The so-called ‘Enlightenment’ taken as ‘scientific fact’, taught and propagated as an inviolably obvious path from ‘Catholic superstition’ to Protestant and Atheist ‘rationality’ and ‘humanism’, is another absurd myth. Children are taught that the Enlightenment was a by-product of the ‘Reformation’. No Reformation, No Enlightenment. Both categories of historical eras, as with so much of the current cadre of ‘settled science’ and ‘known facts’ which distort and infect the modern world, have always been more a set of cult dogma, mired in rituals and repetition, than facts located in reality, or historical processes or linkages. Few authors or historians even bother to challenge the narrative that the Reformation was a blessing, a new start, a clear path through the dark forest of Catholic superstition to the uplands of light and Science in the Enlightenment period starting in the 18th century. Stark is one of the few who does and does so quite successfully.
Most historians and people cannot even identify which Reformation they mean:
“However, an embarrassing question that must be answered at any celebration of the Reformation is: which one do you mean? Three successful Reformations, plus outbursts of Anabaptism, occurred during the sixteenth century….The only common feature…was their rejection of papal authority….Luther’s most important theological claim was that salvation comes through faith alone. John Calvin taught that salvation cannot be achieved by any means, but is conferred by God for unknown reasons upon a chosen few. And Henry VIII’s English Reformation conformed to the Roman Catholic position that salvation can be achieved through works as well as faith.”
The ‘Reformation’ is generally attributed to begin with Luther in the early 16th century (1517), who railed against Church taxation and corruption but who also denied free-will and clamoured against the union of faith and reason. It is difficult to understand how such a position generates ‘science’. Calvin was a mystic who maintained that only a perfect and small group of pre-selected were destined for heaven. It is hard to offer proofs how that would lead to innovation and technological advancement. Henry VIII and his bastard-daughter Elizabeth butchered tens of thousands of Catholics and non-Conformists, burning art, treasure, monasteries and appropriating wealth in the greatest land transfer until the Russian Communist implosion and associated resource takeover by the former Communist party. It is rather impossible to see how that connects to the scientific method and improvements in logic.
As Stark states: ‘…the achievements attributed to Protestantism are entirely mythical and some of the actual results of the rise of Protestantism were quite unfortunate….equally mythical claims that Protestantism spurred the rise of individualism and its secularization….As for Luther’s legacy of violent anti-Semiticism, it probably will not be mentioned.’
Most of ‘Reformation’ was about land, territory, power, and money. Cutting the papal cord and ending the Vatican chorus of influence. As Stark proves, most of medieval Europe was religious and Christian, but not in the dogmatic way presented by Hollywood or modern ignorance about the Medieval period. People in the middle ages were Christian in their own way, depending on local customs, and churches were notoriously empty on Sundays. The idea that the entire village trooped into the local church, attentive and singing is untrue. Medieval chronicles lament the lack of attendance and Christian knowledge. Though likely scandalised by various papal and Church immoralities, transgressions and corruption, the average person most likely did not care that much. The Reformation was very much a top-down revolt against papal authority.
“…..the enormous value of Church property, and the Church’s continuing financial extractions, served as powerful temptations and bitter grievances. So long as there had been only One Church, it was risky to challenge papal authority…..But now, Lutheranism offered an alternative source of religious legitimacy, making excommunication an empty threat. This was why so many German princes rallied to Luther: they gained huge amounts of immediate wealth by seizing Church property…..and they continued to benefit from the flow of tithes and legacies to the state churches they controlled.’
The Reformation allowed the State to take over the Church. Societal control was merged, both the material and immaterial now resided in the office and throne of one master. The Reformation was not about ‘throwing off the yoke of Catholic superstition’, or ‘freeing the people from papal tyranny’. It was simply the act of brigands and self-interested elites, taking over property and wealth, enriching themselves, their courts and their friends all the while cementing power and control over a national territory and appropriating enough riches to fund a state apparatus to guard, police and control said state.
“Consider that from the shrine dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket alone, Henry’s agents confiscated 4,994 ounces of gold, 4,425 ounces of silver gilt, 5.286 ounces of silver and 26 cartloads of other treasure – and this was regarded at the time as, but a trivial portion of the wealth confiscated from the Church.’
The entire inner circle and court of Henry VIII became fantastically rich on stolen Church land and treasure. The amounts transferred would be in the many tens of billions of dollars or pounds in today’s money. This occurred throughout all the territories which became Protestant. It was the Reformation of course, which then proclaimed the Divine Right to Rule of Kings. This was never a proclamation of the Catholic Church. Quite the contrary. Catholic dogma was clear that God was the only Divine Ruler and that power passed through papal authority. No King on earth was a lessee of such power. The Magna Carta was forced on King John in 1215 by Catholic magnates and Bishops, an attempt to neuter Kingly power. No Catholic supported the idea that the King had divine rights. The first proclamation of the Divine Right of Kings was from James I of England (d.1625) a Protestant.
Once national Reformation Churches were established ‘religious’ wars began. Often these conflicts would see Catholics allied with Protestants, as well as both sides fighting each other. It is difficult to see how this stimulated ‘science’. Most of these wars had little to do with religion, but more to do with national estates, land, trade, commerce, control, and past grievances. National Protestant Churches in England, Holland, Germany, Sweden, were engaged for 250 years in various wars in different parts of Europe. Treasure, blood, onerous taxation would have maimed and disfigured every nation state, thwarting development. These were aggressive singular entities, not prone to much in the way of Christian charity. Catholics and dissenters were heavily persecuted, along with ‘witches’, most of whom were Catholics and who were murdered for many reasons including land appropriation or settling disputes and scores.
The Protestant Churches were also renowned for mandating church attendance, publicly punishing those who did not comply, and displaying an incredible intolerance of any who did not abide by the strictures of the State church. There was little ‘diversity’ of culture or thought, and it is difficult to make the claim that such attitudes would generate ‘science’ de novo. It is more likely that the benefits attributed to the poorly named Enlightenment, were in almost all cases already present in Catholic Pre-Reformation society in all areas from trade to science. In other words, despite the Reformation’s upheaval, warring, intolerance, the cultural attitudes, the characteristics founded by Catholic Europe, were still able to assert themselves to develop technology, shipping, agriculture, governance, exploration and by extension, extend and complicate terms of trade, exchange and idea formulation to develop solutions to problems of increasing complexity. Such developments never happen de novo but are part of a longer, on-going process. A good argument can be made (though Stark does not make it in an obvious way), that the Reformation actually retarded and obstructed European civilisation.
The only ‘creation’ of the ‘Reformation’, which can be objectively supported, is that the theft of Church lands and money, may have stimulated some forms of economic and social growth as money, now managed by state and private actors, wound its way through investments and exchange, perhaps stimulating industry, exploration and development. However, no study to my knowledge has been undertaken to either prove or disprove this theory.