Luther, his Friends and his Legacy

Tours to Reformation sites last year and the year before have stimulated a reawakening interest in Luther.

Luther’s earliest years as a Professor of Exegesis in Wittenberg 1512-1516, when he lectured on the Psalms and Romans, were his most formative.  Not only was he convinced by the sole authority of the Bible his humanist frame of mind insisted that it must be based on the primary Greek and Hebrew texts, not the secondary Latin versions.

Likewise fundamental was his vision of ‘the justice of God’ that engaged with man not in judgment and condemnation but in grace and through faith in the crucified Son of God.

In his exegesis of texts Luther was committed to the principle that texts of Scripture cross exegete one another.  For example, based on his exegesis of Romans 3:28 he wrote that, ‘We hold that man will be justified without works of the law but by faith alone’.  Luther was criticized for introducing the word ‘alone’, which is not in Paul’s text but he defended himself insisting that its use was necessary to convey the wider truth of Christian doctrine.  Scripture interprets Scripture is a Reformation doctrine.

In his letter written to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz following the furore over the 95 theses (1517) Martin Luder spelled his name ‘Luther’ for the first time.  This was a word play on the Greek word eleutheros, ‘free’.  In a letter to a friend he described himself as ‘brother Martin the free’.  In 1520 he wrote his famous pamphlet, Of the Freedom of the Christian Man.  He transported the notion of Christian freedom into his own person.

Luther’s profound commitment to Christian freedom based on justification by grace through faith set him at odds against two formidable foes.  One was the humanist mindset, as found in Erasmus, that argued that man is free to find God by himself, and the other, the ‘old church’, that insisted on the merits earned by indulgences, pilgrimages and the worship of relics and statues were the basis of a right standing with God.

Luther himself was a larger than life character.  He was at the same time intellectually brilliant, amazingly hard working, but also with a maverick streak.  If Bucer is to be believed, Luther also possessed an engaging pastoral manner:

Although our chief men refuted him with all their might, their wiles were not          able to move him an inch from his propositions.   His sweetness in answering    is remarkable, his patience in listening is incomparable, in his explanations you would recognize the acumen of Paul…[1]

In this paper I will offer some reflections on (a) the circumstances that enhanced Luther’s impact on history, and (b) some of the benefits of that impact.

Helpful Circumstances

Just visiting the Luther sites ? Eisleben, Eisenach, Erfurt, Wittenberg, Wartburg, Leipzig, Worms ? prompts observations that that are reasonably obvious about the circumstances that allowed the greatness of Luther to find expression:
•the invention and development of the printing press seventy years earlier;
•the growing hostility to Rome in the German state-lets;
•the protection offered Luther by the Electors of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, his brother John Frederick, and his nephew also named John Frederick.

(The protection of Frederick the Wise is remarkable since he remained ‘catholic’ in pious outlook until his latter years, as witnessed by his large collection of 18,970 relics in Castle Church.  After Frederick’s death 1525 Luther quietly re-located them).

Erasmus
A basic factor making Luther’s work possible was the prior work of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.  This peerless humanist scholar went behind the extant Latin versions of the Bible and as a textual critic began to recover the original Greek of the New Testament.  It has been quipped with regard to the Reformation that ‘Erasmus laid the egg, but Luther hatched it’.

An even more informative image was the woodcut on the title page of a pamphlet Description of the Divine Mill published in 1521 that shows Erasmus and Luther side by side.  Erasmus is the miller of the flour that Luther bakes into his books, the bread of life.

Erasmus was as trenchant as Luther in his denunciation of the worship of statues and relics, describing these as an evil yoke in contrast to the gentle yoke of Jesus for those burdened souls who came to him for rest.  Erasmus loved the scriptures, declaring that they will ‘show you a better image’ (than statues or relics).  According to him, worshipping Christ means the Imitatio Christi based on his words in the New Testament.

In 1559, after Erasmus’s death the church banned his entire corpus, although he had opposed Luther and been faithful to that church throughout his life.

Luther’s impact was powerful, but it is interesting to speculate how much of it was dependent on Erasmus’s publication of the Greek New Testament.

Sadly, the two towering men became hostile to each other.  It was over the question of the human will, which however exposed the whole array of doctrinal issues that lay at the heart of the Reformation.  In 1519, upon receiving a delegation of Luther supporters, Erasmus reflected, ‘One would think they thirsted for human blood rather than the salvation of souls’.[2]  Luther responded, ‘How different is the judgment of the man who yields something to free will than one who knows something of grace…I see that not everyone is a truly wise Christian just because he knows Greek and Hebrew’.[3]

Erasmus’s hostility intensified after the excommunication of Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521).  Erasmus wrote Discourse Concerning Free Choice (1524), to which Luther responded by On the Bondage of the Will (1525).

Wittenberg friends
A second factor that enhanced Luther was his friends close by at Wittenberg, without whom many of his achievements would not have been possible, or at least would have been less.  Of these friends there were many.  In fact whenever we see Luther we see people with him.

Pride of place must be given to his wife, the redoubtable Katharina von Bora (1499-1552).  Katharina’s parents sent her to a convent at five, then to another at nine.  As a young adult she somehow became interested in Reformation thought and contacted Luther to help her escape.  The story of the escape of Katharina and other Nuns in a Herring delivery wagon is well known.  Luther approached the parents to receive them back into their homes, but as this was contrary to Canon Law the women were billeted in various homes in Wittenberg.  Also well known was Katharina’s refusal of various marriage proposals, so bent was she on marrying Martin Luther.

Martin and Katharina took up residence in the former Augustinian Cloister, a gift of the Elector.  Katharine is famous for her management of the former monastery and its extensive grounds.  She supervised the garden, bred and sold cattle, and brewed beer to provide for their family, for the many students who boarded with them, and for visitors seeking audiences with her husband.  In times of widespread illness, Katharina even operated a hospital on site, ministering to the sick alongside the nurses.

Katharina bore Martin Luther six children between 1526-1534 and also raised four orphans.  Their family prayers and music making made Martin and Katharina a model family, not only for fellow pastors, but also for German Christians in general.

It is appropriate that a statue of Katharina von Bora has been erected in the grounds of the Luther home.  Martin referred to Katharina as the ‘morning star of the Reformation’ because she arose from her bed each day at 4 am, to begin the labours that made possible her husband’s achievements.

According to Cochlaeus, a catholic and hostile biographer of Luther, there were ‘four evangelists’ in Wittenberg: Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen and Justus Jonas.

There are two statues in the main square of Wittenberg, one of Martin Luther the other of Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).  Born Philip Schwartzerdt (‘black earth’) he changed it to its Greek equivalent, ‘Melanchthon’ (Melanchth?n), a quirky practice among humanist scholars.  (As noted, Martin Luder changed his name to Luther, based on the Greek eleutheros, ‘free’).

Melanchthon was a true polymath.  In addition to his linguistic expertise, he became an authority on astronomy, jurisprudence, geography, mathematics and medicine.  When he retired as professor at Wittenberg it was necessary to appoint four professors in his place.

Luther persuaded Melanchthon, aged 21, to accept the chair of Greek at Wittenberg.  Based on his lectures on the Greek texts of Matthew and Romans he transferred to the theology faculty.  Melanchthon did not agree with Luther on all matters, for example, on the Lord’s Supper where for a period he followed Zwingli.  Nevertheless, the two men benefitted from their interaction.  Melanchthon’s major contribution was his formulation of the Augsburg Confession, which was based on Luther’s earlier tracts.

Although the two men were different in temperament (Melanchthon was the more irenic) it is safe to say that he contributed significantly to the achievements of Martin Luther.  Most likely Luther benefitted from Melanchthon’s linguistic assistance in Luther’s 1534 translation of the whole Bible.

Melanchthon systematized Luther’s ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education.  Melanchthon’s deep scholarship and personal calmness helped win support for Luther’s cause, which he often presented in explosive terms.  The two men complemented each other in launching and defending the Reformation.

Luther had this to say about himself and Melanchthon:

I was born for this purpose: to fight with the rebels and the devils and to lead        the charge.  Therefore my books are very stormy and warlike.  I have to uproot            trunks and stumps, hack at thorns and hedges, and fill in potholes.  So I am the      crude woodsman, who has to clear and make the path.  But master Philip         comes after me meticulously and quietly, builds and plans, sows and waters           happily, according to the talents God has richly given him.[4]

Luther typically overstates the contrast.  More balanced is Andrew Petergree’s assessment:

Without Melanchthon, his forensic intelligence and powerful capacity for   methodical theological thought, his lifelong commitment to the reform of the       university curriculum and the education of the young, and his calm restraining        presence at Luther’s side, the Reformation would have been immeasurably diminished.[5]

Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) as a priest was initially opposed to Reformation thought, but upon further reflection on Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church changed his mind and moved to Wittenberg (1520).  In 1523 he was elected as pastor of St Mary’s Church making him Luther’s pastor and confidante.

Subsequently Bugenhagen also joined the faculty and became one of the three Protestant doctors of theology.  Bugenhagen ordained numerous graduates from the Wittenberg faculty and was the most prominent activist in promoting the Reformation cause throughout northern Germany and Scandinavia, earning the epithet, ‘Apostle of the North’.  Bugenhagen produced rules and regulations for religious service, for schooling, and for social issues of the church.

After Luther’s death (1546) Johannes Bugenhagen cared for Katherina von Bora.

The fourth ‘evangelist’, according to Cochlaeus, was Justus Jonas, dean of the theology faculty and rector of the university.  A lesser figure, he is noted as a translator of Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

Another friend of Luther’s was Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), Court Painter for the Electors of Saxony, who had embraced the Reformation and become the close friend of Martin Luther.  Cranach was one of the three wealthiest people in Wittenberg.  Cranach became famous as an artist throughout Germany.  He used his art in the Reformation cause.

He made numerous portraits of Luther, which were disseminated throughout Germany to promote the reformer.  He also provided woodcuts for Luther’s translation of the Bible (1534).  Martin Luther made extensive use of Cranach’s presses for the mass production of his tracts, and later, his translation of the Bible.  Cranach’s title page woodcuts revolutionized the appearance of the book.  The result was a collection of miniature masterpieces.

Cranach was a witness at the betrothal festival for Martin and Katharina, and later godfather for their first child.

There were many others who stood with and supported the great Reformer of little Wittenberg, without whom his achievements would not have been so great.  There are many things in common between Luther and St Paul.  One of which was the special role of key friends like Priscilla and Aquila, Luke, Titus, Aristarchus and, of course, Timothy.  Wherever we see Paul we also see his fellow-workers, and it is the same with Marin Luther and millennium and a half later.

In this paper we have been reflecting on things that helped Martin Luther who was the catalyst of the Reformation.  So far we have mentioned the new printing technology that made possible the mass circulation of Reformation texts, the rising German rejection of the power of the Rome-based papacy, and the protective patronage of the Elector, Frederick the Wise.  To these we have acknowledged the unique work of the humanist textual critic, Erasmus, and the roles of Luther’s gifted and loyal friends, Katharina, his wife, his colleagues Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas and his patron, Lucas Cranach.

Luther was a gregarious man.  During his regime Wittenberg became thronged with people.  Thousands flocked to Wittenberg to hear him preach (he preached 4000 times in thirty years).  His home was effectively a combination of an inn and a lodging house.  When he travelled from Wittenberg to Worms in 1521 he was greeted like a rock star from town to town.  Wherever, we see Luther we see a man surrounded by people.

The New Literacy
Another element assisting Luther appears to have been the rising tide of literacy in the late Middle Ages.  Luther was projected into fame through his writings, something that would not have happened in earlier, pre-literary generations.

 

The pre-literary nature of that previous era is betrayed by various attempts to instruct the uneducated:
•the biblical theology in the windows of Kings College, Cambridge;
•the passion of Christ displayed in the East end of Notre Dame matched by a portrayal of the Apocalypse at the matching other end, making the great cathedral an ‘open Bible’;
•the astonishing windows in La Saint Chapelle depicting so many books of the Bible;
•the 200 metre long tapestry telling the story of the Apocalypse at d’Angers;
•the uniquely beautiful windows in Leon, Spain where the northern side glass (representing the Old Covenant) is somber matched by the southern glass (representing the New Covenant) which is gloriously bright and where the Crucified One is between them.
•the arched ceiling in St Isador’s, Leon, where Christos Pantocrator in the centre is supported by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

These and other architectural and decorative items tell the story of monks seeking to educate the people.

 

Counter-Reformation artists like Velasquez, Rubens and Van Dyke took great interest in and showed reasonable knowledge of Biblical Narratives and Biblical characters.

 

In claiming that the Old Church was against the Bible or uninterested in the Bible the Reformers’ polemic may have misstated their criticisms, scandalized as they would have been by the gross, money-grubbing  behaviour of Tetsel and others.

The problem seems to have been not the absence of the Bible but the phenomenon of the Bible ‘plus’ so many things: for example, elaborate altar pieces that displayed the Mother of God, Angels, saints, martyrs, relics that distracted attention from the Son of God.

 

Luther’s rampaging success as a publisher appears to be testimony to a growing literacy of that era.  The Old Church did not recognize that the day of the ‘Bible Alone’ had come and it was time now to refocus on Jesus alone.  Sadly, visiting the great churches in France and Spain suggests that they are still imprisoned in the distracting elements that Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and others saw so clearly to be contrary to the Word of the Lord.

Luther the publicist
Let me now turn to one other factor that contributed to Luther’s achievement, his own skill as a publicist and self-promoter.  This is the thesis of Andrew Petergree’s book, Brand Luther (2015).

It is not always noticed, as it deserves to be, that Luther became the most published author in Europe.  According to Petergree Luther ‘created a new form of theological writing: lucid, accessible, and above all short’.[6]  Luther wrote in German mainly ? not Latin ? since he was addressing the wider German public, not his fellow-academics and clerics.

In 1515 Luther’s name did not appear on the lists of the top 100 professors in three less well-known German universities.  By 1519 he had become Europe’s most published author.

Luther was a prolific writer: tracts, treatises, catechisms, hymns, and not least translations of the Bible (the New Testament in 1522 and the whole Bible in 1534).  Between 1518-1519 Luther wrote forty-five works, twenty-one of which were eight pages or less in length.  By 1522 his publications sold out quickly.

Martin Luther received no payments for his published works.

Nothing exceeded the importance of the publication of Bible translation.  Whole or partial translations of the sacred text would appear between 1522 and 1546, the year of his death.  The publication of the Bible in Wittenberg and elsewhere became the most important printed work in Germany.

But Luther was significantly interested in the presentation, appearance and publication of his texts.  According to Petergree ‘he spent his life in and out of print shops, observing and directing’ because ‘he understood the aesthetics of the book…appreciated the quality and design of the printed artifact…Luther transformed the look of the book’.[7]  Luther was intensely interested in the schedules of the printers and accommodated his own publications in line with their work rhythms.

Petergree attributes much of this to the influence of Lucas Cranach who designed the Luther pamphlets and employed his beautiful woodcuts to enhance the text.  The Illuminated Manuscripts of the era were elegant, but passive, whereas Cranach’s woodcuts were lively and message-centred.

Furthermore, Luther attracted skilled printers to move to Wittenberg.  Until 1517 Wittenberg had only one printing press, but by Luther’s death (1546) this small, out of the way town had six.  It had become Germany’s largest printing centre, the centre of the book world.  Between 1517-1546 Wittenberg printers between them published an average of 91 publications per year, one third of them works by Luther.

The growing volume of his printed texts made Luther the most famous man in Germany.  In the first half of the sixteenth century one third of all works published in Germany were written by Luther.

According to Petergree, ‘Print propelled Martin Luther, a man who had published nothing in the first thirty years of his life, to instant celebrity’.[8]  The growing fame of Luther corresponded with the growing size of Wittenberg, which in 1513 had been a town of a mere 384 dwellings.  Petergree states that Luther was ‘the chief motor of the Wittenberg economy…nothing else could have made this small, peripheral city into the print capital of the world’.[9]

Luther’s Legacy

Internationally
We conclude this paper by reflecting on Luther’s impact.  It is clear that Luther changed the direction and course of history, not only in the Germany, but internationally.  The previously united church was now divided.  Wars erupted and new nation states emerged.  Catholic England became Protestant.  Luther unleashed the power of Protestantism, including Protestant missionary work in the newly formed colonies in North America ? what would become the United States and Canada ? India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.  The degree to which those and other countries in the British Empire were Protestant influenced can be traced back to the German reformer, Martin Luther.

Luther preceded the great French scholar John Calvin who although initially sympathetic to the German’s ideas soon differed from them.  There developed a continuing rift between the Geneva based reformers and Luther.  There is no statue of Luther in the Reformers’ Memorial Wall in Geneva, but merely his name inscribed on a wall nearby.

It was otherwise with Luther’s influence in England.  Cranmer and others who met together in Cambridge were deeply influenced by Luther.  Cranmer’s liturgies and Thirty Nine Articles of Religion bear the marks of Luther’s influence.  His doctrine of the Real Presence, however, separated him sharply from Cranmer whose Eucharistic views were closer to Calvin’s.  Years later the writings of Luther powerfully influenced Charles and John Wesley, an influence that continues through the words of Charles Wesley’s hymns.

The English Bible owed much to Luther.  Luther’s style of accessible translation influenced William Tyndale, who visited Luther in Wittenberg in 1524.  Tyndale remained in Europe completing his translation of the English Bible until his death by strangulation in 1536.  In 1526 Luther’s books had been publicly burnt in England.

Germany
Luther deliberately arranged his family life based on prayer, Bible teaching and singing the praises of God so that it would be a model for other pastors, and indeed church people generally.

Luther and his colleagues were passionately concerned for the education of children, especially including girls.  To that end Luther produced catechisms and hymns to be employed in the context of instruction.  But they set this in the matrix of general state run education, removing it from the hitherto exclusive domain of the church.

Music was very important to Luther, including within his household.  He was a skilled musician who wrote a number of hymns and even a cantata.  He retained much of the music of the Catholic liturgy in Lutheran worship ? the credo, Gloria, and Agnus Dei.

So important was music to him that there is a direct line from Luther through Heinrich Schütz and Dietrich Buxtehude to Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably history’s greatest musical genius.  Bach used Luther’s Bible.  He dedicated every piece he wrote ‘to the glory of God’.

There is one other influence from Luther: his use of the German language.  There were many German Bibles before Luther’s ? no less than eighteen ? but they were remote and dependent on Latin versions.

Alexander Weber, a philologist at Birkbeck College London, a student of Luther, wrote:

He was a man of incredible learning, but he was also someone who could    connect with ordinary people and who could pick up their use of             language…He was the son of a miner and he had very good use of colloquial           language…it brought the Bible to life…previous translations were very     learned, very stilted, very educated and only understood by people who knew       the Latin Bible…He modeled his written German on the spoken word…’

In his Open Letter on Translation (1530) Luther wrote, ‘You don’t ask Latin literature how to speak German, you ask the mother at home, the children in the street, the common man in the market ? look at how they speak, and translate accordingly.  Then they will understand it, and they will see that you are speaking German to them’.

Alexander Weber again:

Luther ‘modeled his language on the Chancery of Saxony, which is in the    middle of Germany…where the dialects are not that extreme…There is a main    dividing line, it is like a linguistic border, which divides High German from Low German…It is a stroke of luck in terms of the development of the             German language that the key figure who had the major historical impact on           the Reformation would actually be able to address an audience in Low     German and High German and therefore find a balance between the two.

Luther’s carefully crafted compromise language could be understood everywhere.  The language is simple, the syntax clear.  As one writer puts it, ‘he made the language pithy, vigorous and expressive’.

As Luther’s publications spread so did his particular form of German spread.  As Weber puts it, ‘There are very many phrases and words that are used in German which you can trace back to Luther.  The whole of German literary history is based on Luther’s language’.  For 500 years all great German writers ? Goethe, Nietzsche, Brecht, Mann ? have honed their language on, and against Luther’s.

In May 1945 the writer Thomas Mann, an American citizen who was born in Germany and wrote in German, visited Berlin and looked out bleakly on the bomb-wrecked smoking ruins of his country.  Yet, he said, his homeland remained intact ? the German language.  This was the language that was attributable to Martin Luther more than to anyone else.

Luther and the individual’s conscience
Weber again:

There is real individuality to the style and the language in which Luther writes.       It shows for once that that the individual in history matters.  For Luther what    mattered most was faith, and he saw the loss of faith around him.

Weber’s point about Luther’s advocacy of the individual is missed in Larry Siedentop’s otherwise brilliant Inventing the Individual.  The Origins of Western Liberalism.[10]  Siedentop declares the inventor of the individual to have been St Paul.

True as that insight may be it is curious that he fails to acknowledge that Paul’s inspiration was his Lord and Master, Jesus.  It is also striking that Siedentop has nothing to say about the lonely figure who stared down the Holy Roman Emperor in Worms in 1521.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason          (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the            Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I     cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go    against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Luther and St Paul followed and took their inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth, their Lord and Saviour, and ours.  He was the ultimate inventor of the individual, embodied 1500 years later in the former monk who stared down the might of the Papacy and the Roman Empire.
Paul Barnett

 

 
 

 

 

 

 



[1]Quoted Petergree, Brand Luther, 94.

[2]Quoted, Andrew Petergree, Brand Luther (New York: Penguin, 2015), 229.

[3]Quoted, Petergree, Brand Luther, 230.

[4]Quoted, Petergree, Brand Luther, 174.

[5]Petergree, Brand Luther, 174.

[6]Petergree, Brand Luther, xii.

[7]Petergree, Brand Luther, xiii.

[8]Petergree, Brand Luther, 11

[9]Petergree, Brand Luther, 24.

[10]Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual.  The Origins of Western Liberalism (Allen Lane: 2014)

Camino Faith and Christian Faith

With some friends I recently traversed the beautiful and famous Camino Trail in Spain.  Some of our group walked the shorter stretches of the trail but we mostly travelled in the comfort of our coach.

The journey provided opportunity to visit some amazing Cathedrals.  The standout was the Cathedral in Leon whose colour-glazed windows were breathtaking.

Some of the pilgrims were walking to meet the athletic challenge of the Camino.  For others it was a spiritual exercise, a time of reflection based on the journey of St James Zebedee all those years ago.

Our guide in Santiago, where the trail ends, told us that James came to the ‘ends of the earth’ as Jesus had instructed the disciples to do.  So James came here, preached the Message about Jesus, and then returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded as a martyr in 41 or 42.  James’ body was then taken back to Spain where he was buried in a forest only to be rediscovered 500 years later and relocated in Santiago.  (Diego is Spanish for James).  His relics are venerated in the cathedral in Santiago.

Few pilgrims seem to question or challenge this account.  To be candid, however, there is much to puzzle over.  First, there is the issue of the time frame.  The resurrection of Jesus occurred in the year 33 and the execution of James at the hands if King Herod Agrippa in 41 or 42 (Acts 12:1-2).  This means that James had less than 10 years to travel to Spain preach there and return to Jerusalem.  It was a long, expensive and dangerous journey involving numerous changes of ships.  Due to stormy weather in the winter the sailing season lasted for only half the year. Then there would have been the issue of language.  Would James have had the time to learn a language well enough to preach in Spain?

Secondly, there is the issue of returning James’ body to Spain which, as noted, was a dangerous and expensive journey.  Legends of James’ remains floating back to Spain are unlikely to be based in fact.

Thirdly, the assertion that James body was found in the forest then brought to Santiago half a millennium later stretches credibility.  How could the skeletal remains be identified?

In other words, the historical basis for James Zebedee coming to western Spain returning to Jerusalem to be killed and for his body to be repatriated there is slight, and to be frank, unlikely.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia (1908) pours cold water on the James tradition stating that the earliest evidence about him coming to Spain dates only from the ninth century with no credible evidence beforehand.  Despite that, the Spaniards’ patron saint gave his name to cities in their colonies, Santiago in Chile, for example.

By contrast consider the evidence for Jesus.  The letters of Paul, written between 48-64, are close in time to Jesus and bear credible witness to him as the Son of God.  Galatians, for example, was written only 15 years after Jesus’ lifespan.  The four Gospels were written only thirty to forty years after the resurrection.  The non-Christian writer Tacitus, a hostile source, confirms the raw facts of the beginnings of Christianity.  The evidence for Jesus is better than for anyone else from that era, emperors included.

The Camino tradition, although a ‘feel good’, is not based in historical evidence but unsubstantiated legend.  Nevertheless, more than 300,000 pilgrims on average make the journey each year.

 

The Gospel of Christ, by contrast, is based in solid evidence.  It invites open enquiry and rigorous investigation as the prelude to a considered act of faith commitment to Jesus Christ.

Being There: Wittenberg

I have valued the experience of being in important places because it brings history to life.  A long time love of the history of the New Testament has taken me many times to Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Greece.  The landscape, remains of buildings, even the climate, adds value to the written word.  Being there also raises questions of chronology.  What happened when, and how long was it before b followed a?

I had not visited the places that figured in Martin Luther’s life story until 2014, and more recently in 2016.  Many buildings are being restored in anticipation of big crowds in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ninety-five theses being nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg.

To my shame I admit to not taking much interest in Luther for many years.  One of my electives for the University of London Bachelor of Divinity was a paper on Luther and Calvin.  The Luther segment focused on his tracts published in 1520 including Of the Freedom of the Christian Man.  Three years earlier Martin Luder changed his name to Martin Luther, based on the Greek word eleutheros, signifying that he had been ‘set free’ from condemnation by the death of the Son of God.

But what a difference it made actually being there ? in Eisleben where he was born (and coincidentally where he died, aged 63), Eisenach where he went to boarding school, Erfurt where he studied for the priesthood (in the Augustinian Order),
Wittenberg (where he was appointed Professor of Exegesis), Worms (where he was tried and condemned), and Wartburg Castle (where he took refuge, and where he translated the New Testament from Greek to everyday German).

Of most interest was Wittenberg, where Frederick the Wise had recently established the university, and to which the 29 year old Dr Martin Luder was appointed a Professor.  Frederick and his brother, John Frederick, and his nephew also John Frederick effectively protected Luther throughout his life.

Before Luther became famous Wittenberg was a ‘nowhere’ place, with a mere 384 dwellings.  At his appointment Luther did not figure in the list of 100 professors in lesser universities.  That was to change after the issue of the ninety-five theses when Luther became the most famous (or infamous) man in Germany, who was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Merely wandering through this small town was a revelation of the events and people back then.  There was the imposing Augustinian Cloister that Frederick gave to Luther, where he set up house with the redoubtable Katharina von Bora, which was both a hostel for students and an inn for the many visitors who sat at his meal table.

Nearby is the town church, St Mary’s where his friend Johannes Bugenhagen was pastor, and where Luther preached 4000 times in the 34 years he lived in Wittenberg.

In the town square is a statue of Luther, but also of his amazing colleague Philip Melanchthon, linguist, theologian, astronomer, and geographer.

One of the fine homes in the town belonged to Lucas Cranach, a wealthy man, and court painter for Frederick.  Cranach’s various portraits of Luther were disseminated throughout Germany and enhanced the reputation of Luther.  Cranach’s beautiful woodcuts formed the frontispiece of many of Luther’s writings, including his translation of the whole Bible in 1534.  Cranach’s was one of the six print shops that were kept busy churning out the endless supply of Luther’s writings.

Then, at the end of the main street is the imposing Castle Church on whose door on October 31, 1517 Professor Luther nailed his paper attacking the sale of religious indulgences, an act the shook the world for centuries to come.

Paul Barnett

Reformation Theme: Faith Alone

The young Martin Luder – that was the family name – had been a law student in the major university town, Erfurt.  Against his father’s will he became an Augustinian monk.

But he was a poor tortured soul who felt himself under the wrath of God.  He engaged in punishing fasts and endless confessionals.  As a mendicant monk he begged his way 1000 miles from Erfurt to Rome as a pilgrimage.

But he was clever.  The order appointed him Professor of Bible at the new university in the little, ‘nowhere place’, Wittenberg.  In preparing his lectures on Romans and the Psalms he made a great discovery.

Luder had believed that the ‘justice of God’ engages with us in judgement and condemnation, which had led him into spiritual slavery to fear and to endless fasts and vigils.  But in Wittenberg through his study of Romans he discovered that the ‘justice of God’ engaged with us not in judgment and condemnation but in grace and forgiveness through faith in the crucified Son of God.

As a result of this revolutionary discovery he did two things: First, he changed his name from Luder to Luther, based on the Greek word eleutheros, meaning ‘free’.  He now signed letters as ‘Martin the free’.  Secondly he wrote his most famous pamphlet, Of the Freedom of the Christian.  Freedom before God was everything.

Luther greatly loved Galatians, which he called his ‘wife’.  Paul’s words, ‘For freedom Christ has set us free (5:1) sum up the deepest feelings of St Paul and Martin Luther.

A key text for Paul and Luther was Galatians 2:16:
we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Three times he affirms ‘faith in Christ’ as the only basis for being ‘justified’, that is deemed to be ‘in the right’ with God and by God.  Three times he denies any role to ‘works of the law’.  ‘Faith’ in Jesus Christ is the only basis for one’s relationship with God.

Back in the First Century Paul was rejecting such ‘works of the law’ as the necessity for male circumcision, obedience to Jewish food law, and the observation of the feasts of the Jewish Calendar (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles).

In the sixteenth century Luther saw a parallel to these in the necessity for pilgrimages, fasts, worship of relics and religious statues, and the use of indulgences.

In Luther’s day, as in St Paul’s, people were saying that ‘Christ Alone’ is not sufficient to bridge the gap between the holy God and sinful man.  They were advocating ‘Christ Plus’ – ‘works of the law’ (1st century), ‘religious works’ (16th century).  But the apostle Paul, followed by Luther insisted:  Christ Alone.

To illustrate his point Luther used the example of marriage.
A man and a woman are joined together by their marriage vows.
They exchange their property:
His property becomes hers
Her property becomes his.

When we cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ
the soul of the Christian is joined to Christ.  They become one.
A great exchange occurs: Christ takes our sin and gives us his righteousness.

Paul admonished the Galatians for their short memories.  When he held up before them the message of Christ crucified they heard that message, believed in Christ and received the Spirit (Galatians 3:1-2).  So how can they now be looking to and believing in ‘works of the law’?  The hearing and believing of the gospel of Christ is the only way to God’s forgiveness and the receiving of the Spirit of God.

This great truth was expressed in the architecture of Lutheran churches.  The pulpit was on the side of the congregation, not the front.  In the front was Christ crucified.  The preacher directed the eyes of faith of the congregation to Christ, who was front and centre.

Inevitably Luther was criticized for giving people permission to sin, hiding behind the cross of Christ.  Luther responded with a paradox:
‘A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to no one.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all’.

He added, ‘each of us should become a Christ to the other. And as we are Christs to one another, the result is that Christ fills us all and we become truly a Christian community’.

A small group met in the White Horse Inn in Cambridge to read Luther’s words.  They were known as ‘little Germany’.  Among them was Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury.

Cranmer created three instruments to define the Church of England as a reformation church: the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles and the Ordinal for Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

Echoing Luther Article 11 states: We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort…

In 1960 the Constitution of the new Anglican Church of Australia enshrined Cranmer’s three instruments of the Reformation as the basis for the national church, for each diocese (including Sydney), and for each parish (including ours).

Our church is a Reformation Church and owes much to our martyred brother Thomas Cranmer, who had been influenced by Martin ‘the free’, who in turn was directed by the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.  We stand on the great truth: Christ Alone.

Reformation Theme: The Bible Alone

 

2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  On 31st October 1517 an unknown monk in a small town nailed 95 debating points to a church door.  It was a common academic practice to invite debate but these ‘theses’ went viral and Martin Luther became famous overnight.

Luther was protesting against the Church’s way of raising money (which was to complete St Peter’s, Rome).  It was through the sale of ‘indulgences’ for shortening the time loved ones spent in Purgatory.  Crudely the Church promised, ‘As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs’.

Luther, a newly appointed Professor of Bible in Wittenberg, understood that the Scriptures know nothing about ‘indulgences’ or ‘Purgatory’.  In his 27th ‘thesis’ Luther rejected these as ‘human doctrines’.  This was the genesis of Luther’s mantra, ‘the Bible alone’ as the sole authority in matters of faith.

Luther would have been aware of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees, ‘‘You make void the word of God by your traditions’ (Mark 7).  Jesus stood for ‘the Bible alone’ and Luther was following the Lord.

From that time two things happened.  Luther and other Reformers began reshaping Christian theology based solely on the Bible.  At the same time they began translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people.  Luther translated the Bible into German and Tyndale did the same in English.

We take the Bible for granted.  But imagine how things would be if we did not have the Bible.  We would not know the identity of the Creator, the meaning of life, the Saviour’s love, the Spirit’s power or the pathway to pleasing God.

God blesses us through his Word in many ways of which the most important is his sure promise that he loves us and saves us as we respond to that love, for example, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

But God also blesses societies where the Bible has been powerfully influential, for example, values like respect for authority, dignity of the individual, equality of king and commoner before the law, abolition of slavery, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, sanctity of marriage, separation of church and state, the example of the Good Samaritan rescuing people in need, the primacy of compassion and mercy.

When society loses the Bible it loses its values: truth becomes relative, gender differences are blurred, the sanctity of marriage lost, and respect for authority weakened.

The Reformation crossed the English Channel.  Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer came to believe Bible alone as he stated in Article 6 (of the 39 articles):

HOLY Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of anyone, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Cranmer’s achieved the reformation of the English Church by three instruments:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion
and the Ordinal for Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

Each of the three is carefully expressed in the theology of the Reformation.

The Reformation came to Australia with the First Fleet with Chaplain Richard Johnson, a Church of England minister, a man dedicated to the great truths of the Reformation.

The Church of England in Australia followed the Mother Church in adopting the same three instruments, the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles and the Ordinal.

In 1960 the Church of England in Australia became the Anglican Church of Australia.  Our constitution specifically recognizes the authority of Cranmer’s three instruments.

Our National Church, our diocese, our parish is based on those same three.  The Articles are to be found at the back of our Prayer Books

These govern our national church, our diocese, our parish.

Our church – this church – is a child of the Reformation.

We affirm with our Lord, St Paul, Luther and Cranmer the great truth that the Bible Alone is the authority in the church for matters of faith.

 

Being There: Wittenberg

I have valued the experience of being in important places because it brings history to life.  A long time love of the history of the New Testament has taken me many times to Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Greece.  The landscape, remains of buildings, even the climate, adds value to the written word.  Being there also raises questions of chronology.  What happened when, and how long was it before b followed a?

I had not visited the places that figured in Martin Luther’s life story until 2014, and more recently in 2016.  Many buildings are being restored in anticipation of big crowds in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ninety-five theses being nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg.

To my shame I admit to not taking much interest in Luther for many years.  One of my electives for the University of London Bachelor of Divinity was a paper on Luther and Calvin.  The Luther segment focused on his tracts published in 1520 including Of the Freedom of the Christian Man.  Three years earlier Martin Luder changed his name to Martin Luther, based on the Greek word eleutheros, signifying that he had been ‘set free’ from condemnation by the death of the Son of God.

But what a difference it made actually being there ? in Eisleben where he was born (and coincidentally where he died, aged 63), Eisenach where he went to boarding school, Erfurt where he studied for the priesthood (in the Augustinian Order),
Wittenberg (where he was appointed Professor of Exegesis), Worms (where he was tried and condemned), and Wartburg Castle (where he took refuge, and where he translated the New Testament from Greek to everyday German).

Of most interest was Wittenberg, where Frederick the Wise had recently established the university, and to which the 29 year old Dr Martin Luder was appointed a Professor.  Frederick and his brother, John Frederick, and his nephew also John Frederick effectively protected Luther throughout his life.

Before Luther became famous Wittenberg was a ‘nowhere’ place, with a mere 384 dwellings.  At his appointment Luther did not figure in the list of 100 professors in lesser universities.  That was to change after the issue of the ninety-five theses when Luther became the most famous (or infamous) man in Germany, who was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Merely wandering through this small town was a revelation of the events and people back then.  There was the imposing Augustinian Cloister that Frederick gave to Luther, where he set up house with the redoubtable Katharina von Bora, which was both a hostel for students and an inn for the many visitors who sat at his meal table.

Nearby is the town church, St Mary’s where his friend Johannes Bugenhagen was pastor, and where Luther preached 4000 times in the 34 years he lived in Wittenberg.

In the town square is a statue of Luther, but also of his amazing colleague Philip Melanchthon, linguist, theologian, astronomer, jurist, and geographer.

One of the fine homes in the town belonged to Lucas Cranach, a wealthy man, and court painter for Frederick.  Cranach’s various portraits of Luther were disseminated throughout Germany and enhanced the reputation of Luther.  Cranach’s beautiful woodcuts formed the frontispiece of many of Luther’s writings, including his translation of the whole Bible published in 1534.  Cranach’s was one of the six print shops that were kept busy churning out the endless supply of Luther’s writings.

Then, at the end of the main street is the imposing Castle Church on whose door on October 31, 1517 Professor Luther nailed his paper attacking the sale of religious indulgences, an act the shook the world for centuries to come.

Paul Barnett

The Huguenot Heart

The Annual Meeting of the Huguenot Society 7th June, 2015) Scots Church, Sydney.

I am not of Huguenot descent. But let me speak today about the Huguenot heart.
My text:
Hebrews 9:26 Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

This text teaches two things:
1. Christ appeared once and for all at the end of the ages.
2. Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The word ‘unique’ comes to mind.
His coming was unique.
His sacrifice for sin was unique.

Pastoral Setting of Hebrews:
•Writer is anonymous
•He was a Jewish Christian leader.
•He was writing to discouraged Jewish Christians.
•So discouraged were they that they contemplated renouncing Christ being absorbed back into Judaism.
They had suffered economic hardship, loss of property, prison.
(Reminds us of Huguenot suffering).
•These Jewish Christians were headed back to the temple back to the priests back to the sacrifices
This was the pastoral setting of this book.

Hebrews is an early text
•Probably written in the 50s,
•One of the earliest texts of the NT.

The Writer reminds them that temple sacrifices for sins had to be repeated. So: because they had to be repeated they were ineffective.
Christ’s once only sacrifice was totally effective.
It was because he was the Son of God, without sin.
He was more than sufficient to atone for humanity’s sin.

Hebrews 10:11-14 Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…he has perfected…those who are being sanctified.

John Calvin The great French scholar John Calvin understood this.
If Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins why are church priests repeatedly re-offering Christ as a sacrifice in the Mass?
Calvin also questioned:
•the adoration of relics;
•the intercessions of the saints;
•the superstitious belief in the omnipresence of miracles;
•prayers for the dead;
•the payment of indulgences to release imprisoned souls.
These too went by the board when Calvin examined them alongside the simplicity and purity of apostolic faith.

People were overjoyed to hear the gospel in their own tongue and to hear thoughtful pastoral teaching on the gospel.

Large numbers of French people came to Geneva to hear Calvin who taught daily at the Church of St Pierre.
In time French Protestants became numerous and represented by some estimates 10% of the population.
But the church authorities and the king reacted violently.
Religion and superstition sentimentally appeal to unthinking people.
Radical Protestant thought was opposed, even though it was a pure representation of apostolic faith.

During the final 30 years of the 16th century
•a purge of the French Protestants
•thousands massacred in Paris on St Batholomew’s Day.
In 1685 the king revoked the Edict of Nantes that forced about a quarter of the Huguenots into exile ? 250,000 including some of France’s most accomplished citizens

The suffering of the French Protestants was very great.
We are reminded of the sufferings of faithful Hebrews, as in Hebrews 11:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

The suffering Huguenots were the heirs of the faithful Hebrews and the martyrs in early Christianity.
The suffering Huguenots are the precursors of the thousands of persecuted Christians today

The Huguenot heart believes the gospel and is prepared to suffer for the gospel

Question: If the Letter to the Hebrews is so clear how did the church get it so wrong?
It all went back to earlier centuries. Christians developed wrong ideas about ministers and sacraments. They believed that the Christian priesthood was a continuation of the Old Testament priesthood and that Christian clergy were re-offering Christ as a sacrifice for sins.

They did not understand the Epistle to the Hebrews. Otherwise they would not have allowed a return to superseded practices.

Calvin went back to the Bible. Including to the Book of Hebrews.
Christ offered himself as a sacrifice ‘once and for all’ (hapax).

We receive broken bread and out-poured wine with thankful hearts. These symbolize the broken body of Christ, his completed, saving work.

We say to ourselves, ‘He did it for me, once, at such great cost to him’.
John Calvin understood this.
So did the Huguenots.

Calvin, their fountainhead was a remarkable scholar
•trained as lawyer
•an accomplished classicist ? wrote commentary on Seneca (still in print?)
•wrote commentaries on 60+ books of the Bible
•wrote the majestic Institutes, a complete work of theology.
His meticulous commentaries make him the father of biblical commentators.

Which brings us back to Hebrews 9:26.
FIRST: Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
Three English words once for all translate one Greek word h-a-p-a-x.
It appears a number of times in Hebrews.
His unique appearing brought the OT period to its end.
He appeared ‘once and for all’.
He supersedes and discontinues the era of temple, priests and sacrifices.
Christ brought all that to an end.
This is what the pre-reformation church did not understand.
This is what Calvin reaffirmed.
This is what Huguenots came to believe ? at great cost.
This is the heart of Huguenot faith.

SECOND: Christ has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
This is the message of Good Friday.
Men killed Jesus
-the treacherous Judas
-the opportunistic High Priest
-the vacillating Pontius Pilate
-the Roman death squad Men killed Jesus.

But Jesus also sacrificed himself.
It was the Father’s will.
Gethsemane reveals the Son’s agony in prospect.
The terrible cry from the cross reveals the agony in reality.
Christ came to pay the price for our sins, once for all.
To pay the price we could never pay.

We concern ourselves with our health, our finances, our appearances, our relationships. That’s what many TV ads are about. And these are important.
But there is something in life that is more basic, that undergirds everything else.
To be right with our Maker and Judge.
To know peace with God.
To know I am reconciled to God.
To know that God loves me.
To know that God wants to hear my prayers.

Life is a race with many hurdles. God is there to help us run the race and to help us over the hurdles.

The important thing is that we understand these great truths. Not only in our heads but no less in our hearts.

There are things in our past, which we may look back on with regret, even shame. Acts of unkindness. Cruel words. Dishonest dealings. Theft.

Ritual cannot remove the stain of sin from our hearts.
Good works cannot remove the stain of sin from our conscience.
Only the blood of the Son of God.

If I were of Huguenot descent it would be a matter of great pride.
But the really important thing is to have a Huguenot heart.
A Huguenot heart says to God:
Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
to put away my sin by the sacrifice of himself.
It was for that sublime truth that the Huguenots suffered and died.

Paul in Rome in the Sixties

The book of Acts indicates that Paul was under ‘house arrest’ in Rome, most probably between 60-62.  Luke’s text suggests that Paul was then released, something First Timothy and Titus also imply.  Second Timothy, written from Rome, however indicates that Paul was soon to face execution.  Presumably, this execution was at the decision of Nero Caesar following the Great Fire in 64.

As I suggested in another paper (‘“Paul lived in Rome two whole years”. The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts’ ? http//paulbarnett.info) the reason Luke did not write about Paul after Acts 28 (his two-year imprisonment in Rome) was that he knew this information could be gleaned from the letters to Timothy and Titus (whose authorship he may have contributed to ? so C.F.D. Moule).

It is tragically clear why in 64 or 65 Paul was beheaded following the Fire (as a Roman citizen he would not be crucified).  But why was he released in c. 62, as he expected to be, based on the general thrust of Philippians and the open ended close of Acts?

To answer this we need to be reminded about the politics of Rome in the sixties.  Nero Caesar was both immature (a mere 23 in the year 60) and distracted (he had recently murdered his mother, Agrippina).  Effectively, Rome and its empire were being administered by Burrus (the Praetorian Prefect), and Seneca (Nero’s speech-writer and chief advisor).

Almost certainly Paul’s ‘appeal to Caesar’, whose outcome he was awaiting in Philippians, would have effectively been heard by Burrus and Seneca, rather than by Nero.

My argument here is that Seneca would have played a key role in a favourable decision for Paul.  This is because Seneca’s brother was the Gallio who had passed a good verdict on Paul in Corinth a decade earlier.  In effect, Gallio Proconsul of Achaia, determined back then that Paul the Roman citizen had not acted against Roman custom in establishing an alternative meeting in Corinth.  After serving his year-long appointment in Achaia Gallio returned to Rome where he became Consul in 55 (?).  Seneca was Consul in 56.

There can be little doubt that Gallio would have discussed Paul’s case in Corinth with his brother Seneca.  Thus, so far as Gallio would have been concerned, a precedent had been set.  Paul was not guilty of any breach of Roman law.  This may have prompted his colleague Burrus to release the man whose imprisonment was supervised by the Praetorian Guard, according to Philippians.

After 62 everything changed.  Burrus died in 62 and was replaced by Tigellinus.   From that time the tide was running against Seneca who attempted to retire from public life in 62.  In 65 Nero forced him to commit suicide.

Providentially for Paul Burrus and Seneca were the men of influence during Paul’s two-year house arrest (60-62 ? the setting of Philippians) after which Paul was released for travel in the east (as witnessed in First Timothy and Titus).  After 62, however, Paul’s protectors (Burrus and Seneca) were gone from the seat of influence.

The Great Fire in 64 inevitably caught up Paul in its tragic aftermath.

Transcendent Values?

The rise in secular ethics corresponds with the decline in transcendent-based ethics.  Within the former I understand there is a growing interest in Classical Values, like the four Roman Cardinal Virtues ? ‘courage’, ‘moderation’, ‘prudence’ and ‘justice’.  These were the ideals of the upper orders, which were also self-regarding, if not self-centred.

The one voice from a lower stratum in antiquity was that of Jesus from Nazareth, an artisan and self-educated rabbi.  His rabbi’s judgements were applicable back then to all social levels from bottom to top.  Since then they have proved timelessly applicable at all times and in all cultures.

Take for example his judgement on payment of a tax now to be paid by each person direct to Caesar.  To deny the tax in line with zealot agitation would condemn him as another troublemaker and to approve the payment would unite him with the corrupt temple authorities.

His ‘render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God’ brilliantly saved his life, but more importantly pegged the ground for relationships with Caesar and God.  Keep the two separate was his shrewd advice.  Pay the taxes to ‘the powers that be’ (to use St Paul’s words) and fulfil all duties and privileges of a citizen.  When you turn to worship, however, let it not be to ‘Tiberius Caesar, Pontifex Maximus, son of the deified Augustus (words on the denarius coin), who is a mere mortal.  Direct your worship to the Almighty.  No theocracy here nor sectarian separation, but a clear demarcation between the realms of Caesar and God.  This is a basis for liberal democracy.

Another judgement was his interchange with a religious lawyer over the question: Who is my neighbour?  The parable narrated the practical care a hated Samaritan showed to a Jew in trouble, whose two fellow Jews (each religionists) ‘passed by on the other side.  ‘Good Samaritan’ is universal language for charity for those in trouble.  The early Christians put this into effect by initiating hospitals and hostels for anyone in need, regardless of creed or nationality.  The apostate emperor Julian attempted unsuccessfully to copy the ‘Galileans’.  This was to come later in the welfare state.

The hero of the story was a not a broadminded Jew who somehow found it within himself to help a contaminated, untouchable Samaritan.  Unimaginably in those racist, tribal times, it was an ‘unclean’ man who helped a ‘clean’ man who fell among thieves.

Other examples relate to ‘family life’.  In Jewish society only men could initiate divorce, which they did by handing a wife a certificate.  In Roman society wealthy men and women initiated divorce, which they did with such frequency that it was said they did not mark the year by the elected consul but by the new spouse.  In Graeco-Roman society it was not unknown for men to marry sisters and mothers.  Their gods had shown the way.

Rabbi Jesus quoted Genesis, ‘From the beginning God…made them male and female’ who in marriage become ‘one flesh’.  He added this ideal, ‘What therefore God has joined together let not man separate’.  To his words about lifelong, faithful marriage he added that children were not to be brushed aside but deeply valued.  The bones of children have been found in Roman sewers, confirming reports of the maiming and exposure of unwanted infants.

Hard working parents dedicated to the care and education of their children help create stable societies.

The Mishnah (c. AD 200) reports numerous judgements and counter-judgements by the great Jewish teachers but it is no surprise that the words of the founder of Christianity do not appear.  Church and synagogue had separated by then.  His judgements sound deceptively mundane but their universal and timeless applicability raises the possibility of transcendent origin.

Guided Tour of Jordan and Israel 3-20 March, 2016

Tour Leaders: Bishop Paul and Mrs Anita Barnett

Jordan
Mt Nebo
Madeba
Petra
Wadi Rum
Gadara
Jerash
Machaerus
Baptismal Site
Amman

Israel
Dead Sea
Masada
Ein Gev
Qumran
Jericho
Jerusalem (7 nights)
Nablus
Sebaste
Caesarea
Mt Carmel
Haifa
Megiddo
Tiberias
Sepphoris
Nazareth
Cana
Capernaum
Tabgha
Mensa Christi
Korazim
Caesarea Philippi
Beth Shean

Straightforward Emirates flights:  Sydney-Dubai-Amman (and return)
Experienced local guides.
Excellent hotels.
Air-conditioned buses.

 

All enquiries to Olive Tree Travel
Katrina@olivetreetravel.com.au