Rome as Babylon

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Protestants spilt a great deal of polemical ink responding to the Catholic taunt ‘Where was your church before Luther?’ Confessional controversy raged about the historic and physical location of the true faith. Rejecting the charge that theirs was an upstart religion created by a dissident monk, the reformers set out to prove the existence of an uninterrupted chain of believers throughout the ages. Turning the tables on their opponents, they condemned the Church of Rome as the seat of Antichrist. It was a modern day Babylon, a place described in Apocalypse 18.2 as ‘the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foule spirit, and a cage of every uncleane and hatefull bird’. In this woodcut frontispiece, it is depicted as the tottering tower of Babel (which is the Arabic word for Babylon), licked by flames ignited by a small figure on the right. Destroyed by God as a punishment for human pride and iniquity, it functioned as a powerful prototype for an institution that many zealous Protestants regarded as the epitome of evil upon earth. AW

Daniel Featley, Roma ruens: Romes ruens; being a succinct answer to a popish challenge concerning the antiquity, unity, universality, succession, and perpetuall visibility of the true church, even in the most obscure times, when it seemed to be totally eclipsed in the immediate ages before Luther (London: Thomas Purslow for Nicholas Bourne, 1644), title-page.

CUL: F.5. 22 (2)

Further Reading

S. J. Barnett, ‘Where was your Church before Luther? Claims for the Antiquity of Protestantism Examined’, Church History, 68 (1999), pp. 14–41.

Katharine Firth, The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain 1530–1645 (Oxford, 1979).

Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600–1640 (Cambridge, 1995), ch. 6.

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