Monday, December 21, 2020

The year was 1504. We remember Berthold von Henneberg. The reading is from 16th-century poet Robert Southwell, "A Christmas Poem."

It is the 21st of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The Year was 1504.

We will begin with a modification of a quotation from Alexander Pope.

'(The church) and (her teachings) lay hid in night:
God said, Let (Luther) be! and all was light.'

If that couplet is familiar to you, you likely know the version with Newton's name and the laws of nature in place of Luther and the church. The couplet was written, somewhat tongue in cheek, to describe Newton's work's enormity, but also realizing, somewhat facetiously, that obviously work was done before Newton.

For an organization based on a year, it would be fair to ask us, as they did those original reformers, "Where was your church before Luther?" If you start with 1517, what do you do with the stuff before that?

The answer is, in fact, that before 1517, Europe was a pretty happening place. New ideas (good and bad), as well as literature and the arts, were flourishing. Rather than being a "dead" institution, the church was thriving, at least in some ways. One of the pitfalls of Church history done by Reformation Christians is the use of the 16th century as some axial age wherein nothing was much good before, and nothing was much good after.

And so, perhaps you have never heard of Berthold von Henneberg, a man, in some ways, ahead of his time. Henneberg was born in 1441 near Erfurt. He attended the University of Erfurt and became a Cathedral Canon in Cologne in 1464. He then went to the court of Emperor Frederick III, where he was consecrated the Archbishop of Mainz. Berthold became a friend and supporter of Frederick's son, Maximillian. When Maximillian became King of the Romans and co-emperor with his father, Berthold became an imperial chancellor.

But Berthold would not be a rubber stamp for the new Habsburg Emperor. Like so many others, he would be caught between the power of the Emperor and the Pope. And so, you might expect to find most siding with one faction or the other. After all, to attack one mighty pillar would require protection from the other. Berthold von Henneberg would set his sights on both. He believed that the Emperor had become too powerful vis a vis the Pope. This would be a curious position from an Imperial Chancellor, but Berthold and others had convinced many that internal reform was preferable to violent reform from the outside.

Berthold was also a critic of the church. He believed that the clergy needed to be educated and that religious orders needed external supervision. He believed that Rome had become too focused on the civic issues that could be better handled by a loose federation of secular leaders akin to the Swiss model.

But his approach at making a Swiss federation model for the whole empire would require temporal authorities to lose power. Under Berthold's plan, a council was set up of regional authorities, and as you might guess, the Emperor and others rejected any model of power-sharing. Henneberg found himself on the outs.

Around 1500, Henneberg became critical of what he thought was a form of financial overreach from the church. A new, rather crass way of preaching indulgences upset the former Imperial Chancellor. In 1504, Henneberg sent a complaint to the Pope that he believed the buying and selling indulgences was an insult to the Gospel and the German people. Perhaps the note got lost. Maybe the Pope didn't feel like he had to answer, especially given that after Berthold made the complaint, he died. He died on the 21st of December in 1504.

The reading for today comes from 16th-century poet Robert Southwell, "A Christmas Poem."

Behold a silly tender Babe, in freezing winter night;
In homely manger trembling lies, alas a piteous sight:
The inns are full, no man will yield this little Pilgrim bed,
But forced He is with silly beasts, in crib to shroud His head.
Despise Him not for lying there, first what He is enquire:
An orient pearl is often found, in depth of dirty mire;
Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish, nor beasts that by Him feed:
Weigh not His mother's poor attire, nor Joseph's simple weed.
This stable is a Prince's court, the crib His chair of state:
The beasts are parcel of His pomp, the wooden dish His plate.
The persons in that poor attire, His royal liveries wear,
The Prince Himself is come from heaven, this pomp is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian wight, do homage to thy King,
And highly prize this humble pomp, which He from heaven doth bring.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man with neither poor attire or simple weed, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember…the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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