Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History of Initiation

Chapter i26 The Reformation [1500-1699]

Preliminary Questions


Johnson Chapter 7

The Reformation

Students' Choices

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

If Baptism requires faith (as the Anabaptists claim) how can Infants be baptized?  What faith do they have? 

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Maxwell E. Johnson Chapter 7: Christian Initiation in the Protestant and Catholic Reforms of the Sixteenth Century

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The Reformation

Metaphor: Cleaning House

1.  It has been my experience living in a rented house for the past 25 years, that "stuff" just seems to accumulate.  Every so often, I need to go through the closets and attic and dresser drawers and remove the "stuff" that is no longer useful.  Some of it had been useful once, at a certain time; other things were just things purchased on a whim, gifts that weren't useful, etc.

1a.  For example, there are clothes that I no longer wear; some are the wrong size, some are "out of style", some I simply don't enjoy wearing.

1b.  Times change (especially with technology).  There was a time I made pop corn in a pop corn maker -- now I simply buy microwave packs. There is no longer any need to save, store, or have the pop corn maker machine.  With technology related items, things change rapidly.  For example before I had my cell phone, I had phones in several rooms, with answering machines, and caller id machines.  Today, none of that is necessary.  In the short time I have been using computers, information was stored on 5 inch floppies, then 3 inch disks, zip drives, thumb drives, to "clouds".   There is simply no reason to keep my zip drive and disks!     With regard to music:  My first "record player" played big, quarter inch vinyl disks, then 78's and 33rpm's, cassettes, then CD's and now I have my iPhone.  I have a whole drawer of cassette tapes that, most probably, I will never listen to again! 

1c.  But to clean house takes time and a lot of "decision making", and, frequently, a certain amount of grieving!  Consequently, I don't clean house as frequently as I really should and things just accumulate; until there is some need.  E.g. I get a new piece of furniture and something needs to be replaced.  Or, I have to move, and there is no reason to take things I will never need in the new house.

1d.  Sometimes during this "cleaning process" I run across things that I am not too sure what they are or what they are useful for.  E.g. a cord with two unfamiliar plugs on the ends; is this a cord for the zip drive I discarded last year, or is this the cord that would connect my dish receiver to a Mac computer (which I never needed before but might need in the future).  It this cases where the object might be something important but I am not sure what it might be used for, it is best to just keep it until I know for sure what function it serves.

The House Cleaning Metaphor and the Reformation

1.  At this period some pastors and theologians who loved the Church thought that it was not only time to clean house; but Mother Church had become something of a "hoarder" and the house had so much "stuff" that it impeded healthy living.  Something needed to be done.

2.  What needed to be "cleaned out"?    It seemed that there needed to be a "Radical Intervention."  The criterion to be used would be:  "We will keep what came from Christ and discard the rest."  [The issue, of course, is knowing what came from Christ!] 

3.  The "reformers" removed things that they did not "find in Scripture"  [e.g. Sacrament of Confirmation, priestly celibacy, a Pope, etc.]

4.  The Catholic reaction in general was similar to "1d" in the housing cleaning metaphor:  If you are not too sure what it is good for, or what it does, or -- in this case -- whether it came from Jesus or not, it is best to keep it.  And this attitude prevailed until 1962.  Note the tip of the pistol change in Catholic thinking when the bishops said:

In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it."  (The Constitution on the Liturgy, #21)  [Note how the relative size of these two categories (those things that are divinely instituted and immutable / those things which are subject to change) has changed -- in large part, due to historical research -- over the past 50 years!] 

What Needed to be Cleaned Out

1.  Many ritual practices had the appearance of "magic"

 (e.g. When your coin [dropped into the indulgence pot] rings,
          the soul of your loved one from purgatory to heaven springs!) 

2.  Most Catholics had little understanding of the faith.  Catechesis was lacking.

3.  Many people, baptized in infancy, had never experienced conversion.

4.  Most were uninformed spectators at the liturgical rites; the liturgy was the concern only of the priest.

5.  Many rituals seemed to be "man made" i.e. of human origin.  E.g. where can one find the Sacrament of Confirmation, or Infant Baptism (Baptism without faith) in Sacred Scripture? 

What Were these things Replaced with?

The liturgy is restored to all the Baptized -- in their language; with congregational singing and participation.

The Bible is restored to the laity.

Catechisms invented... Catechesis developed and fostered. 

Communion from the Cup restored.

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To Think About

1.  Do you think the Roman Church will ever canonize Martin Luther and list him among the saintly founders of religious movements (e.g. Ignatius for the Jesuits, Francis of Assisi for the Franciscans, Elizabeth Ann Seaton for the Sisters of Charity, Josémaria Escriva for Opus Dei, Fr. Martin for the Lutherans)?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/15/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at