|Luther Nailing 95 Theses|
Julius Hübner, painted in 1878
Thankfully, not all bishops are that way, and it shows in their dioceses were traditional liturgy and good catechises have been embraced. These dioceses will suffer the least when the "Second Reformation" comes.
Please note, I use the term "reformation" loosely here, because there really is nothing being reformed. What I'm talking about here is an outright revolt against the apostolic teachings of the Church, just like the First Reformation was. Protestants, however, define this revolt as a "Reformation" and that appears to be the name that stuck. So I use that term strictly in its historical sense, and it shouldn't be misconstrued as a real "reformation" of any kind.
This Second Reformation will be a similar revolt. It will be a revolt in the Catholic Church -- an outright rebellion -- but the leaders of this revolt (and the mainstream media) will call it a "Second Reformation."
I say this because the conditions for such an event to happen are almost parallel to the conditions that existed in the 16th century. During that time there was rampant corruption in the Catholic Church, particularly in Northern Europe. Rome's attitude was to just "let sleeping dogs lie," and was far more preoccupied with problems arising from the Muslim world. Clergy in Northern Europe were content to follow the whims of political leaders, and allowed all sorts of abuses of Church teaching to go on, so long as these political leaders made sure the Church was well taken care of financially. Catechises of the public fell to historic lows. Faithful Catholics who rose up to try to put a stop to this were immediately put down as "troublemakers." All throughout Europe, liturgical standards were very lax, and various regions adopted innovations that were not always approved by Rome. Does any of this sound familiar? It certainly does to me. It sounds almost exactly like the time we're living in now in the West. All of this sad nonsense continued for nearly a century before that Augustinian monk and priest, Martin Luther, shuffled some papers around on the door of All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, which served as a university bulletin board, to make room for his "Ninety-Five Thesis." That happened on October 31, 1517, an event that would set off a firestorm in Germany that didn't end until January 3, 1521 when Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X. This firestorm, and the subsequent fallout, was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, or maybe I should say what will soon be remembered as the First Protestant Reformation. "Round two" is on the way.
Pope Leo X thought this was a problem that could be easily settled with a papal bull (Exsurge Domine) and an excommunication if necessary. After all, that's how previous popes had handled such things. It usually worked like a charm. Once the people learned that a reckless teacher had been excommunicated, they refused to follow him. Sometimes even the state would put a bounty on such a person, as a renegade and traitor, because at that time there was no separation between Church and State. Such conditions usually forced heretics to surrender and beg repentance rather quickly. However, Leo X couldn't have been more mistaken. Not only did his papal bull fail to produce the desired results, but Luther's popularity grew and within a matter of years, vast swaths of Germany and Switzerland were pealing away from the Catholic Church, creating for themselves "parallel churches" that operated autonomously from the pope. These parallel churches eventually went on to become national churches, and are now known as Protestant denominations. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Essentially, the pope did the right thing, but the result was the exact opposite from what it should have been. Why?
It all goes back to the conditions that existed in northern Europe leading up to Martin Luther, which I described above. These conditions were the powder keg. Martin Luther was just the match. Normally heretical teachers like him fizzled out rather quickly, but because of the unusual conditions that existed in Northern Europe at the time, Luther's spark turned into a wildfire virtually overnight. Had these conditions not existed in the north European Church, Martin Luther would be nothing more than a footnote in history, if even that. In many ways, the First Protestant Reformation was a wound on the Catholic Church, self-inflicted by decades of liturgical, doctrinal and disciplinary neglect in northern Europe by Rome. The strategy of "let sleeping dogs lie" was a disaster for the Catholic Church. Failure to be diligent on liturgy, doctrine and discipline created a laity that was primed and ready for revolt. They had been allowed to do things their own way for so long, that they really didn't understand the faith anymore. The people had lost respect for Rome. They lost respect for the pope. Then along came Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli with their "reformed" version of Christianity. Of course money played a huge role in all of this. Never under estimate the influence of mammon. European princes saw in this so-called "reformation" and opportunity for profit, and so they cashed in, siding with the "reformers." Once the big money of northern Europe fell behind this "reformers," Rome had already lost. There was no way the pope could win.
All that was left for Rome was a counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent, in which the Catholic Church basically cleaned up its act. Doctrines were clearly defined. Heresies were condemned. Liturgy was standardised, and new disciplinary protocols were enforced. It was, perhaps, the greatest council in the history of the Church, and the council under which all subsequent councils operate. Without Trent to serve as the operating context, Vatican I and Vatican II are essentially meaningless. So Trent was a mighty council indeed, and one we still refer to today.
Trent was great for the Catholic Church, but what about the Protestants? Did it quickly bring back the Protestants? No. Did it put down the Protestant churches? No. Did it at least cause the Protestant churches to turn back a little from their errors? No, not really. Once they had broken with Rome, it was too late. They continued to move further and further away from Rome until this very day. What the Council of Trent did do was prepare the Catholic Church for a mighty evangelistic push into North and South America, Africa, and even various Pacific islands. Trent, having cleaned up the liturgical and disciplinary mess, and clearly defined doctrinal teaching, turned the Catholic Church into an evangelistic powerhouse, the effect of which is still felt even today.
Meanwhile, the Protestant churches that claim to want to move back closer to Rome in ecumenical relations, are actually moving further away, by ordaining women and blessing same-sex "marriage." To date, the only Protestants that have come back into the Church en mass are traditional Anglicans, who essentially rejected the Reformation and had already become "Catholic" on their own, humbly beseeching Rome to take them back. At that, we're talking about a very small number of people, some 500 years after their ancestors' original break with Rome. The lesson of Anglicanorum Coetibus is that the Catholic Church doesn't win back Protestants by trying to imitate them. Rather, she wins back Protestants by just sticking to Catholicism and patiently waiting with an open door. The type of Anglicans that returned to Rome have many similarities in common with traditional "old-school" Catholics, both in doctrinal and liturgical sensibilities. The simple fact is, the one and only ecumenical "success" (being defined as full sacramental unity) Rome has ever had with the Protestants is manifested in people who have little interest in novelty to begin with, but instead want to be as traditionally Catholic as they can be, albeit in an English way.
This little "reality check" is something the bishops of the Catholic Church need, because many in the West (Europe and North America) are trying to remake their parishes into "protestantised" knock-offs of Lutheran and Methodist churches. The liturgy is sloppy, and the catechises is "hit and miss" at best. While some bishops run a pretty disciplined ship, at least, there are others who's egregious laxity (and sometimes outright corruption) is giving them all a bad name. Does any of this sound familiar? It parallels the early 16th century. For the most part, the majority of Western bishops have rejected (or at least ignored) the reforms attempted by Pope Benedict XVI, and the new Pope Francis seems to have different priorities all together. Like northern Europe in the early 16th century, all of Europe combined with North America and Oceania in the early 21st century, is a powder keg waiting for a lone match to kindle a flame. Once that happens. BOOM! The whole Western world is going to be ignited in a Second Protestant Reformation that will make the first just look like a trial run.
On the one hand, we have liberal Protestant denominations dying all over Europe and North America. They're waiting for a leader to unite them under one banner, because ecumenical reunification is the only way they can consolidate their numbers and keep their congregations from fading away. On the other hand, we have so many poorly formed Catholics in the Catholic Church now. There are multiple generations who have no idea what the Church actually teaches, many young Catholics who have never even seen a traditional liturgy, and a laity that has been become cynical after years watching corrupt priests and bishops give baby-killing politicians a pass, simply because they promise financial security to the Church. All the while, there have been faithful Catholics who sounded the alarm, begging Catholic leaders to clean things up, only to be put down as "troublemakers" and "complainers." The Western Catholic Church is primed and ready now.
The next "match" to strike a flame will come eventually, no matter what. It's inevitable. However, we've learned from Wikileaks now that there are elements within the American Democratic Party who hope to expedite this process by providing a "match" of their own -- maybe two or three. It only takes one charismatic figure, but if you throw a few in the mix, things can happen much faster, as proved by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. With today's modern communications of the mainstream media, and social media, the Second Protestant Reformation is likely to happen much faster than the first, and span a far greater expanse of the globe.
When it happens, the Catholic Church (as we currently know it) will cleave into two parts. The first will remain loyal to the apostolic teachings of the faith, the pope and the magisterium of the Church. These will be the faithful Catholics, and there may not be very many of them in comparison to what we might expect or hope for. The second will follow a new Martin Luther type of charismatic character, as well as any others that work with him. This group will be much larger, and they will likely take the majority of Catholic parishes (and dioceses) in Europe, as well as a fair amount in North America and Oceania. They will likely call themselves something akin to the "Reformed Catholic Church" and will serve as an ecumenical umbrella organisation under which shrinking liberal Protestants can unite without having to compromise any of their Protestant theology.
Communion in this "Reformed Catholic Church" will be defined by inter-communion on the sacraments, without a necessity for doctrinal unity. The sacraments (particularly the Holy Eucharist) will be viewed simply as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Inter-communion on the Eucharist will be seen as a "tool" or a "means" that leads to greater ecumenical discussions on doctrine, but as we will soon see, those discussions will never end. In time, this Reformed Catholic Church will simply compromise by making most dogmatic teaching "optional."
The catalyst for the creation of this "Reformed Catholic Church" will likely be issues like women's ordination, contraception and same-sex "marriage." This new false church will simply allow them, and this will be demanded by the majority of the laity. In Europe, the rebellion is likely to begin in Germany again, where the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly liberal and corrupt. This will likely be paralleled in the United States, wherever the Democratic Party has a large degree of influence.
Yes, the pope will likely respond with some kind of apostolic decree, along with some excommunications, but just like the last time some 500 years ago, it won't work. The pope will have lost the respect of the laity in these places. Why? Because he will not accept women's ordination, contraception or same-sex "marriage." For too long, Rome has "let sleeping dogs lie," by allowing liberal and negligent (even corrupt) bishops lead the entire Western Church into compromise with modernity on just about every front: catechises, liturgy and discipline. We've seen the result of this in stagnating growth in Europe and North America, but that is just the beginning of sorrows. What comes next will be monumental and historic. It will leave faithful Catholics in chaos for a while, only to settle into a much smaller Roman Catholic Church when its over. It will create a counter-Catholic church that is false, but will call itself "Reformed." It will result in the consolidation of many liberal Protestant groups under one umbrella organisation. It will be known simply as the "Second Reformation."
The good news in all of this, and there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud, is that once purified, it is likely the authentic Roman Catholic Church will begin a massive evangelist push into Muslim Africa and Asia, along with Communist China, just as she did in the Americas after the First Reformation.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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