Category Archives: Church History

Deacon Wyclif

Happy Thomas Becket Day

A year after the death of Theobald, April 18, 1161, Becket was appointed by the king archbishop of Canterbury. He accepted reluctantly, and warned the king, with a smile, that he would lose a servant and a friend. The learned and energetic Bishop Gilbert Foliot of Hereford (afterwards of London) remarked sarcastically, perhaps from disappointed ambition, that “the king had wrought a miracle in turning a layman into an archbishop, and a soldier into a saint.”

Becket…. he’s what happens when Kings meddle in the Church.

Cultural Shifts and Ritual Transformations in Reformation Europe

This volume honors the work of a scholar who has been active in the field of early modern history for over four decades. In that time, Susan Karant-Nunn’s work challenged established orthodoxies, pushed the envelope of historical genres, and opened up new avenues of research and understanding, which came to define the contours of the field itself. Like this rich career, the chapters in this volume cover a broad range of historical genres from social, cultural and art history, to the history of gender, masculinity, and emotion, and range geographically from the Holy Roman Empire, France, and the Netherlands, to Geneva and Austria. Based on a vast array of archival and secondary sources, the contributions open up new horizons of research and commentary on all aspects of early modern life.

Contributors: James Blakeley, Robert J. Christman, Victoria Christman, Amy Nelson Burnett, Pia Cuneo, Ute Lotz-Heumann, Amy Newhouse, Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer, Helmut Puff, Lyndal Roper, Karen E. Spierling, James D. Tracy, Mara R. Wade, David Whitford, and Charles Zika.

Festschriften (I just can’t drag myself to say ‘Festschrifts’) tend to be quite technically oriented.  They are written by colleagues of the honoree and reflect, generally, the interests of said honoree.  Given that they are by scholars for scholars, it is utterly unsurprising that they are not ‘popular’ and are not intended for a general reading public.

This volume is no different in that respect.  It aims to please its recipient, and, given her glowing appreciation expressed at a recent conference I think that it well achieved it’s aim.

Naturally this suggests that while she may have found it extremely good, other readers may not have the same reaction, since the essays are not written in appreciation of them, but of her.  Yet that suggestion would be wrong, because this is a collection that will be of great interest to all scholars of the Reformation.  These essays are astonishingly engaging, even when their titles may hint at a bit of dust.

  • Luther and Gender
  • High Noon on the Road to Damascus: A Reformation Showdown and the Role of Horses in Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Conversion of Paul (1549)
  • How to Make a Holy Well: Local Practices and Official Responses in Early Modern Germany
  • Advice from a Lutheran Politique: Ambassador David Ungnad’s Circular Letter to the Austrian Estates, 1576
  • Above the Skin: Cloth and the Body’s Boundary in Early Modern Nuremberg
  • Masculinities in Sixteenth-Century Imagery: A Contribution to Early Modern Gender History

These and the other essays in this book may have somewhat unconventional sounding titles (for Reformation studies) and they may seem to be super-specific (and they are), but potential readers ought not let that ‘scare them off’.  These contributions are festooned with incredibly interesting historical facts.  And, as the foreword reminds us

Despite the fact that the editors of this volume have divided its articles neatly into sections that reflect the progression of Karant-Nunn’s intellectual journey, the perceptive reader will quickly recognize the influence and inspiration of the entire spectrum of her oeuvre across each of the sections. That that influence reflects many of the broader trends in the study of the Reformation should come as no surprise: to a significant degree, such developments have Karant-Nunn to thank.

A book organized according to the intellectual journey of its honoree is not only a very good way to do things, but a very good way to allow others to investigate topics of interest to themselves and interact with the views of the honoree.  But the volume also includes, aside from brilliant text, a fairly extensive number of color and black and white illustrations that are sharp, crisp, and detailed.  These add immensely to the usefulness of the volume.

A sample worth sharing is from, in my opinion, the best of the essays in the volume- that of Amy Nelson Burnett, who writes in her Streitkultur Meets the Culture of Persuasion: The Flensburg Disputation of 1529

In April 1529 a public disputation was held in Flensburg, located in the duchy of Schleswig near the Danish border, that pitted the furrier and lay preacher Melchior Hoffman against the Lutheran clergy of the region. Because of Hoffman’s later career as an Anabaptist leader, it might be thought that the disputation concerned the issue of infant baptism, but in fact the disputation centered on the substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Held six months before the more famous Marburg colloquy between Martin Luther and the Swiss reformers, the Flensburg disputation was the first public disputation devoted specifically to the Lord’s Supper. Susan Karant-Nunn was one of the first historians to consider the Protestant Lord’s Supper from the perspective of social and cultural history rather than theology.

Reformation scholars, persons interested in gender studies, and those inclined to the investigation of the minutest details of early modern European history will all enjoy making their way through this collection.  I think you will enjoy it.  And so I recommend it to you.

Heinrich Bullinger: On the Sub-Christian Nature of Polygamy and the Nature of Marriage

450px-Zwingli_und_BullingerBullinger writes

But it is not appropriate that in lawful matrimony any more should be than two alone, to be joined together under one yoke of wedlock.

For the use of many wives, which our fathers usurped without any blame, may not stablish polygamy for a law among us at these days. The time of correction is now come to light, and Messiah now is come into the world, who teacheth all rightly, and reformeth things amiss.

He therefore hath reduced wedlock to the first prescribed rule and law of matrimony. “Two,” saith the Lord, “shall be one flesh.” And the apostle saith: “Let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.”

The multitude of Solomon’s concubines therefore appertain not to us. We have not to follow the example of Jacob, who married two sisters.

For Christians, even marriage takes its cue from Christ and not from culture.  For Christians, marriage consists of the joining together of one man and one woman.  Period.

But what about divorce?  Bullinger, along with the rest of the Reformers, frowned on it, though they saw it as a concession to the weakness of many.  Still, the divorced were not free to remarry.  Period.

But what if the spouse dies?  Bullinger writes

And yet, notwithstanding, the word of truth condemneth not the second, third, or many marriages which a man maketh, when his wife is deceased.

Marriage, for Christians, means something more than it does for the larger society.  The culture may root like pigs in the trough but Christians are called to a better, less porcine, life.

Luther Gets to Worms

Luther arrived in Worms on Tuesday morning, April 16, 1521, at ten o’clock, shortly before early dinner, in an open carriage with his Wittenberg companions, preceded by the imperial herald, and followed by a number of gentlemen on horseback. He was dressed in his monastic gown. The watchman on the tower of the cathedral announced the arrival of the procession by blowing the horn, and thousands of people gathered to see the heretic.


Meeter Center Webinar: “The complex paths of Reformation in Geneva and France”

“The complex paths of Reformation in Geneva and France”

On Tuesday, June 1, at 1 PM Eastern time, we are planning to host our third webinar of 2021, and we hope you will be able to participate. Join Reformation scholars Philip Benedict (Emeritus Professor, Institut d’histoire de la réformation, Geneva) and Michael Bruening (Associate Professor, History Department, Missouri University of Science and Technology) in conversation with Meeter Center Director Karin Maag on the key themes of their recent books, including fresh insights regarding John Calvin’s role and status in the course of the Reformation in French-speaking areas.

Philip Benedict has recently published _Season of Conspiracy: Calvin, the French Reformed Churches and Protestant Plotting in the Reign of Francis II_ (American Philosophical Society, 2020). Michael Bruening’s monograph, _Refusing to Kiss the Slipper: Opposition to Calvinism in the Francophone Reformation_ has just been released by Oxford University Press.

Both these works challenge long-standing trends and assumptions in Calvin studies – we look forward to a stimulating conversation! Please use the signup link below to register for this webinar. If you would like to have a link to the recording of this presentation sent to your email, please contact Deborah Snider at

Sign up here.

European Trade Routes

The University of Gottingen tweets-

A research team including our Uni has built a digital platform which reveals the long-distance trade routes in Northern Europe 1350-1650 with historical roads & locations: Results to be shown via Zoom, Mon 19 April at 16:00. Register:

The Anniversary of the First Performance of Handel’s “Messiah”

[In 1742 a] group of Dublin charities approached Handel to compose a work for a benefit performance. The money raised would help free men from debtor’s prison, and Handel would receive a generous commission. Now with a text and a motivation, Handel began composing Messiah on August 22, 1741. Within six days, Part One was finished. In nine more, Part Two. Six more and Part Three was done. It took him only an additional two days to finish the orchestration. Handel composed like a man obsessed. He rarely left his room and rarely touched his meals.

But in 24 days he had composed 260 pages—an immense physical feat. When he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus, he said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”

Though the performance of the piece again caused controversy (Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and then the dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, was outraged and initially refused to allow his musicians to participate), the premiere on April 13, 1742, at the Fishamble Street Musick Hall was a sensation. An overcapacity crowd of 700 people attended, raising 400 pounds to release 142 men from prison. (The demand for tickets was so great that men were asked not to wear their swords and women asked not to wear hoops in their skirts, allowing 100 extra people into the audience. Such hoops immediately fell out of fashion for concerts.)*

Interesting, isn’t it, that Handel’s most famous work stems from his willingness to help a prison charity.

*In 131 Christians everyone should know (pp. 113–114).

The Meeter Center ‘Trends in Reformation Studies’ Zoom Meeting

From 12 April 2021

Trends in Reformation Studies

This was exceptionally interesting.  Three of the best scholars in Reformation studies, Susan Karant-Nunn, Beth Plummer, and  Victoria Christman shared their thoughts on trends in our field.  The session was recorded and you will be able to find it in due course on the Meeter Center facebook page.

On This Day, in Zurich, in 1525

The Council abolished the Catholic Mass in the Churches of Zurich.  As Zwingli wrote that same year

Nothing, therefore, of ours is to be added to the word of God, and nothing taken from His word by rashness of ours. To this some one might here object: “Yet many have found rest even in the word of man, and still do find it; for today the consciences of many are firmly persuaded that they will attain salvation if the Roman Pontiff absolve them, grant them indulgences, enroll them in heaven; if nuns and monks tell beads for them, and do masses, hours, and other things for them.” To this objection I answer that all such are either fools or hypocrites, for it must be the result of folly and ignorance if one thinks one’s self what one is not.


Today With Zwingli: The Abolition of the Mass

zwingli453S. Jackson reports

One more step remained to be taken and the church in Zurich would be completely emancipated from the Old Church, and that was to abolish entirely the mass. Cautiously, but without retrogression, Zwingli had for years steadily moved towards this goal. In 1524 he had won from the Council permission for the priests to dispense the bread and wine under both forms if they would. This, however, still maintained the connection with the old forms.

Judging that the time had come, and knowing that the friends of the ecclesiastical overturning were in decided majority in the Council of the Two Hundred, Zwingli and several other leaders appeared before the Council on Tuesday, April 11, 1525,—Tuesday of Holy Week,—and demanded the abolition of the mass and the substitution therefor of the Lord’s Supper as described by the evangelists and the Apostle Paul.

Opposition being made to the proposition, the Council delegated its debate with Zwingli to four of themselves, and their report being on Zwingli’s side, the Council ordered that the mass be abolished forthwith.

Consequently, on Thursday, April 13, 1525, the first evangelical communion service took place in the Great Minster, and according to Zwingli’s carefully thought out arrangement, which he had published April 6th.

A table covered with a clean linen cloth was set between the choir and the nave in the Great Minster. Upon it were the bread upon wooden platters and the wine in wooden beakers. The men and the women in the congregation were upon opposite sides of the middle aisle. Zwingli preached a sermon and offered prayer. The deacon read Paul’s account of the institution of the sacrament in 1 Cor., 11:20 sqq. Then Zwingli and his assistants and the congregation performed a liturgy, entirely without musical accompaniment in singing, but translated into the Swiss dialect from the Latin mass service, with the introduction of appropriate Scripture and the entire elimination of the transubstantiation teaching.

The elements were passed by the deacons through the congregation. This Eucharist service was repeated upon the two following days.*

On that remarkable day the Church returned, at least in Zurich, to its earliest practice – a practice long corrupted by the magical views of the supporters of the false doctrine of transsubstantiation.
*S. Jackson, (pp. 228–230).


 Pieter Bruegel the Elder, (The Triumph of Death 1562)

Martin Chemnitz

From Sachsen-Anhalt on FB

martin_chemnitzMartin Chemnitz, leading German theologian who was known, with reference to Martin Luther, as “the second Martin” (or Alter Martinus) : Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset (“If Martin [Chemnitz] had not come along, Martin [Luther] would hardly have survived”) goes a common saying concerning him.

At the University of Wittenberg (1545), Chemnitz was the protégé of the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon. In 1550 at Königsberg, he became librarian to Duke Albert of Prussia, an appointment that afforded him an opportunity to continue his theological studies. He returned to Wittenberg in 1553, entered the ministry as the pastor of the church of St. Aegidi, and began to lecture on Melanchthon’s Loci communes rerum theologicarum (“Theological Commonplaces”), the first systematic treatise on Reformation theology. The following year Chemnitz became coadjutor to Joachim Mörlin, whom he succeeded in 1567 as superintendent of the churches of Braunschweig, a post he held for the rest of his life.

In 1568 he began a decade of work with the theologian Jakob Andreä in uniting German Lutheranism, which had been divided by theological disagreement after Luther’s death in 1546. This end was achieved by the Formula of Concord (1577), which inaugurated the era of Lutheran orthodoxy and was primarily the work of the two men.

He died April 8, 1586.

Today in Church History: The Diet of Augsburg

The situation of Protestantism in 1530 was critical. The Diet of Speier had forbidden the further progress of the Reformation: the Edict of Worms was in full legal force; the Emperor had made peace with the Pope, and received from him the imperial crown at Bologna; the Protestants were divided among themselves, and the Conference at Marburg had failed to unite them against the common foe. At the same time the whole empire was menaced by a foreign power. The Turks under Suleiman “the Magnificent,” who called himself “Lord of all rulers, Dispenser of crowns to the monarchs of the earth, the Shadow of God over the world,” had reached the summit of their military power, and approached the gates of Vienna in September, 1529. They swore by the beard of Mohammed not to rest till the prayers of the prophet of Mecca should be heard from the tower of St. Stephen. They were indeed forced to retire with a loss of eighty thousand men, but threatened a second attempt, and in the mean time laid waste a great part of Hungary.

Under these circumstances the Diet of Augsburg convened, April 8, 1530. Its object was to settle the religious question, and to prepare for war against the Turks. The invitation dated Jan. 21, 1530, from Bologna, carefully avoids all irritating allusions, sets forth in strong language the danger of foreign invasion, and expresses the hope that all would co-operate for the restoration of the unity of the holy empire of the German nation in the one true Christian religion and church.

So Schaff.  It was the Diet of Augsburg which provoked the production of the Augsburg Confession.  And Melanchthon’s ‘Apology of the Augsburg Confession’.  And remember, apology means ‘defense’, not something else.

Today In Lutheran History

Our friends in Sachsen-Anhalt write

friedrich myconiusFriedrich Myconius, a church reformer and friend of Martin Luther, died in Gotha on April 7, 1546.  Myconius’ schooling was in Lichtenfels and at Annaberg, where he had a memorable encounter with the Dominican, Johann Tetzel, his point being that indulgences should be given pauperibus gratis. His teacher, Andreas Staffelstein, persuaded him to enter the Franciscan cloister. That same night a pictorial dream turned his thoughts towards the religious standpoint which he subsequently reached as a Lutheran. From Annaberg he passed to Franciscan communities at Leipzig and Weimar, where he was ordained priest; he had endeavored to satisfy his mind with scholastic divinity, but next year his “eyes and ears were opened” by the theses of Martin Luther, whom he met when Luther touched at Weimar on his way to Augsburg. For six years he preached his new gospel, under difficulties, in various seats of his order, lastly at Zwickau, from where he was called to Gotha by Duke John at the general desire. He was intimately connected with the general progress of the reforming movement, and was especially in the confidence of Luther. At the Convention of Smalkald (1537) he signed the articles on his own behalf and that of his friend Justus Menius. In 1538 he was in England, as theologian to the embassy which hoped to induce Henry VIII on the basis of the Augsburg Confession, to make common cause with the Lutheran reformation; a project which Myconius caustically observed might have prospered on condition that Henry was allowed to be pope. Not the least important part of his permanent work in Gotha was the founding and endowment of its gymnasium. In 1541 his health was failing, but he lived until the 7th of April 1546.

The Anniversary of Tyndale’s Ordination

The Anniversary of Dürer’s Death

Albrecht Dürer died on April 6, 1528. Dürer is considered the greatest of the northern European Renaissance artists, having spent the majority of his career in Nuremberg, Germany. Although he never met Martin Luther, he and his work were greatly influenced by the writings of Luther and other reformers. His work, in turn, influenced the next generation of artists including, presumably, Lucas Cranach and his son who were dear friends of Martin and Katie Luther.

The painting is “The Four Apostles”, and depicts John, Peter, Mark, and Paul. It was done by Dürer in 1526 and now hangs in the Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich.

-Rebecca DeGarmeaux (on Facebook)


Fun Facts From Church History: Scotus Was a Heretic

Scotus Erigena was considered a heretic or a madman while he lived, and this fact joined to the other that his views were far in advance of his age, caused his influence to be at first much less than might have been expected. He passed into almost complete obscurity before he died, as the conflicting reports of his later years show. Yet he did wield a posthumous influence.

His idea of the unity of philosophy and theology comes up in Anselm and Thomas Aquinas; his speculation concerning primordial causes in Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus. From him Amalrich of Bena, and David of Dinanto drew their pantheism; and various mystical sects of the Middle Ages were inspired by him.

The Church, ever watchful for orthodoxy, perceived that his book, De Divisione Naturae, was doing mischief. Young persons, even in convents read it eagerly. Everywhere it attracted notice. Accordingly a council, at Sens, formally condemned it, and then the Pope (Honorius III.) ordered, by a bull of Jan. 23, 1225, the destruction of all copies that could be found, styling it “a book teeming with the worms of heretical depravity.” This order probably had the desired effect.

The book passed out of notice. But in 1681 Thomas Gale issued it in Oxford. Again the Roman Church was alarmed, and Gregory XIII., by bull of April 3, 1685, put it on the Index.*

Yes, you read that right.  It was Scotus who bastardized theology by unifying it with philosophy.  For that reason alone he deserves Servetus-izing.

*Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (vol. 4; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 772.

The Latest Edition of Folios