"What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Galileo certainly started with the assumption that the Holy Scriptures are true so there must be interpretations which agree with all scientifically proved theories.

It is important to realize that Galileo was not opposing Christianity, quite the opposite in fact, for he felt that he was a devout Christian doing his very best to save Christianity from serious error...

The Catholic Church at this time engaged in a vigorous argument with the Protestant Churches. One of the major points of disagreement was whether an individual could form their own interpretation of the Holy Scripture (the Protestant view) or...everyone must accept the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures made by the Catholic Church. Galileo's arguments came too close to this touchy issue for the Catholic Church to be able to take no action."

- J.J. O'Conner &
E.F. Robertson



The Reformations


"...the Church does not determine what the Scriptures teach, but the Scriptures determine what the Church ought to teach."

- Louis Berkof


9.1 The Dark Ages: the absence of biblical literacy

Only by having first read about the Inquisition and reflecting on what day-to-day life must have been like, can one appreciate the outspokenness of the men and women of the Reformation. The Reformation was an embodiment of Christian sects and Catholic bishops, priests, and monks who spoke out against the Inquisition and against certain beliefs and practices of the Church of Rome. Many of these heroes and heroines held firm to their views knowing that their destiny would almost certainly be the stake; which for many it was. Yet their steadfastness came at a time when the world needed it most.

John Foxe writes of his own era:

At this time Christianity was in a sad state. Although everyone knew the name of Christ, few if any understood His doctrine... Instead, the Church was solely concerned with outward ceremony and human traditions. People spent their entire lives heaping up one ceremony after another in hopes of salvation, not knowing it was theirs for the asking. Simple, uneducated people who had no knowledge of Scripture were content to know only what their pastors told them, and these pastors took care to only teach what came from Rome - most of which was for the profit of their own orders, not for the glory of Christ. 26 [emphasis mine]

9.2 Early protesters to the Church of Rome: the Protestant movement

One early reformer was Peter Waldo, founder of the Waldenses. Bainton writes that Waldo "had incurred the displeasure of the church because as a layman he would not desist from preaching and teaching the Scriptures."27 Many other reformers and like-minded individuals also imperiled their lives by refusing to submit to the Church of Rome's authority.

Bainton records the story of twenty-two year old Joan Waste who, being blind from birth, had learned portions of the New Testament by heart. The local bishop was sufficiently concerned about this terrible crime that he had her burned at the stake and additionally decreed that no one should pray for her. 28

One of the most prominent reformers was John Wycliffe. Intending to put an end to errors and false teachings being promulgated by Roman Church officials, Wycliffe clarified to his audiences what the Bible taught versus what Rome taught. Wycliffe's teaching included the beliefs that

A reformer of similar mindset and of equal importance was William Tyndale. He translated the Greek New Testament into English. For that action Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake.

Foxe records the efforts of others in defending the freedom to read and orate the Bible in one's own language: "Thomas Bernard and James Mordon were killed and over thirty others were branded on the right cheek for speaking against idolatry and insisting on reading the Scriptures for themselves." 29

Dr. Rowland Taylor, praying aloud while already tied to a burning stake, was even hit in the mouth and told "Speak in Latin!" 30

And an eighty-year-old woman by the name of Joan Boughton was burned to death for merely "holding eight of Wycliffe's opinions." 31

Twentieth-century theologian Louis Berkof reflects on the one positive ecclesiastical force of those days - a turning away from the Church's teaching, and a turning towards the Bible's teaching:

The Renaissance called attention to the necessity of going back to the original. Reuchlin and Erasmus ...urged upon the interpreters of the Bible the duty of studying Scriptures in the languages in which they were written. ...At the same time, they [the reformers] regarded the Bible as the highest authority, and as the final court of appeal in all theological disputes. Over and against the infallibility of the Church they placed the infallibility of the Word. Their position is perfectly evident from the statement that the Church does not determine what the Scriptures teach, but the Scriptures determine what the Church ought to teach. (emphasis mine) 32

9.3 Protestantism and Reformed Catholicism:
similarities and differences

Running concurrent with the Protestant Reformation was another reformation that didn't gain much momentum until well after the initial effort. Entitled the Counter-Reformation, it sought to regain European populations to the Catholic Church; large portions which Protestantism was quickly winning away.

While the Counterreformation made great strides in ridding the Catholic church of corrupt leaders, Catholicism still maintained its basic beliefs, its self-perception of infallibility, and many of its accumulated extra-biblical traditions. Over and above the Protestant Reformation's return to the original writings, Catholicism held and still holds itself to be the divine extension of Christ and his church; equaling the Bible in clarity, authority, and applicability to life in this world and the next.

Protestantism, by contrast, largely restricts its teachings and beliefs to those outlined in the Bible as practiced by Christ and his apostles. Although this still results in sharing many basic beliefs with the Church of Rome, Reformation theology does not accept Rome's additions and modifications to Christ's stated instructions for worship and salvation.

Reformation theology also completely rejects Catholicism's claim of papal infallibility even when the issue is supposedly restricted to faith and morals. This for the reason that actions construe our faith and morals at least as much as the words we speak. A person's actions are the chief measure of their integrity and are much more trustworthy than spiral inferences. Therefore, immoral actions by the Papal office against the faith and the faithful disprove infallibility even more assuredly than spoken errors.

It is no denigration to true believers within the Catholic Church to say that history has disproved the moral infallibility of the Papal office. Faith and morals are more than words on paper, and their teachings cannot be restricted to the confines of a particular individual's on-again-off-again ex cathedra statements. Faith and morals are the summary testimony of one's entire life. On this basis, absolutely no one has claim to perfect faith and morals but Christ himself. Therefore our sole role model and teaching authority should be Jesus Christ alone, not mere human beings that are insufficiently better than ourselves.

Regardless of Protestant or Catholic perspective, it is inarguably to the credit of Tyndale and other male and female reformers that we have the luxurious privilege of reading God's words for ourselves. The life of Tyndale and the lives of those thousands of others who were burned or dismembered for teaching and translating the Bible into English were the high price that was paid to allow you and I to possess a Bible in the language and translation of our own choosing. (So get one and read it!)



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NEXT: Public Law 97-280

See also:

The Inquisitions

The Crusades

Catholicism vs. Protestantism disclaimer

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The Inquisitions might have lasted centuries longer without the effort and sacrifice of Christian reformers.

Ancient Roman Catholic Church authorities eventually failed at their efforts to keep people from reading the Bible for themselves. Once this happened, the Inquisitions were exposed for what they were - anti-biblical and ungodly.

This section is a brief overview of the Reformation period and the good that was accomplished at such a very high price.

1. The Dark Ages
2. Early protesters
3. Protestantism vs. Catholicism

Catholicism vs. Protestantism disclaimer