I wonder if there are any believing Protestants left in Greater Parkdale, or other large American cities. (There are precious few Catholics.) I know they may still be found outside. I have been amazed, sometimes, to find — these days usually through funerals, alas — that there are still Protestant churches in small Ontario towns, with real life in them, and honest faith: I think genuine Christians, alas not Catholic, who by the circumstances of birth and upbringing were never likely to become so. Some of these are among my readers, and from their letters I also learn respect for them. Surely Our Lord prefers the company of Protestant faithful, to Catholic faithless.

My own people, going back some centuries on both sides, were of this dispersion. Some were fanatical and destructive — of the iconoclastic kind that smashed Christian art across much of Europe in the old days; demolished chapels, torched libraries and so forth.

Some, too, were saintly, as my “Aunt Buddie” of beloved memory: Mildred Holmes of New Waterford, Cape Breton, church organist at Calvin United for sixty years. A peace maker: the Catholics owed her. She taught keyboard to three generations of them; sometimes herself played at their weddings — because, in her view, they were her fellow Christians, and good friends. She was a woman of indefatigable good humour and kindness, whose Bibles (she owned several) each showed the marks of constant use. If she didn’t get to Heaven, then I might wonder if it’s worth going there.

When looking back over the catastrophe of the Reformation — the greatest, most enduring catastrophe to afflict the Western Church, unless it was the earlier schism with the East — I think on the legacy of fine Protestants. They were born into the Protestant traditions; they are hardly responsible for events that happened generations before they were born. If I think Luther and Calvin were heretics — typical late mediaeval heretics from a period of decadence — it does not follow that I despise their progeny. It could not follow, for the principles on which these Reformers insisted have for the most part been long abandoned; and the corruption they alleged in the Catholic Church has been addressed, again and again.

The Reformation was not the doing of errant theologians, however. So many like them had come to nothing before. It was instead the doing of secular politicians — Princes who embraced, or pretended to embrace, Protestant principles as their excuse for appropriating Church property in their realms. (These were the first “nationalizations.”) It was such men as Henry VIII of England, and Gustav I of Sweden, who paid off their debts and cynically bought bishops and squires with the proceeds, turning abbeys and monasteries into a landscape of grand country homes and tame parish churches. The same, writ small, in smaller realms across Germany and northern Europe. And for their deeds and excesses, Luther and Calvin cannot be blamed, who were at least earnest. Yet they and their followers came to participate in the fiendish anti-Catholic propaganda that persisted through the centuries, putting the recovery of unity farther and farther from reach, dissolving Christendom into warring camps.

Yet the “ethno-phyletism” — the tribal conflation of Church and State not only in Protestant but in Catholic domains — was not the intention of Princes, either. They did not foresee the consequences of what they were doing, as the spirit of Statism advanced. Most, as Luther himself, began backpedalling desperately against the initial disorders. In their own interests, the rulers wanted things both ways: to impose a stable doctrine to keep the domestic peace, while bearing no obedience themselves. The Devil was in it, and the hell-gates were opened.

I have tried in three paragraphs to summarize my view on what the Reformation was really about. (From a slightly different angle I try also, here.) The history of sin is vast, and even today being constantly rewritten. In many ways we are now better placed, far from events five centuries ago, to see more clearly what was at stake, and what were the true motives. In other ways, we are blinded by our indifference.

Those of us who are Catholic today — insofar as we take our religion seriously — cannot possibly celebrate events that diminished our Church, and caused unspeakable human suffering. Did God and the Serpent join to celebrate the schism of Adam, at the five-hundredth anniversary of the Fall of Man?

And should we now congratulate ourselves, that our faith has so weakened on both sides, that we can strike smug ecumenical poses?

Let us anew love the sinner, and condemn the sin. It is Our Lord we follow, and in the end, we can only bury our differences in Him.