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Reformation History Reading, Continued: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 2

March 20, 2019 Comments off

Librivox now has the second volume of History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century available in audio format.    Following up on the first volume which I read in 2017, this volume continues the details of Martin Luther, from 1519 through the Diet of Worms in 1521, as well as one ‘book’ within the volume on a lesser known topic, the Swiss Reformation.  (The full 5 volumes is also available in PDF format here.)

The basic story of these years in Luther’s life, and his summons to and speaking at the Diet of Worms, is well known, but D’Aubigne’s book brings out the details.  As in the first volume, one striking thing is the large cast of characters surrounding and supporting Martin Luther, the many minor characters that were used to assist in Luther’s cause and to provide him comfort and help along the way.

D’Aubigne’s commentary on the history brings out many interesting points, as in the description of the 1520 student rebellion.  Every age (some more than others) sees the uncontrolled zeal and fanaticism of youth, especially the college age set, in support of some “cause,” political or other.  (A well-publicized example I recall from the early 1990s, students at the University of Colorado setup their version of “shanty-town,” a protest that involved them living in cardboard boxes on the streets, to protest the then-prominent political issue of apartheid.)  After carefully describing the event of Dec. 10, 1520, when Luther (in response to the Catholics’ burning of his books) in a public ceremony at the University of Wittenberg burned the papal bull that had excommunicated Luther, D’Aubigne observes:

If Luther had commenced the Reformation in this manner, such a step would undoubtedly have entailed the most deplorable results. Fanaticism might have been aroused by it, and the Church thrown into a course of violence and disorder. But the reformer had preluded his work by seriously explaining the lessons of Scripture. The foundations had been wisely laid.

The detailed account of Luther’s decision to go to Worms is reminiscent of Acts 20-21 in which Luke describes Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem though all along the way people are warning him not to go to the great danger awaiting him.  At every town or village on Martin Luther’s journey (a time when travel was a much longer and more difficult task in itself) the people similarly warned him not to go to Worms; apparently even the Roman authorities there did not really want him to show up, did not really want to have to confront him; Luther was calm and resolute, prepared for whatever God had in store for him there.

Luther’s first response at the Diet — to allow for some time, to give his response the next day — has been considered by some as a weakness or cowardice on Luther’s part;  D’Aubigne instead sees this as a great move on Luther’s part; the delay and second day’s meeting brought great anticipation of recantation by his opposition, and brought a much larger crowd of people to hear his response.  This volume contains Luther’s full speech, of which the last part is best known:

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, — unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, — and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.” And then, looking round on this assembly before which he stood, and which held his life in its hands, he said: “HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER; MAY GOD HELP ME. AMEN!

After the exciting and suspenseful ending to Luther’s departure from Worms, the story abruptly leave Luther a prisoner in a secluded castle, and tells the account of Ulrich Zwingli’s life from childhood, up through the Swiss reformation up to the year 1522.  I enjoyed Volume 2 of this work even more than the first volume.  Since Librivox has now recorded two of the five volumes, I eagerly anticipate that volume 3 will be recorded at some point in the next year or so.

Reformation History Reading: D’Aubigne’s Classic, Volume 1

June 19, 2017 Comments off

For the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, and especially appropriate for this the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, I have read the first volume (out of five) of J.H. Merle D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century.”  Available free in the public domain, Librivox recording has recently completed a full audio recording of the first volume; the complete work is also available in PDF format, 1137 pages plus footnotes.

The reading is straightforward and clear, and a good selection for audio listening.  Though of great length and detail, the material is interesting as it tells the story of the early years of the 16th century, especially with reference to Martin Luther and his life, but also including the major players in Luther’s life.  Chapters introduce and provide details concerning Melancthon and Erasmus, as well as lesser known figures such as Reuchlin, Spalatin, and Staupitz.  (Here the PDF version is helpful, for spelling so many German names.)  D’Aubigne’s narrative combines his own commentary on the important events, along with many personal letters of Luther and his friends, and interesting anecdotes, to provide a detailed picture of what was going on in early 16th century Germany.  The focus is mainly on Luther, but we also see the many influences on his life, the friends placed in his life at various points, and the rising support from the leaders, students and the common people of Germany.  The section on Tetzel, the itinerant indulgences merchant, provides rich details and humorous accounts, such as “the trick of a nobleman,” who obtained an indulgence for a future crime to be committed:

A Saxon nobleman, who had heard Tetzel at Leipsic, was much displeased by his falsehoods. Approaching the monk, he asked him if he had the power of pardoning sins that men have an intention of committing. “Most assuredly,” replied Tetzel, “I have received full powers from his holiness for that purpose.” — “Well, then,” answered the knight, “I am desirous of taking a slight revenge on one of my enemies, without endangering his life. I will give you ten crowns if you will give me a letter of indulgence that shall fully justify me.” Tetzel made some objections; they came however to an arrangement by the aid of thirty crowns. The monk quitted Leipsic shortly after. The nobleman and his attendants lay in wait for him in a wood between Juterbock and Treblin; they fell upon him, gave him a slight beating, and took away the well-stored indulgence-chest the inquisitor was carrying with him. Tetzel made a violent outcry, and carried his complaint before the courts. But the nobleman showed the letter which Tetzel had signed himself, and which exempted him beforehand from every penalty. Duke George, whom this action had at first exceedingly exasperated, no sooner read the document than he ordered the accused to be acquitted.

Volume 1 book 4 deals with the events shortly after October 31, 1517, through the friendly session at Heidelberg in the spring of 1518 and the beginning persecution in Augsburg that fall.  This section shows Luther’s desire to remain loyal to Roman Catholicism and the Pope –even writing a respectful letter to the Pope, thinking that the Pope would agree with him—yet, in the face of unexpected opposition, his courage and boldness.  The Roman Catholic leaders expected a simple case of a humble Augustine friar who would quickly recant, and soon became impatient, seeing an unexpected quality in Luther.

A sample from Luther’s letters, shortly after the theses were nailed to the church door in Wittenberg:

They require moderation in me, and they trample it under foot in the judgment they pass on me!……We can always see the mote in our brother’s eye, and we overlook the beam in our own……Truth will not gain more by my moderation, than it will lose by my rashness. I desire to know what errors you and your theologians have found in my theses? Who does not know that a man rarely puts forth any new idea without having some appearance of pride, and without being accused of exciting quarrels? If humility herself should undertake something new, her opponents would accuse her of pride! Why were Christ and all the martyrs put to death? Because they seemed to be proud contemners of the wisdom of the time, and because they advanced novelties, without having first humbly taken counsel of the oracles of the ancient opinions.” –late 1517. From Volume 1 Book 3 Chapter 6.

Volume 1 is a great beginning to this History of the Reformation.  Since Librivox has now completed volume 1, I hope that they will soon add volume 2 and beyond.  Either way, I plan to read Volume 2 by next year, possibly in next year’s reading challenge.