotion, focusing as Luther had on the believer's direct access to Christ without legalistic intermediaries, and also on the renewed reading of Scripture, and like Luther campaigned for the abolition of abuses among the corrupt church hierarchy. Vermigli was at the heart of this reforming network, and soon found himself promoted through a series of posts in Italy to become one of the highest-ranking officers of the Augustinian order. Though not directly exposed to the writings of the Protestant reformers until around 1537, from what we can tell, Vermigli had independently arrived at many of their same theological insights through his study of St. Augustine. In particular, he and his friend Gasparo Contarini were fleshing out a doctrine of justification by faith not far from that being taught by Luther and Melanchthon.  

The years 1536-37 were pivotal for the Italian reform movement. Vermigli was appointed consultant to a papal commission on church reform alongside Pole and Contarini (both newly-made cardinals), as well as two other leading reformist Italian churchmen: Jacopo Sadoleto and Giovanni Carafa. The different paths of these five men symbolize the very different directions that the internal Roman reform movement soon took. Pole remained a loyal-though-uncomfortable son of the Catholic church, seeking to carve out space for moderates and reformists and favoring a more lenient policy toward Protestants.[2] Sadoleto became a committed apologist of the Catholic church, seeking to win Protestants back by persuasive writing. His most famous attempt was a letter to the people of Geneva in 1539, which provoked one of the classics of Protestant polemic, John Calvin's Reply to Sadoleto. Carafa, on the other hand, who had always harbored a fierce ascetic and disciplinary streak, concluded that the corrupting influence of Protestantizing doctrine was even worse than the corrupt lives of the clergy, and became the architect of the uncompromising Counter-Reformation. In 1542 Carafa launched the merciless Roman Inquisition, over which he presided for the next thirteen years as cardinal and then in 1555 as Pope Paul IV. 

The catalyst for Carafa's crackdown was the actions of the two most evangelical members of this quintet, Contarini and Vermigli. In 1541, Contarini was appointed as the head of the Catholic delegation to the Colloquy of Regensburg (or Ratisbon), by which the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sought to reconcile the rival Catholic and Lutheran parties and thus stabilize his realm. The Protestant delegation was led by Luther's sidekick Philipp Melanchthon, and the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer; both had a reputation, unlike Luther himself, for valuing peace and seeking compromise whenever it could reasonably be achieved. Contarini was a man of similar disposition, and he had initially intended Vermigli to join him at the gathering, though this did not transpire, and the other members of his delegation were less irenic. Despite profound differences, however, the two parties came tantalizingly close to agreement on the central issue of justification, even signing off on a joint statement, though not one that would satisfy Luther.

Yet even before Luther had rejected it as too ambiguous, both the formula and the Colloquy were doomed. The Pope and his advisors angrily rejected articles that Contarini sent to them, and insisted that these matters could only be settled by a general council presided over by the Pope--which was to materialize as the Council of Trent five years later. Contarini was recalled to Italy, stopping to confer with his friend Vermigli in Lucca before dying a few months later in disgrace. Within a year, the Italian reform movement was scattered to the winds as the Inquisition began. Vermigli and many of his students openly declared for Protestantism and fled north, while Pole tried to shelter his fellow moderate reformists from the wrath of Carafa. Pole had one more opportunity to change the direction of the Roman church, coming within one vote of being elected pope in 1549. To avoid conflict, however, he withdrew his name and the hardliners gained control. By Carafa's death in 1559, almost the last vestiges of evangelical reform in Italy had been stamped out, and the Council of Trent had decisively turned its back on reconciliation with the Protestants.

One more tantalizing opportunity was to present itself in 1561, however, and Vermigli once again was involved, after an illustrious career through the Protestant centers of northern Europe. France was a nation that, while devout, had always harbored something of an independent streak vis-à-vis the Papacy. It was there that the Queen Mother Catherine de' Medici, de facto ruler as regent of her ten-year-old son, was seeking to steer a middle course between the Huguenot and Catholic nobility vying for influence. Ignoring the decrees of Trent and the remonstrances of the papacy, Catherine determined to call a national church council, the Colloquy of Poissy, in 1561. Theodore Beza headed the Protestant delegation and was joined by Vermigli, whose Florentine background, it was hoped, would help influence the Queen. 

After inconclusive opening sessions, leading members of both Catholic and Protestant delegations convened a private conference before the Queen, where, after a couple weeks of arguments they were able to produce a statement on the divisive issue of the Eucharist that, while completely satisfying to no one, was cautiously accepted by all.  Unfortunately, as at Regensburg, once the formula was shared with the other Catholic prelates, it was angrily rejected and the Catholic negotiators disgraced.  The Colloquy broke up without resolution, and not long afterward France spiraled into religious civil war.

What can we learn from these episodes, besides the realization that the Reformation was a much more complex and unpredictable affair than we might have previously imagined?  

Perhaps the clearest lesson of Regensburg, Poissy, and the failure of evangelical reform to capture the heart of the Roman church, is that while certainly embracing all opportunities for meaningful fraternal dialogue, we need to maintain a healthy skepticism about the apparent contemporary rapprochement between Protestantism and Rome.  We have seen our own version of Regensburg in the Joint Declaration on Justification, yet aside from the ambiguities of the formula--which would no doubt have vexed Luther--the fact remains that reconciliation remains contingent on the good pleasure of the magisterium, which reserves full right to determine the boundaries of doctrine. Progress on the material principle of the Reformation is all well and good, but remains fragile indeed so long as the formal principle, sola Scriptura, is rejected.  

Likewise, recent Protestant recovery of a robust sacramentology has held out the hope of at last transcending the great divide on transubstantiation. George Hunsinger's acclaimed exposition of Calvinist eucharistic theology toward this end, Eucharist and Ecumenism, might be considered the modern equivalent of the Reformed formula at Poissy. But whatever individual Catholic sympathizers Hunsinger may have found, the Catholic Church as a whole is not about to rewrite their catechism on the issue.

Protestants, especially in America, have been cheered by the appearance of modern-day Contarinis, Catholic leaders keen to dialogue with and learn from Protestants. We should welcome such opportunities, but with a sunny cynicism. We may find that if we keep on talking and studying Scripture and tradition, we will find common ground with some on justification, the sacraments, and more. But as long as the magisterium claims final authority to determine the shape of that common ground, the ecumenical bridge remains suspended over a chasm little narrower than the chasm that swallowed Contarini nearly five hundred years ago. In the end, our model must be a man like Vermigli--eager to seek reform, but not hesitant to shake the dust from his feet the choice lay between of submission to man or to God.


[1] Given Pole's support for church reform and his closeness to the English royal family, Henry VIII repeatedly sought his support for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and eventual break with Rome, but Pole enraged Henry by refusing to endorse these shocking moves. 

[2] At least until the end of his life, when he would preside--just how willingly we are not quite sure--over Bloody Mary's attempt to extinguish the English Protestant church.

Brad Littlejohn (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is President of The Davenant Institute and Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Theory at Patrick Henry College. He blogs regularly at

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 *Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in October of 2014.

Critiquing Expressions of Devotion


Is it appropriate for Protestants to embrace the observance of Lent--or, even further, any of the Orthodox holy days and seasons? Members of Protestant and Evangelical churches in our day have made these frequently asked and widely disputed questions. Others have thoughtfully raised the issue of the lack biblical and historical support for Protestants embracing Lent. For instance, Carl Trueman wrote about Ash Wednesday, in particular, on this site a number of years back. I wholeheartedly agree with what he had to say. I also urge you to read Richard Barcellos' excellent response to a recent TGC devotional guide on Lent. I am certainly more than a little concerned with the growing Protestant evangelical infatuation with the orthodox church calendar and orthodox expressions of devotion. My concern is not so much Roman Catholicism and other orthodox traditions for practicing these rituals. After all, it's who they are and what they do. I fundamentally disagree with their theological foundation, not their expression. Nevertheless, I would like to offer a few thoughts--not so much on the question about the appropriateness of Protestants observing Lent but on the question of the appropriateness of critiquing someone's personal expressions of devotion to God.

First. I do not agree that it is never appropriate to question or criticize a person's expression of devotion to God.  Biblically speaking, sometimes critique is necessary because one's devotion may be misplaced or in error, as Paul did with the unbelieving Athenians (Acts 17:23).  Other times it is necessary because of ignorance, as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26) or as Paul did with the believers he met in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6).  In each case critique is matter of truth, love and, ultimately, honor to the Lord.

Additionally, the idea that criticism of personal devotion to God is verboten relativizes spirituality beyond any truthful examination or discussion, which ultimately means that Christian expressions of devotion are not so much matters of truth as, well, matters of expression, subjective "existentialities" that have truth and value relative to the person who expresses the devotion.  In other words, my expression of devotion to Christ is mine and that's the end of the discussion.  The problem with this is that it is just the same old liberal argument that one's faith is an existential act that is beyond any test of factual scrutiny.  The further problem is that this also means that my faith is essentially irrelevant to anything outside of my personal, mystical experience. If my action of devotion is beyond critical evaluation, then the object of my devotion is beyond critical evaluation; words like truth, error, heresy--even right and wrong--cannot be meaningfully used in any discussion of Christianity or, for that matter, of religion, period.

Second.There is a right way to make such a critique.  No one--least of all liberals--functionally believes that it is never appropriate to criticize one's personal faith.  Hypocrisy abounds, as witnessed by the fact that the greatest champions of religious tolerance are most often the greatest offenders; find a car with a 'coexist' decal and you are likely to find in it someone utterly intolerant of any form of Christianity that assents to absolute truth or the exclusivity of Christ as Savior. For this reason, I completely ignore shouts of protest about critiquing expressions of faith that start from the assumption that all critiques are off-limits; those who say this are almost never willing to play by their own rules.

Still, every critique must be God-honoring, which means not only with a view to the purity of doctrine but also with regard to the peace of the church and our witness to a skeptical world. Christ-like love, respect and gentleness must underlie every inquiry and, when necessary, every firm admonition. Critique should never be mean and it must always be respectful, but in today's climate "mean" and "respectful" are constantly redefined by those who all too often find everyone but their own tribe to be mean and disrespectful.

Third. Christians--and by that I mean those who believe in sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is God's authoritative voice in this age--above all people ought to be the most open to the scrutiny of their faith and its expression. To start, we do not merely believe in absolute truth, we believe it is found in the Bible as God's Word.  We further believe that, as sinners, without God's intervening correction we will misapprehend what the Bible says, misapply what it teaches--and, worse of all, make up unbiblical doctrines and perform unbiblical expressions of devotion to God.  A truly humble Christian is that son or daughter of God through Christ who, like the wise son spoken of in Proverbs, loves instruction and does not despise reproof. Simply put, I want to know what is an appropriate expression of devotion--and I want to know what is not an appropriate expression of devotion.  If it is possible that what I express in my practice is in conflict with sound doctrine or could lead me further into confusion or into outright error, then I want to know.

Fourth (and last). Just because an expression of devotion to God is unfamiliar, outside of my tradition or not immediately clear to me does not mean it is wrong.  But all of those reasons make it an appropriate candidate for biblical examination, which will result in one of three things:  I discover that I am wrong to be critical and acknowledge the biblical freedom of others to express their devotion as they have been expressing it; I discover I am right to be critical and must find a loving way to challenge those who so express their devotion to biblical reexamination and, ultimately, repentance; or I discover I am wrong to be critical and may myself choose to widen my biblical expression of devotion.

October 31, 1518: A Point of No Return


Your church is having a Reformation Day celebration. Your pastor is tossing out candy to those who get the answers right in the Reformation trivia contest. "What did Luther do on October 31, 1517?" Everyone's hands go up, as they shout in unison, "He nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg!" Next question? "What did Luther do on October 31, 1518? Anyone? Anyone?


On October 31, 1518, Martin Luther...wrote a letter. 

I had the privilege of participating in a handful of "Lutherpaloozas" last year. On both sides of the Atlantic in 2017, we just had to celebrate the 500th anniversary of that often-ostentatious Augustinian monk walking that mile, or so, from the University of Wittenberg, down to the Castle Church, mallet and message in hand. The door - that bulletin board in a secluded German town would actually alert the world that things would never be the same. We laud the 95 Theses. Luther was simply calling for discussion. We imagine that final hammer blow brought the town of Wittenberg to an awestruck standstill that fall day. Luther simply walked back home. Not much changed that day. Everything changed that day.

Yet, as important as October 31, 1517 was, is, and always will be, I can't help but imagine that October 31, 1518 weighed more heavily upon Luther. He was tired. So much had happened over the last year, and even now he had just returned from a long, very significant journey. He was somber and probably quite sober (despite his love for good German ale), for the wheels were now in motion for what would be a point of no return at the Diet of Worms in April 1519. There he would refuse to recant... for the second time.

Many are familiar with the tale of Luther's 95 Theses being taken down from the door of Castle Church, printed, thanks to that new high-tech from Gutenberg. Lest we think that this document, important to be sure, was some sort of Protestant manifesto, just shy of the eventual orthodoxy of the great Reformed confessions, the reality is that there was not a lot uniquely Reformed in the 95 Theses. Further, its impact must not be divorced from two other documents of the same time, equally impactful in their own right. You see, the 95 Theses is part of a triad of key documents.1 There are two other crucial pieces extending the impact of the Theses. Luther, a loyal son of the Church and servant of the Pope, knew that if Leo X had any idea of the insufferable abuses of the charlatan indulgence salesman, John Tetzel, he would swiftly shut him down. So, Luther did the obvious thing and sent an earnest letter to Archbishop Albrecht von Brandenberg of Mainz (1490-1545). He could pass Luther's concerns along to the Pope. What Luther didn't know was that Albrect and Leo had an arrangement, shall we say. Indulgence sales in Germany would help the Archbishop with his debt situation to the Fugger bankers, who had funded his bid for the Archbishopric, and Leo would have a steady stream of funds flowing from Germany to Rome, in part for a little capital campaign related to the building of St. Peter's Basilica.

Albrecht alerted Rome. The Pope wanted simply to have this troublesome monk, too big for his cassock, contained and silenced. However, the moveable type of Guttenberg had generated enough curiosity over Luther's warnings about indulgences, that he had to craft the third document of the triad, A Sermon on Indulgences and Grace (March/April 1518). This made accessible the more scholarly nomenclature and concepts of the 95 Theses. Tetzel counter-punched, coming up with his own set of theses - 106, not to be outdone by Luther (curiously, no one has ever held celebrations over Tetzel's theses), and had been awarded a doctorate by his Dominican brethren. Tetzel meant to rid the earth of Luther.2

Meanwhile, the Augustinians were preparing to hold a meeting in Heidelberg in April 1518. Luther was to be there. They heard Luther out in what is known as the Heidelberg Disputation. He was well received. After all, they were Augustinians. They approved his teaching and encouraged him to write more. Interestingly, while the posting of the 95 Theses is the cause of celebration among Protestants, his real theological program, with its embryonic ideas of theologia crucis, the ultimate authority of Scripture, and justification by faith alone, are found in two documents that "sandwich" the Theses - The Heidelberg Disputation (April 1518) and the earlier Disputation against Scholastic Theology (September 1517).3

Between Albrecht's complaining to Rome, Heidelberg's lack of restraint of Luther, and the general kerfuffle around Luther, the Pope ordered the Wittenberg theology professor to Rome in August. Around this time, the "Pope's Pitbull," a theologian, named Sylvester Mazzolini Prierias (1456/7-1527), published his Dialogue against the Presumptuous Conclusions of Martin Luther and was the first to officially take Luther on in writing, dismissing the Augustinian monk as an amateur theologian. Luther appealed to George Spalatin, secretary to Frederick the Wise, who was not keen on having his prize German professor carted off to Rome, of all places. As a German, Luther would be handled in Germany. Frederick would have it no other way. Conveniently enough, the Imperial Diet in Augsburg was scheduled for October 1518. There he would come face-to-face with none other than Cardinal Thomas Cajetan (1468/9-1534, born Jacopo de Vio of Gaeta, taking "Thomas" in honor of Aquinas and "Cajetan" in reference to his place of birth), an expert on Thomas Aquinas, and legate of the Pope in Augsburg.4 This was serious. So serious, that Luther was assured he would likely die, either coming or going to the Diet. His now infamous obsession with his digestion also gave him fits on the way.

By the time Luther arrived on October 7, the Diet of Augsburg had largely run its course. Cajetan had not been particularly successful in many of the larger political and administrative objectives. Perhaps, he would at least be able to reign in this drunken monk. If he could not, he would hand the heretic over to Rome. Cajetan, a formidable theologian in his own right, nonetheless had no interest in debating Luther. This was not an occasion for matching wits, but for unqualified submission to papal authority on the part of this misguided and overreaching Wittenberg monk. Luther appeared before Cajetan across three days (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, October 12-14, 1518). The first meeting saw Luther sprawled prostrate on the floor, face-down before the majesty of Cajetan. Gently, the Cardinal raised Luther from the floor and explained to him that the whole uncomfortable affair would be over with one word: revoco - "I recant." Luther responded that he was simply desirous of learning how he had erred, how he had veered from Scripture. This portended poorly for the remainder of their meetings. Cajetan, with little interest in a debate, assumed he could refer to a document with which Luther would likely be unfamiliar, and settle things. Cajetan took to the central issue. The Pope Clement's 1343 bull Unigenitus had clearly established Christ's merits as a treasury of indulgences. To Cajetan's surprise, Luther was quite familiar with the text, which, to Cajetan's chagrin, did not say that Christ's merits are a treasure of indulgences, but that Christ acquired a treasury of merits. In short, as Luther's colorful letter, dated October 14, 1518, to George Spalatin records, a shouting match between the Cardinal and monk ensued.5 That Christ acquired a treasury of merits, rather than the merits of Christ are a treasury, which is clearly what the bulls, Unigenitus and Extravagante taught, actually supported Luther's contention in 95 Theses 58 and 60, that Christ has entrusted the keys of the kingdom to the Church, not to the Pope qua Pope. Lyndal Roper elucidates:

This may look like semantics; the underlying issue, however, was the relationship between Church and sinner, and the nature of forgiveness. If the merits of Christ - and those of the saints, that is, their virtuous works - constituted a treasure stewarded by the Pope, the Church was just a gigantic bank. On this view, because the treasure which had been built up by Christ and the saints exceeded what was needed to 'pay' for their own salvation, the 'excess' could be sold off as indulgences to the repentant sinner. But if the   merits of Christ were not the same as the treasury, then the way was open to rethink the theology of repentance, and to relate Christ's sacrifice on the Cross to the believer through the concept of grace, as Luther was beginning to do.6

It must have been quite the scene. Luther referred to the Cardinal as a "wretched worm," and later remarked that Cajetan was "no more fitted to handle the case than an ass to play the harp."7 Their conference concludes with Cajetan shouting that he never wanted to see Luther again, until revoco was on his lips. For Luther, this would not happen apart from proper trial and refutation of his views from Scripture. In the end, Cajetan failed to win the debate, failed to reconcile Luther to the Church, yet also failed to prove the monk a heretic.

Fearful he would be kidnapped and hauled off to Rome, Luther the night of October 20/21 darted back to Wittenberg.8 However, he was not the same man who had left for Augsburg just weeks earlier. For, Luther's dear Father Confessor and superior, Johan von Staupitz (c.1460-1524), unable to persuade Luther to accommodate Cajetan's demand to recant, released his monk from his vows to the Augustinian order before he fled Augsburg.9

A year to the day after he posted his 95 Theses, Luther penned another letter to George Spalatin, dated October 31, 1518. He informed Spalatin that he arrived that day from Augsburg. He was worried that he might not be able to remain in Wittenberg, as his refusal to recant before Cajetan would result in excommunication, which would require the secular authorities to deliver him to his ecclesial superiors. He did not know how Frederick the Wise would respond. In this letter, Luther recounts how he had stopped in Nurnberg on his way back from Augusburg. There he saw a "diabolic breve" - orders from Pope Leo X to Cajetan that Luther should be arrested by any means possible. Luther couldn't believe such a "monstrosity" of a breve would come from the Pope.10 He informs Spalatin that he can now only prepare his replies to Cajetan's arguments at Augsburg with theological notes and his appeal for publication. Frederick the Wise was involved in political negotiations with Cajetan regarding Luther. He did not want Luther's appeal published, as he believed it would sabotage his efforts with the Cardinal. The Acta Augustana (Proceedings at Augusburg) appeared in November 25, 1518, before Frederick could do anything to stop it.

Concerned enough to post his disquiet, October 31, 1517 on the Castel Church door in Wittenberg, he is resolved a year to the day later that he must appeal to Rome to prove him wrong. Luther's letter of October 31, 1518, although he doesn't realize it, shows him at a point of no return and sets in motion a series of events that would lead from Augusburg, to Leipzig and a debate with the formidable Johann Eck (June-July 1519). This resulted in Pope Leo X branding Luther a heretic in the bull Exsurge, Domine (June 15, 1520). Luther followed this up with triad of treatises that fall, which only exacerbated the conflict with Rome. Next stop - the Diet of Worms, where upon April 18, 1521, Luther stood. He could do no other. His unwillingness to utter revoco at his famous stand in April 1521 cannot be separated from his unwillingness to recant before Cardinal Cajetan in October 1518. 

On account of this, we would not be unjustified in observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation again this year. For, Luther's refusal to revoco, was his refusal to let go of the truths we hold dear, namely, that on the authority of Scripture alone, we are justified through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Let the grateful 501st celebration begin!

A song sung by a child so small,
From the other side of garden wall.
A lightning strike laid Luther sprawl,
One lone monk who heard God's call.
Post Tenebras Lux
After Darkness, Light!

Just one hammer and a door so tall.
He stood against the night to watch it fall.
Thought by some a man of gall,
yet Martin, Satan could not stall.
Post Tenebras Lux
After Darkness, Light!

Grace he saw when he read Paul;
by faith he found his all in all.
"Will you recant?" said tyranny.
"Here I stand," said liberty.
Post Tenebras Lux
After Darkness, Light!

Augustine heard take up and read
and Luther set God's people free.
A poem from an amateur like me,
as we look at redemptive history.
Post Tenebras Lux
After Darkness, Light!11

1. There are two triads of key documents in this unfolding story. The second triad consists of Luther's 1520's writings, Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and The Freedom of a Christian.

2. Tetzel's Dominican brethren were more than happy to undermine Luther. 1518 is also anecdotally rich, as Luther, full of beer at a party in Dresden, pontificated about Aquinas and Aristotle. A Dominican eavesdropping and note-taking, made sure the transcript of the lubricated Luther's liquored loquaciousness was available for public consumption.

3. Luther did not simply drop out of the sky, Theses in hand, ready to denounce 1,500 years of Church History and theology. In fact, that high tech down in Guttenberg had given him access to Augustine and the later Medieval tradition. He had read Aristotle. It is crucial to nuance things, here. The theological trajectories leading to and from Luther must be viewed properly, let we simplistically assume the things we have heard about him are accurate. While he didn't want Aristotle corrupting the message, there was room for him methodologically. Aristotle could help delineate categories; Scripture alone could define concepts. Luther's reformational program owed more to certain Medieval trajectories, than later Reformers' more humanistic backgrounds.

4. Of Cajetan, William Paul Haas observes:

In his own time, Cajetan was considered a Thomist second only to Thomas Aquinas himself; he was an               ecclesiastical trouble-shooter and a ready controversialist, a meticulous scholar, and a biblical exegete. He also held a reputation as a man of simple candor and surprising endurance. Yet from within the Church and from outside, he is often blamed for not preventing the Lutheran Reformation and for failing to guide the Vatican in its most desperate crisis.

See, William Paul Haas, "Hands Respectful and Clean: Cajetan and the Reformation,", 48. Accessed 10-27-18.

5. See, Gottfried G. Krodel, trans. and ed., Luther's Works, Volume 48, Letters I (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 84-87.

6. Lydal Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (London: The Bodley Head, 2016), 117.

7. Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York and Nashville: Abingdon-Cokebury Press, 1950), 96. Lutheran cartoonists would later depict the Pope as an ass playing bagpipes.

8. Fearing the truth of his case would not be accurately relayed by Cajetan, Luther prepared an appeal to the Pope. Luther's friar friend, Leonard Beier showed this to Cajetan. It was nailed to the cathedral door in Augsburg as a public notice.

9. No. 225: Luther "Excommunicated" Three Times Between April 7 and 15, 1532

"Three times have I been excommunicated. The first time was by Dr. Staupitz, who absolved me from the observance and rule of the Augustinian Order so that, if the pope pressed him to imprison me or command me to be silent, he could excuse himself on the ground that I was not under his obedience. The second time was by the pope and the third time was by the emperor. Consequently I cannot be accused of laying aside my habit, and I am now silent by divine authority alone."

Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 30.

10. Luther actually indicated in his Acta Augustana that he believed that Biship Jerome of Ascoli and Cajetan had crafted the orders to have him arrested.

11. Poem by David Owen Filson.

Faith at Work: Sola Scriptura


Tradition is helpful, but even Protestants can be guilty of treating Augustine and Calvin as a magisterium. This week, Dan Doriani encourages readers to have a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura.

The difference between Catholic and Protestant teaching is more subtle than people realize, for Catholics confess that Scripture is inspired, infallible, and authoritative. It is wise to remember, too, that the first Reformers were encouraged to study Scripture by scholarly Catholics: Staupitz told Luther to get his doctorate in biblical studies, Erasmus encouraged Zwingli's studies, and Faber Staupulensis and Lorenzo Valla inspired others. The difference lies in our views of the sufficiency of Scripture.    

The Catholic position is that Scripture is part of God's revelation. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) said Scripture "is the true rule and a foundation of faith for Christians." Notice "a foundation," not the foundation. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) explained: "The controversy between the heretics [Protestants] and ourselves focuses here on two points: first, when we affirm that the Scripture do not contain the totality of necessary doctrine, for faith as for morals... Apart from the Word of God written, it is necessary to have his non-written Word, that is to say, divine and apostolic traditions."

So the RCC affirms prima scripture, the primacy of Scripture. Scripture is the primary source for theology, but not the final source. Tradition and church teaching effectively limit Scripture's authority. If a matter is uncertain in Scripture, and tradition has an authoritative interpretation, then it has the final word...

Head over to Place for Truth to read the rest of the article! 

Last month, I participated in a Protestant & Roman Catholic dialogue about the Reformation at a nearby Christian university. The experience has left me reflecting on the fundamental issues that continue to divide Protestants and Roman Catholics, one of which is the authority of Scripture vis-à-vis tradition and living ecclesiastical authorities (the magisterium). As Protestants we maintain that Scripture alone constitutes God's inspired, infallible Word, and, without denying the legitimacy of subordinate authorities (creeds, confessions, church councils, general assemblies, etc.), we nevertheless deny the status of such subordinate authorities and their proclamations as divine (and therefore infallible) Word.

A fairly common rejoinder to a Protestant articulation of sola Scriptura is: "where does Scripture teach that?" Roman Catholic apologists love to ask Protestants to demonstrate sola Scriptura from Scripture, and -- if and when they struggle to do so -- suggest that Protestants either cannot prove this basic article of their faith from their own acknowledged infallible and authoritative text (at which point the article crumbles), or that they must appeal to some extra-Scriptural authority to defend the claim of Scripture's sole authority, thereby rendering the principle of Scripture's exclusive authority self-defeating de facto. The demand to prove sola Scriptura from Scripture, in other words, is intended to leave Protestants tongue-tied and thereby receptive to arguments for infallible authorities above and beyond the biblical text.

As an apologetic strategy, asking Protestants to prove sola Scriptura from Scripture may be effective. But it's nevertheless devious, because it violates one of the most basic principles of logic, which is that positive affirmations, not denials, require proof.

If, I would argue, Protestants are too effectively maintain their position on sola Scriptura moving forward, they might do well to buttress it with familiarity and efficiency with another Latin phrase, onus probandi, and what that Latin phrase entails in the realm of epistemology.

Onus probandi means "burden of proof," and in philosophy it communicates the idea referenced above; namely, that entities making positive claims are required to bring forth arguments and data in support of their claim. Those denying such claims aren't required to do anything until some positive proof lies on the table. So, for instance, if I claim that the Lochness Monster actually exists (which, I think we can all agree, she does), the onus probandi rests on me to demonstrate such. If I respond to your denial of Nessie with "prove that she doesn't exist!", I've not won the argument or validated my claim, even if I left you perplexed about how to continue the conversation. Likewise, if I claim that Chinese fortune cookies are a medium of divine communication, the burden of proof rests on me to make my case. Merely insisting that you prove otherwise and then sitting back with a smile on my face as you fail to demonstrate the un-divine provenance of fortune cookies is bad form to say the least.

But this is essentially what Roman Catholic apologists do when they insist that Protestants prove sola Scriptura from Scripture. After all, Protestants and Roman Catholics agree that Scripture is "breathed out by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, etc." (1 Tim. 3:16). They agree that Apostolic written testimony regarding Christ's person and work is "the Word of God," not "the word of men" (1 Thess. 2:13). Protestantism's claims regarding the existence of a divine Word from God stop there (and so remain far more modest than Rome's claims). To put the matter another way, Protestants can sound a hearty "amen!" to the Council of Trent's claim that the "written books" of Scripture constitute a fountain of "saving truth and moral discipline" (Fourth Session). It's Trent's further claim that "tradition" equally constitutes a fountain of saving truth and moral discipline that gives Protestants pause, not to mention the claims eventually made by Rome (at the First Vatican Council) for the infallibility of the magisterium when it adjudicates theological issues.

Rome essentially claims the same status for tradition and magisterium as it does for Scripture. It claims, that is, that tradition and magisterium belong to the category of "Word of God" rather than "word of men." Whether true or false, the onus probandi rests entirely on Rome to validate such claims. In my experience, proofs proffered in defense of Rome's claims regarding tradition and magisterium fall rather short. More often than not, defenders of Rome's claims simply seek to shirk the onus probandi for their position, and/or illegitimately transfer it to Rome's detractors.

In sum, sola Scriptura, Protestants would do well to remember, is only a positive claim insofar as it posits the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. The onus probandi for that positive claim does indeed rest on us. It falls to us, in other words, to defend our positive claims about Scripture. But in dialogues with our Roman Catholic friends, a defense of Scripture's status as "breathed out by God" should be rather easy since that claim constitutes common ground. In all other regards, sola Scriptura constitutes the rejection of claims advanced by others -- claims for the inspired and infallible status of some extra-Scriptural word (whether of the Mormon, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, or vanilla evangelical variety). The onus probandi for those claims rests on others. Until convincing proof for the inspired and infallible status of the Book of Mormon, tradition, the magisterium, fortune cookies, or any other proposed medium of divine communication forth comes, we can and must stand our ground, so help us God.

Christian Assurance: Rome and Thomas Goodwin


In its theological response to the teachings of the Reformation, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) maintained that a "believer's assurance of the pardon of his sins is a vain and ungodly confidence". More pointedly the Council declared in Canon 16 on Justification, 'If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema' (The Council of Trent, The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth, London: Dolman, 1848). Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, perhaps the greatest of the Roman post-Tridentine theologians, called assurance of salvation "a prime error of heretics."1

According to the Church of Rome, a few especially holy men and women, through special revelation, may attain to assurance of salvation, but they are the exception and certainly not the rule. It is not hard to understand why Rome is so opposed to the doctrine of Christian assurance: If 'ordinary' Christians can, and should, be assured of their salvation, what need do they have of the church's priestly, sacramental mediation?

For Protestants, the controversy with the Church of Rome over assurance was at heart a controversy over its failure to understand the nature of the holy Trinity, especially the grace of the Father's love, the perfection of the Son's atonement, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence. Rather than leave his believing children uncertain of his love and uncertain of the perfect efficacy of the Saviour's atonement, the Bible assures us that God, being the good God he is, wants his children to live in the joy and assurance of his love and his Son's 'It is finished' (Jn.19:30).

Christian assurance was a major theme in the writings of Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), along with John Owen perhaps the greatest of the Puritan pastoral theologians. In his Christ Set Forth, Goodwin seeks to persuade us that we especially find assurance first, and supremely by looking to Christ and trusting in him and his finished work on the cross. He is not saying that we should not be encouraged by the gospel transforming presence of God's grace in our lives. He is saying, however, that too many Christians 'in the ordinary course and way of their spirits have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself.'3

Later in life, Goodwin reflected on his own early struggle to find assurance of salvation: 'I was diverted from Christ for several years, to search only into the signs of grace in me. It was almost seven years ere I was taken off to live by faith on Christ, and God's free love, which are alike the object of faith."4

Goodwin`s experience of God`s grace has much to teach us. Above all, that the believer's primary focus is Christ, not himself. "I am come to this pass now," wrote Goodwin to a Mr Price, "that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of salvation; I tell you Christ is worth all'. He writes, let us 'see what matter of support and encouragement faith may fetch from Christ's death for justification. And surely that which hath long ago satisfied God himself for the sins of many thousand souls now in heaven, may very well serve to satisfy the heart and conscience of any sinner now upon earth, in any doubts in respect of the guilt of any sins that can arise'.5

Do you grasp what Goodwin is saying? Our sins rise to condemn us. Our sins are many and not few. Our sins are wicked and deserving of God's just condemnation. What good can be gained by looking in to ourselves? What do you see when you look into yourself? Paul told us what he saw, 'O wretched man that I am' (Rom.7:24). There is no comfort to be found looking in; we must learn to look out to Christ. The sin-bearing, sin-atoning death of Christ satisfied God. He accepted the Saviour's sacrifice in our place, as our covenant Head. He was satisfied with his sacrifice. Now, Goodwin is saying to us, if God is satisfied, should we not also be satisfied? If all our sins were laid on God's own Son and were forever put behind God's back, buried in the deepest sea and remembered no more (Mic.7:19; Isa.43:25), should that not be our assurance?

The Christian's God-planted graces may, through the lens of Christ (never apart from him), bring him a measure of comfort. But our graces ebb and flow, they rise and fall, they are here today and all but gone tomorrow. But Jesus Christ is 'the same yesterday and today and forever'. He is at God's right hand. He is our justification and our eternal acceptance with God (Rom.8:34).

Listen again to Goodwin: 'Were any of your duties crucified for you?'6 Goodwin's question is plain but profound, don't look in, look out to your crucified Saviour who alone is your righteousness (1Cor.1:30). 'Therefore', says Goodwin, 'get your hearts and consciences distinctly and particularly satisfied in the all-sufficiency of worth and merit which is in the satisfaction that Christ hath made'.7 For Goodwin, the Christian's great need is to grasp what he calls 'the transcendent all-sufficiency of (Christ's) death'.8

This is no abstract doctrinal concern. Goodwin looks ahead to the day of Christ: 'Now you will all be thus called one day to dispute for your souls, sooner or later; and therefore such skill you should endeavour to get in Christ's righteousness, how in its fullness and perfection it answereth to all your sinfulness'.9

The Church of Rome wants to leave the believer tentative and uncertain. It wants to leave the child of God fearful and doubting, looking not to Christ and his finished work, but to the church and its priestly mediation. The Bible teaches us otherwise. In Christ we have a 'living hope' (1Pt.1:3), a 'sure and certain hope' (Heb.6:20). No Christian need languish in doubts and fears as to the assurance of the heavenly Father's love. Trust the good heart of your Father, a heart that desires all his children know that they are his children. Trust the finished, atoning work of your Saviour, a work that has been accepted by the Father. Trust the indwelling Holy Spirit who has come to unite you to Christ, seal to you his salvation and give you the boldness to cry, 'Abba, Father' (Rom.8:15-16).

1. Quoted in J.C.Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth Trust ed., Edinburgh, 2014), 139 

2. Thomas Goodwin, Christ Set Forth (Banner of Truth ed. Edinburgh, 2015. First published 1642) 

3. Christ Set Forth, Introduction XV. 

4. Works of Thomas Goodwin, (Edinburgh, James Nichol, 1861), Vol. 2, lxviii 

5. Christ Set Forth, p. 43. 

6. Christ Set Forth, p. 43

7. Christ Set Forth, p. 50.

8. Christ Set Forth, p. 50 

9. Christ Set Forth, p. 51

The Great Pope Within

"I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self." Martin Luther almost certainly never made this statement (though many have falsely attributed it to him). It is, however, an accurate and quite helpful statement, as far as it goes. We all have a great pope within. By nature, none of us wants to submit ourselves to God and the sole authority of His word. All of us enjoy being a law unto ourselves. We're all committed to laying out standards with which we are comfortable--standards that appear to benefit us. We go on to affirm our own standards by finding affinity with others who have similar standards. We then live in an echo chamber of a functional magisterium we have collectively formed. Of course, at the head of this functional magisterium is the pope of self. While this is certainly the mode of operation for unbelievers, it is not entirely eradicated when we are converted. In fact, aspects of this functional Roman Catholicism are ever manifested in the hearts of believers. Here are several ways in which this manifests itself in our everyday experiences. 

1. Penance. In the first of his 95 theses, Martin Luther wrote, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said "Repent," he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance." Luther felt as though this was necessary on account of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church had built an elaborate system of penitential satisfaction for the forgiveness of sins on a faulty translation of the word μετανοεῖτε. Rather than give it the natural translation "repent," Erasmus had given it the Latin translation from which we derive the English phrase, "Do penance." Luther preached his 1518 Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, in order to show to what great lengths Rome was willing to take the penitential system. Thomas Aquinas had articulated the doctrine of penance in such a way as to include indulgences--"together with vigils, working, [sleeping on a] hard bed, [wearing rough] clothes, etc."--for satisfaction for sin. Johanne Tetzel, the great seller of indulgences and Luther's principle adversary, defended Rome's penitential system in his Against's Luther's Sermon on Indulgences and Grace

All who love the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement--the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ--will rightly revolt at the idea of Rome's penitential system. However, we functionally embrace something of a penitential system when we try to quiet a guilty conscience with good works. There are a thousand ways in which we can fall into this trap. If we haven't been fruitful in our outreach in the community in which we live, we go on a short term mission trip to make up for it. If we haven't been faithful in gathering with the saints for Lord's Day worship, we give more money to the church to cover for our delinquency in worship. No matter what shape or form it takes, we can seek to make satisfaction for our sins by doing more or by doing better, rather than recognizing that God has made satisfaction for our sins by offering up His Son on the cross. This is why we believe, with Luther, that the Christian life is to be one of repentance not penitence

2. Ritualism. Closely aligned to the idea of penitence is the idea of ritualism. Ritualism comes in many shapes and forms. The great danger of ritualism is that it perverts religious rituals that God has instituted in His word by investing in them an efficacy that they do not have in and of themselves. This is most fully exemplified by Roman Catholic sacramentalism. Geerhard Vos explained the nature of sacramentalism when he wrote: 

"Roman Catholics teach concerning a sacrament that it works ex opere operato [worked by the work]. Baptism and the Lord's Supper of themselves do what they are said to do. The cross of Christ does not justify but merely opens justification, makes it possible, and hence the mass. It makes certain merits available that then, however, require a special application to become effective."1

It may seem quite a jump to suggest that we can fall into functional sacramentalism in Protestant churches; however, it is probably far more common than one might suppose. Many years ago, I was a member of a large Presbyterian church that celebrated the Lord's Supper on a monthly basis. After a few months there, I began to realize that attendance was up approximately one-third whenever the Supper was being celebrated. I asked one of my friends why that was the case. He explained that some functionally treat the Lord's Supper exactly the way Rome views the mass. Instead of seeing the word as the central means of grace--and as that which defines the sacrament--they convinced themselves that the Supper was something far more special. In doing so, they functionally embrace a form of sacramentalism. This is just one example of how we too can fall into ritualism. 

3. The Confessional. The Scriptures plainly teach us that we should confess our sins to one another (Matt. 5:24; 18:15; James 5:16) and that we should confess our sins to God (Ps. 51; 1 John 1:8-2:2). The Roman Catholic Church, of course, perverted the intention of this teaching by making the priest the agent of absolution and the confessional an element of penance. Once you go to the priest and confess what you have done, he gives you a series of penitential deeds unto absolution. Protestants have long seen the absurdity of such a perversion of the biblical teaching on confession of sin; however, we are ever in danger of turning our friends into personal priests--and, without going to the Lord in contrition and confession--functionally creating our own confessional. I can easily seek to unburden my guilty conscience by telling a friend what I have done sinfully without going to the Lord for pardon and cleansing (1 John 1:8-2:2). Instead, we ought to confess our sin to those against whom we have sinned, confide in a close friend or pastor with whom we can pray together, and--most importantly--go to God in brokenness knowing that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One--the propitiation for our sin. 

4. Conscience Binding. Little needs to be said about how prevalent this is in the lives of those of us who attend Protestant churches in our day. How many of us haven't made up our own rules about schooling, food and drink, television and movies, dress, etc. Whenever we subject ourselves to man-made rules and regulations, we are functionally doing the exact same thing that the Roman Catholic Church has been doing as an insitution for well over a thousand years. The doctrine of the liberty of conscience was one of the most precious doctrines to the Reformers for this very reason. It was on account of Rome's perversion of it that the Westminster Divines dedicated an entire chapter to it in the Confession of Faith. There we read those great words: "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship" (WCF 20.2). It was this doctrine that led Luther to make his great "Here I Stand" speach.  

The Christian life is one that can only be lived in dependance on Christ as He is set out in the Scripture. The word of God is the sole authority by which we test all things and to which we hold fast in all matters of faith and practice. If we give him free reign, the great pope within will pervert the clear teaching of Scripture on matters of salvation, worship and the Christian life. We must constantly return to the Scripture to have our minds and hearts renewed in the knowledge of the God who is over all. We must be able to say with Luther, with great conviction and sincerity, "My conscience is captive to the Word of go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me." 

1. Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 5, p. 247). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

On May 6th, 1527 -- 488 years ago today -- military troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, sacked the ecclesiastical capital of Western Christendom, la città eterna, Rome. Sacking Rome was the "thing to do" (as they say) for much of Western history. Everybody who was anybody did it at some point: the Visigoths in 410, the Vandals in 455, the Ostrogoths in 546, the Normans in 1084. By the time that Charles's imperial forces got around to it, sacking the eternal city had almost become passé.

Though religious tensions ran high in 1527 -- Reformation being in the air, and all that -- this particular sacking of Rome had more to do with politics and family ambitions than faith. The Emperor Charles and the French King Francis I had been at war for several years when Clement VII (from the family Medici) assumed the papacy in 1523. After donning the triple tiara, Clement made a habit of regularly repositioning his loyalties in that conflict, always with an eye towards maximizing his own political influence (and control of the papal states of Central Italy) and curbing the excessive influence of others. In 1527 Clement had recently realigned himself with Francis, worried about the ever-increasing clout which Charles, a Habsburg, could claim in Western Europe.

Even so, the notion to sack the pope's city of residence was by all accounts conceived not by Charles V, but by Charles III, the Duke of Bourbon who commanded the Emperor's forces in Northern Italy. In April of 1527 the imperial forces had succeeded in overthrowing Medici rule in Florence. Travelling south to try their luck against the Medici pope in Rome seemed reasonable enough to Duke Charles. While the troops he commanded made short work of the Swiss Guard defending Rome's city walls on the morning of May 6th, the Duke himself died on the battlefield. In his last living moments he realized (maybe) that wearing a distinct white coat so his own troops could identify him and heed his commands on the battlefield did little to camouflage him from the enemy.

Thus the imperial forces found themselves within the city walls, lacking a leader, and -- by all accounts -- full of resentment for long stretches of hard labor and little pay. And so they did what armies do in such circumstances: they ran amok. Considerable harm was inflicted on the Roman people. Roman architecture suffered some serious setbacks as well, though both St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel ultimately survived the shame of having horses stabled in them.

Roman Catholic clergy underwent particular persecution. Cardinal Giovanni del Monte -- later Pope Julius III -- was apparently suspended for some period of time by his hair. As he hung there, he (presumably) had few kind thoughts for Pope Clement VII, who had traded him to the imperial forces in order to save his own skin. Clement had himself taken refuge in the Castel Sant'Angelo, where apparently a group of soldiers gathered at one point with the pronounced intention of eating him alive. (Clement, incidentally, ultimately survived the sack of Rome, and remained pope -- and duly submissive to Emperor Charles -- until his death in 1534). When they weren't inflicting torture on cardinals or threatening to cook the pope, the imperial soldiers played dress-up with the (spare) robes of the high pontiff and his senior clergy. Once (im)properly adorned they played the part, blessing and excommunicating each other, processing through town in all their clerical splendor, and so on.

Some historians have sought to attribute such "sport" on the part of the imperial forces to Protestant convictions. It's doubtful, however, that any such convictions lay at the root of the havoc wreaked upon Rome in May of 1527. For one thing, the majority of the soldiers came from Spain, Italy, and regions of Germany which remained Roman Catholic. For another, Protestants hardly held a monopoly on resentment towards Rome and her religious authority. After all, ridicule (if not something worse) of the institutional church and her clergy was standard fare even in the most devoutly Roman Catholic regions of Europe in the early sixteenth century. It's hardly the case, in other words, that even devout papists would have necessarily balked at the opportunity to tell the pope they intended to eat him for their supper. Beyond this, it's highly questionable that the activities which took place in Rome in May of 1527 need to be attributed to religious sentiments of any sort. It's entirely possible -- even, I would suggest, likely -- that the imperial soldiers got up to what they got up to in the eternal city that month because, at least to their way of thinking, it was fun. Persecution of Roman Catholic clergy no more necessarily points to Protestant sentiments than do acts of iconoclasm throughout Europe during this period. Sometimes people just like to break things.

Nevertheless, religious reform does seem to have been on the mind of at least one of Charles's soldiers in Rome. Several years before the sack of Rome, the renaissance artist Raphael had completed a fresco called La Disputa -- a piece which shows the church militant and church triumphant meeting at the celebration of the Supper -- for the pope's personal library in the Vatican. As one of the imperial soldiers wandered through the pope's vacated apartments and viewed this remarkable piece, he decided it would be improved if he scribbled the name of one of Europe's most famous and controversial personages across it. Thus he added a short and simple "M. Lutherus" ("Lutherus" being the Latinized form of "Luther") to the face of Raphael's painting. This was the early modern equivalent of writing "Luther was here."

In actual fact, Luther hadn't been in Rome since 1510, which -- coincidentally -- was just about the time that Raphael's painting was being completed. It's unclear what this particular soldier intended to accomplish or communicate by scratching Luther's name on the painting. Perhaps he wished to convey the idea that Luther's reforming spirit was in Rome and was manifested in the destruction wreaked upon the city. If so, it's doubtful that Luther would have appreciated the gesture. The Reformer explicitly denounced the sack of Rome, though he couldn't restrain himself from commenting on the remarkable providence of God which led the "Emperor who persecutes Luther for the pope... to destroy the pope for Luther."

One of the more insignificant, longer term fruits of the sack of Rome was papal beards. In protest to the indignities suffered by both pope and city, Clement, breaking tradition with earlier popes, let his facial hair grow. Or, at least, protest over said indignities was the rationale he gave for his sudden reluctance to shave. Herbert Vaughan suggests another motive in his early 20th century history of the Medici popes: "Although handsome, Clement's face was rendered unattractive by reason of its disagreeable expression and the look of suspicion which was constantly passing over it. [...] It was not until after the sack of Rome in 1527, that Clement... allowed his beard and moustache to grow naturally, a change which undoubtedly added dignity to the Pope's general appearance."

Whether the beard improved Clement's appearance or not, it was a violation of church law (which prohibited facial hair for clergy). But Clement got away with it. His papal successors took note of his flagrant disregard for the church's rules and followed his facial-hair lead. Nearly every pope for the next two centuries wore a beard (after which, hardly any did ever again).

Such blatant ignoring of canon law was not entirely inconsequential. Papal beards arguably served to reinforce the point (which popes were keen to make) that popes are above, not under, church law. Clement and his successors' beards were not, admittedly, so significant a move towards papal prestige and authority as Vatican I's claim of infallibility for Peter's supposed successors, but they were a step -- however scratchy -- towards the same.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida. May 6th, in addition to being the day that Rome was sacked in 1527, is also Aaron's birthday. Cards and gifts (preferably money) can be sent to him care of the Alliance.

Our one, our only, the incorrigible Carl Trueman will once again be on the Janet Mefferd program ( between 4 and 5 pm. He has been asked to bring his gift of prophecy (or maybe he only needs a basic understanding of statistics to read the trends) and discuss the future of Protestantism. And afterward, join the discussion on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals LinkedIn group (

That bad old Reformation...

Channel 4, one of the UK's network TV channels, has recently been running a history of Christianity, fronted by some well-known figures. I have already blogged on the first episode, which pretty much argued that Christianity is anti-Semitic at heart. You can read my piece here. The latest episode was presented by Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP, who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1994. She is presenting the episode on the Reformation, which ought to be of interest to readers of Reformation 21, and not least in this significant anniversary year. Her take is predictable, casting Protestants past and present in the worst light possible. While she argues that the need for a Reformation was pressing, its development owed more to power, greed, lust and politics than to theology, and it was a thoroughly bad thing. The episode can be seen for thirty days after transmission (which was February 8th) on the Channel 4 website, here. You have been warned!