Humanity as God’s Creation

“Nature, that is, God, made man a composite of two parts, one celestial and divine, the other most beautiful and noble among mortal things.  He provided him with a form and a body suited to every sort of movement, so as to enable him to perceive and to flee from that which threatened to harm and oppose him.  He gave him speech and judgment so that he would be able to seek after and to find what he needed and could use.  He gave him movement and sentiment, desire and the power of excitement, so that he might clearly appreciate and pursue useful things and shun those harmful and dangerous to him.  He gave him intelligence, teachability, memory and reason, qualities divine in themselves and which enable man to investigate, to distinguish, to know what to avoid and what to desire in order best to preserve himself.”  Leon Battista Alberti, On the Family in Perspectives from the Past: Primary Sources in Western Civilizations, Vol. 1. 5th Ed. (Norton: New York, 2012), p. 390.

Leon Battista Alberti (d. 1472) was born in Genoa in 1404 as the illegitimate son of exiled Florentine man.  Alberti studied law at Bologna, took holy orders, and worked in service of the papacy.  As a Renaissance humanist Alberti wrote about painting, architecture, sculpture, and the nature of the family.  However, he is most well known for his architectural designs.  Here he describes God’s greatest earthly creation, humanity, as the perfect combination mind and body.


History and the Orator

“He [the orator] should also be acquainted with the history of the events of past ages, particularly, of course, of our state, but also of imperial nations and famous kings….To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?  Moreover, the mention of antiquity and the citation of examples give the speech authority and credibility as well as affording the highest pleasure to the audience.” Cicero, “The Orator,” in The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance, ed. Kenneth R. Bartlett, 2nd edition (Toronto 2011), pp. 8-9.  [Emphasis added]

Cicero understood the role of history and historical examples in an orator’s success.  In so doing, he coined the famous phrase that compared ignorance of history to immaturity.

Erasmus on Reason, Speech, and Friendship

“Man possesses a unifying principle in the fact that he is molded to the same figure and form and endowed with the same power of speech.  Whereas beasts differ in the variety of their shapes, man is identical with fellow man in possessing speech and reason.  His ability to speak enables him above all to cultivate friendship.  We find in him the seeds of all virtue, a ready disposition toward mutual benevolence, and a delight in helping others.  Yet he appears to have been corrupted and to be prone to fall to the very level of beasts.”

Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace in The Essential Erasmus, trans. John P. Dolan (New York 1964), p. 179.

Following Cicero and the Western tradition, Erasmus understands that human beings possess reason and language.  These allow human beings to become true friends, cultivate virtue, and act generously toward others.  Alas, Erasmus laments that corruption has led many human beings to act like beasts.

The Miseries of the Republic

“Sallust has given a brief sketch of the miseries of the republic in that long period, in all the years down to the Second Punic War, troubled by incessant wars abroad, and at home by continued civil strife and disharmony.  Even Rome’s victories did not bring the substantial joys of happiness, but only the empty consolations of misery, specious allurements to tempt restless spirits to submit to more and more hardships, all of them unproductive.” Augustine of Hippo,The City of God III. 17. trans. Henry Bettenson. (New York: Penguin Classics, 1984), p. 111.

Melanchthon on the Sacraments

“Sacraments are signs of God’s will toward us, not simply signs of the people’s will among themselves, and so it is right to define the New Testament sacraments as signs of grace.  A sacrament consists of two parts, the sign and the Word.  In the New Testament the Word is the added promise of grace.  The promise of the New Testament is the promise of the forgiveness of sins, just as this text says [cf. Luke 22:19 and Matt. 26:28], ‘This is my body, which is given for you. . . .[T]his is the cup of the New Testament in my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’  The Word, therefore, offers forgiveness of sins.  The ceremony is like a picture of the Word or a ‘seal,’ as Paul calls it [Rom. 4:11], that shows forth the promise.  Therefore, just as the promise is useless unless it is received by faith, so also the ceremony is useless unless faith, which really confirms that the forgiveness fo sins is being offered here, is added.  Such faith encourages contrite minds.  Just as the Word was given to awaken this faith, so also the sacrament was instituted in order that, as the outward form meets the eye, it might move the heart to believe.  For the Holy Spirit works through the Word and the sacrament.”   Philip Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV, 69-71. in The Book of Concord, eds. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wingert (Minneapolis 2000), p. 270-71.

Melanchthon describes the relationship between the sacraments, ceremonies, the promise of God’s Word, and faith here.  Notice the similarities with Martin Luther’s use of Augustine’s definition of a sacrament.


Luther and the Biblical Languages

“And further, if I could bring it to pass among you, I should like to ask that you do not neglect the languages but, since it would not be difficult for you, that you have your preachers and some of your gifted boys learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew well.  I know for a fact that one who has to preach and expound the Scriptures and has no help from the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, but must do it entirely on the basis of his mother tongue, will make many a pretty mistake.  For it has been my experience that the languages are extraordinarily helpful for a clear understanding of the divine Scriptures.  This also was the feeling and opinion of St Augustine; he held that there should be some people in the church who could use Greek and Hebrew before they deal with the Word, because it was in these two languages that the Holy Spirit wrote the Old and New Testament.” Martin Luther, “The Adoration of the Sacrament.” Luther’s Works, Vol. 36, p. 304. [Emphasis added]

In 1523 Luther wrote a letter in which he stated that the study of the liberal arts prepare the way for the reformation of religion.

In that same year he wrote to the Bohemian Christians concerning the Lord’s Supper and adoration of the elements.  As this quote above demonstrates, Luther promoted the proper understanding of the languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin) as the foundation of biblical exegesis.

The Difference between Human Nature and Beasts

“From the beginning nature has assigned to every type of creature the tendency to preserve itself, its life and body, and to reject anything that seems likely to harm them, seeking and procuring everything necessary for life, such as nourishment, shelter and so on.  Common to all animals is the impulse to unite for the purpose of procreation, and a certain care for those that are born.  The great difference between man and beast, however, is this: the latter adapts itself only in responding to the senses, and only to something that is present and at hand, scarcely aware of the past or future.  Man, however, is a sharer in reason; this enables him to perceive consequences, to comprehend the causes of things, their precursors and their antecedents, so to speak; to compare similarities and to link and combine future with present events; and by seeing with ease the whole course of life to prepare whatever is necessary for living it.” Cicero, On Duties I. 11. eds. and trans. M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins (Cambridge 1991), p. 6. [Emphasis added]

According to Cicero, how does reason differentiate human beings from other animals?  Humans share in reason that gives them the ability to perceive, comprehend and compare the interrelated nature of past, present, and future events.  Thereby, reasonable human beings prepare for living.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Divine Law

“One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” (August 1963), p. 3.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this letter to answer critics of the non-violent protests against Birmingham’s segregation laws.  He adhered to a long theological and legal tradition to justify violating unjust laws (in this case a court injunction against protests and demonstrations.)  In the late fourth century Augustine had written: “For a law that is unjust does not seem to me to be a law at all.” (On Free Will I. 5. 11. in Augustine: Earlier Writings, trans. John H. S. Burleigh (Philadelphia 1953), p. 118.

If this is so, how do we determine if a law is just or not just?  Later in the same work Augustine stated “…there is nothing just or legitimate in temporal law save what men have derived from eternal law.” On Free Will I. 6. 15. in Ibid., p. 121.  Rev. King followed Augustine here too when he states that human law must agree with the moral law, or law of God.  This leads us to King’s reference to Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.  Aquinas, a 13th-century scholastic theologian, wrote “…laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, “we ought to obey God rather than man.”

A Good Prince Must know Geography & History

“Although the writers of antiquity divided the whole theory of state government into two sections, war and peace, the first and most objective is the instruction of the prince in the matter of ruling wisely during times of peace, in which he should strive his utmost during times of peace, in which he should strive his utmost to preclude any future need for the science of war.  In this matter it seems best that the prince should first know his own kingdom.  This knowledge is best gained from [a study of ] geography and history and from frequent visits through his provinces and cities.  Let him first be eager to learn the location of his districts and cities, with their beginnings, their nature, institutions, customs, laws, annals, and privileges.”  Erasmus,The Education of a Christian Prince, trans. Lester K. Born. (New York: Columbia, 1936), p. 205.

Loyalty and Friendship

“Now the support and stay of that unswerving constancy, which we look for in friendship, is loyalty; for nothing is constant that is disloyal.  Moreover, the right course is to choose for a friend one who is frank, sociable, and sympathetic–that is, one who is likely to be influenced by the same motives as yourself–since all these qualities conduce to loyalty; for it is impossible for a man to be loyal whose nature is full of twists and twinings; and, indeed, one who is untouched by the same influences as yourself is naturally unsympathetic cannot be either loyal or steadfast.  To this observation should be added a requirement tending to produce that steadfastness, which I have been discussing for some time: a friend must neither take pleasure in bringing charges against you nor believe them when made by others.  As so, the truth of what I said in the beginning is established: ‘Friendship cannot exist except among good men.’” Cicero, On Friendship XVIII. 65. Loeb Classical Library, trans. William A. Falconer (Cambridge, MA  1923), 174-78.