What was the Reformation?

This is perhaps the greatest of all historical questions, after the original question:  “What was the Church in the Empire of Rome?” A true answer to this original question gives the nature of that capital revolution by which Europe came to unity and to maturity and attained to a full consciousness of itself. An answer to the other question:  “What was the Reformation?” begins to explain our modern ill-ease.

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 civilization 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.

It is possible that the perilous business is now drawing to its end, and that (though those now living will not live to see it) Christendom may enter into a convalescence: may at last forget the fever and be restored. With that I am not here concerned. It is my business only to explain that storm which struck Europe four hundred years ago and within a century brought Christendom to shipwreck.

The true causes are hidden – for they were spiritual.