5.5. The Catholic Counter-Reformation and the development of futurism


... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

The Council of Trent suppressed all the attempts of conciliarism – the belief that the general councils of the church are God’s representatives on the earth, and not the pope. This meant that the medieval structure of the church was reaffirmed, while the papal primacy and the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“there is no salvation outside the church”) remained intrinsic parts of Catholicism.604 Nevertheless, the organization of the institutions was tightened, the discipline was improved and naming bishops on political reasons was no longer tolerated. Seminars were established for the proper instruction of the priests in the spiritual life and in the theological traditions of the church. New religious orders, focused on the devotional life and a personal relation with Christ, were instituted: the Capuchins, the Ursulines, the Theatines, the Discalced Carmelites, the Barnabites or the Jesuits. These strengthened the local parishes, improved popular piety, fought corruption and served as examples for the Catholic renewal. Of the new orders, the Jesuits (Latin: Societas Iesu – “Society of Jesus”) were the most efficient. The order was founded in 1534 by the Spanish Ignatius de Loyola after he had experienced visions of the Virgin Mary. Ignatius was a vigorous opponent of the Reformation and a top promoter of the Counter-Reformation. His order was organized according to the military model: careful selection, rigorous training and iron discipline. The Jesuits assured themselves that the worldly aspects of the Renaissance would not to be part of their world. They also participated in the expansion of the church in the Americas and Asia, their missionary efforts surpassing the most aggressive Protestants.605

Besides the institutional reform, the Catholic Counter-Reformation was directed against the occult as well. Luther, Zwingli or Calvin denounced the astrological practices, but many important Protestants used them. Likewise, within Catholicism, which considered itself the direct descendant of the early Christian Church, the condemnation most of the time remained on paper. Prelates of all ranks preferred to ignore the problem rather than to confront it, especially because some of them sympathized with astrology.

In 1543 in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium Nicolaus Copernicus boldly stated that in the center of the Universe is the Sun (heliocentrism), and not Earth (geocentrism). The work of Copernicus simply shattered the bases of astrology and signaled the start of the Scientific Revolution. The work contained an unsigned preface of Osiander that defended the heliocentric system and argued that it was useful for computation even if its hypotheses were not true. The work of Copernicus has never been put under the sign of heresy; on the contrary, it was dedicated to Pope Paul III and it was made at the request of the Catholic prelates, as a part of the efforts of the Counter-Reformation to create a more accurate calendar. And, while Catholicism somehow conditionally supported heliocentrism, Protestants categorized it as blasphemy.606 Calvin denounced those who “pervert the order of nature” and say that Earth is moving,607 while the Lutheran Abraham Calovius rhetorically asked “who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”608

Astrology began to be eradicated within the Catholic ranks starting with the installation of Sixtus V and the manifestation of his fantastic ambitions: the annihilation of the Turks, the conquering of Egypt or the transportation of the Holy Sepulcher to Italy. Besides a distorted sense of reality, Sixtus believed with fanaticism that the church must be purified of all external intrusions, including divinatory practices:

Astrologers ... claim to have a vain knowledge of the stars and planets and most audaciously purport to foresee the divine dispositions in their time. ... draw up nativities or genitures concerning the motion of the planets and the courses of the stars, and judge future and even present affairs, especially occult ones ... [according to] most various observation and notation of any time and moment [they foretell] their condition, course of life, honors, wealth, children, health, death, journeys, struggles, enemies, imprisonments, assassinations, and various dangers and other adverse or prosperous occurrences or events.609

An epidemic of sermons denouncing astrology, witchcraft and all the wicked forecasts erupted on the eve of 1588. The manuscripts suspected of heresy were confiscated and burned or deposited in a safe place. A manuscript, no matter the content, was considered dangerous and removed only on the ground that it had been conceived by a person considered guilty. This was the case of Tomasso Campanella, whose trial at the Inquisition was pending, while in 1625 the Catholic agents seized most of Kepler’s library.610 Naturally, astrology could not be eradicated overnight among the clergy, but the Counter-Reformation had a major role in the collapse of mysticism and the stimulation of scientific development.

One of the major challenges of the Counter-Reformation was to find a viable argument against Protestant historicism. A new apocalyptic interpretation, meant to “cleanse” the negative-apocalyptic image of the Catholic Church, had to be found. This task was largely taken by the Jesuits, who sought guidance in the theories of the early theologians and polished them according to the needs of the moment.

The futurism advanced by Francisco Ribera in In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentari from 1590 received the most enthusiastic reception. Inspired by the eschatological position of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Clement of Rome or Justin Martyr, Ribera argued that the prophecies have a physical, literal, global and future fulfillment. According to the Spanish theologian, the key to interpret Revelation sits in the passage 1:19: “Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter.” Hence, Revelation must be divided into three sections: chapter 1 describes the past (“the things thou sawest”), chapters 2-3 describe the present at the moment of the writing of the book (“the things which are”), while the rest of the chapters, from 4 to 22, depict the future. The apocalyptic future is in turn divided into two sections: chapters 4-19, which refer to a future period of three and a half years – the great tribulation – right before the Second Coming, and chapters 20-22, which depict the future existence of humanity.

According to Ribera, within these undetermined and future three and a half years the Catholic Church would ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

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