I still remember the day in Church History class several years ago at Princeton Theological Seminary when our professor made the point that the word “Reformation” is not a harmless, neutral term to describe those historic episodes of the Sixteenth century. He went on to point out that some Roman Catholic scholars and historians, in fact, decline to use the word, and refer instead to the “Protestant Revolution,” or the “Protestant Revolt,” when speaking of those historic events. The latter terms, obviously, convey a far different assessment of the meaning and significance of what happened in the Sixteenth Century. The term “Reformation” after all, implies that the Roman Church of the time was indeed deeply corrupt and in need of reformation, and that the movement led by Luther, Calvin, and others was a good thing that had predominantly positive effects. Roman Catholics who do not share those judgments may understandably prefer a different word.
I have no problems with Roman Catholics who may prefer a different word here. However, I would hardly agree that I should not refer to those epic events as the Reformation and celebrate them as important episodes in the history of the Church, even if there are aspects of the Reformation that are regrettable. I would strongly object if my Roman Catholic friends tried to insist that I should not use the word, and should call it something more sympathetic to their views, such as the Protestant Revolt, or even something more “neutral” such as the Protestant Secession. Continue reading