Eamon Duffy – The End of Christendom

christendom

Note:  A serious analysis. And a conclusion; mine: Thank goodness, Christendom is done. Cultural and political Christianity was certainly not a friend of the gospel of the kingdom of God, as preached by Christ.

* * *

Next year marks the fifth centenary of one of the few precisely datable historical events that can be said to have changed the world forever. In 1517, an unknown German professor from an undistinguished new university protested against the sordid trade in religious benefits known as “indulgences,” which were then being peddled around Germany to fund grandiose plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Martin Luther’s protest initially took the form of a public challenge to an academic debate on a swathe of theological niceties. But this was the first age of print, and Luther was a publicist of genius. His list of topics for debate, in the form of Ninety-Five Theses, was printed as a broadsheet (though the legend that he nailed them to a church door is, sadly, probably untrue). The theses nonetheless became the world’s most improbable bestseller. What might have been a technical academic exercise in a Wittenberg lecture hall rapidly escalated into a fundamental questioning of the theological underpinning of Western Christianity. In its wake, Europe divided, roughly north and south, and the peoples of Europe were pitched into a series of murderous ideological wars in which tens of thousands died, and during which the religious, cultural, and political map of Europe was redrawn. We are all still living with the consequences.

This religious and cultural earthquake has traditionally been known as the Reformation, a loaded term with which Catholics have never been comfortable. To dub these transformations as a Reformation implies that something that had gone radically wrong was put right, that a good form of Christianity replaced a bad one. The fact that the term has traditionally been capitalized and used in the singular also poses a problem. The new religious identities and communities which emerged from these conflicts—Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, and the more radical groupings often lumped together under the name “Anabaptist”—did indeed share some beliefs and attitudes in common. They all prioritized the written Word of God in the Bible over traditional Church teaching and discipline, and they all vehemently rejected the papacy and the allegedly materialistic religious system which the papacy headed. But they were divided among themselves—often lethally—on almost everything else. Within a single generation of Luther’s protest, “Protestants” were excommunicating, fighting, and persecuting each other, as well as the common Catholic enemy, and many were calling for a reform of the Reformation.

Even the timescale traditionally assumed has now been challenged. In the older and mainly Protestant historiography, the overthrow of Catholicism almost everywhere in Northeastern Europe, and its replacement by “reformed” versions of Christianity, was seen as a swift process. Since medieval Catholicism was believed to have been corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden, and therefore unpopular with the laity, it was taken for granted that it could have offered little resistance to the reformers’ message. And so histories of the Reformation were conventionally histories of events in the early and middle sixteenth century. Only recently has the notion of a “long reformation” gained currency. Studies of the problems that Protestant officialdom encountered in uprooting deeply entrenched popular beliefs, practices, and loyalties, and in inculcating new beliefs and disciplines, have brought home the realization that after the first energies of “reformation” had passed, consolidating new religious identities at the grassroots level was almost everywhere a difficult and painful process, stretching over decades and even centuries. This realization requires a drastic rethinking, still very much in process, of much that was taken for granted in the older accounts. Some of that rethinking has been done under the rubric of the history of “confessionalization,” a term used to denote the deployment of religion to create or reinforce social and political identities. But this approach has brought its own problems, tending as it does to reduce religion to an instrument of social control and political manipulation.

Read HERE the entire article.

 

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