Luther Visualized 15 – Treasures of the Reformation

The Law and the Gospel

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on panel, after 1529; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

I am posting this out of order; it was originally intended to be the last post in this series. However, it is fitting to post it on this day commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

There are any number of treasures or hallmarks of the Reformation that could be highlighted on this day—the three solas, as just one example. But in 1549, three years after Luther’s death, when a young Martin Chemnitz accompanied his relative Georg Sabinus on a trip to Wittenberg and “in a letter written in Greek” asked Philipp Melanchthon “to show [him] a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of theology,” Melanchthon gave a response that bespoke Luther’s lasting influence on him. He “replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.”

If a person could only be given one piece of advice before opening and reading the Bible on his own, this would indeed be the best. There are two main teachings in the Bible, the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and how we should live. It shows us that we can never measure up to God on our own, and therefore it threatens, terrifies, and condemns us and thereby prepares us for the Gospel. The Gospel shows us our Savior Jesus and how he has lived and died for us. It showcases God’s gracious promises to us, and so it comforts, assures, and saves us. This distinction is the single greatest aid for reading and understanding the Bible. As the apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And if there is one piece of artwork that correctly and beautifully captures that distinction, yes, encapsulates all of the Reformation’s and confessional Lutheranism’s theology, this painting by Cranach is it.

The left half of the painting depicts the Law. The defenseless sinner is driven by death and the devil towards eternal destruction in hell, having been judged guilty by Jesus, enthroned in heaven above as Judge of the world. The man was unable to keep God’s law and earn God’s favor because of original sin, inherited as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, portrayed in the background. In the foreground on the right, the chief prophet Moses, holding the two tables of God’s law, explains to the other Old Testament prophets that the Law can only condemn and hope must be sought elsewhere. The tree on the right is bare, representing how the Tree of Life is not accessible to fallen mankind by his own powers, or how fallen mankind is spiritually dead and can produce no good fruits (works pleasing to God).

The right half of the painting depicts the Gospel. Jesus is portrayed not as Judge of the world, but as the Savior of the world. John the Baptist points the defenseless sinner to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) through the atoning sacrifice of his life on behalf of sinners. Through this good news, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, instills faith in the sinner’s heart, and thus the sinner receives the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice; the sinfulness of his heart is covered by Jesus’ blood. The rest of the panel depicts, for the most part, scenes from Jesus’ life. In the background, instead of judging from heaven, he comes down from heaven to share in our humanity and suffer our condemnation in our place (the incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary). In the foreground, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is portrayed as the ultimate proof of his victory over death, the skeleton under his left foot, and the devil, the dragon under his right foot. In the upper right hand corner, Jesus ascends into heaven, the nail-marks in his feet still showing. The counterpart to the serpent’s tempting and mankind’s fall into sin in the left half is the prefiguring or foreshadowing of Jesus’ redeeming work through the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9) in the right half. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15). The tree in this panel is leafy, representing how the Tree of Life is accessible to fallen mankind through faith in Jesus, or how the one who believes in Jesus has spiritual life and produces good fruits.

What God does in his law demand
And none to him can render
Brings wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the law requires,
And lost is our condition.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Your death is now my life indeed,
For you have paid my ransom. – Paul Speratus, 1523

Today is an anniversary celebration like none other. Happy Reformation Day, dear readers!

Sources
August L. Graebner, “An Autobiography of Martin Kemnitz” in Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, October 1899), p. 480

Cranach Digital Archive here and here

Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993), #390

Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

Similar Paintings

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on oak panel, early 1530s; housed in the Scottish National Gallery

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was a renowned artist and contemporary and sympathizer of Luther. This painting, clearly influenced by Cranach’s above, is usually titled An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments or even The Old and the New Law, but the painting itself clearly identifies its contrast between the law (lex) and grace (gratia). (The painting correctly shows that both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim grace in Christ.) On the left the two tables of the law are given from heaven to Moses. The law makes us conscious of our sin (peccatum; Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), inherited from Adam as a result of the fall into sin (Romans 5:12-19). The wages of sin is death (mors; Romans 6:23). Nevertheless our justification was foreshadowed (mysterium justificationis) through the bronze serpent erected on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9), and Isaiah the prophet (Esayas propheta) foretold of salvation through the coming Christ (“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son [Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium]” – Isaiah 7:14).

At the center of the painting is man (homo). “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body subject to death [Miser ego homo, quis me eripiet ex hoc corpore morti obnoxio]?” – Romans 7:24.

On the right, John the Baptist (Ioannes Baptista) points sinful man to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), who takes away the sin of the world (Ecce agnus ille Dei, qui tollit peccatum mundi – John 1:29). His coming down from heaven to take on human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary is the token of God’s grace. An angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the valley below. Jesus as the living bread who came down from heaven (John 6:51) on the right side is the antitype to the bread that was rained down from heaven on the Israelite camp in the wilderness, depicted on the left side (Psalm 78:23-25). As an adult, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he came to seek and to save what was lost and that he must suffer, die, and rise again in order to do so (Mark 8:31; Luke 19:10). His crucifixion is pictured as our justification or acquittal from sin (justificatio nostra) and his resurrection from the dead as our victory (victoria nostra) over death and the devil (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger, Middle Panel of the Epitaph Altar for John Frederick the Magnanimous in the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar, oil on lindenwood panel, begun in 1552, completed in 1555

Duke John Frederick I of Saxony commissioned the work to the left a couple years before his death. Lucas Cranach himself died the following year, so the project was taken up and completed by his son. 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; and John 3:14,15 are printed on the pages of Martin Luther’s open Bible. John the Baptist points to Christ with his finger; Luther points to him with his gaze. Cranach the Elder painted himself in between the two, with Christ’s blood spilling onto his head. (He has made himself the counterpart to “the defenseless sinner” of his earlier painting.) His gaze is directed at the viewer, inviting him or her to worship Christ as Savior with him. The other unique detail is the angel flying in midair in the background over the shepherds, which has a double allusion. The first allusion is to the angel who announced the birth of Christ. This second allusion, indicated by the scroll he holds, is to Revelation 14:6,7. Johannes Bugenhagen, the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, preached on those verses for Luther’s funeral and identified Luther as the angel or messenger mentioned there. (Subsequent Lutheran preachers have also not shied away from that identification, though they also apply it to any Christian who faithfully proclaims the gospel.) The words printed on the victory banner borne by the lamb beneath the cross are those of John 1:29. The other details correspond exactly to Cranach’s earlier painting above.

Advertisements

Joseph Schaitberger: Life and Work

By Julius August Wagenmann

Translator’s Preface

Portrait of Joseph Schaitberger, sketched by P. Decker ad vivum and printed by Martin Engelbrecht in 1732

Until recently, the term “Salzburgers” as it relates to Lutheran history had completely escaped me, to my own detriment. The history of Lutheranism in the former Archbishopric of Salzburg (whose land now comprises part of Austria since being annexed in 1805) is one of repeated persecution, dating back to the expulsion of Paul Speratus in 1520, for expressing his evangelical views too openly, and the beheading of Georg Scherer (or Schärer) in Radstadt on April 13, 1528, for refusing to recant the Lutheran doctrine he was preaching. There were also exiles decreed in 1588 and 1613-15.

The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was supposed to put an end to such persecution, but in the Archbishopric of Salzburg it did not. The article below – translated from the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1890), vol. 30, pp. 553-555 – describes the cruel banishment of Joseph Schaitberger and more than 1000 others in 1685-1686. And thus Joseph Schaitberger became an inspiration to the many more thousands who were banished by a later archbishop on October 31, 1731 (not a coincidental date), and who emigrated in 1732.

God willing, this is the first in a series of translations pertaining to Schaitberger and the Salzburg exiles that will appear here. I pray that these translations remind us just how precious our gospel-centered faith is, and strengthen us in the conviction that it is founded on the pure Word of God and is therefore worth any distress we might have to undergo for believing it and sharing it.

Joseph Schaitberger: Life and Work

Joseph Schaitberger, as depicted in a 1733 Nuremberg edition of his Neu-vermehrter Evangelischer Sendbrief, probably based on the portrait above.

Schaitberger: Joseph S. (or Scheitberger), Salzburg exile and evangelical author of devotional literature, born on March 19, 1658, in Dürrnberg by Hallein in the Salzkammergut, died on October 2, 1733, in Nuremberg. — His parents were the peasant and miner Johann Schaitberger and Magdalena née Danner from Berchtesgaden, both devoted to the evangelical religion, which had already found acceptance in Salzburg territory in the 16th century and from then on always had many secret allies among the mountain dwellers. Educated in reading and writing by his brother, who was schoolmaster in Dürrnberg, he devoted himself to the miner’s vocation and married Margarethe née Kümmel from Berchtesgaden when he was 25. In addition to working hard as a miner, however, he constantly and fervently occupied himself with the reading of Holy Scripture, Luther’s House Postils, and other evangelical devotional writings. When a religious persecution broke out in 1686 under Archbishop Maximilian Gandolf in the Tefferecker [or Tefferegger or Defereggen] Valley against the secret Protestants there, Schaitberger was also arrested along with others of his fellow believers, brought to Hallein in fetters, from there was delivered to the royal court in Salzburg, and was imprisoned there under harsh conditions for 50 days. During this time two Capuchin monks made fruitless attempts to bring him back to the fold of the Roman Church. Thereafter he was set free again, with an order to draw up his confession of faith in writing and submit it to the Archbishop of Salzburg. He openly and freely professed Luther’s doctrine and the Augsburg Confession and petitioned the archbishop that he and his fellow believers be left undisturbed in their worship and be returned the children that had been robbed from them. Instead he was dismissed from his mining job, divested of his possessions, condemned to fourteen days of penal labor on bread and water, and finally, since he refused to solemnly renounce his evangelical faith, was driven from the country with other evangelical Teffereckers [or Defereggers], more than 1000 in number, being forced to leave their possessions and children behind. He found a place of refuge in Nuremberg, where he was cordially welcomed and where he remained until the end of his life, earning his living as a day laborer, woodworker, and wire-drawer. After the death of his first wife (d. 1687), he entered into a second marriage with Katharina Prachenberger from Berchtesgaden, who bore him four sons but died already in 1698. Twice he dared to return to his homeland secretly and at risk to his life, partly to strengthen in faith and patience the fellow believers he had left behind there and partly to get his children out. Only one of his daughters followed him back, with the intention of winning him over to the Roman Church. But the opposite happened: She became convinced of the truth of the evangelical faith and decided to stay with her father, where she made a meager living by knitting. Schaitberger himself, once he grew old and was no longer able to work, was accepted by the Nuremberg council into the so-called “Mäntel Foundation of the Twelve Brothers [Mäntel’sche Stift der zwölf Brüder],” a charitable institution otherwise dedicated only to Nuremberg citizens. He also received financial assistance from friends abroad, who respected him highly for his simple piety and his unwavering confession of the evangelical truth, including the Augsburg preacher and senior Samuel Urlsperger, as well as the Memmingen Preacher J. G. Schelhorn, who gathered a generous collection for him in December 1732 and refreshed him with it shortly before his blessed end. Not long before his death he also greeted in Nuremberg the new Salzburg emigrants, who had been banished from their homeland in 1731 by Archbishop Firmian and were once again seeking a place of refuge in Germany.

Soon after his arrival in Nuremberg, Schaitberger had begun to write a series of evangelical tractates at the instigation of a certain Preacher Ungelenk there. Schaitberger did this partly for his own edification and partly for the instruction and strengthening of the fellow believers he had left behind in his Salzburg homeland. At first he had them printed individually as pamphlets (Schwabach, 1688ff) and sought to distribute them in many thousands of copies, especially among his countrymen. He finally issued them in a collected edition (1710 in Schwabach and Nuremberg) under the title: Neu-vermehrter Evangelischer Send-Brieff, Darinnen zwei und zwantzig nutzliche Büchlein enthalten, Geschrieben an die Lands-Leut in Saltzburg und andere gute Freund, dadurch dieselbige zur Christlichen Beständigkeit, in der Evangelischen Glaubens-Lehr, Augspurgischer Confession, in ihrem Gewissen, aufgemuntert werden1 (Newly Enlarged Evangelical Circular, Containing Twenty-Two Useful Booklets, Written to Countrymen in Salzburg and Other Good Friends, Through Which Their Consciences Are Encouraged to Christian Perseverance in the Evangelical Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession). This “Circular,” in addition to Luther’s and Spangenberg’s postils and Arndt’s True Christianity, became the most treasured devotional book of the evangelical Salzburgers, such as the inhabitants of the Ziller Valley who emigrated from their homeland in the Tyrol in 1837. It was later repeatedly printed, e.g. in Nuremberg in 1732 et al. and up to the most recent times, and was more broadly distributed as a devotional book; a so-called jubilee edition of it just appeared in 1889 with a short biography and portrait of the author (Reutlingen: Baur, 608 pages in octavo).2 The contents are as follows: 1) Schaitberger’s circular to the countrymen he has left behind, containing the confession of faith he had composed earlier, 2) account of the Salzburg reformation of 1686, 3) religious conversation between a Catholic and an evangelical Christian, 4) spiritual Christian mirror or guide for Christian living, 5) golden nourishing art of the children of God, 6) useful meditations on death, 7) evangelical dying school for the children of God, 8) Christian art of dying, 9) repentance-blaring trumpet of judgment, 10) two short consolations, 11) melancholy circular to his children still in Salzburg territory, 12) circular to his brother, 13) biblical passages of comfort, 14) evangelical Christian duty, 15) consolations for distressed consciences and afflicted souls, 16) report on religion, 17) answers to four religious questions, 18) simple questions on the parts of the Catechism with which fathers can instruct their children, 19) evangelical repentance-alarm bell, 20) traveling conversation between an Old Lutheran and a new Pietist, 21) four Christian reflections, and 22) miscellaneous hymns and prayers.3 He also composed a number of hymns, of which two were included in the appendix of the Coburg Hymnal (1717), “Du Spiegel aller Tugend [O mirror of all virtue]” and “Jesu meine Lieb’ und Leben [Jesus, my love and life].” His most well-known hymn, however, is his hymn for Salzburg exiles, which reflects both every aspect of the distress experienced by those witnesses to the faith and their gospel-centered comfort, in simple, poignant words. The original text of this “Hymn for Salzburg Exiles” begins and ends as follows (according to a printing from 1732): “I am an exile, sadly banned— | This my new designation— | From cherished home and fatherland— | God’s Word the sole causation. • Yet I, Lord Jesus, contemplate | Your like humiliation. | If I now you must emulate, | Fulfill your inclination. … Please, let my new town be a site | Where your Word is permitted; | By it my heart, both day and night, | Shall then be benefited. • If in this vale of tears I must | Live in prolonged privation, | In heaven God will give, I trust, | Far better habitation.”4

Cf. Samuel Urlsperger, Joseph Schaitberger (1732). • J. G. Schelhorn, De Religionis Evangelicae in Provincia Salisburgensi Ortu Progressu et Fatis Commentatio Historico-Ecclesiastica (Leipzig, 1732). • J. G. Schelhorn, Ergötzlichkeiten aus der Kirchenhistorie und Literatur (Ulm und Leipzig, 1762), I:494ff. • Georg Andreas Will, Nürnbergisches Gelehrten-Lexicon (Nuremberg und Altdorf, 1757), III:481ff. • Hirsching, Friedrich Carl Gottlob and Johann Heinrich Martin Ernesti Ernesti, Historisch-literarisches Handbuch berühmter und denkwürdiger Personen, welche in dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert gelebt haben (Leipzig, 1808), X/2:227ff. • Johann Heinrich Zedler, Grosses vollständiges Universal Lexicon Aller Wissenschafften und Künste (Halle und Leipzig, 1742), XXXIV:815ff. • Johann Caspar Wetzel, Historische Lebens-Beschreibung Der berühmtesten Lieder-Dichter (Herrnstadt, 1724), III:29ff. • Christian Friedrich David Erdmann, “Salzburger” in Real-Encyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1884) XIII:323ff. • Karl Panse, Geschichte der Auswanderung der evangelischen Salzburger (Leipzig, 1827).

Endnotes

1 I edited the title Wagenmann gave to reflect that found in the original 1710 edition at my disposal and available online. Wagenmann’s title reads: Neuvermehrter evangelischer Sendbrief, darinnen 24 nützliche Bücher enthalten, geschrieben an die Landsleute in Salzburg und andere gute Freunde, darin dieselben zu christlicher Beständigkeit in der evangelischen Glaubenslehre Augsburgischer Confession in ihrem Gewissen aufgemuntert werden.

2 These later editions were expanded to include “Twenty-Four Useful Booklets,” and the “Hymn of Comfort for an Exile,” which Wagenmann mentions later, was also inserted. The two extra booklets were “Comfort for the Dying” and “Comforting Thoughts for the Dying.”

3 I also edited Wagenmann’s summary of the contents (cf. endnote 1). Wagenmann’s summary reads: 1) Schaitberger’s circular to the countrymen he has left behind, containing the confession of faith he had composed earlier, 2) an account of the Salzburg reformation, 3) religious conversation, 4) tractate on the young man and the old man, 5) Christian mirror, 6) the golden nourishing art of the children of God, 7) meditations on death, 8) the art of dying, 9) comfort for the dying, 10) repentance-blaring trumpet of judgment, 11) circular to his children in Salzburg territory, 12) to his brothers [sic], 13) evangelical Christian duty, 14) conversation about true and false Christianity, 15) tractate on perfection, 16) consolations for distressed and afflicted souls, 17) report on religion, 18) religious questions, 19) traveling conversation, 20) tractate on infant baptism, 21) on the appearances of angels, 22) works of repentance, 23) reply to the letter of a Nicodemite, 24) on the certainty of faith and the true knowledge of Christ. The content listed by Wagenmann is all in Schaitberger’s work, with the exception of “works of repentance [Bußwerke],” which appears to be a misspelling of “Buß-Wecker.” But much of what he labels as its own booklet is actually a sub-theme of a different booklet. For example, his #4 (which, however, should be “conversation between a young man and a poor man”) is included in what he labels #10. His #14 and #15 are both included in what he labels #13, and his #20, #21, #23, and #24 are all included in the actual #21, “Four Christian Reflections.”

4 In all the editions of Schaitberger’s Sendbrief at my disposal, in which his hymn for exiles is found, there is one more stanza after the one with which Wagenmann concludes: “The man shall here remain disguised | Who did these verses fashion; | He papal doctrine has despised | But Christ professed with passion.” However, at the time of this posting, I did not have access to any 1732 edition.