Post Tenebras Lux Martin Luther: Pathfinder Of The Reformation -- By: Michael A. G. Haykin

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 08:1 (Winter 1999)
Article: Post Tenebras Lux Martin Luther: Pathfinder Of The Reformation
Author: Michael A. G. Haykin

Post Tenebras Lux Martin Luther:
Pathfinder Of The Reformation

Michael A. G. Haykin

In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam there is a painting done by a seventeenth-century Dutch painter titled simply “The Candlestick.” It depicts all the leading Reformers—including some voices for reform from the Middle Ages, men such as John Wycliffe (d. 1384) and Jan Huss (d. 1415)—gathered around a table upon which a single, shining candle burns. The painting graphically portrays the main achievement of the Reformers: the unveiling of the light of the gospel in Europe after a long eclipse and period of spiritual darkness. Post Tenebras, Lux (“After darkness, light”), the words carved in stone on the Reformation wall in Geneva, could well serve as a title to this painting.

Before we look at the light that was unveiled, though, it is necessary to look briefly at the spiritual darkness which prevailed in western Europe in the late Middle Ages, that we might appreciate all the more the unveiling of the gospel in that benighted time.

The Spiritual Darkness Of The Late Middle Ages

It is important to note, first of all, that when Martin Luther and the other Reformers protested against the church of their day, the main thrust of their attack was directed against the piety of the medieval Roman Church. From the vantage point of the Reformers, it was a piety that was shaped by superstition and man-made religion. Late

medieval men and women had a deep concern with death and judgment, a concern that was an outgrowth of what is known as the Black Death. A particularly powerful outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 1340s, the Black Death, slew around 40 percent of the population of western Europe. On the eve of the Black Death, for instance, the population of England and Wales stood between 4 million and 5 million. By 1377, successive waves of the Black Death had reduced it to 1.5 million. The plague found ready soil in the unsanitary conditions of medieval society, for as one historian has put it, the Middle Ages was “a thousand years without a bath”! Where could security be found in face of such massive death? The “saints” were one answer that men and women turned to, especially as their holy power was thought to be preserved through their relics.

This is a prime example of medieval superstition. It was believed that the relics, i.e., parts of the bodies of “saints” and holy objects, had various innate powers which could aid their owner or bearer. The origin of such an idea lay back in the Roman idea of holiness as comprising something spatial. A person who lived a holy life accumulated holiness, as it were, in his body—and the body continued ...

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