The Reformation spread quickly during the sixteenth century in Europe. Rome became concerned over the spreading “heresy” and determined to stop it. The persecutions inflicted were not as effective as she had hoped. The more pressure that was put upon the Protestants to yield to her demands, the more they increased. So another approach was initiated.
“The Papacy suffered a major setback throughout the Reformation. The help of the monastic orders was sought, but they were so decadent that they had lost the respect of the people. The Dominicans and Franciscans, peddling relics and indulgences, had become the butt of ridicule and mockery. At this crisis Loyola and his companions offered their services, to go wherever the pope should designate, as preachers, missionaries, teachers, counselors, reformers. A new order was created, authorized in 1540, which infused a new spirit and spread rapidly over Europe. Like a wounded giant, Romanism arose in desperation to recover her lost prestige and enlarge shrunken territory.
“From 1540, then, the Counter Reformation may be dated. Within fifty years the Jesuits had planted stations in Peru, Africa, the islands of the East Indies, Hindustan, Japan, and China, and before long in the Canadian forests and the American colonies. Their members secured important chairs in universities. They became counselors and confessors to monarchs, and were the most able of all Catholic preachers. By 1615 they had a membership of thirteen thousand. Thus through the Jesuits, the Counter Reformation, next to the Protestant Reformation itself, became the most memorable movement in the history of modern times.” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. II, 464.
By 1565 Catholicism had reached a low ebb and it was on the defensive, as Protestantism became victorious in one stronghold after another. In 1566 Pius V revived the Inquisition, the Index, and the Company of Jesus once more assumed the offensive. All this included the Marian persecutions in England, the wars in France against the Huguenots, the burning of heretics by the Inquisition in Spain, the attempt to exterminate the Protestants in the Netherlands and the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Protestant books were placed on the Index to be destroyed. In addition to these engines of destruction, Rome used polemics against the Protestants, and in an attempt to stem the tide she began a mission program to the heathen.
None of these things had any lasting effect on stopping the Reformation. Then the Jesuits came up with an idea that was calculated to have a confusing effect upon those who had been influenced by the reformers. The main thrust of the idea was aimed at the reformer’s prophetic interpretations of Daniel and Revelation, particularly dealing with the antichrist. Luther and others had said that the antichrist of Daniel was the Papacy. To take the heat off the Papacy, the Jesuit, Francisco Ribera of Salamanca in Spain and Robert Bellarmine of Rome put forth a futuristic interpretation of Bible prophecy.
Ribera assigned the first few chapters of Revelation to ancient Rome and the rest to just before the Second Advent. Bellarmine insisted that the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation had no application to the papal power, and that the year-day principle did not apply to the prophecies.
“Protestantism and Catholicism now stand face to face in opposition over the prophecies, each with its weapons of argument drawn. The issues having been clearly enunciated, the battle is begun between the distinctively Protestant and papal interpretations, the two positions being irreconcilable. Stalwarts in the Protestant ranks arose to defend and perfect the Historical School of interpretation, though some compromisers adopted the Catholic countertheories —particularly the Preterist scheme.” Ibid., 506.
The foundation for the interpretation of the time prophecies of the Bible is the year-day principle. Thomas Brightman (1562–1607), a Puritan scholar, confuted Ribera’s Futurism and stressed the year-day principle for interpreting the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation.
As previously stated there were some Protestants that compromised with the Catholic views on the prophecies. These included Hugo Grotius a Dutch jurist, statesman, historian and theologian and Henry Hammond, called the “Father of English Biblical Criticism.” These men, among others, adopted the Catholic Preterist theory. According to this view, the prophecies of Revelation were descriptive of the victory of the early church as fulfilled by the downfall of the Jewish nation and the overthrow of Pagan Rome, thus limiting them to the first six centuries after Christ and implicating Nero as the antichrist.
“By the middle of the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation had taken firm root in all countries north of the Alps, with the exception of France and the Netherlands. Thus Europe, for the most part, seemed lost to the Holy See. But the Catholic Counter Reformation began, with a program of reform in the Roman church, along with the formation of new religious orders. The church set about recovering the lands from which it had been driven. Its two chief instruments were the Jesuits and the Inquisition, and a third was the Council of Trent.” Ibid., 526.
Between 1555 and 1580 the Reformers were broken up into three groups—Lutherans, Calvinists and Socinians, thus weakening the Protestant position. Eventually Calvinists and Lutherans began persecuting one another; thus the Jesuits regained Poland. Religious wars developed in France and the Netherlands and a strong Catholic reaction soon followed. While the Protestants were losing power, the Catholic Counter Reformation was gaining strength. By the end of the sixteenth century Catholicism had regained almost half of Europe. While in this territory Protestantism was split into two groups, Protestant and Reformed. For some time it seemed that Catholicism would reign supreme again, but it was not to be so. There still remained the cornerstone of individual liberty in men’s hearts that could not be completely subdued. If necessary, men would fight for this freedom despite all odds.
Protestants Agree on Prophecies
During the Post-Reformation period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, hundreds of Protestant commentaries, large and small, began to appear throughout Europe and England and now for the first time in the North American continent. In spite of some of the differences of interpretation on the part of some of the writers, there was surprising agreement on the essentials.
Throughout the seventeenth century men all over the world were focusing their attention upon the prophecies of Daniel with emphasis upon the 1260 and 2300-day prophecies. For the first time, the 70 weeks were connected to the 2300-day prophecy. Various interpretations were advanced regarding the beginning and ending dates of these prophecies, but the year-day principle of prophetic interpretation had been firmly established in the Protestant world. During the eighteenth century, the interest in and propagation of Biblical interpretation continued to grow and develop in England and Germany especially. The Huguenots in France also held the prophetic banner high. It is obvious to us now that the Lord was preparing the way for the Great Advent Movement of the nineteenth century.
“The Eighteenth century . . . was a climactic period, witnessing the recognized close of one of the greatest of the prophetic time periods. It was a century of extreme contrasts. The seeds of the Jesuit Preterist counterinterpretation sprang up and began to bear their evil fruit of acceptance among German rationalists, and thence to similar groups in England and America. Furthermore, no sooner had premillennialists repudiated the false Augustinian theory of a post millennium, than postmillennialism, introduced among Protestants by a Protestant, swept like a scourge over a large percentage of the churches. And coupled to this was the tragedy of bitter reaction against all Christianity, false and true, as the insidious principles of infidelity and atheism reached their climax in the French Revolution (1793).
“On the other hand, the ending of the 1260 year-day period took place—anticipated for a full century by a line of expositors who believed France might be the instrument to accomplish it. Prophetic students on three continents watched for and recognized the fulfillment, which they duly attested. Prophetic interpretation in the hands of able men in Britain, France, and Germany—and now in America—continued to advance. Errors were corrected, and new principles were discerned. The great Lisbon earthquake was seen as a sign that the approaching end was clearly recognized. And just before the close of the century men in two different lands independently arrived at the identical conclusion that the 70 weeks of years are the first part of the 2300 year-days. Such were the prophetic highlights of this new century.” Ibid., 640, 641.
Isaac Newton (1642–1727), one of the greatest mathematical and philosophical minds of his time, applied the same exactness to prophetic interpretation as he did to the sciences. His understanding of Daniel’s prophecies is manifested by his writings on that subject. For the most part he is correct in his interpretation as evidenced by understanding that the cleansing of the Sanctuary was still future. He also stated that the starting date for the 2300 days was 457 B.C.
There were many others in various parts of the world that were following the same line of thought regarding the prophecies. Men such as John Fletcher (1729–1785) in Switzerland, defended the year-day principle, among other teachings that dealt with prophetic interpretation. John Gill (1697–1771) in England, supported the historic position on the prophecies of Daniel. Johann Bengel (1687–1752) of Germany, taught that the beast was the Papacy and that the crucifixion occurred in the midst of the 70th week. John Petrie (1718–1792), also of Germany, believed that the 70 weeks were a part of the 2300-day prophecy.
The two common denominators that stand out among the Post-Reformation Protestant witnesses are that the Papacy is the predicted antichrist and that the year-day principle was to be applied to the prophecies. From the Renaissance on, prophetic exposition continued to steadily unfold and expand.
With the close of the eighteenth century, it is seen that the two major focal points of that period are the Reformation position that the Papacy is the antichrist and that the French Revolution was a turning point in the absolute controlling power of the Papacy. Although Protestant Historicists differed considerably as to the beginning of the 1260-day period of antichrist, they were all united upon the fact that 1260 years had been allotted him and that that period was drawing to a close. When the French Revolution occurred, it was looked upon as the stroke that brought the Papacy down. It gave a new concept of the freedom from bondage to the Roman Catholic Church.
“And if the papal system received a heavy blow in the theological and prophetic fields through the Reformation, it received an even greater stroke in some ways, through the emancipation of reason by the French Revolution. The shackles of superstition were stricken from the wrists and ankles of humanity, and mankind was seemingly delivered out of Catholicism’s hand.” Ibid., 795.
A New Era in Human History
Not only was the period of the eighteenth century remarkable for these “emancipating events” but it was also a turning point in modern history as well. Just before, during and after this time great advances were made in the harnessing of steam power and the first experiments were done with the electric light and power, which contributed greatly to the Industrial Revolution that brought about profound changes in all aspects of human thought and activity.
Political, religious and intellectual freedom lay at the foundation of all the other advances, including communication and transportation. Freedom of speech and the press resulted in religious revivals and worldwide missions, followed by the establishment of Bible and tract societies. Reformation and development followed in the fields of education, health and temperance.
“So at this turn of the century may be found the beginning of all those far-reaching influences that molded the succeeding century, and which are continuing to operate. But the implications reach not only forward into the future but back into the past. Another discovery was made in thatera—the finding of the Rosetta stone in Egypt in 1799, the deciphering of which became the magic key that unlocked the secrets of Biblical archeology. This not only cleared away many of the mists that had hung like a pall over the early ages of history, but gave us a greater and richer understanding of the Bible and its prophecies. And this, in turn, has provided an antidote for the virus of rationalism projected by the French Revolution.
“Such focusing of vital events, and the bringing forth of new wonders, all having their common beginning around the end of the eighteenth century, indicate beyond peradventure that an old epoch had come to its end and a new era had begun, just as prophecy had predicted.” Ibid., 796.
Next time we will continue our journey through the annals of history watching the unfolding of God’s plan for the continuation of the Reformation and the establishment of the Great Second Advent Movement.