The following is an excerpt from Caspar Schwenckfeld: Between Tyranny And Anarchy by Alan Olsan. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
There was fire in Caspar’s eyes. He seemed angry and frustrated as he spoke, thinking about all that he had seen and experienced. The monetary payoff from indulgences was extremely profitable for the church, but more than that. The whole system left people in not only harsh poverty but also in a spiritual darkness that grieved Caspar to his core.
Caspar continued, “I realized how people would rather have a votive mass sung, give a monk a bushel of grain, light some candles, go on a pilgrimage or some such thing rather than fight daily with their evil lusts and carnal desires as Christ would have us do. After reading Luther, something new was happening. How badly I wanted the clean heart and right spirit about which David sang and to be free from man-made inventions and superstitions! How badly I desired to be reconciled to Christ! It was then that I experienced a visitation from the Lord! I saw the risen and glorified God-Man, Jesus Christ, as my righteousness! My conscience was freed from the papal laws and the unbearable burdens with which it had been weighed down. I saw Christ as the very life within me! I had found my true home in God!”
As he described the visitation that had transformed his life, Caspar’s face brightened, and the pace of his words grew more excited.
“I kept reading Luther. I bought and read everything he published—Freedom of a Christian, Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and on and on. After I read Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, I took up the cause fully. Luther had said that if the church leaders would not reform the church, the German nobility should step in and give guidance. I soon won Duke Frederick II and many others in Silesia to Luther’s work of reform. I formed a brotherhood in Liegnitz. We prayed, studied the Scriptures, and discussed ways to implement changes in the churches that would free the citizens from the superstitions and bondage we had all been under. We were ready to sacrifice our own property so a Christian evangelical order conformable to the divine Word could be enacted in our farming communities. We desired that such a change would be accomplished in all patience and gentleness without tumult or driving out the priests. This was the type of reformation we longed for. When Luther heard of the Liegnitz brotherhood’s accomplishments in Silesia he sent me a letter.”
This point interested me. My brother had mentioned it to me, and I couldn’t help but be somewhat star struck.
“Yes,” I interjected. “I remember Hans telling me that you had some contact with Dr. Luther . . . letters or visits or something.”
Caspar looked at me with an expression that was hard to decipher.
“The work we were doing in Silesia, came to Luther’s attention,” he said. “The reform was spreading among the rich and poor, from the duke to the nobility and to the peasantry. I preached the Gospel to large groups, in private visits, and in many letters and booklets . . . any way that I could find. I spoke to the nuns at the convent in Naumburg about the freedom they had to end their vows and other changes they could make in their community, and I wrote to the Bishop of Breslau, Jacob von Salza, to encourage him to bring Luther’s reform into his own city. We were trying to put into practice the things Luther had written and truly it was all having a noticeable impact. When Luther found out, he wrote to me.”
Caspar leaned back and closed his eyes reciting the letter verbatim.
I am glad to hear that you have become a preacher. May you continue in God’s name, and may He grant you His grace and blessing.’”
My eyes widened.
“I am impressed, Herr Schwenckfeld!” I exclaimed enthusiastically. “And don’t tell me I shouldn’t be! Getting such an affirmation of your work in Silesia, from Dr. Luther himself, must have been a great encouragement and affirmation to you!”
“Oh, it was, Jacob,” Caspar said, but then his face dropped. In subdued tones, he continued. “By 1524, despite Luther’s praise and our initial successes, I realized things were not going as well as we had hoped. I started to believe that the reform itself needed its own reform.”
I was perplexed. At that time, only seven years had passed since Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses. “Shouldn’t you have given it more time? Wasn’t it a bit hasty to be talking about ‘reforming the reform’?” I asked.
Caspar gave what almost sounded like a snort. “I understand your confusion. I myself had said many times that a thousand years of apostasy wasn’t going to be turned around in a few short years. Attempts at reform had come and gone in the past. The Waldensians hidden away in the Alps, John Wycliffe’s Lollards in England, and Ján Hus and the Hussites in Bohemia one hundred years ago . . . all of them left their mark, but they were stopped short with violent suppression by the papists. I didn’t want to see this reform end . . . either from enemies on the outside or by our own errors and foolishness on the inside.”
As he spoke of these matters of strategy and history, I was increasingly fascinated and drawn in. I had a few of my own thoughts on the matter, and now they burst out.
Praise for Caspar Schwenckfeld: Between Tyranny And Anarchy
“The book not only reveals a history of the Reformation but is full of Biblical Truths. The conversations between Casper and his friend “dear Jacob” reveal their continuing search for the truth that they have found in Christ. They will not bend the knee to the tranny of the religious forces of the day. Many of which still exists today.”
“I enjoyed being guided through the 16th-century streets of Strasbourg as though by Caspar Schwenckfeld himself and feeling the hopes and disappointments of his times. My understanding of the Reformation was broadened by these readable conversations between Caspar and his dear friend, Jacob.”
About the Author
Alan Olsan has been a devoted student of the Radical Reformation since the 1980s, with an emphasis on the life and thought of Caspar Schwenckfeld. A childhood in a conservative Lutheran congregation, as well as participation in the Jesus Movement and Charismatic Renewal in the 1970’s, provided fertile ground for the ideas of the Silesian reformer.