The shape of things to come

Dr. James White did an interview with Turretinfan that wasn’t advertised as an interview with Turretinfan, but rather as a discussion of “Reformation history.” That part of the program came later, but it’s one of the best Dividing Line programs that I’ve heard.

Both aspects of this — Turretin and the Reformation, are well worth the listen:

http://www.aomin.org/podcasts/20101028.mp3

In that program, Dr. White talked about the “tapestry” of all the many things that came together to bring about the Reformation. A couple of days ago, I posted a link about “Reformation Day“. Citing Dr. R. Scott Clark from WSCal, “The Reformation doctrines [took shape in Luther’s mind] gradually between 1513-21.” He outlined some of this “coming together” in that post, and I’m going to start here to outline how Luther’s reading of the Scriptures helped him to understand those doctrines.

These were not the only things, of course. There was the historical situation of the papacy, which had in the preceding centuries gone from having claimed global domination, through the Avignon years (when it had moved to France 1305-1378), and then “the Great Schism” (through 1417) when there were two and even three “popes” claiming the papacy and excommunicating each other and their followers. The Council of Constance made the attempt to bring this situation to an end (they deposed three “popes,” and “recognized the election of” Martin V, but there were echoes and hiccups, and it wasn’t over). They called for “a proper reformation” of the Church [be careful what you ask for!] and they attempted to institute a kind of conciliarism — that the popes should be subjected to councils.

There was John Wycliffe, “the Morning Star of the Reformation,” whose life and writings presented a powerful vision of things to come:

Wycliffe’s experience with the corruption of the Catholic Church led him to some of the same moral and doctrinal conclusions Luther would endorse some 130 years later. Indeed, that “John Wycliffe and his followers anticipated many of the key-doctrines of Protestantism has never been in dispute.” Some of these moral and doctrinal conclusions include: a preference for the authority of Scripture over and against papal primacy, a move toward Sola Fide, a rejection of transubstantiation, and a concern for a vernacular translation of Scripture.

At the behest of that same council [Rome pride’s itself on the fact that it doesn’t execute, it merely passes the sentence] John Huss (or Jan Hus) was burned at the stake, despite the fact that he had been assured of safe conduct by the emperor.

In the intervening years, the rise of humanists including Lorenzo Valla, whose early work in textual criticism discovered that “The Donation of Constantine” was a forgery. In fact, as Diarmaid Maculloch notes:

It is significant that three different scholars working independently — the future German Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in 1432-3, the Italian Lorenzo Valla in 1440, and the English bishop Reginald Pecock in 1450 — all came to the conclusion that the style of this ‘Donation of Constantine’ was radically wrong for the fourth century.

This was a work believed and cited by medieval scholars such as Thomas Aquinas as a strong evidence in support of papal supremacy, but it was a complete lie. (And those of you who have followed my work know that I believe the early papacy itself was a fraudulent usurpation of power in the church).

Other humanists began to question some of the foundational assumptions of the Medieval church, culminating with Erasmus, who worked to produce the first Greek text of the New Testament in 1516.

The people and events that shaped the Reformation may seem long past, but my hope is to work to bring them back to the front of our minds. For the individuals who lived during this era, these were not mere curiosities; they were in many cases life and death struggles. And of course, I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg.

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