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This week’s issue of French newsweekly Marianne has a cover story on conspiracy theories (No. 932, February 27 – March 5, 2015).

One of the articles (pp 16-17) traces the origins of the modern conspiracy theory all the way back to the 16th century.

Intrigued, I did more research and came across an essay from 2013 by German historian Cornel Zwierlein, Security Politics and Conspiracy Theories in the Emerging European State System (15th/16th c.)’.

Renaissance priorities and plots

The Renaissance, to borrow Dickens’s words, was the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, Europe was able to revisit philosophy, recapture classical styles of sculpture and develop the arts in a highly sophisticated manner. Commerce flourished as a new merchant class arose.

The new availability of paper and the printing press made the Reformation possible. Protestants were finally able to hear the Bible in their own tongue. The wealthier ones could read Scripture for themselves.

On the other hand, international political plots saw the light of day as did religious conspiracies against the state.

Cornel Zwierlein tells us that the overriding priority of European rulers in the Middle Ages was peace (p. 68). Nobles, princes and kings sought agreement with each other. Safety was also a concern but was more concerned with that of the highways and byways which existed at that time as well as in maritime transport.

During the Renaissance, priorities of those in power changed. Reviving the notion of state security, or securitas — reminiscent of the ancient Roman Empire — was seen as a political aim and virtue.

Zwierlein’s essay highlights Italy’s various nation-states of that era. What went on there, he says, was a ‘laboratory’ of political development.

Lorenzo de’ Medici was instrumental in emphasising the importance of bringing these states together as allies in the 15th century (p. 67).

In order to do this, state and papal officials began an informal intelligence service, tracking who might be on their side and who might be forming different alliances. Roads were improving, allowing couriers to deliver messages more quickly. Thanks to the export of paper from Aragon to Italy, not only were notes and letters more convenient to compose but political diaries were also made possible. This was the era when communication flow began in earnest (p. 73) and has continued ever since.

Political written communication evolved during this time to incorporate what Zwierlein calls ‘hard’ things ( e.g. institutions) with ‘soft’ things, such as semantics and narrative. He explains (p. 74):

The controlling of a network of office holders “inside” and “outside” the state from a center is one of the most important features – possible only with the help of paper-based communication.

The steady creation and influx of written communication became state business in and of itself. Comparatively ‘live’ information became highly important in immediate decision-making or adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. Officials knew their subject and analysed it minutely. They created written archives. All of this led to (p. 74):

distinctions between “internal” and “external” affairs, between “internal”and “external” security, between an emerging public sphere and the secrecy of arcane politics, between simulation, dissimulation and real actions appear as well as those concepts that refer to the above-mentioned interdependency of states, foremost the famous “equilibrium”, measurement of alliances and allies, neutrality (Zwierlein 2006b).

Lorenzo de’ Medici died in the year Columbus discovered America. He was known as ‘The Magnificent’, il Magnifico (p. 75). Arts students think of him as Florence’s great patron. However, he was also the power behind Italian rulers and thinkers of his time. He could be considered as the father of balance-to-power politics.

He promoted state ‘equilibrium’ (contrapeso), ‘common security’ and ‘tranquillity’ (p. 76). Our present-day ‘international security’ evolved from his concepts. With regard to Italy, he wanted to create an interdependence among the various states that existed on the peninsula at the time. However, he was keenly aware that the most powerful ones — Venice, Naples and Milan — preferred to remain apart. His concern for the economic prosperity of the day was of paramount importance along with a wish to avoid regional war.

In order to achieve his aims, updated written intelligence was essential. Any uncertainties needed clarification, therefore, ‘avvisi’ — news — became a priority (p. 79). Another consideration was that rulers might change their minds on political matters (p. 80):

it is hard to “read” their hidden intentions; there are hidden secrets, things that Lorenzo is not able to know; and that stimulates his “fantasia”.

Consequently, he, other rulers, ambassadors and officials began to draw their own conclusions about certain plans, projects and motivations. Whilst fact was involved, there was also conjecture and supposition.

It would be wrong to say that de’ Medici and other information-gatherers promoted conspiracy theories. They assessed their intelligence diligently, however, they knew they did not always have the facts.

By the 1530s, those gathering intelligence information and avvisi (news) were able to assemble general regional newsletters (p. 82), the forerunner of early newspapers.

It is interesting to note that these early journalists wrote anonymously to protect their sources and themselves. Thanks to a more organised courier system, these printed sheets of paper carried the narratives of the day. Kings, princes and nobles were delighted to see their names in print: the more frequently, the better.

This system of frequently printed and delivered news spread across Europe by the end of the 16th century. The first formal newspapers appeared in the 17th century.

Wars of Religion and Counter-Reformation

Less scrupulous and more emotional men later began adopting this same information-sifting process and drew premature or wild conclusions. Often, they were from religious or political minorities.

This type of fractured narrative holds true of today’s conspiracy theories. Fact is accompanied by an additional and new narrative which turns the original version on its head. Those who feel marginalised or under-represented latch onto it.

Zwierlein tells us that the process for the modern conspiracy theory did not evolve until the Wars of Religion in France and the Counter-Reformation in Europe. The Protestants in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and France feared Catholic dominance. Persecution of Protestants took place in the Netherlands and France in the 16th century.

Protestants considered pamphlet writing (anonymously), printing (or copying by hand) and distribution as important for their fellow men (p. 82). However, some of these contained unfounded projections about (p. 83):

the international state system and the politico-religious competition within and between the states of that system. 12

The best example of this, Zwierlein says, was a Protestant newsletter explaining a 17-point pan-European conspiracy on the part of Catholic rulers, with the help of papal funding, to depose Protestant ones and ensure that Catholicism was the only form of Christianity. The pamphlet minutely detailed how this would come about. The supposed plan involved Germany, Spain, Scotland, England, France and influential nobility of the day (pp. 83-84).

Whilst the author’s knowledge of the personalities and past politics of the major players was exceptional, Zwierlein says the conclusions were less plausible (p. 84). Anyone who has studied history will know that one cannot have a notional secret alliance involving too many parties. Furthermore, each of the nations involved would have had particular political or territorial interests which would have made it unlikely that a common cause, even Catholicism, could bring them together in concert, especially for such a huge undertaking.

Not surprisingly, a few years later, the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots in France engendered a number of printed and handwritten pamphlets which circulated all over Europe (p. 84). These brought conspiracy theories to a wider audience.

However, this bloody day in French history also brought about an early propaganda narrative. The first of the pamphlets appeared ten days after news reached Rome of the massacre. Its author was Camillo Capilupi who not only was a secret chamberlain of the Pope but also an agent of the Duke of Nantua, who was one of the masterminds  behind the massacre and a Franco-Italian of the house of Gonzaga. Capilupi entitled his work ‘Stratagem’ and used terms such as astuzia and prudenza in his elaborate description of the French king Charles IX’s brilliance in bringing this deadly plan to fruition (p. 85). In reality, Charles IX was a young king considered to be weak, relying on his mother and powerful advisers.

However successful Capilupi thought his pamphlet was, the Huguenots and other European Protestants seized on the information therein to detail how dastardly and scheming the French king and his advisers were (p. 87). Furthermore, whatever embellishments the Protestants might have added, they could always say that the ‘facts’ of the matter, such as they were, came from one of the Pope’s insiders himself.

Zwierlein concludes that fact took second place to an overall objective of careful construction of narrative to support one’s own version of a story. The powers that be and dissenters could weave fact with fantasy to suit their own purposes.

However, what had to engage the reader and keep him interested was an emotional appeal. The word ‘truth’ was often used as well as a mention of God or Providence.

Combining a narrative with emotion has continued to engage men and women with conspiracy theories from the Renaissance onward.


In England during this time, Elizabeth I was under threat:

After Henry VIII’s death, England endured the Western Rebellion of 1549; during Elizabeth’s reign, there occurred the Rebellion of 1569, as well as plots against the queen’s life, notably the Babington Plot, which led to the trial, conviction, and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Throughout the century and beyond, England had reason to fear an invasion and the uprising of native Catholics. The danger was by no means restricted to the year 1588, when Philip II of Spain sent his Armada to subdue England.

The court had to develop state narratives of what the Queen was doing and why. Pamphlets, tracts, plays, poetry and the Bible were part of the rhetorical devices used:

Every Englishman was required to hear the sermons on obedience three times during the year. The gist of the doctrine was this: The ruler was God’s lieutenant on earth; no subject, however exalted, had the right to actively oppose him. To do so was a sin against religion, punishable by suffering here and now and by eternal damnation after death. Even if the ruler were a tyrant, the subject had no right to oppose him, for the head of state ruled with God’s sufferance. In support of this doctrine, appeals were made primarily to biblical authority. Texts such as Romans 13 and Proverbs 8, as well as ones in Matthew, were cited repeatedly.

A new element was added to Elizabeth’s government: a spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham:

Born to a well-connected family of gentry, Walsingham travelled in continental Europe after leaving university before embarking at the age of twenty on a career in law. A committed Protestant, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I of England he joined other expatriates in exile in Switzerland and northern Italy until Mary’s death and the accession of her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth.

Walsingham rose from relative obscurity to become one of the small coterie who directed the Elizabethan state, overseeing foreign, domestic and religious policy. He served as English ambassador to France in the early 1570s and witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. As principal secretary, he supported exploration, colonization, the use of England’s maritime strength and the plantation of Ireland. He worked to bring Scotland and England together. Overall, his foreign policy demonstrated a new understanding of the role of England as a maritime, Protestant power in an increasingly global economy. He oversaw operations that penetrated Spanish military preparation, gathered intelligence from across Europe, disrupted a range of plots against Elizabeth and secured the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Intelligence was highly important in England and continued to be so afterward. Walsingham had an extensive networks of informants, information gatherers, spies and forgers to foil various plots and intrigues against the Queen.

This worked to keep Elizabeth I safe and secure. She ruled from 1558 to 1603.


Speaking of religion and conspiracy theories, the Jews have been the object of suspicion since Old Testament days.

In the first centuries of Christianity, Church doctors and councils made various inflammatory pronouncements against them. Rulers, sometimes with help from clerics, devised anti-Semitic laws and decrees:

Jews were very often forbidden to own land, preventing them from farming. Because of their exclusion from guilds, most skilled trades were also closed to them, pushing them into marginal occupations considered socially inferior, such as tax- and rent-collecting or money lending. Catholic doctrine of the time held that money lending to one’s fellow Christian for interest was a sin, and thus Jews tended to dominate this business. This provided the foundation for stereotypical accusations that Jews are greedy and involved in usury. Natural tensions between Jewish creditors and Christian debtors were added to social, political, religious, and economic strains. Peasants, who were often forced to pay their taxes and rents through Jewish agents, could vilify them as the people taking their earnings while remaining loyal to the lords and rulers on whose behalf the Jews worked. The number of Jewish families permitted to reside in various places was limited; they were forcibly concentrated in ghettos; and they were subjected to discriminatory taxes on entering cities or districts other than their own.

Nearly every town in France has a thoroughfare called Rue des Juifs: Jews’ Street. It is no doubt similar in other European countries. In the City of London, now the financial district, but, until the Great Fire of 1666, the only densely populated part of the city, a street called Old Jewry still exists, although it has been centuries since it has been a Jewish ghetto.

Martin Luther comes under much criticism for his sometimes violent anti-Semitic writing. This is because he had initially hoped Germany’s Jews would join him in opposing the Catholic Church during the Reformation. That did not happen. Just before he died, Luther adopted a much more charitable outlook and said that his followers should pray for the Jews and show them brotherly love. However, some historians think that the bulk of what Luther had said and written helped to indirectly determine certain historic anti-Semitic events.

In the 16th century, a French writer and historian Etienne Pasquier targeted not only Jews but also the Jesuits, linking them together to cause deep suspicion and mistrust among his readers. French historian Léon Poliakov told Marianne (aforementioned issue, p. 17) that Pasquier wrote:

dans la jésuiterie, il y a beaucoup de juiverie.

Among the Jesuits, there is much Jewishness.

Cromwell’s kindness towards the Jews during the Interregnum in England and, later, the French Revolution, brought about their integration into European society. Many became highly successful and influential at local and national levels. Modern-day conspiracy theorists point to banking.

In Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, violent pogroms took place in the 19th century. The poorest Jews were affected, being driven out of towns and villages. In 1901, members of the Tsarist police wrote The Protocols of Zion. Although the information therein is false, it was designed to arouse intense public suspicion and emotion. Its main themes were making Jewish people out to be universal plotters and conspirators, especially with Freemasons and Bolsheviks. Adolf Hitler read the book and referred to it in Mein Kampf.

The Jesuits

The Jesuits have both created and been the subject of conspiracy theories.

Augustin Barruel, a French priest belonging to the Society of Jesus during the French Revolution, took refuge in Germany then in England. He accused the leaders of the Revolution of being in league with prominent Freemasons to bring about an ungodly fall of the French royal family and the Church. He dedicated his book Histoire du Clergé pendant la Revolution Française to the people of England in gratitude for the hospitality and graciousness they showed him during his stay. He ended up returning to France in 1802 and encouraged his fellow priests to accept the newly established order but to continue their defence of the Church.


John Robison, a Scot who was a contemporary of Barruel, popularised conspiracy theories involving Freemasons.

Robison was a scientist and an inventor who became disillusioned with the Enlightenment. He became an author, putting his belief into writing that the German secret society the Illuminati pursued links with British Masonic lodges in order to overthrow all European governments and religious practice.

One of Robison’s readers sent a copy of the book to George Washington, asking for the American president’s thoughts. Washington replied that although he did not believe that there was a wholesale Masonic plot against the United States or Europe, he did not doubt that certain lodge members had been working on such a plan.


Those who read Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies and Barruel’s books would have come to the same conclusion.

The same conspiracy theory narrative continues today, wrapped up in the same emotion and rhetoric used during the Renaissance.

How does one break one’s habit of reading these with avid interest? The closer one moves towards prayer and Bible reading, the less one needs half-baked factoids wrapped in sensationalism.


Thank heaven for costume dramas.

They answer questions about clothing.

Have you ever wondered why the Amish and similar sects eschewed buttons? Does the Pope still wears velvet slippers? The answers might prove surprising.


Prior to the 16th century, sleeve extensions were sewn on to shorter sleeves for extra warmth.

Gaby Wood, writing for The Telegraph, tells us that Wolf Hall is painstakingly faithful to authentic clothing conventions of Henry VIII’s time.

I’ve not been watching it but was intrigued to find out that, just as in his era, Wolf Hall‘s costumes have eyelets with aiglets — points, or fasteners — which allowed a servant to pin sleeve extensions to men’s and women’s attire. Using these holes and fasteners prevented the fabric from tearing.

Pins were used when thread was not. Not surprisingly, pins were easily lost.

This was all part of dressing in cooler weather. It gave us two saying which are still commonplace today:

point scoring: men gambled for aiglets.

pin money: money set aside for the purchase of pins.

Kirby Beard 1023KIRBYbisWhilst pins or aiglets did not break the bank, they did involve household expense. The pins were not terribly good, either. There was no mass mechanisation or uniformity of these items until the 19th century. Two Englishmen, Robert Kirby and George Beard, tried to perfect a pin-making machine developed by an American, Seth Hunt. It wasn’t until 1833 that Kirby Beard & Co. (see second half of post) began successful mass production of pins on a steam-driven apparatus capable of making pinheads directly from wire. The company moved from Gloucestershire to Birmingham. Their needle factory was in nearby Redditch. The picture on the left shows their patent. These pins were prized all over the world. Wives asked their husbands sailing overseas to bring them back Kirby Beard & Co. products. The company later produced luxury goods for the home with shops in the City of London and in central Paris. But I digress.

Back to pins in the 16th century. As well as the stars of the show, even the extras in Wolf Hall are attired in the authentic way with pins or stitching on their costumes.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a button exhibition is running until July 19, 2015, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Véronique Belloir, the exhibition’s curator, told the French online news service l’Internaute that the button was created in the 16th century.

It was considered as much a decorative item as a functional one. (By way of illustration, the article has an accompanying photo of sculpted mother of pearl buttons from the 19th century.)

By the 17th century, wealthy Europeans spent so much money on buttons that various kings instituted laws which limited the number purchased and the ways in which these new fasteners could be used.

Belloir says that ordinary Europeans considered the button to be conspicuous consumption:

It was a luxurious object which shocked Christian morality.

By the end of the 18th century, buttons cost more than the clothing on which they were sewn. Buttons served as class and political indicators.

It is for this reason that the Amish and other religious sects refused to wear them.

In the 19th century, the button became commonplace. In order to be properly dressed, men and women ensured every button was done up.

I remember reading years ago that the more buttons one had on a suit jacket or a dress, the wealthier one was. Boots also had buttons. Every household had button hooks. Without them, getting dressed and undressed would have been impossible.

Even though we now have zippers, press studs (snaps) and Velcro, Belloir says that no fabric fastener in history has enhanced our attire as much as the button:

It implies a certain charm, a certain elegance.

Velvet slippers

Traditionally, a well-to-do Englishman wore velvet slippers with his smoking jacket (or, for more formal occasions, a dinner jacket).

Both items were properly strictly indoor, ‘at home’ attire. The smoking jacket served as a comfortable yet elegant item to wear for drinks and dinner. The slippers were a necessity in an era when streets were so muddy and dirty that boots and shoes had to be taken off once one walked in the door.

Although smoking jackets are still sold, velvet slippers have overtaken them in popularity, not only in England but also in the United States. The online world has any number of shops selling them.

Tatler (March 2015, pp. 90-92) has a feature on the velvet slipper, a précis of which can be found online.

The magazine tells us that thin men are best placed to wear velvet slippers. A trim ankle is de rigueur, just as trim legs are for skinny jeans. Today, the two go together (p. 92):

A clever man in jeans and a shirt and velvet slippers over supper at a house party making you think about the world slightly differently. That’s what we’re after.

So high-WASP*!

But WASPs are not the only men wearing them today. They are very popular with certain rappers and actors, such as Tinie Tempah and Kanye West (p. 91).

And a few shops now make them for women.

Historically, the velvet slipper was not an exclusively WASP footwear item. They have been popular with popes for ages. However, it was Paul VI who put an end to commissioning velvet and silk slippers in 1969 (p. 92). Paul VI requested plain red leather. Pope Francis prefers his in black leather.

A pair of velvet slippers normally costs a few hundred pounds or dollars. Because they are becoming more popular, this style of slipper is now made in other fabrics which can bring the price down accordingly. Less luxurious fabric also makes the slippers suitable for outdoor wear.

This short YouTube video shows the detailed handiwork which goes into making traditional velvet slippers for Herring Shoes in Norwich, England:

* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant


Bible and crossContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 22:31-34

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[a] that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter[b] said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus[c] said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”


The setting for today’s reading is the private room where Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

Immediately following, in their carnal weakness, the Apostles debated who among them was the greatest. They still had no idea of the significance of what had happened and what would happen the following day.

Jesus interrupted their foolishness with this answer (Luke 22:25-27):

25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Today’s passage — our Lord’s warning to Peter — follows. Satan entered Judas to enact the betrayal. Now Jesus says that Satan is entering — sifting — Peter and the other ten.

It is important to note that ‘you’ in verse 31 is plural. So is the first ‘you’ in verse 32.

However, the second ‘you’ in verse 32 is singular. The use of the word ‘turn’ means ‘repent’, ‘convert’, ‘turn away from temptation': in other words, once Peter broke Satan’s grip, he could help the other Apostles strengthen their faith. Jesus has prayed for this to occur.

Why did Jesus use the words ‘sift you like wheat’? Matthew Henry offers this analysis:

Peter, who used to be the mouth of the rest in speaking to Christ, is here made the ear of the rest and what is designed for warning to them all (all you shall be offended, because of me) is directed to Peter, because he was principally concerned, being in particular manner struck at by the tempter: Satan has desired to have you.

Henry says this conversation could have occurred between God and Satan with regard to the latter’s ‘demand’ (verse 31):

Probably Satan had accused the disciples to God as mercenary in following Christ, and aiming at nothing else therein but enriching and advancing themselves in this world, as he accused Job. “No,” saith God, “they are honest men, and men of integrity.” “Give me leave to try them,” saith Satan, “and Peter particularly.”

Satan can act only in the parameters God allows. God and His Son will not allow a permanent falling away of the Apostles’ faith, no matter how much Satan desires it.

As for ‘sifting’, Henry explains (emphasis in bold in the original, purple mine):

He desired to have them, that he might sift them, that he might show them to be chaff, and not wheat. The troubles that were now coming upon them were sifting, would try what there was in them: but this was not all[;] Satan desired to sift them by his temptations, and endeavoured by those troubles to draw them into sin, to put them into a loss and hurry, as corn when it is sifted to bring the chaff uppermost, or rather to shake out the wheat and leave nothing but the chaff. Observe, Satan could not sift them unless God gave him leave: He desired to have them, as he begged of God a permission to try and tempt Job. Exetesato–“He has challenged you, has undertaken to prove you a company of hypocrites, and Peter especially, the forwardest of you.”

Henry also offers this explanation, which comes from other Bible scholars:

Some suggest that Satan demanded leave to sift them as their punishment for striving who should be greatest, in which contest Peter perhaps was very warm: “Leave them to me, to sift them for it.”

In any event, Satan wanted the Apostles to disperse, desert and permanently deny Christ.

Peter, upon hearing Jesus’s words, pledged his loyalty unto death (verse 32). But Jesus told him that by the time the rooster crowed at dawn, he would deny him three times (verse 33).

Peter felt comfortable as long as our Lord was in his midst. However, once separated, it was a different story.

John MacArthur posits that Jesus referred to his leading Apostle by his former name of Simon to indicate that he would soon fall into his old ways. After Peter claimed he would go with Him unto death, Jesus addressed him as Peter — the Rock, a future leader — albeit with the foretelling of his denial.

Once Peter began ministering to others, he understood the importance of resisting temptation and sin. He wrote his letters — epistles — from personal experience. (See Essential Bible Verses page, near the bottom, for 1 Peter and 2 Peter.)

When he approached the end of his life, MacArthur says:

He ended up being imprisoned for his faith in Christ and ultimately crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy, he said, to be crucified the way his Lord was crucified.  So he did go to prison and to death. 

MacArthur says that Jesus warned about Peter’s denial twice that evening: once immediately after the Last Supper and again at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane.

John’s Gospel aligns with Luke’s in the indoor setting (John 13:36-38):

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts take place at the Mount of Olives. Here is Mark 14:26-31:

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

And Matthew 26:30-35:

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

It is important for us to be able to tell detractors of Scripture that, with minor variations, the Gospel accounts are consistent.

Next time: Luke 22:35-38

Friday’s postconfession introduced Pastor Barney, a medically retired Lutheran minister.

His current ministry focus is on rural pastors in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Barney’s posts are not only thought-provoking but witty — recommended reading.

One of his posts deals with pastors new to churches in rural areas. In it, he also addresses the problems they face, particularly if they are fresh out of seminary.

To those of us sitting in the pews, Barney says that a pastor’s life is far from easy. The graphic comes from his post, ‘A Country Parson’. Excerpts follow.

Barney has a list of rules for those of us who go to church and complain about those who lead our walk in Christ. In addition to praying for them, he suggests ten great ways we can be generous (emphases in the original):

1. They are not the last pastor you had, who may have been a saint or an idiot!

2. Your budget is small, but your hearts are large! – money is not everything, you have beef, pork[,] eggs[,] chicken they too are tax-deductible.

6. Invite them out for coffee, to the farm or ranch!

7. Buy them season’s tickets to all High School sporting Events, give them invitations to all significant events.

9. Relax, teach them; it takes time, but they’ll change with love and care – If not[,] you’ve left them better ready for rural ministry.

And what follows are the first five of Barney’s 11 survival rules for rural clergy. (The post actually starts with this section, but as most of my readers are laypeople, it seemed fitting for me to prioritise generosity towards the pastor.)

1. You know all that wonderful stuff they taught you in seminary? – Forget it!

2. You know all those wonderful liberal  ideals you think are oh so important? – listen first – talk later!

3. That idea you are going to change the way these folk think and live – Toss it out!

4. Don’t charge in gung ho to change long-established traditions no matter how politically and theologically correct you know they are! Most of your seminary professors and Bishops have not done real ministry in real congregations in years – if ever!

5. Do go to all High School sports, Grade School programs, graduations, County fairs, Rodeos, 4H and FFA are big out here!

Any pastors from the rural Pacific Northwest who are interested in a private conversation with Barney can contact him via his blog.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 22:7-13

The Passover with the Disciples

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus[a] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.


It is apposite, yet entirely coincidental, that this study of Luke’s Gospel brings us to the Last Supper during Lent 2015.

My longstanding readers might recall the corresponding account from Mark 14:12-16, which I wrote about at this time in 2013:

The Passover with the Disciples

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

Matthew 26:17-19 — the three-year Lectionary reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — has a shorter account but with one important statement the other two Synoptic Gospels do not have (emphases mine below):

The Passover with the Disciples

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

Because our Lord’s time was at hand, the Last Supper had to take place according to God’s plan. Hence Jesus’s discretion in sending only His most trusted apostles John and Peter to arrange it (verse 8). Recall that Judas had already arranged the betrayal with the chief priests. Jesus, being all human and all divine, would have known what was happening in the background.

Jesus preserved discretion and secrecy by instructing the two to look for a man carrying water who would meet them (verse 10). They were to follow him as his house would be the venue.

With the Jews coming to Jerusalem for Passover, the city was crowded, with more than two million people at this time. However, John MacArthur tells us that only women carried water. A man would not have done so. Therefore, the two apostles would have been on the lookout for a rare sight.

Jesus told Peter and John to ask the man for use of his guest room on behalf of their Teacher (verse 11). We ask ourselves what might have happened if the man had said, ‘What teacher?’ However, all this was divinely ordained. The man knew of whom the two spoke. MacArthur thinks the man might have been a recent convert. We do not know. However, we can safely assume that Jesus knew.

As Jesus said, the man showed them the upper room of the house (verse 12) and the two apostles prepared the Passover meal (verse 13).

Matthew Henry has this observation:

Christ could have described the house to them probably it was a house they knew, and he might have said no more than, Go to such a one’s house, or to a house in such a street, with such a sign, &c. But he directed them thus, to teach them to depend upon the conduct of Providence, and to follow that, step by step. They went, not knowing whither they went, nor whom they followed … they need not fear a disappointment who go upon Christ’s word according to the orders given them, they got every thing in readiness for the passover, Luke 22:11.

Peter and John would have been busy for the rest of the day. As we know, the Passover menu is a complex one with several elements. As they were staying with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they would not have had any of these on hand. They had to purchase unleavened bread, the lamb, the wine, the requisite herbs, spices, fruits, nuts and so on — all of which recalled the hurried Exodus from Egypt centuries before.

MacArthur posits another reason why Jesus sent only two apostles to arrange this meal. Only two men ever brought one lamb for slaughter; otherwise, the slaughter area would be too crowded with bystanders.

In closing, some people might wonder why, if Passover (and Jewish Sabbath) dinners are always on a Friday, how it happened that the Last Supper took place on a Thursday. MacArthur explains:

Study Josephus. Study the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law and other historical sources. You find that the Jews in the north and the Jewish people in the south, the Galileans say as opposed to the Judeans, had different ways of calculating their days. These chronological aspects have been a wonderful study in anybody’s…anybody who makes an effort to studying this in the New Testament is greatly enriched by it. But in the north, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise…sunrise to sunrise. That was a day. Whereas in the south, they calculated the day from sunset to sunset. So that’s a very clear distinction. In Galilee, where Jesus and all the disciples except Judas, had grown up, they calculated days from sunrise to sunrise. So the fourteenth of Nissan was sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. That puts the Passover Thursday night. For the Jews in the south, it was sunset to sunset, so that puts it in late Friday for the southern Jews. Same day calculated two different ways. And that worked well for the Jews.

By the way, the Pharisees tended to go with the northern approach. The Sadducees who were all around Jerusalem tended to go, of course, with the southern approach. What that did was solve a couple of problems. It split the number of animals to be killed into two different periods, Thursday night and Friday night. It also reduced what were called regional clashes cause the southern people didn’t think too highly of the northern people. So it just was easier to have them separated.

So Jesus is celebrating a Galilean Passover Thursday evening, and that is Friday, the beginning of Friday, sunset, for the Jews who celebrate it late the next day. The timetable is perfect. The Lord can celebrate the Passover, fulfill all righteousness with His disciples on Thursday and it’s a true Passover, the lambs were slain. And He can still die on the Passover the next night because there are two times when the Passover lamb is slain.

Next time: Luke 22:31-34


A medically retired Lutheran minister has an excellent site, The Gospel of Barney.

One of his recent posts asks if we are looking for trouble. He replies that he certainly is and that, similarly, trouble has been seeking him for much of his life.

The crux of his discourse revolves around our Lord’s looking for trouble by associating with sinners and making His ministry all about them, not the self-righteous, soi-disant nice people.

Furthermore, Barney says that if we want to imitate Christ in this respect, we need to go — as He did — to the places sinners frequent if we want to share the Good News with them.

Please take a few minutes to read Barney’s advice in full. He is witty and engaging.

For now, here’s a taster (emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Notice Jesus never had an attentive or receptive audience in the synagogues. He went out to the highways and byways ate with tax collectors and sinners!

We want them to come to our nice churches, for a put-down? Why don’t we try going where they are? I’ve been in many a bar in many a rural town, even without my clerical collar, it usually slowed conversation or muted it a lot! Just because of what I represented.

Mind you the bars in rural towns are more often than not the restaurant too, so a lot of your members are there. I’ve been known to have a couple beers, and enjoy.
Knew the owners of the bar never worried about it! Save the fact there were a number in there I should have known better!

Folks need a refuge in times of trouble. We need to examine ourselves as to why the folks with the most troubles are not coming! It usually takes 7 invitations or connections from a congregation to get someone in the door.

Churches all say, “We are a welcoming and friendly place!” To each other, yes, the test is do we go looking for trouble to invite it in? …

Barney ministers in and to rural areas in the northwestern part of the United States. He counsels pastors from this region. Those who wish to contact him can do so via his blog.

Luther Rose stained glass 2The Revd Joshua Scheer, writing for Steadfast Lutherans, gives his readers the following resource for Lenten devotions and reflections.

Pastor Scheer recommends Around the Word — a superb title — which has a PDF taking us through each week of Lent 2015.

It is beautifully done. The first page suggests how to go about a daily devotion by beginning in prayer. It is commendable that those who put it together include a recitation of the Apostles Creed along with the Lord’s Prayer. Also included are Morning and Evening prayers, giving thanks to the Lord for personal and family safety.

Each week’s devotions have a different theme. The first is repentance.

Caveat: the PDF has to be printed, assembled and folded in the middle, because it is laid out in publisher’s format. Otherwise, one sees page 4 next to page 45, for example. Still, it is well worth doing.

Another good site for relevant Scripture verses is Brian Flamme’s Rightly Divided, referenced on page 45 of the PDF.

Both of these resources are also excellent for Anglicans looking for Lenten devotionals.

Yesterday’s post explained the reasons and history behind spiritual discipline during Lent.

Below are some suggestions for Lent for those who would like to do something a bit different.

When I was younger, I used to give up desserts in addition to observing Friday (and Ash Wednesday) fasts. A few years ago, I tried eating only one meal a day. As I was no longer working in town, there was no reason why it couldn’t be done. Since then, I’ve kept this up, rarely eating after dinner.

The ketogenic diet — high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate — has helped greatly in this regard.

Resources for the ketogenic diet

Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)

A high fat and low carbohydrate way of eating is also very good in treating a variety of physical and mental medical conditions. (Some readers might need to discuss it with their doctor first.) Feeling better helps us to become better ambassadors for Christ:

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])

High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)

Low-carb diet a migraine remedy

Low-carb, high-fat diets regulate testosterone, cholesterol levels

Ketogenic diet and gout risk — tips for success

Now that I am older and understand it better, sanctification has become more important. Part of this lifelong undertaking includes Bible study.

A few years ago, I was undertaking Bible reading every day during Lent. One year later, I had read it all. Would that I had done so before. These posts of mine explore methods of reading the entirety of Scripture which lend themselves to our busy modern lives:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

You, too, can read the Bible with the Grant Horner system

Update on the Grant Horner Bible Reading System

The Grant Horner Bible Reading System is a success

Prayer is also vital to sanctification — our growth as Christians. However, a question mark remains over certain New Age practices which have migrated into the Church:

Caution on Lenten devotions

The labyrinth: Lenten it isn’t

These suggestions are not to be construed as persuasion to adopt a Lenten discipline. As the Lutheran Pastor Abrahamson said, it is not obligatory nor is it salvific. However, many like to use these 40 days to further their personal sanctification but are not quite sure how to go about it.

I pray that those of us undertaking something special are able to keep a good Lent.

For Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which ends the evening of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

The concept of Lent offends a number of Protestants who say that every day should be considered one of repentance. Others add that this is an extra-biblical or pagan practice, something many believers have gleaned from the Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop‘s book The Two Babylons.

I explored — and refuted — those claims last year, thanks to information from a Lutheran pastor, the Revd Joseph Abrahamson, who wrote an excellent post in 2014 on the topic for Steadfast Lutherans.

In ‘Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Ash Wednesday and Lent’ Abrahamson tells us that St Athanasius — and other doctors of the Church before him — took Lenten disciplines seriously in the earliest days of Christianity.

Pastor Abrahamson cites St Athanasius’s text from the fourth century (emphases mine below):

6. The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of Phamenoth (Mar. 1); and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of Pharmuthi (Apr. 5), in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings, and watchings, that we may be enabled to anoint our lintels with precious blood, and to escape the destroyer4021. Let us rest then, on the fifteenth of the month Pharmuthi (Apr. 10), for on the evening of that Saturday we hear the angels’ message, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is risen4022.’ Immediately afterwards that great Sunday receives us, I mean on the sixteenth of the same month Pharmuthi (April 11), on which our Lord having risen, gave us peace towards our neighbours. When then we have kept the feast according to His will, let us add from that first day in the holy week, the seven weeks of Pentecost, and as we then receive the grace of the Spirit, let us at all times give thanks to the Lord; through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion, in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

Below are excerpts from Abrahamson’s post, which sheds more light on the subject of Lenten practice.

First, legalism:

The ancient Church recognized that it was free from legalistic obligations, both from the Old Testament Law, and from new invented laws of men.  St. Paul wrote about this in Colossians 2. They also knew from Scripture that they were not to use this liberty as an excuse for sin. (Romans 6) They knew that they were not to let their consciences be bound by new human regulations as if their salvation depended upon them. (Galatians 1-2) Whatever was beneficial for the teaching of God’s word and for the practice of the Christian life-consisting of repentance and forgiveness in the Means of Grace-was encouraged.

That said:

No human can require a Christian to use the fast of Lent as a saving work. A congregation can recommend the practice as a serious self-examination of one’s own sin and sinful appetites; of one’s own weaknesses. No human can require Christians to use ash on Ash Wednesday or any other day as a way of proving their faith.

And neither can any human forbid the use of the Lenten fast or the use of ashes either. Both are legalism, a replacing of the Gospel for a new law. The whole point of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast is to look on ourselves as worthless and utterly needy: to look only upon Christ, to celebrate His feast in the Lord’s Supper, preach His passion and death upon the cross, and proclaim the Resurrection of Christ as the final seal upon our salvation.

Secondly, the near-universal consideration of Lent as a time of penitence, fasting and prayer:

We learn from this [Athanasius’s text] that even at the time the Nicene Creed was written, at the time Constantine the Great ruled, the Western and Eastern Churches practiced a voluntary fast for 40 days before Easter.

That this was practiced in Rome and elsewhere is seen in St. Athanasius’ letter from the year 340 A.D. when he returns from a meeting of pastors/bishops from all around the world, and he encourages his own congregations to continue in the same practice of the 40 day Lenten fast as does “the rest of the whole world.”

Thirdly, Abrahmson gives us several scriptural references concerning the use of ashes: 2 Samuel 13:19Esther 4:1, Job 2:8, Isaiah 58:5, Jeremiah 6:26, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6 and Luke 10:13. Therefore:

The practice of believers using ashes to represent sorrow and repentance is well testified in the Bible.

Fourthly, an explanation of how the days of Lent are calculated:

In order to count the 40 days of Lent the Sundays of that season are not counted as part of the fast. Rather the Sundays are each a minor feast day. If you add the six feast Sundays to the 40 fast days you get 46 days. That means that the first day of the Fast of Lent is a Wednesday, just as Athanasius explained.

From an Episcopalian perspective, Anne Kennedy — wife of the Revd Matt Kennedy — gave a good précis of the Episcopal / Anglican reasons for using Lent as a special time to progress in sanctification. I posted on her reflections last year. Mrs Kennedy took for her text Psalm 32, which includes these verses:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

She writes, in part:

This strikes me as a perfect entrance into a Lenten season of repentance and self examination. The gift of God’s forgiveness to the one who turns in sorrow for sin is the beginning point. It is the moment of greatest blessing. Many things come after it—love, grace, maturity, knowledge, enlightening of the heart and mind—but none of them can be had in their fullness without repentance, without turning around and walking towards God rather than away from him. And yet this beginning step is usually always the hardest, whether it is a first time repentance, or one of the many many times of contrition the Christian faces …

Certainly, we can accomplish nothing without divine grace. Therefore, we pray for more of it, particularly during this time.

It is also to be hoped that the discipline we undertake during these 40 days becomes an inherent part of us so that we may then progress to another stage of sanctification afterward.

In February 2014, Tatler published an article on the stiff upper lip by the UK’s foremost art critic, Brian Sewell.

Sewell, to many of us Britons, is the only critic worth reading. He writes and speaks beautifully. What he does not know about classical painting, drawing and architecture isn’t worth pursuing.

I’ve read many of his columns in London’s Evening Standard and had the pleasure of hearing him give a lecture on art with a generous question and answer session. I was amazed that during this two-hour long engagement, Sewell did not take one sip of water. He was flawless, even though he was in poor health at the time.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that he wrote ‘Chin Up, Britain’ (pp. 62, 63, 143), exhorting us to embrace the stiff upper lip, which we seem to have forgotten about since August 1997, when Princess Diana died. Sadly, we became Americanised that day, in my estimation.

Sewell provided little-known facts about the stiff upper lip (p. 62):

– The term is an ‘Americanism’, dating from the early 19th century.

– It means, according to him, not betraying ‘the slightest hint of fear, funk or perturbation’.

– It signifies Fortitude, one of the four cardinal virtues of Christianity. The other three are Prudence, Temperance and Justice.

– Early Christians living in Roman times and many more martyrs thereafter have employed it to endure being torn apart by animals, gladiators and other methods of torture.

– Saint Laurence was sentenced to death by being roasted alive on a spit. When he could take no more flames on his back, he asked his tormentors to turn him over.

– Learning about martyrs at school as part of Religious Education taught centuries of British children how to accept pain and suffering without showing emotion.

– Boys’ books featuring protagonists of a young age never described them as crying or weak.

Sewell deplores the decline of a once-prominent British characteristic. He attributes its decline to a long period of peace, the abolition of National Service and the lack of reading classic boys’ books for pleasure.

Tatler included a side box of nine famous Britons — ‘The Stiffest Upper Lips’ — who positively exude this quality (p. 63). I was happy to see the Duke of Edinburgh mentioned for his resilience and perfect humour during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant which sailed the Thames in June 2012. A nonagenarian and not in the best of health, he stood at the Queen’s side throughout in cold, rainy weather. I watched the entirety on television in amazement. He was taken to hospital the next day for a bladder infection, where he remained for the remainder of the festivities.

Sewell exhorts us to turn away from emotion, tears in particular (p. 143):

Excessive emotion is about us everywhere.

He describes footballers who ‘kiss and cuddle’ each other when the match is going well and ‘weep’ when it isn’t. (This is one of the reasons why I prefer rugby.)

He writes of teenagers losing their self control when they get even mediocre passing exam results.


every ordinary birth, death and marriage is the occasion for an unrestrained torrent of tears, joy indistinguishable from grief.

I have noticed that old-school Britons, men in particular, shed a tear only when their children are born and at the funerals of immediate family members. That’s it.

Sewell doubts we can recapture the stiff upper lip as a primary British characteristic. He does not think appeals to schools for proper conduct in the classroom and on the playing field will work:

… these are common times and we’d not be understood.

The only way it might return is if we as a nation find ourselves embroiled in another war.

Sadly, I think he is right. However, that doesn’t mean we should not try to do our part to display Fortitude as much as possible.

The stiff upper lip — exhibiting this Christian cardinal virtue — can and should be learned. It takes time and is well worth the effort.

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