January 24th, 2018 – Reformation and St. Francis de Sales


Father Linsky led a brief discussion about the so-called Protestant Reformation and the “Counter” or Catholic Reformation and the difficulty we have understanding their context, 15th century life, church, politics, and government. We tend to see everything that happened then through our 21st (or perhaps for some of us still 20th) century perspectives.

One significant difference between then and now is that the church and state were joined at the hip and shared temporal power including the power of life and death over the people. Then as now, political struggles within and between those two institutions were common, and one peculiarity was that whoever was the ruler of a particular region could establish the official religion of that area and demand that everybody convert or depart. Well, that is one way to get converts.

Death of Feudalism

Feudalism, the economic and governing system of the Middle Ages (description here), was dying and many bright and energetic folks were figuring out how to move from the farms into the towns and cities and start businesses. The printing press had revolutionized communication though literacy rates were low and printed stuff usually had to be read to people who of course felt challenged to learn to read and write. And, only a few decades before Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, the Black Plague had wiped out half the population of Europe.

A History Text Excerpt

I recommend The Story of Christianity  by Justo L. Gonzalez as fairly light reading about the history of Christianity including the sad and violent Reformation years. It seems “fair and balanced” and is the book that was used at the Lutheran Seminary when I was there. Here is a two page sample from the introduction to the Reformation. According to this description, our current POTUS and Luther share, if not the faith, some personality traits.

Gonzales 1

gonzalez 2

We can be thankful to be living 500 years after all that turmoil, though it certainly seems that a good part of the world is still stuck in the Middle Ages. I hope Mr. Gonzalez won’t think I am violating his copyright since my objective is to encourage folks to buy and read his books. I think everything on these two pages is consistent with what Father Linsky said and, if not, I apologize. It is not my objective to challenge but to affirm or support what he has said.

Calvin vs. Luther

John Calvin, lawyer, Swiss reformer, and theologian, and Martin Luther, Catholic Priest and tempestuous trail blazer, were not friends. Luther revered St. Mary, retained belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and famously said that he would rather partake of the Body and Blood of Christ with the Pope than sip mere wine with Calvin.

reformation wall

Reformation Wall – No Luther

Calvin’s domain was Geneva, Switzerland, site of the famous Reformation Wall,  a 100 foot long memorial to ten key Reformation figures. Luther is not found there. Roger Williams,  best known as the originator of separation of church and state in the USA is among the top ten. Thank you, Roger. I hope most American Catholics can appreciate that contribution.

St. Francis de Sales

And there was key figure St. Francis de Sales, Catholic Bishop of Geneva, the heart of Calvinism. St. Francis was born three years after the death of Calvin so, though he was able to persuade many Calvinists to return to Catholicism, he never had the chance to try to persuade Calvin. St. Francis is famous for his calm demeanor and calming quotes, ten of which are included below.

A short bio of St. Francis is here.

Famous Quotes from St. Francis de Sales

Here, from the Brainy Quotes website, are the top ten quotes of St. Francis, most shared by Fr. Linsky this morning.

Make friends with the angels, who though invisible are always with you. Often invoke them, constantly praise them, and make good use of their help and assistance in all your temporal and spiritual affairs.

When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.

Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.

Through devotion, your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

A quarrel between friends, when made up, adds a new tie to friendship.

Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset

And finally, for some excellent historical fiction that can help understanding of the context of these reformations, check out Ken Follett’s trilogy covering the 1400’s through the 1600’s.


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