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Church history

The Defenestration of Prague

You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here.

*****

Today we’re going to look at a small event that had big consequences. This was the Defenestration of Prague. It was May 23, 1618, and Catholic representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II arrived at the Bohemian Chancellery in Prague bright and early at 8:30 am. To understand why this visit mattered, you have to know a little bit of the background. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had settled religious tensions in the Holy Roman Empire by allowing the local ruler to determine the state religion of the region rather than the Emperor himself. Back in that time, if you were Catholic and the ruler was Protestant, or you were Protestant and the ruler was Catholic, you had to put up with discrimination, or else you had to move to a different principality. By our 21st century standards, that sounds awful, but it was quite a change and a change for the better.  Before the Peace of Augsburg, the official faith of the entire empire had been decided by the emperor who was generally Catholic. That meant that Protestants either had to accept persecution and discrimination or leave the empire, an area bigger than modern Germany. Compared to that, moving to a nearby town was a breeze. With a new ruler, a Catholic, being appointed over Bohemia, the Protestants were nervous. They thought their religious freedom was being threatened, And just in case they thought they were being paranoid about that, the Roman Catholic Church started to demand that no further Protestant churches be built in Bohemia. The church said the land was Catholic, but the Protestants said the decision about religion belonged to the local ruler. While the word "defenestration" is a recent one, the act itself has been going on for a lot longer. As the “Death of Jezebel,” by Gustave Dore, depicts, this monarch's end came when her eunuch attendants threw her out an upper story window (2 Kings 9:30-37). So, back to that meeting on May 23, 1618. Things seem to have gotten out of hand very quickly, and the representatives of the emperor were put on trial for trying to restrict freedom of religion in Bohemia. The verdict was probably a foregone conclusion, and apparently the sentence was death because it wasn’t long before the Protestants were attempting to defenestrate the Catholics, which is to say throw them out the window. Those Catholic nobles took a tumble, falling 16 meters to the ground, yet were physically unharmed... though their pride had certainly taken a beating. The Catholics said the men had landed without incident because they were carried down on the wings of angels. The Protestants were quick to counter that the men had actually had their fall cushioned by a giant dung heap. And while you might say the whole event stinks, the consequences of this single, ridiculous event were tragic. This defenstration – throwing people out the windows – acted as the trigger event to the Thirty Years War. France, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and a whole lot of the German states were eventually pulled into this war, with estimates ranging from 5 to 11 million killed. It ultimately ended in 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia, which, ironically, re-established the right of the local ruler to determine the official religion of his region. Perhaps the one truly odd thing about the Defenestration of Prague is that this was actually the second Defenestration of Prague. The first occurred 199 years earlier, in 1419, when a protest by Hussites, an early group of Protestant Reformers, was hit by a rock thrown from a window in the town hall. The enraged Hussites ran into the town hall and threw several town councilors out the window. As well, in 1948 Soviet government agents were in Prague with the mission of intimidating local officials. Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister, was found dead in the courtyard of the Foriegn Ministry, just below the bathroom of the suite he occupied. The official explanation was that he had jumped to his death. Foul play by Soviet agents with a remarkable sense of history was widely suspected by those who knew Masaryk. Unfortunately for those in the last two examples, this time there were no dung heaps close by.

This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, "where history is never boring." You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. The cover picture is "The Defenestration, 1618" by Václav Brožík (c. 1890).

To dig a little deeper see: Wikipedia - Defenestration of Prague Wikipedia - Hussite Wars  Wikipedia - Peace of Westphalia  Britannica History Extra Atlas Obscura Encyclopedia.com Radio Prague New Statesman Private Prague Guide

Church history

Rome's Catacombs art was created to encourage fellow Christians

Imagine a vast, underground series of zigzagging passageways covering an area several miles in length, 590 acres in size. Ponder the amount of work that was required to dig down between 2 and 60 feet deep into volcanic tuff rock in order to create these passageways and the loculi (burial niches) that lined the sides of them. In an ancient time period when graveyards were not permitted within the city limits of Rome, the catacombs were created for the burial of Christians, Jews, and some pagan individuals. The catacombs are thought to have held between four and seven million graves. Between 40 and 60 multi-level burial chambers connected by numerous tunnels have been discovered just outside of Rome.  Narrow steps go down as many as four stories, leading to passages that are about 8 feet high and 3 or 4 feet. The burial niches were carved into the walls and are generally 16-24 inches high and 45-60 inches long. And it is here, in these catacombs, where we can find the earliest known examples of Christian artwork. During the second century, the traditions of the Romans and Etruscans favored cremation, but the Christians, believing in the bodily resurrection of the dead, thought that bodies of the deceased should be buried, as was the described manner within the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Because of that, and because it was inexpensive, Christians dug these catacombs, generally beginning on the property of one of the Christians, digging downward and then branching out in many directions. Imagine starting such a project in your back yard! The Christians definitely expanded the number of catacombs, and were known to hold funeral services in small chapel-like rooms, similar to how people hold graveside services today. WHAT WAS THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN ARTWORK LIKE? We can learn a lot about the people who expressed their faith artistically in the catacombs. It is especially uplifting to note the particular themes and symbols that were chosen, as well as noticing those that were not. This fresco painting of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) is found in the Priscilla catacombs in Rome and is dated to around the third and century. It is also interesting to consider that whereas some religions, such as the pagan worship in Egypt, provided artwork within their burial places for the use of the deceased along the way to the afterlife, Christians provided artwork for the encouragement of the living who would visit the catacombs. Christians’ souls were already in Heaven, but the bodies awaited the great resurrection at the day of judgment. The types of artwork found in the catacombs include fresco paintings (paintings done on wet plaster), Greek and Latin inscriptions, carved stone burial boxes (sarcophagi), and statues. Some of the artwork is simple and amateurish, but in other cases it’s clear Christians hired professional artists to decorate the graves of their loved ones with the purpose of advancing the message of Christ. The people who could afford it placed the body of a loved one in a stone sarcophagus that was most often decorated, but those who were poor simply bound the body up in linen. It was then placed in the loculi– the burial niche – and the niche was sealed with a slab that bore the name, age and date of the person’s death. Catacombs historians state that there are three themes that are seen throughout the catacombs' artwork: resurrection, salvation, and baptism, which Andrew Shubin in Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla refers to as the "three core tenets of Christianity." Another catacomb art historian, Gregory S. Athnos, states that: Every story in catacomb art is a tale of deliverance, a tale of the powerlessness of death and the certainty of the resurrection. God delivers us from the consequences of death situations and gives us life instead. In our view of the history of Christian art it appears the crucifixion of Jesus holds the highest place." A French Catholic cultural historian, Frederic Ozanam, sums up the topics depicted in this early Christian artwork thus: In these figures of Noah in the Ark, Moses striking the rock, Job on the dunghill, the Miracle of Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, Lazarus leaving the tomb, and most prominent – Daniel in the lions' den, Jonah cast out by the whale, the three Children in the furnace. All these are types of martyrdom – martyrdom by beasts, water, and fire, but all symbolical of triumphant martyrdom such as is necessary to depict in order to maintain courage and console grief. And, amazingly he points out the following: We see no trace of contemporary persecutions, no representation of the butchery of the Christians, nothing bloodthirsty, nothing which could rouse hatred or vengeance, nothing but pictures of pardon, hope, and love. A fish carving from the Domitilla Catacombs in Rome, dated to around second or third century AD. The letters below spell fish in Greek (ichthys) and can also be used to form an acronym of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” In this regard, Athnos points out that he saw "no crosses in the catacombs – no symbols of death. Rather, he saw symbols of the Resurrection such as the Phoenix, a bird which came back to life, and the fish, which speaks of God’s provision and sustenance, as well as a reference to Jesus’ calling his disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Other researchers describe pictures of a dove, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell within Christians and bring them guidance, wisdom, peace, comfort, and joy. Another frequent symbol was the anchor, representing hope in Jesus as expressed in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Although Athnos saw no crosses, other researchers point out that when the anchor is turned upside down, the Greek letter TAU was formed and the T represented the shape of the cross, promising salvation through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Last of all, the symbol of a peacock was adopted for use by early Christians. It had long been a symbol of eternal life for other cultures, who feared death and their unknown future; Christians improved on it, believing that the victory of Christ’s resurrection canceled the obscurity of death. One subject that was frequently repeated in statuary was that of the Good Shepherd. The Old Testament book of Psalms, Chapter 23, begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The Psalmist describes how this good shepherd watches over his sheep by taking them to green pastures with quiet, not frightening, streams of water, and providing comfort for them in every dangerous situation. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus announced Himself in John 10:11-18 as the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep; this reference would have brought Psalm 23 to His disciples’ minds. It brought great comfort to the souls of early Christians to believe in Christ as their good shepherd. There were also pictures found of the Virgin Mary, of a person praying in Orant style (arms uplifted), and of the disciples and other early saints and martyrs of the Christian faith. These, too, served to encourage the living by referencing the power and love of God and the witness of other believers. There are also depictions of Jesus performing His many miracles, but these aren’t the earliest pictures, as the first Christian arts were seemingly more reluctant to depict Him than later ones. DID CHRISTIANS HIDE IN THE CATACOMBS? A catacomb fresco painting of Samson with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15). Photo credit: Isogood_patrick / Shutterstock.com Many of us have heard references to the Roman persecution of Christians which took place during the first three centuries after Christ. Ministers have often called on us to imagine the difficulties which led many Christians to hide from the Romans down inside of the catacombs. However, some modern historians dispute whether the catacombs were used as a hiding place, and one source even questioned whether there really was a great persecution! These writers call the ideas tradition, myth or a romanticizing of what actually occurred. Note the following arguments and responses: OBJECTION: There is no visible evidence that suggests that Christians hid there from the Romans. RESPONSE: People who were generally very poor, on the run, and hiding for their lives would be careful not to leave any trace of their whereabouts. OBJECTION: The stench from the rotting bodies would have made it a difficult place to exist and it would have been an unpleasant place to live. RESPONSE: Each grave was sealed with stone, and it was cold down there, so it was unlikely that there would be a stench; besides, people who are running for their lives might not be so concerned about the comforts of life. There is at least one known location in the catacombs that still shows blood, where a Christian was killed, proving that there was at least one person who hid there. OBJECTION: The catacombs were a public place well-known to the Romans, so they would not have provided a good hiding place. RESPONSE: Since the passageways are very long, irregular, and complicated, it would be difficult to find people there even if the soldiers knew they were in there somewhere. OBJECTION: Christians were willing to die as martyrs for their Lord Jesus Christ, so why would they want to hide? RESPONSE: While Christians were (and should still be) willing to die for Christ, that doesn’t mean we seek death! The Apostle Paul sneaked out of the city of Damascus to avoid being killed by an angry group of Jewish leaders (Acts chapter 9) and like him, if Christians can avoid death while staying true to Christ, then we should. Also consider, since the artwork was intended to encourage people who were living in dangerous circumstances, those who painted and sculpted it did expect that it would be viewed by others; this lends credence to the idea that some Christians would be coming there sometime. CONCLUSION The catacombs outside of Rome served as an extensive underground burial location around the second century. The Christians who dug some of them held funeral services within the small chapels there, and some hid there to avoid persecution. They expressed their faith in salvation through Jesus Christ by painting or sculpting symbols of Christianity and references to carefully chosen Biblical accounts that would particularly instill courage, faith, hope, and trust within those who viewed them. Hebrews 12 sums up the encouragement that the early Christians passed on to others through their artwork in the catacombs: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. BIBLIOGRAPHY All online resources were last accessed on April 15, 2015. Gregory S. Athnos’ The Art of the Roman Catacombs: Themes of Deliverance in the Age of Persecution (Outskirts Press, 2011) Middletown Bible Church’s “The Catacombs and the Cloisters.” Jay King’s “Throwing Christians to the Lions: Fact and Legend.” Suny Oneonta School of Art & Humanities “Early Christian Art.” J. Maresca’s The Catacombs of Rome(Documentary, 42 minutes, 2002). Frederic Ozanam’s “The Christian Art of the Catacombs” as published in the Fall 1993 issue of The Dawson Newsletter. Christine Quigley’s Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations (McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001). Rick Steves' Rick Steves Europe “Rome, Italy: Catacombs and Appian Way.” Andrew Shubin’s “Early Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Priscilla." This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue under the title "Artwork in Rome’s Catacombs: Early Christian art was created to encourage fellow Christians." ...

Church history, History

The Queen on our coins testifies to Canada's Christian roots

If you look at the back of any Canadian coin you will see an image of Queen Elizabeth II. Someone might consider that to be a little bit strange. Canada has been an independent country for well over a century, so why does its money portray a British monarch? Canada has indeed been independent for many years, but it’s important to realize that the British monarch is also simultaneously the Canadian monarch. People generally understand the monarchy in Canada to be entirely symbolic, if not anachronistic. But there is much more than symbolism involved. A simple analysis will reveal that the Queen is, in fact, at the center of Canada’s Constitution. According to the “letter of the law,” she is very powerful. Of course, in reality, she is more of a figurehead and does not actually exercise that power. But on paper, in the actual wording of the document, she holds a lot of power – she is Canada’s Head of State, although her functions here are usually conducted by the Governor General, as her representative. Under the section on Executive Power in The Constitution Act, 1867, the following is stated: “The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.” Not only that, but: “The Command-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia, and of all Naval and Military Forces, of and in Canada, is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.” This is the current authoritative Constitution of Canada. The monarch holds the power of the executive branch of the Canadian government, and he or she is also the commander in chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. Of course, in practice the Queen doesn’t exercise these powers nowadays, but they are still firmly entrenched in the current constitution. The Queen and Christ From a Christian perspective, this is very significant because the Queen provides a direct institutional connection between Christianity and Canada’s political system. The connection becomes especially clear by examining the Coronation Service for the installation of Elizabeth II as Queen in 1953. Veteran BC lawyer Humphrey Waldock summarizes important aspects of that service in his 1997 book The Blind Goddess: Law Without Christ? highlights the specifically Christian aspects of it. Much of the service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest prelate in the Church of England. In one place the Archbishop asked Elizabeth: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant reformed religion established by Law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof as by Law established in England? Will you preserve under the Bishops and Clergy of England and to the Churches there committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as by Law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? To these questions Elizabeth replied, “All this I promise to do.” Then she laid her right hand upon the Bible and swore, “The things which I have herebefore promised I will perform and keep, so help me God.” Then she kissed the Bible, and signed the Oath, after which the Archbishop said: To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes we present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Carefully note that Canada’s Head of State took an oath to maintain the Law of God to the utmost of her power. She has clearly violated this oath, as well as others, but she is still accountable to the oath. Canada’s Head of State is formally bound, by her own words, to uphold God’s Law. Subsequently in the service, Matthew 22:15 was read, the Nicene Creed was recited, a hymn sung, and then Elizabeth was anointed by the Archbishop. As he anointed her Queen he stated: As Solomon was anointed King by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be Thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord Thy God hath given Thee to rule and govern. Next, the Archbishop presented the Sword of State saying, ...that she may not bear this sword in vain but may use it as the minister of God for the terror and punishment of evildoers and for the protection and encouragement of those that do well. With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the Holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss and confirm what is in good order. That doing these things you may be glorious in all virtue and so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this life that you may reign forever with him in the life which is to come. She also received other tokens of authority including the Robe Royal, the Rod of Equity and Mercy, and a ring. The Archbishop continued, Receive the Ring of kingly dignity, and the seal of Catholic faith: and as you are this day consecrated to be our head and prince, so may you continue steadfastly as the Defender of Christ’s religion As Waldock points out, it is clear from the Coronation Service that Canada’s monarchy formally acknowledges that it receives its authority from God. The Queen, Waldock writes, “had utterly submitted her temporal jurisdiction for justice to the authority of Christ and the Church under oath.” Loyal to God In section 128 of The Constitution Act, 1867it is stipulated that every Senator, every MP and every MLA must take the Oath of Allegiance which appears in the Fifth Schedule of the Act. The Oath of Allegiance entails one to swear to “be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty” Queen Elizabeth II. If the Queen has sworn to uphold the Law of God, and Canada’s elected officials swear allegiance to her, it would seem, then, that those officials must uphold the same Law the Queen has sworn to uphold. This is certainly the implication that Waldock draws: “No servants of the Queen have any authority or jurisdiction to substitute their ideas of morals or religion for those she has sworn to.” Many Canadians no longer support the Monarchy and see the Queen as a foreigner who is inconsequential to Canada. But Canada’s Constitution says otherwise, and the Monarchy provides a vital institutional link between Christianity and Canada’s government. There are moves afoot in Britain to change the role of the monarchy and it’s likely that the explicitly Christian aspects will be lost in the future. But as things stand now, and as they have stood throughout Canada’s history to this point, our Head of State is sworn to uphold the “Protestant reformed religion.” Clearly, Canada’s Head of State is an explicitly Christian monarch. Take a look at the back of the coins in your pocket or purse and remember the oath made by the lady whose image you see. She may be woefully deficient in keeping her oath, but it remains an acknowledgment that she, the head of the country, is accountable to our Lord. This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue under the title "One for the Money: The Queen’s image on our coins points to the constitutional bond between Christianity and Canada’s national government." If you want to read further on this topic, Michael Wagner’s book, "Leaving God Behind" about Canada’s Christian roots can be purchased here. Also, the folks at Worldview Encounter have created a 5-minute video based on this article that you can view below, and if you like this one, be sure to check their website for more in the upcoming weeks.  How the Queen Demonstrates Canada's Christian Foundation. from Kingdom Focus on Vimeo....

Church history

Macarius: great works vs. grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:8-10 **** When he was born on January 2 in the year 300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, his parents must have been filled with great thankfulness and hope, for they named their little baby boy Macarius.  Macarius means “supremely blessed.” Perhaps they'd had other children die, or perhaps they had prayed for a child for a long time and were not sure that they would ever have one.  Whatever the case, the bundle of blessing grew up and became a man, and that man took on the job of merchant. There are times in the lives of believers when they consider how much they have done, how much they ought to have done and what they have not done.  There is no doubt that these moments of reflection can lead to fruitfulness, to a further developing of the fruits they are admonished to have. After all, Peter encourages readers in his second epistle (1:5-7): "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." Across New Testament pages Peter shakes hands with Paul, who tells believers in Phil. 2:12 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Retreating from the world Macarius married, but his wife died shortly afterward.  Impressed by the spectre of death which he had encountered firsthand, a spectre which was neither a respecter of youth nor of financial status, the merchant was led to forsake the world. What did this mean for Macarius? It meant that he gave away all his material goods and moved to a solitary place where no one else lived. This place was the Thebais in Upper Egypt, a desert, a lonely area which had become a retreat for a number of Christian hermits. Macarius was convinced that this action would prepare him for eternity, that this would enable him to devote himself to thinking heavenly thoughts, that here he would be able to concentrate on pure matters. Perhaps, however, the Thebais was not as stimulating in holiness as he speculated, for later in life he moved on to different deserts in Lybia.  Hermits lived here as well, but these men were not within eyesight of one another. Macarius became an austere man. There was a drive in him to strive for what he perceived to be perfection of character.  It is not recorded whether he diligently studied the Word of God, or whether, as Peter puts it in the second part of his epistle, he experienced the grace and peace afforded those who have the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Resisting the “temptation” to serve During the course of his stay in one of the deserts, Macarius, at one point of his life, was overcome by a virtuous desire to travel to Rome to spend time serving and aiding those who were ill in that city.  It was a noble aspiration.  We are told in the Bible to serve others.  Indeed, Jesus commands His followers:  "Love one another even as I have loved you." (John 13:34)  And did He not help the ill and the maimed? And did He not die for us? Because Macarius often deprived himself of God-given sustenance, he was prone to strange hallucinations which he supposed were godly visions.  Persuaded through some of these that to help others would make him proud and give him too much esteem in the world's eyes, he did not leave the desert for Rome. Instead he threw himself down on the ground and cried out to the imagined “temptation,” "Drag me hence, if you can, by force, for I will not stir from here."  He lay on the ground all night. However in the morning, upon rising, he found that his desire was still for service in Rome.  Not wishing to give in, he filled two baskets with earth, lay them on his shoulders and plodded into the surrounding wilderness.  Meeting someone he knew, he was questioned as to what he was doing with those baskets on his shoulders.  He made no reply other than: "I am tormenting my tormentors."  Returning to his lodging in the evening, he was glad to be free of the “temptation” to serve. It seems Macarius spent no time contemplating Jesus' temptations in the desert – temptations which were overcome. It seems Macarius did not ponder the fulfillment of the law performed by the Lord during His life, death, resurrection and ascension. And it seems that Macarius did not think of the fact that the Holy Spirit had been sent to enable and equip believers to serve in thankfulness. The definition of an anchorite such as Macarius, as given by Abbot Rance de la Trappe, (1626-1700 and founder of the Trappist monks), reads: “..a soul which relishes God in solitude, and thinks no more of anything but heaven, and forgets the earth, which has nothing in it that can now please. It burns with the fire of divine love, and sighs only after God, regarding death as its greatest advantage; nevertheless it will find itself much mistaken if it imagines it shall go to God by straight paths.... in which it will have no difficulties at all...” Sadly, such a definition describes the error of those who think they might climb into eternity using their own boots, their own merits, pushing open heaven's door by their own victories. A contrast Also a January baby, my father, Louis Praamsma, was born on January 1, 1920 – one hundred and nine years ago. He was no anchorite, however, for he loved to mingle with people all of the 74 years of the life on earth which God gave him.  He studied the Word of God diligently, was humble and acknowledged his sin, preaching forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in season and out of season, always seeking people out and giving them the reason for the hope which was in him. This is how pastors (and all believers) should be – compassionate, seeking sheep, in but not of the world, eager to listen and never too preoccupied with self.  Louis Praamsma did not walk into heaven on his own merits; neither did he open heaven's doors with his own hands when he died in 1984.  No, salvation had been accomplished for him by his Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hence his earthly life was full of thankful service. Perhaps my Dad has met Macarius in heaven, if that anchorite perceived at the end of his life that all his works had been but as filthy rags. May it be that 2019 is a year of thankfulness – one filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – because against such there is no law.  And may our thankful lives radiate outwards towards loving one another even as Christ loves us....

Assorted, Church history

Santa Claus at Nicea

As we continue to celebrate Advent, we need to deal with a competing story. But it would probably be more accurate to say that we have to deal with a godly story that has been encrusted with many layers of foolishness. But let us take away those layers, and ask – who was the original Santa Claus? St. Nicholas of Myra (a city in modern-day Turkey) was a fourth-century bishop. He was renowned for his kindliness to the needy and to children. He inherited a large fortune which he gave away, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and hostels for the mentally infirm. Legends spread concerning his generosity, which included him delivering gifts secretly by night. During his day, the famous Council of Nicea was held and, according to one legend, the orthodox Nicholas slapped Arius in the face for his blasphemy. Following the legend, Nicholas was then defrocked for this breach of decorum, but was later reinstated as the result of a vision. It should be obvious to us Protestants that some of the medieval follies concerning veneration of saints were already at work here. The man became a bishop, the bishop became a saint (in the medieval sense), and stories spread concerning his ability to continue on with his generosity, even though he had long been with the Lord. The stories all had many variations, but generosity was at the heart of all of them. These different European stories came to America from many directions, and they all went into our famous melting pot. The Scandinavians brought their conception of him as an elf. The Dutch brought their name for him (Sinterklaas). In 1808 Washington Irving wrote a story of him as a jolly Dutchman. In 1822, a poet named Moore gave us the Night before Christmas getting rid of Irving’s horses and wagon, and subbing in reindeer and sleigh. Then in 1863 the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast gave us the popular conception we see all around us today. The issue for us is not stockings by the chimney, or other harmless customs. But we must learn from this that if we do not tell our stories faithfully, they will gradually change over time until they become quite unrecognizable. With a story like this – one that has in the minds of many supplanted the story of the Christ child – we have to remember that St. Nicholas probably would have slugged somebody over it. Pastor Douglas Wilson’s “God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything” is a wonderfully curious book that not only explains how Santa once punched a guy in the face, but ”why nativity sets should have Herod’s soldiers.” If the yearly repetition has you less than enthused about Christmas time coming yet again, this book is for you, to help rekindle your understanding of, and enthusiasm for Advent and Christmas. This excerpt has been reprinted here with permission of the publisher Canon Press....