European Reformers: Jan Hus and Martin Luther

On a short visit to Prague, Czech Republic and Dresden, Germany, I had the privilege to visit the site of two monuments dedicated to protestant reformers, Jan Hus and Martin Luther.

Jan Hus (English John Huss)

After John Wycliffe, who first translated the bible into English and was the forerunner of the reformation, Hus is considered a pre-reformer, as he lived before Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. His teachings had a strong influence on the states of Western Europe, and, more than a century later, on Martin Luther himself. He was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church, including, but not limited to, his belief that mass should be given in the local vernacular, or local language, rather than in Latin. This monument was dedicated in 1915, 500 years after his martyrdom.




Martin Luther

Known as the father of the reformation, Martin Luther was a theologian, priest, bible translator, hymnodist, writer, and reformer. Like Hus, Luther stood in opposition to doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church — including the practice of indulgences, papal authority from divine appointment, forbidding priests to marry and more, all of which he made clear in his 95 thesis which he posted on October 31, 1517 (500 years ago this year). He was excommunicated and put on trial multiple times due to his stances. His life was changed when he encountered the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which relieved years of feelings the weight of his own sin and inability to be holy. He later translated the bible into the common German tongue, declared the scriptures as the only source of divine revelation, and married. He held that his most important work was “The Bondage of the Will”, written in response to Erasmus.

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground ; but because even were there no dangers. I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success.¦ But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.” – Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 313-314.



“Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.” – Martin Luther  (Luther’s Works)

Christian Graffiti – “ΙΧΘΥΣ” (Ichthus)

ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) is an backronym/acrostic for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ“, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”.

  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus“.
  • Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for “anointed”.
  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), Greek for “God’s”, the genitive case of ΘεóςTheos, Greek for “God”.
  • Upsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)uios (Υἱός), Greek for “Son”.
  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for “Savior”.

Legend and history surrounding the use of Ichthus and the fish symbol in early christianity abounds; however we know that there is definite historical usage, since Augustine explains it’s meaning in his “City of God”, and because it is found in ancient sites like Ephesus, in modern day Izmir Province, Turkey.



Smyrna: An Introduction

1. There are actually two Smyrnas, named Old Smyrna (founded in 11th century BC) and New Smyrna (reestablished by Alexander — at least, it was his idea, of course — in 4th century BC), respectively (they worked hard on the names).

2. Homer (author of The Iliad and The Odyssey) was born in Smyrna! (well, maybe. 6 other cities lay claim to the ancient poet, but many think Smyrna is his likely hometown)

3. “New Smyrna” became part of the Roman Empire around 195 BC, and more than likely had a significant Jewish population. Setting the cultural groundwork for the Gospel to spread through the activity of the Apostle Paul

4. Smyrna is one of the seven churches addressed in the beginning chapters of the book of Revelation. The church more than likely was planted through the ministry based in Ephesus. It seems that when John wrote to them the church was experiencing persecution, but the Apostle John reminds them of the promise of the resurrection and that they will not be affected by the second death

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”

5. Polycarp (AD 69-155) was the Bishop of Smyrna until he was burned at the stake and stabbed when the fire didn’t finish the job. Multiple church fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Jerome) all make reference to Polykarp being a disciple of the Apostle John, and even being ordained by John as Bishop of Smyrna.

6. Polycarp seemed to have read the letter from John and taken heed of it throughout his life. He was “faithful unto death.” This is evidenced by the reply he gave those who were to burn him at the stake:

“For eighty and six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me? You threaten with the fire that burns for a hour and then is quenched; for you do not know of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of the eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why are you delaying? Bring what you will!”

7. Because Polycarp had a direct relationship with an Apostle (John), his understanding and teaching of scripture and doctrine was highly regarded throughout the Christian church and he is credited with helping the church on a path of orthodoxy when heretics like Marcion and the Gnostic Valentinus were running rappant.

8. Polycarp wrote his “Letter to the Philippians” while Bishop of Smyrna. This letter is of utmost importance, not just for the sound doctrine and encouragement found within, but because Polycarp makes many references to New Testament books which helps in the field of textual criticism and in understanding canonization of the New Testament.

“Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man” (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians).

9. Smyrna is thought to be the hometown of the church father Irenaeus. Tradition states that Irenaeus heard Polycarp speak when he was a young man. Irenaeus is also thought to have grown up in a Christian home, perhaps the first church father to have come to faith as a child.

10. Smyrna got rocked by a massive earthquake in 178 AD and was rebuilt by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who was likely partly responsible for the martyrdoms of Polycarp and Irenaeus).

|| Old Smyrna ||

Ancient walls and foundations with modern Izmir, Turkey in the background
“Block out the sun”
“Drainage system no more”
"History in the distance"
“History in the distance”
“Through the pillars”
Broken pieces remind us that no city lasts forever
Broken pieces remind us that no city lasts forever

|| New Smyrna ||