Church History

The Death of S.M. Jackson

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jacksonSamuel Macauley Jackson, 1851–1912, American Presbyterian clergyman and encyclopedist, b. New York City. He was associate editor in the preparation of the original Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia (1884) and editor in chief of the greatly enlarged New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (13 vol., 1908–14). He also edited the Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge (rev. ed. 1891) and the “American Church History” series (13 vol., 1893–97). Jackson was religious editor of several encyclopedias and dictionaries. He wrote a standard biography of Huldreich Zwingli (1901), part of the “Heroes of the Reformation” series, which he sponsored. He was long the moving spirit of the American Society of Church History and edited its papers.

This is the anniversary of his death.  He was one of the greats.

Reformation und Rationalität

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A new volume has been published in the Refo500 Academic Series by V&R:

978-3-525-55079-3On 19th October 1512, Martin Luther received his doctorate of theology under the chairmanship of Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt. Throughout his life, Luther remained tied to the Universityof Wittemberg. The Reformation movement was initially driven by and through his concern with academic issues, which also from the outset pertained to the relationship between theology and the other sciences.

The contributors to this volume describe the relationship between faith and reason – or ratio and pietas – which was assessed in different ways in the Reformation, described by some as oppositional and by others as harmonious. Moreover, reformers referred back to medieval philosophical and theological points of view to relate reason with belief. The way in which this was done was definitive, for example for the establishment of universities, relations between science and the Church and in matters concerning the Bible and preaching. The lectures printed in this volume address the question of the relationship between the Reformation and reason before a European, interdenominational horizon.

Lutherrenaissance Past and Present

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978-3-525-56415-8This volume makes a distinctive contribution to the upcoming 500th anniversary of Luther’s reformation by looking back to the previous centennial in 1917. The great flourishing of interest in Luther’s religious experience and thought in Berlin at the turn of the twentieth century was known as the Lutherrenaissance. Contributors to this volume, attentive to both to the rich contributions of the Lutherrenaissance and its darker consequences, open an unprecedented conversation across the century. Contributors exemplify new perspectives in Luther scholarship today, the rich and fertile grounds of the Lutheran tradition, in its engagement with unprecedented global circumstances.

Visit the link above for the TOC and the front matter.  V&R have sent along a copy for review, so there will be more in the not too awful distant future about it.

Observing Signs, Wonder, Portents, And a Belief in Astrology: These are Things Melanchthon and Zwingli Had in Common

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I think everyone knows that Melanchthon had a penchant for astrology.  Luther chided him about it regularly.  But he wasn’t alone in the 16th century in holding such views.  Zwingli too had an affinity for such things (though of a milder sort than Melanchthon).  This was especially the case in the dreadful atmosphere of mid Summer, 1531:

As the year wore on it was increasingly plain that war was inevitable, and Nature seemed to Zwingli to prophesy disaster. Zurich was again visited by the plague, though not in severe form. Like others of his time, Zwingli believed in signs and portents and had a lingering faith in astrology. So he was greatly disturbed at an extraordinary communication from Schenkenberg, near Brugg, in Aargau, some seventeen miles north by west of Zurich, written by the magistrate of the village and dated July 29, 1531, to the effect that on July 24th blood had been seen issuing in a stream from the earth!

Other equally circumstantial reports of uncommon physical phenomena were:

  • that at Zug, some fifteen miles south of Zurich, on Lake Zug, a shield had been seen in the air; on the river Reuss, which runs into Lake Zug, shots were heard at night;
  • on the Bruenig Pass, some twenty-five miles south of Luzern, flags flew in the heavens,
  • and on the Lake of Luzern phantom ships sailed filled with ghosts in warriors’ garb.
  • At Goostow, in the county of Gröningen, belonging to Zurich, a poor peasant woman, Beatrice of Marckelssheim, bore a child that had two heads with faces, three legs, and three arms, but only one body. Two of the arms hung from the sides as usual, but the third came out of the back between the shoulders, and had on the end two hands clasped. Two of the legs were also normal, but the third hung from behind for all the world like a tail! One of the heads died in the birth, the other lived a short time after it.

But still more alarming was the comet, of which Zwingli writes, on August 16th: “Some have seen a comet here in Zurich for three nights. I for one only, i. e., August 15th; what we shall see to-day, the 16th, I don’t know.” Bullinger thus relates the incident:

“Upon [St.] Lawrence [day, Thursday, August 10, 1531], appeared at sunset a right fearful comet whose long and broad tail stretched to mid heaven. The colour was pale yellow. And when Zwingli was asked what it meant by George Müller, abbot at Wittengen, as standing in the churchyard of the Great Minster, near the Wettinger House, they contemplated it together, he replied: ‘Dear George, it will cost me and many an honest man his life, and truth and Church will yet suffer; still Christ will not desert us.’ ”*

Doesn’t the baby of Goostow sound like Joel Watts? Anyway, I think it would be unfair of us to look down our noses at the notion that astrology is even remotely sensible. Their world was different than ours and the views held by its residents deserve to be judged on their terms not ours.
*Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531) (pp. 350–352).

Von Strittigkeit der Bilder- Texte des deutschen Bildstreits im 16. Jahrhundert

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9783110316421This volume provides the most comprehensive documentation of German controversies about pictorial images in the 16th century.

The two-volume work provides insight into this original debate on media in the German-speaking world, furnishing an unprecedented level of detail and information.

The table of contents is here.  Two volumes full of history from primary sources on the topic of images and the problems caused by their existence in the German speaking lands in the 1500’s – 1700’s.

The texts included in this large collection are in both Latin and German.  When in Latin, the editor provides a fine modern German translation on the facing page.  When in German, however, the original text is reproduced.

The texts are arranged in chronological order, which is highly beneficial when one wishes to follow the historical debate as it unfolded.  Difficult to find texts are also assembled here in this profoundly useful work.  Moreover, the editor of these volumes provides both an introduction to each as well as a thorough bibliography of original printings.  Similarly, a number of illustrations are provided from various Flugschriften and longer works and every theological perspective is represented (from Luther and Zwingli to Carlstadt and Emser and from Bucer to Bullinger and Melancthon.  Lesser known thinkers are also invited into the conversation so that the thoroughness and ‘fairness’ of the materials here offered are completely beyond question.

58 texts from 45 authors have representation herein and the oldest texts stem from the late 15th century and the most recent from the 17th century, spanning around 130 years of theological discussion.  Our editor introduces the purpose and goals of the two volumes in a very well written opening chapter.  Again, each work is introduced and placed within its historical/ theological context.   Unfamiliar 15th or 16th century words are ‘translated’ in the body of the text itself by means of brackets.  That is, when a word is odd, a modern German equivalent is offered readers within [   ].

Poetic texts are set in the usual poetic format whilst prose is printed in the normal way.  Readers will have no difficulties in understanding which texts are prose and which are not; which are original and which are modern.

One very helpful aspect of the German translation of Latin texts is that the editor breaks up long Latin sentences into shorter more sensible German ones.  This illustrates the familiarity of Prof. Berns with Latin texts from the period of the Reformation and his facility as a translator: he refuses to be slavish or wooden in his renderings.

All of the above describes the form of the volumes and offers a glimpse of the overall contents, but it is only when readers grapple with the texts themselves that the real value of the collection comes to the forefront.  These texts are wit, and wisdom and sarcasm and vitriol and humor and the finest examples of theology ‘on the ground’ that one is likely to encounter.   That because here we see the ways in which theologians engaged one of the most important issues of their time and they, in our vernacular, ‘pulled out all the stops’ to poke fun at their adversaries and their views.  So while ad hominem may be anathema to our era it was certainly not to theirs and they felt completely comfortable and completely justified in using it as a weapon.  And they were skilled in using it.  Skilled and unafraid.

So, for instance, on page 179 of volume one we read Melanchthon’s ‘Explanation of the Papal Ass of Rome’.  Utilizing a delightful image provided by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Melanchthon describes and explains every aspect of the image.  Here is the image:


Melancthon first lets readers in on the fact that God has always used signs and images to describe the Antichrist.  Daniel 8 is a prime example.  He then makes the connection to his own time and the fact that the Papal Antichrist is also worthy of the sort of treatment he receives in the image above.  He begins his description and his explanation with the head of the creature- the Ass-

Aufs erst bedeut der Esels kopf den Bapst, denn die kirche ist ein geystlicher leyb und ein geystlich reych, das  ym geyst versamelt ist. Darumb sol und kan sie kein lyplich heupt noch eußerlich herren haben, Sondern allein Christum, der ynwendig im geyst durch den glauben in den hertzen regirt, haupt und herr ist.

And so throughout for a number of tightly packed pages, down to the very feet of the creature and what they suggest.  Melanchthon could wield words with vigor and wit as much as he could with learning and articulation.

Students of the Reformation and the century following will certainly wish to make use of these volumes.  They are extraordinary and encyclopedic.  What Melanchthon does, all do: exhibit a sense of profound love of the faith which they hold.  Windows on their world are here opened and such light shed on their lives and times that without benefit of these works we operate with less knowledge than we can afford if we are to do our field justice.

JJ Berns deserves our thanks.  Even if these volumes are utilized only by specialists, what they contain will find their way from those specialists to all interested persons.  And they should.