History of Christianity

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed

History

The Nicene Creed is the most famous and influential creed in the history of the church, as it was the product of a theological controversy concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. It is the first creed to obtain universal authority in the church, and, unlike the Apostles’ Creed, it included a specific statement regarding the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed began as a baptismal confession that was a teaching tool for new converts.

The form in which the Nicene Creed exists today is not the original form of the Creed. In fact, it has existed in three forms—the original Nicene, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan, and the later Latin Creed.

 

The Different Forms

The first was the product of the Council of Nicea (325 AD) in which the Arian heresy of the subordination of the Son was declared heretical. According to the Creed, the Son is homoousios (“of one substance”) with the Father, which means he is fully and entirely God.

The second form added to the section on the Holy Spirit and omitted a polemical anathema against the Arians. Its origins can be traced to the second ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381.

The Nicene Creed encapsulates the entire good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary.

The final Latin (or Western) form of the Creed differs from the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed by only one word: filioque (“and the Son”). According to Philip Schaff, “next to the authority of the Pope, [this] is the chief source of the greatest schism in Christendom.” The Greek Church emphasized the Father as both the root and cause of deity, and argued for the single profession of the Spirit from the Father alone. In this way, the Eastern Church wanted to emphasize the eternal generation of both the Son and the Spirit by the Father.

This stood in contrast to the West, who argued that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, a formulation that is to be understood as a procession of temporal missions. The Latin Church desired to maintain the equal divinity of the Son with the Father, so they added the word filioque (“and the Son”) to the Creed without consulting the East, thus inciting a conflict with the Eastern Church.

 

Content

There are several important features in the Nicene Creed.

  • As a product of a polemical debate, it is more explicit than the Apostles’ Creed concerning the full divinity of the members of the Trinity.
  • It is Trinitarian in its structure, affirming the divinity and mission of all three persons of the Triune God.
  • Its Christology—while orthodox—is less developed than that of the Chalcedonian Creed. It describes the full deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by asserting that each of the persons of the Trinity are to be worshipped. By insisting that the Son is “of one substance” with the Father, any sort of Trinitarian subordinationism is ruled out.
  • The full life and work of Christ is declared in several sentences, acknowledging that his mission was “for us and for our salvation.”
  • Like all of the ecumenical Creeds, the Nicene Creed does not set forth any specific theory or view of the atonement.
  • It gives the Holy Spirit a more significant place than the Apostles’ Creed.

 

Contemporary Relevance

As a creed recited in many churches every Sunday, many Christians are very familiar with its contents. While significant as an historical document, the Nicene Creed encapsulates the entire good news of the gospel into a short and rich summary. It describes the Triune God, who turns toward humanity in the person of Jesus, the God-man who suffered, died, rose again, and ascended. Additonally, the Creed goes on to express our future hope, which is a motivating factor in the Christian life.

 

The Nicene Creed

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

 

B.B. Warfield Says Jesus Has Emotions Too

B.B. Warfield Says Jesus Has Emotions Too

In his article “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” B.B. Warfield begins: “It belongs to the truth of our Lord’s humanity, that he was subject to all sinless human emotions.” It is important that we understand that Jesus, while being fully God, is fully human in every sense of the word. That means we must understand him as an emotional being without sin.

 

Jesus Has Emotions

There is very little reflection upon Christ’s emotional life within the Christian tradition. Warfield focuses on Christ’s compassion, love, sorrow, anger, joy, indignation, and anguish. In referring to the historical account of Jesus, Warfield brings depth and concreteness to these emotions.

By going to the concrete acts and emotions of the real person, Jesus Christ, the full glory of God’s compassion for and identification with humanity is brought out in startling relief. Here we see God weeping over the lost and saddened by the plight of sinful humanity. Here we see God’s heart broken by the stubbornness of a world that has rejected him, and we see God’s compassion for all people in distress.

The affections of Jesus are not disconnected from the acts of Jesus.

What we know about God we get from looking at Jesus. God is who he has revealed himself to be and not who we necessarily expect him to be. The Christian tradition has always affirmed that God is immutable (incapable to change) and impassible (impervious to being acted upon), but this does not mean that God is aloof or capricious. As a matter of fact, God reveals his compassion powerfully in Jesus’ ministry.

 

Compassion

Warfield highlights compassion as the emotion “most frequently attributed” to Jesus.

  • When seeing the temporary physical hunger and weariness from travel of the multitude, Jesus feeds them (Mark 8:2–3).
  • When being approached by an unclean leper concerned about whether Jesus would be willing to heal, he heals him and makes him clean (Mark 1:40–42).
  • When faced with the death of his friend Lazarus and the weeping crowd around him—right before he resurrects Lazarus from the dead—Jesus weeps (John 11:30–46).
  • When attempting to take time for solitude and a crowd interrupts him, he feels compassion for their sick and heals them (Matthew 14:13–14).

Note that Jesus does not just act in compassion. He experiences feelings of compassion. The affections of Jesus are not disconnected from the acts of Jesus. His emotional life and his practical life are unified.

 

More Than Example & Empathy

The emotions of Christ are much more than examples to follow and an assurance of his understanding. Warfield’s study testifies to the passion and firm resolve that Christ manifested to perform God’s will in hope that though it might cost dearly, it would not cost indefinitely: “We must bear in mind that our Lord did not come into the world to be broken by the power of sin and death, but to break it.”

The emotions that Jesus feels toward broken humanity find their clearest expression in his dying in the place of sinners, conquering Satan, forgiving sin, and defeating death.

Because of emotions that Jesus feels for the suffering and sinful, he ultimately heals and forgives by his death and resurrection. The emotions that Jesus feels toward broken humanity find their clearest expression in his dying in the place of sinners, conquering Satan, forgiving sin, and defeating death.

 

Have the Heart & Affection of Jesus

The church is empowered by the Spirit of Christ to be on mission with this kind of empathy; having new hearts that feel these kinds of affections and seeing the blessings of God’s kingdom invade the present. But the truth the church is to proclaim is that Jesus is not simply an empathizer in solidarity with humanity but the Savior who is making all things new through his death and resurrection, which has guaranteed the coming of a new heaven and new earth without pain, disease, sin, suffering, and death.


 

 

I Set Myself on Fire

I Set Myself on Fire

When God opens someone’s heart to the truth of the gospel and restores their hope, that life is never the same.

John Wesley (1703–1791), the great eighteenth-century Anglican clergyman and founder of Methodism, vividly illustrates this point. God used the Methodist movement to proclaim the gospel around the world.

It was this day in 1738 that he had a life-changing “burning heart” experience while attending a prayer meeting at a Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street.

 

Saved by Being Good?

Wesley pinpointed his conversion experience to a date in his mid-thirties, seven years after being ordained. Since the age of ten, Wesley had labored to attain right standing with God through his own efforts. He wrote about this in his journal:

 

    And what I now hoped to be saved by was (1) Not being so bad as other people, (2) Having still a kindness for religion, and (3) Reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers… I set apart an hour or two a day for religious retirement. I communicated every week. I watched against all sin, whether in word or deed. I began to aim at, and pray for, inward holiness. So that now, “doing so much, and living so good a life,” I doubted not but I was a good Christian.

 

Saved by Ministry?

Several years after being ordained, Wesley sailed across the Atlantic to Savannah, Georgia, where he spent over two years doing mission work. A statue in downtown Savannah commemorates his work there. But Wesley’s ministry failed. He worked tirelessly, but his fruitless efforts brought him face to face with the reality of burnout.

I sought to establish my own righteousness, and so labored in the fire all my days.

He sailed back to England, not with riveting accounts about how much God had blessed his ministry, but instead with feelings of defeat, depression, and discouragement. Listen to how Wesley described his ministry: “All the time I was at Savannah I was thus beating the air… I sought to establish my own righteousness, and so labored in the fire all my days.”

 

Saved by Faith Alone

Soon after returning to England, Wesley had a “burning heart” experience. It occurred on May 24, 1738. He famously recounted this life-changing event in his journal:

 

      In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading

Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans

      . About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ,

I felt my heart strangely warmed

    . I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

 

John Wesley’s burnout ended instantly. God opened his eyes to the truth of the gospel—that we are saved solely through faith in Christ, and not through our own efforts. Wesley’s hope was restored, and he realized that Christ’s righteousness was more than enough for him. He no longer needed to “beat the air” or “labor in the fire.” This realization empowered Wesley to preach the gospel for over fifty years, to his death in 1791.

 

“I set myself on fire”

Though he was an Arminian, he refined Arminian theology with a strong emphasis on the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith. It was this doctrine that freed him from the bondage of trying to establish his own righteousness before God and motivated him to travel over 250,000 miles on horseback to preach more than 40,000 sermons.

Someone once asked Wesley why so many people came to hear him preach. His answer was, “I set myself on fire, and people come to see me burn.” Because of John Wesley’s preaching ministry and his leadership in starting the Methodist movement, thousands have trusted in Christ.

 

 

More Resources


For more on John Wesley, see Steven Brown’s sermonA Calvinist Talks About His Friend, John Wesley.” Brown interestingly ends the sermon saying, “John Wesley was a Calvinist.”

A short introduction to his brother, Charles Wesley, the famous hymn writer.

A YouTube clip from Pastor Mark on Calvinism & Arminianism

 

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed

The Oldest Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest and most popular creed of the church, and has greatly influenced the other creeds and confessions written throughout church history. The Apostles’ Creed is not a direct production of the apostles themselves, but is meant to be understood as a summary of apostolic teaching.

The Apostles’ Creed we have today is not the Creed in its original form. The shorter and older form was known as the Old Roman Creed. It was constructed in Greek around 140 AD and in Latin around 390 AD. The present form of the Apostles’ Creed, which is both longer and more recent, was probably not compiled until the middle of the 5th century, but the message of the two Creeds is basically the same. Initially, the Old Roman Creed was a baptismal confession made by converts at their baptism. In that regard, the Creed served an important need in the early church.

 

“The Creed of Creeds”

Church historian Philip Schaff writes, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of Creeds.” This statement is confirmed by the many expositions of the Creed found in the works of theologians in church history. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen affirmed various parts of the Creed. John Calvin devoted an entire chapter to the Apostles’ Creed in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) and Karl Barth built his system of doctrine through the framework of the Creed in his Dogmatics in Outline.

 

 

The Apostles’ Creed

    I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

A Summary of the Essentials

What stands out about the Apostles’ Creed is its Trinitarian form. The doctrine of the Trinity was believed early on in the history of the church and was not the invention of the Nicene Creed. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each acknowledged as playing specific roles in the history of redemption.

The Apostles’ Creed represents a popular and concise summary of the essentials of the Christian faith. While it is not of the same authority as Scripture, the Apostles’ Creed represents a summation of Christian doctrine that all believers everywhere ought to hold to, affirm, and meditate upon.

 

Note

Some may have questions about the line “He descended into hell.” R.C. Sproul has commented on this in a helpful way here.

Nestorius: Know Your Heretics

Nestorius: Know Your Heretics

John Calvin said in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that Nestorius “devised a double Christ!”

 

The early church taught that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature.

Nestorius (c. 381-451) was a monk from Antioch before he became the bishop of Constantinople in 428. He so emphasized the two natures that Nestorius basically turned Jesus Christ into two persons. Wanting to avoid any “mixing” of the divine and human natures of Christ (as Eutychesdid), Nestorius over-emphasized their distinctness.

He argued that there are places in the Gospels where the human nature of Jesus is being described, and others where his divine nature is the subject. In doing this, it seems as if Nestorius has made two persons exist in Christ—two acting subjects, two “he’s”. 

Christ is two natures in one person

Cyril of Alexandria was the main proponent of orthodox theology in response to Nestorius. Cyril condemned Nestorius’ stance of two subjects present in Christ because it meant there were also two persons—a human and a divine—present in Christ. In response to Nestorius’ position, Cyril wrote: “If any one distributes between two characters or persons the expressions used about Christ in the gospels, etc…applying some to the man, conceived of separately, apart from the Word, others exclusively to the Word, let him be anathema.” 

Nestorius’ under-emphasis of the unity between the two natures of Christ is dangerous because Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and humanity.

Both the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) condemned Nestorius. He claimed later that he was simply misunderstood and he believed in Christ’s two natures in one person. 

Stephen Nichols notes of the Chalcedonian Creed, “In affirming Christ as two natures in one person, the Creed repudiates directly and explicitly the teachings of Apollinarius, Eutyches, and Nestorius…Against Nestorius, the Creed holds Christ to be two natures in one person without division or separation. It denies that Christ is two persons, two ‘he’s.’”[1]

Why the unity of Jesus matters

Nestorius’ under-emphasis of the unity between the two natures of Christ is dangerous because Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and humanity.

This unity of the one person of Jesus Christ is called the hypostatic union. It is important that we get this union right—Jesus Christ is the God-man. It is precisely in the unity of the person of Jesus Christ and his sinless life, death, and resurrection that God reconciles lost humans with his perfect self.

Two natures, without separation

A disjoining of the two natures would result in a failure in the means of Christians’ salvation. This is why the Chalcedonian Creed says, “our Lord Jesus Christ…for us men and for our salvation…[is] recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated in two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

 

Gnostics: Know Your Heretics

Gnostics: Know Your Heretics

Gnosticism is not a specific heretical movement in church history, but rather a broad umbrella term categorizing a loose collection of false beliefs.

Questions concerning the origins of Gnosticism are still unsolved. Some think Gnosticism originated as a heresy that diverted from orthodox Christian teaching, while others see the movement as an independent, non-Christian movement stemming from paganism.

What does it mean? 

Everett Ferguson breaks down the diverse teachings of Gnosticism into eight categories:

  • A preoccupation with the problem of evil
  • A sense of alienation from the world
  • A desire for special and intimate knowledge of the secrets of the universe
  • A psychological (body and soul) and ethical (good and evil) dualism
  •  A cosmology wherein all beings are derivative from the first, originating principle
  • A hierarchical anthropology of different classes of human beings with fixed destinies
  • A radically realized eschatology that denied the resurrection of the dead
  • A variety of ethical implications ranging from libertinism and asceticism

The Gnostic teaching on salvation was not based on Christ. Instead, “The content of the Gnostic gospel was an attempt to rouse the soul from its sleep-walking condition and to make it aware of the high destiny to which it is called.”

“The body is meaningless”

Some New Testament books contain corrective teachings to the Gnosticism that challenged Christianity. For instance, the spiritual elite at Corinth seemed to pride themselves on a special spiritual knowledge or mystical experience. They also questioned the resurrection and believed the body to be meaningless (which had profound moral consequences—such as promiscuous sexual behavior). 

At Colossae, believers observed special ascetic practices by keeping ceremonies from the Jewish calendar and worshipped intermediate angelic powers. These proclivities illustrate two of the main tenets of Gnostic thought. 

Jesus is above all

The Apostle Paul challenged the Gnostic heresies with a robust Christology. His solution to the false views of the body, the resurrection, and morality was to point them to the supremacy of Christ in his incarnation, life, death, and victorious resurrection.

The Gnostic teaching on salvation was not based on Christ.

Gnosticism was composed of such a broad variety of beliefs and teachings that it was challenged by many of the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and others.

Gnosticism Today 

The broad teachings of the Gnostic movement comprise a surprising similarity with much of the New Age Movement today. But the best reason to be acquainted with Gnosticism is the popularity of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The DaVinci Code, in which much information from the Gnostic gospels is appealed to as factual truth. Some Christians, upon reading Brown’s book, find their faith shaken by the stories that oppose the teachings of Christianity. Those who find their faith weakened can look both to Scripture and church history for a refutation of the false teachings of Gnosticism

Mani: Know Your Heretics

Mani: Know Your Heretics

A self-appointed “helper of Jesus”

Manichaeism is based on the teachings of Mani (216–c.277), who founded a Gnostic-like, highly dualistic religion. He rejected all of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament. Mani claimed his religion to be the unadulterated form of Christianity. He referred to himself as “Mani, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the appointment of God the Father,” thinking himself to be the “helper” to whom Jesus alluded in John 14:16.

“Battle between light and dark”

The Manichean religion is a fusion of aspects of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Gnostic versions of Christianity—a pantheistic hodgepodge.

Central to Manichaeism is the belief in a primordial feud between the powers of light and darkness. Mani taught that behind the universe lay two ultimate principles: God the Father reigns over the Kingdom of Light, which is spiritual, and a horrible prince rules over the Kingdom of Darkness, which is material. Both kingdoms are eternal and in perpetual conflict.

Too spiritual for the Resurrection

All material things, including the physical body, were viewed as evil and restrictive. This led the Manicheans to reject the biblical concept of the resurrection of the dead, the content of Christian hope.

In striving for release from their finite bodies through the obedience of simple moral laws, Manicheans were taught to hope for reincarnation as members of the elect who would eventually be delivered from the world cycle through the process of transmigration. Church historian J.N.D. Kelly describes this strange belief: 

    As he exists, man is tragically involved in the material order; he isfallen and lost. Actually, however, he is a particle of Light, belonging to, though exiled from, the transcendent world. He is of the sameessence as God, and human souls are fragments of the divine substance. His salvation lies in grasping this truth by an interiorillumination which may be spontaneous, but usually comes in response to initiation into the Manichean fellowship; and in the process of salvation, God is at once redeemer and redeemed.

Too spiritual for the Incarnation

The Manichean view of Christ is seriously different from the Bible’s. Due to the dualism of the religion, the body, being natural and material, is considered evil. For the Son of God to take on our nature would be to contaminate himself with evil. The Incarnation, a contradiction to this dualistic belief, was considered outlandish and implausible.

Perhaps the most famous Manichean was St. Augustine, who adhered to this religion for 10 years while he was at Carthage and then at Rome before he converted to Christianity. 

Augustine wrote against Manichaeism in his Confessions and Against Faustus the Manichaean. (Faustus was the chief theologian of Manichaeism).

Christ Above All

Manichaeism is clearly contrary to orthodox Christianity in that it insists there is no omnipotent God who is the creator of all things. Rather, the eternal struggle between good and evil places the force of good on equal footing with the force of evil. In contrast, orthodox Christianity asserts there is one God who existed prior to, and separate from, creation. God is not one with the world (as pantheism states), nor is he unable to defeat evil. On the contrary, Colossians asserts that Christ is above every earthly power and his victorious resurrection serves as the ultimate answer to the problem of evil. 

Contrary to Manichaeism, Christianity does not ascribe evil to creation, for the book of Genesis describes everything created by God as good and untainted by sin before the fall of Adam.

Manichaeism today

The Manichean religion finds continuity with much contemporary new age spiritualism. The idea that “God is in everything and everything is in God” pervades culture, and the concept of reincarnation is prevalent. Contrary to reincarnation, Christianity teaches that salvation does not lie in overcoming evil through moral behavior and upright living. Rather, it consists in acknowledging one’s inability to do so and clinging to the one who has—the God-man, Jesus Christ.

 

Docetism: Know Your Heretics

Docetism: Know Your Heretics

Docetism was a heresy about Jesus that gained in popularity in the third century among those committed to Greek philosophy. Docetism is a term for a set of beliefs that were found in a number of heresies, including Marcionism and Gnosticism.


“Jesus Felt No Pain”

Unlike many early heresies that denied the divinity of Jesus, Docetism eliminates his humanity. Suggesting that Jesus only appeared to be human though he was in fact not, Docetism derives its name from the Greek word dokeo, which means “to seem or appear.”

 

Those holding to Docetism believed that there was one eternal father who was eternally transcendent and therefore unable to experience any sort of human emotion of suffering. The idea that Jesus became human flesh (John 1:14) and experienced life as a human was unthinkable and offensive to this philosophy.

 

The Gospel of Peter, an apocryphal book, illustrates a Docetic view. It says that during his crucifixion, Jesus “kept silence, as one feeling no pain,” which implied, as church historian J.N.D. Kelly notes, “that His bodily make-up was illusory.”


Jesus Truly Suffered

The orthodox early church was strongly opposed to Docetism.

 

Irenaeus thought the teaching was so dangerous that he wrote a five-volume work (Against Heresies) against one of Docetism’s prominent teachers, Valentinus (c. 136–c. 165).

 

Ignatius said that it would have been foolish for him to have been imprisoned for proclaiming one who merely appeared to suffer for his sake:

    Turn a deaf ear therefore when any one speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, the child of Mary, who was truly born, who ate and drank, who was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and truly died….But if, as some godless men, that is, unbelievers, say, he suffered in mere appearance (being themselves being mere appearances), why am I in bonds?

 

Polycarp makes the strongest possible charge against the Docetists by saying that “everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ,” echoing 1 John 4:2-3.

 

Jesus Came in the Flesh

As theologian Stephen Nichols points out, much contemporary popular theology tends to “view Jesus as sort of floating six inches off the ground as he walked upon the earth.” Downplaying or rejecting the true humanity of Jesus is common today, but it does not fit with the biblical picture of Jesus given to us in the Gospels.

 

While on earth, Jesus experienced hunger (Matt. 4:2) and thirst (John 19:28), showed compassion (Matt. 9:36), was tired (John 4:6), felt sorrow to the point of weeping (John 11:35), and grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Yet, in all of his humanness, Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15).

 

Like Us in Every Way, Yet Without Sin

Avoiding Docetism is important because, as the author of Hebrews writes, Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).

 

It is because Jesus was tempted as we are that he is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. Put bluntly, the whole of the atonement rests on Docetism being false. On this point, T. F. Torrance writes: “Any docetic view of the humanity of Christ snaps the lifeline between God and man, and destroys the relevance of the divine acts in Jesus for men and women of flesh and blood.”

 

If Docetism is true and he was so heavenly that he only appeared human, then we no longer can place our confidence in Jesus Christ, who as truly God and truly man serves as the mediator between God and men.

 

Awesome Women of the Reformation

Awesome Women of the Reformation

All too often, the textbooks focus solely on the men of the Reformation—Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and others—and fail to take notice of the faithful women who served among, beside, and with the Reformers.

These women were dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ, some to the point of martyrdom. Many of these women were well-educated, especially by the standard of their time. They read theology books, especially the Bible, and anything they could get their hands on from the reformers. Their inner circles of friends were part of long and frequent Bible studies. Most were wives and mothers. Some were also authors, apologists, ex-nuns, and queens. All were faithful servants of Jesus.

 

GERMANY

Katherine von Bora was a former nun who married Martin Luther. They were married for 21 years and had six children. Her quick tongue, humor, and stubbornness matched Martin’s—no small feat. She managed their home (which was frequently full of students), had a large garden and livestock, fished and farmed, and ran a brewery. She also managed their money and took care of their extended household. Martin called her “My Lord Katie.”

Katharina Schutz Zell was married to Matthew Zell of Strasbourg and ministered as a team with her husband. She developed women’s ministries and published a book of Psalms for women to sing. She took a leading role in organizing relief for 150 men exiled from their town for their faith, and wrote scriptural encouragements to the wives and children left behind. During the Peasants’ War, she organized Strasbourg to deal with 3,000 refugees for a period of six months.

Ursula von Münsterberg (1491? – 1534) was the granddaughter of King Georg Podiebrad of Bohemia. Ursala was a nun at a convent in Freiberg, Saxony. She spearheaded an effort to bring in a chaplain who was familiar with Luther and had Luther’s books smuggled into the convent. Because of this, she was forced to flee her convent in 1529, after which she stayed with the Luther family.

Argula von Grumbach was a Bavarian noblewoman who vigorously challenged the faculty of the University of Ingolstadt to debate her reformed views. Her letters were widely published.

Anna Rhegius was born in Augsburg in 1505. She had a good education, which included the study of Hebrew, enabling her to discuss biblical writings in great depth.

Elisabeth von Braunschweig married at age 15. After being married for ten years, her mother visited Elisabeth and invited a Lutheran pastor to preach. Within a year, Elisabeth converted and resolved to raise her son as a Lutheran. After the death of her husband she wrote a book attempting to console widows, helping them through the grieving process.

Elisabeth Cruciger was from Pomerania and spent time at the convent in Treptow on Rega. She left the convent in 1522 or 1523 and married Caspar Cruciger in 1524, which marked the first official Protestant wedding. A friend of Katie Luther’s, Elizabeth was involved in theological discussions at Luthers’ “table talks” and with Philip Melanchthon, who considered her to be a bright woman. She wrote the first Protestant hymn in 1524, which created a controversy since women were not usually songwriters in her day.

 

FRANCE & THE LOW COUNTRIES

Jeanne d’Albret was the Queen of Navarre and an influential leader of the Huguenot movement in France. She invited Reformed preachers to speak in her land and publicly declared her adherence to Calvinism in 1560; however, she made it clear that she followed “Beza, Calvin and others only insofar as they follow Scripture.” She attempted to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants and tried to bring peace as wars began to break out. In fact, while a Protestant, she continued to allow the Mass to take place in her land, refusing to punish Catholics who did not convert to Protestantism.

Ursula Jost was an influential Anabaptist woman in Strasbourg who wrote a book recounting her prophetic visions of the impending judgment of God that would come upon the people of her city.

Idelette de Bure was a widow with three children when she married John Calvin. One child of theirs died while an infant and she miscarried another. In the process, Calvin, who spoke little of his married life, was deeply touched. Their relationship softened his heart deeply.

Marie Dentière (c. 1495-1561) was of Flemish descent from a family of minor nobility. She was part of an Augustinian monastery in Tournai, which she later left after embracing the teachings of the reformers, a crime against both church and state. She fled to Strasbourg and married Simon Robert, who had had been a priest in Tournai, becoming his assistant in their goal of spreading the reform to the area to the east of Geneva. After her husband’s death she married Antione Froment, a follower of reformer William Farel. Marie wrote an anonymous pamphlet intended to convince the Genevans of God’s intentions for their city. She also spoke out in public taverns and on street corners. It was a success as Geneva eventually became a Protestant republic. She also wrote a book recounting the history of the Geneva reformation.

 

ENGLAND

Jane Grey wrote letters to the reformer Heinrich Bullinger at age 14. As queen, Jane fought off intense efforts to convert her to Rome when she was 16. She resisted those efforts with theological reasoning and biblical teaching against a professor of theology twice her age.

Catherine Willoughby became the duchess of Suffolk in 1533 and was related to Jane Grey. She protected the preacher-bishop Hugh Latimer from persecution until things became so unbearable for her that, to save her life, she fled to the Netherlands with her infant.  She was forced into exile as a supporter of the Reformation.


ITALY

Olimpia Fulvia Morata was an Italian scholar born in Ferrera as the oldest child of a humanist scholar, who, after being forced to flee his city to northern Italy, lectured on the teachings of Calvin and Luther. Olimpia flourished in her studies, especially in Latin and Greek, exhibiting impeccable scholarship. She wrote Latin dialogues, Greek poems, and letters to both scholars (in Latin) and less educated women (in Italian). In her “Dialogue between Theophilia and Philotima,” she encouraged those who feared that their gross sins obstructed their way to God:

    Don’t be afraid … No odor of sinners can be so foul that its force cannot be broken and weakened by the sweetest odor that flows from the death of Christ, which alone God can perfume. Therefore seek Christ.

All of these women longed to see the Reformation triumph, and the good news of the gospel overcome opposition both within the church and outside it. They served with patience, perseverance, and courage. They were not just observers of the Reformation, but they were also participants. Moreover, each was used mightily by God to maintain the integrity of his church and redeem a fallen humanity.

 

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