The Protestant Revolution
Winds of Change
A Book Review
William G. Naphy’s book, “The Protestant Revolution” is an exploration into the fundamentals of Protestantism and how it led to and, in some cases, continues to provide impetus to socio-political and economic change. Although the movement began with strictly religious aims, it has logically come to dominate the secular aspects of the codes that societies in various parts of the world live by and evolve.
Naphy’s argument begins at the beginning and much before Luther’s nailing of the 95 criticisms of the Catholic Church, when ‘most Christians in western Europe’ had come to understand that ‘things needed to change.’ He documents the various reformist movements and groups active in parts of Europe at that time — movements which prepared the ground for the actual Reformation to come about.
Movements such as the devotion-modernism and humanism, with an impact on the mood of the times, set the stage for the Protestant Reformation which not only ended up creating a schism, but grew into a movement unto itself.
The account takes a rather boring turn as the author charts the initial stages of the Reformation from one end of Europe to the other, turning the magnificent tale into bland narrative non-fiction.
He goes on to elaborate on the differences among different groups, including the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Anabaptists and the Zwinglians, and the complications that came about as a result of John Calvin’s arrival in and subsequent expulsion from Geneva.
In a rather extraordinary move, as the author claims, by taking a slightly relaxed stance toward usury John Calvin set the foundation for the acceptance of the concept of interest, ‘which would expand in later years.’ Naphy goes on to establish how Calvinistic Geneva and the Calvinistic Dutch successors contributed to the birth of modern capitalism.
Not only did these religious schisms lead to chaos in France, violence and chaos also characterised the Reformation in the Netherlands. Events were further complicated by ‘the Dutch Revolt’, also known as the 80 Years War, which was fundamentally a war for territorial control. A result of the war was the formal separation of the DutchRepublic from the Holy Roman Empire.
He further narrates how the extremely close relationship between religion and state apparatus resulted in havoc that also spurred tensions in the British Isles. And if one is to take a closer look, those tensions continue to have a role of sorts in the Northern Ireland conflict. The sectarian strife became significant with Henry VIII’s severing of ‘the link with Rome, the destruction of the monasteries, [and] the establishment of secular legal sovereignty over ecclesiastical affairs.’
Henry’s measures, ‘initially driven’ by ‘dynastic goals’, were overturned by his daughter Mary, who during the re-Catholicisation of England, ‘began a systematic and brutal persecution of Protestants’ and had some 300 religious dissenters burnt at the stake. Her actions earned her the title of ‘Bloody Mary’.
After Mary, Elizabeth reinstated Protestantism but with tolerance toward Catholics. The war between the Catholic institution and Protestantism, however, had already reached a rather advanced stage. Elizabeth was formally excommunicated by the Pope and declared ‘deposed and liable to assassination.’
A time finally came in crisis-torn Europe when demand sprang up for the separation of the Church and the State — an idea that was to be enshrined in the American constitution of 1789.
Among other ironies that abound in Protestantism, the author discusses the secular ethos that is an inherent ingredient of this particular school of thought. ‘Its ready embrace of the world, its belief that God could be found in our everyday existence, led to an embrace of society that progressively segued into secularism.’
Naphy reflects on the vulnerability that is unavoidable in the Protestant ethos, and which has led to several splinter groups within it: ‘It has no mechanism for settling debates. When a Protestant states that a verse says and definitely means something, it is almost always possible to find another Protestant who will disagree and propose an entirely different meaning.’
Finally, he argues as to how Protestantism along with secular ideals led to Abolitionism and the successful anti-segregationist movements not only in Britain and the United States, but also in South Africa. So much so that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has ‘called for an end to discrimination against homosexuals.’
While the account is not a comprehensive history of the Protestant movement, and the narrative’s blandness is a little too much on certain occasions, it still qualifies as a sound introduction to its impact on human society which continues to this day.
[Book “The Protestant Revolution”; By William G. Naphy; BBC Books, London;ISBN 978-1-84-607523-0 , 304pp. Rs795, Book Reviewed by Qurat ul ain Siddiqui, Dawn, Sunday, 14 Jun, 2009 ]
POPE SAYS HE HAS ‘DEEP RESPECT’ FOR ISLAM
Pope Benedict underlined his ‘deep respect’ for Islam on Friday in Jordan, on his first trip as pontiff to an Arab state, and stressed that religious freedom was a fundamental human right. Speaking after a red carpet welcome from King Abdullah II and Queen Rania at Queen Alia Airport at the start of an eight-day tour of the Holy Land, the pope said he came to Jordan ‘as a pilgrim’. The visit ‘gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam’.
The pope stressed that he viewed religious freedom as ‘a fundamental human right’. ‘It is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world,’ he said.En route to Amman, the pope told journalists that dialogue between Christianity, Judaism and Islam was ‘very important for peace and so that everyone can follow the tenets of their faith’. The church ‘is not a political force but a spiritual force which can contribute to the progress of the peace process’ in the Middle East, he said.
Jordan’s opposition Islamic Action Front party said earlier this week the pope was not welcome unless he apologised for remarks he made in 2006, which it says targeted Islam. In his welcoming address, King Abdullah urged an expansion of Christian-Muslim dialogue to dispel ‘divisions’. Stressing the ‘importance of co-existence and harmony between Muslims and Christians,’ the monarch warned that ‘voices of provocation, ambitious ideologies of division, threaten unspeakable suffering’.
‘We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims... It is my hope that together we can expand the dialogue we have opened,’ he told the pontiff. Friends, unlike the pilgrims of old, I do not come bearing gifts or offerings. I come simply with an intention, a hope, to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East,’ the pope said. Christians in Jordan number around 200,000 of a total population of about six million.
After his arrival Benedict stressed that his first Holy Land trip as pontiff was a pilgrimage. ‘I come to Jordan as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history,’ he said. The pope will divide his visit between Jordan and Israel, with a stop in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Some groups in the region have said they expect more than platitudes from the 82-year-old head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, with the visit raising a daunting array of religious and political challenges.
[Dawn, Saturday, 09 May, 2009]