“It Is the Spirit Who Gives Life”
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Pomponio Algerio and His Resolute FaithBy Simonetta Carr — 5 months ago
In 2008, the University of Padova erected a memorial plaque in Algerio’s honor, remembering how he was arrested and executed “for his religious beliefs, which he inflexibly defended” and how he “faced the stake with exceptional composure and courage.”
Most tourists to Rome stop by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona. Some drop a coin in the water and make a wish. Hardly anyone is aware that in the same square a young Italian man was boiled in a cauldron of oil, pitch, and turpentine for his religious convictions. And yet, the man’s young age, stubborn refusal to recant, and astonishing composure during that final, agonizing ordeal, have contributed to imprint his name in the history of the Protestant Reformation.
Algerio was born around 1531 in Nola, near Naples, Italy – the same birth-place of another famous dissenter, Giordano Bruno. That general area was also where a Spanish Reformer, Juan De Valdes, held a Protestant-leaning conventicle. Quite possibly, Algerio had already been exposed to dissenting ideas by the time he moved to the university of Padova (or Padua, as it is known outside of Italy).
In Padova, he lived with other students and professionals (including a physician and a jurist and his wife) near Porta Portello, the main city gate. More than simple room-mates, these people shared a desire to read new publications and join recent discussions.
It was not unusual. The University of Padova was known for its free exchange of ideas (which might have been a reason why Algerio moved there). The Italian Reformers Pier Paolo Vergerio and Peter Martyr Vermigli were famous alumni.
All this changed in 1555 with the election (by a slight margin) of Gian Pietro Carafa as pope, with the name of Paul IV. The mastermind behind the 1542 re-institution of the Italian Court of Inquisition, Carafa was determined to stamp out any ember of dissent. He was quoted as saying, “If our own father were a heretic, we would gather the wood to burn him.”
Little is known about Algerio and his life. He is simply described as a young man with a short blond beard. From a court deposition, it appears that he was married. He was arrested in his home on May 9, 1555 and sent to the prison called “Le Debite” (“the dues” – originally meant for those who could not pay their debts), near the university.
Refusing to Budge
During three trials held in Padova between May and July 1555, Algerio didn’t pull any punches. He started by saying he didn’t know why he was being tried. “I declare as true the triune God in whom I place all my trust, and likewise confess Jesus Christ as true God and true man,” he said. If he was in error, he was willing to be corrected, as long as the correction was according to the Scriptures, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul who warned the Galatians not to believe anyone – even an apostle of an angel of God – who preached something contrary to God’s Word.
Discerning DevotionalsBy Wes Bredenhof — 2 years ago
The Valley of Vision – Various authors, edited by Arthur Bennett. This has long been one of my favourites. This is a collection of prayers from Puritans and Puritan-minded folks. Prayers are here from Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon and many others. My only complaint about this volume is that it doesn’t tell you where the prayers are from or who wrote which prayers.
Over the years, I’ve received many requests from people looking for devotional literature. The one person wants a book of devotions for retired couples. The other wants a book for engaged couples. Still another is looking for something for their teenager. I used to search high and low for things I could recommend for these niche needs. No longer.
Now I recommend that people just start with reading the Bible prayerfully. Why is it that everyone feels they need someone to make the Bible relevant for them? It’s almost as if we’ve returned to the stereotype of the medieval church: everyone talks about the Bible but no one reads it for themselves. The Bible seems to have become a mysterious book which someone else has to interpret and apply for us.
Not to Replace Scripture but Supplement
That said, there is a place for devotional literature. There is a place for authors to share their meditations on sacred Scripture. There is a place for us to learn from our forebears how to pray and think Christianly. Yet these things ought never to replace our going directly to the source for ourselves. They should be supplementary.
Moreover, I wish we could lose this idea of niche devotionals — the devotional for the unemployed single mother, the devotional for the engaged couple, etc., etc. This trend is reflective of the narcissism of our day: everyone needs something crafted exactly for their personal, individual needs. Whatever happened to the Catholic Church? Whatever happened to the communion of saints? Whatever happened to being able to think and apply general truths to your individual needs?
Types of Devotionals
There are different types of devotionals. There’s your traditional devotional which has a reading for each day of the year. Usually each day has a Bible passage to read, often just a verse or two. Most of the time the author expounds and applies that Bible passage, although there are now some devotionals which might rarely or not at all involve a reading from the Scriptures.
There are also devotional books developed out of sermons. These books go into depth with one or more Scripture passages. The purpose is not primarily intellectual, but spiritual and transformative. The Puritans and other older writers are well-known for this type of literature.
Finally, there are devotional books composed of prayers. You can read through these in a meditative fashion and then use them as the starting point for your own prayers. You can also pray them for yourself as they’re written. A deeper and richer prayer life can be gained by listening in to other saints’ communication with our God.
Cautions with Devotionals
Besides the niche concern, I see three other prevalent issues with devotional books. The first is one I hinted at above: devotions disconnected from the Bible. Beware of devotional books which are just presenting an author’s ideas. Those ideas may be based on the Bible and consistent with the Bible, but the less explicit that becomes the greater the risk of not being able to discern truth from error.
The Light of NatureBy J. V. Fesko — 4 months ago
Written by J.V. Fesko |
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
The light of nature denotes three things: (1) natural law, (2) human reason, and (3) God’s natural revelation in creation. In short, the light of nature denotes the book or order of nature written and designed by God—an important tool in defending the Christian faith, a tool forgotten by many in contemporary Reformed theology but regularly used by early modern Reformed theologians.
The Westminster Confession (1647) begins with the statement “Although the light of Nature, and the works of Creation and Providence do so farre manifest the Goodnesse, Wisdome, and Power of God, as to leave men unexcusable yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of his Will, which is necessary unto salvation” (1.1). What precisely do the divines intend by the term light of nature? One recent commentary on the Confession claims that the opening statement refers to one of two categories, namely, general and special revelation, or the books of nature and Scripture, and only briefly touches on the issue of humanity’s natural understanding of the book of nature. Two other commentaries bypass the statement altogether and deal entirely with Scripture as special revelation. Older nineteenth-century commentaries, however, devote more attention to the issue of the light of nature and explain it by the claim “God may be discovered by the light of nature, we mean that the senses and the reasoning powers, which belong to the nature of man, are able to give him so much light as to manifest that there is a God.” In line with this older trend, the most recent commentary on the Confession, written by Chad Van Dixhoorn, rightly notes that it begins with the doctrine of Scripture, but the first sentence deals with a different subject: the light of nature. Moreover, this commentary also explains the character of this concept: “There is the ‘light of nature,’ by which is meant the divine imprint which is left on each of us by our Maker. That is, we are made in God’s image and even though we are fallen creatures, God’s image remains stamped upon us. And there are ‘the works of creation and providence.’ The world that we see and the world about which we read tell us of our Creator and Provider.”
But even though Van Dixhoorn’s analysis is correct, he only touches on the character of the light of nature. Namely, general revelation includes both the knowledge connected to the divine image and the works of creation and providence. He correctly acknowledges that the divines were following the apostle Paul’s arguments in Romans 1 and 2 and statements from the psalmist (Ps. 19). But Van Dixhoorn then concludes, “In those chapters the apostle both reminds us of this general revelation and tells us that it leaves every person without an excuse before God. For this reason, both in our evangelism and in our defence of the faith, we should always remember that Christians should never be trying to prove the existence of God to unbelievers. We are reminding unbelievers of what they already know.” Van Dixhoorn’s explanation of the Confession is generally true, but his analysis of its meaning and implication deserves deeper and more precise investigation.