Thursday, March 17, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of Alexander Alesius, a Scottish Lutheran always on the run.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 17th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

It’s almost time for March Madness, and I’m reminded some people have Alma Maters with basketball teams, football teams, and famous athletes. My Alma Mater- for graduate school didn’t have any of that- they had zero sports teams and not even a mascot.

But the University of St. Andrews in the east neuk of Fife on the east coast of Scotland has no shortage of characters in church history- the one-time Catholic seat for all of Scotland became the epicenter of the Reformation in Scotland. Tensions were high in the 16th century.

Today I’d like to introduce you to Alexander Ales (who would also go by Alesius- because these dudes always had to make their names sound fancy and Latin), born in the year 1500 in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a young man, he went to St. Andrews, received his degree from the University, and stayed on as a Canon.

We know that Martin Luther’s writing was banned in Scotland from 1525- and we know that they were circulating before this at the University. Alexander Ales was asked to refute Luther’s writings at a convocation and did so.

When Patrick Hamilton returned from Wittenberg to St. Andrews, espousing Luther’s teachings, Alexander Alesius was called on to interrogate the young would-be reformer. But Alex was struck by Hamilton’s winsome explication of Luther’s theology and was struck by the man’s resolve even up to his being burned alive in front of the University Church.

At another convocation, Alesius rebuked the clergy for, among other things, their moral laxity. Doing this at St. Andrews- the seat of the Catholic Church at the time- landed him in prison.

He eventually got out and fled to Germany in 1532, where he stayed in Wittenberg, became friends with Luther and Melanchthon, and assented to the Augsburg Confession.

This was during Henry VIII’s Protestant phase- and through the connection of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the king invited Alesius to his court where he came bearing some of the works of Philip Melanchthon (it would be fair to call Alexander a “Phillipist” on account of his affinity for the irenic nature of Melanchthon’s theology).

He was offered a position at Cambridge and stayed until Henry swung back towards the Catholic Church and began persecuting Protestants. Once again, Alexander was on the move, back to Germany where he would be involved in the debates within the Lutheran camp as to how close they might get with the Calvinist camp.

With the ascension of Henry’s protestant son- Edward VI- Alesius went back to England. He would translate the English protestant liturgies for non-English speaking reformers to evaluate and use.

With the swing from Protestant Edward to Catholic Mary, Alexander was back on the move- this time to Leipzig, where he would remain teaching and writing until his death on this, the 17th of March, in 1565.

The Life of Alexander Alesius reminds us of the cosmopolitan nature of the Reformation- it wasn’t an isolated German event- it wasn’t an isolated Lutheran event. The network of Reformers and Universities ranged from Scotland to Germany, Sweden to Italy, and eventually across the globe. Today we remember one of the early cosmopolitan Reformation.

The Last word for today comes from Romans 6:

But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by whose 3rd seed Purdue Boilermakers take on Yale this Friday on one of the high holy days for sports fans- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has filled out his bracket and tells you not to sleep on five seed Houston. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and 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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