By what authority: The Reformation

Letter from the District Superior, Rev. Robert Brucciani, November 2016

My Dear Brethren,

As we prepare to lament the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, it is as well that we understand this event which broke Christendom and sowed the seeds of errors that presently threaten the Church and all of civilisation.

What was the Reformation?

A true answer to the question, ‘What was the Reformation?’ is of such vast importance, because it is only when we grasp what the Reformation was that we understand its consequences. Then only do we know how the united body of European civilisation has been cut asunder and by what a wound.

The abomination of industrialism; the loss of land and capital by the people in great districts of Europe, the failure of modern discovery to serve the end of man; the series of larger and still larger wars following in a rapidly rising scale of severity and destruction till the dead are now counted in tens of millions, the increasing chaos and misfortune of society all these attach one to the other, each falls into its place, and a hundred smaller phenomena as well, when we appreciate, as today we can, the nature and the magnitude of that fundamental catastrophe.” (Hilaire Belloc, Europe And The Faith)

The Reformation was an explosive revolt at the close of the Middle Ages which was ignited by a discontented Augustinian monk in 1517, but which was occasioned by “two phenomena appearing side by side in the society of Europe. The first was an ageing and a growing fatigue of the simple medieval scheme, the second was the rapid accretion of technical power” (Belloc). These were the dispositive causes, the tinder to the fire.

Dispositive Causes

Europe had suffered the calamity of the Black Death (1348–50) in which a third of its adult population died. The Church had suffered a crisis of authority in the Great Schism of the West (1378–1417) in which there were two, then three claimants to the papal throne. Christendom was exhausted by the failure of the crusades, by the struggles between Church and the emerging nation states, by the struggles amongst the nation states themselves, by the accumulation of rules, procedures, traditions and practices in sclerotic institutions, by the imbalances of wealth and power. Both the Church and state had failed to check injustice and moral and political corruption that accompanied the accumulation of vast wealth over the centuries. Most fundamentally, it had failed to renew itself spiritually.

And all this happened at a time of great scientific and technical progress. The development of the printing press diffused new ideas and resurrected old ones long-forgotten. Progress in the natural sciences left philosophers struggling to make sense of the tidal wave of new data from systematic experimentation. The development of ocean-going ships and military power led to the discovery and conquest of new lands, new riches, new markets... and to the birth of new empires.


As long as the Church's authority over doctrine and morals was respected, the great edifice of Christendom held together despite the infirmity of age and the challenges of rapid change. To have authority over doctrine and morals is to be the guardian of that which gives a civilisation its identity, its unity, its culture, its soul. The Reformation was so devastating because it attacked the authority of the Church and so attacked the soul of Christendom.

It started as a riotous doctrinal free-for-all and a shameless smash-and-grab of Church assets from which many expected the Church to recover after a period of salutary reformation, but instead it led to the entrenchment of heresy and formation of Protestant nation states which perdure to this day.

More disastrous, however, the Reformation set in motion a chain of denials of authority: Luther denied the divine authority of the Church to interpret Revelation; then the rationalists denied the authority of all Revelation as a source of truth; then the idealists denied that anyone could have any authority at all to determine truth, then the atheistic materialists denied all truth; to them, praxis is the only thing that matters.

State-sponsored killing of unborn children, euthanasia, assisted suicide, forced corruption of the innocent, gender theory, birth control, eugenics; all these are attempts to destroy the vestige of God in the world; they are the logical and frightening consequences of the Reformation; "bad is the new good" and vice versa. It is what we call diabolical inversion.

In summary, first the Church was deposed, then Christ was deposed, then God was deposed, then truth was deposed, then nature was deposed. We now find ourselves in a godless Europe, with no coherent system of doctrine or morals, no unity, no identity, no culture, and no soul. Such is the legacy of the Reformation.

And next?

To those without the Faith, we seem to be destined to nihilistic darkness. The same dispositive causes of the destruction of Christendom have reproduced themselves in our day: there is a crisis of authority in every sphere of life, there is a never-ending series of wars, there is moral and political corruption, an imbalance of political and economic wealth, and technological advancement is permitting a dramatic concentration of both coercive and disruptive power.

To those who have the Faith, however, whatever may happen and however man may try to usurp the authority of God, the reality of God's authority remains. The Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is still endowed with divine authority and is still empowered to continue her salvific, unifying mission until the end of the world. She has the Divine Life, she has the Mother of God as her exemplary member, as the dispenser of her supernatural gifts. She has a host of saints, living on earth and glorifying God in heaven. Even if many of her ministers may be unworthy, the Kingdom of Heaven will always be close at hand... for nothing escapes the authority of God.

In Jesu et Maria,

Rev. Robert Brucciani

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