Sunday, October 31, 2010

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:

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.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"then "the Great Schism" (through 1417) when there were two and even three "popes" claiming the papacy and excommunicating each other and their followers."

Papal politics?

Infallibility of the Pope?

These popes, like the Borgia pope, never taught wrong doctrine?

Viisaus said...

Here's an interesting recent scholarly piece that describes the impact of Lorenzo Valla's scholarship on Luther - he might have played a big part, at the crucial junction, in the final radicalization of Luther's anti-Rome position:

"The papal Antichrist: Martin Luther and the underappreciated influence of Lorenzo Valla."

by David Whitford

Renaissance Quarterly, March 22 2008

"Thus, the events of 1519, and even the possibility of a papal ban, cannot alone account for Luther's change of opinion. One piece of the puzzle was still missing: this would come when he read Lorenzo Valla.

In late 1519, Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523) published his second edition of Valla's Discourse. A copy of Hutten's edition was given to Luther in early 1520 and he began to read it in February. (57) As we have already noted, Valla helped convince Luther that papal claims to secular authority were unfounded. Further, the attempts by the papacy to secure those claims through treachery and deceit proved that the pope sought to overthrow the emperor and rule in his stead. After reading Valla, Luther again wrote to Spalatin. In the letter he refers specifically to Valla's treatise, and all the earlier equivocation regarding the papal Antichrist is absent: "I have here at my disposal Hutten's edition of Lorenzo Valla's Confutation of the Donation of Constantine.... I am greatly tormented, I do not even doubt that the pope is properly the Antichrist, that even the whole world's popular opinion expects; everything which he does, lives, speaks, and declares fits perfectly." (58)"

natamllc said...

I agree; that was a most moving impassioned conversation, so clear, so keen, between Dr. White and TurretinFan about Francis Turretin and many of the points of departure from Truth historically by who and by subject.

They communicated the simplicity of the Truth being defended over against the errors that had grown up to become this big elephant in the room, giving a down to earth, ironically, perspective of Luther's reasons for nailing the challenge to debate on the door!

I am not sure I comprehend the thread title of the shape of things to come, though?

Maybe you can explain that one more clearly and keenly yourself?

John Bugay said...

Natamllc: I am not sure I comprehend the thread title of the shape of things to come, though?Maybe you can explain that one more clearly and keenly yourself?

It's just all these things were precursors to the Reformation and helped to shape it. The gathering storm clouds; it really was God weaving together the pieces that became the tapestry.

John Bugay said...

Viisaus -- Thanks for that link. Here's Scott Hendrix's account:

The conviction that the pope and the "prince of this world" were on the same side in opposing evangelical truth received a decisive boost through another book Luther read during February of 1520. This book was an edition of Lorenzo Valla's (1407-1457) refutation of the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine; it was published by the German humanist, Ulrich von Hutten, in late 1519. The Donation, a forgery which arose between 750 adn 850 A.D., purported to be the account of Emperor Constantine's grant of imperial rule over the West to Pope Sylvester in the fourth century. It was incorporated into canon law, and it served as the main pillar of papal claims to temporal power. Valla's disclosure of the forgery jolted Luther: "I am so tormented, I scarcely doubt that the pope is properly that AntiChrist which by common consent the world expects; everything which he lives, does, speaks and establishes fits so well." In contrast to his utterance of a year earlier, Luther compared the pope directly with the Antichrist in stead of with a disciple of the Antichrist, though not yet unequivocally and still in private correspondence."

From Scott Hendrix, "Luther and the Papacy: Stages in a Reformation Conflict," Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1981, pg 98.

Calvin, of course, echoed this sentiment in Institutes 4.1.1:

...guarding pious readers against the corruptions of the Papacy, by which Satan has adulterated all that God had appointed for our salvation.

It's fair to say that there was a time Luther's recent past that he had no intention of challenging the papacy. But once he was thrown into the conflict, Luther did see clearly who his real enemy was.

Andrew said...

It was a very interesting, informative, and edifying edition of The Dividing Line. I am growing to appreciate the reformation more and more as time passes.

John Bugay said...

Thanks Andrew -- My hope is that more and more Protestants as well as Roman Catholics would understand what it was all about.

Lvka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lvka said...

My personal tribute in honor of this special day.

Tim Enloe said...

I would certainly like to see more work done on Wycliffe and Huss, because these men, though precursors in a sense of the Reformers, were also thoroughly Medieval and it is important that we understand their historical situations. For instance, Huss was not condemned for preaching "the Gospel," and Wycliffe was not a "Bible Only" man.

We've lost some of the details of these men's lives in the last few centuries of polemics against Rome, and their stories are so much more fascinating than merely presenting them as simple adherents of (and in Huss' case, a sad martyr for) proto-Reformation principles.

John Bugay said...

Hi Tim -- it's been my hope to talk about those guys a bit. Matthew has done a piece on Wycliffe; a simple search should be able to find it. I've posted some stuff from A.G. Dickens in the past (not here), and I may be going back to that again shortly.

Tim Enloe said...

I'll try to find Matthew's post on Wycliffe. Wycliffe interests me greatly, especially his "dominion of grace" idea (which undermines basic civil order, and so ought to be opposed) and his apparent use of Platonic categories to exegete Scripture. (Which is why I said he was not a "Bible Only" man - he made significant use of philosophy in his exegesis, something that no one can get away from.)

Huss interests me a great deal because of his advocacy of many Wycliffite doctrines, but also for his paradoxical repudiation of Platonic realism and embrace instead of nominalism in his biblical hermeneutics. As I understand it, he was essentially orthodox on the theological categories of the 15th century, including advocating a soteriology of justification "by faith formed by love." He was condemned not for being a proto-Luther, but because the Council of Constance allowed scurrilously false testimony against him as to his actual doctrines and because he advocated Wycliffe's "dominion of grace" idea, which would have totally undermined the Council's work against the schismatic popes and also would have promoted civil rebellion against the Emperor. His story is also a lot more interesting and complex than our "Official Reformation Hagiography" books usually tell it.

John Bugay said...

Here's that link to Matthew's piece on Wycliffe:

Matthew D. Schultz said...


I'm afraid my humble piece might not surpass the standards of "Official Reformation Hagiography." I suspect a sophisticated analysis of Wycliffe's philosophical and doctrinal contributions and positions would be something you'd be rather apt to produce, rather than a strict amateur such as myself.

Tim Enloe said...

Matthew - my "Official Reformation Hagiography" remark was tongue-in-cheek. Most popular level apologetic understandings of the Reformation are not acquainted with the pre-Reformation period in any substantial detail, but rely on old caricatures passed down to us mainly by 19th century Presbyterian polemicists such as William Cunningham, who did not know squat about Medieval history and cared more about ranting about "Romanists" than about old-style Magisterial Reformation scholarly humanism. Check out Cunningham's Systematic Theology section on the Middle Ages if you don't believe me - the man knew NOTHING about the time period. NOTHING. Partly that's because a lot of the sources had not been compiled and made available to scholars, and partly it's because guys like that weren't really interested in history, anyway, but only in rote recitations of a static deposit of received (caricatured) truth about Evil Romanists.

This has resulted in very large gaps in our apologetic accounts of the origins of the Reformation, and these gaps are able to be exploited by the very same "Romanists" we are supposed to be trying to prove wrong from history. They exploit the gaps with an ignorance of the sources that is basically the "equal and opposite" variety of our own, and my belief is that if we were more grounded in history ourselves, not only would they be unable to exploit our ignorance, but THEIR ignorance would stand even more exposed than it has yet been.

At any rate, at the moment, no, I can't really offer you a better picture of Wycliffe or Huss myself, save in the outline form I have already given. My outline needs desperately to be filled in with DETAILS (in history, truth is very often in the details), but I have yet to have time to pull together all the detailed sources I have in my library into a coherent picture. That's why I said I'd like to see more work done on these guys. Perhaps others have the time that I don't presently have.

John Bugay said...

the man knew NOTHING about the time period.

Essentially, Tim, I've bought into the premise that all of church history belongs to the Protestants -- I've been hoping to delve into this period (as well as the early church, as I've done with the papacy), as a way of providing that all-important context for the Reformation.

It really is not as if Luther appeared out of nowhere. He genuinely was rooted in his time; he asked a few hard questions and got broadsided in a big way.

But the fact that so many people followed him in one way or another really indicates the discontent that existed with "the Church" at that time.

My hope is to try to reproduce some of that discontent so that folks of our day can understand where the Reformation really came from.

Tim Enloe said...

Yes, John, it does belong to us. The Reformers would not have been what they were without what came before. Dr. White covered some of this in his 25 minute talk - he mentioned the Renaissance, particularly humanism, the Babylonian Captivity, and the Western Schism. It is not possible to understand where our Reformers came from and what they were trying to do without getting some kind of substantial grasp of these and other movements and occurrences.

Conciliarism is particularly important, as Matthew has been trying to highlight, but we labor under serious misconceptions about that movement and its significance. The Council of Constance did some bad things, yes, but it is not for that reason to be anachronistically interpreted and abominated as a bunch of truth-hating Romanists denying the pure Gospel preached by brave Jan Huss. That's not historically accurate, though it plays well to the part of the Protestant consciousness that wrongly believes true Gospel religion in this world is always like Foxe's Book of Martyrs. (Another anachronism, btw, since Foxe actually wrote a multi-volume, carefully researched church history, The Acts and Monuments, from which the awful stories making up the "Book of Martyrs" were later drawn.)

I fear that much of Reformed Theology today is basically like the decadent Roman Catholic Scholasticism that the humanists and the Reformers battled against: it's a "manual" driven approach to theology that considers out of bounds - and sometimes even "heretical" - anything that doesn't appear in the pages of the Approved Books. The great Enlightenment lie about the Middle Ages as "the Dark Ages" profoundly warps our grasp of where the Reformation came from, and what it was about. We have to get past this if we want to dare to claim that we are the heirs of the Reformers.

Tim Enloe said...

There is a reason that all those footnotes are in our editions of Calvin and Luther, explaining what they meant by all those "obscure" and supposedly "irrelevant" to biblical truth references to classical antiquity and the Middle Ages.

That reason is because we have lost all of that context that they had. Our educational system from Kindergarten to College / Seminary is absolutely laughable compared to the Late Medieval one in which the Reformers were educated. Because of this, and some distortions on Reformed thought in particular that emanate from 17th century Cartesianism and 19th century pietism, we have isolated a few things they said about Scripture and about salvation and made those into "the whole shebang." Nothing could be further from the truth.

How can we understand our past if we don't quit caricaturing it and instead LOOK at it for what it really was? We have to stop reading bowdlerized history and start instead reading REAL history. Oberman and his students, McGrath, and many others like them have shown the way. We have only to follow.

CathApol said...

John Bugay wrote: 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).

It must be pointed out that where these "false decretals" are concerned, they were forgeries but what they said was not a "complete lie," the "lie" is in attributing them to earlier sources. That being said, there are PLENTY of earlier authentic sources to support the claims of these decretals! A fuller response to this matter has been reposted to my blog (too much for a combox reply).


John Bugay said...

I've responded on Scott Windsor's blog, noting this:

Your piece is so full of holes as to be laughable.

I'll be responding.

It really is not worth the paper it's printed on.

CathApol said...

John Bugay wrote:It really is not worth the paper it's printed on.

Well, unless you printed it, it's not on paper! As I responded to you on my blog, I actually welcome you to point out any "holes" there may be in the thesis.

I'm especially interested in what the "complete lie" is, and I'm not interested in what you "believe" about the papacy, I'd like to see some "facts." I've already accepted that the decretals were forged, but I have then demonstrated, from several sources which predate the decretals, the truth regarding the papacy as reflected in the quotes and citations provided.

As I said, I look forward to your critique.


John Bugay said...

Well, unless you printed it, it's not on paper!

That pretty much was my point.

CathApol said...

Mr. Bugay, I still look forward to your analysis of my article, and mostly because I hope others will continue reading what the Fathers had to say about the papacy and come to realize how wrong your position now is (I understand you are a former Catholic, correct me if I am wrong on that).

So, how soon shall we expect a reply?