The Reformation Principle

Yes, for sure we can say: “For Christians of whatever church there is now a common cause. They have to maintain Christian faith and law against impiety and anarchy.”[1] But if they are to be adequate for this task, nothing less than Christian truth is required, in its simplicity, purity and primitive force, that is, Biblical, evangelical, apostolic Christianity, the faith of the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and all who desire to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, with free salvation through the blood of His cross.

If we are to defeat the Revolution, we must have the Gospel stripped of all hindrances and set free from the superstitions in which Rome has sunk and distorted it.

The Gospel is the Sun of Justice that, after every night of error, appears over the horizon and scatters the darkness. It destroys the Revolution in its roots by cutting off the source of its deceptive reasoning. It thus removes those obstacles that liberalism by its very natureis unable to overcome. The rights of man (insofar as they are genuine and beneficial), the ameliorations, the advantages, which under the sway of the Revolution remains pipe-dreams, becomes realities with the elaboration of evangelical principles.

When wrested from a fatal amalgam, modern ideas are fully compatible with the Gospel. Rome opposes them, but in genuine biblical Christianity they have a place. If we want to possess the good things the Revolution offers us, one course of action alone must be followed: we must take up once more the work of the Reformationand continue in it. 

This is the one true way of destroying the Revolution’s prestige and authority, of undermining its raison d’etre and uprooting from people’s minds. 

With this in mind, we need vigorously to repudiate the pseudo-Protestantism that is the Revolution’s natural ally. We have to be clear about what the motives, nature, starting point, direction and consequences of the Reformation are. In 1841, I wrote:

It is imperative that we have a clear undesrtanding of the grand and holy struggle that has dominated modern history for a hundred and fifty years. There is a twofold need for such awareness at this time, when both Roman Catholicism and a faithless bastard Protestantism persistenly endeavour to distort the leading features of such a Christian generation and render them unrecognizable, and to turn the latter into a mere political or social movement. By nature, the Reformation has no affinity with the esential elements of revolution; rather, it preduates them. We do not go far enough if all we do is point out that it outlaws voilence under all circumstances and has never been capable from its own inner resources of exciting social unrest. It needs to be said, too, that when the Reformation put the Christian principle — obedience out of love for God and as the servant of God — into practice, and when in every sphere it placed human authority under God’s authority, it validated power by putting it back on its true foundation. It counteracted and suppressed numerous outbreaks of rebellion that were incited, especially towards the end of the Middle Ages, by a false appliation of Roman law or by an impurdent enthusiasm for the republican remains of antiquity.

Indeed, there have been many Protestants, some of whom are sincerely attached to the Gospel, who are unfamailiar with the true nature of liberalism and who, because all they can see in the revolutionary upheavals are the excesses inherent in such struggles, consider it a mark of esteem to be able to draw parallels between the Revolution and the Reformation.

I myself have always stressed the contrast between them:

We often talk the links between the Revolution and the Reformation. We shall try to list them. The Revolution starts from the sovereignty of man; the Reformation starts from the sovereignty of God. The former judges revelation by reason; the latter subjects reason to revealed truth. The former breeds personal opinions; the latter brings about a unity of faith. The former loosens social ties and domestic relations; the latter reasserts and sanctifies them. The one triumphs through martyrdom; the other can only sustain itself by slaughter. The one comes up out of the abyss; the other comes down from Heaven.

I dared to hope that these preconceptions would vanish under the spotlight of serious examination. I went on:

We do not lack the means to put such erros right nowadays. Merle d’Aubigne is publishing his History of the Reformation, which is more than sufficient to dispel the prejudice of an almost totla ignorance by its plainness and historical detail. Ranke scatters profusely the treasures of his science in works that are replete with a thorough exposition of the facts. In Germany and elsewhere thereis a renewed interest in times past. So let us have faith; criticla examination and integrity are all we need.[2]

Our faith has not been disappointed. Historical studies have dramatically altered the judgments of serious minds. Time and again they now insist that it is wrong to view the Reformation merely in a negative light. Take Guizot, for example, who once said in his lecutres on modern history: “The sixteenth century crisis was not just reformist, it was essentially revolutionary. We cannot ignore its true character, whether in its virtures or its vices.”[3] But more recently he has stated: “It was not just the shaking off of a restraint, but the profession and practice of a faith, which brought about the sinxteenth-century Reformation and enabled it to succeed; in principle it was an essentially religious movement.”[4] [Even] Remusat, a Roman Catholic writer, has likewise stated:

“The Reformation principle was not a matter of a particular theory of the church’s constitution, or of this or that doctrine of the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Neither was it a matter of the hatred of the excesses of papal power, let alone of a general spirit of innovation and resistance to oppression. Even less, if it were possible, was it a matter of the contest between faith and reason or even between free enquiry and authority. The principle behind this religious revolution was religious not revolutionary. It was the principle of justificaotin by faith, and by faith alone.”[5]

Citations & References
  1. Guizot, Meditations and Moral Sketches, p. 21.
  2. Archives de la Maison d’Orange-Nassau [Archives of the House of Orange-Nassau], Series 1, vol. 1 (2nd edition), Prolegomenon.
  3. Guizot, Cours d’histoire moderne: histoire generale de la civilisation en Europe [Course of modern history: general history of civilisation in Europe] (Paris: Pichon & Didier, 1828), p. 22 (First lesson, 18 April 1828).
  4. Pourquoi le revolution d’Angleterre a-t-elle reussi?, p. 2.
  5. Charles de Remusat, De la Reforme et du Protestantisme [Regarding the Reformation and Protestantism]. Extract from Revue des Deux Mondes (Paris and Berne, 1854), p. 40. Remusat (1797-1875) was a French politician and writer.

Groen Van Prinsterer

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Groen van Prinsterer was a Dutch politician who birthed the great Anti-Revolutionary Party which Abraham Kuyper came to lead. Possessing a formidable mind; Groen was the first to articulate the concept of worldview, articulated in his “Revolution and Unbelief,” a landmark work showing the great antithesis in worldviews.

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