anti - Catholicism

anti - Catholicism
   Intense criticism of the Roman Catholic Church has been a persistent theme in Protestant writings at all levels since the Reformation of the 16th century. Protestantism's Roman Catholic origins, and the intensity of the break between them, may explain this persistent criticism.
   The very first Protestant documents are essentially criticisms of Catholic practice and pointed comments on the church's hierarchy and its monarch, the pope. Martin Luther, in a 1520 letter to Pope Leo X, wrote: "But thy See, which is called the Roman Curia, and of which neither thou nor any man can deny that it is more corrupt that any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which is, as far as I can see, characterized by a totally depraved, hopeless and notorious wickedness - that See I have truly despised, and I have been incensed to think that in thy name and under the guise of the Roman Church the people of Christ are Mocked."
   The Reformation was more than a war of words; it resulted in the disruption of the unity of the Catholic Church. The threat to remove
   Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, and the British Isles from the Catholic realm led to almost continual warfare through most of the 16th century. For Protestants, the struggle was punctuated by several instances of martyrdom that inflamed opinions against the Catholic Church. During the reign of Mary I (r. 1553-58), a number of Protestant leaders were executed in an attempt to swing the Church of England back into the Roman Catholic camp. In 1572, tens of thousands of French Protestants were murdered in what became known as the St.Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and authorities in Rome added insult to injury by striking a medal to commemorate the event.
   John Foxe (1516-87), one of the Marian Exiles, waited out Mary's regime by compiling a book initially published in England in 1563. In its many editions (which continued to appear after his death, updated with new atrocities as they occurred), Foxe's Book of Martyrs documented Catholic acts against Protestants (and protoProtestants such as John Hus), thus keeping alive Protestant anti-Catholic feelings for many years.
   The Catholic minority in England, supported by the Spanish king, repeatedly tried to overthrow or assassinate Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603); the Jesuit order was banned for backing these attempts. James I (r. 1603-25) continued Elizabeth's policy after a series of plots against his life were thwarted, including the still celebrated Guy Fawkes Plot (1605) to blow up Parliament. Perhaps for these reasons, William Ill's 1689 Toleration Act specifically excluded Roman Catholics from its provisions.
   Protestant leaders developed a theology that portrayed Roman Catholicism in starkly negative images, often drawing from the emotive imagery of the biblical Book of Revelation, itself originally directed at the Roman Empire. The pope was often identified with the beast of Revelation 13 who had seven heads and 10 horns and who spoke blasphemy. The Catholic Church created a similar set of observations on Protestantism that were integrated into theology texts and popular literature.
   Anti-Catholic feelings were transferred to the British American colonies. They led to the 1702 Protestant takeover of Maryland, established as a haven for British Catholics. over the next few years, a series of anti-Catholic laws were enacted in the colonies. Catholics were denied the right to vote and to hold public office, and they were not allowed to found schools. Most colleges would not admit Catholic students.
   The First Amendment to the United States Constitution excluded no one from its promise of religious freedom, and Catholicism prospered in the new nation. In 1844, when the Methodists split, the Roman Catholic Church became the largest church in America, a position it still maintains (though the total Protestant community continues to dominate American religious life). Fear of Roman Catholic gains motivated Protestant evangelistic activity; following the Civil War, Protestant churches mobilized to evangelize the recently freed slaves on the grounds that they might otherwise become Roman Catholics. Anti-Catholic feelings flared at the time of the Know-Nothing movement in the 1840s and again toward the end of the century in reaction to large-scale immigration from Roman Catholic countries such as Italy and Poland.
   Protestant missionary efforts in the 19th century gave added impetus to anti-Catholic feelings. When Protestants, citing religious freedom, tried to established churches in Roman Catholic countries across South America and in Europe (especially Spain and Italy), they always met intense resistance from Catholic authorities. Protestants were in worldwide competition with Catholic missionaries in Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific - a competition increased by the entry of France and Belgium into the quest for empire.
   The Protestant Ecumenical movement of the 20th century paradoxically helped mitigate anti-Catholic feelings, as the vision of unity led to overtures to Eastern Orthodoxy and then to Roman Catholicism. The breakthrough in attitudes occurred during the papacy ofJohn XXIII (r. 1958-63). In 1960, he created a Secretariat for Christian Unity, which sent official observers to the World Council of Churches gathering at New Delhi in 1961. Then in 1962, he invited official Protestant observers to a bishops' council at the Vatican, where important new statements on Protestant-Catholic relationships were presented. John XXIII's successor, Paul VI, oversaw an era of good feelings between the two communities that found expression at every level of church life.
   Following Vatican II (1962-66), official consultations were set up between the Catholic Church and both the World Council of Churches and the major branches of Protestantism. At the national and local levels, Protestants and Catholics worked together as members of church councils. Catholics and Protestants now appear together regularly in services designed to commemorate important events in modern religiously plural countries. Meanwhile, a significant step in overcoming anti-Catholic feeling in the predominantly Protestant United States was made in 1960 with the election of the first Catholic American president, John F Kennedy (1917-63).
   Elements of anti-Catholicism remain in the Protestant community, especially among the more conservative denominations, which are generally less tolerant of doctrinal differences. They have continued to reprint classic anti-Catholic books and perpetuate anti-Catholic patterns of Bible interpretation. In recent years, some Evangelical Protestants have tried to replace polemics with dialogue, perhaps a sign of the movement's growing power.
   Protestant-Catholic tensions remain strong and politically important in a few countries. Most notably, violence continued in Northern Ireland through the last decades of the 20th century.
   Further reading:
   ■ Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860, A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Macmillan, 1938)
   ■ Philip Jenkins, The New Anti-Catholicism: Hating the Church in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)
   ■ Robert P. Lockwood, ed., Anti-Catholicism in American Culture (Huntington, Ind.: our Sunday Visitor, 2000)
   ■ E. R. Norman, Anti Catholicism in Victorian England (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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