Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Echoes as Guidelines...


By Henri Daniel-Rops


The series of events which form the history of Catholicism in the
mid sixteenth century are most often depicted as follows. A violent shock
causes the very foundations of Christendom to tremble, and whole sections
of the Church's ancient edifice are swallowed up in heresy. Her rulers
then drag themselves from their lethal indifference; they determine to
oppose the Protestant menace, and at last take steps that should have been
taken long ago.

Such is the pattern implied by the word `counter-reformation.' The
term, however, though common, is misleading: it cannot rightly be applied,
logically or chronologically, to that sudden awakening as of a startled
giant, that wonderful effort of rejuvenation and reorganization, which in
a space of thirty years gave to the Church an altogether new appearance.
What happened was a true renascence in the fullest etymological sense,
more impressive from a Christian point of view than the Renaissance of art
and letters upon which contemporary Europe was priding itself. The
so-called `counter-reformation' did not begin with the Council of Trent,
long after Luther; its origins and initial achievements were much anterior
to the fame of Wittenberg. It was undertaken, not by way of answering the
`reformers,' but in obedience to demands and principles that are part of
the unalterable tradition of the Church and proceed from her most
fundamental loyalties...

Protestantism played a part, dialectically, in the Catholic
renascence. "Oportet haereses esse," as St. Paul says; and heresy obliged
the Church to devise an exact statement of her doctrine upon certain
points, to establish her position more securely than she would, in all
probability, have been led to do, had she not been confronted with the
challenge of error. But the impetus which enabled herto join battle with
her enemies was generated long before the Lutheran assault, and can in no
way be considered a result of the upheaval caused by that event.

A general view of the history of the Church makes it clear that the
sixteenth-century Catholic reform is not essentially different from other
reforms, which have applied an irresistible law and thus serve as
mile-stones on the road of time. The work of Cluny in the eleventh
century, the achievements of St. Norbert, St. Bernard and others in the
twelfth, the heroic undertakings of St. Francis and St. Dominic in the
thirteenth -- all these monumental and unending labours are of the same
spirit and the same significance as those accomplished by the Popes and
the Fathers of Trent, and by the religious founders of that period. Here
indeed we have one of the most permanent features of Christianity, one of
the most certain evidences of its divine origin and of the reality of
those promises which it claims to have received. For ever dragged
downward by the weight of original sin, the baptized soul repeatedly falls
back into darkness. Nevertheless, with equal regularity, there springs
from her very depths, where primeval defilement cannot altogether mask,
much less destroy, the supernatural resemblance, a force that impels her
once more upward to light and life: a force whose name is Grace...

Whereas Protestantism marks a complete break in the history of
Christendom, the most grievous and most tragic there has ever been, the
Catholic reform stands in the direct line of ancient tradition. It is
itself, in fact, the rediscovery of the living Tradition. From whatever
point of view it is considered, the same permanency is observed. The
reforming decrees of Trent are in perfect harmony with the Gregorian
Bulls, while those concerning faith look back constantly to the ancient
conciliar decisions, to the decretals of the popes, to the Fathers
andDoctors of the Church. Likewise in the moral sphere: Tauler, Suso and
the great medieval mystics form an obvious link between St. Ignatious of
Loyola and the "Imitation," as do the Fraternities and Oratories of Divine
Love between St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine of Genoa.

The Catholic reform, then, was in no respect a
`counter-reformation' in the chronological order; nor was it any more so
as regards the process of its development. Those who promoted it had no
intention of combating Protestantism and halting its progress...

The true reform was not directed an enemy; it was
undertaken God, Jesus Christ, as a protestation of unwavering
loyalty. Before emerging as a body of doctrine, a disciplinary canon, an
ecclesiastical code, it was an immense and prodigious movement of fervour,
which uplifted the Christian soul almost everywhere (more especially
perhaps in Italy and Spain), a kind of spiritual sublevation operated by
the saints...


At the critical moment when the Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church
was about to recover possession of herself and regain her rightful aspect,
it was as it had always been; her authentic history is written by the
saints. The reform was brought about by means of a spiritual rebirth,
that is to say, by a deepening of faith, a return to vital sources. The
practice of prayer put an end to doubt and laxity, to the divorce between
faith and life. It is characteristic that the really decisive
personalities of the Catholic reform were all mystics, whose primary and
indeed sole purpose was to know God, to love Him and to serve Him. Captain
Inigo, wounded at Pampeluna, wrote no treatise on anti-heretical strategy,
but "Spiritual Exercises;" nor was it rage against the Lutheran thesis,
but love of God, that lit up the face of St. Cajetan before the crib in
Santa Maria Maggiore on Christmas night 1517.

That the Catholic renascence originated in prayer is of profound
significance. The whole difference between Catholic reform and Protestant
`reformation' is summed up in these words uttered by a monk of shining
faith, Giles of Viterbo, in 1512: `Man must be changed by religion, not
religion by men.' `Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice,' said
the Mater, `and all these things shall be added unto you.'

The most surprising feature of this interior movement, of this
effort to obey the Gospel precepts of repentance and self-renewal, is the
fact that it was not limited to the domain of conscience, where every man
can, of he so wills, be sovereign. In the troubled years of the fifteenth century, mysticism retired within itself, isolating itself from the world
of men; the "Imitation," for example, proposed the monastic enclosure or the more secret region of the heart as the proper field of spiritualendeavor.

But the mystical leaders of the sixteenth century practiced afrom of spirituality directed to the science of God and to the demands of charity -- a momentous change of outlook , the causes of which defy analysis.

While fashioning a body of religious men dedicated to prayer
and renunciation, they were almost unconsciously training an army of
seasoned troops for the greater battles in which the Church would find
herself engaged. They became the most successful opponents of those
heretics whom they had at first ignored; and the reform which they began
by accomplishing within themselves overflowed and radiated its vigour in
the larger realm of institutions.

It is this movement of renascent fervour, this tremor of awakening
faith, that allows us to consider the sixteenth century, for all its
blasphemy and bloodshed, as one of the fairest in Christian history. At a
moment when the mind of man was everywhere scintillating with high
intelligence and even genius, the human soul burgeoned also with sublime
exaltation, in acts of faith, hope and charity. It was indeed the
pressure exerted by this distinctively religious phenomenon upon the
Church's rulers that determined the reform of morals, institutions and
theological education, just as, by altering the climate of the period, it
enabled the greatest of all councils to assemble and the Tridentine canons
to become the lifeblood of a reborn Catholicism.

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