MUSIC MONDAY G. F. Handel: Messiah HWV 56 (fantastic performance)

G. F. Handel: Messiah HWV 56 (fantastic performance)

https://youtu.be/JH3T6YwwU9s

December 02, 2007

013 HSWTL The Reformation

The men in the south of Europe, the men of the Renaissance, struggled with themselves trying to find what “could give unity to life.”  They were looking for some universal that “could give meaning to life and to morals.”  In the north of Europe there was the beginning of another great movement that would come to be known as the Reformation that was emerging from the shadow of the Renaissance.  This movement in the north of Europe was a reaction “against the distortions which had gradually appeared in both a religious and a secular form.”  Too often the Renaissance and the Reformation are seen as two distinct and separate periods of history.  In reality there is such overlap between the periods that it would be better to study them as different sides of the same coin.  Francis Schaeffer suggests that: “The High Renaissance in the south and the Reformation in the north must always be considered side by side.  They dealt with the same basic problems, but they gave completely opposite answers and brought forth completely opposite results.”

There are two important forerunners to the Reformation that we have mentioned in an earlier class – these were John Wycliffe(1320-1384) and John Huss(1369-1415). Their lives overlapped much of the Renaissance period. For example, their lives overlapped Giotto’s, Dante’s, Petrarch’s, and Boccaccio’s (Wycliffe) and Brunnelleschi’s, Masaccio’s and van Eyck’s (Huss).

John Wycliffe emphasized the Bible as the supreme authority, and he produced an English translation of the Bible that gained great acceptance throughout Europe.  John Huss’ importance is explained by Schaeffer as that he “returned to the teachings of the Bible and of the early church and stressed that the Bible is the only source of final authority and that salvation comes only through Christ and His work.  He further developed Wycliffe’s views on the priesthood of all believers.”

The beliefs of these early reformers were in opposition to the humanistic elements which had crept into the church.  These elements had “led to the authority of the church being accepted as equal to, or greater than, the authority of the Bible and . . . emphasized human work as a basis for meriting the merit of Christ.”

Wycliffe and Huss set the footers upon which the coming Reformation would be built. Yet like much of Christian history these footers were set in blood.  Huss was invited to attend the Council of Constance 1414-1418 which was convened to bring an end to the “Great Schism” in which the church had become divided by the creation of two and then three popes. In addition, the council addressed the issue of two great reforms: 1) To reform the corrupt morals of the church and 2) To eradicate heresies, especially those of Wycliffe and Huss. As Schaeffer tells us Huss “promised safe conduct to speak at the Council of Constance, . . . was betrayed and burned at the stake there on July 6, 1415.”  Hussites, followers of John Huss, founded what was called the Bohemian  Brethren, which were the roots for what came to be the Moravian Church.

Many people have mistakenly categorized the Reformation as an attempt to overthrow the Roman Catholic Church. This is wrong. The Reformation movement began as a reaction to the humanistic elements that had infiltrated the church.  It  was a reaction against the idea that the authority of the church was equal to or in some quarters even greater than that of the Bible.  It was a reaction against the concepts that man could “earn” the merit of Christ, which stood in sharp contrast to what Luther recognized as the “grace” of Christ. The Reformation was about returning to the Bible as the final authority and that an individual’s salvation came only through grace and was based only on Christ and His works, not man’s. It is also worth remembering that there was no Roman Catholic Church at this time – there was just the church.

Humanism did not just suddenly appear in the church during the time of the Renaissance but rather it was the culmination of a slow infiltration process that had been growing over time. By 1500 A.D. it was threatening to strangle the church.  Let’s briefly look at the impact of humanism on the church of the Renaissance. First, we see that the authority of the church was now equal to or greater than the authority of the Bible. When we speak of the authority of the church, we are speaking of man and man’s decisions being on par with the revealed word of God. It is a small jump from here to where man supercedes an authority which is not understood for being dominant. Second, was the perversion that man’s works were of greater importance for his salvation than Christ’s grace.  We are still influenced by this today when people think that they will go to heaven because of their good deeds, ignoring the fact that it is only because of Christ’s work, His grace and His blood that any man can stand before God and be “saved.” Third, was the  increasing blending of pagan thinking with biblical thinking. This is readily apparent in the art of the Renaissance, in the paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo and the writings of Dante to name a few.

The goal of Reformers, while certainly not entirely successful, was to make the Bible their standard, their rule, for living not just church. While there where many areas of life that the Reformers didn’t do well in, they did bring about a movement back to the Bible as the rule for all live and a return to the example of set by the early church.

It has been said that the while the Renaissance and the Reformation dealt with the same questions, they arrived at completely different answers.  This is true and even though the question from which both the Renaissance and the Reformation began was the same, their eventual answers were very different. Schaeffer points to Thomas Aquinas as the primary reason that the Renaissance went off in the direction that it did. Remember Aquinas thought that while the will of man was fallen after the events in the Garden of Eden, man’s mind was not affected. This led people to think that man was quite capable of learning the answers to the great questions by looking only to themselves and human reason.

However the Reformers understood that man was completely corrupted in the “fall” and that if one was to find the answers to the great questions of life, man would have to look outside of himself and that the proper starting point for any inquiry was not man but God. “. . . in contrast to the Renaissance humanists, they refused to accept the autonomy of human reason, which acts as though the human mind is infinite, with all knowledge within its realm.  Rather, they took seriously the Bible’s own claim for itself – that it is the only final authority.  And they took seriously that man needs the answers given by God in the Bible to have adequate answers not only for how to be in an open relationship with God, but also for how to know the present meaning of life and how to have final answers in distinguishing between right and wrong.  That is, man needs not only a God who exists, but a God who has spoken in a way that can be understood.”

Schaeffer gives us a concise statement of the difference between the Renaissance and the Reformation when he says: “Because the Reformers did not mix humanism with their position, but took instead a serious view of the Bible, they had no problem of meaning for the individual things, the particulars; they had no nature-versus-grace problem.  One could say that the Renaissance centered in autonomous man, while the Reformation centered in the infinite-personal God who had spoken in the Bible.  In the answer the Reformation gave, the problem of meaning for individual things, including man, was so completely answered that the problem – as a problem – did not exist. The reason for this is that the Bible gives a unity to the universal and the particulars.”

For the Reformers the Bible was the foundation of what they believed. They believed that the Bible tells us true things about God and that one can “know true things about God because God has revealed Himself” – to man in the Bible. While man cannot know all about God, he can know the truth about God. For Schaeffer and the Reformers, they can know the “truth about that which is the ultimate universal.”  The Bible tells us the truth about “meaning, morals, and values.”  The Bible also tells the truth about our world, about nature and the people in it. It is not the Bible’s purpose to provide us with “exhaustive truth” about nature, man and the universe but what it does give us is true. And it is this truth which is ultimately important, as Schaeffer tells us. “So one can know many true things about nature, especially why things exist and why they have the form they have.  Yet, because the Bible does not give exhaustive truth about history and the cosmos, historians and scientists have a job to do, and their work is not meaningless.  To be sure, there is a total break between God and His creation, that is, between God and created things; God is infinite – and created things are finite.  But man can know both truth about God and truth about the things of creation because in the Bible God has revealed Himself and has given man the key to understanding God’s world.”

The importance of the truth that the Bible gives us about man cannot be ignored.  The Bible tells us that man is made in the image of God. It is for this reason that man as an individual and as society can be great. But here we start first with God.  Humanism, whose starting and ending point is man has, ultimately, no sense of meaning or worth to give man, except what each man decides to give himself.

The Bible explains that man is also a “fallen” being and that he has separated himself from God. Because man is not in the proper relationship with God, all of men are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. It is the Bible and its truth about man that allowed the Reformers to “could understand both their greatness and their cruelty.”

Over the passing centuries, the church, rather than being a guide to lead man to God had become a wall between man and God. Schaeffer gives us a great example of this in his discussion about the “Rood Screen.”  The rood screen was used to separate the people from the altar. The Reformation with the return to the Bible, taught that man “could come to God directly by faith through the finished work of Christ. That is, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was of infinite value, and people cannot do and need not do anything to earn or add to Christ’s work.  But this can be accepted as an unearned gift.  It was sola gratia, grace only.”  This and the Bible, and the Bible only, sola scriptura, is what enabled the Reformers understanding of God and provided them with the “intellectual and practical answers needed in this present life.”

One of the “raps” against the Reformation that one hears way too frequently is that the Reformation was “antagonistic” to the arts. The reason for this accusation is that the Reformers, in trying to purify their religion by removing certain “inappropriate images,” did in fact destroy what others looked at as works of art. But for the Reformer it was the inappropriateness of the image and the fact that it was leading people astray that was being destroyed not the destruction of art for art’s sake. Schaeffer tells us: “The men of the Reformation saw that the Bible stressed that there is only one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus.  Thus, in the pressure of that historic moment, they sometimes destroyed the images – not as works of art but as religious images which were contrary to the Bible’s emphasis on Jesus as the only mediator.”

It is critical for a proper understanding of the Reformation period to remember for the people of that period “art was an intimate part of life.” If art was destroyed, it was not as art but rather for its “anti-Christian religious significance. Art for the people of this period was not looked upon just for its aesthetic value but rather they looked upon art from the view point of its “truth and religious significance.”  If one considers the artistic achievements of the Reformation, especially in music and painting, it is easy to see why those who insist that the Reformation was against the arts are wrong.

A significant moment in history occurred in the Reformation when the congregations in many of the churches as part of the direct approach to God were allowed to sing. In 1562 a hymn book of comprising the Psalms set to music was published. Luther, a fine singer and musician in his own right, wrote the words and music for more than a few hymns – the best known probably being “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  Do not underestimate the impact of these hymns and others like them on the culture. Luther’s inscription to a hymn book published by his choir director, Johann Walther, provides us   an insight into both Luther and the culture’s understanding of the importance of art and especially music in the life of the people. “I wish that the young men might have something to rid them of their love ditties and wanton songs and might instead of these learn wholesome things and thus yield willingly to the good; also, because I am not of the opinion that all the arts shall be crushed to earth and perish through the Gospel, as some bigoted persons pretend, but would willingly see them all, and especially music, servants of Him who gave and created them.”

Music became the favored mode of expression of the Reformation. Of the many great composers of the time, none surpassed the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1658-1750). He and his music were true products of the Reformation. “His music was a direct result of the Reformation culture and the biblical Christianity of the time, which was so much a part of Bach himself.  There would have been no Bach had there been no Luther.  Bach wrote on his score initials representing such phrases as: “With the help of Jesus”  – “To God alone be the glory” – “In the name of Jesus.”  It was appropriate that the last thing Bach the Christian wrote was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.”  Bach consciously related both the form and the words of his music to biblical truth.

Another composer deserving mention is Handel, the author of what has become known simply as Handel’s Messiah, written in 1741. As Schaeffer comments, “Even the order of the selections follows with extreme accuracy the Bible’s teaching about the Christ as the Messiah.  For example, Handel did not put the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the end, but in its proper place in the flow of the past and future history of Christ. Many modern performances often place it at the end as a musical climax, but Handel followed the Bible’s teaching exactly and placed it at that future historic moment when the Bible says Christ will come back to rule upon the earth – at that point where the Bible prophetically (in the Book of Revelation) puts the cry of “King of kings and Lord of lords!”

Painting of the Reformation was equally significant.  The German painter Albrecht Dürer was a man of the Reformation. His famous woodcuts of the Apocalypse and his copperplate engravings of The Knight, Death, and the Devil, and St. Jerome in His Cell are not only compelling works of art but they clearly mark him as a man, as a painter, of the Reformation.

Dürer, Bach, and Handel, are clearly examples of the impact of the Reformation on the arts. It also follows that a man’s world view is reflected in his art or “creative output.” Schaeffer explains it this way: “A person’s world-view almost always shows through in his creative output, however, and thus the marks on the things he creates will be different.  This is so in all fields –  for example, in the art of the Renaissance compared to that of the Reformation, or in the direction man’s creative stirrings in science will assume, and whether and how the stirring will continue.  In the case of the Reformation the art showed the good marks of its biblical base.”

The clearest example of this is in the life of the Reformation painter Rembrandt (1606 – 1669). For whatever reasons the fact that Rembrandt was a Christian and the influence of his beliefs as a Christian on his art is all but forgotten today.  Rembrandt understood that Christ died on the cross for his sins and this is captured in his famous work Raising of the Cross. “A man in a blue painter’s beret raises Christ upon the cross.  That man is Rembrandt himself – a self-portrait.  He thus stated for all the world to see that his sins had sent Christ to the cross.”

Like Dürer, Bach, and Handel, Rembrandt was clearly a man and a product of the Reformation. His Christian world view is plainly depicted in all of his art. “Rembrandt shows in all his work that he was a man of the Reformation; he neither idealized nature nor demeaned it.  Moreover, Rembrandt’s biblical base enabled him to excel in painting people with psychological depth.  Man was great, but man was also cruel and broken, for he had revolted against God.  Rembrandt’s painting was thus lofty, yet down to earth.”
Schaeffer summarizes this study by drawing upon the conclusions of Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) from his history: The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.  Speaking of Burckhardt Schaeffer says: “He indicated that freedom was introduced both in the north by the Reformation and in the south by the Renaissance.  But in the south it went to license; in the north it did not.  The reason was that in Renaissance humanism man had no way to bring forth a meaning to the particulars of life and no place from which to get absolutes in morals.  But in the north, the people of the Reformation, standing under the teaching of Scripture, had freedom and yet at the same time compelling absolute values.”

God please once again bless Your people with a sense of “compelling absolute values.” Amen!

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