Preparing for Death, Remembering the Dead

978-3-525-55082-3V&R have published of late a volume of that title which they describe this way:

Death and dying were not in the main focus of the denominational conflicts of the 16th century. However, pious literature covered these topics again and again, not only before the Reformation, but after it as well. Here, certain denominational differences are clearly visible. Partly, these differences consist in the use of genres: For example, funeral sermons are an often used genre among Lutherans, while they are much rarer in the Reformed tradition. Similar differences can be observed concerning epitaphs. In Roman Catholic areas, funeral sermons and epitaphs are common in the 16th century, too; but their religious function is often a different from the one in Lutheranism. Beyond such interdenominational differences, there are also interesting continuities and connections which the contributors of the volume analyze. For example, there is a certain continuity between 16th century Lutheran funeral sermons and the late medieval tradition of ars moriendi.

The volume contains papers presented at the Second RefoRC Conference in Oslo in 2012, and is characterized by a multiconfessional and multidisciplinary approach, with contributions from Church History, Art History, Archaeology, History of Literature and Cultural History. Within a field of research dominated by specialized contributions (e.g. on ars moriendi traditions or on specific traditions of funeral monuments and funeral sermons), the broad approach of this volume may further stimulate to comparative and cross-confessional reflection.

If you visit the link above you’ll see the little flipbook which contains the table of contents and the front matter.

The collection examines the approach of theologians of the 16th century and early modern period concerning ministry to the dying and their loved ones. Whilst all the essays are notable, these are remarkable:

  • Herman J. Selderhuis, Ars Moriendi in Early Modern Calvinism
  • Luca Baschera, Preparation for Death in Sixteenth-Century Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger and Otto Werdmüller
  • Herman A. Speelman, Melanchthon and Calvin on Confession, Contrition, and Penitence
  • Konrad Küster, Death and the Lutheran Idea of Becoming a Heavenly Musician
  • Leon van den Broeke, No Funeral Sermons: Dutch or Calvinistic Prohibition?

The breadth and depth of learning on display is gripping and the skills of communication are eye-popping.  Aside from the learning which readers are privy to (as the following excerpt shows)

In Reformed theology, sanctification is something to which believers are seriously called and committed.10 At the same time, sanctification is a process that is initiated by grace and is never complete during this life, remaining instead inchoative. Therefore, on one hand, although Christians are confronted with their sinfulness every day, they will trust in God who saves them, not on account of any alleged merit, but only by grace.

On the other hand, seeing that they always remain “beginners” on the path of sanctification, they will beware of overconfidence and be compassionate towards their erring brothers and sisters. The same is true of the preparation for death that Bullinger and Werdmüller encourage. Preparation for death is indeed a lifelong process with soteriological relevance. Believers are called to prepare and should practice in order to win the final struggle. At the same time, they must practice in the firm conviction that their victory does not depend on their efforts, but only on God. Only in this way will they avoid both of the pitfalls into which the devil tries to lure them: despair and spiritual pride (p.326).

readers are also given access to rare and difficult to find prints and engravings which portray various aspects of death and dying in the early modern period (such as this:)

calv_deathbed

on page 110 and 77 other times.

Polemics, doctrine, theology, comfort, hope, death, the dead, and dying are all aspects of the material discussed in this excellent volume which consists of essays from

The Second RefoRC Conference [which] was held in Oslo in May 2012, with the same title as this volume: Preparing for Death –Remembering the Dead, as the main theme for keynote speakers as well as for short paper presentations. Keynote speakers were invited in order to illuminate this broad research theme not only from different disciplinary angles (church history, history, cultural history, art history, archeology, literary history), but also from various geographical and confessional perspectives within a European context.

To commend this volume too highly is a task impossible to achieve.  Perhaps because I’m well into middle age and about to breach senior citizen status (at least as far as the government is concerned) I’m thinking about mortality more than I used to.  The way theologians sought to comfort the dying in the 16th century speaks especially to me in my own Sitz im Leben.  But given those facts, I am still certain that historians and theologians of a younger age will also find much here to admire.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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