(PROTESTANT REFORMATION to 1600 – continued)

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Pope Paul III Defends the Church

In 1542, Pope Paul III launched an Inquisition designed to combat the spread of Protestantism. It included crimes related to heresy, blasphemy, Judaizing, witchcraft and censorship of printed material, and it extended into France. Protestantism was spreading in France among lawyers, the urban bourgeoisie and some of the nobility. There were those fervent enough to commit violent attacks against the Church. The Catholics moved to defend clergymen, the Church and its predominance.

The Waldensians in and near the city of Lyon in the southeast of France were making common cause with the spread of Lutherism. The Waldensians had been around since the 1100s, a group of believers originated by a wealthy merchant, Peter Waldo, who had come to believe in poverty and the study of the scripture. An expedition against the Waldensians began on April 16, 1545. In two months, twenty-two villages were razed and 3,000 men, women and children are said to have been killed and 700 rounded up for later execution.

In 1546 fervent defenders of the faith attacked a Protestant congregation in the northern city of Meaux, and fourteen of its members burned to death. That year, Peter Chapot was burned at the stake for bringing into France bibles that were in French rather than Latin.

Many in France were neither conservative Catholic nor a Catholic-hating Protestant. This was the time of François Rabelais (1494-1553), who is said to have invented the essay. He has been described as a satirist, a comic and secular storyteller who hated the brutish ignorance of his day. He had been a Franciscan monk, had studied philology, law and science. He translated works by Hippocrates, Galen and was a physician. He believed in enjoying life and freedom. He criticized France's monarchical absolutism and the Church offending the authorities which added to his popularity. Critics would consider him one of the great writers of world literature and among the creators of modern European writing. His best known work was Gargantua and Pantagruel. His books were banned, and he spent time in hiding.

After the death of King Francis in 1547, his 28-year-old son was crowned Henry II, and Henry continued the effort to rid France of what he called "Lutheran scum." Under Henry, tribunals and magistrates were invested with inquisitorial powers. The works of Martin Luther and others were prohibited, and more Protestants were burned at the stake.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1545, the Roman Church had begun its Council of Trent, in northern Italy, consisting of twenty-five sessions, the last session eight years later. It was a response to the Protestant Reformation and said to be one of the Catholic Church's most important ecumenical councils. Cardinals addressed issues such as corrupt bishops and priests, indulgences and other financial abuses. The Council upheld salvation appropriated by grace through faith and works, not just by faith as the Protestants insisted. It upheld the belief that the consecrated bread and wine were transformed wholly and substantially into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The Council upheld other sacraments, and it reaffirmed as spiritually vital its indulgences, pilgrimages, the veneration of saints and relics and the veneration of the Virgin Mary.

This was the age of the monk Copernicus, who in the spirit of the Renaissance was a wide-ranging scholar. Copernicus theorized that the earth rotated around its axis daily and traveled around the sun yearly – a resurrection of the belief among intellectuals in pre-Christian Hellenistic times. The Church was holding to a broad worldview that precluded it from taking an agnostic position on hardly anything. The Church's highest ranking intellectuals considered themselves better informed on the matter than Copernicus, the Church claiming that it was common sense that it was the earth that stood still. Opposition from the Church led Copernicus to shelve his theory. Luther, by the way, on this issue was in accord with the Church. He described Copernicus as an "upstart astrologer " trying to be clever.

It was not common among the Church's highest ranking intellectuals to take substantial measure of a likelihood of their own error in attempting conclusions about realities physical or religious. They viewed a variety of beliefs across Europe and the Middle East on many subjects, including opposing views of the nature of Christ. Centuries before, Bishop Eusebius held a view on Rome that Bishop Augustine of Hippo disagreed with. But all these differing views failed to stimulate a skepticism among these ranking intellectuals about their own capacity for error. They had gathered a humility regarding their relationship with the Almighty, but humility was lacking about their ability to ascertain truth or their conclusions that differed from those of others, which they were inclined to attribute to the influence of the devil.

There was little reason for hope of reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics. Paul IV, pope from 1555 to 1559, went on the attack against those he believed to be in error, and this included a group of Roman Catholics called the Spiritualists, a group that included senior members of the Church, the artist Michelangelo and his close friend, the famous woman of letters, Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547). These were reform-minded people who agreed with Protestants that salvation could be achieved by faith and faith alone – that one could not buy his or her way to heaven. Conservative Church intellectuals took this view to mean that the Church was not the only road to God, that one could speak to God without the aid of the Church.

Michelangelo has been described as letting loose his frustrations in his painting The Last Judgment on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. This interpretation describes Michelangelo as emphasizing through the posture of Jesus and those around him communication with God directly without need of the Church. When The Last Judgment was unveiled in the Sistine Chapel, Church conservatives accused Michelangelo of defamation. Pope Paul IV used the instruments of the Inquisition to suppress the Spiritualists. He cut off Michelangelo's pension, and he had fig leaves painted over the nudes of the Sistine Chapel. And cardinals whom Pope Paul disliked were threatened with imprisonment.

When Michelangelo died (1564), those in sympathy with his views transported his body back to Florence, away it is said from the corruption of the Catholic Church that had disturbed the artist during his lifetime.

Pope Paul exercised his conservatism also with his law, Cum Nimis Absurdum, which forced Jews to live in seclusion in specified areas, locked in at night. Jews were ordered to wear a distinctive sign that they were Jews. This was a yellow hat for men and veils or a shawl for women. Jews in Europe were to remain ghettoized for the next 315 years.


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