Church History: 1400-1500
The first sounds of thunder could be heard rumbling…the storm was growing near.
The last piece to be put in place before the Reformation was a new school of thought…”humanism”.
This is not the secular humanism of today, but a philosophy that encouraged people to read and think for themselves…instead of always being read to and told what to think about what they had heard.
The rallying cry of the movement was “ad fonts”… which meant “to the sources”.
The sources spoken of would have been the newly printed original works of the great philosophers, the long abandoned church fathers, and the Scriptures themselves.
This was a direct challenge to power and authority of the Roman Catholic church and the papacy, which in 1408 had decreed it unlawful for anyone to read or translate any of the Bible in their own vernacular without the approval of a bishop or church council.
The most influential of these early humanists was Desiderius Erasmus.
“Would that these were translated into each and every language … Would that the farmer might sing snatches of Scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.”
Martin Luther is usually credited with beginning the Reformation, but it is this genius that laid the foundation Luther and others built on.
He translated the New Testament into Greek, (correcting the Latin Vulgate) and his work became the source of translations into other languages for years.
His writings against the excesses and abuses of the church primed the pump that would pour forth the Reformation itself.
His debates and disputations with Rome (and later, with Luther himself )would focus both the attention and thought of the whole church.
Inspired by Erasmus work, William Tyndale translated the first English New Testament from the original languages.
He did his work so well that the King James Bible used about 90 % of his translation…over a hundred years later.
He also did it so well that the church burned him at the stake for his efforts.
His executioners are long forgotten, but the work and legacy of Tyndale continues to this day.
The stage was set…the printing press and great courage had freed the Scriptures from the church and put them in the hands of the people.
The ancient writings had been recovered and the witness of the early fathers was again heard by many.
People were being taught to read and think for themselves…and so they did.
In 1483, Martin Luther was born.
Names you should know…
Thomas a Kempis: Author of the main devotional of the time, The Imitation of Christ.
Girolamo Savonarola: A preacher of church reform, whose execution made him an early hero of the Reformers.
“In these days, prelates and preachers are chained to the earth by the love of earthly things. The care of souls is no longer their concern. They are content with the receipt of revenue. The preachers preach to please princes and to be praised by them. They have done worse. They have not only destroyed the Church of God. They have built up a new Church after their own patter. Go to Rome and see! In the mansions of the great prelates there is no concern save for poetry and the oratorical art. Go thither and see! Thou shalt find them all with the books of the humanities in their hands and telling one another that they can guide men’s souls by means of Virgil, Horace, and Cicero….The prelates of former days had fewer gold miters and chalices, and what few they possessed were broken up and given to relieve the needs of the poor. But our prelates, for the sake of obtaining chalices, will rob the poor of their sole means of support. Dost thou not know what I would tell thee! What doest thou, O Lord! Arise, and come to deliver thy Church from the hands of devils, from the hands of tyrants, from the hands of iniquitous prelates” (quoted in Philip Schaff. History of the Christian Church. VI, p. 688).
The Spanish Inquisition begins in 1478.
This is a great century
Indeed it is…so much I had to leave out because blogs demand brevity.
Ah the glory of this era… the genie of freedom has escaped the bottle… and Columbus set sail.
A good quote from Tyndale
I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.
Quotes from Erasmus…
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
“I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.”
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
“Only a very few can be learned, but all can be Christian, all can be devout, and – I shall boldly add – all can be theologians.”
“War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.”
“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”
“Almost all Christians being wretchedly enslaved to blindness and ignorance, which the priests are so far from preventing or removing, that they blacken the darkness, and promote the delusion: wisely foreseeing that the people (like cows, which never give down their milk so well as when they are gently stroked), would part with less if they knew more…”
Ugh… I am way too cynical lately. All this talk of encouragement to read and think for ourselves just had me wondering about why we stopped.
I think we may be starting again…
Dissatisfaction is gold for reformers…
I hope so. I have been feeling a “heaviness” lately about some of the interactions that I have been in. I’m not exactly a fixture here, but prayer would be appreciated. I have just overall felt disgusted, disheartened, and displaced. I could go into more detail, but the words don’t seem to want to come out. Thanks.
So glad to see you make the significant point of how “humanist” used to mean a far different thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone with an axe to grind against Erasmus ignorantly start their complaint by saying “Well, he was a humanist”
That was the primary thing I wanted to communicate in this article…
Prayer will be made…and you’re not alone in those feelings.
The word “liberal” also used to mean something different than what it means today. It used to mean someone who favored democracy. Washington and the rest of the nation’s fathers were all “liberals,” using the original meaning of the word. The Bill of Rights would have been considered a liberal document, gun rights and all.
I don’t have much to say about the Reformation, I am not a fan. I still prefer the RCC over all her Protestant children.
The founders were indeed classical liberals, which is what we now call libertarian. They were no fans of democracy, but instead favored what they gave us-a constitutional republic with a centralized federal govt with small powers or responsibilities. Their experiment failed, and their dream is dead.
Happy Independence Day!
Without the Protestant Reformation tens of millions upon tens of millions would have remained Christless. The passion for God fueled by the evangelical impulse can never be denied. Without the force of coercion or the body politic’s power the simple message of Jesus and his love has spread world wide to every nation tribe and tongue. To not be a fan of the Reformation is to call into question the sounding thunder of the voice of God throughout the world. I do not mean this as an assault upon the magisterial churches only as an acknowledgment that a sovereign God loosed his church beyond the reach of its parent tribes.
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
Always loved that quote from Erasmus.
Without the Protestant Reformation tens of millions upon tens of millions would have remained Christless.<<<
In your opinion.
Evidently BD does not believe Catholics are Christians.
The Catholics weren’t letting the Word out of their hands.
If you let people read it in their own tongue, they burned you at the stake.
They had a lot of other things they were doing that were not right.
I thought he was mainly addressing the Catholic church that was.
Yet at the very time of the Reformation, Catholic missionaries were spreading the Gospel all over Central and South America, converting hundreds of thousands of people to Christ. That was the Catholic Church that was.
Just read where the Russians didn’t have a bible translated into the vernacular till 1751.
The Cyrillic alphabet was invented so the Slavic people could have the scriptures in their own language.
One thing to remember is that most Russians were illiterate peasants who had copious amounts of scripture read to them in the Liturgy.
Xenia, to me it just looks like the same thing the Catholics were doing.
Making sure they were the only way the masses could hear scripture.
Were they still reading the liturgy in Greek to them?
So Xenia, now that most everyone (at least in the West) can read, we still don’t read the scripture. Is that an argument for a return to liturgy for more the church? I’ve seen some articles arguing just that. Is it time for some Protestants to stop rejecting anything that has even the whiff of RCC?
…and the Russian nobility tended to view the Russian language as the language of the peasants and read and conversed in French. So you see that there wasn’t a big demand for Russian language Bibles until about the 18th century. So, not much of a wow after all.
No, it is wow!
In fact that almost looks like they were sort of colluding with the ruling class.
Jean with all respect, but the idea that no one is reading their bible is ridiculous.
Michael put up a link that sort of showed how many people are reading their Youversion app bible alone.
Usually I am a big fan of what you share on the Orthodox Church, but I gotta admit this does not show them in the best of lights here.
Now I am more interested than ever.
Was the liturgy read in Greek in Russia at that time?
Derek, I’m not sure of very much, but if I was a betting man, which I’m not, I would bet the table limit that only a very small minority of self-identifying Christians actually read the bible regularly on their own outside of an organized church activity.
In an interview I read with Douglas Moo, the chairman of the translation committee of the NIV translation, he said that one of the challenges is that they now have to target a readership with an 8th grade reading level. Now, that a literacy issue, not necessarily indicative of effort. But in my opinion, when you combine low readership with low literacy, you get a Christian community which basically relies on what their pastor tells them.
Derek, church services were conducted in Church Slavonic, an invented language most Slavic people could understand. It was created for the very purpose of bringing the Gospel to people in their own language, or at least, a language they could all more or less understand. It was translated from Greek by Orthodox missionaries over 1000 years ago. So, to recap: 1000 years ago Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) missionaries went to Slavic lands, found a group of people who had no written language, invented an alphabet (the forerunner of today’s Cyrillic) and translated the Bible and service books into an invented language that was more or less understood by all the Slavic people in that neck of the woods (Bulgarians and the like.) So it is the exact opposite of what you thought. Today Churches in Russia (and I think Serbia) still use the Slavonic language which is not understood as well as it was in olden times.
You know, a faithful Russian peasant who went to church every Sunday probably heard more Scripture than most Christians in Americans read each week. Also, Orthodox churches are extensively illustrated with pictures of scenes from the Bible.
Bible reading is good, though, just as long as you don’t think you have found something new and exciting that was never noticed before and cause a schism over it.
Why would I expect non-Christians to be reading the Bible?
Xenia, I googled it and see where services have been held in the vernacular for a long time.
That clears me up some.
You are right not as much wow, but still some.
Derek, I am not catching the purpose behind your link?
Slavonic could not really be called the vernacular but it is a liturgical language created especially for Slavic speaking people that has become difficult to understand as the centuries passed.
You might ask why doesn’t the church in Russia abandon Slavonic and switch to Russian. They probably will some day but their is a huge feeling of nostalgia for the old Slavonic Liturgy, which is quite beautiful and not all that hard to understand (for Russian speakers.) Of course, they can read the Bible for themselves in modern Russian.
I was wondering if the Orthodox and the Catholic were paralleling at this time. So I was looking it all up.
It looked to me for a while that the Greek Orthodox was trying to hide the scriptures from people just as much as the Catholics were.
I was wrong.
I am not one to hold onto an idea that I have seen to be proven wrong.
It still blows me away that it took so long for scripture to be translated into Russian though.
What got me going on those thoughts though was the abuses of the Catholic church at the time.
There were bad abuses going on that every one who grew up in the Reformation knows about.
Yes, there is a lot of anti-Catholic rhetoric also, but some of it is justly deserved.
I just saw BD’s comment in that light. The light of the abuses of the time.
That’s ok, Derek. 🙂
Well, very few literate people wanted to read in Russian, back in the day, they read in other European languages, especially German and French. Russian was considered déclassée until Alexander Puskin (1700- 1800’s) began using it in his literary works and it was shortly after this when the Scriptures were translated into the Russian language because now it was acceptable to read Russian.
Until the middle of the 19th century, most Russian were serfs, that is, they were slaves. In fact, one of the reasons Russia fared so poorly in WWI was most of the soldiers were illiterate. The Scriptures in the vernacular was not forbidden, there just weren’t very many people who could read it. The nobility could read it but preferred French.
Literature of any kind just wasn’t being published in the Russian language at that time.
The RCC at the time of the Reformation was a hot mess.
Much of their mission work was done at the end of a sword.
Michael, I don’t disagree.
I read your post wrong. Somehow “very small minority of self-identifying Christians” got transposed in my head to mean only people who identified as Christians.
I still think most Christians read their Bibles more than we think though.
The key there is self-identifying though.
A lot of people mark “Christian” on forms when it is presented to them.
I’m so appreciative for what you add to this place…sometimes I have to stop and tell you.
Your conversation with Derek is gold…we all learned something tonight.
Aw, you’re welcome, Michael.
I like these history threads.
I really love the Catholic Church when it is at its best. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been at its best in a very long time.
I know I’m deeply grateful for the work they are doing (and have been doing for years) on the border.
They have saved countless lives down there…
I went to a Barnes & Nobles today after work. I tried to find the Orthodox Study Bible, but they had none.
I must admit that the idea of getting to read a Study Bible with notes on what the Church Fathers said on scripture is intriguing.
Instead, I got two sci-fi novels. 🙂
Nothing I said would indicate a belief that Roman Catholics are not Christians. That is a separate argument with plenty of nuances. My statement was clear and upon its on merits. It was in no way a claim against the legitimacy of Christianity apart from the Reformation.
This is one of my favorite set of verses. Here is how Tyndale translated them.
14 Seynge then that we have a great hye prest whych is entred into heven (I meane Iesus the sonne of God) let vs holde oure profession.
15 For we have not an hye prest which can not have compassion on oure infirmities: but was in all poyntes tempted lyke as we are: but yet with out synne.
16 Let vs therfore goo boldely vnto the seate of grace that we maye receave mercy and fynde grace to helpe in tyme of nede.
You can find that here.
Those are awesome verses Derek. Would you be willing to record a podcast and read that to us in Old English (accent included)? 🙂
Actually, Tyndale’s translation was the basis of Modern English.
If you ever look at a copy of the Canterbury Tales in the originals, a lot is understandable, but you would have to look up quite a few words and the pronunciation is different on many things.
Tyndale’s translation can still be understood as long as you realize the spellings vary and not all the letters were the same.
I believe if you listen to Shakespeare, it is pretty much the same pronunciation.
Here is an example of how Middle English sounded:
For comparison, here is the Lord’s Prayer in Old English.
Derek, Very cool! And I never would have guessed that U Tube was around in those days.
Ye Olde ThouTube