Erwin Weber's 1998 Christmas Letter

Needy Student House
Tübingen University

Rest on the Flight to Egypt
Cranach the Elder, 1504

Landscape near Glarus
Zwingli's Fatherland

The year 1997 marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of Philip Melanchthon, Luther's closest friend and companion for almost three decades. He was the author of several documents that appeared in the Book of Concord: the Augsburg Confession,the Apology, and the treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Although Melanchthon is buried next to Luther in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, and his statue appears next to that of Luther at the Market Square in Wittenberg, many Lutherans today have little or no knowledge of the great scholar who was the father of the German school system and earned the title Praeceptor Germania, i.e., Teacher of Germany. For this reason I walked in the footsteps of Melanchthon and wrote five illustrated articles about him for The Lutheran Journal. Several of the articles were published during the course of the year. More will appear next year. Aside from the articles, I prepared a slide show dealing with the life and work of Melanchthon. I recorded these slides on a CD complete with narration and significant details for each slide. Due to the misuse of the copyright agreement of photographs in the Internet, the slide show will not appear on my Home Page. The photograph at the left shows Needy Student Housing at Tübingen University. Melanchthon earned his Master's Degree at Tübingen in 1514 and taught Greek and Latin until he was offered a professorship in Greek and Hebrew at Wittenberg University in 1518.

In 1529, Melanchthon, Luther, and Zwingli attended a religious debate at the castle in Marburg. Zwingli, a Reformer from Switzerland, and Luther differed on the meaning of the elements in the Lord's Supper and were unable to come to an agreement. Luther was compelled to say, in addition to the controversy over the Lord's Supper, the opposition had a different spirit. Thus the die was cast that there would be more than one reform movement. In January, 1998, I walked in the footsteps of Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and will return once again to Germany and Switzerland in the Spring of 1999. Zwingli was born in an Alpine Village seven weeks after Martin Luther on January 1, 1584. However he was cast in the shadow of Luther's gigantic stature, for Zwingli was killed in his mid-career at the Battle of Kappel in 1531 defending the Protestant cause. Nevertheless, Zwingli is an important figure in his own right. He was the father of the Reform tradition which spread throughout Switzerland, Southern Germany, and eventually among the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed Churches to the United States. I also recorded this slide series on a CD. The picture top right shows a moutain road near Glarus, Switzerland. Zwingli was Parish Priest of Glarus from 1506-1516. His duties included not only the village church but he was also responsible for three other churches in the region.

At the moment I am working on a slide presentation depicting persons, places and events in the life of Lucas Cranach, who along with his son Cranach the Younger, became painters of the Reformation. Dr. Conrad Bergendoff, president emeritus at Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, who died at age 102, told me that sometimes the artist depicts his age more accurately than the historian. Cranach the Elder was such an artist. In his paintings we see the fearsome world in which humans lived. However, the Gothic gave way to the classical with its legends and view of life. But it was also the Age of the Reformation. In such a period Cranach found in Luther the leader he trusted to find his way in the turbulent century he pictures.

Lucas Cranach, the son of the painter Hans Maler, was born in Kronach, a picturesque community in Franconia located in Upper Bavaria. He undoubtedly studied art under Albrecht Duerer in Nuremberg and continued his journey along the Danube River to Vienna. When he arrived in the city in 1500, Vienna was the center of the Humanistic culture. The landscape artist, Albrecht Altdorfer, was the leader of the so-called Danube School. It stressed the humanistic influence with all of its emphasis on landscapes and nature in all of its forms, be it animal or human.

The finest example of the Danube School is Cranach's painting Rest on the Flight into Egypt dated 1504. The family is not resting on an oasis in the desert, but on a contemporary North-German landscape. It is a lively scene with plenty of activities. One angel is getting spring water from a rock in the forest. Another is picking strawberries. Others sing and play the flute. According to East-German scholar and theologian, Herbert von Hintzenstern, No one before nor after Cranach has painted the Holy Family in such as story-like simplicity and yet so poignantly beautiful as Lucas Cranach. Every blade of grass, every petal is painted with loving detail and the supernatural angels appear as human beings in a setting of his homeland. It is a superb execution of the world in which man finds himself.

One of the highlights of the year was yet another get-together of students who signed up for the 1983 Summer Program in Passau. It was a great turnout. More than ten students with their family appeared for the renunion. We met aboard the Mississippi steamer Queen of Hearts on August 29th and went for a ride on the river. It was delightful meeting former students and their families. Kai Swanson, a participant in the 1983 Passau Program, now publication relations officer at Augustana College, took us on a guided tour of the campus with its newly erected multimillion dollar computer and science buildings. The festivities concluded with a delicious picnic prepared by Bill and Lori Roderick at their home. What a wonderful surprise! My sincere thanks to all.

Another highlight was the marriage of my son Kurt to Kim Clayes from Davenport. They were married in the Virgin Islands on November 11, 1998. They had a reception upon the return to the Quad Cities. It was held at the Eagles Club in Davenport. Kim was dressed in her wedding dress and Kurt rented at tuxedo for the occasion. They were a handsome couple. My other son, Walter, and his family including, Ryan, my grandson who is planning for College are doing fine in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Gwen and I visited Don and Millie Mercier, whom I have known for the last six decades. They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We played euchre practically from dawn to dusk. I think we beat the ladies, or was it the other way around. It was a lot of fun.

And now I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Don't forget to keep in touch.

Erwin Weber
December 1998