Sunday, October 7, 2012

History Is in God's Hands!


Cardinal Reginald Pole

The future of nations and cultures often turn on unnoticed details quickly forgotten, but that in retrospect, prove decisive. Such was the papal election of 1550.  It was one of the great turning points of church history, and therefore, of world history.

In his book, The Reformation, [1]  Diarmaid MacCulloch tells the story of the almost election of an English pope. Thirty three years after the beginning of the Reformation, the battle over biblical authority and interpretation had sundered Medieval Europe into Protestant and Catholic camps. However, many Roman Catholic Bishops and Cardinals agreed with the Reformers about the place of the Bible and the crucial disputed doctrine, Justification by Faith Alone. In addition, they wanted to heal the schism with the Lutherans. One of these men was Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500-58).

Pole was a wealthy, aristocratic Englishman who had fled to Italy to escape persecution from his relative, King Henry VIII. Known for his piety, his desire to reform the church, and his deep sincerity, he was respected by all. In 1537 Pope Paul III elevated him to the status of Cardinal. As such, Pole attended the Council of Trent as one of only three papal delegates. However, when the Council pronounced its anathema on the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone Pole walked out never to return.

As Pope Paul III lay dying he suggested to the college of cardinals that they vote Pole his replacement. After the first vote Pole fell four votes short of the two thirds required. After the second ballot, Pole was only one vote short. But that was as close as Pole would get. With each subsequent ballot he lost ground. Finally the cardinals elected Julius III, an uninspired civil servant. Roman Catholicism never recovered from its close brush with Poles decisive leadership––leadership that probably would have changed the course of Roman Catholicism.

Why would God allow this? Was God asleep? Did he not care? Maybe he cared but he lacked authority to change things? The doctrine of the Ascension provides the answer to these questions. The doctrine of the Ascension convinces us that God cares a lot, and that he is in full control of all the details.

After his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven. God seated him at his right hand and gave him all power and authority. From that position Jesus intercedes for his church. He is also actively subduing his enemies. When his work is done Christ will present the world to his Father (1 Cor. 15).

All of this means on thing. Nothing is outside God's control. Everything, even details like Poles failure to be elected Pope, are under God's sovereign care. History is moving forward  according to God's plan, and nothing is out of place.  

Because of the Ascension we can greatly rejoice in the 1550 failure to elect Reginald Pole Pope. 



[1] Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Viking, 2003) pg 228-30 

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