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The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation
The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation
Steven Ozment
Yale University Press, 2012
344 pp., $40.00

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Daniel A. Siedell


The Faithful Presence of Lucas Cranach

A Lutheran understanding of culture and vocation.

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Ozment's Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), "faithful presence." The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach's faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

Given his approach to his work, it is not surprising that the sincerity of Cranach's personal faith has been subject to considerable scrutiny—some argue that he was too dogmatic, others argue that he was an entrepreneurial mercenary, and still others see no evidence of personal faith in his work (and thus, by extension, his life) at all. For Cranach, in the end, the Christian faith is not what one does but what one receives. As an old man he receives the preached Word in the predella of the Wittenberg Altarpiece. In the Weimar Altarpiece (1555), which was finished by his son Lucas, Jr., he is the one who is receiving the blood of the Crucified Christ as a Eucharistic baptism. It is thus Cranach's refusal to look inward, instead turning outward for assurance, toward the Word and Sacrament, which makes him most distinctively Lutheran, Ozment concludes:

By all measures he was the best example the Protestants had of a "mixed" Christian soul evidently at peace with itself. And that also made Cranach the most eligible sinful-righteous Christian the Wittenberg painters could offer up to the redemptive bloodstream of their Savior.

As artists, writers, intellectuals, and culture makers, we should learn from Cranach's lack of inordinate introspection and self-absorption and rest in the finished work of Christ, which liberates us to exercise our vocations in gratitude to God and for our neighbor. Ozment's Cranach is free from the tragic urge, which has plagued artists for centuries, to seek justification through their work. For in the last analysis, in Christ, neither Cranach's work nor ours needs it.

Daniel A. Siedell is Director of Theological & Cultural Practices at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and curator of LIBERATE, the teaching and resource ministry of Tullian Tchividjian.

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