Category Archives: Uncategorized

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Thanks, Google Auto-Awesome, for helping us stay weird

So, four out of five of us Demarest boys were home for Easter yesterday. Mom thought it would be nice to have some pictures of all of us in our fancy Sunday duds, so we took some. And then the Google in its infinite wisdom arrogated to itself the role of “photo editor”, applying “Auto-Awesome” effects to several of my pictures once they had uploaded. Among other things, it wasn’t satisfied with my younger brother Reid’s subdued smile, so it adjusted the shadows on his face and tweaked the corners of his mouth ever so slightly. I noticed right away that he looked kind of dumb-happy in one of the pictures, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Some rapid back and forth clicking between the original and the “Smile-Enhanced” copy revealed the Google’s biometrics-manipulating plot. Seriously, it’s a little disturbing: “You’re not happy enough! Here, we’ll apply some digital plastic surgery and take care of that. Oh, and while we’re at it, we’ll shrink your nose and give you a nice little Cindy Crawford mole…” Thanks, Google. Actually…no thanks. Don’t be evil.

Slightly less insidious, no less absurd, and quite a bit funnier is this “Auto-Awesome” specimen (see below). I did not make this gif. Google did. And Google did not see fit to correct my brother Ethan’s posture (he’s the brother behind the beard on the right); as a result, he looks like he’s attempting to kickstart a belly-dancing meme. Hmmm. Not a bad idea. If you want to give, let me know, and I’ll set up a donations page…

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SS. Anselm & Athanasius — yes, I put them together

Don't pit Anselm against Athanasius.

Don’t pit Anselm against Athanasius.

A common trope among our Eastern Christian brothers’ criticisms of the Western theological tradition is the allegation that St. Anselm of Canterbury — often referred to as “the father of scholasticism” — “ruined” the doctrine of the Atonement by “introducing” the idea of penal substitution. To be very brief, this just isn’t true: that the Atonement entailed the fulfillment of both Divine love and Divine wrath is evident not only from the apostolic witness (the Scriptures) but also from the witness of the fathers.* Yes, this is an assertion — not an argument. (I am not here and now attempting to make an argument, but I get to be tendentious because it’s my website.)

I mention the foregoing not to broker discord between Eastern and Western Christians on this Holy Saturday (which we happen to share this year — thanks be to God!) — but to provide some context for the readings which I offer below. In short, my point is this: these two great saints should not be pitted against one another. Though their emphases are different, they do truly speak with one voice. I offer selections from each of them without further comment.

HT: Rev. Fr. William Weedon

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* “Patristic Passages of Interest for Lutherans,” compiled by Fr. Wm. Weedon; “Penal Substitution in the Writings of the Church Fathers,” compiled by Chris Rosebrough.

 

Prayer to the Holy Cross
St. Anselm of Canterbury

We do not acknowledge you because of the cruelty that godless and foolish men prepared you to effect upon the most gentle Lord, but because of the wisdom and goodness of Him who of His own free will took you up.

For they could not have done anything unless His wisdom had permitted it, and He could not suffer except that in his mercy He willed it.

They chose you that they might carry out their evil deeds; He chose you that He might fulfill the work of His goodness.

They that by you they might hand over the Righteous to death; He that through you He might save sinners from death.

They that they might kill Life; He that He might destroy death.

They that they might condemn the Savior; He that He might save the condemned.

They that they might bring death to the Living; He to bring life to the dead.

They acted foolishly and cruelly; He wisely and mercifully.

Therefore, O Cross to be wondered at, we do not value you because of the intention of their cruel folly, but according to the working of mercy and wisdom.


From De Incarnatione, Book IV
St. Athanasius of Alexandria

“[I]f any honest Christian wants to know why He suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He ‘become a curse’ otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on tree.’ Again, the death of the Lord is the ransom of all, and by it ‘the middle wall of partition’ is broken down and the call of the Gentiles comes about. How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself.’ Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it. The apostle refers to this when he says, ‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.’ But the Lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make ‘a way’ for us up to heaven, as the apostle says, ‘through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.’ This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross? Here, again, you see how right and natural it was that the Lord should suffer thus; for being thus ‘lifted up,’ He cleansed the air from all the evil influences of the enemy. ‘I beheld Satan as lightning falling,’ He says; and thus He re-opened the road to heaven, saying again, ‘Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.’ For it was not the Word Himself Who needed an opening of the gates, He being Lord of all, nor was any of His works closed to their Maker. No, it was we who needed it, we whom He Himself upbore in His own body—that body which He first offered to death on behalf of all, and then made through it a path to heaven. (IV: 25)

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Atonement for All You Have Done

Crucifixion

And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, &c., there has ever been anywhere in the world. He is not acting in His own person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord (Romans 2:24). In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body — not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood.

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This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the World, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.”

– Blessed Martin Luther, Great Galatians Commentary.

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Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say…

Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem:

Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.

And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.

When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.

Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you.

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But you trusted in your own beauty. You played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was.

Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire? And in all your abominations and acts of harlotry you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood.

Then it was so, after all your wickedness that you also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street. You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry. You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger.

"The Harlot" by Alec Dawson

“The Harlot” by Alec Dawson

Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied.

How degenerate is your heart! Seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.

You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband. Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.

Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare.

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They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers. So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more. Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head. And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations.

Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’ You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.

Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters. You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.

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“Even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table…”

As I live, neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.

When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them, that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them. When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state. For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere. You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations. I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.

 

Nevertheless…

 

I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.

Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed…

And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord…when I provide you an atonement for all you have done.

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…to be continued.

 

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Taking my pet heresies for a walk: assurance of salvation

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“I have never been so far in my life, and am never likely to get farther than to the point of ‘fear and trembling’, where I find it literally quite certain, that every other person will easily be blessed — only I will not. To say to the others: you are eternally lost — that I cannot do. For me, the situation remains constantly this: all the others will be blessed, that is certain enough — only with me may there be difficulties.” (Søren Kierkegaard, cited in Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988, p.88) 

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I am not a pastor nor do I have any formal theological training. Therefore I do not presume to teach other laymen here on this site if and when I offer my theological opinions (cf. CA XIV). I speak as one having no official (lit. “of the office”) authority. However, if I can faithfully exposit the sacred and authoritative Word of God in the course of spinning theologoumena (and that’s a big “if”), then thanks be to God and soli Deo gloria. I’ll let anybody but myself be the judge of whether that ever happens.

So, it’s Sunday, and I try to reserve Sunday for theological reflection, devotional reading, &c. — because I’m a terrible person, not because I’m pious. Or, rather, I affect piety because I’m a terrible person. So it all goes together. We say “being pious” rather than “being normal” because normal isn’t pious. Leastaways that’s how I see it. So let’s not be our genuine selves; let’s be pious, eh?

But I digress…

So, like I said, I try to reserve Sunday for theological reflection, devotional reading, &c. Needing inspiration, I attended to Twitter and was not disappointed: together (though not in cahoots as far as I know) two new Lutheran confreres of mine served up some inspiration:

(What?! That’s over 140 characters! Yes, Dave uses Twishort. It’s nifty for those of us who are longwinded.)

To which I responded:

 

More on that soon, obviously. And around the same time, this one:

 

 

As these conversations went on, two things became clear to me: one, the topics were related to each other; two, I had spent all of my Tweet capital in about ten minutes. I decided it was time to blog.

What do we Lutherans believe about the certainty/assurance of salvation? It’s a difficult question. Unlike most theological questions, though, I think that this one actually does need to start with individual subjective experience. It needs to start with introspection. Really, it does. It shouldn’t end there, but it needs to start there.

What does this Lutheran believe about the assurance of salvation? What does that Lutheran think about the assurance of salvation? OK, OK. What about that one over there? What about that one? She’s cute.

Even at this point, something is…off. For, of course, it doesn’t really matter what you, I, or anyone thinks about the certainty or assurance of salvation. Even the question “Can anyone be certain of his own salvation?” is too abstract, too hypothetical, too postulative.

“Are you certain?”

This is a question that an I has to ask a You. Incidentally, it’s also one of the oldest philosophical/epistemological goat-ropes in the book. There was this guy named René, see, and the only thing he was certain of was that he had to exist in order to be thinking about whether he existed. Brilliant?

But let’s let one of these tigers out of its philosophical cage and let it bite someone. Let’s give it a predicate. Tigers love predicates.

Are you certain of your salvation?

No scare-quotes, no air-quotes, no bear-quotes. I’m asking you, dear reader. Are you certain of your salvation? I’m not certain of mine.

What? But you’re a Lutheran, Trent! What about Baptism and Absolution and the Eucharist and…and…and…

Yes? What about them? That’s the point: I have those things; I don’t have certainty. Because of those things (let’s call them “sacraments”) — specifically, because of Baptism — I have the Holy Spirit. Because of the Holy Spirit, I am united with Christ in faith. Because I have Christ, I have hope. That’s the good news. Indeed, that’s the Gospel. (I didn’t have to start by going into the topic of sin per se — I started by talking about myself; ergo, I was already talking about sin. For those of you who don’t know me, let me introduce myself: I’m Trent, and I’m a sinner.)

That was the good news. Now for the bad news.

The bad news is that all of that ain’t all that I’ve got. I also have a sinful nature. I am the Old Adam and he is me, his banner over me isn’t love, and he will not be completely dead until I’m completely dead. The cure for sin-in-the flesh (which we all have) is death. Of course, it wasn’t always so — it used to be that death was just the fair wage paid for sin. But by His dying and rising, Our Lord turned death into the door to eternal life. It’s still a penalty (which all must endure) but it has been transfigured (Satan hates transfiguration). This is why martyrs do not fear it, but embrace it. Well, maybe they do both. I have never faced martyrdom — the getting-shot, fed-to-lions, &c. kind — but I can only imagine that the Holy Spirit gives you otherworldly courage at that point.

Whatever the case may be, I’m obviously not dead, and until I die, I am struggling. Always struggling. Maybe this isn’t normal, but it’s what I’m doing. I take this to mean that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned me, and for this I am grateful. It’s a little riff on our boy René: I struggle, therefore I have the Holy Spirit. Collucto, ergo spiritum sanctum habeo. Yes, this is a frail, un-doctrinal, and otherwise bad existential litmus-test, but I’ve used it and derived comfort from it. Wow! Isn’t that bad? That’s bad, isn’t it? I guess so, but that’s kind of to my overall point, if you think about it, no? And, seriously, did you read the title of this post? You can’t say I didn’t warn you. Don’t worry, though; I brought baggies.

I cannot even imagine being certain. If it’s at all a function over time, then I’m doubly out, because I ride a seesaw of doubt and fear every week. I am not certain, and I am not sure. This is why I need Christ.

For Christ is certain. Christ is sure. This is what I confess by faith, in hope.

By faith and in hope I say with a quavering voice that I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at last on the earth, and that after my skin is destroyed, in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another. But how does Job’s hymn end? How my heart yearns within me.” And this is crucial. Why would he say such a thing? Doesn’t he have certainty? After all, he says that he “knows” that his Redeemer lives.

"I know..."

“I know…

Yes, but this is eschatological knowing. We might otherwise call it prophecyHere, now, in this life, it is hope. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come (and it hasn’t come yet, nor will it until the Parousia) then that which is in part will be done away. But until then, the yearning of Job is the only Christianity I will ever know. And I will not believe anyone who tries to offer me something better, like “certainty.”

If you’ve sat off to the side as an iteration of this particular stock-theological parade gets going (and it’s always going on somewhere), and if you’ve felt bad for having the urge to shout “the Certainty Emperor is naked!” I just want you to know that you’re not alone. There are…dozens of us.

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Let me be clear about this: I believe in God…(insert the Creeds and the Concordia.)

But that’s just the thing. What do you say in the liturgy? “I am certain of God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and I am certain that Jesus and the Holy Spirit…yeah…Amen”? I don’t think you do. If you do, then Joel Osteen’s church…club…thing…whatever…would be an upgrade.

Speaking of upgrading, I’m going to end this because it’s getting late. You will experience an upgrade of your time. If it does not start downloading automatically, wait about twenty seconds.

I hope that I have not said anything offensive, unsettling, or unorthodox in the foregoing. Your comments are, as always, welcome. Really, I just wanted to start a conversation on this topic since I have always found the usual jib-jab over it to consist of a lot of barking up the wrong tree, which, as any dog knows, is unsatisfactory. Speaking of dogs, I’m sorry about your lawn.

 

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Ash Wednesday: Two Views

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Is this just a “little stylish dab” of ashes or an aid to weak faith?

As another Lent gets underway, I’d like to have a look at two different Lutheran perspectives on the significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent in general. Call it a perspective on some perspectives, but don’t call it rival perspectivalism (roll on home, Kant) — I think that one of these perspectives is incorrect and the other is…correct. Imagine that! By this I mean that one is Lutheran in what I will call an idiosyncratic, ideological, and thus protestant, sense; the other is Lutheran in an historical, confessional, and thus catholic, sense. I expect that if anyone is interested in what I mean by this two operative definitions, they will let me know in the comments.

I know that there’s a good chance that this will generate some kerfuffle. I can’t say that I’m trying to avoid that, exactly. I think that now is as good a time as any to look at some of the fault-lines within American Confessional Lutheranism, and while I won’t pretend that this humble weblog is or ever will be a focal-point for a grand sussing-out of Lutheran disagreements, I don’t mind hosting some of the broader conversation. That is, as long as it remains a conversation. I’ll be the judge of that, for better or for worse, since I’m the site owner.

So. To business.

Two years ago, Rev. William Cwirla wrote a piece entitled “Why We Don’t Do Ashes on Ash Wednesday.” I only encountered it because I have been a devoted reader of Gottesdienst: The Journal of the Lutheran Liturgy, as well as the editors’ blog, for many years, and one of the editors, Rev. David Petersen, was responding to Rev. Cwirla’s article. Dutifully not wishing to put Descartes before Horace, I read the original piece first. I then returned to Fr. Petersen’s rejoinder.

I very clearly remember holding my Blackberry at an angle so I could read the light grey text against the inexplicably white background. I surmise that many people (readers far less devoted than I, no doubt) simply did not bother reading this piece on account of the unfortunate formatting. More’s the pity.

All problems with formatting aside, Fr. Petersen’s rejoinder was very illuminating (no pun intended). It highlighted what I have since been learning is a very real distinction, perhaps even a division, among Lutherans wishing to identify as “confessional.” What he did was to rewrite Rev. Cwirla’s article, altering each paragraph where he disagreed with it. Since I think very dialogically, this was quite helpful. With that said, I am going to present both articles here in an even more dialogical format, alternating by paragraph.

Without further ado, we begin with Rev. Cwirla:

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Rev. Cwirla:

People always ask me, “Are you going to do the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday?” They know I’m one of those “liturgical types”, and we’re one of those “liturgical” churches whose attendance is flat because we don’t have a drum set in the chancel, so they figure we’re naturally going to be slinging the ashes on Ash Wednesday. After all, what’s the point of having Ash Wednesday without ashes?

Rev. Petersen:

People always ask me, “Are you going to do the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday?” They know I’m one of those “liturgical types”, and we’re one of those “liturgical” churches whose attendance is flat because we don’t have a drum set in the chancel, so they figure we’re naturally going to be slinging the ashes on Ash Wednesday. After all, what’s the point of having Ash Wednesday without ashes? They, of course, are on to something.

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Rev. William Cwirla

Rev. William Cwirla

Rev. Cwirla:

You may be surprised to learn that ashes are kind of a latecomer on the liturgical scene. It used to be a private practice, something you did on your own, like fasting and other fine outward training. It seems to have been the custom in Rhine region of Germany. The Council of Benevento in 1091 decreed “on Ash Wednesday everyone, clergy and laity, men and women, will receive ashes.” It took another two hundred years for the pope to catch on to the practice. At the time of the Reformation, it was still kind of a novelty.

The Lutheran reformer Martin Chemnitz wrote that these practices were the symbolic shell of what was once the system of public penance. “Of these spectacles of public penitence, nothing now remains in the papal church save a certain shadow or, that I may speak more truly, a game and a joke. At the beginning of Lent they scatter ashes on their heads, and afterward they sing the things that formerly were chanted in public penitence, although they have none who repent publicly. At Rome a show is sometimes given of persons hired, who scourge themselves. In the church at Halberstadt there is annually performed a play or farce as follows: They bring a certain Raubaucus, whom they give the name of Adam, in dirty clothing, whom tat the beginning of Lent they solemnly cast out of the church, and although they feed him liberally, they command him as though starved by fasting and sad, to walk back and forth silently looking at the church from outside all during Lent, until on the day of the Lord’s Supper he is again brought into the church. Thus the ancient penitence finally ended in plays or farces in the papal church” (Examination, IV.209, for those of you who insist on footnotes).

I guess you could say one reason we don’t do ashes on Ash Wednesday is that we’re not into contemporary worship around here. But there are better reasons.

Rev. Petersen:

To be sure, the imposition of ashes, being about 600 years old, is sort of a newcomer to liturgical practice, but not nearly as young as corporate confession and absolution or the use of colors to symbolize seasonal emphasis. I guess you could say one reason we do ashes on Ash Wednesday is because we submit to the traditions of the Church rather than trying to correct everything that we think could be better or more pure, but there are better reasons.

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Rev. Cwirla:

Hear the prophet Joel: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

Rev. Petersen:

Hear the prophet Joel: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

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Rev. Cwirla:

Why no ashes on Ash Wednesday? Ashes were an Old Testament sign of mourning. Ashes went along with scratchy, burlap clothing. Sackcloth and ashes. You piled ashes on your head and dressed in sackcloth to show everyone around you that you were laid low in the dust. Ashes were not something someone else put on you, they were something you put on yourself as a sign of your own grief and death. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam was the man of dust, and by his fault, his own fault, his own most grievous fault, he was headed back to the dust in death.

Rev. Petersen:

Why ashes on Ash Wednesday? Ashes were an Old Testament sign of mourning. Ashes went along with scratchy, burlap clothing. Sackcloth and ashes. You piled ashes on your head and dressed in sackcloth to remind yourself that you were laid low in the dust. Ashes were not something someone else put on you, they were something you put on yourself as a sign of your own grief and death. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam was the man of dust, and by his fault, his own fault, his own most grievous fault, he was headed back to the dust in death.

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Rev. Cwirla:

Sin is dirty business. It is not simply skin deep, like a topical application of greasy palm ashes. It goes to the core of our soul as an inherited, systemic disease. A topical treatment won’t cure it, any more than a dab of ointment and a bandaid can cure cancer.

Rev. Petersen:

Sin is dirty business. It is not simply skin deep, like a topical application of greasy palm ashes. It goes to the core of our soul as an inherited, systemic disease. A topical treatment won’t cure it — not the application of ashes or of water — any more than a dab of ointment and a bandaid can cure cancer. But outward signs and reminders are good for those of us who live in and with the flesh, and even as we don’t apply water in Holy Baptism apart from the Word of God and faith, so also the ashes are applied with God’s own lawful Word: “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

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Rev. Cwirla:

“Rend your hearts, not your garments,” God says. Symbolic gestures just won’t cut it when it comes to repentance. Symbols are whatever we say they are, they run under our control, which is the way our sinful self likes it. The Lord’s sacraments are under His control, His mandate and institution, and they actually are what they say they are, even if they don’t look like it or we don’t feel like it. Baptism isn’t a symbol of rebirth: it actually is your rebirth. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink: it actually is that. Holy Absolution isn’t a symbolic gesture of forgiveness: it actually is forgiveness. You actually are forgiven as those absolving words enter your ears and perfuse your mind and heart.

Rev. Petersen:

Rev. David Petersen

Rev. David Petersen

Still, “Rend your hearts, not your garments,” God says. Does that mean it is wrong to rend our garments? Symbolic gestures alone just won’t cut it when it comes to repentance, but they certainly have power. Symbols aren’t whatever we say they are. We can try, but we can’t make the swastika a symbol of peace. We can’t make feces a symbol of food. We might try to run symbols under our control, like agents of propaganda, which is the way our sinful self likes it, but it is rarely as easy as that. That is not to say that ashes have been instituted by the Lord. They haven’t. They are a Biblical ceremony and an ancient and salutary custom, but they are not essential. They are not Divine.

We must distinguish in all cases between what the Lord gives and what the Church does in her freedom. The Lord has not instituted the sign of the cross, kneeling, chanting, incense, Christmas Day, or a host of other things. He has instituted (I confess a dislike for the Law word “mandate” which means, of course, “command”) His Holy Word, prayer, Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Absolution, the Office of the Holy Ministry, Holy Marriage, and probably a few other things, but He hasn’t instituted ceremonies — not one. What we call “sacraments,” for lack of a better term, actually are what they say they are, even if they don’t look like it or we don’t feel like it. Baptism isn’t a symbol of rebirth: it actually is rebirth. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink: it actually is the Lord’s risen Body and Blood given for food. The Holy Absolution isn’t a symbolic gesture of forgiveness: it actually is forgiveness. You actually are forgiven as those absolving words enter your ears and perfuse your mind and heart.

Still, there is more to the life of the Church than the bare minimum. The Lord has given us a heritage, and that heritage is itself a gift. Fallen human beings are always limited in their scope and interests. The generation that preceded us in this country was mainly blind to the gift of Holy Absolution despite the fact that it is one sixth of the Small Catechism, included in the Constitution of the LC-MS, and appears throughout the Confessions and the Bible. We are blind to things also. There is, for example, the danger of us judging even the Scriptures and Creeds according to our current understanding of the necessary distinction between Law and Gospel. Who among us hasn’t cringed a bit during the Athanasian Creed’s assertion “those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire”? The Scriptures themselves contain many statements like this. We like to explain them away. Our sinful nature likes categories that are neat and solid. It gives us a false sense of control and a place for our vanity to think itself clever. The categories, “Law” and “Gospel” are in and of themselves Law distinctions and thus subject to perversion and abuse. Submitting to the traditions on the Church that don’t fit perfectly within our modern understanding, but aren’t heretical, is a way of acknowledging that we have blind spots and aren’t perfect confessors.

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Rev. Cwirla:

Words cut straight to the heart. God’s Word, that two-edged sword of the Law and the Gospel, cuts through to the heart, accusing and acquitting, afflicting and comforting, killing and making alive. It isn’t my office to put soot on your foreheads, but to wash you clean of sin and death with the bloodied words of Jesus. It isn’t my office as a representative of Jesus Christ to put the mark of death on you. I’m an “evangelist,” a proclaimer of “good news” – the Gospel — and a smudge of death is not good news.

Rev. Petersen:

What we need, of course, at all times and places is the Word of God. The Word of God cuts straight to the heart: accusing and acquitting, afflicting and comforting, killing and making alive. It belongs to the Office of the Holy Ministry not to put soot on the foreheads of the faithful, but to preach Law and Gospel. But neither does it belong to the Office to wear vestments, chant, or guide the Church in architecture, art, and music. Still, those things, including soot, all serve the preaching of Law and Gospel. We are not reductionists. It is not only the Office that washes clean of sin and death with the bloodied words of Jesus. It is the preaching Office, yes, but it is not only the preaching Office. It is also the shepherding and teaching Office.

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Rev. Cwirla:

Now don’t get me wrong here. Our new hymnal makes provision of ashes under a “may” rubric, which means we’re free not to do it. (Thank God for “may” rubrics!) And I’m not going to condemn anyone for a symbolic gesture, but I reserve the right to examine a bit deeper what I show the world about our faith in Christ.

Rev. Petersen:

Now don’t get me wrong here. Our new hymnal makes provision of ashes under a “may” rubric, which means we’re free not to do it. (Thank God for “may” rubrics!) I’m not going to condemn anyone for a symbolic gesture or a lack of a symbolic gesture. It is fine with me if some pastors choose to wear violet vestments — a novelty in the history of the church far younger than ashes — during Lent. It is fine with me if some choose not to receive or not to even offer ashes and still call the day “Ash Wednesday.” But I reserve the right to examine a bit deeper what I show the world about our faith in Christ and our heritage in the Church, and I admit some resentment of those who would claim some superior insight or depth either way.

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Rev. Cwirla:

I suppose if we wanted to get the symbolism right, we would be smudging our own faces — and not just with a little stylish dab. And then you’d come and stand before me, and I would stick my hand in the baptismal font and wipe away all that grime and dirt “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And if you stop and think about it, we did precisely that earlier in the evening. You confessed your sin and death, having stared into the mirror of the Law. And then you stood before me as Christ’s called and ordained representative, and I absolved you, which means that Christ Himself wiped away the stain of your sin and death.

Rev. Petersen:

I suppose if we wanted to engage in hyperbole we’d talk about “getting the symbolism right,” and then we would need to smear not just our faces but our whole bodies with feces and vomit. Then the pastor would not just stick his hand in the Baptismal font for some symbolic water with which to wash the faithful but would lick them clean, taking the filth into himself. But that is ridiculous. In fact, I would argue, the Church already got the symbolism “right.” The faithful aren’t smeared with sin and death. They get a token, a reminder of sin and death, through the symbol of ashes and they get the very clear and certain Word of God: “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

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Rev. Cwirla:

We deal in what is real. You have a real death. You are dust, and you are going to dust, and there is nothing you can do about it. Deal with it. Medicine can’t save you, good works can’t save you, you can’t save you. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” You don’t need a soiled forehead to remind you of that. Just take a look in a mirror, a plain ordinary mirror, and see the creases, the lines, the grey hair, the death at work in you. Look in the mirror of the Law, and see the idolatry, rebellion, murder, immorality, greed, lies, hatred, and slander reflected back at you. Rend your hearts, not your garments.

Rev. Petersen:

We deal in what is real. You have a real death. You are dust, and you are going to dust, and there is nothing you can do about it. That is the Word of God in the ceremony. Deal with it. Medicine can’t save you, good works can’t save you, you can’t save you. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” Maybe you don’t need a soiled forehead to remind you of that. That is fine. But maybe you are weak in your flesh, maybe you are vain, maybe you are given to denying the reality of this death. I know I am. Maybe you aren’t. Or maybe you have some negative associations with ashes from your past that keep you away. That is just fine. But for some, for the last few hundred years, the ashes have been a way to remember, to submit to the judgment of God against our sins, and to confess our dusty death.

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Rev. Cwirla:

It is heart-rending, what sin does to us. It destroys our homes, our marriages, our lives. It divides us from God and from each other. It turns us inward on ourselves, isolating us in our own narcissism, binding us in a self-styled prison of lust and anger and lies. It grinds us down to death and the grave. And if that doesn’t break your heart, that’s even more heartbreaking, to consider how callous and hardened our hearts become under the constant abrasion of sin.

Rev. Petersen:

Still, the Lord says, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” It is heart-rending, what sin does to us. It destroys our homes, our marriages, our lives. It divides us from God and from each other. It turns us inward on ourselves, isolating us in our own narcissism, binding us in a self-styled prison of lust and anger and lies. It grinds us down to death and the grave. That is the point, ultimately, of the ashes. Sin has and is killing us. If that doesn’t break your heart, that’s even more heartbreaking. Consider how callous and hardened our hearts become under the constant abrasion of sin. Truly, if that doesn’t break your heart, then no ceremony will, and if you rend only your garments, you are damned.

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Rev. Cwirla:

Why don’t we do ashes on Ash Wednesday? Because the church is supposed to be an embassy of good news, a place where sinners can die a blessed death and live forever, a refuge for the weary beaten down by the law, a place where the soil and soot of Adam’s sin and our own can be washed away and we can live our lives by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us. We face death all day long. We know that. We feel it. You almost don’t need to be told it. And the last thing you need is something more to do.

Rev. Petersen:

That is we do ashes on Ash Wednesday. The church is an embassy of good news, a place where sinners can die a blessed death and live forever, a refuge for the weary beaten down by the law, a place where the soil and soot of Adam’s sin and our own can be washed away and we can live our lives by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us. We face death all day long, but in our sinfulness we deny and forget it. The good news the Church preaches is only good news for those who are dying. So that we know we are dying, even so that we feel it, we impose ashes. The ashes, of course, are not the end. We don’t go home after the ashes. We continue to hear the Word of God, to be absolved, and to partake of His living, risen Body and Blood.

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Rev. Cwirla:

That’s not to say that the Christian life doesn’t have a bit of discipline to it. We are at the beginning of Lent, and Lent is a time of self-discipline, like returning to the gym after a flabby winter. Jesus had a few things to say about public displays of piety — prayer, alms-giving, fasting. And you heard Him say,“Do not do these things to be seen by men; rather do them in secret before your Father in heaven.”

Rev. Petersen:

The Christian life does have a bit of discipline to it, though its exact forms vary from place to place and person to person. We are at the beginning of Lent. For most of us, Lent is a time of self-discipline, like returning to the gym after a flabby winter. Jesus issued some warning regarding public displays of piety — prayer, alms-giving, fasting. And you heard Him say, “Do not do these things to be seen by men; rather do them in secret before your Father in heaven.”

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Rev. Cwirla:

When you pray, Jesus said, don’t babble like pagans or parade your piety like the religious who love to be seen being religous, but go to your room and pray in secret to your Father in heaven. And when you gives alms to the poor, don’t make a big show out of it and trumpet your generosity all over the neighborhood. Don’t even let your left hand keep book on what your right hand is doing.

Rev. Petersen:

When you pray, Jesus said, don’t babble like pagans or parade your piety like the religious who love to be seen being religious, but go to your room and pray in secret to your Father in heaven. Of course, we still pray publicly in Church. The point is not that we shouldn’t pray in public but that we shouldn’t do so to impress others. In the same way, when you gives alms to the poor, don’t make a big show out of it and trumpet your generosity all over the neighborhood. Don’t even let your left hand keep book on what your right hand is doing.

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Rev. Cwirla:

And when you fast, Jesus says, wash your face and comb your hair and don’t let anyone know what you’re doing. This is between you and your Father in heaven. These are supposed to be things done in freedom, not under compulsion or law, the way children play at the feet of their Father.

Rev. Petersen:

And when you fast, Jesus says, wash your face and comb your hair and don’t let anyone know what you’re doing. This is between you and your Father in heaven. These things are done in freedom, not under compulsion or law, the way children play at the feet of their Father. This doesn’t mean that they are done in secret. It means we are not to judge one another in these things nor do them for the sake of gaining praise or honor from men.

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Rev. Cwirla:

If you want to show something of substance to others, let them see your good works, your faithfulness in your vocation, how you deal with the guilt and shame of your sin by being forgiven. Don’t show them symbolic gestures; show them the real thing. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Rev. Petersen:

Don’t worry about showing your good works such as almsgiving, prayers, and fasting to others. A city on a hill can’t be hid. The point is not to keep secrets about your piety but that your piety would grow from your faith. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Don’t worry about it. Just live by the grace you’ve been given. The Lord will work through you whether you know it or not. You can talk about fasting to your friends and loved ones. In fact, doing so can be a means of encouragement. No one gains favor with God on account of his or her works, but the Lord does use the works of His children for good in this world. Children see their mother’s prayers in church and are moved to imitate her. Insofar as she desires their approval and seeks to gain their praise, she sins. But what do we do, brothers, with perfect motives? Insofar as she is a forgiven sinner in Christ, she performs a good, disciplined, deliberate work that is good for her and good for her children – not because she is perfect or free from sin but because God is merciful in Christ.

“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

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Rev. Cwirla:

You are in an embassy of reconciliation. You have come to the ministry of reconciliation, where enemies are declared friends, where weapons are checked at the door, where the flag of the King of kings flies high declaring the mercy of the cross.

Rev. Petersen:

You are in an embassy of reconciliation. You have come to the ministry of reconciliation, where enemies are declared friends, where weapons are checked at the door, where the flag of the King of kings flies high declaring the mercy of the cross, and men are free to fold their hands or not, to close their eyes or keep them open, to kneel or stand or sit, to receive ashes or not.

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Rev. Cwirla:

You have been rescued from the dust of death by the second Adam, Jesus the Christ, who in His own perfect, human flesh went down into the dust of your sin, your death, your grave, to pull you up from the dust. Dust you are, and to dust you will return. Yes. This is most certainly true. But there is a yet greater truth: from the dust you shall rise to eternal life in Christ Jesus, who though sinless became your sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.

Rev. Petersen:

You have been rescued from the dust of death by the second Adam, Jesus the Christ, who in His own perfect, human flesh went down into the dust of your sin, your death, your grave, to pull you up from the dust. Dust you are, and to dust you will return. Yes. This is most certainly true. But there is a yet greater truth, one that follows the first: from the dust you shall rise to eternal life in Christ Jesus, who though sinless became your sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.

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Rev. Cwirla:

He has washed away the dirt of your death in your Baptism. He has cleansed your lips and your life with His own Body and Blood. He has forgiven your sins. He has given you a new heart, beating the rhythm of His own heart that was broken to save you. He has given you a life you could not have on your own, a life overflowing with the undeserved mercy of God. He has taken away those rough garments of sackcloth, the itchy abrasiveness of sin, and swapped them with a seamless white robe of righteousness.

Rev. Petersen:

He has washed away the dirt of your death in your Baptism. He has cleansed your lips and your life with His own Body and Blood. He has forgiven your sins. He has given you a new heart, beating the rhythm of His own heart that was broken to save you. He has given you a life you could not have on your own, a life overflowing with the undeserved mercy of God. He has taken away those rough garments of sackcloth, the itchy abrasiveness of sin, and swapped them with a seamless white robe of righteousness.

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Rev. Cwirla:

So if anyone asks you tomorrow why we don’t do ashes on Ash Wednesday, you can simply say this, “I’ve been washed by the blood and water of Jesus’ own death for me. I am a baptized child of God. Dust I may be and to dust I will go, but dust never had it so good as to be embraced in the death and life of Jesus.”

Rev. Petersen:

So if anyone asks you tomorrow why we do ashes on Ash Wednesday, you can simply say this, “I was lost and I am found. I was dead and am made alive. I was in desperate need of a Savior and the Lord provided Jesus. I’ve been washed by the blood and water of Jesus’ own death for me. I am a baptized child of God. Dust I may be and to dust I will go, but dust never had it so good as to be embraced in the death and life of Jesus.”

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With all due respect to Rev. Cwirla, I can’t quite square his perspective with the received tradition of the Lutheran Church and the overall disposition towards ceremonies and their role in the catechesis of the people which is found throughout our Confessions. We Lutherans need continually to fight against the urge to regard ourselves as Protestants. Historically, and until relatively recently, our disposition has been catholic; our reflex, conservative. We move with the whole Church whenever possible. We should love all ceremony which commends the full counsel of God to us. And if we don’t love it, we should recognize that it’s still a good thing which has stood the test of time for good reason.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Petersen and the rest of the editorial staff over at Gottesdienst for continuing to educate me (and many others) in the truly catholic heritage of the Church of the Augustana. Without the work of these faithful men and those like them, I would not know her in “her natural position among the great historic communions of Christendom” (J. A. O. Stub, Vestments and Liturgies, p18).

If you have not done so already, do consider subscribing to the print edition of Gottesdienst: The Journal of the Lutheran Liturgy. And if you are in need of a solid Lenten devotional text, you can do no better than Rev. Petersen’s Thy Kingdom Come, available from Redeemer Church’s in-house publishing arm, Emmanuel Press.

“To bake or not to bake?” A reflection on Christian liberty and the prerogatives of conscience

Should be bork the borks? There are no easy answers.

Should we bork the borks? There are no easy answers.

So often I come across interesting conversations on Twitter that I would love to participate in. Unfortunately there are a good many impediments to my doing so. First of all, I’m often late to the party. I’ve had a Twitter account for awhile, but I’ve only recently started using it with any regularity, and I’ve got to say — I’m astounded at how active some people are, i.e., how often they post things, how many conversations they’re able to have at once, etc. I simply can’t keep up. So I’ll scan my feed when I’m on a break from work, when I’m waiting for my coffee at the Beanery, and when I…

Can we all just admit that everyone looks at their smartphones when they’re on the john? It’s pretty much the reason why these things were invented.

Moving on. I also have a hard time expressing anything meaningful in 140 characters. So that also makes it difficult. Also, I dislike the bickering that seems to be invariably bred by the forced brevity of tweets and the staccato style of the conversations. I’m not being holier-than-anyone by saying this, let me assure you. I’m a bickerer par excellence, myself. I grew up with four brothers.

With all of that said, I did want to take just a little time to reflect upon a topic that was raised by a friend which generated (by my last count) over seventy responses:

 

Vanessa refers, of course, to the recent debacle over whether business-owners really do have the right to refuse service to anyone. Let’s be clear — that is the question, put in pretty much the simplest form. Specifically this is playing out in the context of the wedding business: do Christian bakers and florists have the right to refuse their services to homosexuals intent on marrying? But there’s a corollary issue: what should said bakers and florists do? The “should” question is not one of right, but of prudence.

Another friend suggested this:

 

I’m not Dan Emery Price, but I am a Lutheran. So I guess I’ll do my bit to make the Lutheran responses more various.

I’m really going to try to be brief, but I can’t make any promises.

Constitutionally speaking, there is no question that a business-owner has a right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. In the absence of considerable moral hazard (the exception), this is just a no-brainer. I’d probably take this to ridiculous extremes: if a business wants to discriminate against me because of my race, that is their right. It’s their property, not mine. This is as plain as day to me. The alternative is having Nanny State adjudicate the fairness of all social and economic interactions. Sound familiar? It’s what we currently have. Do you like it? I don’t. So, to reiterate, as a legal-constitutional matter, it’s an open and shut case. Business-owners have the right; it should be protected. Fin.

Now, the unrelated religious question is this: when should these business owners use that right? A right is not the proverbial hammer before which everything is a nail. You don’t have to use your rights all of the time. You have a right to keep and bear arms (theoretically), but you don’t have to pack heat if you don’t want to. You have a right to free speech and a free press (theoretically), but you don’t have to be a journalist.

First of all, we should probably consider whether the business-owners in question have a duty to refuse service to homosexual patrons. It has been stated that because the goods in question (cakes and floral arrangements) have to do with weddings, and since weddings between homosexuals are immoral, that, yes, the putative bakers and florists have a Christian duty to refuse their services.

The problem with this, at least in my mind, is that cakes and flowers are completely extraneous to a wedding. Essentially speaking, they have nothing to do with marriage. You may as well insist that the Christian owner of a gas-station refuse to fuel up the limo that’s going to transport the gay couple from the courthouse to the reception and that his failure to do so would be a sin. Now there is a school of ethical thought that lends itself to such casuistry. Since I promised to try to be brief, though, I’m not going to get into it beyond saying that it sure ain’t Lutheran — it’s Roman Catholic. If you’d like to read a brilliant example of what it looks like in a case of concrete ethics when it’s developed to its logical conclusion, then I commend this document to you. It’s fascinating. However, it’s also highly problematic for reasons which I won’t attempt to get into now.

Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a wedding cake. And there are no such things as wedding flowers. Incidentally, there’s also no such a thing as a homosexual wedding. (I could take this a bridge farther and say that there’s no such thing as a homosexual, ontologically speaking, but that’s a whole other discussion.) Whatever ceremony is occurring, whatever profession of vows takes place, etc., what’s happening is not a wedding. “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” And if God has not joined it together (and in the case of a homosexual union, He has not), don’t think that a merely human joining-together is going to constitute (or even approximate) the indissoluble bond of marriage, because it is not.

Another thing we must remember about marriage is that its institution is part of the Orders of Creation — it precedes the Church. It even precedes the Fall. It is a civil ordinance in the most primal sense of the term, as the entire civitas (city) was made up of but two cives (citizens) at that time. Therefore marriage is not properly the purview of the Church but of the State. Therefore it is not quite accurate to state that a baker or florist who provides their services to a gay couple is participating in the profanation of the Divine Service. They’re not. If the ceremony is taking place in a church, and they’re calling it a wedding, then, yes, it’s profane already, and the Divine Service of that church is likely already profane if they’re the sort of church that would host such a ceremony. But even a wedding that is blessed by God in the Church is performed by the minister as a legally-vested agent of the State in accordance with divine institution and the Word of God. It could be conducted outside of the Church and still be a wedding.

In his Pastoral Theology, C. F. W. Walther writes that

Before the preacher officially consecrates a marriage, he should not only be sure that he is authorized for that function according to the laws of the state but should also familiarize himself with the laws of the state in which he is. Observing them is required for a valid and legitimate marriage, and he should proceed according to them insofar as they are not contrary to God’s word. (Pastoral Theology, C. F. W. Walther, translated and abridged by John M. Drickamer from the Fifth Ed., 1906; Lutheran News, Inc. 1995, pp.155-156.)

Rev. Rolf Preus explains that “Walther was following Luther in this matter. As Germany was trying to extricate itself from the church/state confusion created by the pope’s intrusion into civil government’s domain, in 1530 Luther offered theological counsel to pastors on marriage matters.” Luther’s words are apposite:

No one can deny that marriage is an external, worldly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove. Neither do I find any example in the New Testament where Christ or the apostles concerned themselves with such matters except where they touched upon consciences. (Luther’s Works, Robert C. Schultz, ed.; Concordia Publishing House, Fortress Press, 1967, Vol. 46, p.265.)

So, really, there’s nothing wrong with selling someone a cake or some flowers. What they do with the cake is none of the baker’s business and, moreover, not his responsibility. If it’s for a gay “wedding”, then that is sad, yes, and doubly sad if the State is so blind and corrupt as to give legal sanction to the misnomer. But the Christian baker should remember that a cake is not part of a wedding and that no wedding is even taking place, regardless of what it’s being called. God is not wedding them. They are not wedding each other. That verb and its participle have nothing to do with the goings-on. They should no more be denied a cake than should fornicators, adulterers, gluttons, or the slothful or greedy. And if you want to deny all of them cakes, that’s your right. But just keep in mind that if you apply that standard liberally and honestly, your business is going to tank.

Well, that’s all I have to say on the matter right now. I’d welcome discussion in the comments if anyone is interested. I didn’t edit this at all, so please excuse my dear Aunt Sally for any inconclusive paragraphs, logic-chopping, malapropisms, etc.

 

+VDMA

The Errors of the Christian East: Justification

Dear Trent,

I did my best to read through the comment section, though, to be honest, it came across as often unfocused, so I had a hard time finding for myself what exactly the points of contention were. I do wish I could offer to you some brilliant insights concerning the concept of Justification in both the Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran traditions, as well as among the Fathers, however, I am somewhat hampered at the current point in time, as I am back in Virginia, while the majority of my theological library remains in Fort Wayne.

With this said, I thought I would offer at least a few short thoughts, though none too interesting, to be sure.

These Eastern theologians have successfully pointed out a terrible weakness within the LCMS, which is our penchant for rejecting all theology and doctrine that is not in some way spelled out already in the Confessions. As Confessional Lutherans, we are prone to believe that the Confessions contain the fullness of the Christian religion. This is a misunderstanding. Rather, the Confessions offer certain decisions by the Evangelical churches over certain controverted articles. The articles in question are very specific and employ terminology in a very particular way in order to succinctly express a position.

It is surely true that the Formula of Concord and the Book of Concord in general speak much of a “Forensic Atonement” of sorts, but this is because both the Roman party and the Reformed had gotten into the habit of denying it in one way or another: the Romanists by claiming that man is only prepared for salvation in the atonement, but must complete the work himself through his own personal merits; the Calvinists by claiming that nothing truly “happened” in the work of the atonement, for salvation derives not from Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, but from the pre-existent decree and decision of God before all time. To both of these errors the Lutherans respond that the atoning work of Christ truly does accomplish our salvation, and does not merely “show it forth” as a Calvinist might believe, nor does it only “begin it” as the Papists think. This, ultimately, is the “spirit”, if you will, of “Forensic Atonement.”

Now, by rendering this decision concerning the atonement, do the Lutherans deny all other aspects of soteriological theology? Not at all. It is a Lutheran conviction that the Church is always in a state of confession against the heresies of fanatics and schismatics, as well as against the godless ploys of pagans. The Church is constantly articulating the Biblical truth in relation to the untruth of the time; thus the writings of Irenaeus are a Christianity articulated in distinction to Gnosticism, the theology of Augustine one articulated against Pelagianism, and that of Concord, a theology as confessed against the heresies of Papism. The church does not merely “confess the gospel” but confesses it in a certain context, against the culture, and against the heretics; therefore one must always take into consideration “who is at the gates” when one analyzes confessional and theological documents of a period.

Francesco_Solimena_-_The_Meeting_of_Pope_Leo_and_Attila_-_WGA21629

“The Meeting of Pope Leo and Attila” by Francesco Solimena, 18C.

With this said, it is a mistake of the Lutherans to believe that the Book of Concord is somehow “the end of the Christian religion and the perfection of Lutheran theology.” In the same way that the Apostles’ Creed left much unsaid, as does the Athanasian, so the Confessions leave much unsaid. They merely settle what has been “in controversy,” and in reality they settle only that. It is for this reason that Martin Chemnitz, who helped pen the Formula of Concord, still saw it fitting to write his Examen as well as his Loci TheologiciThe Lords Supper, and On The Two Natures in Christ, all of which seem to have no concern for the Concordia, and all of which seem to expound a vastly more expansive theology than that which is present in the Confessions. The reason for this is simple: these other writings of Chemnitz are theologies which expound the truth of Christian doctrine positively. The Confessions are a denunciation of heresy, to put it simply. Like the creeds, the Confessions do not profess what one ought to believe, but rather, what one must believe. It is the minimum truth which is attested ands set forth.

This is all to say that much of Lutheranism never makes an appearance in the Confessions simply because much of Lutheranism did not have a clear enemy to confess most of her doctrines against. If one wants to know Lutheran theology, one cannot stop at the Confessions, or even “The Confessions and Walther and Pieper.” If one does make this mistake, one is likely to fall into the trap that these Orthodox men have fallen into: a dissatisfaction with the seeming shallowness of Lutheran theology.

Nicaea II

The Second Council of Nicaea,
787 AD

With this said, I do not care if an opponent alleges, “Your Confessions fail to say anything about the X, Y, and Z of theology.” It is not necessary that they say anything about it. I do not mock the Eastern Orthodox, saying, “Your decrees at the Second Council of Nicaea talk about nothing but icons; do you only believe in icons? Why does it not talk about the Trinity more?” This of course is unfair, and so it is unfair to hold a Lutheran not simply “to the Confessions” but “to the Confessions to the exclusion of all else.”

Concerning Forensic Atonement:

I would like to give an analysis of the following quote, which seems to be the final articulation of the Eastern Orthodox contention:

There is no forgiveness without blood, because God is not interested in just turning a blind eye to our sins, nor in just treating us forensically righteous even though we are not actually righteous. Instead I suggest that God does not forgive sins without providing a way for the sinner to change and be released from the corruption and bondage that our sins bring upon ourselves. The shedding of blood and the forgiveness of sins are intertwined, because God not only wants us to become sorry, but to actually be able to change and return and abide with Him forever. The purification that comes from Christ’s blood does this, and is our pledge that God loves us and wants us to return to Him in righteousness and holiness. Maybe I’ll write another post on this topic when I have more time.

The argument seems to be as follows: it is ridiculous for God to charge us with a debt, then kill someone else (His Son) and so declare us not-guilty, since our guilt was somehow “transmitted” to another. This is not true justice, but really an affront to justice, for justice demands that goodness be rewarded, and evil punished. If those who do good are punished, and those who do evil saved, even though the evil have in no way become less evil, there is in no true sense “justice” being carried out here, but a miscarriage of justice. Furthermore, the fact that this miscarriage is carried out by the “judge” himself, that is, God, does not make it any less unjust. Rather, it only renders God Himself unjust, which is blasphemy.

The problem with this argument is that Lutherans do not believe that we are merely “declared righteous” despite being unrighteous by some legal trick. The Confessions say over and again that we are righteous because we somehow “have Christ’s righteousness.” What this means, the Confessions leave very vague. However, Lutheranism as a whole does not leave it unexplained. Lutherans believe that in Adam all mankind sinned. This is not because the sin of Adam was credited to all mankind, as a debt being forced upon the children of the one who acquired it. Rather, all mankind was in Adam sinning, and so therefore, we all truly did sin. All of us individually committed the original sin. It is for this reason that it is written, “sin entered the world through one man, and so death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” This “all sinning” does not refer to our private sins, but our “all sinning” in the Original Sin, for all mankind was summarized and contained in Adam. As Adam, being all mankind, sinned, so he would die, and all humanity in him.

Now the purpose of the Incarnation was this: that God not only became a man, but rather became all mankind. Just as we were all in Adam, we are now all recapitulated and summarized in Christ, not by way of analogy but in truth, which is to say, ontologically. When He does righteousness, so we do righteousness, for we are summarized in the one Who has done it. When He dies, so mankind dies with Him, thus satisfying the declaration of God: “You shall surely die.” Yet, Christ, being God, was not contained by death, and so rose again unto immortality, so all mankind being in Him shall rise again into immortality and be participants in the divine nature, as we already are, and all these things, not by transaction or legal agreement, or by the “decree of God” but because Christ truly now is all mankind. There is only one “sanctified” man, and only one “justified” man, and that is Christ. There is only one immortal, one infinite, one sinless, &c., and we cannot be any of these things merely by attribution. Rather, we must be joined physically into the one who is; and to our everlasting happiness, this very grafting into the infinite occurred in the act of the Incarnation.

This is the meaning of all the sacraments, that we are in and one with Christ. We know that by baptism, we were baptized into Christ. This is no mere Pauline metaphor. We must believe it says what it truly does say: we are in Christ, one with Him, joined to Him, woven into Him, never to be separated, participating in all that is His. We are baptized into His death, and so our death is accomplished, fulfilling God’s word, for if we do not die, then God was from the beginning a liar, unwilling to accomplish that which He determined in the beginning as the very first command and “promise” to mankind. In baptism we are “united in a death like His, so surely we shall be united with a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him… Now we know that if we have died with Christ, we believe we will also live with Him… We know that Christ, being raised from the dead will never die again…,” &c. Paul here endeavors to show us that Christ and the Christian are one, and that whatever is said of Christ is said of Christian, since they are now inseparable.

Similarly, the Sacrament of the Altar promises that whosoever eats the body and drinks the blood, Christ will abide in them, and they in Christ — which is to say, we are participants in God Himself through the hypostatic union wherein mankind has been assumed into the Deity in the two natures of the person of Christ which we have consumed and which has consumed us. In this sacrament we are “justified” — that is, made truly just — for “He is now our peace, who has made us both (Christ and mankind) one, and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” There is no hostility between God and Man, for in the Incarnation, Man was taken into God.

For this reason, it is wrong to say that God “turns a blind eye to our sin” for He has not. Rather, He has killed all mankind for their sin, in accordance with His word, for He killed His Son, the Christ, who is mankind, Who is All in All. It is also wrong to say that God is “treating us forensically righteous even though we are not actually righteous,” for forensic merely means to declare righteous, which God does justly and in truth, for He declares Christ righteous, and so He is. He alone is the one who is “forensically justified.” Yet to say Christ is “forensically justified” must entail that we are actually righteous, for we are one with Christ, the righteous one, and if He is righteous, so are we, though sin clings on in the form of the Old Adam. But he is being put to death, daily mortified. Our (to misuse the term slightly) sanctification is not so much our growing in godliness (for we already possess the completion of all godliness) but rather it is the increasing death of the Old Adam.

The good subdeacon goes on to say that God does not merely want to forgive us, but to bring us out of our sin and corruption. But as is clear, this God has already done. Now we only wait this brief moment of life, that the evil of corporeal death, which once was the loss of all of man’s self, now has become sanctified in Christ’s death and has been transfigured into the death of sin in us and the final liberation of Christ from the shackles of our sin.

Our Eastern brother then finishes by saying that

the shedding of blood and the forgiveness of sins are intertwined, because God not only wants us to become sorry, but to actually be able to change and return and abide with Him forever. The purification that comes from Christ’s blood does this, and is our pledge that God loves us and wants us to return to Him in righteousness and holiness.

This is offensive to the Lutheran not because it is wrong per se, but because it assumes that such a “change” and “return” and “abiding” has not already been accomplished. We have been baptized into Christ, we eat His body and drink His blood, so we are already changed, deified. We have returned to Him in His Incarnation, for He has returned to us. We abide in Him now and forever, for His very flesh has “godded us through” (to use Luther’s colorful wording).

Herein lies the true contention between our Eastern Orthodox brothers and us: what they believe needs to be completed within ourselves, we believe to have been completed in Christ as the recapitulation of Mankind, i.e, the New Adam. They believe that Christ has begun and made possible what we believe He has finished, and it is for this reason that we find it entirely fitting that Paul always speaks of the consummation of our salvation as already having been accomplished. Christ is already “all in all”; we have already “died with Him”, &c. This is not something soon to come, nor is it something dependent on our action. Christ has done it, and all of us in Him.

Dr. David Scaer speaks thusly on the subject:

Narrow justification down to the one person of Jesus whom God finds and declares as righteous (Acts 3:14-15) and in this declaration he incorporates all of humanity. In raising Jesus from the dead, God found him righteous, and in that one act God found all of humanity righteous in him (1 Cor 15:22). Jesus, as the second, greater, and true Adam, possessed all of humanity in himself. So if all sinned in the first Adam and were condemned to death, how much more shall life and resurrection be given to all in the greater Adam, in and from whom God constituted a new humanity.

This is the crux of the Lutheran understanding of Forensic Justification, that in Christ, a “new humanity” was constituted and so “declared righteous” for this humanity truly is righteous, for it is Christ.

Luther writes in his Commentary on Galatians:

And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, &c., there has ever been anywhere in the world. He is not acting in His own person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord (Romans 2:24). In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body — not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood.

And again:

“But it is highly absurd and insulting to call the Son of God a sinner and a curse!” If you want to deny that He is a sinner and a curse, then deny also that He suffered, was crucified, and died. For it is no less absurd to say, as our Creed confesses and prays, that the Son of God was crucified and underwent the torments of sin and death than it is to say that He is a sinner or a curse. But if it is not absurd to confess and believe that Christ was crucified among thieves, then it is not absurd to say as well that He was a curse and a sinner of sinners. . . . [Isaiah chapter 52] Isaiah 53:6 speaks the same way about Christ. It says: “God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” These words must not be diluted but must be left in their precise and serious sense. For God is not joking in the words of the prophet; He is speaking seriously and out of great love, namely, that this Lamb of God, Christ, should bear the iniquity of us all. But what does it mean to “bear”? The sophists reply: “To be punished.” Good. But why is Christ punished? Is it not because He has sin and bears sin? That Christ has sin is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Psalms. Thus in [Psalm 39] Psalm 40:12 we read: “My iniquities have overtaken Me”; in [Psalm 40] Psalm 41:4: “I said: ‘O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against Thee!’”; and in [Psalm 68] Psalm 69:5: “0 God, Thou knowest My folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from Thee.” In these psalms the Holy Spirit is speaking in the Person of Christ and testifying in clear words that He has sinned or has sins. These testimonies of the Psalms are not the words of an innocent one; they are the words of the suffering Christ, who undertook to bear the person of all sinners and therefore was made guilty of the sins of the entire world.

And again:

This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the World, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.”

And again:

Now that Christ reigns there is in fact no more sin, death, or curse — this we confess every day in the Apostles’ Creed when we say: “I believe in the holy church.” This is plainly nothing else than if we were to say: “I believe that there is no sin and no death in the church. For believers in Christ are not sinners and are not sentenced to death but are altogether holy and righteous, lords over sin and death who live eternally.” But it is faith alone that discerns this, because we say: “I believe in the holy church.” If you consult your reason and your eyes, you will judge differently. For in devout people you will see many things that offend you. You will see them fall now and again, see them sin, or be weak in faith, or be troubled by a bad temper, envy, or other evil emotions. “Therefore the church is not holy.” I deny the conclusion that you draw. If I look at my own person or at that of my neighbor, the church will never be holy. But if I look at Christ, who is the Propitiator and Cleanser of the church, then it is completely holy; for He bore the sins of the entire world. Therefore where sins are noticed and felt, there they really are not present. For, according to the theology of Paul, there is no more sin, no more death, and no more curse in the world, but only in Christ, who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and who became a curse in order to set us free from the curse. On the other hand, according to philosophy and reason, sin, death, &c., are not present anywhere except in the world, in the flesh, and in sinners. For the theology of the sophists is unable to consider sin any other way except metaphysically, that is: “A quality clings to a substance or a subject. Therefore just as color clings to a wall, so sin clings to the world, to the flesh, or to the conscience. Therefore it must be washed away by some opposing motivation, namely, by love.” But the true theology teaches that there is no more sin in the world, because Christ, on whom, according to Isaiah 53:6, the Father has laid the sins of the entire world, has conquered, destroyed, and killed it in His own body. Having died to sin once, He has truly been raised from the dead and will not die any more (Romans 6:9). Therefore wherever there is faith in Christ, there sin has in fact been abolished, put to death, and buried. But where there is no faith in Christ, there sin remains.

And again:

Therefore a Christian, properly defined, is free of all laws and is subject to nothing, internally or externally. But I purposely said, “to the extent that he is a Christian” (not “to the extent that he is a man or a woman”); that is, to the extent that he has his conscience trained, adorned, and enriched by this faith, this great and inestimable treasure, or, as Paul calls it, “this inexpressible gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15), which cannot be exalted and praised enough, since it makes men sons and heirs of God. Thus a Christian is greater than the entire world. For in his heart he has this seemingly small gift; yet the smallness of this gift and treasure, which he holds in faith, is greater than heaven and earth, because Christ, who is this gift, is greater.

And again:

This is truly a striking, beautiful and (as St. Peter says in 2 Peter 1) the dearest and the greatest of all promises, given to us poor miserable sinners, that we also are to take part in divine nature and be so highly ennobled, that we are not only to be loved by God through Christ — to have his favor and grace as the highest and dearest holiness — but to have the Lord Himself abide in us. Then it shall be (as he says) that we not only remain in His love and that He takes from us His wrath and offers to us a gracious Fatherly heart, but that we should enjoy the same love (otherwise it would be wasted, “lost love” as the saying goes, to love and not enjoy, &c.) and have great benefit and treasure from it, and such love proves itself in deeds and great gifts.

And again:

And we are so filled “with all kinds of God’s fullness,” that is so much spoken of in the Hebrew manner: that we are filled in all manner, that He makes full and we become full of God, overwhelmed with all gifts and grace, and filled with His Spirit, which makes us brave and illuminates us with His light, and His life lives in us, His blessedness makes us blessed, His love in us awakens love, in short, that all that He is and can do in us becomes total and works powerfully.

And again:

This is the true faith of Christ and in Christ, through which we become members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Ephesians 5:30). Therefore in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Hence the speculation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us “spiritually,” that is, speculatively, but is present really in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply take our place in heaven; and Christ must be, live, and work in us. But He lives and works in us, not speculatively but really, with presence and with power.

The summary of Luther’s position is as follows: that in Christ man and God are joined, and that all the misery of man is abolished in the divinity of God, and to man is accorded all the righteousness and perfection of God, not by some legality, but by a true unification, which is called “faith,” which is nothing else than the presence of Christ in the Christian. If one is to say, “Well, yes, Luther said these things, but they are not in the Confessions,” it should be noted that the Formula of Concord specifically cites Luther’s Commentary here as the authoritative understanding of “Forensic Justification.” Therefore, if one wants to truly understand what forensic justification is, let him deal with the quotes above.

The problem lies in that most non-Lutherans, and even many Lutherans, understand Forensic Atonement to be synonymous with the Reformed notion of the Atonement wherein on the cross only a man died and that by an arbitrary decree of God, the Father decides to accept his death as a sufficient payment for the sins of the world, even though of itself it is valueless, being only the death of a man.

As can be seen from the quotes from Luther above, this is most certainly not the case, for the Lutherans view salvation in terms of the recapitulation and recreation of mankind in Christ who both as God and as Mankind takes the guilt of mankind and is put to death for it, yet also bestows His life to the very mankind He has been joined to. All He has done we have done, and all we have done, our evil and sin, He has “done” and so has been punished.

Luther writes in the 26th thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation:

For through faith, Christ is in us, indeed, one with us. Christ is just and has fulfilled all the commands of God, wherefore we also fulfill everything through him since he has been made ours through faith.

Chemnitz writes:

Because human nature in Adam was turned from God through sin and alienated from the life and fellowship of God, therefore the Son of God in His own person again united it with the divine nature by the most intimate union, and thus restored it to fellowship with God.

And again:

The son of God wills to accomplish the work of our redemption in, with, and through his assumed nature, in order that we might be made certain that we are his brothers and heirs of all his merits.

And again:

The Son of God with all His fullness has bestowed all His benefits and gifts upon the assumed nature so that, since he is our kinsman, we who are His brothers may receive the things which the Head bestows upon its members.

And again:

The Son of God assumed a human nature in order that He might share his offices and duties of the kingdom, and the perpetual high priesthood of the Messiah, so that we might be sure that we have access to Him and that we embrace Him in His work as King and High Priest; for in the kingdom of God, His divine nature administers His kingdom and His priesthood in communion with the assumed nature, which is akin to us and of the same substance with us. For no one hates his own flesh, but nourishes and favors it. He is our King and High priest, and we are bone of his bones.

Here Chemnitz speaks of the reasons for the Incarnation. The idea presented above is that whatsoever Christ has done, we have done, and so we are rewarded for His merits, since they are ours by the fact that our “substance” has done them. Similarly, all that is ours is punished in Him. This is the meaning of “Forensic Justification,” that goodness is rewarded by God, and evil destroyed, for God is a righteous judge who by His judgments exalts all righteousness and condemns all wickedness. To take the Eastern Orthodox position that “God has always been willing to forgive apart from a punishment being incurred by anyone” is to say that, firstly, God does not seem to take these sins very seriously, and, secondly, that He seems unwilling to keep His own word and punish sin as He so often promises to do. According to the Lutheran doctrine, all sin is punished as God has promised, and all goodness is rewarded as God has promised, and yet perfect divine love is left intact after the completion of divine justice, for the act of justice accomplished on the cross was executed upon divine love Himself, who succeeds the execution of justice and bears all mankind within Himself as a sort of ark through the consuming fire of God’s righteousness.


Justification in the Thought of the Fathers

What follows is a series of quotations from the Fathers (quoted by Chemnitz) concerning the nature of justification. By quoting these passages from the Fathers, Chemnitz shows two things: first, that the Lutheran doctrine was espoused by the Fathers, and second, that that which the Fathers said is to be assumed as included in the Lutheran doctrine. Therefore, the Fathers quoted can be seen as proleptic “glosses” on the Book of Concord. This is to show that the Lutheran “Forensic Justification” is,  firstly, a very profound doctrine, and, secondly, that it does not properly contain the entire doctrine of the atonement; or perhaps it is better to say that the term “forensic justification” is a misnomer, since the doctrine contains much that is not strictly speaking forensic. The act of the Atonement is ineffable, and can not be entirely comprehended by any motif, whether that of a courtroom, or that of Christ conquering sin, death and the devil, or that of Jesus becoming an ark for us against the flood of God’s wrath, or that of any other. Therefore, to show that when the Evangelical churches speak of justification, they do not mean some Stalinist show trial with an untrue verdict, Chemnitz says effectively, “if you wish to understand our doctrine of the atonement more clearly, please see these passages from the Fathers, for what they have written, so we profess.”

Ignatius of Antioch writes: “The word was made flesh, the incorporeal was embodied in a body, the immortal in a mortal body, life was in destruction, so that He might free us from death and destruction.”

Irenaeus writes: “The Son of God was made the Son of Man that man might also be made the son of God.”

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, The Vatican

And again:

It was necessary that the Mediator between God and men should restore and produce friendship and harmony between them through the relationship to each, so that God might assume man and man might give himself to God. For how could we be sharers of His adoption unless we received that communion which is with Him through the Son and unless he had communicated to us His Word made flesh?

And again:

Sin dominated man. Therefore, it was necessary that He who put sin to death and redeemed man guilty of death should Himself become the same as he is, that is, a man, in order that sin might be put to death by man, and that man might thus escape from death. [NB the explicit reference to the guilt of man requiring a punishment of death.]

And again: “He who is the Son of God is made the Son of Man. For we could have received incorruption and immortality in no other way except by being united with incorruption.”

Athanasius writes: “If Christ were not the true and natural Son of God, then mankind would not have been fully attached to God.”

And again, writing as Christ: “I bear their body in order that they may have unity with My body and that they may be one in it just as those whom I bear may likewise become one body.”

Cyril writes in his Evangelium Joannis:

The Son of God joined our nature to Himself so that He might restore it to its original beauty in and through himself, and that he himself might be constituted as the heavenly man, the second Adam, the first of all men in righteousness and spiritual sanctification, and that through Himself He might bestow all good things upon our race.

And again:

The connecting link in our union with God is Christ. He is united to us as man and to God the Father as God by nature [...] Thus we have been taken up and brought back to union with God the Father by the mediation of the Savior; for when we receive bodily and substantially the Son of God, who is by nature united with the Father, we are then honored, glorified, and made participants of the divine nature.

And again:

He is the Mediator between God and men, not only because He reconciled men to God but also because by nature and by substance He is God and man in one hypostasis. For that which as an intermediary joins together two things is touched by each, and in this way different things are joined together by an intermediary. Thus Christ is the Mediator of God and man because in the same single person God and man are joined together. And since He is joined to us by nature, our nature is joined to Him in the divine substance, and thus we are in communion with the divine nature.

Tertullian writes in De Trinitate:

It was necessary that God become flesh, so that in Him He might guarantee harmony equally between earthly and heavenly things, since He connects the pledges of each party and joins man to God and God to man.

Basil writes:

God is in the flesh because it was necessary that this cursed flesh be sanctified and this weak flesh be made strong, that this alienated flesh be made like God and this fallen flesh restored to Paradise.

Chemnitz goes on to quote perhaps another thirty passages from various Fathers. You may ask me, “That is all very interesting, but why do you speak so much about the Incarnation and union with Christ, when my question was about Forensic Justification?” The answer is that, according to Chemnitz, no one can understand the “sinner being declared righteous” unless he understands that this very same sinner is completely united to God himself and made a sharer of all His benefits, and that this “sharing” is not merely one of “give me that which is yours, that I might pretend that it is mine,” but rather it is a true union, that all that Christ has done, He has done as a man, and so man has done it, and can be judged as having done is justly by God. The “forensic justification” follows only from this understanding of the Incarnation, which is why for Chemnitz, Luther, and all of the orthodox gnesio-Lutheran theologians, there could be no justification, no atonement, without a full Incarnation (not the Nestorian incarnation proposed by the Calvinists), for if God did not truly become one with Mankind, then the sinner being declared righteous would truly be a miscarriage of justice — a lie put in God’s mouth, just as our modern Eastern brothers often say.

This is the meaning of the phrase “we are declared righteous on behalf of Christ” [propter Christum] which is to say “we are declared righteous because Christ was declared righteous in the Resurrection, and we are one with Christ, so we two participate in that declaration.” Similarly the phrase “we have Christ’s righteousness” does not mean at all that His righteousness is attributed to us. Rather, Lutherans would have the phrase mean exactly what it means semantically — that is, that we have His righteousness in the same way that we have an arm or a car or any other thing that we have; it is truly ours. We did not steal it, nor are we borrowing it, nor is it lent to us indefinitely. We have it; we possess it; it is ours, for it is Christ, who is, as Luther would say, in us by faith, for faith and Christ are identical, and to have faith means to have Christ and visa versa.

Another reason I point out the above quotations is to form a somewhat nuanced polemic against the Eastern Orthodox, for they believe that the way of our salvation is pointed out and made possible by Christ’s incarnation and atonement, and so now it is our opportunity to accomplish that which Adam failed to accomplish, that is, our deification through the application of our will in cooperation with the divine energies. However, one must note how all these Fathers seem to view our deification, our justification, our sanctification, our glorification, our being “honored”, &c., as having already been completed, done in the past, that is, done in Christ already. For the Fathers, all of these things are accomplished, for, as Jesus says, “It is finished.” It is this concept which defines the Lutheran doctrine of justification, that is, the completed nature of it, and also the doctrine of a “Forensic Justification”, for that which God has declared cannot be changed. In Christ’s death, God has already condemned sin. In His resurrection, He has forgiven mankind and raised it in Christ. The judgment is already given; man is forgiven and sanctified. We who are in time must “wait” for the Old Adam to die off, that we might procure the fullness of our verdict, but in God, who is beyond all time, the declaration is firm and eternal.

I have said enough for now. Concerning the requirement for a placation to the wrath of God, I could write about it another day, however, having explicated the doctrine of the Forensic Atonement, I am not sure if it is still necessary.

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Appendix A: distinguo contra Dr. Tuomo Mannermaa

Dr. Tuomo Mannermaa, professor emeritus of ecumenical theology at University of Helsinki, Finland

The reason why Tuomo Mannermaa’s article is controversial is less theological than political and cultural, though there may be a theological component to it. Part of Mannermaa’s  thesis is that Luther’s very realistic understanding of the atonement was forgotten and therefore not present in the Formula of Concord, and that therefore there exists a chasm between Luther and the Formula, as well as Luther and Chemnitz, on the nature of deification. He finds this chasm to be spelled out particularly in the Formula’s condemnation of Osiandrianism.

What Mannermaa fails to see, according to my opinion, is that the Formula does not condemn Osiander’s soteriological realism, but rather it condemns Osiander on two points: firstly, that Osiander taught that Christ’s presence in us is only according to the divine nature, and not according to both, as Lutheran Christology would demand (this topic would be dealt with at length in Chemnitz’s “The Two Natures In Christ”), and secondly, that Osiander found that logical “reason” for our justification to be found not in the judgment upon Christ as mankind on the cross, but upon our inner renewal through the indwelling of Christ. The problem of Osiandrianism is that of “who is God looking at when he declares ‘not guilty’”? Is he looking at you with the divine nature renewing you from within (an idea which seems almost a Lutheranized form of Catholicism’s “infused grace”) or is he looking at Christ as the first and fullness of a new humanity?

The second reason for the controversy over Mannermaa is that since his entire theology was developed in the crucible of the dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox, there is suspicion that when Mannermaa speaks of Luther’s doctrine of deification, he is actively trying to make it sound just a little more Orthodox so as to make it appealing to them, as opposed to allowing it to sit in its full Lutheran glory. The main way he does this is in (seemingly) repeating Osiander’s mistake (and the mistake of the Orthodox) and finding the locus of justification in the presently-living Christian who has Christ within him by faith, and not in Christ on the cross, who has Mankind in Him.

The primary question of the Lutheran doctrine of the Forensic Atonement is this: where does God find you righteous?

If the answer is, “On the cross, where Christ was declared both guilty and righteous, Him becoming one with our guilt, us becoming one with His righteousness,” then you are a Lutheran.

If the answer is, “Within the sinner who possess Christ by faith and is renewed by Christ’s divinity,” then you are an Osiandrian.

If the answer is, “Within the sinner who has Christ within him, both as a renewal, and as a pledge of God’s good will,” then you are a follower of the Finnish Interpretation.

If the answer is, “Within the sinner who, by participation in the divine energies, is purified of all sin and so made pleasing to God,” then you are Eastern Orthodox.

I argue, of course, the first, and so you can see how it differs from the others.

The question would again be put: by what merits are you declared to be righteous?

If the answer is: “By the merits of Christ depicted in His Incarnation, obedience, passion, death and resurrection, in which we all participate through baptism in faith, and which are truly made ours,” then you are a Lutheran.

If the answer is: “By new merits gained by Christ through and in us by his indwelling,” then you are some sort of Osiandrian-Finn.

If the answer is: “By new merits (though they would never use the term merit…) gained by myself as a renewed man through theosis,” then you are Orthodox.

Again, I argue the first.

The final and abiding rule of “what makes it truly Lutheran, &c.” is the question of, “Did Christ finish it already, or is there something to be done, even if Christ ‘does it in or through us’?” The Lutheran answer is to say with Christ “It is finished.” Whether it be justification, sanctification, deification, glorification, we must be able to say that with Christ in His life, “It is finished.”

 

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“The Conduct of the Service: Revisited” – Fr. Charles McClean on ad orientem celebration

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THE CONDUCT OF THE SERVICE: REVISITED

Nota Bene: the following is the text of the keynote address which Fr. Charles delivered at the 2011 St. Michael’s Liturgical Conference at Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit, MI. A (sadly very poor-quality) audio version is available at the end of the post.

 

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As I prepared these past weeks for this talk there repeatedly came to mind some words of T.S. Eliot in his poem “Little Gidding,” words which have become very important to me as one who has returned to the Church of his baptism after far too long a sojourn in another part of Christendom:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. (2)

Now people of a certain age are much given to nostalgia. Being of a certain age I begin these reflections with the memory of the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar as I experienced it from childhood at the Church in which I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained — old Martini Church in Baltimore. Martini was formed when the mother parish of the Missouri Synod in Baltimore, “old” Saint Paul’s which had been founded in 1839, divided into three separate congregations. Friedrich Wyneken and then Ernst Gerhard Wilhelm Keyl, Dr. Walther’s brother-in-law, had been the pastors of the mother parish. Dedicated in May 1868 Martini Church had only three pastors in the first eighty-nine years of its life, and this made for a great deal of continuity. And so the custom of the so-called Altargesang — the pastor’s chanting of the liturgy – continued without interruption through the spring of 1957 when Pastor Engelbert, who had served the congregation since 1918, retired. One of my earliest memories of Good Friday is of the pastor and congregation chanting the Litany on bended knee. The Sacrament of the Altar was not as frequently celebrated as it is nowadays, but when it was celebrated there was an unmistakable atmosphere of the deepest reverence. I remember how as a child I was deeply moved by the familiar chant of the Preface, the Lord’s Prayer, and of the Consecration which was sung to the once very familiar Bugenhagen melody which was in our Synod’s German Agenda and in our English liturgy through the publication in 1944 of The Music for the Liturgy but which now seems to have disappeared from our service books for no apparent reason. At the Communion the communicants knelt at the altar rail to receive the Lord’s Body in their mouths and Christ’s Blood from the chalice — which no communicant ever thought of touching. No layman ever assisted in the distribution of the Sacrament. If no assisting pastor was available, even on Easter Day the pastor himself administered both the Body and Blood of the Lord. Upon returning to his pew after receiving the Sacrament, each communicant knelt for silent prayer. Stanzas of a Communion hymn, with a quiet organ interlude between each stanza, occupied the time of Communion. The “ushers” at every Communion were two very long-time members of the Church Council who would quietly ask any stranger: “Have you announced for Communion?” And if they had not, they would be told that they must not approach the altar. The pastor wore a black gown with a rather ornate silver pectoral cross. The church itself was very beautiful due to a renovation carried out in 1905 under the aegis of the then Pastor Dietrich Henry Steffens, a pastor from our Synod’s past who needs to be better known. He was the author of a biography of Dr. Walther published by the Lutheran Publishing Society of Philadelphia in 1917 and was an authority on church architecture and liturgics (3). His splendid essay for the 1925 Eastern District Convention, Safeguarding the Lord’s Table, displays his considerable erudition and unshakeable confessional faithfulness (4). He also played a leading role in preparing the first musical setting for the English Liturgy of our Synod, the largely forgotten Common Service with Music published in Pittsburgh in 1906 (5).

The old Martini Church (as it was until it fell victim to an expressway in 1977) was a living expression of Pastor Steffens’ faith and learning. He saw to it that the altar triptych was filled with a copy of Raphael’s wonderful painting of the Transfiguration. In the ceiling of the chancel were paintings of the four evangelists, each with his symbol. The tall windows in the nave were filled with stained glass portraying the life of our Lord, and in the spandrils at the top of each column in the nave were copies of the coats-of-arms of the princes and cities which presented the Augsburg Confession. Pastor Steffens obtained the plates for these coats-of-arms from the Ecclesiastical Arts Society in Berlin; they were approved by the Imperial College of Heralds of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Fr. Charles on the day of his confirmation.

Fr. Charles on the day of his confirmation.

But why recount this memory of the Sacrament as celebrated in just one parish church so many years ago?

I mention all this because it presents such a contrast with present-day conditions in so many places. It is truly cause for melancholy reflection that, although the frequency of the celebration of the Sacrament has increased remarkably in the past forty or so years, abuses in connection with the celebration have also increased. It would of course be absurd to claim that the celebration of the Sacrament was everywhere marked with great reverence fifty or so years ago, but the abuses which now have become so distressingly common were then simply unthinkable: more or less open communion, the failure to use only the dominically-mandated elements of the Sacrament, together with casualness and irreverence in the administration of the Sacrament. All of this displays a distressing decline in that sense of mystery and awe which should certainly accompany the celebration of the Holy Mysteries of the Lord’s Body and Blood. It is cold comfort to reflect that much the same could be said of the sacramental practice in Roman Catholicism in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, a deplorable state of affairs now recognized as such and being addressed under the leadership of the present Bishop of Rome.

The announced theme of this conference is “The Conduct of the Service: Revisited.” My own work in that manual begins with the words: “Readers familiar with The Conduct of the Service by the Rev. Arthur Carl Piepkorn will immediately recognize how largely indebted this manual is to that work” (6). Although Dr. Piepkorn was not a member of the committee involved in the production of this manual he did in fact read the entire manuscript and suggested improvements. Needless to say, he is in no way responsible for the inadequacies of my own work.

In his exposition of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism Dr. Luther says that “God, parents, and teachers can never be sufficiently thanked and repaid” (LC IV 130). And so here I must express an immense debt of gratitude to Father Piepkorn, an especially dear and wonderful person, who taught not only by what he said but perhaps even more by what he was: a cheerful and unfailingly charitable child of God. When he stood at the altar you sensed that here was a man who knew that he was standing in the presence of his Maker and Redeemer. He would be among the last to claim infallibility for himself! Typical of his modesty are the comments he made in introducing a series of articles on the Ecclesiastical Arts in the old American Lutheran magazine — the predecessor of Lutheran Forum — way back in 1947 where he says that he regards his role in presenting these articles “as being editorial and not oracular,” and says that since “the Sacred Scriptures hand down few binding declarations relating to the ecclesiastical arts there is accordingly ample room for honest difference of opinion, for cheerful disagreement, for constructive dissent” (7). It goes without saying that I hope my own remarks will be seen in the same way.

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Entertaining in Alexandria, VA; January 2011.

So revisiting The Conduct of the Service involves reflection on the work of Dr. Piepkorn. It also necessarily involves revisiting the question of the celebration of the Sacrament facing the people. And here a bit of history: although the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council which closed in December 1965 said absolutely nothing about the versus populum celebration, that innovation was swiftly adopted throughout the Roman Church and many Lutherans and Anglicans quickly followed suit. And so early in 1969 the members of the Saint Louis Seminary faculty who had responsibility for teaching liturgics — Robert Bergt, George Hoyer, John Damm, and Mark Bangert — concluded that there should be some kind of guide for pastors of our Synod who wished to introduce this practice. And so I was asked to return to Saint Louis from my Long Island congregation to work on this project with them. The way it worked was that I would prepare some material and then about once a month we would all gather to review my work. I was not then nor am I persuaded now of the desirability let alone the necessity of the celebration facing the people. I remember with pleasure how at one of the meetings of the committee Professor Hoyer said, “You know Charles keeps his distance from all this!” Some evidence for that can still be found in the first paragraph of chapter six of the manual.

The year 1969 saw not only the appearance of the Missal of Paul VI which came into use on Advent Sunday of that year but also the appearance of the Worship Supplement in the Missouri Synod consisting of materials which had been gathered together for a projected revision of Synod’s liturgy and hymnal, a project abandoned with considerable misgivings in the interest of taking part in the preparation of a common liturgy and hymnal for Lutherans in North America, a project which resulted in the appearance in 1978 of the regrettable Lutheran Book of Worship. I say regrettable because the Lutheran Book of Worship represented a decisive break with the Common Service tradition and

Is it any accident that this is a little green book? I think not. -- admin

Is it any accident that this is a little green book? I think not. — admin

was clearly influenced by some of the more dubious theories, then accepted as indisputable facts, of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Liturgical Movement, notably the “four-fold action” shape of the Liturgy: offertory, thanksgiving, breaking of the bread, communion — a theory proposed by the learned Anglican Benedictine monk Dom Gregory Dix in his great work, The Shape of the Liturgy. (It is interesting to note that Dr. Piepkorn was never impressed with Dom Gregory’s thesis and, while admiring Dom Gregory’s historical erudition, would refer to his book as “that tract”!) Although Dom Gregory’s theory has now been largely discredited, his theory still influences the rites of Western Christendom. But it is now widely agreed throughout Christendom that the essential parts of the Holy Eucharist are the consecration and the reception of Holy Communion. The placing of the gifts of bread and wine on the altar and the breaking of the bread are simply practical measures although they have of course over the centuries acquired varied symbolic meanings.

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An Eastern Orthodox Eucharistic celebration.

If you ask how it was that Lutherans could so easily succumb to prevalent opinion it has to be remembered that the late 60s were a heady time, not least because in the years of and following the Second Vatican Council it actually looked for a while as if the reunion of divided Christendom was a real possibility. And in that atmosphere there was an understandable desire to conform our own liturgical practice to what was perceived to be an emerging ecumenical consensus. And part of that consensus at least in the Western Church was the acceptance of the celebration versus populum. I say Western Church because the Eastern Orthodox have universally continued to celebrate the Sacrament in the eastward position, ad orientem, toward the east, toward the rising sun, symbol of the risen Son who will on the Last Day appear in glory and welcome His Church to the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom. It has always seemed to me that this consistent practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church should have been sufficient evidence against the notion that the versus populum celebration was common in Christian antiquity. For surely no part of Christendom has been as resistant to innovation as the Orthodox! To be sure every Orthodox altar is free-standing, but the priest always faces the east as he celebrates the Sacrament — not “turning his back” on the people, but facing in the same direction as the people — to the east, ad orientem.

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Fr. David Petersen of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, IN, celebrating versus populum.

Now let me say before I go on with these remarks that I would not wish to be understood as condemning the versus populum celebration or as failing to realize that the Sacrament has been and continues to be celebrated with great reverence, beauty and devotion in that way. But I do remain persuaded that it has been a mistake.

In a letter to Dr. Peter Brunner dated December 4th 1974 Dr. Hermann Sasse addresses Dr. Brunner’s advocacy of the versus populum celebration. Sasse admits that Dr. Luther had indeed contemplated the possibility of the versus populum celebration in his Deutsche Messe of 1526 in the familiar words: “In the true Mass, however, of real Christians, the altar should not remain where it is, and the priest should always face the people as Christ undoubtedly did at the Last Supper.” But in saying that, Dr. Luther was — as it turns out, understandably — mistaken. Dr. Uwe Michael Lang in his excellent study of orientation in liturgical prayer, Turning Towards The Lord, tells us why Dr. Luther was mistaken. He writes:

From about the thirteenth century, depictions of the Last Supper adopted the contemporary seating arrangement, with Jesus occupying the place of honor in the middle of a large table and the apostles to his right and left, as, for example, in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco in Milan. An image of this type may have been in the mind of Martin Luther when, in 1526, he suggested that the altar should not remain in its old position and that the priest should always face the people, as no doubt Christ did at the Last Supper. (8)

Father Lang notes in passing that Luther’s proposal was never implemented in Wittenberg nor we might add has it been in the churches of the Augsburg Confession until relatively recent years.

Father Louis Bouyer has this to say:

The idea that a celebration facing the people must have been the primitive one, and that especially of the last supper, has no other foundation than a mistaken view of what a meal could be in antiquity, Christian or not. In no meal of the early Christian era did the president of the banqueting assembly ever face the other participants. They were all sitting or reclining on the convex side of a C-shaped table, or of a table approximately the shape of a horse shoe. The other side was always left empty for the service. Nowhere in Christian antiquity could have arisen the idea of having to “face the people” to preside at a meal. The communal character of a meal was emphasized just by the opposite disposition: the facts that all the participants were on the same side of the table. (9)

There are in fact examples of Christian art prior to the thirteenth century, for example in a mosaic in S. Appollinare Nuovo in Ravenna of about the year 520, which reflect this type of arrangement (10).

It seems that the idea of the universality of the versus populum celebration in the ancient church rests on the evidence of basilicas such as Saint Peter’s in Rome where the apse was in the west rather than the east end of the Church. In order that the celebrant might face east the celebrant did stand behind the altar. But the point was not “facing the people.“ Bouyer quotes Professor Cyrille Vogel as saying that “even when the orientation of the church enabled the celebrant to pray turned toward the people when at the altar, we must not forget that it was not the priest alone who then turned east; it was the whole congregation together with him” (11). So important was prayer ad orientem in Christian antiquity. I remember the late Dr. Thomas Talley, a distinguished liturgical scholar (and also a warm and very funny Texan), saying to his class in liturgics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City that, although he himself favored the versus populum celebration, the idea that that form of celebration is somehow primitive is a myth.

But I digress. In his letter to Peter Brunner Dr. Sasse had this to say — and Dr. Sasse was that perhaps unusual phenomenon, a German theologian with a sense of humor! Do catch the irony and humor in his comments! He writes to Brunner:

What concerns me and to speak frankly has saddened me is your proposal for a new form of the altar and a way of celebrating the Sacrament which would conform to this proposal. What has earlier been proposed in this connection I have taken with as little seriousness as the comical ideas and proposals which were made forty years ago in the Liturgical Movement, when the Benedictines demanded the restoration of the ancient Christian mensa while at the same time the “Scoto-Catholics” of the land of John Knox fashioned their communion table into a kind of high altar. In both instances the praying clergyman was turned around 180 degrees (12)!

Sasse then goes on to say:

The significance of prayer to the east — the altar always stands liturgically in the east — is that the pastor and people pray to the Lord who will come again, who as the Sun of Righteousness will appear in the east where Paradise lay. The Jews pray toward Jerusalem, the Mohammedans toward Mecca. We have our “kiblah” [the Kaaba at Mecca]; why should we give it up? The anticipated Parousia already takes place so to speak on the altar. (13)

Here I must mention in passing that many years ago, when a friend of mine discussed the versus populum celebration with Dr. Martin Franzmann, Dr. Franzmann admitted that in the versus populum celebration something of the eschatological reality of the Sacrament is somehow obscured.

Well here is a point on which both Hermann Sasse and the present Bishop of Rome are in agreement! For many years Cardinal Ratzinger had registered his deep misgivings about the versus populum celebration and, not least through his motu proprio making possibility the celebration of the old pre-Vatican II Mass, has encouraged the restoration of the eastward position in the church, also setting an example by celebrating ad orientem when he celebrates the Novus Ordo Mass in the Sistine Chapel. But he has also said that it would be a mistake to demand that all the altars must now immediately be turned around again! Here we see the wisdom of thinking in terms of generations, a virtue of the Roman Church which Dr Sasse often pointed out. So for now Pope Benedict has suggested as a possible solution that a crucifix be placed on the altar facing the celebrant so that when Mass is celebrated versus populum both the celebrant and the people can face the Lord together instead of gazing at one another! With reference to the versus populum celebration he has this to say:

Now the priest — the “presider” as they now prefer to call him – becomes the point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make their own contribution.” Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern.” The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people’; the priest himself was not so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord.” As one of the fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J[osef] Jungmann put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession toward the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us. [emphasis added] (14)

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Fragment from The Miraculous Communion of Saint Catherine of Siena by Domenico Beccafumi, c. 1513-15

I think the Bishop of Rome is right when he says that the versus populum celebration tends to make the celebrant a focus of attention in a way he never was in the ad orientem celebration, and that with that overexposure of the celebrant has also come the “assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals…More and more important is what is done by human beings.” Now this is not to say that in an ideal celebration of the Sacrament the celebrant alone must have a role, but I believe that it is a caution worth hearing. One of the limitations of chapter six in The Conduct of the Services are these words which describe the Eucharist as “an action…. For this reason these ceremonial directions encourage the participation of as many people as possible: reading the lessons, bringing the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, and so on” (15). Now while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with laymen reading the lessons — although there is something terribly wrong about poorly read and therefore scarcely intelligible lessons! — nor is there anything intrinsically wrong with the so-called “offertory procession” of the bread and wine to be consecrated, we still need to think very carefully about anything that suggests that the Holy Eucharist is primarily an action on the part of human beings when it is in fact a great and wondrous Sacrament in which God Himself acts. Now in fairness to our Roman Catholic brethren I think we have to admit that the emphasis on the people’s active participation in the Mass was a completely understandable reaction to the pre-Vatican II arrangements in which the people tended to be nothing more than silent spectators (except in those very few parishes such as Holy Cross Church in Saint Louis, where Monsignor Hellriegel was pastor, where the ideals of the old pre-Vatican II liturgical movement had been beautifully implemented). But failure to participate in the liturgy has certainly not been a problem in our churches since our people have more or less always participated in the liturgy and hymns.

To return to Pope Benedict’s remarks: I believe that they address not only the problems of post-Vatican II liturgy in the Roman Church but also the disintegration of worship in so many churches of our Synod. In the worst cases even the altar has been removed or is removable, and in not a few cases the constant center of attention is an often jeans-clad clergyman holding a microphone in his hands like some kind of entertainer or rock star assisted by similarly clad “musicians” forming what is called a “praise band.” I submit that Pope Benedict’s words speak to that pitiful state of affairs and also to all the misguided and unfortunate attempts at what is called “creative worship.” But the liturgy of the Church is an organic product of the ages, and what an irony it is that the people involved in these activities seemingly have no idea that their “worship” has become no less man-centered than the worst medieval misunderstandings of the Mass. And here I cannot resist saying how very telling and how very sad is the frequently heard claim in these same circles that “we worshipped 500 people last weekend.” “We worshipped 500 people”? But I had always assumed that we as Christians worship the Holy Trinity? “We worshipped 500 people last weekend.” One can only say with sadness: “Your speech betrays you!”

And now let us leave behind the question of the versus populum celebration together with the effects of the Roman and Anglican liturgical movement and think about what it is that we were attempting to achieve some forty years ago. As I thought these past weeks about both Fr. Piepkorn’s work and my own, it became very clear to me that we were primarily concerned about continuity and reverence.

First let me say something about continuity.

Now much has been made of the differences between Dr. Piepkorn and Dr. Sasse, and Dr. Sasse’s misgivings concerning Dr. Piepkorn are documented in Dr. Feuerhahn’s essay, Hermann Sasse’s Critique of Arthur Carl Piepkorn in the festschrift for Bishop Roger Pittelko’s 70th birthday. Among other things Dr. Feuerhahn says that Dr. Piepkorn “intimated a greater demand for liturgical correctness than for a sense of the liturgy as a handmaiden for the means of grace and a guide for the pastor” (16). I can only say that this is not Dr. Piepkorn as I knew him: for example, as he taught his splendid course “The Theology of the Lutheran Rite” and as he advised soon-to-be-ordained seminarians not to make any changes in the liturgy for at least a year after you arrive in a parish so that your people may first learn to know that you truly love them.

But whatever differences there were — and they were real differences — both of them were deeply convinced of the continuity of the Church of the Augsburg Confession with the Church which has been in the world since the first Pentecost. They were also both deeply convinced that this continuity should and in fact has characterized the worship of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. In his splendid study, What the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church Have to Say About Worship and the Sacraments, Dr. Piepkorn writes: “In its concrete form the Lutheran rites of the Reformation century — like the Lutheran doctrinal formulations of the Reformation century — reflect the fact that the Church of the Augsburg Confession is consciously and determinedly a part of the Catholic Church of the West” (17). And Dr. Sasse writes:

Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the Church of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it renounced the Reformation. For the orthodox evangelical Church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its identity with the Catholic Church. (18)

Sasse then goes on to say:

It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church…cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship. (19)

Both The Conduct of the Service and The Conduct of the Services seek continuity and reverence. Both works begin with the claim that “there is really only one basic rule for those who lead the church in worship: ‘Be reverent!’ Every other rule is simply a practical application of that basic charge.”

I love the words of Dr. John Stephenson in his splendid study of the Lord’s Supper where he says:

Lutheranism’s inexorable accommodation to the Puritan-Arminian milieu of North American Christianity is much exacerbated by the current catastrophic collapse of our public culture. The melding of these two factors underscores the imperative quality of an aspect of Eucharistic celebration which the confessors of 1577 took from granted. Solid Declaration VII.44 notes that “this most holy sacrament…is to be used until the end of the world with great reverence (mit grosser Reverenz/magna cum reverentia) and in all obedience.” Since separation from the common and consecration to God pertains to the biblical reality of holiness, the behavior of celebrant and communicants at the Holy Supper should reflect their gracious admission to the realm depicted in Revelation 4 and 5. Recovery of this core awareness is far more important than such secondary matters as the reintroduction of such ceremonial details as full Eucharistic vestments. For colorful paraphernalia can coexist with a lackadaisical carnival atmosphere which never quits the confines of this world. [emphasis added] (20)

Along with Dr. Piepkorn‘s insistence that “There is really only one basic rule of altar decorum: ‘Be reverent!’” there is also his insistence that “spiritual preparation is more essential to reverence than the proper ordering of the physical adjuncts. A meditation, brief if need be, but as long as time permits, ought never to be overlooked” (21).

I believe that Dr. Piepkorn’s insistence on spiritual preparation is even more necessary today than it was some forty years ago. It is of course a truism to say that we live in a world which perhaps more than ever before is indescribably noisy, a world where the silence necessary to spiritual preparation is harder than ever to come by. All the marvelous inventions of the modern world — radio, television, computers, cell-phones, and who knows what else — conspire to rob us of silence. But isn’t it true that without silence we can hear neither ourselves nor God nor other people for that matter? And here we are not thinking of the delusion of those who, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says, “sit in a dark corner doing and saying nothing, but only waiting for illumination” (Apology XIII 13), but of the obvious truth that we cannot hear another if we ourselves are not sufficiently quiet — not only externally but inwardly quiet — so as to give attention to what another says. It is surely delusional to imagine that we can suddenly enter that heavenly “realm depicted in Revelation 4 and 5” without the slightest preparation. And that surely applies both to the clergy and to the worshipping congregation.

And here we must note the widespread collapse of the fine custom of keeping silence in Church before the Divine Service and the other services of the Church. What do we have instead? In not a few places we have incessant chatter, a cacophony of voices even during the organ prelude. Until relatively recent times people instinctively knew that there was need for quiet reflection if one is to be ready to hear the Word of the Lord. And if the worshippers need a time of quiet to prepare for their participation in worship, how much more do the officiating clergy! I am convinced that so much of the difficulty and weariness with the Church’s customary worship, the incessant clamor for endless “variety,” grows out of a failure to understand that the entire liturgy must not simply be read but prayed and prayer involves deliberate departure from the world of noise and distraction, also inward noise and distraction.

“There is really only one basic rule of altar decorum: ‘Be reverent!’ Every other rule is simply a practical amplification of this basic charge.” I am inclined to say that the “Notes on Reverence” at the beginning of The Conduct of the Service are probably more important than all that follows because the reverence and spiritual preparation which Dr. Piepkorn insists on are the indispensable foundation of truly recollected worship. All of the ceremonial directions are intended to help make possible that recollected worship. And if the ceremonial becomes somehow distracting, then it, no less than the deplorable liturgical devastation and levity now seen in many places, can be a hindrance to worship in spirit and in truth. Our real goal is surely not some kind of ceremonial maximalism everywhere but the quiet dignity which grows out of genuine awareness that in the celebration of the Sacrament we are indeed “admitted to the realm depicted in Revelation 4 and 5”: for here the exalted Lamb of God, worshipped by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, imparts the Body and Blood of His atoning, life-giving sacrifice under the consecrated bread and wine which rest upon our altars. When that conviction takes root in hearts and minds a worthy celebration will surely follow.

I believe that for people like ourselves The Conduct of the Service remains a useful guide — certainly not to be followed slavishly but as a fairly accurate guide to the ceremonial usages of the Church of the Augsburg Confession grounded in the historic liturgy of the Western Church. But I cannot help but wonder whether Dr. Piepkorn’s work and my own were and are perhaps a bit much for the average seminarian and pastor who for better or worse have neither the interest nor the patience to plough through all this material. And I suspect that there are relatively few parishes in our Synod where the most complete ceremonial known to the Church of the Augsburg Confession can be implemented. Interesting in this connection is the fact that the old Liturgical Society of Saint James had as one of its goals the establishment of “one congregation in each of our great cities” where the most complete usages known to our Church could be implemented.

Having so recently returned to Synod, I am not aware of how liturgics is taught at our two seminaries nor of what written guidelines there may be available for worship according to the Lutheran Service Book. Perhaps we need something like the simple directions Luther Dotterer Reed provided in his fine work The Lutheran Liturgy, first published in 1947 and in a second edition in 1959. In the earlier edition Dr. Reed followed the rite of the Common Service Book and Hymnal of 1917, in the latter edition the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal. I have to admit that in my judgment the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal and The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 in our own Synod represent the last time when Lutherans in America were provided with a fully coherent, finished rite. I think that ever since then our service books and hymnals have more of the character of works in progress – not that there is anything wrong with that. But this is yet another large question which we do not now have time to explore.

In conclusion I have just a few practical observations. Although it is unrealistic to expect that most of our churches will follow the full ceremonial known to the Church of the Augsburg Confession, there are I believe a few things that perhaps could be done better to embody in our celebration of the Sacrament the sense of what John Stephenson has called our “gracious admission to the realm depicted in Revelation 4 and 5,” of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven before the throne of God and the Lamb.

The church building, especially the chancel, should clearly say, “This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven.“ But so many of our churches built since about 1960 are of an almost Puritanical plainness redolent of Reformed Protestantism’s principled (and, I submit, finally heretical) rejection of images. I am convinced that the contemporary profusion of home-made banners of very uneven quality in our churches, usually with symbols unintelligible to the laity or even worse with words, words and more words, are an effort to bring some color and interest into rather colorless, severely plain buildings. Our old traditional churches with their — if you will forgive the expression — “gingerbread” altars and stained glass windows have a completely different atmosphere similar to the old Lutheran churches of Germany and Scandinavia. If we could everywhere restore the crucifix, the chalice, and the so-called Altargesang of the pastor — customs virtually universal when we were a German-speaking Synod — the worship in many places would take on a very different atmosphere. In recent years I have become more and more convinced of how much was lost in our Synod’s necessary but difficult transition to being an English-speaking church. The fear of the Father Founders of our Synod, that the adoption of the English language would make us even more vulnerable to the prevalent Reformed Protestantism of this land, was not unfounded. I believe that the present “baptistification” of our churches is only the reductio ad absurdum of that sad and lengthy process.

You may have noticed that in The Conduct of the Service nothing is said about the use of individual cups; the use of such cups was not nearly as widespread in our churches as it has become in recent years. I was about twenty years old before I ever saw such things, and I must admit that I am hard pressed to think of anything which has had such a deplorable effect on the celebration of the Sacrament in our churches as the introduction from Reformed Protestantism of this custom. It frankly amazes me that the clergy who first capitulated to pressures to introduce them didn’t immediately realize that the word “individual” and the word “communion” are somehow mutually exclusive! And is it not the use of individual cups which has made possible departures from the dominically instituted elements in the Sacrament? Both Walther in his Pastoral Theology and Pieper in his Christian Dogmatics insist that it is the pastor’s responsibility to see to it that nothing but genuine wine is used in the Sacrament. But our Synod has changed in the past fifty years. Then it was a generally unquestioned assumption that we should exercise the greatest, most scrupulous care to celebrate the Holy Sacraments in exact conformity with our Lord’s institution. But now many in our Synod seem to be oblivious to that confessional commitment and are seemingly concerned not so much with the conformity of the celebration of the Sacrament to the Lord’s institution but with the accommodation of every possible and impossible cultural expectation.

I frankly do not know what the solution is to the problem of individual cups. In the parishes where the cups are firmly ensconced we must in charity bear with them in the hope that patient catechesis will perhaps lead to better things. I have of late begun to wonder if the only practical way to rid our churches of this problem would be to introduce for those who will not receive from the chalice the practice of intinction whereby the communicant receives the host on the palm of his right hand held flat over the left hand with the person administering the chalice then dipping the edge of the host in the precious Blood and placing it on the tongue of the communicant. I know that some have said that intinction does not fulfill the divine command to “drink” the precious Blood. There may be something to that. But is it in keeping with the divine command when, instead of partaking of the Lord’s precious Blood from the Cup, each communicant drinks each from his own little cup? I wonder which is less defensible. Perhaps it would be useful to begin a thorough discussion of this problem, for among the many undesirable effects of using individual cups is the difficulty in seeing to it that the precious Blood is consumed at the end of the distribution as Dr. Luther directed. This practice is in fact reflected in the directions for the reverent treatment of what remains after the Communion in Walther’s Pastoral Theology. In this connection let me call your attention to two splendid articles, one by Bishop Emeritus Jobst Schoene of our German sister church, “Pastoral Letter regarding the Divine Service and the Sacrament of the Altar,” and the other by Dr. John Stephenson, “Reflections on the Appropriate Vessels for Consecrating and Distributing the Precious Blood of Christ.” Both articles are readily available in A Reader in Pastoral Theology published by the Fort Wayne Seminary. I only wish that every pastor in our Synod would “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” these articles which show how our confession of the true Body and Blood in the Sacrament should shape our practice. (22)

Let me finally make a plea for the restoration of the full frontal to our altars.

Even the plainest imaginable altar gains in significance and beauty where this ancient practice is followed. Pictures of Lutheran churches in the 16th century and thereafter show that frontal was very common indeed. It needs to be remembered that the purpose of altar paraments is not to have bits of cloth showing the liturgical colors but to clothe the altar which is itself a symbol of Christ, Himself the Victim and Himself the Priest. And so from earliest times the church both east and west has clothed its altars with splendid coverings. As the psalmist says, “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty”(Psalm 93:1).

Since this is the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Dr. Walther, the Father Founder of our Synod, he shall have the last word. Speaking to the 16th Convention of the Central District of our Synod meeting in Saint Paul’s Church in Indianapolis on August 9, 1871, Dr. Walther had this to say:

We are not insisting that there be uniformity of perception or of taste among all believing Christians – neither dare anyone demand that all should be minded in this as he is. Nevertheless it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like mere lecture halls, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which the Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. (23)

The pseudepigrapher and Fr. Charles luncheoning in Old Town Alexandria, VA, in June of 2013.

The pseudepigrapher and Fr. Charles luncheoning in Old Town Alexandria, VA, in June of 2013.

Audio of Fr. Charles’s keynote address:

 

 

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pseudepodcast – Preface to the Christian Book of Concord

This reading covers the “Preface to the Christian Book of Concord.”

 

(If you missed my previous post explaining just what it is that I think I’m doing, please apprise yourself of the situation.)

 

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pseudepodcast – Inaugural Episode

It’s not what you think. At least I don’t think it is.

 

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