Most Catholics know that Martin Luther was a dissident priest who broke away from the Catholic Church to start his own sect as part of the so-called ‘Reformation’. However, as EWTN viewers will learn in the latest episode of “The ‘Reformation:’ Disagreement & Chaos,” the rebellious monk almost immediately lost control of his own rebellion. (Tune in or record this episode which airs 5:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 7; and 2:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 8.)
In fact, as one group after another broke from Luther, it soon seemed that the only thing that the different so-called Protestant sects could agree upon was their hatred of the Catholic Church. Among other things, various sects set about replacing Latin with the vernacular, destroying religious imagery, and throwing out cassocks and other religious garb. Most importantly, they denied the Real Presence, which led to Protestants seeing the Mass not as a sacrifice but as a meal or a remembrance.
However, as Director Stefano Mazzeo says, it wasn’t just the different sects that couldn’t reconcile their beliefs. Martin Luther’s own religious beliefs were “a moving target.” At one point, Luther restored the Latin Mass and decided that clergy should wear habits. But later, he rescinded this, and even decided that clergy should marry. In fact, Luther himself married a former nun.
Each sect also had its own interpretation of the Bible, which made the Bible itself a bone of contention. One of Luther’s main competitors was a man named Ulrich Zwingli from Zurich, Switzerland, who decided that “someone” needed to adjudicate these differing interpretations of the Bible and see to it that the one who was “wrong” would be “silenced.” In Zwingli’s view, that someone would obviously not be the Catholic Church. Instead, it would be the Civic Counsel of Zurich.
As EWTN’s own Father Mitch Pacwa points out in this episode: “They [the Zwinglians] put the secular authorities over the Church; the State above God and the Church! … That’s an important lesson for everyone, [especially] Catholics tempted to some kind of watering down of the faith.” Why? Because it led to secularization, especially in Prussia and Scandinavia.
The Protestant sects also banned many pious customs, including praying to the saints, and they destroyed centuries of art, all of which led to fewer visits to church and less prayer. A person who didn’t stop into the Church to light a candle or to enjoy the art, also didn’t take a moment to also pray to God. Luther himself would decry the fact that liberty during that time was being confused with licentiousness, and that morals quickly became worse under Protestantism than they had been, in his mind, under the Papacy.
In fact, Luther was so upset about those who rebelled against Lutheranism that he stated: “Rebels must be killed as you would a mad dog. If you do not kill him, he shall fall upon you and the whole land.”
Zwingli had a similar intolerance for the Anabaptists, a group which rejected infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. Although the Catholic Church is frequently accused of believing in works over faith, she in fact supports infant baptism because she believes that it is Christ who saves. So while the Catholic Church and the Zwinglians agree on infant baptism, they certainly did not agree on Zwingli’s penalty for those who believe in adult baptism. That penalty was death by drowning!
Interestingly, one of the biggest bones of contention between many Protestant sects and the Catholic Church is notion of Sola Scriptura, which contends that the Bible alone is the source of authority and truth. However, as Father Mitch points out, this logically means that somewhere in the Bible this “truth” must be stated. Unfortunately for Protestants, that statement cannot be found in the Bible.
In fact, as 2 Thessalonians 2:15 states: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” In other words, Catholics hold fast to Scripture AND Tradition.
Another bone of contention is the Catholic belief in the Real Presence, which is based on the words of Jesus Himself in the Bible (John 6: 53-58). If the Bible is the source of authority and truth, you would think Protestants would hold the same view. However, most Protestants either don’t believe in the Real Presence or have a different interpretation of the Real Presence than Catholic do.
Want to understand more about the Protestant break from the Catholic Church and the beliefs of the differing sects, which persist to this day? Then tune in this week when EWTN airs Episode four of “The ‘Reformation.’”