Word(s) Wednesday: “Post Tenebras Lux”

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Our word for this Wednesday is a Latin expression with important ties to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century: post tenebras lux. Its meaning? “After darkness, light.” That is, after the spiritually dark time in the church of the Middle Ages, the light of God’s truth (Word) came to shine again. These words became the motto of the Reformation (especially by the Calvinists!), so much so that they were inscribed on the “Reformation Wall” in Geneva, Switzerland and are part of that city’s seal (see images below).

Wikipedia has this as part of its entry for this expression (the link are useful too):

Post tenebras lux is a Latin phrase translated as Light After Darkness. It appears as Post tenebras spero lucem (“After darkness, I hope for light”) in the Vulgate version of Job 17:12.[1]

Post Tenebras Lux in the Seal of the Canton of Geneva.

The phrase came to be adopted by as the Calvinist motto, and was subsequently adopted as the motto of the entire Protestant Reformation,.[2] It is used by John Calvin‘s adopted city of Geneva, Switzerland on their coins. As a mark of its role in the Calvinist movement, the motto is engraved on the Reformation Wall, in Geneva, and the Huguenot Monument, in Franschhoek, South Africa.


What does it stand for? Dr. R.C.Sproul explains it well  in connection with an introduction he wrote for the Reformation Study Bible:

ReformationWall-Geneva-1The Reformation Study Bible is so called because it stands in the Reformed tradition of the original Geneva Bible of the sixteenth century. In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth century Reformation. This Reformation Monument is adorned with statues of the great leaders, Calvin, Beza, Farel, and Knox. Surrounding these figures is the phrase, post tenebras lux – “After darkness, light.”

The light of the Reformation was the light of the Bible. Luther translated the Latin Bible that could be read only by professionals into everyday German that could be read by the people. In England, Wycliffe and then William Tyndale had translated the Bible into English. Yet there was substantial opposition to these efforts. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536. During the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558) the Reformation was suppressed. The Roman Catholic mass had to be celebrated, services could not be conducted in English, and priests were forbidden to marry. Two hundred eighty-eight persons were burned, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.

These persecutions drove exiles from Britain to Europe. The most capable scholars among them came to Geneva, Switzerland. There they undertook the task of preparing a new translation of the Bible in English. The Geneva Bible was published in 1560, carefully designed to be accurate and understandable. It was the first English Bible to use verse divisions, as “most profitable for memory” and for finding and comparing other passages. It was provided with marginal notes based on Reformed principles.

The Geneva Bible dominated the English-speaking world for a hundred years. It was the Bible used by Shakespeare. The King James Bible was published in 1611 but did not supplant the Geneva Bible until fifty years later. The Pilgrims and Puritans carried the Geneva Bible to the shores of the New World. American colonists were reared on the Geneva Bible. They read it, studied it, and sought to live by its light.

Since that time a multitude of English translations and study Bibles have appeared. The Reformation Study Bible contains a modern restatement of Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes. Its purpose is to present the light of the Reformation afresh.



I even stumbled on a website devoted to the Reformation under this theme. It looks to have some profitable history lessons on the Reformation. Check it out.

What Are You Reading for Reformation Day 2013?

Calvin PreachingWith our remembrance and celebration of the great Reformation of the 16th century taking place this month, we may well ask ourselves, “What are you reading for Reformation Day 2013”? As Protestant children of the Reformation, we ought to be interested in the history and theology of this work of God in His church. We ought to know this part of our church history well – broadly (including what took place in other countries and what other figures God used to reform His church) and narrowly (our own Reformed branch of the Reformation).

If you are looking for ideas, may I suggest you visit a few good Christian book sites and browse through their Reformation history/theology sections. Here are a few to get you started:

May I also remind you that the Protestant Reformed Seminary library has a very strong Reformation history/theology section, which you too are free to make use of. We are constantly adding to this part of our library, and I like to believe we have one of the best around. We are particularly strong in Luther and the German Reformation and Calvin and the Swiss and French Reformation. But we also have plenty on Knox and the Reformation in Scotland, Wycliffe and Cranmer and the Reformation in England, etc.  I encourage you to make a visit and pick something out. And if you need help selecting something, I am available!

MotherofReformation-KrokerMay I also inform the ladies that we have some very good books on the ladies of the Reformation too. Just recently we added a new biography on Luther’s wife and her influence on the Reformation and another title of Roland Bainton on the women of the Reformation. You may see mostly men around the Seminary, but we welcome female readers and researchers too 🙂