Links: The Reformation Period

Luther’s 95 Theses — If you’ve ever wanted to read Luther’s actual theses, here they are (in translation)!  You’ll probably be varyingly interested in these, but I’ve found the following to be quite provocative: 6, 21, 27, 36-37, 52-53, 62, 79, and 92-95.

The Condemnation of Martin Luther — This is the text of the papal bull, called “Exsurge, Domine” (from its first words), in which Pope Leo X expressed the church’s condemnation of Luther. The whole thing is interesting, but you might especially enjoy the last few paragraphs, beginning with the one starting, “As far as Martin himself is concerned….”

The Preaching of John Tetzel — This is a YouTube clip from the 2003 movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes in the title role (please forgive the Dutch subtitles — I hope they aren’t distracting!).  Scroll forward to the 4:40 mark, where you will see about 4:00 of footage depicting what the preaching of Tetzel might have been like.  Notice the emotional pleas Tetzel makes — it is easy to see how his rhetoric would have been effective in selling indulgences!

The Schleitheim Confession — The sometimes-called “Radical Reformers,” who later became the Anabaptists’ text, developed a seminal text in 1527 called the “Schleitheim Confession.”  It reflects well several Anabaptist values.  Most of it is self-explanatory, except for the term “the ban,” which appears now and again.  This refers to a method of church discipline by which sinful members are ostracized from the church until they repent of their sins.  It is like what Paul prescribes in 1 Corinthians 5, and it is the predecessor of the Amish practice of “shunning.”

The Drowning of Dirk Willems — This image comes an etching connected with an important Anabaptist work stretching back to the 16th century, called The Martyrs’ Mirror.  It was a crucial community-building text for the Anabaptists — it sealed their identity as a persecuted, but ultimately triumphant people.  And the story below the image, about a man named Dirk Willems, is the most famous of the stories contained therein.  He saved one of his persecutors but was executed nonetheless.

A Selection from Calvin’s Institutes — Here you have a selection from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a staple text of the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity.  Specifically, this is Book III’s “Chapter 21” on the “eternal election” of God, “by which God has predestined some to salvation, and others to destruction.”  You’ll get a sense of Calvin’s ideas about predestination, as well as his method.  He is quite a thorough thinker, considering both Scriptural foundations for his own arguments, and also the merits of those of his accusers.

Calvin’s Letter to France’s King Francis I — As a preface to the 1536 edition of his Institutes, Calvin wrote a letter to France’s King Francis I.  Here is a link to that letter.  It’s an interesting companion piece to some of Luther’s writings to the leaders of Germany in his heyday.

The Thirty-Nine Articles — The Reformation in England took a unique course, issuing in the doctrinal text called the Thirty-Nine Articles.  They represent Anglican theology as it came to be under Queen Elizabeth I, built on the foundation of Thomas Cranmer in the days of King Henry VIII.  Notice how the first five articles represent classic Christian orthodoxy, article 6 sounds quite Protestant, and articles 11 and 17 take up issues dear to the hearts of Luther and Calvin, respectively.  And yet there are things that are still Catholic, including what sounds like the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in Communion, as stated in article 28 (although transubstantiation is repudiated), as well as the power of the church to establish “rites and ceremonies,” as stated in article 20.  Note also that article 39 seems to interact with Anabaptist teaching on oaths.

Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer — This is the preface to the first edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in its original 15th-century English (you can handle it).  Noteworthy things include: 1) the concern in the first paragraph for people’s continually growing knowledge of God, and that they be inflamed with a love for the Christian religion; 2) the note in the second paragraph that only portions of Scripture were typically being read in church, and that worship was just plain difficult in the medieval church; 3) and the resulting desires that Anglican worship should be easy for people to follow and perform, that it should be done in their own language (fourth paragraph), and that it should be the same all over England (fifth paragraph).

History of the English-Language Bible — If you’re interested in learning more about the history of English-language Bibles, see this site.  It’s very informative!  It even gets up to just a few years ago in its narrative.

More about Ignatius Loyola — Here’s a link to a site with more information about Ignatius Loyola, that important figure in the Catholic Reformation.  The top of the page is a biography of the saint, with discussion of his life and thought below.  Further, there is a link in the left-hand sidebar to his Spiritual Exercises, so important for the Jesuit movement that he founded.  Explore to your heart’s content!

The Beginning of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises — And here’s the beginning of that very text!  He talks a bit about different kinds of sin, when we should talk about sin, etc., but the most interesting part is at the very bottom.  While the majority of the text sounds rather medieval and rather Catholic, the last bit about confession is something that most Christians can easily agree with.

Bartolome de las Casas on the Devastation of the Caribbean Islands — Bartolome (“Bartholomew”) de las Casas was an important figure in the history of Christianity in the New World, first as a priest and later as a champion of the oppressed natives.  This link is his famous Brief Report of the Devastation of the Indies.  For more about him overall, check out this link.

Preface to the Original King James Bible — The King James Bible has been the single most influential English translation of the Bible in history.  Read here the first part of the preface to the first edition — the section to King James.  You can get a sense of the values of the translators.  Given James’s actual actions toward the Dissenters who produced the translation, one wonders if there was some irony in the effusive praise they give him in the text.

Thumbnail image credit (Martin Luther): https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the early modern period)

The Venerable Bede: Ecclesiastical History (Part 2)

bede windowWelcome back to the CHEF and to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People!  In the first post I talked about some background info and about Book I of the work, which gets us up to ca. 600 AD/CE.  In this post I’ll have some things to say about Books II and III, and then in the last one I’ll discuss books IV and V.

First, though, the big picture.

  • Chronology: while Book I consists of several centuries of history, Books II and III are focused on only about 60 years — from ca. 605 to about 665.
  • Geography: Books II and III discuss events that happened all over what we now think of as England, but it also includes stories and personalities connected with places like Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, and even Rome!  In other words, medieval England included a lot more “coming and going” than we might think of for the early Middle Ages.
  • The big points: 1) slowly, and in fits and starts, the various tribes that make up the “English people” are becoming Christian; and 2) the Christianity in England is becoming more and more influenced by “Roman Catholicism” as the native Celtic traditions are replaced by Continental ones.

Major Elements in Books II and III

  1. As noted above, a primary part of this middle part of Bede’s History is the slow move of the various Anglo-Saxon tribes toward Christianity.  The Danes and the Normans are not yet in view; rather, one reads a great deal about the West Saxons, the East Saxons, the Mercians, the Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, etc.  These are all Germanic groups and are Bede’s primary focus; the Britons and Irish are mentioned but are the groups he finds to be imperfect in their Christian beliefs (see below).  In fact, if you’re like me, you find it hard to keep straight the different kingdoms and kings — names like Oswin and Oswald, Ethelwald and Ethelbert, and Edwin and Egbert are WAY too similar to make it easy for casual readers.  Happily, the Internet can help us here.  You can find lists of the kings of the various kingdoms at this link (although a comparative chart would be very helpful, and I haven’t found one yet).  Also this link gives you more information about the different kingdoms at this time, and the decent-enough map to the left can hopefully help you visually.
  2. But it’s not just about the places; for Bede, it’s about their conversion.  At the beginning of the 600s, Britain was a largely “pagan” place, but by the end of Book III, most of the English kingdoms have become Christian.  In one sense, this development occurs rather quickly, in that someone born around 600 (and living to 665) would have seen his surroundings change drastically.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Bede doesn’t present a smooth transition.  Sometimes one king converts, only for his son(s) to revert to paganism (see, e.g., King Ethelbert of Kent in II.5); at other times, a preacher comes to convert the king, but it takes him a long time to decide what to do (as with Edwin of Northumbria in II.13).  This picture helps nuance one of the aspects of early medieval Christianity that is sometimes troubling: the conversion of whole people groups upon the conversion of a king.  While these are not forced conversions (as discussed in this link), as modern people, we worry about the thoughts and actions of the individuals involved — whether they REALLY knew what they were doing.  But as we see here, it was an unsurprisingly complex phenomenon.
  3. Speaking of early medieval Christianity, there are a number of aspects of this portion of the text that are very “medieval,” that is, that fit our stereotypes of “the Middle Ages.”  We see things like daily Mass becoming normal (as in II.9), the “sign of the cross” becoming a cipher for Christianity and Christ (as in II.10 and III.2), “the Pope” becoming the standard name of the bishop of Rome (II.11), the use of saints’ relics or their derivatives for the purposes of healing or protection (III.2, 9-13, etc.), and a picture of continually developing church hierarchy (II. 17, where we see archbishops having some amount of authority over “just regular” bishops).  Personally, it had never really occurred to me to question our traditional delineation of the “Middle Ages” as a discrete thing, but Bede’s history shows me that there really is value in our thinking this way — that there were aspects of medieval Christianity that are just plain different from what came before and what would come after.
  4. A central event in Books II and III is the so-called “Synod of Whitby,” of which Bede is a major source (III.25).  MUCH more has been written elsewhere (for example, here and here), and so I’ll just offer a few comments.  First, this conflict gets set up from the very beginning of Book II, with Bede’s panegyric on Gregory I.  The fact that he praises a Roman bishop so highly shows us where his sympathies lie (notwithstanding Gregory’s role in evangelizing the English people).  Second, Bede makes it very clear (in several places, like II.4 and III.4) that the Britons, while they have admirable spiritual leaders, are not “doing Easter” right, specifically in the timing of their observance.  This may seem like a trivial problem, but for Bede, it represents their being out-of-step with the rest of the Christian world, especially with its center in Rome.  Third, we get a sense that there is a top-down urgency to this situation (much like Constantine’s motivations in calling the first Council of Nicaea in 325): King Oswiu of Northumbria followed the Celtic traditions, while his wife Eanfled (from Kent) followed the Roman ones.  As a result, as Bede says, there could be a time when the king was feasting and the queen was fasting!  Fourth, Bede does acknowledge that other issues were a part of the synod, like the so-called “tonsure” — the image below shows a drawing of the Roman practice on the left, with what might have been the Celtic practice on the right (we’re not exactly sure — but he doesn’t make a big deal about these “other matters.”  Finally, it’s interesting to me how the conversation ends.  Both sides have “tradition” on their side, and both claim apostolic origins for their practices.  However, when it becomes clear that the Celtic argument is largely based on the holiness of their saints, but that the Roman one is based on the authority of Peter, the king chooses Peter.  I might disagree with him historically, preferring the preservation of cultural diversity, but it’s hard for me to disagree with him personally.  Notice, by the way, that this is another chapter in the long and convoluted history of Britain and the continent of Europe (see the Anglican Reformation in the 1500s, the “Brexit” referendum of 2016, etc.).

celtic vs roman tonsure

Other Elements of Note in Books II and III

  1. I have read that Bede is the author that really popularized the “AD” dating system (anno Domini = “in the year of the Lord”).  I don’t have independent attestation of that fact, but I’m content to accept it.  We certainly see him using it all over the place, e.g., in II.1 about Pope Gregory.
  2. In his description of Gregory’s life (II.1), we see Bede (a monk) clearly contrast his ideal of monasticism as a pure, unsullied way of existing that seems to be clearly better than a life in the dirty, secular world.  This view makes sense, but it’s also problematic (as later thinkers would help us understand), chiefly in light of Jesus’ incarnation.  Our Lord came into a dirty world — and he took it on himself in the form of a breakable human body!
  3. Bede occasionally uses the word “catholic” in ways that mean “universal.”  He usually does this when talking about heretics or misguided Christians (here, in II.2, regarding the Britons).  However, the translation I’m using usually prints the word as capitalized “Catholic,” which has the presumably unintended connotation of “Roman Catholic,” which is not what Bede means.  He means something like, “Why do you think you’re so special?  EVERYBODY ELSE does it this other way!”
  4. Bede includes interesting and thought-provoking remarks about being a historian.  In III.2 he talks about how all the chroniclers basically decided to wipe a really terrible year (one marauding, invading king, and other apostate ones) off the record, by assigning it to the reign of “their successor King Oswald,” a good and pious ruler!  Then, in III.17, in discussing the death of the great and pious Saint Aidan, Bede says that he can’t “commend or approve his inadequate knowledge of the proper observance of Easter.”  However, he says that “as a truthful historian” he’s told the truth about Aidan’s life, and that he must commend all the virtues of the great saint’s life and actions, concluding by saying, “I greatly admire and love all these things about Aidan.”  A good model for us of how to deal with those with whom we disagree!

That’s it for Books II and III of Bede.  Next time we’ll finish up with Books IV and V.  See you there!  In the meantime, be thinking: What is an issue in Christianity on which you disagree with someone who is a really good follower of Jesus?  How might you focus more on your unity with that person than on your disagreements?

Image credits: www.thebatchelorcollection.co.uk/ (the Bede stained-glass window), www.vulkaner.no/f/odin-england.htm (the map of Anglo-Saxon Britain), and a student’s account at www.studyblue.com (the image of monastic tonsures, apparently captured from a book that I can’t find; if you know what the original source is, please let me know!)

Suggested next click: Ecclesiastical History, Part 3

In the News: Catholics and Orthodox

As many of you know, there has been an official division between the Eastern and Western churches — later known as the “Orthodox” and “Roman Catholic” branches of Christianity — since the year 1054.  The separation actually began much earlier, but that’s the date people point to.

Pope and Patriarch KyrilThere have been glimmers of hope for reconciliation here and there (see this link and also this one, for just a few of the important events that have happened over time), but the two groups have never achieved full unity.  But just today, CNN posted a story about Pope Francis’s plan to meet the “Patriarch” (that is, the head) of the Russian branch of the Orthodox church.  The meeting is to take place next week in Cuba, during Patriarch Kyril’s planned visit to Cuba.  The story is a nice one for us, as it refers to multiple events in church history!

This kind of story warms my heart significantly.  I come from a branch of Christianity that has always said that we value church unity… but we haven’t done a good job of letting our actions match our words.  But I’m convinced that, in this century, we will find our similarities to be MUCH more important than our differences.  Let us remember Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John’s Gospel: “…that they may be one as we are one.”

So, a set of questions: What do you think?  Are you hopeful?  Pessimistic?

Suggested next click: Back to the In the News home page

Noll, Ch. 9: The Founding of the Jesuits (1540 CE)

Founding of Jesuits

Chapter 9 complements chapters 7 and 8 in a couple of important ways. First, as Noll says, his Protestant background and commitments lead him to emphasize the Reformation above other events in church history; as a fellow Protestant, I fully agree with that emphasis. As a result, more information and thought on that time period is helpful in understanding it better. Second, and contrastingly, one can’t tell the entire story of the Reformation without including the Catholic(/Counter-) Reformation that went alongside it. Chapter 9 does not focus on the Protestants themselves but rather on their Catholic brothers and sisters who were also recognizing the need for reform in their ranks.

Given the specific focus on the Jesuits, it is fully appropriate that Noll begins the chapter with Ignatius Loyola the group’s renowned founder. Some of you may belong to the group of readers who know almost nothing about the Jesuits or Loyola, but who know about or have experiences with his Spiritual Exercises via an “Ignatian retreat.” For Protestants, the Exercises are probably Ignatius’s most important contribution to church history, in that they have provided a way for many people to deepen their spiritual lives and to connect more closely with the life of Jesus.

Noll also discusses several important parts of this part of our history. He describes the various contributions that the Jesuits made to Christian history, most importantly their work in missions and education. He explains how the Jesuits were not the only new “order” that arose at this time but rather were part of a whole movement of new groups. He discusses the importance of Franciscan ideals for many of these groups (compare the importance of the Benedictine tradition, as discussed in chapter 4). Finally, he discusses the landmark meeting called the “Council of Trent,” at which there were both “conservative” and “progressive” voices (compare the discussion of the Vatican II in chapter 13), but in which the conservative voices ultimately prevailed in massive ways. As a result of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic church preserved many of its medieval characteristics all the way into the 20th century!

If you’d like a little more on the Spiritual Exercises, see the beginning of the text at http://sacred-texts.com/chr/seil/seil09.htm.  (Note: you can explore more of the text at this site as well. The attitude toward sin sounds rather “medieval,” which is not surprising, but the prayer of confession is one that most Christians can resonate with.)

Here are some questions for discussion:

  1. Catholic missions of the 1500’s led to a more ethnically and culturally diverse Christianity. The New Testament emphasizes a need for ethnic and cultural diversity in the church (i.e., Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 3:28; Rev. 7:9.) To what extent does your own faith community reflect this value of New Testament Christianity? Where could it improve? What could your local faith community learn about ethnic diversity from Catholic missions of the 1500s?
  2. In the 1500’s, the Catholic church combined its interest in correctly defining doctrine with passionate world mission (which far exceeded the efforts of the Protestant churches at the time.) In the tension between Christians’ having correct action and correct belief, which do you tend to see as primary? Why do you think you lean that direction?
  3. The “Chinese Rites” crisis was concerned with whether traditional Chinese cultural practices, which were often grounded in non-Christian religions, could be appropriately practiced by Chinese Christians. Which side of the debate did you find yourself supporting? Why? Are there examples in our world of a “native” belief or practice that is controversial for Christians to hold?
  4. There has been a shift in Protestant historiography from referring to the efforts of the Catholic church in the 1500’s as “the Counter-Reformation” to “the Catholic Reformation.” What value, if any, is there in using terminology which does not offend outsiders?
  5. Noll admires the fervor of Ignatius Loyola, even though in the religious struggles of the Western church at that time, he favors the Protestant cause. How do you make sense of admiring the religious virtues of people from traditions with which you don’t agree?   Do you find a tension there or not?
  6. If the Catholic and the historically Protestant churches can agree that salvation is completely the work of God and that Christians should carry out good works, what reason would you give to explain the still-remaining divisions between these two families of Christianity?

Image credit of Jan Kryštof Handke’s fresco Approving of bylaw of the Society of Jesushttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Jesus (cropped by the blogger)

Suggested next click: Chapter 10