Category Archives: Church History

Fun Facts From Church History: The Catholic Prelate Who Defended Zwingli in Writing

A remarkable instance of the readiness of at least one Roman Catholic prelate to protect Zwingli against printed attacks is given in a letter from Basel, dated November 21, 1519, from which it appears that a certain monk had preached against Zwingli, as he had a perfect right to do, and had gone to Basel to have his polemical sermons printed. But Zwingli, through another friend, asked his friend, Cardinal Schinner, who was in Basel, to have an embargo put upon the volume, and the Cardinal so managed things that the monk could not secure a printer in Basel! Another friend of Zwingli’s (Capito), living in Strassburg, undertook to exclude the same monk from the presses of that city. But this was a dangerous game for the friends of progress to play.*

*Samuel Macauley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531), Heroes of the Reformation (New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 129.

Were We Ever Protestants? Essays in Honour of Tarald Rasmussen

This anthology discusses different aspects of Protestantism, past and present.

Professor Tarald Rasmussen has written both on medieval and modern theologians, but his primary interest has remained the reformation and 16th century church history. In stead of a traditional «Festschrift» honouring the different fields of research he has contributed to, this will be a focused anthology treating a specific theme related to Rasmussen’s research profile.

One of Professor Rasmussen’s most recent publications, a little popularized book in Norwegian titled «What is Protestantism?», reveals a central aspect research interest, namely the Weberian interest for Protestantism’s cultural significance. Despite difficulties, he finds the concept useful as a Weberian «Idealtypus» enabling research on a phenomenon combining theological, historical and sociological dimensions. Thus he employs the Protestantism as an integrative concept to trace the makeup of today’s secular societies.

This profiled approach is a point of departure for this anthology discussing important aspects of historiography in reformation history: Continuity and breaks surrounding the reformation, contemporary significance of reformation history research, traces of the reformation in today’s society.

The book relates to current discussions on Protestantism and is relevant to everyone who want to keep up to date with the latest research in the field.

Visitors to this link will find access to the table of contents and other front matter which will help them in deciding whether or not this is a volume they wish to read.  I think those interested in the Reformation will be drawn to the work.

As the table of contents is available above I won’t be repeating it here.  Instead, I will make a few observations about the book, which I found very interesting and informative, and I will point out a few problems with the book.

First, the observations:  the essays in this collection are a fitting celebration of the scholar herein honored.  Rasmussen is certainly the most accomplished of Reformation scholars from Scandinavia, and the work at hand centers its attention primarily on the outworking of the Reformation in those lands.  Particularly engaging, for me, were the essays by Leppin (who is a wonderful scholar), Jürgensen, and Kaufmann.

Jürgensen’s intriguing contribution featured a number of excellent photographs which properly illustrated his chief thesis, which is that art is the one place Protestants felt comfortable in retaining their Roman Catholic affinity for images and idols.  The cult of the Saints is alive and well in Protestantism, in other words, in artistic depictions – even if the cult was denounced in sermons and tractates.

And Kaufmann’s essay is simply superb.  His assertion that

The German ‘Protestant community’ itself has a chequered history of division and hatred.  The Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) parties required considerable time and effort to overcome doctrinal differences and reach a frosty unity based on perception of the common Catholic enemy.

is right on the mark.  And his demonstration of that truth in his contribution is thorough and intelligent.  He is, accordingly, also right to point out that

The Peace of Augsburg may therefore have established political and legal peace, but it did nothing to prevent – indeed promoted – the establishment of a bitter confessional split in the German nation which provided the framework for the development of an unparalleled level of inter-confessional rancor and uninhibited polemic.

And now, second, a few problems with the book.  The primary issue readers will have with the book is that there are a number of places where it is obvious that it has not been carefully examined by a native English speaker.   For instance,

on page 1 – ‘bin’ stands where the word should be ‘been’.

on page 4 – ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Raise of Protest’ should be ‘Luther’s Catholic Intention and the Rise of Protest’.

on page 7 – ‘Making Luther Protesting’ should be ‘Making Luther Protestant’.

on page 11 – “Wider Hans Worst” should be ‘Wieder Hans Wurst’.

And finally (because I don’t want to list every grammatical error but simply illustrate their fairly common appearance), on page 11 the closing paragraph as a whole is oddly constructed (from an English point of view):

Was Luther ever a Prostestant?  Again: No, never.  How could he?  Luther wanted to be a Catholic, and he felt being a Catholic.  Sure, not a Roman Catholic, but he was neither a Lutheran nor a Protestant.  He was just: a Christian.

The wonderfully informative and engaging essays of this collection deserved a second go through linguistically.  The reading experience of this book is less pleasurable than it could be, and should be, simply because the various grammatical errors are jarring.   Reading the work is like driving down a lovely highway where the scenery out the windows of the car is simply enthralling and being jarred from the experience by a giant pothole that nearly shakes one from one’s seat.

I sincerely hope that should a second edition appear, it will be combed through by an English editor before it is printed.

Fun Facts From Church History: Beza’s Life

Of the six great Continental Reformers,—Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza,—Beza was the most finished gentleman, according to the highest standard of his time. He was not lacking in energy, nor was he always mild. But he was able to hold court with courtiers, be a wit with wits, and show classical learning equal to that of the best scholars of his age. Yet with him the means were only valued because they reached an end, and the great end he had ever in mind was the conservation of the Reformed Church of Geneva and France.

His public life was an extraordinary one. Like the Apostle Paul he could say that he had been “in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:26–28). It was indeed a brilliant service which this versatile man rendered. Under his watchful care the city of Geneva enjoyed peace and prosperity, the Academy flourished and its students went everywhere preaching the Word, while the Reformed Church of France was built up by him. Calvin lived again and in some respects lived a bolder life in his pupil and friend.*

*Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 8 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 870–871.

Today With Zwingli

zwingliThere have come forward in our day those who have said that a symbolical meaning is to be found in the word “This.” I commend their faith, if only it is not counterfeit. For God seeth the heart, we poor wretches judge from the face [1 Sam. 16:7]. I greatly commend, therefore, not the faith which makes them venture thoughtlessly to treat these words, but that through which they see that it is untenable for us to understand bodily flesh here. I will not, however, speak now of the Charybdis the fear of which drove them upon this Scylla, for it has no bearing upon this matter.*

Those who have come forward to whom Zwingli refers are, among others, Matt Alber. On 16 November of 1524 Zwingli addressed him thusly:

Gratia et pax a domino! Aspersit nos rumor de certamine, quod tibi futurum est cum quodam fratre, ut aiunt, ingenue etiam Christo favente, qui ut facie mihi notus est, ita nomine ignotus, contra tu nomine nobis et euangelii gloria notissimus es, facie ignotus. Certamen autem Michael noster audivit περὶ τῆς εὐχαριστίας esse indictum, in qua vereor multos vehementer errare, nisi ego magis quam omnes errem. Ac nisi me fallit omnis scripturae tum proprietas, tum sensus, imo pietas ipsa, longe hactenus a scopo iecimus. Quisquis autem peccati huius tandem sit autor, nunc non est ut dicam per epistolam, quam esse brevem oportet.

And then he rips into Carlstadt. Good times, good times.
*H. Zwingli, The Latin works of Huldreich Zwingli, (Vol. 3, p. 221).

The Anniversary of Regula Zwingli’s Death

Zwingli's family tree

Zwingli’s family tree

Regula, the eldest daughter [of Huldrych Zwingli], born in 1525, who is said to have been the image of her mother, married on August 3, 1541, when in her seventeenth year, Bullinger’s foster-son, Rudolf Gualther, a brilliant man, born in Zurich, November 9, 1519; studied at Basel, Strassburg, Lausanne, and Marburg, and in 1542 became pastor of St. Peter’s in Zurich, and so remained the rest of his life. In 1547 he brought out the first edition of Zwingli’s works, himself translating into Latin all the hitherto untranslated German treatises. He succeeded Bullinger in the office of chief city pastor in 1575. After Regula died of the plague (November 14, 1565), he married Anna, daughter of Thomas Blarer, formerly burgomaster of Constance, Gualther died December 25, 1586. With Zwingli’s son Ulrich the male line of the Reformer died out.  —  Samuel Macauley Jackson.

Lest we forget.

It’s Also Augustine of Hippo’s Birthdate

Augustine, the former reprobate who confessed (read: bragged about) things in his Confessions that no person should ever do and who made up the notion of ‘original sin’ and who was followed and adored by Luther was evidently born on 13 November (I bet it was a Friday)-


Augustine is the patron saint of Catholic theologians because, like most Catholic theologians, he didn’t know very much about the Bible (Jerome was a better exegete), or Greek, or Hebrew.  I guess that’s why he’s still popular among certain circles where knowledge of the biblical languages is restricted to an ability to cite Strong’s wretched exhausting concordance.

Anyway, happy birthday, ya daft reprobate.

It’s Johannes Eck’s Birth-iversary

eckJohn Eck, more correctly Johann Maier, was born at Eck (now Egg, near Memmingen, south of Augsburg) in Swabia, November 13, 1486. When twelve years of age he began his studies at Heidelberg and continued them at Tuebingen, Cologne and Freiburg. When fourteen years of age he became Magister Artium, when nineteen bachelor of theology, when twenty-two priest at Strassburg, and in 1510, when twenty-four years, doctor and professor of theology in the University of Ingolstadt.

Having studied under humanistic teachers he advocated at first liberal views in theology and philosophy and as early as 1517 entered into friendly relations with Luther. But his unbounded ambition to be regarded as the leading theologian of Germany caused him to become the defender of the papacy and of Catholic doctrine. In 1519, he began his fight against Luther. In 1520, he visited Rome at the invitation of the Pope, when he presented to him his work on the Primacy of Peter against Luther, Ingolstadt 1520, for which he was awarded with the appointment as papal prothonotary. When on June 16, 1520, the papal bull, Exsurge Domine, appeared, in which forty-one propositions of Luther were condemned, Eck was entrusted with its execution in Germany.

At the Diet of Augsburg, Eck took a leading part as defender of the Roman Catholic position. He extracted 404 articles from the works of the reformers and with seventy other theologians collaborated in the Confutatio pontificia, in which the Catholic refutation of Protestantism was embodied.

Against Zwingli and his party, Eck first appeared at the public disputation at Baden, in Catholic territory, twelve miles northwest of Zurich, on May 21–June 18, 1526. The affair ended in favor of Eck, who induced the authorities to suppress the reformation at Baden. The dispution of Berne, which was conducted in the absence of Eck in January 1528, was won for the reformation.

When Zwingli’s account of his faith had been submitted to the emperor in July 1530, it was turned over to Eck for answer. He sat down at once and within three days, as he boasts, he produced what he intended to be a crushing reply. It was completed on July 17, 1530, dedicated to the Cardinal of Liege and printed most likely in the same month at Augsburg.

Eck was more highly esteemed as the champion of the true faith in Rome than in Germany, where he had many enemies. He was accused of drunkenness, immorality, unbounded greed for money and passionate desire for honor and preferment. When Rome did not gratify all his ambitions, he made overtures for peace to the Protestants, but they failed through hatred and contempt by which he was generally regarded.

But through his scholarly attainments, and controversial ability, he made himself the most prominent, and also the most violent opponent of the reformation. He died at Ingolstadt on February 10, 1543. Numerous works in Latin and German testify both to his ability and to his violent temper.*

It’s worth remembering that were it not for Eck, no one would probably have heard of Luther.  You have to take the bad with the good.

*Huldreich Zwingli, The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli (ed. William John Hinke; vol. 2; Philadelphia: Heidelberg Press, 1922), 62–63.

Fun Facts From Church History: Calvin’s Return to Geneva

Calvin wrote to Geneva on November 12, 1540, as follows:—‘Magnificent, mighty, and honourable Lords, were it only for the courtesy with which you treat me, it would be my duty to endeavour to meet your wishes. But there is, besides, the singular love which I bear to your church, which God once committed to my care, so that I am for ever bound to promote its good and its salvation. Nevertheless, be so good as to remember that I am here at Worms for the purpose of serving, with what small ability God has given me, all Christian churches. For this reason I am, for the present, unable to come and serve you.’*

He would have his mind changed.  Geneva wanted him back and apparently so did God.  And you can’t resist God…

*J. H. Merle D’aubigné D.D. and William L. R. Cates, History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (vol. 7; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1876), 12–13.

November 12, 1537- The Day All Genevans Had to Swear Fidelity to Calvin’s Confession of Faith

Nothing could check the zeal of Calvin. On October 30 he presented himself to the council, and set forth various grievances. ‘The hospital,’ he said, ‘is very poorly furnished, and the sick are suffering in consequence. Geneva has a Christian school, and nevertheless some children go to the school of the papacy. Lastly it is to be feared that dissensions will arise between the citizens, for while some have taken the oath as to the manner of living, others have not done so.’ The sick, the young, and peace among the citizens, these were the matters which occupied the mind of the reformer, subjects well worthy of his attention. The council decreed—‘The hospital shall be supplied; all children shall be bound to go to the Christian school, and not to the papistical; and the confession shall be required of all who have not yet made it.’

The confession was that penned by Calvin.  And those who had not sworn to it July 29 of that year were ordered to do so November 12, or leave the city.

Calvin wasn’t one to mess around…

On the Anniversary of Martin Bucer’s Birth

He’s a guy really worth celebrating. Here’s what Schaff says, briefly-

bucerThe chief reformer of Strassburg was Martin Bucer (1491–1552). He was a native of Alsace, a Dominican monk, and ordained to the priesthood. He received a deep impression from Luther at the disputation in Heidelberg, 1518; obtained papal dispensation from his monastic vows (1521); left the Roman Church; found refuge in the castle of Francis of Sickingen; married a nun, and accepted a call to Strassburg in 1523.

Here he labored as minister for twenty-five years, and had a hand in many important movements connected with the Reformation. He attended the colloquy at Marburg (1529); wrote, with Capito, the Confessio Tetrapolitana (1530); brought about an artificial and short-lived armistice between Luther and Zwingli by the Wittenberg Concordia (1536); connived, unfortunately, at the bigamy of Philip of Hesse; and took a leading part, with Melanchthon, in the unsuccessful reformation of Archbishop Herrmann of Cologne (1542). Serious political troubles, and his resistance to the semi-popish Interim, made his stay in Strassburg dangerous, and at last impossible.

bucer2Melanchthon in Wittenberg, Myconius in Basel, and Calvin in Geneva, offered him an asylum; but be accepted, with his younger colleague Fagius, a call of Cranmer to England (1549). He aided him in his reforms; was highly esteemed by the archbisbop and King Edward VI., and ended his labors as professor of theology in Cambridge. His bones were exhumed in the reign of Bloody Mary (1556), but his memory was honorably restored by Queen Elizabeth (1560).

Bucer figures largely in the history of his age as the third (next to Luther and Melanchthon) among the Reformers of Germany, as a learned theologian and diplomatist, and especially as a unionist and peacemaker between the Lutherans and Zwinglians. He forms also a connecting link between Germany and England, and exerted some influence in framing the Anglican standards of doctrine and worship. His motto was: “We believe in Christ, not in the church.”

bucer3He impressed his character upon the church of Strassburg, which occupied a middle ground between Wittenberg and Zuerich, and gave shelter to Calvin and the Reformed refugees of France. Strict Lutheranism triumphed for a period, but his irenical catholicity revived in the practical pietism of Spener, who was likewise an Alsacian. In recent times the Strassburg professors, under the lead of Dr. Reuss, mediated between the Protestant theology of Germany and that of France, in both languages, and furnished the best edition of the works of John Calvin.*

The best and most thorough biography of the good man was written by Greschat.  And of course you can read most of his stuff here, at PRDL.  Spend some time with Bucer today.  It’s his birthday!

*History of the Christian church (Vol. 7, pp. 572–573).

The Birth of Martin Luther…

luther33Took place on 10 November, 1483. Luther tells the story of his origins thusly:

Concerning my family background, no one can give more trustworthy information than the counts of Mansfeld. I believe that these nobles have enough of a name and authority in the Empire to deserve to be believed on this subject. … I was born, by the way, at Eisleben, and baptized there in St. Peter’s Church. I do not remember this, but I believe my parents and the folks at home.

My parents moved there from [a place] near Eisenach. Nearly all my kinfolk are at Eisenach, and I am known there and recognized by them even today, since I went to school there for four years, and there is no other town in which I am better known. I hope the people there would not have been so stupid that any one of them would call the son of Luther “nephew,” another “uncle,” another “cousin” (I have many of them there), had they known that my father and my mother were Bohemians or other such People, rather than those born in their midst.

The rest of my life I spent in school and in the monastery at Erfurt until I came to Wittenberg. I was also in Magdeburg for one year at the age of fourteen.*

Luther tells Spalatin all this because, at the time he wrote the letter, some were accusing him of being a native of Bohemia.  It is the only place in his writings where he mentions his birth (that I’ve been able to track down).
*M. Luther, Luther’s works, vol. 48: Letters I, pp. 145–146.

On Luther’s Birthday- The Two Best Recent Bios


If you’re looking for really very good very recent bios of Luther- you won’t do better than Volker Leppin’s or Herman Selderhuis’s.

Luther’s Dark Side and its Horrifying Consequences: Kristallnacht

Many Germans were able to justify the barbarity and inhumanity of Kristallnacht because centuries before Martin Luther, the Reformer of Germany, said these words:

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews and who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

So commences Luther’s most disgusting and disreputable book, On the Jews and Their Lies.  He continues further on

The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are who imagine that they are God’s people who have been commissioned and commanded to murder and to slay the Gentiles. In fact, the most important thing that they expect of their Messiah is that he will murder and kill the entire world with their sword. They treated us Christians in this manner at the very beginning throughout all the world. They would still like to do this if they had the power, and often enough have made the attempt, for which they have got their snouts boxed lustily.


Finally I wish to say this for myself: If God were to give me no other Messiah than such as the Jews wish and hope for, I would much, much rather be a sow than a human being. I will cite you a good reason for this. The Jews ask no more of their Messiah than that he be a Kokhba and worldly king who will slay us Christians and share out the world among the Jews and make them lords, and who finally will die like other kings, and his children after him. For thus declares a rabbi: You must not suppose that it will be different at the time of the Messiah than it has been since the creation of the world, etc.; that is, there will be days and nights, years and months, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, begetting and dying, eating and drinking, sleeping, growing, digesting, eliminating—all will take its course as it does now, only the Jews will be the masters and will possess all the world’s gold, goods, joys, and delights, while we Christians will be their servants. This coincides entirely with the thoughts and teachings of Muhammad. He kills us Christians as the Jews would like to do, occupies the land, and takes over our property, our joys and pleasures. If he were a Jew and not an Ishmaelite, the Jews would have accepted him as the Messiah long ago, or they would have made him the Kokhba.

Luther may not have written those things had he been gifted with the ability to see into the future and observe how his words would be used against human beings who deserved, and deserve, far better than that from a Christian theologian.  But he did write them.  And the law, the ruthless horrifying law of unintended consequences used those words as justification for what Germany did to the Jews from Nov 9, 1938 on.  And Luther is in part responsible.

Be careful what you write.  It can be used in a way you never imagined in 10,000 years.


The Story of the Theologian Who Plotted to Kill Hitler: And it’s Not Bonhoeffer

On this anniversary of Kristallnacht, a story of resistance to Hitler you may not know-

It was [79] years on November 9 since [Maurice] Bavaud, born in Neuchâtel, failed in his attempt to shoot Hitler at a rally in Munich because spectators in front of him raised their hands for the Nazi salute.

He was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris and eventually admitted his plans under torture. He was tried on December 18, 1938 and sentenced to death. He was guillotined in the Berlin-Plötzensee prison on May 14, 1941.

Bavaud’s father attempted to rehabilitate his son, resulting in a court decision of December 12, 1955 reversing the death sentence but posthumously condemning Bavaud to a five-year sentence, arguing that Hitler’s life was protected by law just like any other life.

A second verdict of 1956 reversed the prison sentence and Germany paid Bavaud’s family the sum of SFr40,000 in reparation.

The Swiss government admitted in 1989 and again in 1998 that the Swiss authorities had not made a sufficient effort to save Bavaud.

NBC news adds this snippet of detail-

Student Maurice Bavaud, 25, who was from the western Swiss town of Neuchatel, was executed in Berlin’s notorious Ploetzensee prison after failing in his attempt to shoot Hitler at a Nazi parade in Munich on Nov. 9, 1938.  By coincidence, Bavaud made his attempt just hours before Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis destroyed synagogues and Jewish businesses across Germany and Austria.

Huldrych Zwingli On The Problem With Pseudo-Scholars

Illustration: Daniel Lienhard/Flyer Reformierte Kirche Kanton Zürich

Illustration: Daniel Lienhard/Flyer Reformierte Kirche Kanton Zürich

They are so ignorant as to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in their essence, substance, divinity, power, that they do not know what you mean when you speak of one and understand all three; and their lack of knowledge is accompanied by such recklessness that what they are extremely ignorant of they all the more violently drag under suspicion.

Or they are so willingly and knowingly impious that they assail with the depravity of a perverted heart what they see is done rightly and piously, and since they despair of accomplishing anything in open warfare, they make an underground attack, alleging a fear that we are too much inclined sometimes towards the Father, sometimes towards the Son. To all such I say, κλαίειν, “fare ill.”

Paleography Workshop at Meeter Center

Undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars are invited to apply to attend our July 6-17, 2020 French Paleography Workshop with Professor Tom Lambert, offered biennially and sponsored jointly by the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies and the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. This two-week course provides beginning paleographers the skills to read and interpret a variety of handwritten 16th-century French texts. Utilizing the Meeter Center’s substantial number of original 16th century French manuscripts and texts, a broad range of documents will be included in the course, including: criminal proceedings, sermons, deliberations of the Geneva City Council and the Consistory of Geneva, wills, contracts, royal letters, and other documents. The workshop will be held July 6-17, 2020, every morning for three hours, Monday through Friday. Students accepted to the course will receive a $500 stipend to defray costs of travel and accommodation.

Check out the full details.

Luther’s Bible Banned

“On November 5, 1522, Luther’s books had been banned from sale in Nürnberg. On November 7, Duke George had prohibited the sale and purchase of Luther’s German translation of the New Testament in ducal Saxony”  – Luther’s Works (ed. Christopher Boyd Brown; vol. 59; Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2012).

When books are banned they become even more desirable.  Banning a book is like banning teen handholding.  You’re just urging it on.

Everyday Prayer with John Calvin

 ‘Everyday Prayer with John Calvin‘, Don McKim’s latest book, is a genuine joy to read.

Drawing from the Institutes and Calvin’s Old and New Testament commentaries, Donald K. McKim comments on Calvin’s biblical insights on prayer and intersperses his short readings with Calvin’s own prayers. Reflection questions and prayer points help you to meditate on Scripture, understand Calvin’s teaching, and strengthen your own prayer life.

Jennifer Powell McNutt likes it-

Everyday Prayer with John Calvin offers a helpful and thought-provoking guide to better understanding the purpose and practice of prayer in the Christian life. . . . There’s no better way to encounter Calvin at his best than in the reverence that he showed for the practice of prayer.”

Professor McKim, a consummate Calvin scholar and an excellent theologian has collected under one roof many of the prayers of Calvin.  I think that if readers are looking for devotional material for the upcoming New Year, this will be the volume to use.

The book is laid out in 85 chapter-ettes, each includes McKim’s devotional observations based on a theological text from Calvin and a suggestion for prayer.  Or, in his own words, in this book

My approach … is to provide a series of short devotional reflections on quotations from Calvin, drawn from the Institutes and from Calvin’s commentaries on Old and New Testament books. My reflections on Calvin try to explain what Calvin is saying, theologically; and to point out its importance for our lives of Christian faith today.

A scripture citation sits at the top of each page, which McKim urges readers to read first.  Following are McKim’s observations on a relevant text from Calvin and a recommendation for a particular prayer.  Interspersed throughout the volume are prayers of Calvin himself.

Allow me to excerpt a complete entry which will give readers a fuller sense of what’s at hand here:

No Distresses Should Keep Us from Praying
Joel 2:28-32

In a picture of the “coming days,” the Joel portrays the pouring out of God’s Spirit “on all flesh” (Joel 2:28) and the coming judgment as “the day of the LORD” (2:31). This is the worst situation imaginable! God’s judgment is coming. But there is a promise: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (2:32). Those saved call on “the name of the LORD”—they pray for God’s help and deliverance. However this scene may be fulfilled, we cannot miss the implication: There is no distress imaginable to keep us from praying to God. No situation!

Calvin commented, “Since then God invites here the lost and the dead, there is no reason why even the heaviest distresses should preclude an access for us or for our prayers; for we ought to break through all these obstacles. The more grievous, then, our troubles are, the more confidence we ought to entertain; for God offers his grace, not only to the miserable, but also to those in utter despair.”*

This is the word of hope for us today. We can pray to God in the midst of the “heaviest distresses.” The worse our troubles, “the more confidence” we should have in God’s help. We may be miserable and pray to God. But even more—even if we are in “utter despair”—we can (and must!) pray to God. For God gives grace to those in this most dire of all situations. Let nothing deter you from praying to God who helps!

Reflection Question. In what ways do the worst of circumstances lead you to pray even more fervently?

The volume is a spiritual aid, a very useful and helpful guide to some of Calvin’s best thoughts about a variety of topics.

Were I to fault it, I would only say that I wish it were expanded further to 365 readings so that it could be used as a ‘through the year with Calvin’ sort of devotional for each day.  It should, in my estimation, be longer.  Much longer.

Perhaps in the not too distant future that will happen.  Until then (or if it never does), then readers here are urged to find a copy and read it.  Either day by day for 85 days, or through in a couple of sitting sessions.

Either way, it will be of benefit to all.  It’s an authentic delight.

Challenging the Spirit of Modernity: A Study of Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution

I appreciate the good people at Lexham Press sending a copy of this new volume for review (without any expectations for the tone or the outcome of that review).  And for also sending this work (which of course is the precursor of the new volume and its presupposition).

Dutch politician and historian Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between the church and secular society. Writing at the onset of modernity in Western culture, Groen saw with amazing clarity the dire implications of abandoning God’s created order for human life in society. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and he had a profound impact on Abraham Kuyper’s famous public theology.

In Challenging the Spirit of Modernity, Harry Van Dyke places this seminal work into historical context, revealing how this vital contribution still speaks into the fractured relationship between religion and society. A deeper understanding of the roots of modern secularism and Groen’s strong, faithful response to it gives us a better grasp of the same conflict today.


Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between religion and modernity. As a historian and politician, Groen was intimately familiar with the growing divide between secular culture and the church in his time. Rather than embrace this division, these lectures, originally published in 1847, argue for a renewed interaction between the two spheres. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and as a mentor to Abraham Kuyper, he had a profound impact on Kuyper’s famous public theology.

Harry Van Dyke, the original translator, reintroduces this vital contribution to our understanding of the relationship between religion and society.

The primary source titled ‘Unbelief and Revolution’ is here published in a very fine English translation and it includes a thorough introduction and a very important contextualization of van Pristerer’s timely and abidingly relevant work.  In his book, v.P. describes the history of western Europe from the French Revolution through 1845 and the rise of secularism.  It is a work which sees the secularization of the West as the downfall of the West.  Unbelief and revolution (in the sense of a turning away from institutions like the Christian Church) go hand in hand.  They belong to one another and they feed upon one another.  v.P.’s views are succinctly stated in the 13th lecture, where he writes of the years 1789-1794 that they…

… show us the depth of our depravity.  They show us what becomes of a man when a portion of Christian truth, its origin and essence denied, is made serviceable to a false principle: the poisonous seed of error, sown in the well prepared soil, multiplies tenfold and, with circumstances co-operating, bears fruit a hundredfold.

V.P.’s volume, then, strives to show the ultimate danger of Modernity.  History has borne him out.

The second volume of the two here under examination is a detailed study of v.P.’s ‘Unbelief and Revolution’.  It was written by the translator of v.P.’s volume and accordingly was undertaken by a person superbly qualified to understand the sense, aims, and achievements of v.P.’s book.

Herein readers are introduced to the historical period of v.P.’s work and provided a brief biography of the theologian.  Further, the sources and audience of the work are described, along with the style, argument, and editions of the work.

Next, van Dyke compares the first and second editions and various translations of the volume.  And finally, in chapter 13, the controversial issues which the volume addresses.

The second volume also provides a bibliography, an index of names, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture references.

Van Dyke’s style is informative and engaging and the information he provides is excellent and accurate.  His ability to tell the story of a man, his era, and his work is peerless.

Historical theology matters, and these two volumes are excellent examples of the sources and examination of sources necessary for historical theology to be undertaken and explained.

But most importantly, there are political and cultural ramifications intertwined here as well.  It’s one thing to observe history from afar as though one were a mere disinterested observer.  V.P.’s entire aim is to summon Christians to the examination of history so as to effect changes they deem necessary.  Not in order to ‘bring about a theocracy, but in order to recognize the connection between religion, authority, and freedom’ (as the prefatory note has it).

These two works belong together on the shelves of those interested in theology, and those interested in politics.  And it especially belongs on the shelves of those who are concerned about the theology of politics.

Die Äbtissin, der Söldnerführer und ihre Töchter

Or, more fully, Christine Christ-von Wedel, Die Äbtissin, der Söldnerführer und ihre Töchter: Katharina von Zimmern im politischen Spannungsfeld der Reformationszeit. Unter Mitarbeit von Irene Gysel, Jeanne Pestalozzi und Marlis Stähli

Katharina von Zimmern förderte die Reformation in Zürich beträchtlich, als sie mit 46 Jahren das Fraumünsterstift der Stadt übergab. Kurz darauf heiratete sie den fünf Jahre zuvor in Zürich zum Tod verurteilten Söldnerführer Eberhard von Reischach, mit dem sie noch zwei Kinder hatte. Das ist längst bekannt. Aber es gibt über diese bemerkenswerte Frau und ihre Umgebung noch mehr zu berichten.

Neu gefundene und neu analysierte Quellen ermöglichen einen frischen und ungewohnten Blick auf die «Äbtissin» und die Reformation. Das Buch beleuchtet dabei das Zürcher Soldwesen, die Klosterpolitik der Stadt und Zwinglis Bündnispläne, aber auch die theologische, humanistische und höfische Literatur, die damals im Adel gelesen wurde, sowie das Alltagsleben mit seinen Kämpfen, Freuden und Leiden. Auch taucht eine junge Frau auf, die während Katharinas Äbtissinnenzeit zur Welt kam und deren Sohn behauptete, sie stamme vom Paar Reischach-Zimmern ab.

Christine Christ-von Wedel fügt die vielfältigen Themen der Reformationszeit zu einem farbigen detailreichen Panorama zusammen, das sich um Katharina von Zimmern entfaltet.

TVZ have sent a review copy.