Today, as we traveled from Wittenberg to Berlin we also traveled forward in time from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century as follow the Reformation forward in time.
Leopold was also strongly influenced by the Enlightenment, as was the man at the center of our next stop.
Further north on the way to Berlin, we stopped in Potsdam and Sanssouci Palace of Frederick the Great. Sanssouci is French for “without cares.” Sanssouci was Frederick the Great’s summer palace. It was beautiful, but it was so hot outside it was almost unbearable, and it wasn’t much better inside the palace. Terri correctly noted Sanssouci must really mean “without air conditioning” because all we cared about was finishing the tour, buying a bottle of water, and getting back on the bus.
Frederick the Great (1712-1786), King of Prussia, was also a student of the Enlightenment. It certainly appears Frederick the Great was not a Christian, and at best was a theist. In fact, Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire lived at the palace for three years and was the court philosopher. Voltaire made the famous statement, “The Holy Roman Empire, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
Enlightenment philosophers and adherents made the mistake of thinking reason alone was the end-all be-all, sufficient alone for the pursuit of Truth. They, however, failed to recognize that reason is just a tool and is used and directed by the heart. Reason is the whore of the heart. The Enlightenment is, on its most fundamental assumption, naive and dismissive of the true nature of man.
I mention all this because if you read explanations for why Europe largely abandoned Christianity you find much overlap in the answers. You will read that the Holy Roman Empire reasserted its Catholicism, followed by the Enlightenment and French Revolution, which also dealt its blows to Catholicism and Lutheranism. But the answer, I believe, is much simpler.
History has proven that the Gospel is effective in every culture when it is preached, save perhaps one, and Paul explained the reason for that. See Romans 11:25.
So, when people are not repenting and turning to Jesus we should look first to the preacher, not to the audience, of the message. In short, Europeans stopped preaching the Gospel. Instead they preached Catholicism or a dead religious Lutheranism. Religion without repentance and faith in Jesus is not the Gospel; it is just the dead letter of the law.
The Gospel, however, was preached across the English Chanel and then across the Atlantic by men such as John and Charles Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and it bore fruit.
The German Lutheran church at the time of the rise of Fascism is a good example of religion devoid of the Gospel. How divorced from the true Gospel does a church have to be to follow Hitler and accept the imposition of the Aryan Paragraph? The Aryan Paragraph prohibited people of Jewish descent from serving as pastors or any office in the German church. Fortunately, like Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther before him, Dietrich Bonhoeffer fought for Truth and preached the Gospel. But more about Bonhoeffer tomorrow.
At the end of the day, we crossed over the so-called Bridge of Spies as we traveled into Berlin and in doing so crossed into a new epoch of history on our Reformation tour. GS