Hilaire Belloc on the Reformation

The movement generally called “The Reformation” deserves a place apart in the story of the great heresies; and that for the following reasons:

1. It was not a particular movement but a general one, i.e., it did not propound a particular heresy which could be debated and exploded, condemned by the authority of the Church, as had hitherto been every other heresy or heretical movement. Nor did it, after the various heretical propositions had been condemned, set up (as had Mohammedanism or the Albigensian movement) a separate religion over against the old orthodoxy. Rather did it create a certain separate moral atmosphere which we still call “Protestantism.” It produced indeed a crop of heresies, but not one heresy – and its characteristic was that all its heresies attained and prolonged a common savour: that which we call “Protestantism” today.

2. Though the immediate fruits of the Reformation decayed, as had those of many other heresies in the past, yet the disruption it had produced remained and the main principle reaction against a united spiritual authority – so continued in vigour as both to break up our European civilization in the West and to launch at last a general doubt, spreading more and more widely. None of the older heresies did that, for they were each definite. Each had proposed to supplant or to rival the existing Catholic Church; but the Reformation movement proposed rather to dissolve the Catholic Church – and we know what measure success has been attained by that effort!

The most important thing about the Reformation is to understand it. Not only to follow the story of it stage by stage – a process always necessary to the understanding of any historical matter – but to grasp its essential nature.

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