I am firmly convinced, in fact, that vernacular hymns have played perhaps a significant part in the collapse of the liturgy. Just consider what resulted in the flowering of hymns: Luther’s Reformation was a singing movement, and the hymn expressed the beliefs of the Reformers. Vernacular hymns replaced the liturgy, as they were designed to do; they were filled with the combative spirit of those dismal times and were meant to fortify the partisans. People singing a catchy melody together at the top of their voices created a sense of community, as all soldiers, clubs, and politicians know. The Catholic Counter-Reformation felt the demagogic power of these hymns. People so enjoyed singing; it was so easy to influence their emotions using pleasing tones with verse repetition.

In the liturgy of the Mass, however, there was no place for hymns. The liturgy has no gaps; it is one single great canticle; where it prescribes silence or the whisper, that is, where the mystery is covered with an acoustic veil, as it were, any hymn would be out of the question…In services that are governed by vernacular hymns, the believer is constantly being transported into new aesthetic worlds. He changes from one style to another and has to deal with highly subjective poetry of the most varied levels. He is moved and stirred – but not by the thing itself, liturgy: he is moved and stirred by the expressed sentiments of the commentary upon it. By contrast, the bond that Gregorian chant weaves between liturgical action and song is so close that it is impossible to separate from and content.

Martin Mosebach, The Heresy of Formlessness (2003)


As Pope Paul III’s 1542 Bull of Convocation made clear, the Council of Trent was prompted by “the many distresses [of] pastoral solicitude and vigilance” within the church and the many new “schisms, dissensions, and heresies” by which the “Christian commonwealth” was “well-nigh rent and torn asunder.” From the mid-fourteenth century forward, strong kings and princes in France, England, Spain, and Germany had challenged the church’s expansive property holdings, lucrative jurisdiction, and swollen bureaucracy. Humanists had challenged the authenticity of some of the Catholic Church’s canons and called for a renaissance of classical Greek and Roman texts and teachings, freed from medieval glosses and interpretations. Pietists had challenged the church’s monopoly on education, its harsh censorship laws, and its prohibitions on vernacular translations of the Bible. Various propagandists, armed with the new power of the printing press, had exposed all manner of moral and material excesses of the clergy and papacy, whether real or imagined. These criticisms and others proved to be storm signals of the Protestant Reformation, which broke out with Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses in 1517 and his public burning of the canon-law books in 1520.

John Witte Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, 2nd edition (2012)

On Wednesday, the even of St. Vitus day…the wicked women [mothers of three of the nuns] sent word to me an hour before meal time that they would come before dinner and remove their children. […] Then the women used kind words and ordered the children to leave. If, however, they would not go willingly, they would be removed by force. Then the brave knights of Christ defended themselves by word and deed as much as they could with great weeping, screaming, pleading and begging, but there was less mercy there than in hell. […]

Every mother argued with her daughter. For a while they promised them a great deal and then for a while they threatened them a great deal. The children, however, continued to weep loudly. The arguing and shouting lasted a long time. Katherina Ebner spoke very courageously and constantly supported all her words with the Holy Scripture. She found errors in all their statements and told them how much their actions ran contrary to the Holy Gospel. Afterwards outside the men said they had never heard anything like that their whole lives. She had just spoken the whole hour without interruption. Not a word was wasted. Each word was so well chosen that it carried the weight of several words. […]

Katharina Ebner said, “Here I stand and will not yield. No one shall be able to force me out. If I am removed by force, however, it shall never be by my will in eternity. I will appeal to God in heaven and to all the world on earth.” When she was speaking Held took her under his arms and began to pull and drag her away. Then I ran away with the other sisters, for I could not watch this misery. Some sisters stopped at the chapel door. They heard the quarreling, shouting and dragging away amid the great screaming and weeping of the children. Four people grabbed each one with two pulling in front and two pushing from behind. And so the dear sisters Ebner and Teztel fell over each other at the threshold. Poor sister Teztel almost had her foot severed. The wicked women stood there and blessed their daughters as they came out in accordance to all their rituals.

Frau Ebner threatened her daughter that if she did not walk before her she would push her down the stairs to the pulpit. She threatened to throw her on the floor so hard that she would bounce. When they broke into the church amid much cursing and swearing, an incredible screaming, shouting and weeping began before they tore off the old garments of our order and dressed them with worldly clothes…The poor children cried out loudly to the people and complained that they were suffering abuse and injustice and that they had been taken from the cloister by force. Clara Nutzel called out loudly, “O beautiful Mother of God, you know this is not my will.” As they rode away many hundreds of boys and other people ran after each coach. Our children screamed and wept loudly. Frau Ebner struck her little Katharina on the mouth so that it began to bleed. When each coach arrived at her father’s house, each child began to scream and weep all over again so that the people had great pity for them.

Caritas Pirckheimer: A Journal of the Reformation Years 1524-1528, transl. by Paul MacKenzie (2006)

As we were coming out of Lent in misery and distress, things got much worse after Easter. On the Friday of Easter Week all the priests were summoned to the city hall and forbidden to celebrate the Latin mass…All lay priests and the priests in the monasteries with the exception of those in the parishes were forbidden to hear confession and to dispense the sacraments. […]

And so we were in great fear and distress and every day we expected even more misfortune. We crouched down and bent down so much that we could hardly hold divine services or ring the bells in the choir. Whenever they heard anything from us, cursing, shouting and abuse would start up in the church. They threw stones into our choir and smashed the windows in the church and sang slanderous songs in the churchyard. They frequently threatened that if we rang for Matins one more night they would do something terrible to us.

But we risked it, trusting in the Grace of God, and not for one night did we stop ringing the bells or holding Matins.

Caritas Pirckheimer: A Journal of the Reformation Years 1524-1528, transl. by Paul MacKenzie (2006)

Then he wanted to argue for a considerable time that we should receive the Holy Sacrament in both kinds in addition to other ideas. But I would not accede to him. I said we were simple, uneducated women and would leave such things to the learned men and until there was unity in the Church we preferred to stay with the old faith [Catholicism] and not be drive off by anyone [Protestant reformers]. Then he wanted to know how I liked his preacher from St. Giles. He could get no other answer from me but that I liked one as much as the other. (48) […]

I spoke again. We are Sisters of Saint Claire and not Carthusians. Therefore we want no Carthusians [who had become Lutherans], for we would probably have to accept his order too. Then the superintendent spoke. He would guarantee that he would not remain a Carthusian or a monk and would not keep his habit. Then I answered. Then let death confess to him! Are we to confess to a faithless apostate? If he does not keep his faith with God, how is he to display faith to us?

Footnote 48: Here Caritas is making a classic “left-handed compliment.” The truth was, of course, that she did not like any of them.

Caritas Pirckheimer: A Journal of the Reformation Years 1524-1528, transl. by Paul MacKenzie (2006)

Caritas attained a reputation as one of the most learned women of her time as a result of her study of the classics, the Church Fathers, the Bible and other works that often were made available to her by her brother Willibald, an avid bibliophile and translator with whom she carried on a life-long correspondence. Her letters (often in Latin) reflect the extent to which she devoted herself to the pursuit of knowledge, while at the same time performing her many duties as abbess of St. Clare’s. […]

The City Council [of Nurnberg] planned to replace the Franciscans who had been the preachers and confessors to St. Clare’s with different preachers who were proponents of the “new doctrine” of Lutheranism. What was probably imagined as a rather simple matter of persuading the nuns to accept the new scheme turned out to be more complicated and problematical than anticipated. Caritas Pirckheimer proved to be a thorn in the side of the City Council. She did not yield to the pressure that was exerted on the convent and showed remarkable courage and determination in defending her sisters’ rights to continue to practice their faith as they felt they were entitled to, having made oaths to God alone and not to men. This was a position of independence that was, after all, not to very far removed from some of the fundamental tenets of the new Protestant faith, although it was often clothed in theological language which served to obfuscate the issues rather than highlight their similarities.

Caritas Pirckheimer: A Journal of the Reformation Years 1524-1528, transl. by Paul MacKenzie (2006)

Nothing could be less true than that Lord Bacon had any serious influence in bringing about the introduction of the inductive method into science. At most he was a chronicler of tendencies that he saw in the science of his day. It is true that his writings served to give a certain popular vogue to the inductive method, or rather a certain exaggerated notion of the import of experiment to those who were not themselves scientists. Bacon was a popular writer on science, not an original thinker or worker in the experimental sciences. Popularizers in science, alas! have from Amerigo Vespucci down reaped the rewards due to the real discoverers.

Induction in the genuine significance of the word had been recognized in the world long before Bacon’s time and been used to much better effect than he was able to apply it. Personally, I have always felt that he has almost less right to all the praise that has been bestowed on him for what he is supposed to have done for science, than he has for any addition to his reputation because of the attribution to him by so many fanatics of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. It is rather difficult to understand how his reputation ever came about…De Maistre, in his review of Bacon’s Novum Organum, points out that this work is replete with prejudices; that Bacon makes glaring blunders in astronomy, in logic, in metaphysics, in physics, in natural history, and fills the pages of his work with childish observations, trifling experiments, and ridiculous explanations. Our own Professor Draper, in his Intellectual Development of Europe, has been even more severe, and has especially pointed out that Bacon never received the Copernican System, but “with the audacity of ignorance he presumed to criticise what he did not understand, and with a superb conceit disparaged the great Copernicus.”–“The more closely we examine the writings of Lord Bacon,” he says farther on, “the more unworthy does he seem to have been of the great reputation which has been awarded to him. . . The popular delusion, to which he owes so much, originated at a time when the history of science was unknown. This boasted founder of a new philosophy could not comprehend and would not accept the greatest of all scientific discoveries when it was plainly set before his eyes.”

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

As the Byzantine Church spread to regions inhabited by pagans, new branches of its rite sprang up in the new languages. This process involved not only the texts of the celebrant, but also the chant which began to be sung in the new languages without any speculation about the linguistic character or difficulties caused by different prosodic conditions. As an obvious procedure the same chant was sung, changing only the language. This process is so natural that I myself once met a cantor who sang ex abrupto in Serbian from the Bulgarian ritual or vice versa, as necessity required.

When the Hussites or Luther and his followers decided to change the language of the service, they could have gone down the same path. But rather another path was opened, namely, the replacement of liturgical chants with new examples. At first these were more or less related to the chant, but later they became poems with only a slight reminiscence of liturgical or biblical texts, and finally they evolved into fully independent congregational hymns inspired by subjective religious experiences. The divergence of these two paths took place in connection with changes in the history of literature, liturgy and music. Byzantine chant consists of artistic prose enunciated in an idiomatic musical language, while literature in the age of the early Protestant movements was dominated by strophic verse, the “poem,” and the music by melodious, syllabic, metrical singing.

Strangely, Protestantism while advocating “sola scriptura” proved insensitive to the wording and musical form proper to the Bible taking instead the late medieval trope and cantio as a starting point for its chant. A genuine reform, the longed-for return to “origins” would have meant basing the singing of the congregations on the prose text of the Bible by adapting idiomatic musical material. However, the Reformation simply continued the development of the late Middle Ages in liturgical chant (as in many other matters), instead of returning to the primordial Christian traditions. In this matter, too, it was a child of its time.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Above all, Professor Draper seems to know nothing of the magnificent hospitals of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, beautiful architecturally, well planned for ventilation and the disposal of waste material, with abundant water supply, with large open wards, windows high in the wall, tiled floors that could be thoroughly cleansed and which, alas! were to be replaced hundreds of years later by the awful hospitals of the first half of the nineteenth century, which with their small windows, narrow corridors, cell-like apartments and little doors, were to be more like jails than refuges. Some of the worst hospitals ever built in modern history had been erected in Professor Draper’s own lifetime. Some of the most beautiful hospitals in the world had been erected in Italy and other countries during the later medieval and Renaissance period, before the Reformation, under religious influence,–but Professor Draper knows nothing of them. The history of hospitals here in America is as largely religious as it was in other countries and times.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)

[T]he arguments advanced to show the opposition of the Catholic Church to science are founded on actual ignorance of the history of science or misunderstandings of particular incidents of that history. Not only was there no policy of opposition to science, but on the contrary encouragement of interest in scientific subjects, patronage of scientific workers and even definite endowment of scientific research by the ecclesiastical authorities. The tradition of Church opposition to science is founded especially on lack of knowledge of what was done for science in the medieval period and a misunderstanding of the medieval universities. This tradition owed its origin partly to the Renaissance, which, having rediscovered Greek, despised whatever Western Europe had accomplished during the preceding centuries and spoke of all that was done as Gothic, as if only worthy of barbarous Gothic ancestors.

Another large factor, however, in the creation of this tradition and one which meant more for us here in America than the Renaissance, was the religious revolt of the sixteenth century in Germany which has been called the Reformation. The reformers made it a point to minimize, if not actually to misrepresent, what had been accomplished under the old Church regime, and this Protestant tradition lived on here in America with much more vitality even than in Europe.

The consequence was the bringing up of a series of generations, who, if not actually believing as so many absurdly did, that the Pope of Rome was the Scarlet Woman and the Church the Babylon of the Apocalypse, were quite sure at least that no good could possibly have come out of the Nazareth of pre-Reformation times. It is only in recent years that we have come to recognize that all the talk about the Dark Ages is, as John Fiske said, simply due to ignorance of the time and its accomplishment. The later medieval period might well be called the “Bright Ages” for its art and architecture, its magnificent literature, its interest in education and in scholarship, its development of democracy and its formulation of the great laws and constitutions by which the rights of men were guaranteed in practically every country in Europe. Just as soon as this true state of affairs with regard to the medieval period is recognized, then all question of any policy of Church opposition to education and science disappears.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)