If you see me in person you may note the phrase post tenebras lux on my left arm. Like all the ink permanently on my skin (as opposed to the temporary tattoos my kids like to draw on me) there’s a reason behind it, and it isn’t just an affinity for Latin.
Today, 502 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95-thesis onto a church door and sparked The Reformation. He, along with many other men and women throughout Europe, sought to return to Scripture as their foundation for their faith. They urged the powers of the Catholic Church to do away with the unbiblical practices that had crept in over time, and to bring God’s word directly to the people. They translated the Bible into the vernacular and sought to bring widespread literacy so that everyone could read it for themselves. They used the advantage of the newly invented printing press to spread God’s word to the common people, and they sought to dispel the very dark ages they were born out of. They adopted the phrase post tenebras lux as their motto, meaning simply, “after darkness, light!” The growth of political power of the Catholic Church had eclipsed God’s word, they had brought a darkness shrouding the good news of the gospel with exploitive practices, and man-made teachings, but after this darkness…light. God used these bold men and women across Europe to bring his words directly to the people, expelling darkness and the burden of man-made teachings, and bringing the Light himself. They brought the good news of salvation that doesn’t depend on us, but on the One who has done all for us. They brought it through God’s word itself, seeking to make it accessible to everyone.
In our home we have five bibles, and ease of access to any of its books in any translation through our computer or phones. How often I take this for granted, when only a mere 502 years ago this would not have been the case. At the time of the Reformation the bible had only been translated from its original Hebrew and Greek into Latin, a language known only to those were of the wealthy classes or educated through the church. This meant that the average man or woman in Europe had no access to the Bible for themselves, they were completely at the mercy of those who told them what it said. As is the tendency of humankind, this led to exploitation, and the adoption of countless man-made practices infiltrating the church. The Reformers, in contrast, sought to bring God’s word directly to the laity, calling the Catholic Church to return to Scripture as her supreme authority and central to her teaching. This wasn’t exactly popular to those who held power, as a result these bold men and women suffered rejection, persecution, imprisonment, and violent deaths. Yet here I am, often thinking it a chore to read the bible every morning. The men and women of The Reformation recognized the treasure that Scripture is: the God-breathed witness to our Creator, his redemptive plan for the humanity that betrayed him, and his incarnation as the Christ who bled for our rescue, and his triumph over death and sin. How can I look on his word to us as anything less than miraculous, beautiful, and our greatest possession? I ought to see it as necessary to my day as breathing, as delightful as my morning cup of coffee, and as life-giving as the kind word of a friend, and I ought to be willing to sacrifice in spreading it to those who do not know it.
So, not long ago, I had the Reformers’ motto etched into my skin. I want to remember that the Light has always conquered darkness. I want to think of those words, “after darkness, light” and remember that truth is worth all sacrifice, and that our lives are well spent when they are spent in service to our God: the Light himself who dispels the darkness from my own heart. The Reformers exemplified this, we do well to remember their legacy of faith and work. May we never take our easy access to truth for granted, may we rejoice in reading God’s words to us, may we be ever thankful that it is so easily at our fingertips, and may we share the good news with all who will listen.
Encased in lambskin is the sacred Word
Embossed with markings of a deep blood red,
Sealed with seven seals may now be heard
by those who find that law and grace are wed
Marguerite De Navarre