Category Archives: Church History

Today in Church History

Savonarola met with the same fate as Hus. He, too, was unsparing in his attack on the corruptions of the Church. On May 23, 1498, he was put to the double death of hanging and burning, and his ashes were thrown into the Arno. A slab in the pavement in front of the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence marks the spot where he suffered, and every year on the anniversary of his death the Florentines lay flowers on the slab in homage to his memory.

The Roman Church has always either killed its foes or widened its mouth large enough to swallow and incorporate them.

Heinrich Bullinger Kommentare zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen: Hebräerbrief – Katholische Briefe

Im Geist der Reformation verstand Heinrich Bullinger Theologie in erster Linie als Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift. Mit diesem Band – dem neunten in der Reihe seiner Theologischen Schriften – wird die Edition seiner Kommentare zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen abgeschlossen. Darin enthalten sind die Auslegungen des Briefs an die Hebräer sowie der Katholischen Briefe.

Die Texte sind anhand der Erstauflage sowie der ersten Gesamtausgabe der Kommentare Bullingers zu den neutestamentlichen Briefen (1537) historisch-kritisch ediert worden. Erschlossen wird die Edition durch eine Einleitung und insgesamt vier Register (Bibelstellen, Quellen, Personen und Orte).

Further details here.   Earlier volumes are reviewed here and here.

Baden: Let the Debate Commence

The Diet of Switzerland took the same stand against the Zwinglian Reformation as the Diet of the German Empire against the Lutheran movement. Both Diets consisted only of one house, and this was composed of the hereditary nobility and aristocracy. The people were not directly represented by delegates of their own choice. The majority of voters were conservative, and in favor of the old faith; but the majority of the people in the larger and most prosperous cantons and in the free imperial cities favored progress and reform, and succeeded in the end.

The question of the Reformation was repeatedly brought before the Swiss Diet, and not a few liberal voices were heard in favor of abolishing certain crying abuses; but the majority of the cantons, especially the old forest-cantons around the lake of Lucerne, resisted every innovation. Berne was anxious to retain her political supremacy, and vacillated. Zwingli had made many enemies by his opposition to the foreign military service and pensions of his countrymen. Dr. Faber, the general vicar of the diocese of Constance, after a visit to Rome, openly turned against his former friend, and made every effort to unite the interests of the aristocracy with those of the hierarchy. “Now,” he said, “the priests are attacked, the nobles will come next.” At last the Diet resolved to settle the difficulty by a public disputation. Dr. Eck, well known to us from the disputation at Leipzig for his learning, ability, vanity and conceit, offered his services to the Diet in a flattering letter of Aug. 13, 1524. He had then just returned from a third visit to Rome, and felt confident that he could crush the Protestant heresy in Switzerland as easily as in Germany. He spoke contemptuously of Zwingli, as one who “had no doubt milked more cows than he had read books.” About the same time the Roman counter-reformation had begun to be organized at the convent of Regensburg (June, 1524), under the lead of Bavaria and Austria.

The disputation was opened in the Catholic city of Baden, in Aargau, May 21, 1526, and lasted eighteen days, till the 8th of June. The cantons and four bishops sent deputies, and many foreign divines were present. The Protestants were a mere handful, and despised as “a beggarly, miserable rabble.” Zwingli, who foresaw the political aim and result of the disputation, was prevented by the Council of Zurich from leaving home, because his life was threatened; but he influenced the proceedings by daily correspondence and secret messengers. No one could doubt his courage, which he showed more than once in the face of greater danger, as when he went to Marburg through hostile territory, and to the battlefield at Cappel. But several of his friends were sadly disappointed at his absence. He would have equalled Eck in debate and excelled him in biblical learning. Erasmus was invited, but politely declined on account of sickness.

The arrangements for the disputation and the local sympathies were in favor of the papal party. Mass was said every morning at five, and a sermon preached; the pomp of ritualism was displayed in solemn processions. The presiding officers and leading secretaries were Romanists; nobody besides them was permitted to take notes. The disputation turned on the real presence, the sacrifice of the mass, the invocation of the Virgin Mary and of saints, on images, purgatory, and original sin. Dr. Eck was the champion of the Roman faith, and behaved with the same polemical dexterity and overbearing and insolent manner as at Leipzig: robed in damask and silk, decorated with a golden ring, chain and cross; surrounded by patristic and scholastic folios, abounding in quotations and arguments, treating his opponents with proud contempt, and silencing them with his stentorian voice and final appeals to the authority of Rome. Occasionally he uttered an oath, “Potz Marter.” A contemporary poet, Nicolas Manuel, thus described his conduct:—

“Eck stamps with his feet, and claps his hands,
He raves, he swears, he scolds;
‘I do,’ cries he, ‘what the Pope commands,
And teach whatever he holds.’ ”

Oecolampadius of Basle and Haller of Berne, both plain and modest, but able, learned and earnest men, defended the Reformed opinions. Oecolampadius declared at the outset that he recognized no other rule of judgment than the Word of God. He was a match for Eck in patristic learning, and in solid arguments. His friends said, “Oecolampadius is vanquished, not by argument, but by vociferation.” Even one of the Romanists remarked, “If only this pale man were on our side!” His host judged that he must be a very pious heretic, because he saw him constantly engaged in study and prayer; while Eck was enjoying rich dinners and good wines, which occasioned the remark, “Eck is bathing in Baden, but in wine.”

The papal party boasted of a complete victory. All innovations were forbidden; Zwingli was excommunicated; and Basle was called upon to depose Oecolampadius from the pastoral office. Faber, not satisfied with the burning of heretical books, advocated even the burning of the Protestant versions of the Bible. Thomas Murner, a Franciscan monk and satirical poet, who was present at Baden, heaped upon Zwingli and his adherents such epithets as tyrants, liars, adulterers, church robbers, fit only for the gallows! He had formerly (1512) chastised the vices of priests and monks, but turned violently against the Saxon Reformer, and earned the name of “Luther-Scourge” (Lutheromastix). He was now made lecturer in the Franciscan convent at Lucerne, and authorized to edit the acts of the Baden disputation.

The result of the Baden disputation was a temporary triumph for Rome, but turned out in the end, like the Leipzig disputation of 1519, to the furtherance of the Reformation. Impartial judges decided that the Protestants had been silenced by vociferation, intrigue and despotic measures, rather than refuted by sound and solid arguments from the Scriptures. After a temporary reaction, several cantons which had hitherto been vacillating between the old and the new faith, came out in favor of reform.*

The documents and debates are available in this new volume from TVZ.

__________________
*History of the Christian church.

Today With Zwingli: Die erste kurze Antwort über Ecks sieben Schlußreden

Huldrych Zwingli published his little 19 page Flugschrift Die erste kurze Antwort über Ecks sieben Schlußreden on 21 May, 1526.  Zwingli also addressed it to the Confederation (so that all the Cantons which had embraced Reform would know how Eck should be answered by their own Pastors and Theologians).

The occasion was, of course, the Baden Disputation (which Zwingli had not been allowed to attend- the Zurich City Council deeming him too valuable to risk having him killed by the angry Catholics- a thing that certainly would have happened had he gone).

It commences

Frommen, vesten, fürsichtigen, ersamen, wysen, gnädigen, lieben herren! Sidmal mir üwer wyßheit uß ursachen, die sy wol weyßt, ze lieb den ungemeinen platz Baden nit endren wil und aber daby Egg unnd Faber mit aller irer practick, red und anheften der artiklen allein uff mich reichend, sam die disputation allein sye umb minetwillen angesehen (darumb ich vermeindt allerbillichost gewäsen wär, daß man ein gemeinen platz angesehen hett, vorus so man vor jaren offenlich verstanden hat, daß mir Baden gheinswegs gemein ist; darus ich ermessen mag, das ir fürnemen und höchste begird ist, nit mit mir, sunder hinder mir ze disputieren und da uff beschlüß ze tringen, die sy, wo mir der platz gemein wer, nit vertruwtind fürzebringen, wiewol ouch hierinn gott wirt ynsehen thuon), hierumb ist an üch, mine gnädige herren, min demuotig pitt, ir wellind mir des Eggen gründ, die er über die siben schlußreden anzeigen wirt, schrifftlich lassen zuokomen; wil ich imm in gar kurtzer zyt allweg by üch schriftlich antwurt geben.

It then lists Eck’s theses upon which Zwingli comments one by one.  To my knowledge the present little treatise has never been translated.  A pity, really, and yet more evidence that folk interested in the period need to learn German or suffer the sorrow of never really knowing what went on.

Der Synergistische Streit (1555–1564)

Im Jahr 1555 hielt der Leipziger Theologieprofessor Johann Pfeffinger eine Disputation über den freien Willen ab. In ihr betonte er, im Anschluss an die Lehre Philipp Melanchthons, dass der menschliche Wille eine Ursache bei der Rechtfertigung des Menschen sei. Diese Position wurde nach der erneuten Publikation dieser Disputation im Jahr 1558 in einem Sammelband, der alle Disputationen Pfeffingers vereinte, heftig bestritten.

Im Zentrum des Synergistischen Streits (1555/58−1564) stand die Frage nach der Möglichkeit eines freien menschlichen Willens und dessen Mitwirkung im Rechtfertigungsgeschehen. Insbesondere war strittig, ob der Mensch sich für den Empfang der göttlichen Gnade vorbereiten könne, oder ob er sich vollständig passiv gegenüber dem rechtfertigenden Handeln Gottes verhalte. Der Gefahr von Spaltungen innerhalb der Gemeinwesen durch die andauernden theologischen Streitigkeiten suchte insbesondere Herzog Johann Friedrich d.M. von Sachsen teils durch Vermittlungsbemühungen, teils auch durch Zwangsmaßnahmen entgegenzuwirken, sodass es schließlich zur Entlassung von Predigern im Herzogtum kam.

Im fünften Band der Edition „Controversia et Confessio“ sind für den Streit bedeutsame Texte von Johann Pfeffinger, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Victorin Strigel, Matthias Flacius, Nikolaus Gallus und anderen Theologen versammelt. Von besonderer Bedeutung ist die Präsentation des „Weimarer Konfutationsbuchs“ in diesem Zusammenhang.

Stay tuned.

Zwingli Can’t Go to Baden

zwingl_badenIn 1525 the project of the disputation was revived. The Bishop of Constance chose Baden as the place. Zwingli declared his willingness, if necessary, to go to Schaffhausen or St. Gall, but the city Great Council refused him permission to go out of Zurich. The Diet at Luzern, on January 15, 1526, determined on Baden as the place and May 16, 1526, as the time.

Zwingli’s correspondence of 1526 shows clearly the course of events. After the disputation was determined upon there was uncertainty in regard to the place. Bern favoured Basel. Other cantons wanted Luzern. Œcolampadius naturally preferred Bern. Zwingli did not want to go out of Zurich. Perhaps his physical condition had something to do with it. Œcolampadius, on March 7, 1526, alluded to his having ulcers.

Zwingli himself, writing to Vadianus on Friday, March 30th, tells of an alarming attack of illness which had occurred that day. On April 16, 1526, Zwingli wrote a long letter to the City Council of Bern giving his reasons why he would not go to Baden for the disputation, although anxious to debate in such a presence.

The nine reasons amount to this—that the safe conduct and protection which Bern promised were really valueless under the circumstances because at Baden the Five Forest Cantons, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Luzern, and Zug, devoted to the old teaching, would outvote the other three cantons of Zurich, Bern, and Basel, devoted to the new.

He then proceeds to give his reasons for declining to go to any place where the Five Cantons had control.  

  1. Those cantons had condemned him unheard as a heretic and burnt his books.
  2. They still persist in doing so.  
  3. They have avowedly gotten up the disputation for the purpose of silencing him.  
  4. As they have ordered him arrested, contrary to federal law, what value would their safe conduct have?  
  5. They are bound by mutual vows to uproot the faith he professed.
  6. Their negotiations for the disputation were with Eck and Faber exclusively, not with him, he not being in any way consulted.
  7. While Eck’s and Faber’s writings are freely circulated in the Five Cantons, his were suppressed.
  8. He had two years before plainly told Eck and company that under no consideration would he go to Baden or Luzern.

Baden was not attended by Zwingli but it was by Oecolampadius, who kept Zwingli informed of all the doings.

The Battle Of Frankenhausen Raged…

On May 16, 1525 (having commenced the day before): it was the low water mark of the wretched Peasants Revolt.  As Schaff describes things:

The peasants, badly armed, poorly led, and divided among themselves, were utterly defeated by the troops of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, Duke Henry of Brunswick, the Elector John, and the Dukes George and John of Saxony. In the decisive battle at Frankenhausen, May 25, 1525, five thousand slain lay on the field and in the streets; three hundred were beheaded before the court-house. Muenzer fled, but was taken prisoner, tortured, and executed [on May 27th].

The peasants in South Germany, in the Alsace and Lorraine, met with the same defeat by the imperial troops and the forces of the electors of the Palatinate and Treves, and by treachery. In the castle of Zabern, in the Alsace (May 17), eighteen thousand peasants fell. In the Tyrol and Salzburg, the rebellion lasted longest, and was put down in part by arbitration.

The number of victims of war far exceeded a hundred thousand. The surviving rebels were beheaded or mutilated. Their widows and orphans were left destitute. Over a thousand castles and convents lay in ashes, hundreds of villages were burnt to the ground, the cattle killed, agricultural implements destroyed, and whole districts turned into a wilderness. “Never,” said Luther, after the end of the war, “has the aspect of Germany been more deplorable than now.”

The Peasants’ War was a complete failure, and the victory of the princes an inglorious revenge. The reaction made their condition worse than ever. Very few masters had sufficient humanity and self-denial to loosen the reins. Most of them followed the maxim of Rehoboam: “My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14). The real grievances remained, and the prospect of a remedy was put off to an indefinite future.

The cause of the Reformation suffered irreparable injury, and was made responsible by the Romanists, and even by Erasmus, for all the horrors of the rebellion.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice, to rebel.  How foolish were the followers of the radicals, to believe that God would give them victory.  They paid for their folly.

Beza and the Genevan Psalter

Karin Maag writes over on the Meeter Center page on Facebook

In this year marking the 500th anniversary of Theodore Beza’s birth, I thought it would be good to highlight one of his most enduring contributions to the Reformed faith, namely his central role in preparing the metrical versions of the Psalms for the Genevan Psalter.

John Calvin had begun the project of versifying the Psalms in French during his three-year stay in Strasbourg from 1539 to 1541. But although Calvin had talents in many fields, this was not one of them. His attempts at putting the psalms into poetic meter were clunky at best, and were quickly abandoned.

To make the project of putting all 150 psalms into verse so they could be set to music and sung required the services of a poet with a real feel for poetry and turns of phrase. Fortunately, two such people were available: the French Renaissance poet Clément Marot (1496-1544) and Theodore Beza. Marot provided forty-nine Psalm versifications prior to his death. Beza took over the project and completed another 101 Psalm texts, leading to the publication of the entire set of 150 Psalms in 1562. He did the bulk of this work while in Lausanne, alongside his other responsibilities as Greek professor and pastor in that city.

In 1553, Beza wrote a poem to include as a preface to the Genevan Psalter. Dedicated to the readers, this 158-line poem encouraged believers to hold fast to their faith and to sing the psalms at every opportunity, for comfort, for solace, and for spiritual encouragement. He also expressed appreciation for Marot’s work, and (as was the practice in authors’ prefaces at the time) spoke disparagingly of his own weak efforts. The poem ends with Beza critiquing the poets of his day who focused on pleasure and love poetry, and contrasting these poets’ work with the true and powerful praise of God as expressed in these versified Psalms:

Sinon, chantez vos feintes poesies,
Dames, amours, complaintes, jalousies.
Quant est de moi, tout petit que je suis,
Je veux louer mon Dieu comme je puis.
Tesmoin sera mainte froide montagne
De ce mien zèle, et parmi la campagne,
Lac Genevois, tes rives écumeuses
Bruiront de Dieu les louanges fameuses,
Et du Tres-Haut le Nom parmi les nues
Retentira dans les alpes cornues.
En moi, Seigneur, ce bon vouloir as mis:
L’effect aussi m’en soit doncques permis
Que de cet oeuvre achevé je te loue
Qu’en ton honneur à ton troupeau je voue.
[The full French text can be found in the Bulletin de la société de l’histoire du protestantisme français 1 (1853) 94-100]

Go on, carry on with your fake poetry,
Of ladies, and loves, laments, and jealousies.
For my part, my small strength will do what is right
To praise and thank God with all of my might.
The echoes are witness, from mountain and field,
Who testify faithfully to my great zeal.
The lake of Geneva, with its wind and its waves
Will sing out with vigor the song of God’s praise.
And from the tall alps that reach to the sky
The praises of God will resound from on high.
Lord, you made me able to work with good will:
Therefore may I thank you for helping me still.
This work is completed – there is no more to do.
It is dedicated to your flock and to you.
[translated by Karin Maag]

And finally, for your listening pleasure, here is verse one of Psalm 42 (in English) in its Genevan Psalter setting.

If you want to hear more Genevan Psalms and learn more about the Genevan Psalter, I recommend the following site: The Genevan Psalter Resource Center, available at www.genevanpsalter.com

Calvin on the Schismatics and their Insulting Words About Zwingli and Oecolampadius

Melanchthon showed Calvin an anti-Zwingli anti-Oecolampadius pamphlet written by a schismatic and Calvin remarked

What good purpose could it serve to assault the Zwinglians every third line, and to attack Zwingli himself in such an unmannerly style?   And not even to spare Oecolampadius, that holy servant of God, whom I wish that he resembled, even in being half as good, in which case he would certainly stand far higher in my esteem than he does. O God of grace, what pleasant sport and pastime do we afford to the Papists, as if we had hired ourselves to do their work!”

The last line means that Calvin saw these schismatics as doing more harm to the Reformation than the Papists could ever hope.

The Crisis of Christianity

Adolph von Harnack writes of the developing church of the second century:

There were many who did not become Christians, but, finding themselves Christians, remained so. They were too strongly impressed by Christianity to leave it, and too little impressed to be Christian indeed. Pure religious enthusiasm began to wane, old ideals received a new form, and the self reliance and responsibility of individuals grew weaker. The ‘priests and kings of God’ began to clamour for priests, and to come to terms with the kings of the earth. Those who once had prided themselves on being filled with the Spirit, no longer traced that Spirit so actively in themselves, and sought to recognise it in symbols of faith, in holy books, in mysteries, and in forms of Church order.

Christians, in sum, were less than Christian.

Fun Facts from Church History

Fun Facts From Church History

How The Wesley Kids Were Raised…

No wonder they turned out the way they did… they were terrorized!

John and Charles Wesley, were reared by a God-fearing mother (of seventeen) who laid down some excellent principles for child training. They appear in John Wesley’s Journal:

“When turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod, and to cry softly; by which means they escaped abundance of correction they might otherwise have had; and that most odious noise of the crying of children was rarely heard in the house; but the family usually lived in as much quietness as if there had not been a child among them.

“In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer the will and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must with children proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it; but subjecting the will is a thing which must be done at once; and the sooner the better. For by neglecting timely correction they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy which is hardly ever after conquered.

“Whenever a child is corrected, it must be conquered; and this will be no hard matter to do, if it be not grown headstrong by too much indulgence … I cannot yet dismiss this subject. Self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures their after-wretchedness; whatever checks and mortifies it promotes their future happiness.”

In sum, crush them, and crush them hard.  I bet they didn’t get her a Mother’s Day Card…

Word of God, Words of Men

The book presents many aspects of the phenomenon of translation and commentary work of the Bible in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th and 17th centuries. It contains studies of eminent scholars as well as of some young adepts, coming mainly from Poland, but also from Lithuania and Czech Republic. The texts present various aspects of the researches conducted on this phenomenon nowadays. As it was an exceptional movement, extremely varied and long-time lasting, it would be difficult to offer its complete synthesis in one volume. Though, the exhaustive presentation of the historical and linguistic contexts allows the reader to understand the phenomenon. Intensified interest in translations of the Bible is closely connected with the interest in the Polish language, its literary expression as well as its grammatical and orthographic standardisation that occurred just in the same time. The intellectual activity related to the Bible contributed simultaneously to the development of the Polish literary language and even inspired the translations of the sacred texts of other religions present in the country. Moreover, contacts between different languages of Central and Eastern European area, where many attempts of new translations appeared, are very important. A quick rise of the different Reformation movements contributed to a »natural« need for new translations and commentaries to be used by community members. These new currents, first easily accepted and spread in the country, even when suppressed, could not stop this activity, and later new Catholic translations and commentaries of the post-Trident period, both in Polish and Lithuanian, proved it. Big part of study is also dedicated to particular typographical realizations of this activity and an interesting example of the musical expression directly inspired by the biblical translation, is also provided.

This work is extremely specialized and its focus is extraordinarily narrow.  Laser beam narrow.  I think it can be said with confidence that its audience will be a quite specific group of readers; which is a shame, because it is engaging, well written, and informative.

The link above takes readers to the book’s webpage where one finds a ‘leseprobe’.  There readers can sample the table of contents and the front matter.  Please do take a look at some point.

As I suggested above, this volume is quite focused and its chapters are very narrow in scope.  For instance:

Words of God Cut in Wood. Some Remarks about the Illustrations in Polish Renaissance Editions of the Bible.

And

Calvinist Bibles in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

And

The Lexis of the Gdansk Bible’s New Testament (1632) in Comparison to the Brest Bible’s New Testament (1563) and the New Testament of the Jakub Wujek Bible (1599) – in Search of Adequacy of the Translation into Renaissance Polish.

Such essays will be of interest primarily to specialists in the Eastern European Reformation.  Readers outside of that particular field will probably not be drawn by the title to the contents and readers of the contents will probably not be drawn to read the essays by means of the essay titles.  But, again, they should do so.

Although extremely specialized, these essays provide exactly what historians need: details.  They also provide very fine examples of how particularized historical studies should be pursued.

In our day of dilettantes and pseudo-scholars and when there is widespread belief that if you just read a wikipedia article on a topic, you are well informed and competent, such a study reminds us that historical research is complex and complicated and takes years of familiarizing oneself with primary and secondary sources.

This work, in other words, is a very helpful corrective to dilettantism and amateurism. Even if potential readers don’t think this volume is ‘their thing’, they should take a look.  Where else, after all, will you discover

True to the Humanist principle, the Protestants published new versions whose trademark was the claim, on the title page or in the preface, that the translation had been made from the originals. Often these translations were indeed based on the Hebrew and the Greek, but in their concern to fill an urgent need some translators had recourse to other strategies such as basing themselves on other vernacular or Latin versions reputed to be particularly faithful to the originals. The translation method was either philological, if the original was closely followed (as Erasmus did in his Latin version), or inspired, in a tradition going back to Luther (for this use of the terms philological and inspired cf. Schwarz: 1955, 61 ff). Translators representing the philological tradition seek to echo every Hebrew of Greek word as emanating from the Holy Ghost; an inspired translator will render his source text as faithfully as he can while being driven by the concern to make his language sound natural and idiomatic. The difference boils down to a choice between the ad verbum and the ad sensum principles.

This book teaches.  Enjoy learning.

Forthcoming Volumes of Interest

All from V&R.

On The Anniversary of The German Book-Burning of 10 May, 1933

It may be important- nay- it is important to learn that

buecherverbrennungDoch anders als viele Menschen denken, wurden sie nicht von der NSDAP oder einem Ministerium organisiert, sondern von der Deutschen Studentenschaft, die sich, so vermuten Wissenschaftler, damit den Nationalsozialisten andienen wollten.

German students came up with the bright idea to burn all those books.  Remarkable.  One of the most senseless acts of Nazi history wasn’t thought up by the leadership- it was an act of University students…  the very people who ought to know better.

The essay from which that snippet is drawn is very much worth reading it its entirety.

‘To Hell in a Handcart’

Missal, France ca. 1470-1475 (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 425, fol. 196v), showing the Medieval notion of demons coming to collect a soul from an impious sinner and taking it to hell in a handcart.  At a later period of time, the phrase was recast as ‘to hell in a handbasket’.

Conference On the Historical Jesus at the University of Lorraine

Reformations in Hungary in the Age of the Ottoman Conquest

Pál Ács discusses various aspects of the cultural and literary history of Hungary during the hundred years that followed the Battle of Mohács (1526) and the onset of the Reformation. The author focuses on the special Ottoman context of the Hungarian Reformation movements including the Protestant and Catholic Reformation and the spiritual reform of Erasmian intellectuals. The author argues that the Ottoman presence in Hungary could mean the co-existence of Ottoman bureaucrats and soldiers with the indigenous population. He explores the culture of occupied areas, the fascinating ways Christians came to terms with Muslim authorities, and the co-existence of Muslims and Christians. Ács treats not only the culture of the Reformation in an Ottoman context but also vice versa the Ottomans in a Protestant framework. As the studies show, the culture of the early modern Hungarian Reformation is extremely manifold and multi-layered. Historical documents such as theological, political and literary works and pieces of art formed an interpretive, unified whole in the self-representation of the era. Two interlinked and unifying ideas define this diversity: on the one hand the idea of European-ness, i. e. the idea of strong ties to a Christian Europe, and on the other the concept of Reformation itself. Despite its constant ideological fragmentation, the Reformation sought universalism in all its branches. As Pál Ács shows, it was re-formatio in the original sense of the word, i. e. restoration, an attempt to restore a bygone perfection imagined to be ideal.

Being a person fairly unfamiliar with the details of the Reformation in Eastern Europe, I found this work to be incredibly interesting.  From the very first section, which describes the influence of Erasmus and other intellectuals on the foundations of Reformation in Hungary, to the cultural context of Hungary (which is so amazingly interesting!) including its book culture and its theological understandings, to the reception and adaptation of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs among Hungarian dissidents, to the arrival and influence of the Ottomans, and the resurgence of the Roman church, every page is a revelation.

Here, for instance, we read –

The Reformation spread more easily and freely in the area under Ottoman occupation and in the Principality of Transylvania (a vassal state of the Porte) than in the Kingdom of Hungary under Habsburg rule. Radical trends of Protestantism, Antitrinitarianism and Szekler Sabbatarianism soon started to flourish in Ottoman-occupied Hungary and Transylvania.

And this genius bit-

I must admit that I love the period I study, and I may tend to idealize life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Of course, I know that this age is not better or worse than any other. These were harsh and cruel times in which chopped heads hung from the walls of Ottoman and Christian fortresses as war trophies, and religious opponents would often describe each other as devils springing straight out of hell. We can nonetheless affirm that people living in the age of the Ottoman period of Hungary were quite receptive of each other. The often cruel and violent debaters – Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Muslims – had studied each other’s works for years and lived close to each other also in a spiritual sense. There were lively and intricate commercial relations between the Christian world and Ottoman Hungary. This was not friendship, but a sense of connection.

The entire collection (and these are previously published in a variety of places) is an eye-opener on a particular slice of Church history.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think you will as well.

Tolle, lege!

Erasmus Was Disgruntled When Basel Removed the Idols

melanchthon_erasmusOn May 9, 1529 Erasmus wrote a friend:

“The smiths and workmen removed the pictures from the churches, and heaped such insults on the images of the saints and the crucifix itself, that it is quite surprising there was no miracle, seeing how many there always used to occur whenever the saints were even slightly offended. Not a statue was left either in the churches, or the vestibules, or the porches, or the monasteries. The frescoes were obliterated by means of a coating of lime; whatever would burn was thrown into the fire, and the rest pounded into fragments. Nothing was spared for either love or money. Before long the mass was totally abolished, so that it was forbidden either to celebrate it in one’s own house or to attend it in the neighboring villages.”

Hooray!  Erasmus talked a good game about the need for change but he never really wanted it.