When Thomas Paine published Common Sense in 1776, his was not the only commonly held sense of the term “common sense.” Ironically, the term was already complicated at the American founding.
Everyone knows that the Reformation opened the floodgates of German songwriting, transforming the hymn into communal song. No less astonishing, but much less remembered, is the early Lutherans’ tireless work at writing an entirely new corpus of Latin hymns.
First and foremost, I love the Canons of Dort because they express God’s grace to sinners. When you read them for yourself you’ll see that they do not merely describe from afar static doctrines; they profess God’s personal grace to personal sinners.
Humanist drama as a medium for retelling Bible stories is one of the most fascinating genres of Latin literature of the Reformation. All over Europe Protestants and Catholics alike wrote biblical comedies and tragedies for their schools, each camp often using the other’s plays since in the first decades they rarely strayed from narrative into confessional statements. These plays aimed instead to teach good Latin style and to teach piety and virtue by example. If this sounds like a recipe for bland moralizing devoid of theology, we need only turn to the granddaddy of all humanist biblical plays to see that they can indeed explore the depths of God’s mysteries delightfully through story.
What can we still learn from a long-dead Elizabethan divine? That’s easy: the art of discrimination in an age of fuzziness and division.
Thanks to the work of E. J. Hutchinson, many of us are aware of Theodore Beza’s emblems. The enigmatic woodcuts and poetry of emblem books were also employed by less well-known Protestant writers, but no less vividly and even hauntingly, to picture life in light of God. Among these was Georgette de Montenay, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Navarre.