ALTHOUGH the message of each of the seven letters to the churches has a special application to the period signified by the name, and the symbols used reveal the condition of the church at different periods, each message applies in some degree to every period. In attempting to decide what period is symbolized by each of the churches of this prophecy, I have in mind the time when the element referred to predominated. The period A.D. 100-323 would, therefore, symbolize Smyrna, and A.D. 323-538, Pergamos.
Even though it is recognized that even among Seventh-day Adventists there is not universal agreement as to the time periods referred to in the first three churches, the writer accepts the dates generally held, and with that in mind we will proceed by considering what period is covered by the letter to Thyatira. The content of this letter has led many to begin the period, to which it especially applies, with the establishment of the papacy in A.D. 538, but different dates have been given for the ending.
In the message to Thyatira, God said: "I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not" (Rev. 2:21). Had not Wycliffe, Huss and Jerome, and Savonarola, who urged purification of morals, called on the papal church to repent? But the voices of these forerunners of the Reformation were silenced, and the warfare against the so-called heretics continued until the pope at the Lateran Council in Rome in May, 1514, declared that not one heretic remained in all Christendom.
However, only somewhat more than three years later the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg (Oct. 31, 1517) and declared indulgences invalid. When Luther and other champions of the truth began, they had in mind to reform the Catholic Church. Some of her bishops urged this need. The emperor Charles V was anxious that the abuses in the church and the morals and manners of the clergy be reformed. The pope was urged to call a general council. After much hesitation and one unsuccessful attempt, Paul 111 called a General Church Council to meet in March, 1545, in Trent. With two long and some minor interruptions (1547- 1551, and 1552-1561) the council lasted for eighteen years, until 1563. This was the last general council held by the Roman Catholic Church until the Vatican Council 1869-1870, and is considered the highest source of authority as to doctrine and the character of Romanism.
Reform Councils Before Trent
There had been held what is known as reform councils prior to the Council of Trent. One was held in Pisa in 1409, but Pope Alexander V adjourned it before any reformatory work could be done. At the Council "in Constance (1414-1418) a number of reforms were proposed, but Pope Martin V skillfully avoided any reform measures." 1 He even confirmed the extortionate methods of raising money. It was during the early period of this council, with eighteen thousand clergy in attendance, under Pope John XXIII, whom Newman calls "one of the most infamous of men," that Huss was thrown into prison (Nov. 28, 1414) and burned July 6, 1415, and where one year later Jerome met the same fate.
Councils followed during the next century where reforms were demanded, but without results. In 1487 Pope Innocent VIII issued a violent bull for the extirpation of the Waldenses, and at the fifth Lateran Council, 1512-1517, a decree was passed enjoining the extirpation of heretics.
God's charge against Thyatira (the Roman Catholic Church) is that she suffered the woman Jezebel (the papacy) to seduce His servants. He says that He gave her time to repent but she would not repent of her fornication.
When the council assembled there were many appeals for repentance, for a reformation. " 'Who will give me,' exclaimed the abbot Clairvaux, 'who will give me the satisfaction, ere I die, of seeing the Church in the condition she was in her early days!' " 2
This satisfaction he did not realize. How could he, in a church where the Bible was not accepted as authority? "Already, in 1520, Prieria, one of the first Theologians of Leo X, had said, 'He is a heretic whosoever does not rest on the doctrine of the Roman Church and the Roman Pontiff, as the infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scripture itself derives its force and its authority.' " 3
" 'We shall endeavor to demonstrate,' says Bellarmine, 'that the Scriptures without the traditions are neither sufficient, nor simply necessary.' 'Tradition is the foundation of Scriptures,' says Baronius, 'and surpasses them in this, to wit, that the Scriptures cannot subsist unless fortified by tradition, whereas tradition has sufficient force without Scripture.' 'The excellence of the nonwritten word' says another, 'far surpasses that of Scriptures. . . . Tradition comprises in itself all truth. . . . We ought not to appeal from it to any other judge.' [This is quoted from Coster (Enchiridon, ch. 1), and Lindanus (Panoplia, books I and VI). 'Scripture is a nose of wax, a dead letter, and that kills, a very husk without a kernel, a leaden rule, a school for here tics, a forest that serves as a refuge for robbers.' " 4
The French at the Council of Trent
"At the nineteenth session [of the Council of Trent] held May 14, (1562) nothing had been done, as the French ambassadors were shortly expected, and had written to the legates, to request the postponement of any decree till their arrival. They reached Trent a few days after. M. de Lanssac, who had recently been in Rome as ambassador extraordinary to the pope, Arnold du Ferrier, president of the parliament of Paris, and Guy Faur de Pibrac, chief justice of Toulouse, were the chosen representatives of Charles IX, on this important occasion. They were tried men, of commanding talents, and a bold, free spirit, who would not hesitate to declare their sentiments, however obnoxious or unpalatable they might be in any quarter. Their first impressions on reaching the seat of the council, may be gathered from the language used by Lanssac, in a letter written the day after his arrival to De Lisle, the French ambassador at Rome. He expressed his fear that little advantage would be derived from the assembly, unless the pope would suffer the deliberations and votes of the fathers to be entirely free, and no more send the Holy Spirit in a traveling bag from Rome to Trent! The phrase was homely, but the description was just, and the ambassador's pleasantry exhibited an accurate view of the manner in which the decisions of the council were commonly framed, in accordance with precise directions from Rome.
"The arrival of the French ambassadors was hailed with much pleasure by the reforming party, who greatly needed their patronage and assistance. They were subjected to continual reproach, mortification, and insult. They knew and felt that the council was not free: forty prelates, pensioned by the pope, were already at Trent, and more were expected. If they followed the dictates of their consciences, they were stigmatized as turbulent spirits, and persecuted in every possible way. Angry letters were sent from Rome to terrify them into compliance with the pope's will. They were treated as movers of sedition, and charged with aiming at the subversion of the holy see. The legate Simonetta had a number of bishops under his control to contradict and browbeat every free speaker, and beat him down by clamour; while, on the other hand, the partisans of the pontiff were caressed and re warded. But Lanssac and his companions did not scruple to write or speak of the pope and his measures with the most provoking indifference and freedom: his power excited no alarm; even his office treated him with small respect or reverence. It was reported that Lanssac had said to some bishops, whom he had invited to dine with him, that there would come so many prelates from France and Germany, that they should drive away the Romish idol." 5
"Those who advocated the concession of the cup to the laity were warmly seconded by some of the ambassadors. Baumgartner, the Bavarian envoy, led the way. On his introduction to the council, June 27, (1562) he delivered a long speech, which was highly offensive to the legates and their adherents. He said that Bavaria was overrun with heresy of every description; that the contagion was not confined to the lower orders, but had seized the nobility and middle ranks, so that scarcely a city or town was uninfected. He affirmed that the evil was greatly aggravated by the shameful con duct of the clergy, great numbers of whom indulged in gluttony, drunkenness and all kinds of vice, with unblushing effrontery, as if in open contempt of Cod and man, and lived in flagrant violation of their vows of chastity; so that out of a hundred priests, not more than three or four could be found who did not openly keep concubines, or had not contracted public or clandestine marriages. He added, that the general dis content was still further increased, by the prohibition of the cup to the laity, on which account many had joined the sectaries, who administered the communion in both kinds; that the dissatisfaction arising from this course almost approached to sedition; and that it would be impossible to preserve the peace of the country unless some relief were quickly afforded." 6
Abuses of Residences and Pluralities
Two abuses referred to in the proceedings of the Council of Trent were those pertaining to residences and pluralities. Clerics holding benefices with the cure of souls were supposed to live where their duties were. This was known as the rule of residency, which, however, had been greatly abused, especially because of pluralities, that is, the holding by one person of two or more benefices or livings at one time. These terms are found in the following quotation from Cramp:
"While the divines were employed in their theological discussions, the canonists were equally busy in preparing the decree of reformation. But it was impossible to meet the views and wishes of all the prelates, especially the Spaniards, who had determined to make a bold stand against the usurpations of the pope, and to put a stop, if possible, to the aggrandizement of the regulars. In addition to their just complaints on this head, the scandalous intrigues and rapacious exactions of the court of Rome gave great and general offense. Almost anything could be accomplished by money and influence; and the decrees and canons of ancient councils were un ceremoniously set aside, when some needy favorite or busy tool of the papacy was to be enriched.
"Those evils were attacked with much vigor The prelates revived the discussion of the Divine right of residence, which, if it were once determined and declared, would destroy most of the alleged abuses. But here they were treading on forbidden ground. They had touched the pope's prerogative; and De Monto told them, with an angry and haughty air, that they must not presume to meddle with this subject; such was the will of the pontiff, and he must be obeyed. Besides, too severe a reformation would not suit the times; they must consider what was possible, as well as what was proper.
"It was agreed that their attention should be principally confined to the abuses arising out of pluralities. The dis ease was universally acknowledged; every one was ready to prescribe for it, and each thought his own remedy the best. The Spanish prelates, who held the Divine right of residence, maintained the unlawfulness of pluralities in the same sense, and demanded their entire abolition. But the Italian bishops, encouraged by the legate De Monto, who in this in stance differed from his colleague, would only consent to a very partial and limited reform.
"The legates inserted in the prologue the following clause: 'saving in all things the authority of the apostolic see.' This plainly nullified the whole, since it would be worse than useless to issue enactments which the pope might after wards dispense with by a stroke of his pen. Nevertheless, though vigorously opposed by the reforming party, the clause was suffered to remain. Various attempts were made to procure a more extensive reform than the decree contemplated, but they were entirely in effectual. Some were afraid to speak their minds freely; some were gained by flattery, or cajoled by assurances that the pope himself would remedy all evils; and the decree was in consequence approved by a large majority." 7
This reminds one of the oft-quoted statement of Britain's great Catholic historian Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Says Newman, " 'Many of the most important ecclesiastical positions were held by men who were not expected to render any service in return for the revenues enjoyed and who made no suitable provision for the work thus neglected. The conferring of bishoprics and archbishoprics on young children was no uncommon occurrence.' " 8
The Cardinal of Lorraine at Trent
"At the request of the French ambassadors the session was postponed, on account of the expected arrival of the cardinal of Lorraine. He entered Trent November 13, accompanied by fourteen bishops, three abbots, and twenty-two divines, chiefly doctors of the Sorbonne. This was an event in which all parties felt deep interest. The reforming members of the council looked forward to it with pleasure. They had heard that the cardinal proposed to lay an unsparing hand on the abuses of the papacy, and to avow himself the warm and uncompromising advocate of reform. Some affirmed that he wished to procure a decree for the performance of Divine worship in the vernacular tongue, and that in his own diocese of Rheims, baptism was already so celebrated. Others said that he would plead for communion in both kinds, and the marriage of the clergy; and that he intended to propose that bishoprics should be bestowed only on those who were able to preach, and that unpreaching prelates should be compelled to ex pend one-third of their revenues in the support of a preacher. Whether these reports were well founded or not, the pope deemed that there was sufficient ground for concern and fear. Orders were issued that every prelate then at Rome should repair to Trent forthwith. None were exempted: titulars, coadjutors, those who had resigned their benefices, and retained only the Episcopal order, without jurisdiction the aged and in firm, and even such as held official situations in the papal court, were compelled to go. Thus the pontiff hoped to counter balance the influence of the French, and bear down opposition by numbers." 9
Thus the papal reaction to the demand for repentance, for a reformation, that came from Germany, Spain, France, and other countries was the same. He was obdurately opposed to every such suggestion, and yielded only where and to the degree that he was forced to do so, and then his loyal representatives man aged to insert some clause that nullified the decree voted.
Time to Repent—but She Would Not
The pope's attitude was the same as that expressed in the Roman Catechism, chapter IX, viz., that the church cannot err either in faith, or in the rule of manners. "I gave her time that she should repent," said Cod in His message to Thyatira, but He adds "and she willeth not to repent." The response of this church at this ecumenical council was, to use the words of the Fathers of the Council of Trent, that the church has been taught by Jesus Christ and His apostles, that she is under the constant teaching of the Holy Ghost, and it is altogether absurd to moot the idea of a restoration, or a regeneration, as if she could be thought capable of falling. 10
"Instead of the projected reform of the secular powers, which had made so much noise, a brief but comprehensive chapter was inserted, renewing all former canons and decrees of general councils, in favour of the immunities of the ecclesiastics, and against those who should violate the same, and exhorting all sovereigns to insure due reverence to the clergy on the part of their subjects, to prevent any infringement of their privileges, and to patronize and support the church to the utmost of their power. Lastly, it was declared that all the decrees passed respecting the reformation of manners and ecclesiastical discipline, were to be understood and interpreted, as to preserve always, and in all things, the authority of the apostolic see. Thus, in open defiance of all Christendom, securing the continuance of whatever enormity or abuse the pontiff for the time being might think fit to support and defend! And indeed, the whole reformation (as it was called) decreed by the council, was so framed and constituted as to be altogether useless, inoperative, and vain. The greatest evils were left untouched; the papal power, the great source of tyranny and corruption, was not meddled with; but, on the contrary, the pope assumed the sole right to expound, administer, or dispense with the decrees of the council, and obtained by its last decree, an apparently legal sanction for his usurpations.
"The 'acclamations of the fathers' closed the proceedings of the council. The cardinal of Lorraine made himself conspicuous on that occasion. After having called on the assembly to declare their best wishes and prayers for the pope, the emperor and other European monarchs, (including the souls of those who had died since the opening of the council,) the legates, the cardinals, the ambassadors and the bishops, he thus proceeded:-
"Cardinal. 'The most holy and ecumenical council of Trent may we ever confess its faith, ever observe its decrees.'
"Fathers. 'Ever may we confess, ever observe them.'
"C. 'Thus we all believe: we are all of the same mind: with hearty assent we all subscribe. This is the faith of blessed Peter and the apostles: this is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the orthodox.'
"F. 'Thus we believe; thus we think; thus we subscribe.'
"C. 'Abiding by these decrees, may we be found worthy of the mercy of the chief and great High Priest, Jesus Christ our God, by the intercession of our holy Lady, the Mother of God, ever a virgin, and all the saints.'
"F. 'Be it so, be it so: Amen, Amen.'
"C. 'Accursed be all heretics!'
"F. 'Accursed, accursed!'"11
Thus a curse was pronounced upon the Waldenses, the Protestants, and all Evangelicals, the very ones that God next recognized as His church under the name of Sardis.
Some may ask, Was it not Jezebel (the Papacy) that God gave time to repent and she would not, and was it not the Papacy that He rejected and not the Catholic Church, represented by Thyatira? Here it must be remembered that God says to Thyatira, "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel" who seduced his servants to commit fornication. "Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. ... I will give unto every one of you ac cording to your works." Then in the next verse, 24, He addresses Himself not to Thyatira but to those in Thyatira "which have not known the depths of Satan." At Trent the spokesmen for the church decided to continue to suffer the Papacy, and therefore the Catholic Church, Thyatira, was rejected as a church, but the individual members were not rejected. About half of them had left the Catholic Church and had been formed into Protestant churches. Thyatira had now fully developed into Babylon, and the true believers were warned to come out of her.
The emperor and the king of France urged this general council as a means of reuniting Western Christendom. They recognized the terrible corruption in the church and the necessity of such reforms as would lead to the conciliation of the Protestants. The majority of the Protestants were not averse to a reunion on the basis of a thoroughgoing reformation on the part of the whole church, but neither Jezebel nor Thyatira would heed the call to repent at this climactic hour of the history of the Roman Catholic pontiff and church. The Council of Trent, therefore, appears to be the most fitting event to mark the end of the Thyatira period and the beginning of the Sardis period of the church. Even this plan gives more than one thousand years to the Thyatira period. Certainly God gave her time to repent, but she would not.
It was not only the policy of the papacy to cut off Protestantism from the fellowship of the church but to exterminate it from the earth, as was witnessed in all lands in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America where the Inquisition was established.
1. Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1942), p. 192.
2. L. F. Bungener, History of the Council of Trent. From the French of L. F. B. edited from the second London edition, with a summary of the Acts of the Council, by John M'Clintock, D.D., New York, Harper Brothers, Publishers 1855, p. 2.
3. Ibid., p. 82.
5. John Mockett Cramp, 1796-1881 The Council of Trent (Philadelphia Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1841), pp. 116, 117.
6. Ibid., pp. 120-122.
7. Ibid., pp. 67-69.
8. A. H. Newman, A Manual of Church History, Vol. 2, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1903) p. 361.
9. Cramp, op. cit., pp. 135, 136.
10. Bungener, op. cit., p. 38.
11. Cramp, op. cit., pp. 150-152.