Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Agnes Giberne: A Lover of Science

"Look at that dim star, shining through a powerful telescope with faint and glimmering light. We are told that in all probability the tiny ray left its home long before the time of Adam.
There is a strange solemnity in the thought. Hundreds of years ago - thousands of years ago - some say, even tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago! It carries us out of the little present into the unknown ages of a past eternity."--Agnes Giberne (The Story of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, p. 104, published in 1898)

Agnes Giberne was born in 1845 in the state of Karnataka, India, where her father was in military service. Major Charles Giberne was directly descended from the nobleman Jean De Giberne who migrated to England in the seventeenth century. Agnes acquired her interest in science and the natural world from her father.

Agnes acquired her literary interest from her mother, Lydia Mary Wilson. She began to pen stories at age 7. She was a prolific British author who wrote fiction with religious themes and science books for children. Most of her writing was done before 1910.

From Giberne's book Sun, Moon and Stars
In the nineteenth century it was unusual for a woman to be involved in astronomy. Yet, Giberne became one of the most popular astronomy writers of her time. Through her writings she was able to present basic astronomy to children and women in the Victorian Age.

She was interested in many branches of science. In 1890, she became a founding member of the British Astronomical Association. In addition to astronomy, she also wrote on geology, oceanography, and meteorology. 

Her book Sun, Moon and Stars: Astronomy for Beginners was first published in 1879. The foreword was written by Charles Pritchard, a professor of Astronomy at Oxford University. The book was printed in several edition and sold 24,000 copies in its first 20 years. She wrote a sequel titled Radiant Suns (1894).

These were but two of many books written by Giberne in which she made science accessible to children and beginners. Other volumes include The Starry SkiesThe World's Foundations (Geology for Beginners), This Wonderful Universe, and The Upward Gaze.

Artist's impression of midnight on Saturn
from Giberne's book Sun, Moon and Stars. (Wikipedia)

Agnes was a devout Anglican. She wrote with the catechism in mind. Some of her smaller works were written for the Religious Tract Society.

Agnes Giberne's prayer is quoted in over 100 books published in the early 20th century:
Gracious Saviour, gentle Shepherd,
Children all are dear to Thee;
Gathered with Thine arms and carried
In Thy bosom may we be;
Sweetly, fondly, safely tended,
From all want and danger free.
Tender Shepherd, never leave us
From Thy fold to go astray;
By Thy look of love directed
May we walk the narrow way;
Thus direct us, and protect us,
Lest we fall an easy prey.‎

Agnes lived most of her life at 25 Lushington Road in Eastbourne, United Kingdom. She died 20 August 1939, at age  93.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bible Technology Cards for Anthropology, Archaeology, Architecture and Astronomy

Bible Technology Cards
Prepared by Alice C. Linsley

I developed this STEM-Technology Curriculum for use in Christian Schools. It has the advantage of not being either Young Earth or Darwinian. Students discover data in the Bible and check to see if the data aligns with findings in the sciences.

These can be printed and pasted on index cards. They should be laminated to protect the surfaces of the cards. I store the cards in alpha-numerical order in an index card box.

The students are required to complete 12 cards each semester. They write the questions and answers in their STEM-Technology notebooks.

Category:  Anthropology – Yellow Cards

Bible Technology Question #1 – Anthropology

Who were the “mighty men” of old?
How are they described in Genesis?
What structures did they build?

Bible Technology Question #2 – Anthropology

Esau was a royal name. The name appears twice in
Edomite King List (Genesis 36).

Who did Esau the Elder marry?
Who did Esau the Younger marry?
What is meant by calling Seir a “Horite” ruler?

Bible Technology Question #3 – Anthropology

Noah was a Proto-Saharan ruler who lived in the region
of Lake Chad in Central Africa. His descendants dispersed
out of Africa. Some sources refer to these descendants
as “Kushites.”  What evidence is there that the Kushites
moved out of Africa into Europe and the Near East?

Bible Technology Question #4 – Anthropology

The men of Abraham’s family were rulers. They are called
Ha’biru in ancient texts. The English word Hebrew comes
from Ha’biru.  Make a family tree or a diagram that shows
Abraham and his wives Sarah and Keturah.  Include his first
born sons Isaac (Sarah’s son) and Joktan (Keturah’s son).

Category:  Archaeology – Blue Cards

Bible Technology Question #1 – Archaeology

Eli Shukron began excavating the shrine city of Zion
in 1995. He found the 3800 year old Jebusite
“high place” that David turned into his capital. What
are 3 things that Shukron discovered?

Bible Technology Question #2 – Archaeology

Ancient document seals are called bullae. These were pieces
of clay used to secure documents . Each ruler had his own
seal.  How were bullae attached to the documents?

Bible Technology Question #3 – Archaeology

Central Africa was once very wet (African Humid Period). During
Noah’s time the rivers and lakes were so full that many became
connected.  What types of boats were used during the African
Humid Period? What is the Dufuna boat?

Bible Technology Question #4 – Archaeology

Central Africa was once very wet. This is called the African
Humid Period or the Aqualithic Period. During Noah’s time
the rivers and lakes were so full that they  were connected. 
What types of boats were used during the African
Humid Period?  What is the Dufuna boat?

Category: Architecture – Pink Cards

Bible Technology Question #1 – Architecture

Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On (Heliopolis).
This was a shrine city dedicated to the Creator whose
emblem was the Sun. Heliopolis means “City of the Sun” in
Greek. The people who lived there called the city iunu. What
does iunu mean?

Bible Technology Question #2 – Architecture

Shrine cities were built near water at high elevations. The
Bible refers to these fortified settlements as “high places”
because they were built on cliffs for defense. The ruler
lived there, as did the royal priests. What 2 structures
were located in the center of the city?

Bible Technology Question #3 – Architecture

Herod the Great’s Horite ancestors lived at Petra in
modern Jordan.  This region is called “Edom” in the
Bible.  Genesis 36 lists some of the Edomite kings.  What
is another name for Petra that describes the color of
the stone there?

Bible Technology Question #4 – Architecture

Solomon’s temple had twin pillars at the main entrance;
one at the south and the other at the north side the
entrance. These were called Joachin (south side pillar) and
Boaz (north). What direction did the temple entrance face?
Why was this orientation important to Abraham’s people?

Category: Astronomy - Green Cards

Bible Technology Question  #1 – Astronomy

The Wise Men (Magi) followed a bright light in the night
sky that was visible for a period of months in the constellation
of Leo (lion). The “Star of Bethlehem” was an astronomical
singularity.  What does this mean?

Bible Technology Question #2 – Astronomy

Plato studied for 13 years in Egypt. He reports that the priests
of the ancient Nile had been observing the heavens for 10,000
years.  Much of their knowledge of astronomy was passed
along to the priests and wise men among Abraham’s people.

What does this suggest about the “Wise Men” whose
ancestors came to Babylon from Judah?

Bible Technology Question #3 – Astronomy

The software Starry Night tracks celestial events in the
past, present and future. It can be used to predict eclipses. It
has been used to determine the time of Jesus’ birth by the
dating the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem.  According
to this software Jesus was born at the beginning of the Jewish
New Year in what year?

Bible Technology Question # 4 – Astronomy

By 4245 BC the priests of the Nile had established a calendar
based on the appearance of the star Sirius. Sirius becomes visible
to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. How did these priests
know about Sirius without the benefit of telescopes? (For a clue,
see BTQ#2 – Astronomy.)

Bible Technology Question #5 – Astronomy

In 241 BC, Manetho reported that priests of the archaic world
had been star-gazing as early as 40,000 year ago. Marks made
at archaic rock shelters suggest  that he was correct. What
marks on the walls of caves represent heavenly bodies? (For a
clue, see BTQ#3 – linguistics.)

Bible Technology Question #6 – Astronomy

Plato was born about 400 years before Jesus. While studying
in Egypt he learned about the Great Year. This is also known
as “The Platonic Year.” NASA define the Great Year as "The
period of one complete cycle of the equinoxes around the
ecliptic, that is, one complete cycle of axial precession.  About
how long does it take to complete the cycle?

Bible Technology Question #7 – Astronomy

Among Abraham’s Nilotic ancestors the Dung Beetle was a
sacred symbol of the Creator. This beetle navigates by observing
something in the night sky. What does the Dung Beetle use to
guide it?

The dung ball was a symbol of the Sun.  In what sense would the
Beetle be understood as a representation of the Creator God?

Students can find the answers by researching the topic here: Technology and STEM Education Curriculum.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Galileo’s Extraordinary Scientific and Mathematical Journey

"A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must be right." -- Stephen Jay Gould

Nathan Calvino, Grade 7

Galileo was a scientist and mathematician who believed that the sun is at the center of our solar system. He believed that Copernicus was correct in his description of the universe. From an early age Galileo showed his scientific skills. At age nineteen, he discovered the isochronism of a pendulum while observing the swinging of a lamp hanging from the ceiling of a church. He noticed that "it took the same amount of time for one complete swing" whether the swing was significant or not. By age twenty-two, Galileo had invented the hydrostatic balance.

Galileo was foremost a mathematician. He said “Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has written the universe.” He had this in common with Copernicus. Another thing that Galileo and Copernicus had in common was their Christian faith. Galileo once said “I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

Galileo said “I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments, and demonstrations.” He believed that correct interpretation of the Bible agrees with observed fact. He viewed Nature as a book written in the language of mathematics. This book of Nature and the Bible are in agreement, but they serve different purposes. He said the "Bible teaches men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

Galileo was born on February 15, 1564 in Pisa, Italy. He was the first of six children born to Vincenzo Galileo and Guilia Ammannati. Galileo’s father was a well-known musician and music theorist.

In 1572, when Galileo was eight years old, his family moved to Florence. However, Galileo remained in Pisa and lived with Muzio Tedaldi, a relative of Galileo’s mother. At age 10, Galileo joined his family in Florence and began his formal education at the Camaldolese Monastery. Galileo found the monastic life attractive and he became a novice, but his father wanted his son to become a medical doctor.

In 1581 Galileo was sent by his father back to Pisa to live with Muzio Tedaldi and Galileo was enrolled in the University of Pisa for a medical degree. Galileo left the university in 1585, without a degree.

After Galileo left the University of Pisa he continued the study mathematics. He got a teaching post at the University of Pisa in 1589. There he conducted experiments with falling objects and produced his manuscript On Motion.

His father died in 1591. In 1592, his contract with the university was not renewed. He quickly found a position at the University of Padua, teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy. Galileo invented the thermometer in 1593 and the compass in 1597.

In 1604, he published The Operation of Geometrical and Military Compass. In the same year, Galileo refined his theories on motion and falling objects and developed the universal law of acceleration. He began to express openly his support of the Copernican theory.

Galileo made a telescope of his own and in the fall of 1609, he turned his telescope toward the heavens. In March of 1610, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. In 1612, he published Discourse on Boarders of Water. In 1613, he published his observations of sunspots.

In 1616, Galileo was ordered by the Pope not to teach or defend the Copernican theory of a heliocentric universe. He obeyed the order for several years, partly to make life easier, and partly because he was a devoted Catholic.

Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was chosen to be the Pope in 1623. He was known as Pope Urban VIII and he was one of Galileo’s friends. Galileo received permission to write about both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems as long as he didn’t promote the Copernican theory.

In 1632, Galileo published the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World System, his most important writing. The Church summoned him to Rome for a hearing that lasted from September 1632 to July 1633. Galileo was treated with respect and was never imprisoned. However, in the end he was convicted of heresy and he was put under house arrest for the remainder of his life. These years were productive as he wrote many manuscripts. However, by 1638 he was blind and in ill health.

Galileo died on January 8, 1642 in Arcetri, near Florence, Italy after suffering from fever and heart palpitations. His will indicated that he wished to be buried beside his father in the family tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce. However, his relatives feared that this would provoke opposition from the Church, so his body was concealed. His body was later placed in a fine tomb in 1737 by the civil authorities against the wishes of many in the Church.

350 years after Galileo's death, on October 30, 1992, Pope John Paul II formally closed a 13-year investigation into the Church's condemnation of Galileo in an address given to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Paul Cardinal Poupard, the head of the investigation, said “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory."

Galileo should be remembered and honored as an early pioneer in astronomy. Some of his discoveries include:

· that falling objects accelerate at a fixed rate in a vacuum

· that a pendulum can be used to measure time

· that a cannonball travels in a curve called a parabola

· that the planet Jupiter has moons revolving around it

· that the planet Venus has phases just like our moon

On October 18, 1989 the space probe Galileo, named after Galileo Galilei, was launched to study the planet Jupiter. The space probe orbited Jupiter 35 times then in 2003 was driven into Jupiter, deliberately destroyed to avoid contaminating Jupiter’s moon with any of Earth’s bacteria. The probe took close-ups on Jupiter’s rings and found evidence that its icy moons might hold atmosphere.

Related reading: Galileo's Struggle and Vindication

Resources for STEM Teachers

There are more and more good STEM resources available to teachers. Here is a website with the titles and prices of some of those resources:

There are STEM engineering projects, projects involving Algebra; projects related to Native American building technologies, Christmas STEM challenges, and much more.

Related reading: Technology and STEM Education Curriculum

Technology and STEM Education Curriculum

Alice C. Linsley

The purpose of this course is to awaken reason and to investigate the claims of the Bible and the "real sciences" so that students might grow in faith and in intellect. Consider what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape to his nephew demon Wormwood:
"Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology…"

The Technology and STEM Education Curriculum for Middle School students has these components:
Component One: Computer Skills
Component Two: Biographies of Christians in STEM throughout History
Component Three: Bible Technologies and Science

Component One

First semester

Review of keyboarding
Polaris and Little Dipper project using Microsoft Office "Shapes"
Connectivity and Internet Access
Navigating and Links
The Power of the Internet
How to Assess the Reliability of a Website
Internet Security and Downloading Tips
Cyber Etiquette and Social Media Do's and Don'ts
Google Applications and Sites for Students
Internet Research/Search Engines
Word Documents and How to Use Style Sheets
Chrome Books
The Power of Blogs
Creating and Managing a Blog
Introduction to Video and Video Editing

Second Semester

Function keys and other shortcuts
Glossary of computer terms (intermediate level)
Students create new header for the class blog (Ro Little tutorial)
Image archives: Haiku Deck, Artnc.org, Public Domain Pictures
Animation: Pow Toon, Generator, Animoto
Digital storytelling: Toontastic tutorial (setting based vs. character based)
Power Point and Google Slides - Students prepare in-class presentations on topics of interest from the approved list:

The Two Highest Mountains of the World
The Two Longest Rivers of the World
The Tides
Circles of Standing Stones
Pyramids around the World
Theories of Time and Eternity
Time Measuring Devices Throughout History
Snowflakes (related to work of Wilson Bentley
Technologies of the Greco-Roman World

Component Two

Students are not aware that an estimated 60% of pioneers in STEM have been Christians. Component Two introduces them to some of these people. Students learn about the lives and contributions of the following Christians in Science, Technology. They research the lives of the persons they select, write a script about the person's life, and then produce a video about the person for public viewing. They select a Christian in STEM from the list below.


Robert Grosseteste 1168-1253
Erasmus 1466-1536
Nicholas Copernicus 1473-1543
Francis Bacon 1561-1627
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
Michael Farraday 1791-1867
James Clerk Maxwell 1831-1879
George Washington Carver 1864-1943
Roger John Williams 1893–1988
Robert Runnels Williams 1886–1965
Oliver R. Barclay 1919-2013
V. Elving Anderson 1921-2014
Austin L. Hughes 1949-2015
Ian H. Hutchinson 1951-Present
John Lennox 1943-Present
George Stanciu


Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179
Maria Gaetana Agnesi 1718-1799
Mary Anning 1799-1847
Agnes Giberne 1845-1939
Sister Mary Celine Fasenmyer 1906-1996
Jocelyn Bell Burnell 1943-Present
Rhoda Hawkins
Katharine Hayhoe
Ann Marie Thro
Leslie Wickman
Jennifer Wiseman
Robin Pals-Rylaarsdam
Chris Done
Katherine Blundell 
Ruth Hogg

Component Three

Students select a card from the Bible Technology Card Box. These cards provide background information and context for students to research up to 3 questions per card related to science, technology, engineering and math in the Bible. Students are to complete 12 cards per semester (or 6 cards per quarter). The cards are color coded as follows:
Anthropology - gold
Archaeology - blue
Architecture - pink
Astronomy - green
Climate Studies - purple
Earth Science - black
Genetics - red
Linguistics - brown
Materials - bright yellow
Medicine - orange
Navigation - white
Zoology - salmon

Confirmation of Biblical Populations
Getting the Facts About Human Origins
The Rising Star Expedition
Rising Star Expedition Update
Science in Progress: The Rising Star ExpeditionNoah's Sons and Their Descendants
More About Noah's Descendants
Nahor and His Descendants
The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People
The Mighty Men of Old
The Pyramid Builders
The Genesis King Lists
The Antiquity of the Edomite Rulers
Two Named Esau
Edom and the Horite Ha'biru
Priests, Shamans and Prophets
Three-Clan Confederations and Twelve-Clan Confederations
Some Marks of Prehistoric Religion

The Stone Age
Symbols of Archaic Rock Shelters
David's Zion Found
Jerusalem Virtual Pilgrimage
What Are Bullae?
3000 Year Temple Seal
Yahu Seals
Purity Seal From Herod's Temple
2400 BC Tomb of Purification Priest (Also read this.)
Sudan is Archaeologically Rich
Sixteen Pyramids Unearthed at Kushite Cemetery
70,000 Year Settlement Found in Sudan
Why Nekhen is Archaeologically Significant

The Pillars of Solomon's Temple
Monuments of the Ancient Kushites
Kushite Shrines
Petra Reflects Horite Beliefs
Prehistoric Obelisk Found in Judah
Circumcision and Circles of Standing Stones in the Judean Hills
Horite Temples
The High Places
The Shrine City of Nekhen
77,000-Year Settlement in Sudan
Europe's Oldest Prehistoric Town Unearthed in Bulgaria
The Trapezoid in Ancient Architecture
Sheep Cotes

The Sunlight Cycle in the Northern Hemisphere
The King Planet's North Pole Has Changed to Gold
The Celestial Dance Observed by the Magi
Who Were the Wise Men?
Horite Expectation and the Star of Bethlehem
The Sun and Moon as a Binary Set
The Sun and the Sacred
Ancient African Astronomers
Threshing Floors and Solar Symbols
Solar Imagery
A Tent for the Sun
The Sun and the Sacred
The Sun and Celestial Horses
Marcus Byrne: The Dance of the Dung Beetle

Mega-Lake Chad
Katherine Hayhoe on Climate Change
Climate Cycles Indicate a Dynamic Earth
Two Environmentalists Knock Heads
Climate and Wealth Redistribution
Climate Change and Human Innovation
Antarctic Ozone Hole Smaller
America's Wake Up Call on Climate

Earth Science
The Pillars of the Earth
Volcanic Eruptions
Earth's Magnetic Pole Reversals
Reversals of Polarity: The Magnetic Flip
Afar Rift
The Lake Suigetsu Varve
Walking Rocks
The Atacama RockTumbler

Genetic Types: A few basics
Haplogroups of Interest to Biblical Anthropologists
R1b Profile of 64% of European Men
Ashkenazi Represent Judeo-Khazar Admixture
The Sub-Saharan DNA of Modern Jews
DNA Confirms Mixed Ancestry of Jews
A Kindling of Ancient Memory
The Bible and the Question of Race
80,000 Year Ancestor of Chinese Men

What is a Phoneme?
Phoneme Study Pinpoints Origin of Modern Languages
Early Written Signs
Ancient Canaanite Inscriptions
Symbols of Archaic Rock Shelters
The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y
Is Hebrew an African Language?
The Aleph as Ox/Bull Head
Technology to Preserve Languages on the Verge of Extinction
Conversation about the Beginning of Spoken Language
Navajo-Ket Linguistic Connection
Dr. Nola Stephens on Linguistics and Faith
The Generative Divine Word

Archaic Shell Technology
"Easter" Eggs in Antiquity
Stone Work of the Ancient World
Stone, Shell and Egg Technologies
Noah's Ark
The Gold of Ophir
Kushite Gold
A Silver Lining at Abel Beth Maacah
Paradise of Ancient Memory
Afro-Asiatic Metal Workers
Red and Black Smiths
Why Zipporah Used a Flint Knife
Afro-Asiatic Metal Workers
Ancient Miners Venerated Hathor

Medical Care in Ancient Egypt
Prehistoric Humans used Plants Medicinally
The Ancient Nubians Used Antibiotics
Neolithic Medical Care
Herbs Used for Healing in the Bible
Dental Health of Ancient Sudanese

Noah's Ark
Pythons Used for Sea Navigation
The Ancient Egyptians were Seafaring
4500-Year Harbor at Wadi al-Jarf
Boats and Cows of the Nilo-Saharans
When the Nile Was a Mega-River
Swimming and Diving: Activities of Archaic Peoples
Boat Petroglyphs in Egypt's Central Eastern Desert

Dogs in the Bible
The Animals on Noah's Arc
The Ostrich in Biblical Symbolism
The Rooster in Biblical Symbolism
Religious Symbolism of Long Cow Horns
Why Cows Were Sacred in the Ancient World
Cows of the Proto-Saharans
The Fatted Calf

Thursday, December 1, 2016

12 Bible Technology Cards

Archaeologists refer to the period between about 10,500 and 3,000 B.C. as the Archaic period. The Bible Technology Cards enable students to identify data in the Bible that speaks of technologies among Abraham's Proto-Saharan ancestors who lived during the Archaic period.

Congratulations to the following students who have completed the Bible Technology Card requirement for 1st and 2nd quarters 2016:

Jake Bowersox - 12 cards completed
Adam Burge - 12 cards
Jesse Butterworth - 12 cards
Nathan Calvino - 12 cards
Chase Carrier - 12 cards
Bryant Davis - 12 cards
James Davis - 12 cards
Tatum Davis - 12 cards
Bella Dunning - 12 cards
Gavin Hoots - 12 cards
Tripp Nazziola - 12 cards
Danielle Neel - 12 cards
Jesse Pome' - 12 cards
Eden Reitnour - 12 cards
Molly Sullens - 12 cards
Connor Weist - 12 cards
Ethan Willams - 12 cards
Jacob Wood - 12 cards
Ashton Wooten - 12 cards

Students who have 4 more cards to complete:

Sydnie Stewart

Students select a card from the Bible Technology Card Box. These cards provide background information and context for students to research up to 3 questions per card related to science, technology, engineering and math in the Bible. Students are to complete 12 cards per semester (or 6 cards per quarter). The cards are color coded as follows:
Anthropology - gold
Archaeology - blue
Architecture - pink
Astronomy - green
Climate Studies - purple
Earth Science - black
Genetics - red
Linguistics - brown
Materials - bright yellow
Medicine - orange
Navigation - white
Zoology - salmon
Articles related to the questions on the Bible Technology Cards are found here.

Related reading:
Who Laid the Foundations of Science and Technology?
Science and Technology in the Ancient World
The Key to Science and Scripture Alignment
Ancient Seats of Wisdom
INDEX of Topics at Biblical Anthropology
INDEX of Topics at Just Genesis

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Two Great Men of the High Middle Ages

Alice C. Linsley

1466-1536:  Erasmus, Christian Humanist

1483-1546:  Martin Luther, Fiery Reformer


The Medieval Period is divided into the Early and Late Middle Ages. The earlier period is largely concerned with reconciliation of Christian theology and Greek philosophy. The synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian theology reached its climax in the 11th century (called the “High Middle Ages”). In the Late Middle Ages, ethics was tied to Scholasticism and the universities. Scholasticism influenced the development of Renaissance humanism in the 16th century. During the late Middle Ages the Jesuits established over 200 universities.

The Middle Ages are sometime termed “the Dark Ages.” This label was first applied by 17th century Humanists who regarded the entire period as mired in superstition and useless debate. Today the Middle Ages are recognized as a time of extraordinary creativity and innovation. Objects that we take for granted were invented in the Middle Ages: clocks, eye glasses, buttons, forks, gunpowder and the telescope.

Great cathedrals and monasteries were constructed. These fostered exceptional words of art in stained glass, icons, paintings, sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts. Great musical works were composed for use in the cathedrals and monasteries.

Universities were established in Italy, Spain, Germany, France and England. Three of these remain the oldest in continuous operation universities in Europe: The University of Bologna, Italy (founded 1088), the University of Salamanca, Spain (founded 1134), and the University of Oxford, England (founded 1167). The universities fostered learning in philosophy, math, science, literature, and theology. They produced the most learned men of Europe, among them: Erasmus, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Rene Descartes.

It was also an age chivalry, one of the more remarkable features of the Middle Ages. Chivalry refers to the knightly system and the virtues of loyalty and courage that characterized its followers. Chivalry directed knights and squires to honor and serve their lords and to protect ladies and maidens. Often romantic love developed between the knight and his lady. After 1600 AD tales of chivalry and romance went out of fashion, and Miguel de Cervantes satirized the genre in his famous novel Don Quixote.

This early centuries of this period were termed “the Dark Ages” by 17th century Humanists who regarded the collapse of Rome and Greece as a great tragedy. Today the Middle Ages are recognized as a time of extraordinary creativity and intellectual brilliance. This was a time of innovation during which many objects that we take for granted were invented, such as clocks, gunpowder, spectacles, buttons, forks and the telescope.
The gradual collapse of the Roman Empire left a political vacuum in Europe. The potential for chaos was prevented largely by the Roman Catholic Church which had a hierarchical structure similar to a military chain of command. After the 12th century there were many challenges to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. These challenges reached a peak in the 15th century.

Erasmus Seeking Reform Within the Church

The Dutch scholar Erasmus was one thinker who challenged the Church’s corruption. He was a moderate and refined voice during a time of religious conflict and violence. The English scholar John Colet said, "The name of Erasmus will never perish." Sir Thomas More wrote, "Erasmus has published volumes more full of wisdom than any which Europe has seen for ages."

Erasmus advocated referring to the Bible for guidance on how to live a good life, and study of classical Greek and Roman writings for guidance on how to achieve an orderly civilization. He integrated Renaissance humanism and Christian theology and proposed significant educational reforms.

After living in Rome for three years where he observed clergy corruption, Erasmus wrote of his contempt for their immoral and unethical practices in the Praise of Folly. He wrote a satire in which Pope Julius and St. Peter discuss Julius’ entry into heaven. Erasmus believed that Pope Julius was a hypocrite, preaching peace while he “stirs up the world with tempests of war for the sake of his authority over a small town.”

Although Erasmus criticized the Papacy, he remained a Catholic and was committed to a Catholic understanding of free will, which many Reformers rejected in favor of the doctrine of predestination. This angered leading Reformers, such as Martin Luther.

Erasmus was sympathetic with some points of Luther’s criticism of the Church, stating that, “It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” So it was said that “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched.” Erasmus respected Luther and Luther admired Erasmus' superior learning, urging him to join the Lutheran movement. Erasmus declined, believing that his life’s purpose was as a leader in the movement for humanistic scholarship and as a translator of the Bible. If he were to influence the reform of the Church it would be as a scholar. 

Unfortunately, when Erasmus hesitated to support the Lutheran movement, Luther accused him of either cowardice or a lack of purpose. Erasmus believed that the reforms he valued could be achieved within the existing structure of the Roman Catholic Church. His attempts to remain neutral during this time of unrest caused both Catholics and Protestants to accuse him of siding with the other. Erasmus wrote, “I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

Erasmus and Luther Debate the Question of Free Will

In 1524, Erasmus wrote a treatise in which he dealt with the Lutheran notion of the bondage of the will to sin. He systematically set out the weaknesses of Martin Luther’s Augustinian view in his De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio(The Freedom of the Will). In response, Luther wrote On the Bondage of the Will which directly attacks Erasmus, going so far as to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian.

To Erasmus, the Bible and the Classics were two sides of the same coin, thus he strove to combine them. This is reflected in Erasmus’ definition of education: "The task of fashioning the young is made up of many parts, the first and consequently the most important part of which consists of implanting the seeds of piety in the tender heart; the second in instilling a love for, and thorough knowledge of, the liberal arts; the third in giving instructions in the duties of life; the fourth in training in good manners right from the very earliest years.”

To Erasmus, “a man without education has no humanity at all; that man’s life is a fleeting thing; that youth is an easy prey to sin; that adulthood is afflicted with numerous cares; and that old age, which few are permitted to reach, is barren and sterile...” He believed that the seeds for a good life are in us ‘by nature’, and teachers are to cultivate these seeds. He wrote: “The seeds that nature has implanted in us to attain this goal are bursting with life; the only thing that is required, in addition to this natural inclination, is the effort of a dedicated teacher.”

While Luther began his theology with the depravity of man, Erasmus started with the goodness of the teacher and the student, making Christ’s teachings the objective of all learning. To Erasmus, classical antiquity showed the best method for teaching. He wrote, “I would not want you to imbibe pagan morals together with pagan writings. On the other hand, you will find many things there which are conducive to a holy life, and the good precepts of a pagan author should not be rejected...” Luther held that since the Fall of Adam and Eve man’s will is not free to choose or even desire God, and that we lost our humanity. Luther believed that it is only through Christ that people regain their full humanity and he thought that Erasmus made too little of this point: “I am afraid, however, that he [Erasmus] does not advance the cause of Christ and the grace of God sufficiently.... Human things weight more with him than the divine.”

Luther countered Erasmus’ belief in the freedom of the will, saying: “Free will after the fall exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do it commits a mortal sin... The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin.”

This question of whether humans have free will to elect the Good continues to be debated throughout the history of Ethics, but the Lutheran view of utter depravity and bondage of the will receives less consideration as we move into the modern and post-modern periods. In fact, his position will be completely rejected by most philosophers from the mid 1700s to the present.

Luther maintained that God teaches us about justification, focusing on the inner man for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Human instruction prepares us to live in the finite earthly kingdom, but divine revelation prepares us to live in the eternal Kingdom of God. This is the basis of Luther’s Two-Kingdoms Theory, the earthly kingdom being separate from and subordinate to the Kingdom of God. Luther recognized that what happens on earth is important for eternal life. He saw education as a means to protect children from the devil’s attempts to take them away from God and as a way to teach them how to live wisely in the earthly kingdom.

Because he believed that the human will is held in bondage by sin, Luther saw education as a way to fight the devil: “Let this, then, my dear sirs and friends, be the first consideration to influence you, namely, that herein we are fighting against the devil as the most dangerous and subtle enemy of all.” It also means that the government has responsibility to promote the spiritual welfare of its citizens, while not neglecting its temporal responsibilities.

Related reading:  Ethics of the Middle Ages; Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus