Rabies Theologorum

Last night I was reading a survey of the Wars of Religion [in Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 7], I came across the following brief quotes. Notice that while Christendom was falling apart at the seams and Europe was lurching toward the “Enlightenment”, many Calvinists and Lutherans were busy screaming not only at “papist idolators” (who might as well have been incarnated demons), but also at each other over their respective disgustingly unbiblical doctrines:

If anybody wishes to be told, in a few words, concerning which articles of the faith we are fighting with the diabolical Calvinist brood of vipers, the answer is, all and every one of them…for they are no Christians, but only baptized Jews and Mohammedans. (Lutheran pamphlet, 1590)

…we have noticed for several years past that the books written by Protestants against Protestants are three times as numerous as those of Protestants against Catholics. (Stanislaus Rescius, 1592)

These raging theologians have so greatly aggravated and augmented the disastrous strife among the Christians who have seceded from the papacy, that there seems no hope of all this screaming, slandering, abusing, damning, anathematizing, etc., coming to an end before the advent of the last day. (anonymous Protestant writer, 1610)

Papists, like other Turks, Jews, and heathen, are outside the pale of God’s grace, of forgiveness of sins, and of salvation; they are destined to howl, lament, and gnash their teeth everlastingly in the burning fire and brimstone of the flames of hell. (Andreas Lang, Lutheran preacher, 1576) (all above from pp. 552-554)

Of course, the “papist idolators” often gave as good as they got. Said one Johann Nas in 1565: “[Lutherans practice] murder, robbery, lying, deceit, gluttony, drunkeness, incest, and villainy without fear, for faith alone, they say, justifies everything.” Ten pamphlets full of the grossest slanders of Protestants of all stripes were published by the Jesuit Conrad Vetter between 1594-1599, and were snatched up by the Catholic public as fast as they could be printed. Vetter claimed his abusiveness was alright since he was merely following the lead of the Lutheran divines. In the very year that the Thirty Years War began (1618), eighteen hundred different raging pamphlets were published by the warring Christian factions (pp. 554-555).

Then the War tore Europe to shreds, and in its aftermath the Peace of Westphalia (1648) significantly paved the way for the cultural domination of the Secularism with which we are now all afflicted. I think that if we put the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the rise of Enlightenment together into their historical contexts, refusing to treat them as if they are all about “doctrines” or “ideas”, but instead about vast movements of society, the judgment of Melanchthon, brought forward to cover the spewing, bigoted garbage on all sides of the late 16th century and most of the 17th century that too many Christians of the day were infected with “theological rabies” (rabies theologorum), stands unopposable.

Thinking about how inter- and intra-tradition discourse seems to go on the Internet these days, I wonder if we’re any of us really all that different from our fathers 350 years ago. And I wonder somewhat rhetorically if it’s a sign of a deeper health to have rabies so long as one can manage to spit through all that foam, “It’s for THE TRUTH / THE GOSPEL / THE CHURCH!”

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