History


John R.W. Stott, at the age of 90, went to be home with the Lord today.  If you don’t know who he is, then you should read Justin Taylor’s brief, yet honoring, post commemorating his life.

Have you ever wondered what the marriage was like for some of those historical figures of the past?  Well, just in time for the annual remembrance of the Reformation (October 31), the guys over at the Resurgence blog have let Justin Taylor write a humorous piece on Martin Luther’s marriage to Katherin von Bora.  It’s a 5 part series.  I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it!  Click on each one to read them…

Part 1: Luther: The 40 Year Old Virgin?

Part 2: When Martin Met Katie

Part 3: The Original Lutheran Marriage: Love and Marriage Aren’t Always Like a Horse and Carriage

Part 4: The Luthers’ Marriage

Part 5: 4 Lessons from Luther on Marriage

Want to know more about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  Well, Justin Taylor interviews  Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, and Academic Dean, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Trueman wrote his dissertation on Luther’s Legacy.  The following is from Justin’s post:

This Sunday is Halloween. But more importantly, it’s Reformation Day—when the church celebrates and commemorates October 31, 1517. It was on this day (a Saturday) that a 33-year-old theology professor at Wittenberg University walked over to the Castle Church in Wittenberg and nailed a paper of 95 theses to the door, hoping to spark an academic discussion about their contents. In God’s providence and unbeknownst to anyone else that day, it would become a key event in igniting the Reformation.

I thought it might be helpful to ask a few questions of Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History, and Academic Dean, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Trueman wrote his dissertation on Luther’s Legacy, teaches on Luther’s life and theology, and is writing the volume on Luther for the Theologians on the Christian Life series, forthcoming from Crossway, edited by Steve Nichols and me.

Had Luther ever done this before—nail a set of theses to the Wittenberg door? If so, did previous attempts have any impact?

I am not sure if he had ever nailed up theses before, but he had certainly proposed sets of such for academic debate, which was all he was really doing on October 31, 1517. In fact, in September of that same year, he had led a debate on scholastic theology where he said far more radical things than were in the Ninety-Five Theses. Ironically, this earlier debate, now often considered the first major public adumbration of his later theology, caused no real stir in the church at all.

What was the point of nailing something to the Wittenberg door? Was this a common practice?

It was simply a convenient public place to advertise a debate, and not an unusual or uncommon practice. In itself, it was no more radical than putting up an announcement on a public notice board.

What precisely is a “thesis” in this context?

A thesis is simply a statement being brought forward for debate.

What was an “indulgence”?

An indulgence was a piece of paper, a certificate, which guaranteed the purchaser (or the person for whom the indulgence was purchased) that a certain amount of time in purgatory would be remitted as a result of the financial transaction.

At this point did Luther have a problem with indulgences per se, or was he merely critiquing the abuse of indulgences?

This is actually quite a complicated question to answer.

First, Luther was definitely critiquing what he believes to be an abuse of indulgences. For him, an indulgence could have a positive function; the problem with those being sold by Johann Tetzel in 1517 is that remission of sin’s penalty has been radically separated from the actual repentance and humility of the individual receiving the same.

Second, it would appear that the Church herself was not clear on where the boundaries were relative to indulgences, and so Luther’s protest actually provoked the Church into having to reflect upon her practices, to establish what was and was not legitimate practice.

Was Luther trying to start a major debate by nailing these to the door?

The matter was certainly one of pressing pastoral concern for him. Tetzel was not actually allowed to sell his indulgences in Electoral Saxony (the territory where Wittenberg was located) because Frederick the Wise, Luther’s later protector, had his own trade in relics. Many of his parishioners, however, were crossing over into the neighboring territory of Ducal Saxony, where Tetzel was plying his trade.

Luther had been concerned about the matter of indulgences for some time. Thus, earlier in 1517, he had preached on the matter and consulted others for their opinions on the issue. By October, he was forced by the pastoral situation to act.

Having said all that, Luther was certainly not intending to split the church at this point or precipitate the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy into conflict and crisis. He was simply trying to address a deep pastoral concern.

Was Luther a “Protestant” at this point? Was he a Lutheran?

No, on both counts. He himself tells us in 1545 that, in 1517, he was a committed Catholic who would have murdered—or at least been willing to see murder committed—in the name of the Pope. There is some typical Luther hyperbole there, but the theology of the Ninety-Five Theses is not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, are not yet present. He was an angry Catholic, hoping that, when the Pope heard about Teztel, he would intervene to stop the abuse.

How did that act of nailing these theses to the door ignite the Reformation?

On one level, I am inclined to say “Goodness only knows.” As a pamphlet of popular revolution, it is, with the exception of the occasional rhetorical flourish, a remarkably dull piece of work which requires a reasonably sound knowledge of late medieval Catholic theology and practice even to understand many of its statements. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck a popular chord, being rapidly translated into German and becoming a bestseller within weeks. The easy answer is, therefore, “By the providence of God”; but, as a historian, I always like to try to tie things down to some set of secondary or more material causes.

Certainly, it was used in a way that appealed to popular anti-clericalism, resentment of the Roman curia, and a desire to stop money flowing out of German speaking territories to Rome. Yet, even so, the revolutionary power of such a technical composition is, in retrospect, still quite surprising.

For those today who want to read the 95 Theses, what would you recommend?

The place to start is probably Stephen Nichols’s edition (with an introduction and notes).

Nevertheless, if you really want to understand Luther’s theology, and why it is important, you will need to look beyond the Ninety-Five Theses. Probably the best place to start would be Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology.

Justin Taylor has a great post on Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the fact that 29 years ago today he went to be with the Lord.  I agree with Justin that he is widely considered to be one of the best preachers of the 20th century.

For biographies, see the following from Iain Murray, his official biographer and former assistant:

And…

You can hear his preaching online for free at Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recording Trust.

See JT’s post for more.

The artist Caravaggio is probably one of the greatest artists on painting the depraved condition of man.  Interestingly enough, his skill was linked with his own experience of it.

I’ve begun watching an excellent DVD series by Simon Schama called The Power of Art.  I’m borrowing it from a friend right now (Thanks Tim!  There’s a shout-out to ya…)  Mr. Schama explores several artists and their life by focusing on one particular piece of art of theirs and what led them to that point of creating it.  Most often than not, some of their greatest work was the result of tragedy.

With the Italitan artist Caravaggio (1571-1610), it seems his whole life was one of intermittent tragedy.  But it was not because of poverty or a physical ailment that led him to some really low points in his life, but because of his own actions.

In fact, the man almost had it all– he was trained in Milan under a master and then moved to Rome in his early 20s.  Huge new churches were being built in Rome in the decades of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  Of course, paintings were needed to fill them, as well as the fact that the Catholic church searched for authentic religious art with which to counter the Protestant Reformation.  Catholics viewed art as an aid to worship, while Protestants felt it could be a temptation towards idolatry.  Thus, Caravaggio was hired, but he brought a brutal realism to the nature of man by portraying life-like expressions and emotions on his subjects faces, and used the shifting from light to dark to heighten the contrasts.   Plus, he didn’t try to “perfect” his subjects, but left wrinkles, warts, and all.  Two of his first successful paintings in 1600 were the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew (painting above).   Thereafter, it seemed he always had commissions or patrons knocking on his doorstep, yet he handled his success in the most narcissistic manner possible by getting drunk almost every night, threatening others with a sword to their throat, getting into fights, or bursting in a temper at the slightest jest to his pride.

Then finally in 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head.  He flees to Naples, and then makes it to Malta.  It is at these places that he creates more paintings of biblical scenes that clearly recognize the lostness and depravity of man’s sin.  One can accurately assume that he would know from experience.  But if you think that with the reality of knowing his own lostness would lead him to the freedom shown in the grace of the gospel of Christ, especially since he’s painting biblical scenes, he never quite makes it there.

In Malta in 1608 he is involved in another brawl, and yet another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. By the next year, after a relatively brief career, he is dead.  But one of his last pieces of work is the most interesting.  It’s David with the Head of Goliath.  Of course, it’s a self portrait.  But Caravaggio isn’t David.  He’s Goliath.  Dirty silver, black and browns dominate the picture.   Interestingly, on the sword is an abbreviated inscription: H-AS OS, in Latin: Humilitas occidit superbiam (“Humility kills pride”).  But the humility of Carvaggio leads him to despair.  It may have killed his pride, but it ends up crushing his soul.  Why?  I think it’s because he never understood the grace of God shown in the gospel of Christ.  It’s as if he recognizes the magnitude of his sin, but he never recognizes the even greater magnitude of the grace of Jesus Christ.

May we never be lost in despair of our sin, but know that “he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . .”

Romans 1:20-22

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, and give thanks to GOD!

Next Page »