Portraits of Faithful Saints, Herman Hanko, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1999.

     When the postman called with my author’s copies of Mountain Movers, he also brought Herman Hanko’s  similar book entitled Portraits of Faithful Saints. A peep into the Preface confirmed this similarity as Hanko, like myself, makes Heb. 12:1 ff. his starting point. Where I, however, have merely portrayed those Christian stalwarts who have personally influenced my faith, Hanko’s aim is to demonstrate “the works of God in His providential government of the world.” Whereas I merely list my mentors in chronological order, Hanko covering a wider sphere, divides his book into seven parts, each dealing with a different period.

     Part One, The Ancient Period, covering the years 100-750, starts with Polycarp and finishes with Boniface, dealing with God’s work in Asia, North Africa and Europe. Readers will enjoy Hanko’s stories of Polycarp, Augustine and Patrick but will perhaps wonder why Hanko lists Antony the Hermit as a major ‘Faithful Saint’, especially as the author mentions that his subject’s hair-shirt and cave-dwelling methods of subduing the flesh caused thousands to follow his example. However, Hanko points out that Anthony was of great service in combating Arianism. Hanko’s description of Boniface (680-754) as the Apostle to the Germans might raise some readers’ eye-brows. Boniface was not the first British missionary to Germany, though he was the most influential. Yet he campaigned (d’Aubigné says fanatically), for Rome against his Celtic-British predecessors. If Hanko is thinking merely of early British missionaries with papal recognition, then Willibrord (657?-739) evangelised the Low Dutch and Northern Germans years before Boniface. Rather than choose a hermit and a fanatic, important as they are in Church History, my choice for this period would be Bede (674-735) who was a first class exponent of the doctrines of grace and without him, we would know little about England’s early church history.

     Part Two, The Medieval Period (750-1717) lists Alcuin, Gottschalk, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Waldo, Francis of Assisi, Wycliffe, Catherina of Siena and Hus. Hanko gives Alcuin (735-804) unreserved praise as he justly deserves. Yet, the author later decries the Anglican service, which he feels is popish, not perhaps realising that this form of worship was, to a large extent, drawn up by Yorkshireman Alcuin for the Gallican Church which was later taken over by the entire Western Church. It is great to see Gottschalk (806-868) taken out of oblivion. This martyr contender for the doctrines of grace has been of immense influence on this reviewer’s view of Church History as an inextinguishable candle. However, Gottschalk was not as isolated in his views as Hanko supposes. Archbishop Remigius of Lyons, who denounced Gottschalk’s tormentors, was an eminent assertor of the doctrines of grace as was Florus Magister of Lyons whose Defence of Predestination was widely circulated. Francis of Assisi obviously deserves a mention but Hanko tends to praise popish Christians without due indication of how their views developed. It was the Franciscans who provided one of the chief obstacles to the British Reformation. The choice of Catherine of Siena is a puzzle indeed, especially when Hanko tells of her ‘highest ideal’ to gain ‘union with God’ which, in her case, included drinking Mary’s milk, drinking Christ’s blood as it flowed from His side and bearing Christ’s bleeding nail prints. Peter Waldo (d. 1218) was a better choice, especially as Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists and Congregationalists all appear to claim his followers as sister churches or even, as in the case of the Baptists, progenitors. Hanko rightly shows how enormously important are John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1378) and John Hus (1373-1415) as true revivers and Reformers of the Church. This reviewer would have dispensed with the begging friars and mystic sucklings in this section and included such great upholders of the inextinguishable blaze as Robert Greathead (1175-1253 and Thomas Bradwardine (1290-1349).

     Parts Three and Four deal with the Reformation period on the European Continent and in Britain (1517-1600). This reviewer was edified by the Continental section in which Hanko rightly praises well-known Reformers such as Luther and Calvin but also lesser known, though vitally important men, such as Olevianus, Ursinus, Bullinger and Bucer. It is when the reader turns to the British section that the author’s bias becomes evident. Not one single English Reformer during the long reign of Elizabeth, be it Parker, Coverdale, Jewel, Grindal, Perkins or whoever, is mentioned by Hanko as a ‘Faithful Saint’. In Henry VIII’s reign, William Tyndale (c.1490-1536) is given due prominence and rightly so. Yet Tyndale was not the first man to complete a translation of the Bible as Hanko states. He was martyred after only completing the New Testament and parts of the Old which he had translated with the help of Coverdale, and, some say, Luther. To Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) belongs this honour, yet Hanko ignores him.

     When describing papist Charlemagne, whom Hank obviously admires, he is praised for his churchmanship and his nine divorces are not even mentioned, though Hanko speaks of his wives and concubines with scarcely a shake of the head. When Gottschalk protests that he was ‘wedded to Christ’ by force as a minor and wished to divorce himself from those monkish vows as an adult, Hanko sympathises with him. Yet when Cranmer, in keeping with the vast majority of European divines, believed minor Henry’s enforced marriage vows to his elder brother’s widow, were not in keeping with Scripture, Hanko protests. This leads him to denounce Archbishop Cranmer as the Sinning Reformer, calling him a partaker in sordid events and an approver of adultery. Hanko even criticises him for being a married man! It was not the done thing for an Archbishop, he argues! Hanko comes up with all the arguments of Rome against Henry and the English Reformation such as the myth that Henry divorced Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn, though in 1514, when divorce proceedings started, Anne was only seven years of age! Hanko argues that the pope ‘disapproved’ of the divorce, and argues that it was thus invalid. Again, methinks, Hanko leans too closely to Rome! However, Pope Clement II, after approving of the divorce was silenced by the powerful hand of the Emperor, Charles V, Katherine’s nephew, who threatened to squeeze Clement tight should he allow the divorce. To ‘please’ both parties, Clement suggested that he could give Henry papal permission to practice bigamy! So much for his ‘disapproval’! Yet Hanko spends several tabloid-press pages which, by their titles, belong to the Cranmer and Latimer chapters, using most unchaste language, emphasising that, “In England the Reformation turned on the lust and fornication of a king”. Even here, however, Hanko is inconsistent with himself. Though Latimer became the King’s personal advisor on the divorce question, Hanko merely says that he was ‘foolish’ to do so, whereas Cranmer is called some appallingly rude names.

     Parts Five and Six deal with the Post-Reformation Period from 1600 to 1920. Again, though Hanko writes positively and well of Continental giants such as Voetius, Cocceius and Kuyper, the entire reigns of James I and Charles I are left out as far as England goes. Carleton, Ward, Davenant and Hall, great men of the Synod of Dort and thus the backbone of Reformation theology, are overlooked. Usher and Featley are left unmentioned. Hanko should know that the Reformed Church of England’s criticism of the would-be Presbyterians and Separatists were that they were departing from the doctrines of grace. Even Bancroft maintained that he must defend Calvinism against the wiles of many of the would-be ‘Puritans’. That Puritan of the Puritans George Abbot looked with horror at the Anabaptist (not Baptist) Anglicans who rejected doctrinal succession for church succession, looking apon a certain organisational set up as being essential to salvation. Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford are allowed to represent Scotland. True, Englishman William Ames (1576-1633) is portrayed, but he is introduced as Puritan in the Netherlands in the Continental section. Now, another bias of Hanko’s is shown. The author includes John Bunyan under the title The Author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, but besides Bunyan, never really accepted as ‘a Baptist’ by any side, there is no believer in ‘Baptist principles’ in Hanko’s list of spiritual heroes. This is a pity as Hanko includes people who were far less ‘Reformed’ in their theology than such as John Gill, Abraham Booth and John Ryland Sen., not forgetting the ‘Three Ks’, Knollys, Kiffin and Keach!

     Part Seven deals with 20th Century Reformers in the U.S. (1920-1965), and includes only three men, J. Gresham Machen, Herman Hoeksma and George Martin Ophoff of various Presbyterian backgrounds, the latter two being Herman Hanko’s tutors. Ophof was a new name to me so I read his story entitled Humble Servant of the Truth with special interest. All three pen-portraits are of men of profound spirituality, depth of learning and eagerness to witness for their Lord. Brother Hanko also uses these three mini-biographies to show how his own denomination, The Protestant Reform Churches came into being. It has all apparently to do with opinions regarding covenants and common grace. Nevertheless, though this reviewer has corresponded eagerly per snail mail with leading members of this denomination in America and Europe and has striven to understand its inner structure, its outward testimony and its raison d’être via the denomination’s chat-group on the net, I confess that I still cannot understand what separates them from other churches and why their form of order and discipline should be more soteriological than others. It does appear, however, that this comparatively new denomination is already cracking down the middle on the question of duty-faith.

     To sum up, this book gives a good overview of the early church period and Continental, Scottish and  American Presbyterian thinking but, though it professes to be a chronological overview of church history, it brings very little either new or old to one seeking to understand the history of English Christianity from the 16th century to the present day. The book closes with a useful list of books for ‘suggested reading’, a very good index and a brief introduction to the author and the works he has written.

     The volume is well bound and illustrated but the desktop publisher has much to learn concerning use of illustrations, fonts, layout and formatting. Reading narrow columns of introductory italic print, with from one to three words per line, is hard on the eyes. Just as bad is the formatting called ‘flatter type’ in the trade which really means ‘tattered type’. All lines are left justified but staggered radically on their right side, making every line end at a different distance to the right margin. Fully blocked type, i.e. left and right justified, and correct line-wrapping would have eased tired eyes, making the book more readable.

 

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PS. Readers will note that my web site articles are ‘tattered’ too, but I am not a publisher and have not mastered the arts of the Internet yet! My book publications are put into the skilled hands of Go Publications who do a better job.