Simonetta Carr

Paulus Orosius – A Forgotten Augustinian Historian

Like Augustine’s De Civitate, Orosius’s Historiarum is both a realistic and optimistic survey of history. It is realistic in its depiction of the miseries of war, which stands in contrast against the general acclaim of warring heroes in classical writings. It is also realistic in comparing facts with facts and not with nostalgic feelings toward a rosy past. But it is optimistic in its conviction that Christianity had ushered in a new era of grace and will in time provide a remedy to evils.

“In the next little light smiles that pleader of Christian times, of whose Latin work Augustine availed himself.”[1] This is how Dante described his brief encounter, in Paradise, with an ancient historian whose name apparently needed no mention. Throughout the ages, most people have identified him with Paulus Orosius, mentioned by name by Dante in some of his other writings. Who was this man, still so familiar in Dante’s times, and why has he been largely forgotten?
Paulus Orosius was born to a wealthy family towards the end of the fourth century, possibly in Braga (in today’s Portugal). Nothing is known about his life before 414, except that he was ordained a priest. In 414, he visited Augustine in Hippo Regius (in today’s Algeria) to discuss with him some questions regarding some fast-growing heresies in Spain. He described these in his first known work, Commonitorium de errore priscillianistarum et origenistarum (the Priscillianists taught a Gnostic doctrine of dualism). Augustine’s response is recorded in his Ad Orosium contra priscillianistas et origenistas.
In 415, Augustine suggested that Orosius visit Jerome in Palestine to receive further advice. Writing to Jerome on the origin of the human soul, Augustine introduced his young pupil: “Behold, a religious young man has come to me, by name Orosius, who is in the bond of Catholic peace a brother, in point of age a son, and in honour a fellow presbyter,—a man of quick understanding, ready speech, and burning zeal, desiring to be in the Lord’s house a vessel rendering useful service in refuting those false and pernicious doctrines, through which the souls of men in Spain have suffered much more grievous wounds than have been inflicted on their bodies by the sword of barbarians. For from the remote western coast of Spain he has come with eager haste to us, having been prompted to do this by the report that from me he could learn whatever he wished on the subjects on which he desired information. Nor has his coming been altogether in vain. In the first place, he has learned not to believe all that report affirmed of me: in the next place, I have taught him all that I could, and, as for the things in which I could not teach him, I have told him from whom he may learn them, and have exhorted him to go on to you.”[2]
Orosius arrived in Jerusalem at the height of a Pelagian controversy, and sided with Jerome in attacking this heresy.
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Leonor de Cisneros and Other Women of the Spanish Reformation

Those condemned to death had to wear a yellow overgarment called sanbenito and a conical hat, both with images of devils and flames. They were also given one more chance to repent. If they did, they would not be spared death but simply allowed to be strangled before burning.

When we think of the Protestant Reformation, countries like Italy and Spain rarely come to mind. And yet, they were deeply affected by it, even though its influence was quickly suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church. The Inquisition in Spain was much fiercer than in Italy, producing thousands of martyrs. Many names of these martyrs have disappeared from history, but some—both men and women—still live on. I mentioned some of the men in a previous blog post. Here are some of the women who worked and suffered along with them.[1]
One of these is Leonor de Cisneros, born around 1535. At eighteen years of age, she married Antonio Herrezuelo, a prominent lawyer and scholar in Toro, an important city in the province of Leon. They gladly joined and became active members.
In 1558, however, the Inquisition discovered the conventicle and arrested thirty of its members during a raid. The prisoners were detained in separate cells in Valladolid, a major city and the seat of the Spanish court.
Separated from her husband and friends, Leonor believed the Inquisition’s lie that they had all recanted, so she agreed to do the same. She didn’t know that Antonio continued to stand firm, even under torture, admitting not only that he had been a follower of Protestant teachings, but that he had taught them to others.
As customary, at the end of the interrogations the Inquisition took the prisoners to the public square for the auto-de-fè (act of faith), in the presence of the royal family. Those condemned to death had to wear a yellow overgarment called sanbenito and a conical hat, both with images of devils and flames. They were also given one more chance to repent. If they did, they would not be spared death but simply allowed to be strangled before burning.
Penitents like Leonor were also clad in similar garments, but with red crosses instead of images of hellfire. When she crossed paths with her husband, who had been gagged, his looks of disapproval convicted her more than words. Yet, she didn’t have the courage to change her deposition.
The prisoners were then seated according to their status (16 who had recanted and 14 who had stood firm) and their sentences were read. Leonor was condemned to three years’ imprisonment in a Benedictine monastery and to confiscation of her property. Antonio and those who had not recanted were burned at the stake. It was May 21, 1559, Trinity Sunday.
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Jacques Lefèvre D’Etaples – An Early French Reformer

While Lefèvre’s writings include many of the teachings of the Reformation, they are not always consistent – possibly due to his desire to remain in the Roman Catholic Church and reform it from within. But they were influential enough that Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza allegedly spoke of Lefèvre as the man “who boldly began the revival of the pure religion of Jesus Christ”[3] in France.

The life of Jacques Lefèvre D’Etaples ran almost parallel to that of Martin Luther. Born around 1455 (28 years before Luther), Lefèvre died in 1536, when Luther was still teaching, preaching, and establishing churches.
In 1512, when Luther received his doctorate and became a professor of biblical studies, Lefèvre had already established himself as an esteemed scholar. The same year, he published a commentary to the Epistle to the Romans that explained justification by faith alone as clearly as any Protestant reformer could later do: “Let every mouth be stopped; let neither Jew nor Gentile boast that he has been justified by himself or by his own works. For none are justified by the works of the law, neither the Gentiles by the implanted law of nature nor the Jews by the works of the written law; but both Gentiles and Jews are justified by the grace and mercy of God …. …. for it is God alone who provides this righteousness through faith and who justifies by grace alone [sola gratia] unto life eternal.”[1]
This is just an example of Lefèvre’s writings, that included all the five solas of the Reformation (Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria), as well as the doctrine of assurance of salvation and perseverance of believers that so irritated Cardinal Robert Bellarmine almost a century later. He affirmed in fact that “‘the forgiveness of our sins, our adoption as children of God, the assurance and certainty of life eternal, proceed solely from the goodness of God’ through faith in ‘our blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus,’ and that thanks to God’s love ‘we have complete confidence in him…’”
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Katharina Schütz Zell – Church Mother of the Reformation

After her husband’s death, Katharina continued her works of charity, housing refugees and visiting prisoners and the sick, including a magistrate who had contracted leprosy. She also offered refuge to Bucer and Paul Fagius when they were banned from Strasbourg for their outspoken criticism of the Augsburg Interim – a compromise dictated by the emperor, demanding a hybrid of Roman Catholic and Protestant worship. To overcome her grief for the death of her husband and for the imposition of the Interim, she kept a journal of meditations on the Psalms, which she published in part in 1558.

Often described as “Church Mother,” Katharina Zell was one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation and one of the most prolific women writers of her time. Unlike other well-known writers such as Katherine Parr, Marguerite of Navarre, Anne Locke, and Mary Sidney Herbert, she didn’t achieve a higher level of education, although her writings became widely respected and influential.
Born around 1498 to a middle-class family and orphaned at a young age, she exhibited early on an eagerness to obey the Scriptures, attending the sacraments, praying, doing good works, and reading the Bible (in German, a habit the church at that time didn’t encourage). Like Martin Luther, she could never find assurance of salvation in her actions.
She first found this assurance around 1521, under the preaching of Matthias Zell, a cathedral priest who had adhered to Luther’s teachings. Based on her understanding of the Lutheran doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, Katharina interpreted her calling as a “fisher of people” – bringing the good news of the gospel to others.
At that time, Matthias Zell was the only preacher in Strasbourg to present the gospel as it was recovered by Luther. Martin Bucer, Wolfang Capito, and Kaspar Hedio joined him in 1523. Bucer was married, and might have encouraged Zell to leave the celibate life.
Defending Marriage
On December 3, 1523, Matthias married Katharina, causing great scandal in the city and abroad. Soon, the couple became the object of slander and rumors. Katharina must have been aware of these consequences. Many Roman Catholics supposed that, if a priest married, it must be to fulfill uncontainable urges or to cover up a pregnancy. In Matthias’s case, some imagine a persistent lustful character that caused Katharina to catch him red-handed with their maid.
Katharina didn’t take these slanders laying down, and wrote to the bishop of Strasbourg’s to defend not only her husband’s character and their union but clerical marriage in general. She based her defense on Scriptures, showing the depth of her knowledge of both Old and New Testaments. This letter – the first of her known writings – was included in a second publication meant for the public: an Apologia for Matthias Zell on Clerical Marriage, published in September 1524.
Katharina praised marriage as a gift from God, emphasized the authority of Scripture over all others, and exposed the hypocrisy of the clerical law that allowed a priest to cohabit with a woman as long as a fee was paid to the church. She described her defense of her husband as a dutiful act of love toward a brother in Christ. And her love extended to her readers, who should be protected from falsehood.
To those who said that women should keep silent, she recalled Joel’s prophecy: “I will pour forth my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters will prophecy” (Joel 2:28). This was a popular verse during the Reformation, when many believed the end of the world was at hand.
“I do not seek to be heard as if I were Elizabeth, or John the Baptist, or Nathan the prophet who pointed out his sin to David, or as any of the prophets, but only as the donkey whom the false prophet Balaam heard. For I seek nothing other than that we may be saved together with each other. May God help us to do that, through Christ His beloved Son.”[1]
Bringing Comfort
The Apology was not the first of Katharina’s publications. Earlier the same year, she published a Letter of Consolation to the Suffering Women of Kentzingen, a town near Strasbourg where Protestants were being persecuted. Many of the men of Kentzingen (150, including the pastor, Jacob Otter), had been forced to leave town, and the city secretary had been executed for possessing a German New Testament.
While the men found refuge in Strasbourg (80 in the Zell home), Katharina encouraged the women to stay strong and be witnesses to the gospel. Her letter is a long string of God’s promises, focusing on those addressed to barren women and widows in Isaiah 54.
“O you women, who are perfectly described in this chapter! Who would want a better description than this? Are you not now widows, called by God? All these things have happened to you for the sake of His word. Has He not hidden Himself from you for a little, so that you might think He had forgotten you? So that you could scarcely see Him through a window (that is, by faith), for He stands behind the wall, as also the lovesick soul wails in the Song of Songs in the second chapter. Are you not also insulted and left without comfort in the storm? Yes. Consider, however, what He says here: ‘Do not fear, you will not be shamed,’ and He says that His mercy and covenant of eternal peace will not be divorced from you in such a storm, for He will not divorce Himself from you as He does from the ungodly. …”[2]
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The Otranto Martyrs

Gedik Ahmed Pasha didn’t give the people a third choice. It was conversion or death – possibly because of the murder of the Turkish ambassador. Many citizens of Otranto were able to barricade themselves inside the local cathedral, where their bishop, Stefano Agricoli, led them in prayer. But the Turks soon conquered the church, captured and enslaved women and children, and led the 813 men over 15 years of age to a hill known as Colle della Minerva (Minerva’s Hill) to be beheaded. It was August 14, 1480.

On July 28, 1480, citizens of Otranto, Italy, spied a large Turkish fleet approaching their coasts. Otranto, an amiable town around the tip of the heel of the Italian “boot,” had long been an important port. Ita strategic position, however, also made it susceptible to attacks from across the Adriatic Sea – particularly from Turkish raiders who often scoured the coasts of Italy.
By that time, the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire had become very powerful. Less than thirty years earlier, in 1453, its troops had taken over Constantinople, putting the final nail to the coffin of the Roman Empire that had survived in the East. Proud of his achievements, Sultan Mehmed II entertained dreams of expanding to the west.
Most likely, Gedik Ahmet Pasha, leader of the Turkish fleet that was moving in the direction of Otranto, shared his sultan’s dream. Its fleet was impressive: 150 ships carrying 18,000 soldiers. This was not meant to be a simple raid.
Apparently, he had planned to attack Brindisi, a more important port further up the coast, but had been forced (possibly by strong winds) to change route.
Given their large army, the Turks must have thought that taking Otranto would have been a simple feat. The pasha sent a messenger to ask the people to surrender, but the people’s answer was a firm no. He then sent a second messenger, and this time the people killed him before he even entered the city.
This would have been an unforgivable offense in any diplomatic negotiation. What followed was a two-week siege where the local population fought earnestly with few trained soldiers and limited weapons. Eventually, the besieged were forced to surrender. The Ottoman soldiers then took over the city, destroying the local castle, raiding every home, raping women, and killing men.
Not all Muslims demanded the conversion to Islam of the people they conquered.
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Aelred of Rievaulx – A Theologian of Love

As it is often the case with medieval saints (and others in our varied Christian past), we might not agree with everything Aelred wrote. He has been accused of being vague on some issues and unduly soft on others. But his teachings on love and friendship are pastoral and thought-provoking, and his prayers are moving examples of humility and dependance on God.

In 1134, a reputable young man with a promising career at the court of David I, king of Scots, saddled his horse and started his journey to a remote abbey in a North Yorkshire valley. His name is Aelred. He never returned from his journey, and his decision to abandon everything to attain Christ is the reason why he is still known today.
Aelred the Nobleman
Aelred was born at Hexham, Northumberland, in 1110. His father was a priest (priests could still marry at that time). After his studies, in which he excelled, sometimes after 1124 he obtained a place at the court of David I, king of Scots, and his wife Matilda as a companion to Matilda’s sons: Simon and Waldef, born from a previous marriage, and Henry, her only son with David. Aelred and Henry became especially close. Due to his diplomatic abilities, Aelred rose to the title of Master of the Household and was employed in several diplomatic missions.
Sometimes between 1128 and 1131, Waldef left the court to become an Augustinian canon. He stayed in touch with Aelred, possibly highlighting some discontents already brewing in Aelred’s mind. Waldef mentioned the Cistercian Abbey at Rievaulx as an example of a community devoted to the love of God and others, and Aelred decided to travel there with a friend.
Aelred was impressed with what he saw. Still, he left to return home, only to ask his companion to take him back to the abbey one more time. This time he never left, feeling he had found his true home.
He later wrote, addressing God: “At last I began to surmise, as much as my inexperience allowed, or rather as much as you permitted, how much joy there is in your love, how much tranquility with that joy, and how much security with that tranquility. Someone who loves you makes no mistake in his choice, for nothing is better than you.”[1]
If we detect a resemblance with Augustine’s Confessions, it is because that was one of Aelred’s favorite texts, and much of his first major work, The Mirror of Charity, is fashioned after that. Aelred was also greatly influenced by Cicero’s De Amicitia, which he viewed through the lens of Augustine’s writings.
Aelred the Monk
Recognizing Aelred’s talents and experience, William, abbot of Rievaulx, sent him on several diplomatic missions as well, including one to Pope Innocent II in Rome. Later, Aelred was appointed novice master at Rievaulx (a pastor for prospective monks). His warm and compassionate spirit made him the perfect candidate for the task. In 1143, he was appointed first abbot of Revesby in Lincolnshire, where he stayed until 1147, when Maurice, the abbot who had succeeded William at Rievaulx, resigned, and Aelred was elected as his successor. Aelred kept this office for the next twenty years.
News of Aelred’s loving and caring leadership spread throughout Europe, bringing many novices to the abbey, which doubled in size. He also became famous as a preacher and writer. The fact that we still have a large quantity of his writings, gathered from different abbeys, is a proof of how much they had spread and how carefully they had been preserved.
The last ten years of Aelred’s life were difficult, as he suffered from arthritis, gout, kidney stones, and a chronic respiratory disease. He was so ill that in 1157 he had to be admitted to the infirmary at Rievaulx. From there, he moved to a nearby hut where, despite his continued sufferings, he kept receiving the numerous visitors who continued to flock by his side.
By January 1167, knowing he was about to die, he asked for three books: his psalter, Augustine’s Confessions, and the gospel of John. He died on 12 January 1167.
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Berengarius of Tours and the Dispute on the Lord’s Supper

His discussion with Lanfranc started in 1047. It had many similarities with the discussion between Radbertus and Ratramnus. But the times had changed, and his opponents reported to Rome that Berengarius was denying the true presence of Christ in the sacrament. Actually, like Ratramnus before him, Berengarius didn’t deny the mystery of that presence. But he firmly stated that the elements don’t change in their substance.

When Berengarius of Tours expressed his disagreement with the teachings of Lanfranc of Bec regarding the Lord’s Supper, he might have meant to continue the peaceful discussion that had begun in the ninth century between Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus of Corbie.[1]
Like Radbertus, Lanfranc defended the belief that, when the priest consecrates the host and the wine, those elements miraculously turn into the actual body and blood of Christ. Berengarius, lke Ratramnus, affirmed that the bread and wine are a sign, or similitude, of the body and blood of Christ.
A Daring Declaration
Berengarius was born to a wealthy family in Tours, in today’s France, at the start of the 11th century. After completing his basic education, he went on to study under the famous Fulbert, bishop of Chartres. He was later ordained archdeacon of Angers, although he continued to live and teach in Tours.
His discussion with Lanfranc started in 1047. It had many similarities with the discussion between Radbertus and Ratramnus. But the times had changed, and his opponents reported to Rome that Berengarius was denying the true presence of Christ in the sacrament. Actually, like Ratramnus before him, Berengarius didn’t deny the mystery of that presence. But he firmly stated that the elements don’t change in their substance,
In 1050, pope Leo IX condemned Berengarius and summoned him to attend a council in Vercelli, in northwest Italy, where his sentence was to be pronounced. But Berengarius could not attend because King Henry I of France, for unclear reasons, had locked him in prison.
With the help of friends, Berengarius paid his way out of prison and found refuge at the court of Geoffrey Martel, Count of Anjou. He was then condemned by default in Vercelli. This was just the first of many condemnations.
The following year, King Henry called a council in Paris to express a similar sentence against Berengarius and one of his disciples, Eusebius Bruno, bishop of Angiers. The two men didn’t attend the council, and were again condemned by default.
In 1059, Berengarius was summoned before another council, this time in Rome.
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Tsehay Tolessa – Through a Fiery Furnace

She was convinced that suffering was part of the Christian life. “If the master suffered, his disciples could not expect anything better,” she wrote. “I have experienced, and I know, that this world means nothing to me anymore. I live for eternal life. Everything revolves around that. The Lord alone is our hope.”[5]Tsehay was finally freed ten years after her arrest. A while later, she began to write her memoirs with the help of a Norwegian missionary, And Saeveras.

When, on July 28, 1979, the Lutheran pastor Gudina Tumsa was abducted at the end of a church service, the troubles for his wife were far from over.[1] Kidnapped at the same time, Tsehay Tolessa was left outside the city walls without any explanations. She was never told what happened to her husband, and his body was not found until 13 years later.
But Tsehay had little time to mourn. Six months after the abduction, she was arrested, hung upside down, and beaten until her bones broke. sent, with no medical attention, to a prison cell that was so crowded that prisoners had to take turns sleeping. Even Tsehay, with her broken bones, had to stand. There were no beds or mattresses – only cold, dirty floors – and no windows or other means of ventilation.
She had barely recovered when she was tortured again three months later. The pain was worse than before. “’Won’t he come and help you, your little Jesus?’ they taunted.” They only stopped when they believed she was dead. This time, her wounds never healed up completely.
Childhood Sorrow
Editing the writings of her mother, Lensa Gudina proposed that “Born to Suffer” could have been an appropriate title. Born in 1931 to a relatively comfortable family of merchants, the fourth of five children, Tsehay was barely four when Italy declared war on Ethiopia. In 1936, Italian troops invaded her hometown of Nekemte, northwest of Addis Ababa. After taking over her father’s business, the Italians killed him for refusing to transport grenades on his truck.
The invading troops left Ethiopia in 1941, burning everything in their path. Barely surviving, Tsehay’s family was then attacked by a group of slavehunters who kidnapped Tsehay and her brother along with other children, releasing the two only when they couldn’t keep up with the fast march.
Soon, Tsehay’s mother, worn out by constant moving, stress, and lack of food, died of typhus. Some of the children contracted the same disease. Tsehay’s case was so serious that she was taken to the hospital run by a Lutheran mission. After expressing her desire to learn to read and write, she was admitted to the mission’s school, where she stayed for six years and became a Christian.
After graduation, she worked in a home for children whose parents had contracted leprosy – a widespread illness at that time – under the supervision of Pastor Allen Stefansson and his wife Signe. It was there that Tsehay met Gudina Tumsa.
For Better and for Worse
Tsehay was a beautiful woman and had already received plenty of suitors. Yet, Gudina was the only one who captured her heart. Besides their bond of love, they shared a strong faith and the same roots (they were both from the Oromo tribe, a traditionally mistreated people of southwest Ethiopia). They married and were soon graced with the birth of a son, Emmanuel.
Their joy turned to mourning when Emmanuel choked on a piece of corn that couldn’t get dislodged. His parents reached the nearest hospital (which was hours away from their home) too late to save his life.
Gudina and Tsehay had four more children and lived in relative peace for some time. Gudina continued his chosen career as surgeon’s assistant until he received an outward call to gospel ministry – a call he could not ignore. This change of plans caused some hardships for Tsehay, since money was scarce and she was left alone during Gudina’s frequent educational journeys – including three years at Luther’s Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
But the real trials started in 1977, when Gudina, then General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY – with the two last words meaning “Jesus’s dwelling place”), stood up against Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Communist regime and its tyrannical attempts to claim absolute power, eliminating any opposition and keeping all churches under state control.
Gudina was first arrested in 1978 and placed on a “black list” for his refusal to work with the regime, then agtain in 1979 and held for three weeks on the charge of preaching against the ideals of the revolution.
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Adriaan Reland – A Scholar for God’s Glory

Reland’s work left a tremendous contribution to missionary work to Muslim countries. Modern authors agree that his writings, while firmly founded in Christian orthodoxy, have contributed to foster a balanced view of Islam among scholars, missionaries, and the general public – thus facilitating a peaceable and informed discussion.

In academic circles, Adriaan Reland is hailed as a remarkable Orientalist and linguist whose studies and writings have contributed to dispel many prejudiced views of his time. What most sources ignore, however, is his motivation.
Born in 1676 in the small village of De Rijp, in North Holland, to a Protestant minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, Reland never forgot the reason for his work and studies. “My labors shall make way for others for the triumph of the truth and the evangelical faith and the ultimate aim of our actions, the glory of the only and one God, Father, Son, and Spirit,”[1] he wrote.
Excelling in his studies, he entered the University of Uthrecht at age 14 and completed his doctorate in 1699. Two years later, his interest and proficiency in Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic led to his appointment as Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Utrecht. This gave him an opportunity to continue his study in a wide range of Asian languages, including Malay (although the university itself didn’t have hardly any original text).
Reland’s Influence on Missions to Muslim Countries
Reland completed his main work, De religione Mohammedica libri duo, in 1705 (and extended it in 1717). His motivation was similar to what had moved the famous theologian Gisbert Voetius and his pupil Johannes Hoornbeek to launch heartfelt appeals to western scholars to correct their “coarse ignorance about Mohammedism,” pleading for a study of Arabic in order to truly understand the Qur’an. This was particularly important for Dutch missionaries that had moved to Muslim areas of Southeast Asia. Reland repeated this exhortation, adding that some of the prejudices typical of his age had seeped into the Latin translations.
While firmly convinced of the exclusive truth of the Bible, Reland contended, with rare objectivity for his times, that religions should be examined impartially through a study of their authentic documents and not through the writings of their detractors (he reminded his Protestant readers of the unfounded accusations Roman Catholics had published against them).
In fact, after summarizing Islamic teachings for his readers, he corrected 39 myths commonly believed about Muslims.
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Leslie Land and His Forgotten Influence on the Evangelical Church – an Interview with Author Ian Shaw

Leslie Land clearly had a growing conviction that God was calling him to the ministry, and the letters through the late thirties and the forties trace this. Lloyd-Jones spoke at Land’s induction to Melbourne Hall, Leicester, in 1947 and Land preached quite often at Westminster Chapel through the 1950s. Melbourne Hall continues to exercise a faithful ministry in the heart of Leicester, the most ethnically diverse city in the UK.

Ian Shaw, Professor Emeritus at the School for Business and Society of the University of York, UK, has just done the church a great service by writing a well-researched book on the life of Leslie Land, a rather forgotten pastor in mid-20th-century England who influenced his generation and the next more than most of us could imagine.
The book, Leslie Land: His Life and Ministry, will be published through Joshua Press, an imprint of H&E Publishing, later this year. He has graciously accepted to answer some questions about Leslie Land and this new biography.
What inspired you to write this book?
Well, I guess there may be direct and more distant inspirations. It must have been the early 1950s when, as a little boy, I first heard Leslie Land. I was sixteen when he left his church in Leicester, in the English Midlands. A small group of us went to visit him one Saturday morning, uninvited. It must have been the first time a pastor had talked to me as one Christian to another. I never forgot. When he died after a long illness in 1985, I wrote a couple of obituaries. The seeds were sown.
Over the last decade I have transcribed and published a series of his studies on the second advent of Christ, and written a series of articles about him, but it was the awareness that I had probably the most complete deposit of information about Leslie Land that eventually pushed me to make a fuller record.
Can you give a brief overview of Leslie Land’s life?
The facts – as much as we know them – are readily told. I tell the story in the opening pages of the book. Tracing his life is like a jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces. He was brought up in Derbyshire, an English county. ‘William Leslie Land, born 20 January 1903 at Wirksworth; son of Samuel Land, retired Draper and Outfitter. Educated at the Grammar School, Wirksworth. Admitted 1 March 1921.’ So reads the Christ’s College, Cambridge, Admissions Book.
He became a science teacher at a private college on the south coast of England and quickly rose to be the Headmaster, when still in his thirties. He left the college just after the Second World War and after a brief spell at a church in the south of England was called to Melbourne Hall, Leicester, where he stayed for fourteen years until 1961. He suffered the early onset of a serious degenerative illness and died in 1985. His wife, Katherine, survived him for a few years as did their son, Peter, who himself had lifelong learning and social disabilities.
How difficult was it to gather information for this book?
Katherine Land, who I never spoke to face to face, was shown one of the obits I wrote. She asked someone to mail to me a small number of artefacts from his ministry – his annotated bible, some sermon notes, and so on. Someone else – a man who had been a minister in Leicester at the same time as Land – mailed to me some reel-to-reel tapes of Leslie Land. I felt a kind of obligation.
Another unusual factor is that Melbourne Hall at that time produced a monthly church magazine of sixteen closely typed pages. Three or four of these pages would be taken up with an extended outline of a Leslie Land sermon. The church would bind the magazines between hard covers every three years. I don’t know any other church that would do that. One way or another I was given all but one of the bound volumes covering his ministry. So, although he never wrote anything for publication – despite Martyn Lloyd-Jones urging him to do so – there is a rich archive of his ministry.
Preserving the archive is, as it happens, one of the challenges regarding Leslie Land, and one I have not been able to resolve. I have a significant number of audiotapes of his ministry and have had them digitised, but they need a permanent home.
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