When one looks about today, he will find many Christian churches lining the streets of every town and city. There are Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Reformed Presbyterians, Reformed Episcopalians, Reformed Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelicals, Methodists, Southern Baptists, Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Unitarians, and many, many more. These different divisions of so-called Christian churches are called “denominations”, and we must add one more denomination to all these, those who call their churches “Non-Denominational”. That’s a contradiction of course, but in the modern world, you’ll find that contradictions don’t seem to bother anyone.
The questions we must ask in a Chronology course are:
“Where did this mess come from?”
“How did this happen?”
“Who is responsible for this?”
Having already studied the history of the Church thus far, having learned of the Great Schism of the 11th century and now seeing the spread of Renaissance ideas, it is not at all difficult to understand the Protestant Schism. Much of the confusion among Catholics and Protestants today is caused simply by the fact that they do not know the details of Church history and how clearly the causes can be identified. Blessed John Henry Newman, who converted famously to the Catholic Church in the 1840s, was converted by his study of Church history and said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” We, too, will be protected from Protestant errors by simply studying history.
THE CONTROVERSIAL CHURCH
We will find that when men move away from the truth, they tend to go insane. Men who believe and teach errors cannot help but contradicting themselves. It’s obvious that when people who call themselves “Christians” wish to divide the Church to make themselves its new leaders, they cannot do so without committing a number of ridiculous errors. We will always find, for example, that non-Catholics will always argue that they are “not perfect”, yet they claim that they are forced to divide from the Church precisely because it is “not perfect”.
The argument that the Church is “not perfect” is pretty ridiculous because it was full of trouble from the very beginning. Our Lord chose twelve men and not even those twelve could make it safely out of this world before there were great denials of the faith and a horrific betrayal and suicide. Think about that—one of Christ’s hand-picked men died as a suicidal non-Christian!
In the book of Acts we read of disputes and confusion that arose in the early Church. We read of confusion about what the relationship was between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion. Did Christians need to be circumcised? Did Christians need to keep the Jewish Sabbath? Did Christians need to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem? Moreover, St. Peter, Our Lord’s chosen successor, was once publicly corrected by St. Paul for his own fear of offending Jewish believers.
In every century there have been disputes and controversies. There would be no Apostles’ Creed had there been no controveries in the Church. There would be no Nicene Creed had there been no controversies in the Church. There would have been no Councils had there been no controversies in the Church. There would be no New Testament epistles if there had been no controversies in the Church! There would be no need of teachers and pastors if there were no controversies in the Church! Everything would have been written in the beginning and we would simply have to read a book that sums it all up and live happily ever after.
Therefore, when we see how many controversies the Church has overcome in peace, under the protection and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is ridiculous for anyone to suggest that some controversy that arises requires that the Church be divided. No, Our Lord said very plainly:
“Every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate:
and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (St. Matthew 12:25)
Now, what does “every” mean? What is true of every member of a group is true of any member of that group. So, when any kingdom is divided, it is defeated. When any city is divided, it is defeated. When any house is divided, it is defeated. Is there, then, any possible way for anyone to suggest that it is the will of Christ to divide His Church? No.
Therefore, when it appears that Christ’s Church is divided into parts, we must conclude either:
that Christ’s Church has been defeated, or
that Christ’s Church is not divided, but false members have been cut off.
Now, the world likes to believe that the schisms of Church history prove the first conclusion to be true. Catholics believe that the second conclusion is true and that the members leaving her are being cut off from Christ’s Church. Schismatics believe that the second conclusion is true, but that it is the Catholics who are being cut off as false members. The details of the Protestant Schism will make it clear whether it was the Protestants or the Catholics who represented the true Church of Christ.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546)
Martin Luther was born in Germany in 1483 and when he reached school age, he, like all Catholic schoolboys of history, began the study of the classical liberal arts. He studied classical Grammar just as CLAA students do and went on to the university to study the higher arts to pursue a career in law. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy when he was 19 years old, and the Master’s degree at age 22. Six months after receiving his Master’s degree, Luther surprisingly entered an Augustinian monastery, supposedly because he was frightened one night by a terrible thunderstorm and promised to become a monk.
The details of Luther’s life as a monk are not knowable because all who have written of his life have admitted that his writings about his time in the monastery are exaggerated and untrue. For example, after leaving the Church, he claimed to have never seen a Bible as a Catholic until he was 23 years old, which, as any Catholic knows, is impossible–especially for Augustinians who were required to study the Scriptures. If he never saw a Bible it was his own fault, not the Church’s. Despite these supposedly terrible experiences, Luther continued as a Catholic and was ordained to the priesthood in 1507 (age 24). In 1509, Luther became a teacher of Theology at the University of Wittenburg in Germany, and in 1511 was even sent to Rome on church business. He returned to Wittenburg, went on to receive a Doctorate in Theology and began a busy life as an educated Churchman.
As Luther’s hectic life got busier and busier, his spiritual life began to fall apart. Rather than either turning to God for increased graces to administer his business well, or humbly asking for less responsibilities, he pridefully turned to his own religious ideas and practices and became scrupulous–that is, judging innocent actions to be sins, and considering good activities to be less important than activities of his own choosing. When his work kept him from his books, Luther skipped his required prayers (which is a mortal sin for a monk) to spend more time studying. Then after making such decisions, he would wildly attempt to make up for his failures and torment himself with penances and sacrifices that no one asked of him, ignoring the teaching of Scripure, that “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam. 15:33). He cast aside the rules of his order and the counsels of his spiritual directors, lost appreciation for the sacraments, and made up his own unfruitful rule of life. His moral and spiritual failures grew worse and his life became more and more miserable the more he turned away from God and to his own understanding for direction. All of this misery, he would later charge to the Catholic faith–as if his insane and unfruitful life was ever taught him by any Catholic! Over time, Martin Luther, through his scholarly pride and false beliefs about the Catholic way, forced himself into a dark and morbid corner from which he would be forced to escape by some radical means.
THE PROTESTANT GOSPEL
To add to his arrogance and errors, he decided to blame those around him for his failures, as we have all done at some point. In his mind, he set himself up as the only good person, the only one who understood the true way of salvation, which he said was taught by Jesus and the Apostles, but not by the Catholic Church. Of course, the enemy he endlessly attacked was not the Catholic Church, but himself and his own false beliefs and practices while he was in the Catholic Church. Blinded by his sin and pride, and readily yielding to the devil’s inspirations at this point, he accused others of what he himself was guilty of: taking pride in his own efforts to save his soul, and refusing to trust in the mercy of God for his salvation.
In the chart below, we can see the actual teaching of the Catholic Church on a number of issues, compared to the errors in Martin Luther’s life. We can also see how Protestant teaching grew out of Luther’s own personal errors and, really, have nothing to do with Catholic teaching:
1. Though born in original sin, man is restored to God’s friendship at Baptism and then given grace to grow into the likeness of God through Communion, Confession, Confirmation, and the other normal elements of a pious Catholic life.
1. Martin Luther was stuck in a situation where he habitually could not perform his work in a devout manner. Rather than prioritize his time, he neglected prayers and lost trust in the sacraments for grace.
1. Being unable to maintain a Catholic discipline, Luther proudly concluded that man is totally depraved and completely incapable of being good enough to please God.
2. Man, at all times, has free will and because of his free will is accountable for all of his thoughts, words and deeds. There is no excuse for sin.
2. Martin Luther, because of his lack of temperance, could not control his thoughts, words or actions as a Catholic should.
2. Trying to justify his own lack of self control, Luther falsely taught that men must not have free will and that the actual deeds of saved people cannot be held against them at judgment because they were done without free will.
3. Sin is nothing more or less than disobedience to the will of God, which is given us in His commandments and in the laws of the Catholic Church. It is not for man to define what is acceptable and not acceptable to God.
3. Martin Luther, because he did not maintain the discipline of his religious rule, or the advice of his spiritual directors, tried in vain to create his own spiritual exercises, which never produced the good he thought they would.
3. Trying to defend his scrupulous and self-directed life, Luther taught that no works can possibly be done by man that will be pleasing to God.
4. Man is responsible to seek God all the days of his life, to love God and to love his neighbor as himself. By making diligent use of the means of grace made available by the saving work of Jesus Christ and trusting in God’s mercy, we can grow to “be perfect, as Our Father in heaven is perfect”.
4. Martin Luther’s false scruples and darkness of mind drove him to despair. By constantly trusting in his own efforts and studies, Luther exhausted himself and ran out of gas, which all scrupulous people do.
4. Rather than returning humbly to the Sacraments for grace, Luther preferred to teach a false alternative, that to be saved, man must do nothing more than believe that he is saved by the work of Jesus Christ. He chose to quit the fight against sin, rather than become stronger to win it.
5. The Catholic Church is the ark of salvation, bringing her children safely through this life into eternity by the grace of God given to the Church through the Sacraments and through the merits and prayers of the Communion of Saints.
5. As a result of his disobedience, Luther lived a miserable life as a Catholic monk. His ideas and practices were not supported by the Church and he was frustrated by Church authority.
5. Rather than acknowledging the wisdom and authority of the Church, he chose instead to blame the Church for his own unhappiness and teach that the Catholic Church is corrupt and unnecessary for salvation.
6. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition provide Catholics with an ancient and proven path to salvation.
6. Because of his responsibilities as a university professor and religious, Martin Luther was unable to study enough to satisfy his own inordinate desire for knowledge.
6. Rather than trusting in the Catholic Church and submitting to the teaching of the Church’s authorities, he preferred to teach that his field of study (the Bible) was the only field that Church doctrine should be based on. He said that “Scripture Alone” is needed to know the way of salvation.
7. The interpretation of Sacred Scripture is a difficult matter, for which God has established the Church and gifted her with a long line of extraordinary teachers.
7. Martin Luther learned time and again that his teaching could not be defended against the Church’s representatives and other university professors.
7. Rather than acknowledge that his defeats and warnings were signs of error, Luther preferred to follow the error of his age and go the way of Relativism. He argued, contrary to Scripture itself and all Christian experience, that no man has any need of an interpreter, but may interpret the Bible for himself.
Luther is not fighting against the teaching of the Catholic Church, but is reacting wildly to the errors of a confused and disobedient Catholic who tried try to run away from–himself. His pride has made him unable to admit that the Church was right all along and he should simply and humbly “confess his sins, do penance, and amend [his] life”. It will not surprise us to find that what Martin Luther most greatly fights against is the need for Penance, for it is that which he himself could not do and which forced him to ultimately rebel against God.
THE PERFECT STORM
Above we saw that the Church, from its very beginnings, even among the twelve disciples Christ chose and taught Himself, has had to deal with sins and controversies. Sins and controversies, however, are of different kinds and there are some that are local or limited to one individual (whether a Church leader or a new believer), some that are limited to one place (a particular church or community), some that are limited to a particular time (a certain generation or period of time). What there will never, ever be, is a widespread fall of the Catholic Church into sin or error. Our Lord promised that before He ascended into heaven, and if anyone ever suggests that such a fall has taken place, he denies the very words of Our Lord. This is precisely what Martin Luther did. Under the suffocating influence of his own pride and errors, he seized upon an isolated controversy and used it to launch an all-out attack on Christ’s Holy and Eternal Catholic Church.
The controversy surrounded the teaching of the Church on Indulgences. To understand the controversy, we must first understand what the Church teaches about sin and penance of Catholic people. Catholics believe that every person who enters heaven will do so as a perfectly pure soul which owes its salvation to the merits and graces of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, we do not believe, as Luther did in his errors, that Christ’s death on the Cross completely paid for our sins and all of their effects–both spiritually and temporally. The problem arises when Christians sin after they have been washed clean of all of their sins at Baptism. Our sins do harm not only to God’s glory, but also to the Church and to our neighbors in ways we cannot always understand. Any truly good person will seek to make up for all of the effects of his sins, and God will require that we do so–though not to him once we confess and are forgiven. For sins after Baptism, Christ offers us the opportunity to confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives through the sacrament of Confession. In Confession, the Christian receives absolution (forgiveness) from the merits of Christ, but conditionally. The Christian promises to do the penance required of him by the Church and to amend his life. The Church has the authority to recommend penitential works that Christians may do to pay for their sins, as Jesus himself has recommended to us Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Such penitential works are effective in removing temporal punishments due for sins after the offenses against God have been forgiven. When Christians die with temporal punishments not yet fully paid for, they must pay for these after death in that state called “Purgatory”, by which they are prepared to enter into heaven.
Now, if Christians will be praying, fasting and giving alms as Christ taught, would it not be reasonable for the Church to recommend what specific prayers they should offer, what specific days of the years they should fast and what specific needs they should give alms to? Of course it is reasonable, and this is what the Church has always done–even as Our Lord gave us the Lord’s Prayer to pray. The Church also provided Christians with promises that certain penitential works would actually take away certain amounts of temporal punishments. These promises were called “Indulgences”.
Now, as we have said, there has always been controversy and sin in members of the Church, but it is isolated in nature and not universal. The Church herself cannot fall into sin or error because she is protected by Christ. You can imagine that when it comes to telling Christians what to do with their money and promising them spiritual benefits that abuses might arise when a greedy bishop might try and use the Church’s teaching on indulgences as a way to collect money for his own projects. Speakers would occasionally be sent by such bishops to call Catholics to give and make use of an indulgence offered and would do so more like salesmen than as spiritual guides. These speakers were often hated by the political leaders in the places they were preaching. In 1517, one such speaker came to Wittenburg, and Luther decided to use that event as an opportunity to sinfully attack Christ’s Church. He exagerrated the problem and accused the Church of “selling salvation” through indulgences, which is a complete lie. First, to obtain an indulgence one must already be a Christian. Second, indulgences do not replace the need for any of the Sacramants, but take them for granted.
THE 95 THESES
Throughout Church history, educated Catholic men disputed controversial questions in the universities, for this was one of the ways in which the classical liberal arts were used to perfect Catholic teaching. It was understood that the purpose of the disputations was to make the truth clearer and formally put down false teachings. Thus, being upset by the practice of indulgences, which was (and is) true Catholic doctrine, Martin Luther decided to call for a disputation on the subject. He posted on the church door in Wittenburg, which was more like a bulletin board for the university, 95 Theses, or arguments that he wished to make in disputation. This was nothing unusual or heroic, but normal university practice in an age when classical learning remained strong. A Dominican monk named John Tetzel, who was preaching indulgences for the archbishop in Germany, knew that there was more to Luther’s theses than a request for disputation. Tetzel responded with 106 Theses that contradicted Luther and declared the true Catholic doctrine plainly and, as he was free to do in disputation, went a little farther on some points for the sake of disputation.
It was not Luther’s theses that caused any trouble at all, and the attempts of modern Protestants to pretend that their posting was some heroic event only proves their ignorance of the culture and history of Catholic education. Where Luther’s evil intentions become visible is what follows the posting of the theses against Indulgences.
Disputations were conducted by learned men, behind university doors in Latin. This allowed men to argue freely and, at times, controversially, with other learned men, following the rules of disputation and reasoning where facts could be checked, arguments analyzed, and so on. These disputations were not presented to the common people because they had not the intellectual maturity or stability to handle controversies as freely as learned men were used to doing. Luther, however, broke the rules of Catholic disputation, and took his controversy into the streets. Rather than leaving the question for the disputation hall, he published a sermon in German called “On Indulgences and Grace”. Luther was warned by anotehr university man, Johann Eck, that some of his theses were heretical and that he should not speak on them to the common people. Luther ignored such warnings and after responding disrespectfully and crudely to a number of officials expressing the same concerns, he was summoned to appear in Rome. This would have given an honest Catholic the most perfect opportunity to speak to the Church of problems he observed, to hear the Church’s explanation of her actions, and to remain an obedient and peace-loving son of the Church.
Luther would not go to Rome. He lied and spoke of being in poor health and unable to travel, though his writing and preaching were more fervent than ever. There is no longer any question that behind his opposition to indulgences was a deeper, darker spirit of heresy and schism that was preparing to reveal itself in the most sickening ways. Knowing that he had a strong following among the common people there in Germany, knowing that the envious political leaders would support him in leading people out from the Church, and knowing that his teaching and behavior was sure to get him excommunicated, he wrote a sermon titled “On the Power of Excommunication”, in which he attempted to persuade his followers that though one be excommunicated, it’s no big deal because the Church is corrupt. Sure it is.
What we see is the total abandonment of any effort to speak with the Church on these issues, but rather a readiness to rebel and make himself the champion of that rebellion. He was given the opportunity to speak, in Germany, before one of the Church’s wisest and most devout scholars, Thomas Cajetan. Cajetan agreed to hear Luther’s arguments but soon realized that Luther was not seeking to discover the truth but to have his ideas approved without questioning. Ultimately, Cajetan dismissed Luther and ordered him to deny his teachings.
A second opportunity for Luther came in 1519, when a disputation was held at Leipzig. There, he and a friend disputed the faithful Catholic scholar Johann Eck, who thoroughly destroyed and humiliated them. Luther, in this disputation was forced to admit that he was teaching what was previously condemned by heretics John Wycliffe and John Hus. He was forced to declare that an official Council of the Catholic Church had erred and that Papal supremacy was not to be believed because it is not taught in the Bible. These laughable and ridiculous admissions revealed the truth of Luther’s evil cause and Eck ended his disputation with this famous statement, “If you believe [these things] then you are to me as a heathen and publican.” It was clear that Luther was trapped in heresy and had no ground of truth to stand on.
For Luther, that was the last straw. There was, after being humiliated by a true Christian scholar, no attempt made again to pretend that he was seeking the truth as a good son of the Church. Luther turned to the anti-Catholic humanists (see lesson 34) infected by the ideas of the Renaissance, to be his allies in his rebellion against Our Lord’s holy Catholic Church. What united these men was not shared moral values, good will or true friendship but merely a malicious hatred for the Catholic Church.
In 1520, Johann Eck brought samples of Luther’s teachings to Rome. Over forty points of his teaching were condemned as heresy by the Church. The Church commanded that his writings be burned and he was given 60 days to recant. When Eck arrived in Wittenburg, the people were roused into a frenzy against him, and Luther, pretending to be a hero, took the decree from Rome and burned it in front of the crowd. Luther responded to the condemnation with these insane words:
“I despise alike the favour and fury of Rome; I do not wish to be reconciled with her, or ever to hold any communion with her. Let her condemn and burn my books; I, in turn, unless I can find no fire, will condemn and publicly burn the whole pontifical law, that swamp of heresies.”
The Church which Martin Luther had one day chosen to serve with his life has suddenly been changed (in his mind) into a “swamp of heresies” that he coldly refers to as “Rome”. Again, his true and unpardonable sin–the inability to seek reconciliation–is admitted by his own lips. The statement, “I do not wish to be reconcilied with her.” will echo in his hearing for eternity and reveals the true nature of the Protestant Schism. It was a rebellion of bad Catholics who did not want either reconciliation or communion with the Catholic Church.
Thus, Martin Luther, in reward for his unwillingness to follow the true teachings of Christ and His Church, was excommunicated from the Body of Christ. That does not mean he was condemned to hell, for the goal of excommunication, is to lead a sinning Christian to repentance. What condemns a man is his rejection of the help offered by the punishment, as Wisdom says,
“Reject not the correction of the Lord: and do not faint when thou art chastised by him:
For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth: and as a father in the son he pleaseth himself.”
The troubles in his life caused by his pride and desire to be a teacher and leader, rather than a disciple and servant, finally led him into spiritual destruction. Like Judas Iscariot, despite all his talk of grace and mercy, he despaired of that mercy and ran away from home–never to return. As rebels always do, he allied himself with men who were far worse in every way than the men he rebelled against, and made the slander, division and impoverishing of the Church the goal of his life. He was used as a puppet by greedy political powers he naively thought to be his friends, to inspire the people to rebel against Rome so that Church lands, buildings and other possessions could be seized without any protest from the masses.
The people, weak in their understanding of Church teaching and easily led astray by one who appeared to be learned, were all too happy to learn that the disciplines that sustained Catholics for 1,500 years no longer needed to be observed. Thousands joined Luther in leaving the Catholic Church, and the true Faith of Christ, with no thought of what the consequences would be.
DIVISION AND CHAOS
Luther’s self-approved schismatic and heretical actions in Germany set an example that other nations would soon follow. In Switzerland, Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), a priest infected with humanistic ideas was also talking about “reforming the Catholic Church”. He and Luther met and, as we should expect, could not agree well enough to join forces. The Anabaptists, who believed that Catholic baptism was not true baptism, grew in Switzerland in disagreement with Zwingli. John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French priest who was also preaching about “reforming” the Catholic Church, but with little support from wise and pious Church leaders. Eventually, he was forced to flee to Switzerland for a following. He taught much as Luther did, but disagreed on other points and thus added to the growing divisions within the division. He published “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”, known today as “Calvin’s Institues”, in which he attempted to teach Protestant doctrine, or at least his version of it, in a systematic way. In England, when King Henry VIII’s request for permission to divorce his wife was rejected by the Pope, he declared himself to be the true head of the Church of England in 1534 and executed St. Thomas More, the wisest and best man in England, in 1535 for not supporting him. Over time, more and more self-appointed leaders and teachers of “true Christianity” rose up, giving themselves titles and authority, while disagreeing with one another and creating divsion after division after division.
Each Protestant group, quickly proving that their belief that the Bible was all that any Christian needed, began publishing their own creeds, confessions, Bible commentaries, books and sermons. After seeing three Creeds–the Apostles’ Creed (1st c.), the Nicene Creed (4th c.) and the Athanasian Creed (5th c.)–express the true Christian faith for 1,500 years, dozens of Protestant creeds were published in the next 100 years. Here are some of the most popular:
1523 – Sixty-Seven Articles (Zwingli in Switzerland)
1527 – Schleitheim Confession (Anabaptists)
1530 – Augsburg Confession (Luther in Germany)
1560 – Scottish Confession (John Knox in Scotland)
1562 – The Thirty-Nine Articles (Church of England)
1647 – The Westminster Confession (Presbyterians in England)
1658 – Savoy Declaration (Congregationalists in England)
1659 – London Baptist Confession (Baptists in England)
That was just the beginning. These divisions of non-Catholics have continued to the present day, which is only 400 years. Would anyone seriously suggest that this division among Christians is the work of the Holy Spirit?
CHANGES IN CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS
Today, we think it to be normal that religion and politics are separate circles of life. In America “the Separation of Church and State” is considered a great achievement that assures us of freedom from persecution. However, this is false. In truth, the Church is superior to the State and the State, if it would have God’s blessing, must subject itself to the counsel and service of the Catholic Church. The division of Church and State we see today, where the Church is pressured to adapt to meet the demands of the state, rather than vice-versa is a result of the work of the Protestants.
The Protestants, who called themselves “Reformers” (though they reformed nothing, being excommunicants), gained their power over Christians by working to lead the civil powers to take control of church affairs in their regions. Thus, Calvin, proposed the rules for Christian worship and ceremonies for approval by the city councils, which then would prohibit Catholic worship! Anywhere there was a civil power interested in taking what the Church owned, it simply needed to adopt the Protestant religion and make Catholicism illegal. Fools that they were, they failed to realize that what they did to ruin the Catholic Church in so many places would be just as easily used to ruin their own works. Their deceitful success was short-lived.
Following the Protestant movements in many countries, the spirit “Nationalism” spread, by which nations judged themselves to have the authority to seek their own benefits at the expense of other nations as if the human race were not one family, as the Catholic Church always had taught and established. The world wars, which we will study in a future lesson grew out of this spirit of irreligious division and hatred, during which the most horrifying evils were committed and hundreds of millions of people were killed. Today, most places where Protestantism grew, which were once thriving Catholic communities, have no religion at all. There is no question that the Devil made use of the heretical and short-sighted Protestants to bring about a new age of evil upon the world. The Protestants, willing to step outside of the protection of the Catholic Church, were easy prey for his schemes.
THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
From 1518, when Church first called Martin Luther to Rome, the Catholic Church had been trying to address the Protestant teachings and actions in a formal and productive way. That the Council of Trent, which finally did so, was not opened until 1545 reveals the rebellious nature of the Protestant movement. The Protestants wanted to rebel, not to seek peace. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church’s official response to Luther and the Protestants that followed him came from the Council of Trent, which met in three sessions over 19 years, closing in 1564. The council met in the city of Trento (Latin: Tridentum) in northern Italy, which was judged to be a neutral site for both groups to meet. As will all Church councils, controversies in the Church have always allowed the Church to make Her teaching clearer, more detailed and, therefore, more perfect. These controversies, while leading to sad divisions and the excommunication of many unrepentant heretics, strengthen the Church.
The Council of Trent held debates concerning the controversial questions and then, when the debates had concluded, the Church’s representatives authoritatively and infallibly published decrees with canons. These decrees clearly stated Church teaching and these canons excommunicated anyone who from that point forward continued to believe or teach what contradicted the Church’s teaching. Thus, we may say that the Protestants were schismatics before the Council of Trent, but after it, when they continued to teach condemned doctrines, they became heretics as well.
The Council of Trent was concluded in 1563, which marks the end of the Protestant Schism for our study of Chronology. After this point Protestantism became a religion of its own and should be considered such today, for its teachers are, by the canons of the Council of Trent, heretics. It is worth noting that anything called “Tridentine” today is so named after the Council of Trent, whose Latin name is Tridentum.
By far, the Protestant Schism was and remains the greatest evil that the Catholic Church has ever had to endure. Millions of Christians today live without knowledge of the true Catholic faith because of the selfish and careless teaching and leadership of Protestant Christians. The Church today is making efforts to evangelize Protestants who have never learned the true Catholic faith and to free them from the misrepresentation and lies of Protestant teachers who often have never learned Catholicism themselves. Blessed Fulton J. Sheen, the Archbishop of New York in the early 1900s spoke truly of Protestants when he said, “Few Americans hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they think is the Catholic Church.” May we commit ourselves to bringing our Protestant neighbors back to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.