Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Intrigue, Danger, and Forbidden Love, Reformation-Style

Susanne Dietze
Yes, I know. The Protestant Reformation was not an era.

When I told my husband that I’d come up with the idea of posting on the Reformation during “To Era is Human” week, he smartly reminded me that the Protestant Reformation was not an era. It was a movement.

Well, I’m going to talk about it anyway. While some may view the Reformation as a time of heavy theology or (perhaps) boring history, I see it as a thrilling time of change in the Church which has affected each of us, Protestant or not. If you own a Bible in your own language, have never paid money to earn forgiveness of sins, or have a married pastor, you have the work of 16th century Reformers to thank. But their work was not easy, nor safe.

The participants of the Reformation lived in a time of intrigue, danger, and (much to my sentimental pleasure) even some romance, too. Some Reformation-period factoids are downright scandalous.

Here’s a bit of what I mean:

From Germany to Scotland, England to Switzerland, many theologians and average joes questioned what they regarded as false doctrines: the authority of the pope, the requirement of celibate clergy, and the sale of indulgences (payments to get into heaven), among other things. When Pope Leo X declared his intention to fund the building of St. Peter's Basilica with monies raised from the sales of indulgences, a monk named Johann Tetzel was commissioned to travel throughout Germany, hawking indulgences with all the gusto of a street vendor. Tetzel promised that “whene’er a coin in coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

Tetzel’s mission initiated outrage as well as political intrigue. Archbishop Albert of Mainz, in whose territory Tetzel was working, wanted some of the indulgence income to pay off a bank debt. Elector Frederick the Wise, however, banned Tetzel from Wittenburg so his people’s money would line his pockets, not the pope’s. Martin Luther had enough, and it wasn’t long before the times, they were a' changin’.
Martin Luther (1529, Uffizi).Image via Wikipedia

Church doors often served as bulletin boards back then. Though some scholars dismiss the story as legend, it’s nevertheless probable that Martin Luther nailed a copy of his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle's Church in 1517, inviting debate. (Needless to say, he got it.)

Smuggling nuns was a capital offense, punishable by both church and state. (Am I alone, or doesn’t it seem like a good idea to have a law against smuggling people?) Therefore, merchant Leonard Koppe faced grave danger the night before Easter, 1523, when he helped twelve nuns escape their cloister by hiding them in the back of his wagon. Among them was Katharina von Bura, the future Mrs. Luther.

Katharina von Bora, Luther's wife, by Lucas Cr...Image via Wikipedia
Noting that the apostles had married, leading reformers determined they should wed, too, to serve as examples of clerical marriage. The nuns who’d escaped in Koppe’s wagon either returned home or made excellent candidates for clergy wives. All but one. Katharina von Bura dismissed at least three suitors before she suggested Martin Luther for herself. He agreed, and wrote, “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.” (By many accounts, the Luthers enjoyed a healthy marriage, and a famous one. When their firstborn got his first tooth, it was a national event.)

Water was a suspect beverage, so brewing beer was as much a part of a housewife’s daily routine as laundry or baking. Luther enjoyed Katharina’s home brew very much, and had a large stein in which to drink it. The stein was decorated with three rings, representing the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and The Nicene Creed.

It’s been noted that much of the work which bore fruit during the Reformation was accomplished in taverns. Englishmen Thomas Bilney, Edward Fox and Robert Barnes met at the White Horse Tavern to discuss their ideas. (Other notable Christians who’ve gathered for intellectual discourse at a pub? C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, at the Eagle and Child in Oxford.)

Thomas Cranmer, principal author of the Forty-...Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and author and compiler of the first two Books of Common Prayer, believed in clerical marriage. Henry VIII did not. Yet Cranmer fell in love with a fair German maiden, Margaret. Despite the danger, he married her anyway, although in secret. Rumor said that Margaret hid in a box to escape detection, though some historians dismiss this as a legend explaining how well Cranmer hid her existence. Others believe Cranmer’s marriage was an open secret, but nevertheless, many of Cranmer’s enemies never caught on.

John Calvin determined to marry too, though he didn’t have a lady in mind. Friends recommended a certain noblewoman for his consideration, and though he agreed, the match never came about. He later said he wouldn’t have wed her “unless the Lord had entirely bereft me of my wits.” He found happiness with widow Idelette de Bure.

Church music began to change during the Reformation. The first protestant hymn (“The Only Son from Heaven,” 1524) was written by a woman, Elisabeth Cruciger, who was also married in the first recorded protestant wedding.

A rendition of Huldrych Zwingli from the 1906 ...Image via Wikipedia
Controversy surrounds the musical legacy of Huldrich Zwingli. Some have interpreted his teaching to indicate he was against music in church, but other scholars claim it was only chants to which he was opposed. Either way, Zwingli enjoyed music. He could play the harp, violin, dulcimer, and flute. Sometimes he would play for local children, and earned the name “the evangelical lute-player and fifer” from his enemies.

Many Reformers had prices on their heads. Some died in poverty; others, like Cranmer, were executed. Reformation was not a bloodless endeavor. The 16th century saw a Counter Reformation, years of war (the Thirty Years War is said to have killed over 25% of Germany’s population), and unrelenting flux as individuals continued their quest for religious freedom. A few of these folks boarded a ship to find a place where they could worship in their own way: here in America, we call these early New England settlers Pilgrims.

The Reformation continues to shape us, no matter our denomination. The right to worship in our own way, to read Scripture and interpret it ourselves is fruit borne from the work of this astonishing period. Even if it isn’t technically an “era.”

Chadwick, Owen. The Reformation. Penguin, 1964.

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  1. I'm all for calling this an era and I'm so glad you wrote this post, Susie. That's a lot of history to pull together.

    Very interesting! Really. When it comes down to it, our faith is a personal one on one responsibility but we are called to fellowship to both learn and to mentor.

    Thank God we have the freedom to worship, although I see the freedoms being eroded daily.

  2. Well, any regulars to Inkyland should know by now that I love intellectual subjects like this. And of course, I have a few thoughts.

    I think it's imporatant to point out that over time, the Catholic church has changed most of these practices as well. They are just a very slow moving organization. I'm sure they needed this kick in the pants. All of the changes involved in Vatican II in the late 1900s have really minimized the differences between Catholic and Protestant.

    Also, to add to the scandal side, Martin Luther actually had some scandalous ideas about divorce and sexual freedoms for women. I imagine it was just a reactionary thing because the Catholic Church at the time went to the extreme of discouraging people from enjoying sex at all.

    Not that they were very successful in that endeavor by all accounts ;)

  3. Fascinating facts, Susanne! I confess I haven't delved into this "era" as much as I should have!

  4. Wowzers! Great job Suzie. I know very, very little about this movement or this era. But you've made me want to know better.

  5. Interesting! I had no idea that this carried over so much. Thank you for enlightening us.

  6. Good morning! I thought of offering a Reformation-style continental breakfast for us, but I've decided it's too early for porridge and beer, so coffee will have to suffice.

    Deb, thanks for the kind words. What you said about our freedoms eroding hit me hard. In some ways we Christians have it so easy in the western world, but I, too, can see things changing quickly. I also wonder what parts of our religion (from church structure to personal relationship with Jesus) are in need of reform.

    Dina, you are absolutely right that the Catholic Church does not continue to uphold most of the practices with which Martin Luther and others objected. Clergy celibacy stands, of course, though there are now many married Catholic priests, most of them Anglican converts.

    Martin Luther did have a lot of scandalous ideas, and quotes to back them up. I listed many of his quotes on my blog today but left out some of the funniest (and perhaps wisest) because they can be downright shocking to CBA audiences. The guy was earthy.

  7. Hi D'Ann! I hope you're having a good day. While I write historical romance, the sixteenth century isn't my period, though there really is a lot of interesting "stuff" going on.

    I also think it's fun and interesting to see how we all got to where we are.

    Morning, Lisa! I don't know much about this "era" either (except perhaps the Tudors), but I've decided that it's so full of drama and intrigue and radical examples of faith in action that it's worth further exploration.

    Karen, I'm so happy to see you! I hope you're well today. Thanks for popping in. Yes, the Reformation did change a lot of things...

    One thing I should have said is that Martin Luther was not the first to advocate that the Bible be translated into native tongues. Nor was he the first to want reformation. Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the Lollards preceeded Martin Luther by several decades. I'll have to look it up specific dates.

  8. Susanne, I'm going to check out that blog.

    My medieval characters are into translating the Bible for laymen, but as the Lollards show up in future books (not there yet in history) they will also have some significant theological differences. The Lollards had some crazy ideas.

  9. Dina, that sounds like an intriguing idea. Can't wait to read your book. When does it take place? I just looked up Wycliffe, and it looks like he translated the Vulgate into English in the 1380s (so I was off by the "decades" statement above. More like 120+ years). Anyway, translating the Scriptures must have been a huge job! I am eager to hear how your characters accomplish such a labor of love.

  10. Susie, this is wonderful! I want to do a Vulcan mind-meld and absorb all those cool historical facts in your head!
    The extent of my study on this era was with my children doing their homeschool history curriculum that had a picture of Martin Luther's personal Bible, all scribbled and written in and underlined with notes all over the margins. It blessed me.
    It's always funny how with each move of God we get new freedoms, but sooner or later someone comes along and tacks on a bunch of new rules and ideas that limit our freedom in some other area. I mean, in many of our Christian circles the idea of a bunch of ministers hanging out in a pub drinking beer and discussing doctrinal issues is tantamount to heresy!

  11. Susie, great post! I find this period of history fascinating and I'm one of those people who love learning about history through fiction. Does anyone know if there are CBA fiction books set during this time?

  12. Niki, I love that Martin Luther marked up his Bible! I didn't know that. How cool. What a great teaching tool for your children. I'll have to see if I can find something like that.

    Interesting point about the freedoms. I wholeheartedly agree with you. As I wrote the part of the post regarding alcohol, I hoped I wouldn't offend anyone, but I found the info interesting (and I could've written more about Luther and beer, oh my could I). The White Horse Tavern was an important place in the Reformation in England. Granted, folks didn't have Starbucks to meet in back then, or parish halls or public parks, and taverns & pubs were pretty much where you'd go to hang out...if you were a man, that is. But the concept wouldn't go over well in certain circles today, I don't think.

  13. Oh Niki, I forgot to add that I heard a news story on Air1 radio (Christian radio) that some church has begun holding one of their services in a bar. I wish I could remember details but it had to do with meeting people where they are.

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  15. Narelle, the only one I can think of is In the Shadow of the Lions by Ginger Garrett. It's sort of a literary novel with thriller elements. It's probably a few years past Martin Luther and set in Henry VIII's England. It's the story of Anne Boleyn. Evidently, she had a lot to do with the protestant movement in England and allowing the English version of the Bible to be propigated.

    Not everyone likes it, but I found certain aspects fascinating.

  16. Narelle, I'm with you. I love learning about history through fiction.

    Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single story set in the time of Reformation. Golden Keyes Parsons has books about the Huguenots, but I can't think of a story that deals specifically with the danger and intrigue of this period, ie, set in Wittenburg, for example. Can't even think of one set in Tudor England. Those are certainly popular in ABA (Philippa Gregory, Karen Harper, and others write "faction" novels based on the Tudors or Shakespeare, with a lot of fiction weaving facts together) but it appears that there are few CBA novels set in this period. Medievals and other European-set historicals are notoriously difficult to sell to CBA right now, but I think it's getting better.

    I'd love to be enlightened: does anyone else know?

  17. Ooh, thanks Dina. I think we were typing at the same time. I hadn't heard of that book but it sounds very interesting. Normally Anne Boleyn is portrayed as such a bewitching figure, more political than spiritual. I'd like to read this story. Sigh - more for my TBR pile! :)

  18. Siri Mitchell also has one in Elizabethan England.

    And Ginger Garrett has a medieval time-travel thriller about the plague in 14th century Italy. Very sad but moving. I try to read anything even close to my time period that comes out.

  19. Dina and Susie, thanks for your book suggestions. Hopefully we'll see more fiction set around this time period published in the CBA soon :-)

  20. Narelle, I'd love to see more, too. Thanks for the recommendations, Dina. I want to support the genre, so I appreciate the suggestions!

  21. Speaking of supporting the genre, I'm interviewing Louise M. Gouge about her Revolutionary Era novel set in England on Wednesday this week, and Deb Kinnard about her new time-travel medieval on Saturday.

    Fun stuff!

  22. Very interesting, Susie D. I really enjoyed this. I loved the pigtails on the pillow comment by Luther. I was curious. Is Wittenburg the same place as Wurttenberg? I know sometimes names are spelled differently in different eras. My great grandmother had Wurttenberg listed on her birth certificate and came to the US in 1865. Anyway, thanks for this. I enjoyed reading it.

  23. I know I am a day late but this was a great post!

  24. Hey Suzie! You know, I have no clue about Wurttenberg. How interesting; we're going to have to do some investigating!

    Thanks, Adge! I'm so glad you could come by. Have a wonderful day.


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