Welcome!

This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Of the Father's Love Begotten

This is, to my mind, one of the most profound Christmas hymns, one that gets to the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation. It was based on a poem written in the late fourth or early fifth century, translated, and set to a medieval plainchant entitled Divinum mysterium (the Divine Mystery). The following, taken from Wikipedia, gives the original Latin poem, its translation, and the metrical setting in English of the hymn.

May you have a blessed Christmas, and I hope that this poem may help you more fully comprehend the wonders of the Incarnation which we celebrate today.


Latin text by Prudentius (b. 348).
Translation by Roby Furley Davis, for the English Hymnal (1906).
Translation by J M Neale, extended by Henry W. Baker (1851/1861)
Corde natus ex parentis
Ante mundi exordium
A et O cognominatus,
ipse fons et clausula
Omnium quæ sunt, fuerunt,
quæque post futura sunt.
Sæculorum sæculis.
Of the Father's heart begotten,
Ere the world from chaos rose,
He is Alpha, from that Fountain
All that is and hath been flows;
He is Omega, of all things,
Yet to come the distant Close,
Evermore and evermore.
 
Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
Ipse iussit et creata,
dixit ipse et facta sunt,
Terra, cælum, fossa ponti,
trina rerum machina,
Quæque in his vigent sub alto
solis et lunæ globo.
Sæculorum sæculis.
By His Word was all created
He commanded and 'twas done;
Earth and sky and boundless ocean,
Universe of three in one,
All that sees the moon's soft radiance,
All that breathes beneath the sun,
Evermore and evermore.
 
At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!
Corporis formam caduci,
membra morti obnoxia
Induit, ne gens periret
primoplasti ex germine,
Merserat quem lex profundo
noxialis tartaro.
Sæculorum sæculis.
He assumed this mortal body,
Frail and feeble, doomed to die,
That the race from dust created,
Might not perish utterly,
Which the dreadful Law had sentenced
In the depths of hell to lie,
Evermore and evermore.
He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!
 
O beatus ortus ille,
virgo cum puerpera
Edidit nostram salutem,
feta Sancto Spiritu,
Et puer redemptor orbis
os sacratum protulit.
Sæculorum sæculis.
O how blest that wondrous birthday,
When the Maid the curse retrieved,
Brought to birth mankind's salvation
By the Holy Ghost conceived,
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer
In her loving arms received,
Evermore and evermore.
 
O that birth forever blessèd,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!
Psallat altitudo caeli,
psallite omnes angeli,
Quidquid est virtutis usquam
psallat in laudem Dei,
Nulla linguarum silescat,
vox et omnis consonet.
Sæculorum sæculis.
Sing, ye heights of heaven, his praises;
Angels and Archangels, sing!
Wheresoe’er ye be, ye faithful,
Let your joyous anthems ring,
Every tongue his name confessing,
Countless voices answering,
Evermore and evermore.
 
O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!
Ecce, quem vates vetustis
concinebant sæculis,
Quem prophetarum fideles
paginæ spoponderant,
Emicat promissus olim;
cuncta conlaudent eum.
Sæculorum sæculis.
This is He, whom seer and sibyl
Sang in ages long gone by,;
This is He of old revealed
In the page of prophecy;
Lo! He comes the promised Saviour;
Let the world his praises cry!
Evermore and evermore.
This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!
 
Macte iudex mortuorum,
macte rex viventium,
Dexter in Parentis arce
qui cluis virtutibus,
Omnium venturus inde
iustus ultor criminum.
Sæculorum sæculis.
Hail! Thou Judge of souls departed;
Hail! of all the living King!
On the Father's right hand throned,
Through his courts thy praises ring,
Till at last for all offences
Righteous judgement thou shalt bring,
Evermore and evermore.
Righteous Judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!
 
 
Te senes et te iuventus,
parvulorum te chorus,
Turba matrum, virginumque,
simplices puellulæ,
Voce concordes pudicis
perstrepant concentibus.
Sæculorum sæculis.
Now let old and young uniting
Chant to thee harmonious lays
Maid and matron hymn Thy glory,
Infant lips their anthem raise,
Boys and girls together singing
With pure heart their song of praise,
Evermore and evermore.
 
Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!
Tibi, Christe, sit cum Patre
hagioque Pneumate
Hymnus, decus, laus perennis,
gratiarum actio,
Honor, virtus, victoria,
regnum aeternaliter.
Sæculorum sæculis.
Let the storm and summer sunshine,
Gliding stream and sounding shore,
Sea and forest, frost and zephyr,
Day and night their Lord alone;
Let creation join to laud thee
Through the ages evermore,
Evermore and evermore.
Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ as Emanuel, God with us


O Antiphon for December 24
Latin:
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

English:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!
 
English:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
Scripture references: Isaiah 7:14

 

 

Monday, December 23, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ as King of the Nations


O Antiphon for December 23
Latin:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

English:
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, veni, Rex Gentium,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
ut salvas tuos famulos
peccati sibi conscios.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!
 
English:
O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

Scripture references: Isaiah 2:4; 9:6

 

 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ the Morning Star


O Antiphon for December 22
Latin:
O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, veni O Oriens,
solare nos adveniens,
noctis depelle nebulas,
dirasque mortis tenebras.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

 English:
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine Advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death's dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
Scripture references: Isaiah 9:2; 60:1-2

 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ as the Key of David


O Antiphon for December 21
Latin:
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, Clavis Davidica,
regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum,
et claude vias inferum.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

English:
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav'nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
Scripture references: Isaiah 9:7; 22:22; 42:7

 

Friday, December 20, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ as the Root of Jesse


O Antiphon for December 20

Latin:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
 
English:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, O Iesse virgula,
ex hostis tuos ungula,
de specu tuos tartari
educ et antro barathri.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!
 
English:
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny.
From depths of Hell thy people save
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

Scripture references: Isaiah 11:1, 10

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ as the Lord


If you haven't read the first post in this series, please do; it'll help you make sense of the rest.
 
For those of you who don't know, an antiphon is a response by the choir or the congregation to a Psalm or another passage of Scripture read or sung during a liturgy. The antiphon is often a Gregorian chant.
 
O Antiphon for December 19
Latin:
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. 

English:
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, veni, Adonai,
qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice
in maiestate gloriae.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!
 
English:
O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
Scripture references: Isaiah 11:4-5; 33:22

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Come, O Come Emanuel: Christ the Wisdom of God


I talked about my favorite Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emanuel,” in my earlier post “Death at Christmas.” If you haven’t read that, I’d encourage you to do so. This year, I want to take the next week to talk about that hymn and its origins.

“O Come, O Come Emanuel” comes from the “O Antiphons” used in the Latin liturgy probably since the early 500s AD. Each of the Antiphons begins with “O” followed by a title of the Messiah from the Old Testament. One Antiphon was used in the liturgy in the eight days leading up to Christmas, with the final Antiphon said on Christmas Eve.

The titles of the Messiah form an acrostic: if you take the first letter from each of them, and then read them backwards, you get Ero cras, Latin for “I am coming tomorrow.” (We would do them in the opposite order, but for the medieval mind, once you start the word you need to be able to pronounce it straight through, so you need the first letter on the night before Christmas.)

I will be publishing the O Antiphons in order, in Latin and English, with the appropriate verse from “O Come, O Come Emanuel” and the biblical reference, each day leading up to Christmas Eve. For those of you who are Christians and are preparing for the celebration of Christ’s coming, these would work well in your devotions

O Antiphon for December 18
Latin:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.[6]

English:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence. 

O Come, O Come Emanuel
Latin:
Veni, O Sapientia,
quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae
ut doceas et gloriae.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

 English:
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel

 Scripture references: Isaiah 11:2-3; 28:29

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sorghaghtani, the Mother of Great Khans

The next article in Christians who Changed their World is up at the Colson Center. This one features Sorghaghtani Beki, the mother of three Mongol Khans (including Kublai Khan, the Chinese emperor who welcomed Marco Polo). She shaped world history in some pretty powerful ways, but is almost completely unknown in the English speaking world. Don't let the names throw you: she's someone well worth learning about.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jolly Old St. Nicholas: The Man behind the Legend


For the last two years, I have done blog posts on the date of Christmas and the origins ofthe Christmas tree, debunking some popular ideas about each of these. This year, in honor of St. Nicholas Day (December 6), I thought I’d write about who he was historically. How he got transformed into Santa Clause is a story for another day.

Nicholas was born to wealthy parents in Patara (in modern Turkey, then a Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire) somewhere between 260 and 280 AD. His parents died of an epidemic, and so he was raised by an uncle, also named Nicholas, who was bishop of Patara.

 Not much is known for certain about his life. Apparently, his uncle began preparing him to become a priest, but he was elected bishop of Myra prior to his ordination as a priest. This was very unusual—only two other examples are known—which makes the story believable. If the biography were being invented, this kind of embellishment would have been unlikely.

Under the Great Persecution begun by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was thrown into prison with many other members of the clergy. When Christianity was decriminalized, he was released and returned to Myra.

Nicholas was known for his charity. For example, one story tells of him giving gold anonymously to three sisters from a poor family to provide dowries for them so they wouldn’t be forced into a life of prostitution. Although this story exists in a variety of forms, it too is likely to be based on an actual event. Other saints’ lives do not contain similar stories, so it is unlikely to have been made up here. This incident is the origin of the idea that St. Nicholas comes to give gifts to children at Christmas.

Another story tells of rioting that broke out in Myra’s port city of Andriaki. Nicholas hurried there to see if he could help, and was told that three innocent men had been taken by the authorities and were about to be executed. Nicholas ran to the place of execution and grabbed the executioner’s sword just as he was about to behead the first of the men. Nicholas threw the sword down, and the three men went free while Nicholas worked to clear them of the charges.

A number of miracles were attributed to Nicholas both in life and after death, so many in fact that Nicholas has been titled “Thaumaturge” (the Miracle Worker). I’m not going to go into these except to mention Nicholas’s “manna,” a clear liquid that began appearing in his tomb and according to my sources continues to do so. It is believed to have healing properties.

But all of this fades before my favorite story of St. Nicholas, which involves the Council of Nicaea. The Council was called by the recently converted emperor Constantine to settle a theological conflict in the church. The issue was how we understand Jesus. Everyone recognized that he was a man, but the question was, what else is he? The theologian Athanasius argued that he is fully God; Arius argued that he isn’t God but the firstborn and highest of the angels. This conflict threatened to split the church, so Constantine invited bishops from around the Empire to meet in Nicaea and settle the matter. More than 300 bishops attended, including Nicholas.

At the Council, Nicholas sided very firmly with Athanasius, insisting on the deity of Christ. After one of Arius’s speeches, Nicholas was so upset that he walked across the room and gave him a hard slap across the face.

That’s right. Jolly Old St. Nicholas punched out Arius.

The bishops were shocked by Nicholas’s behavior, and he was mortified himself by his loss of self-control. Since it was illegal to strike another person in the presence of the Emperor, he was stripped of his episcopal robes and thrown in prison. Stories vary about his release, but once he had done his penance, he was allowed to return to Myra.

So there you have some tidbits about the life of St. Nicholas. The main conclusion I would draw from it is that heresy puts you on his naughty list, and if you’re on it he’s very likely to give you something more than a lump of coal.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

In honor of Reformation Day

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, inadvertantly starting the Protestant Reformation. The following excerpt from my book The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, which I also published last year on this date, explains what all this was about:

To understand the events leading to this break, we must travel south to Rome, where Pope Leo X was building St. Peter’s Basilica. Like any of us faced with financing new construction, Leo approached his bankers for a loan. The Medici bank of Florence, which was owned by Leo’s family, had been the papal bank for some time, though by Leo’s day it had been replaced by the Fugger bank, centered in Augsburg, Germany. The Fugger bank had been founded relatively recently, but it rose rapidly to become the largest bank in the world due to the same silver boom in Germany that had led to the establishment of the University of Wittenberg and the relative prosperity of the Luther family. Jacob Fugger, the head of the bank, approved the loan, but this left Leo with the problem of figuring out how to pay it back. Leo decided that the best approach to handling that problem was to sell off some of the assets in his treasury, specifically, the Treasury of Merits of which he was the custodian. In other words, Leo decided to hold an indulgence sale.

So, what are indulgences? To understand that, we need to know something about Roman Catholic conceptions of sin. According to Catholic theology, every sin you commit results in both eternal and temporal penalties. Eternal penalties affect your relationship with God; they are spiritual and deal with your status in eternity, that is, whether you go to Heaven or Hell. But since a sin against God is also a crime against your neighbor, sins must also be punished in this life, hence the temporal penalties, which are paid in time. When you confess your sins to a priest and he absolves you, that absolution takes away the eternal penalty due to your sins, but leaves the temporal untouched. He then assigns you a penance (a good work) that you can perform that pays the temporal penalty. This may be saying prayers, going on a pilgrimage, etc. These penalties could be pretty hefty; for example, knights fighting at the battle of Hastings in 1066, in a campaign that had been blessed by the Pope, were required to do 10 years of penance for every person they killed in the battle. And this didn't even touch other battles the knight fought in or any extra-curricular activities he might have indulged in. If you die with your temporal debt unpaid, the remainder has to be paid in time in the afterlife, so you go to Purgatory, a doctrine developed in the twelfth century to deal with the problems associated with unpaid temporal penalties. After your temporal penalty is completely paid in Purgatory, then you go to Heaven.

So how do you avoid languishing in Purgatory for who knows how long? There are a couple of possibilities. You could endow a monastery or a church and get priests to say Mass or monks to pray for you. If you pay the expenses, the credit for the time and the Masses goes to your account. This may seem odd, but think of it like this: if you get a speeding ticket, the town doesn't really care if you pay it or someone else does; it just wants its money. The same logic applies here. As long as your temporal debt is paid by someone, it counts. Going on pilgrimage is another good option. Not only do you get credit for the time you spend on the road, but the shrine you're visiting itself conveys a certain number of years of penance depending on its importance.

This is where indulgences came in, particularly in connection with armed, fighting pilgrimages, or as we call them, Crusades. To try to drum up troops to free the Holy Land, the Pope had promised certain unspecified spiritual benefits to all who fought for the faith; the Church then needed to figure out exactly what these benefits were. The doctrines outlined above were elaborated to a large extent to answer this question. The Church eventually decided that going on a Crusade would remit the entire temporal penalty due to sins that had been confessed to a priest and absolved. But since not everyone could go on Crusade—women, the sick, the aged, etc.—and not everyone who wanted to go on Crusade could afford it, it was decided that if you paid the way for someone else to go on Crusade, you would receive the benefits of Crusading yourself. These benefits would be paid to you out of the Treasury of Merits, the collection of good works performed by Christ and the saints above and beyond what was necessary for their own salvation. The Pope was the custodian of this Treasury and could call a Crusade and authorize a withdrawal for the participants. (Not all the Crusades were to the Holy Land: the Reconquistà which drove the Muslims out of Spain actually began before the Crusades proper, and other Crusades were called against the Albigensians in France, pagans in the Baltic, the Hussites in Bohemia, and even the Pope's political rivals.) With the end of the Crusades, the practice of selling indulgences, as these crusading benefits were called, continued. Some were limited indulgences, which paid only for a specific period of time, say, 10 years of penance. Others were plenary indulgences, which paid the whole penalty. Leo's indulgence sale was the latter type.

Leo, of course, was not going to go out hawking indulgences on the streets. The man who was reputed to have said, "God gave us the papacy; let us enjoy it!" was not about to turn himself into a salesman. Instead, he let it be known that for a fee, he would authorize other ecclesiastical authorities to sell plenary indulgences themselves. One person who bought into the scheme was Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, in the Holy Roman Empire. Albrecht wasn’t about to peddle indulgences on the corner any more than the Pope was, so he sub-contracted the indulgences sale to the Dominicans, an order of friars founded in the 13th century to supply the Church with preachers and expert theologians. The Dominicans would sell the indulgences and take a cut of the profits; the rest would go to Albrecht to recoup the money he had paid Leo to hold the indulgence sale; Leo used Albrecht’s money to help pay back the loan he had gotten from the Fugger bank to build St. Peter’s Basilica.

Unfortunately, the Dominicans were not above twisting the theology of indulgences to make more sales. One of them, Johan Tetzel by name, was a master of the hard sell and was generally the sort of person who gave used car salesmen a bad name. He literally would tell his listeners that his indulgences were so good that even if you had violated the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, this would get you off the hook. He told people repentance wasn't necessary for the indulgences to work and that it was a virtual ticket to Heaven regardless of what you had done or would do. And when he couldn’t get any more sales from that, he ratcheted things up a bit more. If you are not worried about yourself, what about your dearly departed mother languishing perhaps for thousands of years in Purgatory? Were you to spend but a few coins on an indulgence, she would be released to go directly into Heaven. After going on about this for a while, Tetzel would end with a little jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coin box rings, another soul from Purgatory springs!" (It rhymes in German, too.) There was no mention that indulgences applied only to sins already committed, confessed to a priest and absolved, only to the temporal penalties due to such sins, etc.

The Indulgence Controversy and the 95 Theses


This indulgence sale upset many people. Among them was Elector Frederick the Wise, the prince of Electoral Saxony and one of the people who elected the Holy Roman Emperor. He opposed the indulgence sale for two basic reasons. First, it meant that money his people were producing in Saxony was being sent out of the country to Mainz and ultimately to Rome, thereby hurting the prosperity of Electoral Saxony. In fact, Frederick suspected the whole thing was a scam designed to enrich Italy at the expense of Germany. Second, in addition to using his revenues from silver mining to build the University of Wittenberg, he had also spent a great deal of it purchasing relics; in fact, he had one of the largest relic collections ever assembled. People went on pilgrimages to view these relics—further enriching Saxony's coffers—and Frederick was afraid that the indulgence sale would hurt business. So Frederick simply banned the Dominicans from his territories; Tetzel and company were forbidden to set foot in Saxony, and thus the indulgence sale had none of the negative consequences that Frederick feared.

This wasn't the end of the matter, however. The University of Wittenberg had picked up a star theologian from the University of Erfurt, an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther. He had begun work as a Bachelor lecturer at Wittenberg, then completed his doctorate in theology a few years later. Luther was very proud of that doctorate, and always referred to himself as Herr Dr. Luther. Luther had  new approach to theology based on the insights he gained from his Tower Experience; he and his students had converted the rest of the theological faculty at Wittenberg to his way of thinking. And like Frederick, Luther was also upset about the indulgence sale, though more for theological reasons, and thus he decided to back up his prince by doing what theologians did in the sixteenth century: he challenged the Dominicans to a debate. Debates were the standard academic exercise of the period, more or less like a combination of term papers and exams today. The protocol involved first writing a list of propositions, or theses, in Latin (the language of academia), which the debater was willing to defend against either specified individuals or all comers. He then posted the theses along with information on the time and place of the debate on the University bulletin board. In theological debates, the theses also had to be sent to the person's spiritual superior to be checked for heresy. Luther wrote a series of theses against the abuses of this indulgence sale—ninety-five of them, to be exact—and posted them on the University bulletin board, the church door at Wittenberg. This has often been portrayed as a great act of defiance, as Luther boldly challenging the corruption of the Church. Actually, it was more like an act of conformity. All Luther was doing was following standard procedures for debate in an attempt to defend what he thought was good church doctrine against the abuses of the Dominicans. Although the debate never took place (remember, the Dominicans couldn't enter Saxony), two things came together to make the 95 Theses an enormously controversial event.

First, following standard procedures, Luther sent a copy of the theses to his spiritual superior, who happened to be Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz. Like Queen Victoria, he was not amused. Second, some of Luther's students got hold of the theses, thought, "this is really hot stuff," and sent them off to a printer AFTER TRANSLATING THEM INTO GERMAN. Much to everyone's surprise, the 95 Theses became a runaway best seller, with translations following into most European languages. Despite the best efforts of professors since then, this was the only time in history that an academic exercise has generated such an incredible volume of sales. Luther thus unexpectedly found himself at the center of an international controversy over indulgences.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Misappropriating the Reformation: Sola Fide

The first of three articles on the Reformation and American Evangelicalism is up at the Colson Center. This one deals with one of the three core "sola" statements of the Protestant Reformation: sola fide, that is, that we are saved by faith alone. But the question is, what does that really mean, and do American Evangelicals understand the historic and biblical meanings of that phrase? The article can be found here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Book on the Image of God now available

My latest book, entitled The Image of God, is now available in print and in e-book form. The easiest place to find it in print is probably on Amazon, though it is available at other online retailers. It can also be found as an e-book in all formats at Smashwords. You can also find it available for Kindle at Amazon.

The cover description reads:

The Image of God is the centerpiece of the Bible's teaching about what it truly means to be human. In this book, Glenn Sunshine discusses fourteen aspects of the Image of God, what it has meant in history, and its implications for today. By exploring the story of the creation in Genesis, Sunshine details what the Bible says about human purpose and abilities, the effects of sin on humanity, the impact of redemption, and the restoration of humanity's original calling in Christ. Questions offered at the end of each chapter make The Image of God ideal for personal or group study.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Abolition of Marriage

After spending much of the past two and a half months travelling overseas and in the US, I'm going to start up blogging again. I'll write about the travel later. For now, I'm putting up part 1 and part 2 of an article I published on the Colson Center about marriage.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Christians who Changed their World: Fei Qihao

A new article at the Colson Center. Fei Qihao was a Chinese Christian who survived the Boxer Rebellion and later became a Christian teacher and government official in China.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Christianity in China

At the end of March, I had the opportunity to spend 8 days in China with the America China Civic Exchange, a Christian-based organization whose purpose is to set up contacts, exchanges, and cooperative ventures between individuals and organizations in China and America. I was there as an observer, to do networking, and to help lay the groundwork to assist the Chinese in developing indigenous worldview training programs in the churches.

The experience itself was remarkable. We flew into Beijing and flew immediately from there to Shenzhen; we then went to Guangzhou, then to Wenzhou, then to Hanzhou, then back to Beijing, then to Tianjin, then to Beijing airport for the flight home. We didn’t spend more than two nights in any one place. It was intense, and the meetings were incredibly diverse. We were involved with negotiation and/or planning for the first China/US joint television series, for developing hospice care and special education programs, for a university press to publish translations of books written from a Christian perspective for an online leadership program offered by a US Christian university, …. We also worked on collaborations with the person responsible for developing an e-commerce system for all of China. She’s the granddaughter of one of Mao’s generals (the one who got the army to back Deng Xiaoping as Mao’s successor) and a Christian.

And we met with Christian leaders. These were truly remarkable people, and I was humbled to make their acquaintance. I will tell some of their stories in later newsletters and articles, but for now, I want to focus on what they told me that they wanted the American people to know about the house churches in China. It wasn’t what I’d expected.

First, they all universally and independently insisted that the situation isn’t as bad as is reported. Yes, the persecutions are happening, and yes, they are as horrific as reported. But they are at best sporadic and isolated, and often led by local authorities rather than the central government. In fact, the pastors all told me that they have a great deal more freedom than they’ve ever had in the past, and that is what they wanted me to emphasize as I talked about the house churches. Yes, there are restrictions: they can’t have more than 100 people (officially) at any of their meetings. But things are more open for them than ever. And it looks like they’re getting more and more open.

Second, the government’s attitude toward Christianity is complex. In a nutshell, they know that they need to deal with the problem of corruption in China or China’s economy will collapse. They looked into Buddhism and Daoism but concluded that neither has the ethical resources to deal with the problem—that’s their assessment, not mine. Christianity, however, does. But this raises a problem for them.

The Chinese government is by its nature totalitarian, that is, it believes it has to have all aspects of society under its control. They started the Three Self Churches as state-backed churches, but those aren’t the churches that are growing; the independent house churches are. So that’s one group they can’t really control, and that worries them.

Frankly, they have good reasons to worry. First, if you allow one sphere to operate outside of government control, it opens the door to other spheres. This is what produced Western civil society, with its intermediate institutions (education, labor, business, family, etc.) that mediate between the individual and the state. If you allow one, it creates opportunities for others, and the government loses control of many areas of society.

Second, Christianity has been a revolutionary force in Chinese history. The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) was a massive civil war led by Christians (or a Christian sect) that left twenty million people dead—some estimates put it as high as one hundred million. The government doesn’t want to see a repeat of that, which may be one reason why they crack down on churches whose leaders seem to be growing too popular personally.
 
Third, as one Chinese individual explained it to me, the government knows that if they don’t deal with the problem of corruption, it will be the end of China; they also know that if they do deal with the corruption, it will be the end of the Communist party. And that means the end of their power, which they are unwilling to give up.

So the Chinese government is in a bind. They want the ethical benefits (as well as the ecological stewardship) of Christianity, but at the same time they want to control the church. I think that right now, they are trying to give the churches just enough freedom to influence the ethical climate in the country, but not enough to get out of the government’s control. I don’t think it will work in the long run, and I expect that the restrictions on the churches will be increasingly ignored and eventually lifted.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In Memoriam: Charles W. Colson (1931-2012)

Chuck Colson died one year ago today.

Chuck was a man who made an enormous difference to me personally, who quite literally changed the direction of my life. I came to his attention due to a cassette that someone who had not even heard it gave to him, which he happened to put into the stereo in the car he was riding in on his way home from the conference at which I spoke. After hearing it, he invited me onto the faculty of the Centurions program.

I loved (and still love) working with the Centurions. I consider it one of the most important things that I do, and Chuck saw to it that I was integrated tightly into the program.

Things quickly escalated from there. Chuck brought me on as the content consultant for Wide Angle and had me work on the study guide for it; I did the same for Walk the Talk. Chuck informed me that he needed me in Princeton on a particular date, and suddenly I was on the panel for Doing the Right Thing; I soon drafted multiple versions of the study guide as well.

Chuck then asked me to write a short book on worldviews; that turned into Portals. As T. M. Moore once commented to me, “Glenn, God loves you and Chuck has a wonderful plan for your life!”

In the midst of all this, Chuck was invariably encouraging, a friend and mentor to me as I moved from focusing on early modern European history to worldview. He told me that he wanted to spend his last years promoting the ministry of people like me, and in my case, he certainly did.

Even more important to me in many ways was his welcome to my family at Centurions conferences. He always was encouraging to them, especially to my children, and spoke good things into their lives. And when he saw them again, he called them by name and greeted them with hugs. For that, I will be eternally grateful to him.
 
But all this is only the beginning of the impact Chuck had on my life. The connections I made through Chuck and the Centurions have expanded the range of my writing, teaching and ministry far beyond anything I could have imagined.

Through the Centurions, I found out about the Acton Book Grant, which I won. That led to my book, Why You Think the Way You Do and to appearing in Acton Media’s The Birth of Freedom.  I was also asked to be a regular columnist for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview by T. M. Moore, which would never have happened without the connection made through the Centurions.

Centurion graduates got me speaking engagements in California, Michigan, Texas, Maine, Kansas, Massachusetts, …. My trip to China this March was arranged by a Centurion. I got invited to speak in Shanghai this summer and to teach and do research in Mongolia as well, both through Centurions. My daughter is working in Taiwan with ORTV because of a connection formed by a Centurion. And I strongly suspect that the ripples started by the Centurions in my life will continue expanding.

Chuck changed the direction of my life and opened up opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. And I am grateful to him for that. But mostly, I am grateful that this great, well-known Christian leader took the initiative to reach out to me, to believe in my abilities, to plug me into his own ministry, and to treat me as a friend and colleague. That is more than I could have asked for, more than I deserve, and one of the finest examples of grace that I have experienced in this life.