The Gospel, Immigration, and Racial Reconciliation: Properly Framing the Issues

(I)        The Gospel contains unique precepts concerning immigration and racial                                   reconciliation for the civil (not ecclesial) community.

(A)       If (I), then these precepts vis-à-vis nature are one (and only one) of the following:

(1)        precepts against the nature of things (viz. grace destroys nature)

(2)        precepts in the absence of the nature of things (viz. grace in the absence of                       nature)

(3)        precepts that perfect or complement the nature of things (viz. grace perfects or              complements nature)

(a)        If (1), then Anabaptist political theology

(b)        If (2), then radical divine voluntarism[1]

(c)        If (3), then one must answer both of the following questions:

(i)         What is the nature of things?

(ii)        How does (I) perfect or complement the answer to (i)?

Per the rules of conditionals, if (1) and (2) are unacceptable or rejected and one or both (i) and (ii) do not have satisfactory answers, then (I) is left indeterminate.

To my mind, (i) can be satisfactorily answered, and in a robust manner, as I argued here concerning immigration. But (ii) is much more difficult to answer, especially if (at least in the case of immigration) one’s answer to (i) is that civil order is not a matter of arbitrary human decision but has its own principles, such as solidarity on particular customs and practices. Any additional precepts could militate against these principles. If there is a satisfactory answer to (ii) it certainly is not as simple as often presented. This is the same with racial reconciliation, for the natural law supplies, to my mind, sufficient principles for such reconciliation. Most of the time, however, the advocate of (I) improperly frames the issue.

Of course, one could say that the Gospel restores nature. But that simply means that the Gospel restores one’s knowledge and inclination towards the nature of things. The Gospel, then, has nothing unique to say about the issues.

Lastly, this logical sequence works with all so-called “gospel issues” in the civil realm.


[1] Radical divine voluntarism, as I define it, is that all divine commands lack an essential or substantial correspondence to anything natural. There are other versions, such as one that follows the ordained/absolute power distinction, which actually works for (3). But that version is not radical here.


Posted in grace, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Christianity in the Late Middle Ages


A Castle of the Late Middle Ages

I’m continuing to work from Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction”, providing background for anyone interested in understanding the Reformers and the causes for the Reformation.

The backdrop to the Reformation is the late medieval period. In recent scholarship there has been a growing emphasis upon the need to place the Reformation movement in its late medieval context and to bring together the insights of late medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation studies.

The separation of these fields – for example, through each having their own university chairs, journals, and learned societies – has greatly hindered this process of synthesis and consolidation, essential to the correct understanding of the ideas of the Reformation. In [what follows], we shall examine in some detail the two most important intellectual forces in late medieval Europe: humanism and scholastic theology. [We’ll start with] some preliminary points about late medieval religion.

McGrath, Alister E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 23). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

We should never forget that Rome in the 1300’s and 1400’s was an absolute cesspool, and that on top of that, what religious thinking there was existed on a foundation that was part forgery (Gratian’s Canon Law, and some of Thomas Aquinas’s work, was “authoritatively” built upon forged documents, for example.)

Clearly much of this invalidates Roman claims to authority. But none of this should negate the truth claims of Christianity. That is the entire purpose of the Reformation.

The Intellectual Origins of the Reformation.

Posted in John Bugay, Middle Ages, The Reformation | 1 Comment

Irenaeus was NOT a historian

Roman Catholic apologists frequently will trot out a passage from Irenaeus’s “Against Heresies” to prove that there was a “papal succession”. That passage has many difficulties, and I’ve pointed them out here.

Posted in "Petrine Succession", Irenaeus, Uncategorized

The Reformers were the “Adults” of the Era

Rome was, and by extension, Roman Catholicism was an absolute cesspool at the time of the Reformation. Elsewhere, I’ve cited Heiko Oberman discussing some of the root causes:

there is much to warrant the thesis that the later Middle Ages were born in Avignon and were shaped by the uncertainty and hierarchical confusion due to the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy (1309-1377) and the succeeding period of the Schism (1378-1415). The impact of this event can scarcely be overestimated, so much that we are inclined to advocate the terms “preschismatic” and “schismatic” Middle Ages to replace the traditional terms “early” and “later” Middle Ages (“Harvest of Medieval Theology”, 323).

As I noted, “Avignon” describes both the French city and era during which the papacy moved to southern France; the “Schism” describes the roughly 50 year period when there were two and even three popes excommunicating each other and their followers. But as bad and as fundamental as that was, it wasn’t the cause of the Reformation.

medieval-european-citiesWhile the primary cause of Luther’s Reformation was doctrine (as he said, it was “to grab the goose by the neck”), there were societal causes, and the Reformers really were the “adults” of the era – not only emphasizing doctrinal correctness, but Scriptural foundations for a new social order as well, at a time when things were becoming chaotic in the cities of Europe.

As Alister McGrath explains:

The northern European Reformation was based largely in the cities. In Germany, more than 50 of the 65 “imperial cities” responded positively to the Reformation, with only five choosing to ignore it altogether. In Switzerland, the Reformation originated in an urban context (Zurich), and spread through a process of public debate within Confederate cities such as Berne and Basle and other centers – such as Geneva and St Gallen – linked to these cities by treaty obligations.

French Protestantism began as a predominantly urban movement, with its roots in major cities such as Lyons, Orléans, Paris, Poitiers, and Rouen. It is becoming increasingly clear that the success or failure of the Reformation in these cities was dependent in part upon political and social factors. By the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the city councils of the imperial cities had managed to gain a substantial degree of independence. In effect, each city seems to have regarded itself as a miniature state, with the city council functioning as a government and the remainder of the inhabitants as subjects.

The growth in the size and importance of the cities of Germany is one of the more significant elements in late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century history. An extended food crisis, linked with the ravages of the Black Death, led to an agrarian crisis. Wheat prices dropped alarmingly in the period 1450–1520, leading to rural depopulation as agricultural workers migrated to the cities in the hope of finding food and employment. Denied access both to the trade guilds and to the city councils, discontent grew within this new urban proletariat.

The early sixteenth century thus witnessed growing social unrest in many cities, as demands for broader-based and more representative government gained momentum. In many cases, the Reformation came to be linked with these demands for social change, so that religious and social change went together, hand in hand. We must not think that religious concerns swamped all other mental activities – they simply provided a focal point for them. Economic, social, and political factors help explain why the Reformation succeeded, for example, in Nuremberg and Strasbourg, yet failed in Erfurt.

… [S]ome common features emerge from a study of the origins and development of the Reformation in major northern European cities such as Augsburg, Basle, Berne, Colmar, Constance, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, Lübeck, Memmingen, Ulm, and Zurich. It is helpful to explore them.

In the first place, the Reformation in the cities appears to have been a response to some form of popular pressure for change. Nuremberg is a rare instance of a city council imposing a reformation without significant preceding popular protest or demand. Dissatisfaction among urban populations of the early sixteenth century was not necessarily purely religious in character; social, economic, and political grievances were unquestionably present, to varying extents, within the agglomerate of unrest evident at the time. City councils generally reacted in response to this popular pressure, often channeling it in directions appropriate to their own needs and purposes. This subtle manipulation of such pressure was an obvious way of co-opting and controlling a potentially dangerous popular protest movement. Existing urban regimes were often relatively unchanged by the introduction of new religious ideas and practices, which suggests that city councils were able to respond to such popular pressure without radical changes in the existing social orders.

Second, the success of the Reformation within a city was dependent upon a number of historical contingencies. To adopt the Reformation was to risk a disastrous change in political alignment, in that existing treaties or relationships – military, political, and commercial – with territories or cities which chose to remain Catholic were usually deemed to be broken as a result. A city’s trading relationships – upon which her economic existence might depend – might thus be compromised fatally. Thus the success of the Reformation in the city of St Gallen was partly due to the fact that the city’s linen industry was not adversely affected to any significant degree by the decision to adopt the Reformation. Equally, a city (such as Erfurt) in close proximity to a Catholic city (Mainz) and a Lutheran territory (Saxony) could risk becoming embroiled in military conflict with one or other of these interested parties, with potentially lethal results for the independence of that city.

Third, the romantic, idealized vision of a reformer arriving in a city to preach the gospel, with an immediate ensuing decision on the part of the city to adopt the principles of the Reformation, must be abandoned as quite unrealistic. Throughout the entire process of reformation, from the initial decision to implement a process of reform to subsequent decisions concerning the nature and the pace of reforming proposals, it was the city council who remained in control.

Zwingli’s Reformation in Zurich proceeded considerably more slowly than he would have liked on account of the cautious approach adopted by the council at crucial moments. Bucer’s freedom of action in Strasbourg was similarly limited. As Calvin would discover, city councils were perfectly able to evict reformers from their precincts if they stepped out of line with publicly stated council policy or decisions. In practice, the relationship between city council and reformer was generally symbiotic. The reformer, by presenting a coherent vision of the Christian gospel and its implications for the religious, social, and political structures and practices of a city, was able to prevent a potentially revolutionary situation from degenerating into chaos.

The constant threat of reversion to Catholicism, or subversion by radical Anabaptist movements, rendered the need for a reformer inevitable. Someone had to give religious direction to a movement which, unchecked and lacking direction, might degenerate into chaos, with momentous and unacceptable consequences for the existing power structures of the city and the individuals who controlled them.

Equally, the reformer was someone who was under authority, one whose freedom of action was limited by political masters jealous for their authority and with a reforming agenda that generally extended beyond that of the reformer to include consolidation of their economic and social influence. The relation between reformer and city council was thus delicate, easily prone to disruption, with real power permanently in the hands of the latter.

McGrath, Alister E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 16-19). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Alister McGrath, John Bugay, The Reformation

People Learned About “The Reformation” in Their Own Language


The Bible in German: Translated by Martin Luther

A lot of things contributed to the spread of the Gospel at the time of the Reformation. Pervasive knowledge of the corruption of “the Church”. The printing press. The willingness (and newfound ability) of the Reformers to reach back ad fontes (“to the original sources”). One of the most important, however, was Martin Luther’s decision to write in his native tongue, German, instead of in Latin:

Luther had learned from Erasmus the importance of the printing press in projecting intellectual influence within society. In 1520, he began to advance the cause of his reformation by appealing directly to the German people, over the heads of clerics and academics, through the medium of print. It was a tactic that would be imitated throughout Europe, as the power of the pamphlet became obvious to all.

Luther now began to have the popular impact that he knew was essential if he was to change the shape of the church, rather than tinker with academic niceties. He would do this by using the vernacular as a means of theological communication.

Why was this development so important? The language of the academy, the church, and the state in western Europe throughout the Middle Ages was Latin. There was an obvious need for a common language to allow communication across this vast and diverse region of the world. Latin was the language of the great Roman poets, rhetoricians, politicians, and philosophers, and of highly influential Christian theologians such as Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, and Tertullian.

Luther knew that anything he wrote in Latin would be understood by the educated elite across Europe. Yet Luther wanted to reach beyond an academic readership and touch the hearts and minds of ordinary people. The decision to publish in German was iconic, making a statement about the inclusive nature of the reformation that Luther proposed to pursue. To publish in Latin was to exclude the ordinary people.

From that moment onward, one of the hallmarks of Protestantism would be its use of the vernacular at every level. Most importantly of all, the Bible would also be translated into the language of the people.

An example will illustrate the importance of both printing and the use of the vernacular to the propagation of the ideas of the Reformation. A crucial turning point in the French Reformation was marked by the publication of the French-language edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1541. Suddenly, coherently expressed and carefully justified radical reforming doctrines were available within France in a language which most could understand. There was something approaching panic in official circles in Paris.

On 1 July 1542, the Parisian parliament directed that all works containing heterodox doctrines, especially Calvin’s Institutes, were to be surrendered to the authorities within three days. Calvin’s Institutes were thus seen as the spearhead of a Genevan assault upon the French Catholic church, mediated through the printed word in French. The reaction from the booksellers of Paris was immediate: they protested that they would face financial ruin if they were prohibited from selling such books. It seems that there was a major market for works which were considered to be dangerously unsound by the authorities – further evidence of the importance of a literate and affluent laity in promoting the ideas of the Reformation.

Indeed, Laurent de Normandie, Calvin’s friend and bookseller, found the contraband book trade so profitable that he emigrated to Geneva, in order that he might publish such books rather than just sell them.

McGrath, Alister E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (pp. 15-16). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Holy Scripture, John Bugay, Martin Luther, The Reformation

Book Printing as Impetus for Reformation


The Gutenberg Bible

For 1500 years, Christian texts were painstakingly copied by hand. “For, even within the letters of Paul, we witness a remarkably well-structured network for the copying and dissemination of early Christian writings. Paul sent his letters through friends or associates to be delivered to the various churches under his care and regularly asked that they be read publicly to the church” (Andreas Kostenberger, Michael Kruger, “The Heresy of Orthodoxy”, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, © 2010, pg 196).

During the middle ages, book production became an art form, and libraries thrived:

Every stage in the creation of a medieval book required intensive labor, sometimes involving the collaboration of entire workshops. Parchment for the pages had to be made from the dried hides of animals, cut to size and sewn into quires; inks had to be mixed, pens prepared, and the pages ruled for lettering. A scribe copied the text from an established edition, and artists might then embellish it with illustrations, decorated initials, and ornament in the margins. The most lavish medieval books were bound in covers set with enamels, jewels, and ivory carvings.

Many bookmakers in the Middle Ages were monks, and monasteries kept libraries filled not only with sacred texts but also with literary, scientific, and philosophical works by Greek and Roman authors. Multi-volume Bibles and huge liturgical books were housed and used in churches. Princes and emperors commissioned gospel books with many-colored illustrations and lettering in gold and silver ink. Among the most ambitious were the large books that monastic communities used daily for singing.

But in the century just prior to the Reformation, the invention of the printing press enabled the faster production and distribution of books, and the ability of more and more people to own them. Alister McGrath describes the impact that the printing press had:

Recent technological developments in the field of data processing and transfer – such as the Internet – have revolutionized many aspects of modern life. It is important to realize that a single technological innovation destined to have an enormous influence over western Europe was developed on the eve of the Reformation. This innovation was, of course, printing. It would have a very substantial impact on the development and propagation of the ideas of the Reformation.

Although originally developed centuries earlier by the Chinese, the first European printed documents which can be dated reliably originate from the press of Johann Gutenberg (c.1398–1468) at Mainz around 1454. In 1456, the same press produced a printed Latin Bible. This was followed in 1457 by the so-called Mainz Psalter, which established the custom of identifying the printer, the location of the press, and the date of publication on the title page of the work.

From Germany, the technology was taken to Italy, presses being established at Subiaco (1464) and Venice (1469). Caxton set up his printing shop at Westminster, London, in 1476. The famous Aldine Press was established at Venice in 1495 by Aldus Manutius Romanus. This press was responsible for two important developments: “lower case” letters (so called because they were kept in the lower of two cases containing type) and the sloping “italic” type (so called in English-language works on account of Venice being located in Italy; Aldus himself called the type “Chancery”).

Why would printing have such a major impact upon the Reformation? The following points should be noted.

First, printing meant that works advocating the agenda of the Reformation could be produced quickly and cheaply. The tedious process of copying manuscripts by hand was no longer necessary. Further, the errors introduced by the copying process were eliminated; once a work was set up in type, any number of error-free copies could be run off. Anyone who could read and who could afford to pay for books was in a position to learn of the sensational new ideas coming out of Wittenberg and Geneva. For example, in England it was the literate and financially advantaged classes who knew most about Lutheranism in the third decade of the sixteenth century.

Lutheran books, banned by the authorities as seditious, were smuggled in through the Hanseatic trade route to Cambridge via the ports of Antwerp and Ipswich. There was no need for Luther to visit England to gain a hearing for his ideas – they were spread by the printed word. This point is of interest in relation to the sociology of early Protestantism.

In both England and France, for example, the first Protestants were often drawn from the upper strata of society, precisely because these strata possessed the ability to read and the money to pay for books (which, as they often had to be smuggled in from abroad, were generally rather expensive). Similarly, the greater influence of Protestantism at the University of Cambridge than at Oxford partly reflects the former’s proximity to the continental ports from which Protestant books were being (illicitly) imported.

Second, the Reformation was based upon certain specific sources: the Bible and the Christian theologians of the first five centuries (often referred to as “the Fathers,” or “the patristic writers”). The invention of printing had two immediate effects upon these sources, of considerable importance to the origins of the Reformation.

It was now possible to produce more accurate editions of these works – for example, through the elimination of copying errors. By comparing the printed text of a work with manuscript sources, the best possible text could be established and used as the basis of theological reflection.

In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, humanist scholars rummaged through the libraries of Europe in search of patristic manuscripts which they could edit and publish. As a result, these sources were made much more widely available than had ever been possible before.

By the 1520s, just about anyone could gain access to a reliable edition of the Greek text of the New Testament or the writings of Augustine of Hippo (354–430), a patristic writer particularly favored by the Reformers. The 11 volumes of the collected works of Augustine were published at Basle by the Amerbach brothers, after an editorial process lasting from 1490 to 1506. Although only 200 copies of each volume seem to have been published, they were widely used to gain access to the most reliable text of this important writer.

Erasmus of Rotterdam produced the first published text of the Greek New Testament in 1516. Entitled Novum Instrumentum omne, the work had three main sections: the original Greek text of the New Testament; a new Latin translation of this Greek text, which corrected inadequate existing translations, especially the Vulgate; and, finally, an extended commentary on the text in the form of annotations. The work was widely used by those sympathetic to the cause of the Reformation.

For the reformers – especially Luther and his colleagues at Wittenberg – the religious ideas of the Reformation drew largely on the Bible and Augustine. The advent of printing, linked with increasingly effective bookselling methods, meant that accurate and reliable texts of both these sources were widely available, thus facilitating both the initial development and the subsequent spread of these ideas.

The importance of printing in spreading the ideas of the Reformation cannot be overstated. Surveys of the personal book collections of French bourgeois families point to the religious implications of this trend. Jacques Lefèvre’s French New Testament of 1523, pointedly addressed “to all Christian men and women,” along with his French Psalter of 1524, were read widely through­out France, and were even distributed free of charge within the reforming diocese of Meaux.

Copies of these works, along with the New Testament commentaries of Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Lefèvre himself, are frequently to be found jostling for space on the shelves of bourgeois libraries in the late 1520s. If these books were ever read by their owners – and the evidence strongly suggests that they were – a considerable head of pressure for reform would have developed.

McGrath, Alister E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 12-14). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Alister McGrath, Church History, Greek Language, Holy Scripture, John Bugay, Middle Ages, The Roots of the Reformation | 1 Comment

“The Catholic Reformation”


Erasmus was “the bastard son of a priest”, illustrating a major problem at the time of the Reformation.

Desiderius Erasmus, who first compiled the Greek New Testament in 1516, was probably one of THE most influential figures leading to the Reformation, in several ways. The circumstance of his birth is one way you may not have heard about. There are, in fact, somewhat conflicting (but non-contradictory) accounts of his early life.
The Encyclopedia of World Biography” says: “Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, probably on October 27, 1466, the second son of a priest, Roger Gerard, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter. His parents were unmarried at the time of his birth.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica says: “Erasmus was the second illegitimate son of Roger Gerard, a priest, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter.”

An older version of the “Catholic Encyclopedia” gave this: “The most brilliant and most important leader of German humanism, b. at Rotterdam, Holland, 28 October, probably in 1466 … He was the illegitimate child of Gerard, a citizen of Gouda, and Margaretha Rogers, and at a later date Latinized his name as Desiderius Erasmus. Eventually his father became a priest.”

Whether his father was already a priest, or a young man who later became a priest, the story supports Paul Johnson’s contention:

…he was the bastard son of a priest, by a washerwoman. This was the common fate of a vast number of people at the time. It testified to the unwillingness of the Church to sanction clerical marriage and its inability to stamp out concubinage. Probably as many as half the men in orders had ‘wives’ and families. Behind all the New Learning and the theological debates, clerical celibacy was, in its own way, the biggest single issue at the time of the Reformation. It was a great social problem and, other factors being equal, it tended to tip the balance in favour of reform. As a rule, the only hope for a child of a priest was to go into the Church himself, thus unwillingly or with no great enthusiasm, taking vows which he might subsequently regret: the evil tended to perpetuate itself. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (©1976, pgs 269-270).

Among other things, the Roman Catholic Church – its hierarchy, not only popes, bishops and cardinals, but the priests who lived and worked among the people, were visibly and even hopelessly corrupt. Part of the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation involved not only etching its “doctrines” in stone, but cleaning up its own messes. Those efforts have been known in various seasons as the “Catholic Reformation” and the “Counter Reformation”.

What follows is McGrath’s introduction of this phenomenon; as time goes on, I’ll certainly make evident some of the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation:

This term is often used to refer to the revitalization of Catholicism in the period following the opening of the Council of Trent (1545). In older scholarly works, the movement is often designated the “Counter-Reformation”: as the term suggests, this refers to the strategies that the Catholic church developed as a means of combating the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic church countered the Reformation partly by reforming itself from within, in order to remove the grounds of Protestant criticism. In this sense, the movement is to be seen both as a reformation of the Catholic church, as well as a critique of the Protestant Reformation. The same concerns underlying the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe were channeled into the renewal of the Catholic church, particularly in Spain and Italy.

The Council of Trent, the foremost feature of the Catholic Reformation, clarified Catholic teaching on a number of confusing matters, and introduced much-needed reforms in relation to the conduct of the clergy, ecclesiastical discipline, religious education, and missionary activity. The movement for reform within the Catholic church was greatly stimulated by the reformation of many of the older religious orders and the establishment of new orders (such as the “Society of Jesus,” often referred to as “the Jesuits”). The more specifically theological aspects of the Catholic Reformation will be considered in relation to its teachings on Scripture and tradition, justification by faith, the church, and the sacraments.

As a result of the Catholic Reformation, many of the abuses that originally lay behind the demands for reform – whether these came from humanists or Protestants – were removed. By this stage, however, the Protestant Reformation had reached a point at which the mere removal of malpractices and abuses was no longer sufficient to reverse the situation: the demand for the reformation of doctrine, religious ideology, and the church was now regarded as an essential aspect of the Protestant–Catholic controversies. This point highlights the need to consider the religious ideas lying behind the “magisterial Reformation,” which became of increasing importance to the Protestant–Catholic debate as the sixteenth century progressed.

McGrath, Alister E. Reformation Thought: An Introduction (pgs 11-12). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Alister McGrath, John Bugay, Roman Catholicism | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments