The Trail of Blood
By Dr. J. M. Carroll (1858-1931)
Third Lecture (1400-1600)
1. These three centuries, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth, are among the most eventful in all the world's history, and especially is this true in Christian history. There was almost a continual revolution inside the Catholic Church--both Roman and Greek--seeking a Reformation. This awakening of long dormant Conscience and the desire for a genuine reformation really began in the thirteenth century or possibly even a little earlier than that. History certainly seems to indicate it.
2. Let's go back just a little. The Catholic Church by its many departures from New Testament teachings, its many strange and cruel laws, and its desperately low state of morals, and its hands and clothes reeking with the blood of millions of martyrs, has become obnoxious and plainly repulsive to many of its adherents, who are far better than their own system and laws and doctrines and practices. Several of its bravest and best and most spiritual priests and other leaders, one by one, sought most earnestly to reform many of its most objectionable laws and doctrines and get back, at least nearer, to the plain teachings of the New Testament. We give some striking examples. Note, not only how far apart and where the reformatory fires began, but note also the leaders in the reformation. The leaders were, or had been, all Catholic priests or officials of some kind. There was, even yet, a little of good in the much evil. However, at this time there was probably not one solitary unmarred doctrine of the New Testament retained in its original purity -- but now note some of the reformers and where they labored.
3. It is well to note, however, that for many centuries prior to this great reformation period, there were a number of noted characters, who rebelled against the awful extremes of the Catholic -- and earnestly sought to remain loyal to the Bible -- but their bloody trail was about all that was left of them. We come now to study for awhile this most noted period -- the "Reformation."
4. From 1320 to 1384 there lived a man in England who attracted world-wide attention. His name was John Wycliff. He was the first of the brave fellows who had the courage to attempt a real reformation inside the Catholic Church. He is many times referred to in history as "The Morning Star of the Reformation." He lived an earnest and effective life. It would really require several volumes to contain anything like an adequate history of John Wycliff. He was hated, fearfully hated, by the leaders of the Catholic hierarchy. His life was persistently sought. He finally died of paralysis. But years later, so great was Catholic hatred, his bones were dug and burned, and his ashes scattered upon the waters.
5. Following tolerably close on the heels of Wycliff came John Huss, 1373-1415, a distinguished son from far away Bohemia. His soul had felt and responded to the brilliant light of England's "Morning Star." His was a brave and eventful life, but painfully and sadly short. Instead of awakening a responsive chord among his Catholic people in favor of a real reformation, he aroused a fear and hatred and opposition which resulted in his being burned at the stake -- a martyr among his own people. And yet he was seeking their own good. He loved his Lord and he loved his people. However, he was only one of many millions who had thus to die.
6. Next to John Huss of Bohemia, came a wonderful son of Italy, the marvelously eloquent Savonarola, 1452-1498. Huss was burned in 1415, Savonarola was born 37 years later. He, like Huss, though a devout Catholic, found the leaders of his people -- the people of Italy -- like those of Bohemia, against all reformation. But he, by his mighty eloquence, succeeded in awakening some conscience and securing a considerable following. But a real reformation in the Hierarchy meant absolute ruin to the higher-ups in that organization. So Savonarola, as well as Huss, must die. HE TOO WAS BURNED AT THE STAKE. Of all the eloquent men of that great period, Savonarola possibly stood head and shoulders above all others. But he was contending against a mighty organization and their existence demanded that they fight the reformation, so Savonarola must die.
7. Of course, in giving the names of the reformers of this period, many names are necessarily to be left out. Only those most frequently referred to in history are mentioned here. Following Italy's golden tongued orator came a man from Switzerland. Zwingle was born before Savonarola died. He lived from 1484 to 1531. The spirit of reformation was beginning now to fill the whole land. Its fires are now breaking out faster and spreading more rapidly and becoming most difficult to control. This one kindled by Zwingle was not yet more than partially smothered before another, more serious than all the rest, had broken out in Germany. Zwingle died in battle.
8. Martin Luther, probably the most noted of all the fifteenth and sixteenth century reformers, lived 1483 to 1546, and as can be seen by the dates, was very nearly an exact contemporary of Zwingle. He was born one year earlier and lived fifteen years later. Far more, probably, than history definitely states, his great predecessors have in great measure made easier his hard way before him. Furthermore, he learned from their hard experience, and then later, and most thoroughly from his own, that a genuine reformation inside the Catholic Church would be an utter impossibility. Too many reform measures would be needed. One would demand another and others demand yet others, and so on and on.
9. So Martin Luther, after many hard fought battles with the leaders of Catholicism, and aided by Melancthon and other prominent Germans, became the founder in 1530, or, about then, of an entirely new Christian organization, now known as the Lutheran Church, which very soon became the Church of Germany. This was the first of the new organizations to come directly out of Rome and renounce all allegiance to the Catholic Mother Church (as she is called) and to continue to live thereafter.
10. Skipping now for a little while, the Church of England, which comes next to the Lutheran in its beginnings, we will follow for a little while the Reformation on the Continent. From 1509 to 1564, there lived another of the greatest of the reformers. This was John Calvin, a Frenchman, but seeming at the time to be living in Switzerland. He was really a mighty man. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther for 30 years, and was 22 years old when Zwingle died. Calvin is the accredited founder of the Presbyterian church. Some of the historians, however, give that credit to Zwingle, but the strongest evidence seems to favor Calvin. Unquestionably the work of Zwingle, as well as that of Luther, made much easier the work of Calvin. So in 1541, just eleven years (that seems to be the year), after the founding by Luther of the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church came into existence. It too, as in the case of the Lutherans, was led by a reformed Catholic priest or at least official. These six -- Wycliff, Huss, Savonarola, Zwingle, Luther and Calvin, great leaders in their great battles for reformation, struck Catholicism a staggering blow.
11. In 1560, nineteen years after Calvin's first organization in Geneva, Switzerland, John Knox, a disciple of Calvin, established the first Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and just thirty-two years later, 1592, the Presbyterian became the State Church of Scotland.
12. During all these hard struggles for Reformation, continuous and valuable aid was given to the reformers, by many Ana-Baptists, or whatever other name they bore. Hoping for some relief from their own bitter lot, they came out of their hiding places and fought bravely with the reformers, but they were doomed to fearful disappointment. They were from now on to have two additional persecuting enemies. Both the Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches brought out of their Catholic Mother many of her evils, among them her idea of a State Church. They both soon became Established Churches. Both were soon in the persecuting business, falling little, if any, short of their Catholic Mother.
"The Trail of Blood"
Sad and awful was the fate of these long-suffering Ana-Baptists. The world now offered no sure place for hiding. Four hard persecutors were now hot on their trail. Surely theirs was a "Trail of Blood."
13. During the same period, really earlier by several years than the Presbyterians, arose yet another new denomination, not on the continent, but in England. However, this came about not so much by way of reformation (though that evidently made it easier) as by way of a real split or division in the Catholic ranks. More like the division in 869, when Eastern Catholics separated from the Western, and became from that time on, known in history as the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches. This new division came about somewhat in this wise:
England's king, Henry VIII, had married Catherine of Spain, but unfortunately, after some time his somewhat troublesome heart had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn. So he wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Annie. Getting a divorce back then was no easy matter. Only the Pope could grant it, and he in this case, for special reasons, declined to grant it. Henry was in great distress. Being king, he felt he ought to be entitled to follow his own will in the matter. His Prime Minister (at that time Thomas Cromwell) rather made sport of the King. Why do you submit to papal authority on such matters? Henry followed his suggestion, threw off papal authority and made himself head of the Church of England. Thus began the new Church of England. This was consummated in 1534 or 1535. At that time there was no change in doctrine, simply a renunciation of the authority of the Pope. Henry at heart really never became a Protestant. He died in the Catholic faith.
14. But this split did ultimately result in some very considerable change, or reformation, While a reformation within the Catholic Church and under papal authority, as in the case of Luther and others, was impossible, it became possible after the division. Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley and others led in some marked changes. However, they and many others paid a bloody price for the changes when a few years later, Mary, "Bloody Mary," a daughter of the divorced Catherine, came to the English throne, and carried the new Church back under the papal power. This fearful and terrific reaction ended with the strenuous and bloody five-year reign of Mary. While the heads were going under the bloody axe of Mary, hers went with them. The people had gotten, however, a partial taste of freedom so when Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn (for whom Catherine was divorced), became Queen, the Church of England again overthrew papal power and was again re-established.
15. Thus, before the close of the Sixteenth Century, there were five established Churches -- churches backed up by civil governments -- the Roman and Greek Catholics counted as two; then the Church of England; then the Lutheran, or Church of Germany; then the Church of Scotland, now known as the Presbyterian. All of them were bitter in their hatred and persecution of the people called Ana-Baptists, Waldenses and all other non-established churches, churches which never in any way had been connected with the Catholics. Their great help in the struggle for reformation had been forgotten, or was now wholly ignored. Many more thousands, including both women and children were constantly perishing every day in the yet unending persecutions. The great hope awakened and inspired by the reformation had proven to be a bloody delusion. Remnants now find an uncertain refuge in the friendly Alps and other hiding places over the world.
16. These three new organizations, separating from, or coming out of the Catholics, retained many of their most hurtful errors, some of which are as follows:
- Preacher-church government (differing in form).
- Church Establishment (Church and State combination).
- Infant BAPTISM
- Sprinkling or Pouring for Baptism.
- Baptismal Regeneration (some at least, and others, if many of their historians are to be accredited).
- Persecuting others (at least for centuries).
17. In the beginning all these established Churches persecuted one another as well as every one else, but at a council held at Augsburg in 1555, a treaty of peace, known as the "Peace of Augsburg" was signed between the "Catholics" on the one hand, and the "Lutherans" on the other, agreeing not to persecute each other. You let us alone, and we will let you alone. For Catholics to fight Lutherans meant war with Germany, and for Lutherans to fight or persecute Catholics meant war with all the countries where Catholicism predominated.
"The Trail of Blood"
18. But persecutions did not then cease. The hated Ana-Baptists (called Baptists today), in spite of all prior persecutions, and in spite of the awful fact that fifty million had already died martyr deaths, still existed in great numbers. It was during this period that along one single European highway, thirty miles distance, stakes were set up every few feet along this highway, the tops of the stakes sharpened, and on the top of each stake was placed a gory head of a martyred Ana-Baptist. Human imagination can hardly picture a scene so awful! And yet a thing perpetrated, according to reliable history, by a people calling themselves devout followers of the meek and lowly Jesus Christ.
19. Let it be remembered that the Catholics do not regard the Bible as the sole rule and guide of faith and life. The claim that it is indeed unerring, but that there are two other things just as much so, the "Writings of the Fathers" and the decrees of the Church (Catholic Church) or the declarations of the Infallible Pope.
Hence, there could never be a satisfactory debate between Catholic and Protestant or between Catholic and Baptist, as there could never possibly be a basis of final agreement. The Bible alone can never settle anything so far as the Catholics are concerned.
20. Take as an example the question of "Baptism" and the final authority for the act and for the mode. They claim that the Bible unquestionably teaches Baptism and that it teaches immersion as the only mode. But they claim at the same time that their unerring Church had the perfect right to change the mode from immersion to sprinkling but that no others have the right or authority, none but the infallible papal authority.
21. You will note of course, and possibly be surprised at it, that I am doing in these lectures very little quoting. I am earnestly trying to do a very hard thing, give to the people the main substance of two thousand years of religious history in six hours of time.
22. It is well just here to call attention to facts concerning the Bible during these awful centuries. Remember the Bible was not then in print and there was no paper upon which to have printed even if printing had been invented. Neither was there any paper upon which to write it. Parchment, dressed goat of sheep skins, or papyrus (some kind of wood pulp), this was the stuff used upon which to write. So a book as big as the Bible, all written by hand and with a stylus of some sort, not a pen like we use today, was an enormous thing, probably larger than one man could carry. There were never more than about thirty complete Bibles in all the world. Many parts or books of the Bible like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Acts, or some one of the Epistles, or Revelation or some one book of the Old Testament. One of the most outstanding miracles in the whole world's history -- according to my way of thinking -- is the nearness with which God's people have thought and believed together on the main and vital points of Christianity. Of course God is the only solution. It is now a most glorious fact that we can all and each, now have a full copy of the whole Bible and each in our own native tongue.
23. It is well also for us all to do some serious and special thinking on another vital fact concerning the Bible. It has already been briefly mentioned in the lecture preceding this, but is so very vital that it will probably be wise to refer to it again. It was the action taken by the Catholics at the Council of Toulouse, held in 1229 A. D., when they decided to withhold the Bible, the Word of God from the vast majority of all their own people, the "Laymen." I am simply stating here just what they stated in their great Council. But lately in private a Catholic said to me, "Our purpose in that is to prevent their private interpretation of it." Isn't it marvelous that God should write a book for the people and then should be unwilling for the people to read it. And yet according to that book the people are to stand or fall in the day of judgment on the teachings of that book. No wonder the declaration in the book -- "Search the Scriptures (the book) for in them ye think ye have eternal life. And they are they which testify of me." Fearful the responsibility assumed by the Catholics!