Greetings from somewhere on the border of Indiana and Kentucky on the great Ohio River; cruising along at eight miles per hour on the beautiful American Queen steamboat. This being my third such trip along the wonderful waterways of America, I’ve learned that the most important bit of packing necessary for a great voyage is a pile of good reading material. And one such book is How the Reformation Happened by Hilaire Belloc.
Written in 1928 by an unapologetic Catholic, the book presents a fairly balanced encapsulation of the personalities and events leading to the long-ago fracturing of Europe along religious, cultural, and economic lines. Without getting into details, one of Belloc’s main points is that during the early to middle years of the 16th Century, although the forces of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli together with the carnal desires of Henry VIII were already slowly moving events toward separation from Rome, the lives of the average men and women of Europe went along undisturbed until much later.
For it is Belloc’s contention that the Reformation began, not in the hearts and minds of the common peoples of Europe, but in the minds of theologians at great universities and later moved to the courts and throne rooms of power, wherein the hearts of rapacious monarchs and their allies in the gentry conspired to appropriate the wealth of the Church. He maintains that in the year 1517, when Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed his protests about ecclesiastical corruption to the door of the church in Wittenberg where he was a professor of theology, no one foresaw or even desired a separation from the Church. Yet events eventually led to precisely that end.
And, gazing out at the bucolic river towns of middle America, the idea struck me that much the same is happening here in this country; itself the product of an admixture of Protestant and Catholic settlers and missionaries. Here too, a reformation is underway; though one that may have the capacity to be more disruptive than the one that changed the world 500 years ago.
This great nation was founded by the heirs of the Reformation who, mindful of the great eruptions in Europe which had sent them to these shores, put in place a system of checks and balances to stem the tides of greed and ambition in men and ensure the right to free practice of religion; or so they thought. The founders knew that, unfettered by a common moral code—in their case, one followed by those on both sides of the European schism, encompassing the Natural Law and the Ten Commandments—no nation could survive for very long.
And sure enough, less than 200 years later, from the lecture halls of Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley came the loud cries for reform from men whose heirs, fifty years later, would become the rich and powerful in the courts and halls of Washington. Men who desired reform of, but certainly not—according to them—separation from our Constitution and Judeo-Christian way of life. Yet, it seems now that they have succeeded in repressing religious liberty and entrenching their hallmarks—abortion and the legalization of homosexual “marriage”—in our culture.
Some would say, using the analogy of a lobster in a gradually heating pot, that this erosion of our founding principles has been underway for decades longer than anyone suspects; that this seemingly sudden acquiescence to the losses of individual liberty and to legislation in direct opposition to the laws of nature and nature’s God sprang from seeds planted earlier in our nation’s life, and are only culminating now.
Whatever the methodology, the result is the same: America, in allowing this schism between the vision of the founding fathers and those who oppose it, has opened itself up for a disaster as bad, if not worse, than that which rent Europe in the 16th Century. For the Reformation not only succeeded in separating half of Europe from the Ancient Faith, but ultimately in commencing the erosion of its pillars of Western Civilization; the fruits of which are only now becoming apparent on that continent. Let’s pray for a traditional American counter-reformation before it’s too late.