Still waiting on that merci note.

In the mid-19th century, the grape phylloxera, a tiny aphid, began ravaging vineyards across Europe. 40% of France’s vines were killed in 15 years. Then (as many times since), the US to the rescue:

Then someone realized that if you grafted European vines onto American roots, you got vines that could successfully resist phylloxera. The question was whether they produced wine as good as they had before.

In France, many vineyard owners couldn’t bear the thought of corrupting their vines with American stock. Burgundy, fearful that its beloved and exceedingly valuable grand cru wines would be irreparably compromised, refused for fourteen years to allow American roots to besmirch its ancient vines, even though those vines were puckering and dying on every hillside. Many growers almost certainly engaged in a bit if illicit grafting anyway, which may have saved their noble wines from extinction.

But it is thanks to American roots that French wines still exist.

(Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life)




(Repost) “I Will This Day Most Joyfully Die”: The Life and Death of Jan Hus

Today is our first Jan Hus Day in Prague. I thought I’d repost the short bio of him I did for Reformation Day 2007 (and which, as all Wiser Time trivia buffs will recall, won me a very handsome Charles Spurgeon caricature).

Jan Hus was born about 1370 in the village of Hussenitz, in what is now the Czech Republic. In the 1380’s he began studies at Charles University in Prague, where he earned several degrees. He was ordained a priest in 1400, and in 1402 he became rector of the University, which meant he began to preach regularly at Bethlehem Chapel, where the people of the city came to worship.

Hus became an immensely popular figure as he preached regularly at Bethlehem. He preached twice a day on Sundays and feast days, wrote hymns, and introduced congregational singing in Bohemian, the language of the people, where before the only music in worship had been priests singing in Latin. He was known for his solid Bible exposition with lots of practical application. As is often the case in early periods of reformation, God’s people were being fed God’s Word, and it stirred up a desire for reform in the church.

A generation before Hus, John Wycliffe, the “morning star of the Reformation,” had turned England upside down by teaching against the primacy of the Pope, proclaiming the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and translating the Bible into English, making it accessible to the common people. Wycliffe’s ideas had been condemned by the Pope, but when they began to be debated at the University in Prague Hus refused to reject them outright. In fact, the more Hus studied Wycliffe he found himself in substantial agreement with most of his writings, which he also worked to translate into Bohemian.

Keep in mind that Hus lived a century before the Reformation really kicked into gear. But at this point he already taught that Christ, not Peter, is the rock on which the church is built. He preached a simple Christianity based on repentance and faith, and urged moral and theological reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He taught that Scripture (not the rulings of the pope) were the “only infallible norm” for Christian belief, and that salvation was only through true faith in Christ, a faith that works by love and good deeds and endures to the end. He believed that the efficacy of the sacraments comes from God, and offered both the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to the people. His highest priority was that the church be free to preach the Gospel, which is her most important task. His last letter to a student who took his place at Bethlehem Chapel closed with the words, “Preach the Word of God.”

Hus was charged with heresy for teaching the doctrines of Wycliffe, and his archbishop began to burn Wycliffe’s books whenever he could find them. Hus remarked in a sermon, “Fire does not consume truth. It is always a mark of a little mind to vent anger on inanimate and uninjurious objects.” He was summoned to Rome to stand trial, but refused to go, knowing that there would be no fair trial, only a death sentence. For this he was excommunicated, and the city of Prague was put under papal interdict, meaning there could be no sacraments, no public worship, not even Christian burial for anyone but priests.

In 1411 Pope John XXIII proclaimed a holy war against the king of Naples and granted a full indulgence to all Christians who joined the fight. Hus refused to publish the announcement, arguing that Christ’s kingdom does not advance by the sword. A papal emissary came to ask if he was ready to obey the “apostolical mandate,” and Hus said that he was. When the emissary responded that he was pleased, Hus clarified:

My lord, understand me well. I said I am ready with all my heart to obey the apostolical mandates. But I call apostolical mandates the doctrines of the apostles of Christ; and so far as the papal mandates agree with these, so far will I obey them most willingly. But if I see anything in them at variance with these, I shall not obey, even though the stake were staring me in the face.

The Council of Constance was called in 1414 to deal with various problems in the church, including the “heresies” of Hus and Wycliffe. Hus traveled to Constance, having been promised a chance to debate his theological differences with the authorities of the Church. Instead he was thrown into prison for months and never given the chance to defend himself, but only to recant. When offered a final chance to recant he refused, declaring that to do so would be unfaithful to God, to the people to whom he had preached the Gospel, and to the others who were proclaiming it faithfully. The bishops said, “We commit your soul to the devil!”, to which Hus responded “And I commit it to my most gracious Lord Jesus Christ.”

On the way to his execution his books were burned. Just before the fire was started he addressed the crowd:

What shall I recant, not being conscious of any errors? I call God to witness that I have neither taught nor preached what has falsely been laid to my charge, but that the end of all my preaching and writings was to induce my fellow men to forsake sin. In the truth which I have proclaimed, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the expositions of holy teachers, I will this day joyfully die.

Hus’ last words were addressed to his executioner: “You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan whom you can neither roast nor boil.” Hus was burned on July 6, 1415. 102 years later, on October 31, 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg. One of Luther’s early influences was the writings of John Hus, a heretic whose work he was surprised to agree with.

We live in a day where truth is negotiable, and theology even more so. This has not always been the case– there have been times when men would “joyfully die” for the truth, especially the truth of God’s Word. The mantle now falls to us. May God be pleased in our day to raise up an army of Husses and Wycliffes and Tyndales– men and women who love God and the Gospel above all else, who “overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and love not their lives even unto death.”

You’re rich because of the Reformation.

(This post is a summary of part of Wayne Grudem’s talk today at RTS Charlotte’s Fall Lecture Series.)

Until about 1550 AD, there had been almost zero economic growth for centuries– that is, no substantial increase in per capita annual income. From about 1550 to 1750, slow economic growth began to spread, especially in Northern Europe. In about 1770 economic history changed forever with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution; per capita income began to grow dramatically, and the growth hasn’t stopped. In 1750, the ratio of per capita income in rich vs. poor nations was about 5:1; today it’s about 400:1.

It wasn’t that everybody started in the middle, some nations became poorer and some became richer. Everybody started at about the same place: poor!

How did this come about? What has made the last 500 years so dramatically different than the previous several thousand?

In his book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Harvard history professor David Landes (who is not a professing Christian) credits the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Luther in early 16th-century Germany.

The Reformation brought a new idea: what’s become known as the “Protestant work ethic” or the “Reformed doctrine of vocation.” It was a huge shift in how men and women approached work. Work was no longer seen as a necessary evil, but a way to serve God and fulfill his command to exercise dominion over the earth. For centuries prior to the Reformation, the dominant view was that to really serve God, one had to be a nun or a priest– incidentally, fields that make little economic contribution to society.

With the Reformation, men and women began to see their everyday life as a sphere where they could serve and please God. The farmer, the blacksmith, the housemaid all did work that mattered to God. This understanding provided an incentive for innovation, development, investment, and all sorts of other things that lead to economic growth. The results changed the face of the whole planet.

Calvin at 500

My pastor is working on a PhD on Calvin. One time he heard about a Calvin conference going on just a couple of hours away, so he signed up. He was excited to hear about new developments in Calvin studies, probably learn some things he didn’t know that would help with his research. Instead, the big items of discussion were things like petitioning the government for a John Calvin postage stamp. He left early. He told us “I felt like I was at a Star Wars convention or something.”

That’s the wrong way to honor somebody like Calvin. The right way is to be thankful for how he served God, and to continue to learn from him. Calvin was one of the most brilliant minds in church history, uniquely used of God to strip away a lot of the unbiblical baggage the church had accumulated by the Middle Ages. Whether you’re a Presbyterian or a Methodist or a Pentecostal or whatever, it’s unlikely you would have heard the gospel, the real gospel, if it weren’t for Calvin.

Today is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. I’m putting some links below to stuff I’ve done before, stuff people are posting today that I run across, and some places for general info on him. The point is not to say “Calvin is great,” but to say “Thank you, God, for servants like Calvin who help us understand your Word better.”

Earlier posts here on Calvin:

Posts from elsewhere:

On Presidential Eloquence

After a speech by the former President, the Chicago Times printed this tacky comment:

The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the filly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.

Another paper was more dismissive:

We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.

The President, by the way, was Abraham Lincoln. The speech was the Gettysburg Address.

John Adams

A couple of years ago we found out that our apartment complex was requiring us to have cable, at a cool $45 a month. We weren’t pleased. (Well, I was a little pleased not to have to go to sports bars during football season.) As a result, we have HBO. Which normally we’re not thrilled about, and on the rare occasion we channel-surf, we’ve always got the thumb on the button when we hit channel 7.

A couple of weeks ago, though, we got a nice surprise. I had been hearing about the miniseries John Adams, based on David McCullough’s bestselling biography of one of the least-known Founding Fathers. It occurred to me on one of those rare channel-surfing occasions that this was on HBO, and we have HBO. For a history dork like me, this was very good news. We began watching the miniseries (I think we picked up in the middle of episode 3), and I got the book from the library.

I can’t say enough good things about the book, which I haven’t finished yet, or the miniseries, which ended last night. McCullough’s writing is great, and the movie does a great job of getting you into the world of the American Revolution. It’s very cool to see George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come alive, and Paul Giamatti (as Adams) and Laura Linney (as Abigail) are fantastic.

I think one of the reasons I’m really liking learning about Adams is that I identify with him– in good ways and bad. He was fiercely opinionated, which can make you passionate and convicted (Adams’ resolve was probably the only reason the Declaration of Independence happened when it did), but also vain and controlling. He talked and thought and wrote a lot, and he always envied men like Washington who had more self-control.

But one of my biggest takeaways from the series was just to be thankful for men like Adams. It sounds very cliché to talk about the sacrifices they made, but seriously, Adams was away from Abigail and their children for months at a time during the Revolution. He took assignments he didn’t want, like brokering a treaty with the French. As president, he threw away his popularity (and chances for reelection) by steering a neutral course in the conflict between France and Great Britain, knowing the young republic couldn’t survive another war. He did all this because he was convinced of the rightness of the American cause, and because he loved his country. And of course, all American citizens (and many others) are reaping the benefits of his resolve today.

So if you have HBO, by choice or otherwise, check out these reruns (you know how HBO is). The DVD’s are preselling on Amazon too, and the book is definitely worth the time.