Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary

123 Reformation


In general, an act of reforming or correcting an error or abuse in religion, discipline, or the like. By way of eminence, the word is used for that great alteration and reformation in the corrupted system of Christianity, begun by Luther in the year 1517.

Before the period of the reformation, the pope had in the most audacious manner declared himself the sovereign of the whole world. All the parts of it which were inhabited by those who were not Christians, he accounted to be inhabited by nobody; and if Christians took it into their heads to possess any of those countries, he gave them full liberty to make war upon the inhabitants without any provocation, and to treat them with no more humanity than they would have treated wild beasts. The countries, if conquered, were to be parcelled out according to the pope’s pleasure; and dreadful was the situation of that prince who refused to obey the will of the holy pontiff. In consequence of this extraordinary authority which the pope had assumed, he at last granted to the king of Portugal all the countries to the eastward of Cape Non in Africa, and to the king of Spain all the countries to the westward of it. In this was completed in his person the character of Antichrist sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself as God. He had long before assumed the supremacy belonging to the Deity himself in spiritual matters; and now he assumed the same supremacy in worldly matters also, giving the extreme regions of the earth to whom he pleased.

Every thing was quiet, every heretic exterminated, and the whole Christian world supinely acquiesced to the enormous absurdities which were inculcated upon them; when, in 1517, the empire of superstition began to decline, and has continued to do so ever since. The person who made the first attack on the extravagant superstitions then prevailing was Martin Luther, the occasion of which is fully related under the article LUTHERANS.

The reformation began in the city of Wittemberg, in Saxony, but was not long confined, either to that city or province. In 1520, the Franciscan friars, who had the care of promulgating indulgences in Switzerland, were opposed by Zuinglius, a man not inferior in understanding and knowledge to Luther himself. He proceeded with the greatest vigour, even at the very beginning, to overturn the whole fabric of popery; but his opinions were declared erroneous by the universities of Cologne and Louvain. Notwithstanding this, the magistrates of Zurich approved of his proceedings; and that whole canton, together with those of Bern, Basil, and Chaffausen, embraced his opinions.

In Germany, Luther continued to make great advances, without being in the least intimidated by the ecclesiastical censures which were thundered against him from all quarters, he being continually protected by the German princes, either from religious or political motives, so that his adversaries could not accomplish his destruction, as they had done that of others. Melancthon, Carlostadius, and other men of eminence, also greatly forwarded the work of Luther; and in all probability the popish hierarchy would have soon come to an end, in the northern parts of Europe at least, had not the emperor Charles V. given a severe check to the progress of reformation in Germany.

During the confinement of Luther in a castle near Warburg, the reformation advanced rapidly; almost every city in Saxony embracing the Lutheran opinions. At this time an alteration in the established forms of worship was first ventured upon at Wittemberg, by abolishing the celebration of private masses, and by giving the cup as well as the bread to the laity in the Lord’s supper. In a short time, however, the new opinions were condemned by the university of Paris, and a refutation of them was attempted by Henry VIII. of England. But Luther was not to be thus intimitated. He published his animadversions on both with as much acrimony as if he had been refuting the meanest adversary; and a controversy managed by such illustrious antagonists drew a general attention, and the reformers daily gained new converts both in France and England.

But while the efforts of Luther were thus every where crowned with success, the divisions began to prevail which have since so much agitated the reformed churches.–The first dispute was between Luther and Zuinglius concerning the manner in which the body and blood of Christ were present in the eucharist. Both parties maintained their tenets with the utmost obstinacy; and, by their divisions, first gave their adversaries an argument against them, which to this day the Catholics urge with great force; namely, that the Protestants are so divided, that it is impossible to know who are right or wrong; and that there cannot be a stronger proof than these divisions that the whole doctrine is false. To these intestine divisions were added the horrors of a civil war, occasioned by oppression on the one hand, and enthusiasm on the other.

These proceedings, however, were checked. Luther and Melancthon were ordered by the elector of Saxony to draw up a body of laws relating to the form of ecclesiastical government, the method of public worship, &c. which was to be proclaimed by heralds throughout his dominions. He, with Melancthon, had translated part of the New Testament in 1522; on the reading of which the people were astonished to find how different the laws of Christ were to those which they had imposed by the pope, and to which they had been subject. The princes and the people saw that Luther’s opinions were founded on truth. They openly renounced the papal supremacy, and the happy morn of the reformation was welcomed by those who had long sat in superstitious darkness.

This open resolution so exasperated the patrons of popery, that they intended to make war on the Lutherans, who prepared for defence. In 1526, a diet was assembled at Spire, when the emperor’s ambassadors were desired to use their utmost endeavours to suppress all disputes about religion, and to insist upon the rigorous execution of the sentence which had been pronounced against Luther at Worms. But this opinion was opposed, and the diet proved favourable to the reformation. But this tranquillity, which they in consequence enjoyed, did not last long. In 1529, a new diet was formed, and the power which had been granted to princes of managing ecclesiastical affairs till the meeting of a general council, was now revoked, and every change declared unlawful that should be introduced into the doctrine, discipline, or worship of the established religion, before the determination of the approaching council was known. This decree was considered as iniquitous and intolerable by several members of the diet; and when they found that all their arguments and remonstrances were in vain, they entered a solemn protest against the decree on the 19th of April, and appealed to the emperor and a future council. Hence arose the denomination of Protestants, which from that time has been given to those who separate from the church of Rome.

Charles V. was in Italy, to whom the dissenting princes sent ambassadors to lay their grievances before him; but they met with no encouraging reception from him. The pope and the emperor were in close union at this time, and they had interviews upon the business. The pope thought the emperor to be too clement, and alleged that it was his duty to execute vengeance upon the heretical faction. To this, however, the emperor paid no regard, looking upon it as unjust to condemn, unheard, a set of men who had always approved themselves good citizens. The emperor, therefore, set out for Germany, having already appointed a diet of the empire to be held at Augsburg, where he arrived, and found there a full assembly of the members of the diet. Here the gentle and pacific Melancthon had been ordered to draw up a confession of their faith, which he did, and expressed his sentiments and doctrine with the greatest elegance and perspicuity; and thus came forth to view the famous confession of Augsburg.

This was attempted to be refuted by the divines of the church of Rome, and a controversy took place, which the emperor endeavoured to reconcile, but without success; all hopes of bringing about a coalition seemed utterly desperate. The votaries of the church of Rome, therefore, had recourse to the powerful arguments of imperial edicts and the force of the secular arm; and, on the 19th of November, a decree was issued by the emperor’s orders every way injurious to the reformers. Upon which they assembled at Smalcald, where they concluded a league of mutual defence against all aggressors, by which they formed the Protestant states into one body, and resolved to apply to the kings of France and England to implore them to patronize their new confederacy. The king of France, being the avowed rival of the emperor, determined secretly to cherish those sparks of political discord; and the king of England, highly incensed against Charles, in complaisance to whom the pope had long retired, and now openly opposed, his long solicited divorce, was equally disposed to strengthen a league which might be rendered formidable to the emperor. Being, however, so taken up with the scheme of divorce, and of abolishing the papal jurisdiction in England, he had but little leisure to attend to them. Meanwhile Charles was convinced that it was not a time to extirpate heresy by violence; and at last terms of pacification were agreed upon at Nuremberg, and ratified solemnly in the diet at Ratisbon: and affairs so ordered by Divine Providence, that the Protestant obtained terms which amounted almost to a toleration of their religion.

Soon after the conclusion of the peace at Nuremburg, died John, elector of Saxony, who was succeeded by his son John Frederic, a prince of invincible fortitude and magnanimity, but whose reign was little better than one continued train of disappointments and calamities. The religious truce, however, gave new vigour to the reformation. Those who had hitherto been only secret enemies to the Roman pontiff, now publicly threw off his yoke; and various cities and provinces of Germany enlisted themselves under the religious standards of Luther. On the other hand, as the emperor had now no other hope of terminating the religious disputes but by the meeting of a general council, he repeated his requests to the pope for that purpose. The pontiff (Clement VII.) whom the history of past councils filled with the greatest uneasiness, endeavoured to retard what he could not with decency refuse. At last, in 1533, he made a proposal by his legate, to assemble a council at Mantua, Placentia, or Bologna; but the Protestants refused their consent to the nomination of an Italian council, and insisted that a controversy which had its rise in the heart of Germany should be determined within the limits of the empire. The pope, by his usual artifices, eluded the performance of his own promise; and in 1534, was cut off by death, in the midst of his stratagem. His successor Paul III. seemed to show less reluctance to the assembling a general council, and, in the year 1535, expressed his inclination to convoke one at Mantua; and, in the year following, actually sent circular letters for that purpose through all the states and kingdoms under his jurisdiction. This council was summoned by a bull issued out on the second of June 1536, to meet at Mantua the following year: but several obstacles prevented its meeting; one of the most material of which was, that Frederic duke of Mantua had no inclination to receive at once so many guests, some of them very turbulent, into the place of his residence. On the other hand, the Protestants were firmly persuaded, that, as the council was assembled in Italy, and by the authority of the pope alone, the latter must have had an undue influence in that assembly; of consequence that all things must have been carried by the votaries of Rome. For this reason they assembled at Smalcald in the year 1537, where they solemnly protested against this partial and corrupt council; and, at the same time, had a new summary of their doctrine drawn up by Luther, in order to present it to the assembled bishops, if it should be required of them. This summary, which had the title of The Articles of Smalcald, is commonly joined with the creeds and confessions of the Lutheran church.
After the meeting of the general council in Mantua was thus prevented, many schemes of accommodation were proposed both by the emperor and the Protestants; but, by the artifices of the church of Rome, all of them came to nothing. In 1541, the emperor appointed a meeting at Worms on the subject of religion, between persons of piety and learning, chosen from the contending parties. This conference, however, was, for certain reasons, removed to the diet that was to be held at Ratisbon the same year, and in which the principal subject of deliberation was a memorial presented by a person unknown, containing a project of peace. But the conference produced no other effect than a mutual agreement of the contending parties to refer their matters to a general council, or, if the meeting of such a council should be prevented, to the next German diet.

The resolution was rendered ineffectual by a variety of incidents, which widened the breach, and put off to a farther day the deliberations which were designed to heal it. The pope ordered his legate to declare to the diet of Spire, assembled in 1542, that he would, according to the promise he had already made, assemble a general council, and that Trent should be the place of its meeting, if the diet had no objection to that city. Ferdinand, and the princes who adhered to the cause of the pope, gave their consent to this proposal; but it was vehemently objected to by the Protestants, both because the council was summoned by the authority of the pope only, and also because the place was within the jurisdiction of the pope; whereas they desired a free council, which should not be biased by the diotates nor awed by the proximity of the pontiff. But this protestation produced no effect. Paul IIi. persisted in his purpose, and issued out his circular letters for the convocation of the council, with the approbation of the emperor. In justice to this pontiff, however, it must be observed, that he showed himself not to be averse to every reformation. He appointed four cardinals, and three other persons eminent for their learning, to draw up a plan for the reformation of the church of Rome in particular. the reformation proposed in this plan was, indeed, extremely superficial and partial; yet it contained some particulars which could scarcely have been expected from those who composed it.

All this time the emperor had been labouring to persuade the Protestants to consent to the meeting of the council at Trent; but, when he found them fixed in their opposition to this measure, he began to listen to the sanguinary measures of the pope, and resolved to terminate the disputes by force of arms. The elector of Saxony and landgrave of Hesse, who were the chief supporters of the Protestant cause, upon this, took proper measures to prevent their being surprised and overwhelmed by a superior force; but, before the horrors of war commenced, the great reformer Luther died in peace at Ayselben, the place of his nativity, in 1546.

The emperor and the pope had mutually resolved on the destruction of all who should dare to oppose the council of Trent. The meeting of it was to serve as a signal for taking up arms; and accordingly its deliberations were scarcely begun, in 1546, when the Protestants perceived undoubted signs of the approaching storm, and a formidable union betwixt the emperor and the pope, which threatened to crush and overwhelm them at once. This year, indeed, there had been a new conference at Ratisbon upon the old subject of accommodating differences in religion; but, from the manner in which the debates were carried on, it plainly appeared that these differences could only be decided in the field of battle. The council of Trent, in the mean time, promulgated their decrees; while the reformed princes, in the diet of Ratisbon, protested against their authority, and were on that account prescribed by the emperor, who raised an army to reduce them to obedience.

The elector of Saxony and the landgrave of Hesse led their forces into Bavaria against the emperor, and cannonaded his camp in Ingoldstadt. It was supposed that this would bring on an engagement, which would probably have been advantageous to the cause of the reformed; but this was prevented chiefly by the perfidy of Maurice, duke of Saxony, who invaded the dominions of his uncle. Divisions were also fomented among the confederate princes by the dissimulation of the emperor; and France failed in paying the subsidy which had been promised by its monarch; all which so discouraged the heads of the Protestant party, that their army soon dispersed, and the elector of homewards. But he was pursued by the emperor, who made several forced marches with a view to destroy his enemy before he should have time to recover his vigour. The two armies met near Muhlberg, on the Elbe, on the 24th of April, 1547; and, after a bloody action, the elector was entirely defeated, and himself taken prisoner. Maurice, who had so basely betrayed him, was now declared elector of Saxony; and, by his entreaties, Philip, langrave of Hesse, the other chief of the Protestants, was persuaded to throw himself on the mercy of the emperor, and to implore his pardon. To this he consented, relying on the promise of Charles for obtaining forgiveness, and being restored to liberty; but, notwithstanding these expectations, he was unjustly detained prisoner, by a scandalous violation of the most solemn convention.

The affairs of the Protestants now seemed to be desperate. In the diet of Augsburg, which was soon after called, the emperor required the Protestants to leave the decision of these religious disputes to the wisdom of the council which was to meet at Trent. The greatest part of the members consented to this proposal, being convinced by the powerful argument of an imperial army, which was at hand to dispel the darkness from the eyes of such as might otherwise have been blind to the force of Charles’s reasoning. However, this general submission did not produce the effect which was expected from it. A plague which broke out, or was said to do so, in the city, caused the greatest part of the bishops to retire to Bologna, by which means the council was in effect dissolved; nor could all the entreaties and remonstrances of the emperor prevail upon the pope to re-assemble it without delay. During this interval, therefore, the emperor judged it necessary to fall upon some method of accommodating the religious differences, and maintaining peace until the council so long expected should be finally obtained. With this view he ordered Julius Pelugius, bishop of Naumberg, Michael Sidonius, a creature of the pope, and John Agricola, a native of Ayselben, to draw up a formulary which might serve as a rule of faith and worship till the council should be assembled; but as this was only a temporary expedient, and had not the force of a permanent or perpetual institution, it thence obtained the name of the Interim.

This project of Charles was formed partly with a design to vent his resentment against the pope, and partly to answer other political purposes. It contained all the essential doctrines of the church of Rome, though considerably softened by the artful terms which were employed, and which were quite different from those employed before and after this period by the council of Trent. There was even an affected ambiguity in many of the expressions, which made them susceptible of different senses, and applicable to the sentiments of both communions. The consequence of all this was, that the emperial creed was reprobated by both parties. (See INTERIM.) In the year 1542, the pope (Paul III.) died; and was succeeded by Julius III. who, at the repeated solicitations of the emperor, consented to the re-assembling of a council of Trent. A diet was again held at Augsburg, under the cannon of the imperial army, and Charles laid the matter before the princes of the empire. Most of those present gave their consent to it, and, among the rest, Maurice elector of Saxony; who consented on the following conditions: 1. That the points of doctrine which had already been decided there should be re-examined.–2. That this examination should be made in presence of the Protestant divines.–3. That the Saxon Protestants should have a liberty of voting as well as of deliberating in the council.–4. That the pope should not pretend to preside in the assembly, either in person or by his legates. This declaration of Maurice was read in the diet, and his deputies insisted upon its being entered into the registers, which the archbishop of Mentz obstinately refused. The diet was concluded in 1551; and, at its breaking up, the emperor desired the assembled princes and states to prepare all things for the approaching council, and promised to use his utmost endeavours to procure moderation and harmony, impartiality and charity, in the transaction of that assembly.

On the breaking up of the diet, the Protestants took such steps as they thought most proper for their own safety. The Saxons employed Melancthon, and the Wirtembergers Brengius, to draw up confessions of faith to be laid before the new council. The Saxon divines, however, proceeded no farther than Nuremberg, having received secret orders from Maurice to stop there; for the elector perceiving that Charles had formed designs against the liberties of the German princes, resolved to take the most effectual measures for crushing his ambition at once. He therefore entered with the utmost secrecy and expedition into an alliance with the king of France and several of the German princes, for the security of the rights and liberties of the empire; after which, assembling a powerful army in 1552, he marched against the emperor, who lay with a handful of troops at Inspruck, and expected no such thing. By this sudden and unforeseen accident, Charles was so much dispirited, that he was willing to make peace almost on any terms. The consequence of this was, that he concluded a treaty at Passau, which by the Protestants is considered as the basis of their religious liberty. By the first three articles of this treaty it was agreed that Maurice and the confederates should lay down their arms, and lend their troops to Ferdinand, to assist him against the Turks; and that the landgrave of Hesse should be set at liberty. By the fourth it was agreed that the rule of faith called the Interim should be considered as null and void; that the contending parties should enjoy the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion until a diet should be assembled to determine amicably the present disputes (which diet was to meet in the space of six months;) and that this religious liberty should continue always, in case it should be found impossible to come to a uniformity in doctrine and worship. It was also determined, that all those who had suffered banishment or any other calamity, on account of their having been concerned in the league or war of Smalcald, should be reinstated in their privileges, possessions, and employments; that the imperial chamber at Spire should be open to the Protestants as well as to the Catholics; and that there should always be a certain number of Lutherans in that high court. To this peace Albert, marquis of Brandenburg, refused to subscribe; and continued the war against the Roman Catholics, committed such ravages in the empire, that a confederacy was at last formed against him. At the head of this confederacy was Maurice, elector of Saxony, who died of a wound he received in a battle fought on the occasion in 1553.

The assembly of the diet promised by Charles was prevented by various accidents; however, it met at Augsburg, in 1555, where it was opened by Ferdinand in the name of the emperor, and terminated those deplorable calamities which had so long desolated the empire. After various debates the following acts were passed on the twenty-fifth of September:–That the Protestants who followed the confession of Augsburg should be for the future considered as entirely free from the jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff and from the authority and superintendence of the bishops; that they were left at perfect liberty to enact laws for themselves relating to their religious sentiments, discipline, and worship; that all the inhabitants of the German empire should be allowed to judge for themselves in religious matters, and to join themselves to that church whose doctrine and worship they thought the most pure and consonant to the spirit of true Christianity; and that all those who should injure or prosecute any person under religious pretences, and on account of their opinions, should be declared and proceeded against as public enemies of the empire, invaders of its liberty, and disturbers of its peace.

Thus was the reformation established in many parts of the German empire, where it continues to this day; nor have the efforts of the popish powers at any time been able to suppress it or even to prevent its gaining ground. It was not, however, in Germany alone that a reformation of religion took place. Almost all the kingdoms of Europe began to open their eyes to the truth about the same time. The reformed religion was propagated in Sweden, soon after Luther’s rupture with the church of Rome, by one of his disciples named Olaus Patri. The zealous efforts of this missionary were seconded by Gustavus Vasa, whom the Swedes had raised to the throne in the place of Christiern, king of Denmark, whose horrid barbarity lost him the crown. This prince, however, was as prudent as he was zealous; and, as the minds of the Swedes were in a fluctuating state, he wisely avoided all kinds of vehemence and precipitation in spreading the new doctrine. Accordingly the first object of his attention was the instruction of his people in the sacred doctrines of the holy Scriptures; for which purpose he invited into his dominions several learned Germans, and spread abroad through the kingdom the Swedish translation of the Bible that had been made by Olaus Petri. Some time after this, in 1526, he appointed a conference at Upsal, between the reformer and Peter Gallius, a zealous defender of the ancient superstition, in which each of the champions was to bring forth his arguments, that it might be seen on which side the truth lay. In this dispute Olaus obtained a signal victory; which contributed much to confirm Gustavus in his persuasion of the truth of Luther’s doctrine, and to promote its progress in Sweden. The following year another event gave the finishing stroke to its propagation and success. This was the assembly of the states at Westernas, where Gustavus recommended the doctrine of the reformers with such zeal, that after warm debates, fomented by the clergy in general, it was unanimously resolved that the reformation introduced by Luther should have place in Sweden. This resolution was principally owing to the firmness and magnanimity of Gustavus, who declared publicly, that he would lay down the sceptre, and retire from the kingdom, rather than rule a people enslaved by the orders and authority of the pope, and more controlled by the tyranny of their bishops than by the laws of their monarchs. From this time the papal empire in Sweden was entirely overthrown, and Gustavus declared head of the church.

In Denmark, the reformation was introduced as early as the year 1521, in consequence of the ardent desire discovered by Christiern II. of having his subjects instructed in the doctrines of Luther. This monarch, notwithstanding his cruelty, for which his name has been rendered odious, was nevertheless desirous of delivering his dominions from the tyranny of the church of Rome. For this purpose, in the year 1520, he sent for Martin Reinard, one of the disciples of Carlostadt, out of Saxony, and appointed him professor of divinity at Hasnia; and after his death which happened in 1521, he invited Carlostadt himself to fill that important place. Carlostadt accepted of this office, indeed, but in a short time returned to Germany; upon which Christiern used his utmost endeavours to engage Luther to visit his dominions, but in vain. However, the progress of Christiern in reforming the religion of his subjects, or rather of advancing his own power, above that of the church, was checked, in the year 1523, by a conspiracy, by which he was deposed and banished; his uncle Frederic, duke of Holstein and Sleswic, being appointed his successor.

Frederic conducted the reformation with much greater prudence than his predeccessor. He permitted the Protestant doctors to preach publicly the sentiments of Luther, but did not venture to change the established government and discipline of the church. However, he contributed greatly to the progress of the reformation by his successful attempts in favour of religious liberty in an assembly of the states held at Odensee in 1527. Here he procured the publication of a famous edict, by which every subject of Denmark was declared free either to adhere to the tenets of the church of Rome, or to the doctrine of Luther. The papal tyranny was totally destroyed by his successor Christiern III. He began by suppressing the despotic authority of the bishops, and restoring to their lawful owners a great part of the wealth and possessions which the church had acquired by various stratagems. This was followed by a plan of religious doctrine, worship, and discipline, laid down by Bugenhagius, whom the king had sent for from Wittemberg for that purpose; and in 1539, an assembly of the states at Odensee gave a solemn sanction to all these transactions.

In France, also, the reformation began to make some progress very early. Margaret, queen of Navarre, sister to Francis I. the perpetual rival of Charles V. was a great friend to the new doctrine; and it appears that, as early as the year 1523, there were in several of the provinces of France great numbers of people who had conceived the greatest aversion both to the doctrine and tyranny of the church of Rome; among whom were many of the first rank and dignity, and even some of the episcopal order. But as their number increased daily, and troubles and commotions were excited in several places on account of the religious differences, the authority of the king intervened, and many persons eminent for their virtue and piety were put to death in the most barbarous manner. Indeed, Francis, who had either no religion at all, or, at best, no fixed and consistent system of religious principles, conducted himself towards the Protestants in such a manner as best answered his private views. Sometimes he resolved to invite Melancthon into France, probably with a view to please his sister, the queen of Navarre, whom he loved tenderly, and who had strongly imbibed the Protestant principles. At other times he exercised the most infernal cruelty towards the reformed; and once made the following mad declaration, That, if he thought the blood of his arm was tainted by the Lutheran heresy, he would have it cut off: and that he would not even spare his own children, if they entertained sentiments contrary to those of the Catholic church.

About this time the famous Calvin began to draw the attention of the public, but more especially of the queen of Navarre. His zeal exposed him to danger; and the friends of the reformation, whom Francis was daily committing to the flames, placed him more than once in the most perilous situation, from which he was delivered by the interposition of the queen of Navarre. He therefore retired out of France to Basil, in Switzerland, where he published his Christian Institutions, and became afterwards so famous.

Those among the French who first renounced the jurisdiction of the Romish church are commonly called Lutherans by the writers of those early times; hence it has been supposed that they had all imbibed the peculiar sentiments of Luther. But this appears by no means to have been the case; for the vicinity of the cities of Geneva, Lausanne, &c. which had adopted the doctrines of Calvin, produced a remarkable effect upon the French Protestant churches; insomuch that, about the middle of this century, they all entered into communion with the church of Geneva. The French Protestants were called Huguenots, (see HUGUENOTS,) by their adversaries, by way of contempt. Their fate was very severe, being persecuted with unparalleled fury; and though many princes of the blood, and of the first nobility, had embraced their sentiments, yet in no part of the world did the reformers suffer so much. At last, all commotions were quelled by the fortitude and magnanimity of Henry IV. who, in the year 1598, granted all his subjects full liberty of conscience by the famous edict of Nantes, and seemed to have thoroughly established the reformation throughout his dominions. During the minority of Louis XIV. however, this edict was revoked by cardinal Mazarine, since which time the Protestants have often been cruelly persecuted: nor was the profession of the reformed religion in France at any time so safe as in most other countries of Europe.

In the other parts of Europe the opposition to the church of Rome was but faint and ambiguous before the diet of Augsburg. Before that period, however, it appears, from undoubted testimony, that the doctrine of Luther had made a considerable, though probably secret progress through Spain, Hungary, Bohemia, Britain, Poland, and the Netherlands; and had in all these countries many friends, of whom several repaired to Wittemberg, in order to enlarge their knowledge by means of Luther’s conversation. Some of these countries threw off the Romish yoke entirely, and in others a prodigious number of families embraced the principles of the reformed religion. It is certain, indeed, and the Roman Catholics themselves acknowledge it without hesitation, that the papal doctrines and authority would have fallen into ruin in all parts of the world at once, had not the force of the secular arm been employed to support the tottering edifice. In the Netherlands, particularly, the most grievious persecutions took place, so that by the emperor Charles V. upwards of 100,000 were destroyed, while still greater cruelties were exercised upon the people by his son Philip II. The revolt of the United Provinces however, and motives of real policy, at last put a stop to these furious proceedings; and though in many provinces of the Netherlands, the establishment of the Popish religion was still continued, the Protestants have been long free from the danger of persecution on account of their principles.

The reformation made a considerable progress in Spain and Italy soon after the rupture between Luther and the Roman pontiff. In all the provinces of Italy, but more especially in the territories of Venice, Tuscany, and Naples, the superstition of Rome lost ground, and great numbers of people of all ranks expressed an aversion to the papal yoke. This occasioned violent and dangerous commotions in the kingdom of Naples in the year 1546; which, however, were at last quelled by the united efforts of Charles V. and his viceroy Don Pedro di Toledo. In several places the pope put a stop to the progress of the reformation by letting loose the inquisitors, who spread dreadful marks of their barbarity through the greatest part of Italy. Those formidable ministers of superstition put so many to death, and perpetrated such horrid acts of cruelty, and oppression, that most of the reformed consulted their safety by a voluntary exile, while others returned to the religion of Rome, at least in external appearance.

But the inquisition, which frightened into the profession of popery several Protestants in other parts of Italy, could never make its way into the kingdom of Naples; nor could either the authority or entreaties of the pope engage the Neapolitans to admit even visiting inquisitors.

In Spain, several people embraced the Protestant religion, not only from the controversies of Luther, but even from those divines whom Charles V. had brought with him into Germany in order to refute the doctrines of Luther; for these doctors imbibed the pretended heresy, instead of refuting it, and propagated it more or less on their return home. But the inquisition, which could obtain no footing in Naples, reigned triumphant in Spain; and by the most dreadful methods frightened the people back into popery, and suppressed the desire of exchanging their superstition for a more rational plan of religion. It was, indeed, presumed that Charles himself died a Protestant; and, it seems to be certain, that, when the approach of death had dissipated those schemes of ambition and grandeur which had so long blinded him, his sentiments became much more rational and agreeable to Christianity than they had ever been. All the ecclesiastics who had attended him, as soon as he expired, were sent to the inquisition, and committed to the flames, or put to death by some other method equally terrible. Such was the fate of Augustine Casal, the emperor’s preacher; of Constantine Pontius, his confessor; of Egidius, whom he had named to the bishopric of Tortosa; of Bartholomew de Caranza, a Dominican, who had been confessor to king Philip and queen Mary; with twenty others of less note.

In England, the principles of the reformation began to be adopted as soon as an account of Luther’s doctrines could be conveyed thither. In that kingdom there were still great remains of the sect called Lollards, whose doctrine resembled that of Luther; and among whom, of consequence, the sentiments of our reformer gained great credit. Henry VIII. king of England at that time, was a violent partisan of the church of Rome, and had a particular veneration for the writings of Thomas Aquinal. Being informed that Luther spoke of his favourite author with contempt, he conceived a violent prejudice against the reformer, and even wrote against him, as we have already observed. Luther did not hesitate at writing against his majesty, overcame him in argument, and treated him with very little ceremony. The first step towards public reformation, however, was not taken till the year 1529. Great complaints had been made in England, and of a very ancient date, of the usurpations of the clergy; and, by the prevalence of the Lutheran opinions, these complaints were now become more general than before. The House of Commons, finding the occasion favourable, passed several bills, restraining the impositions of the clergy; but what threatened the ecclesiastical order with the greatest danger, were, the severe reproaches thrown out almost without opposition in the House against the dissolute lives, ambition, and avarice of the priests, and their continual encroachments on the privileges of the laity. The bills for regulating the clergy met with opposition in the House of Lords; and bishop Fisher imputed them to want of faith in the Commons, and to a formed design, proceeding from heretical and Lutheran principles, of robbing the church of her patrimony, and overturning the national religion. The Commons, however, complained to the king, by their speaker, sir Thomas Audley, of these reflections thrown out against them; and the bishop was obliged to retract his words.

Though Henry had not the least idea of rejecting any, even of the most absurd Romish superstitions, yet, as the oppressions of the clergy suited very ill with the violence of his own temper, he was pleased with every opportunity of lessening their power. In the parliament of 1531 he showed his design of humbling the clergy in the most effectual manner. An obsolete statute was revived, from which it was pretended that it was criminal to submit to the legatine power which had been exercised by cardinal Wolsey. By this stroke the whole body of the clergy was declared guilty at once. They were too well acquainted with Henry’s disposition, however, to reply, that their ruin would have been the certain consequence of their not submitting to Wolsey’s commission, which had been given by royal authority. Instead of making any defence of this kind, they chose to throw themselves upon the mercy of their sovereign; which, however, it cost them 118,840l. to procure. A confession was likewise extorted from them, that the king was protector and supreme head of the church of England; though some of them had the dexterity to get a clause inserted which invalidated the whole submission, viz. in so far as is permitted by the law of Christ.

The king, having thus begun to reduce the power of the clergy, kept no bounds with them afterwards. He did not, indeed, attempt any reformation in religious matters; nay, he presecuted most violently such as did attempt this in the least. Indeed, the most essential article of his creed seems to have been his own supremacy; for whoever denied this was sure to suffer the most severe penalties, whether Protestant or Papist.

He died in 1547, and was succeeded by his only son Edward VI. This amiable prince, whose early youth was crowned with that wisdom, sagacity, and virtue, that would have done honour to advanced years, gave new spirit and vigour to the Protestant cause, and was its brightest ornament, as well as its most effectual support. He encouraged learned and pious men of foreign countries to settle in England, and addressed a particular invitation to Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius, whose moderation added a lustre to their other virtues, that by the ministry and labours of these eminent men, in concert with those of the friends of the reformation in England, he might purge his dominions from the sordid fictions of popery, and establish the pure doctrines of Christianity in their place. For this purpose he issued out the wisest orders for the restoration of true religion; but his reign was too short to accomplish fully such a glorious purpose. In the year 1553 he was taken from his loving and afflicted subjects, whose sorrow was inexpressible, and suited to their loss. His sister Mary, (the daughter of Catharine of Arragon, from whom Henry had been separated by the famous divorce,) a furious bigot to the church of Rome, and a princess whose natural character, like the spirit of her religion, was despotic and cruel, succeeded him on the British throne, and imposed anew the arbitrary laws and the tyrannical yoke of Rome upon the people of England. Nor were the methods which she employed in the cause of superstition better than the cause itself, or tempered by any sentiments of equity or compassion. Barbarous tortures, and death in the most shocking forms, awaited those who opposed her will, or made the least stand against the restoration of popery; and, among many other victime, the learned and pious Cranmer, archibishop of Canterbury, who had been one of the most illustrious instruments of the reformation in England, fell a sacrifice to her fury. This odious scene of persecution was happily concluded in the year 1558 by the death of the queen, who left no issue; and, as soon as her successor the lady Elizabeth ascended the throne, all things assumed a new and pleasing aspect. This illustrious princes, whose sentiments, counsels, and projects, breathed a spirit superior to the natural softness and delicacy of her sex, exerted this vigorous and manly spirit in the defence of oppressed conscience and expiring liberty, broke anew the despotic yoke of papal authority and superstition; and, delivered her people from the bondage of Rome, established that form of religious doctrine and ecclesiastical government which still subsists in England. This religious establishment differed in some respects from the plan that had been formed by those whom Edward Vi. had employed for promoting the cause of the reformation, and approaches nearer to the rites and discipline of former times; though it is widely different, and in the most important points, entirely opposite to the principles of the Roman hierarchy.

The cause of the reformation underwent in Ireland the same vicissitudes and revolutions that had attended it in England. When Henry VIII. after the abolition of the papal authority, was declared supreme head upon earth of the church of England, George Brown, a native of England, and a monk of the Augustine order, whom that monarch had created, in the year 1535, archbishop of Dublin, began to act with the utmost vigour in consequence of this change in the hierarchy. He purged the churches of his diocese from superstition in all its various forms, pulled down images, destroyed relics, abolished absurd and idolatrous rites; and, by the influence as well as authority he had in Ireland, caused the king’s supremacy to be acknowledged in that nation. Henry showed, soon after, that this supremacy was not a vain title; for his banished the monks out of that kingdom, confiscated their revenues, and destroyed their convents. In the reign of Edward VI. still further progress was made in the removal of popish superstitions by the zealous labours of bishop Brown, and the auspicious encouragement he granted to all who exerted themselves in the cause of the reformation. But the death of this excellent prince and the accession of queen Mary, had like to have changed the face of affairs in Ireland as much as in England; but her designs were disappointed by a very curious adventure, of which the following account has been copied from the papers of Richard earl of Cork:–“Queen Mary having dealt severely with the Protestants in England, about the latter end of her reign, signed a commission for to take the same course with them in Ireland; and, to execute the same with greater force, she nominates Dr. Cole one of the commissioners. This doctor coming with the commission to Chester on his journey, the mayor of that city, hearing that her majesty was sending a messenger into Ireland, and he being a churchman, waited on the doctor, who in discourse with the mayor taketh out of a cloke-bag a leather box, saying unto him, Here is a commission that shall lash the heretics of Ireland, calling the Protestants by that title. The good woman of the house being well affected to the Protestant religion, and also having a brother, named John Edmunds, of the same, then a citizen in Dublin, was much troubled at the doctor’s words: but, watching her convenient time while the mayor took his leave, and the doctor complimented him down the stairs, she opens the box, takes the commissionout, and places in lieu thereof a sheet of paper with a pack of cards wrapt up therein, the knave of clubs being faced uppermost. The doctor coming up to his chamber, suspecting nothing of what had been done, put up the box as formerly. The next day, going to the water- side, wind and weather serving him, he sails towards Ireland, and landed on the 7th of October, 1558, at Dublin. Then coming to the castle, the lord Fitz Walter, being lord-deputy, sent for him to come before him and the privy council; who coming in, after he had made a speech relating upon what account he came over, he presents the box unto the lord-deputy; who causing it to be opened, that the secretary might read the commission, there was nothing save a pack of cards with the knave of clubs uppermost; which not only startled the lord-deputy and council, but the doctor, who assured them he had a commission, but knew not how it was gone. Then the lord-deputy made answer, Let us have another commission, and we will shuffle the cards in the mean while. The doctor being troubled in his mind, went away, and returned into England, and coming to the court, obtained another commission; but, staying for a wind on the waterside, news came to him that the queen was dead: and thus God preserved the Protestants of Ireland.”–Queen Elizabeth was so delighted with this story, which was related to her by lord Fitz-Walter on his return to England, that she sent for Elizabeth Edmunds, whose husband’s named was Mattershad, and gave her a pension of 40l. during her life.

In Scotland the seeds of reformation were very early sown by several noblemen who had resided in Germany during the religious disputes there; but for many years it was suppressed by the power of the pope, seconded by inhuman laws and barbarous executions. The most eminent opposer of the papal jurisdiction was John Knox, a disciple of Calvin, a man of great zeal and invincible fortitude. On all occasions he raised the drooping spirits of the reformers, and encouraged them to go on with their work, notwithstanding the opposition and treachery of the queen-regent; till at last, in 1561, by the assistance of an English army sent by Elizabeth, popery was, in a manner, totally extirpated throughout the kingdom. From this period the form of doctrine, worship, and discipline, established by Calvin at Geneva, has had the ascendancy in Scotland.

On the review of this article, what reason have we to admire Infinite Wisdom, in making human events apparently fortuitous, subservient to the spread of the Gospel! What reason to adore that Divine Power which was here evidently manifested in opposition to all the powers of the world! What reason to praise that Goodness, which thus caused light and truth to break forth for the happiness and salvation of millions of the human race!

Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.

Charles Buck on the Biblical Covenants (Complete)
Charles Buck's Theological Dictionary