Luther's Delight in History
From THE ENGLISH CHURCHMAN
Dr. Clive Gillis
Under God, Luther brought about the Glorious Reformation by his fearless declaration of the Word of God from the Holy Scriptures.
However, as the years went by, he also came to see the value of history in opposing error. In 1536 he wrote a preface to a History of the Popes by one of our own English Reformers, Robert Barnes, who was later burnt for his testimony. Luther said, ‘All those who possess the Spirit of Christ are doubtless aware that by reading, speaking and writing as much as they can against the bloodthirsty, shameless, blasphemous Whore of the Devil, they are accomplishing the highest and most excellent sacrifice of praise’.
Luther’s ‘huge delight’
Luther then turned to the specific part which he believed church history should play in testimony to the truth. ‘I’, continued Luther, ‘who was not at first experienced in historical study, assailed the papacy a priori, as we say, with a frontal attack out of the Holy Scripture. Now to my huge delight others are doing the same from the rear, that is out of historical documents. It seems to me an extremely good plan and makes me very happy, since I see co clearly that history and Scripture are in agreement. What I have learned and taught from St. Paul and Daniel, namely that the pope is an offence to both God and humanity, is now plainly revealed by the historians’. The Glorious Reformation has been a battlefield between Romanist and Protestant historians ever since, and never more so than in this day of apostasy.
Now what if there was a Church historian today whose ‘impressive’ academic excellence was matched by an equal ability to capture and absorb the popular mind? A writer who is ‘lucid and beautifully poised…..so that the reader is caught up in the enthusiasm he clearly feels for his subject’. A ‘passionate’ man equally at ease and respected amongst the finest scholars, as he is amiable and relaxed ‘with a twinkle in his eye’ on television and video. A man of attractive ‘frank undefensive tone’ that never ‘patronises the reader’, yet ‘carries conviction’. A ‘sensitive’ man whose ‘touch is very sure’ and ‘whose learning is impressive’, and who has a ‘profound sympathy for his subject’. A man the present writer finds most likeable and enlightening and from whom he has learned much. What a champion of the Glorious Reformation he could be in this needy hour!
But what if that Church historian was a ‘major revisionist’ who passionately believes that ‘late medieval Catholicism was neither decadent nor decayed’ and that the Glorious Reformation ‘represented a violent rupture from a popular and theologically respectable religious system’? a man whose ideas are ‘easily grasped’ by those ‘unversed in biblical concepts or Christian history’. A man who has ‘one of the subtlest minds working in ecclesiastical history today’. A man who writes from the historic, academic heartland of the English Reformation in Cambridge, where he teaches some of our most able undergraduates in the Faculty of Theology. The Roman Catholic Eamon Duffy is that man and in him the Glorious Reformation faces a revisionist adversary to be reckoned with.
Dr. Duffy is a Fellow of Magdalene (pronounced Maudlin) College in Cambridge. The University of Cambridge Faculty of divinity states in his Curriculum Vitae that he is ‘Reader in Church History. Fellow and Director of Studies, Magdalene College. Lectures on: Reformation England; Image and Icon in Christian Tradition. Research interests: iconography and history of Christian art; popular religion in the Middle Ages and Reformation periods.’
Among his undergraduate teaching activities for the current academic year 1999-2000 there is notice given of Lectures on Reformation England to be delivered in the Lent term on Tuesdays at 11 am. He will also give lectures on Image and Icon in the Christian Tradition on Wednesdays at 11am in the Lent and Easter terms.
The White Horse Inn
The training of the clergy is no longer carried out directly by the University but by the Cambridge Theological Federation. The Federation is comprised of Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed and Roman Catholic Colleges. The Federation ‘has close links with the faculty …. In this way sound scholarship and research are being channelled into the life of the churches’. Those undergraduates not ordained ‘go into influential positions in careers such as the media, publishing and teaching’.
The intention of the Faculty of Divinity is that the undergraduates ‘will take with them a critical but positive vision of the part which religion has played and continues to play in human society’. The opportunities are plain to see for Dr. Duffy (described in the Glasgow Herald as ‘a man with a mission’) to be ‘influential’.
The very mention of Cambridge arouses our Protestant instincts. We think immediately of the Protestant martyrs. Prior to the Glorious Reformation, teaching of theology was in the hands of the Franciscan and Dominican monks. Magdalene College was a hostel for scholarly Benedictines. The Chancellor, Bishop John Fisher (later famous for his burning of Luther’s books) was the unwitting servant of the Reformation when in 1511 he invited Erasmus of Rotterdam to pioneer the s6tudy of the Greek New Testament in Cambridge. Erasmus Greek New Testament was published in 1516. Then, as many English Churchman readers will know, a diminutive student called Thomas Bilney, seized upon it for the accompanying fine Latin translation. As Bilney studied it, he was born again. Soon, while the authorities were labouring to prevent the new Lutheran opinions from being officially propagated in the University, the same doctrines were being informally debated in the White Horse Inn.