To try to sum up all of the factors that led to the Reformation in a Church newsletter article is quite impossible. It is easy to point to the abuses that were occurring in the Roman Catholic church politically, financially, and theologically as the instigators of Reformation supporters, but that would also ignore the changes that were occurring in Biblical scholarship, theological renewal and reform, the discovery by Europeans of the Western Hemisphere, and secular political shifts that were occurring all at the same time. But in looking at the changes in architecture, liturgy, music, and implements of the Church, it might be simplest to say that there were two major trends: the one criticizing Roman Catholicism and the one celebrating it: the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.
The architecture of the Roman Catholic Church continued on a triumphalist trend producing the more ornate baroque style, including architecture. The beginning of this era saw the renovation of St. Peter’s in Rome, probably the most obvious shift from Renaissance to Baroque style. Il Gesu, the mother of the Jesuits, is another prime example.
Reformation Christians initially just co-opted existing churches, often removing decorations, statuary, relics, etc. Over time as they began to build their own worship spaces the centrality of preaching over the sacraments became evident in design. The pulpit would be often more centrally located, and the worship space might resemble more of an auditorium with seats fanning out around the pulpit rather than longitudinally from the altar.
Reformation musicians placed great value on congregational singing (Martin Luther himself composed a large number of hymns to be sung in Reformation congregations) as part of a broader theology of an expanded role of the laity in worship. That’s not to say that it was uniformly embraced; Ulrich Zwingli, for example, saw singing as a strictly secular pastime. But simple, even familiar tunes became part of the Reformation worship experience. The Catholic Church, in turn, also began restraining composers from creating complex and performance-oriented music in favor of more intelligible works (although Latin was still very common).
The introduction of the printing press to Europe (Chinese monks were using block printing 600 years before Gutenberg) allowed Reformists to spread change through books of doctrine, theology, and liturgy, while the Roman Catholic Church used the same tools to achieve greater uniformity, although some texts were banned from production, including the Roman Missal. Perhaps more than any other topic I’m covering, the impact of the printing press on Christianity in Europe can not be overstated.
When it comes to Eucharistic vessels, the Reformist style mirrored the theology of the particular Reformation tradition. Martin Luther and Anglican Thomas Cranmer, for example, held the Eucharist in high esteem and promoted the use of ornate vessels from the Roman Catholic styles. Other traditions removed or destroyed Eucharistic vessels, occasionally replacing them with simple, secular bowls, cups, and plates. During this period there were some new innovations, especially in the 19th Century as awareness of germ theory became commonplace, and the use of communion plates containing a multitude of smaller cups was invented.
Next week I’ll conclude my very brief survey of Christian architecture, music, liturgy, and Eucharistic vessels with the modern era.
Yours in Christ,