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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, Pro-life - Abortion

A 2,000 year history of Christian pro-life activity

The pro-life movement began in the early 1970s as a result of the legalization of abortion in Britain (1967), Canada (1969), the USA (1973) and elsewhere at this time. Or rather, that’s when the modern pro-life movement began, because ours is not the first generation to fight against abortion and infanticide. Those evils have been present at various points in history and Christian pro-life movements, of one sort or another, have been active at various points as well. American author George Grant (not to be confused with the pro-life Canadian philosopher of the same name) has written a book on the history of the pro-life movement called Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. He gives a brief overview that divides pro-life history into three main periods: The early church and medieval period; The Renaissance/Reformation and mission movement period leading into the nineteenth century; Our own era of the pro-life movement beginning around the 1960s. First time: Roman times During the time of the Roman Empire, unwanted babies were commonly abandoned outside of cities to die from exposure. Abortion was also practiced in a primitive way. But the fourth-century bishop Basil wanted to stop these kinds of things and thus initiated a campaign against abandonment, abortion and infanticide. This campaign influenced Emperor Valentinian to take steps against those practices. Grant writes: “For the first time in human history, abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were made illegitimate.” Of course, other leaders in the early church also contributed to the struggle against child-killing. Grant sums up the situation: “The early church was pro-life. They issued pro-life pronouncements. They launched pro-life activities. And they lived pro-life lifestyles.” As years passed the church continued its efforts to defend and promote the sanctity of life. Despite the increasing number of corruptions that were creeping into the church during this period, it maintained a consistent pro-life stand and its influence had positive political repercussions: “As early as the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, pro-life legislation was universally and comprehensively enforced.” The first centuries of growth for the church in Europe had a major effect on changing people’s views about the value of infants’ lives. “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life in Europe. Afterward, they were regarded as the grotesque perversions that they actually are.” Second round: the Renaissance and Reformation Unfortunately, those evils made a comeback during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period in Europe, roughly the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman thought was revived during that period, along with its corresponding views supporting baby killing. As Grant writes, European “culture soon reverted to the morals of pagan antiquity, including the desecration of life.” In a number of Western European cities, anywhere from 10 percent to over 30 percent of newborn infants were killed or abandoned during this period. However, with the emergence of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, major figures in both the Protestant churches and Papal Church condemned and fought against anti-life forces. Leading reformer John Calvin was firmly opposed to abortion. Grant quotes Calvin as arguing, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy an unborn child in the womb before it has come to light.” During the nineteenth century, there was a surge in Protestant missionary work, with large numbers of missionaries from Europe and North America going all over the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The effect of the Gospel was, of course, the salvation of multitudes of people. But the Gospel also has benefits for earthly life and, “chief among those benefits, of course, was a new respect for innocent human life – a respect that was entirely unknown anywhere in the world until the advent of the gospel.” In areas of the world affected by the missionaries, the practices of abandonment, infanticide, and abortion were severely curtailed. In sum: “The great pro-life legacy – that had been handed down from the Patristic church to the Medieval church to the Renaissance church – was honored, upheld, and even extended by the missionaries that circled the planet during the nineteenth century.” Yet a third time Strangely, abortion was a relatively widespread practice in the United States during the first part of the nineteenth century. Grant states: “Abortion was big business. And abortionists were men and women of great power and influence.” After the Civil War of the early 1860s, however, various American churches took strong stands in opposition to abortion, and a vigorous pro-life movement developed. Within a few years it had been completely successful in eradicating abortion in the United States: “By the end of the century the procedure had been criminalized across the board. Most of the legal changes came during a short twenty-year period from 1860 to 1880.” Human nature being what it is, abortion began to find prominent supporters again by the early twentieth century among people who were concerned about “overpopulation.” Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a central leader in the effort to promote birth control and abortion. Grant seems to suggest that support for birth control opened the door for supporting abortion among the Protestant churches. In embracing birth control in 1930, the liberal American Protestant ecumenical group, the Federal Council of Churches (precursor to the current National Council of Churches), “became the first major organization in the history of Christendom to affirm the language and philosophy of ‘choice,'” First the liberal Protestants, and then many evangelical Protestants, embraced birth control and subsequently abortion. Yes, by the late 1960s many evangelical leaders were in favor of abortion (i.e., “pro-choice”)! This began to change rapidly during the 1970s as certain evangelical leaders spoke out against abortion. Francis Schaeffer is most notable in this regard, alerting evangelicals to the Biblical position, which is very different from the liberal position, of course. The effect was substantial: “By 1985, twenty-eight Protestant denominations, associations, and missions had recanted their earlier pro-abortion positions.” Basically, the bulk of the evangelical churches swung back to the historic Christian position of opposition to abortion by the late 1980s. Lord, please bless our efforts today! It can be depressing to see the current widespread support for abortion in Western countries, especially the support from the media, and academic and political elites. But in their struggle against abortion, modern Christians are following in the footsteps of believers through the centuries. As Grant writes, “Pro-life efforts have been an integral aspect of the work and ministry of faithful believers since the dawning of the faith in the first century.” Looking back at those efforts, we can see that God has blessed Christian pro-lifers at various points through history. Laws were passed and cultural attitudes about infants and unborn children were changed for the better. This should be an encouragement to every Christian, reminding us of 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (ESV)....

Assorted, Church history

Henry VIII’s reformation, Big Bird, and the end coming to us all

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh or "Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest" is a melody Johann Sebastian Bach composed in the 1700s. Through this wonderfully harmonious composition, Bach evokes in Christians the desire for death, heaven and the Lord Jesus. The words, by an anonymous author, are these: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! Just recently we heard some neighbor children express the desire to see and speak with their grandparents, both of whom died this last year within weeks of one another. The children were four and six years old. "Can't I just send them an e-mail," the four-year-old piped up, as his mother smilingly shook her head. The other one stated, as he raced a toy car along the floor, that he preferred to get in an airplane and soar up into the sky to say “hi” to Nana and Grandpa. Such anecdotes make us smile, but they should also make us aware that most children, as well as many adults, have no idea about what death actually is; that they have no inkling that it is a stepping-stone to an eternity that never ends. Big Bird’s lament Many of us who had or were children during the 1970s, were acquainted with Mr. Hooper on the children's program Sesame Street. (This is a program, by the way, which children should not watch any longer.) Friendly Mr. Hooper, who ran the grocery store on the program, was well liked. When he died during the 1982 season the dilemma for the producers of Sesame Street was what to tell their audience, composed of children, about Mr. Hooper's demise. They came to the conclusion that the show’s adult actors should tearfully and emotionally explain to one of the favorite characters, Big Bird, that Mr. Hooper had passed away and would never come back to Sesame Street. Big Bird reacted tearfully and became very upset. He was both confused and sad. The adults continued to reassure him that they were still there and loved him and that they would take care of him. Death itself was not explained, although Big Bird pointedly did ask his adult friends, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" One of the adults answered him in a vague sort of way: "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." It was a very unsatisfactory explanation of death leaving the viewers with a void – ignoring both the promise of heaven and the reality of hell. Another Mr. Hooper To offer contrast, there is the story of the death of another Mr. Hooper, a Mr. John Hooper who lived and died in England during the 1500s. And intertwined with his passing there is the story of a child who accepted and believed that John Hooper's death was triumphant and not at all the end of his life. Although not much is known about this English John Hooper's childhood, it is a fact that he was the only son and heir to a well-to-do English family and was brought up as a staunch Catholic. To tell his story, or what we know of it, we must focus on Gloucester, the city where he died. By our standards, Gloucester, England, was not, at the time of John Hooper, a big city. Four thousand citizens lived and worked in the small metropolis. They had various occupations; the sun rose and set on them daily; and they lived and died within its boundaries without traveling elsewhere. There were the coopers, friars, bakers, carpenters, and there were the rich, poor, blind and maimed people. The streets were lined with inns, several monasteries, and between them were hidden both wooden and stone houses. Four main roads led in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. They were named from the gates by which they entered the town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Gloucester was a little world within the world. The Roman Catholic Church held sway in Gloucester. Henry VIII had ascended to the throne of England in 1491 and was a loyal servant of the Catholic Church. That is to say, he was a loyal servant of the church until he wanted something the church would not give him – an annulment to his marriage. His disagreement with the Pope on this matter led him to establish the Church of England. God uses all things for His glory, both good and bad. The Church of England was thus born partly out of lust, and it was a church that, although free of papal authority, had a man as its head. In Gloucester, pamphlets had been distributed and copies of the Bible were sold by tinkers and booksellers prior to Henry's divorce. People read comforting words by candlelight and many were convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Gospel. In 1538 Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might be openly sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. He then issued another decree appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised upon a desk so that anyone might come and read it. Henry VIII died, as all men must die, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony. His son Edward, who was only nine years old, became king after him. Young Edward had been fed the Solas of the Reformation by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart had been convinced of their truth by the Holy Spirit. It was during his brief reign that Gloucester was blessed with a Bishop who diligently and openly began to feed its citizens God's Word. His name was John Hooper, and he was no longer Roman Catholic. Another Paul John Hooper was a Paul. He was a faithful pastor. At times preaching four or five times a week, both on the streets of Gloucester and inside the Cathedral, he truly loved and felt compassion for the people. He fed the poor, explained the Gospel and was diligent in visiting his flock. Consequently, John Hooper was much loved by the people of the city. A boy by the name of Thomas Drourie also lived in Gloucester at this time. He was a local lad and was blind. Whether he had become blind as the result of an accident or an illness, or whether he was born blind, is not known. It is not recorded that he was a beggar, so very likely he had a supportive family. Perhaps he had been educated in the school which Henry VIII had established in Gloucester, or perhaps he'd had a tutor. In any case, Thomas Drourie was well acquainted with the Bible. During those blessed years of young Edward VI, Protestant teachers and pastors were safe from the charge of heresy. But these were only a few years – the years of 1547 to 1553. The very youthful monarch, providentially placed by God on the throne of England at this time, died of tuberculosis when only a teenager. His half-sister, Mary, succeeded him. Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, and she had no regard for the John Hoopers and the Thomas Drouries of her realm. After Mary's ascent to the throne, John Hooper was immediately arrested, tried for heresy and found guilty. Because he had been pastor in Gloucester, he was eventually brought back to that town in February of 1555, to die there at the stake. As preparations were being made for the burning of this faithful pastor, the boy Thomas Drourie found his way to the place where he was held prisoner. Thomas knocked loudly at the door and a guard opened it to see who was making all the noise. Thomas, after a long conversation with the guard, who took a liking to the boy, was taken to see the Bishop. Upon entering the Bishop's cell, Thomas was overcome with love. He himself had been imprisoned just a few weeks prior for his faith but had been released with a warning. After all, he was only a child. Bishop John Hooper asked the boy why he had been imprisoned. Thomas candidly confessed his faith in Jesus and in His atonement. Upon hearing the child's earnest words, the bishop began to weep. "Ah, Thomas!" he said, "Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows; but He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray unto Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Thomas hid the bishop's words in his heart and begged the guard who led him out of the prison cell to be permitted to hear the bishop speak prior to his being burned at the stake. The guard took the boy to the cathedral sanctuary where the Chancellor of Gloucester, Dr. Williams, was working together with his registrar. Now Dr. Williams had the distinction of having had two “conversions.” Originally Roman Catholic, he had 'converted' to the Protestant religion during Henry VIII's later years. And now, under Mary, he had “converted” back to Roman Catholicism. When the boy was brought before him, Dr. Williams examined him on some minor matters, but then he questioned Thomas on transubstantiation. "Do you believe that after the words of the priest's consecration, the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Thomas responded strongly with a child's assurance: "No, that I do not." Dr. Williams peered at the boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie, and shall be burned. Who taught you this heresy?" Thomas, the eyes of his heart bright even though his outward vision was dull, answered: "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat upright. "Where, pray, did I teach you this?" Thomas replied, pointing with his hand to where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you this?" Thomas, looking straight at the place from where the Chancellor's voice came, answered clearly: "When you preached there a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out through the church. "Then do as I have done and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Thomas did not hesitate. "Though you can so easily dispense with your own self, and mock God, the world and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams, unable to threaten or cajole or convince the boy to recant back to Roman Catholicism, as he himself had done, finally said: "Then God have mercy upon you, for I will read your condemnatory sentence." Thomas, showing no fear, responded: "God's will be fulfilled." The registrar stood up and walked over to the Chancellor. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away! Away! Substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Chancellor Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar," he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read the sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and an even more shamed conscience. Knowing that death was but a stepping stone to life, the blind boy, Thomas Drourie was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556, almost three months after Bishop John Hooper was burned. The end that comes to all Chancellor Williams came to a sad end, or rather, a horrible end, about three years later. Having dined with a William Jennings, a representative of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I, a queen who had much sympathy for the Protestant cause, he was asked by Jennings to meet with some royal commissioners. Whether he was worried about his colorful “conversion experiences” is not known, but it is a fact that he did not want to go to this meeting. Consequently, Mr. Jennings rode off alone. Later Jennings was overtaken in his journey by a servant who informed him that the Chancellor had become ill. It was afterwards conjectured that the Chancellor had poisoned himself, so worried was he that he would be ill-treated by the Queen's commissioner. However, upon receiving a courteous and friendly message from the commissioner shortly after he had downed the poison, the Chancellor tried to recover from his lethal dose by taking some antidote. It was too late. The poison took its course. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And children die as well as adults. But those who die with the eyes of their hearts opened, confessing the Lord Jesus, can sing with a hope that shines eternally: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! For the rich man, there was eternal torment. For Bishop John Hooper, there was the bosom of Abraham. For Chancellor Williams - what shall we say? For Thomas Drowrie there was the light of God's countenance....

Church history, People we should know

Rahab the whore...mother of Christ

"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow!  Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....

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." ...