I didn't do anything for Reformation Day, even church. I kind of ran out of ideas for church visits, or at least ideas that interested me very much. But, as it happened, I've been reading a book for an article I'm doing that is set in the Italian Renaissance in Luther's era. (Since I try to keep work as far from the blog as possible, I'll leave it that vague.)
The picture the book -- which is not primarily concerned with religion -- paints of the Catholic Church at the time is of an institution at the peak of corruption. The Church seems to have been pretty much folded into the European nobility's system of nepotism, back-scratching and infighting, with Vatican positions being finagled by top Italian families such as the Borgias and the Medicis. And most of the clerics have concubines, so they have their own children with interests to promote. When the sternly moral pope Adrian IV has his brief reign he's almost universally hated, because no one can extract favors from him.
Reading this I can also understand the anti-aestheticism of the Protestants of the age. Generally I'm in favor of great art and beautiful things, and don't think God demands ugliness, but the Italian renaissance art craze bordered on idolatry. One prince rewarded the discoverer of some ancient Roman sculpture with a lifetimes annuity for both himself and his son, and threw of triumphal parade for his sculpture through the streets of his capital city. Such was not that unusual, apparently, and the clergy indulged in it as well.
But when the Lutherans do finally put in an appearance, it is, shall we say, a far from salutory one. The Holy Roman Emperor (who ruled what is now Germany, despite the name) musters a massive army to invade Italy, and it marches unhindered to the outskirts of Rome. The intimidated Pope makes a deal with the emperor, but the troops, who have been promised booty for their trouble, rebel against their commander and march on Rome anyway.
A terrifying orgy of violence follows, in which some 10,000 Romans were killed. The book implies this has little to do with religion, and a lot to do with avarice and the general wildness that seems to afflict groups of young men with weapons. But clearly a lot of rage is directed at the organs of Catholicism:
They walked into Saint Peter's and killed those who sought refuge there. They searched for monks, priests, bishops, old nuns, and slew them ... Young nuns were auctioned off, violated by one hoodlum after another, the killed ... Many artists, such as Marcantonio Raimondi, were tortured by the Lutherans because they had painted pictures of the Madonna. The only reason the Vatican Library escaped destruction was that the Prince of Orange had established his headquarters there. Much of the papal treasury disappeared. Raphael's Stanze was used as stables. The special rage of the soldiers was directed against the cardinals: their wealth was stolen from the poor, they shouted. Guicciardini wrote that the cardinals "unable to raise all the ransom demanded were so tortured that they died, then and there, or within a few days."
Of course, the soldiers who sacked Rome had reason to be angry, as the picture of clerical corruption painted in the rest of the book makes clear. But, much as we Americans like to romanticize rebellion (our country was founded on it, after all), it does tend to unleash something in human nature that flies out of the control of high-minded reformers.
Reading all this brought to mind John Howard Yoder's writings on the idea of "being subject" that appears in the New Testament. As I summarized here, Yoder saw Jesus as an example of subjection as well as revolution:
Man's subordination to these Powers is what makes him human, for if they did not exist there would be no history nor society nor humanity... Like all men, he [Jesus] too was subject (but in this case quite willingly) to these powers. He accepted his own status of submission. But morally he broke their rules by refusing to support them in their self-glorification; and that is why they killed him. ... He did not fear even death. Therefore his cross is a victory, is the confirmation that he was free from the rebellious pretensions of the creaturely condition.
Many people I know take Paul's writings about subjection to authority as either a remnant of his damnable pharisaism or as later addition by someone else in the Constantinian era. But it seems just as likely to me that the new church, like all revolutionary movements it seems, attracted a certain contingent of folks who saw it as an opportunity to let out their inner 12-year-old's fantasies of living with no rules. "'All things are lawful for me', but not all things are beneficial," warns Paul, quoting the Corinthians' words back at them.
All of this brings me to a recent post by A.K.M. Adam, who gives voice to an idea that's been floating in the back of my head for a while:
The pacifistís opposition to war becomes operative only at the extremity of human behavior ó whereas the real work of pacifism takes place day by day. Margaretís going to argue that Augustinian truthfulness provides a model of how we can envision pacifism as a way of life, inasmuch as Augustine both prohibits deception and discusses how people can live in a world where deception prevails. We noted that our familyís commitment to pacifism has affected our relations with one another, our behavior relative to neighbors and co-workers, our involvement in church and other spheres, much more than it has affected our attitude toward (for instance) the ongoing conquest of Iraq. Someone who says that pacifism is cheap when you donít actually have to participate in war or face harsh consequences for your refusal, may not have considered sufficiently the cost of trying to live a life characterized by aiming at harmony and cooperation in a culture overwhelmingly defined by competition, rivalry, and conflict. Thatís all the more true to the extent that anything we say or do risks supplying the grounds for an accusation from a hostile inquisitor (of whom I find a surprising number).
Pacifism is more than not serving in the army: itís living as an emissary of peace in exile in a land of contentiousness. When you begin with treating your spouse and children, your neighbors and students in a way governed by the blessing of peace, of course war is unthinkable ó but thereís so much more to be done before the question of war even comes up.