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HEALING IN THE REFORMATION PERIOD 1400-1700

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546)

In Luther: Letters of Spiritual Council, the following letter of Martin Luther is recorded:
“The tax collector in Torgau and the councillor in Belgern have written me to ask that I offer some good advice and help for Mrs. John Korner's afflicted husband. I know of no worldly help to give. If the physicians are at a loss to find a remedy, you may be sure that it is not a case of ordinary melancholy. It must, rather, be an affliction that comes from the devil, and this must be counteracted by the power of Christ with the prayer of faith. This is what we do and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinet maker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ's name.

Accordingly you should proceed as follows: Go to him with the deacon and two or three good men. Confident that you, as pastor of the place, are clothed with the authority of the ministerial office, lay your hands upon him and say, "Peace be with you, dear brother, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ." Thereupon repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer over him in a clear voice, and close with these words: "O God, almighty Father, who hast told us through thy Son, 'Verily, verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you'; who hast commanded and encouraged us to pray in his name, 'Ask, and ye shall receive'; and who in like manner hast said, 'Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me;’ we unworthy sinners, relying on these thy words and commands, pray for thy mercy with such faith as we can muster. Graciously deign to free this man from all evil, and put to nought the work that Satan has done in him, to the honour of thy name and the strengthening of the faith of believers; through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, world without end. Amen." Then, when you depart, lay your hands upon the man again and say, "These signs shall follow them that believe; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

Do this three times, once on each of three successive days. Meanwhile let prayers be' said from the chancel of the church, publicly, until God hears them.

In so far as we are able, we shall at the same time unite our faithful prayers and petitions to the Lord with yours.

Farewell. Other counsel that this I do not have.
I remain, etc.

Martin Luther (Tappert, ed., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, nd. 18:52).


VALENTINE GREATLAKES (d. 1683)

David Robertson writes in his article "From Epidauros to Lourdes: A History of Healing by Faith" about an Irishman named Greatlakes:

He was a Protestant in Catholic Ireland and fled to England in 1641 at the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion. For a time he served under Cromwell. In 1661, after a period of depression, he came to believe that God had given him, a mere commoner, the power to cure scrofula. When he began trying to cure the king's evil, his friends and acquaintances were astounded to find that he did indeed seem able to produce a regression in this disease. This stunning achievement led him to try his hand at other illnesses like epilepsy, paralysis, deafness, ulcers, and diverse nervous disorders, and he found that his touch was efficacious in these cases as well. Soon word of his uncanny ability spread far and wide and he was besieged by multitudes of sick people. The crowds that came to him were so great that he could not accommodate all of them even if he worked from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night. (Frazier, Faith healing: Finger of God or Scientific Curiosity? 1973, 187).

Greatlakes also believed that all diseases were caused by demons and that he cured people with God's help by casting these demons out. (187-188).

George Fox
George Fox

THE QUAKERS (THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS) (1640-)
The Quakers' origins are traced back to English Puritanism in the 1640's. The first leader was George Fox who preached a message of the New Age of the Spirit. They were opposed by both the Puritans and Anglicans. The typical Quaker meeting was characterized by the people waiting for the Spirit to speak through them and by the people "quaking" as God moved among them. The following are some excerpts from Fox's Journal:

[1648] In the year 1648, as I was sitting in a friend's house in Nottinghamshire (for by this time the power of God had opened the hearts of some to receive the word of life and reconciliation), I saw there was a great crack to go throughout the earth, and a great smoke to go as the crack went; and that after the crack there should be a great shaking: this was the earth in people's hearts, which was to be shaken before the seed of God was raised out of the earth. And it was so: for the Lord's power began to shake them, and great meetings we begun to have, and a mighty power and work of God there was amongst people, to the astonishment of both people and priests. (Fox 1901, 23).

After this I went again to Mansfield, where was a great meeting of professors and people; here I was moved to pray; and the Lord's power was so great, that the house seemed to be shaken. When I had done, some of the professors said it was now as in the days of the apostles, when the house was shaken where they were. After I had prayed, one of the professors would pray, which brought deadness and a veil over them: and others of the professors were grieved at him and told him, it was a temptation upon him. Then he came to me, and desired that I would pray again; but I could not pray in man's will (24).

[1652] The next First-day I went to Tickhill, whither the Friends of that side gathered together, and in the meeting a mighty brokenness by the power of God was amongst the people. I went out of the meeting, being moved of God to go to the steeplehouse; and when I came there, I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel. So I went up to them, and began to speak; but they immediately fell upon me; and the clerk took up his Bible, as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. Then the people cried, "Let us have him out of the church"; and when they had got me out, they beat me exceedingly, and threw me down, and over a hedge; and afterwards they dragged me through a house into the street, stoning and beating me as they drew me along, so that I was besmeared all over with blood and dirt. They got my hat from me, which I never obtained again. Yet when I was got upon my legs again, I declared to them the word of life, and showed them the fruits of their teacher, and how they dishonoured Christianity. After a while I got into the meeting again amongst Friends; and the priest and people coming by the house, I went forth with Friends into the yard, and there I spoke to the priest and people. The priest scoffed at us, and called us Quakers. But the Lord's power was so over them, and the word of life was declared in such authority and dread to them, that the priest began trembling himself; and one of the people said, "Look how the priest trembles and shakes, he is turned a Quaker also." When the meeting was over, Friends departed; and I went without my hat to Balby, about seven or eight miles. Friends were much abused that day by the priest and his people; insomuch that some moderate justices hearing of it, two or three of them came, and sat at the town, to hear and examine the business. And he that had shed my blood was afraid of having his hand cut off, for striking me in the church (as they called it;) but I forgave him, and would not appear against him. (104-105).

[1654] Being set at liberty I went to the inn again, where Captain Drury had at first lodged me. This Captain Drury, though he sometimes carried fairly, was an enemy to me and to truth, and opposed it; and when professors came to me (while I was under his custody), and he was by, he would scoff at trembling, and call us Quakers, as the Independents and Presbyterians had nick-named us before. But afterwards he once came to me, and told me, that, as he was lying on his bed to rest himself in the daytime, a sudden trembling seized on him that his joints knocked together, and his body shook so that he could not rise from his bed; he was so shaken, that he had not strength enough left to rise. But he felt the power of the Lord was upon him, and he fell off his bed, and cried to the Lord, and said, he never would speak against the Quakers more, or such as trembled at the word of God.

During the time I was prisoner at Charing-Cross, there came abundance to see me, people of almost all sorts, priests professors, officers of the army, etc. and one time a company of officers being with me, desired me to pray with them. I sat still, with my mind retired to the Lord. At last I felt the power and Spirit of God move in me, and the Lord's power did so shake and shatter them, that they wondered, though they did not live in it. (211-212).

[1659] For there came a woman to me in the Strand that had a prophesy concerning King Charles three years before he came in, and she told me she must go to him to declare it. So I told her she should wait upon the Lord and keep it to herself, for if it should be known that she went they would look upon it to be treason. But she said she must go and tell him that he must be brought into England again. And I saw her prophecy was true [and that a great stroke must come upon those in power], for those that had got possession were so exceedingly high and such great persecution was acted by them which called themselves saints, for they would take away from Friends their copyholds because they would not swear in their courts; and sometimes when we laid these sufferings before Oliver Cromwell he would not believe it. (Nickalls 1975, 355).

The following section from Bernard L. Bresson's book Studies in Ecstasy shows the response to those who break with the traditional norm.

George Fox married the widow of Judge Fell in October, 1669. R.M. Jones in George Fox states that it is recorded in the "Bristol Register of Friends." He also says that she spent three and one-half years of the first four years of their married life in prison. At one time or another, all of the more prominent Quakers spent considerable time in prison. In addition to this, they were severely treated. The record states of Fox ". . . he was cruelly beaten and bruised with their fists, Bibles and sticks. They then hauled him away and set him in the stocks, where he was kept for some hours. But, he says, 'The Lord's power soon healed me and that day some were convinced of the Lord's truth, and turned to his teaching."

Evans gives a graphic account of the punishment endured by James Nayler on December 18, 1653, ". . . stood full two hours with his head in the pillory, was stripped and whipped at a cart's tail, from Palace-yard to the Old exchange and received three hundred ten stripes….. then on December 27, he having stood 'till two, the executioner took him out, and he having put forth his tongue, which he freely did, the executioner, with a red hot iron, about the bigness of a quill, bored the same, and by order of the Sheriff, held it a small space. . . Then having taken it out and pulled the cap off that covered his face, he put a handkerchief over his eyes and putting his left hand to the back part of his head and taking the red hot iron letter in his hand, put it to his forehead 'til it smoked': all of which times James Nayler never so much as winced..." Such inhuman treatment could be thus endured only because these people loved God with all their hearts.

The state of Massachusetts adopted a law in 1658 against the "cursed sect of Quakers." On first offense, the convicted person was banished and if they returned, they were to be put to death. Three Quakers decided to test the law. Hand in hand, they walked to the gallows in Boston Common. The two men were hanged, but the third, Mary Dyer, was temporarily reprieved. Later she "did hang as a flag for others to take examples by." In March 1660, William Leddra was also hanged. Edward Burroughs went to King Charles II where he obtained an edict to put a stop to this persecution. The Royal Order was delivered to Boston by a Quaker Captain who had been banished on pain of death, Samuel Shattock. This story has been immortalized by Whittier in his "The King's Missive."

The last public whipping in America occurred at Boston in 1677. A woman, Margaret Brewster, "was ordered to be stripped to the waist and have twenty lashes. This was done and two days after, twenty-two Friends were subjected to the same punishment.

Margaret Brewster's crime was that she had come to New England to warn the inhabitants of the approach of a pestilence that would sweep many away. She believed the Lord required her to give the warning but had not been willing to carry out this commission until brought so low by sickness that her life was nearly gone. It is a matter of common history that soon after, there came a plague known as the "Black Pox." (Bresson, Studies in Ecstacy,1966, 66-67).

Fox himself fell prey to one of our propositions as the following account shows.

A practical mysticism seems to pervade the entire Quaker Movement. Their literature records visions, healing, prophecies, and a power which they liken to Pentecost. There are many references to the movings of the Spirit. I refer to one specific statement, ". . . we received often the pouring down of the Spirit upon us, and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues as the Lord gave utterance. . ." After a few years Fox began to discourage the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit and they disappeared entirely. (68).

More to come!