31 Days, 31 Books
Two problems with this blogging series: First there are too many books to choose from, and second, I want to reread the books I have already read. One such book that I would enjoy reading again is Stephen Ozment’s When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe. I must have read it some ten years ago and have not forgotten it. The topic is definitely one where the history has much to say to us in our age. The Protestant Reformation may have started over some 95 troubling questions that Martin Luther had over the sale of indulgences and the practices then current in the Roman Catholic Church. But ideas have consequences. By the way, such ideas are called philosophy and theology, while the consequences are called history.
There is never a case in history where one thing is changed without that one change then effecting a whole series of changes. That is why Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to the Minutemen’s defense at Concord Bridge as “the shot heard round the world.” Some centuries before that, Luther’s protests and concerns against the Faith of his day were heard round the world and inside the walls of homes. The questioning of the whole apparatus of the Medieval Roman Catholic hegemony led scholars and students, pastors and laymen, the experts and the novices to become Berean. That is, like the complimented congregation in Berea as found in Acts 17, people began reading the Bible and listening to the Bible to find out what it said. And the Bible addresses not only matters of eternity, but also matters of the here and now, including family.
Luther’s first and foremost question was “What must a man do to be saved?” Then and now, this is a critical matter. But the next question is the one found in the title of Francis Schaeffer’s book, “How Should We Then Live?” The reverberations from that question were world changing. It went to the heart of Luther’s career change earlier in life. Luther had originally been a law student. This was pleasing to his parents, since they saw it as the road to a better economic future for their boy Martin. After a lightning storm, Luther vowed to enter a monastery. This decision greatly displeased his parents, but Luther persisted in his call to the monastic life.
Monasteries, that is, monastic orders, and convents played vital roles in the Christian culture of Medieval Europe. There was an incredible amount of good that resulted from the 1000 plus years of the monastic movement. Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization is just one stirring account of the work that monks did to preserve books and culture and evangelize and minister to people. But there were theological flaws aplenty in the rationale for monkish orders. By the mercies of God, He blesses and preserves His Church and people through means that are off center. The single and celibate life is certainly the life for some. But the Medieval culture exalted celibacy and the monastic life as the highest of callings. (The problem still plagues Roman Catholics.)
Marriage and family, children and healthy monogamous sexual relations, are the Christian ideal for most people. (The exceptions are those who feel called to a life of singleness AND service to God.) The institution of the family is the primary building block of the nation, church, and culture. Family life is more important than anything Washington, D.C. does or doesn’t do. The institution of the family was struggling during the late Middle Ages. Just as the family is under attack today, it was under attack then. The family is always under attack. The Christian life is always a reconstruction work on family life.
Stephen Ozment writes:
Protestants were faced with what they considered to be a crisis in domestic relations, one that could be traced to the institutions of medieval religion. To correct the situation, they exalted the patriarchal nuclear family as the liberation of men, women, and children from religious, sexual, and vocational bondage….The Protestant reformers were…the first to set the family unequivocally above the celibate ideal and to praise the husband and the housewife over the monk and nun in principle.
There is no need to assume that every Protestant reformer got everything right about family matters. Reformation is always filled with gaps and starts and excesses and misguided zeal. When sinners start down the road to sanctification, the picture along the way is not always pretty. But the results start looking better and better. To use Ozment’s term, this was a liberation movement for men, women, and children. We need a big dose of what the Reformers were doing.
Stephen Ozment is an Arkansas man. He comes from nearby Camden and has done quite well in the academic world by serving as a professor of history at Harvard. One of his many students was Congressman Tom Cotton (my congressman) who is currently seeking the Republican nomination to be the candidate for the U.S. Senate.
I have several, but not enough of Stephen Ozment’s books.