Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation
At least two other books of biographical collections of Reformation era figures have been published recently. Ignatius Press has reissued Hilaire Belloc’s 1936 classic Characters of the Reformation, with its emphasis on the English Reformation (because Belloc was convinced that if England had remained united with the Catholic Church, the “Protestant Rebellion” would have failed) with Belloc’s pointed insights into the personalities of Henry VIII, the Thomases (Cromwell, Cranmer, and More), two of Henry’s wives (Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn), and several other Englishmen. Not to mention some Frenchmen and a couple of Holy Roman Emperors.
Joseph Pearce’s Heroes of the Catholic Reformation: Saints Who Renewed the Church (reviewed in these pages in the October/November 2017 issue), emphasizes heroes—saints— in England and on the Continent. In England the heroes are martyrs; on the Continent they are founders and reformers. Like Belloc, Pearce highlights the distinction between the so-called Reformation on the Continent and the English Reformation, while also highlighting what’s often called the Counter-Reformation, the true reformation of the Catholic Church, encouraging revival and renewal from within.
In Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation, Phillip Campbell uses biographical sketches starting—after the first few chapters—with Erasmus (perhaps almost a heretic but certainly not a hero) and Martin Luther (heretic) to tell the story of the Reformation on the Continent through the Council of Trent and the papacy of Pope St. Pius V. Campbell describes the response of Charles V to Luther’s religious rebellion in the Holy Roman Empire and the divisions within the Protestant community with Thomas Muntzer and John Calvin.
He detours to England to profile Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, Thomas Cromwell, and Mary I and then notes events in Scotland with John Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots. Returning to the Continent, he recounts the efforts of Pope Paul III to call an Ecumenical Council and the obstructions to its success posed by the rivalry between Charles V and Francis I of France. After describing the great lives of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Charles Borromeo, Campbell highlights the reforms and controversies of Pope St. Pius V’s reign, including the excommunication of Elizabeth I in 1570 and the victory of Lepanto in 1571. Back to England again with St. Edmund Campion, then trips to Spain for Philip II and to France for Catherine de Medici.
Campbell begins the book with the life of St. Peter Canisius, SJ as a model of the Catholic hero of the Reformation as reformer, catechist, teacher, and preacher. Canisius is Campbell’s “Saint for the Age.” He promises to reference Canisius throughout the book as “the golden thread that will tie the narrative of the Reformation together”. The thread is hard to trace sometimes, but Campbell does bring Canisius up at appropriate junctures in the narration.
Several of the people are hard to fit in either of the title’s categories. For example, is Mary, Queen of Scots a hero (or heroine) of the Reformation in Scotland? Scotland, like Ireland, was one of a few countries where the rule of cuius regio eius religio (the religion of the ruler was the religion of the people) did not apply. In Scotland, John Knox and the Kirk opposed Mary’s rather restrained Catholic influence; in Ireland, Elizabeth failed to convert the Catholics to Anglicanism, even by torture and the sword. Charles V made heroic, if not always successful, efforts to quell the divisions in the Empire caused by Luther. Philip II did the same in Spain, with perhaps more success, but Catherine de Medici is hard to characterize. She was as politic as Elizabeth I in her use of religion as part of statecraft as her sons successively reigned in France.
In Chapter 10, “Kirk and State: John Knox and Mary, Queen of Scots”, Campbell makes an unfortunate historical error, confusing the Stuart kings James IV and James V and the battles of Flodden and Solway Moss. On page 173, he announces that James V died on the “bloody field of Solway Moss”. James V did not fight with the Scottish forces at Solway Moss and died of a fever, in bed, after hearing of his army’s defeat soon after the birth of his daughter Mary. James IV died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It would be a minor mistake if Campbell had not emphasized it so much, mentioning it three times in one paragraph.
He also errs in stating in a footnote on page 252 that Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley of Ireland was canonized in 1992: O’Hurley was beatified with a group of 16 others that year by Pope John Paul II, representing many more who suffered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under English oppression.
Those errors aside, Campbell’s narrative style is sure and often dramatic. He covers events like the Battle of Lepanto, the wars between Protestants and Catholics in the Spanish Netherlands, the French Wars of Religion, the rivalry between Catherine de Medici and the House of Guise, etc., with excellent detail and context. He provides a short list of recommended reading and sources; there is no index and there are no illustrations or maps.
In his introduction and conclusion, Campbell outlines an argument for writing history as a Catholic that is convincing. Admitting his bias—that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus to do His work on earth until He returns—Campbell asserts that this does not mean he excuses any abuses or errors committed by Catholics in the past. Throughout the book, he points out the failures of Catholic clergy and laymen as readily as he does the heresies of the Protestant rebels.
He concludes his history with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, selecting that date because the French Wars of Religion had ended, the Council of Trent had met, and the Catholic Reformation had restored many of the losses of the early Reformation years. The world had changed greatly, but it was stable again. As he wraps up his discussion of the Reformations of the sixteenth century, Campbell comments on the consequences of those crucial 81 years from 1517 to 1598. He sees Christianity divided, unable to respond to the challenges of secularism and skepticism; distrust and the legacy of violence between Catholics and Protestants; the loss of Christendom, the united culture of society and religion, etc.
He argues that whatever progress has been made in ecumenical efforts for the past 50 years or so, our commitment to the truth, to the unity of all Christians as Jesus prayed for it the night before He died, must remain paramount. Even as we regret the tragedy of the Reformation, Campbell concludes, we cannot forget the errors that divide Protestants from the Catholic Church. We may find common charitable or social goals to work toward, but there is only one way to achieve true unity: in what Blessed John Henry Newman called “the one true fold”, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation offers a traditional Catholic view of the tragedy of the sixteenth century and serves as a good introduction to the era.