To hear many people talk about history lessons it’s always a foregone conclusion the events will turn out the way it happened in the history books. In reality, there’s a bunch of smaller steps that you need for a particular event to take place. Take the American Revolution, it really needed a couple of catalysts to rally the entire nation. Otherwise, it would have been a few radicals in Boston mouthing off. The same is true for the Protestant Reformation, there are several forerunners to the Protestant Reformation that helped kick it off.
I have notebooking pages to go with this entire Protestant Reformation series, and some fun extras to go with it.
First, let’s lay a few ground rules before we jump into the forerunners to the Protestant Reformation
There is a world of difference between the Catholic Church today, and the Catholic Church at the time we’re talking about. At the time we’re talking about a career in the Catholic Church was often the surest way to gain immense political power and wealth. Corruption was throughout the church, and it was not uncommon to have a high ranking church member who was an atheist or openly flouting the tenets they were supposed to be teaching, cough de Medicis cough cough, sorry something in the air.
Now that THAT’S out of the way, let’s jump into
Peter Waldo and the Waldensians
Peter Waldo is the very first guy in our quick history lesson. He started studying his Bible and came to the conclusion the wealth and trappings that had come to surround the office of the priest were keeping him and other priests from effectively ministering to their parish. So he took a vow of poverty and influenced other priests in the area to follow his example.
As he read the Bible more he started disagreeing more with the teachings of the church at the time. He started to say you don’t need to go through a priest for forgiveness, and even more crazy, are you ready for this? He started translating the Bible into the vulgar (common) tongue of the area, Provencal.
I know, it’s crazy to think of.
Now wind of this got back to the Pope over in Italy and he wanted to meet with this uppity priest from France, so off Peter went to Italy. There the two of them hashed it out and Peter was warned to stop teaching these crazy ideas, and we’ll call it even.
But, Peter Waldo didn’t hear so well, and headed back to Lyon, France and kept preaching. Which, not too surprisingly made the Pope mad, and he excommunicated poor Peter.
Peter got together with the other priests who agreed with him and they created a small underground church movement. Over the next several decades the Waldensians were hunted and when caught killed. Their movement persisted, but in small numbers to the time of Reformation.
John Wycliffe and a step too far
John Wycliffe was a rock star in the church. He was a chosen negotiator between the king of England and the pope. Because of this when he started to rail against the pope, and many of the positions of the church, Pope Gregory XI was hesitant to move too fast.
Wycliffe believed the church had sinned and strayed from their mission of preaching the gospel into politics. As penance Wycliffe suggested getting rid of all of their property and the church should be paupers.
Not too surprisingly that didn’t go over well.
John Wycliffe wasn’t done there. He suggested the monastic lifestyle was an enemy to society, that indulgences were worthless pieces of paper, AND shockingly the communion bread and wine did not become the literal body and blood of Christ.
He even went so far as to translate the Bible into English because he believed every man should read the Bible and discover for themselves what it said.
I started off mentioning John’s powerful friends, and that is why John was never condemned as a heretic in his life. The Pope was worried arresting John Wycliffe would send the world into a tailspin, and he would have riots in England. That’s not good for collecting tithes and offerings, in case you’re wondering.
After John Wycliffe had died the next pope did declare him a heretic, and his body was dug up, burned and thrown in the river.
But even that couldn’t stamp out the heresy he’d started.
Jan Hus and the goose is cooked
Jan Hus was a professor and was an advocate for the Czech people. He also was secretly reading the writings of John Wycliffe.
Something that could get you in a lot of trouble in the early 1400s, twenty or so years after Wycliffe had died.
Hus took Wycliffe’s writings to heart and started to denounce the failings of the clergy, bishops, and the pope. As you might imagine this did not go over well.
Especially since at this particular point in time, there were THREE popes. See there was the pope in Rome, Gregory XII, and then there was a French pope, Benedict XIII, and then to try a compromise there’s a pope from Pisa, Alexander V. So that makes three people for Jan Hus to anger, thankfully only one really comes into play here, but I think that’s an interesting bit of history (and a great example of the dangers of the church being too closely tied to earthly power).
All of this stuff is going on and Jan Hus and his followers were busy saying (does this sound familiar yet?): Indulgences are bad, salvation is through faith alone, and have you thought about translating the Bible into a language we all read.
This didn’t go over well, so Hus ended up going into hiding, but after some time agreed to meet with the church because he was guaranteed safe passage.
Only to be locked up as soon as he got to Constance with the statement, “We don’t need to keep promises to heretics.”
He went through a show trial, and was condemned as a heretic, and burned at the stake.
According to tradition, Jan Hus was supposed to of said, “You may have cooked this goose [what Hus means], but one day a swan will rise whose song you cannot stop.”
And those are the precursors to the Protestant Reformation
Each of these men deserves his own post, and might well get that soon because I started thinking about all the fun I could have with that Lego history lesson. Tomorrow, God willing (I mean I meant to have this post up last Wednesday), I’ll have a post up for you on some other necessary things for Martin Luther’s protest to work.
This is all part of my Protestant Reformation series.