Fun Facts from Church History: Bullinger’s Thoughts on Servetus

bullingerDuring the trial of Servetus, Bullinger was kept informed of things by his friend Haller.  In a letter dated 27 September, 1553 Haller writes

Yesterday we received the documents in the case of Servetus, and have since been studying them in view of our reply. But we should like to know what your answer is before we send ours. We therefore entreat you immediately to inform us of its tenor. Yet wherefore so much ado! the man is a heretic, and the Church must get rid of him. Let me, however, I beseech you, speedily know the conclusion you have come to.

R. Willis remarks

The Zürich pastor would seem to have been the most active of all the ministers in collecting and imparting information of a kind that would lead to unanimity of conclusion among the Churches and Councils. His friend, Ambrose Blaurer, acknowledging receipt of a letter from him communicating the decision of Zürich, says that he ‘had thought the pestilent Servetus, whose book he had read twenty years ago, must long since have been dead and buried.’ But the … man must add further: ‘We are surely tried by heresies and satanic abortions of the sort, in order that they who are steadfast in the faith may be made known.’*

*R. Willis, Servetus and Calvin: a study of an important epoch in the early history of the reformation, p. 460.

Today in Church History: The Rejection of the ‘Aryan Paragraph’

Do American Christians today have the courage that Germany’s Christians did to oppose the racist policy of their government?  Look around.  What do you think the answer is?  And would you be among the German Christians and their acceptance of Nazi demands or would you find yourself in the Confessing Church, faithful to Christ?

Gegen den „Arierparagraphen“ in der Kirche: Zur Gründung des Pfarrernotbundes am 25. September 1933

Als die Deutschen Christen im September 1933 daran gingen in der größten evangelischen Kirche in Preußen den „Arierparagraphen“ einzuführen, formierte sich erneut Widerstand, der die entstehende kirchliche Opposition weiter stärkte. Nur allzu deutlich wurde in diesem Vorgehen das Ziel der Deutschen Christen erkennbar, eine von der nationalsozialistischen Ideologie geprägte Reichskirche zu formen, in der Christ*innen jüdischer Herkunft keinen Platz mehr haben sollten.

In dieser Situation rief Pfarrer Martin Niemöller die Gründung des Pfarrernotbundes aus. Von seiner Pfarrstelle in Berlin-Dahlem aus versandte er an seine pastoralen Kollegen in der evangelischen Kirche eine Verpflichtungserklärung. Darin brachten die Unterzeichner verbindlich zum Ausdruck, sich in ihrer Amtsführung allein an der Bibel und den reformatorischen Bekenntnisschriften auszurichten. Ferner verpflichtete man sich, gegen eine etwaige Verletzung solchen Bekenntnisstandes, wie sie offenkundig mit der Anwendung des „Arierparagraphen“ gegeben war, rückhaltlos zu protestieren.

Das Echo auf das Schreiben Niemöllers war außerordentlich stark. In den folgenden vier Monaten wurden etwa 7.000 evangelische Pfarrer – das war mehr als ein Drittel der gesamten evangelischen Pfarrerschaft – durch ihre Unterschrift Mitglied im Pfarrernotbund.

Im Kern ging es um einen Akt christlicher Solidarität mit etwa 30 bis 50 vom kirchlichen „Arierparagraph“ betroffenen Pfarrern jüdischer Herkunft, die durch den Pfarrernotbund in Form von ideeller und materieller Hilfe geübt wurde. Gleichwohl agierte der Pfarrernotbund aus einer kirchlichen Binnenperspektive.

Indes attackierten Teile der Deutschen Christen im November das Engagement des Pfarrernotbundes, das sie als staatsfeindliches Verhalten brandmarkten. Einzelne Teilkirchen der DEK übernahmen den „Arierparagraphen“ und es kam ungeachtet der Initiative des Notbundes zur Entlassung von Pfarrern jüdischer Abstammung. Dennoch: Der Pfarrernotbund hatte ein markantes Zeichen christlicher Solidarität gesetzt. Seine weitere Entwicklung führte im Frühjahr 1934 zur Entstehung der Bekennenden Kirche.

Fun Facts From Church History: On This Day in 1555

At Augsburg, September 25, 1555, the Lutherans, notwithstanding the double-dealing of some of the most powerful Protestant, or so-called Protestant, Princes, wrung from the Catholics the Decree of absolute religious independence in the sense and to the extent that neither the Emperor, nor the King of the Romans, nor any Prince or Estate of the Empire, for any cause or pretext whatever, shall attack or injure the adherents of the Augsburg Confession on account of their religious faith; nor shall they by command, nor in any other way, force any adherent of the Augsburg Confession to forsake his religion, or to abandon the ceremonies already instituted or hereafter to be instituted; and the Emperor and the King and the Estates shall suffer them without hindrance to profess the religion of the Augsburg Confession, and peacefully to enjoy their goods, possessions, rents and rights.*

*James W. Richard, The Confessional History of the Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1909), 251.

Fun Facts… Again

bultmann22When asked, after a lecture given in 1950 at Princeton, if he believed the tomb of Jesus had been emptied of its dead, Rudolf Karl Bultmann replied ‘that is an archaeological question, and I am not an archaeologist’.  #YouveGotToBeInsaneNotToLoveTheGuy

Fun Facts From Church History: The Worship of Images Legitimized by the 7th Ecumenical Council

The Nicene Council (787 A.D.) nullified the decrees of the iconoclastic Synod of Constantinople, and solemnly sanctioned a limited worship (proskynesis) of images.

Under images were understood the sign of the cross, and pictures of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, of angels and saints. They may be drawn in color or composed of Mosaic or formed of other suitable materials, and placed in churches, in houses, and in the street, or made on walls and tables, sacred vessels and vestments.

Homage may be paid to them by kissing, bowing, strewing of incense, burning of lights, saying prayers before them; such honor to be intended for the living objects in heaven which the images represented. The Gospel book and the relics of martyrs were also mentioned among the objects of veneration.*

So tell us again how the Catholic Church opposed idolatry…

*Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (vol. 4; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 460.

If Melanchthon were Seeking Tenure Today

22 September 2019

Tenure Report on Philip Melanchthon

Professor Melanchthon arrived in 2018 to teach Greek, a subject in which there were few resources in this region yet one in which we wished to establish a presence, with Leipzig with Peter Mosellanus being our only serious competition in these territories. From the start Professor Melanchthon established himself as a pathbreaker, delivering an inaugural address resplendent in the aura of the new learning that was gaining ground in his undergraduate alma mater Heidelberg and at Tübingen, where he received his MA. Professor Melanchthon’s talents were recognized early on by our colleagues Luther and Spalatin, and although his students had difficulty at first with his Swabian accent, he has proven to be a popular lecturer and a supportive mentor to many students.

Professor Luther formed a strong alliance early on with this younger colleague, who provided valuable aid in theological and linguistic matters. A significant career-development move was his pursuit of the baccalaureus biblicus in 2019, which provided a theological credential alongside his training in the liberal arts. His teaching, almost since his arrival, has included theology as well as classical studies, and he is almost alone among his colleagues in holding that a thorough knowledge of the biblical languages is necessary for competent work in theology. We doubt that faculty mentoring during his probationary period would have changed his mind on this novel and still-controversial matter. Similarly regarding his obstinacy with certain opinions, there have been reports from students who find his use of “sophist” and “papist” for adherents to the older faith offputting, even challenging. Members of the committee recalled the grievance of two years ago, in which Professor Melanchthon’s response (“I could call the pope the Antichrist if you’d prefer, you idolater!”) failed to bring much needed calm to our campus. We can certainly hope for a change in tone as his teaching matures.

The Publication Record raised questions within the committee that we can neither avoid nor easily answer. Without denying that the Loci communes (2016) has been hugely popular, there are concerns about its originality, specifically whether its argument depends on familiarity and agreement with Professor Luther’s work; its use as a textbook in theology, where it follows an unusual arrangement of material; and its failure to count as an example of classical scholarship as conventionally understood. Some in the committee reminded us that a Greek scholar’s proper work is translating Lucian into Latin, or composing Greek epigrams in elegiac couplets. While we cannot deny that Professor Melanchthon’s theological publications have brought welcome attention to our university, we believe that more attention to conventional classical efforts will serve our needs for a European presence in Greek studies. He is currently following a dispute which Professor Luther is carrying on with Erasmus, which may in the future raise questions about the relation of Professor Luther’s theological project with the humanism represented by that Patristics scholar in Basel. Let us be frank, Honorable Rector: the direction of Professor Melanchthon’s work is likely to make Wittenberg better known, in years to come, for theology than for humanistic study. No one is currently reading Statius or Ausonius, and Demosthenes and the rhetorical corpus are being studied by clergy candidates hoping to improve their preaching.

In the category of Service Professor Melanchthon has done more off-campus than on, as we see in his developing of important relationships with the Pirckheimer family in Nuremberg and with the young landgrave of Hesse. Professor Melanchthon has had the guiding hand in the design of the new Latin School in Nuremberg, and is working with Landgraf Philip to create the first “protestant” university, though what that latter term means remains something of a mystery. Certain members of the Committee were concerned that these activities did not sufficiently highlight Professor Melanchthon’s affiliation with our university, with the result that we are missing a uniquely valuable branding opportunity for Wittenberg.

We must, regrettably, report a divided vote on tenure, which according to the Manual of Operations means that decision rests with the Office of the Rector. Professor Melanchthon is unquestionably erudite and energetic, and may in time be ranked with Professor Luther as one of the luminaries of our institution. However, his work is moving increasingly toward promoting and articulating the new theology, with the inevitable result that we will fall in the rankings for humanism behind Louvain, Basel, and even possibly our perennial rival, Leipzig.

Via Ralph Keen (with minor date adjustments by me.)

Oskar Farner: In Memoriam

Oskar Farner was the author of a 4 volume biography of Huldrych Zwingli and one of the editors of the rightly famed Corpus Reformatorum edition of Zwingli’s works.  He was born on 22 September, 1884 and since it’s his birthiversary, I’m remembering him today.

A brief entry on the life of Farner can be found in the Historical Lexicon of Switzerland:

22.9.1884 Unterstammheim, 16.7.1958 Zürich, ref., von Unterstammheim. Sohn des Alfred, Pfarrers. ∞ 1916 Mary Wieser. Stud. der Theologie in Basel, Marburg, Berlin und Zürich. Ab 1908 Pfarrer in Stammheim, ab 1931 Pfarrer in Zollikon, 1937-50 am Grossmünster in Zürich, bis 1955 Kirchenrat und Kirchenratspräsident, u.a. Chefredaktor des “Kirchenboten für den Kt. Zürich”. 1930 Habilitation für Kirchengeschichte an der Theol. Fakultät der Univ. Zürich, 1938-54 Titularprofessor. F. entfaltete neben seinen kirchl. Ämtern eine äusserst fruchtbare wissenschaftl. Tätigkeit, die zum grössten Teil Huldrych Zwingli (“Das Zwinglibild Luthers” 1931, “Huldrych Zwingli” 1943-60, 4 Bände) und der Zürcher Reformation gewidmet war. 1931 Dr. theol. h.c. der Univ. Basel, 1954 Dr. phil. h.c. der Univ. Zürich.

A more complete look at this impressive scholar’s life is available in Zwingliana where von Muralt published a wonderful obituary.  Here are a few excerpts-

Als Oskar Farner am 22. September 1954 seinen 70. Geburtstag feierte und von der Universität Zürich die Würde eines Doktors der Philosophie ehrenhalber empfing, berichteten die Zwingliana über sein Wirken als Zwingli-Forscher. Heute, da dieses reich gesegnete Leben seinen Abschluss gefunden hat, versuchen wir nochmals, das Ganze zu überblicken und das Werk des Gelehrten in den allgemeinen Zusammenhang der neueren Zwingli-Forschung hineinzustellen.

And, very importantly to note,

Das Bedeutungsvollste im Schaffen Farners liegt aber im folgenden: Noch Emil Egli hatte nach den Selbstzeugnissen Zwinglis die Auffassung vertreten, daß der Schweizer unabhängig von Luther Reformator geworden sei.

That’s right- the chief achievement of Farner was his recognition that Zwingli was a Reformer independent of Luther and not beholden to him in any way.  But that wasn’t his only achievement:

Oskar Farner war im Hauptberuf Pfarrer und Diener der Landeskirche als Mitghed und Präsident des Kirchenrates. Als solcher war ihm die Verkündigung des Wortes Gottes das Eine, was not tut. Aus seinem Leben als praktischer Verkündiger und Seelsorger brachte er das so ungemein lebendige Verständnis für den Verkündiger und Kämpfer des 16. Jahrhunderts mit, Zwingli aber war ihm täglicher Helfer und Berater in seinem Wirken in unserer Zeit. Wie es ihn Zwingli gelehrt hatte, war er bereit, sich von Gott im Dienste seines Evangeliums verbrauchen zu

Din haf bin ich
Mach gantz ald brich.

Farner wurde „der” Sprecher Zwinglis unter uns. Seine Vorträge über den Geist und das Leben des Eeformators atmeten eine Kraft der Unmittelbarkeit, der Dringlichkeit und der Ergriffenheit, die allen, die sie erfahren durften, unvergeßlich bleiben wird.

Fun Facts From Church History: Geneva to Zurich, on Servetus

To the Burgomaster and Council of Zürich.
Geneva, September 22, 1553.

High and mighty Lords!—We know not if your Lordships are aware that we have in hand a prisoner, Michael Servetus by name, who has written and had printed a book containing many things against our religion. This we have shown to our ministers; and, although we have no mistrust of them, we desire to communicate the work to you, in order that, if it so please you, you may lay it before your clergy, together with the replies and rejoinders that have been made in connection therewith. We therefore pray you to be good enough to submit the documents now sent to your ministers and request them to give us their opinion of their merits, to the end that we may bring the business, to which they refer, to a close.

Zurich (that is, Bullinger) responded in agreement with Geneva: the heresy must be expunged along with the heretic.

The Day Geneva Came to its Senses, and Asked Calvin to Return

calvin_mottoCalvin’s Biographer writes

In the early months of 1540, a general assembly of citizens resolved to restore the former status [of Calvin as the Professor/ Pastor of Geneva]. The recall of Calvin was decided upon in the Council, September 21, 1540. Meanwhile, private efforts had been made to obtain his consent to return to Geneva; but in his reply to Farel he said:

“There is no place in the world which I fear more; not because I hate it, but because I feel unequal to the difficulties which await me there.”

He requested Farel and Viret to desist from their efforts to draw him back to the city; however, he added:

“When I remember that in this matter I am not my own master, I present my heart as a sacrifice and I offer it up to the Lord.”

He herein consciously or unwittingly refers to his seal; it bears the motto to which he gave expression in his letter, and the emblem is a hand presenting a heart to God. Petitions and even deputations were forwarded to Strassburg to complete his surrender to the duty thus urged upon him. The Registres of Geneva contain numerous records during the month of October touching the recall of “the learned and pious Mr. Calvin.”

The Syndics and Council wrote him an appeal, which it is worth while to lay upon the page in full:

“Sir, our good brother, and excellent friend, in recommending ourselves to you very affectionately, inasmuch as we are perfectly assured that your desire is only for the increase and advancement of the glory and honor of God and of His holy word, on the part of our small, our great, and our general councils (which all have urgently urged us to do this), we pray you very affectionately to be pleased to come to us, and return to your former part and ministry; and we hope, with the assistance of God, that this will be cause of great good and fruit for the augmentation of the holy Gospel. Our people are very desirous to have you. And we will so arrange matters with you that you shall have occasion to be satisfied.

Your good friends,
Geneva, 22nd, Oct. 1540.

A few years earlier they couldn’t rid themselves of him fast enough.  Now they’re his ‘good friends’.  How’s that for irony…