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Entries in Church History (62)


The Catholic Presence Makes a Difference

One of the areas of study I am always in the process of engaging in is the history of the Church in Canada. I will be taking Church history in September, and I hope at that time to find more resources about the history of evangelicalism specifically. Evangelicalism in the U.S. is well documented, but there is much less with a specifically Canadian focus.  

For quite a few years now, I have had Mark Noll's A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada on my shelf. It's a large volume, and I've just never decided to sit down with it and pick away at it. As part of my reading of Canadian material this year (and reading books which sit on my shelf unread for a long time), I decided to take it out on the deck with me and my tea yesterday afternoon. I have always like Noll's writing. 

Noll begins right at the beginning, with the colonization of the New World, and the impact it had on the indigenous peoples. I was happy to see Noll's admission that what Columbus and his kind did was not always Christian. As he discusses these early years, he points out that in Canada, because of the French presence, had a Christian presence for a long time before Protestantism began making its mark.

One of the most famous French mission initiatives to Canada came through Jean de Brébuf, a Jesuit. He was a man reputed to be more sensitive to the people he was ministering to, although he is quoted as using the word "savage" to describe the native population. That said, he did believe in recognizing that the natives were to be viewed as  "ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our Brethren with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives."

This presence of Roman Catholicism did not stay confined to what is now Québec. It spread throughout the country. The enduring element of French culture and language which remained even after the British were victorious at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, has left its mark on Canada. Noll says:

Whereas Roman Catholics in significant numbers came relatively late to what would be called the United States, they were present as the first permanent settlers of Canada and so provided foundational contribution to later Canadian civilization.

Through the succeeding centuries Quebec's French Catholic culture remained an important counterpoint to the Protestant societies of North America and even to the more pluralistic Catholicism that eventually came to play such a large role in the United States and elsewhere in Canada.

The dual nature of our country is still evident, of course. But more than than, the soil in which the seeds of evangelicalism were sown is not the same as the United States. Canada is a country defined also by its regionalism, and thus the environment of the Western provinces provides a different climate for evangelicalism to flourish. Those provinces have the further influence of large numbers of Mennonites settling, as well as American influences and large numbers of European immigrants. I confess to finding immigration history very interesting; not just the statistical aspects, but how that immigration worked itself out in society.

I don't imagine I'll finish Noll's book before school begins again, but hopefully I will get through much of it. I also recently picked up a copy of Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, by John Stackhouse. I am confident that Noll's book will provide more resources, as he ends every chapter of this book with suggested resources.


Sixteenth Century Female Blogger?

Argula von Grumbach was a female Reformer, who lived from 1492-1563. She was a woman of noble birth, and writer of pamphlets. Pamphlet writing reminds me of blogging. It was a way to disseminate information with ease. It was really the only way for the common people, including women, to speak forth their views in any public way.

Unlike her contemporary, Martin Luther's wife, Katharina, Argula's activities went far beyond the domestic sphere. By virtue of her father giving her a Bible as a child, she was very knowledgeable of the Scriptures, something not common among women at this time. Those who participated in theological discussions of the day were generally learned male scholars. Women did not attend universities, so if a woman wanted to engage in a theological discussion, she did so as an outsider. Pamphlets were really Argula's only way to speak forth.

Argula emphasized two principles: the priesthood of all believers and the primacy of the Scriptures. She believed her authority to interpret Scripture and speak publicly was founded on the first principle. Of course, not everyone saw things that way. With the Reformation came an attention to the sacredness of the home and family. This gave meaning and value to domesticity. The emphasis on domesticity tended to direct women to work out their vocations primarily in the home.

Despite having no formal education, Argula was determined to speak out:

Ah, but what a joy it is when the spirit of God teaches us and gives us understanding . . . I don't intend to bury my talent, if the Lord give me grace.

That comment is not unlike how many women feel today. And even though we are 500 years past the Reformation, I suspect this tension between the desire to speak and the impediments faced is still something women experience. 

What I found quite interesting is that in order to be heard, Argula faced similar reality women face today: the need for education and to know the right people. Argula, by virtue of her noble birth was in a position far above the majority of women. Not only did she have access to education, she knew the right people and she had the means to publish her pamphlets. It is indeed easier today to spread our own views, but knowing the right people does help. I had an email conversation four years ago with a published Christian writer, and he told me quite honestly that he believed he never would have been published had he not known someone in the industry. I wonder if that is true true generally speaking. 

Argula, by virtue of knowing male nobility had patrons who would support her. Is that still true today? Do Christian women married to or associated with pastors, university presidents, and popular speakers have an advantage over other women? Just like Argula had the means to publish and knew a publisher, what kind of advantages do some women have today? It's an interesting question.

Not everyone liked Argula's insistence. She was labelled as "heretical," and a "hag" for trying to insert herself in the dialogue among male leaders and scholars. Yet she persisted. What I find most notable is her dedication to the Scriptures. And that is a lesson women today can learn from: to know the Scriptures well. We have so much more freedom to speak out than did Argula. Perhaps there are men who would roll their eyes when a woman theologian speaks forth, but there are people who support women in such roles. I think there is still a lack of women in strictly theological discussion, with the majority of the content of their writing focusing on Christian living and cultural themes, but there are a few female theologians out there, and there are some women bloggers out there who write about more theological topics. I'm thankful for both kinds of writing.

If we want to speak forth as women, we do have to be like Argula in two respects: be students of the Scriptures, and be persistent. I don't think it's enough to have a bone to pick and a space online to write. We need to be as grounded in the Scriptures as we can be, and we need to be dedicated to the truth.


Did all women welcome the Reformation?

I've started reading Women and the Reformation. Unlike other books on women of the Reformation, it does not focus primarily on the Reformation in England, but in Europe and France. Of the eight women discussed, I was only familiar with Renée of France and Katharina von Bora.

When we think of the Reformation, we naturally think of freedom; freedom from the strictures of the Church, freedom to read the Scriptures in one's own language. It was not all beneficial for everyone. For men, the Reformation allowed men to marry and be in church office. For women, it was not exactly the same, and I had never really stopped to think about that much.

In the medieval church, women could join convents and have a role in religious life. For women who didn't want to marry, the convent gave them a place to pursue not only religious life, but education. Once the convents and monasteries started to disband, those opportunities became fewer. 

Convents had fostered women's intellectual pursuits and writing more than any other institution at the time and (especially in urban centers) had provided and "intellectual space" and opportunities unavailable to women elsewhere. In other words, nuns had made many sacrifices for their calling, but gained in return opportunities to develop in areas beyond the reach of married women whose time and energy were consumed by their family and household tasks. It was not at all self-evident that the majority of convent women would eagerly give up what they had for, in their eyes, questionable pleasures of marriage with all its dangers, including childbirth, mortality, and abusive husbands -- and that was for all practical purposes the only alternative offered by the Protestent reformers.

That was something I had not thought much about, and likely because I take for granted the ability of women to seek education. We often forget that not every woman was able to pursue education. I wonder what it would be like to really want to pursue education, to watch the men around me attain it, but to be prevented from it myself. Women throughout history have been in such positions.

It makes me even more thankful for the opportunities I have.


In light of the 17th of March

Since it's St. Patrick's Day today, I thought I'd re-post a slightly modified post about at Michael Haykin's great book Patrick of Ireland.

Michael Haykin calls his book Patrick of Ireland a "book-length essay," and that really is what it is. It won't take you long to read this book, but it is a great introduction to the life of Patrick.

It is difficult to write about Patrick because of lack of source material. Haykin focuses on what  can be discerned from Patrick's two surviving writings, the Confession and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. The Confession is available online for free, and an interested person could start there to hear about Patrick from his own lips.

Haykin recounts the conversion of Patrick and the subsequent impact it had on his own life and the life of Ireland. We learn that Patrick was a committed Trinitarian, that he was a man of God's Word, a man of prayer, and a man reliant on the Spirit of God. Much of the Confession is full of Scriptural references. Haykin speculates that while Patrick was likely not a well-read man, his education having been interrupted when he was taken as a slave; but he was extremely well-versed in Scripture. This was at a time before the Latin Vulgate, but he did have the Old Latin manuscripts to look at, and he took advantage of them.

Haykin highlights Patrick's gratitude at his conversion. It was what compelled him to return to Ireland with the gospel after he had successfully returned to Britain:

I cannot be silent -- nor, indeed, is it expedient -- about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has designed to bestow on me 'in the land of my captivity'; for this is what we can give back to God after having been chastened and having come to know him, to exalt and praise his wonders before every nation that is under the whole heaven.

Patrick was, above all, a man of mission, and this was not a typical in the 5th Century Roman church. Patrick took seriously that call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He believed that Ireland was the end of the world. And why would he not? On the western coast of Ireland, looking out into the Atlantic, it would have been an easy to conclusion to draw. He was simply obeying what Scripture told him.

Haykin comments on Patrick's evangelistic zeal:

His zeal for missions and the salvation of the lost is not only inspiring, but deeply convicting. Also, he is into missions for all of the right reasons: the concern for their salvation; the duty he owes to God's call on his own life; and the obedience of the Scriptural mandate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

If you know little about Patrick, but want to learn, this is the volume to begin with. It's a quick read, but it reveals the man that was Patrick, avoiding the extrapolated versions of him. Haykin includes a good selection of other volumes for those interested in digging deeper. I was pleased to see that Who Was St. Patrick? by A.E. Thompson is on the list. That is my favourite biography of Patrick.


Reformation Day Reading

Happy Reformation Day!

I'm so thankful for what the Reformers won for us through their many sacrifices. Every time we open our bibles written in our own language, we can thank the men who fought and died to have this book made available to the common man.

Today, I would like to direct you to three posts which focus on Reformation Day.

The first is a biographical sketch of Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. Did you know of her religious sympathies? Read on to find out more of her. Diane has done her research for this one!

It's Rebecca's turn at Out of the Ordinary this morning, and she has written a post about of Jan Hus. We talk a lot about Luther and Calvin and Wycliffe, but Hus was a predecessor to the Reformers, and made contributions, too. 

In 2012, Christina Langella hosted an entire series about Women of the Reformation. You can check out the list of articles here.

All of this talk of church history always gets me excited to take down some volumes from my shelf. I hope to do that in the near future!