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Category Archives: Early Modern

Ancient Paths: A Diversion to the Jordan

In our look at the “ancient paths” of the people of God, I continue to be struck by the way God has always used very physical means by which to manifest Himself to the world. This modus operandi of God stands in sharp contrast to our modern, “enlightened” expectations of how we think God is obliged to act.

In what we historically call the Modern world — the era spawned out of the European Renaissance, fanned into flame by Humanism, metastasizing into what we call the Enlightenment, and bearing the fruit of the scientific revolution — we have become enamored with that which we can measure. Through measurable experimentation we thhave come to “conclude” that things happen according to what we call “natural laws”. This consistency — this sameness that we find in the created order, we chalk up to being “natural”, and therefore no longer in need of divine impetus or explanation. “If God is going to reveal Himself”, we now say, “it has to be through some sort of super-natural expression.” A burning in the bosom. A miracle. A still, small voice. Still, by modern definitions, none of these things can be counted on as genuine “truth”, because they are immeasurable. Spiritual experience is, by modern definition, doubtful.

All this stand in stark contrast to the Biblical testimony of the Apostle Paul, who says in Romans 1:20 , “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” But, because we can measure things, we have become blind to the revelation of God as God, choosing instead to give the glory for created order to Mother Nature, a big bang, or (dare I say) a super-natural capacity for creation to rise above its clearly measurable bent toward entropy and atrophy to evolve through heredity and selection.

Okay, back to the River Jordan. I’ve been spell-bound (now there’s a supernatural term for you!) by the stuff-ness of the first chapters of the book of Joshua. Here, we have an estimated two million people who are about to enter the pro800-Joshua-03-Ark-Rivermised land near Jericho. Manna is falling daily from the sky. The Ark of the Covenant is in tow. A red piece of cloth is signaling salvation for Rahab and her family. The waters of the flooded Jordan are brought to a standstill when the feet of the Ark-carriers hit the water. God is commanding that stones be gathered and stacked as lasting remembrances. A mass circumcision is performed at God’s urging. Passover is celebrated, including the eating of the prescribed unleavened bread. There is the very real, physical encounter between Joshua and “the commander of the Lord’s army”, where Joshua is told to remove his sandals, because the ground is holy. Then, when it’s time to take Jericho, God specifically calls for marching, the Ark, seven priests, seven ram’s horn trumpets (with a specific prolonged blast), and a prescribed shout.

The (by now obvious) point I’m making is this: For Joshua and the Israelites, their ongoing relationship with God was wildly physical. Inescapably tangible. Any notion that one’s spiritual life was relegated to internal feelings or convictions is completely jerichofallabsent from these descriptions. Rather, God unfolds His covenant with His people in ways that “all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the LORD your God” (Josh. 4:24). Through these tangible means, God says, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you” (Josh 5:9). They all knew that they were now “crossing the plains of Jericho in the LORD’s presence” (Josh. 4:13). God, present, forgiving, proclaiming … through stuff.

Most of us would count scientific progress a great blessing. But the undergirding values of our age which have allowed for great advance have profoundly victimized our faith. They have served to emasculate God in the hearts and minds of the “enlightened”. We now find ourselves the product of a worldview that severs the natural from the divine, honors the former while doubting (and then ignoring) the latter, and is hopelessly preoccupied by our own measuring. With no vision for how the creator makes Himself known to the people of His creation through the stuff of His creation … we have become, not enlightened, but blind. We have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiping and serving what has been created instead of the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

the-baptism-of-jesus_WCA8889-1800This is also why we have such a hard time embracing the Ancient Paths of the sacraments. Our modern minds can’t calculate how God could have covenanted with His people through stuff — the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the Church as His body. Imagine the proto-gnostic of Joshua’s day, saying God isn’t really manifesting himself in physical ways, because “it’s the thought that counts.” That person would stand condemned. Meanwhile, today, especially in Evangelical circles, we reduce our spirituality to mental ascent and inner conviction. In our quest to not worship creation, we have exiled creation from our spiritual lives, and have lost His means for manifesting Himself to us — and to the world.

The recovery of the Ancient Paths of the sacraments is so much more than a stray piece of adiaphora. It is human obedience at its core. It is our collective return to all that God is and does. It is fullness of life in the Promised Land.

– EO

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Ancient Paths: Means That Justify the Ends

Ancient Paths: Means That Justify the Ends
 As we “Ask For the Ancient Paths”, we will soon be speaking about the sacraments of the Christian Church.
It is my conviction that, for the past 500+ years of Early Modern history, the world has run roughshod over the means by which man is to engage with God. Many say, “One doesn’t have to be baptized, take communion, go to church or receive absolution in order to be a right Christian. The ends (being right with God) are independent of the means (the God-prescribed ways of communion with Himself).”
Yet, the scriptures are deathly serious about the means. Whether the ark of Noah, the circumcision of the Israelites, the bronze serpent in the wilderness, the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, attendance at festivals, the prescriptions for both tabernacle and temple worship … God is abundantly concerned with the appropriate means. For God, the prescribed means cannot and will not be circumvented in the name of an alternative path to the desired ends.
So, I intend to turn the phrase: We want to see ourselves in appropriate relationship with our God. And the God-given means are non-negotiable for us to get there. The means DO justify the ends.
In a political sense, I would add this: For those who believe in the principles of democracy, it is not okay to get to desired conclusions through inappropriate means (e.g., good policies via the benevolent dictator). One cannot enjoy good “ends” if the “means” have been inappropriate. For those championing a political system, the means are pivotal to the justification of the ends.
But back to the church. God has always been one to give us means. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, even the Syrian king Naaman … they were called not only to champion certain convictions and beliefs, but were given strict orders for carrying out their calls — means. This remained true with Jesus in the New Testament: His charge to the 70, his administration of at the Wedding in Cana and the feedings of the 4,000 and 5,000, His institution of the Lord’s Supper, and His great commission, where he charged us with means – to go, to make disciples, to baptize, to teach.
God has chosen to justify us through means. The ends don’t justify these prescribed means. They are justified because they are God’s dictates and they must be adhered to for us to have justified ends.
The means justify the ends.
More on this soon – especially how the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are non-negotiable means for the experience of our justification before God! …
– E.O.
 

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Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

Ancient Paths: The Lord’s Prayer

I attend a church now that recites the Lord’s Prayer as part of every Sunday service. It also encourages its recitation in home devotions, both morning and evening.

That’s quite a leap from becoming a Christian in a church tradition that never recited this prayer. In fact, that tradition never recited anything. We didn’t even have scripture readings. Everything was spontaneous, except for the more-prepared portions of the sermon.

This practice was a bi-product of a strong bias … that written and recited acts of worship aren’t “sincere”. Or “authentic”. Or “genuine”. Only the spontaneous can be “real”. Everything else, because it has taken a preconceived form, if form-al. Because it can be said by rote, one can never know if there’s heart behind the recitation.

offering prayerInteresting. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus did not say, “Just talk to God like He’s your best friend.” He did not say, “Pray whatever is on your heart, as long as it’s what your really feel” (as though your feelings is the barometer of whether or not your prayer is appropriate!). He did not say, “Pray over these types of topics.” He never said anything like these well-worn approaches to prayer we find in our shallow, contemporary spiritualities.

He said, “Pray thus.” Then He said words. As Christians, we usually are very cautious about mincing the words of Jesus. But not when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. We not only can find it dispensable … we often consider these words boring and inadequate.

The ancient church did not make this mistake. They recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was central to the liturgy for 1,500 years, and remains central in the expressions of classical Christian traditions today. But, from the outset of Early Modern thinking, the Lord’s Prayer has been trivialized by huge swaths of Christian practitioners. I don’t think what has replaced its use has been anything like an improvement.

A few principles to consider when it comes to written prayers in general, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular:

  1. We should be careful with our words before God. Spontaneous worship acts can get us into big trouble — just ask Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2). A concise presentation of well-chosen words is to be preferred — just ask King Solomon (Eccl. 5:2) and Jesus (Matt. 6:7-8).
  2. Only pre-written prayers can be prayed in multiple locations at once. In our service book, we have what are called “collects”, from the Latin word collectia, which means “gather people together”. These prayers not only gather the thoughts of everyone within earshot in the service, but also with churches all over the globe. How else could we pray together with our brethren in the global south if we didn’t have written prayers?
  3. The Lord’s Prayer is the Word. Your prayers are not. Recitation of the Lord’s Prayer secures our trust, and demands our reverence. Spontaneous prayers can be a crapshoot.
  4. whiningSpontaneity is a shallow well. Do you really want your congregation’s dialogue with God to be limited to the off-the-cuff thoughts of your leaders? Isn’t it to our advantage to led in prayer by mature, thoughtful saints, from both the past and present? If you’re going to have spontaneous prayer, it had better be done by people with deep doctrinal equipping who know what they should be praying and how.
  5. Spontaneity is no more “genuine” than thoughtfully selected written phrases. For years I have endured “spontaneous” prayers in church that are nothing but the same drivel that has been prayed a thousand times before. Often it’s an auto-pilot prayer which has as it’s only priority providing enough time in the service for the band to get off the platform.
  6. Spontaneous praying makes it hard for people to pray. Do you ever bow your head, and wonder what you should say? Especially when you’re asked to pray out loud, in a group? Written prayers free up those who aren’t so glib to enter into solid seasons of prayer without the pressure of coming up with good stuff. This may be a key reason why there isn’t much actual prayer in most contemporary church services.

My prayer for all of us is that we would be liberated from the cul-de-sac of our limited minds, and be freed to embrace the rich tradition of our church’s prayer life that is stored for us through literature. Jesus’ prayer is indispensable. So are the Psalms. May the Word, and those God has given to us to be its pastors and teachers, give thoughtful shape to our ongoing conversation with God.

– E.O.

 

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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?

 

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Meet Menno Simons

Meet Menno Simons

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love; 
it dies to flesh and blood;
 it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; 
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul;
 it clothes the naked;
 it feeds the hungry; 
it comforts the sorrowful; 
it shelters the destitute; 
it aids and consoles the sad;
 it does good to those who do it harm; 
it serves those that harm it;
 it prays for those who persecute it;
 it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord;
 it seeks those who are lost; 
it binds up what is wounded; 
it heals the sick;
 it saves what is strong (sound); 
it becomes all things to all people.
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.”  – Menno Simons

menno-simons-1-sizedMenno Simons was born in 1496 in Witmarsum, Friesland, a war-torn country that was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Not much is known about his early life. His parents were poor dairy farmers and he probably was taught at a local monastery where he learned about the Church Brothers*, Latin, and a little Greek. At the age of 28, he became a Dutch Catholic priest which he thoroughly enjoyed. For Simons, the priestly life consisted of “playing cards, drinking, and in diversions as, alas, is the fashion and usage of such useless people”.

But only after a year of being a priest, while going through the ceremonies of mass, a thought occurred to him that the bread and wine he was handling couldn’t be the real flesh and blood of Jesus. At first he dismissed the thought as coming from the evil one and prayed and confessed but the thought wouldn’t leave him. But like many priests of the day, he had little biblical knowledge. In fact, he purposely avoided reading the Bible. Concerning the scriptures, he said, “I had not touched them in my life, for I feared if I should read them, I would be misled.” So because he couldn’t shake the thought he had while serving the Eucharist, he decided to the Bible to look for his answer. Through his study, he came to the conclusion that the Eucharistic elements were not the actual body and blood of Jesus, but that they were symbolic representations.

In 1531, Simons heard about an Anabaptist who had been beheaded because he was rebaptized and later wrote, “It sounded strange to me to hear of a second baptism.” Again, he turned to the scriptures and after comparing the views of the Catholics, Luther, Zwingli and others, he changed his mind on infant baptism. He couldn’t find justification for it in Scripture. Even though he was also being influenced by the writings of Erasmus and Luther, he continued to be a part of the Catholic Church. In April of 1535, a few hundred Anabaptists who had taken refuge near his home were killed in a siege and the survivors were executed, his own brother being among them. This event undoubtedly made an impression upon him but it wasn’t until a year later that he renounced Catholicism at the age of 40 and embraced Anabaptism.

It wasn’t long after Simons embraced Anabaptism and was baptized as an adult by Obbe Philips (one of the leaders of the movement who later abandoned Anabaptism) and was asked to become an elder in the movement. He spent the rest of his life proclaiming the gospel of peace throughout Holland and northwestern Germany, mostly while in hiding. During this time, he was able to write 25 books and tracts along with many letters to strengthen the cause of Anabaptism. His book, A Foundation and Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is considered to be his most influential book, sometimes compared to Calvin’s first Institutes due to length and style. It was instrumental in helping the Anabaptists gather together into one group of peaceful believers. It provided doctrine and ethics in simple language based on the teachings of the New Testament. His book was met with widespread acceptance among the Anabaptist community and helped gather them together into one group, therefore, preventing their disintegration.

burning_of_anabaptistsIt’s commendable that Simons gave up his easy going, priestly lifestyle for his convictions. Being an Anabaptist, especially one of their main leaders, wasn’t easy. He was always in fear of his life because of the continued persecution by both Catholics and Protestants who considered the Anabaptists to be heretics. In 1544, he wrote that he “could not find in all the countries a cabin or hut in which my poor wife and our little children could be put up in safety for a year or even half a year.” At one point, a reward of 2,000 guilders (gold coins, equivalent to $2,000 today) was to be paid to anyone who turned him over to the Catholic Church. Many of his close friends paid with their lives for giving him food and shelter, speaking with him, and even for reading his books.

Even though he was always under a constant threat, Simons was always able to remain a step ahead of those seeking to end his life. He lived until 1561 at the age of 65, dying a natural death, 25 years after being converted to Anabaptism. He was buried in his home garden.

To this day, Menno Simons is still considered the most influential Anabaptist leader and many of the core doctrines practiced and taught by Simons and the first Anabaptists are still observed today. Adult/believer baptism was what they were most known for during the time of the reformation. That is where they received their name, Anabaptist means “rebaptizers.” Since everyone was baptized as infants and the Anabaptists believed that only people who made a conscious decision to follow after Jesus should be baptized, they would rebaptize their converts.

This was also connected to their view of church and state. During that time period, countries and regions had state religions, meaning it was up to the people in charge to determine what form of Christianity would be practiced. When someone was baptized in an area controlled by Catholics, they would become a part of the Catholic Church and a citizen of that country. The same goes for protestant controlled areas. When an infant was baptized into a Lutheran state, that person became part of the Lutheran denomination and a citizen of that state. So by not performing infant baptism, the Anabaptists were subverting the state system and religion. Instead, they taught that Christian’s first allegiance is to be citizens of God’s kingdom above any man made state.

peacemakers1Since a lot of protestant churches now practice believer’s baptism and think that the separation of church and state is a good thing, those distinctives don’t really stick out as much as they used to. Modern day Anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, etc.) are mostly known for their stance on violence. They believe that when Jesus and Paul said to love our enemies and not to repay evil for evil, that Christians should actually listen to and obey those teachings.** While not and easy doctrine for most Christians, enemy love has been lived out by the Anabaptists for the last 500 years. The example that Menno Simons set along with the faithfulness of his followers throughout the centuries to follow in the footsteps of enemy love is a powerful witness to his legacy.

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

– Andrew Harshman

* Matthew 12:46-50; 23:8-12

** Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:14-21

*** If you found any of the doctrines of the Anabaptists intriguing and would like to learn more about them, please contact me at andrewharshman@outlook.com

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

 

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Meet Erasmus of Rotterdam

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

Erasmus … “The Prince of Humanists”

Erasmus - by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus – by Hans Holbein the Younger

Erasmus lived in Europe from 1466 until 1536. He was a priest and scholar who loved Christ and his bride. As a predecessor to the coming reformation he contributed to it in a number of important ways, however, he never broke with the papacy or the established church. As a result his importance and role were largely downplayed for centuries.

As the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest and a physician’s daughter orphaned by the plague; Erasmus was hardly positioned for great success and glory. His early education was entrusted to a monastic group, “The Brethren of the Common Life.” Although he would later be critical of certain monastic ideals, Erasmus would go on to appreciate the discipline and order that he learned from the order.

In order to fulfill a desire to study and travel Erasmus joined the Augustinians and was ordained as a priest. Erasmus became the secretary to the bishop of Cambrai who sent him to Paris to study theology. The studies in Paris were rigorous and challenging, but his monastic upbringing prepared him for the studies and the difficulty of the studies would prepare him for his future academic works. As he studied Erasmus developed a love for his studies. It is this love that connected him with a movement of academics called the Humanists. The Humanists were men devoted to the study of the literary works of the past. They were not Humanist based on their belief of the centrality of men, rather on their devotion to the humanities.

Throughout his studies Erasmus began writing and quickly became an accomplished and prolific writer. He would write no fewer than 15 published works and by 1530 between 10 and 20 percent of the published works sold were written by him. His works included titles like; On Free Will, The Praise of Folly, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and Handbook of a Christian Soldier. The last book was a more complete expression of his theology. Erasmus believed that all men were accountable as soldiers of Christ and used a series of military metaphors to express the call to discipline and service. He was critical of the monastic and priestly elites that celebrated their piety, but did little to call others to practical lives of obedience. He was also critical of the engagement in “the vices of the pagans” that he observed at every level of the church leadership. These criticisms would eventually lead him to speak well of Luther’s call for reform even if he disagreed with Luther’s methodology.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Erasmus pursued the best theologians around Europe. His studies took him to England as well. While in England he made two enduring relationships that would impact him for the rest of his life. He became fast friends with Thomas More and they remained close for the rest of their lives. The second relationship emerged after Erasmus heard John Colet preach. Colet preached from the Scriptures anew rather than the commentaries that Erasmus had studied in Paris and elsewhere. It is not clear if the theology was distinctly different, but it was clear to Erasmus that it came from a devotion to and an understanding of the text. This kindled within Erasmus a desire for an understanding of the text that was the result of deep study of the text.

For Erasmus the logical step was to seek the text in its purest form. Rather than mining the depths of contemporary understanding he sought to dig down into the text itself. To this effort Erasmus began to study Greek and to gather to himself as many manuscripts as he could find. As a result of his discipline and dedication he was able to quickly master the Greek language. He worked frantically on the New Testament and quickly produced a collected Greek new testament formed from the manuscripts. Upon completing the collection he began to translate the work in to the common language of the academy, Latin. Although the Latin Vulgate already existed at this time, Erasmus desired to improve the quality of the translation both in accuracy and in care for the language.

What Erasmus produced was a tri-linear publication with the original Greek New Testament line by line with both the Vulgate and his own Latin translation. Included in the text were his personal study notes as well. Erasmus’ express purpose for producing this document was to create a translation that would be easily translated into the common languages of the people quickly and accurately. In fact this is the most significant impact that Erasmus had on the reformation. His translation and collected manuscript work would go on to be used in the translation of the KJV version and Luther’s German translation of the bible. Erasmus invited scholars to discuss the translations and the common man to engage in the text.

Erasmus is quoted in the preface of his published translation as saying, “Would that these were translated into each and every language… Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.” Even before the Reformation took hold, Erasmus desired future where the Holy Scriptures guided and inspired all of God’s people directly.

erasmus pcAlthough Erasmus was highly critical of the corruption in the church’s leadership he never fully supported Luther. He is quoted as supporting Luther’s call for reformation and speaking well of him to the Pope, but rather than serve to promote Luther this largely only served to alienate Erasmus and the Papacy. Despite the rift between Erasmus and the Pope, he did not support Luther’s efforts. Erasmus desired the unity of the church and a call to reform the practices of the church. He viewed the dissention and disunity as equally abhorrent to the corruption inside the existing church and therefore struggled to choose a side of the argument to support. Erasmus was also able to recognize the great cost that the debate would have saying, “I doubt that either side of the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

In his later years Erasmus was still pursued by both the church and the Lutherans. He continued to ride the fence between the two positions. As a result the Pope accused him of sedition and censored much of his writing and the Lutherans accused him of forsaking the gospel and called him a coward. When pressed for an answer Erasmus recognized the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and the established church as the best opportunity for unity of the faith.

It was only centuries later when the rhetoric died down that Lutherans and Catholics alike looked back and recognized the work of Erasmus. He was then understood to be a man of significant scholarly achievement and as a man who loved the Scriptures and Christ. Despite his abstaining from a fight that he feared would hurt both parties, he was a passionate man seeking God and desiring the same for all men.

Nick Fryberger

 

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