A Nest, A Web, A Friendship

The pre-Romantic poet William Blake wrote “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” That quotation from the English mystic carries much wisdom and is more complex than it first appears because a nest, a web, and a friendship are, while necessary for a life of quality, also fragile and perhaps dangerous.

            In Acts 13:13 Luke tells us that in Perga John Mark leaves Paul and returns to Jerusalem. In Acts 15:38 Luke writes that Paul thought better than to have John Mark continue on with them on the missionary journey. We are not told what happened to cause Paul to send John Mark away, but we can surmise that something powerful happened. A fragile friendship is disrupted for a reason of philosophy or temperament or whatever. For instance, until Paul decreed that circumcision was not required for a gentile to join Christianity, it was a hotly debated topic and other church leaders, such as James, wanted the Law followed. The fact that 1st Century Christians were so absolute concerning circumcision may seem odd for us today, but for Peter, James, Paul and so many other members of the early church, it was of great significance.

            When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany he gained supporters and attackers. The Protestant Reformation was on, and it would change Christianity. One of Luther’s early supporters was Caspar Schwenckfeld, a 16th Century reformer. However, the friendship between Luther and Schwenckfeld collapsed over a philosophy difference, like the one between Paul and John Mark.

            Alan Olsan has written a somewhat fictional account of the relationship between Luther and Schwenckfeld. Caspar Schwenckfeld: Between Tyranny and Anarchy is an easy and informative read examining the friction over one belief: The Eucharist. The book shows the human side of Luther and how he turns against any who question his doctrines. “As liberating and far-reaching as Luther’s ideas were, he was still a man of his times”, writes Olsan. The same is true of Schwenckfeld and all leaders. And that fact must be held in check or all reformers will cause undue pain and sorrow.

            I recommend Olsan’s book because it is an interesting and honest look at the struggles inside any mass movement. The people are not glossed over, and we see them as true as possible all these years later. Perhaps Luther’s movement became a web that not only caught him but others. However, while Schwenckfeld escaped here, because of his doctrines he was forced to live a life in hiding.

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