It is the 1st of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1655.
To get to our year and remembrance for today, we will jump forward 129 years to 1783. At that time, a question about the relationship between the church and state was going around regarding the role of ministers and public wedding ceremonies. As you may know, questions about the proper relationship between the state and marriage are bound to cause controversy. And thus, a minister who was also a state official called for a series of intellectuals to reply to the question with a series of essays. History has remembered one of those essays, "Was ist Aufklarung?" Translated as "What is Enlightenment?" this was the essay's name and the question asked by its author, Immanuel Kant.
A German academic suggesting that the masses watch out for illegitimate claims to authority was nothing new. Be careful not to disassociate the Reformation and Enlightenment movements. Kant's "Here I Stand" moment was this essay in which he called for his readers to "Sapere Aude!" or "Dare to know!" But jumping from Luther to Kant is a dangerous task without connecting tissue to link these giants together across the centuries. But in fact, there is one key figure in this transition, perhaps one of the most overlooked German figures in the Early Modern Era. And so, we will rectify his absence by recognizing him today. It was on this day, the 1st of January in 1655, that Christian Thomasius was born. By the time he died in 1728, he had revolutionized Lutheran higher education and established himself as a critical enlightenment philosopher as the movement grew into maturity.
Christian Thomasius was born in Leipzig and spent half of his life there as a professor's son, student, and a professor himself. While teaching at the university, he began to circulate his newsletter, the "Monatsgespraeche." This "monthly conversation" proved to be too controversial for the conservative Leipzigers, and the University released Thomasius. He was then invited to the brand-new University of Halle, where dissent and innovation were encouraged.
Here, Thomasius engaged in critiques of natural law, full-throated empiricism, and most shockingly, the idea that everyday people might understand these things if taught in the vernacular and not disengaged from practical realities. Thomasius shunned scholasticism. With the increased specialization of the German universities, Thomasius, along with August Herman Francke, would establish Halle as a center for learning, charity, and piety for the next century. His most famous book was called "Introduction to the Doctrine of Reason For All Rational Persons of Whatever Social Standing or Sex." You get the idea of how he thought with a title like that.
As he divorced philosophy from the scholastics, he too divorced the natural sciences from the theological. But this was not to downplay theology, but rather to hold both theology and philosophy in their proper spheres. They were not siloed but instead were forced to deal with each other's insufficiencies.
Christian Thomasius was as different from Luther as he was from Kant. Some of the excesses of the Enlightenment would be foreign to Thomasius. A modern philosophy text seemed baffled that this philosopher could teach what he did and still believe in the doctrine of original sin. Another contemporary wondered if such an other-centered ethic wasn't terribly self-defeating.
Like Luther, he taught that simple truths in the vernacular could be grasped. He, too, eschewed theory for empirical evidence and revolutionized education in both theological and philosophical spheres. Perhaps there is some historical symmetry because his University of Halle and Luther's Wittenberg University merged in 1817. Like Kant, he dared, even the simple to "know," he also "knew" that only with special revelation could one be assured, like Luther, that God reconciled the world in Jesus.
Christian Thomasius died in Halle in 1728, having been born on this, the 1st of January in 1655, he was 73 years old.
The reading for this, the 7th day of Christmas and the first day of the year, is a kind of benediction via poetry, "Another Year is Dawning" by Francis Ridley Havergal.
Another year is dawning,
Dear Master, let it be,
In working, or in waiting,
Another year with Thee.
Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face.
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.
Another year of service,
Of witness of Thy love,
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning,
Dear Master, let it be
On earth, or else in heaven
Another year for Thee.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who reminds you that Swans aren't "a-swimming" as much as they paddle themselves with one leg tucked into their back…
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.