Monday, September 28, 2020

The year was 1529. We remember the death of Adolf Clarenbach and Peter Fliesteden. The reading is from Martin Luther's Large Catechism in response to the petition in the Lord's prayer for the forgiveness of sins.

It is the 28th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1529.

It was the year that the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent bore down on Vienna in the hopes of subduing it and the rest of Europe. While "crusading" narratives are often read into conflicts between Christendom and the Islamic empire, by 1529, a lot was changing.

First, Christendom was splintered. The church in Europe was at war with itself, as were the Sunni Ottomans and the Shi'a Persians. Furthermore, both the Persian shahs and Ottoman sultans had sent emissaries to European kings looking for alliances against their co-religionists. Allegiances could be theological but were just as likely to be territorial.

The push to Vienna by Suleiman in this year terrified eastern Europeans who did not have the manpower equal to the Ottomans. However, a particularly rainy season not only slowed the Sultan's troops but also ruined tons of gunpowder. With the use of the Arquebusque and pike, the Viennese turned Suleiman and his forces back. It marked the last threat from the East for over a century.

In this same year, Martin Luther had his work "On the War Against the Turk" printed. It is an interesting document for many reasons. One was the relative lack of vitriol from Luther and his insistence that any war with Muslim neighbors should only be fought for protection, not for territorial gain. Furthermore, he stated that it was not to be a religious war. For Luther, it was a secular war with states that happened to have different confessions. He wrote that a war fought over religion would be "absolutely contrary to Christ's doctrine and name." Luther had famously stated that it might even be preferable to have a wise Turk as a ruler than a foolish Christian. While possibly hyperbolic, Luther was also toying with the implications of his Two-Kingdom theology, whereby the necessity for Christendom or Christian leaders would not exist.

In this same year, Luther published his Large Catechism. The Large Catechism was published as a reaction to disappointing news from new Lutheran parishes that complained of a lack of basic theological understanding. Luther compiled sermons he had preached on various topics and arranged them with questions and answers for both laity and parish pastors. Luther's works on politics and church visitations reveal a reformer whose mainstream success led to a church's establishment. In 1529 after the Diet of Speyer, these protesting Christians would be officially called "protestant" for the first time. However, not all Protestants were the same, and persecution was a real threat to those without established churches.

On this, the 28th of September in 1529, two such gentlemen, protestants without established churches, were put to death in Cologne. Adolf Clarenbach and Peter Fliesteden were both put to death and became the first martyrs of the Reformation in the Lower Rhine.

Clarenbach had been teaching at a Cathedral school when he came across Luther's "On the Freedom of the Christian." His newfound Protestant faith caused him to be removed from positions and even chased out of town. At least three different jurisdictions claimed to have the authority to punish Clarenbach, and the feud over who could punish him dragged on as he languished in prison. While in prison, he met Peter Fliesteden, arrested for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, then spitting on the host, and turning his back to the priest. This was likely a response to Catholic doctrines of the Eucharist he was rejecting, albeit in a dramatic fashion. Little is known of Fliesteden except for his radical tendencies, his friendship with Clarenbach in prison, and the fact that he was killed for refusing to bow to church authorities.

The killing of Clarenbach, in particular, was difficult for the authorities in Cologne, as many had written on his behalf to argue against his imprisonment. However, authorities used a plague and the unrest that came with it to suggest that God was not pleased to have heretics go unpunished. Clarenbach was burned at the stake while Fliesteden was accidentally choked to death when his jailer, trying to keep him quiet, tugged too tightly on a chain around his neck.

Three hundred years later, in 1829, a martyrs' memorial was erected for these two relatively unknown, but early martyrs of the reformation movement. Adolf Clarenbach and Peter Fliesteden put to death for their faith on this, the 28th of September, in 1529.

The reading for today comes from the aforementioned Martin Luther. This is from his Large Catechism in response to the petition in the Lord's prayer for the forgiveness of sins.

"It is, therefore, the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin."

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who swears by his Cologne scented Cologne. It smells like wet city streets… Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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