Name two English martyrs who died during the reign of Mary I. Did you come up with Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer? Or perhaps Anne Askew? Name a victim of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France? Did the most famous death, that of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, come to mind? Sadly, history tends to mostly remember Protestant martyrs who were the most influential, but I like to call attention to the little-known men and women who made the choice to give up their lives rather than to give up the faith. I also noted that very few Protestant martyrs from Germany --- the land of my ancestry --- had ever been mentioned. So, on the hunt to pick out names that have rarely been heard, my eyes lit upon Adolf Clarenbach.
He was born sometime around 1498 and died in September 1529. He was bitten by the “Reformation bug” sometime in the early 1520s while a teacher. Refusing to hide his light under a bushel, he sought to teach others of the liberating five solas of Martin Luther’s awe-inspiring revolution. (It always amazes me when I ponder the enthusiastic spirit of new thought that permeated Europe during this time; men and women alike, having found a glorious truth in the reformers’ words, were unafraid to say what they felt and to do what needed to be done, and even death could not frighten them).
Clarenbach’s jail cell, where he was unceremoniously deposited in early 1528, confined his body but not his mind. He continued to debate and criticize, showing no fear. He was quite well-informed of early church history and managed to counter each question with a clever answer. He had an extensive knowledge of Scripture at his disposal and was not afraid to use it. But Clarenbach’s knowledge did not save him.
When he was about thirty-two, a deadly illness clutched Cologne firmly within its grasp. The citizens --- in the vein of Parisians during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, who believed that a sudden miraculous blooming meant God was pleased with the goings-on --- were certain that the ravaging disease was sent to punish them for sparing Adolf Clarenbach and his fellow prisoners. Enraged, they took the offensive, and he was burned at the stake near Cologne. His final words showed his mettle: “And when you have killed me, you will still not have your way, but I will have eternal life . . .”
He had fought the fight and would soon finish the race, and though he must have mourned the treasures he would leave behind, he strove earnestly to win keep the faith. (see 2 Timothy 4:7). That night, Adolf Clarenbach was no longer a denizen of earth. He was in the company of the Lord.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved