A Scarlet Woman

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 11 November 2017.

ZellOn December 3rd, 1523, Katherine Schutz married Matthias Zell. At 6 o’clock in the morning. It was an appalling thing to do.

We normally think of weddings as happy occasions, a great celebration of God’s gifts to human beings, a time for family and friends to gather and witness the promises made by the bride and groom. And so did the people of the sixteenth century...

...except, of course, that priests were not allowed to marry, and Katherine’s new husband, Matthias Zell, was a senior preacher in the cathedral in Strasbourg. That meant that many would have thought of Katherine as little better than a prostitute.

Why would anyone expose themselves to such public disapproval? Katherine has left us her own words, for she published a defence of her husband’s integrity less than a year later. Certainly, she loved Matthias, but she also insisted on the freedom of any believer to marry. And crucially, she identified the reason why the Catholic church still required celibacy: so that they could extract an annual tax from those clergy who kept mistresses.

Katherine would not be cowed, and continued to call out any practices that were inconsistent with the Bible, no matter whether they were those of friend or foe. As one of the very first women to marry a clergymen, she demonstrated that both men and women could serve the church together, with great love and integrity: Zell by name, zealous by nature, aflame with the love of God.

Two Sides to the Story...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 04 November 2017.

It’s been enormously encouraging to keep meeting different leading lights from the Reformation this year, hasn’t it? The courage and insight that God gave them, and the way their influence led to a vast growth in understanding of God’s Word, and the huge strides taken in reforming church practices... It’s been a treat.

ReneeBut for every John (Calvin) there is a Jane (Grey), and for every Martin (Luther) there’s a Katharina (von Bora). Despite the way the structures of sixteenth century society meant that history tended to be shaped by men, it is remarkable how influential women were able to be in the unfolding Reformation. Whether they were monarchs or commoners, they had to work even harder to renew their undesrstanding of their own roles as Christian women - and they did it, with integrity and determination.

Take Renee of France, born a princess in 1510. Before she was 18, she was married off to an Italian lord, becoming the Duchess of Ferrara in 1534. At the time, that made her husband a direct vassal of the Pope. Yet Renee didn’t flinch from a Protestant faith, supporting compatriots including John Calvin. Her husband gradually expelled all French guests from his court, and in the early 1550s she was tried by the Inquistion for heresy - at her husband’s suggestion.

Renee remained a Protestant through it all. Would that we all had that kind of toughness!

Post Tenebras Lux

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 29 October 2017.

John Calvin was booted out of Geneva in 1538. He and his fellow reformer, William Farel, had fought with the town council over how to conduct church services, and the councillors decided to expel them to avoid the headache.

They soon regretted their decision. Without Calvin’s theological nous, the Genevans were struggling to hold on to their Protestant beliefs in the face of significant political pressure. It took two years, but they realised that they’d have to humble themselves and ask Calvin to return.

Make that ‘beg Calvin to return.’  His initial response was one of horror: ‘Rather I would submit to death a hundred times...’ A flurry of letters went back and forth, with the Genevan council signing off each of theirs with the town’s motto: post tenebras spero lucem (‘after the darkness, I hope for light’).

Post Tenebras LuxFinally Calvin agreed to return - but his letter of acceptance ended with the words ‘post tenebras lux’. After the darkness, light. It was a deliberate statement of confidence. God had shone his light into the world, opening the eyes of his people to the teaching of the Bible. There was no need to hope for light when God had already given it.

Post tenebras lux is still the motto of the city of Geneva, but it also became the unofficial slogan of the whole Reformation. And rightly so: the people walking in darkness had seen a great light! (Isaiah 9:2)


Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 21 October 2017.

HorizonAs we draw close to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s world-changing church announcements, I was thinking about the function of milestones. Humans have been celebrating birthdays and annual festivals for as long as there have been calendars, and even before that there were moments in a person’s life that were seen as signficant. Why are we so interested in marking occasions?

Horizons serve a double function. Firstly, they place a limit upon our vision that is finite; we can see as far as a given event and anticipate it readily enough. These moments punctuate our lives and give a structure to the future that helps to give us a sense of purpose in life.

Secondly, there’s something a bit exciting about the mystery of the beyond. We look forward to discovering what comes next: we anticipate anticipation!

We’re made with a sense of time and an optimism about what it might bring - or to put it more simply, we are created as hopeful beings. One way of looking at the tragedy of sin is that it strips us of hope for eternity. Yet even greater is the truest of hopes, as we look forward to our Lord’s return, and the unrestricted horizon that lies beyond, when there is nothing left to wait for. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ...” (Colossians 2:9-10)

A Good News Story

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 14 October 2017.

IvanJust over two years ago, the Bishop of Western Sydney, Ivan Lee, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Ivan had always been full of energy, but the disease was serious and moving quickly, so the treatment was urgent and full-throated. Ivan spent a number of months pretty much wiped out.

After a time, he was able to return to work on very reduced hours - a frustration when you’re already feeling like so much time was lost - but he bore it with good humour.

We’ve been praying for Ivan and Virginia through those last two years, and God has been good. Ivan’s chemotherapy left him with little need for a barber for most of that time, but now look at the man I ran into at Synod! He’s back to full strength and brimming with enthusiasm. The old Ivan is back...

It’s not necessarily the end of the story: the cancer could return, and if it does, it will be back with a vengeance. For now, however, we can rejoice that the prayers of many have been heard.

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