Humanism and the 15th Century Church: Erasmus and the Greek NT – R.Reeves

Setting the Stage by Ryan Reeves | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

Before taking leave of the July issue of Tabletalk, we will spend one more post looking at the history of the church during the 15th century – the theme of this month’s issue.

Dr. Ryan Reeves has the final featured article on the subject and he gives us another “big picture” glance at this important century of church history.

ErasmusHis entire article is worth your time and effort – lots of new things to learn or be reminded of as far as major events during this time; but I will give you the end of his article because of the special significance of a certain Dutchman whom God used to set the stage for the Reformation in a special way, and whom a certain great Reformer would engage theologically and biblically on the doctrine of free will (Remember the great Reformation work The Bondage of the Will?!).

Sensing the opportunity to expand learning and literacy, the humanists unleashed a torrent of writing on theology, Bible, classical studies, and history. Of all the humanists, Erasmus of Rotterdam was their prince. Born in 1466 as the illegitimate son of a priest, Erasmus demonstrated skill with languages and textual criticism that propelled him onto the stage as a leading light of the new intellectual movement of the Renaissance. In the course of his life, Erasmus gave the world complete editions of the works of the church fathers as well as numerous tracts on theological subjects.

By far his most impactful work was the Greek New Testament—a work he admitted was gathered in a slapdash manner from twelfth-century Byzantine texts, with some passages wrongly added to the Bible and six verses of the book of Revelation missing entirely. The Greek New Testament was something like a modern interlinear Bible. In one column was the Greek text; next to it was a fresh Latin translation by Erasmus. Not only did this provide readers with the original Greek, but it also provided a road map for students to help determine how to render the Greek into their language. It is no surprise, then, that Luther used this text as the basis of his German New Testament, which he translated after his trial at the Diet of Worms.

Through destruction and exploration, the fifteenth century did more than bridge the gap between the medieval age and the modern world; it set the stage for the Reformation.

 

“To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God. ” ~ Abraham Kuyper

Moreover, there can be no real and lasting peace in the church of God without full harmony of opinions and belief. If doctrines were so toned down and moderated that they were capable of more than one interpretation, those who differed in opinion would still argue and each would do all he could to uphold and spread his own interpretation. For what a man conscientiously accepts as truth, he desires others to believe also. The false unity would not last.

We must indeed seek peace, with all earnestness. Bitterness, ill will, malice, and love of dispute should never characterize a Christian in his defense of the truth. Instead, there should be a sincere interest in the honor of God and in the well-being of our fellowmen. Paul says, ‘As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men’ [Rom.12:18].

But when he says, ‘As much as lieth in you’ he plainly implies that sometimes peace is impossible. When peace is injurious to the truth, peace must give way. Peace with God is of greater value than peace with men. To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God.

Having then purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently [1 Pet.1:22]. Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [Eph.4:1-3].

And the God of mercy and peace, the God of order and unity, grant that we may be of one mind and may together praise Him in unity of faith, now and eternally.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.51-52.

A Significant First PRC-GR Bulletin – August 30, 1964

For our PRC archives item today we publish a bulletin from First PRC, Grand Rapids, MI, dated August 30, 1964. An inconspicuous date, you may think – until you read the notices and see what was happening in this historic PRC, especially as regards her crippled pastor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

Here you will find from his own pen, a significant pastoral note to the congregation informing them of his condition following his second stroke. This would mark the beginning of the end of his earthly sojourn.

Below is the front cover of the bulletin as it appeared in those days, and the inside pages with its various announcements – other significant ones too (click on the images to enlarge). Reminding us on this date of July 23, 2015 that the life of God’s people – pastors too – is one of affliction and hope – for we are all pilgrims and strangers in this world.

1stPRC-Gr-Bulletin-Aug1964-cover_Page_11stPRC-GR-Bulletin-Aug1964-Inside_Page_1

Wycliffe’s Bible: From Obscurity to Popularity – Dr. David Allen

JWycliffe-Bible-2The last Quarterly Record I have in hand (April-June 2015 – a publication of the Trinitarian Bible Society) contains an informative article by Dr. David Allen on John Wycliffe (1320-1384), “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Naturally, the article has much on the translation of the Bible that Wycliffe produced.

As a follow up to my post from yesterday, I quote a portion of Allen’s article today on the effect Wycliffe’s Bible had on the people of his day.

The translators of Wycliffe’s Bible are wrapped in obscurity. We scarcely find in Wycliffe’s writings any reference to the progress of that great work: he and those who aided him were afraid that if they blazed the matter abroad, the powerful hand of authority would prevent them continuing the translation and would inflict severe persecution upon them. The consequence therefore is that we are ignorant of the stages of the work which prepared the way for the Reformation and the spiritual destiny that awaited millions through the following centuries.

The Bible was completed by the end of the year 1382. In all probability it was John Wycliffe who translated the New Testament and Nicholas of Hereford the Old Testament. When Nicholas was forced to flee in 1382, the Bible was then revised in a free style by John Purvey, the ‘Librarian of the Lollards.’ In addition to Nicholas and Purvey, Wycliffe was also aided by other disciples, perhaps former Oxford scholars. It was an exact, literal translation of the Latin Vulgate into English, the language of the people.

So great was the eagerness to possess Wycliffe’s Bible that those who could not procure the volume of the Book would give a load of hay for just a few chapters. They would hide the forbidden treasures under the floors of their houses, and expose their lives to danger rather than surrender the Book. They would sit up all night, their doors being shut for fear of surprise, reading or hearing others read the Word of God. They would bury themselves in the woods and there converse with it in silence and solitude. They would be attending their flocks in the field, stealing an hour for drinking in the good tidings of grace and salvation (pp.22-23).

Something we so take for granted – the Bible in our own tongue. May we not forget the history of its translation and transmission to us, and may we treasure it for the best and most precious Book in all the world that it is.

The Museum of the Bible: The Bible in America: Pilgrims, Puritans, and Patriots

▶ The Bible in America: Pilgrims, Puritans, and Patriots – Norm Conrad – YouTube.

I have mentioned the collection of Steve Green (Hobby Lobby founder ) and the coming of his “Museum of the Bible” in Washington, D.C. before (here), but now as it gets closer, they are promoting its incredible collection through videos. I give you two of them today – well worth watching and learning more about this wonderful library.

Here’s the introduction to the first video:

Published on Jul 10, 2015

Filmed at Museum of the Bible’s lecture series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 2, 2015. Norm Conrad, Curator of Americana and English Bibles for Museum of the Bible, presents a fascinating study of the Bible in early American history. He uses many fascinating examples from the Green Collection to illustrate what role the Bible played during the time America gained its independence from England.

If you wish to view a video presenting an overview of the Museum of the Bible, watch this video – fascinating!

Jan Hus: God’s Czech “Goose” – Aaron Denlinger

The Goose by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015 As noted on previous Mondays this month, the July issue of Tabletalk takes us through the 15th century of church history, when God’s hand was sovereignly preparing the world, especially Europe, for the coming Reformation of His church. One of the ways in which God worked was through certain “pre-Reformers”, such as John Wyclif and Jan Hus.

The above-linked article by Dr. Aaron Denlinger, professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL, focuses on the latter man and his place in this part of the history of Christ’s church.

I believe you will find this article to be a stimulating account of how God used “the goose” to  open the door to further and full Reformation in the church. Here are the opening paragraphs; read all of it at the Ligonier link above.

If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after.” So wrotJan-Huse John Foxe in his sixteenth-century Book of Martyrs, referring to a statement attributed to the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus on the occasion of his death. Convicted of heresy in 1415 by the Council of Constance, Hus—according to a story that originated some years after the fact—turned to his executioners shortly before his sentence was carried out and remarked, “Today you burn a goose, but in one hundred years a swan will arise which you will prove unable to boil or roast.”

Why might Hus have identified himself as “a goose”? And why might later commentators—not least, Luther himself—have believed that Hus’ legendary prophecy referred to the German monk whose protest against indulgences launched the Reformation a century later?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Hus, born about 1372, hailed from the southern Bohemian town of Husinec (literally, “Goosetown”) in what is now the Czech Republic. His surname, derived from his place of birth, means “goose” in Czech. Understanding why Luther and later Protestants believed Hus had anticipated, if not predicted, the Reformation is more difficult and requires some consideration of Hus’ life, doctrine, and death.

“We may not tamper with truth.” – Abraham Kuyper

The articles of Christian faith are like links of a chain. If one link is removed, the chain is broken. For instance, one cannot deny God’s eternal election without taking away our assurance of salvation and undermining the steadfastness of our hope. For then man’s salvation is left in his own hands; he must exercise his free will and choose to be saved. That, in turn, denies at least in part man’s total depravity. And if man is not totally depraved, Christ’s atonement loses much of its value – in fact we would finally arrive at the conclusion that we do not need Christ for salvation!

Furthermore, if we would hush certain doctrines, we are suppressing the truth. If we hide differences under a broad creed that permits of two or more interpretations, as some suggest, we hide truth and leave men in uncertainty. We may not tamper with truth.

Satan knows that he can undermine the structure of the church by slyly removing just one fundamental doctrine at a time, and he frequently loosens a large foundation stone gradually, chiselling it away bit by bit.

That is why tolerance for the sake of peace may be dangerous.

…If the principles of our faith are man-made, they should be discarded. If they are from God, let no man tamper with them to tone them down. Even though some points may seem to be but small, God has bidden us be faithful in little things, and has forbidden that we should subtract even one iota from His Word.

One step toward giving in will lead to a next step. And will not God visit us with blindness if we deliberately darken the truth He has graciously entrusted to us? How shall we justify ourselves if we permit even a little of the truth to be laid aside. Is that ours to do?

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.50-51.

Luther, Libraries, and Learning (3) – John W. Montgomery

Luther&LearningAs we take another look at Luther’s love for and support of libraries and learning at the outset of the Reformation – through the great essay by John W. Montgomery, “Luther, Libraries, and Learning”, as found in his book In Defense of Luther (Northwestern, 1970) – Montgomery directs us to Luther’s most significant piece of writing encouraging the establishment of libraries for the sake of good learning.

That work is Luther’s treatise of 1524 “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools,” which Montgomery quotes in full. As soon as I read it, I recalled that I had done a post on this before, and sure enough, you will find it here (from 2011). And you may find the complete treatise on this website (scroll down until you get to the pdf by this title).

I am not going to re-quote from that treatise today, but I am going to give you Montgomery’s evaluation of it – at least part of it today. Because he asks and answers the question, Why did Luther have such a passion for learning and libraries (the same holds true for the entire Reformation movement)? He finds it in several truths Luther rediscovered. We give two of these in this post:

Thus the reading of the Bible, the study of the original languages of the Scriptures, and the collection of libraries became mandatory in Luther’s program. The chain of reasoning was inescapable: To be saved a man has to believe in Christ the Word; to comprehend who Christ is, one must meet him in the preaching of the Gospel and in Holy Writ; and to understand what the Scriptures say, pastor and even layman cannot avoid the tools of scholarship.

Certain corollaries of Luther’s basic theological principle provided added motivation toward library establishment. The universal spiritual priesthood of believers was one such corollary. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520) Luther declared: ‘Let everyone.. who knows himself to be a Christian be assured of this, and apply it to himself, that we are all priests, and there is no difference between us, that is to say, we all have the same power with respect to the Word and all the sacraments.’ In practice this view freed the layman from the legal demands of a priestly caste, but at the same time it placed a great personal responsibility on him. The matter of salvation could no longer be handled for one by a hierarchy; now, each man would have to confront the Word. Luther’s monumental translation of the Bible into the German vernacular testifies to his conviction that the Bible must not be allowed to remain the property of a special class of believers. Compulsory education, and municipal schools with libraries in conjunction with them, were thus essential for making the universal priesthood a practical reality” (pp.136-37).

I also appreciated the way Montgomery concluded his essay on this subject:

…Luther’s concern for library promotion may also suggest revision old the old aphorism that ‘it matters little what you believe as long as you are sincere'; in the realm of books and libraries, as in all other realms, what one believes makes all the difference in the world as to what one does (p.139).

Pre-Reformation Rumblings: Gutenberg and Gansfort

The Fifteenth Century by Nicholas Needham | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-July-2015Last Monday we began to reference this month’s issue of Tabletalk, this one focusing on the 15th century of the church and “the eve of the Reformation.” At that time I gave you the link to this opening featured article by church historian Nicholas Needham, an article that gives us the “big picture” of this century of Christ’s church.

Today I want to pull a couple of sections from it so as to highlight two ways in which God was preparing the way for the great Reformation of the 16th century. One item is a technological advance; the other is an obscure Dutchman.

Here is what Needham says on these two pre-Reformation matters.

The Printing Press Revolution

From the closing decades of the fifteenth century, the Renaissance overflowed into the rest of Europe. One of the main reasons that humanist ideals spread so effectively from their Italian heartland was the invention of printing by movable type. In about 1450, Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1395–1468) of Mainz, Germany, set up the first such European printing press, and the first book he printed was the Bible. By 1500, more than two hundred presses were operating throughout Europe.

We can hardly overstate the cultural revolution this effected. Gone were the days when scribes had to copy books by hand. For the first time, a publisher could make thousands of copies of a book easily and quickly and then put them into mass circulation. This meant that ideas could spread more swiftly; it also meant that literacy became more highly valued.

Wessel Gansfort (1419–89)

Born at Groningen in the Netherlands, Wessel Gansfort studied in various universities before lecturing in Heidelberg and Paris. He was a pioneer humanist and an expert in Greek and Hebrew. In theology, Gansfort was at first a disciple of Thomas Aquinas, but he later turned to Augustine of Hippo as a safer guide. He went back to Groningen in about 1474 to act as spiritual director in the Mount St. Agnes monastery.

Gansfort’s preaching and teaching attracted a wide circle of admirers. As John of Wesel did, he made probing criticisms of medieval Roman Catholic doctrine. He denied the infallibility both of the papacy and of general church councils. He defined the church as the entire company of believers, not the organization headed by the papacy. He accepted the sacrifice of the Mass, but he also maintained that Christ was present in the bread and wine for believers only. A strong Augustinian, he upheld salvation by God’s sovereign grace, rejected indulgences, and even taught a doctrine of justification by faith, though it was somewhat confused.

Gansfort was more fortunate than John of Wesel in escaping the Inquisition; he died peacefully. None of Gansfort’s writings were printed until the Reformation, when Luther issued an edition with an admiring preface by himself.

If you want to read further, follow the Ligonier link above.

The Prayers of J. Calvin (21)

Praying with calvin- JeremiahOn this Sunday night we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015 – last on June 28), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his twentieth lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 5:10-16, which includes Calvin’s commentary on 5:14, “Wherefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.”

Here is part of his application of this passage to the church in his day and to us:

This passage ought to be carefully observed by us, lest by our ingratitude we shall so provoke God’s wrath against us, as that his word, which is destined for our food, shall be turned to a fire to us. For why has God appointed the ministers of his gospel, except to invite us to become partakers of his salvation, and thus sweetly to restore and refresh our souls?

And thus the word of God is to us like water to revive our hearts: it is also a fire, but for our good, a cleansing, and not a consuming fire; but it we obstinately reject this fire, it will surely turn to answer another end, even to devour us, and wholly to consume us (p.284).

And his closing prayer for this lecture is as follows:

Grant, Almighty God, that though thou mightest justly condemn us at this day for the gross and wicked impiety, which thou didst formerly condemn by the mouth of thy Prophet in thine ancient people, – O grant, that we may not proceed in our obstinacy, but learn with pliable minds, and in true docility of heart, to submit to thy word, so that it may not turn to our ruin, but that we may by experience find it to be appointed for our salvation, so that being inflamed with a desire for true religion,and also cleansed from the filth of depraved affections and of carnal lusts, we may devote ourselves wholly to thy service, until having put off the flesh and all its filth, we shall at length attain to that perfect purity, which i set before us in thy gospel, and be made partakers of thy eternal glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Amen

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