23 August 2019

Tomorrow is St. Bartholomew’s Day

And marks one of the saddest days in Western Christian history. For upon that day in 1572, French Roman Catholics (presumably believing that they were acting to the glory of God) martyred some 3,000 Huguenot Christians in Paris alone, and more in the countryside. It was only a few years later that the Preface to the Book of Christian Concord was composed, and it alludes to the sad day when it issues an important caveat about its own condemnation of the Sacramentarians (those who would deny that the body and blood of the Savior are in fact present and received with the earthly elements). It specifically noted that the anathema was not directed against the mass of simple people who are not blaspheming the Supper as celebrated in our churches:

But we have no doubt at all that one can find many pious, innocent people even in those churches which have up to now admittedly not come to agreement with us. These people go their way in the simplicity of their hearts, do not understand the issues, and take no pleasure in blasphemies against the Holy Supper as it is celebrated in our churches according to Christ’s institution and as we concordantly teach about it on the basis of the words of his testament.

The Huguenots are in view here, and there is hope expressed that if they are further instructed in the truth from God’s Word they will repent of their error. And then come the words that allude to the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s Day:

For this reason we desire to testify before the face of almighty God and the whole of Christendom that it is in no way our disposition and purpose to give occasion by this Christian agreement for any molestation and persecution of poor, oppressed Christians. For just as Christian charity causes us to have special sympathy with them, so we entertain a corresponding loathing for and a cordial disapproval of the raging of their persecutors. We want absolutely no share of the responsibility for this bloodshed. Payment for it will without doubt be required of the persecutors on the great day of the Lord before the solemn and severe throne of God’s judgment, and there they will have to give a hard accounting.

In memory, then, of the Reformation martyrs in Paris and elsewhere in France who fell to the sword for their faith, slain by their own fellow baptized brethren (as righteous Abel was felled by Cain), let us give thanks to God in the words of the hymn that Luther first composed to commemorate the martyrdom of the Augustinian Martyrs in Brussels:

The Father hath received
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast
Of vict’ry In their death.
Still, still, tho’ dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
To many a wak’ning land
The one availing Name. (TLH 259)

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