5.1. The papal demonization and the development of historicism



In 1510 the German monk Martin Luther suffered a shock after he traveled to Rome and saw the stage of ecclesiastical corruption: Sixtus IV was the first pope who imposed a license on brothels, a special tax on the priests who had a concubine and established the selling of indulgences417 to be applied to the dead as well; the latter was a religious-financial scheme that assured unlimited income to the budget of the institution. In turn, Pope Alexander IV fathered seven children and simultaneously fostered two mistresses. After he returned to Wittenberg at the end of 1517, disgusted and resentful, Luther conceived a list entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum and nailed it on the door of All Saints’ Church. The list of 95 theses was a summary of his grievances, through which he mainly requested a reopening of the debates regarding the selling of indulgences, the concepts of Purgatory, individual Judgment, Mariology (the devotion to the Virgin Mary), the worship of the saints, most of the sacraments and the authority of the Papacy. Luther’s disagreement was the spark that ignited the conflagration. The Ninety-Five Theses (as the document remained known in history) enjoyed a powerful support from laity and some clerics, marking the eruption of a widespread force of dissatisfaction. This movement was called the “Protestant Reformation” and its purpose was to doctrinarily reorganize the Catholic Church by eliminating the false teachings, punishing the ecclesiastical crimes (especially simony) and stopping the sale of indulgences.418

Five major things favored the start and the widespread of the Protestant Reformation. The first was the inability of the Catholic Church to purify itself. The Council of Constance in 1414-1417, through which the Great Western Schism was ended, confirmed and invigorated the traditional medieval conception of the church and the empire, not being able to solve the major problems. And after the Czech reformer Jan Hus was assassinated at the council, the citizens of the region of Bohemia began the Hussite Wars,419 rebelling against Catholicism, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. The second was the printing press, invented in 1436 by the German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg. This brilliant object allowed a faster exchange of ideas and information, in this way stimulating debates in the academic world regarding the freedom of thought, the nature of the church and the source and the extension of the religious and secular authorities. The third was the external threat. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire continued to advance in Europe, the Western leaders not being capable to offer an adequate reaction to this Islamic threat. The fourth was the political instability of the Holy Roman Empire. The Reformation manifested itself predominantly in the German regions because many princes and local dukes saw it as a chance to contest the hegemony of the German emperor.420 And the fifth was the natural elements, manifested themselves through floods, astral signs and epidemics. The Black Plague undermined the credibility of the church as the representative of God, subsequently encouraging the reorganization of the European economy and society.

While Luther led the Reformation in the German regions, Huldrych Zwingli activated in Switzerland. Initially, John Calvin had had a leading role in France, but due to persecution he sought refuge in Switzerland. Even though the three had similar points of view, the Reformist groups have never reached a consensus, a fact that fragmented and weakened the Reformation. The rift between the three leaders led to the establishment of rival Protestant churches: the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, the Calvinist Church or the Presbyterian Church. Most of the Zwinglians believed that the Reformation was too conservative and, accordingly, adopted more radical positions. The Protestants that took the example of Erasmus formed groups outside of the churches, guided by mysticism and humanism.421 Older Protestant churches, such as the Moravian Church, date their origins in the works of Jan Hus and the Hussite Wars of the 15th century. And in other parts, the causes, the effects and the processes of the religious reform were different, the Anglican Church being established through the English Reformation.

A classification of the groups and teachings of the Reformation is almost impossible due to the social and doctrinal effervescence, but the most general categorization speaks about two main sides of the Protestant Reformation: the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation.

The Magisterial Reformation comprises the main Protestant groups. Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli are considered magisterial reformers because their movements were supported by the leading authorities of many cities called “magistrates” (Latin: magister). Frederick the Wise, for example, the Elector of Saxony, was a devout Catholic; nevertheless, he protected Luther hoping that he would obtain more political autonomy in relation to the church. Zwingli and Calvin were supported by the city councils of Zürich and Geneva. Because the term “magistrate” also has the meaning of “teacher,” the Magisterial Reformation was based on the authority of a teacher (Luther, Calvin and Zwingli), each of them spreading their teachings in areas of influence.422

On the other hand, the Radical Reformation sheltered under its umbrella fanatical, apocalyptic and annihilationist groups, not tolerated even by the leaders of the Magisterial Reformation. The Radical Reformation was intended to be an answer to the corruption of the Catholic Church and to the unlawful expansion of the magisterial Protestantism as well. Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were often categorized by the radical reformers as the “new papists.” Most of the radical sects were generically called “Anabaptist” (Romanized Greek: ana – “over again”; baptizes – “to baptize”) because their common ground was the denial of infant baptism. Today, some of the groups that descend from the European Anabaptism423 are the Amish, the Hutterites or the Mennonites.424

Protestants and Catholics demonized each other and saw the religious spasm as a sign of the end from diametrically opposed reasons. From the Catholic perspective, the Reformation was an evil scheme meant to destroy the religious and secular structure in order to facilitate a Turkish invasion or the rise of the Antichrist. Protestants were heretics who were contributing to the strengthening of Satan’s power. On the contrary, for Protestants the truth seemed to be clearer than ever. The enthroning of Borgia proved the fact that greed, corruption, debauchery and deception found permanent shelter in the heart of the church so that it became the institution of the devil. And besides the aspects of empirical nature, Protestants strongly relied on biblical prophecies in their “crusade” against the Papacy.

The Reformists extensively used in their studies the early apocalyptic works, especially the amillenarist-historicist perspective of Augustine in which the Millennium is understood symbolically and the Book of Revelation is a representation of the history of the church. This approach allowed them to have a different kind of understanding regarding the apocalyptic characters. Based on Daniel’s prophecies (2 and 7) and Revelation, the Reformists conferred a new interpretation to the history of the church and the dissolution of the Roman Empire. The “stone cut out without hands, which smote the image upon its feet” from Daniel 2 and the “little horn” from Daniel 7 are two distinct and opposite entities. The stone comes from God, while the horn expresses adversity against God. Irenaeus misidentified the stone with the Second Coming; it actually represents the First Coming of Jesus and his divine work, while the fragmentation of the image’s toes and feet symbolize the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire as a result of the internal struggles caused by the emergence of Christendom.

History confirms that the Roman Empire did not collapse only because of the external pressures exercised by barbarians, but especially due to the inner conflicts which corroded its inner structure.425 A great civilization collapsed, but a new era began. The transformation of the “stone” into a “great mountain” represents the evolution of the Christian religion. Since the ascension of Jesus, Christendom continued to expand, culminating in the year 313 with its liberalization and acceptance through the Edict of Milan. Correlated with the Revelation of John, the visions of Daniel reveal the fact that the church represents an incipient form of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that will meet the millennial stage after the event of Parousia and will be complete at the time of revealing the new heaven and the new earth: “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).

Protestants made a clear distinction between the “Church” (with capital letter) and the “church” (with lower-case letter) – an extremely important detail in understanding Daniel’s prophecies and the later eschatological doctrines. The “Church” (with capital letter) represents the unified faith of all Christians, the religion itself. Instead, the “church” (with lower-case letter) refers to the institution with ranks, hierarchy, buildings, taxes – things Jesus never spoke about. In this context, by combining the early apocalyptic doctrines with the anti-papal trend manifested between the 12th and the 15th century, the “little horn” from Daniel 7:8, 20-26 was identified with the institutionalization and the corruption of the Church, the Papacy:

(1) “there came up among them another horn, a little one” (Daniel 7:8) – the kingdom symbolized by the “little horn” rose among the other ten kingdoms (horns) of Western Europe. The geographical location of the Holy See is in Rome, Italy, right in the heart of Western Europe.

(2) “in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things” (Daniel 7:8) – this kingdom was going to be ruled by a man that would speak on its behalf. The institution of the Papacy is ruled by a pope who speaks on his behalf.

(3) “a fourth beast ... and it had ten horns ... there came up among them another horn, a little one” (Daniel 7:7-8) – because the fourth beast from Daniel 7 had already been identified with the Roman Empire by the early scholars, Protestants concluded that the empire dissolved into ten smaller kingdoms: the Burgundians, the Francs, the Germans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Visigoths, the Suevi, the Lombards, the Ostrogoths, the Heruls and the Vandals. Accordingly, the 11th kingdom, or the “little horn,” is the Papacy, which is also a continuator and a successor of the fourth beast.426 Rome, the capital of the former Western Roman Empire, became the capital of Western Christendom. Daniel symbolizes four empires through four beasts, and John speaks about the Antichrist as the beast from the sea. The office of Pontifex Maximus was transferred from emperors to popes, and the Papacy became the ruler of the Western ecclesiastical empire (the Catholic Church).

(4) “the beast ... it had ten horns ... before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots” (Daniel 7:7-8) – the Papacy destroyed three of the ten kingdoms that rose after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

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