Summary: "In the latter half of the sixteenth century, we can see that there was real reform. And out of that Catholic Reformation came the greatest burst of missionary activity since the Benedictine and Franciscan explosions"
Thursday of 3rd Week in Lent 2018
When we study or preach on the Scriptures, we always have to keep in mind that there are really two meaning to just about all of it. The first is the meaning that the human writer, inspired by God, had in mind for his time. The second is the meaning that God intends for all ages, and which we interpret for our age.
So we read in the prophet Jeremiah that the people and leaders of Israel “did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” Jeremiah constantly preached against the idolatry and injustices of the people of his day. They generally ignored or mocked him and even, during the siege of Jerusalem, threw him into a cistern. God had warned Jeremiah ahead of time that this would happen: “you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.”
The Lord Jesus, of course, was such a prophet. He preached against pharisaical mismanagement of the people, against injustice and ignoring the word of God. His words and works demonstrated that He was/is the Messiah of Israel. But the leaders and most of the people failed to recognize Him, and ultimately they had Him murdered. It was His Resurrection that proved them all to be wrong, proved that indeed the kingdom of God was upon them. Their stiff necks and factionalism ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jews all over the Empire.
In the sixteenth century, we have seen that the Church desperately needed a true reformation. Luther thought that his way was the way of reform. He saw himself as a new Jeremiah, and the pope and bishops as the new opposition to God’s commands. He wrote apocalyptically: “Now that the end of the world is approaching the people rage and rave most horribly against God, and blaspheme and damn God’s Word, though they well know that it is God’s Word and the truth. Besides, so many fearful signs and wonders are appearing, in the heavens and among all creatures, which threaten them terribly, and it is a wicked, miserable time, even worse than that of Jeremiah.
“But so it will be, and must be. They will be careless, and sing, “Pax There is no need!” and only persecute everything that accords with the will of God, and all the threats of the signs will be wasted, until (as St. Paul says) their ruin overtakes them suddenly and destroys them before they are aware of it.” (Luther, preface to the prophet Jeremiah)
Luther and the other Protestant revolutionaries were right about the need for reform, but in tearing down the institutions of the Church in northern Europe, they unarguably made things worse. The wars of religion, culminating in the Thirty Years War in the next century, pretty much prove that. If we really understand the teaching of Jeremiah and of Jesus, and the history of the Catholic Church in the latter half of the sixteenth century, we can see that there was real reform. And out of that Catholic Reformation came the greatest burst of missionary activity since the Benedictine and Franciscan explosion earlier in the first and early second millennia.