The Protestant Reformation and the culture of persuasion (1)

The Reformers tried to persuade their audience to live a life based on what Christ had done on the Cross for man. For Luther and the Reformation movement it was important to preach with simplicity and clarity.

31 OCTOBER 2023 · 17:38 CET

A painting of Luther preaching, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. / Image: <a target="_blank" href="">Wikipedia</a>.,
A painting of Luther preaching, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. / Image: Wikipedia.

Andrew Pettegree (born 1957) is probably one of the most important historians of the Protestant Reformation in recent years.

Pettegree is a professor at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He was the founder of the Institute for Protestant Reformation Studies at St Andrews, as well as the director of the Universal Short Title Catalog project, which aims to gather information on all books published in Europe from the invention of the printing press in 1440 to the end of the 16th century, so that researchers can study the evolution of the book and the culture of printing.

Pettegree's research focuses on two major issues: the printing press and the Protestant Reformation.

Within the first category, Pettegree has contributed as one of the editors to the series, St Andrews Studies in Reformation History, a series of over eighty titles, which can be found here.

Pettegree has also written several titles related to the history of printing and the evolution and reception of books through the ages.

Among the most relevant titles are the following: The Invention of News, The Book in the Renaissance, The Bookshop of the World, The Book at War.

This culture developed through Bible translations, sermons, hymns and hymnbooks, catechisms, a new solidarity and a culture of belonging

Regarding the Protestant Reformation, Pettegree's studies focused on the influence of the Reformation in the Netherlands, as well as on the development of the culture of persuasion that came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the 16th century. The books on this subject that stand out are Brand Luther, Emden and the Dutch Revolt, The Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion.

One of the aspects that Pettegree tries to stress in his writings is the culture of persuasion that came about through the Protestant Reformation. .

The 16th century saw a renaissance in philology. Erasmus of Rotterdam published the New Testament in Greek in 1516, which became the text used by Protestants to translate the New Testament into European vernacular languages.

On the other hand, Daniel Bomberg published the Rabbinical Bible in 1517. This text would later become known as the Bomberg Bible, and would be the basis for Protestant translations of the Old Testament.

Martin Luther realized the need to go back to the sources, i.e. to go back to the origin in the biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. For the Reformers God had spoken, and had communicated through the biblical languages.

The Reformation attempts to return to a restoration, not an innovation. For this Reformation to take place it was important to return to the Word of God as the basis.

The Reformation was the return to the Bible as the Word of God, especially to the sources in which it was written: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. By returning to these sources, the Reformers realised that man can have direct communion with God without intermediaries.

The doctrine of Justification by Faith gives man a reason by which he can have security knowing that the work of Christ is complete, and that the sins of man have been paid for in full.

Man must only believe and have confidence that Christ has accomplished the salvation of man because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

The doctrine of justification by faith was a driving force that helped the reformers translate the Bible into the language of the people.

This led to a return to the teaching of the languages in which the texts of the Bible had been written. To know that God has spoken, and that those words can be understood by the people in their own language is what caused translations of the Bible to be made in different languages throughout the 16th century in Europe, which helped to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people (Revelation 14:6).

As soon as vernacular versions of the Bible began to circulate, the Reformers began to preach in a language that people could understand.

The Reformation was the return to the Bible as the Word of God. By returning to these sources, the Reformers realised that man can have direct communion with God without intermediaries

Martin Luther defines the importance of this as follows: "'We must discuss complicated things privately with intelligent people. I do not think of Bugenhagen or Melanchthon or Justus Jonas in my sermon. They know much more than I do. I do not try to preach for them. I just preach to Hansie or Betsy".

For Luther and the Reformation movement it was important to preach with simplicity and clarity.

Luther in his sermons continually used pairs of opposites: law/gospel, sin/grace, works/faith. In this way, people could better understand the message preached to them.

It is important to mention that the reformers take up Cicero's ideas on oratory, in which a basic and practical teaching is outlined in three main points, sometimes in the form of a syllogism.

The Reformers preached section by section and book by book in the Bible, that is, expository sermons in which everything related to the chapters to be treated was discussed.

Between 1519 and 1522 Zwingli, the Zurich reformer, preached a series of sermons covering the Gospel of Matthew, the book of Acts and several of Paul's epistles.

Zwingli's successor, Heinrich Bullinger, preached six times a week. It is estimated that, in his 44 years of ministry, Bullinger preached almost 7,000 sermons, covering every book of the Old and New Testaments.

John Calvin preached 286 times a year, which would give a total of about 4,000 sermons in his lifetime as a preacher.

After Luther published his sermon on indulgences in 1518, the sermons of the preachers of the Reformation movement were published in several print editions; those sermons, as well as the commentaries that were published on books of the Bible, became a hallmark of the Reformation.

Two examples of this: 1) the English version of Luther's works consists of 55 volumes in which his lectures as a university professor, commentaries on books of the Bible, sermons, devotional writings, letters, liturgy and hymns, after-dinner talks are published; 2) John Calvin's work consists of 59 volumes including biblical commentaries, sermons, lecture notes, personal letters, theological treatises, catechisms.

The culture of persuasion was reflected in the sermons, with which the Reformers tried to persuade their audience to live a life based on the knowledge of what Christ had done on the cross for man.

The knowledge that Christ loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20) was a message of comfort that people needed to hear.

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

Published in: Evangelical Focus - Features - The Protestant Reformation and the culture of persuasion (1)

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