An amazing new insight into French history! Just a few weeks ago, in an Estate sale in France, a man opened up an old wooden trunk in the attic, and inside was a very old journal from an anonymous writer. The entries were dated back to 16th Century France and were based around the French Wars of Religion, and the relationship between Catholics and Huguenots. (Full Disclosure: There was no real journal…I wrote this as historical fiction and thought this format would be a fun way to answer my Western Civilization instructor’s assignment–“Who were the contenting parties in the French wars of religion? What was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? What was the Edict of Nantes?” Enjoy!)
During the 16th Century, when Philip II was King of Spain, he was also governor of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, he was not very tolerant of any religion other than Catholicism. So this made it hard for him to deal peacefully with the Protestants. While Philip was never actually in the Netherlands, his sister Margaret, Duchess of Parma was living in the Netherlands as regent. And what she saw was that the Protestants were very tolerant towards all and that nobody was forced to do anything against their will. However, because Philip didn’t believe in religious toleration, he tried to stem the protestant growth in the Netherlands by instating the Inquisition. There were many different times in Europe when the Inquisition was used, but this was a time when the Protestants were not allowed any religious freedom and were persecuted. It was religious prejudice.
A bit fearfully, Margaret wrote to Philip pleading with him to stop the Inquisition because in the Netherlands was very happy. So Philip did the right thing and gave the Protestants some space. But what worried him next was that the Protestants were now having large gatherings, and they were all showing up armed. This made Philip start to think that maybe he had been too nice to them. Had he? Philip began receiving reports about more large gatherings and how Catholic churches and houses were being vandalized by Protestants now as well. Now that was it for Philip, he immediately organized a 10,000 strong army, led by the Duke of Alba to get the Protestants under control. He didn’t reinstate the Inquisition, but it was still just as bad. The Duke of Alba also issued a 10% tax increase, which added to the mix of the Protestants’ anger and frustration. No matter what the King did, he could no longer contain the revolting Protestants.
The revolt finally ended in 1648, long after all the people who had started it in 1568 were dead, and when the Treaty of Münster was signed and gave the Protestants religious freedom. The Netherlands as a whole was also given its own freedom.
You can read more about the Dutch Revolt and the Treaty of Münster here:
Many people today struggle with finding or staying with a religion. This isn’t a new problem. Many people, especially important people, sometimes struggled with this. Elizabeth I, Queen of England was one of these.
In the 16th Century, while Elizabeth I, was able to create a system of order and a thriving economy with low taxes in her England. Being queen for 45 years probably helped too! I’m sure many people were happy to have Elizabeth as their queen. However, she struggled to pick a religion for her country to use. Did she want Protestantism? Or would she try something relatively new? Did she want Catholicism? If she did, she would have to share power with the Catholic church which was not what she wanted to do. She most definitely wanted to be absolutist or the only one in charge of church and state. But, Catholicism was the religion that was accepted by previous monarchs. And although, she did like some views of the Catholic church, she was reluctant to share any power. She abandoned trying to choose between Protestantism or Catholicism and chose, instead, the religion of Anglicanism. She even forced Ireland to abandon Catholicism and have Anglicanism as their religion. They had no choice.
Unfortunately, this confirms one of humankind’s major weaknesses: That powerful people will often do anything to keep their power and have it all. In Queen Elizabeth’s case, there’s a good chance that she didn’t believe in or truly want Anglicanism for England — except as a wise political move. Maybe she just did it to avoid the Catholics and to keep the Protestants ‘Okay’ with her decision. Looking back, history must ask if she ever picked a national religion for the benefit of her people? Or just to stay in power? Maybe she felt it was both.
I was recently asked by Dr. Tom Woods, instructor of my on-line Western Civilization course, to consider: “What were the 95 Theses about? What was the basic message of Luther’s complaint?
Here are my thoughts.
Martin Luther, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘father’ of the Protestant Reformation, wanted to reform the Catholic church. In a sense, he wanted to reboot the whole system. If possible, his goal was to replace all the Catholic beliefs with new ones. And, naturally, preferably with his. As one can imagine, this did not go over well with the Catholic leadership or even normal, everyday parishioners so he ended up forming his own sect of religion instead. What he is most known for was the bold way he and ‘hand-delivered’ his complaints, nailing 95 statements against the selling of indulgences.
An indulgence was a slip of paper that, when purchased, declared you forgiven of your sins. Along with a few required actions, like saying a prayer, all you really had to do was purchase one every time you needed to do some repenting. For instance, Theses No. 27 chides, “They [Catholic bishops and other authorities] preach man that as soon as the penny jingles in the money box, the souls fly out of purgatory.” I am curious to know if the Catholic bishops back then actually believed that divine forgiveness required money more than a change of heart, but either way it is easy to understand how this could get out of hand. For the poor, what was it like if they had to choose between buying food or indulgences?
Another one of Luther’s arguments that kills the practice at its core, and one that I particularly liked, is No. 36: “Every truly penitent Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt without letters of pardon.” He is saying that not just some Christians have the chance to be saved, but all of them!
During a recent lesson in my Western Civilization course, I had the opportunity to read a small part of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. First though let me briefly tell you a little bit about this religious man then I will mention what I found about his religious and doctrinal opinions.
Ignatius lived in 16th Century Spain. When he was a young man, he joined the Spanish military. While serving in the military, he was shot in the legs by a cannonball and he survived! Unfortunately for him, he was discharged from the military. That incident left him with a limp for the rest of his life. When he was in the hospital he read some religious texts that sparked an interest in religion. In 1540 he and a few other theologians, including St. Francis Xavier, were granted permission, by Pope Paul III, to organize the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.
You cannot read Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and not get the sense that he really was a committed Catholic. However I found it interesting in the reading that he does not want time to be wasted explaining faith vs. good works in depth. Instead, he felt that people should decide on their own whether they faith or did good works. He argued that there would be no need for faith if everybody practiced good works and no need for good works if everybody had faith.
In many ways Loyola accomplished much, but his greatest contribution was to the betterment of the current state of the world that he lived in. And even though he is not alive today, his contributions, such as his Spiritual Exercises can still be read and have the same impression it had on someone then as it does today. That is the great thing about religious books and texts, they will always be applicable no matter where and when you live!
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Do you know who St. Francis Xavier was? No, you say? Well, then let me tell you about him! This man was a Spaniard who was one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. He was a missionary, and was sent all over Europe and Asia to teach and spread Catholicism. At one point, while in India he wrote a letter to the Society. He titled his ‘Letter from India’ and shared his recent experiences. I want to share some highlights that I found with you.
Francis mentions all the children he is teaching and how he tasks them with sharing what they are learning with their friends and family. In one excerpt of the letter, he told the children that all idol, not made for the intention of worshipping the one, true God, it was to be torn down. And the kids took them down! Sometimes very violently! This did not go over very well with the Brahman worshippers in Hinduism (which is a polytheistic religion). The Brahmans would sometimes test Francis on his knowledge of the Catholic religion. They tried to trip him over his words so they could argue. He was able to report one of his amazing accomplishments – his successful teaching and conversion of a Brahman worshipper to Catholicism. This Brahman man did not care about whether or not his religion was correct. This man was “a man of learning” as quoted by Xavier. This man answered questions that Francis had, and had his questions about Francis’s religion answered as well. Francis made the man promise that he would publish all that he had just told him so that other people could read for themselves all the answers to their questions pertaining to Francis’s religion. The man later asked Francis to secretly make him a Christian and Xavier also gave him the task of teaching all people.
“I charged him to teach the ignorant and unlearned that there is only one God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
This may not be the 16th Century or a time when religion defined just about everything you did, but it still is just as important then as it is now. Many people, young and old, teaching their religion to all no matter where or who they are.
Wow! How many posts was that? Not counting posts unrelated to history, I think that’s about
28? 32? No! 36! This is my last post on this site, but I will continue posting on a different blog. I’ll let you know when that’s up and running! In this post I finish up with what I learned throughout my history posts. (I will be creating one more small post with a timeline of events that occurred.)
So, what DID I learn?
In the 18th century, many people started becoming lazy in following the Gospel. Many were being hypocrites by calling themselves *Christians but weren’t living like Christians. Some theologians and pastors took this seriously.
“With great power comes great responsibility” -Spiderman
In the 17th century, when James 1 was King of England he was able to enjoy the privileges of the Divine Right of Kings which was a rule where they thought God gave the King his power and not the people. James believed that with the Divine Right of Kings he could do what ever he wanted, whenever he wanted and that kind of thinking made the relationship of his son, James 1, with the English Parliament very unsteady.