Thursday of 29th Week in Course 2017
Reformation and Revolution
Let’s imagine for a moment what happened when St. Paul and his companions came to a town in Anatolia or Greece, his two assigned missionary territories. There were probably Jews there, who met in someone’s home or maybe, if the community was large enough, a small synagogue. After a couple of years of his mission, there were probably rumors about him that had circulated through the town. On the next Sabbath, Paul and his fellow missionaries would go to the synagogue and participate in the Sabbath service. They would listen to readings from Torah, and perhaps the prophets, sing psalms and wait for the synagogue leader to call on them to speak. Paul would stand and preach about how the executed criminal Yeshua–Jesus in Greek–was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and how union with Him through baptism was the fulfillment of Jewish hopes and dreams. Some of the Jews there would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to hear more, perhaps accept baptism, and then the fireworks would start.
Jesus foresaw this, as the Gospel records. The new Christian would share his faith with his Jewish family, and most of them would react in horror. They would try to persuade the neophyte that he or she was in error, and if they did not succeed, they would probably banish the Christian from hearth and home. They would be welcomed by the other Christians and a division would persist, and even get worse. Eventually the Christians would no longer be welcome at the synagogue, and they would begin separate meetings in one of their homes, but not on Saturday but on the Lord’s Day, the day of celebration of Resurrection and Pentecost. Rather quickly an informal communication would be established with Christian churches in nearby towns. Bishops like Timothy and Titus would be appointed by Paul or other apostles to supervise each territory. That’s what episcopus means–bishop and overseer. By the end of the first century, what we know as the Catholic Church was well established, organized, and persecuted by Jews and Romans alike. The Church and her members never forgot the lessons learned about how Christ would stand with them when they were persecuted by a corrupt, pagan political system and what St. John called the “synagogue of Satan.”
Over the centuries, when the Church showed signs of corruption or lethargy, the Lord raised up prophetic voices. We think of Benedict, Dominic, and Francis, Catherine of Siena and many others. If these got no support from local clergy, they often appealed to the Pope. That’s how religious orders like the mendicants got approved for the universal Church. There were, then, many reformations over fifteen centuries, and the Church was blessed and achieved new vitality and mission from them.
The heretical teachings of Wycliffe got some traction in Europe; his followers were called “Lollards.” They were persecuted, but by now the culture of Europe was Catholic, and so the Lollards considered themselves the heirs of the early Church. They hunkered down and refused to recant their beliefs. The most important follower of Wycliffe was Jan Hus, who appealed to his Bohemian countrymen to such an extent that after he was executed for heresy, they rallied, militarized, and defeated five Catholic crusades against them between 1420 and 1431. These eventually reconciled with the Church and kept their sharing of both Host and Chalice at communion, but the precedent had been set. The hot broth of revolution simmered under the surface in several places, especially the universities, where the printing press had caused an explosion of publications, some orthodox and many not. Remember that Wycliffe was best known for an English translation of the Holy Bible.
The Catholic hierarchy of the late Renaissance had strayed in its morals far from its humble roots. Remember that it was only in the early 1400s that it returned the papacy to Rome from France, but there was still a big political and ecclesiastical struggle for power, especially between France and Milan. Nepotism, simony and outright episcopal concubinage was widespread. When Pope Innocent VIII died in 1492, there was a papal conclave. Now the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the only influence on the election of a pope. But when Rodrigo Borja was elected, despite his desire to be a reformer, the corrupt did not want to be reformed.
God writes straight with crooked lines. The next hundred years would prove that He can do so quite wonderfully, something we all know from our own lives.