Category Archives: Reformation

‘How The Plowman Learned His Paternoster’ or English Catechism Before the Reformation

What was the Church of England like before the Reformation? A snapshot comes from Eamon Duffy, in his award-winning book The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (second edition, 2005):

“Round the fourteenth-century font in the parish church of Bradley, Lincolnshire, is carved an English inscription, which runs

Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Criede,

Leren the childe yt is need.

“That injunction was directed to the godparents and was a formal part of the rite of baptism in late medieval England. Just before the blessing of the font at baptisms the priest was required to admonish the godparents to see that the child’s parents kept it from fire, water, and other perils, and themselves to ‘lerne or se yt be lerned the Pater noster, Aue Maria and Credo after the law of all holy churche’. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Apostles’ Creed were in fact the irreducible core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity which had been decisively formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham’s provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281.”

Duffy’s book won the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award, for good reason.

Writing in Sixteenth Century Journal, the late Stanford Lehmberg said Duffy’s book “presents a marvelously detailed new picture of traditional religious belief and practice in English during the century prior to the Reformation and it shows exactly when and how the customs of faith and ceremony were stripped away in the sixteenth century. Our interpretation of the Reformation and our understanding of Tudor religion will never be the same.”

In English Historical Review, the late Margaret Aston said Duffy’s book “takes a major step toward better understanding of the English reformation.”


The story of the Reformation needs reforming


Reformation Polka!

Hey folks, it’s Reformation Day!

That’s right — Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg church door on Oct. 31, 1517.

Long before Hallmark and Hersheys turned subsequent October Thirty-Firsts into something about black cats and pumpkins.

Long after it was acceptable to sacrifice people in celebration of Samhain.

Why not celebrate with this polka: 

New books: What Martin Luther thought about prayer beads

I’m reading Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens. It’s a great little book with Owens’ outstanding introductory essay, in which something about Martin Luther caught my attention:

Though the rosary was widely used by the late Middle Ages, it was not officially sanctioned by the pope until 1520.

During the Reformation, Luther did not abandon the rosary, though he shortened the Ave Maria to this form: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou and the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” In this way he eliminated the plea for Mary to pray for the supplicant. He advised his followers to use the rosary as an aid to meditation.

The more iconoclastic Reformers, including Calvin, forbade the use of prayer beads altogether. They concentrated their attention on scriptural texts and devotional printed matter….Thus prayer beads, along with other sensory aids to devotion like religious statuary, paintings, and stained-glass windows, were condemned as “popish.”

In the Church of England, however, the rosary survived, though its practice faded over the next few centuries. England’s Catholic minority continued to support the practice, and some Anglicans today still pray the rosary instead of or in addition to Anglican prayer beads.

For more information on the book, see Praying With Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year.

I reviewed the book at

-Colin Foote Burch

Shop Amazon – Thanksgiving Dinner and Desserts – Prepare the Perfect Feast

Dusted Off: Brunner on the lack of Christian education in Protestant churches

From Christianity and Civilization, The Gifford Lectures, Part 2, delivered by Emil Brunner in 1948:

“No doubt, the Church of the Middle Ages did a tremendous work of education by its religious apparatus and by its effective endeavour to permeate the whole of life by its sacramental practices. No wonder, then, that in this epoch the conflict between Christian theology and the Socratic idea of education was covered by the actual educational work of the Church.

“This lack, however, became much more dangerous in the Churches of the Reformation. Here the sacramental training and Church habits were reduced to a minimum. On the other hand, preaching and teaching the doctrine of the Bible was pressed almost exclusively. These two facts together created an enormous educational vacuum. Whilst in theological knowledge the New Testament origins of Christianity were rediscovered, it was almost completely forgotten that the original Christian Church was before all a living community, that the Holy Spirit worked primarily by means of communal life, and that at that time the younger generation received their Christian influence and instruction not merely through preaching and teaching but through training in Church life. The educational vacuum, which became more and more obvious, is primarily due to the lack of capacity and even of endeavour on the part of the Reformation Churches to develop a Christian community life. Certainly, there exists a considerable difference between Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches. Calvinism, and even more the sects deriving from Calvinism, have paid much more attention to the formation of living communities than the Lutheran and even the Zwinglian Churches, where the identification of Church and civic community worked in the opposite direction. But the tendency toward orthodox intellectualism developed the same vacuum even within the Calvinistic Churches. The orthodox intellectuals’ emphasis on doctrine is the main cause of the educational vacuum of Protestantism.”