Reformation Lunch, around 1535

Last weekend was the 50th Anniversary of the British Sci-Fi series, Doctor Who. Just as I’d be happy if someone beamed me up to the Enterprise, I’d accept an invitation to ride the TARDIS. The recent anniversary of the Reformation and the approach Thanksgiving gave me cause to speculate whether I’d seek a lunch date for around 1535 with one of the great figures of the Reformation period. After all, when the Doctor asks you where you’d like to go, it’s best of have some ideas:

Erasmus A Dutch Catholic theologian who influenced a lot of thinkers on both sides of the line. Good friend and correspondent of Thomas More, among other people. At one time refused elevation to the rank of Cardinal, which has to be rare in Church history, especially when that status meant personal power and riches. Yes, I think I’d have lunch with him.

Martin Luther A brilliant man and witty table companion, as has been documented at length. He could have a sharp tongue and be rather prejudiced at times, but as long as you don’t take what he says personally, it should be all right. Yes, would have lunch with him and it’d probably run into dinner and beyond.

John Calvin Also a brilliant man and profound thinker, but thin skinned about criticism. Never known for having a sense of humor. His Geneva wasn’t a place where freedom of expression existed.  Calvinist churches didn’t permit instrumental music until 1795. No thanks, don’t think it would be my destiny. For my Calvinist friends out there: if you know better what he was like and think he’d be a good person to chat with casually, I could be persuaded.

Henry VIII You probably wouldn’t leave his table hungry. A bit thin skinned, but multi-talented, extremely intelligent, witty and thoughtful, a dynamic personality, plus a great lover of music and great musician of his day. He had a serious accident in a joust in early 1536, and his personality changed a bit after that for the worse: a likely concussion and other injuries crippled him. I’d be careful what I said, not drink too much wine, but I’d have lunch with him, before the accident, of course.

Other reformers I’d have to say I don’t know them well enough. Having lunch with John Knox would probably be like having lunch with his mentor, John Calvin (side note: Knox called the organ a ‘kist of whistles’, so I’d be less likely to hang out with him than Calvin). Phillip Melanchthon would probably be in the same category as his mentor, Martin Luther. Archbishop Cranmer might be good company. As far as Bucer, Zwingli, Menno, etc. I have to reserve judgement, not knowing much about their characters. Some of those guys lived in dire fear of enjoying things, and I would definitely pass on spending time with folks like that.

My Methodist friends would probably ask me about John Wesley, who I didn’t include earlier because he wasn’t alive in 1535. Since he was a music lover and had many other admirable qualities, like coining the phrase ‘agree to disagree’, I think I’d spend time with him, but he was so mobile that pinning him down might be tough.

Catholic Counter-reformers The leading spiritual figures of the time, such as Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, were all intelligent and thoughtful people, who knew there was a time for community and hospitality as well as prayer and austere devotion. Yes to them, even though the menu might not be spectacular.

Pope Paul III, who began to rule in 1534, was a patron of the arts and called the Council of Trent. Not a particularly pious man, and promoted the interests of his family a lot (including his children and grandchildren!), but I guess he would be an interesting meal companion, since he lived a life of power politics and presenting a good time at table was part of that. Given the Italian practice of poison at the time, and how it occasionally hit innocent bystanders, I think I’d meet him somewhere safe, like a local monastery, even though the splendor of his court probably outdid Henry VIII’s. The same could be said for other Popes of that time.


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