Kaspar Schwenkfeld Took a Separate Path – 10th December 1561.
Borrow’s Bible Adventures in Spain – 10th December 1842
Melchiades Bishop of Rome
Kaspar Schwenkfeld Took a Separate Path – 10th December 1561.
Two and a quarter centuries after Kaspar Schwenkfeld’s death, which took place on this day December 10, 1561, small groups of his followers in Pennsylvania continue to follow his teachings.
Who was this man whose influence has crossed continents and centuries? Kaspar Schwenkfeld was born into the Silesian nobility in 1489, three years before Columbus’ famous voyage. Silesia was a small province in central Europe.
In 1519, Schwenkfeld experienced what he called a “visitation of God.” He was deeply affected by the writings of Martin Luther and began a serious study of the Scriptures. Committed to reform, he took strong action wherever he went.
However, he wanted to reject only those elements of the old traditions which truly could be described as stumbling blocks to knowing Christ. He criticized reformers who went too far, too fast, and who seemed to think that only outward change was needed.
To be a true Christian, one must change inside. The more he studied the Scriptures, the more Caspar discovered areas of Luther’s theology with which he disagreed.
He especially had problems with Lutheran teachings on justification by faith alone, the freedom of man’s will, and the futility of human works. Caspar also developed a unique understanding of the Lord’s Supper which was distinct from Luther and the other reformers.
He believed the true Christian at the Lord’s Supper ate the spiritual body of Christ which would grow as a planted seed and transform the individual into the image of God and the person of Christ. Caspar’s main desire was to worship, praise and glorify Christ. He consciously strove to remain orthodox. Nonetheless, in 1541, when he published his Great Confession on the Glory of Christ, many considered the work heretical.
He aimed at teaching people to unite with the real, living, spiritual Christ so that their lives would truly change. His position was more subtle than can be explained in this short article, but he taught that Christ has two natures, divine and human, the human nature being a kind of “celestial flesh” not fallen like ours.
Jesus’ human flesh was increasingly divinized while he was on earth, so he was eventually transfigured, resurrected and taken up to heavenly glory. It was Christ’s invisible glorified flesh which Caspar thought believers ate at the Lord’s Supper.
Because of this view, his followers often called themselves “Confessors of the Glory of Christ.” The number of Schwenkfeld’s followers diminished greatly after the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. By 1700 there were only about 1500 remaining in lower Silesia.
When the Austrian Emperor established a Jesuit mission to bring these back into the Catholic church, many fled Silesia, leaving their property and possessions behind. Some found refuge on the lands of Count Zinzendorf before coming to Pennsylvania in the 1530s.
Five congregations of Schwenkfelders persisted in Pennsylvania at the start of the 21st-century.
Borrow’s Bible Adventures in Spain 10th December 1842
George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain was published on this day, December 10, 1842. The author was an agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society. His book sold wildly, and remains one of the finest adventures yarns in the English language, made all the more interesting because it is a true story.
A Protestant distributing Bibles in a hostile Catholic nation in the middle of a civil war…What could be more exciting? Borrow seemed created for adventure.
He was fascinated by gypsies and mastered their language. Eventually he wrote several books about them. Something of a loner, he was always most comfortable with outcasts and loved the exhilaration of danger.
Once he rescued a friend from drowning. (Later he saved another man in thirty foot waves.) He became a cragsman in Scotland. A gypsy poisoned him.
His genius was for language. By the time he was eighteen, he had learned Romany from the gypsies, French from an émigré priest, Erse while his father was stationed in Ireland, Welsh by reading Paradise Lost in it, Danish by reading a Danish Bible, and, by one means or another, had acquired Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian and Saxon.
His love of languages made him what he became. As a young man he was a freethinker. He tried to make his living translating heroic stories from Scandinavian languages, but was only able to get hackwork.
This included writing a six volume series on notorious criminals, which worsened his melancholy. Reconsidering Christianity, he offered himself to the British and Foreign Bible Society.
His first task was the “impossible” job of translating the Bible into Manchu, the court language of China. He did not even know Manchu, but nineteen weeks later demonstrated such a mastery that he was sent to St. Petersburg, Russia, to complete the task. In less than two years, he overcame all obstacles (such as paper shortages) to see it into print.
His next assignment was Iberia. Landing in Portugal, he made a survey of its spiritual needs and headed for Spain.
Adventure began at once. A saddle girth snapped, nearly killing him. He was shot at when he laughed aloud at an official who mistook him for a Frenchman.
In Spain he met gypsies and read them the gospel in their own tongue. Roman clergy in the big Spanish cities resisted his distribution of Bibles. So he rode through the most dangerous regions of a nation at civil war, selling Bibles.
He witnessed grisly atrocities. Threats abounded. He was arrested, but refused to accept release except on his own terms, causing an international incident. An attempt was made to assassinate him.
He survived. His Bibles were seized, but demand for them was so great that the greedy officials became the distributors, selling the confiscated books to the highest bidders and lining their own pockets with the receipts.
In a customs house, Borrow spoke so convincingly to officials who were instructed to seize his wares that they themselves bought Bibles. After years of danger and daring–and much bickering with his home office–Borrow left Spain “forever,” having done “for her all that lay in the power of a lone man, who had never in this world anything to depend on but God and his own slight strength.”
As interesting as The Bible in Spain is, it is only fair to point out that it shows more love of adventure and hatred of the Roman Church than spiritual feeling.
Melchiades Bishop of Rome
Melchiades (also known as Miltiades) became Bishop of Rome (pope) in 311 at a moment when profound events were shaking the world and the church.
He lived only three years longer, but, although he did not die a martyr, he is included in the list of Roman martyrs.
This was probably because he suffered under the fierce persecution of the Emperors Diocletian and Galerius. During that persecution, an earlier Bishop of Rome, Eusebius, was sent into exile. For a few months, there was no Bishop of Rome.
It was Melchiades who replaced Eusebius. Constantine rose to power and put an end to the persecution of the Christians.
That is how it came to be that a new age for the church dawned while Melchiades was still pope. One of Constantine’s early acts was to give the Lateran Palace to the popes.
This became the center from which the Western church administered its affairs. Melchiades was in the thick of that administration, because the first major split in the church occurred while he was Bishop of Rome.
During the persecutions, some Christians handed over rare pieces of Scriptures to the government’s agents in order to escape torture. This was considered betrayal by other Christians. After the persecution was over, these “weaklings” wanted back in the church.
Some Christians, who had suffered torture rather than give up copies of Scripture, said the failed Christians should only be let back in with severe penalties.
In North Africa, a number of Christians claimed that bishop Caecilian of Carthage had been consecrated by a traitor. Therefore, they argued that he was not a lawful bishop.
These North Africans elected a bishop of their own. He soon died and Donatus took his place. The splinter sect that they formed became known as Donatists.
The Donatists said they would break away from other Christians if Caecilian was not removed. Constantine asked Melchiades and another bishop to handle the matter.
At the request of the Donatists, bishops from Gaul were included in the investigation. (Gaul had not suffered persecution and therefore was considered neutral on the issue of traitors.) Melchiades, the bishops from Gaul and some Italian bishops investigated the situation.
They declared Caecilian the legitimate bishop. The Donatists carried through their threat and broke away from the universal church, setting up rival bishops in North Africa. They became a thorn in Constantine’s side.
Because of his other involvements, he had to allow them to exist as an independent sect. Melchiades condemned Donatus but said the other Donatist bishops could keep their offices if they returned to the universal church. St. Augustine, also a North African, later praised Melchiades’ decision, calling it very moderate.
But the Donatists claimed that Melchiades made the decision he made because he himself was a traitor–one of those who had delivered the Scriptures into the hands of the persecutors. St. Augustine said there was no grounds for this lie.
Melchiades died on January 10, 314, but for unknown reasons, his feast on the Roman Calendar is shown on this day, December 10th.