A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
notes prepared by Larry Brown
Part 2: Middle Ages
· 476, the “fall” of Rome: northern “barbarians” take over what remains of a crumbling empire. The eastern empire ruled from Constantinople and known as Byzantium exists for another 1000 years.
· 600s: Mohammed and the rise of Islam, converting most of North Africa, Spain, and the Middle East, pushing Christianity north into Europe.
· Dispute over icons: In the 8th century the Byzantine church fought over the use of religious images in worship. East said portraying Christ would show him only as human, as the divine nature could not be represented. West said portraying Christ emphasized his true incarnation.
· Some called the veneration of icons idolatry. John of Damascus argued that in earlier times the invisible God was not depicted in visual art based on the 2nd commandment. However, now God has appeared in the flesh, and we have seen him. “I do not worship matter, but the creator of matter, who for my sake became material. I will not cease from worshipping the matter [images] through which my salvation has been effected” (On Icons 1.16).
· Leo III of Byzantium forbid images in worship in 726, leading to the destruction of art throughout the eastern empire. Gregory II in Rome denounced the edict. The church was split over this issue until 843.
· 1054: division of East and West: Roman pope and patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. Eastern church had always been more speculative (see Origen), had serious reservations about the “two-natures” Christology of Chalcedon, emphasized salvation as deification rather than justification, God as ultimately unknowable, defined by what he is not. Orthodox Church dominated Russia by 1000. (Legend has it that a Russian ruler sent emissaries to the Jews, Christians, and Muslims to find the true religion. They rejected Islam because Mohammed prohibited alcohol: “Drinking is the joy of Russians, we cannot do without it.” (Placher 103)
· 1077: Pope Gregory VII declared the church infallible for all time, and the pope cannot be criticized. Only he can call church councils, and has supreme power to depose emperors. When German emperor Henry IV objected, Gregory excommunicated him, forcing him to stand barefoot in the snow for three days asking forgiveness. A few years later, Gregory himself was exiled, but the precedent of the pope’s power over civil authority had been set for several centuries.
· Crusades 1096-1291: 1st captured Jerusalem from the Muslims, 2nd lost it again. 4th crusade, more interested in looting, sacked Constantinople in 1204, sealing the schism between East and West. Along the way many Jews were killed as well. In the Children’s crusade, thousands of children were killed or sold into slavery before they reached the Holy Land.
· For most lay people, Christ was more divine than human. They found it easier to approach saints with their requests. Most saints were unofficially chosen by popular veneration of local cults, until the 12th c when canonization came under the jurisdiction of the pope.
· Earliest European universities founded: Paris (1150), Bologna (1158), Oxford (1167), Cambridge (1209)
· 1215: transubstantiation becomes official church doctrine, bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s flesh and blood in substance, whereas their outward form or appearance remains the same (Aristotle’s concepts)
· Gothic cathedrals: Notre Dame (1235), Cologne (1322)
· 1307: Dante’s Divine Comedy, great influence on popular conception of hell
· 1305-1378: French popes rule from Avignon, France, “the Babylonian Captivity.” Shortly afterwards, there were three popes each claiming to be in power.
· In 1336 Pope Benedict XII issued his “Benedictus Deus” in which he corrected his predecessor John XXII's belief in soul sleep. “All souls [of the righteous], immediately after death [or immediately after their time in purgatory for those who merited such], already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven” where they would experience the immediate presence, or the Beatific Vision of God. “Moreover … the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell. Nevertheless, on the day of judgment all men will appear with their bodies "before the judgment seat of Christ" to give an account of their personal deeds.” This doctrine was confirmed at the Council of Florence 1439.
· 1439: doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (born without original sin), proposed by Augustine, was adopted by the Council of Basel but during this time the church was split, so the ruling was questionable until 1854.
· 1440: the Donation of Constantine, a supposedly ancient document which gave the Pope authority over all of secular Europe, was proven a forgery.
· 1450: Gutenberg invents the printing press, a tremendous aid in the spread of the Reformation
· 1453: Constantinople conquered by the Ottoman Empire, Turkish Muslims who ruled 1300-1920
· Following Augustine, “I do not seek understanding in order to believe. I believe in order to understand.” The modern day skeptic insists on understanding everything, having all questions answered, before believing.
· In Why God Man? Anselm moved discussion away from the ransom theory of atonement to Christ’s death as satisfaction for the offense against God’s honor. Sin’s offense is of cosmic proportions, since the offended one is the Creator himself. The offense cannot be removed by man coming back to God, since that is merely his duty, nothing extraordinary. Christ’s innocent sacrifice was unnecessary and thus extraordinary. He did what Man had to do, but only God could do.
· Why can’t God simply cancel the debt? That would make the consequences of disobedience and obedience the same; it would not restore God’s honor.
Abelard (1079 - 1142)
· He thought Anselm’s God needed a change of heart. Christ’s death doesn’t reveal God’s need to protect his honor, but his forgiving love that he gives freely, without atonement. Christ sets the supreme example for us in giving himself for others.
· He compiled a work Sic et Non (“Yes and No”) comparing seeming contradictions among statements by the church fathers, without attempting to reconcile them.
· Abelard was caught in an affair with his pupil Heloise, and her guardian hired men to emasculate him. She joined a convent but always said it was for love of Abelard, not God. Their love letters are famous.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
· One of the great mystics, searching for spiritual experience of the soul’s union with God.
· Wrote 86 sermons on the Song of Songs (Canticles) as an allegory of Christ’s love for the individual soul. He interprets the first verse, “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth,” as the soul united with Christ, the Bridegroom. But first, one must fall at his feet and kiss them in sorrow and repentance. Then as Christ lifts us up with his forgiveness and grace, we may kiss his offered hand. Only afterward may we hope for the true intimacy of union with him, but Bernard admits this is a rare experience. (Canticle 3, 4)
· “Perhaps you desire the repose of contemplation and in this you do well … but it would be reversing the proper order to ask for the reward before having earned it, and to grasp at the midday meal before performing the labor. The taste for contemplation is not due except to obedience to God’s commands” (Canticle 46).
· Unlike other mystics, Bernard never claimed that in contemplation he received visions, words from God, new revelations or anything perceived by the senses. In the times of the patriarchs, “the manifestation of God was made from without, by appearances visible to the senses or words heard by the ears. But [today] … God chooses of his own accord to make himself known to a soul that seeks for him and lavishes on that seeking the entire love and ardor of its affections” (Cant 30).
· In Bernard’s case mystic experience led to action: “The embrace of divine contemplation must often be interrupted in order to give nourishment to the little ones, and none may live for himself alone but for all” (Canticle 41). Commenting on the verse “Thy breasts are better than wine” [different in our versions] he explains that the wine of contemplation is sweet, but the breasts that feed the young (i.e. teaching) is better. In this life we must devote ourselves to moral action along with contemplation, whereas in the next life we will spend all our time contemplating God (Canticle 9). “In this life the happiness of contemplation is enjoyed only rarely and momentarily” (Grace and Free Will 15).
· He described four stages of love: love of self for self’s sake, love of God for self’s sake, love of God for God’s sake, and love of self for God’s sake.
· His sermons stirred up men to go on the second crusade. In the first crusade the church bribed men to fight with promises of indulgences and other privileges. In contrast, Bernard described this crusade as a spiritual undertaking, an opportunity to renounce sin and turn to God. He also was a sponsor of the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem.
· Songs traditionally attributed to Bernard: “Jesus, Lover of my Soul,” Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts,” “O Jesus King Most Wonderful”
· Mariology: at some point after Jerome, the Latin translation of Gen. 3:15 had become “she will crush your head and you will bruise her heel,” which was understood to refer either to the church or to Mary as in Bernard’s In Praise of the Mother Virgin 2.4: “For whom was this victory reserved except for Mary?” (Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries, 92) This Latin mistranslation was criticized by Luther as damnable and a deception of Satan, another instance of the “abominable idolatry” of Mary.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
· Born into wealth, Francis renounced his inheritance by stripping off his clothing, insisting he would take no possessions from his father, and vowed to live as poor as Christ.
· He was so often in a spiritual state of ecstasy that he would seem unaware of his surroundings at times.
· He saw a oneness in all God’s creation, referring to “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” and even preached the gospel to birds.
Prayer of Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
So much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
· Following his example, Franciscans gave up all possessions and begged for their living. Franciscans and Dominican friars, begun about the same time, are known as the mendicant orders (meaning “to beg”). Their lifestyle was in marked contrast to the wealth of the church, which created tension between these orders and the hierarchy. Intent on service, they left the isolation of the monasteries for ministry in the growing cities in the late middle ages. Franciscans led efforts in missions to the non-Christian world, Islamic countries, Asia. After Francis’ death, however, the Order became an official institution, what Francis had wanted to avoid.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)
· A Dominican friar, called by fellow students the “dumb ox” (big and quiet). Aquinas attended the newly founded university of Paris and later taught theology there. Unlike the Franciscans, Dominicans were well-educated, mostly from aristocracy, devoted to the study of the Bible and science. His family, shocked at his vow of voluntary poverty, kidnapped him and held him in a castle for over a year, even sending a prostitute to tempt him from his life of chastity (he valiantly resisted).
· Summa Theologiae: first part concerned with theological “proofs,” what we can know about God by human reason: most famous are the cosmological argument (Aristotle’s First Cause/Prime Mover, “someone had to tap the first domino”), and teleological argument (a well-designed world implies a designer).
· God’s revelation in nature is supplemented by his revelation in scripture. Aquinas saw reason and revelation working in conjunction (a major question of their day and ours). God does nothing contrary to reason, and since human reason derives from God, nothing in God is inconsistent with reason, and will not contradict revelation. A rational study of the world will point to God. This faith in a rational God as designer of a rational universe eventually laid the foundation for modern science. However, Aquinas also led to the church’s suspicion of science: “Theology surpasses other speculative sciences, in point of greater certainty because other sciences derive their certainty from the natural light of reason which can err, whereas theology derives its certainty from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled” (ST 1a.1.5). “Whatever is found in other sciences contrary to scripture must be condemned as false” (ST 1a.1.6).
· Aquinas’ opponent, John Duns Scotus argued that God is not bound by human reason, and when scripture or the church teaches something against reason, we must simply believe the irrational (similar to Tertullian).
· On the Trinity, Aquinas recognizes the problem (without solving it) of tritheism, when we think of Father, Son, and Spirit as three divine beings in the same way that Tom, Dick, and Harry are three human beings, individual members of a class sharing the same nature. There is no class or category of “God” in which Father, Son, and Spirit belong. God is unique, only one of a kind (Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 1995, 201).
· Aquinas thought that the Persons were so interchangeable that any or all three could have become the incarnate Jesus [?] (Davies 306).
· Theodicy: following Aristotle, Aquinas assumed that earthquakes, storms, etc were “natural” (not due to the Fall), and not punishments from God. Unlike Augustine, he thought these harmful forces exist as a consequence of creation, not as a consequence of original sin. Could God not have made a world without them? God cannot create infallible creatures/creation; only the divine can be perfect. Omnipotence doesn’t mean that God can do anything: he cannot lie, sin, die, cannot create a being equal to himself in perfection. Just by being a creature, man was imperfect and fallible, likewise nature is inherently flawed (ST 1a.25).
· God’s providence governs everything that happens. Does this mean that God causes bad things to happen to good people? Yes, but indirectly. God established and maintains universal laws. If I fall and break my leg, God is responsible only in that he continues to uphold the law of gravity, not making an exception in my case (if He did break his own natural laws each time for our benefit, the world would be unpredictable and chaotic). Likewise, if a person harms another, “because the very act of free will goes back to God as its [primary] cause, we strictly infer that whatever people freely do on their own falls under God’s providence” (ST 1a.22.2). But Aquinas places the blame on the secondary cause (the person doing the harm) rather than God.
· Aquinas said that a world totally determined by God would not be distinct from God but merely an extension of Him. “It would be contrary to the nature of Providence and to the perfection of the world if nothing happened by chance.” For God to create a world truly separate from himself, he had to allow it some freedom to develop on its own. “Evolution’s randomness seems consistent with a God who loves freedom enough to let the world become itself, something distinct from its creator.” (Haught, Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution, 2001; 92, 102)
· Augustine said that the fall had destroyed free will. Aquinas thought that impossible, since God had created it. Free will was weakened but not eliminated. His analogy for human responsibility: God, like the sun, provides the light, but we must look toward the light to see (Treatise on Grace, question 109)
· Man is not an immortal soul inhabiting a body, but a composite of body and soul. Both are necessary for human existence. At death God may (Aquinas is not certain) preserve the soul in some fashion, but we cannot say that the person continues to exist merely as soul. “I am not my soul.” The soul without a physical body has no senses, thus cannot feel joy or pain, cannot know anything outside itself, cannot experience anything new. Our continued existence after death depends on the Resurrection with the reuniting of the soul and a new immortal body (Davies 215).
· The seven sacraments are means by which Christ through the church distributes grace. They are not the only means of grace, nor are they necessary for salvation. However, Aquinas compares their use to marriage. The couple seals their commitment to one another in marriage, but they continue to express their love through affection, gifts, anniversaries, etc. The sacraments allow the Christian to participate continually in receiving the grace of Christ, visible expressions of an ongoing relationship (Davies 357).
· Christ’s baptism did not wash away any stain of sin in him, rather it cleansed the water and thereby made it holy and suitable for the baptism of others (ST 3a.39.1, Davies 311).
· "[Woman/Eve] was not fitted to help man except in reproduction, because another man would have proved a more effective help in anything else." (ST 1.98.2)
· Aquinas developed Augustine’s concept of the just war. Only legitimate governments, not individuals or powerful groups, may wage just war. War should be the last resort after all peaceful attempts have been exhausted. The enemy has rights which should be respected. Revenge should never be a motive, nor the gaining of wealth or land. The evil which war seeks to eradicate must be weighed against the evil caused by war itself. (ST 2.40)
· At the end of his life, Aquinas had a vision, and said that all his work was little more than straw in comparison to the truth.
“The Reformation was the triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over his doctrine of the church.” (B. B. Warfield, Dictionary of Religion and Ethics II)
Early “reformers” (mostly in France 13th c):
· Waldensians, much like the mendicant orders, lived in voluntary poverty, but they also rejected the authority of Rome and the pope, following only scripture. They allowed lay men and women to preach and administer communion, rejected Latin prayers and Mass. The Dominicans were formed in part as an orthodox response to their reform efforts.
· In 1229 the Inquisition was officially organized to stamp out heresy and schism. Strangely enough, the peaceful Dominicans were chosen by the pope to head the Inquisition, which at first was an attempt to truly investigate charges of heresy rather than leaving so-called heretics in the hands of mob violence. Unfortunately, this effort towards a system of justice became an even greater evil (Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas, 1962).
· The Cathari or Albigensians were dualists, resembling Gnostic beliefs. This world was created by Satanael (Satan the god). The “Perfects” among them would not drink wine or milk, eat meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, as all animal products were the result of sex, the devil’s way of restocking his creation. The church considered them the Great Heresy and tried to wipe them out. At one time 7000 men, women, and children took refuge in the Church of the Madeleine. When asked how to sort out the heretics from the rest, the soldiers were told: “Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”
John Wyclif (1328-84)
· Wyclif, a priest and respected teacher at Oxford, has been called the Morning Star of the Reformation.
· The Council of Toulouse in 1229, had forbidden the laity to read the Bible, even in Latin. All that people were allowed was a “book of hours” (a book of prayers and devotions), and even these had to be in Latin.
· Wyclif: “Those Heretics who pretend that the laity do not need to know God’s law, and that the things which priests have told them is enough, do not deserve to be listened to. For the Bible is the faith of the Church, and the more widely it becomes known the better it will be. Therefore since the laity should know the faith, it should be taught in whatever language is most easily understood.”
· In 1382, he (and others) translated the Bible from Latin into English. He trained and sent out “Bible-men” (Lollards) to preach from the scriptures in English wherever they could find an audience, without licenses from the bishops.
· Before the printing press, every copy had to be hand-written; thousands were made, 170 survive today. It is estimated that it cost a man six month's wages for a copy of the NT. One man gave a wagon-load of hay for a few pages. People who could not afford the whole Bible paid to read it for an hour. Some people memorized texts to share with others who couldn’t read.
· Wyclif denounced the wealth and corruption of the papacy, calling the pope the Antichrist and Satan, father of lies. Like the earlier Donatists, he came to reject the validity of sacraments administered by corrupt clergy. After his death in 1384, he was condemned for his rejection of transubstantiation. “[Wyclif] was a pestilential wretch of damnable memory ... the very herald and child of Antichrist who, as the complement of wickedness, invented a new translation of Scripture into his mother tongue” ( Bishop of Arundel in 1405).
· John Hus of Prague, an admirer of Wyclif, was burned at the stake in 1415 for challenging the infallibility of the papacy. He argued that the church built upon Peter was not the Roman church, but the gathering of the elect, whom God alone knew. He condemned corruption and immorality in the priesthood, and argued that all Christians should partake of both bread and wine, the latter which only priests drank, to avoid spilling Christ’s blood.
· In a similar attempt at reform, Savonarola of Florence (1452-98) claimed to receive visions and prophecies, and seemed to predict the downfall of the Medici and a plague of syphilis as signs of the End. He rejected Renaissance culture, encouraging the burning of pagan books, art, fancy dress, jewelry, mirrors, cosmetics, game boards, musical instruments, in a “bonfire of the vanities.” He condemned the sexual immorality of pope Alexander VI, father of Cesare Borgia (the inspiration for Machiavelli’s Prince). In 1498 he was excommunicated, tortured, hanged and burned at the stake.
Martin Luther (1484-1545)
· Luther changed his name from Luder when he went to the university; for a while he signed letters with the Greek Eleutherius, meaning “free.”
· Luther vowed to become an Augustinian monk after a frighteningly close bolt of lightning. After attending his first communion, his father publicly disowned him for abandoning law.
· Luther was especially dutiful in his acts of penance, sometimes confessing for six hours. His superiors chided him for mentioning things that were hardly sins; Luther could see no difference in big or little offenses against the almighty God. Had he truly repented or did he secretly enjoy his sins, the reason why he continued to commit them? Was his love for God pure, or tainted by selfish reasons, serving God for what he received?
· At his first communion as a priest, Luther faltered saying the words. He later wrote of his experience: “Who am I, that I should lift up my eyes or raise up my hands to the divine Majesty? For I am dust and ashes, and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God.”
· While teaching the Psalms at Wittenberg (1513-15), he found himself in the writer’s place, feeling despair and calling out for mercy. “At such a time God seems terribly angry …. There is no flight, no comfort, within or without, but all things accuse. The Psalmist mourns, ‘I am cut off from thy sight’ (31:22). … In this moment the soul cannot believe it can ever be redeemed” (LW 31, 129; Lohse 89). Eventually Luther saw in these cries for help the work of God, humbling sinners and bringing them to the point of knowing they have nothing to offer. In a hidden, paradoxical way, God was using their (and his) despair to lead them to faith. We discover God in moments of hopelessness, faith in the midst of doubt. God must destroy all illusions of righteousness in us before He can make us righteous.
Luther’s challenge to the Church
· The church in Luther’s day had become notoriously corrupt. Popes acted more like politicians controlling the state than spiritual leaders. The church owned one-third of the real estate in Europe. Many clergy had mistresses, often nuns. Prestigious church positions were bought with bribes. Some clergy demanded payment for administering the sacraments. Furthermore, Luther argued, the church claimed priority over the state and would not submit its clergy to punishment by civil authorities.
· Luther was influenced by Bernard of Clairvaux’s idea that the church must endure three periods of persecution by tyrants (early Rome), heretics (Gnostics, etc), and false Christians, which Luther saw occurring in his day (Lohse 66).
· Luther posted his 95 theses in Latin on the door of the Wittenberg church, a common bulletin board (1517), objecting to the system of indulgences, which allowed the church to sell penance from its “treasury of merits” accumulated from the excessive righteousness of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. The living could shorten the time they or the departed had to spend in Purgatory. One unscrupulous promoter, Tetzel would say: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.” The church even sold indulgences for future sins. Luther said, “Had one ravished the Virgin Mary or crucified Christ anew, the pope would, for money, have pardoned him” (Table Talk 448). Funds were being raised for the building of the new St. Peter’s Basilica. His protest spread quickly since the printing press had been recently invented (1450), a major factor in the success of the Reformation.
· “They say he who buys an indulgence does better than he who gives alms to the poor. God help us, and they call themselves teachers of Christian people? In truth, we no longer need to be alarmed when we hear how the Turks are desecrating our churches and the cross of Christ. We have in our midst Turks a hundred times more wicked” (Wilson 111).
· In 1518 Luther published “Explanations of the 95 Theses” which he dedicated to Pope Leo X, at this time still protesting his devotion: “The church needs a reformation which is not the work of one man, namely the pope, or of many men, namely the cardinals, … but it is the work of the whole world, indeed the work of God alone. … The power of the keys [of the kingdom] is abused and enslaved to greed and ambition. The raging abyss has received added impetus. We cannot stop it. ‘Our iniquities testify against us’ (Jer 14:7)” (LW 31, 250; Lohse 105).
· Luther’s criticism of indulgences was taken as a more serious challenge to papal authority. The pope does not have authority to bind and loose penalties and sins. Pushed to defend himself, he soon was calling the pope both tyrant and antichrist (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520). Hearing he was threatened with excommunication, he said that this would only separate him from the organized church, not from God.
· Contemporary drawings contrast Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, and monarchs kissing the pope’s feet. Luther insisted that the pope not sit and receive communion but stand like any other “stinking sinner” (Bainton 154).
· In Babylonian Captivity he challenged the church’s enslavement of the people by means of their control over the seven sacraments. The church claimed the sacraments were the exclusive channels of grace, to be administered only by the clergy. Luther found no scriptural basis for five of the seven: confirmation, marriage, ordination, penance, and extreme unction. As for penance, Luther agreed that repentance was necessary but only God could offer absolution, not a priest. Repudiating ordination challenged the division between clergy and laity, as Luther taught that all Christians were priests of God. The church could still have priests, but their appointment did not make them more spiritual in their work, nor should it exempt them from facing justice in civil courts. Anyone could perform the remaining two sacraments, baptism and communion.
· Only God has final jurisdiction over matters of salvation. The church’s threats of excommunication were empty: “If you die without the sacrament, if your corpse is thrust into unconsecrated ground, or even if it is dug out again and cast into the water, happy are you! Blessed is he who dies under such an unjust ban! For inasmuch as he has remained faithful to righteousness, he shall gain the crown of life” (Wilson 110).
· The church taught that the Mass was a repetition of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion (which Luther argued makes his original sacrifice somehow inadequate). When the priest speaks the blessing, the bread and wine are transubstantiated into Christ’s flesh and blood, sacrificed again on the altar. Only ordained priests could oversee this process, giving the church control over the means of grace. Luther argued that there was nothing magical about communion but rather mystical. The priest’s words “This is my body” had no magical power to transform matter. Christ’s body is with the bread because as risen Lord he is omnipresent. “The sacrament for him was not a chunk of God fallen like a meteorite from heaven. God does not need to fall from heaven because he is everywhere present … The sacrament does not conjure up God … but reveals him where he [already] is” (Bainton 140). The church taught that the eucharist worked ex opera operato, by virtue of a power within itself; Luther insisted that the receiver must have faith for the sacrament to have any spiritual value. He also said that all believers should be able to drink of the cup, not just the priest.
· Luther’s insistence on the individual’s faith during communion runs counter to his affirmation of infant baptism. Unlike the Anabaptists who regarded baptism as the outward sign of inward regeneration in an adult believer, Luther allowed the faith of the parents or sponsor to make the child’s baptism effective. This tension remained unresolved in Luther’s theology. On one side he said that the church consists of only the faithful, which would necessarily be small, a remnant. His view of baptism made almost every child a Christian (Bainton 142). [How can this be resolved with predestination?]
· At one of his trials, Eck asked him, “Are you the only one who knows the truth? Except for you is all the church in error?” Luther responded, “God once spoke through the mouth of an ass.”
· Luther’s form of recantation: “I was wrong, I admit, when I said that indulgences were ‘the pious defrauding of the faithful.’ I recant and say, ‘Indulgences are the most impious frauds and imposters of the most rascally pontiffs by which they deceive the souls and destroy the goods of the faithful’” (Bainton 165).
· In 1521, called before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, Luther said: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything … I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand, may God help me. Amen.” This famous last phrase was actually added to later printed versions of the speech (Wilson 170).
· During the debate with Eck, Luther said: “A simple layman armed with scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it. … For the sake of scripture we should reject both pope and councils” (Bainton 117).
· The church’s response: if every man’s conscience becomes his only guide, how will we ever find agreement and unity? A good question, as soon every layman with access to printing was spreading his own interpretations of the Bible, promoting numerous heresies which would cause more problems for Luther’s movement: “This shows that our word is truly the Word of God, since it is being harried not only by force but also by new heresies” (Wilson 213).
· After Luther’s excommunication, Frederick the Wise prepared a plan to hide him. He was kidnapped in the woods, supposedly by bandits, and taken to Wartburg castle. Luther grew a beard, dressed as a knight. He wrote: “I did not want to come here. I want to be in the fray” (Bainton 195). Luther was in seclusion for about two years while the storms of revolution were raging outside. During this time he translated the NT into German, using Erasmus’ Greek text.
· Two actions by Luther probably had the most impact: translating the Bible into German (not the first but in style the most influential on the German language), and a monk marrying a nun (1525), rejecting the superiority of celibacy and affirming Christian marriage. Also greatly influential was his argument for the priesthood of all believers, and the sacredness of everyday work in one’s vocation (calling). The church consists of “saints” not in the sense of those canonized by the Pope, but as all Christians are set apart by God.
· Although seeing the need to revise the traditional mass, Luther was concerned about rushing change; to sweep away familiar customs of worship without adequate explanation would only cause confusion among the common people. No one should be forced into worshipping in a way which as yet had no inner meaning for him (Wilson 202). His Wittenberg colleague Karlstadt had no patience with this timid approach: who would, seeing a child with a sharp knife, take the time to explain the danger rather than immediately snatching it away? Karlstadt encouraged individual congregations to decide on true doctrine and practice and adopt the necessary changes “without tarrying for any” (Wilson 213).
· Scripture: John, Romans, and 1 Peter were the kernel of the NT. James was an epistle of straw, focusing on works, mentions Christ only once, probably written by a “Jew.” He had little respect for the authority of the church fathers in doctrinal matters (with the exception of the doctrine of the Trinity).
· In eschatology, Luther challenged the ideas of purgatory and of the immortal soul going straight to heaven at death, focusing rather on the resurrection as does the NT: “For just as a man who falls asleep and sleeps soundly until morning does not know what has happened to him when he wakes up, so we shall suddenly rise on the Last Day, and we shall know neither what death has been like or how we have come through it.” For us as well as the patriarchs who died long ago, it will seem as if no time has past; we will all wake up on Resurrection Day. Lutheran church doctrine did not follow him on this point, but continued to teach a waiting place for the conscious soul, to which Luther would have responded, “It would take a foolish soul to desire its body when it was already in heaven” (Althaus 414 -17).
Justification by faith alone
· Early on, Luther thought of God’s righteousness only as a negative quality standing against him: “I hated the words ‘righteousness of God’ which … I had been taught to [mean] the formal or active righteousness with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. … I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners … as if it is not enough that miserable sinners [are] eternally lost through original sin … without having God add pain to pain by the gospel … threatening us with his righteousness and wrath” (LW 34, 336; Lohse 90). Only when he came to realize the true meaning of “the righteous shall live by faith” did he find hope in the gospel. The righteousness of which Paul wrote was no longer God’s angry justice but His gracious gift to sinners.
· Striving for one’s own righteousness (through penance, prayers, etc) defeats the purpose of God. “God only saves sinners, only teaches the foolish, only enriches the poor, only raises the dead.”
· Luther thought the problem was not individual sins, but radical sinfulness, to the core of our being (similar to Augustine). The Fall was devastating, enslaving the will completely to Satan. “The foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are diametrically opposed to our ‘free will’” (Luther vs Erasmus on the Freedom of the Will 243). Man is “free” to do what he wants, but because of a sinful will, all he wants is evil. He cannot choose good by his own power.
· Only God’s prevenient grace, which He gives without regard to merit, can free the will in order for a person to turn to God with the faith that saves. “The will of mankind works nothing at all in his conversion and justification” (Table Talk 268, Hazlitt trans. 2004). God gives the elect the faith that they need to accept his gracious gift in Christ.
· Luther admits it’s a mystery why God doesn’t give his grace to everyone: “Admittedly it gives the greatest possible offense to common sense or natural reason that God by his own sheer will should abandon, harden, and damn men as if he enjoyed the sins and the vast, eternal torments of his wretched creatures, when he is preached as a God of such great mercy and goodness. … I myself was offended more than once and brought to the very depth and abyss of despair, so that I wished I had never been created a man, before I realized how salutary that despair was, and how near to grace. That is why there has been such sweating and toiling to excuse the goodness of God and accuse the will of man. … Nevertheless [we must confess] the painful awareness that we are under necessity if the foreknowledge and omnipotence of God are accepted” (L vs E 244).
· The seeming contradiction between God’s hidden will (his election of a few) and his revealed will (scripture says that God wants all to be saved) is something we must accept on faith alone, not reason (L vs E 22). God is free to act in any way he chooses, and is not bound even by what scripture says of him: “God wills many things which he does not disclose himself as willing in his word. Thus he does not will the death of a sinner according to his word, but he wills it according to that inscrutable will of his … [which] we have no right whatever to inquire into … but only to fear and adore” (L vs E 201). To raise questions about the hidden will of God is dangerous and leads to cynicism or despair (Althaus 281). God is not pleased when we question his justice (Table Talk 66).
· Luther was not always consistent in his theology. In answer to why some are saved and others not: “This difference is to be ascribed to man, not to the will of God, for the promises of God are universal. He will have all men to be saved. It is not the fault of God who promises salvation, but it is our fault if we are unwilling to believe it.” (L vs E 26)
· “If [men] were able to initiate anything of themselves, there would be no need of grace” (L vs E 300). “I wish the defenders of free choice would take warning at this point and realize that when they assert free choice, they are denying Christ. For if it is by my own effort that I obtain the grace of God, what need have I of the grace of Christ in order to receive it?” (321) Luther’s extreme view suffers from the “either-or” fallacy. He assumes that if we merely have the ability to reach out and accept God’s free gift, that means it is no longer free, but based entirely on our merit (310).
· Luther fears that if salvation were left to his free choice, he could never be certain of it, as he would always be free to fall away, whereas since it is left entirely up to God, it is absolutely certain (L vs E 328). Yet inconsistently, he warns against persisting in sin, lest death come suddenly without time to repent. But if one is elect, why worry about repentance? If not among the elect, what good would repentance do?
· Luther’s confidence in God’s grace led him to make some shocking statements: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders" (letter to Melanchton, Aug. 1, 1521). Luther’s point: striving for complete sinlessness leads to the worst sin of all, pride. However, in reality the only “sins” he suggested were overeating, overdrinking, and oversleeping, controlled excesses as an antidote to spiritual arrogance.
· As God is the ultimate source of everything that happens, he uses even Satan as an instrument to accomplish his will (without being responsible for the evil itself). God did not create Satan evil, but Satan became evil when God’s Spirit deserted him [why did God do this? how is he not responsible?] (L vs E 234). Through Satan’s devices of temptation, illness, catastrophe, and death, God demonstrates his wrath on those he loves in order to bring them back to himself. For those who displease him, however, he is silent, leaving them to become hardened in their sins and confident that God will not punish them if they continue. Thus his silence is the worst form of his wrath (Althaus 167, 173).
· Against the Anabaptists, he argued that infant baptism had been practiced by the whole church since the time of the apostles and God would not allow error to continue for so long if it were wrong [what about the papacy?]. He admitted that scripture did not mention infant baptism, but on the other hand did not condemn it. Faith is necessary for baptism but it is God who gives faith; He will give faith to the infant (just as John believed in his mother’s womb, Luke 1:41). Those who insist that it is the believer’s faith which makes baptism valid have made it a work of man and not of God (Althaus 359ff).
· Luther’s rejection of the freedom to obey God did not extend to a denial of freedom in decisions about daily living. Man was not a machine whose every move was predetermined. He distinguished between the lower sphere of human activity and the upper sphere which defined a person’s relationship with God (Wilson 208).
The Hidden God
· O what a ridiculous thing, that the one true God, the high Majesty, should be made man. … Reason opposes this with all its might.” (WA 37.42)
· Luther contrasted the theology of the cross, where God’s power was hidden in Christ’s humiliation and death, and the theology of glory demonstrated by the church with its earthly majesty and power.
· Luther was skeptical of natural theology; God cannot be found by sinful man in nature, history, or philosophy. Nature is wonderful and would reveal the handiwork of God if man had eyes to see. Only by faith can we truly see His wonders. History presents the puzzle that haunted the Ecclesiastes writer, when good suffers and evil flourishes. Luther rejected the synthesis of theology and philosophy that Aquinas taught (Bainton 218).
· To the hiddenness of God belongs the mystery of predestination. Luther urged Christians to turn away from the deus absconditus who elects and damns as He wills, and focus on the deus revelatus, the God revealed in Christ who forgives and redeems. The will of this hidden God is not merely undisclosed but concealed, thus no business of ours to investigate or question. (WA 18.685)
Luther and Erasmus
· Luther was impatient with other reformers such as Erasmus (1466-1536), who sought reform within the Catholic church, not a break from it. Erasmus (the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest) encouraged peace and tolerance, especially in doctrinal matters of uncertainty. Luther said if you’re defending the truth, it doesn’t matter if you step on Peter’s foot or hit an angel in the mouth.
· Erasmus also disagreed with Luther on the will, saying that free will was weakened by our sin but not destroyed.
· A Renaissance humanist interested in classical languages, Erasmus promoted the love of learning: “When I get a little money I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” (“Apology for Master Zell”)
· Erasmus edited a critical edition of the Greek NT (1516). The humanist’s creed was ad fontes “back to the fountain/source.” "People say to me, How can scholarly knowledge facilitate the understanding of Holy Scripture? My answer is, How does ignorance contribute to it?"
· Erasmus as a scholar: “Let our aim be not to appear learned but to lead as many as possible to a Christian life” (“Letter to Paul Volz”).
· In his Greek NT, he noted that marriage in Eph 5:32 should be described as a “mystery,” not sacramentum (as in the Latin Vulgate), challenging one of the additional sacraments of the church (Thompson 133). John the baptist’s call to “Repent” had been mistranslated in the Vulgate as “do penance.”
· Erasmus wanted the laity to be as educated about Christian faith as the clergy. Each person should confess directly to God, no need for a priest as intermediary. An ordinary faithful Christian is more “religious” than a cloistered monk. In his preface to his Greek NT, he wrote: “Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough, and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.”
· Both humanism and the Reformation led to the development of individualism, the former by its emphasis on human dignity and achievement, the latter by its emphasis on the direct and personal relationship between man and God.
Luther and Zwingli
· Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) led reform movement in Zurich
· Luther wanted doctrinal and moral reform, whereas Zwingli wanted to restore the form of the NT church. He removed religious images from the churches and both instrumental music and singing in worship, arguing that Paul said, “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart” (Eph 5:21). Worship consisted of discussing the scriptures, public or private prayer, communion.
· Luther’s concern was for spiritual reform, not restoring the ancient order of the church. He argued that those who sought a pattern for the church in the NT (such as Zwingli) were creating a new legalism, dependent on man’s works and not God’s grace.
· Zwingli thought original sin was not really sin, since we were not responsible for it, considering it more of a disease.
· Like Luther, Zwingli wanted reform but slowly. He sought unity in the church throughout the reform process and feared “hot-headed cranks who would start their own group as soon as any strange idea came into their heads.” (Placher 189)
· Both Luther and Zwingli rejected all sacraments but baptism and communion. Zwingli taught that Christ’s presence in these acts was symbolic, a memorial. He wished the word “sacrament” had not been allowed in German theological language, implying that the bread and wine had some intrinsic power to convey holiness, or that the priest had the authority and power to transform the elements.
· Luther rejected the Catholic explanation of transubstantiation as too philosophical but still insisted that we take seriously what Jesus said, “This is my body.” If the divine Son is infinite and everywhere, then he must also be present in the LS. Communion is God’s gift to us, not our gift to him. The meaning of communion is not in lifting ourselves up to Christ by our own thoughts of him, but his lowering himself to us (Althaus 393). We do not have to understand how this happens but simply believe Jesus’ words.
· Zwingli countered that scripture describes Christ at the right hand of God in heaven and not within our physical universe. Luther dismissed these words as “figurative,” which of course turned his own argument against him; why couldn’t “This is my body” be figurative as well?
· The problem was that, unlike the Catholic reliance on tradition, Luther’s opponents were using scriptures to support their point. They insisted on the same freedom that Luther had to read the Bible and come to their own conclusions, a freedom that “was now rising up before him as a specter of spiritual anarchy.” Luther remained unbending on this doctrine, and called his opponents “fanatics who strangle Christ” by not taking his words literally. “I’d rather drink blood with the pope than wine with Zwingli” (Wilson 260-2).
· Zwingli died in the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.
Church and State:
· Luther’s Reformation benefited by growing German nationalism, the state seeking independence from taxation and interference by the church in Italy (Thompson 76).
· Luther’s revolution can be viewed in three ways. First, it was in his mind primarily a religious event motivated by the rejection of Roman practices and a desire for a more biblical Christianity. Second, it can be interpreted as a political event, with states seeking to escape the taxes and interference of the papacy with its pretension of supreme authority over secular governments. Third, it was an intellectual revolution, aiming to free the mind in the pursuit of science and art from the proscriptions and censorship of dogmatic orthodoxy (Grayling 34).
· Secular rulers should have authority over both laymen and priests, not leaving punishment of the latter to the church.
· Needing the support of secular authorities, Luther argued that they should intervene to protect the rights of those who challenged church authority. However, civil rulers should not use coercion to enforce religious belief (differs from Calvin). “Heresy can never be constrained by force. … Here the word of God must do the fighting.” “Where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls” (Luther, Secular Authority). “Heretics should be vanquished with books not with burnings” (in Bainton 155). However, after the Anabaptist insurrection at Munster, Luther signed a memorandum written by Melancthon endorsing the resolution of the Diet of Speyer that all heretics should be put to death (Grayling, Toward the Light of Liberty, 2007, 39).
· He thought Christians should support the rulers as given by God (Rom 13) in all matters except those directly against scripture, and denounced political rebellion. “The fact that rulers are wicked and unjust does not excuse disorder and rebellion” (WA vol. 46, p. 25). Christians do not fight for their individual rights, but accept injury. “In what concerns you and yours, you suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian. In what concerns others, you tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor” [but doesn’t this imply some kind of social revolt on behalf of others?]
· Luther was not a political thinker, never wanting to go beyond what was taught in scripture. He continued to hold a medieval view of society as a divinely established hierarchy not to be challenged. Equality and freedom in Christ did not translate into the abolition of social classes. In this area Luther was incredibly naïve about the secular ramifications of his religious revolution.
· Some revolutionaries such as Muntzer took Luther’s preaching on freedom from the papacy to support their dreams of political freedom and social equality. Radicals used eschatological fervor to encourage the abolition of the existing order to make way for the rule of the saints. Luther insisted that the gospel is not concerned with earthly kingdoms, and denounced the use of religion for socio-political purposes. Christian freedom must not be confused with license. In the war against Satan we must not resort to using Satan’s weapons of violence and rebellion: “No one should overthrow or resist authority save Him who ordained it; otherwise it is rebellion and an action against God” (LW v. 48, p. 192). He stood with the authorities against the Peasants’ Revolution in 1525, saying that these “robbers and murderers” should be killed like mad dogs. An estimated 100,000 peasants were killed during this time (Thompson 79). After this, Luther lost the support of the lower classes. Lutheranism became a state religion closely allied with the ruling classes (Wilson 229).
· Poverty is not a special form of blessedness (as was taught in medieval theology) but a social problem which the church and state must address. “In a well-arranged commonwealth the debts of the poor who are in need ought to be cancelled, and they ought to be helped; hence the action of collecting has its place only against the lazy and the ne’er-do-well.” (LW 9:243)
· “God opposes usury and greed, yet no one realizes this because it is not simple murder and robbery. Rather usury is a more diverse, insatiable [crime]” (WA 51:422.15)
· Luther thought St. Francis with his vow of poverty was naïve and foolish, thinking that by renunciation of money he was more righteous, placing trust in self-achievement rather than God. Christianity does not promote eccentricity; the temptation is the desire to do “important” things rather than the everyday tasks to which God has called us (Wengert, Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections, 2004, 145).
· Money itself is not evil, but a good thing from God to use for his glory and the needs of our neighbor. “If God has given you wealth, give thanks to God and see that you make right use of it.” (LW 2:327, 331).
· Luther preached strongly about charity, since with the removal of indulgences, generosity no longer “bought” salvation, and there was a noticeable reduction in contributions (Wilson 280).
· Luther and Calvin never met, agreed on most ideas but had different emphases. Luther thought the most disturbing hypocrisy involved those who pointed to their good works and outward piety as signs of their salvation while lacking inward faith: “Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works” (Freedom of the Christian). Calvin was more concerned with hypocrites who professed faith but did not show evidence of it in their lives by good works.
· Luther was not a Renaissance man. At the university he worked to change the curricula from Aristotle and medieval commentaries to the biblical texts and church fathers. About Aristotle, he said that much time was wasted in the universities trying to understand him, but no one did. “God sent him as a plague for our sins.”
· Luther wrote many hymns besides A Mighty Fortress and was the first person to emphasize congregational singing in worship, encouraging lay participation instead of observation of a performance in the mass (Thompson 76). Worship was not a sacrifice, placating God (who does not need persuading to forgive) but thanksgiving to God and communion with believers. Through the lyrics of songs, the uneducated people would absorb the great truths of the gospel. Music is “second only to the word of God … this precious gift has been bestowed on men to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord” (Bainton 343).
· When Tetzel was destitute and dying, Luther wrote a conciliatory letter saying he did not blame the man for the indulgences controversy; he had only been the front man for those with a more sinister agenda. Luther was not always the angry, hateful man some of his writings suggest (Wilson 136).
· Luther continued to hold the Catholic view of Mary as “ever-virgin.”
· Although he seems to have had a good marriage (“There is nothing on earth better than a woman’s love”), his views of women were sometimes harsh: “Even though [women] grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” (WA 20.84)
· Luther arranged for several nuns, including his future wife, to escape their convent by hiding them in empty beer barrels (Wilson 232).
· About the “Jewish problem” Luther argued that they should be deported and their books and synagogues burnt. (Anti-Semitism in Germany began long before Hitler).
· At one time Luther was so certain that the end-times were near that he rushed to complete his commentary on Daniel (Wills 33).
· “The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone … How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?” (George 53) Despite these sentiments, Luther was treated like a saint in some quarters and associated with miracles: God protected him from fallen masonry that Satan threw at him, his picture was thrown into a bonfire but refused to burn. The sick tried to touch his garment (Wilson 158).
· In the History Channel’s Person of the Millennium poll, Luther was ranked 3rd most influential (after Gutenberg and Newton).
WA = Luthers Werke (German) LW = Luther’s Works (American ed)
Philip Melancthon (1497-1560)
· Luther’s protégé, “the man who followed Luther’s whirlwind and caught people as they came down, saying, ‘Now what do we do?’” [D. Brown]
· A true Renaissance scholar, Melancthon taught Greek literature at Wittenberg, Homer alongside Paul, and wrote a commentary on Menander (Greek playwright quoted in 1 Cor 15)
· He distinguished between doctrinal essentials and non-essentials, arguing for unity in the former and tolerance in the latter.
· On speculation about the Trinity: “We do better to adore the mysteries of divinity than to investigate them. … To know Christ is to know his benefits, not to contemplate his natures or the modes of his incarnation” (Loci Communes).
· He thought that God’s universal mercy taught in scripture indicated at least some kind of human response to grace.
· Wrote the Augsburg Confession 1530, stating Protestant beliefs, an attempt at reconciliation but it only widened the divide.
· Article 21 of the Confession concerned the Cult of the Saints, and stated that Christ was the “only high priest, intercessor, and advocate before God. He alone has promised to hear our prayers,” not Mary or any of the saints.
John Calvin (1509-1564)
· Calvin escaped persecution in France, passing through Geneva where the town council persuaded him to stay and direct their reform efforts (1536), as he had recently completed the first edition of Institutes. At first his idea of reform was much stricter than they bargained for, and he was expelled for three years, but then called back in 1541.
· In Calvin’s Geneva morality was strictly enforced by the civil authorities. Between 1542-46 there were 58 executions, including one child beheaded for striking his parents, and one man who posted his criticism of Calvin on the pulpit. Many others were banished, infractions including profanity, dancing, playing cards, laughing in church, arriving late to worship, theater attendance. (This was before the Enlightenment ideas of religious freedom, human rights)
· Calvin had a higher view of OT law than Luther; OT points to Christ, which he fulfilled. Calvin’s emphasis was on obedience in response to grace, grace as transforming power, obedience as evidence of election. Luther sometimes speaks as if obedience to law is unnecessary.
· Synod of Dort (1619) formulated a summary of Calvinism, which came to be known as the TULIP acrostic:
o Total depravity: after the fall, the human will became completely corrupt, dead, unable to turn to God in any way: “Man is so enslaved by sin as to be of his own nature incapable of an effort or even an inspiration towards that which is good” (Inst. 2.4.1)
o Unconditional election: God chooses to save based only on his free will, no human merit, nor does he foresee who would have believed; we have absolutely no part in election.
o Limited atonement: Christ’s death offers salvation only to the elect
o Irresistible grace: the person chosen by God cannot refuse his grace: “When God is pleased to save, there is no free will in man to resist” (3.23.14).
o Perseverance of the Saints: once saved, always saved
· Jacob Arminius challenged these concepts, emphasizing the absolute need for God’s grace for salvation, but saying that we must freely accept his gift; grace is not irresistible. God permits sin not because he wills it but to leave man free and thus responsible. Atonement is for all, because the universal evil that came upon us through Adam requires a universal remedy. Predestination of the elect is merely God’s foreknowledge of who would eventually accept him (an idea Calvin rejected).
· “If we ask why God has pity on some [and not others], there is no answer except that it pleases him to do so.” (Sermons on Ephesians) Calvin frequently avoids objections to his system by relying on the mysterious justice of God which men cannot understand.
· Calvin didn’t shirk from saying that God chooses the fate of the damned as well as the elect (double predestination), as both add to God’s glory (Inst. 1.2.2; 3.23.6). God had even predestined Adam’s sin (prelapsarian), but the blame still lies with Adam [?]. Neither Augustine or the Council of Orange (529) allowed such an idea.
· God’s guiding providence extends to every action in creation: “not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command” (1.16.5). He even uses evil to bring about his purposes. So why isn’t God ultimately responsible for evil? Calvin argued that it’s a mystery, that God and humans cannot be held to the same standards of judgment. “There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God” (1.18.3; 3.24.17).
· Calvin denied the distinction between God’s willing evil and permitting evil: “it is frivolous to say that God permits evils when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God 10.11). But Calvin is inconsistent on this idea: “But of all things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him” (C.E.P. 10.12). “In a wonderful and ineffable way, what was done contrary to His will was yet not done without His will, because it would not have been done at all unless He had allowed it. So He permitted it not unwillingly but willingly” (C.E.P. 8.5).
· Calvin contradicts himself when struggling with this idea of responsibility for evil. “The will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil” [?] “Who does not tremble at these judgments with which God works in the hearts of even the wicked whatever he will, rewarding them nonetheless according to desert? … God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as He will, whether to good for His mercy’s sake or to evil according to their merits.” But in the same section Calvin argues that God is “Himself unable to will evil.” (C.E.P. 10.11)
· Like Luther, Calvin speaks of God’s revealed will and his hidden will to explain the “apparent” contradiction in verses which say God wants all to be saved, but insists there is no contradiction, nor does God have two wills (1.18.3). “There are two types of calling: for there is a universal call by which God through the preaching of the word invites all men alike, even those for whom He designs the call to be a taste of death and the ground of a severer condemnation” (3.24.7). God “invites all to life by His word. Now this is not contradictory of His secret counsel, by which He determined to convert none but His elect. He cannot rightly on this account be thought variable” (C. E. P. 8.2). “However universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate … for all that is meant by the promise is just that His mercy is offered to all who desire and implore it, and this none do except those whom He has enlightened” (3.24.17).
· His commentary on 2 Peter 3:9: “So wonderful is His love towards mankind that He would have all to be saved, and is of His own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. … But it may be asked, if God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God according to which the reprobate are doomed …”
· On 1 Tim. 2:3-4 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” Calvin explains in his commentary: “The apostle simply means that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation … the present discourse relates to classes of men, not to individual persons.”
· “Even infants, bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s but their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot be anything but odious and abominable to God” (2.1.8).
· Why is the gospel of repentance preached to all, if most cannot repent? To convict them of their own sinfulness and the justice of their punishment.
· If God has predestined everything, why pray? “The faithful do not pray to tell God what he does not know, or urge him to his duties, or hurry him on when he delays, but rather to alert themselves to seek him, to exercise their faith by meditating upon his promises …” (Matt Comm. 6:8)
· On the assurance of election, Calvin is inconsistent. The “elect” are eternally secure, but how does an individual know he/she is among them? “When it pleases God to imprint the certitude of his promises on our hearts … he declares to us that we are of that little number whom he has reserved for himself.” (Sermon 53 on Deut.). But he also admits, “Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect … because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption. …There is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished” (3.2.11-12). According to Calvin, a person cannot know whether his feeling of assurance is true or merely vain presumption.
· In dying for our sins, Christ had to experience not only physical but spiritual death, separation from God, who “forsook” him on the cross (2.16.11).
· Calvinist churches rejected the role of bishops (which both the Lutheran and Anglican churches retained), and provided instead that the church should be governed by presbyteries, elected bodies made up of ministers and devout laymen.
· Purity of the Church is not found in its members (contra Anabaptists) but in its preaching the pure gospel and administering the proper sacraments (4.1.9)
· Scripture may err in details but not in doctrine necessary for salvation.
· Calvin defended infant baptism against the Anabaptists by comparing it to circumcision, the sign of being one of God’s elect.
· Calvin upholds the immortality of the soul after death but also says that between death and resurrection there is no sense of time; the resurrection day will appear “in the twinkling of an eye” (3.25.6, 8).
· Anabaptists insisted on believer’s baptism, rebaptizing those christened in infancy (as were most of the population, Christians in name only, no personal commitment). They withdrew from society, wore plain clothing and practiced strict morality, for which even their opponents admired them. Many communities shared all property in common. They were more concerned with reformed living than theology. Justification should lead to a transformed life, the fruit of true faith. They strictly enforced the ban on those who lapsed into worldly habits. They fought for freedom of religion, the first church to make this part of their creed. Most were pacifists and were against capital punishment.
· Against Luther and Calvin, they believed in free will: to hold God responsible for predetermining sin was to make him into Satan himself.
· Typically, Anabaptists took sola scriptura more seriously than the Reformers, rejecting the Church Fathers and Councils as authoritative as well. Sebastian Frank in 1530 wrote, “Foolish Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory, of whom not one even knew the Lord … Rather, they were all apostles of the Antichrist.” (McGrath, Reformation Thought 108). Mennonites (after Menno Simons), and Amish churches came from these roots.
· Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants. Some of the first martyrs of the Reformation were Anabaptists. Laws over 1000 years old against the Donatists were used to condemn anyone who rebaptized, which was a rejection of the legitimacy of the church’s baptism. A favorite method of execution was drowning, a cruel mockery of baptism.
· In 1534 a radical group of Anabaptists took over the town of Munster, naming it the New Jerusalem, in expectation of Christ’s return. Following the OT, they practiced polygamy, and enforced capital punishment for minor infringements. Eventually in a siege they either starved to death or were massacred. In the popular mind this incident confirmed fears of the more peaceful majority of Anabaptists.
· Spiritualists such as the Zwickau prophets (who visited Wittenberg in 1521) and Luther’s Wittenberg colleague Karlstadt went beyond Luther’s rejection of papal authority, claiming that they didn’t even need scripture to guide them, as they had the direct guidance of the Spirit. They interpreted their experience of the Spirit as a sign of the end times. Carlstadt rejected most physical forms of worship, such as icons, vestments, and said that the bread and wine were just that, not Christ’s body. God is spirit and cannot be reached by means of physical forms.
· Thomas Muntzer argued that Luther and Melanchthon worshipped a “dumb” God who could only speak through dead words on a page. Anyone who did not have the Spirit speaking through him was of the devil.
· Muntzer ridiculed Luther’s advocacy of the secular powers and his rejection of rebellion, calling him “Dr. Easychair,” “Dr. Pussyfoot,” the new pope of Wittenberg. “Luther says that the poor people have enough in their faith. Doesn’t he see that usury and taxes impede the reception of faith? He claims that the Word of God is sufficient. Doesn’t he realize that men whose every moment is consumed with making a living have no time to read the Word of God?” (Bainton 277)
· Seeing the End-times, Muntzer wanted to establish a theocracy, advocated killing unbelievers, and was a leader in the Peasants’ Revolt, during which he was killed. He told his followers to “sharpen their sickles for the gruesome and glorious work” of God (Wilson 211).
· Michael Servetus (burned at the stake by Calvin’s faction in Geneva 1553)
· Servetus, a brilliant linguistic scholar and medical doctor, discovered the principle of circulation of the blood.
· Servetus truly believed in sola scriptura, arguing that Luther and Calvin should have also rejected the Council creeds along with the pope. He wrote On the Errors of the Trinity at age 20, objecting to nonbiblical language and ideas: “Not one word is found in the whole Bible about the Trinity, nor about its Persons, nor about an Essence, nor about a unity of the Substance, nor about one Nature of the several beings.”
· How can we talk of three distinct persons without implying they differ from one another? Just saying the three are one doesn’t answer the question, if “oneness” only means a uniting of will and action. His caustic language got him into trouble, calling the Trinity “the three-headed Cerberus.”
· He objected to the idea that the Logos indwelled Jesus’ flesh. Jesus didn’t say, “The Second Person abides in me” but “the Father abides in me and I in him.” Jesus says he reveals the Father, not the Second Person. "[Jesus] himself is the face of the Father, nor is there any other Person of God but Christ; there is no other hypostasis [person] of God but him. Christ is honored by the presence of the Father more than he can be honored through their [Greek] metaphysics. They say that one portion [the Logos], I say that the whole nature, of God is in him. In him is the whole Deity of the Father…. It would then dim this manifold fullness of Deity to be contented with a mere union with the second being; nor can this be done, unless you make the Son separate from the Father, or remove the Father from Christ."
· The Spirit of God is God himself at work in the world, not another divine person.
· In Phil 2, Paul speaks, not of the Second Person accepting Incarnation from a pre-existent state, but of Jesus humbling himself, accepting his role as a man; Jesus didn’t claim his rights as God.
· At his sentencing he also was charged with denying infant baptism and original sin.
On freedom of religion:
· A one-time colleague of Calvin, Sebastian Castellio (1515-63) was moved by the death of Servetus to protest the persecution of so-called heretics and to promote religious tolerance and liberty.
· In his dedication of the Institutes to the king of France, Calvin had petitioned for clemency in matters of religion, but his plea was designed to protect his own views from persecution, not to encourage a general tolerance of differences in faith.
· Castellio knew from his own efforts at translating the Bible that “the scriptures are full of enigmas and inscrutable questions which have been disputed for over a thousand years without agreement, nor can they be resolved without love, which appeases all controversies. We certainly ought to fear lest in crucifying thieves we crucify Christ unjustly. If we allow Turks and Jews to live among us … we ought at least to concede the right to breathe common air to those who confess with us the name of Christ and harm no one” (in Bainton, The Travail of Religious Liberty, 1953, 110).
· Castellio argued that those beliefs essential for salvation would be clearly taught in scripture, and those things subject to controversy and dispute were therefore not essentials. If common fishermen or a penitent thief on a cross could grasp the essence of Christ’s grace and be saved, without knowledge of complex theological issues which had developed over centuries of debate and bloodshed, how could any of these latter issues truly matter?
· When Calvin called him a skeptic who would bring all scripture into doubt, Castellio cited Aquinas who distinguished between knowledge and faith. Something known is not “believed” because it is known; belief relies on faith in things beyond human knowledge. Calvin argued that faith is certain conviction on the same epistemic level as knowledge. Castellio countered that all sects are certain of the truth of their own interpretations: “Calvin says that he is certain, and they say they are; Calvin says they are wrong and wishes to judge them, and so do they. Who shall be judge? Who made Calvin the arbiter of all the sects, that he alone should kill? … [If all issues were clearly certain] then why does he write so many books about manifest truth? … In view of all the uncertainty we must define the heretic simply as one with whom we disagree. And if then we are going to kill heretics, the logical outcome will be a war of extermination, since each is sure of himself” (Bainton Travail 111).
· 1540: Ignatius of Loyola founded the order of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) to enforce faith in the Catholic church, pledging absolute obedience to the pope. They focused on education, missions, and countering Protestant growth.
· The Inquisition was revived in 1542.
· 1555: after many years of fighting, the Peace of Augsburg allowed each German prince to determine the religion of his region, either Catholic or Lutheran (other Protestant movements were not tolerated).
· The Council of Trent (1545-1563) addressed issues of reform within the Catholic church, while at the same time affirming the authority of both scripture and church tradition. The Council emphasized the place of grace, but denied that the will was totally helpless, saying God would not command obedience if it were impossible. They affirmed all seven sacraments, the veneration of saints and relics, the doctrine of Purgatory, and the authority of the Apocryphal books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not the Hebrew OT.
· 1572: St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris of the French Protestants (Huguenots)
· 1598: Edict of Nantes by Henry IV authorized some religious freedom in France
· 1618-48: Thirty Years’ War fought for both religious and political reasons, ends with Peace of Westphalia
· In England tension with Rome went back to the Magna Carta (1215) which limited papal influence in England; also growing nationalism, independent thought of humanism (Thomas More, later executed for opposing the break with Rome)
· Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn (already pregnant), hoping she would give him a male heir. After they secretly married, the pope excommunicated Henry, and the king broke off ties with Rome 1534, but kept most of the church traditions (note similarity in Catholic and Anglican/Episcopal worship still today). England did not become Protestant overnight. In 1539 the Six Articles were passed, affirming transubstantiation, communion limited to priests, celibacy of clergy, all holdovers from Catholicism. Henry officially approved a book refuting the errors of Luther.
· Henry’s son Edward reigned for a few years (1547-53), bringing more Protestant reforms, taking over church property, banning religious images, allowing clergy to marry, and publishing the Book of Common Prayer. His sister Mary (1553-58) tried to turn England back to Catholicism with much bloodshed (about 300 martyrs). She married the Catholic king of Spain.
· During Elizabeth’s reign (1558-1603) Puritans pushed for actual reform in line with scripture and the “golden age” of the church. The queen sought a national church with her as “Supreme Governor” for political stability. In 1593 laws were passed that limited both Catholics and Puritans, who were seen as trouble-makers, even traitors.
· Some questions raised during this time concerning sola scriptura: Can everyone interpret the Bible alike? How much do we actually know about the 1st c. church? How far do we apply the silence principle (things not mentioned in scripture)? How much diversity is allowable concerning non-essential doctrines? Are there non-essential doctrines? Whitgift, Hooker used these questions to point out the risks of independent churches and to defend the national church.
· When James I became king in 1603, hundreds of Puritan clergy petitioned him with modest proposals, requesting the freedom to remove certain rituals retained from Catholicism: vestments, the hand sign of the cross, observance of saints’ days. James refused, not on theological grounds but insisting on the unity of the Anglican church based on the political leadership of the king. When 300 ministers refused to conform, he deprived them of their salaries, removing dedicated men who cared more for truth than tithes, leaving the church in the hands of place-seekers.
· While Puritans sought reforms within the Church of England, Separatists broke from the institutional church. Typical teachings (although little unity in practice): pattern for the church found in NT, neutral or antagonistic toward the state, independence of each congregation accountable only to God (Congregationalists), disciplined life as a sign of the true church (rather than doctrine, sacraments, apostolic leadership), apocalyptic vision of the times, government seen as Babylon the Great Whore, the sixth trumpet has sounded, waiting for the seventh.
· Baptist churches split off from the Congregationalists on the issue of adult baptism. Some were Arminian, others Calvinist (Particular Baptists, believing atonement was only for a particular people).
· In 1649, the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell won a civil war, beheaded the king, and took over the government until 1660.
George Fox (1624-1691)
· Fox began the Society of Friends, or Quakers. Sources differ as to how they got this name, either from how they behaved when the Spirit moved them (perhaps confused with another group, the Ranters, known for eccentric behavior) or a nickname given them by the court when supporters of Fox, on trial, warned the judges to “tremble at the word of the Lord” (Vipont, Story of Quakerism 1954, 23)
· As a young man Fox was distressed by the disparities between religious profession and daily life, made all the worse by the brutalities of the civil war in which both sides claimed divine support. After a century of religious turmoil, people were longing for religious experience which was independent of worldly authority or political changes.
· Organized religion did not satisfy Fox; he believed that God did not live in special buildings or speak only through special (ordained) people. “When all my hopes in men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is One, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy” (Vipont 18).
· Fox believed in the Inner Light of spiritual guidance, beyond scripture. When opponents argued that the Spirit of God and scripture always worked together, he replied “That would mean you can buy the Spirit and put it in your pocket.” Scripture was useful in testing the validity of the Spirit’s leadings, but the active, present work of the Spirit always took priority. The ecstatic experience was not divorced from everyday life, but could raise it to another plane so that all activity became the business of God and furthering his kingdom (Vipont 19). At first his fellowship was known as Children of the Light. Some Quakers taught that the Inner Light could save a person even without knowledge of Christ (Barbour, The Quakers, 1988, 62)
· Fox was a pacifist and refused the offer to leave prison to serve as a captain in Cromwell’s army.
· Quakers believed all men were equal and treated rich and poor alike, refusing to remove their hats in the presence of nobility or to address superiors with “you” rather than “thee” and “thou” (common speech).
· Quakers practiced simplicity in lifestyle and worship, no baptism or communion (both are provided by the experience of the Spirit), advocated democracy with all men and women equal, allowed women to preach (Fox argued that in 1 Cor, Paul did not prohibit God speaking through a woman), called for universal religious tolerance.
· Quietism became a hallmark of Quakers. Believing that the Light Within is entirely the gift of God without the aid of human intellect or effort, they sit quietly in worship, waiting on the Lord to act, banishing all thoughts in order to receive the divine message. Weeks might pass without anyone receiving a message, which some thought was God’s withholding the gift because of human frailty. Not surprisingly, church records note that many simply fell asleep in worship (Vipont 150).
· Quakers practiced honesty in business, setting a fair price rather than bargaining. Some claim Quakers invented the price tag (Barbour 42).
· In the early years Quakers were not the peaceful citizens known today. “Quaker ministers were not interested in polite discourse, civility, and compromise … They would obey no law that would interfere with their obedience to the Light Within” (Barbour, Quakers, 50-1). Because they were known for aggressive evangelism, challenging other ministers during their services, Quakers were considered troublemakers and suffered severe persecution, accused of disturbing the peace, refusal to pay tithes to support the official church, refusal to take the oath swearing not to be Catholics (they would not swear any oath), blasphemy (claiming to be infallibly led by the Spirit), and public indecency (some stripped naked to prophesy how their opponents had been stripped of the truth, based on 1 Sam. 19:24, Isa. 20:3) (Vipont 40).
John Locke (1632-1704)
· A leading author of the early Enlightenment period, Locke was a believing Christian but his arguments for Christianity were based not on biblical authority or religious tradition primarily but on reason. “Nothing that is contrary to and inconsistent with the clear and self-evident dictates of Reason has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter of faith” (Human Understanding 4.18.5).
· He wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) to argue that as God has created us with the ability to reason and created a world established according to reason, nothing in revelation would run counter to reason.
· Locke’s understanding of what is reasonable was much broader than later empiricists would allow. He admitted that there were matters, not contrary to, but beyond human understanding that could only be known by revelation, such as the resurrection of the dead. Belief in scripture is reasonable, based on the convincing authority of eyewitnesses. Locke thought it was credible that miracles had occurred, as so many people reported them, and that these miracles gave reasonable evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the son of God (but not the second person of the Trinity, an irrational doctrine created by the church).
· Locke was a strong proponent of religious freedom. “No man by nature is bound under any particular church or sect, but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God.” “If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to you; nor therefore are you to punish him in the things of this life because you suppose he will be miserable in that which is to come” (“Letter concerning Toleration” 1685).
· In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke argued the limits of knowledge for finite human capacities. No church or other authority could demand certain belief on matters of probability based on reason.
· Locke asked why zealots were eager to burn heretics who disagreed with them over obscure doctrines, when they were not compelled to punish those in their own communion for their obvious immorality.
· Locke’s arguments for toleration were based on Christian principles, being a specifically Christian virtue. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to everyone, which prohibited coercion or oppression of others for their beliefs. For this reason, toleration did not extend to atheists; if a person has no religion, he has no standing to plead for toleration. If a man does not believe in God, he cannot be forced to swear an oath to God to guarantee his loyalty to the state. (In contrast, Jefferson would argue that religious liberty is a natural right of individuals, even those who do not believe in any religion.) (Wills 177) Locke was not willing to extend full toleration toward Catholics on the ground of their allegiance to a foreign power (pope).
· Locke argued against the concept of the divine right of kings. Monarchists used scriptures to support their claim: “By me kings reign and princes decree justice” (Prov. 8:15). “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13:1). “These were exceedingly useful passages for tyrants” (Grayling, Toward the Light of Liberty, 2007, 110).
· Locke believed in the concept of natural law, and with it natural rights. He imagined an idyllic natural world prior to the development of civil society, in which men and women were naturally free to act as they choose, without restraint. When we enter into society with others, we give up some of this freedom in order to gain the benefits of living with others in accordance with certain agreed-upon rules or laws. At the same time we should have laws that place limits on what those agreements can take away from individuals, in particular the natural rights to life, liberty and property.
· All people are equal in the natural state as there are no kings, nobles by birth, or religious authorities to dictate what others should do. We do not lose this natural equality when we enter into society.
· In the state of nature, however, it is difficult to insure the natural rights of man, as one person may attack and kill another without the means to prevent this action. Societies establish rules/laws binding on each person who agrees to abide by them upon entering the society, for the mutual good of the individual and the society at large.
John Wesley (1703-91)
· At Oxford, Wesley, a priest in the Church of England, founded the “Holy Club” devoted to prayer, fasting, Bible reading and visiting prisoners, whose disciplined, methodical approach to spirituality gave them the name “methodists.”
· He sided with Arminius on freedom of the will to choose for God. Predestination turned God into a tyrant and preaching into hypocrisy, calling for repentance when the unelected aren’t able to repent. Wesley accepted the doctrine of original sin, and agreed with Calvin that the human race in its natural state was totally lost in sin, but taught that God’s prevenient grace is offered to all through Christ and restores the lost freedom of choice, without being irresistible. Charles Wesley wrote in a hymn: ““All in me the hindrance lies; / Called, I still refuse to rise.”
· Luther taught that when we are justified we still remain sinners, never fully purified. Wesley saw justification as only the beginning of the Christian’s transformation. He believed that God meant it when he said, “Be perfect as I am perfect.” This perfection with the help of the Spirit is attainable in this life; to deny it leads to complacency.
· The Christian should seek full sanctification as a separate step after justification (Luther had held the two aspects of salvation together, cf 1 Cor 6:11), reaching a point at which he “cannot voluntarily transgress any command of God.” Wesley admitted however that achieving such perfection in this life was rare.
· John and his brother Charles helped to promote the practice of laymen preaching, over the objections of the Anglican church. When denied a church, they would preach outdoors.
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