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The Protestant Reformation and the culture of persuasion (2)

Luther had the help of the artist Lucas Cranach, who was commissioned to illustrate many theological tracts in order to make a visual impact on readers.

FEATURES AUTOR 376/Arturo_Terrazas 13 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2023 12:36 h
A detail of the painting Religionsgespräch zu Marburg, 1867. / Photo: Public Domain.

This is the second part of an article by Arturo Terrazas. You can read the first part here.


Just as the Reformation returns to the Bible as the source of everything, the basis for the hymnbooks to be published comes from that same source.

The Reformers took as their basis the texts in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, which mention the importance of having the Word of Christ dwelling in us with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Martin Luther wrote several hymns, some of them based on the book of Psalms. The hymn, Mighty Fortress is our God, is based on Psalm 46, "God is our refuge and strength, our speedy help in trouble".

Another hymn composed by Luther, though less well known, is based on Psalm 130, Out of the Deep I Cry to Thee. John Calvin also helped in the composition of hymns. In 1545 he composed the hymn, Hail, Jesus, my eternal redeemer, based on the text of Isaiah 41:14.

Another important contribution of the Reformation was the Christian education of the people.

[destacate]As a dialogue, the material of the catechism can be understood in an easier way than the mere repetition of a text.[/destacate]Luther made a radical and bold decision to start preaching and publishing in German, with not only theologians but also the general public in mind, which was a severe setback for the Roman Catholic Church of the time, which only had sermons and publications in Latin.

One of the resources that started at the time of the Protestant Reformation was the use of catechisms, which taught the foundations of the faith through questions and answers.

That way of teaching is what the Reformers used in their controversial essays, where the text becomes a dialogue between at least two people. As a dialogue, the material of the catechism can be understood in an easier way than the mere repetition of a text.

The interventions of the teacher also provided opportunities to summarise the subject, or to reorient the student to a new topic.

The Reformers tried to persuade through catechisms, with which they taught elementary lessons to the population regarding faith and practice, all in order to teach that Jesus Christ is the only comfort both in life and in death (Answer to Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

The Reformers also played a role in the theological training of future ministers of worship. Luther was professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, which was a hotbed of German theologians in the 16th century.

In England, the Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sought to bring European Reformed theologians to teach theology at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Meanwhile, an academy was founded in Geneva, where future pastors and missionaries from several parts of the world were trained.

Protestant missions also began to flourish within Europe.

Several German theologians went to the Nordic countries to preach the doctrines of justification by faith. In Geneva, theological education was given to people who went to their home countries to spread the teachings they had learned.

One of those students was Guido de Bres, who later became the editor of the Belgian Confession of Faith, which is still used as a summary of faith in several churches of the Reformed tradition around the world.

Such was the enthusiasm for the ideas of the Reformation, as well as for fostering a culture of persuasion that sought to transform man and society, that in 1557 they tried to bring Protestant doctrines to what is now Brazil.

That year, 14 people from Geneva embarked to the New World with the idea of evangelising the country. Although they did not achieve the expected result, we can see the effort to take the Protestant teachings beyond the European continent.

[destacate]Luther understood that it was important to put words and ideas in the form of illustrations[/destacate]Another way of propagation that helped in the culture of persuasion was the distribution of small theological tracts. Luther had the help of the artist Lucas Cranach, who was commissioned to illustrate many of those tracts in order to make a visual impact on readers.

Luther understood that it was important to put words and ideas in the form of illustrations. For him, the aesthetic element in the book was very important, and he appreciated the quality of the design where his message had to be delivered to show truthfulness and respectability in what he was trying to say.

Cranach's help, as well as that of the printing press, contributed to a wider dissemination of Luther's ideas, and also to a better communication with the churches that were emerging from the Protestant movement.

One of the least mentioned aspects of the Protestant Reformation is the new solidarity that grew in Europe. This can be seen in the help that persecuted Protestants received when they found refuge in cities such as Geneva, Emden or London.

[destacate]An important element of the Protestant Reformation was the development of a culture of belonging[/destacate]Geneva was very soon a place where persecuted French Protestants, such as John Calvin, arrived. Since his arrival in Geneva, Calvin focused on helping other people who were facing persecution. One of those people was John Knox, a Scotsman who would become his pupil and bring Calvin's ideas to Scotland.

Emden was a refuge for the Dutch. The revolt that led to the liberation of the northern provinces of the Netherlands, which declared themselves Protestant, began there.

It became a centre of Reformed Protestantism, producing the first complete translation of the Bible into the Dutch language.

London became a refuge for persecuted Protestants during the reigns of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603).

It was during the reign of Edward VI that theologians such as Martin Bucer, Francis of Enzinas, Peter Martyr Vermigli began to arrive in England and were of great help in the shaping of the theology of the Church of England, both in the Book of Common Prayer and in what later became the 39 Articles of Faith of the Anglican Church.

Another element of the Protestant Reformation was the development of a culture of belonging.

At the beginning of the movement, the linguistic and cultural elements made such an impact that they led to a belonging within the several traditions that emerged.

This culture of belonging is seen in the liturgical development of the churches. Having the Word of God in the language of the people, with accessible commentaries on the books of the Bible, catechisms and hymns in the same language, helps to develop an identity.

That identity affirms people to identify as Anglican, Lutheran or Reformed. And this brought about traditions within the same movement, such as the liturgy of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, the 52-week teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism in the Reformed churches, or the worship in Lutheran services.

All of the above are part of Andrew Pettegree's legacy. Pray that the Lord will continue to raise up historians who can show us the history and importance of the culture of persuasion brought about by the Protestant Reformation.

Arturo Terrazas, professor of Old Testament and academic dean at the IBSTE Faculty of Theology in Castelldefels, Catalonia, Spain.




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