Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 03, 2012

What’s In A Name?

How we refer to various Reformation-era Protestant groups today might not be the way they would have referred to themselves. For example, the word “Huguenot” (the true meaning of which remains hidden from us seeking historians and students of religion) originated as an insult. French Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries used the term “Réformés" or “Reformed,” to refer to themselves. It is unlikely they would have used “Huguenot” much at all.

Martin Luther never intended for his fellow believers to be called “Lutherans.” He believed this detracted from the glory of God and from the importance of the Lutheran doctrine, which showcased Scripture alone. In Germany, known appropriately as the Reformation’s birthplace (not to slight countries such as England where the birth-pangs began) Lutherans were called Evangelical (“Evangelische” in German) but different names were likely used. 

Anabaptists, whose name meant “rebaptizers” and who were despised by both Catholics and Proptestants of the 16th and 17th centuries due to their “radical” ideas, never used the term “Anabaptist.” That was for their enemies to use. They utilized the term “brethren” or simply “Christian.” Anglicans, adherents to the Church of England, often dropped all pretenses throughout the Reformed era and were known simply as “Protestants.” Words such as “Episcopal” would not come about until a later date.

Here is something interesting: All Protestants of the 16th century, no matter if they were Lutherans, Reformed, etc, were known as “Lutherans” by their detractors. In the opposition’s eyes there was no reason to make these vital distinctions. (I always found it rather offensive when I read of Fort Caroline in the New World, how the Spaniards would consistently refer to the Calvinist Huguenots as “Lutherans,” and, being a descendant of Lutheran and Reformed families, I wanted to correct them!) 

Words such as “heretic” were flung at early Protestants with alarming ferocity. “Schismatic” and “dissenter” were more popular terms used for men and women of groups such as the Huguenots. Sadly, there was one word that came to represent all of these groups at various times in early Reformation history: “Martyr.” That time came for the first Lutherans around the 1520s. It came for the Anglicans when Queen Mary, known as Bloody Mary, came to the throne in England. It came for the Anabaptists throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and for the Huguenots for almost their entire existence save for a few persecution-free decades, from about 1535 to 1787 when the Treaty of Versailles ended persecution.

"Martyr" is a name that brings an odd combination of pride, sadness, and courage.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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