A Dark Night And Two Morning StarsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 7, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
The corruption of Roman Catholic Church was spreading, and before Martin Luther came on the scene in 1517, there were others who began to oppose this evil.
John Wycliffe gave the Bible to the common man. John Hus burned for opposing church corruption. Erasmus provided a new edition of the Greek text which led to improved Bible translations. Savonarola opposed rampant sensuality. These men prepared the way for the great Reformation.
I’m so glad you have joined us tonight for this study on the Reformation. And I say to you, welcome to this brief study of the sixteenth-century Reformation. The impact of those events still affects us today, and that’s why this should be of interest to us.
It was Woody Allen who said, “History repeats itself. It has to because nobody listens the first time around.” And in the very same way, we will discover that the Reformation raised issues and theological matters that are still being debated and that have a great impact even today.
Our study is much more important than the question of whether or not Iran has nuclear weapons, whether or not we’ll have a terrorist attack. Much more important than this, because all of these headlines have to do with contemporary issues. The issues that we are going to talk about are eternal issues. We’re going to be discussing questions like “Do only good people go to heaven? If so, what hope is there for those of us who aren’t good? And how good do you actually have to be to go to heaven?” Is there anything more important than that? That’s actually the heart of the Reformation in many respects. Is the Bible sufficient as a revelation from God, or should we also accept tradition and words of knowledge? Is the Bible God’s complete revelation? Do priests and pastors have special privileges before God that are not accessible to ordinary believers? What is the nature of the church? Should we have a regional church? Should we have a church that is composed only of the elect? And what difference does it make as to how you answer that question? And then, when you participate in the Lord’s Supper, what is its meaning, and is it important that we understand its meaning, and what are its implications? These are a few of the issues that really define the Protestant Reformation.
Now, many people think that the Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the castle door in the church at Wittenberg. They think that was the day, and that’s the time we celebrate the Reformation, but believe me that there were reform movements before Martin Luther, and those are the ones that we are going to talk about tonight.
Now, this is not a diatribe against medieval religion. Anything that I tell you about the church today can be found in text books, whether Protestant or Catholic, because even Catholics admit that the church was in great need of reform. For example, consider this scandal. Beginning in 1305 until 1377, that’s a total of about 72 years, there were six successive popes, all of French origin, ruling from Avignon in France. The papacy was not in Rome. And there were some countries like Italy and Germany that resented this deeply and did not pay the papacy as they were expected to. And so the popes were forced to gain revenue in other ways, many of which were corrupt.
Now, this period of time when the papacy was away from Rome is known as the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” because in the Old Testament, the Babylonian captivity was 70 years, and this was approximately 71 to 72 years, and so it’s called the “Period of the Babylonian Captivity.” But when, at last, in 1377 an Italian pope was elected, and the papacy moved back to Rome, one of the popes of Avignon did not resign, and so there were two popes ruling simultaneously. And when both popes were deposed by cardinals, a new pope was elected. The other two then refused to accept their decision and you had three popes ruling simultaneously, each claiming to be the legitimate successor to Peter, each calling the other ones Antichrist, and selling indulgences to make enough money to fight the other two. This went on for 36 years.
Not until the Council of Constance in 1414, that we will be talking about in just a few moments, did the three popes step down and room was made for a successor. This is known in church history as the Great Schism because you have two popes, and at times three, one ruling in Rome, the other ruling in France, and actually a third ruling also in France, and as a result of that, the common people began to wonder whether the papacy was really of God.
Now there were other abuses too. The clergy were tried by the tribunal of the church, not civil law. So you can imagine what happened, and we see here in our own day when abuses take place, as long as the church dealt with abuses, they did not deal with these abuses very well. Not until these abuses came to civil courts was there some justice. Well, in those days you can imagine the church taking care of all of the problems with regard to the priests, and you can see the corruption that resulted. When you have a group of cronies, and that’s actually the way in which it was understood and oftentimes worked out, they began to try their own, and the people knew that the priests were sometimes getting by with corruption of various kinds.
Simony is the selling of spiritual positions for money. Remember in the book of Acts, Simon was a man who tried to buy the ability to do healings from Paul by giving him money. And Paul says, “Your money perish with you.” You cannot buy spiritual privileges with money, but it was happening all the time.
You know, after the time of Constantine, the church became very wealthy, and the church began to take in all kinds of lands and all kinds of money, and oftentimes it was because they were selling bishop bricks, and spiritual leadership was being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Account after account after account shows these abuses.
Now, in the midst of all of these abuses, the parishioners were grateful that the church had decreed centuries earlier that the lifestyle of the priest did not affect the value of the sacraments. That actually goes back to Augustine. Augustine said that the sacraments had value even if performed by thieves and robbers. Just like today. That’s a very important doctrine because when you think of the priests who have been guilty of abuse, the sacraments that they performed had complete validity so far as the church was concerned, and the people knew that, so from that standpoint their eternal life was not in jeopardy, but they began to wonder. They began to wonder whether the priesthood was really from God, the papacy. They began to see the corruption and they knew it was happening. And so their confidence in the church was being eroded.
And it’s in that context that tonight I talk to you about two reformers. Actually four, but the last two we shall cover very, very briefly. The first man I want to introduce you to is a man by the name of John Wycliffe. We all know about Wycliffe Bible Translators, that ministry that translates the Bible into the different languages of the world. Wycliffe is, of course, named for John Wycliffe, 1330 to 1384.
When I led a tour to the sites of the Reformation in Britain a few years ago, we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral. And of course, it is a rebuilt cathedral. There was an even more ancient St. Paul’s Cathedral. But when you come out of St. Paul’s Cathedral you can go to a statue called St. Paul of the Cross. And I took the tour group there because it is there that Bibles were burned. In fact, there was an award for all the Bibles that were found, and if you found a Bible, you were rewarded. And it is there that bonfires were held. And I wanted to take the tour group there and show them where it happened.
Well, the Bibles that were burned are ones that were translated by the followers of John Wycliffe. Wycliffe is sometimes referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation, and we will be given another Morning Star of the Reformation in just a few moments, but John Wycliffe was the earliest to speak about the abuses of the church in England. Born in 1330 in a little town called Lutterworth, England [editor’s note: Wycliffe was born in Hipswell, but became a rector in Lutterworth], he entered Oxford, was trained to preach, and was perhaps one of the greatest of the theologians in that day. Now he was alive during the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and even lived through the Great Schism, through most of it, when you had a number of popes ruling simultaneously. And he never took sides as to what pope was right because, in his mind, he wasn’t under the authority of the pope anyway, so it didn’t matter which one was considered to be the true pope. But he did hold to some very radical ideas.
Just think about this for a moment. Wycliffe believed that only righteous people should rule, and if unrighteous people should rule, the people should take their money from them. Well how in the world can that be practical? It’s not very practical at all. In practice, he was much more realistic. But you see, he was writing at a time when there were all of these abuses, and so far as he was concerned, the clergy and the pope had so overstepped their boundaries. The church was so wealthy that it owned one-third of the land in all of England, and yet it paid no taxes. So here you had politicians and even kings appealing to people like Wycliffe, saying, “Give us some information on how we should handle this,” and Wycliffe was producing that information and saying that we, indeed, should not be paying all these taxes while the church is getting by with all of its corrupt clergy. Well, at any rate, he argued that obedience to the visible and often corrupt church leaders was not necessary. What mattered to God was the invisible church of the elect.
Now, here’s the point, however. We do agree that his political ideas (semi-political ideas) were very radical, but Wycliffe’s greatest contribution of reform was to popularize the Bible. He believed that the common person should read the Bible. Now in those days, the Bible was in Latin. It was found only in churches. Few people could read. Priests were supposed to read the Bible and then translate into the common language of the people and give them instruction, but for the most part, the Mass was in Latin. People had no idea what even was being said. Remember at this point in medieval theology, the idea was this: That you didn’t have to understand what the priest was saying because the ritual itself had value whether you understood it or not.
When I was in the Great Mosque [Hagia Sophia] in Istanbul, my guide, who was a devout Muslim, repeated all kinds of prayers in Arabic. But, of course, he doesn’t speak Arabic. He lives in Turkey. And so I said, “Do you understand the prayers?” And he said, “No, I don’t understand any of them but,” he said, “I’ve learned them and I say them.” And then he said, “It is just like the Catholics who do not understand the Mass. They do not understand what was said in Latin, but it doesn’t matter because the ritual itself has value.”
What Wycliffe said is, “The Bible should be in the hands of the common person.” Now his translation was not all that good because it was translated into English from the Latin, and the Latin itself...its translation was not that great. But nevertheless it was better than nothing, and the people had the Bible in the common language, and even though many of them couldn’t read, some could and they began to read it to others. And the church was determined to put an end to what they believed to be something quite abhorrent, people reading the Bible on their own. The argument was that if the common person does that, he’s going to come up with all kinds of false ideas. And to some extent that’s true, but Wycliffe was saying, “It’s better that that happened and that the Gospel be uncovered,” which was now overlaid by centuries of tradition. That the Gospel be uncovered. And so he made the Bible available to the common man.
A parenthesis: Remember this was before the printing press. This was before Gutenberg. Every single Bible had to be copied. It took ten months for one person to copy the Bible, and that was working from early in the morning till late at night. Wycliffe had so many followers that hundreds and hundreds of copies were laboriously and individually made.
Now, his disciples were known as Lollards. We don’t know the exact meaning of the term, but it probably means mumblers. This much we do know, that it was a term of derision. And they were fiercely, persistently, and cruelly persecuted. Near Lambeth Palace in London (It’s the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.) there was the Lollard Tower. It’s called that because so many of the Lollards were imprisoned there.
When I was in England, I wanted to go to it very badly, but that part was closed. I always want to go where the martyrs were. I want to go where people died for the faith. When I was in Paris I went to where St. Bartholomew’s massacre took place. I want to say, “This is where believers died.”
Well, we were able to get to some of the places where the persecutions took place, but of course, now you have no idea that that’s happening because places are filled with expressways and parks, and what have you, but there was a time when there was so much blood spilled that areas of London became like mud because of the blood of the martyrs.
Wycliffe taught his followers the following. He taught them how to live a life of sparse existence and to work to support themselves. Secondly, he taught them how to preach and to refute what the priests were teaching. Wycliffe was against transubstantiation, the idea that the wine and the bread, that their substance is transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus. He was opposed to that, so he taught them how to refute the arguments of the church.
He taught them how to reproduce what they had learned, and how to make copies of the Bible. The fact that 170 copies are still in existence today speaks to the fact that literally hundreds were made, and even though they were being burned whenever they were being found, Wycliffe and his followers kept working at copying the Scriptures for the common person. In fact, Wycliffe did such a good job of teaching them how to reproduce, that 145 years after his death, Lollards were still in existence.
He trained his followers how to die. They were taught how to be martyrs because so many of them were. History has shown that there is real continuity between the Lollards and the Protestant Reformation. In giving people the Bible and stirring discontent with the papacy and the corruption of the church, seeds were sown for a much wider and more drastic reform.
Now, he was condemned in 1377 by the pope and a series of bulls. “Bulls”—that word means papal decrees. He believed that the papacy was of human origin, so it didn’t concern him too much. In 1378 he is tried. During this particular council, there was an earthquake. Wycliffe interpreted it as a mark of divine displeasure. His enemies claimed that the land was breaking wind of his foul heresies.
Wycliffe himself was slated to be killed, but he collapsed while speaking, and died in 1384, but 33 years after his death, after the Council of Constance that I’m going to tell you about in a moment, his bones were dug up because of the superstitious belief that if his bones were dug up and thrown away he would not be resurrected, and the bones were destroyed and thrown into the Swift River. But one historian said this: “The Swift River flows into the Avon, and the Avon eventually flows into the Severn which flows into the Bristol Channel, and then to the oceans of the world. Thus, the rivers symbolize the fact that the teaching of Wycliffe, and the Bible he popularized, impacted the entire world.
Well, that’s one “Morning Star” of the Reformation. Now let me introduce you to another. I enjoy talking about both of these men. And this man’s name is also John—John Hus, 1372 [editor’s note: the birthdate is not certain, but ranges from 1369 to 1372] to 1415. He was born of poor parents in Bohemia. Bohemia is what we used to call Czechoslovakia, and today we call it the Czech Republic.
How many of you have ever been to Prague? Anybody here? Prague? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s a city of cathedrals. What a gorgeous place to be. Well, that’s the place where John Hus served. In accordance with the wishes of his mother, he trained for the priesthood and then attended the University of Prague, and later on he taught there.
Now, here’s the impact of John Hus. First of all, let me say here’s the impact of Wycliffe. Wycliffe’s ideas became popular in England. Wycliffe wrote a lot. He popularized the Bible, but also his writings became popular. And what happened is this. Charles IV, who was the Holy Roman Emperor, who established the university in Prague in 1348, had a daughter, Ann, who married King Richard of England. And after her marriage, a number of Czechs, a number of people from Bohemia, went to England to study. So this meant that there was a good relationship between the two countries, and therefore the writings of Wycliffe were being read in Prague. And that’s where Hus learned of Wycliffe, and that’s where Hus picked up the ideas of the Reformation.
Now, unfortunately the writings of Wycliffe were burned there in Prague, and therefore Hus became identified with a very unpopular movement. But Hus attacked these ideas. First of all, the notion that the priest had special powers that were not available to the common person. He held to transubstantiation. In other words, he did not agree with Wycliffe on that point, but he also believed that the cup should be given to the laity. In those days, the cup was drunk only by the priest because of the fear of spilling the blood of Jesus Christ on the floor and the fear of knowing how to relate to the actual blood of Jesus Christ. Various theories developed that one should fast, and so forth, before one has the body and the blood of Jesus Christ ingested into their system.
So he attacked the notion that the cup should be withheld from the laity. And he also agreed that clerical corruption was rampant and needed to be reformed. Simony—he preached against it. Like Wycliffe, he argued that the Bible alone was the basis for spiritual authority, and not the church or councils or traditions. And if the Bible is sufficient for spiritual guidance, it should be available to everyone.
Ruling at that time in Prague was King Wenceslas. I always have difficulty pronouncing his name, but you know the king who went on the Feast of Stephen. In fact, actually it was one of his predecessors, King Wenceslas, and the Feast of Stephen, by the way, is the 26th of December, and you all know the story of how he went out and he was very, very helpful to people. Well, this king became a friend of Hus, and Hus was allowed to preach in Bethlehem Chapel. Now, he was excommunicated by the present archbishop who burned 200 volumes of Wycliffe’s work.
You know, my heart almost stops at that point because remember every one of these volumes was hand-copied. After Gutenberg, that wouldn’t have been too big a deal. Can you imagine the amount of work that went into it, and yet these works of Wycliffe were burned?
Hus and his followers defended Wycliffe on many points, and here you have a lot of intrigue. And I’m going to skip all of the political aspects of this and what really happened except to say that eventually Hus was condemned by the church, and the city of Prague was put under an interdict. Now, if you don’t know the meaning of that word, it is absolutely critical that you do. An interdict meant that no religious ceremonies at all could take place in the city. No Mass, no baptisms, no weddings, and no funerals. And if you believed that the priests held in their hands your eternal salvation, and you needed the last rites, for example, to get to heaven, you can understand that in effect, an interdict meant that all the people of Prague were being condemned to hell. The church wasn’t functioning.
Well, as a result of that, there was a tremendous backlash against Hus and he left. He left the city and he wrote two of his most important books. One is entitled, “The Church,” and the other is entitled, “Simony,” as he spoke about that abuse.
Now, I am hurrying very, very quickly. Let me tell you the story. I won’t look at my notes. I’ll tell you the story.
Hus eventually is invited to the Council of Constance in 1415. Now, remember this. The Council of Constance was called to end the Great Schism. It was called to put an end to the scandal of having three popes reigning simultaneously. And Sigismund the emperor, who was a brother to King Wenceslas, said to Hus, “I will guarantee you safe conduct to the Council and back. No matter how they rule against you, you can come.” Hus went. It is said that when he went through Germany, and Constance is in Germany, he was hailed a hero in all the towns as he went along, because you can understand that there was a great deal of interest in reform.
He gets there. He is imprisoned. He is not allowed to defend himself. He’s accused of silly things like saying that he was the fourth member of the Trinity. But more than that, he was asked to recant all kinds of stuff he never did believe, and so his point was “Why should I recant that which I never believed?” And there were so many things that were taken out of context and twisted.
But I am going to read you now a page, and I want you to listen.
“Finally, on July 6, 1415, the day of his burning came. He was brought into the cathedral where King Sigismund was dressed in full regalia, sitting on the throne. The charges against Hus were summarized.
“He asked if he could defend himself and to clarify. He was told to be quiet. He was asked to stand on a table. He was mocked and cursed. They placed on his head a tall paper crown on which were painted three devils fighting for the possession of his soul. The bishops committed his soul to the devil. He replied, ‘And I commit it to the most merciful Jesus Christ.’ Thereupon Sigismund asked that he be turned over to the executioners.
“On the way to the place of execution he saw a bonfire of his books. He laughed and told the bystanders not to believe the lies that were being told about him. When he arrived at the place he knelt and prayed. He, for the last time, was asked whether he would recant, and he replied, ‘God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought or preached except with one intention, of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the Gospel I have written, taught and preached, and today I will gladly die.’
“They disrobed him, tied his hands behind his back. They bound his neck to the stake with a rusty chain. He commented with a smile that his Savior had been bound by a heavier chain. When the fire was lit, Hus began to sing, ‘Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on us.’ Then ‘Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.’
“He began a prayer he did not finish, for the wind blew the flame into his face, and Hus was burned.”
As many of you know, I have more than simply a passing interest in the Reformation. One day, my wife and I were actually able to drive to Constance. We went to Europe before the tour group came, and we saw the stone upon which Hus was burned. It is there as a memorial. On this stone Hus was burned. I assume that it is a legitimate identification of the place.
Now, that’s the end of Hus. In the Czech language, Hus means goose. So before he died he said, “You can cook this goose (or you can kill this goose) and in a hundred years a swan shall arise.” Did you know that a swan is actually a symbol of the Reformation? I have been in the room in which Martin Luther died, and on the table there is a swan. “In a hundred years a swan shall arise.”
Now just think. In 1415 Hus dies at the stake. A hundred and two years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nails his “Ninety-five Theses” at the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther goes to a debate in Leipzig, and they accuse him of being a “Hussite.” He said no, but during the lunch hour, he was able to go to the library there in Leipzig and check out what Hus wrote. They had some of his books. And after checking them out over a period of hours, he said, “I am a Hussite indeed.” Hus spoke against indulgences. He spoke about justification by faith. Luther admitted that he was a Hussite.
He also said, regarding Hus, “They cooked that goose,” and today we still have the expression, don’t we? We say, “You know, they really cooked his goose.” You have Martin Luther to thank for that, and John Hus, the goose that was cooked.
Oh, the impact of his death. The impact of his death was great, and what happened is people began to follow him. And then you think about the fact that the reform movements, especially in Bohemia, began to gather steam because, after all, they had a martyr. And people were angry with the church, putting John Hus to death and burning him at the stake.
Well, those are the two “Morning Stars” of the Reformation, but I’m not done yet. I have two more to tell you about. One was Erasmus. Erasmus was the product of a relationship between a nun and a priest. His parents were not married. Brilliant. Brilliant. He was a humanist, but in a good sense. He remained in the Catholic church but he made a great deal of fun about the abuses. By fun, I mean that was his means of ridiculing the church, to point out abuses. He also gave the world a new edition of the Greek New Testament. And that Greek New Testament showed that the Latin translations that had been used were wrong. You know, the Latin said “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That was a document I intended to discuss with you tonight, but we don’t have time for it. Maybe later.
“Do penance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? Ah, they looked at the Greek. “Repent! (“Have a penitent heart.”) For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What a difference that is. So he gave the New Testament a new edition to the world. In fact, you know what historians say? “Erasmus laid the egg, and Luther hatched it.”
Now, Luther and Erasmus did not get along. They never did meet each other. Erasmus wrote a book on the freedom of the will, and Luther thundered back by what he believed to be his best book, “The Bondage of the Will.” I’ve had the privilege of reading both of those books, and writing about that issue. Very interesting indeed.
In fact, if you want to know what Erasmus believed, it’s a little difficult to find out because he said some weird things along with all of his brilliance. In fact, Luther said regarding Erasmus, “He is an eel. Only God can catch him,” he said, and a lot of very uncomplimentary things.
One more reformer. See, I can go fast when I want to, can’t I? One more reformer: Savonarola. We were in Florence a few years ago, and we were in the great cathedrals there, but what I wanted to do was to stand where Savonarola was hung. So there in the town square, right beside the fountain, step back about 20 to 30 feet, and there’s a plaque right where you walk, the town square. It says, “Here Savonarola died.” Nobody in Italy wants to remember Savonarola. Nobody. They say, “Could we please forget him?”
Savonarola was an interesting guy, as were all the reformers. He attacked the abuses of corruption, and what he did is they would have carnivals there with all kinds of lewd things. Don’t ask me what those things were. I have no idea. But he began to send boys...he trained boys to run and to find lewd books and all kinds of things that were improper, and then he had a big bonfire which he called “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Now years ago, I understand, that there was a movie by that title. I never did see the movie. “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” That’s Savonarola. And he would make piles of this stuff and burn it, and he would preach with such power that ten thousand people would come to hear him at a time. And he preached against the papacy and the corruption and so forth, got in trouble and then claimed to be a prophet, made some predictions that didn’t come true, and had a really, really bad ending.
Do you want to hear about it? Do you have enough time tonight just for me to tell you how Savonarola ended? Okay, here’s the deal. The idea arose that in order to prove that he’s a true prophet and that he’s of God, he should be able to walk through fire and not get burned. It’s sort of a crazy idea, but we’re living in a day of superstition, okay?
So he decides that he’s going to take the challenge. He’s going to walk through fire. Well, the problem was that people said, “Oh, you’re too important. You’re a famous reformer. You shouldn’t walk through fire. Here’s a Franciscan over here. He’s volunteering to walk through the fire for you.” So Savonarola agreed that he’d have somebody else walk through the fire for him. It seemed to be a nice arrangement for him.
Then they piled all of this wood together and the crowd was just growing by the moment. The burning was supposed to take place at about noon, and people were just crowding...I mean it was theater at its best. And here a big argument arose as to whether or not the man who was going to represent Savonarola in walking through the fire could wear the vestments of the clergy, whether or not he could have a cross, and so forth, to help him. And a huge argument erupted, and it wasn’t resolved, and wouldn’t you know it, rain started and the whole thing got rained out.
People were so angry. After all, they had come to see Savonarola burn or become the “asbestos kid”—one or the other, and they became so angry, and they were angry with him because the pope wanted to have an interdict on their city because of him, that he was later taken, and he, along with two or three of his friends, was beheaded [sic] in the town square right where you can see today a monument to him on the pavement, “Savonarola was hung here.”
So many lessons that Savonarola teaches us. For example, he was against the Renaissance. He preached against it. He preached against Michelangelo. He and Michelangelo knew each other, and Savonarola believed that the Renaissance was essentially sensual because of its nude paintings and the art and so forth, so he took all of that on. He was a great social reformer. Unfortunately, though, he understood the Gospel with clarity, he did not preach the Gospel. It was more of a social reform. There’s maybe a lesson to be learned there. We can clean up America, but if we don’t have a Gospel that transforms people’s hearts, maybe our efforts are going to be wrong-headed because the impact of Savonarola simply did not last. It was not at all like the Reformation under Luther.
A couple of observations, and then we take your questions very briefly tonight, and perhaps tonight there won’t be any questions because maybe I didn’t raise any, but we’ll see.
First of all, what these four reformers show us is this, that the church, the medieval church, really could not be reformed, and the reason is that whenever you have a reform movement, the [Catholic] church stepped in and squelched it, gave an interdict, put people under pressure, and as a result, you have a situation in which it was so corrupt and so entrenched with power, it was beyond repair. That’s why next time we’re going to talk about Martin Luther because Martin Luther was willing to do what Savonarola did not, what Erasmus did not. Those two did not want to break with the church at all. Hus is more...he would have been willing to break from the church, but he, of course, was put to death. And you have people even like John Wycliffe, not really beginning a reform movement independently of the existing church.
Luther is going to come along and everything’s going to break. Luther is such an interesting guy. Oh, don’t even think about not coming next time. If you had Luther for lunch, that is to say if you ate with him, you understand, he would be so delightful with all the witty things that he would say. I may tell you some of them next time.
One other lesson. It’s interesting to see that these reformers all had their special emphasis. If you think about Wycliffe, it was on the sufficiency of Scripture. If you think about Hus, it was on his doctrine of the church, which I didn’t have time to explain tonight, but he basically believed that the church was not just everybody who was baptized and grew up in a certain geographical area. But the church was the elect. The church belonged to the people of God.
And then you have Erasmus. His emphasis was more on the intellectual humanist side of things. And then you think of Savonarola. His was social reform. So you have here...and there were other pre-reformers too, Peter Waldo and so forth. We won’t talk about that. But the thing is that what you have is these streams flowing already, and cracks were appearing in the medieval church, and its monopoly on people’s souls.
So when Luther comes to nail his “Ninety-five Theses” to the Castle Church door, you’ve already got all of these movements underground that are just ready for reform that I’ll tell you about next time.
Well, do we have any questions? Please, ushers, walk along and pick up any that others may have. All right. Sorry that I didn’t give you more ample warning.
Question: Did Wycliffe’s work lead to Bibles in non-English languages?
Answer: His translations only dealt with English, but did he inspire others that the Bible might be put in the vernacular? Absolutely. That’s why you have Wycliffe Bible translations.
Question: What happened to King Wenceslas guarantee for Hus?
Answer: Here’s the deal I didn’t tell you. It was the Emperor Sigismund, who told Hus he would have safe conduct to the Council and back. But once Hus came to the Council, Sigismund argued that he had no reason to keep his word to a heretic, and so, as a result, that promise was broken. And that’s why Luther didn’t go to Rome. You know, Luther was promised safe conduct to Rome, and Luther said, “Oh yeah? Remember John Hus.” And so he did not trust safe conduct.
By the way, I admire anybody who died like a man like John Hus. These guys...their faith was unbelievable. Did you know in France when persecution broke out against the Huguenots, some of those people went to their deaths singing choruses and songs so loudly that the officials hired drums to drown out the singing of people who went to their death. Could you die like that?
Question: Was Martin Luther anti-Semitic?
Answer: And by the way, have any of you read my book, “Hitler’s Cross,” where I deal with that issue? How could you expect God to bless you if you didn’t read “Hitler’s Cross?” I mean I am just amazed, just amazed. In “Hitler’s Cross,” I deal with Hitler, but I also had to deal with Luther because Shirer in his “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” said that there would not be a Hitler if there had not first been a Luther, because Luther said some terrible things about the Jews: “Let us burn their synagogues, let us confiscate their books, let us do these things.”
So was Luther anti-Semitic? I quote in my book earlier quotations from Luther, which were very kind toward the Jews. He said, “How can we expect them to believe our Gospel unless we are kind to them?” But Luther was very naïve. He believed that now that he had uncovered the Gospel, he expected the Jews to believe, and near the end of his life he became a very bitter, angry man, and did and said things that are very terrible. It would have been better, frankly, if he had died a few years earlier, so that’s part of the answer.
The other part of the answer is this. Shirer is wrong. Luther’s antagonism toward the Jews is based on theological reasons. They are the Christ-killers. Hitler’s was not a strong theology at all. It had everything to do with bloodlines. They were not Aryans, and so you have an entirely different basis upon which to persecute the Jews. Some of the things he said about the Jews which Jewish friends always ask me about. It’s terrible and inexcusable, but let’s at least put it in the context of understanding that he did say wonderful things about them, kind things.
I’ll tell you one more story. In Wittenberg in the church where Luther preached, not the Castle Church but the one where he preached to two-thousand people, and preached the Reformation, you go to the back of the church, and there where the roof and wall meet is a “Judensau,” in German “a Jewish pig.” It’s a sandstone pig about this long, and it was put up there in 1306 to commemorate the expulsion of the Jews from Wittenberg in 1306.
And then what you have in 1888 is an apology that is there on the surface where you walk. It says that that thing up there (and I’m, of course, paraphrasing) should not have been up there, and it’s an apology from the Psalms, “Please forgive us for our hatred of the Jews.”
Hatred of the Jews was rampant, and Luther, of course picked up on that, and unfortunately wrote those terrible, terrible things.
Thank you so much for being here. I’m going to close in prayer in a few moments, but come next time and I’ll try to answer these other questions briefly, and we will study the man that I love to study, even though I have some strong disagreements with him, none other than Martin Luther.
Let’s all stand, shall we?
Our Father, as we think about those who have gone before us, and we think of the sense of deep conviction and tranquility with which they died for the faith, we ask, Lord God, that you might invigorate us, and that we might know that there are some things worth dying for. We think of John Hus. Lord, we admire him today because of his deep, deep conviction. They said, “We are committing your soul to the devil,” and he said, “I’m committing my soul into the hands of God.” Give us that confidence, we pray, and may we die well for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel. In His name we pray, Amen. Amen.