Posts tagged with: reformation

A few weeks back, Acton welcomed Gene Edward Veith to the Mark Murray Auditorium as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series. This week, I had the opportunity to talk with Veith for this edition of Radio Free Acton. We discuss the influence of the Protestant Reformation on the development of capitalism, Luther’s beliefs on vocation, and how young people can discern their vocations as they contemplate their futures.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below; after the jump, I’ve included the video of Veith’s ALS lecture for those interested in diving deeper into these ideas.

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Max Weber’s classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism made the case that the Reformation had a major impact on the rise of free market capitalism. But according to Gene Edward Veith, Weber misunderstood what it was about the Reformation that caused that impact. On February 26th, Veith came to Grand Rapids to talk about what Weber missed in his classic analysis – primarily Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation, which taught that God is present and active in ordinary economic activity, which becomes a sphere in which Christians can love and serve their neighbors.

Gene Edward Veith is Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College. He is the author of 18 books on topics involving Christianity and culture, classical education, literature, and the arts. They include Postmodern Times, The State of the Arts, The Spirituality of the Cross, God at Work, Modern Fascism, Classical Education, and Loving God With All Your Mind.

If you prefer, you can stream the audio from the player below, or head over to the Acton Institute digital download store and pick up an mp3 of your very own – you can do that at this link.

Niels Hemmingsen 2At the conclusion of the English translation of Niels Hemmingsen’s The Way of Life (1578) (Latin: Via Vitae) is a series of short prayers. The selection includes one “for the aid of God in the needful businesses of our vocation.” The (modernized) text reads:

“Give me understanding, O Lord, and assist my endeavors, that I may faithfully and diligently perform the works of my vocation, to the glory of your name, the edification of your church, and the commodity of my neighbor.”

Hemmingsen was a significant Danish theologian in the sixteenth century, and a selection of his work on natural law is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Fall issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality. Subscribe today to get your copy when it becomes available.

On the Law in General, Girolamo Zanchi“The goal of all good laws is first and foremost the glory of God, then the good of one’s neighbor, privately and, most important, publicly.” –Girolamo Zanchi 

The following excerpt comes from Thesis 3 (above) of Girolamo Zanchi’s newly translated On the Law in General. Though the work encompasses a range of topics, from natural law to human laws to divine laws, this particular thesis comes in his first foundational chapter on what the law actually is—its goals, classifications, and functions.

If the basis for law is, in fact, fairness—namely, that all people get what they deserve—then nothing is more fair than that God receives all honor and glory in the highest and that our neighbors receive what benefits their health and happiness of mind and body. Logically, then, it would follow that the goal of every good and just law is the glory of God and the good of human beings, first in public, then in private. The apostle Paul remarked about this primary goal, “Whatever you do,” (but we should do what the natural law and God himself have commanded) “do everything for the glory of God” [1 Cor. 10:31]. This exhortation depends on a universal premise that everything we should and can do must be done for the glory of God. In addition, Christ said about all good works, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven” [Matt. 5:16]. (more…)

AOTDid you miss Acton on Tap? You really shouldn’t miss Acton on Tap. That’s a bad idea. For instance, if you missed last night’s event, you passed up an opportunity to hear Jordan J. Ballor, Executive Editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality and author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action), speak at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the topic of the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism. He focused on Lord’s Days 50, 42, and 38 as the origin, essence, and goal of economic activity, and it was a really worthwhile talk.

But we’re nothing if not forgiving here at Acton, so if you weren’t able to be there, we’re posting the audio of Jordan’s talk below. Enjoy, and watch this space for info on our next Acton on Tap event!

Jordan J. Ballor speaks at Acton On Tap

Jordan J. Ballor speaks on the economics of the Heidelberg Catechism

Luther before the Diet of Worms in 1521.

Luther before the Diet of Worms in 1521.

Martin Luther “did more than any single man to make modern history the development of revolution,” declared Lord Acton. (Lectures on Modern History) The Protestant Reformation profoundly changed the trajectory of Western Civilization. While the Reformation changed every facet of society, it is important to remember that the Protestant Reformers were of course, primarily theologians. In their view, they believed they were recovering truth about God’s Word and revelation to the world.

Today is Reformation Day and many Protestants around the world already have or will celebrate the roots of their churches. But there is also a crisis going on in the West that needs our attention. Whittaker Chambers put it well in Witness , when he declared, “The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God.”

Secularism, but beyond that a general doctrinal disinterest, is not serving Protestants well. Many churchgoers seek out churches according to their ability to entertain. Many are often much more interested in the facilities, its programs, or seeker-friendly style of worship over what the churches actually believe and teach. The Reformers were prepared to die or be martyred for what they believed and taught. It was of primary importance to them. It would certainly seem that especially today, the West, and especially Protestants, have much to learn from these great thinkers and leaders in the Church.

“Western Civilization has begun to doubt its own credentials,” brooded the French novelist, André Malraux (1901-1976). It was men and women of faith who were responsible for a resurgence of Western Civilization. Reformation Day powerfully reminds us that if there is going to be another resurgence of the principles of freedom, liberty, and truth in our society and culture, it will have to come by way of revival and through people of faith. It is the only cure more powerful than the disease of indifference and secularism that is ushering in our demise as a people and culture.

Review Essay: “Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?”
John M. Vella, Homiletic & Pastoral Review

Despite his rehabilitation in the last quarter of the 19th century, Bellarmine’s intellectual legacy remains mixed. In one respect, at least, he was a product of his time because his vision of a res publica Christiana depended on a united Christendom that could never be restored. Yet, what is easy to see, in hindsight, was not so clear in the early 17th century. On the other hand, his defiance of royal absolutism, in defense of rule of law and religious truth, is far from outdated.

Conference: “Sister Reformations II: Reformation and Ethics”

The Theological Faculty of the Humboldt University organizes a symposium on Sisterreformations II, Reformations and Ethics, September 13-15, 2012 in Berlin. In the light of the fruitful collaboration between Reformation historians trained in the German and Anglo-Saxon academic traditions during the 2009 Berlin symposium ‘Sister Reformations: The Reformation in Germany and in England’, a second gathering will now take place in 2012 to examine the theme ‘Reformation and Ethics’. For, although all parties in the Sixteenth Century accepted moral renovation as intrinsic to the Christian life, the exact place of ethics in this process, especially in relation to faith, was one of the most disputed points not only between the Reformers and their adversaries but also between the different strands of the Reformation itself. Consequently, this new symposium, jointly planned by the chairs of Reformation History in Berlin and Durham (UK), shall consider the principal ethical and theological questions involved as well as the actual moral decisions and patterns of behaviour associated with the English and German Reformations.

Lecture: “An Occasional Lecture: Capitalism and the Family”
Steven Horwitz, Institute of Economic Affairs

In this talk, Steven Horwitz will argue that the enhanced freedom with respect to family choices that has characterised the modern family and is celebrated by those on the political left, is largely a product of the economic system, market capitalism, which they often reject. At the same time, those on the right who are troubled by these changes in the family, including the demand for same-sex marriage, need to realise that such cultural changes are an inevitable by-product of the economic freedom they claim to celebrate. Steven will argue it is capitalism that is the main driver of the evolution of the western family and the wider array of family structures, which characterises the 21st century, representing an increased cultural freedom brought on by the freedom to engage in capitalist acts between consenting adults and the wealth it brings in its wake.

Book Note: “Theology and Public Philosophy”
Kenneth Grasso and Cecilia Rodriguez Castillo, eds., Theology and Public Philosophy: Four Conversations

This volume brings together eminent theologians, philosophers and political theorists to discuss the relevance of theology and theologically grounded moral reflection to contemporary America’s public life and argument. Avoiding the focus on hot-button issues, shrill polemics, and sloganeering that so often dominate discussions of religion and public life, the contributors address such subjects as how religious understandings have shaped the moral landscape of contemporary culture, the possible contributions of theologically-informed argument to contemporary public life, religious and moral discourse in a pluralistic society, and the proper relationship between religion and culture.

Book Note: “Reckoning With Markets”
James Halteman and Edd S. Noell, Reckoning With Markets: The Role of Moral Reflection in Economics

Undergraduate economics students begin and end their study of economics with the simple claim that economics is value free. Only in a policy role will values and beliefs enter into economic work; there can be little meaningful dialogue by economists about such personal views and opinions. This view, now well over 200 years old, has been challenged by heterodox thinkers in economics, and philosophers and social scientists outside the discipline all along the way. However, much of the debate in modern times has been narrowly focused on philosophical methodological issues on one hand or theological/sectarian concerns on the other. None of this filters down to the typical undergraduate even in advanced courses on the history of economic thought. This book presents the notion that economic thinking cannot escape value judgments at any level and that this understanding has been the dominant view throughout most of history. It shows how, from ancient times, people who thought about economic matters integrated moral reflection into their thinking. Reflecting on the Enlightenment and the birth of economics as a science, Halteman and Noell illustrate the process by which values and beliefs were excluded from economics proper. They also appraise the reader with relevant developments over the last half-century which offer promise of re-integrating moral reflection in economic research.

Cranach, autoritrattoDaniel Siedell, Director of Cultural and Theological Practice at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a fine review of Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation in the latest issue of Books & Culture.

As Siedell observes, “Ozment liberates Cranach from the confines of art history by offering a broader cultural framework within which to evaluate Cranach’s historical significance.”

One of the merits of Ozment’s study is that he thus situates Cranach in the context of his position in the royal court of Frederick the Wise:

His duties included decorating the Elector’s castles, designing and painting festival tents and uniforms, documenting hunting trips and his extensive relic collection, as well as making cake molds for birthday parties. This kind of workshop production has struck art historians as unbecoming of a fine artist.

Indeed, there is much in the modern approach to art that disdains such worldly and workaday considerations. As Siedell writes, noting a piece on the entrepreneurial aspects of early modern art, “most artists, especially those working at the highest echelons of culture, are obsessed with getting paid, in part, because at those levels, payment is much more sporadic and asking for it much less becoming.”

Indeed, “Art does not exist without some kind of market. The task of any artist is to find—or create—it, yet art historians have been slow to accept the market as a defining feature of artistic practice.”

As for the theological and religious aspects of his life and work,

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

For more on Ozment’s book on Cranach as well as more generally on the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and its relevance for today, check out the eponymous blog of Gene Edward Veith.

And for more on art, culture, and the Christian calling, check out Abraham Kuyper’s newly-translated work on common grace in science and art, Wisdom & Wonder (also reviewed in the latest issue of Books & Culture).

Last week, in a reflection about American freedom and Christianity, I contended that the shift from emphasis on the pursuit of “property” to the pursuit of “happiness” illustrated the spiritual insight of the American founders. And today, Joe passed along a piece related to the economic climate in America at the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that as “America had a thriving middle class,” the United States might have been designed especially to institutionalize, protect, and promote the materially-acquisitive ethos of the time.

That, at least, is the suggestion made by Brad Gregory in his book, The Unintended Reformation. In a chapter on “Manufacturing the Goods Life,” Gregory contends that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the broader vision of social life articulated by the founders was uniquely oriented toward merely material prosperity:

The substantive emptiness of the nation’s founding documents was possible not only because Americans were strongly shaped by Christian moral assumptions, but also because so many of them had simultaneously departed in practice from the traditional Christian condemnation of avarice.

A corollary of this is that America is uniquely anti-Christian:

If Christianity is among other things a discipline of selflessness in charitable service to others, then the United States’ legally protected ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness, culturally reinforced at every turn, would seem to be its antithesis.

You might guess what this means for our evaluation of Europe, however, which ends up looking rather more Christ-like by comparison:

But, ironically, more than is true of federal or state institutions in the church-going United States, secularized Europeans’ welfare states since World War II have more in common with the social concerns and the moral commitments of the Christianity that made the Continent and Britain, because they at least seek to meet the most basic needs of every citizen.

It’s true, admits Gregory, that American freedom includes the ability to be spiritually responsible. But even the value of this is doubtful:

So too, it is obvious that he advent of modern capitalism and market-governed societies has facilitated the potential for human flourishing and the possibility of living meaningful human lives for hundreds of millions of people, which considered as such is also a very good thing. But those who are devoted to their families, demonstrate care for others, make charitable donations, and practice self-restraint do so within a world dominated by wall-to-Walmart capitalism and consumerism, with all that this implies.

What all this has to do with the Reformation is something that has to be explored within the larger argument of the book. I’m currently drafting a review of it, but it has already been reviewed and engaged in a number of significant places, like Books & Culture, the Wall Street Journal, and First Things. At this point I can recommend Gregory’s book if you want to see what the Reformation and global climate change have to do with one another (hint: the main link is the American “ethos of self-regarding acquisitiveness” outlined above).

News from the Acton Institute:

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty is joining forces with Refo500, a project that aims to bring international attention to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Leading up to the anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses, Refo500 is engaging with a variety of partner organizations to promote the importance of the Reformation period and its relevance for today’s world.

“Refo500 has the potential to help Acton bring its message about the relationship between faith and freedom to a broad and diverse audience around the globe,” said Dr. Stephen J. Grabill, director of programs at the Acton Institute. “The ecumenical vision of Refo500, which broadly encompasses the time period and is not merely a narrow confessional project, shows why the Reformation was so important in the shaping of the modern world.” He points to, for instance, the important contributions of the Roman Catholic School of Salamanca to the development of modern economic thought, as well as the legacies of the Protestant Reformers on doctrinal, political, and ethical matters.

The themes of the Refo500 project, which include “Money and Power,” “Art and Culture,” and “Freedom and Preaching,” resonate with the Acton Institute’s mission to promote a society characterized by freedom and virtue. The aims of Refo500 are also consistent with the institute’s work in creating The Birth of Freedom documentary and curriculum products for the importance of communicating the roots of freedom in Western civilization.

Lord Acton, the nineteenth-century British historian for whom the institute is named, was particularly clear about the significance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the development of limits on political power. “From that time it became possible to make politics a matter of principle and of conscience, so that men and nations differing in all other things could live in peace together, under the sanctions of a common law,” he wrote in his essay, “The History of Freedom in Christianity.”

“Refo500 is excited to welcome the Acton Institute into partnership,” said Refo500 project director Dr. Herman Selderhuis. “Acton’s significant achievements on a variety of levels, from academic publications, to popular writings, to film and social media, connect well with the comprehensive vision of the Refo500 project.”

Next year Refo500 will be involved in observing the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism, including a conference held in the Johannes a Lasco Library Emden (Germany), March 3-5, 2011. The Acton Institute will also be publishing a translation of a section of Abraham Kuyper’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism in its Journal of Markets & Morality later in the year. There are also plans for Acton Institute scholars to take an active role in participating in the Reformation Research Group (RefoRG), the academic section of Refo500. RefoRG will hold its first conference June 8-10, 2011, in Zurich and will be hosted by the Institut für Schweizerische Reformationsgeschichte on the theme, “The Myth of the Reformation.”

For more information visit:

http://www.acton.org/Refo500

http://www.Refo500.com