A Preview, A Review

Times & Seasons is pleased to announce that Jonathan Green, scholar of German, master of trivia, academic vagabond and world-class T&S commenter, has agreed to grace our blog with a guest stint. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to take up his guest-blogging duties for a few weeks, as his family will soon be in transit from Charleston, South Carolina (where he had a visiting position at the College of Charleston) to Lansing, Michigan (where he will take up a visiting position at Michigan State University–and incidentally, Jonathan would love to hear from anyone with a line on housing options in the Williamston ward…). But as the first post which Jonathan wrote is a detailed review that takes a very different look at one of the books Kaimi recently reviewed, we thought it best to get it out to the T&S reading audience before too much time went by. So consider this review also a preview. And with that, we turn the time over to Jonathan, and Prelude to the Restoration: From Apostasy to the Restored Church.

As one who works professionally on the Middle Ages and early printing, I have an abiding interest in members of the church learning more about medieval and early modern history. Too often the years before the Restoration, stuck with the label of the Great Apostasy, are treated as utterly unlike and irrelevant to our own religious experience. The oft-repeated historical narrative of how the Restoration came about (from Wycliffe to Luther to the Pilgrims to Joseph Smith) is timeworn and, I believe, in need of serious rethinking. So I can only applaud the preface to Prelude to the Restoration, which sets as its goal the illumination of the “complicated choreography of history by which the world became ready for Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ,” including aspects that are “ignored or unknown by many Latter-day Saints.” The theme of the 2004 Sperry Symposium was inspired by an address of M. Russell Ballard at BYU-Hawaii, in which the apostle compared reformers to prophets and called for Latter-day Saints to recognize and honor those who prepared the way for the Restoration. The preface raises expectations that an exciting and neglected topic will at last receive the attention it deserves.

Hope dies on page one. While there are some exceptional essays in this volume, most of the contributions fail to meet, or even to aim for, the standard raised in the preface. To their credit, many of the contributors are feeling their way through unfamiliar territory in the medieval and early modern period, but I wish that more thought and more work had gone into coming to grips with the texts and history of an unfamiliar era.

The strongest contributions are those that address earlier religious practices and Reformation figures, particularly the less well known among them. Steven Harper’s chapter on “Thomas Müntzer and the Radical Reformation” illustrates the great potential for a Mormon re-evaluation of Reformation history. It is common for Latter-day Saints to view Catholicism as the foe and Luther as our champion in the Reformation, but Harper points out that both Catholics and Protestants are to be found among the martyrs and the oppressors of the day. Both sides persecuted members of the Anabaptist sects, who should in fact be more sympathetic figures for Latter-day Saints than the well-known reformers who approved of the oppression. Harper is absolutely correct that this is a part of Reformation history that we have ignored too long (but considering Harper’s title, he really should somewhere cite George H. Williams’s The Radical Reformation, a monumental work on the Anabaptists and a work that members of the church could study most profitably). I question Harper’s nomination of Thomas Müntzer as a distant ancestor of Mormonism, however. While Müntzer’s insistence on the central role of continuing revelation is admirable, this view was not unique among the various Anabaptist movements. Furthermore, Müntzer’s radicalism was not limited to the religious sphere: he instigated and led an armed peasant uprising. While one might be sympathetic to Müntzer’s social egalitarianism (and Prelude to the Restoration would certainly benefit from more of Müntzer’s torch-and-pitchfork spirit), Müntzer’s life and work is a poor parallel to Joseph Smith’s: Müntzer was tried and executed by legal authority in no small part for leading a bloody rebellion, while Joseph Smith was murdered by illegal mob action for his faith. Still, Harper’s contribution is original and on the right path: there are figures among the Radical Reformation whom Latter-day Saints can wholeheartedly embrace.

A large group of mostly unimpressive essays consist of descriptive accounts of various aspects of history prior to the Restoration, too often trying to dress up the mundane as miraculous by mere dint of its occurrence. In the best case, the result is an engaging narration of unfamiliar material. The result in the worst case is a rehash of well-known facts or lengthy recitation of irrelevant details that make no contribution to our understanding of Apostasy and Restoration. Many essays entirely misapprehend the significance of Gutenberg and the role of the Catholic Church with respect to dissemination of the Bible, often reflecting the false caricature of a corrupt institution hiding the Good Book from the restive masses. The Bible was not a book in the Middle Ages, but a library, and its individual components did not typically circulate as a unit. The Bible was predominantly read by clerics and owned by monasteries because only clerics could read, and only monasteries owned books, until the late Middle Ages. The common people could neither read books, nor afford them. Instead, the Catholic Church spread the gospel for centuries the only way possible, by oral preaching. Gutenberg’s first book was not the Bible; rather, his printing of the Bible represents the culmination and perfection of his art. The Bible was printed many times, in Latin and vernacular languages, before Martin Luther.

With regret I note that the contributions by medievalists have their own shortcomings. Both Jennifer Lane’s discussion of the imitation of Christ in late medieval devotional practice, and Paul Pixton’s notes on “Medieval Texts in Mormon Hymnody,” present fascinating explications of medieval material that should resonate with Latter-day Saint experience–but both authors take pains to avoid any suggestion of similarity. Lane ultimately finds medieval devotion to the life and passion of Christ to be lacking in comparison to the access to the Atonement offered by the restored priesthood ordinances, but that is a false comparison: the correct comparison is between late medieval and contemporary Mormon practices of private devotion, and here there is much to be learned from recognizing the similarities. Pixton lucidly explains the medieval theological context of three hymns found in our modern hymnbook: “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and “All Creatures of our God and King,” which is no small accomplishment. Understanding how other ages have sought to comprehend Christ should increase our own understanding of the Atonement, but Pixton discusses these hymns not for the sake of illustrating any continuity between medieval and Mormon devotion or theology, but only in order to show how medieval Christianity changed over time-which, in the context of a discussion of Apostasy, is fraught with negative connotations. “What we have witnessed is a religious world constantly redefining itself,” he concludes. This should have been an opportunity for Pixton to help a Mormon audience appreciate the theory of atonement that lies at the heart of “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” so that more LDS students can, for example, learn to be moved by “The Dream of the Rood.”

John Welch’s chapter on the role of creeds in the Apostasy is entirely out of place in a volume dedicated to the precursors of the Restoration. Despite a shaky foundation–Welch notes that Joseph Smith specifically mentions creeds in only one of the accounts of the First Vision, and he concedes in a footnote that the word may not have been intended in the narrow sense of statement of faith–Welch proceeds to argue that creeds were the “main villain” in the Apostasy. Welch asserts on slim evidence that early Christian statements of faith became more complex over time, then declares that this is a sign of Apostasy-in other words, his argument is leaking straw from the seams. Welch states (but does not show) that the antecedents of the Christian creeds were New Testament statements of faith, which Welch calls “short, varied, unrehearsed, and intensely personal,” including Nathanael’s “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:45-49). Welch writes: “No one had told Nathanael what to say; his declaration is pure and unformulaic.” But this is silly: there is absolutely no way to know that there was no formulaic context to Nathanael’s statement, as recorded at best decades after the event, and preserved in manuscripts that are at best a century or more later. Welch sees the ultimate consequence of creedal divisiveness in the many Protestant creeds, of which he lists many examples from 1523 to 1837, but here Welch is comparing vastly different phenomena separated by nearly 900 years from his earlier examples (Welch adds a handful of late medieval Orthodox creeds to hide but not span the gap). The most frustrating failing of Welch’s contribution is that he has an interesting point that unfortunately never gets developed: that not the content of a creed, but its very existence is the problem, because formalized statements of faith lead to divisiveness and exclusion; that the more precise a definition of faith is, the more false it must be. I am left wondering: why was this chapter included in the volume? Rather than help Latter-day Saints better understand and re-evaluate the nature of Apostasy and Restoration, Welch’s contribution merely reinforces widespread Mormon suspicion towards Catholicism and other Christian churches. Welch, the biggest name in Mormon studies today, can do better than this.

The first chapter in Prelude to the Restoration is by Andrew Skinner. Skinner’s contribution is perhaps the most problematic in the collection. To point out just one area of concern, Skinner’s historical evidence that forerunners of Joseph Smith were anticipating the Restoration takes the form of the same quotations, stripped of context, that we have been hearing for more than a century. While Thomas Jefferson, in a quotation cited by Skinner, states his admiration for Christ’s original teachings and disdain for their subsequent corruption, and looked forward to a restoration of primitive Christianity, he intended a restoration nearly opposite of that brought about through Joseph Smith; in preparing a summary of Christ’s teachings, Jefferson systematically eliminated the miraculous and supernatural elements. Skinner also cites Thomas Paine as a Founding Father who anticipated the Restoration, but Paine was a deist who found the Bible ridiculous; the Restoration was unlike any “revolution in the system of religion” that Paine expected. A more likely voice of anticipation cited by Skinner is Roger Williams, but his dramatic and much-repeated statement–“There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking”–is quite possibly apocryphal. Skinner quotes Williams as cited in a pamphlet published by our church in 1976, although the most accessible source is probably LeGrand Richards’s Marvelous Work and Wonder, and the oldest citation in an LDS source that I find is from 1882. All of these in turn cite as their source William Cullen Bryant’s 1872 Picturesque America, where the statement in question is attributed to Williams, but without a source. Although Williams may have expressed similar sentiments, an afternoon with Roger Williams’s edited works could not verify the statement’s existence. It is in any case Skinner’s obligation not to rely upon a quote that ultimately derives from a picture book. As Dean of Religious Education at BYU, he sets the tone not just for a symposium but for all of his colleagues’ research. Latter-day Saints look to them to discover who really was anticipating the Restoration. Skinner, an experienced scholar who has published widely, can do better.

For the presenters at the Sperry Symposium, who are for the most part professors of religion at BYU, forerunners to the Restoration should be exactly the kind of topic that belongs to their core competency: gospel-related, but obscure and poorly-understood, yet potentially interesting and important. This is exactly the kind of topic where the Religion faculty should be able to offer enlightenment because of the research they have conducted, which they can conduct because of their unique position. But Prelude to the Restoration does not live up to its promise, or to their potential.

26 comments for “A Preview, A Review

  1. Thank you for the very interesting overview of olden times. I think this was a fascinating period of history, especially as it relates to the restoration, but could you please clarify three of my misconceptions:

    1. I thought the Catholic policies were the bad guy when it came to the scriptures. The church didn’t translate them into English until forced by Wycliff, Tyndale and Coverdale who published the Word in Englishe at great risk. (Wycliff was frowned upon; the others strangled/burned, and beheaded, I believe.) The Lollards, who travelled the countryside reciting memorized portions of psalms & gospels, were also persecuted and killed. This seems like a heavy-handed policy by a group who wouldn’t even let any non-Catholic view Vaticanus until the mid-1800s, although I think that was a good thing. I know the church considered the scriptures ‘their property,’ and don’t think they would have produced an English version until absolutely necessary.

    2. Daniel Boorstin explains Gutenberg’s contribution to printing in his Discoverers, that it was the process of producing large quantities of uniform alphabetic characters that would facilitate much quicker printing. Basically, a metallurgical procedure rather than the concept of either ‘printing’ or ‘moveable type,’ both of which existed in the Orient. Since earlier ‘printing’ was hand-set letterpress, would the difference simply be in producing thousands rather than dozens of copies? And if that’s the only difference, wouldn’t it be enough, economically, to kick-start a religious revolution?

    3. I have a replica of a Geneva Bible, 1560, in which a footnote to the prophecy of a restitution (I believe the Acts occurrence) interprets the verse as a promise of wonderful things to come. I thought this was insightful given the current attitude toward ‘restitution’ as meaning ‘fulfillment’ rather than returning that which was lost. I can provide the actual quote tonight. Do you think anyone at all anticipated a heavenly restitution or would this footnote be an aberration?

    I appreciate your opinion on these items.


  2. Jonathan, I don’t know Muntzer that well, but from what I know of the Anabaptists, and what you said, I think you are understating the parallels. First, politics was a matter of faith for the Anabaptists in Europe and almost was for Mormons, too. Second, it may just be an accident of timing that Joseph wasn’t killed for political reasons.

    The enforcement of religion by state power is a spiritual issue, and the Anabaptists opposed it. We Mormons in the U.S. had the luxury of separating the two because of the American separation of church and state. Still, a lot of the trouble the early Saints encountered had a strong political aspect, for example to do with the question of slavery.

    If Joseph had lived a bit longer, he might have been outright branded a rebel, like Brigham Young was. The U.S. sent an army to put down the “rebellion” in Utah! Only the distance across the plains and the fortress of the mountains gave the Mormons the upper hand in that conflict, which as a result fortunately didn’t erupt into fighting.

  3. The new book _Junius and Joseph_ from Utah State University Press argues that Joseph’s murder was indeed political, based on a Whig conspiracy. There was an interesting discussion of this book and its thesis at MHA in Vermont this past weekend.

  4. J.R., let me address your questions out of order.

    #2: There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Asian influence on Gutenberg, and he had one advantage that they didn’t: an alphabet. It’s true that his innovations were largely technical, including metallurgic, but he’s also the first person to put together the whole process, so that hundreds or thousands of books can be created in the same amount of time as otherwise would have been required for a couple dozen. The printing press still involved setting type by hand, but the great innovation is not just in terms of quantity. Every book issued by a printing press–assuming everything works right–is exactly the same as every other copy.

    What took longer to figure out is the economics of printing; selling a handfull of manuscripts to people you know in town is relatively easy, gathering the material and resources needed to print a couple hundred books, and then warehouse them while you sell them all over the continent, is hard. Gutenberg did not get rich.

    The line from Gutenberg to Luther is pretty tenuous, I think. By 1517, the printing press has been around for around 70 years, and it had been the leading means of book production for 30-40 years. It was perhaps a necessary prerequisite for the Reformation, and some see an impulse for the Reformation in the changed mentality of print culture. But I can more easily imagine a Protestant revolution in a world without printing than in a world in which the German princes are not thumbing their noses at the emperor.

    #3: I am absolutely certain that there were people expecting a restitution of exactly the kind we see in the Restoration. I’ll have more to say about it in my later posts. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the footnote in the Geneva Bible intends anything like that. Please, provide the text of the footnote and the verse to which it applies. I wonder if anyone who specializes in early modern England could offer more insight on it?

    #1: I don’t think we should view the Catholic Church as the “bad guy” with respect to the Bible. The popular view of the Church reserving the Bible from the people is wrong. Wycliffe seems to have been anathematized not for the translation of the Bible attributed to him, but for his views on ecclesiastic poverty and sacramental theology. Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Coverdale each have a specific historical and political context that explains far more about their conflicts with the Catholic Church than any universal and eternal ban on translating or reading or printing the Bible. There was anxiety about lay literacy, and reformers did often emphasize the Bible, but the ban is mostly myth.

  5. It is worth pointing out that the Vulgate was itself a “popular” translation of the scriptures from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. Furthermore, the Latin Bible would have been accessible to virtually all literate pre-Reformation Europeans because Latin was the dominant written language of the time. There were comparatively few works in vernacular languages. If you learned to read, you probably also learned Latin because there wasn’t very much to read if you didn’t know it.

  6. Jonathan,
    Thanks for that informative review. I wish you would suggest a reading list that would represent what you would have preferred to see in the Sperry volume. I have run across a few things over the years that have given just a taste of what I would like to read more of. I liked Milton V. Backman’s “American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism,” for it’s discussion of the rise of toleration and religious freedom that allowed the restoration. He also had a good series on the subject in the Improvement Era. I liked the tone of T. Edgar Lyons’ “Apostacy to Restoration.” And I liked the brief but positive treatment of the contribution of the medieval monks to the civilizing and the christianizing of medieval Europe found in Randall’s “Making of the Modern Mind.”. There is certainly a lot more available than that bare beginning. So again, I would appreciate some leads to literature on the positive religious developments in the medieval and Reformation periods that would constitute a preparation for the restoration..

  7. Ben, I agree that Joseph Smith’s death had a political context, and I wholeheartedly agree that there are very striking parallels with the Anabaptists, and even with Müntzer. But among the many different individuals and groups that get labeled ‘Anabaptist,’ I don’t think Müntzer is the best parallel. It’s an interesting idea, and maybe I could be talked into it, but for now I can’t get past Müntzer’s attempt to establish the Kingdom of God by armed rebellion. If Joseph Smith had led a force of 7000 peasants to seize the state capital, maybe. But I don’t see any parallel in Joseph Smith for Müntzer’s acceptance of violent means to achieving a restored Kingdom.

  8. Nate: Yes, absolutely. The invetion of printing seems to have made literacy even more a Latin affair than it was before.

    Lorin, I don’t quite follow your question, but you may have already answered it, or at least as well as I could have.

  9. Thanks Jonathan and Nate for your comments. I tried to be careful to say ‘Catholic policies’ rather than ‘Catholic Church’ and the conflict with the reformers. I think Wycliffe, Tyndale and Coverdale each had different motivations, to some extent, with the same general goal. The politics is fascinating, especially with Henry viii, who eventually embraced the very Bible he sought to destroy. Catholics were quick to respond with Douay-Rheims which seems to have followed Tyndale’s wording in a number of places.

    Still, I can’t imagine a reformation without an English Bible in quantity to support the resistance against mind control. I don’t think the reformation could have survived without the desire of the people to study for themselves. And it seems to me that literacy began to keep pace with the expanding printing industry and free-thinking population. I’ll dig that quote out from the Geneva Bible this evening.

    Wasn’t Jerome merely standardizing the hundreds of old Latin versions rather than responding to a desire of the people for the scriptures? And does anyone think Mary (would she be a ‘papal’ or a ‘Spanish’ inquisitionist?) was beheading every heretic she could find without the approbation of the Catholic leadership? Was the inquisition dying down by then (mid-16th century) or was it still under full steam? When it all comes down to it, I think the major reasons behind the reformation were ‘all of the above’ and not always simple to explain.

  10. Jonathan,
    I will try to explain what I meant.
    In your review, you stated,
    “The preface raises expectations that an exciting and neglected topic will at last receive the attention it deserves.
    Hope dies on page one. While there are some exceptional essays in this volume, most of the contributions fail to meet, or even to aim for, the standard raised in the preface.”
    I have not seen the Sperry volume yet, but from the rest of your review, I can see why you were disappointed. Let me put it this way: I assume that if you were asked to assemble an anthology that would have the same title as this book, some books or articles (maybe even by non LDS) might come to mind that you would want to include. If this is true, what would these be? (You said you were disappointed. I haven’t even read it yet, and I seem to be already disappointed and wanting more .)
    You wrote that there were characters in the Radical Reformation that Mormon’s could embrace. Do you know of anyone who has discussed that anywhere in the LDS literature?
    I consider the movement of the Reformation period most closely compatible to modern Mormonism would be the movement of Pietism. Do you know of anyone who has discussed this or made a comparison?
    We tend to emphasize the uniqueness of Mormonism. Has anyone analyzed how much we, in the way of beliefs and church practice, just lift from Protestantism. Could that then be considered part of a preparation?
    You emphasized the bogus claim that some expected a restoration. Your examples are probably correct, but did no one look forward to a restoration? Or did they just look forward to the second coming of Christ or the Millenium with no preparatory refreshing?
    Perhaps what I am asking sounds too much like asking you to rewrite the book. Because of how well informed you were on the subject, I was just hoping you had some interesting suggestions for further reading.

  11. J. R. Knight (#9): can’t imagine a reformation without an English Bible in quantity to support the resistance against mind control.

    There are a lot of assumptions here that need to be explored. For example, the assumption that the Reformation was primarily an English phenomenon when it was much more a northern European phenomenon. Also: the assumption that the Catholic Church (or its policies, take your pick) were engaged in mind control. As Jonathan has already pointed out, that is dubious. Believing that the Church rather than the individual has the ultimate authority to interpret scripture (i.e., that scripture is not to be interpreted privately–2 Peter 1:20) isn’t mind control. The fact that few people but priests could read, and (unlike English, French, etc.) Latin was a tongue available to almost all who could read, is also not evidence of mind control.

    I don’t think the reformation could have survived without the desire of the people to study for themselves.

    This is a chicken and egg problem: Did people that desire undergird the Reformation, or was it a product of the Reformation? I think the latter more than the former. As Jonathan said, and as I believe most contemporary historians would agree “the ban [on Bible reading] is mostly a myth.”

    Wasn’t Jerome merely standardizing the hundreds of old Latin versions rather than responding to a desire of the people for the scriptures?

    This assumes that Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale, etc. created their translations as a response to a desire of the people for the scriptures. What is the evidence for that claim rather than for the possibility that the translations were made for a variety of complicated political reasons–among them to foster individual interpretation of scripture.

    Also, your understanding seems to (but may not) overlook something that Jonathan points out as important when he says, “I can more easily imagine a Protestant revolution in a world without printing than in a world in which the German princes are not thumbing their noses at the emperor.” I agree with him that the political situation was at least as important as, if not more than, anything else in the support of the Reformationists. The princes’ support, support given so that they could cut themselves off from the emperor, may have been the most important thing that guaranteed the success of the Reformation.

  12. Lorin, I admit, I thought that’s what you might be asking. Unfortunately, I still think you can answer the question better than I can. I can offer a medievalist’s perspective on Prelude to Restoration, but my acquaintance with works written for a Mormon audience is pretty thin. Whether someone else has already adequately covered the question of Mormon approaches to the Middle Ages is a question I don’t have a good answer for, except that I am not aware of one, although it could well exist. I appreciate your providing the titles you mention. For further reading, any serious work of religious history on a period that you are interested in should provide food for thought. I mentioned The Radical Reformation above, and I’ll do so again. I confess that I’m only up to p. 1049; I keep finding other books in the footnotes that I have to read before I go any further.

    By all means, buy and read Prelude to the Restoration. However, when you read it, you have to try to understand not just what an author is saying, but also what assumptions underly what he or she is saying. One of the things that made Steven Harper’s essay on Thomas Müntzer so enjoyable was that it found significant parallels between our belief and experience and that of a less-known figure as a way of helping readers understand both the past and themselves. Even if I disagree on some of the details, it’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see more of, and I think all the authors were capable of writing something like it. (As for my nomination to which reformer we can look to as exemplary, or who precisely was anticipating a Restoration: those are, quite literally, topics for other posts. Watch this space.)

    About Pietism, it’s a religious movement of the 17th/18th centuries, where I am on shakier ground. There do seem to be some interesting figures of that period as well, but I just don’t have the background to say anything useful.

    The next thing you bring up–looking for religious continuities–is a very big undertaking, and one I would like to see more of. There’s too much that we assume to have begun in 1830 or 1517 that is in fact preceded by a very long religious controversy, such as infant baptism. Understanding that others have shared our views in times past does not make the Restoration any less important: modern revelation putting an end to controversy over issues on which the Bible is silent is precisely the point, I think.

  13. I don’t have time to deal with this at length.

    I’m puzzled by Jonathan’s assertion that Jennifer Lane’s piece avoids comparisons, when it actually does argue that we can learn much in terms of ritual identification from thinking about what the Franciscans did with the notion of compassio–of suffering with Christ. Lane chooses to focus on the similarities and the differences in terms of ritual identification rather than the private devotion because this ritual identification is clearly more important–the similarities/differences of participating in the stations of the cross as lead by the Franciscans and LDS participation in ordinances. So I don’t think the comparison is invalid. Jonathan’s right that other comparisons could be made (say to “private devotion”), but I think this would be ultimately much less meaningful in understanding the Restoration and how the notions of passion piety served as prelude to this.

    Jonathan laments that Pixton’s article won’t help Latter-day Saints understand a theory of atonement behind certain hymns and poems, but neglects to mention that Lane’s article can go a long way in helping people understand certain Catholic practices and ideas.

    My fear is that many will skip an article simply with Jonathan’s quick dismissal and miss what it has to show positively about certain strains of Catholic thought and practice and what LDS folks can learn from it.

  14. Thanks for your comments, Jim:

    “when it was much more a northern European phenomenon”
    No doubt, but in terms of the new world and the restoration wouldn’t you consider the English-speaking players as the most important?

    “engaged in mind control. As Jonathan has already pointed out, that is dubious.”
    I guess you missed my tongue stuck in my cheek. Nevertheless, the people were told what to believe and not given access to the scriptures in their own tongue to see for themselves. John Purvey wrote, “Though covetous Clerks are mad through simony, heresy and many other sins, and despise and impede Holy Writ as much as they can, yet the unlearned cry after Holy Writ to know it, with great cost and peril of their lives.” He speaks of a load of hay given for the use of a New Testament for one day. In 1408 Archbishop made it a penal offense to read any of Wycliffe’s writings or translations in Canterbury. In 1414 a law was passed that anyone found reading the scriptures in the ‘mother tongue’ should ‘forfeit land, catel, lif, and goods from their heyres for ever.’

    Maybe more people suffered than we think. Ira Price and Margaret Deanesly both present the situation as the reformers filling a need of the people. I agree that the politics were favorable for much of these efforts, but they did go on for more than two hundred years. The reformation was a concept whose time had come and it would not be stopped.


    Here’s that footnote, it’s keyed to Matthew 24:36, ‘Of that day and houre knoweth no man. . .’

    “It is sufficient for us to know that God hath appointed a latter day for the restoring of all things, but when it shall be, it is hidden from us all, for our profit that we may be so much the more watchful that we be not taken, as they were in old time in the flood.”

  15. I, and my first husband as well, are direct descendants of the Reverend John Rogers, the martyr. Yes, it’s true.

  16. J. R. Knight (#14): in terms of the new world and the restoration wouldn’t you consider the English-speaking players as the most important?

    Nope. I think the Reformation as a whole was important to the Restoration, which is why we often valorize Luther and other Germanic reformers as much as anyone. Of course, to the degree that we are talking about English settlers in the New World, English reformers may have had more direct influence on the beliefs of early converts and on early LDS culture, but I don’t think that the English reformationists were any more important than others in preparing the world for the gospel. I might even argue that they were less important than Luther, Calvin, and others, but I’d have to think more about that first. I’d have to think about it because national and linguistic identities were just beginning to become politically important at the time of the Reformation, so it isn’t clear how to parse out which of them was more important for a movement.

  17. While certainly there has been a regrettable history of Protestant painting of the Catholic Church in the darkest available hue and the unfair propagation of the resultant caricature, the Catholic / Anglican history of suppression of vernacular Bible translations is well documented.

    In 1229, The Council of Toulouse prohibited the laity from possessing books of the Old or New Testament.

    In 1408, Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canturbury, decrees that all Wycliffte translations of the Bible (or portions thereof) were to be searched for and destroyed.

    In 1522, Martin Luther publishes the first German edition of the New Testament.

    In 1524, William Tyndale finishes his translation of the New Testament from the Greek language in Holland. Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London, spares no effort to have all traceable copies destroyed, including buying and burning them in bulk before they can reach England.

    In 1536, Tyndale is condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

    In 1559, the Roman Inquisition forbids the publication and possession of Bible translations in six languages, except with written permission.

    In 1713, The papal encyclical Unigenitus condemns the proposition that “The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all.” and again prohibits the laity from possessing vulgar editions of the Old and New Testaments.

    In 1757, Pope Benedict XIV finally overturns the long standing Catholic prohibition of reading vernacular editions of the Bible, provided they come with Catholic notes and commentary.

  18. Keith, I agree that Jennifer Lane has some fascinating material about late medieval devotional practices, and she mentions some insightful parallels. I particularly liked her discussion of how pilgrimmage was connected to the stations of the cross, therfore connecting what seems an utterly alien Catholic devotional practice to our own experience of Carthage and Palmyra.

    On the other hand, Lane conflates devotional meditation on Christ’s suffering with self-flagellation, and her account of how popular piety prepared the way for the Restoration is confusing. My biggest complaint is the apples to oranges comparison of LDS sacrament and Catholic devotional practice. Here’s the scene of the crime. After a sympathetic discussion of late medieval meditation on the life of Christ, Lane writes (p. 119-20):

    “As Latter-day Saints we also seek to always remember the Savior…. At the same time, there are aspects of the late medieval devotional emphasis that do not resonate with our sensibilities or doctrinal understanding. One point in particular is the theological question of how the benefits of Christ’s suffering are made available to us…. [It is] important to note that while the Restoration and Book of Mormon emphasized faith, repentance, baptism, and gift of the Holy Ghost as the path to receiving the blessings of the Atonement, late medieval Christians did not have this clarity or understanding. They also sincerely wanted to receive the blessings of Christ’s suffering on their behalf, but the doctrinal interpretation of their day emphasized that sharing Christ’s suffering was the gate.”

    Lane should either compare devotional practices then and now, or Catholic and LDS sacramental theology. I’d be more sympathetic to her comparison of late medieval devotion and LDS sacramental practice if she was not at the same time comparing our church to Catholicism, and (yes, it’s surprising, considering the forum) deciding that our church was better. What frustrates me is precisely that we could learn a lot about our own religious experience by examining medieval devotional practice, but reiterating the contrast of restored Us and apostate Them renders the parallels safely irrelevant.

  19. Mark Butler, your point would be stronger if all the facts were correct. The Middle Ages is a big time period, and other people can better address some points than I can. But in the area I am most familiar with–no. Luther’s translation was not the first German edition. There were multiple German editions already in the 15th century. In the 16th century, Luther complained that Catholic printers were plagiarizing his translation: Catholic printers were selling vernacular Catholic Bibles to Catholic laymen.

  20. Jonathan:

    In the cited material (18), what exactly do you disagree with? I see no denigration of the practice in the article, only a statement that Franciscan understanding and practice have similar motivations, but their practice and understanding differ from ours. Lane sees what they do as preparing the way and is one of the few articles that sees Catholicism (and not simply Protestantism) as a preparer for the Fulness of the Gospel. This isn’t an us and them approach, though it is impossible not to have some sense of us and them when one makes comparisons unless you simply ignore the differences.

    Anyway, I suspect we will continue to disagree about this article (including what it should or shouldn’t have been given the context), so I’ll give you the last word.

  21. I stand corrected. Luther’s translation was not the first into German. My main point is that it was a long standing Catholic policy to keep vernacular translations of the Bible from being read by the common people. This continued at least as late as 1836, when Pope Gregory XVI restored an earlier (1596, Clement VIII) requirement for papal approval to read the Scriptures in the vernacular.

  22. Mark: First, we agree that a real accomplishment of the Reformation was a renewed focus on reading the Bible. While we don’t have the same view of the sole sufficiency of the Bible that some reformers had, we do emphasize the reading of the Bible and other works of scripture.

    On the other hand, the other facts in your list still don’t add up to a longstanding Catholic policy. What your other data have in common is the context of dealing with heresies that had reading the Bible in the vernacular as one of their primary features. If memory serves, Toulouse was an edict against the Waldensians, and not binding outside of southern France. The Reformation-era decisions have the same intent, not to reaffirm a longstanding policy but to deal with a relatively recent and local problem for the Catholic Church. The later decrees may be unambiguous, but they’re issued at a time when the Reformation is an accomplished fact and the Catholic Church had little ability to enforce its decision.

  23. Keith, my disagreement is with the contrast of Mormon emphasis on “faith, repentance, baptism, and gift of the Holy Ghost” with a late medieval doctrinal interpretation that emphasized Christ’s suffering. It’s a false dichotomy. The late Middle Ages certainly had lots to say about all four of our first principles and ordinances, and if she wants to make the contrast, Lane needs to discuss that material. At the same time, as Lane ably shows, Christ’s suffering also figures into our own religious experience; there’s really no need for a contrast (where we incidentally come out looking better). Lane has a long discussion of the implications for Latter-day Saints in which her conflation of self-flagellation and meditation allows her to say that Mormons don’t seek out suffering like late medieval Catholics did. But by sneaking flagellation into the argument, Lane is disguising a similarity with a contrast that does not need to exist.

    I agree that Lane covers some of the most interesting material of any chapter in the book, and she makes some of the most insightful points in the whole volume. What I see as defects in Lane’s article are things that in my view weaken the effect of her insights. To a certain extent, I’m judging her and Pixton’s article more stringently because the authors are familiar with the Middle Ages, but both articles are well worth reading.

  24. It is also worth pointing out that it is probably a mistake to talk about the Catholic church as an it. We frequently think of Catholicism in the Middle Ages as an a single integrated institution with consistent and universal rules and single ruler — the pope — at the top. My understanding, however, is that this view is severely mistaken. The power of the Vatican vis-a-vis local prelates waxed and waned. The perogative of the Pope to appoint bishops within the Holy Roman Empire was not established until into the 11th century, and my understanding is that up until the Revolution, complete papal control over the appointment of bishops was shakey at best in France with the king frequently picking bishops, some of whom were hostile to Rome. The same is true in England, where there was a running battle between kingly and papal control of the Church stretching from Henry II to Henry VIII. As a matter of cannon law, the extent to which the outcomes of particular councils were universally binding was frequently disputed and there were lots of gradations of authority. Furthermore, as a matter of practice the resolutions of councils and edicts of the papcy were frequently ignored. Finally, there were power centers that were largely independent of both the pope and the bishops, namely monastic orders, the Inquisition, etc. Hence, the image of pre-Reformation Catholic unity is in many ways a myth.

  25. Jonathan, thanks for the interesting topic. I can’t wait to find out who was the exemplary reformer. In the meantime I’ll figure out who is my favorite heretic.

    The Waldensians, incidentally, arose in Lyon, one of many extra-hierarchical movements that were a part of the “twelfth century renaissance.” Unlike the Cathars, they were not originally attacked for heresy, but for unauthorized preaching. Itinerant preachers were partly responding to the need resulting from the persistent problem of illiteracy in the clergy. Lyon was a crossroads for trade and had a substantial Jewish population which may account for some later Waldensians being skilled Hebraicists. In 1179, Peter Waldo (or Waldes), the group’s founder and spiritual leader who had given his considerable possessions to the poor, had an audience with the pope, but did not secure the authorization to preach. He and his followers persisted, however, and were excommunicated in 1184. The Waldensians translated the gospels and other passages into the vernacular but also committed long passages to memory.

    Called the “Poor Men of Lyon,” the Waldensians emphasized spirituality and ethics more than doctrine and theology, and held to a priesthood of all believers, men and women. They eventually clashed with Rome on the question of preaching being subordinate to the sacraments (they disagreed). An inquistor characterized them thus: “They are modest and well behaved, taking no pride in their dress, which is neat but not extravagant. Avoiding commerce, because of its inevitable lies and oaths and frauds, they live by working as artisans, with cobblers as their teachers. Content with bare necessities, they do not accumulate wealth. Chaste in their habits, temperate in eating and drinking, they keep away from taverns, dances and other vanities. They refrain from anger and are always active. They can be recognized by their modesty and precision of speech.”

    They were alternately persecuted and tolerated at different times and places, and eventually spread all over Europe and split into several different movements. Some were absorbed into various protestant reform movements, but enclaves continued and there are even some American cities founded by Waldensians that are majority Waldensian today.

    One of the enclaves was in Piedmont where the Duke of Savoy had allowed the group some protection. However, in 1655, they moved a little too far off the reservation and Piedmontese troops slaughtered them. This was the impetus for the famous Milton sonnet:

    On the late Massacher in Piemont

    Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
    Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
    Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
    When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones,
    Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
    Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
    Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
    Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
    The Vales redoubl’d to the Hills, and they
    To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
    O’re all th’ Italian fields ;Where still doth sway
    The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
    A hunder’d-fold, who having learnt thy way
    Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

    Of course, Milton was a propagandist for Cromwell at the time and was perhaps a little unfairly anti-Catholic, although the massacre was certainly to be deplored.

    Another interesting footnote is that during Lorenzo Snow’s mission to Italy in the 1850s 170 of 171 converts to the church were French-speaking Waldensians:


  26. Keith, thanks again for your comments. I think blogs and book reviews are a good combination, as it forces the reviewer to defend or modify his judgment of a book. I wonder if part of the disagreement lies in the inherent difficulty of reconciling a fair account of history with Mormon teleology. Prelude to the Restoration tells us in the title where it thinks history was headed, and any intended reader will accept that proposition, but it still doesn’t resolve the issue of how to treat other times and beliefs respectfully while remaining unapologetic about our own belief in the Restoration. It’s a thorny problem, and I don’t have a good answer for it.

    Nate, yes, that’s an excellent point. The Catholic Church was and is a complex institution.

    Bill, I haven’t done enough reading about heretics. These days I have Anabaptists on my mind, as you probably can tell already. There are some appealing aspects of the Waldensians, but other things strike me as very, very strange, like their system of barbs. I can’t yet say whether the similarities or the differences are the more significant.

    There are at least two people reading this thread who know much more about late medieval devotional practice than I do. I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much. If I did, your corrections are welcome.

    I’ll be busy with packing and cleaning and travelling during the upcoming days and weeks, with uncertain Internet access. I’m still hoping that other people will read Prelude to the Restoration and share their reactions here. I’ll check back on this thread when I’m able. Hopefully I can make another post or two before too long, building on some of the issues we discussed here. As a homework assignment, be sure to read up on the Mormon urban legend of Lutius Gratius (conveniently hosted at a blog near you) and Paul Pixton’s thorough debunking of the same in BYU Studies 25:3 (PDF) (but do see the question John Fowles raises as well in the BCC thread; it’s a good point). My upcoming posts won’t deal with that urban legend directly, but rather with some related issues.

    To keep you entertained in the meantime, I think there’s a thread about gender roles around here somewhere…

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