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j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

On December 12, 2014, Nice-Matin featured the Nativity scenes on display in the village of Lucéram, 20 miles away.

For the past 17 years Lucéram has displayed a variety of crèches, great and small, to the public. As one can see from the photos, children are not only happy to see them but they come to better understand the Christmas story in so doing.

Yet, a number of Protestants dismiss such displays as idolatrous. They also condemn crucifixes and stained glass windows.

It is worth remembering that it was only in the 20th century that most of the Western world learned how to read and write. Prior to that, with nearly everyone attending church on Sunday, people in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches learned the Bible from the imagery around them as well as from what they heard from the pulpit in Scripture readings and sermons. However, until the Reformation, what came from the priest’s and choir’s mouths was in Latin, leaving out most of the congregation who could not speak or understand it properly. Is it any wonder that images pervaded as teaching tools, not idols to be worshipped?

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor, the Revd Karl Weber, writing for The Brothers of St John the Steadfast, has a post called ‘Contending for Crèches and Crucifixes’.

Whilst acknowledging the Old Testament prohibitions against graven images, Weber states:

The prohibition against graven images seems simple enough until we realize in Scripture God commands Israel to make graven images for the Ark of the Covenant and serpent on a pole and is pleased with those which adorn Solomon’s Temple. I know eight examples where God commands or is pleased with the making of graven images. A quick look would be:

Weber tells us that Martin Luther had statues of Mary and other saints at his church in Wittenberg:

as an aid and devotion to thank Jesus for his mercy toward us.

He cites a quotation from Luther who stated that it was:

a good practice to hold a wooden crucifix before the eyes of the dying or to press it into their hands. This brought the suffering and death of Christ to mind and comforted the dying.

Weber goes on to discuss the not uncommon dislike of viewing an image of Christ on the cross:

Perhaps our discomfort with crucifixes is in part because it shows what we did to Jesus (cf. Is 53:1-6).

He then addresses the Protestant meme of an empty cross as being the sign of the Resurrection (emphases mine):

Mistakenly many think an empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection. Remember Jesus was raised from the tomb and not from a cross. He was taken down from the cross. In reality though, it is the empty tomb that symbolizes the resurrection. Some may contend the fair linens adorning the altar underneath Christ’s body in the bread and blood in the wine symbolize the discarded grave clothes and these may point to the resurrection. Our Synodical Catechism rightly teaches the miracle of the resurrection points to Jesus’ greatest miracle where he redeemed the world on Good Friday. The Catechism does so with question 145: “Why is Christ’s resurrection so important and comforting? Christ’s resurrection proves that … C. God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world.”[3] The crucifix reminds me that judgment and death are the consequence of my sins (Rom 6:23) and that may be why Christians are discomforted seeing one.

To those who say that our Lord is not currently present either in the crib or on the cross, Weber replies:

in Christian freedom we may employ the artwork of a crucifix to lovingly teach and remind us of the great love and mercy Jesus has for us when he took our sins upon himself and shed his blood to release us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. And we may employ the artwork of baby Jesus in a crèche to lovingly teach and remind us of the incarnation that it was our flesh and nature and that of no other that Jesus took upon himself to so identify with us and be our savior.

He concludes:

As Christians we can joyfully embrace both a full crèche (manger) and Jesus on the cross. The crèche speaks of the beginning work of salvation while the crucifix points to the work of salvation. One reminds us that Jesus became fully man for us and the crucifix reminds and teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins thereby emptying the grave, Satan, and sin of their power. You are free and fully forgiven my friends! Rejoice!

Thank you, Pastor Weber!

R C Sproull yankeerev_wordpress_comBy the time Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing the Ninety-five Theses on the church door of Wittenburg, he had already begun distributing small pamphlets — tracts — about the downfall of the Church.

He compared the corrupt Church of his day to Babylon. Not only were the official representatives of Christ’s Bride collecting money for indulgences as repentance for sin, they were also denying the sacred, inspired truth of Holy Scripture.

The Catholic Church will readily agree to that post-Vatican II. I was taught of the Church’s errors in RE (Religious Education) class in the 1970s. Yet, what appears to linger there is the synergistic notion that we must work for our salvation. God’s grace is insufficient. In fact, we must merit it.

Things are not so different in certain Protestant denominations, especially in some — not all — Evangelical and mainstream Non-Conformist (e.g. Wesleyan, Baptist) congregations.

A works-based salvation is, at best, semi-Pelagian. At worst, it is full-on Pelagianism, which is a heresy. Pelagianism denies Original Sin and says that man is basically good. Semi-Pelagianism acknowledges Original Sin but says that man must work for his conversion, his rebirth in Christ or his ultimate salvation. Both of these dangerous beliefs are devoid of Scriptural truth and divine grace, which God the Father gives us in our Christian walk.

The Reformed theologian Dr R C Sproul — a monergist — deplores the Church’s departure from monergism. Monergism, involving God as the author of our spiritual regeneration and ultimate salvation, espouses the doctrine of grace — completely unmerited on our part but mercifully granted by our Father in heaven nonetheless.

The Covenant Presbyterian Church, a member of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) in Bakersfield, California, has posted several helpful articles and essays for their congregation as well as for other Christians who might wonder if they are truly saved. Worrying about one’s personal salvation can cause many late nights, much soul-searching and years of anguish.

Sproul’s article which sheds light on monergism, synergism, grace, error and heresy is called ‘The Pelagian Captivity of the Church’. Excerpts follow with page references to the PDF.

Sproul wonders what would happen if Luther were to see the state of Protestantism today (p. 1):

Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church.

Luther, Sproul tells us, believed in the doctrine of grace as revealed in the Bible (emphases mine):

Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage Of the Will. When we look at the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria, sola gratia Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.

Luther was not alone. Calvin, Zwingli and other early Reformers agreed on

the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace …

In other words, our faith in Christ is

the free gift of a sovereign God.

Pelagius was a British monk. He lived in the 5th century AD, as did his rival, St Augustine of Hippo (Egypt). Although these were dark and primitive times, Church councils covering Europe and North Africa were ongoing. Pelagius objected to Augustine’s belief in a sovereign God.

Pelagius maintained that, although Adam and Eve sinned, future generations were spared inheriting that sin. This viewpoint goes against Scripture and Christianity, both of which point to our inherent and ongoing depravity because we actually have a proclivity to sin, which we received from Adam and Eve. As St Augustine believed, this state (p. 2), leaves us in

a sinful, fallen condition.

As such, we are able to achieve nothing good or godly on our own. We must rely on God’s grace, the workings of the Holy Spirit and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

Yet, Pelagius insisted that Adam and Eve’s sin was not passed down to us and that any grace we inherited ‘facilitates’ righteousness to us. Sproul said that Pelagius meant that whilst divine grace helps mankind, mankind doesn’t actually need it. In fact, he said that people could live perfect lives under their own willpower, with no divine grace necessary (p. 3).

The Church condemned Pelagianism as a heresy at the Council of Orange in the 5th century, later at the Council of Carthage and, once more, much later, in the 16th century at the Council of Trent (p. 3).

However, despite Church theologians declaring Pelagianism a heresy, the appeal of man’s ‘island of righteousness’ — perhaps ‘divine spark’ — refused to fade away. Hence the rise of semi-Pelagianism: we need God’s grace but we are also capable of accepting or rejecting it.

Sproul writes:

Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and what Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with — and assent to — the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God.  If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.

Now to the present day. Many Evangelical — mostly independent, but sometimes associated — churches around the world feature a believer’s testimony and an altar call. The unconverted in the congregation can seemingly ‘choose’ to ‘accept’ Christ as Saviour and Lord. These are also features of Holiness churches of the Wesleyan tradition. Essentially, even if the preachers talk about sin, they say that we have the inner power to overcome it. Furthermore, those sitting in the congregation — a Barna survey says more than 70% — believe that man is basically good (p. 3).

Sproul says (p. 4):

To say we’re basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking depth, we could find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We’re overwhelmed with it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.

You have no doubt heard the sayings ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ and ‘An empty paper bag makes the loudest noise’. One firebrand evangelist in 19th century America lived up to both. His name was Charles Finney. Whether we like it or not, he changed the face of much of American Christianity forever.

Whereas the earliest Reformers held to the aforementioned Solas, Finney claimed we had enough power and ability to affect our salvation alone. We don’t need divine grace — or possibly even Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection — for salvation. Sproul delivers his verdict (p. 4):

if what the reformers were saying is that justification by faith alone is an essential truth of Christianity, who also argued that the substitutionary atonement is an essential truth of Christianity; if they’re correct in their assessment that those doctrines are essential truths of Christianity, the only conclusion we can come to is that Charles Finney was not a Christian. I read his writings — and I say, “I don’t see how any Christian person could write this.” And yet, he is in the Hall of Fame of Evangelical Christianity in America. He is the patron saint of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. And he is not semi-Pelagian; he is unvarnished in his Pelagianism.

Sproul anticipates that people will object to this assessment, saying that grace is necessary for sinful man’s regeneration and redemption. Then he posits — and this is important to consider (p. 4):

But it’s that little island of righteousness where man still has the ability, in and of himself, to turn, to change, to incline, to dispose, to embrace the offer of grace that reveals why historically semi-Pelagianism is not called semi-Augustinianism, but semi-Pelagianism. It never really escapes the core idea of the bondage of the soul, the captivity of the human heart to sin — that it’s not simply infected by a disease that may be fatal if left untreated, but it is mortal.

Sproul explores two semi-Pelagian stories often heard in certain churches. One concerns God throwing a drowning man a life preserver, making an exact hit to reach the man’s hands. Another is about the Almighty assisting a dying man in taking a curative medicine. In both instances, the two men are able to accept God’s help yet contribute their own ability to their rescues.

But, Sproul asks (p. 5), are these accurate and in line with conversion and salvation according to Scripture?

Now, if we’re going to use analogies, let’s be accurate. The man isn’t going under for the third time; he is stone cold dead at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where you once were when you were dead in sin and trespasses and walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. And while you were dead hath God quickened you together with Christ. God dove to the bottom of the sea and took that drowned corpse and breathed into it the breath of his life and raised you from the dead. And it’s not that you were dying in a hospital bed of a certain illness, but rather, when you were born you were born D.O.A. That’s what the Bible says: that we are morally stillborn.

Sproul goes on to describe a conversation he had with a believer who objected to his theology of grace. Sproul asked him how he came to be a Christian when his friend did not. In the end, the man says:

OK! I’ll say it. I’m a Christian because I did the right thing, I made the right response, and my friend didn’t.

Astonished, Sproul concludes (p. 5):

What was this person trusting in for his salvation? Not in his works in general, but in the one work that he performed. And he was a Protestant, an evangelical. But his view of salvation was no different from the Roman view.

Today, we have theologians (e.g. N T Wright), clergy (even in older Protestant denominations) and laity claiming that we must play a part in our salvation via ‘good works’. Divine grace cannot truly help us, certainly not fully; we must play our part and do something.

This semi-Pelagianism, made popular in the 16th century by Jacob Arminius who sought to deny the doctrine of grace as a comfort for Christians — when it did precisely the opposite, causing them endless anxiety — is the prevailing theology in many churches. And, he says, this anxiety will not disappear until — and unless (p. 6):

we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation

As an Episcopalian — and now, living in England, an Anglican — I had never heard of Reformation Day until a few years ago from reading Lutheran and Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) websites.

Many Protestants commemorate this day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517.

Luther’s actions on that day officially began the Reformation, which restored the authority of Scripture in informing Christian thought and way of life. The positive side for Protestants was the principle of justification by faith through grace.

The less positive — albeit necessary — aspect was Luther’s (and Protestants’) inevitable rupture with the established Church in Europe, the Catholic Church.

The Resurgence explains the background to the Ninety-Five Theses:

The Ninety-Five Theses were fueled by a controversy in the church regarding the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a statement made by the church that removed or satisfied the punishment for sin. Indulgences relied on the “treasury of merits.” According to this idea, many of the saints of the church died with more merit than they needed to enter into heaven. So, the excess merit was “stored,” and the Pope was the dispenser of these merits.

Catholics then and now believe that only those without sin will go to heaven upon death. Everyone else is sent to purgatory, which is halfway between heaven and hell.

Naturally, purgatory for believing Catholics is a concern just as it was in Martin Luther’s day. The difference between then and now is that the Church sold indulgences which the clergy claimed would reduce time spent in purgatory. The indulgences — written certificates — acted as a cleansing of sin for money. They served as a top-up for sins not forgiven by a priest in the confessional.

Today’s indulgences are brief prayers which can be memorised; there is no money involved. Catholics of a certain age who still have the Missal from their First Communion will see a section with these brief prayers. Next to each one is the number of days by which their time in purgatory is reduced, e.g. 365, provided one says the indulgence a certain number of times.

You might wonder how the pre-Reformation indulgence money was used. The Resurgence tells us:

Luther’s main opponent in the indulgence controversy targeted in the Ninety-Five Theses was Johann Tetzel, an indulgence salesman hired by Albrecht, the Archbishop of Mainz. Albrecht agreed to sponsor the rebuilding of St. P[eter]’s Cathedral in Rome, and the Pope agreed to grant a special indulgence that he could sell in order to raise the necessary funds.

There were crooked, corrupt middlemen who sold indulgences to the lower classes. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales describes their debauched lives — well worth reading.

Luther’s final three theses should ring bells even today, given the present state of Christ’s Bride:

92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace. 93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross. 94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells. 95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

Thanks to the brand new printing press, those sympathetic to the Reformation were able to spread Luther’s ideas quickly throughout Europe.

Basing his theology on Holy Scripture, Luther declared the free gift of God’s grace. What a blessing for those who were seeking assurance and questioned the practice of a written certificate as proof of forgiveness of sin.

The Examiner.com tells us how Luther’s insistence on a return to Scripture inspired other Reformers in Europe:

The conditions were perfect, as the truths declared by Luther set most of Europe ablaze with the biblical doctrines of grace and the ultimate recognition that “the just shall live by faith.” This principle of justification by faith became premise undergirding the posting of the ninety-five theses, an event that forever changed the world.

The site’s article is accompanied by a slide show of eight principal Reformers.

UPDATE: Since I compiled this post, The Resurgence seems to have changed the links for their two articles to which I have referred above.

It would be difficult to understand the Huguenots without a few notes about the spread of the Reformation.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject, however, certain points stand out, which are necessary to understand. I read on Protestant blogs where some clergy say the Reformation never should have happened. It seems that either these men have forgotten their Church history or did not learn it properly.

The Church (Catholic at that time), royalty and nobility were the elite. They worked together to further mutual interests. We saw this even where the small yet strategic island of Corsica was concerned.

On a more personal level, there was the corrupt sale of indulgences, as if one could buy God’s pardon. Geoffrey Chaucer covered this in The Canterbury Tales, which showed how vice- and disease-ridden some ‘holy’ pilgrims were, especially those allied with the Church, including those who sold indulgences.

The revival of Augustinianism

Over the centuries, as the Church gained temporal power, St Augustine of Hippo‘s teachings from the early centuries  gradually disappeared into the background. The Bloomington (Indiana) Reformed Presbyterian Church has a good history of the Reformation, which is well worth reading in full. On Augustine, they say (emphases mine):

Augustine was led to develop his doctrines of sin and grace partly through his own personal experience in being converted to Christianity from a worldly life, and partly through the necessity of refuting the teaching of Pelagius, who taught that man in his natural state had full ability to work out his own salvation, that Adam’s fall had but little effect on the race except that it set a bad example which is perpetuated, that Christ’s life is of value to men mainly by way of example, that in His death Christ was little more than the first Christian martyr, and that we are not under any special providence of God. Against these views Augustine developed the very opposite. He taught that the whole race fell in Adam, that all men by nature are depraved and spiritually dead, that the will is free to sin but not free to do good toward God, that Christ suffered vicariously for His people, that God elects whom He will irrespective of their merits, and that saving grace is efficaciously applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. He thus became the first true interpreter of Paul and was successful in securing the acceptance of his doctrine by the Church.

Predestination was generally put to one side and semi-Pelagianism came to the fore. (This remains true today, not only in the Catholic Church but also in a number of Protestant denominations.)

Earliest Reformers and mountain influence

Nonetheless, a few men began preaching Scripture in the early Middle Ages, gathering ardent followers around Europe. In France, Peter Waldo (b. 1140) began spreading the Gospel in his home city of Lyon. He commissioned a clergyman to translate the Bible into Arpitan, so that the people of southeastern France could understand it. (The Bible was read at Mass in Latin, which many could not understand, hence the proliferation of religious art in churches, which could communicate important biblical stories and theological concepts.)

Two centuries later, England’s John Wycliffe preached and wrote that the Bible was the ultimate religious authority. In 1380, he translated the New Testament into English. The University of Oxford removed him from their faculty the following year because he called for Church reform. He then switched to parish life in Oxfordshire and Leicestershire. He died in 1384, having finished his collaboration on a translation of the Old Testament into English. The Church condemned him as a heretic in 1415 and had his remains exhumed and cast into the River Swift in 1428.

Meanwhile, Jan (John) Hus(s) called for reform in Moldavia (part of today’s Czech Republic) and Bohemia. Peter Waldo and his Waldenses, ordered to leave France, ended up in Bohemia via Picardy (the northern French province where John Calvin was born). The Hussites were acquainted with Waldo’s teachings and were fiercely opposed to the power that the German emperor and the Church shared.

In fact, the Bogomil teachings which circulated between the 10th and the 15th centuries, covered nearly everywhere in Europe where the Reformation spread. Within these regions are a number of mountain regions with independent-minded inhabitants. During the Middle Ages, a number of these people quietly rebelled against the Church and adopted what they considered to be true Pauline teaching direct from the New Testament. Some of these influences came from the Waldenses, however, others — Bogomilism — had slightly earlier origins. Bogomilism is a heresy as it proposes that the Devil created the world.  Other mountain people in the south of France — the Albigenses and Cathars — were similarly influenced by Bogomilism. What all these mountain peoples had in common — heretics or no — was their personal integrity and an austere lifestyle. They disregarded the Church and their rulers which made them enemies of both.

Therefore, by the time Martin Luther came along, there was a diverse readiness for reform in many parts of Europe.

Enter Luther and widespread Augustianism

Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, knew St Augustine’s writing well. Thanks to his superior, John Staupitz, Luther began to move from intense introspection to reflection on the merits of Christ. Staupitz also encouraged his monks to

read the Scriptures eagerly, to hear them devotedly, and to learn them zealously.

It comes as no surprise then that Luther placed a great emphasis on the justification by grace through faith. Zwingli and Calvin also held this theological principle which runs throughout St Paul’s letters.

Luther’s collaborator, Philipp Melanchthon, the first systematic theologian of the Reformation, also held to this principle. However, over the centuries — some believe it started with Melanchthon’s later writings — the Lutheran Church, much to the disappointment of its more confessional members, has gravitated towards Universal Objective Justification (see Dr Gregory Jackson’s Ichabod for more). The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church’s history explains it this way:

Melanchthon in his earlier writings designated the principle of Predestination as the fundamental principle of Christianity. He later modified this position, however, and brought in a kind of “synergism” in which God and man were supposed to co-operate in the process of salvation. The position taken by the early Lutheran Church was gradually modified. Later Lutherans let go the doctrine altogether, denounced it in its Calvinistic [Augustinian??] form, and came to hold a doctrine of universal grace and universal atonement, which doctrine has since become the accepted doctrine of the Lutheran Church.

However, at the time of the Reformation, all Protestants held to basic Pauline tenets of original sin, predestination, efficacious grace and perseverance (i.e. God will not allow His own to fall away). As for the Lutherans specifically:

At the time of the Reformation the Lutheran Church did not make such a complete break with the Catholic Church as did the Reformed. In fact some Lutherans point out with pride that Lutheranism was a “moderate Reformation.” While all protestants appealed to the Bible as a final authority, the tendency in Lutheranism was to keep as much of the old system as did not have to be thrown out, while the tendency in the Reformed Church was to throw out all that did not have to be kept. And in regard to the relationship which existed between the Church and the State, the Lutherans were content to allow the local princes great influence in the Church or even to allow them to determine the religion within their bounds — a tendency leading toward the establishment of a State Church — while the Reformed soon came to demand complete separation between Church and State.

Calvin the codifier

What Luther began, John Calvin took much further:

To a great extent Calvin built upon the foundation which Luther laid. His clearer insight into the basic principles of the Reformation enabled him to work them out more fully and to apply them more broadly … Calvin stressed the principle of the sovereignty of God, and developed a principle which was more objective and theological.

One of the reasons I believe there is an attraction of Catholics to Calvinism and vice versa is the codification of beliefs. Each has a clear set of theological answers for every human circumstance. Personally, as an ex-Catholic, I am comfortable with the content from Calvinistic canons and catechisms.  They answer the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what abouts’ just as the Catholic catechism and Canon Law does for Roman Catholics. Calvin started a deep exploration of the Bible with regard to the Protestant faith, drawing heavily on Augustine’s writing.

By Calvin’s time, persecution by state and Church had begun against Protestants. Calvin had to flee France for Basel, prior to his arrival in Geneva. No doubt that influenced his zeal and focus on his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he published in 1536, just three years after he decided to become a Protestant.  His study of law no doubt had an additional effect on the precision he put into his apologetics for the faith.

The Oxford historian Froude, although no admirer of Calvinism, nevertheless had this to say:

“… For hard times hard men are needed, and intellects which can pierce to the roots where truth and lies part company. It fares ill with the soldiers of religion when ‘the accursed thing’ is in the camp. And this is to be said of Calvin, that so far as the state of knowledge permitted, no eye could have detected more keenly the unsound spots in the creed of the Church, nor was there a Reformer in Europe so resolute to exercise, tear out and destroy what was distinctly seen to be false — so resolute to establish what was true in its place, and make truth, to the last fibre of it, the rule of practical life.” 1

This is the testimony of the famous historian from Oxford University. Froude’s writings make it plain that he had no particular love for Calvinism; and in fact he is often called a critic of Calvinism. These words just quoted simply express the impartial conclusions of a great scholar who looks at the system and the man whose name it bears from the vantage ground of learned investigation.

In another connection Froude says: “The Calvinists have been called intolerant. Intolerance of an enemy who is trying to kill you seems to me a pardonable state of mind . . . The Catholics chose to add to their already incredible creed a fresh article, that they were entitled to hang and burn those who differed from them; and in this quarrel the Calvinists, Bible in hand, appealed to the God of battles. They grew harsher, fiercer, — if you please, more fanatical. It was extremely natural that they should. They dwelt, as pious men are apt to dwell in suffering and sorrow, on the all-disposing power of Providence. Their burden grew lighter as they considered that God had so determined that they must bear it. But they attracted to their ranks almost every man in Western Europe that ‘ hated a lie.'”

Calvin’s writing influenced the translators of the Geneva Bible, the compilation of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which support predestination (Article XVII) and John Knox who, rightly or wrongly, turned Scotland Calvinist. Calvinism also spread to the Low Countries as well as throughout France, although it is a minority denomination in that country today because of the Wars of Religion.

Calvinism in France — the Huguenots

Although the Reformation began in France with Lutheranism, later, John Calvin led the Huguenots.

As I mentioned upthread, the Huguenots adopted the attitudes and teachings of the earliest Reformers. They were honest, diligent, plain-living people:

Their moral purity and heroism, whether persecuted at home or exiled abroad, has been the wonder of both friend and foe.”12 “Their history,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “is a standing marvel, illustrating the abiding power of strong religious conviction. The account of their endurance is amongst the most remarkable and heroic records of religious history.” The Huguenots made up the industrious artisan class of France and to be “honest as a Huguenot” became a proverb, denoting the highest degree of integrity

And again, “In every respect they stood immeasurably superior to all the rest of their fellow-countrymen. The strict sobriety of their lives, the purity of their moral actions, their industrious habits, and their entire separation from the foul sensuality which corrupted the whole of the national life of France at this period, were always effectual means of betraying the principles which they held, and were so regarded by their enemies.” 14

Calvin:

gave the Huguenots their creed and form of government. Throughout the following period it was, according to the unanimous testimony of history, the system of faith which we call Calvinism that inspired the French Protestants in their struggle with the papacy and its royal supporters.

By 1561:

the Calvinists numbered one-fourth of the entire population. McFetridge places the number even higher. “In less than half a century,” says he, “this so-called harsh system of belief had penetrated every part of the land, and had gained to its standards almost one-half of the population and almost every great mind in the nation. So numerous and powerful had its adherents become that for a time it appeared as if the entire nation would be swept over to their views.” 15 Smiles, in his “Huguenots in France,” writes: “It is curious to speculate on the influence which the religion of Calvin, himself a Frenchman, might have exercised on the history of France, as well as on the individual character of the Frenchman, had the balance of forces carried the nation bodily over to Protestantism, as was very nearly the case, toward the end of the sixteenth century,” (p. 100). Certainly the history of the nation would have been very different from that which it has been.

Today, even a number of French Catholics and historians agree that driving out Protestants represented a great loss to the nation. Expert weavers, lacemakers and clockmakers took their skills elsewhere in the world by necessity. Today, although most cities have a Reformed church, Protestants number around half a million nationwide. There are many more Muslims in France; Islam is the second world faith in the nation after Catholicism.

Calvinists — defenders of the Reformation

More on the Huguenots tomorrow.

For now, let it be said that the Calvinists left a huge legacy, like it or not. The Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church offers these insights:

If the spirit of Calvinism had not arisen in Western Europe following the outbreak of the Reformation, the spirit of half-heartedness would have gained the day in England, Scotland and Holland. Protestantism in these countries could not have maintained itself; and, through the compromising measures of a Romanized Protestantism, Germany would in all probability have been again brought under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church. Had Protestantism failed in any one of these countries it is probable that the result would have been fatal in the others also, so intimately were their fortunes bound together. In a very real sense the future destiny of nations was dependent on the outcome of that struggle in the Netherlands. Had Spain been victorious in the Netherlands, it is probable that the Catholic Church would have been so strengthened that it would have subdued Protestantism in England also. And, even as things were, it looked for a time as though England would be turned back to Romanism. In that case the development of America would automatically have been prevented and in all probability the whole American continent would have remained under the control of Spain.

Let us remember further that practically all of the martyrs in these various countries were Calvinists,- the Lutheran, s and Arminians being only a handful in comparison. As Professor Fruin justly remarks, “In Switzerland, in France, in the Netherlands, in Scotland and in England, and wherever Protestantism has had to establish itself at the point of the sword, it was Calvinism that gained the day“…

There is also one other service which Holland has rendered and which we must not overlook. The Pilgrims, after being driven out of England by religious persecutions and before their coming to America, went to Holland and there came into contact with a religious life which from the Calvinistic point of view was beneficial in the extreme. Their most important leaders were Clyfton, Robinson, and Brewster, three Cambridge University men, who form as noble and heroic trio as can be found in the history of any nation. They were staunch Calvinists holding all the fundamental views that the Reformer of Geneva had propounded. The American historian Bancroft is right when he simply calls the Pilgrim-fathers, “men of the same faith with Calvin.”

Exaudi Sunday takes place between the Ascension (always a Thursday) and Pentecost, ten days later.

I have read that it is the saddest Sunday of the Church year. The faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ’s ascent into heaven and then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

There are several New Testament readings of import for this time. I shall run the risk of repeating myself with the following

Luke 3:16-17 with John the Baptist’s succinct prophecy:

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John 16:5-11 from the Last Supper where Jesus said (emphases mine):

5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Acts 1:4-9 with His final words before returning to God the Father:

4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them,  “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

In English (ESV) Psalm 17:1 is as follows:

1Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry!
   Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
2From your presence let my vindication come!
   Let your eyes behold the right!

Another match is Daniel 9:17, which was the basis for the Exaudi Domine which Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526-1594) wrote:

17Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.

It is a beautiful chant. The minor key brings to life the sense of loss Jesus’s loyal band of disciples must have felt between Ascension and Pentecost:

This is a collect often used on Exaudi Sunday:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

And, for us today, we who long for Christ’s return, we have the Holy Spirit working through the Law and the Gospel for our salvation.

As Dr Gregory Jackson, host of Ichabod, explains:

The manifold grace of God is another way of saying the Gospel. The word Gospel is used often, but most of the time the term is abused.

Although the Holy Spirit works through the Law, its role is limited. The Law stirs up knowledge of sin without solving the problem of sin. The Law makes us feel the guilt of sin but the Law cannot forgive our sins. All the “transforming” preachers of today use the Law to make people feel they do are not producing the fruit of the Gospel, but those law condemnations do not produce the desired fruit. The law programs to do that only make matters worse, filling people with notions of being holier than the rest. This is important to realize from Luther. The Gospel alone forgives, saves, and bears the fruit of the Spirit

The Law makes us fearful, but the Gospel gives us peace through forgiveness of sin. That forgiveness is complete and free. That is why the law-salesmen become so angry and vindictive, when their kingdom of merits is threatened in any way. They want people enslaved by their man-made laws, not set free by the Gospel. They want people to ignore the Word for their words (which are never-ending) …

God’s will is carried out only through His Word, and this Word is always united with the divine energy of His Holy Spirit. Isaiah 55:8-11

The Holy Spirit works through the Law to condemn our sins against the Ten Commandments, our spiritual sins (First Table) against God, which lead to the more visible sins against our neighbor (Second Table).

God uses the preaching and teaching of the Gospel to plant and sustain faith in the crushed hearts of contrite sinners. The Gospel message is summarized:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” KJV John 3:16.

The proclamation of the Gospel is carried out through the invisible Word of preaching and teaching, the visible Word of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. God grants grace only through His instruments, the Means of Grace.

Those who believe in the Gospel of Christ receive what He has promised, complete and free forgiveness of sin. God declares that person forgiven – justification by faith. Romans 5:1-2.

The fruits of the Spirit follow from faith in Christ, and God is glorified by all things done in faith. Those who wish to harvest more for the Kingdom should broadcast the Word with complete abandon, trusting in God’s Promises.

To enjoy the benefits of the Gospel, we abide in the Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments. They are the treasures of the Church which give us 100% of the blessings God wishes to impart to us.

These are the gifts and benefits on which we may reflect between the Ascension and Pentecost — and beyond.

The Church and Her faithful have endured persecution as Jesus foretold at the Last Supper in John 15:26 – John 16:4:

26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

1“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

As the Holy Spirit was sent to the original 70 disciples, so He continues to be with us today. Martin Luther (H/T: Dr Jackson) had this to say on Exaudi Sunday about the aforementioned verses from John’s Gospel in light of the Church:

We have the comfort of this victory of Christ—that He maintains His Church against the wrath and power of the devil; but in the meantime we must endure such stabs and cruel wounds from the devil as are necessarily painful to our flesh and blood. The hardest part is that we must see and suffer all these things from those who call themselves the people of God and the Christian Church. We must learn to accept these things calmly, for neither Christ nor the saints have fared better.”
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 263. Exaudi John 15:26-16:4.

“Nevertheless, He has said that the Holy Spirit should testify of him and that they also should bear witness; and He assures them that their testimony shall not be effaced by this rage and persecution of the world.”
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 258. Exaudi John 15:26-16:4.

Therefore, let us continue to witness in our own lives as Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Exaudi Sunday is the last Sunday in Eastertide, which ends on the day before Pentecost. Pentecost Sunday in 2013 is May 19.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomYesterday’s post reproduced the first part of a Martin Luther Easter sermon which dates from the 1520s (H/T: Glosses from an Old Manse). It examined the timeline between Jesus’s death and rising again as well as the devotion of the women who discovered the empty tomb. Luther took as his text Mark 16:1-8.

The concluding part of Luther’s sermon discusses what Christians can anticipate as a result of the Resurrection. What struck me about the following were the warnings Luther sounded against feeling, something which opposes faith. This is important in an age where we are governed by our own emotions and sentimentality. Note that we also have a lower level of Christian faith these days than when we viewed life less emotionally.

Luther concludes with an excellent observation on why we die. Emphases mine below.

II. THE FRUITS AND BENEFITS OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.

6. St. Paul writes in Romans 4, 25 as follows: “Christ was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Paul is indeed the man who extols Christ in a masterly manner, telling us exactly why and for what purpose he suffered and how we should conform ourselves to his sufferings, namely, that he died for our sins. This is a correct interpretation of the sufferings of Christ, by which we may profit. And as it is not sufficient to know and believe that Christ has died, so it will not suffice to know and believe that he rose with a transfigured body and is now in a state of joy and blessedness, no longer subject to mortality, for all this would profit me nothing or very little. But when I come to understand the fact that all the works God does in Christ are done for me, nay, they are bestowed upon and given to me, the effect of his resurrection being that I also will arise and live with him; that will cause me to rejoice. This must be brought home to our hearts, and we must not merely hear it with the ears of our body nor merely confess it with our mouth.

7. You have heard in the story of the Passion how Christ is portrayed as our exemplar and helper, and that he who follows him and clings to him receives the Spirit, who will enable him also to suffer. But the words of Paul are more Christian and should come closer home to our hearts and comfort us more, when he says: “Christ was raised for our justification.” Here the Lamb is truly revealed, of whom John the Baptist testifies, when he says in Jn 1, 29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” Here is fulfilled that which was spoken to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head,” which means that for all those who believe in him, hell, death, and the devil and sin have been destroyed. In the same manner the promise is fulfilled to-day which God gave to Abraham, when he said in Gen 22, 18: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Here Christ is meant, who takes away our curse and the power of sin, death and the devil.

8. All this is done, I say, by faith. For if you believe that by this seed the serpent has been slain, then it is slain for you; and if you believe that in this seed all nations are to be blessed, then you are also blessed. For each one individually should have crushed the serpent under foot and redeemed himself from the curse, which would have been too difficult, nay impossible for us. But now it has been done easily, namely, by Christ, who has crushed the serpent once, who alone is given as a blessing and benediction, and who has caused this Gospel to be published throughout the world, so that he who believes, accepts it and clings to it, is also in possession of it, and is assured that it is as he believes. For in the heart of such a man the Word becomes so powerful that he will conquer death, the devil, sin and all adversity, like Christ himself did. So mighty is the Word that God himself would sooner be vanquished than that his Word should be conquered.

9. This is the meaning of the words by St. Paul: “Christ was raised for our justification.” Here Paul turns my eyes away from my sins and directs them to Christ, for if I look at my sins, they will destroy me. Therefore I must look unto Christ who has taken my sins upon himself, crushed the head of the serpent and become the blessing. Now they no longer burden my conscience, but rest upon Christ, whom they desire to destroy. Let us see how they treat him. They hurl him to the ground and kill him. 0 God; where is now my Christ and my Saviour? But then God appears, delivers Christ and makes him alive; and not only does he make him alive, but he translates him into heaven and lets him rule over all. What has now become of sin? There it lies under his feet. If I then cling to this, I have a cheerful conscience like Christ, because I am without sin. Now I can defy death, the devil, sin and hell to do me any harm. As I am a child of Adam, they can indeed accomplish it that I must die. But since Christ has taken my sins upon himself, has died for them, has suffered himself to be slain on account of my sins, they can no longer harm me; for Christ is too strong for them, they cannot keep him, he breaks forth and overpowers them, ascends into heaven (takes sin and sorrow captive, Ed. 1531), and rules there over all throughout eternity. Now I have a clear conscience, am joyful and happy and am no longer afraid of this tyrant, for Christ has taken my sins away from me and made them his own. But they cannot remain upon him; what then becomes of them? They must disappear and be destroyed. This then is the effect of faith. He who believes that Christ has taken away our sin, is without sin, like Christ himself, and death, the devil and hell are vanquished as far as he is concerned and they can no longer harm him.

10. Here we also refer to the passage in Hosea 13, 14, which Paul quotes in reference to the victory that Christ has won by his resurrection and by which he has conquered sin, death, hell and all our enemies. Paul says that death is swallowed up in this victory, and he defies death with these words: “0 death, where is thy victory? 0 death, where is thy sting?” just as if Paul would say: 0 death, where are thy teeth? Come, bite off one of my fingers. Thou formerly hadst a spear, what has become of it now? Christ has taken it from thee. Death, where is now thy spear, etc.? Sin, where is now the edge of thy sword and thy power? Paul says that the power of sin is the law. The more clearly we understand the law, the more sin oppresses and stings us. For this reason Paul says that Christ has completely destroyed and annihilated the spear and whetstone of death. Now, this Gospel he has not taken with him into heaven, but he caused it to be preached throughout the world, so that for him who believes in Christ, spear and whetstone, nay, sin and death, should be destroyed. This is the true Gospel, which bestows life, strength, power and marrow, and of which all the passages of Scripture speak.

11. Therefore seek and learn to know Christ aright, for the whole Scriptures confer upon us the righteousness of the true knowledge of Christ. But this must be brought about by the Holy Spirit. Let us therefore pray God that his Gospel may prosper, that we all may truly learn to know Christ and thus rise with him and be honored by God as he was honored.

12. The question now arises: If Christ has taken away death and our sins by his resurrection and has justified us, why do we then still feel death and sin within us? For our sins torment us still, we are stung by our conscience, and this evil conscience creates the fear of hell.

13. To this I reply: I have often said before that feeling and faith are two different things. It is the nature of faith not to feel, to lay aside reason and close the eyes, to submit absolutely to the Word, and follow it in life and death. Feeling however does not extend beyond that which may be apprehended by reason and the senses, which may be heard, seen, felt and known by the outward senses; For this cause feeling is opposed to faith and faith is opposed to feeling. Therefore the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes of faith: “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” For if we would see Christ visibly in heaven, like the visible sun, we would not need to believe it. But since Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification, we cannot see it nor feel it, neither can we comprehend it with our reason. Therefore we must disregard our feeling and accept only the Word, write it into our heart and cling to it, even though it seems as if my sins were not taken from me, and even though I still feel them within me. Our feelings must not be considered, but we must constantly insist that death, sin and hell have been conquered, although I feel that I am still under the power of death, sin and hell. For although we feel that sin is still in us, it is only permitted that our faith may be developed and strengthened, that in spite of all our feelings we accept the Word, and that we unite our hearts and consciences more and more to Christ. Thus faith leads us quietly, contrary to all feeling and comprehension of reason, through sin, through death and through hell. Then we shall see salvation before our eyes, and then we shall know perfectly what we have believed, namely, that death and all sorrow have been conquered.

14. Take as an illustration the fish in the water. When they are caught in the net, you lead it quietly along, so that they imagine they are still in the water; but when you draw them to the shore, they are exposed and begin to struggle, and then they first feel they are caught. Thus it also happens with souls that are caught with the Gospel, which Christ compares with a net, Mt 13,47. When the heart has been conquered, the Word unites this poor heart to Christ and leads it gently and quietly from hell and from sin, although the soul still feels sin and imagines to be still under its power. Then a conflict begins, the feelings struggling against the Spirit and faith, and the Spirit and faith against our feelings; and the more faith increases, the more our feelings diminish, and vice versa. We have still sins within us, as for instance pride, avarice, anger and so forth, but only in order to lead us to faith, so that faith may increase from day to day, and the man become finally a thorough Christian and keep the true sabbath, consecrating himself to Christ entirely. Then the conscience must become calm and satisfied and all the surging waves of sin subside. For as upon the sea one billow follows and buffets the other, as though they would destroy the shore, yet they must disappear and destroy themselves, so also our sins strive against us and would fain bring us to despair, but finally they must desist, grow weary and disappear.

15. In the second place, death is still at our elbow. It also is to exercise the faith of him who believes that death has been killed and all his power taken away. Now, reason feels that death is still at our elbow and is continually troubling us. He who follows his feelings will perish, but he who clings to the Word with his heart will be delivered. Now, if the heart clings to the Word, reason will also follow; but if reason follows, everything will follow, desire and love and all that is in man. Yea, we desire that all may come to the point when they may consider death to be dead and powerless. But this cannot come to pass until the old man, that is the old Adam, be entirely destroyed, and meanwhile that process has been going on of which Christ speaks in Mt 13, 33, where he compares the kingdom of God to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal. For even if the kneading has begun, the meal is not yet thoroughly leavened. So it is here. Although the heart clings to the belief that death and hell are destroyed, yet the leaven has not yet worked through it entirely. For it must penetrate and impregnate all the members of the body, until everything becomes leavened and pure, and there remains nothing but a pure faith. This will not be brought about before the old man is entirely destroyed; then all that is in man is Christlike from center to circumference.

16. These two things, sin and death, therefore remain with us to the end that we might cultivate and exercise our faith, in order that it may become more perfect in our heart from day to day and finally break forth, and all that we are, body and soul, become more Christlike. For when the heart clings to the Word, feelings and reasoning must fail. Then in the course of time the will also clings to the Word, and with the will everything else, our desire and love, till we surrender ourselves entirely to the Gospel, are renewed and leave the old sin behind. Then there comes a different light, different feelings, different seeing, different hearing, acting and speaking, and also a different outflow of good works. Now, our scholastics and papists have taught an external piety; they would command the eyes not to see, and the ears not to hear, and would put piety into our hearts from the outside. Ah, how far this is from the truth! But it comes in this way: When the heart and conscience cling to the Word in faith, they overflow in works, so that, when the heart is holy, all the members become holy, and good works follow naturally.

17. This is signified by the sabbath that was to be hallowed and on which the Lord lay quietly in the grave. It signifies that we should rest from all our works, should not stir, nay, should not allow any sin to stir within us, but we should firmly believe that death, hell, sin and the devil are destroyed by the death of Christ, and we are righteous, pious, holy and therefore contented, experiencing no longer any sin. Then all the members are calm and quiet, being convinced that sin and death are vanquished and prostrated. But this cannot be brought about, as I have said, until this impotent, wretched body and the old Adam are destroyed. Therefore it is indeed necessary that we are required to keep this sabbath. For as Christ lies in the grave on the sabbath, never feels nor moves, so it must be with us, as we have heard: Our feelings and actions must cease. And I say again that this cannot be accomplished before the old Adam is annihilated. Nevertheless we still experience sin and death within us, wrestle with them and fight against them. You may tie a hog ever so well, but you cannot prevent it from grunting (until it is strangled and killed Ed. 1530). Thus it is with the sins in our flesh. As they are not yet entirely conquered and killed, they are still active, but when death comes, they must also die, and then we are perfect Christians and pure, but not before. This is the reason why we must die, namely, that we may be entirely freed from sin and death. These words on the fruits of the resurrection of Christ may suffice for the present, and with them we will close. Let us pray God for grace that we may understand them and learn to know Christ aright.

A very happy Easter to all my readers!

Before we look at Martin Luther’s sermon, those wishing to know more about Holy Saturday may consult the following posts of mine:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Luther Rose stained glass 2Now to Luther. What follows is the first part of a sermon he preached sometime during the 1520s. It is part of his Church Postils, which date from the middle of that decade. (H/T: Glosses from an Old Manse).

Luther’s text is Mark 16:1-8:

The Resurrection

 1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back— it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This part of the sermon helps to answer enquirers’ questions about how long Christ’s body lay in the tomb prior to His Resurrection. Luther also discusses the profound — and bold — love on the part of the women who went to visit His tomb. May we know the same in our faith in Christ. Emphases mine below.

I. THE STORY OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION.

1. In the first place we shall briefly examine the text of this narrative, and afterwards speak of the benefits of the resurrection of Christ, and how we should build upon it. The text reads: “And when the sabbath was past.” Here we must remember Mark writes of the sabbath according to the custom of the Hebrews, for according to the Jewish reckoning the day began in the evening and lasted until the evening of the next day, as the first chapter of Genesis says: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day,” “a second day,” “a third day,” and so forth. Thus the first and greatest Sabbath began on the evening of the day when Christ was crucified, that is to say at the time of sunset on the evening of Friday. Our reckoning conveys the wrong sense. Yesterday was the great Sabbath, when Christ lay in the grave; in addition to this the Jews had seven full days which they celebrated and all of which they called sabbaths, counting them from the first holiday after the great Sabbath and calling it prima sabbathorum (first of the sabbaths), and the third holiday secundarn sabbathorurn (second of the sabbaths), and so forth. On these days they ate only wafers and unleavened bread, for which reason they are also called by the Evangelist the days of unleavened bread. From this we must conclude that Christ rose before sunrise and before the angel descended in the earthquake. Afterwards the angel only came to open the empty grave, etc., as has been clearly described by the Evangelists.

2. The question now arises: How can we say that he rose on the third day, since he lay in the grave only one day and two nights? According to the Jewish calculation it was only a day and a half; how shall we then persist in believing there were three days? To this we reply that he was in the state of death for at least a part of all three days. For he died at about two o’clock on Friday and consequently was dead for about two hours on the first day. After that night he lay in the grave all day, which is the true Sabbath. On the third day, which we commemorate now, he rose from the dead and so remained in the state of death a part of this day, just as if we say that something occurred on Easter-day, although it happens in the evening, only a portion of the day. In this sense Paul and the Evangelists say that be rose on the third day.

3. For this period and no longer Christ was to lie in the grave, so that we might suppose that his body remained naturally uncorrupted and that decomposition had not yet set in. He came forth from the grave so soon that we might presume that corruption had not yet taken place according to the course of nature; for a corpse can lie no longer than three days before it begins to decompose. Therefore Christ was to rise on the third day, before he saw corruption.

4. The great longing and love of the women for the Lord must also be particularly noted here, so that unadvised and alone they go early to the grave, not thinking of the great stone which was rolled before the tomb. They might have thought of this and taken a man with them. But they act like timid and sorrowing persons, and therefore they go on their way without even thinking of the most necessary things. They do not even think of the watchers who were clad in armor, nor of the wrath of Pilate and the Jews, but boldly they freely risk it and alone they venture on their way. What urged these good women to hazard life and body? It was nothing but the great love they bore to the Lord, which had sunk so deeply into their hearts that for his sake they would have risked a thousand lives. Such courage they had not of themselves, but here the power of the resurrection of Christ was revealed, whose Spirit makes these women, who by nature are timid, so bold and courageous that they venture to do things which might – have daunted a man.

5. These women also show us a beautiful example of a spiritual heart that undertakes an impossible task, of which the whole world would despair. Yet a heart like this stands firm and accomplishes it, not thinking the task impossible. So much we say for the present on this narrative, and now let us see what are the fruits and benefits of the resurrection of Christ.

Tomorrow: Part II — The fruits and benefits of Christ’s Resurrection

Cross silhouette HTR097Earlier this week, I featured the first two parts — false and true views — of Martin Luther’s sermon from 1519, ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’.

If you have not yet had a chance to read them, please do before moving on to the third part of the sermon which anticipates Easter.

The Revd Mark Henderson, who featured it last year on his site, tells us that this was one of Luther’s most popular sermons.

Emphases mine below.

III. THE COMFORT OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS.

12. Until the present we have been in the Passion week and have celebrated Good Friday in the right way: now we come to Easter and Christ’s resurrection. When man perceives his sins in this light and is completely terror-stricken in his conscience, he must be on his guard that his sins do not thus remain in his conscience, and nothing but pure doubt certainly come out of it; but just as the sins flowed out of Christ and we became conscious of them, so should we pour them again upon him and set our conscience free. Therefore see well to it that you act not like perverted people, who bite and devour themselves with their sins in their heart, and run here and there with their good works or their own satisfaction, or even work themselves out of this condition by means of indulgences and become rid of their sins; which is impossible, and, alas, such a false refuge of satisfaction and pilgrimages has spread far and wide.

13. Thirteenthly. Then cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4, 25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.

14. Fourteenthly. Now if you are not able to believe, then, as I said before, you should pray to God for faith. For this is a matter in the hands of God that is entirely free, and is also bestowed alike at times knowingly, at times secretly, as was just said on the subject of suffering.

15. But now bestir yourself to the end: first, not to behold Christ’s sufferings any longer; for they have already done their work and terrified you; but press through all difficulties and behold his friendly heart, how full of love it is toward you, which love constrained him to bear the heavy load of your conscience and your sin. Thus will your heart be loving and sweet toward him, and the assurance of your faith be strengthened. Then ascend higher through the heart of Christ to the heart of God, and see that Christ would not have been able to love you if God had not willed it in eternal love, to which Christ is obedient in his love toward you; there you will find the divine, good father heart, and, as Christ says, be thus drawn to the Father through Christ. Then will you understand the saying of Christ in Jn 3, 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc. That means to know God aright, if we apprehend him not by his power and wisdom, which terrify us, but by his goodness and love; there our faith and confidence can then stand immovable and man is truly thus born anew in God.

16. Sixteenthly. When your heart is thus established in Christ, and you are an enemy of sin, out of love and not out of fear of punishment, Christ’s sufferings should also be an example for your whole life, and you should meditate on the same in a different way. For hitherto we have considered Christ’s Passion as a sacrament that works in us and we suffer; now we consider it, that we also work, namely thus: if a day of sorrow or sickness weighs you down, think, how trifling that is compared with the thorns and nails of Christ. If you must do or leave undone what is distasteful to you: think, how Christ was led hither and thither, bound and a captive. Does pride attack you: behold, how your Lord was mocked and disgraced with murderers. Do unchastity and lust thrust themselves against you: think, how bitter it was for Christ to have his tender flesh torn, pierced and beaten again and again. Do hatred and envy war against you, or do you seek vengeance: remember how Christ with many tears and cries prayed for you and all his enemies, who indeed had more reason to seek revenge. If trouble or whatever adversity of body or soul afflict you, strengthen your heart and say: Ah, why then should I not also suffer a little since my Lord sweat blood in the garden because of anxiety and grief? That would be a lazy, disgraceful servant who would wish to lie in his bed while his lord was compelled to battle with the pangs of death.

17. Behold, one can thus find in Christ strength and comfort against all vice and bad habits. That is the right observance of Christ’s Passion, and that is the fruit of his suffering, and he who exercises himself thus in the same does better than by hearing the whole Passion or reading all masses. And they are called true Christians who incorporate the life and name of Christ into their own life, as St. Paul says in Gal 5, 24: “And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” For Christ’s Passion must be dealt with not in words and a show, but in our lives and in truth. Thus St. Paul admonishes us in Heb 12, 3: “For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls;” and St. Peter in his 1 Epistle 4, 1: “As Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind.” But this kind of meditation is now out of use and very rare, although the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter are full of it. We have changed the essence into a mere show, and painted the meditation of Christ’s sufferings only in letters and on walls.

It’s interesting that Luther mentions such a meditation was as rare in his time as it is today. True then, truer now — sadly.

luther-roseContinuing with Martin Luther’s sermon from 1519 on contemplation of Christ’s sufferings, today’s post covers the true views. The first part outlines the false views. The full sermon is featured at the Revd Mark Henderson’s Glosses from an Old Manse. Emphases mine below.

II. THE TRUE VIEW OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS.

4. Fourthly, they meditate on the Passion of Christ aright, who so view Christ that they become terror-stricken in heart at the sight, and their conscience at once sinks in despair. This terror-stricken feeling should spring forth, so that you see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that his only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them as is mentioned in Is 53, 8: “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” What happens to the sinner, when the dear child is thus stricken? An earnestness must be present that is inexpressible and unbearable, which a person so immeasurably great goes to meet, and suffers and dies for it; and if you reflect upon it really deeply, that God’s Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, himself suffers, you will indeed be terror-stricken; and the more you reflect the deeper will be the impression.

5. Fifthly, that you deeply believe and never doubt the least, that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2, 36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: “Him have ye crucified,” so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: “0 beloved brethren what shall we do?” Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns, believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc.

6. Sixthly, now see, where one thorn pierces Christ, there more than a thousand thorns should pierce thee, yea, eternally should they thus and even more painfully pierce thee. Where one nail is driven through his hands and feet, thou shouldst eternally suffer such and even more painful nails; as will be also visited upon those who let Christ’s sufferings be lost and fruitless as far as they are concerned. For this earnest mirror, Christ, will neither lie nor mock; whatever he says must be fully realized.

7. Seventhly, St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Lk 23, 28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: “All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him”; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2, 37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: “0, brethren, what shall we do?” So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.

8. Eighthly, one must skillfully exercise himself in this point, for the benefit of Christ’s sufferings depends almost entirely upon man coming to a true knowledge of himself, and becoming terror-stricken and slain before himself. And where man does not come to this point, the sufferings of Christ have become of no true benefit to him. For the characteristic, natural work of Christ’s sufferings is that they make all men equal and alike, so that as Christ was horribly martyred as to body and soul in our sins, we must also like him be martyred in our consciences by our sins. This does not take place by means of many words, but by means of deep thoughts and a profound realization of our sins. Take an illustration: If an evil-doer were judged because he had slain the child of a prince or king, and you were in safety, and sang and played, as if you were entirely innocent, until one seized you in a horrible manner and convinced you that you had enabled the wicked person to do the act; behold, then you would be in the greatest straits, especially if your conscience also revolted against you. Thus much more anxious you should be, when you consider Christ’s sufferings. For the evil doers, the Jews, although they have now judged and banished God, they have still been the servants of your sins, and you are truly the one who strangled and crucified the Son of God through your sins, as has been said.

9. Ninthly, whoever perceives himself to be so hard and sterile that he is not terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings and led to a knowledge of him, he should fear and tremble. For it cannot be otherwise; you must become like the picture and sufferings of Christ, be it realized in life or in hell; you must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to attend to this on your deathbed; therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate upon Christ’s Passion. For it is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power. For in this way it happens that those referred to above never treat the sufferings of Christ aright; for they never call upon God to that end, but devise out of their own ability their own way, and treat those sufferings entirely in a human and an unfruitful manner.

10. Tenthly, whoever meditates thus upon God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yea, for a quarter of an hour, we wish to say freely and publicly, that it is better than if he fasts a whole year, prays the Psalter every day, yea, than if he hears a hundred masses. For such a meditation changes a man’s character and almost as in baptism he is born again, anew. Then Christ’s suffering accomplishes its true, natural and noble work, it slays the old Adam, banishes all lust, pleasure and security that one may obtain from God’s creatures; just like Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.

11. Eleventhly, since then such a work is not in our hands, it happens that sometimes we pray and do not receive it at the time; in spite of this one should not despair nor cease to pray. At times it comes when we are not praying for it, as God knows and wills; for it will be free and unbound: then man is distressed in conscience and is wickedly displeased with his own life, and it may easily happen that he does not know that Christ’s Passion is working this very thing in him, of which perhaps he was not aware, just like the others so exclusively meditated on Christ’s Passion that in their knowledge of self they could not extricate themselves out of that state of meditation. Among the first the sufferings of Christ are quite and true, among the others a show and false, and according to its nature God often turns the leaf, so that those who do not meditate on the Passion, really do meditate on it; and those who hear the mass, do not hear it; and those who hear it not, do hear it.

Late Thursday / Friday: Part III — The Comfort of Christ’s Sufferings

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