In this famous and surprising book, the great Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc gives the true and largely untold story which answers one of the most important historical questions in our civilization: "How did Christendom suffer shipwreck?" Showing that this momentous question is invisible to Protestant and secular historians, Belloc goes on to demonstrate that the Protestant movement was by no means the culmination of a long natural progress, but rather was one of six mortal perils which had threatened to destroy Catholic European civilization--and was the only one which, tragically, failed to be stamped out by the Catholic Church. Belloc describes how it was not doctrine, but avarice and rebellion against the clergy, which originally fueled the Reformation. He readily admits that corruption among Churchmen and clerical abuses regarding Church revenues prepared the way for the Flood of Revolt, as did Humanism and a growing contempt for authority--plus the perennial "hatred of the Catholic Faith."
Belloc maintains that Luther just happened to be the one to let loose "the Flood," that the international threat of a Mohammedan invasion (largely overlooked by historians) paralyzed the German authorities at this crucial moment, that England fell to Protestantism through a "political accident," and that the dark genius of Calvin then clarified and shaped the anti-Catholic fury into a definite program.
As for the doctrine of "Justification by Faith alone," Belloc says it was not a motive of the movement, but "an afterthought." He describes how Catholic and Protestant forces spent 10 years lining up for battle, then 13 years in battle--followed by the Church's belated defense (through the Jesuits and the Council of Trent) by further combats, and finally by one last great struggle to keep Christendom united (the Thirty Years War), which ended in exhaustion for both sides and a divided Europe after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
In all this panorama of great historical events, Belloc highlights the driving force played by greed: For the rare opportunity to transfer Church lands and revenues into private hands provided a powerful incentive for the gentry and nobles to cast their lot with the new Protestant movement.
How the Reformation Happened is perhaps the most cogent explanation ever penned of what was really going on in the titanic 16th-century upheaval of Catholic Europe. It is a book that cannot be ignored by anyone who would understand our Western Civilization--or who would understand where that civilization is now heading as a result of the tragic Protestant Reformation.
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