Was the Reformation Necessary and Necessarily Grumpy?

Jason asks another provocative question at DRD. Clark responds:


I think your summary may unintentionally change Bouyer’s question from the problem of effect to the question of affect.

The Reformation was a response to a very old and inherent problem (or series of them) that had gone unresolved. The reformation was a series of criticisms.

The effect of the reformation responses was to create a necessary tension. Either Rome accepted the criticisms and changed fundamentally or she did not. She chose the latter repeatedly whether it was the excommunication of Luther or Trent.

As for the affective problem, that’s a matter of perception. There’s a lot of joy in the Protestant faith but if you’re asking about the 16th century affect, well being slaughtered in large numbers does have a dampening effect on morale.

The magisterial Protestants had been loyal sons of holy mother church. They weren’t cynics or radicals (e.g. Anabaptists). The 5th Lateran Council had convicted the church of “corruption in head and members” in the early 16th century. The need for change was evident to all. The Renaissance papacy had been shockingly corrupt. The Avignon Papacy had rocked the confidence of Europe in the church.

They believed (rightly) that they had seen some very important truths, that Peter was not a Pope, that the papacy was built upon a foundation of half-truths and forgeries (e.g. the Pseudo-Isidorean documents, upon Ps.-Augustinian documents etc), the the Scriptures and the ancient church taught a very different soteriology, Christology, anthropology, and eccelsiology than the medievals had been teaching for nearly a millennium and Rome’s response was reactionary, fearful, and inadequate.

Rome settled for housecleaning but refused to address the cause of the corruption she agreed to have existed for centuries.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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One comment

  1. Scott — a couple of things.

    1. It’s very easy for someone to “generalize” from the Roman point of view. But when you start putting “specifics” on the table, as you have done, then the Roman side can’t bear up to that kind of scrutiny.

    2. Not only did Rome “settle for housecleaning,” but the kind of housecleaning they settled for didn’t solve their problems. For example, I’ve seen reports that as many as 50% of all priests had “wives” and illegitimate children during that time (into the 15th and 16th centuries). The historian A.G. Dickens said something to the effect that, “after the Reformation, when sexual scandals did become known, Rome took pains to hush them up, as a matter of policy.” Such policy was evident in our own time, in the form of Pope John XXIII’s document “hushing up” the pedophile priest scandal in our own century.

    It’s not hard to see the immeasurable harm that Rome has caused the church, both doctrinally and in its non-doctrinal policies.

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