Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Monday, January 21, 2019

"Heretics and Other Insiders"

(by Dan Peterson - sic et non blog - 1-19-19)

I like the argument here.  I think it’s solid:

Two reservations:


I’m surely among those Latter-day Saints who insist — many times without result — on identifying themselves as Christians.

I’ve published a book on the topic.

Is this solely about “marketing,” though, as the author rather snootily dismisses it?  No.  It’s about truth.  My theology doesn’t work without Jesus.  My condition is hopeless without Christ.  In my view, the atonement and the resurrection of Jesus are not only historical facts but the very pivot, the entire eternal point, of history.  To have my view dismissed as non-Christian is, from my point of view, ineffably absurd and, simply, a factual untruth.

But I want to return to that somewhat condescending word marketing.  If you recast marketing as missionary work or as evangelizing the world, which is what we’re really talking about, you can, if you’re a believer, easily understand why getting our “branding” right is so very important.

Permit me to cite J. B. Phillips’s translation of the eighth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Now to deal with the matter of meat which has been sacrificed to idols.
It is not easy to think that we “know” over problems like this, but we should remember that while knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature. For whatever a man may know, he still has a lot to learn, but if he loves God, he is opening his whole life to the Spirit of God.
In this matter, then, of eating meat which has been offered to idols, knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence, and that there is no God but one. For though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact, to us there is only one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom everything exists, and by whom we ourselves are alive. But this knowledge of ours is not shared by all men. For some, who until now have been used to idols, eat the meat as meat really sacrificed to a god, and their delicate conscience is thereby injured. Now our acceptance of God is not a matter of meat. If we eat it, that does not make us better men, nor are we the worse if we do not eat it. You must be careful that your freedom to eat meat does not in any way hinder anyone whose faith is not as robust as yours. For suppose you with your knowledge of God should be observed eating meat in an idol’s temple, are you not encouraging the man with a delicate conscience to do the same? Surely you would not want your superior knowledge to bring spiritual disaster to a weaker brother for whom Christ died? And when you sin like this and damage the weak consciences of your brethren you really sin against Christ. This makes me determined that, if there is any possibility of meat injuring my brother, I will have none of it as long as I live, for fear I might do him harm.

If Paul was concerned about how eating meat might interfere with the salvation of others, how much more, it seems to me, should we be concerned about gross misunderstandings or distortions that might prevent people from accepting the Restored Gospel of Christ?  If even a single person out there imagines that, by listening seriously to the message of the missionaries, he or she would be consorting with people who reject the saving role of Jesus Christ as our sovereign Lord and atoning Redeemer, that’s spiritually dangerous and a tragedy.  Thus, we have to insist on clarity regarding this vital matter.


On a much less serious matter raised by the article: I think we should always be clear that, in excommunicating somebody from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church is simply saying that the excommunicated person is no longer a member of the Church.  “Mormonism” is much more diffuse than is Church membership.  If people outside the Church but in some sense connected to the Restoration claim to be “Mormons,” we really can’t stop them.  (Some do so claim.  Many — members of the church formerly known as RLDS, for instance — often don’t.)  However, since, for most non-Mormons (I think), Mormon means “of or pertaining to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” we’ll sometimes need to intervene for the sake of clarity — to point out, for instance, that Brian David Mitchell wasn’t a Mormon any more when he kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, and that Jeffrey Lundgren was never a Mormon.

Heretics and Other Insiders

(by David Mason - aetheism patheos blog - 2-28-15)
If Mormonism is a heresy, it’s only a Christian heresy.  Which means that Mormonism’s very conflict with traditional Christianity demonstrates its Christian character.
In the official record of existence, I have denied that I—a comfortably self-identifying LDS-Mormon—am a Christian.  Many of my LDS-Mormon compatriots have voiced markedly, ironically, un-Christian objections to my denial, as though by way of invective they could force me to be Christian against my will.
As it is, entities such as describe Mormonism as a “heretical religion”, and I don’t mind conceding the point.  Since I find it impossible to believe that god cares one whit whether I’m formally, traditionally, historically, thematically, obnoxiously Christian, the labor that many of my Mormon compatriots invest in securing the title for themselves seems to me only to have a marketing purpose.  And I can’t believe that god cares one whit for marketing, either.
But Mormonism’s heretical notions must be Christian notions, or they can’t be heresies.  Mormonism isn’t a Jewish heresy, after all.  It can’t be an Islamic heresy, or a Hindu heresy.  In common use the term heretic indicates someone who is radically outside a conventional understanding of a religious tradition.  But the heretic—as opposed to, say, the unbeliever—is clearly not outside the tradition to which he or she seems opposed.  The heretic is only a heretic inside the context of a particular religious system.*

The thirteenth century Cathars, who rejected virgin birth, resurrection, and the pope’s authority, were not hunted down by Catholic inquisitors for being outsiders, but for being very, very upsetting insiders.  There’s no way to understand the Cathar movement except as a Catholic one.
Which seems to mean that Mormonism’s Christian heresy necessarily, ironically, shows that Mormonism is Christian, after all.  Where Mormonism’s concept of Jesus is heretical, it’s only heretical in the context of the phenomenon of Christianity.  Eliminate Christianity altogether, and whatever Mormonism thinks about Jesus cannot be heresy.
At least, it appears that folks will have to choose.  If Mormonism cannot be Christian, then it cannot be a heresy.  If Mormonism must be a heresy, it must be Christian.
Whichever you decide to choose makes little difference to me.  I’m perfectly happy affirming that I do Mormonism as a Christian heretic, as an unbeliever, as a polytheist, as a pagan, and as whatever other insult good Christian folks feel suits the purpose.
But, my Mormon compatriots, consider where the concept of heresy necessarily leads: if someone who has been excommunicated by the LDS church for apostasy is an apostate, it’s only as a Mormon apostate.  The LDS church can push a person out of its institutional walls, but it cannot push a person out of Mormonism.  At least, not on the grounds of apostasy.  As long as the term apostate sticks to a formerly-LDS person, the term itself affirms him or her as a Mormon, in deed and truth.
We might have to choose, also, like our gnashing Christian counterparts.  If a person must be a Mormon apostate, he or she must be Mormon.
Or he or she can’t be an apostate at all.
* The Romans had it figured out.  They were smart enough to call the first Christians atheists.

I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian

(by David V. Mason 6-12-12)

Thanks to Mitt Romney, a Broadway hit and a relentless marketing campaign by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormons seem to be everywhere.

This is the so-called Mormon Moment: a strange convergence of developments offering Mormons hope that the Christian nation that persecuted, banished or killed them in the 19th century will finally love them as fellow Christians.
I want to be on record about this. I’m about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find — a templegoer with a Utah pedigree and an administrative position in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also emphatically not a Christian.
For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.
I am confident that I am not the only person — Mormon or Christian — who has had enough of the acrimonious niggling from both sides over the nature of the trinity, the authority of the creeds, the significance of grace and works, the union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and the real color of  God’s underwear. I’m perfectly happy not being a Christian. My Mormon fellows, most of whom will argue earnestly for their Christian legitimacy, will scream bloody murder that I don’t represent them. I don’t. They don’t represent me, either.
I’m with Harry Emerson Fosdick, the liberal Protestant minister and former pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, who wrote that he would be “ashamed to live in this generation and not be a heretic.” Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and mean-spirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold.
In fact, I rather agree with Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who calls Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Being set apart from Christianity in this way could give Mormonism a chance to fashion its own legacy.
Christianity, you’ll recall, had to fight the same battle. Many early Christians grew up reading the Torah, living the law, observing the Sabbath and thinking of themselves as Jews. They were aghast to find that traditional Judaism regarded them as something else entirely.
In addition, these Christians had to defend their use of additional scripture and their unconventional conception of God and explain why they were following a bumpkin carpenter from some obscure backwater. Early Christianity’s relationship with non-Jews was even worse.

Roman writers frequently alluded to rumors about the cannibalistic and hedonistic elements of early Christian rites. One after the other, Christians went to the lions because they found it impossible to defend themselves against such outrageous accusations. They did eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday, after all.
Eventually, Christianity grew up and conceded that it wasn’t authentic Judaism. Lo and behold, once it had given up its claim to Judaism, it became a state religion — cannibalism notwithstanding — and spent the next 1,700 years getting back at all the bullies who had slighted it when it was a child.
Eventually, Mormonism will grow up. Maybe a Mormon in the White House will hasten that moment when Mormonism will no longer plead through billboards and sappy radio ads to be liked, though I suspect that Mr. Romney is such a typical politician that, should he occupy the Oval Office, he’ll studiously avoid the appearance of being anything but a WASP. This could set back the cause of Mormon identity by decades.
Whatever happens in November, I hope Mormonism eventually realizes that it doesn’t need Christianity’s approval and will get big and beat up all the imperious Christians who tormented it when it was small, weird and painfully self-conscious. Mormons are certainly Christian enough to know how to spitefully abuse their power.

Terryl Givens & Thomas Wayment, "A new New Testament translation"

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The groves in Nauvoo, Illinois

(by Kenneth Mays 1-16-19)

The Prophet Joseph Smith lived in Nauvoo, Illinois, for the last five years of his life. During that time, there was not a single building built exclusively for meetings and worship. The temple was under construction and was used as a site to meet on occasion, but it was not really suitable for use until after Joseph’s death. Even then, only the third floor was utilized for ordinance work. The two large halls on the first and second floors were never completed.

There were, however, designated sites in Nauvoo where the Prophet and other church leaders could preach to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outdoors. These were called the groves. There, listeners could sit on the stumps of felled trees, split-log benches, the ground, or they could bring their own chairs. One researcher has noted that the groves were used for “funerals, Fourth of July celebrations, general conferences, Sabbath meetings (weather permitting), and lectures by visiting lecturers” (see "In Old Nauvoo: Everyday Life in the City of Joseph," by George W. Givens, page 145).

There was a grove immediately west of the temple where the bluff begins its slope down to the flats. This was sometimes referred to as the West Grove or Temple Stand. There was another grove or open-air meeting place several blocks east of the temple near the intersection of Knight and Robinson streets (see "Sacred Places, Vol. 3: Ohio and Illinois," edited by LaMar C. Berrett, Keith Perkins and Donald Q. Cannon, pages 169, 175).

The former or West Grove was more commonly used by the Saints, but the East Grove was the site of several important events. One was the Prophet’s general conference address of April 1844, often referred to as the King Follett Sermon. A second event of note held at the East Grove was that when Sidney Rigdon and, later, Brigham Young addressed the Saints with regard to who should lead the church following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Church Established the Bible, Not Vice Versa

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

I published this article in the Deseret News back on 13 May 2010:

The earliest Christians didn’t believe in the New Testament. They couldn’t. It didn’t exist yet. 

When Paul praises young Timothy because “from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15), the only “holy scriptures” to which he can be referring are those contained in what Christians today call the Old Testament. When Paul proceeds to explain, in the following two verses, that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” he’s speaking of the Hebrew Bible. Or, if not, he’s referring to contemporary, ongoing revelation.
More than once, zealous “Bible-believing” Protestants have told me that, since Timothy already had enough scriptural material to “make (him) wise unto salvation” and to render him “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” the Book of Mormon and modern revelation are unnecessary, redundant. They mistakenly assume that Paul was referring to the Bible as they know it. But, by their reasoning, the New Testament itself would seem to be superfluous, as well. (I generally congratulate such people on their apparent conversion to Judaism.)

2 Timothy was probably written about A.D. 64, at the end of Paul’s life. Most, if not all, of his other letters, obviously, had already been written and sent by then. But they hadn’t yet been gathered together, and the vast majority of Christian congregations — in an age without printing, modern transportation and easy communications — were probably unaware of them. (It’s virtually certain that they didn’t know of them all.) Moreover, the four gospels, the Revelation of John and many of the other New Testament epistles were very likely yet to be written.

Nearly 20 years elapsed between the crucifixion of Christ and Paul’s first letter (1 Thessalonians, written in A.D. 52 or 53), and as many as 60 years or more may have passed before the last New Testament book was composed. (Some scholars would extend that interval to as much as 120 years.) And, then, even more time was still required to gather up the various books, copy them and establish a canon of scripture. In fact, complete texts of the New Testament were still relatively rare until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid-15th century. Individuals seldom, if ever, owned their own copies; very few elite congregations possessed a complete set of the biblical writings. Moreover, most people were illiterate anyway. Given the rarity of books, illiteracy wasn’t a crippling liability, and the incentive to learn to read was relatively small. (Medieval European stained glass windows served a vital teaching function.)

What this tells us is that many generations of Christians lived and died without access to the New Testament in anything like the sense we know (and take for granted). So there must be something else that made them Christians, something prior to acceptance of the New Testament.

What was it? Plainly, it was the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. In the very earliest days of the Christian movement, such acceptance came via personal acquaintance with him, through hearing and receiving his teachings. Subsequently, it came through accepting the teachings of his apostles and other missionaries—still transmitted orally in almost all cases. Then, as the apostles and the earliest Christian disciples departed the scene, the task of passing on the doctrine of Jesus and the facts about his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection fell to those of the next generations. Sometimes they may have been equipped with a gospel or with an epistle or two, but, probably most often, they relied solely on oral tradition and memory.

This is another clue to what made people Christians in the earliest period: fellowship with the church and the disciples of Christ. As St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. A.D. 108) put it in his post-apostolic time, in order to be a Christian, one had to be in fellowship with one’s Christian bishop. The church existed prior to the New Testament. It wrote the New Testament books and defined the canon. The Bible doesn’t establish the church; the church established the Bible.

Move over, Vatican -- there's a new church in town!

(by Delia Gallagher 1-15-19)

Italy's first ever Mormon temple opened on Monday, just a few miles up the road from the Vatican, in the Eternal City of Rome.

While the building's spires don't reach the heights of St. Peter's 450-foot-high dome, the Pope's new neighbors hope their temple will also become a place of pilgrimage for spiritual seekers.
Elder Ronald Rasband, one of 12 men known as Apostles who govern the Mormon Church, says the choice of Rome is based on its history as the center of Christianity.
"The early apostles served and lived and were martyred here in Rome," he told CNN, "so this is the place that our prophet (President Russell M. Nelson) felt the temple in Italy should be."
Rasband says Mormon leaders discussed their plans with the Vatican and that the two churches often work together on social issues.
"We are friends with the Catholic Church," Rasband said. "I have been part of an official delegation to go to the Vatican and meet with cardinals and others about not only this project and not only our church in Italy but relative to the interrelationship we have with our friends, the Catholics, all over the world, whether it has to do with humanitarian work, refugee work or freedom of religion in the public square."
The Temple
The 40,000-square-foot building is made of Italian marble and granite. While the church won't reveal any costs, no expense has been spared in this house of God, with sparkling Swarovski crystal and Murano glass chandeliers set in 24-carat gold adorning its rooms.
Mormon temples are used mainly for baptisms and marriages, and only members of the faith in good standing may enter their inner rooms.
Showers and locker rooms are also provided in the building, where members must change into white garments and slippers before the ceremonies.
At the heart of a Mormon temple is a small pool, a full-immersion baptismal font, where Mormons baptize their dead ancestors by proxy in a ceremony central to their belief that families are bound together for all eternity and that only the baptized can enter the Kingdom of God.
Once the temple has been dedicated in March, non-Mormon visitors will only be allowed into its outside spaces and visitors' center.
An American Beginning
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon church is officially called, was founded in New York in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received a revelation from God.
There are some 16 million Mormons worldwide, according to the church's statistics, with more Mormons now living outside the United States than inside it.
The US currently has some 6.5 million members, while Mormons in South America number 4 million. Europe accounts for 500,000 of the church's members, some 6,000 of whom are in Italy.
The Italian temple is the 162nd Mormon temple in the world and the 12th in Europe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Rome Italy Temple Begins Public Tours

A brief thought on women and the priesthood

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

There is no serious question that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in some very important senses, a patriarchal organization.  Its priesthood is exclusively male, for example, which means that the central leadership positions in local congregations and in the Church as a whole are held entirely, or almost entirely, by men.

But, I’m going to hastily argue, that may not be quite as important or lethal as some on the outside assume.

For example, while the Catholic hierarchy is likewise all-male, there is this crucial difference between the Catholic and LDS churches:  The Catholic hierarchs are celibate.  Which is to say that, while they obviously all have mothers and may well have sisters, they have no wives and no daughters, and they’re formed in all-male institutions such as seminaries and monasteries and they live and work very largely in an all-male and all-celibate world of fathers superior, abbots, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals.  By contrast, all Mormon leaders are married, and most have daughters and/or daughters-in-law and/or granddaughters.  In fact, Mormonism teaches that the highest degree of heaven is available only to those who are married.  (It also makes provision for those who have died unmarried to enter into marriage after death.)

Further, I suspect that many outsiders assume, hearing that Mormons have an all-male “clergy,” that sermons in our worship services are always given by men, and that women are silent in our churches.  But such an assumption is entirely baseless.  We have no professional clergy, and our bishops don’t give sermons every Sunday, or even most Sundays.  Rather, ordinary members of our congregations give the “sermons,” with several such “sermons” being given on just about any typical Sunday.  And, in fact, it’s a very rare Sunday when there isn’t at least one woman speaking in our main worship service.  Often, in fact, there will be more than one — perhaps, in addition to one or two men, a young woman (a teenager) and an older, married woman. And women routinely teach our Sunday school classes, too.  (Even in the worldwide general conferences of the Church that are broadcast globally — today’s, for example — women speak to the entire church from the podium of Salt Lake City’s Conference Center.)

Moreover, women are represented in the ward leadership councils of each local congregation, and in councils for the Church as a whole.

And they serve as missionaries for the Church.  More of them, in fact, are now serving than ever before.

I was delighted by the announcement that younger sisters could serve.  It has led to many more sister missionaries representing the Church to the world — which will eventually help (I hope) to lessen the Church’s reputation for patriarchal sexism.  I’ve known many young women who wanted to serve missions but who, for various reasons, were worried about beginning their service at a relatively advanced age.   (Twenty-one seems really old when you’re really young.)  It also makes available to the Church a huge reservoir of enthusiasm and spiritual power that is of enormous assistance in the work of, as we say, “building the Kingdom.”


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ephesians 6:13

On what it feels like to be a Mormon ‘apologist’

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

I published this article in the Deseret News on 29 October 2015:

Few, if any, medicines cure every patient. Even the best pharmaceuticals can sometimes cause harm, hence the obligatory warnings. One in 7 flu vaccinations leads to coughing, abdominal pain or nausea. One in a hundred causes fever.
But this scarcely means that vaccinations are without value.

So, too, with “apologetics,” arguments marshaled to defend a (typically religious) position. Few arguments will convince everybody — otherwise, obviously, informed people wouldn’t still hold differing political, economic, philosophical and religious opinions. But that fact doesn’t, in itself, prove the arguments bad.

Some who’ve failed to benefit from apologetic arguments for Mormonism claim that the arguments are therefore worthless, or even worse. Of course, it’s difficult to know how well they understood the arguments — in my experience, many critics have plainly misunderstood the reasoning — or how much relevant material they’ve actually encountered in the first place.

But perhaps I can offer my own perspective, that of someone who’s been deeply involved in Mormon apologetics for nearly three decades.

Are there still debates? Absolutely. Just as there are about the authorship of the Homeric poems and of Shakespeare’s plays. Do problems remain? Certainly. Do some questions still lack answers? Absolutely. We would love, for instance, to find an inscription identifying the ruins of Zarahemla. It would also be nice to know whether horses, in the modern sense, existed in the Americas in Nephite times, or whether perhaps the Nephites called some unfamiliar other animal a horse — as the Greeks did when they encountered Egypt’s hippopotamus. (“Hippopotamus” is Greek for “river horse”; in German, a hippopotamus is a “Nilpferd,” or “Nile horse.”)
Years ago, my friend Louis Midgley alerted me to an anecdote that the eminent Protestant church historian Martin Marty once used to make a point about Mormonism: The famous 18th-century French hostess Marie de Vichy-Chamrond, the Marquise du Deffand, friend of Voltaire and other leading intellectuals of her day, was conversing with Cardinal de Polignac. He told her that the martyr St. Denis, first Christian bishop of Paris, had taken up his head and walked a hundred miles after his execution. Madame du Deffand replied, “In such a promenade, it is the first step that is difficult.” She meant, of course, that it’s not the claim that St. Denis walked a hundred miles that poses a difficulty. Maybe he really walked only 99 miles. Or perhaps he walked a hundred and two. Such differences mean little. The fundamental question is whether, after his beheading, he walked at all. If that essential point has been granted, the rest is merely a footnote.

In my judgment, which I know is shared by others in my “apologist” circles, there’s far more than enough evidence to justify confidence in that “first step” with respect to Joseph Smith, who restored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and translated the Book of Mormon, and Mormonism.

The witnesses to the Book of Mormon, the complexity of its content and the speed of its dictation, the manifold ways in which it and other revelations given through Joseph Smith seem to fit the ancient milieu that they purport to reflect, the abundant evidence of Joseph’s sincerity and good character, the profundity of his teachings — these and many other things seem so striking that, for us, many other controversies resemble quibbles over whether St. Denis walked a hundred miles or only 99. (For reading suggestions on some of these topics, see my previous column “Some aids to nourish our faith.“)

Some critics claim to detect desperation in contemporary Mormon apologetics. For myself and, I think I can safely say, for others whom I know, this simply isn’t true. We’re excited and exhilarated by what we see. Of course, we try to defend the Restoration against attack. In this, we follow a remark from an essay on C.S. Lewis by the late Austin Farrer that long served as something of an unofficial motto for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and its successor, Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute:

“Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

We’re much more thrilled, though, about positive arguments that, we believe, illustrate the credibility of Mormon claims. They can strengthen faith and, where necessary, create doubts about doubts.


A note on “relics”

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

Bill Hamblin and I published this column in the Deseret News on 11 May 2018:

From Neolithic times, if not earlier, humans have buried revered ancestors and leaders in monumental tombs that could serve as sites for pilgrimage. In part, this was an attempt for oral cultures to remember the blessed dead. Parents could take children on a pilgrimage, visiting the tombs of their ancestors, while telling the stories of their great-grandparents.

A classic example from the biblical tradition was the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives (Genesis 23:17-1950:13), and still venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Visiting the tombs of holy men and women often became a practice not just of memorialization, but of seeking spiritual blessings and healings. The holiness of a dead saint continued to reside in his bones or relics, and could be transmitted by those who touched them.

This belief is reflected in a story from 2 Kings 13:21, where, “as (a group of Israelites) were burying a man … they spied a band of (Moabite) men; and they cast the (dead) man into the sepulchre of Elisha (in order to flee the Moabites): and when the (dead) man was let down (into the tomb), and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”

But what if there is no known tomb for the holy man, or if the tomb is empty? This is the problem many early Christians faced with the tomb of Jesus Christ. Since Christ is resurrected, no one can visit, see or touch his bones to receive spiritual power, blessings or healing. Visiting the empty tomb of Christ was, of course, an alternative, and the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem remains one of the most visited Christian shrines in the world.

Many early Christians, however, seeking physical manifestations of the spiritual reality of Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection, unceasingly searched for artifacts or relics associated with these events. And, miraculously, they found them, or at least believed they did.

The most important relic associated with Christ was the True Cross — fragments of the wood of the cross of the crucifixion, which was “invented” (meaning “discovered”) by Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, in A.D. 320 in a cistern which is now a chapel in the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Small fragments of this cross can be seen in many Orthodox and Catholic churches throughout the world, notably in the Greek reliquary chapel of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross of Jerusalem), one of the seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

The discovery of other relics associated with the last days of Christ followed over the centuries. Most famous was the Holy Grail (“cup/chalice”) used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Two candidates can still be seen in the Cathedral of Valencia (Spain) and the Cathedral of Genoa (Italy) — which, of course, raises the messy problem of duplicate and forged relics. (Some 200 grails or chalices have been put forward as the original.) 

According to tradition, a young woman named Veronica wiped the brow of Christ with her veil, which miraculously received the imprint of Jesus’s face. The resultant relic, the Veil of Veronica — whose name is an anagram for “vera icon” (“true image”) — is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and has been reproduced in numerous paintings and icons.

The Crown of Thorns was placed on the head of Jesus as part of the torture that accompanied his trial (Matthew 27:29). A relic claiming to be that crown was located in Constantinople for centuries; individual thorns were plucked from it and given as gifts to medieval Christian rulers. Louis IX of France eventually purchased it, building the stunning Sainte-Chapelle in 1248 to house the relic. It is now in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Likewise, the Holy Lance (also the “Spear of Destiny” or “Spear of Longinus,” after the traditional name of the Roman soldier who owned it) is said to have been the spear that pierced Jesus’ side during the crucifixion (John 19:34). Again there are several rival relics, the most famous being the Holy Lance in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna.

These relics were believed to be a conduit by which Christ’s spiritual power could be physically transferred to the believer who saw, venerated or touched the holy relics. To touch such a relic, it was believed, was the closest most people can come to touching God.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Stand in holy places

‘Immaculate Conception’ Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

You’re probably using this phrase wrong.

(by Caroline Bologna 12-21-18)

You don’t have to be Catholic to have heard the phrase “Immaculate Conception.” References often appear in pop culture and even politics.
In the first season of the TV show “Glee,” the character Puck responds to his classmate Quinn’s refusal to admit that he is the father of her child by declaring, “Well, call the Vatican. We got ourselves another Immaculate Conception!”
Reviewers of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” often describe the show as a modern take on the Immaculate Conception.
And during a January 2018 Fox News interview, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R- Fla.) said the timing around missing text messages between the FBI’s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page could be considered “the greatest coincidence since the Immaculate Conception.”
But there’s a problem with all of those references: They’re using “Immaculate Conception” wrong. 
It’s a common misconception (no pun intended) that “Immaculate Conception” refers to the Roman Catholic teaching that the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus without having sex. But that belief is known as the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
“The Virgin Birth refers to Jesus being born of a woman who was a virgin,” the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, told HuffPost. “His birth is miraculous because Mary conceived a child without having sexual relations with a man.”
Immaculate Conception instead refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. The idea is that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin, or born free from original sin.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and stated: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.’”
So, Immaculate Conception is not about how Jesus was conceived.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo (who coincidentally attended Queens’ Immaculate Conception School as a child) pushed back on Gaetz’s allegations and his analogy in part by correcting his misuse of the phrase.

“The Immaculate Conception is not how Jesus was born,” Cuomo said. “It was the mother’s conception without original sin ... If you’re going to make an analogy, at least know what you’re talking about, because you have to have a basis for these things.”
But, of course, Gaetz isn’t the only one to confuse the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth.
“It’s proven very confusing for people, perhaps because both of these beliefs have to do with conception. But in one case it’s Mary’s being conceived without sin, and in another Jesus’s being conceived without Mary’s having had sexual relations,” said Martin.
“It’s not made any easier by the fact that the Gospel reading on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the story of the Annunciation from the Gospel of Luke, that is, the time when the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will give birth,” he added. “That really confuses people.”
And, of course, these concepts aren’t completely disparate. The belief that Mary was born without original sin certainly relates to the idea that she would go on to become the virgin mother of Jesus.
“Both have to do with conception of course, but also the workings of God’s grace,” Martin noted. “While the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has been declared as ‘infallible,’ it’s also, unfortunately, one of the most misunderstood doctrines among Catholics.”
So, if you thought the phrase “Immaculate Conception” referred to the idea of Mary conceiving Jesus without having sex, consider yourself Sunday-schooled


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Russia’s Journey from Orthodoxy to Atheism, and Back Again

(by Gene Zubovich 10-16-18)

In Russia, there is a religious revival happening. Orthodox Christianity is thriving after enduring a 70-year period of atheistic Soviet rule. In 1991, just after the collapse of the USSR, about two-thirds of Russians claimed no religious affiliation. Today, 71 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox. One can now see priests giving sermons on television, encounter religious processions in St. Petersburg, and watch citizens lining up for holy water in Moscow. Even Moscow’s Darwin museum features a Christmas tree during the holidays. President Vladimir Putin has encouraged this revival and he has also benefited from it, both at home and abroad. Last year, he explained that Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war was designed to protect Christians from the Islamic State. Not only has the Orthodox Church supported this “holy war” but so have some American evangelicals, who are likewise concerned about Christians in the Middle East and praise Putin’s socially conservative policies.

Russia was transformed from a bastion of conservative Orthodoxy in the nineteenth century into the world’s leading promoter of atheism in the twentieth. This historical backdrop of Russia’s remarkable journey from Orthodoxy to atheism, and back again, is chronicled in Victoria Smolkin’s A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism. It is the first full account of Soviet atheism, from the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. This engaging book is full of striking analysis and counterintuitive insights. And Smolkin, associate professor of Russian and Soviet history at Wesleyan University, has two big arguments to make. The first is that the meaning of Soviet atheism has changed drastically over time. The second argument is even more surprising: Today’s religious revival in Russia began before 1991, she argues, and was promoted by the very organs that were meant to rid the USSR of religion.

When Vladimir Lenin came to power in Russia in 1917, he held to the Marxist view that once capitalism was abolished, religion would likewise wither away. It was a slight twist on classic secularization theory, which held that as societies modernize, people lose faith. For Lenin, and for his successor Josef Stalin, atheism was not something that required much thought. It was simply the absence of religion and would come naturally in due time as the Soviet Union developed into a modern society. More pressing for Soviet leaders was the political power of the Orthodox Church. One by one, rival political parties were outlawed, and ideologies were banned but private piety remained legal in the USSR. So did churches, mosques, and synagogues. As one Soviet official pointed out, “religious organizations are the only legally existing counterrevolutionary organizations” in the Soviet Union.

Under Lenin and Stalin, new atheist organizations like the League of the Militant Godless waged war on religious institutions. Although churches and monasteries were technically legal, officials found ways of shutting them down, and they transformed some of them into cathedrals of atheism. The Donskoi Monastery became the Moscow Antireligious Museum and the Kazan Cathedral in Leningrad (today, St. Petersburg) became the Museum of the History of Religion. In 1931, Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral was blown up in a public display for all the world to see. “At the end of the 1930s, the party came as close as it ever would to eradicating religion,” Smolkin observes.

Despite the public spectacle and the very real repression of the Orthodox Church, however, religious belief and practice remained a part of everyday life and officials often tolerated religious practices, especially in the countryside. As Smolkin shows, even rank-and-file communists struggled with managing religious questions in family life. “What should a Leninist do if his family is still religious, does not permit taking down the icons, takes children to church, and so on,” a party member asked a Soviet newspaper’s advice column. The response “suggested a softer and more gradual approach to family disagreements over religion,” Smolkin writes. “Rather than break with his family, a Leninist should strive to enlighten.” It was common for male party members to marry religious women, the columnist noted, and they should be patient with their families.

By the eve of World War II, religious organizations had ceased to be a political threat to the Soviet state. In 1927, the Orthodox Church had pledged support for the communist government, and by 1941—when Germany invaded the Soviet Union—the vast majority of churches had been closed down and thousands of priests had been arrested or executed. In 1917, there had been more than 50,000 churches in the Russian empire, but less than 1,000 remained in 1939. It was because of his success in neutralizing the political challenge of the Orthodox Church that Stalin welcomed it back into public life during World War II, seeing it as a tool to promote patriotism at home and to earn good will of allies abroad. As Orthodoxy became politically useful for Stalin, he no longer wanted atheist organizations around. “With the start of the war, atheist periodicals and publishing houses were shut down, most antireligious museums were closed, and most of the institutions charged with atheist work were dissolved,” Smolkin writes.

Stalin felt that he had control of the Orthodox Church, which he used to bolster his domestic authority and foreign policy. But religious beliefs and practices outside the church, in everyday life, were not as easy to control, and they caught the attention of Soviet officials after Stalin’s death in 1953. Feast days and pilgrimages to holy sites could not always be managed by the Orthodox Church or the Soviet state. Nor could miracles. Smolkin relays a widely reported story from 1956 of a young girl who was turned to stone for blasphemy after shouting, “If there is a God, then let him punish me!” The location of the alleged incident in the industrial town of Kuibyshev (today, Samara) drew hundreds of curious onlookers and became a destination for pilgrims. By 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev came to power, unofficial, extra-ecclesiastical religious practices became suspect and were targeted. So were private beliefs. The persistence of religion in everyday life—56 percent identified themselves as believers in the last census to ask about religion in 1937—encouraged Khrushchev’s officials to revive the atheist apparatus that Stalin had shut down and to focus on eradicating religion in the private lives of Soviet citizens.

Khrushchev was the last true believer in communism. And when he was ousted in 1964, his immediate successors ushered in an era of stagnation, when fewer and fewer believed that socialism was fulfilling its promises. It dawned on Soviet officials that getting rid of religion, in both public and private life, was not enough to create atheists who believed in the communist cause. Getting rid of one faith did not mean it would be replaced by another, as Lenin had predicted. Party leaders recognized that “it was also necessary to fill Soviet Communism’s sacred space with positive meaning,” Smolkin argues.

In its final phase, the meaning of Soviet atheism was transformed from a mere absence of religion—and a commitment to science and rationalism—into something spiritual that would satisfy the souls of Soviet citizens from cradle to grave. This shift took some experimentation. Leningrad’s attempt to replace baptisms with newborn registration rituals that awarded medals to the children proved popular. Teenagers turning 16 were eligible for passports and went through a passport ceremony at institutions like the Moscow House of Scientific Atheism. As Smolkin describes them, marriages had previously been simple bureaucratic affairs but beginning in the 1960s, they increasingly took place in wedding palaces, where grooms and brides would don formal clothes, and the officiant spoke solemnly in ceremonial dress. Afterwards, many couples celebrated by taking part in photographic tours of the city’s parks and Soviet monuments.

But it became clear to the atheist establishment that it was failing to create true believers in communism. “Which is more useful to the party,” a Soviet official asked rhetorically in the twilight years of the USSR, “someone who believes in God, someone who believes in nothing at all, or someone who believes in both God and Communism?” He was signaling that apathy and indifference, not religion, had become the main enemy of atheism. “Soviet atheism was not secularization or secularism but instead conversion,” Smolkin writes. “Soviet atheism was not secular because secularism can tolerate indifference.”

Mikhail Gorbachev welcomed back the Orthodox Church into public life in 1988, in a belated recognition that atheists and the clergy had a mutual enemy: indifference. Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodoxy once again became state-sanctioned and atheist institutions were encouraged to find common ground with the Orthodox Church. Ironically, atheist organizations began popularizing religious ideas. The House of Scientific Atheism became the House of Spiritual Heritage. An atheist journal changed its name to Science and Religion and became “the first Soviet periodical to give voice to religion,” according to Smolkin.

Reading Smolkin’s book, I understood why she focused on Orthodox Christianity, by far the largest religious group in the Soviet Union. But the absence of a substantive discussion of how Islam and Judaism were managed in that diverse country, and what nuance it would add to our understanding of Soviet atheism, means that other historians will have work to do. One could also take issue with Smolkin’s argument that secularism can—indeed, must—tolerate indifference. After all, secular countries have histories of promoting religious ideas as well as encouraging animosity among their citizens against specific religious groups.

I also wondered whether Smolkin is right to suggest that atheism could not compete with Orthodoxy’s ability to legitimize the Soviet and Russian state. Judged by the standards Soviet atheism set for itself at the end of its 70 years as the USSR’s official belief system, it had failed because it did not effectively occupy the sacred spaces of Russian life. But this argument seems to underplay the continued influence of atheism in Russia today. Many Soviet rituals invented by atheists remain widely popular. Stamps and medals, many of them instituted to counter religious influence, are still in wide use. One can hardly visit a statue or monument in Russia without encountering a wedding party, and the civil registration office, ZAGS, is still the preferred choice for weddings.

In post-Soviet Russia, Orthodox Christianity gives the country a legitimacy that it was “an ancient polity with a millennial pedigree that gave it moral legitimacy,” according to Smolkin. Putin can tout Orthodoxy as the state religion but the reality is just as damning for Orthodoxy’s official status as it had been for Soviet atheism. Most Russians identify as Orthodox but only 6 percent of them attend church weekly and only 17 percent pray daily. Russians are largely unchurched and often don’t conform to the doctrines of the Orthodox Church. The Soviet Union had been the first country to legalize abortion in 1920, and the rate of abortions in Russia is more than double compared to the U.S. and enjoys widespread support despite strong objections from the Orthodox Church. And contrary to Orthodox teaching, attitudes toward divorce and pre-marital sex remain lax.

Governments sometimes promote belief systems that explain life’s meaning, and rituals that remind us of it, because it lends them legitimacy. But these quests seem to always remain incomplete. That is certainly true of Soviet atheism, and it is also true of Russian Orthodoxy. Smolkin’s book helps us appreciate that in Russia today, as in the Soviet Union years ago, official state faiths mask a more complicated reality.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

On Jesus the shepherd, and on the shepherds

Bill Hamblin and I published the column below on 19 December 2016, in the Deseret News:

Ezekiel 34:2-6 records a message given to that ancient Hebrew prophet:

“Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were … meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.”

Since Israel’s shepherds, its selfish leaders, had failed to care for their flock, the Lord tells Ezekiel (in verses 11-16) that he himself will become the people’s shepherd:

“Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.”

It’s perhaps against that background that we should read one of the most beloved portions of the story of Christ’s nativity. For the sake of freshness, I quote from J.B. Phillips’s translation of Luke 2:8-17:

“There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.’ And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!'”

When those literal ancient Jewish shepherds hastened to the place where Jesus was, the text seems to suggest, they recognized him as Israel’s true shepherd. And so he was, because he was God, literally come to earth. This is an identification that Jesus himself not only welcomed but proclaimed: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).

It was and is a remarkable assertion; the Psalmist (23:1) had famously identified none other than the Lord, Jehovah or Yahweh, as his shepherd.

In the gospel of Matthew, by contrast, it isn’t humble Hebrew shepherds who venerate the newborn Jesus but, rather, “magi” or “wise men” from “the east,” who “fell down, and worshipped him” (2:11). The magi can be plausibly understood as representing all the prior wisdom and religion of humankind (perhaps, since they may have been Persian Zoroastrian priests, specifically of non-Israelite humanity), humbling themselves before the incarnate Son of God.

In these two New Testament stories, then, so well-known to us, Christ’s advent is acknowledged by both the most sophisticated of world elites and the humblest local shepherds, and it’s accompanied by the rejoicing of heaven itself. Glory to God in the highest!

Merry Christmas!

(by Dan Peterson - sic et non blog)

I share with you, as a variant of the story of Christmas, the New International Version rendering of John 1:1-14.  I choose this passage, and a possibly unfamiliar translation of it, in an effort to see the story of the birth of Christ from a slightly different angle than the familiar Lukan narrative:

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

He was with God in the beginning. 

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 

He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 

He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 

11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 

13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think it’s important that we not make Christmas merely about the birth of a little baby.  Little babies are born every day.  Lots of them.  But this wasn’t merely a tiny infant.  This was (and is) the Lord of the Universe, the King of Kings, who voluntarily lay his glory by.


A note on the survival of Christmas after the Protestant Reformation

(by Dan Peterson - sic et non blog)

Bill Hamblin and I published the following article in the Deseret News on 22 December 2017:

The English word “Christmas” — “Christ’s mass” — reveals the holiday’s Catholic origin. With the coming of the Protestant Reformation, though, many Catholic practices and traditions were rejected or at least abandoned.

How did Christmas survive the Protestant purge? In some places, it nearly didn’t.

At first, it faced relatively few challenges in England. When the Anglican Church split with Rome over Henry VIII’s marital issues (see “The Anglican Church, England’s unique Reformation
published Oct. 27 on, it remained relatively Catholic — retaining not only priests, bishops, archbishops and cathedrals but choral music and feast days. Consequently, many of our Christmas traditions and much of our Christmas music today is English.
On the European continent, though, the survival of Christmas was more precarious.

In John Calvin’s Geneva and Ulrich Zwingli’s Zurich, only Sundays were observed as days of worship; the other feast days and saints’ days ordained by Rome were abolished. And Calvin’s disciple John Knox, who founded the Presbyterian movement in Scotland, followed the same path (see “John Knox and the Scottish Reformation” published June 25, 2016, on

When he launched his series of scripture-centered sermons in Zurich’s Grossmunster church in 1519, Zwingli — arguably the most radical of the three great Reformers — simply began with Matthew and preached through the whole book, ignoring the Catholic liturgical calendar and its festivals and holidays (see “The third man of the Reformation,” published Oct. 13,

Calvin’s approach was slightly more moderate (see “The Protestant Reformation’s other great writer” published Sept. 15, 2017, on In a sermon delivered on Christmas Day 1551, Calvin noticed more people than usual in his congregation, so he warned them that, by elevating Christmas above other days for worship, they risked turning it into an idol. Still, he himself may have observed Christmas privately, at home.

In 1647, the English Parliament, dominated by Puritans, went beyond Calvin and altogether banned the festival. William Prynne (d. 1669), for example, taught that “all pious Christians” should “eternally abominate” observance of the holiday. According to the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.” 

Similar issues played out in America. While, for example, Christmas was celebrated in colonies where Anglicanism was the established church, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony banned any outdoor celebration of Christmas in early 1620s Massachusetts. Violators — in some cases, even those caught observing the holiday in secret — could be heavily fined.

While the Swiss Reformers Zwingli and Calvin insisted that Christians should worship God only in ways mentioned in the Bible — which says nothing of Christmas — Martin Luther held to the more expansive view that Christians are permitted to worship God in any way that the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid.

And Luther loved Christmas, advocating feasts, gift-giving and special church services. He wrote Christmas carols and delivered dozens of Christmas-related sermons. It may be significant that, while Luther’s Protestant Germany and the largely Catholic Bavaria and Austria have greatly enriched our Christmas musical tradition, few if any famous Christmas carols come from Switzerland, which is directly adjacent to them. In fact, “Messiah,” written in just 24 days by the devoutly Lutheran 18th-century German composer George Frederick Handel, can be viewed as an expression of Luther’s musical legacy.

A former Catholic monk, Luther married the former nun Katharina von Bora in June 1525 and, with “Katie,” established a happy marriage that became a model for subsequent Protestant homes and families. Effectively, together, they “invented” the Protestant parsonage.

Sixteenth-century German Protestants seem to have begun the tradition of erecting decorated “Christmas trees” in their homes, and some claim that Luther himself originated the idea of placing lights — candles, in his day — on the tree. (Queen Victoria’s German-born consort, Prince Albert, helped to make Christmas trees popular in England when he put one up in Windsor Castle.)

One- or two-day winter markets, where farmers sold their produce, had long been traditional in Germanic Europe. After the Reformation, however, the “Christkindlmarkt” (“Little Christ Child Market”) became a holiday bazaar lasting throughout Advent. Perhaps originating in Bavaria, these German Christmas markets featured choirs, food, toys, carvings and other gifts for the birth of the Christ Child.

For many today, Christmas has become a largely secular holiday, with little or no connection to Jesus. In part, ironically, this may derive from the objections of some very devout Christians, whose compromise solution to the problem of Christmas allowed them to celebrate it while downplaying its religious significance.