We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Christianity: First 3000 years – Transcripts Part 7 & 8 – Protestant Reformation

Video 4 notes – Week 7 

Reformation (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox) 

The Amish community of Pennsylvania are a quiet and peaceable folk. And yet, five centuries ago,  their ancestors were seen as some of the most dangerous people in Europe.

They were radicals – Protestants, one of dozens of groups in the 16th century that tore apart the Catholic Church.  In the fourth part of this History Of Christianity, I’ll point out the trigger for religious revolution.

I’ll try to make sense of the terrible wars and suffering it ignited in Europe, and show why it also brought great joy and liberation.  I want to see how the old Western Church fought back, renewing Catholicism. 

Above all I want how to understand a faith based on the obedience to the clergy gave birth to one where the individual is accountable to God alone 

In 1500 the only Christianity that most Western Europeans knew was the Church that called itself Catholic The church of the Pope in Rome. Its priests were an elite, power to link ordinary people to God. It showed miraculous ability in the Mass to turn bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Yet millions of Europeans were on the verge of rejecting this Catholic Church for a very different Christianity. Only one thing could force such dramatic change. That was the power of an idea – and idea which concerns us all – death! 

The Bible’s New Testament offers us a stark picture – when we die we go to heaven or hell. But for us complex mortals, neither very bad nor very good there might be a midway stage called purgatory. You wait there to be made ready for heaven. Now Purgatory is like hell in that it is not a nice place to be but there is a time limit on it.  So you can do things to shorten the time. You can give a coin to a beggar and he will pray for your soul.  People would even leave money in their wills to pay the village taxes so that villagers would pray for them. It’s a wonderful you scratch my back, I scratch your back system 

Germany – Wittenbach. By the 16th century all through Europe The church was selling certificates called indulgences to show how much time you had avoided in purgatory. The cash paid for new churches and hospitals. When the Pope wanted to finish the building of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome he launched an indulgence campaign. Some might think this is a worthy cause. It raised big questions in the mind of a German monk whose views on the afterlife would change the western church. His name was Martin Luther. 

Luther lived most of his life in the small town of Wittenburg in Germany. Each year on the 31st of October they celebrate Reformation Day. It was on this date in 1517 the Luther announced a university debate on indulgences which would discuss no less than 95 propositions or theses and it is said that he announced the debate by nailing the theses to a church door and this in legend has become the start of the Reformation. So what was so revolutionary about Luther’s ideas?  

Ironically his inspiration came from the most important Catholic theologian – 4th century African Bishop of Hippo Augustine. Augustine said the Bible revealed an all powerful God who alone decides our fate after death. Luther like Augustine before him read the Apostle Paul that we are saved from hell, justified, not by any good deeds of our own but by faith in God. If that is true the Church has no claim to change or even influence the disposition of a single human being. The selling of indulgences was wicked and useless. Luther was reminding people that the key to salvation of humans didn’t rely on the church but in the word of God and that could be found in the Bible. The problem was that many ordinary people couldn’t read or write.  How could they read a message in a book? But Luther found effective ways around the problem. Up to his time most church music had been sung in Latin by clergy and choirs. Luther wrote superb German hymns for everyone to sing. They helped to convey the Bible’s message. I asked this church’s music director why they were so successful.  A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Luther wrote the tune) brings in elements of the popular music of the time the folk songs a little bit of a dance. They tried to get the school kids to learn them. They were even sent to sit among the congregation and they are supposed to sing loudly in worship and hopefully the others will come along with them.

Luther had no thoughts of quitting the church. All he was doing was giving God back the power what was God’s. Then he found the church had quit him! The Pope though Luther threatened the God given authority of the church. So a solemn papal announcement condemned him. Luther replied by burning it. Over the next decade this open defiance of ancient authority was christened Protestantism. But in proclaiming his view of salvation Luther risked death at the stake. He was defying not only the Pope but Europe’s most powerful monarch, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. It is a legend that Luther said to the Emperor “Here I stand, I can do no other.” If he didn’t say that, he ought to have done so because it captures the essence of his defiance and it’s a crime which I find most compelling about Protestantism.  We stand alone with our consciences.  We can do no other. 

Luther’s message appeals to modern individualism – a refusal blindly to accept authority.  But it took huge bravery to defy pope and emperor. The odd thing is that Luther also talked about obedience to powers that God had placed in the world.  That meant a lot to him. So was Luther’s message about revolt or creating a settled obedient society? Well, Luther never really answered that one. And that unanswered question remains a central problem for Protestantism. And worse was to come. Luther found that other reformers refused to follow his line. Here he stood – they were going to do something else! 

Zurich, Switzerland    While Luther was a university lecturer, another reformer Ulrich Zwingli was a busy parish priest. He played out his own reformation in one of Europe’s greatest city states  Zurich.  Zwingli claimed that independent of Luther he found the central Protestant idea – that only God’s gift of faith can save us from hell. I find that hard to believe. It would certainly be one of the biggest historical coincidences of all time. And it must be said that Luther and Zwingli did not get along.  We’ll see why. 

In 1522, Zwingli was invited to a dinner party where the guests ate a sausage. That night the sausage became the rallying cry for a Swiss Reformation.  It was meant when the church told people to show penitence for their sins by giving things up, especially tasty sausages. The inappropriate sausage eating caused quite a stir in Zurich. But Zwingli didn’t actually eat the sausage himself but he argued there was nothing morally wrong with the sausage. He pointed out the Bible has no commandment about keeping Lent. He warned Zurich that the church was sidelining God’s real laws by making a fuss about things like that. 

Zwingli was saying that the Bible and not the Pope carried God’s authority. So far so much like Luther but Zwingli’s reformation went much further. There is no way of getting away from technical jargon  to make things clear.  All Protestants at the time were reformers. But it was only this non-Lutheran version of Protestantism that came to be know as Reformed (capital “R”) So what was happening here in Zurich was the creation of a whole new sort of Protestantism. The Zurich church authorities felt they had a sacred trust from God to govern. Zwingli told them that this was what God wanted. That nerved the city council of Zurich to take the whole church of Zurich out of the hands of the local Catholic Bishop. And Zwingli was more than ready to tell them how to run it. Zwingli and his colleagues reread the 10 commandments. The commandment forbade graven images so they tore down the images of the saints. They even banned music for half a century or more because beauty distracts from worshiping God. And since the Bible nowhere tells the clergy to be celibate Zurich broke with half a millennium of Christian tradition and got married.  But Zwingli had one more controversial proposal that became a distinguishing characteristic of Reformed protestants. At Zurich’s wealthy Collegiate Church – the Gross Minister – Zwingli  views on the Mass or Eucharist transformed the heart of Christian worship. At the Last Supper before Christ was crucified, He broke bread and took wine calling them His body and blood. The old church taught that in the mass God had given the priest the power to transform the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. He actually brought God physically to the people.

That gave priests astonishing powers. For centuries they were the main gateway to God and the high altar which they presided at mass was the most sacred place of the church. 

This Gross Minister had been built for Catholic worship centuries before the Reformation and so the whole thing is to look behind me right up to that east end. There you would have the high altar where the Mass was celebrated day in and day out.  See now it’s gone – instead everything has been pulled forwards to where I am standing. This extraordinary pieced of  reformation furniture. It’s a font for baptism but doubles as a communion table on top and they are in the middle of the people thanks to Zwingli and the Zurich reformation. Zwingli argued that the bread and wine are not miraculously transformed in the mass. He justified this revolutionary thought by his reading of the Gospels. The Bible tells us that Christ ascended to heaven and will not return until the Last Days. He is sitting at the right hand of the Father not here on a table in Zurich. Zwingli said that breaking bread, drinking wine are symbols. The believer remembers that Christ died on the cross. Luther’s come back to that – “Zwingli is wicked and crazy” 

Today the presiding minister of the Gross Minister is Katya LaRoche. In the spirit of the reformation she has her own ideas about the bread and wine. M- “You are the successor to Zwingli in this church but I get the feeling you might now feel the same about the Eucharist “ K- I am closer to Luther . Zwingli was rationalistic man and I think Luther was more close to the people and I can feel when I give the bread to people and say this is the body of Christ or this is the bread of life, something happens between this person and me and receiving. This is a moment when people can feel, yes he is here with me M – Zwingli has the idea of community but there is something that Zwingli might be missing here – that there is an event between God and an individual

That’s an insight that Luther had that Zwingli seemed to have missed. No wonder they hated each other so much. 

Both reformers championed individual conscience over obedience  to priestly authority. It’s that Zwingli favored cool, logical thinking above instead of Luther’s insights into the more passionate depths of faith.

But the split showed a big problem for the Reformation that is still a hallmark of Protestantism- a tendency to sectarianism.  If you let anyone read the Bible then  any idea can suddenly seem to be the most important . This can be a weakness – or strength – a trigger for expansion. To Zwingli’s dismay, some of those  he inspired pointed out the Bible made no mention of baptism for infants. So they began to baptizing adults afresh only earning the name Anabaptists or rebaptizers. Now they were not so much defying the Pope but the city state of Zurich. In fact they said that the New Testament did not link church and state. In January, 1525, a group of radical enthusiasts baptized themselves in public. They followed it up by breaking bread and drinking wine all without  a single clergy involved. It was open challenge – it was too much. The City Council condemned 4 of them to death. In a way suited to their crime against the waters of baptism – they were drowned them in the river Limmat. 

But the Anabaptists were not about to give up. In the hills above Zurich there is a secret meeting place used by those  who fled the persecutions. I climbed there with Pete Dettwiler who is a minister in the Reformed Church

“You had to image people coming up here with children and families being persecuted to gather here for services. I think it was a very special place for them.”  The Swiss Anabaptists were soon just one of many groups claiming to be the only authentic Christianity. They all survived to this day – Unitarians, Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers. 

30 years after Luther’s revolution it was not yet obvious that Protestantism would spread across Europe, never mind the rest of the world.  It was at this moment a young French exile brought a new dynamism to the Reformation – John Calvin. Calvin never wanted to leave France – Catholic persecution forced him out. It was a sheer fluke that he fled to a city state on the edge of Switzerland. He never much liked the place but he felt like God had sent him there and you can’t say no to God. Driven, single minded humanist Calvin, he was such a success that his city became known as the Protestant Rome – it was Geneva. There was an arresting tendency as on what Calvin said about encountering God. He talked about believers experiencing union with Christ. He tends to be remembered as a killjoy but its true he tried to stop the whole city of Geneva dancing. But his real significance is that he turned the swirling confusion of Protestant Reformation into  a practical, accessible guidebook – His Institutes of the Christian Religion. 

The former head of the Reformed church in Geneva, Isabelle Graessle is now director of the Geneva Reformation Museum. MacCulloch was able to hold a first edition of 1536. He is a University lecturer in his late 20’s he is trying to rewrite Christianity encapsulated in a small book. She feels he was giving the people new keys for understanding Christianity. I like to think of Reformation an interpretation and spread of the old ideas (before Medievalism)  MacCulloch – You were the first woman successor of Calvin less 500 years . G- Not acceptable for Calvin that Women keep in their place.  She went to Calvin’s grave – memory of this life so important life and then turned Grave now it’s my turn. 

Calvin’s guide spread Protestantism far beyond Geneva thanks to the printing press. It made it possible for any one educated to read Calvin’s institutes which they did. His followers also used the press to create a special Geneva Bible, carefully annotated to guide their reading and interpretation. It ‘s more than a book – it’s a way of life. The Way of Christian life. Every chapter is divided into verses so you can remember a little bit and quote it. But much more than that it tells you how to read it. All around the text there is a huge quantity of notes so you’re told how to think as a Reformed Christian. Bound to the back are the Psalms turned into metrical Psalms, poetry and some of them survive in hymnals. The famous one is Psalm 100 – the “Old Hundred” so called. 

Geneva had become the beacon for a protestant movement stretching right across Europe. 

Geneva and Zurich saw their church as the true properly  reformed Catholicism. Roman Catholics would disagree. Calvin styled Protestantism defined itself on what it was against – not just the Pope but to his mind pathetically  half-reformed Lutherans, mad Anabaptist. Reformed Protestantism was extraordinary in its ability to leap over the frontiers of language and culture. Built into Geneva’s old city walls  is a memorial to the key figures of the Reformation from all over Europe. Standing among them is a Scotsman, John Knox. 

In the Genevan church, Knox found a model to take back to Scotland. Preaching God’s word was central to worship and this was reflected in the size and grandeur of the city’s new pulpits and copied far beyond. The Genevan style church of Scotland out calvined Calvin. Scottish congregations may be moved shout cries of praise and amens in a way still familiar with American evangelical Protestantism. The children were expected to repeat at home what the minister said that morning in Church. As a result the Scots came to value a good education for all\ in a way never quite seized their English neighbors 

Video 4 notes – Week 8   – England and the Counter Reformation 

England =Protestantantism did come to England too but not in form John Knox would have  approved . It took on a flavor unique in Europe .  In 1534, Henry VIII seized control of the Church of England when the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Reformed churches in Europe in places like Geneva and Zurich turned their back on form sung services in grand cathedral settings. But King Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I controversially decided to keep both. 

Responsibility for maintaining the sung tradition here at Winchester Cathedral 

Interview Andrew Lumsden – “Teach Me O Lord” William Byrd. It says a lot about the English Reformation. One of the themes in the piece is a Gregorian Chant which had been around for hundreds of years before Byrd. Up to then everything had been sung in Latin, unapproachable by the people. Byrd was clever to sneak this in  to remind people about the former regime. He was a Roman Catholic writing for a protestant queen. She maybe turned a blind eye. 

But not everyone in England approved of half measures of reform. Puritans were austere Protestants which hated anything that suggested Catholicism. Under a successor to Elizabeth+ 1, Charles I their anger swelled into civil war. Puritans soldiers fighting for the Westminster Parliament smashed stained glass windows and any symbol of English Catholic monarchy 

These caskets contain the bones of Anglo-Saxon kings except all of the bones are in the wrong place because Parliamentary soldiers tore open the cases and scattered the bones around to display their contempt for kings. It was all apart of their campaign against ancient superstition and their longing to bring the new Jerusalem to England. In the end the Puritan commander Oliver Cromwell defeated Charles and executed him and set up a Protestant republic. But the Puritans new Jerusalem wasn’t popular. Their last straw was their effort to abolish Christmas day for not being in the Bible.  The Church of England was restored- Cathedrals and all. For all of the later complications of English religion,  Anglicanism became an integral part of the national identity. 

Since the English Reformation, Anglican communion has swung between the poles of Catholicism and Protestantism producing a subtle, reflective form of Christianity. 

So now we have met a gallery of Protestantism – Lutherans, Reformed, Radicals, Anglicans. The Reformation story is one of splits, persecution. That’s what people find most difficult to understand about it. How can you burn someone at the stake for saying that a piece of bread is not God ? Our instinct is to feel the pain of the individual burning.   

This was a world of different priorities    They felt the pain of  whole of society if one individual  denied

God’ truth so Society had to be healed even if they meant causing hideous pain for one individual. People cared passionately about these matters and the passions were not on the side of just protestants. 

Protestantism had already taken over the north and it had done well in central Europe too. Now Catholics were hardly going to stand idly by as Protestants gobbled up the rest of the map. 

Spain – If you have heard of the Counter Reformation, you may think it’s just that .- the Catholic reaction to Protestantism. In fact it begun in response to a much older threat – Islam’s conquest of Spain in the 7th century. Catholic Christians hung on in northern Spain. For 500 year they dreamt of reconquest. By the 13th century they fought their way back to Andalusia in the south and one of its greatest cities, Cordoba. Cordoba was a major step in the reconquest of Spain. One of the biggest symbol you could have of that triumph. Cordoba’s cathedral is a weird building. The choir and great altar are like a cuckoo in a nest. They are stuck in the heart of what was once a Mosque. This building was the greatest Mosque of Arab, Moslem Cordoba. But when the Catholics re-conquered the city they seized this sacred Moslem site and re-consecrated it for Christian worship. Its shrieks Catholic triumph  at you. 

Catholic Spain was obsessive about suppressing Islam. It was equally worried about Judaism

It rulers Ferdinand and Isabella became the first monarchs to run an inquisition to root out non Catholics. The inquisition operated from Cordoba’s old Moorish palace Al Casa. The Spanish inquisition has had a bad press over the years for its cruelty and oppression. It’s worth remembering that every 16th century justice system was cruel and oppressive. In fact the  overall inquisition executed a lower percentage of suspects than most secular courts. What the inquisition did do was to enforce a system of racial and cultural superiority. It added up to a militant and self-confident Catholicism which acted independently of Protestant reform. But Rome eventually realized it had to react to the Reformation as well.  In 1545, a council opened at Trent in Italy to restate Catholic truths and to reassert papal authority. 

This another church in Cordoba and it embodies the spirit of the Council of Trent. It was built for a brand new organization  ready to do the council’s bidding- The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. This is a very grand building but it’s also very plain – the early Jesuits liked plainness and of course it’s very open – there’s no screen here. There is of course a  pulpit- the Catholics can preach as well of Protestants. But the Catholic Church could offer more from its tradition. Sitting on the high altar  behind me is the tabernacle where you keep consecrated bread, the body of Christ for the faithful to worship whenever they walk into church. But more than that his mother Mary – she is always present  – a human mother who has born God. She has a felinity to worship which Protestantism lacks. An you also have the confessional, a brand new invention of the Counter Reformation so you can unburden yourself of sin to a priest. So what the Counter Reformation offered you was a sense of companionship, companionship with holy mother Church. This was the counter reformations answer to Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin.   

Far from being destroyed by the Protestants, the Catholics did what Christianity always does – it adapted itself in a crisis. It eventually emerged renewed and poised to win new converts. 

This is Granada, the last Moslem stronghold to fall to the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella. As Moslem power faded, Portugal and Spain began building new empires overseas. The man you see above me is Christopher Columbus at the feet of Queen Isabella. In 1492, in the same year than Moslem Grenada fell, Columbus reached what we now call the West Indies. The Church traveled out on the same ships as his soldiers. Counter Reformation Catholicism was about to become the first worldwide religion. 

Mexico – The first missionaries to the new world were Franciscan friars desperate to spread the Word since they believed the end of the world was coming. Half a century later the Jesuits followed them. In countries such as Mexico, these envoys of militant Catholicism  met civilizations which to begin with were able to fight back  But suddenly the native peoples began dying in thousands. In the words of one despairing ruler, “ in heaps like bedbugs.” IT wasn’t the soldiers but invisible armies of  European diseases did most of the damage. Traumatized local peoples were only too ready to turn to Catholicism. 

Up there is the Church of our Lady of Help. You might think it was built on a hill. But in fact it is built on top of the largest man made pyramid in the world. When Catholic missionaries came to Mexico they deliberately put churches on top of temples. They placed their place of sacrifice on slap, bang on top of the old place of sacrifice. You might say “Catholicism rule’s ok”. We can learn a great deal about the mindset  of the Spanish conquerors by taking a closer look at one of their monuments to victory. 

This is the Capilla Real de Indios, the Chapel Royal of the Indians in Cholula. I paid it a visit with leading Mexican historian, Clara Garcia. 

I was intrigued because it took me far away, to Spain and Jerusalem. It’s like nothing in the Christian  world, but it’s like lots of great  mosques in Syria and Egypt,  and of course one in Spain  the Grand Mosque of Cordoba.

“ Do you think that’s coincidence?” 

Clara – “No, No, No, you’re quite right it’s fashioned  after the Great Mosque in Cordoba.”  It’s got 49 domes  and seven aisles,  and it’s a huge open space also.   

MacCulloch – Actually what it reminds me of  is an Islamic building in Jerusalem.  It’s the courtyard   of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.   -Now let me just  run this idea past you.  This is built by Franciscans,  right? Yes.  And Franciscans at the time think  the Al-Aqsa mosque is "the Temple",  Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, so do you think they’re trying  to recreate the New Jerusalem  of the Last Days here?


Clara – “Oh, definitely, they’re trying  to recreate the New Jerusalem  with new Christians, new Catholics,  at the same time that the Protestant  Reformation is going on in Europe. Catholicism is losing souls   to the Protestants, and here they are gaining  thousands…


MacCulloch  Oh, I like that.


Clara ..of new souls, so it’s the perfect New Jerusalem  with the perfect Christians.


MacCulloch  They win some, you lose some!


Clara -Yes,  in a manner of speaking, yes.


The inside of this church seems  to mirror the Mosque in Cordoba, the courtyard,  the Mosque in Jerusalem. So what is this building  trying to say?  Maybe this  Back home in Spain, Catholic Christians had crushed Islam.

They’d turned their mosques into churches.  Now, here in New Spain, Mexico,  they’d crushed other false gods

and conquered their princes.  Now what better way to commemorate  that victory than in the same way, build the princes a church  which looked like a mosque? Just an idea. 


But after the horrors of conquest,  the missionaries realized that in order to win hearts and minds  they would have to help  the new converts to find joy  and celebration in Catholicism. It had to assimilate  native cultures.

Nowhere have I seen a clearer  demonstration of how this was done  than in the nearby town of Santa Maria Tonantzintla.


M “Of all the mad churches I’ve seen  in Mexico, this is definitely  the maddest. Tell me about it. “


C – Well, I think it’s paradise.

M – Well, OK. It’s a mad paradise.


This is what I would   imagine heaven to be like. Full of people, gay,  angels everywhere, pretty, beautiful.

What happens is that when  the Franciscans came to Santa Maria, it was a small village that they couldn’t afford to leave a friar, so they would teach maybe  some elders, some children,  educate them in the Spanish language  and the rudiments of Christianity, then leave,  come back a few years later  and see how Christianity was doing. The actual villagers, the dwellers  of the area, took Christianity and fashioned it in their own image and likeness.

 M  “So it becomes an indigenous religion  then because it’s taught by people to people in the village. “

 C  “Totally,   and if you look at the faces  of the angels, they’re all local faces of the time. “

 When the missionaries went overseas,  the Catholic Church was more than  happy to mingle two cultures.

But it was a curious  sort of flexibility,  because it was flexible only  about everyday religious practice.

Now some missionaries,  especially the Jesuits, wanted to talk about the Christian  faith itself in new ways, which would make sense  in other cultures. But after much argument, the Church hierarchy rigidly insisted that whatever Rome had said  about Christian doctrine must be right and could never be altered.  

A perfect example  of that curious flexibility is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City

The appearance of the Virgin Mary  to a native near here was more than a miracle. She looks like the people of Mexico, which means that she, and the Catholic Church,  can speak directly to them. But doctrinally she is still the Virgin Mother of God.


It’s a Tuesday and there are  8,000 people gathered. It’s estimated that, by 1550, as  many as 10 million had been baptized  as Catholics in the Americas. It was a huge morale booster  for the Popes in Rome, still smarting from  the Protestant Reformation. 

Catholics were ready to fight back. 100 years after Martin Luther  first pinned his rallying cry to a church door, northern Europe  had become solidly Protestant. But southern Europe had fallen  behind the Catholic Church.

And there was a great swathe of central Europe where the options were still open.  It was a recipe for war. 

CZECH REPUBLIC – The first battlefield was Prague, capital of the modern-day  Czech Republic. At the start of the 17th century, Protestantism had not only  taken over much of  northern and western Europe, it even reached here,  to the capital of Bohemia, a kingdom which was a vital part  of the Holy Roman Empire. 

By now, the vast majority  of Bohemians were Protestants and their Catholic rulers,  the Habsburgs, had been forced to concede them  their religious liberty. But in 1617, everything changed. 

The Catholic Habsburg Holy Roman  Emperor chose one of his own family to be the next king of Bohemia.

Archduke Ferdinand  despised Protestants. In a pre-emptive strike, Bohemian  Protestants seized the Royal Palace. On the 23rd May 1618, they threw  two of Ferdinand’s officials out of this window.

A heap of straw just below saved  their lives, but not Hapsburg pride!  

This incident has been  splendidly christened  the "defenestration of Prague". The Protestants invited  a neighboring Calvinist ruler, the Elector Palatine Friedrich,  to become their new king. Friedrich lasted barely a year. 

Unfortunately for Bohemia, Archduke  Ferdinand became Holy Roman Emperor. His revenge was swift. In November 1620, the Bohemians,  and Protestantism, were crushed at the Battle of White Mountain.

Today the site is at the end  of a tram line, which seems appropriate really. The only indication of its  importance in European history is the nearby Catholic Church  of our Lady of Victory.  

What we are looking at is  the place which triggered one of the most bitter, destructive wars in European history. It lasted 30 years. 

In his victory,  Emperor Ferdinand declared an Empire-wide ban on Reformed Protestantism. Lutherans and Calvinists realized  they had to come together to fight for the future  of Protestantism. War overtook countries, from  Sweden and Denmark in the north, to France and Spain in the south Even Poland and Transylvania were sucked in. In the fight, between a quarter and  a third of the population of central  Europe died before their time.

It was 1648 before peace finally broke out. Much of Europe was a wasteland and much of Europe would never  be Protestant again. Wars of religion didn’t seem  such a good idea after all. The Catholics managed to push Protestantism back from parts of central and western Europe  and confine it mainly to the north. 

But the 30 Years War  had a much wider significance  for Christian futures. Persecuted Protestants took flight,  not just from Prague. Some, like the Swiss Anabaptists,  quit the Old World for good. Maybe Protestantism could  steal a march on Catholicism.. ..in the New World! 

PENNSYLVANIA -In 1682, an influential  English Quaker, William Penn, secured a new colony  in North America. His goal was religious freedom, not only for Quakers,  but for all Christians. Religious exiles of all persuasions flocked from across Europe. William Penn named this land  Penn’s Paradise – Pennsylvania. 

If you want to spot Anabaptists,  then Lancaster County is  the place for you. This is home to 37 distinct religious groups collectively known as plain people,  all descended from the radicals  of the Reformation. They all belong to the Amish,  Mennonite or Brethren Churches. They keep up many old ways especially a fine Protestant  disregard for outside authority. Some defy the modern world by living  without things we take for granted –  cars, electricity. 

I met Stephen Scott of  the Old Order River Brethren who reminded me of that name  all these folk have for themselves,  the "Plain People". 

M -Why have the Plain People  split so much? 

S – Well, our faith applies to not only intangible doctrines but to daily living, so unfortunately the more there is to disagree about. And an important principle is  nonconformity to the world, so where do you draw the line between the church and the world? You have Mennonites and Amish who drive horse-drawn vehicles, but in my group we have cars.

M –“Well, this might seem  a mischievous question,  but what’s wrong with the world? I don’t just mean the 21st-century  world, I mean the 16th-century world that the first Anabaptists  refused to conform to.

What’s wrong with the world?

S –“There would be some basic issues,  like the whole matter of pride.  Dressing in a way that would  draw attention to your body  is very much discouraged. You would say, well, the plain  people do attract a lot of attention by the way they dress, but it’s actually little  if any different than the principles  of monastic order.” 

The plain people  are more than a curiosity. They tell us a great deal  about what would have happened if the small Jewish sect  from Galilee had not adapted.  Yes, it may well have survived, just like the plain people,  into the 21st century. Clinging to tradition  can help in that way.  

But it would never have spread… ..and become a world religion. The refusal of the plain people to change  their ways meant it wasn’t they  who would turn America into a great powerhouse  of world Protestantism. 

In the next program I’ll be  looking at how a tiny, persecuted  group of Bohemian Christians..

..transformed Protestant fortunes. They sparked religious revivals  that swept across Britain… ..America… Africa… and Asia. Protestantism was about to outstrip  the missions of the Catholic Church.