A Christian Survey of World History

From Renaissance (Humanism) to the Reformation, I


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who has called us and consumed us in Jesus’ name. We thank Thee that Thy hands have been upon us for good all the days of our lives. We thank Thee that Thou has beset us before and behind with Thy mercy and [inaudible 00:00:18]. We thank Thee, our Father, that not only our individual lives, but our lives as a people have been blessed by Thee. We come into Thy presence to study Thy workings of this day. We rejoice in Thy providence, and to look for even greater works in the days to come. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Speaker 1: 00:50 Our subject this evening the Reformation. The Reformation is not given quite the space in the history books, nor definitely the favorable attention that the Renaissance is given. Renaissance, of course, means rebirth. It was a self-conscious rebirth of paganism and humanism. Again, man was the measure of all things, so that society, human conduct, moral and religious questions were all to be judged in terms of man. As I point out in the text of our lesson, the expression for a fool in those days was a good Christian. To call someone a good Christian was to say he was a fool.

Speaker 1: 01:58 Renaissance was a period of aestheticsm as against ethics. Aesthetics instead of ethics. That is, the form, the manner, the beauty of something as against the moral question. As a result, the Renaissance saw a number of very interesting developments. On the one hand, there was a tremendous emphasis on taste, good taste in every realm. Thus, the gourmet was associated with a gentleman. A gentleman was a man who had particularly refined taste in foods and in drinks. This was cultivated to the nth degree in those days, to the point where sitting at a table was not so much eating, but tasting endlessly from an incredible variety of foods, that were paraded before someone, so that the [inaudible 00:03:10] could dabble, and taste, and sit endlessly, and prove himself by his commentary on that which was set before him.

Speaker 1: 03:22 The same was true with respect to art. There was a heavy emphasis on the form, on manner. Earlier, art had been concerned with religious themes, and was in some respects a more developed, a more refined art, we could say. The emphasis now became of course, humanistic in content, but even more, the refinement and the subtlety of the form.

Speaker 1: 03:58 The dandy, again, came into his own. The expression “the dandy” belongs to the Enlightenment period, or more properly, to the 18th century, but there was a comparable standard at that time, and man began to dress like peacocks. A splash of color, as much ornate dress as possible, and as expensive as possible, so that a man’s wardrobe cost a fortune. This was true also of women. An incredible amount of money was spent on wardrobe to the point of virtually bankrupting oneself in order to put up the appearance. In other words, appearance was everything. Life was a performance, self-consciously so. The world a sage, but not before God, but before men.

Speaker 1: 05:05 I point out that Castiglione, in his [inaudible 00:05:08], or perhaps it wasn’t here. It was the one in the many and is the [inaudible 00:05:14] says that, “A good soldier, a gentleman soldier does not do brave and foolhardy things if there’s no one to watch, so that he does the foolhardy, the brave, the daring thing when he is sure that the prince or the general is observing him. That’s the time for brave and daring actions. It’s wasted on any other occasion.” Men, in other words, were continually putting on an act self-consciously, deliberately before other men, and this was the goal, the purpose of life. Not morals, but appearances. Similarly, there was a refinement of torture. It was crude just to kill men. You developed a highly reformed torture in order to dispose of them.

Speaker 1: 06:14 The Renaissance, thus, saw this emphasis on appearance, taste, manner, the gourmet, as against the moral and the Godly man. At the same time, because the moral issue had been subverted, the religious and the moral issue, you had a period, in fact, one of the periods of the most unbridled totalitarianism in all history. When it was considered nothing at all to eliminate thousands upon thousands of people. When it was nothing unusual to admire Pope Alexander, who was the father of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia, as well as others, and maintained a harem in the Vatican, because he was so shrewd and astute. That was the thing men admire. There was nothing wrong with his character. After all, if you have power, you use it. He did everything with such finesse, with such taste, that it was all really excusable.

Speaker 1: 07:27 As a result, with this emphasis on appearance, rather than religious faith and character, tyranny developed to unimagined bounds. It would be tiresome to go into the depiction of it. The Renaissance tyrant was indeed a fearless, a ruthless, a vicious person, and society thought nothing of it. Whenever the emphasis is on appearance, on taste, as it is again in our time, the truly Godly values, religious and moral, disappear, and human life becomes cheap, as long as appearances are maintained.

Speaker 1: 08:20 As a result, the Reformation came none too late. One medical historian has estimated that because of the deterioration of faith and morals, one third to one half of the earth was venereally diseased when Luther began his work, so that were signs of a physical degeneration, which could’ve led to the total decline and corruption of European life. The disappearance into anarchy and deterioration of the Western world.

Speaker 1: 09:03 The Reformation was first of all, as I point out in the text, an anti-humanist movement. It was thoroughly against everything that the Renaissance represented. The Renaissance was to it, the epitome of corruption. The Reformation, thus, very definitely climaxed a century later in Puritanism, because the Puritans despised with all their heart this kind of affected prancing. Some have tried to say that the Puritans were anti-art, anti-good taste, and so on, which is false. As a matter of fact, some of the Puritans were among the outstanding men in art, in the appreciation of music, in the producing of music, and so on. They were not a crude people, but they gave moral priority its proper place. The result was a truly great art that developed. In music, Johann Sebastian Bach. In poetry, men like John Milton and so on. Certainly not people who were anti-art, and who had a tremendous audience that appreciated and loved what they had to say, so that anti-humanism did not lead to a depreciation of art and taste, but giving it its proper place.

Speaker 1: 10:46 Then second, the Reformation was a scholarly movement. It’s important to recognize this fact. It was headed by scholars. Luther, a professor, Calvin, a scholar. The Reformation leaders were very largely not only the upper echelons, but the secondary ones. Scholars, thinkers, people who are concerned with the basic issues of their day, or concerned with making the faith relevant to all of life so that it is important to recognize that it was a scholarly movement. Third, it was also a popular movement, because by the providence of God, there were people who are ready to respond to what these scholars like Luther and Calvin and others had to say.

Speaker 1: 11:44 Then fourth, it succeeded most where there had been a resistance to the papacy during the investiture struggle by the princes and monarchs. The investiture struggle was a struggle between Church and state as to who should control the Church and the bishops. The Vatican wanted to control all the churches down to the least detail. The kings and emperors wanted to control the Church themselves. They didn’t want an outsider in the Vatican running them. In a sense, neither side was right. The Church should have been free from centralized control. It should’ve been locally controlled, and it should’ve been free from imperial or royal control. However, the areas where there was resistance to papal control, or the areas where enough independence had survived so that the Reformation could there succeed.

Speaker 1: 12:48 The Reformation of course, began in Germany, with Luther and his 95 Theses in 1515. It might repay to remind you of the significance of those theses by quoting from the indulgences. The indulgences were the sale of forgiveness of sins by papal preachers. They were a good source of funds. By selling indulgences to people they had, as it were, a permit to sin, because they not only had, through purchasing a piece of paper, forgiveness for past sins they had committed, but they could also get them for sins they were planning to commit. They were supposedly forgiven from any pains or pangs in purgatory, and could jump into heaven.

Speaker 1: 13:52 In order to do some more construction of churches, Leo the 10th, Pope, in a papal of [inaudible 00:14:04] of August third, 1476, had prepared the way for Luther by trying on an all out basis to raise more money, to rebuild or to construct, rather, St. Peter’s Church. As a result, the preaching began throughout Europe to sell indulgences. As time passed, this became more and more brazen. Finally, in Luther’s day, a Dominican friar, John [inaudible 00:14:41], was sent out to raise more funds, which he did very successfully. Some rulers were able to keep them out of their realm in Germany. Since Germany was an area of small Duchies and small kingdoms, and small princedoms, and so on, very often if the ruler banned the sale of indulgences in his realm, it was just crossing over a mile or two to buy them elsewhere. After all, all the devout little people who wanted to have their relatives who were dead get out of purgatory and get into heaven, and all those sinners who wanted indulgences for sin, would walk a mile or cross the river to buy indulgences.

Speaker 1: 15:35 As I point out in the text, the preaching was plain and blunt. For example, “Lo, the heavens are open. If you enter not now, when will you enter? For 12 pence you may redeem the soul of your father out of purgatory. Are you so ungrateful that you will not rescue the soul of your parent from torment? If you had but one coat, you ought to strip yourself instantly and sell it in order to purchase such benefit,” unquote. Or this, quoting from the bottom of page 176 by [inaudible 00:16:10], “Listen now, God and St. Peter call. Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends beseeching you and saying, ‘Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance.’ Do you not wish to? Open your ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, ‘We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory?’ Remember that you are able to release them, for as soon as the coin in the copper rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” unquote.

Speaker 1: 17:05 Then, in the next paragraph, I point out, it’s well worth repeating, it was reported that [inaudible 00:17:10] even said that, “Papal indulgences could absolve even a man who had violated the mother of God.” The answer of Professor Martin Luther was to post 95 Theses on the castle church in Wittenburg for debate. These were written in Latin. They didn’t attract much attention from the people at large, but students went there and they read them. It was a challenge to debate anybody on these propositions. They was often done in those days, on theological issues. Here was a revolutionary one. Students copied them down and sent them all over Europe. What did not, on the day it was done, October the 31st, 1517, it did not then create a stir, but in a matter of weeks, it was all over Europe, copies of it floating around, creating quite a sensation.

Speaker 1: 18:23 Let’s read just a few of these theses, which I copied down, to see how [inaudible 00:18:28] Luther was challenging Rome. On page 177, “Those who assert that a soul straightly flies out of purgatory as a coin tinkles in the collection box, are preaching an invention of man. It is sure that when a coin tinkles, greed and avarice are increased. The intercession of the church is in the will of God alone. This wanton preaching of pardons makes it hard even for a learned man to defend the honor of the Pope against calumny, or at least against the shrewd questions of the laity. They ask, ‘Why does not the Pope empty purgatory on account of most holy charity, and the graves need of souls the most righteous of causes?’ Seeing that he redeems an infinite number of souls on account of sordid money, given for the erection of a basilica, which is a most trivial cause.

Speaker 1: 19:29 “In other words, if the Pope can free them out of purgatory, why doesn’t he do it without having money paid? If he is a Christian man, he should feel sorry for those people there, so let him do it freely. What is the piety of God and the Pope in allowing the impious and hostile to secure on payment of money a pious soul? In friendship with God, while they do not redeem a free charity, a soul that is of itself pious and beloved on account of its needs. The Pope’s riches at this day far exceed the wealth of the richest millionaires. Cannot he therefore build one single basilica of St. Peter out of his own money, rather than out of the money of the faithful poor?”

Speaker 1: 20:22 You can see how radical these were. As a result, the Reformation was underway, because these propositions, these theses of Luther began to hurt income. If they had not hurt the income from the sale of indulgences, they wouldn’t have bothered with him, but the sale began to fall off. Luther’s common sense and his appeal to Scripture made people stop and think, and it began to turn in many areas the sale of indulgences into a joke.

Speaker 1: 21:06 Luther could not have gotten anywhere. Many of the German princes had not rallied to his support. Some did it for nationalistic reasons, but we must recognize that many did it for Godly reasons. Luther is charged by Catholic scholars with having divided Christendom, but it was already divided, disintegrating in the abyss of the Renaissance. What Luther did instead was to bring about some reunification in terms of the faith. Moreover, he did this not in subservience to the princes, but in union with them. Then we must say further that Luther, rather than Calvin, was the great teacher of predestination. It’s the myth that Calvin was the one who taught predestination so drastically and heavily. He did teach it, but he didn’t state a new thing about it, or develop any new arguments for it. It was Luther, who in his debates with Erasmus, not a formal debate, but a written debate, set forth the greatest statement of the doctrine of predestination. Lutherans, because they by and large have forsaken the doctrine, will not mention the fact that it was Luther who taught it, and they have created the propaganda that it was Calvin who brought up this horrible doctrine. The Catholics, of course, say the same thing. It was always the faith of the church, and the great statement of it was by Luther. “On the Bondage of the Will” is the title of his study. It is one of the greatest classics of Christian history and probably one of the three great documents of the Reformation.

Speaker 1: 23:20 Moreover, Luther emphasized heavily another doctrine, justification by faith. Justification by faith. Luther was not the systematic thinker that Calvin was, and it appears at this point, because the doctrine of justification of faith, of course, is thoroughly Scriptural. When it is detached from other doctrines, it can lead to a kind of humanism. The exclusive emphasis on the salvation of souls, rather than on the whole counsel of God. Of course, fundamentalism, with its emphasis on the saving of souls almost alone, has come about from Lutheranism, a little more so than Luther, because Luther emphasized predestination as well. Lutheranism, by dropping predestination and emphasizing justification by faith exclusively, has given it a false emphasis. As though the saving of souls was the only function of the Church, and of the people of God.

Speaker 1: 24:45 Very quickly in Germany, other religious groups sprang up as a result of the Lutheran Reformation. These groups are called Anabaptists. They are not related to the Baptists of today. The Anabaptists went, supposedly, like the Reformers, to the New Testament for their model, but not for doctrine. Their basic purpose was political. They wanted to establish, supposedly, a new Christian order. What it amounted to, in so many cases, was that they went to Acts for the statement about how the disciples lived together and shared things in common, or supposedly did this, which is a mis-statement. I’ve described this on other occasions, so I won’t repeat unless some of you … Perhaps I will. I see some of you do want.

Speaker 1: 25:53 What the early church was this, only in Jerusalem and nowhere else, because our Lord had told them in Matthew 24, that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, and not a stone left standing upon another, they knew there was no future there. They sold their property because they believed our Lord when He said Jerusalem was going to be totally destroyed. They used some of it to live on, and many of them, not all, were told it was voluntary, gave it to the Church to be used for the evangelization of their fellows Jews and Israelites in order to save them before the destruction by the Romans king. It was not Communism.

Speaker 1: 26:43 However, the Anabaptists tended to see it as their model. When they went to the New Testament, it was things like this they zeroed in on. They tried to establish a Communist order. As a matter of fact at Munster, several such groups were started, but Munster is the classic case. They did seize the area for a while, and they expected like all Communists, that once they had gained power, everything was going to be perfect. It doesn’t work that way. Of course, they then went into all kinds of sins, including polygamy, because they were beyond the law. The law was dead, as far as they were concerned. They were in the reign of grace, in other words, of Communism.

Speaker 1: 27:35 Some flagrant immoralities became commonplace. It went from bad to worse. Finally, these Communistic groups were put down in blood. The other groups tended to abandon politics and emphasize inwardness. Some of those who had been very political at first, like the Quakers, tended to abandon that for a kind of pietism, emphasis not on faith, but on the inner light. The thesis, for example, of Quakerism, is that every man, whether he’s a Christian or non-Christian, has a spark of the divine in him, and that’s heresy, and all he should do is to develop that inner light.

Speaker 1: 28:28 The Anabaptists thus, were a very revolutionary group, which subsequently became a pietistic group emphasizing the inward aspect of life. The Quakers are one such group still surviving. There are several others. The Mennonites are also an Anabaptist group, but they were more religious in their emphasis, so that while they did believe in forming communities, it was not a revolutionary community. Their community separated from the world so that they were the Christian element in the Anabaptist movement.

Speaker 1: 29:16 In Switzerland, Zwingli, a Catholic priest who had been an immoral man, became a convert and the leader of the Reformation for a time in Switzerland until he was killed in battle. The great work in Switzerland was that of Calvin, whose dates are 1509 to 1564. In other words, when Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church in Wittenburg, Calvin was a boy of six. He went to school, began his training as a very devout Catholic. It was only little by little, as a young man, that he became a convert to the faith of the Reformers. Calvin’s emphasis, unlike Luther’s, which was on justification by faith primarily, was on the sovereignty of God. You began with the sovereignty of God and the infallibility of Scripture.

Speaker 1: 30:29 Then, the sovereignty of God meant salvation by the grace of God through faith, so that Calvin firmly rooted the doctrine of justification in the fact of God’s sovereignty. Moreover, he emphasized that the kingdom of God means the universal reign of God. Catholicism had equated the kingdom of God with the Church, so that state, school, family were not a part of the kingdom of God. The Church and the clergy were the kingdom of God. This was a very important thing, and without this, you cannot have a true concept of the Reformation. This emphatically Calvin emphasized. It was one of the great advances in Christian history.

Speaker 1: 31:27 Then, he stressed also the priesthood of all believers, which was a doctrine right out of justification by faith. The priesthood of all believers means the doctrine, moreover, of calling or vocation. Every man, whether is be a minister, a banker, a carpenter, whatever he is, is in a Godly vocation and must serve where he does under God and as a service to God.

Speaker 1: 32:03 Then, Calvin also emphasized the doctrine of the covenant, and the independence of the various areas of life. The Church could not be under the state, nor the state under the Church. The school was independent, the family, every area, but interdependent as well. Alike aspects of the kingdom of God, and together serving God. In Geneva, he attempted to set these things forth. Calvin is often portrayed as the dictator of Geneva. The fact is, he couldn’t get permission to hold communion from the city council. He had to defy them. He was not even given citizenship until they knew he was dying. The supposed dictator of Geneva would often have dogs sicked on him when he walked the streets. Everything done to discourage him. It was the Reformation against tremendous opposition, and very often, he had his bags, as it were, packed, ready to leave at a moment’s notice because it seemed so impossible that he could continue much longer.

Speaker 1: 33:33 Now the Reformation in England is another aspect of the Reformation, which it is important to understand. The English church existed long before Rome had any control over it. It was a part of the great Celtic, or Irish church, an independent church. It was put under the control of Rome by the British Crown. Thus, it was for centuries thereafter a captive church, as Rome and the English kings struggled for control over it. Sometimes the various monarchs would run the church in England. What Henry VIII did was nothing new. At other times, the Vatican would run it absolutely and ruthlessly, so that the church was alternately a captive to Rome, or to the Crown.

Speaker 1: 34:46 What Henry did, thus, was to reestablish the royal power over the church, which the Church had off and on through the centuries. Nothing new was done. Contrary to the Catholic position, the Church of England was not created by the act of Henry VIII. It existed before the Church of England ever had any contact with Rome. Moreover, the Church of England, before Rome appeared on the scene, was a highly developed church with deep roots, even apart from the Irish in the Roman period. The Irish gave it definitive shape, but because England had in the earliest days of the Christian era, been a part of the Roman empire, the Christian missionaries very early had begun their work there.

Speaker 1: 36:03 What happened of course, was that the earliest converts were Roman officials. When Rome fell, and the Roman legions earlier were withdrawn from England, of course, it was just too bad for most of those Christians, but they didn’t entirely disappear. As the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons invaded the area, they were pagans, and Christianity did come close to disappearing. The Irish then converted these barbarians from the north.

Speaker 1: 36:40 The term barbarian long lingered to describe the kind of Christianity that you had in Britain and in northern Europe. Barbarian Christianity is the term used by some English historians. Barbarian Christianity, we shouldn’t misunderstand that word, because we think of barbarians as savages. It’s used by these historians to describe the northern tribes, even after they were Christians. Barbarian Christianity tended to be a kind of Christianity in which the state, or the Crown, governed the Church. This was the pattern that Henry VIII tried to reinstitute in England.

Speaker 1: 37:36 [inaudible 00:37:36], a very superior man and a very wonderful Christian, tended most of his life to be given to this barbarian Christianity, to believe in the royal preeminence. This is why very often, people fail to understand [inaudible 00:37:57] position. They feel he was a hypocrite, that was at times serving them. He was a man of very great sincerity, integrity, and very real faith. His position was more Lutheran than anything else. In fact, he had begun as a secret Lutheran. He was very genuinely convinced that the Crown, rather than the Vatican, should govern the Church. The issue finally came to a head in his thinking with Queen Mary. She was both Catholic, and both the Crown, the monarch.

Speaker 1: 38:49 Should the Church be ruled from Rome, or should it be ruled by the Crown? The two were one now, as it were. The acts of Mary were a bloody repression of many of his friends. First, he signed in obedience to the Crown, a statement affirming royal supremacy and their acts, which were uniting the Church with Rome. Then he came to the realization it cannot be Rome or the Crown. It has to be the freedom of the Church. He renounced the statement he had signed, and went to the state for it. When the flames began to leap up, he put out the hand with which he had signed the first statement, that it might burn first.

Speaker 1: 39:46 [inaudible 00:39:46] is not sufficiently appreciated in our day. He was a very great man. The Church of England took its definitive shape under Edward VI, the young son of Henry VIII, who succeeded him, and died when he was around 17 or 18. Edward VI was a very devout and a very wise young man. Under him, the Book of Common Prayer took its definitive form. The Church gained its name, which unless it’s been changed, was for along the legal name, the Reformed Church of England. You never heard of that nowadays, so that properly the Reformation had two kinds of churches. The Lutheran and the Reformed. Many people say Lutheran, Reformed, and Episcopal. This is not true. Basically, the best classification is Reformed and Lutheran. The two great documents of the Reformed churches were Calvin’s Institutes of the Book of Common Prayer. This is why there is so great a hostility to the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England. The attempt at its radical revision in 1928 in England. Of course now, it is virtually a dead letter. The thought of identifying the established Episcopal Church of England, and the Episcopal Church of the U.S., the major group with the Book of Common Prayer, is going to be over very soon. It is by and large being supplanted. The new liturgy is definitely anti-prayer book. It deliberately sets out to violate it, and a great deal of substitutes are commonplace in the church today with Episcopal permission. Of course, the reason is obvious. The Book of Common Prayer, as well as the 39 articles, give a theology which is so alien that it is unendurable, even it to repeat it without faith.

Speaker 1: 42:29 Henry VIII, unfortunately, is remembered by most people in terms of Charles Lotton’s depiction. Henry VIII was not a stupid slob. He was perhaps, the most brilliant mind on any throne in Europe at the day. This does not mean he was a good monarch. Far from it. He was the darling of the Renaissance scholars. They were delighted. Here was the dream of Plato to be realized, the philosopher king. A man with a brilliant mind. A man with a great talent in every area. As a musician, a composer. I have somewhere at home a poem that survives of one of those that he wrote. I think it’s as good as anything Shakespeare ever wrote. He was a man of incredible talents. Just amazing. It’s rare that there’s been a king who has ascended to the throne with abilities equal to Henry VIII’s. Moreover, he was trained for the priesthood. His brother Arthur was to be the king. He was the Prince of Wales, and the older brother.

Speaker 1: 44:03 Henry VII decided that Henry would be archbishop of Canterbury. The two brothers could this way run the country very neatly. This was very shrewdly planned. Henry VII incidentally, was a very able, intelligent king. His wife, Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, a very remarkable, very superior woman. Arthur died, and as a result, Henry was yanked out of training for the priesthood against his wishes. He was very devout. He wanted to be a priest, and he was married to Arthur’s widow, Catherine, some years older than himself.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder