Thursday, November 16, 2017

St. Gertrude the Great

St. Gertrude the Great was born on Epiphany, 1256 in what is now Germany. She was raised in a monastery, where she received a thorough education. At 25, she began to have visions. She devoted herself to prayer and her writings focused more on spiritual than academic matter.

She wrote a large portion of A Herald of Divine Love (other parts written by her peers). She also wrote her own Spiritual Exercises. It included prayers for various liturgies and feast days throughout the year. St. Francis de Sales used her prayers, and they have been popular throughout Europe for centuries.

She is one of the earliest known devotees to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She had a vision of Christ’s heart, pouring forth like a redemptive fountain from the wound in his side.

One of her most popular prayers is for those in purgatory. She is one of few saints (and to my knowledge the only women) with the title “Great.” She died in 1302. Her feast day is November 16. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

500: Common Places and Confession

Introduction to 500 series

Philip Melanchthon was an academic who Luther recruited to the University of Wittenberg to teach Greek. He became critical of the traditional, scholastic theology being taught in universities at the time. In 1519 he began lecturing on the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letters. He was transferred to the theology department.

He defended Luther’s positions on the papacy while Luther was at Wartburg Castle. In 1521 he published Loci Communes. It outlines his thoughts on Christian doctrine from the Epistle to the Romans. Luther said, “Next to Holy Scripture, there is no better book.” It is considered the first book of Lutheran systematic theology and grandfathered Protestant scholasticism.

But perhaps his strongest influence was in the Augsburg Confession, written in 1530, outlining the doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. Emperor Charles V had called on the German princes to submit their religious convictions in an effort to establish political unity in the empire and rally a united support against Turkish invasion. The document contains 21 theses of Lutheran belief and 7 antitheses against the Church.

The Lutheran princes agreed to a military alliance with Charles V; any city or state that gave official assent to the Augsburg Confession could be admitted into the alliance. It solidified Protestant theology as a political player in Europe. The English translation of the Confession was read and assented to by King Henry VIII of England. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church were strongly influenced by the Confession.  In 1540, Melanchthon revised the Confession; the revised edition, called the Variata, was signed by John Calvin. Most Lutherans held to the “unaltered” edition.

The Augsburg Confession and the league did not truly settle the tension between Charles V and the Lutheran princes. The Schmalkaldic War took place 1546-1547. In September 1555, Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League (signers of the Confession) signed the Peace of Augsburg. The treaty legally divided the Holy Roman Empire and established cuius region, eius religio (“whose realm, his religion”) This allowed rulers to choose Lutheranism or Catholicism as their state religion. Citizens who held different beliefs were given a grace period to freely emigrate to a state holding to the other religion. There were a few mixed cities, where Lutheranism had been practiced since the 1520s but the city’s ruler was Catholic; certain princes and knights were given exemptions. 

For the most part, the Augsburg Confession was a success of modern negotiating. It balanced the rights of Catholic and Lutheran rulers and also considered the welfare of the subjects under them. However, it only recognized one Protestant doctrine, Lutheranism; thus, other Protestant sects that were rising still had no political power. But that would soon be challenged as well.

Friday, November 10, 2017

500: The Peasants Protest Too


Luther’s writings were being spread rapidly throughout literate Europe and gaining followers among academics and German nobles. At the same time, his views were being spread orally among the illiterate. They reached rural areas where communities already had loose catechesis and heretical ideas had nominally been practiced for years (see the result of the Plague). In 1521, three men later called the “Zwickau Prophets” arrived in Wittenberg. They preached that their authority came from the Holy Spirit, not Scripture or the Church. They rejected infant baptism and warned of a coming apocalypse.

Although their views differed wildly from Luther’s, they gained favor with some of Luther’s peers, including Andreas Karlstadt. On Christmas Day 1521, Karlstadt celebrated his first “communion service” in which he wore secular clothes, used German instead of Latin, rejected confession as a prerequisite for communion, and purged all references of sacrifice from the Mass. Luther eventually returned to Wittenberg in order to preach against the “fanatics.”

Karlstadt continued to grow more radical; he got rid of images and music in churches, got married, and rejected infant baptism. He denied the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Politically, the Zwickau Prophets preached an ideal Christian commonwealth, with commodities shared and all men held equal. These ideas were gaining traction among German peasants, who revolted against the aristocracy in the German Peasants’ War of 1524-1525. While all the complex causes and influences in the war are still subject to debate, I think it is clear that the individualism and anti-institutionalism expressed in the growing new religious movements inspired people to seek political change, and vice versa. If the Church is oppressive, then isn’t the king oppressive too? If each man is equal in political power, then isn’t his Biblical interpretations equal too? In both cases, the rural populace wants to be left alone and not told what to do.

Variations of this sort of religious movement popped up across Germany, Switzerland, Moravia, and the Low Countries. There are various pastors from the late 1520s and early 1530s who developed somewhat similar iconoclastic, credo-baptist, pacifist doctrines. The Swiss Brethren were one of the larger of these groups. In 1527 the Swiss Brethren published a confession of faith outline among other things adult-only baptism, symbolic Lord’s Supper, separation from worldly matters, and nonviolence. The belief that baptism of infants was invalid was a large competent of this group, and thus they begin “re-baptizing” adults, earning the name “Anabaptist” (“to baptize again”). Of course, other Christian groups did not recognize these second baptisms as valid. One of these leaders, Felix Manz, was executed by Protestants by way of drowning—a signal of their disapproval of “re-baptisms.”

I think the Anabaptist beginnings share a lot in common with the Awakenings that would spring up over the centuries and with the Pentecostal movement in the early twentieth century. The people outside of the academic circles and noble elites did not care much about complicated doctrines or edicts. They felt religion, and the zeitgeist valued appeals of individual emotion and rejection of foreign institutions.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

500: Protesters become Protestant


Although Charles V had banned Luther’s writings throughout the Holy Roman Empire, Lutheranism was still gaining followers, and German princes were not enforcing the bans. At the Diet of Speyer in 1526, the princes officially professed their Lutheran faith. With Turkish invasion threatening, the empire could not risk alienating the heretical princes. It was decided that the matter of religion would be settled at a later time, and that in the interim, the princes should “rule, and believe as it may hope and trust to answer before God and his imperial Majesty.” While Charles V had no intention of granting religious freedom to Lutherans, (Charles V did not attend the diet, nor did he sign or oppose the edict from it), the princes took this vague instruction to “follow their conscience” and continue their Lutheran reforms, now with a claim of political credibility.

In 1529, there was another Diet of Speyer, again to deal with the issues of Turkish invasion and rising religious rebellion. The Catholic representatives sought to clarify that the princes could not choose what religious reforms took place. Ferdinand (later Ferdinand I), representing Charles V, condemned the princes’ interpretation and reiterated that the Holy Roman Empire was Catholic. This diet forbade any reforms on the threat of imperial ban and upheld the Edict of Worms. It also clarified that fringe reform movements, like Zwinglianism and Anabaptism, could be punished by death.

The Lutheran representatives, seeing their movement delegitimized, entered a legal protest on April 25, 1529. Six princes and 14 representatives of Imperial Free Cities protested the measures of the Diet of Speyer which they saw as contrary to their beliefs and to the decisions made at the first Diet of Speyer. They asked for a judgment overturning the majority decision of the diet. From this protest came the word “Protestant.” 

Protestantism now commonly refers to all Western Christian branches that are not Catholic or Orthodox. The branches of Protestantism are so varied, it seemed pointless at times to put them under a single term. Yet they all still branch from splitting from the Catholic Church. They may not formally protest the Diet of Speyer, but they are still sects that arose from protest.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Three Churches at Allhallowstide

All Saints and All Souls seem so similar; one is about the souls now in heaven and one is about souls who will hopefully make it there. They are mushed together in Allhallowstide. However, they are quite separate. For the Church Militant, we are to recognize the differences between the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering and respond accordingly.

All Saints is a joyous feast, honoring the canonized saints whose names we know but also all the other saints, the non-canonized, the forgotten. They too have finished the race and share in God’s glory. They too want us to join them and offer their prayers for us. So All Saints is a time for us to acknowledge them, and to ask them for our prayers.

All Souls is not a feast. The liturgical color for the day is actually black, for while we don purple in times of penance for our own souls, black is the color of mourning for others. The Church Suffering is just that—suffering. But it is a purifying pain. They need our prayers. We pray for God’s mercy on them. We hope that in turn, when they reach the beatific vision, that they will pray for us. So on All Souls we mourn our losses, remember our passed loved ones, and pray for them.

Together the days really demonstrate the entire Church—Triumphant, Suffering, and Militant—working together and praying for one another. Death is not an end. We are the victors.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

500: The Levy Breaks


After Luther posted his 95 theses for debate, several copies were made and distributed among German intellectuals. In January of 1518, the theses were translated from Latin into German. Within two weeks, it spread throughout Germany. Within two months, it spread throughout Europe. Foreign students came to Wittenburg to hear Luther; he published several commentaries over the next two years on books of the Bible—his concepts of justification, predestination, and the solas developed further during this time.

Meanwhile, the archbishop of Mainz had not responded to the theses; rather, he forwarded them on to Rome. Pope Leo X was not one to rush a hasty response. He sent papal theologians and envoys to inquire. A Dominican theologian Mazzolini drafted heresy charges against Luther. It was agreed to that Luther could be tried in Augsburg in October 1518. The questioning was regarding the issue of the pope’s right to issue indulgences. The papal legate had instructions to arrest Luther if he did not recant, but Luther fled the city instead.

In January 1519 in Saxony, Luther made some concessions to the papal nuncio. However, Johann Eck wanted Luther’s doctrine to be made public and exposed as heretical. Johann Eck was a Catholic theologian who regarded Luther as a new Hussite. In the summer of that year, he staged debates between himself and Andreas Karlstadt, a Luther defender. The latter debates were between Eck and Luther. Luther was superior in education and skill. Yet Eck did succeed in proving that Luther did hold some opinions held by heretic Hussites and that he believed some councils to be errant. Theologians at the University of Leipzig declared Eck the victor.  

Eck tried to get the Elector Frederick of Saxony to burn Luther’s works. In 1519 alone, he published eight writings against the Lutheran movement. While he had support from Rome and in some universities, he failed to gather much support in Germany, where many theologians and noblemen were siding with Luther. In 1520, he met with Pope Leo X, who praised his work, but still had not taken decisive action regarding Luther.  

After explaining the situation to the pope, Eck returned to Germany with the papal bull Exsurge Domine charging that 41 propositions of Luther were erroneous or heretical. He thought this would finally quash the Lutheran movement as well as the humanists. However, he was met with insults and protests that prevented him from publically reading the bull. He had to flee both Saxony and Freiberg.

The papal bull Exsurge Domine in June 1520 declared that Luther had 60 days to recant 41 statements found in his writings or risk excommunication. The papal nuncio tried to broker a deal, but it fell apart. Luther burned the bull at Wittenberg on December 10. On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X formally excommunicated him.

The Church had declared him a heretic, but it was now the local, secular state’s problem to deal with him. On April 18, 1521, Luther was ordered to appear before The Diet of Worms—a general assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, with Emperor Charles V presiding. The issue was regarding the enforcement of the ban of Luther’s theses. Eck represented the Empire. Luther stated that he could no longer trust the pope or the councils and could interpret Scripture on his own. Eck argued that many heretics held to their interpretations of Scripture as well.

The Edict of Worms declared Luther an outlaw and banned his writings. It was made a crime for anyone in Germany to give him food or shelter. He could be killed without legal consequence. However, he found refuge in Wartburg Castle. His writings continued to spread.

While he failed to stop the flood of Lutheran fervor in Germany, Eck contributed greatly to the Catholic Reformation in his works attacking the flaws and heresies in the new doctrines. He worked closely with Protestants in understanding and counter-arguing their theologies and the Protestant Revolution rolled on.

Friday, October 20, 2017

To Hell with It

Recently, I was trying to find a quote about the Eucharist—one that contained all the majesty and mystery of the sacrament, that emphasized the absurd truth of it, that would rattle Protestant definitions and lead them home. Something akin to Tolkien’s: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.”

But then I came across one that stripped away prose and got to the heart of the matter. Flannery O’Connor wrote: “Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the 'most portable' person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, 'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.' That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

It was all the defense I was capable of. I so often struggle for words and explanations. I want the sound the defense—to know the philosophy and metaphysics, the teachings of the fathers, the logic, the history, the theology. I want to be able to hold and win debate. But I can’t. I’m not well-versed or well-prepared or well-spoken. But it is important to defend; it is the pinnacle of Christian worship. If it’s a symbol, then most Christians are misguided idolaters; if it’s truly Christ, then it the height of earthly experience.

So maybe I’m not the one to debate. Just stand my ground, even if my voice shakes.

'Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.'

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sun Day (part 3)

On the day of the solar eclipse, special glasses were a must. You couldn’t look directly at the sun. It was so bright that you couldn’t see the moon inching its way into its path until a moment before totality. Just a slimmer of sun still lit up the sky and hurt your eyes.

So we were warned, over and over, don’t look at the sun during the eclipse. It’s tempting, but it will hurt. Yet with the glasses, everything else was blacked out. The sun was a tiny, orange ball—the moon, a tinier, black spot, slowing eating away at it. There was a heavy filter between my eyes and the spheres, but it was the only way I could possibly witness them.

A few days later, I was driving to church. Normally, driving east, the sun is right in my face. But this morning was particularly foggy. I turned a corner which normally blasts me with bright light. But the fog was thick. I looked up, and I could see the dull, white ball of the sun. It wasn’t blinding me like normal. The fog allowed me to look directly at it.

I don’t see the sun that often. I see sunlight, obviously. I see daytime. I see the colors of sunrises and sunsets. I see rooms lit up by natural light pouring in windows. I see reflections and shadows. But the sun itself is too bright, too powerful. That fireball is millions of miles away yet feels dangerous close. Looking at it will hurt me. I need a filter.

We all know where this is going, right? The face of God is too much for meek humans to handle. We can’t look directly at him. Life on earth is sustained by him. We see the light all around, but we cannot see him directly. But through a fog, we somehow see him clearer. Through others—their actions, their hearts, their intercessions—we can gaze closer than we could with a naked eye.

The eclipse made me think about the sun much more than I normally do. It’s so prominent that I don’t actually think about that often. But there it is, routinely, giving heat and light, bouncing and reflecting, sometimes dancing. Sometimes it takes a moon or a fog for me to realize how much I love it.