John Bradshaw - The Counter-Reformation
This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Welcome to "500," our series of programs on the Protestant Reformation, which began October 31, 500 years ago, in the year 1517. Tonight we’ll look at the Counter Reformation. As we do so, we’ll travel to Spain, to northern Spain. We’ll travel to Rome and to the Vatican City. And we’ll study some interesting personalities, including Ignatius of Loyola, the man who founded the Society of Jesus, better known to most of us today as the Jesuits. After our program filmed on location, I’ll be back. My special guest is Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, retired professor of church history, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. Dr. Damsteegt, thank you for joining me.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: It’s a pleasure for me to be here.
John Bradshaw: Just very briefly, how significant in the overall scheme of things was the Counter Reformation?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: It was extremely significant because most of the conquests made by the Reformers were taken back as a result of the Counter Reformation.
John Bradshaw: I’m looking forward to talking more about that in just a few moments. Our next program will be "A Wall of Separation," in which our guest will be Lincoln Steed. The Counter Reformation. What an event. What a process. It took place over, well, we could say many, many years. And to a certain extent, you might claim that in some spheres it’s going on today. While much of Protestantism, in fact, I’m going to say the vast majority of Protestantism, has forgotten that there ever was a protest, and is by no means carrying forward the protest of Protestantism today. Signs of the Counter Reformation are everywhere to behold. If you take a journey to the city of Rome and travel to a church called the Church of the Gesu, not very far from the Vatican City, a long stone throw from the Tiber River in Rome, you discover some interesting architecture.
On the front, on the exterior wall of the Church of the Gesu, to the left and to the right of the main door into the church, are some fascinating statues. The statues, one to the left, one to the right, high and lifted up, of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He’s not only depicted in statue form, but he’s depicted as standing on a Protestant who is stretched out or splayed out before him. It’s a very strong message, indicating to the world the very clear intent of the purpose of the Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, and the meaning of Ignatius’ mission. That was to crush Protestantism. Go inside the church, and the statue you see is even more interesting and more graphic. It’s an elaborate statue.
In fact, well, let me explain it to you. There is a depiction of Mary. Before her are two men falling away, as though she is casting them down. They are intended to depict Martin Luther and John Calvin. To the right and down a little from the figure of Mary is an angel, a cherub, you might say, wearing a very determined look and tearing pages from a book. Now, if you have very good eyesight, or a good lens on your camera, you’ll see that on the spine of the book it says, "Ulrich Zwingli". There are other books to be seen in the sculpture, one authored by John Calvin, the other by Martin Luther. So what’s taking place here? Mary and her help has been invoked in destroying Protestantism and asserting Roman Catholicism.
Of course, if you’re a Roman Catholic and you believe that the Roman Catholic Church was, uh, formed by God and is the true church, then you would welcome this. You would understand this, and you would see, say, why should we not depict our mission as such? We are just declaring to the world that we are doing what God has asked us to do. But what if you don’t agree the Roman Catholic Church is the true church? What if, for some reason, you don’t believe it was on a divine mission from God to spread Catholic truth throughout the world? You’re left with a fact, and that is that Rome is asserting its right to crush Protestantism and stamp out what it sees as heresy.
So if you’re a non-Catholic, or if you’re a Protestant, right there in Rome, for all to see, you’re being given a very stern message, and that message is, there is no place for you. Interestingly, you enter the very magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, and not far in, on the left-hand side, is a large statue or representation, again, of Ignatius of Loyola. He’s holding in one arm the Councils of the Society of Jesus, or the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola. And before him, right there in the Vatican City, right there in St. Peter’s lies a Protestant; Ignatius Loyola has his foot on that Protestant. You cannot possibly miss the intent, the meaning of a work like that.
The Counter Reformation was a very, very definite procedure. It was Rome saying, we’ll do everything we can to get rid of Protestantism. Think about what Protestantism sought to do: to reintroduce to the world the Bible as primary in Christianity, a personal relationship with Jesus as paramount in a person’s Christian experience. The Protestant Reformation sought to reassert in Christianity, because it did exist already, confession to God for sin rather than confession to a priest, when Rome is saying, "We want to obliterate that; we want to counter that reformation". Rome is saying no to the Bible as primary in the believer’s experience. Rome is saying no to a personal relationship with God that does not go through a priest. Rome is saying, "No, you will not take away the sacraments. You will not take away the role of the church".
Rome is reasserting its dominance and what it believes is its divine prerogative. Now, this is just a matter of the historical record. I’m not speaking to you in a critical fashion. Again, if you were to believe that Rome holds the primary place among Christians, you would say this is appropriate. This is good. You would wish to see it encouraged. But if, for some reason, you don’t believe that the Roman church was raised up by God to do God’s work, you would see here that there is a church that must be somehow confused about the message of the Bible, and is on a mission, but not a mission that has been given by God. In just a moment, our program, "The Counter Reformation," filmed on location in Spain, in Rome, and in the Vatican City. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. On September the 27th, 1540, Pope Paul III sat in the apostolic palace in the Vatican City, wondering if things could possibly get worse, for him and for his church. He realized that the Vatican City had a lot of ground to make up. It had been 23 years since Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and since that time whole countries had broken free from Rome’s control. Parts of Germany and Scandinavia, England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, they all seceded from Rome. Luther’s writings and the writings of other Reformers had spread across Europe. People were experiencing liberation. Long before Luther, there were reform movements within Catholicism.
Peter Waldo pressed for reform within the church in the 12th century. He spoke against purgatory and against the teaching of transubstantiation, which states that during the communion service the bread and wine, or juice, become the actual body and blood of Jesus. For his trouble he was severely persecuted. He and his followers retreated to live in the isolated valleys of the Piedmont region in northern Italy, where they worked and educated. But it wasn’t far enough away to be out of the reach of a church that was determined to destroy them. John Wycliffe, who was born around the year 1328, is known today as "the Morning Star of the Reformation".
Educated at Balliol College in Oxford, he translated the Bible from Latin into English, or the English of his day. From his parish in Lutterworth in England, Wycliffe attacked monasticism, the veneration of saints, transubstantiation, and he even said the papacy wasn’t biblical, going so far as to equate the papacy with the antichrist. It’s no wonder he wasn’t popular. After his death the church declared him to be a heretic, exhumed his body, burned his remains, and cast his ashes into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth. Wycliffe influenced the Czech reformer Jan Hus, or John Huss.
Now, you have to keep in mind that to speak out against the church meant death, and these men knew that. Huss was commanded by the church to appear at a trial in Constance, Germany. The church promised to protect him. But the moment he arrived in that city, he was apprehended by the church, thrown into a loathsome prison, left to languish there. Then he was brought out and executed, and his ashes were thrown into the Rhine River. Luther was by no means the first burr under the saddle of the church, but he was definitely the biggest challenge they’d had to deal with. Now, it’s not like Luther didn’t have plenty of material to work with.
Church leaders, many of them, were openly corrupt; the faithful were kept completely in the dark as far as Scripture was concerned. They couldn’t possess the Bible. In fact, to have the Bible, portions of the Bible, even handwritten portions of the Bible, was enough to get a person sentenced to death. The church financed the building of St Peter’s by selling indulgences. This was a phenomenal abuse of ignorant church members, telling them that sins could be forgiven or temporal punishment for sin would be lessened if they paid money to the church. Indulgences could be bought for the dead. It was outrageous. Reform was inevitable.
And by the time Luther stood up, and Melanchthon with him, and Calvin and Farel and Zwingli and Knox, all roughly at the same time, the world was shaken. And the church trembled. Which brings us back to September the 27th, 1540, at a meeting that took place on that day, here in the Vatican. A small group of priests was ushered into Pope Paul’s presence. A group with an agenda, a concerned group. Concerned by what they saw happening to the church, which they believed was divinely commissioned to represent God on Earth. They were led by a sharply intelligent man, a theologian and former soldier. His name was Ignatius of Loyola. His words at that memorable meeting have been paraphrased by the late author Malachi Martin.
He said, "Holy Father, the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church are in mortal trouble. Needed is a modern weapon to fight this totally new warfare. Give us, a new charter like no other charter given before. Make us independent of all local authorities and directly responsible to Your Holiness. We will go anywhere at any time at any cost to life and comfort in order to do anything". And so the Society of Jesus came into existence: the Jesuits. It was the first time an organization quite like this had existed within the Roman Catholic Church. The pope would launch a counter reformation, a strategy to press back against the advances made by Protestantism. The Jesuits would be a significant factor in aiding the church to regain lost prestige, power and influence.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The Counter Reformation was simply the response of the church against what they saw, an uprising. Kind of a revolt that should be put out. What they did is analyzing the arguments that were presented by Luther and others, and trying to counteract it. You know, you have to keep in mind, the church was one church, and there is no split whatsoever. And the church wanted to preserve this, and they thought the greatest sin in the world would be to ruin the unity of the church.
John Bradshaw: When you’re losing market share, when in a sporting event you have to come from behind, when it’s the third quarter of the Super Bowl and you’re down by 28 points to 3, and it looks like you’re about to lose big, you mount a comeback effort. Some comebacks are successful, some not so much. This would be a comeback of epic proportions. If Rome was going to fix the damage caused by Luther and Wycliffe and Farel and a host of others, something had to be done. And it would take some remarkable leadership. Which brings us to Ignatius of Loyola. I’ll have more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: He was born here in Azpeitia, at the Castle of Loyola, in what's known today as Basque Country in northern Spain, about 30 miles from the border with France and about 60 miles from Pamplona, famous for the Running of the Bulls. This basilica, the santuario de Loyola, is built on the site of his birthplace. He was named Iñigo, the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died shortly after he was born, so he was raised by the wife of a local blacksmith. He took the surname Loyola, a reference to this place where he was born and raised. At the time, it was just a village.
When he was 17, he joined the military. He became an expert in dueling. It’s said that when a man challenged the divinity of Christ, he challenged that man to a duel, and he killed him with his sword. When he was 18 years old, he was employed by the Duke of Najera. He spent 12 years working for the man. He was involved in a lot of battles. But his military career came to an end in 1521, during the Battle of Pamplona. He was struck by a cannon ball, seriously injured. One of his legs was shattered. It’s a wonder he survived at all. But he did survive, and spent the rest of his life walking with a limp. During his recovery, he underwent a spiritual experience which led him to devote the rest of his life to the service of his faith. He read about Jesus and about the lives of the saints of his church, and was impressed by people like Francis of Assisi. He spent weeks in prayer and meditation in this cave, developing what would eventually be called his Spiritual Exercises.
During this time Inigo experienced a number of visions. According to one writer, they appeared to him as "a form in the air near him and this form gave him much consolation because it was exceedingly beautiful, it somehow seemed to have the shape of a serpent and had many things that shone like eyes, but were not eyes. He received much delight and consolation from gazing upon this object, but when the object vanished he became disconsolate". In order to grow close to God, he pursued an ascetic life of strict self-denial, as many monks or priests did in those days. He made a pilgrimage to Israel, hoping to convert the people controlling the Holy Land to Christianity. The Spiritual Exercises he developed set the tone for the Jesuit order.
The exercises emphasized discernment regarding the difference between good and evil in a person’s life. He taught that through discernment a believer can achieve a mystical union with God, and therefore understand God’s will. This trend toward mysticism in the philosophy of the Jesuits encouraged a larger movement toward mysticism during the time of the Counter Reformation. The challenge, of course, is that with this system the Bible isn’t necessarily seen as a Christian’s supreme spiritual authority. But emphasizing the Bible was what the Reformers had been doing, and that had taken a toll on the church’s power and authority. He studied in Barcelona, and then spent seven years as a university student in Paris.
The Reformation was in full swing by then, the effects of the Reformation clearly seen as people all around him, irrespective of their class in society, were taking sides in the controversy. And it was while he was at that university that he met the six men who would join with him in his life’s work, the work for which the world remembers him, work that would impact his church, Christianity as a whole, and even the world. On the morning of August the 15th, 1534, Ignatius Loyola and his six friends met together in one of the oldest churches in Paris. Together they took vows, and formed what would become known as the Society of Jesus. It was formally established five years later, and one year after that, in that memorable meeting with Pope Paul III, the highest blessing of the church was bestowed upon Ignatius and his friends, and their plans to regain ground lost by the papacy and blunt the progress of the Reformation.
He sent his companions throughout Europe establishing universities and colleges and seminaries. Educate the educators, and you influence what’s being taught, and what’s being thought. With the help of his personal secretary, he wrote the Jesuit Constitution, based on the principle of absolute self-denial and complete obedience to the pope. They adopted the motto, "perinde ac cadaver," which means "as if a dead body". Part of the oath taken by Jesuits says, "I do further promise and declare, that I will have no opinion or will of my own, or any mental reservation whatever, even as a corpse or cadaver, but will unhesitatingly obey each and every command that I may receive from my superiors in the Militia of the Pope and of Jesus Christ".
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The people who adopt the Special Exercises were, had a strong faith in that whatever they were being told is the truth. If the church would tell me that this is white while it is black, I would accept it. Very, very simple. And if the church says this, even if my senses says it is incorrect, because the church says it, I will accept it. And so it was a total, total mortification of the will. That was a fantastic system of brainwashing, that you believe without reservation that what the church teaches you should be, that is the truth and nothing but the truth.
John Bradshaw: The Jesuits are still a powerful force in the Roman Catholic Church, and scores of colleges and universities around the world are under their guidance. In 2013, Pope Francis became the first Jesuit to be elected to his church’s highest office. The Jesuits were the foot soldiers of the Counter Reformation. But the papal church was also taking other steps to restore its power. There was much more to the Counter Reformation.
At the Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563, strategies were devised to help the church address the challenges presented by the Protestant Reformation. Now, any talk of compromise with Protestantism was ruled out. But the council did acknowledge that certain abuses had occurred at some levels under the auspices of the church. So there were some changes made. For example, certain measures were introduced to govern more closely the sale of indulgences. But the veto power of church tradition above the Bible was maintained, as was the role of sacraments and other rituals in obtaining salvation and divine grace. The apocryphal books, books such as Wisdom, Judith, Tobit, those two extra chapters said to be part of the book of Daniel, they were granted the same status as Scripture by the council. The council reaffirmed the veneration of relics and images, as well as the veneration of saints. And the Council of Trent was responsible for some very interesting theological developments, developments which today have largely been lost sight of, but developments which have impacted Christianity in an enormous way. I’ll tell you more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. As Protestants appealed to the Bible during the Reformation, the authority of the ruling church was undermined. Numerous figures claimed that the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation and the writings of Paul pointed out that the papacy was the Antichrist of Bible prophecy. So during the Council of Trent, the pope commissioned the Jesuits and the others present to go to Scripture and find an interpretation of those passages that would claim otherwise. In the decades that followed the Council of Trent, Jesuit theologian Francisco Ribera claimed that the papacy couldn’t possibly be the Antichrist, because the Antichrist would be a single figure that would arise at the end of the time.
Twentieth-century Protestant theologian George Eldon Ladd commented on Ribera’s work, saying this: "In 1590 Ribera published a commentary on the Revelation as a counter interpretation to the prevailing view among Protestants which identified the Papacy with the Antichrist. Ribera applied all of Revelation but the earliest chapters to the end time rather than to the history of the church. Antichrist, he taught, would be a single evil person who would be received by the Jews and who would rebuild Jerusalem".
Another brilliant Jesuit scholar, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine of Rome, now St. Robert Bellarmine, assisted Ribera in developing this new theology. Another 20th-century theologian had this to say about Bellarmine: "The futurist teachings of Ribera were further popularized by an Italian cardinal, and the most renowned of all Jesuit controversialists. His writings claimed that Paul, Daniel, and John had nothing whatsoever to say about the Papal power. The futurists’ school won general acceptance among Catholics. They were taught that antichrist was a single individual who would not rule until the very end of time".
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The goal was to eliminate any shadow of a doubt that the pope has anything to do with prophecy. And so they projected the little horn into the future. As a result, they said, "We haven’t yet seen it. It has not been here. It will come one day. And so we have still to look in the future before we see the antichrist". And still today most Catholics look in the future and wait until the appearance of this.
John Bradshaw: Futurism was slow to catch on. But the intention was that the ideas promoted by futurism would eventually be taught by Protestants. In the early 1800s, a British preacher by the name of John Darby, a man who stood strongly for the veracity of scripture in face of growing theological liberalism, took hold of the idea of a future one-man antichrist. In the United States, a Kansas City attorney named Cyrus Schofield published a version of the Bible popular enough to sell millions of copies. And in that Bible he included study notes based on the writings of Darby and the Jesuits Ribera and Bellarmine, study notes that pointed to a future one-man antichrist. A British theologian commented on that, saying this: "It is a matter of deep regret that those who hold and advocate the futurist system at the present day, Protestants as they are for the most part, are thus really playing into the hands of Rome, and helping to screen the Papacy from detection as the Antichrist".
Another Jesuit scholar originated the school of prophetic interpretation known as preterism. "Pre"-terism teaches that all of the apocalyptic prophecies of the Bible have been fulfilled already. Previously. Which would mean, then, that there can’t possibly be an end-time antichrist. And if that’s the case, then whoever antichrist is couldn’t possibly be the papacy. Now, the Reformers were convinced. But years later, their views have been undermined by interpretations of prophecy that sprang directly from the Counter Reformation. So the work of Ignatius of Loyola and the Counter Reformation has been profoundly influential. Five hundred years ago reformers like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and John Knox were engaged in a resistance movement against a powerful church with enormous political influence. They rebutted teachings they saw as unbiblical and believed that they were doing the work of God in bringing the light of the Bible into the lives of people.
That’s why there was such an emphasis on the part of people such as William Tyndale and Martin Luther to translate the Bible. They saw it as vital to get the word of God into people’s hands and drive back the darkness that had flooded into Christianity under the watch of a church that had compromised. The Reformers championed the teaching of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But the church made itself essential in the plan of salvation, declaring that the sacraments were channels of the grace of God. That idea was unbiblical in Jesus’ day, unbiblical in the Reformers’ day, and it’s unbiblical today. The idea that human beings should confess their sins to another human being and receive forgiveness from that human being, or even from God through that human being, is the sort of idea that the Reformers fought against strenuously, and something that the Counter Reformation fought to defend.
Martin Luther, while he was still a priest, was scandalized by the way the church sold indulgences. Essentially, pardon for sin was bought and sold. Sacramentalism was denounced as being unbiblical. The same for transubstantiation and celibacy, and the papacy itself. The abuses carried out by church leaders couldn’t be tolerated any longer, and the Reformers stood up to say so, often paying with their lives. So two things are clear. Number one, the Reformation brought about a lot of much-needed change. And number two, 500 years later it could be said that the Reformation didn’t change much. And that raises a lot of questions.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500. I’m John Bradshaw from It Is Written, and my guest is Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, recently retired professor of church history from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Dr. Damsteegt, again, thanks for joining me. Walk me through the Counter Reformation. What was it?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The Counter Reformation was simply the response of the church against what they saw, an uprising, kind of a revolt that should be put out.
John Bradshaw: A natural enough response. Their authority was being threatened. They had to respond somehow. The Counter Reformation was their method of doing so. What did the Counter Reformation involve? What’d they do?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: What they did is analyzing the arguments that were presented by Luther and others, and trying to counteract it. Now, initially it was discussions, Luther was summoned, and he had simply to recant. Now, Luther didn’t like that because he went to Worms for a discussion on those things, and that didn’t happen. And so time again, time again, they were challenged. The church was one church, and there is no split whatsoever. And the church wanted to preserve this, and they thought the greatest sin in the world would be to ruin the unity of the church. And so that is what their attempt was, how to do this. The priests tried to do it, the theologians tried to do it, and finally you get the Council of Trent that tried to analyze all the arguments of the Reformers and the Lutherans, and pronounce, were they okay or not? And the result of this series of, of studies was that every teaching of the Reformers were anathema: cursed, cursed, cursed. Not one element was, uh, adopted.
John Bradshaw: I want to come back to that in just a moment. My first question, though, is, during the Council of Trent, did the church make any concessions at all?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: They said, okay, we are going to tackle this, and whatever. Yes, we need to have reform. Uh, the... But none of the teachings of the Catholic church was at all changed.
John Bradshaw: So they told some of their priests to clean up their behavior. They, they suggested that some people might want to act differently. But theologically, the church said nothing would change.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Absolutely so. Nothing was going to be changed.
John Bradshaw: Now, when they said the teachings of the Reformers were anathema, let’s consider together what that actually means. Cursed be the idea of sola scripture.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Correct. Cursed is the idea by faith alone.
John Bradshaw: Cursed.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Cursed is the idea by grace alone. It is a cooperation of works and faith. They are recognized a, uh, together, but the Reformer said, no, salvation depends only on Christ. It’s faith in Him, and not to do anything with works. Yes, works are the result, but works are not contributing in any way or form to salvation.
John Bradshaw: The church was really caught, wasn’t it? Because the church couldn’t concede. What position could the church really give up? There was no middle ground, was there? There was, there could not be a meeting of minds with the Protestants, a meeting halfway. Because, as you’ve just said, if they gave a little, they’d have to give all. Which teaching they’ve declared to be true could they possibly surrender to the Protestants? There was no way this could probably, there was no way this could possibly end somewhere in the middle. There was no negotiating, was there?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: No. And so they had to find a way to debunk the arguments of the Protestants. And one of the key elements that the Reformers used was the prophetic word. The prophetic word that clearly shows that the pope is the predicted antichrist.
John Bradshaw: So biblically it measured up. I, I think it’s important to establish this, because I don’t want anybody thinking that this might have been the scholarship of one scholar off in left field doing his own thing. This, this was a well-researched, well-agreed-upon principle or, or prophetic interpretation, that Protestantism as a whole had its arms around.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: And it is interesting that this interpretation as the pape, the pope or the papacy as the little horn was developed by the Archbishop of Salzburg in the 13th century, in which the character of the pope and the papacy was such that it exactly fitted the little horn.
John Bradshaw: So it became very, very clear as scholars, Bible students from whatever background, studied the Word of God, the Roman church, the papacy, was implicated in Revelation, chapter 13, Daniel 7, II Thessalonians and other places. Rome is looking at this and saying, "It all points to us". They had to do something about it. What did they do?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Simply to debunk the whole interpretation.
John Bradshaw: How do you debunk an interpretation like that?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The key is exactly what you see happened today as a result of the Counter Reformation. The Counter Reformation was, uh, trying to eliminate all the blame in prophecy from the shoulders of the pope. And so they said, ah, what did the early Christians, because the early Christians were the closest to the truth, what did they believe? They didn’t believe in a yeah-day, year-day principle. They believed in a literal time. Did any of the early Christians believe in literal time in regard to the little horn? No. It was a Jew, really in Palestine, rebuilding the temple, do all those things. So that is the antichrist. Have they seen the antichrist? No. No. The 3 and a half years have not yet been fulfilled. And so they clearly debunked the year-day principle and said it didn’t exist.
John Bradshaw: It’s very interesting, because when we get down to today, these ideas that were used historically to debunk solid interpretations of Bible prophecy have taken hold, and they’re the prevalent ideas in Christianity today. We’re going to explore that in just a moment. We’re going, also, to look at the scholarship of two Jesuits who turned out to be very, very influential: Ignatius of Loyola’s name will appear again, and we’ll trace the work of the Counter Reformation through and see how it plays out in this, our day. We’ll be back with more from "500" in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "500". I’m John Bradshaw. With me is Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, retired professor of church history from Andrews University. Dr. Damsteegt, a moment ago we were discussing the Counter Reformation and how the Reformers had really implicated the Vatican, the popes of Rome, by pointing out their place in Bible prophecy. So walk me through that, some of the theories that emerged from out of the Counter Reformation. To kind of take the heat off the Church of Rome?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: First of all, let us understand what the key element for the power of prophecy among the Reformers was. Take, for example, Daniel, Daniel 7. You have there Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and the Roman Empire. Out of the Roman Empire you get, then, ten horns coming up. Then, another little horn comes up, takes away three. Will persecute God’s people, will change the times and the law, and all of those things. Now, what happened then in history, and that was discovered by the Archbishop of Salzburg, Eberhard the Second, is that after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was divided into ten kingdoms. Then, three of them disappears. Why did they disappear? Because of the activity of the religious-political power of the papacy. Then, when the three were eliminated, the papacy is full swing.
John Bradshaw: There’s persecution.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Persecution. And then persecuted started against God’s people, against those who did not accept the power, and the influence of the papacy. And so this little horn, it says its different, because it’s not political only. It is a religious political power. It comes up among the ten horns, which clearly shows in history it came among the ten horns.
John Bradshaw: Western Europe.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Western Europe. Then it takes away three powers, that are the Heruli, the Ostrogoths, and the Vandals. Then what happened is clearly, it persecutes God’s people, and then it attacks God’s law. Very interesting what we see here. The Reformers didn’t clearly see it, except in certain sec, certain sections of the Reformers that were the Anabaptists. They discovered in a very interesting way that Catholicism had also changed God’s law. In the catechism, the second commandment is removed. It worships images. And also,the fourth commandment, in regard to the Sabbath, it is changed into Sunday.
John Bradshaw: Um-hmm.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: This was also believed by some Reformers. And so it would go for 1,260 days, 42 months, three and a half years.
John Bradshaw: Which is 1,260 years.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Years, according to the year-day principle that was invented again by the Catholics themselves. And so they came to the conclusion that there was a period of 1,260 years starting in the reign of Justinian ‘til the French Revolution. And in the French Revolution, the papacy was going to cut the deadly wounds. And what happened is, that at the beginning, in the reign of Justinian, the pope gets all the power over all the bishops and priests of the whole of Christianity, both in the east and in the west. And then what happened further is that at the end of the 1,260 years, which fell during the French Revolution, the papacy was taken captive and the power of the papacy, the political power, was abolished by the French revolution by General Berthier, who was sent by Napoleon to eliminate the papacy.
John Bradshaw: So all of this is very much anchored in history. The Bible speaks to it. You look over history, you see it. Look at it academically or theologically; it’s there. Rome says, "We’ve got to get the heat off us". And so they introduced into Christianity some new ways of interpreting those prophecies. What were those new ways?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Now, the newer ways were simply also the old ways, because they said, hey, this idea of the, of year-day principle that, that one year, one day in prophecy is actually a year, is much later. But, you know, it took time for the, for the little horn to develop its character. Much later. And so they said, you have to go back. And what did the early Christians do? And they found two views among the early Christians. One view was that the little horn was literal days. Years was in the future. And so they projected the little horn into the future. As a result, they said, "We haven’t yet seen it". What happened is, in regard to the little horn, it has not been here. It will come one day. They said yes, but Rome has fallen. They said, "No, Rome has not fallen". Look at the image. The image has two legs. When western Rome fell, it had still the leg of the eastern Rome. And then finally the Turks defeated eastern Rome. Western Rome had, was restored again, and was again. So Rome has never completely fallen. And so we are still to look at the future before we see the antichrist. And still today most Catholics look in the future and wait until the appearance of this.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, what’s interesting about that is the vast majority of other Christians, Protestants, for the want of a better term, uh, approach Bible prophecy in the same way. Antichrist has not come; little horn, we don’t know who it is; it’s going to take place sometime in the distant future. Which demonstrates to us that this theory, which was hatched during the Counter Reformation, has been enormously successful. Who would have thought that a church that was under the gun, under the spotlight of, well, intense, let’s call it criticism. I think that’s what it was from the Reformers. Who would have thought they could have pulled off such a deft maneuver and put that attention onto, not someone else, no one else. Someone in the future who has not yet arrived. That’s been very, very effective. Even the majority of Protestant scholars today believe that theory an invention. Clear, isn’t it?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The Counter Reformation interpretation was a response to the Protestant Reformation interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. And the goal was to eliminate any shadow of a doubt that the pope has anything to do with prophecy.
John Bradshaw: So we have this system of interpretation which has become known today as futurism. It was invented by a Jesuit scholar, which is no surprise. But another Jesuit, a fellow named Alcazar, in distinction to Ribera, he interpreted these prophecies another way. Tell me about preterism.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Preterism considers it as being done in the past.
John Bradshaw: Pre-viously.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: So in other words the little horn, the beast, the antichrist, was already in the past. How did they do it? Completely eliminated the year-day principle. It didn’t exist. And looking at powers in the past. So, for example, in the power in the past, who were very anti-Christian? Nero, for example. So Nero become then the evil person. Little horn. The beast, and whatever. Or, in Antiochus Epiphanes. That was another one. So in the book of Revelation you get a Roman Emperor as the villain. In the Old Testament, the little horn is in Antiochus, as the villain against God’s people in the Jews. And then, of course, the other one is, in the futurism, it has not been take place, and so we still have to wait for an unfaithful Jew that attacks Christianity and that really demolishes much of Christianity.
John Bradshaw: So how successful has the Counter Reformation been? And how do we see that manifested today?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Initially they didn’t have much success because of the powerful instruments of prophecy that protected the Protestants to succumb to it. But later on, when higher criticism came up, historical criticism, and the faith in the biblical record was undermined, and in the prophecies also, and the year-day principle was given up. As a result of that, these changes, the vision of Protestantism in regard to the prophetic mission of the church disappears. And then what did they have? They looked and became the victim of the Counter Reformation. They accepted futurism or preterism. But historicism, the Protestant view of historicism, just disappeared. And as a result, they became victim, the Protestant world became victim of the Counter Reformation. And today you see that, you see, Catholicism has a vision, to conquer the world for Christ, through the church. Protestantism has lost its vision. They don’t have the prophetic vision anymore. They don’t see the danger in Catholicism. And as a result, they succumb to this. And that’s very, very, very sad. The only way that Protestantism can recoup itself is recapture the vision, the prophetic vision that Christ gave in the book of Revelation, and that Daniel gave in the book of Daniel. This is the only protection against the onslaught of the Counter Reformation.
John Bradshaw: It’s very clear that there is a spiritual battle going on. The world was dragged into darkness. The Protestant Reformation shown a light. As bright as that light became, along came the Counter Reformation and obscured that light eventually. Which means that this business of liberating the truth in the world or in our hearts, there’s a real strong spiritual war taking place as we sit here, trying to stop that from happening. What do we do to keep the Word of God burning in us so that we remain faithful to the vision God has for us in His Word? What do we do?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Go back to the Bible and the Bible only, and recapture the experience of the Protestants. Because the Protestant Reformation was founded on the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, salvation through the Scriptures, and at the same time, the prophetic word. And Protestantism today has lost its prophetic vision, which means they don’t know what is going on in the great controversy between good and evil. And they become victim to the new approaches that Catholicism has, without changing one jot or tittle, title, of the overall vision.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Damsteegt, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate it greatly. Our next program in "500," "A Wall of Separation". What would happen next? The Counter Reformation came against the Reformation, but God’s truth would win out. You’ll find out how in our next program of "500". Let’s pray together now.
Our Father in Heaven, how thankful we are for Jesus, for grace, for Your prophetic word. How thankful we are for truth, that You are a God of love and Your spirit has been sent to guide us. Lord, what are we? Human beings weakened by sin, weak through our own failure to surrender our lives to You. Lord, as the God of our lives, let Jesus be a, a present Savior. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit. Guide us in Your way. And grant that we may recapture the vision the Protestants of old had of faithfulness to Your Word and oneness with You. We thank You, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.