“The Catholic Reformation”

Erasmus was “the bastard son of a priest”, illustrating a major problem at the time of the Reformation.

Desiderius Erasmus, who first compiled the Greek New Testament in 1516, was probably one of THE most influential figures leading to the Reformation, in several ways. The circumstance of his birth is one way you may not have heard about. There are, in fact, somewhat conflicting (but non-contradictory) accounts of his early life.
The Encyclopedia of World Biography” says: “Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, probably on October 27, 1466, the second son of a priest, Roger Gerard, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter. His parents were unmarried at the time of his birth.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica says: “Erasmus was the second illegitimate son of Roger Gerard, a priest, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter.”

An older version of the “Catholic Encyclopedia” gave this: “The most brilliant and most important leader of German humanism, b. at Rotterdam, Holland, 28 October, probably in 1466 … He was the illegitimate child of Gerard, a citizen of Gouda, and Margaretha Rogers, and at a later date Latinized his name as Desiderius Erasmus. Eventually his father became a priest.”

Whether his father was already a priest, or a young man who later became a priest, the story supports Paul Johnson’s contention:

…he was the bastard son of a priest, by a washerwoman. This was the common fate of a vast number of people at the time. It testified to the unwillingness of the Church to sanction clerical marriage and its inability to stamp out concubinage. Probably as many as half the men in orders had ‘wives’ and families. Behind all the New Learning and the theological debates, clerical celibacy was, in its own way, the biggest single issue at the time of the Reformation. It was a great social problem and, other factors being equal, it tended to tip the balance in favour of reform. As a rule, the only hope for a child of a priest was to go into the Church himself, thus unwillingly or with no great enthusiasm, taking vows which he might subsequently regret: the evil tended to perpetuate itself. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (©1976, pgs 269-270).

Among other things, the Roman Catholic Church – its hierarchy, not only popes, bishops and cardinals, but the priests who lived and worked among the people, were visibly and even hopelessly corrupt. Part of the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation involved not only etching its “doctrines” in stone, but cleaning up its own messes. Those efforts have been known in various seasons as the “Catholic Reformation” and the “Counter Reformation”.

What follows is McGrath’s introduction of this phenomenon; as time goes on, I’ll certainly make evident some of the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation:

This term is often used to refer to the revitalization of Catholicism in the period following the opening of the Council of Trent (1545). In older scholarly works, the movement is often designated the “Counter-Reformation”: as the term suggests, this refers to the strategies that the Catholic church developed as a means of combating the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic church countered the Reformation partly by reforming itself from within, in order to remove the grounds of Protestant criticism. In this sense, the movement is to be seen both as a reformation of the Catholic church, as well as a critique of the Protestant Reformation. The same concerns underlying the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe were channeled into the renewal of the Catholic church, particularly in Spain and Italy.

The Council of Trent, the foremost feature of the Catholic Reformation, clarified Catholic teaching on a number of confusing matters, and introduced much-needed reforms in relation to the conduct of the clergy, ecclesiastical discipline, religious education, and missionary activity. The movement for reform within the Catholic church was greatly stimulated by the reformation of many of the older religious orders and the establishment of new orders (such as the “Society of Jesus,” often referred to as “the Jesuits”). The more specifically theological aspects of the Catholic Reformation will be considered in relation to its teachings on Scripture and tradition, justification by faith, the church, and the sacraments.

As a result of the Catholic Reformation, many of the abuses that originally lay behind the demands for reform – whether these came from humanists or Protestants – were removed. By this stage, however, the Protestant Reformation had reached a point at which the mere removal of malpractices and abuses was no longer sufficient to reverse the situation: the demand for the reformation of doctrine, religious ideology, and the church was now regarded as an essential aspect of the Protestant–Catholic controversies. This point highlights the need to consider the religious ideas lying behind the “magisterial Reformation,” which became of increasing importance to the Protestant–Catholic debate as the sixteenth century progressed.

McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction (pgs 11-12). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

2 replies on ““The Catholic Reformation””

  1. John, my name is Corey Fleig, and I wanted to know if I could send you a private email with a question. (All good.) I’m a computer programmer here at ‘Grace to You’ radio, with Dr. John MacArthur, and in my spare time I study Roman Catholic claims. I appreciate what you and Steve Hays contribute. I have a line of reasoning I’m working on, and want to float it by you.


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