Reformation, part five

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. The night he was born, angels sang about “peace on earth.” Yet Jesus himself warned that he came to bring, not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). The Reformation of the Church triggered violence and warfare in Europe. Fighting between different versions of the Christian faith threatened to destroy the Church; it also seriously undermined the message of the Church, the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Some violence that was already happening attempted to seize hold of the Reformation. Since the Black Death, peasants in Europe had sensed their greater economic power; since fewer of them survived to do the work, the workers were more valuable. They made demands of lords and kings and nobility. Some demands were granted, but some were refused. Sometimes the two sides negotiated; sometimes they fought. Luther’s Reformation gave the peasants an ideological weapon. Pointing to abuses in the Church and connecting them to abuses in secular politics, they called more loudly for change or for revolt. Because Luther’s interests were purely spiritual, he could see the truth of both sides in the conflict. He urged worldly rulers to listen to the peasants and to correct injustices. He also insisted that revolution was ungodly. Luther advised the peasants to state their case but to accept resistance and hardship as part of life in a sinful world. While urging leaders to hear the peasants’ complaints, he also urged them to forbid revolution, to meet violence with violence. When peasants rioted, the riots were handled with violence from the government. Luther acknowledged that the nobility had gone too far in its response. Both sides were disappointed in Luther, sometimes even feeling betrayed by the Reformer. They could not perceive that he was dealing with ideas that matter more than political and economic justice at the present time.

Emperor Charles was slow to respond to the Reformation. His land was threatened by the Ottoman Empire; he was also at war with France. Eventually, Charles followed through with his words spoken at Worms; he called military power to overthrow the Reformation by invading lands where the Roman Church had been removed and Lutheran ideas prevailed. His troops even reached Wittenberg after Luther had died. Some of the Emperor’s soldiers wanted to remove Luther’s body from the grave and punish the remains of the heretic, but Charles said that he was fighting the living, not the dead. Luther’s grave remained undisturbed. Eventually, fighting in the Holy Roman Empire was ended through a compromise agreement. The head of state in each part of the Empire could declare the religion of that part, choosing between Roman Catholic or Lutheran. People who disagreed with the choice of their ruler had permission to move. While this settlement satisfied no one, it managed to provide an uncomfortable time of peace and stability.

Meanwhile, France descended into turmoil. Most of the French Protestants were Calvinist, although they bore the label Huguenot. Sometimes the French government tried to shut down the Huguenot movement; other times it was willing to tolerate the Huguenots. At times, it appeared that the Huguenots might gain the upper hand and seize control of the French government. Street riots, massacres, and assassinations were common. Three grandsons of King Francis held the throne, one after another, but the family line was failing. At one point, three men named Henry battled for the throne, each with a powerful army personally loyal to himself. In the end, Henry of Navarre—the Huguenot candidate—accepted a compromise which permitted him to seize the throne, provided he embraced the Roman Catholic faith. “The crown of France is worth a mass,” he is reported to have said. But his rise to power, which began the Bourbon line of kings in France, included an edict of toleration for the Huguenots and all Protestants in France, an edict that held more than a century before it was repudiated by Henry’s grandson, King Louis XIV.

Spain was less troubled by Protestant resistance to power, in part because of the (unexpected) power of the Inquisition, which added Protestants to the list of undesirables in Spain, a list that already included Jews, Muslims, and heretics. The son of Emperor Charles, King Philip, resolved to battle the Reformation in the Netherlands (under Spanish rule, but home to many Protestants) and in the British Isles. The famous Spanish Armada arrived intact at the Netherlands but faltered on its way to England. In large part, the failure of the Armada happened because of unfavorable weather, although clever English strategy also played a part. The Spanish Armada ranks with the Persian army that failed to conquer Greece and the Chinese invasion under Kublai Khan that failed to conquer Japan. Each of these failures was seen by the opposition as a national point of pride, an indication that they were on the side of what is right and true, and the beginning of growth toward greater achievement in the world.

King Henry declared the Church of England independent of the Pope in Rome. His son Edward affirmed the Reformation in England, but when Edward died, Mary tried to move England back toward Rome. Instead, she was replaced by her sister Elizabeth, who stabilized the Church of England while tolerating more diversity than many European governments. Mary’s son James became King of Scotland, but only on the condition that he remain Protestant. He also became the heir of Elizabeth; when she died, King James became the first monarch of the United Kingdom. James also authorized the English translation of the Bible which bears his name. Charles, son of James, appeared less likely to hold the course. An opposition group called Puritans managed through elections to gain control of Parliament; under Oliver Cromwell, they arrested, condemned, and executed King Charles and declared a Republic. The Puritan Revolution outlived Cromwell, but only by a few years. A moderating group won the next set of elections, placing Charles II (the son of King Charles) on the throne. The Puritans proceeded to pay more attention to their colony in Massachusetts rather than trying to regain control of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the unstable peace of the Holy Roman Empire eventually disintegrated into violence, a time known as the Thirty Years War. This aptly-named violence can be compared to the American Civil War of the 1860s—both were fought over ideas, both divided communities and families, both led to devastating death and injury and widespread destruction of property. But the Thirty Years War extended several times as long as the American War Between the States. It appeared at one point that the Roman Catholic forces would prevail and Lutheranism would be stamped out of the Empire. But when times were darkest for the Reformation, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden brought his army onto the battlefield. An alliance of German-speaking Lutherans, the Lutheran Swedes, and the Roman Catholic forces from France (under King Louis XIII and his advisor, Cardinal Richelieu, fought the Emperor’s forces to a standstill. In 1648, a treaty was negotiated at Westphalia. It was much like the agreement from a century earlier, acknowledging the right of each local ruler to choose the religion of that land. The biggest difference was that Calvinism was now on the menu along with Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.

With that agreement, the time of Reformation came to an end. Europe, weary of religious conflict and wars, was ready to enter the modern era. J.

The so-called “Dark Ages”

Historians once labeled the medieval period of Europe’s history “the Dark Ages.” This misleading label suggested that a glorious past existed under Roman rule, but that all that was good from Rome disappeared for centuries because of barbarian invasions. The same historians designated the end of the Dark Ages the “Renaissance” or rebirth; a slightly later age they called the “Enlightenment,” as if at that time the barbarian darkness was finally dispelled. This approach overlooks the continuity of Rome’s glory in the Byzantine Empire. It also sidesteps the efforts of Germanic tribes to continue the best of Roman ways in combination with their own cultures, not only continuing Roman civilization, but improving upon it. To show the deception of these labels, one needs only to ask when the Dark Ages ended—when did Europe become civilized again? No matter how hard one strives to identify a beginning to the rebirth, the enlightenment, the glory of modern Europe, its origins and sponsors are always found within that medieval period that has been described as Dark Ages.

Of course the British Isles were only lightly touched by Rome. The Celts had come to Britain long before the Romans, displacing an earlier group, those responsible for monuments such as Stonehenge. Julius Caesar crossed the channel and asserted Roman authority over some of the Celts; the emperors who followed Caesar continued to claim that authority. Eventually, though, the Roman armies were withdrawn. Germanic tribes crossed from the mainland: Saxons and Angles and others. Arthur, King of the Britons, was among the Romanized (and Christian) Celts who tried to prevent the incursion, but eventually the newcomers and older tribes mingled to create England. Later generations saw the Vikings come. In the middle of the eleventh century, England was a prize to be claimed by one of three Viking clans. The winner, in 1066, was William the Conqueror, who came from Normandy ( a settlement of Vikings on the coast of France) to claim England from another Viking ruler, King Harold, who had repelled an invasion from Danish Vikings just before William’s victory.

During these same centuries, Iberia was settled by Gothic Germans who blended their ways with Roman civilization. They were then displaced by Muslim rulers who controlled Iberia for several generations, until Christian rulers slowly claimed the land for themselves, establishing minor kingdoms which would eventually coalesce into the modern nations of Spain and Portugal.

But most important among the nations of the early medieval period was the Franks. This Germanic tribe had been persuaded by the Romans to guard the border for Rome, allowing Roman troops to strengthen the empire’s position elsewhere. With the withdrawal of Roman power to Constantinople, the Merovingian kings of the Franks grew in power and importance. Clovis, King of the Franks, considered the teachings of two groups of Christian missionaries, accepting the Trinitarian doctrine of one group and rejecting the Arian heresy of the other; this selection was vital for the survival and growth of genuine Christianity in Europe. Over time, the Franks established control over much of the territory that the Romans had called Gaul; over those same centuries, the Merovingian king became increasingly a figurehead, as real leadership rested in his assistant, dubbed the Mayor of the Palace. One of those Mayors, Charles Martel, stopped the Muslim advance into western Europe. His son, Pepin, made a proposal to the Merovingian king, Childerec: he suggested that Childerec wanted to become a monk and leave the kingdom to Pepin. Childerec looked at the soldiers standing with Pepin and saw their weapons, realized he had no defenders standing on his side, and agreed that he had always wanted to be a monk. Pepin began the Carolingian line of kings, a line named for Pepin’s son Charles, who is known as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great.

Charles expanded the Frankish kingdom into central Europe, defeating Germanic tribes and converting the survivors to Christianity. He also battled Germanic tribes in Italy, receiving the thanks of Pope Leo III. On Christmas Day in the year 800, Pope Leo placed a crown on the head of King Charles, declaring Charlemagne to be Roman Emperor. This coronation shows that western Europeans still considered themselves to be the heirs of Rome. It also was taken by later popes to demonstrate the authority of the Church over earthly kings and emperors.

Charlemagne intended to divide his kingdom among his sons, but he outlived all but one of those sons. Louis the Pious replaced his father on the throne; when he died twenty-five years later, the Carolingian kingdom was divided among his three sons. Charles in the west and Louis in the east squeezed their brother Lothar out of his lands in the middle (although Lothar was equally eager to vanquish his brothers and claim the entire kingdom for himself). The western portion of the kingdom became France; the eastern portion, several centuries later, would become Germany.

The Carolingian line remained in control of France for 150 years, in spite of some rebellions and rival rulers. Their biggest problem was the incursion of the Vikings from the north. The Carolingian line endured in the east less than a century, but the imperial power remained under other rulers. The result in central Europe was a confederation of kingdoms, cities, and other lands, all of which acknowledged one man as Holy Roman Emperor; this political entity survived until the time of Napoleon. Meanwhile, France likewise held together as a European power through the centuries until its royal government was terminated in the French Revolution, which would go on to produce the very same Napoleon. J.