Category Archives: Church History

The Latest Issue of The Sixteenth Century Journal

This one looks fun-

Radicalism and Dissent in the World of Protestant Reform

From V&R.

The 500th anniversary of the onset of the Protestant Reformation is receiving global attention, both from the public and from academic researchers. However, the significance of the year 1517 has been an issue of scholarly debate for quite some time, and its importance as a caesura in European history has been questioned. The popular picture, in particular, of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church doors on 31 October 1517 and thereby unleashing both the Reformation movement and the modern era has been successfully challenged by research.

Our understanding of the Reformation has become more differentiated and complex, and this has been and will be documented in the context of the quincentenary in many events, publications and exhibitions around the world. The acknowledgement of plurality and dissent within early modern Protestantism is one key aspect of this differentiated picture of the Reformation. The symposium “The Protestant Reformation and its Radical Critique”, which was held at the German Historical Institute in London from September 15–17, 2016, concentrated on radical currents within the Reformation movement, most of which were inspired by a critical engagement with Luther and the other magisterial reformers. These radical groups and theologies are of particular interest because they link British, German, Dutch, French and North American experiences and historiographies.

The period on which the essays in this volume focus extends from the early Reformation of the 1520s to the Pietist movement of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This broad chronological perspective will help to shift the anniversary discussions from their predominant focus on the sixteenth century. A public lecture given at the British Museum within the framework of this symposium positioned the various strands of early-modern religious radicalism within an even wider temporal framework and linked them to those of the 20th century. The symposium itself was structured thematically around issues such as group formation, religious radicalism in politics, gender and family relations, missionary activity, radicalism across borders, and radical history writing.

Radicalism is one of the unintended consequences of Luther’s reformatory efforts. Once the floodgates were opened, thanks to Luther’s own doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, all bets were off concerning what people would do with that freedom. Unsurprisingly, many misused it and others abused it.

In the present volume the contributors show the variety of ways in which the chief Reformers (Luther and Zwingli) had their work distorted and mistreated by various radical groups. As such, it is a wonderful historical examination and a delightful look at the nature of history as it sometimes surprises its inhabitants.

Who were these Radicals?

The radical reformers, as classified by George Williams in his encyclopaedic The Radical Reformation, were the Anabaptists, the Spiritualists and the Anti-Trinitarians (p. 8).

Or are they?

As John Coffey points out in his essay for this volume, producing taxonomies of radicalism, as Williams did, is analogous to ‘fixing butterflies on a wall rather than tracking their unpredictable movements through the air’ (p. 9).

The volume presently under review, then, strives to move us forward from the common understanding of the Radical Reformation by shedding new light on a number of particular historical events. We have, in short, at hand here a series of historical case studies.

Of particular significance, in this reviewer’s estimate, is the essay by Lehmann. He writes

No wall that Luther erected was high enough, however, to prevent some of the ideas that he had formulated and propagated from spreading. The centrality of the Scriptures for all Christians, for example, captured many people’s minds, in towns and in the countryside. For Luther, this notion was closely tied to his most effective form of defense against papal arguments. As a professor of biblical studies he was convinced that he knew, and understood, God’s words at least as well, and in fact much better than anyone else. Early on, in 1518 or 1519, when being attacked, he asked his opponents to base their arguments on scriptural evidence. No doubt this method worked very well to his advantage, for example at the hearings in Worms. In keeping with this, Luther demanded that future pastors should receive a solid university education in biblical studies. As a result, what he created, together with Melanchthon, was nothing less than a new clerical elite, a professional corps of theological experts trained to explain the true meaning of God’s word to the uneducated, thus eroding the foundation of his very own slogan of the priesthood of all believers. Within just a few years he dropped the idea that anyone could simply go ahead and read and understand the message of the Bible (p. 17).

I offer that extensive quote because it shows both the quality of Lehmann’s writing and the cogency of his argument. This is a stupendous collection and I confess to having learned much from each of the essays included herein.

Those interested in the contents and the front matter of the present work are encouraged to visit the PDF of those materials kindly provided by the publisher.  I genuinely enjoy historical studies of the Radical Reformation (perhaps because at heart I’m a bit of a Radical myself), and I enjoyed this volume more than I’ve enjoyed any movie or TV show I’ve seen this year.  This book is worth turning the TV off for (and I love TV) and setting Facebook aside for a few hours for and even ignoring Twitter for a time, and times, and half a time.

CHRISTIANITY IN EURAFRICA: A History of the Church in Europe and Africa

Nothing has bound Africa and Europe more together than the history of Christianity. From Paradise onwards, the Church has been the communion of believers. As the Body of Jesus Christ she started in Jerusalem. Through the proclamation of the Gospel the Church soon reached parts of Africa and the Atlantic Coast, from where – after the Middle Ages and particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries – she took deep root in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, in post-modern times, African Christianity is being challenged to re-plant the Church in secularized Europe.  

This textbook for learners and teachers of the History of the Church focuses on the West and the South, on Europe and Africa, the continents whose histories have been increasingly intertwined since Antiquity. Since the 1960s, the classical dependence of the South on the North has changed dramatically. There is a clear shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity from the north to the south Atlantic, making African Christianity increasingly important. The future of European Christianity largely depends on a much-needed shift to mission-mindedness in the African churches.

I genuinely enjoyed Stephen’s earlier book on Christian Zionism so I was keen to read this, which he’s sent along for review.

In the volume at hand Paas traces the history of the Christian movement from its inception to the recent past.  In the introductory chapter he discusses the chief characteristics of Church history and its sources and rationale as well as its various branches.  The first major segment, ‘From Galilee to the Atlantic’ is a sweeping description of the historical setting of the early Church through the work of Augustine and the collapse of the Roman Empire and on to the rise of the Church in the West, the rise of Islam in the East, and the intersection of Church and State.

Then Paas turns his attention to the 16th century ‘Reformation Era’ and in the pages which follow the life and work of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, the Radical Reformers, and the Reformation in France, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland before he turns to the Counter Reformation.

Paas next describes the spread of Protestantism in Europe and North America and how Christianity proclaimed its variety of theologies through the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Second Part turns away from Europe and North America and instead focuses on the expansion of Christianity in Africa and the variety of missionary activities and theological expressions carried out and manifested on that continent from the beginning to the present.

This work truly is a sprawling and all encompassing survey of history and theological variety.  It is an impressive volume achieving in its pages what many longer and, frankly, more tedious works do not: the bestowal on the reader of a very thorough grasp of the history of the Church.

Paas’s expertise is on full display and his knowledge of the grand sweep of the history of the Church is astonishing.  There are, however, parts where he is dependent on the general consensus even when that consensus is incorrect.  So, for example, in his discussion of Zwingli, he writes

Zwingli officially turned to the Reformation after he had become priest in the cathedral of Zurich (p. 176).

This is, to be sure, the Lutheran perspective: the portrayal of Zwingli dependent on Luther in order to arrive at a proper Reformation viewpoint.  However Zwingli’s own testimony, and there’s no reason to doubt it, is that his own turn came as early as 1515 after the horrors of the Battle of Marignano.  By the time he reached Zurich in 1519 he had already become well acquainted with Paul’s theology and was slowly but surely, as was his custom, changing things where he was.

This caveat aside, the volume is a genuinely extraordinarily useful and informative work.  It is thoroughly illustrated with over 170 graphics and it is laced with useful bibliographies.  An index is also provided but in all frankness it is not necessary: the table of contents is one of the most thorough I’ve seen in any history of the Church.

I recommend this work for, especially, students of Church History who are early in their work; interested lay people; College and University Professors looking for a comprehensive textbook; and theologians concerned with the history of Dogma.

Tolle, Lege!  This is the most affordable, most comprehensive volume on the topic you’re likely to find anywhere.  And it is a pleasure to read.


Zwingli and Bullinger and their Influence: A Conference Announcement

Via Emidio Campi

The Reformations

(click to enlarge)

KUL 23.4.
Ausstellung “Der Luthereffekt” in Berlin.
Kreise von Reformatoren, 1625/1650

The Story of Luther’s Reformation

Here.  In a series of videos.  And remember, even though they call it ‘The History of the Reformation’ it really isn’t that at all.  Rather, it’s the story of Luther’s little corner of a grand historical phenomenon.

The Anna Bullinger Commemoration

The commemorative plaque for Anna Bullinger Adlischwyler unveiled! Heinrich Bullinger’s statue looks across the outer wall of Grossmünster straight at it.

Via Rebecca Giselbrecht.

The Expulsion of Calvin and Farel From Geneva


Farel urging Calvin to go to Geneva

On Easter Sunday, April 21, Calvin … ascended the pulpit of St. Peter’s; Farel, the pulpit of St. Gervais. They preached before large audiences, but declared that they could not administer the communion to the rebellious city, lest the sacrament be desecrated. And indeed, under existing circumstances, the celebration of the love-feast of the Saviour would have been a solemn mockery. Many hearers were armed, drew their swords, and drowned the voice of the preachers, who left the church and went home under the protection of their friends.  Calvin preached also in the evening in the Church of St. Francis at Rive in the lower part of the city, and was threatened with violence.

The small Council met after the morning service in great commotion and summoned the general Council. On the next two days, April 22 and 23, the great Council of the Two Hundred assembled in the cloisters of St. Peter’s, deposed Farel and Calvin, without a trial, and ordered them to leave the city within three days.

They received the news with great composure. “Very well,” said Calvin, “it is better to serve God than man. If we had sought to please men, we should have been badly rewarded, but we serve a higher Master, who will not withhold from us his reward.” Calvin even rejoiced at the result more than seemed proper.

The people celebrated the downfall of the clerical régime with public rejoicings. The decrees of the synod of Lausanne were published by sound of trumpets. The baptismal fonts were re-erected, and the communion administered on the following Sunday with unleavened bread.

So Schaff, as he recounts the events surrounding Calvin’s expulsion from that wretched pit of iniquity, Geneva.  Calvin was happy to be tossed out.  Nothing could have pleased him more at that point.

Anna Bullinger-Adlischwyler

Rebecca writes

Come to the Zwingliplatz on Sunday at 17:00 and join us for the unveiling of the Anna Bullinger-Adlischwyler (ca.1504-1564) commemorative plaque. We are also honoring Anna, who I worked to historically reconstruct, this year at the Gesellschaft zu Fraumünster at Sechseläuten. We will publish a little biography of her in German in January.

A Snippet of a Film

This little segment is on Marburg. The whole film, as I’ve said before, is excellent.

Staring Over Zwingli’s Shoulder…

Zwingli's Study

Zwingli’s Study

In his study on April 20, 1524, one would have seen him write his Eine Epistel vor der “Antwort eines Schwytzer Purens.”

He sends along to a small community words of encouragement as they struggle to reform, encouraging them as well to support their own Reformer-

Huldrich Zuingli embüt allen christlichen leseren gnad und fryd von got und unserm herren Jesu Christo.

Sich, frommer Christ, wie den himelschen vatter lustet, siner götlichen wyßheit liecht vor den wysen und fürsichtigen ze verbergen Mat. 11. [Matth. 11. 25], unnd das den kindischen erscheinen, damitt er all weg im selbs glych sye, der da verderbet die wyßheit der wysen unnd den verstand der fürsichtigen verschupfft [Jes. 29. 14, cf. 1. Cor. 1. 19]; der im selbs ouch den schlechten huffen wellet, damitt er die wysen zuo scham zwinge [1. Cor. 1. 27].

Hie kempffet ein hafengiesser, der gar ghein sprach noch kluogheit kan, dann die er von got und siner muoter gelert hat, mit eim alten schuolmeister, der in vil künsten, voruß des geistlichen retschens – wie heißt es?: rechtens – verschlissen unnd ußgenutzet ist.

Welcher aber sich uff die götlichen warheit bas verstand und das gotswort eigenlicher bruche, wirdst du in dym gleubigen hertzen innen. Darumb lassend darvon, ir gewaltigen diser welt, die leer Christi ze durächten. Do Christus getödt, ward er durch die vischer in der welt verkündet und nam me zuo, denn do er lyblich hie was. Also wenn ir die wenen vertriben han, werdend die hafner, müller, glaser, tuochschärer, schuochmacher und schnyder leeren. Es ist ietz an denen; die vischer hand es vor gethon.

Ouch, lieben schueler des Gebwylers, wellend ir des bapstes unnd der rethorick bericht werden, blybend bym Gebwyler; denn Hans Fueßli kan nüt darmit. Wellen ir aber die götlichen warheit clar hören, so zühend von dem retor und kummend zuo dem hafengiesser. Verstand es ieder imm besten. Bis hiemit gottes. Des bistu ouch, du wellist oder nit. Der wirt ouch uß dir machen ein geschirr zuo eer oder spott, wie er wil [cf. Röm. 9. 21]; er ist gott.

And God is with the Reformers.

Refo Thursday: The Other Martin

“If you immediately condemn anyone who doesn’t quite believe the same as you do … pray tell, [who] can you still consider a brother?”Martin Bucer

In the fall of 2013 I was asked to join a production team to create a 3-episode documentary on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I was ecstatic.  I’m not a theologian, but in an era of rapid change in the church, I find we have much to learn from the historic church.

During the editing of the film, the countless hours of interviews with scholars and theologians provided me deep insight into the life and times of the men and women whose thoughts and actions altered the entire trajectory of the church – especially Martin Luther.  I was somewhat familiar with his theology but had no idea how much Luther loved to pull the chain of those with whom he engaged.  His knack for using the profane to make his point was on par with his theological brilliance. I had some laugh-out-loud moments when I learned how he creatively used descriptions of bodily functions to call out his opponents and their theology. He knew little of subtlety and nuance.  He exhibited all-out-like-it-or-not-in-your-face engagement. Imagine how he could have lit up a 16th century Twitter account!

Read the rest.

A Film About The Reformation’s Most Bizarre Character: Thomas Müntzer

Am 25. April in der Kreisverwaltung Homberg (Efze): Der Film „Thomas Müntzer. Reformator, Sozialrevolutionär, Bauernkrieger“.

Wie Luther wendet sich der junge Priester Thomas Müntzer gegen die kirchlichen und weltlichen Obrigkeiten. Auch er lebt mit einer geflohenen Nonne zusammen. Sein Glaube ist jedoch kompromissloser, seine Kirchenkritik radikaler und er greift direkt die Ausbeutung der Bauern und Bürger durch Adel und Geistlichkeit an. Die Machthaber verfolgen ihn. Als 1524 die Aufstände des gemeinen Volks ausbrechen, stellt er sich an deren Seite und wird ihre Leitfigur. Neben tausenden anderen findet er in der Schlacht von Frankenhausen als junger Mann den Tod. Die alten Mächte haben den Deutschen Bauernkrieg gewonnen.

Der Film stellt Lebenslauf, Positionen und die Lebenswelt Müntzers eindrucksvoll dar. Die Vorstellung ist in der Kreisverwaltung Homberg (Efze) (Parkstraße 6) und beginnt um 19.00 Uhr. Eintritt ist frei, Spende sind erbeten.

Mehr Informationen (Seite 6)

Two New Volumes Worth Sharing

First, for the Melanchthon-ites out there (and who in their right mind isn’t?)

Written by a team of internationally renowned scholars, this newly conceived handbook provides a reliable introduction to the life, work, and impact of Philipp Melanchthon. It presents the latest research on Melanchthon’s role in Reformation history, but beyond this, reveals his importance in intellectual history as a universal scholar of the 16thcentury.

And second, for the Reformation History folk (and who in their right mind isn’t)

Jud, Zwingli, And Switzerland’s Love of Meat

There’s a great little essay here about just those very things.

The time: March 9, 1522, the first Sunday of Lent. The crime scene: a printer’s workshop in Grabengasse, just a stone’s throw from Zurich’s city walls. The first in a series of articles marking 500 years of the Reformation is a sizzling thriller.

Call For Papers Extended

Dear Colleagues,

Due to the religious holiday weekend, coupled with “tax day” in the United States, the SCSC President and Vice President have agreed to extend the deadline for panel, paper, and roundtable submissions for the 2017 Milwaukee conference until Midnight (Eastern US Time Zone) on Monday 17 April.

If you haven’t yet had time to submit your proposal, or have experienced difficulty with internet connections, we hope this short extension will give you the extra time you need to make your submission.

Please send an email to with any questions or if you experience any difficulty submitting.

What’s So Good about Good Friday?

Our friends in Zurich give the low down on the day-

Karfreitag und Karsamstag beschliessen die Karwoche, die nach dem Palmsonntag beginnt und den Gründonnerstag einschliesst. Der Karfreitag wird seit dem 2. Jahrhundert als Trauertag begangen.

Dieser Tag ist der Überlieferung nach der Todestag von Jesus. Zudem fanden der Prozess, die Hinrichtung und die Beerdigung Jesu am Karfreitag statt. Nach dem jüdischen Kalender ist Jesus am 15. Nisan mittags um die neunte Stunde am Kreuz auf dem Kalvarienberg gestorben. Dem gregorianischen Kalender zufolge könnte dies der 7.April des Jahres 30 oder der 3. April des Jahres 33 nachmittags um drei Uhr gewesen sein.

Der Karfreitag galt früher für die evangelischen Christen als strenger Busstag und ist heute höchster kirchlicher Feiertag. Vor allem im lutherischen Protestantismus hat die Erlösung von den Sünden durch den Kreuzestod zentrale Bedeutung für den Glauben. – In katholischen Kirchen findet an diesem wie auch am folgenden Tag keine Messe statt, es wird nur ein einfacher Wortgottesdienst gehalten.

In der evangelischen Kirche werden in der Karwoche traditionell tägliche Andachten – “Passionsandachten” – abgehalten. Die Kreuzwegandacht wird – v. a. in katholischen Kirchen – während der ganzen 40-tägigen Passionszeit abgehalten, besonders feierlich jedoch am Karfreitag. In Jerusalem feierte man schon im 3. Jahrhundert die ganze Heilige Woche, indem man den Weg Jesu nachging. Vorläufer der heutigen Kreuzwegandachten sind seit dem 15. Jahrhundert bekannt, prägend war stets der Franziskanerorden. Noch heute haben die Franziskaner das Privileg der Errichtung von Kreuzwegen in der katholischen Kirche.

Refo Thursday

“It was a strange and dreadful strife, When life and death contended. The victory remained with life; The reign of death was ended…” — Martin Luther

… One of Martin Luther’s most famous Easter hymns begins in German with the words “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death). In its English translation it is sung to a hymn tune written by Luther and a friend, and it’s called, naturally enough, CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN. (Hymn tune names are always written in ALL CAPS.) Except my mother never, ever called it that. She always called it “Christ lay on a toboggan,” just like she called the tune named LAUDA ANIMA “Laud my momma.”

Read the rest.

The Reformation is More than Martin Luther

And TVZ is publishing a raft of volumes this year proving it.  Here are a few:

The Rehabilitation of Erasmus

Ganz Zürich redet während des Reformationsjubiläums von Zwingli. Ganz Zürich? Die Kirchgemeinde St. Peter hat einen anderen Schwerpunkt gesetzt: Sie ruft ein Erasmus-Jahr aus.

«Als geistiger Typus gehört Erasmus zu der ziemlich seltenen Gruppe derjenigen, die zugleich unbedingte Idealisten und durchaus Gemässigte sind», schrieb der Kulturhistoriker Johan Huizinga über Erasmus von Rotterdam. Der niederländische Humanist und Theologe, der von Luther aufgrund seiner eigensinningen Interpretation des Johannes-Evangeliums als «diabolus incarnatus», als fleischgewordener Teufel, bezeichnet wurde, war kein Mann der Extreme. Die Christenheit zu spalten wäre nie in seinem Sinn gewesen. Trotzdem war der uneheliche Sohn eines Priesters eine wichtige Figur für die Reformation.

Zwingli’s still better, and more important. But this essay is quite interesting.