A field guide to renewers, reformers & martyrs recognized and commemorated by
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, Renewer of the Church

"Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872), a Danish pastor, led a reform movement beginning in 1830 that would leave a permanent imprint on Lutheranism. He was Denmark's most influential educator, poet and theologian, weaving ancient Nordic traditions into Danish religious life. Grundtvig saw the free ecumenical spirit of Lutheranism grounded in the ancient apostolic tradition as the force to unite Christianity and culture through education. He contended that the Apostle's Creed was the baptismal creed for all churches, the living word that Jesus communicated to his apostles. Accordingly, baptism and the Lord's Supper are the living words, the fundamental elements of the church. Grundtvig taught that biblical confessional formulations, especially John 3:16, were forerunners of the Apostle's Creed and should interpret the Bible, not vice versa. Though involved in some controversies, Grudtvig and Grundtvigism shaped all of Danish culture through preaching, hymns (1500 from Grundtvig!) and tracts in adult eduction."

From A History of Lutheranism by Eric W. Gritsch, Emeritus Professor of Church History at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, Pennsylvania

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moses the Black

Moses the Black (also known as "the Strong" and "the Ethiopian") was a fourth century Egyptian monk, spiritual leader, priest and advocate of non-violence. He was born into the service of an Egyptian government official. After being discharged for robbery, Moses formally entered a life of crime, leading a notorious gang of murderous thieves. Running from the law, Moses took refuge with a desert monastic order near Alexandria. He was so taken by their way of life that he became a Christian and joined their order.

One night, Moses was attacked in his room by bandits. He overpowered the four men, tied them up and drug them to the chapel where he told his brothers that, "he didn't think that as a Christian he should hurt them -- but that he wasn't quite sure what to do with them." The four criminals were converted and also joined the desert community at Scetes.

When a fellow monk was charged with committing an infraction, a meeting was convened to decide on the appropriate punishment. Moses refused to attend. When asked again to attend, Moses arrived carrying a leaky bag of sand over his shoulder. When asked by his brothers why he was carrying the bag of sand, he replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." Convicted by the truth of his statement, the brothers forgave the offending monk.

Moses later became the leader of a monastic colony in the Western Desert, where he was ordained a priest. Around 405 AD, word came that they were soon to be attacked by Berbers. The monks wanted to take up arms and defend the monastery, but Moses forbade them to do so. He and seven others remained and greeted the attackers with hospitality. All eight men were martyred.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (and a Book Review)

Today we commemorate Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Augustine's contributions to Christianity and Western philosophy are innumerable -- theologically he advanced the ideas of Divine Grace, the Invisible Church, Original Sin, Just War, etc., etc. Augustine also taught that the Bible was not to be interpreted as strictly literal, but could also be interpreted metaphorically -- particularly when it contradicts what we know from reason and science.

Last week I downloaded a copy of Ritva William's The Bible's Importance for the Church Today, one of the Augsburg Fortress Press "Lutheran Voices" books (for Kindle). The purpose of the book is to help readers re-discover and re-claim the distinctively Lutheran method of interpreting scripture -- and how this method can be an antidote to the either/or, conservative/liberal dichotomy that is all too common in contemporary Christian discourse. Williams discusses the interpretive methods of Judaism, The Early Christian Church, Paul, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther, etc. in building her case, as well as how reactions to scientific, archeological and technological discoveries/advances  took the Lutheran Church away from its traditional roots and led to misguided interpretations of scripture.

Here's a sample of what Williams says about Augustine:
"The vital element in any interpretation of scripture, Augustine declared, is its effect:

So if it seems to you that you have understood the scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up the twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them.

According to Augustine, the goal of reading, teaching or preaching the scriptures was to build up the love of God and neighbor. Any interpretation that did not aim for and achieve this demonstrated a lack of understanding. Failure to promote the twin love of God and neighbor was in Augustine's estimate, more pernicious than failing to explain accurately what a biblical author meant."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bartholomew, Apostle

Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History claims that following the ascension he traveled in mission to India where he left behind a Gospel of Matthew. Along with Jude, Bartholomew is said to have brought Christianity to Armenia -- other traditions have him in mission in Mesopotamia, Parthia, Ethiopia etc. Bartholomew was supposedly martyred in Armenia. A popular version holds that he was flayed and crucified upside down. He was executed for allegedly converting the Armenian King Polymius to Christianity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux

Bernard founded the Cisterian monastary, Clairvaux in 1115. There he preached that the Virgin Mary was the primary intercessor (mediatrix) with the divine -- one of the most important developments (mariology) of the church during the twelfth century. He was a "Doctor of the Church," participating in the Council of Troyes where he was instrumental in founding the Rule of the Knights Templar. He was a peacemaker, defender of the faith and an advisor to Kings. In 1146 he was asked by the Pope to preach the Second Crusade, which he did to an enormous crowd with the King of France present. The response was overwhelming -- from the common man as well as royalty. Fervent crusade preaching by a fanatical monk led to the persecution of Jews in Rhineland, Cologne, Worms, etc. Distressed by this news, Bernard traveled personally to Germany to find, confront and silence the monk. The Second Crusade was a failure, a burden Bernard carried until his death in 1153.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

James, Apostle

James, son of Zebedee, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and brother of the apostle John (Jesus nicknamed them “The Brothers of Thunder”). He was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. James witnessed the resurrected Christ at the lake of Tiberias, and was one of the disciples in the upper room following Jesus’ ascension. According to Acts, James was executed by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Birgitta of Sweden, Renewer of the Church

Birgitta of Sweden was born in the province of Upland in 1303. As a child, she was frequented by visions of the suffering Christ. She was married at age thirteen and had four daughters. She was well known for her generosity and kindness. In 1335 she became chief lady in waiting to the Queen of Sweden. Following the death of her husband in 1341, she gave away all she owned and devoted her life to the poor and needy. In 1351 she founded the Order of the Holy Savior (the Birgittines), an order of monks and nuns led by an abbess. Her charitable work is carried on today by the Society of St. Birgitta. She died in Rome on July 23, 1373