Church History

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st-jerome-3-sizedThe matter is quite simple.

The Bible is very easy to understand.

But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.

We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend it-self against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

I open the New Testament and read: “If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me.” Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).

– Soren Kierkegaard, provocations pp 201-202

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Greenleaf Press proudly announces the publication of Voices of the Renaissance and Reformation, edited by Robert G. Shearer. Voices includes 31 original source selections by 19 of the key figures from the Renaissance and Reformation.

The Renaissance selections include sonnets by Petrarch, a letter by Lorenzo de’ Medici, excerpts from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, sermons by Savonarola, and excerpts from Machiavelli’s The Prince.

The Reformation selections include important writings from Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox including autobiographical accounts of their own conversions. Also included are The 67 Articles of Ulrich Zwingli, the Schleitheim Confession by Michael Sattler, and the Reply of John Wycliffe to his Summons by the Pope to come to Rome.

We are particularly pleased to be able to include in this collection several recently published texts from the Reformation, including two letters from Conrad Grebel (the leader of the Anabaptists in Zurich) to Thomas Müntzer, the leader of the Peasant Rebellion, written in 1525. The letters of Grebel are included by permission from Herald Press of Scottsdale, PA.

Also included in the collection is a lengthy selection from William Tyndale‘s An Answer Unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue in which Tyndale eloquently defends his translation of the New Testament into English and his use of the words congregation, elder, and love (rather than church, priest, & charity) which More had charged were serious errors.

The selections from Martin Luther include the complete text of The 95 Theses (1517), as well as lengthy selections from his three great essays of 1520:

  • Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation ( Aug 1520)
  • On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church ( Oct 1520)
  • On the Freedom of a Christian (Nov 1520)

The selections from John Calvin include The Geneva Confession of 1536 and his Reply to Cardinal Sadoleto, written in 1539.

Editor Robert Shearer observed, “Textbooks provide an overview of a time period. A biography helps us to understand the significance of a historical figure, but if you really want to know the people and the times, you must read what they wrote in their own words.”

The source collection should prove to be a valuable resource for students of all ages who wish to study the Renaissance and Reformation, particularly for high school and college students.

Voices of the Renaissance and Reformation is an 8″x10″ paperback, 194 pages and is available for $18.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

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I confess to a certain macabre fascination with the Renaissance Popes. Following hard on the heels of The Great Schism (with its scenes of dueling Popes and anti-Popes) came the seemingly secular and corrupt ambitions of the Borgias, the Della Rovere, and the Medici families. I found a striking passage on the topic of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia –  father to Lucretia and Cesare) in Charles Williams’ The Descent of the Dove:

The traditional figure of the Renascence used to be Alexander VI. It is impossible not a little to regret the rehabilitation of the Borgias. To remember that the family produced saints is one thing; to make their other members nothing more than respectable worldly princes is quite another. The magnificent and magical figure of Alexander had once, for those who could accept it, a particular attraction. And only morons were repelled by it from the theory of the Papacy. Romantics who were not morons were drawn to it precisely because of the theory of the Papacy. Wicked bishops and wicked kings were common enough. But that the concentration of wickedness – avarice, pride, murder, incest – should exist in the See; that the infallible Vicar should possess the venom and be in love with his own uncanonical daughter; that that daughter should be throned in the Chair itself over adoring Cardinals, and that the younger of her two brothers should assassinate the elder, and the awful three – the Pontiff and the two children – should wind the world into their own skein of lust and cunning . . . this was the kind of thing that demanded the implicit presence of the whole future Roman development. The incarnation of Antichrist (romantically speaking) must be in the See of Christ. The Scandal of the Church had to be a scandal of the True Church, or it lost half its lurid glory.

It seems it was not so. Lucrezia was less lovely and more moral than had been supposed, and Caesar, if as brilliant, was almost always excusable, and Alexander himself is no more than a great Renascence statesman, and it was most unlikely that he poisoned cardinals or even died of the venom himself; alas, only Christian rites took place in the Pontifical chapels, even if the tapestries were a little pagan. the myth, however, had this to be said for it – it was contemporary. It was no more a late Protestant invention than the other legend of the Lady Joanna, Pontifex Maxima in the Dark Ages. It was accepted by pious and credulous chroniclers of the day. It was the kind of fable the Renascence liked, and it was enjoyed as a myth of that new discovery of the Renascence – Homo, Man.

By a curious, but delightful, coincidence, the year 1492 has more significance for me as a historian of the Renaissance and the Reformation than it does as an American. 1492 is the year that Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico) of Florence died. And it is the year that Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI.

Oh.. and there was this Italian sailor who sent back an odd report after sailing off west into the Atlantic in a trio of raggedy Spanish ships.

– Rob Shearer

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Rose Publishing Company has long been one of my favorites. The company was started in 1991 by a Sunday School teacher and a public school teacher and has systematically expanded their line of charts, maps, and pamphlets. While the charts and maps are marketed primarily for classrooms, the pamphlets are well designed for individual use – in fact, they’re sized just right to slip inside the cover of your Bible. Greenleaf has just added 48 of the Rose pamphlets to our website. Here are the titles:

Here are some pamphlets on Biblical concepts & themes:

In addition to the Bible reference pamphlets, there are several very nice pamphlets dealing with church history:

Finally, there are 13 pamphlets that summarize key issues in apologetics: comparing Christianity with various competing worldviews, religions, and cults:

And finally, there are two pamphlets on Abstinence & Dating that are very concise & effective in communicating with young people:

Each of these pamphlets is only $3.99, and can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press. We’ve set up a separate category for the Rose Reference Pamphlets, as well as including many of them in our Bible section.

– Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

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