• Overview of the Seventeenth Century Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | April 2017

    The seventeenth century was one of the most intense, vivid, and impactful centuries in Christian history. It was as if all the issues raised by the sixteenth-century Reformation were poured out into the seventeenth century and shaken violently, and the resulting explosive blend tipped out again to ignite the following centuries, right up to the present. In this brief overview, we can only glance at some of the main themes that continue to resonate down to our own time. SCHOLATICSM The seventeenth century was the great era of Lutheran and Reformed scholasticism. The heirs of Martin Luther and John Calvin … View Resource

  • A Century of Change Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | October 2016

    Some people see the Protestant Reformation as a miraculous restoration of Apostolic Christianity that God dropped into history immediately from above. This view once held sway particularly in the American Protestant mind. It was, however, effectively challenged in the mid-nineteenth century by two giants of historical-theological thinking, John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff of Mercersburg Seminary in Pennsylvania. Since then, there has been no going back to the older view. True though it is that God worked mightily in the sixteenth century, He did not do so through bypassing history or human causes. (By the way, Schaff’s eight-volume History of … View Resource

  • The Fifteenth Century Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | August 2015

    The fifteenth century is best known as the age of the Renaissance, which in many ways sowed seeds that would bloom into the sixteenth-century Reformation. This aspect of history was well captured in the sixteenth-century saying “Erasmus [prince of Renaissance writers] laid the egg and Luther hatched it.” Defining the Renaissance The Renaissance (“rebirth”) was not primarily a religious phenomenon, although it had religious elements. Actually, it is hard to define exactly what the Renaissance was; its character varied from one land to another, and even from one individual to another. Perhaps the nearest we can get to the heart … View Resource

  • The Fourteenth Century Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | July 2014

    The papacy had reached the zenith of its political power in Europe under Innocent III. His death in 1216 was followed by a period of eclipse and, finally, catastrophe. The popes continued to struggle for supremacy against Germany’s “Holy Roman” emperors. However, the long war between papacy and empire had sapped the power of the imperial court by undermining Germany’s national unity. The threat to the independence of the papacy no longer came from Germany, but from France. THE FRENCH THREAT The French monarchy was growing in strength that reached dangerous levels, from a papal perspective, under King Philip the … View Resource

  • The 13th Century Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | September 2013

    More traditionally minded Roman Catholics have seen the thirteenth century as the golden age of Roman Catholic civilization. Certainly it witnessed the papacy achieving the summit of its power over the politics and culture of Western Europe. THE REIGN OF POPE INNOCENT III The pope who presided over this Catholic “high noon” was Innocent III, who was bishop of Rome from 1198 to 1216. His baptismal name was Lothario Conti. Born in 1160, he came from one of Rome’s most ancient aristocratic families. After studying theology and law at Rome, Bologna, and Paris, he lectured at Bologna law school. In … View Resource

  • The Twelfth Century Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | September 2012

    The twelfth century was one of the most colorful of the medieval era. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that it was the age of some of the most famous and influential Christians of all time. We need only think of Peter Abelard and Peter Lombard in the arena of theology, Bernard of Clairvaux in matters of spirituality, and Peter Waldo as the first great “forerunner of the Reformation.” The end of the century also witnessed the ascension to power of Pope Innocent III, in whom the papacy reached its dizzying height of political power across Western Europe. … View Resource

  • Separation of Church and State Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | May 2011

    Western Europe was shaken to the heart in the eleventh century by the investiture conflict. It saw kings humbled by popes, popes driven out by kings, wars between armies, dissensions within the church, and, ultimately, a new Europe. A theological dispute pulsed at the center of the conflict. To understand it, we have to step back even further in time to the development of feudalism. The Roman Empire’s disintegration in the West, from the fifth century on, gave birth to a new social landscape, where ownership of land rather than money or political office was all-important. More-powerful figures made grants … View Resource

  • Revival & Repentance: From Cluny to Simeon Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | August 2010

    In the ninth century, Christian civilization had almost been destroyed in western Europe by the Norse invasions. Unlike today‚Äôs benign neo-pagans, Vikings were ferocious, skull-cracking warriors who burnt down churches, slaughtered clergy and monks, and raped nuns. The tenth century, however, saw a remarkable turnaround. One by one, the Norse kingdoms embraced Christianity. The process had actually begun toward the end of the ninth century in England, when the Danish Norsemen submitted to Christian baptism as part of a peace treaty with Alfred the Great. In the tenth century, the Norsemen of France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland followed suit. View Resource

  • A Western Renaissance Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | July 2008

      Western Europe in the eighth century was dominated by what historians call the “Carolingian Renaissance.” Not to be confused with the later fifteenth and sixteenth-century Renaissance, the eighth-century variety got its name from the ruling dynasty of France, the Carolingians. At first they were the hereditary mayors of the French royal palace, enjoying real power under the figurehead monarchy of the Merovingians. The most famous of the Carolingian mayors was Charles Martel (690–741) — Charles “the Hammer,” so named for his decisive military victory over the Spanish Muslim armies. It is often forgotten that for much of the medieval … View Resource

  • The Lone Monk Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | August 2007

    The seventh century is something of a forgotten epoch for most Protestants. But it is well worth knowing. The creative heart of its theology lay in the East — the Byzantine Empire, centered on Constantinople. Here the Christological controversies of the fifth century were still bubbling away. As a result of the councils of Chalcedon (451) and of Second Constantinople (553), the Eastern church and empire were bitterly divided between two great parties. These were the Chalcedonians, loyal to the orthodox creed of Chalcedon, that Christ is one person in two natures; and the Monophysites, numerous in Egypt and Syria, … View Resource

  • The Definition of Orthodoxy Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | April 2006

    The Arian controversy in the fourth century was arguably the greatest theological controversy in the history of the church. As Protestants, we might think that the Reformation controversies of the sixteenth century were the most momentous. Without wishing to minimize their importance, however, the Arian controversy was greater, because it went deeper. The Reformers were arguing about how we receive the benefits of Christ; the men of the fourth century were arguing about something even more basic — who Christ is. Unless a right foundation is laid in the person of the Redeemer, little is gained in disputing about His … View Resource

  • Truly God, Truly Man: The Council of Chalcedon Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | August 2005

    It’s hard enough to pronounce “Chalcedon.” Getting to grips with its theology can be even more daunting. But the effort will be very richly rewarded. For the past 1,500 years, right up to the present day, virtually all orthodox Christian theologians have defined their “orthodoxy” with reference to the Council of Chalcedon. That certainly includes the Reformed tradition. We may not think that the early ecumenical councils were infallible. But we have generally held that they were gloriously right in what they affirmed, and that Christians who take the church and its history seriously must reckon with these great councils … View Resource

  • Obedient Unto Death Article by Nicholas Needham

    FROM TABLETALK | April 2004

    Passive” is not a complimentary word to apply to someone these days. It suggests an inert, sluggish, withdrawn soul that is lost in daydreams. So perhaps it sounds like a contradiction to speak of “passive obedience.” How can obedience be passive? I suppose if someone in authority commands you to be inert, sluggish, withdrawn, and lost in daydreams, then your passivity will be an act of obedience — although we are now descending into wild paradox with our talk of a “passive act”! The passive obedience of Christ, however, doesn’t involve these contradictions and paradoxes. The word “passive” here suggests … View Resource