The Central Figure in the Reformation
There will be many special services throughout the worldwide Christian Church remembering the spiritual revival in the life of a priest and theology professor from Wittenberg. In our own town, for the remembrance of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), churches will host special musical guests, speakers, scholars, and plenty of Sola Celebration (the “Five Solas” of the Reformation: “Sola,” or “alone, or with nothing else” includes Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and God’s Glory Alone).
The Reformation is not merely a Protestant birthday. Indeed, the Church of Rome went through no small response to Luther’s spiritual “populism” (by that I do not suggest anything inauthentic, but rather than the movement was a groundswell movement that German state authorities could not ignore, nor could the Roman Magisterium). The Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation also brought about needed changes in the Church. The Counter-Reformation also birthed numerous religious orders with the Roman Catholic Church. While not instituted during the Counter-Reformation, the Society of Jesus, “the Jesuits,” were at the forefront of the reforms during that time (1545–1563). Their focus on evangelization and discipleship (including education for people-groups so that they could read and write and particulate more fully in the life of the Church) was a powerful result of Luther’s gigantic spiritual inertia. It should also be recalled that the Council of Trent, which position many scholars count as the starting line for the Counter-Reformation, also, defended, further articulated, and advanced the theological dogmas necessary to sustain the Mass (including the doctrine of transubstantiation, the theological article that asserts that the very substance of the Bread and the fruit of the vine in the Cup are truly, really, and actually transformed through the priestly blessed bread and fruit of the Cup into the very Body and Blood of Christ; and the doctrine of ex opera operate, or “by the work worked” or, perhaps, a more dynamic and understandable translation, “by the action it is so,” thus careful repudiations, or, to be more charitable, corrections of Luther and John Calvin of Geneva). For many priests—I have known them in the Army Chaplaincy—ex opera operato signaled that the thing that must be worked before receiving the Sacrament, is “faith in Christ.” In this sense, there is considerable evidence that many priests remained in the Roman Church but became Reformed in their theological convictions about grace, faith, and the way to eternal life.
The Reformation created modern Germany. Luther is unquestionable the creator of the modern German language. The printing press and mass communications remain living and evolving artifacts of the Reformation, as did a renewed sense of vocation: all vocations may be holy unto God if done in faith and for God’s glory.
I am presently committed to a writing project, The Foundations of Modern Democracy: Samuel Rutherford and Lex Rex. Few would argue that the Continental Protestant Reformation that led to the Dutch and, then, English-speaking Puritan movements (in Great Britain and her national progeny, Canada and The United States of America) is not among the leading lights of the modern democratic republic or parliamentarian monarchy. The movement is stronger today than ever, if not in the native European and American villages and towns of the Reformation’s beginning, then, certainly, in the sprawling urban centers, as well as outlying villages, of the Global South and the Global East. The remarkable influence of, e.g., the African and Korean Churches on modern Protestant Christianity is a point uncontested. Will Chinese and Indian movements, now in their seminal stages, soon become the great sending nations of the earth, bringing the Gospel full-circle, back to the Middle East, back to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria?
In short, the Reformation rearranged the foundational stones of Western Civilization. In many cases, especially with Calvin in Geneva, the Reformation was a revival of Patristic teaching (teaching of the Early Church Fathers) on the “way things should be” according to the Scriptures.
This Sunday, at our mission church, born on this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, our gathering core group will assemble in Christian faith, recite the terms of salvation in a sacred dialogue of worship between pastor and People, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, seek to glorify the risen Savior by speaking the Word by singing the Word, reading the Word, and preaching the Word of Almighty God. Scripture-centered worship is the undoubtable living legacy of the Reformation. Our mission church’s worship service and doxological practice of public faith will reflect much of the Western liturgy, a liturgy shaped by the Early Church, the Roman Church, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, Anabaptists and religious orders alike, the great revivals, and, no doubt, by the Second Vatican Council, but, especially, by the traditions of English, Dutch, and American Puritans. The preaching, however, will embody a vital doctrine that is always at the heart of the Reformation: “It is all about Jesus;His life lived to satisfy the righteous requirements of God at Creation, and His sacrificial death on the cross to satisfy the divine arrangement of penalty for sin.” The Passion and Sacrifice sealed the New Covenant arrangement promised by prophets in the Old Covenant era (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34). The resurrection verified the ancient divine covenant with unassailable divine imprint. Thus, what God has required, God has provided.
For many churches and missions, like our own, the central celebration will simply, powerfully, poignantly, and purposively be the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ offered to all who will receive Him by faith alone through grace alone that empowers and enables the life of discipleship. Jesus Christ glorified thus remains the single greatest legacy of the Protestant Reformation. That this event, five hundred years ago, strengthened the other major branches of the Church Catholic is a blessing that we can all celebrate.
But to be sure, the central figure of the Reformation—indeed, of all movements to secure a more Scriptural faith—was and is about Jesus our Lord. It can never be otherwise and yet remain a Christian movement. Thus, Jesus is the One we celebrate this Sunday and every day.
[For those of you in the northern Union County communities of Weddington, Indian Trail, Wesley Chapel, and in the South Charlotte are, you are warmly welcomed to join in this early movement of Reformed Christianity. We are called Trinity Chapel Charlotte. The drama of worship commences with the striking of hour at 10:30 at Weddington High School, Weddington, North Carolina. Please visit www.trinitychapelclt.org to learn more.]
Bainton, Roland Herbert. Women of the Reformation in France and England. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1973.
Bainton, Roland Herbert. Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1974.
Bainton, Roland Herbert. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. Enlarged ed. / with a foreword and supplementary bibliography by Jaroslav Pelikan. ed. Boston, Mass.: Beacon, 1985.
Bainton, Roland Herbert and Eric W. joint author Gritsch. Bibliography of the Continental Reformation: Materials Available in English. 2d ed., rev. and enl. ed. [Hamden, Conn.]: Archon Books, 1972.
D’Aubigne, J. H. The Reformation in England. Vol 2. Banner of Truth, 1977.
D’Aubigne, J. H. Merle and S. M. Houghton. The Reformation in England. Vol 1. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962.
Luther, Martin, Preserved Smith, and Charles Michael Jacobs. Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters. Philadephia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1913.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Later Reformation in England 1547-1603. Macmillan, 1990.
Spalding, Martin John R. C. Archbishop of Baltimore and Jean Henri The Diet of Worms A. metrical fragment from d’Aubigne s History of the Reformation Merle D’Aubigne. The History of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and Switzerland; and in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, and Northern Europe. In a Series of Essays, Reviewing D’aubigne\0301 … And Others. New York; Louisville, 1860.
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- Tintern Abbey
On 22 August 1485 Henry Tudor’s army defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry was of a Welsh lineage – his grandfather, Owain Tudur, belonged to an Anglesey family which had played a prominent part in Welsh politics since the days of Llywelyn the Great (1173-1240). Henry’s victory was interpreted by several commentators at the time as a victory for the Welsh nation. At last, a Welshman sat on the English throne, and it was hoped that the penal laws against the Welsh people, passed as a result of Glyndr’s war, would now be repealed. In 1536, under Henry VIII, Henry Tudor’s son, civil rights were indeed restored to the Welsh, but at the expense of incorporating their country into the English state. In the words of the Act of Union, Wales was to be ‘for ever and henceforth incorporated and annexed in this our realm of England’.
The old laws of Hywel the Good were to be abandoned, and the Welsh language – ‘a speech nothing like, nor consonant to the natural Mother tongue used within [this] realm’ – was not to be used for any legal, administrative or religious purposes. At about the same time, of course, the monasteries – some forty of them in Wales – were dissolved; the Pope’s authority was rejected and the Church became the Church of England. From now on, the intention was that English would be the language of law, administration and religion in Wales.
It would be wholly correct to say that it was the Church – more, perhaps, out of zeal for evangelising than out of zeal for the language itself – that saved the Welsh language at this time. A number of church leaders realised that the new religion would never succeed in Wales unless it made provision in the language of the people. In 1551 William Salesbury published his translation of the readings in the Book of Common Prayer from the gospels and the epistles. In 1563, together with Richard Davies, the Bishop of St.Asaph (1560-61) and later St.David’s (1561-81), he persuaded Parliament in London to authorise a translation of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Welsh.
In 1567 Salesbury published his own translation of the Book of Common Prayer and the New Testament. Richard Davies, who had assisted him with the translation of the New Testament, wrote an introduction to the work in which he argued that the new Protestant religion restored to the Welsh people their ancient Church, a Church unsullied by Rome, which had been lost in the year 777. In 1588 William Morgan, the Bishop of Llandaff (1595-1601) and later St.Asaph (1601-04), published the entire Bible in Welsh, having revised Salesbury’s translation of the New Testament and translated the Old Testament himself.
The Welsh Bible had enormous influence: it established Protestantism among the Welsh people; it preserved the high standard of written Welsh that had hitherto been the concern of the bards, and saved the language from deteriorating into a number of unconnected dialects; and it laid the foundations on which all the Welsh literature of the succeeding centuries was built.
- Translators Monmument, outside St Asaph Cathedral
William Morgan’s Bible was revised for a new edition in 1620 by one of the foremost Welsh scholars of the Renaissance, Dr John Davies (c.1567-1644), the Rector of Mallwyd from 1640 until his death. John Davies’ version was, to all extents and purposes, the version of the Welsh Bible that was used until 1988, when the New Welsh Bible was published. Other important works by this able cleric were his Welsh grammar in Latin, Antiquae Linguae Britannicae … Rudimenta (1621) and his Welsh-Latin Dictionarium Duplex (1632).
To the same period belongs Edmwnd Prys (1543-1623), who was appointed Archdeacon of Meirionnydd in 1576. He was proficient in eight languages, including Hebrew, and was a competent poet in the traditional Welsh strict metres. He is remembered in particular for his Welsh metrical version of the Psalms, which he published as an appendix to Dr John Davies’ revised version of the Book of Common Prayer, which appeared in 1621. Prys’ Psalms are popular to this day among Welsh-speaking congregations.
Further research and discussion
- What do you think would have happened to the Welsh language if the Bible had not been translated into it?