On October 31, 2017, Protestants will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the “reformation”. Truth be told, it’s only the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his complaints of the door of the Castle Church. This event happened on October 31, 1517. It should be fair to point out that when the citizens of Germany woke up on the morning of November 1, 1517, they weren’t debating whether they should go to a Protestant Church since they didn’t exist at the time. Regardless, the reformation is erroneously fixed to this date in 1517 AD just like the Catholic/Greek Schism is erroneously dated to 1054 AD.
Protestants will admit that there were certain photo-Protestants before Luther. Usually they point to people like Wycliffe and Huss. I simply say: “Why not go back earlier?” There were Protestants before these people. There were people earlier who took the Bible, and the Bible alone and thought that they could interpret it differently from Church authority. These were people like Arius, Eunomius, Pelagius, Celestius and others.
Why did the Protestant communities of the 16th Century survive while the Protestant communities before that fail? Politics. Nothing more. The reformation was essentially a political event far more than it was a religious one. It essentially went like this:
Prince X rules over a certain area. Prince X wants his friend in control over the local church in his dominion instead of a man appointed by some celibate Italian a thousand miles away. Prince X wants the religious leader of his area to report to him, not to the Pope of Rome. Prince X doesn’t care much about the doctrine promoted, only that he reports to him. In conclusion, the doctrine is protected by politicians.
In a way it’s a Universal religion reverting to a more tribal religion. Regardless, as a member of the Universal Church, I look at Luther and Calvin, no differently than I look at Wycliffe, Huss, Arius, or Dioscorus. The only reason that Luther and Calvin had teachings and movements that survived is because of politicians who didn’t want foreign influence in their dominion.
Until the French Revolution, France was a very Catholic country. This is true in the first millennium as well as the second millennium. Two brilliant French Saints wrote against the Protestants of their day, specifically the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. One was writing in the first millennium and the other in the second millennium. Enjoy the quotes.
But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.
– St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 434 AD
Our Catholic Church has but one language and one same form of words throughout the whole earth. On the contrary, gentlemen, your first ministers had no sooner got on their feet, they had no sooner begun to build a tower of doctrine and science which was visibly to reach the heavens, and to acquire then the great and magnificent reputation of reformers, than God, wishing to traverse this ambitious design, permitted among them such a diversity of language and belief, that they began to contradict one another so violently that all their undertaking became a miserable Babel and confusion. What contradictions has not Luther’s reformation produced! I should never end if I would put them all on this paper. He who would see them should read that little book of Frederick Staphyl’s de concordia discord, and Sanders, Book 7 of his Visible Monarchy, and Gabriel de Preau, in the Lives of Heretics: I will only say what you cannot be ignorant of, and what I now see before my eyes.
You have not one same canon of the Scriptures: Luther will not have the Epistle of St. James, which you receive. Calvin holds it to be contrary to the Scripture that there is a head in the Church; the English hold the reverse: the French Huguenots hold that according to the Word of God priests are not less than bishops; the English have bishops who govern priests, and among them two archbishops, one of whom is called primate, a name which Calvin so greatly detests. The Puritans in England hold as an article of faith that it is not lawful to preach, baptize, pray, in the Churches which were formerly Catholic, but they are not so squeamish in these parts. And note my saying that they make it an articles of faith, for they suffer both prison and banishment rather than give it up. Is it not well known that at Geneva they consider it a superstition to keep any saint’s day? Yet in Switzerland some are kept, and you keep one of Our Lady. The point is not that some keep them and others do not, for this would be no contradiction in religious belief, but that what you and some of the Swiss observe the others condemn as contrary to the purity of religion. Are you not aware that one of your greatest ministers teaches that the body of Our Lord is as far from the Lord’s Supper as heaven is from earth, and are you not likewise aware that this is held to be false by many others? Has not one of your ministers lately confessed the reality of Christ’s body in the Supper, and do not the rest deny it? Can you deny me that as regards justification you are as much divided against one another as you are against us – witness that anonymous controversialist. In a word, each man has his own language, and out of as many Huguenots as I have spoken to I have never found two of the same belief.
– St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, 1598 AD