Monday, April 28, 2008

Bugenhagen's Conversion

Kurt Karl Hendel wrote his dissertation on Johannes Bugenhagen's Educational Contributions under Harold J. Grimm. It reads quite well and includes some anecdotes about a Lutheran reformer in the area of education which are not otherwise readily available to English-lubbers like myself.

Bugenhagen was a guest in the house of the Treptow pastor Otto Slutow who had just received a copy of Luther's Babylonian Captivity from Leipzig. Slutow asked Bugenhagen to look at the work. After paging through it quickly, Bugenhagen could not suppress his surprise and consternation and exclaimed: "There have been many heretics since Christ's death, but no greater heretic has ever lived than the one who has written this book."

He then cited the numerous examples of novel and heretical teachings which struck him in Luther's work during his cursory perusal. Bugenhagen did not wish to judge the treatise unfairly and rashly, however. He, therefore, took it home with him and examined it more thoroughly. To his own surprise and the surprise of his friends, he changed his opinion completely. When he met with his companions again a few days later, he remarked: "What shall I say to you? The whole world lies in complete blindness but this man alone sees the truth."

Bugenhagen had discovered Luther and he was to be a faithful follower, co-worker, and companion of Luther from that time on. He was a very stable and uncomplicated personality. Once he had become convinced that Luther was correct, he never wavered in this conviction. He did not experience the spiritual uncertainties and Anfechtungen of Luther. He was certain that God had finally overcome his blindness and he was at peace in this conviction. He strength and spiritual stability were to be of great help to Luther during the years of their friendship.

Bugenhagen immediately began to share his new insights with his friends and students, and an evangelical circle gathered around him. He was also eager to read more of Luther's works and to achieve a better understanding of the evangelical faith. He was particularly anxious to clarify the proper relationship of faith and good works in the Christian life. He, therefore, wrote to Luther and asked him to outline a rule for Christian living. Luther sent Bugenhagen his Freedom of a Christian and added a little note:

"You have written that I should prescribe for you a modus vivendi [manner of living, i.e. how to live life]. A true Christian does not need moral precepts for the Spirit of faith leads him to everything which God wills and which brotherly love demands. Read this therefore. Not all believe the Gospel. Faith is perceived in the heart."

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