Johannes Bugenhagen: Selected Writings

9781451465556hFortress have provided a copy of these two volumes for review (in an ebook- so citations below lack page numbers).  The publisher’s webpage for the work suggests-

Martin Luther did not reform the church by himself. Throughout his life, and in the decades after it, many others spent their careers and risked their lives in the pursuit of a renewed church. They, too, made crucial contributions to the Wittenberg reform movement.

In this landmark set, an extensive collection of writings from Johannes Bugenhagen, Luther’s pastor, friend, and colleague in reform, are presented for the first time in English. The vast majority of these works have only been available in their original, sixteenth-century editions.

Called by some the Second Apostle to the North, Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558) was a pivotal figure in the organization of the Lutheran movement in northern Germany and in parts of Scandinavia. His writings and diverse reforming activity made a lasting impression on church administration, education, the care of the poor, worship, and theology.

Representing the fruit of many years of labor, Reformation scholar Kurt K. Hendel has organized this extensive collection thematically—introducing us to Bugenhagen the man, the theologian, the exegete, the pastor, the church organizer, and the social reformer.

Hendel provides in these volumes a window on the world of the 16th century and gives modern readers the opportunity to glance in and glean meaning and understanding of that pivotal time.

But Bugenhagen’s works are not simply irrelevant texts of a long lost era of interest only to historians and theologians but taken seriously they are also words of wisdom for our own day.

Allow me to illustrate with a quotation from Bugenhagen:

If a spouse dies with God, he is not to be lamented as much as someone who falls into adultery against God on the basis of the devil’s counsel and is dead before God and guilty of death before the world and condemned by the law, even if judgment is not carried out against him.

Bugenhagen wrote a number of treatises concerning marriage which still have important theological insights for our own time.  Indeed, given that divorce rates in America are at the 50% range perhaps listening to a 16th century theologian when he talks about the meaning of marriage is sensible.

Again-

That the devil causes so much misery against the estate of marriage and burdens, rends, and defames it, is all the result of original sin.

Again-

Dear friend, what is the meaning of marriage?  Is it, indeed, also a union if the one part has gone to the devil?  What is matrimony?  It is vexatious if the one party is so shamefully forsaken.  What does the joining of man and woman mean?  It certainly cannot mean shameful desertion and the leaving of the spouse.  Much less can it mean adultery since the devil breaks up and destroys marriage, as Christ also says …  Oh dear friend, what does ‘intimacy of life’ mean?  Some are, no doubt, such coarse fools that they do not know what the children in school certainly know now, and yet they want to judge and scream much regarding such matters.

But of course Bugenhagen isn’t simply interested in marriage.  He’s interested in everything that has to do with God, Christ, the Church, the world, the Christian life, the Bible, and everything around those topics relevant for the believer.  He also has an opinion about the papacy:

Now consider as if there were a future antichrist who will burn the bodies with fire, injure them with the sword, throw them into jail, etc. and who gives his followers great riches, etc.  Dear one, what more can he do than we have now seen in this papal realm?

Given Bugenhagen’s historical situation this view isn’t at all surprising.  Indeed, as a Protestant, it is expected.  Also unsurprising is his view of faith:

It is also not possible for people to have faith except when and to whom God gives it.

These excerpts serve, I hope, to show the style in which Bugenhagen writes and the superb job Hendel has done translating his 16th century German prose.  I can assure you, such translations are never easy.    Hendel describes the purpose of his work this way:

The purpose of this two-volume edition is to offer a representative selection of Bugenhagen’s treatises in translation in order to make them accessible to the English-speaking world and to illustrate the diversity of the Pomeranian Reformer’s interests and contributions.  None of his major biblical commentaries are included in this edition because if their size and because they lend themselves to monograph studies.

The works herein are divided into segments titled

  1. The Man and His Times
  2. The Theologian
  3. The Exegete
  4. The Pastor
  5. The Church Organizer and Social Reformer

In the opening section (before ‘The Man and his Times) Hendel provides a superb biography of Bugenhagen and the 30 treatises included are extremely informative.  The usual indices conclude the volumes.

Ad fontes was one of the cries of the Reformation.  Hendel takes us to the source with Bugenhagen and gives readers of English the opportunity to become acquainted with one of the most important and most ignored thinkers of that age.

If you cannot read Bugenhagen here:

00003

You authentically owe it to yourself to read him in Hendel’s translation of this exceedingly gifted Lutheran theologian.  It is sure to become the standard version in English and will – I think – remain such for many many years to come.