Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologiert.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar.

27 May 2016

Memorial Day Is Not All Saints Day Or Veterans Day, 2016.

Nor is it Armed Forces Day, which we just had.  It isn't even Memorial Day any more, really. And, it wasn't to start with, either!  Huh??

So where did it come from? Unlike many holidays, there is no centuries-old background here. The background there is will help not only understanding Memorial Day for what it is and isn't, but our secular holidays as a whole, and provide some eye-openers on the political scene.

The Original Memorial Day.

On 5 May 1868 General John A Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, designated 30 May 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion". Not only for that, but also to "renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan". The designation was for 1868 only, but it expressed "the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades".

What does this mean?

The above words, from the proclamation itself, General Orders No.11 from G.A.R. headquarters, make it clear that the reference is to the Civil War. So who is Logan and what is the G.A.R.?

The G.A.R. was not a unit in the Civil War. It was a group founded 6 April 1866 by Benjamin F Stephenson MD in Decatur IL for veterans of the U.S. Army who had served in the Civil War. He himself had served as surgeon of the 14th Illinois Infantry with the rank of Major. The unit was a regiment with the Union Army of the Tennessee, not to be confused with the Confederate Army of Tennessee, and the former was named for the river, the latter for the state.  He served for a three year term ending 24 June 1864, after which he returned to Springfield IL, the state capital, to resume medical practice.

Among the notable commanding officers of the Army of the Tennessee are its first, Ulysses S Grant, and its second, William T Sherman, who arranged for John A Logan to be its fifth and last after the war was actually over. There's a story there. The third commander, James B McPherson, was killed in action 22 July 1864 during the Battle of Atlanta, and Logan temporarily replaced him, but command went to another, Oliver O Howard from the Army of the Cumberland. Howard, like Sherman, was West Point; Logan wasn't. However, Sherman arranged for Logan to become commander so he could lead the army in the Grand Review to kind of make up for being passed over. It disbanded 1 August 1865.

And what was the Grand Review? An event on 23 and 24 May 1865, whose full name is Grand Review of the Armies, in Washington DC to celebrate the end of the war. On 23 May, Major General George Meade of the Army of the Potomac, who had won over General Lee at Gettysburg, led about 80,000 of its men in a six hour parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the following day Sherman led about 65,000 men combined from the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia in another six hour parade, Howard riding with Sherman and Logan leading the Army of the Tennessee.

Post Civil War Memorial Days.

General Logan served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st Illinois Infantry during the Mexican-American War -- during which he learned to speak Spanish -- graduated in law from the University of Louisville in 1851, practiced law and rose in a political career from county clerk to the Illinois state house of representatives and was serving as a member of the US House of Representatives, Democrat from Illinois, at the outset of the war. He was a volunteer at Bull Run, or Manassas, after which he resigned his congressional seat and organised the 31st Illinois Volunteers, with the rank of Colonel. After the war he switched parties, was a Representative and then Senator from Illinois, and ran as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket with James G Blaine in the election of 1884, which lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

There's another story. Cleveland, whose Civil War service was paying a Polish immigrant to serve in his place when he was drafted -- legal under the Conscription Act of 1863 -- was a classic liberal, "liberal" being as unrelated to what the term means now as "Democrat". He opposed taxes, supported the gold standard and lowering tariffs imposed on imports to protect domestic products, worked for reduction and limitation of government, and opposed government intervention in the welfare of individuals. In vetoing a measure to provide a "bail out" for Texas farmers ruined by drought, he said the veto was " to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood". Not a lot of that kind of talk from Democrats lately.

The election was hard fought. The Democrats accused Blaine of influencing legislation to benefit railroads whose bonds he owned, which was long denied until letters were discovered making it a little harder to deny, some of them ending "Burn this letter", which in turn gave rise to the campaign slogan "Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine". The Republicans in turn tried to sully Cleveland's image when a woman named him the father of her illegitimate child, and Cleveland admitted he did pay her child support. She however was known to have, so to speak, played the field, including with Cleveland's law partner, for whom the child was named, and while Cleveland himself actually did not know who the father was, being the only bachelor among the possibilities, took responsibility, leading to the campaign slogan "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"

And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately! It gets worse. Blaine, whose mother was Irish Catholic, was hoping for support from that community, not typically known for supporting Republicans, but then one of Blaine's supporters denounced the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" (the party of Lincoln not being popular in the South) which lost him a ton of votes in swing states to Cleveland, who won the popular vote by less than 1%, though being swing states the electoral college vote was decisive. After Cleveland won, the slogan was turned around to "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa, gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!".

It gets worse yet. In 1888 he was renominated and ran again, and the Republicans ran Benjamin Harrison, Republican Senator from Indiana, against him instead of Logan -- oh yeah, Logan, we'll get back to him -- for high tariffs and big government -- yes, you read it right, that was the Republican position, big government -- and while Cleveland did not win all the swing states as before, what did him in was, guess what, vote fraud by the Republicans in, guess where, Indiana, where Cleveland narrowly lost, however, it gave Harrison the electoral votes to win although he lost the national popular vote. And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately!

Cleveland came back though. Harrison's high tariffs, and big budgets -- he was the first President to have a billion dollar budget, yes Republicans for a big budget -- and support for backing currency with silver as well as gold -- why was that a problem, because silver wasn't worth as much as its legal gold equivalent -- with taxpayers paying in silver, cheap money to "help the poor", but the government's creditors required payment in gold, the economy went to hell. With the Republicans losing supporters of free silver to the new Populist Party, Cleveland was elected President again in 1892. He thus became the only President (so far) to serve non-continuous terms, and will, btw, therefore have two coins in the Presidential Dollar series, though you likely won't see one as the series stopped production for circulation with Chester Alan Arthur, the president just before him.

Oh yeah, Logan. Had the Blaine/Logan ticket won, he would have died in office. He died 26 December 1886. Staunchly Republican, he became Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 and continued in that position until 1871 when he became a US Senator. He was always active in veteran's affairs, and public education -- the non West Pointer. A GAR endorsement was essential to winning a Republican nomination for President for decades. The GAR also was influential in the establishment of Old Soldiers' Homes, which became the basis for the present US Department of Veterans Affairs. At its peak in 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members, but, realising numbers must eventually decline, in 1881 the GAR founded the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to eventually carry on.

And so they did: the last encampment, as national meetings were called, was in 1949, and the last surviving member, named Albert Woolson, died 2 August 1956 at age 109, it was thought, though census records now indicate 106. There's a story there too. He was from New York state. His father was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and taken to a military hospital in Windom, Minnesota, where he and his mother moved, though his father later died of his wounds. Whereupon Albert enlisted in Company C of the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer, which is not just for parades and stuff like now. Then, as for centuries before, there was no motorised transport, and drummers were key in both setting marching pace and boosting morale during combat. Albert enlisted 10 October 1864 just months before the war's end and the unit did not see action. He returned to Minnesota, lived out his life as a carpenter, and died in Duluth.

General Eisenhower, President at the time said of his passing " "The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army ... His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States". The recognition of both sides was not new; at the first Memorial Day graves from both sides were decorated.

Modern Memorial Day Evolves.

With his death, the GAR ceased to exist. Memorial Day did not. More or less. The original name was Decoration Day, from the original proclamation for the decorating of veterans' graves of the Civil War, which also, in 1868, envisioned its existence until the last survivor was gone, which was 1956, 88 years later. It's expanded a bit. After World War One, it had become a Federal holiday observed on the original date, 30 May, and was expanded to included the decoration of the graves of all who died in any US military engagement. The alternate name for Decoration Day, Memorial Day, was first used in 1882, and after World War Two, which gave many more to be remembered and whose graves to be decorated, became the more common name, and was made the official name in 1967.

The following year, the Uniform Holidays Bill changed its observance along with Veterans' Day (11 November, on which this blog also posts annually) and Washington's Birthday (22 February) to create three three-day-long weekends to take effect in 1971. Thing is, none of these observances had been instituted to give people a three-day week-end, with an extra day off and cook-outs and sports and big sales at the stores, but to remember as a nation particular people and things.

Washington's Birthday was chosen to commemorate the commander of the Continental Army in the war for independence and the unanimous choice of the Electoral College to be the first President, a unifying figure for the new nation and model for its future Presidents, often called "the father of his country", on his, well, birthday, 22 February. Veterans Day is now called that to commemorate all veterans, and was originally to commemorate the armistice which ended World War One starting on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 11 November. Decoration Day was chosen to commemorate Civil War dead on 30 May precisely because that date is not connected with any particular battle or other event of the Civil War, not because the flowers are in full bloom as some (the current President for example) have said.

The dates mean something, closing up shop for a particular commemoration of a particular something on a particular date, not an opportunity to take the 3rd Monday in February, the 4th Monday of October, and the last Monday in May off from work to do other things, or stay at work to boost business from big sales attracting those off work. The outcry over this loss of the meaning of the day, and acquiring meanings unrelated to it, was enough that Veterans Day was moved back to its original date in 1978, but with the provision that if that date fell on a Sunday it could be observed the following Monday, or if on a Saturday either on that Saturday or the Friday before.

In the 1980s advertisers began the push to boost sales on the new day for Washington's Birthday as "Presidents Day" including Lincoln whose birthday is 12 February. So now we have Washington's Birthday, which is still the official name of the holiday, not on Washington's birthday, not altogether about Washington, not generally known under its name but an advertising nickname, and not really about presidents either but time off work and buying stuff.

As to Memorial Day, it is for no other purpose than to take time from our normal pursuits to commemorate those who gave their lives in the armed forces of this country that we might have the freedom to go about those pursuits. It's not for the dead per se -- the church provides that with All Saints Day on 1 November, and other religions have similar observances for the dead -- not for living veterans and current service members, both of which groups have their own commemorations, which are observed on this blog, and certainly not to provide a three day kick off for Summer.

Conclusion.

For us Lutherans, and for all others, their sacrifice has given us a country where we need not wrestle with local, regional and national governments to hold our beliefs, or have our services in the only place where services are going to be, the state church, or at least be tolerated by it. We are free to form our churches according to our understanding of God, as are others according to their understandings, as are others who choose not to participate. Nor do we need to re-create here church structure that emerged in the old countries where that was not the case and church officials were state officials too. What an incredibly precious gift.

The VFW noted in its Memorial Day statement of 2002: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Efforts continue to return Memorial Day to its original date of observance.

But we can return the observance itself to what it is, as General Logan said, to commemorate those who have died defending their country, AND to renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

20 May 2016

Armed Forces Week And Day, 2016.

This blog posts annually about Veterans Day, which celebrates all veterans of service in the U.S. military whether living or dead, and Memorial Day, which celebrates those who died while in that service.  Therefore, it also posts about the day for those currently serving.  Neither Veterans Day nor Memorial Day is about those currently serving in the armed forces -- that is the purpose of Armed Forces Day, and, it's actually not a day but a full week, beginning the second Saturday in May and ending the third Sunday in May, with Armed Forces Day itself the third Saturday in May.

Originally, each branch of the military held its own day, and weren't branches of a unified military either. After World War Two, the US armed forces were unified in a new, single branch of government, the Department of Defense. Armed Forces Day was created to reflect that change, which was announced on 31 August 1949 and celebrated for the first time on 20 May 1950.

Some information on the original separate days will help toward one of the goals of Armed Forces Day, a better understanding by the general public of the armed forces.

Army Day. 6 April. The first Army Day was 1 May 1928. The day was chosen to offset the Communist Worker's Day also on 1 May. The next year it was changed to 6 April, the date of the US entry into World War One, and stayed there. The military history of the United States begins with colonial militias of citizen-soldiers originally working with the British military, which later became state militias and since 1903 the National Guard, with some units on state status and some also reserve units of the United States Army. The Army itself began on 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army. It disbanded in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War, and was re-created by Congress as the United States Army on 14 June 1784.

Navy Day. 27 October. First celebrated in 1922. 27 October was chosen because it is both the birth date of Theodore Roosevelt, who was a very strong voice as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the date in 1775 when a committee of the Continental Congress issued a report to begin a navy with the purchase of ships from merchant lines. The Navy considers 13 October 1775, the date of the Continental Congress resolution to form that committee, its inception, though there was no naval force after the Revolutionary War other than the Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard, until 1794 when, to defend against pirates, Congress mandated building six frigates. They were launched in 1797, one of which, the USS Constitution, is still a frigate in the United States Navy.

Air Force Day. 1 August. This day was established in 1947 when the Air Force was still part of the Army, as the recently concluded world war had demonstrated air as an essential frontier to be protected. The date comes from the date of the establishment of the first unit of what would become the Air Force, the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, in 1907. The Air Force became a separate branch on 18 September 1947.

Marine Corps Day. 10 November. The Marine Corps was established by Congress on 11 July 1798 to serve under the Department of the Navy. Marine Corps Day was celebrated on 11 July by the Corps from its first birthday in 1799 until 1921. The date was changed in 1921 to 10 November to reflect the original establishment of the Marine Corps on 10 November 1775 to assist the navy during the Revolutionary War, after which the Corps was disbanded. The Marine Corps still observes this day, while participating in Armed Forces Day as well.

Coast Guard Day. 4 August. On that day in 1790 the Treasury Department under Alexander Hamilton established the Revenue Cutter Service, to enforce the first US tariff laws. The Revenue Cutter Service has been in service ever since, becoming the Coast Guard on its merger with the Lifesaving Service in 1915. The day is still observed in the Coast Guard, which also participates in Armed Forces Day. The Coast Guard is unique among the military's five armed services in that it is both military and law enforcement; in 1967 it was transferred from Treasury to the then new Department of Transportation, then on 25 February 2003 it was transferred again to then recently created Department of Homeland Security, but as before, at the direction of the President, or by Congress in declaration of war, it can be transferred to the Navy under the Department of Defense.

What's this got to do with the Lutheran faith? Among the many other benefits, our armed forces have secured a country where we are free to form our congregations and church bodies, and not, unlike the countries from which many of our ancestors came, have to fight over what will be the church funded by the state or fight to be allowed to be part of the state church.

President Truman's Proclamation of the first Armed Forces Day states a goal that has become more telling as the years have passed:

"Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense."

14 May 2016

Pentecost / Shavuot / Pfingstfest. 2016.

So why does the "birthday of the church" have the Greek prefix for fifty in it?

Because Pentecost wasn't originally the "birthday of the church", but something else, that's why, which is also why the account of Pentecost speaks of it as something already there.  Just as Passover was transformed into the Eucharist, Pentecost was about to be transformed too.  Here's the deal. 

What was already there is an observance commanded by God in the Law of Moses which is to be held fifty days after the second day of Passover, with each day formally counted.  The name for this feast in the Bible is Shavout, which means "weeks" in Hebrew, so it is called the Festival of Weeks in English, but when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek since that's what most Jews spoke at the time (that's the Septuagint, the version of the OT the NT quotes), it was called Pentecost, meaning fifty days, the length of the count from Passover.

The Original Pentecost In The Law Of Moses.

The counting is called the Counting of the Omer. What's an omer? Omer are the sheaves of a harvested crop. During the days of the physical Temple, the priests would offer newly harvested barley on the second day of Passover, which represents the start of the seven week harvest season. Which is why Pentecost is also called the Feast of Weeks. In the Law, Shavuot is called Hag ha-Katzir, the Holiday of Harvest's End.

Ah, so we have a harvest festival, taking its place among the various harvest festivals in world culture and religion. Well, yes and no. Yes, it's another harvest festival, another instance of a human cause for celebrating a human milestone, the end of the harvest, particularly in a pre-industrial society. But there's something a little different about this one.

The Talmud (what's a Talmud? -- ancient rabbinical writings; for more, look it up, Wikipedia is linked at the bottom of the sidebar) says it was on the 6th of Sivan (a month in the Jewish lunar calendar), which is the first night of Shavuot, that God gave the Ten Words, better known among Gentiles as the Ten Commandments. Consequently, a popular observance has been an all night Bible study at home or in the synagogue, breaking for morning service, called shakharit, the ancestor of our, well, morning service. This all nighter is called tikkun.

Traditionally only dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot, and while no-one knows why for sure, the thinking is that on the first Shavuot they had slaughtered all these animals for food but after the Law was given it turned out they were not kosher so they only ate dairy foods.

In the liturgy of the synagogue, the readings for the service for the first day of Shavuot are: Torah portion Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 and Numbers 28:26-31; haftorah Ezechiel 1:1-28 and 3:12. In case you're a little rusty, this is the Exodus account (actually the first of two Exodus accounts, the other being Chapter 34, and there's another account in Deuteronomy) of the giving of the Law, specifically the Ten Words, and Ezechiel's account of the chariot of fire -- you know, the flying saucer.

This is the feast that Acts 2:1 (in the Epistle for Pentecost, which even the Vatican II three year lectionary couldn't overturn) refers to when it speaks of Pentecost arriving, and why there were men from all over everywhere in Jerusalem for it. It's to celebrate the giving of the Law, the reception of which is the whole reason why there was a Passover and a deliverance, the most important event in Judaism. And like Passover just had been, it was about to be transformed!

The Original Pentecost Transformed!

For God himself had become Man in Jesus Christ, suffered the condemnation for our sins in his death, and then rose again. Now, if this were all to the story, why didn't he just stick around, proof positive that he had risen? If the whole point were "All you need is Jesus", "I am saved because Jesus died for my sins and rose again", "Jesus first, as long as you believe that the rest isn't that important", then what would make that point better, what would make that point more irrefutable, than if he had stayed right here, so you could see him, talk to him face to face, hear him teach, and say to those who don't believe "Look, there he is right there, doing pretty well at age roughly 2000, go ask him yourself".

But it didn't happen that way, because that is not the whole point and not all to the story. Just as the Passover and exodus from bondage in Egypt had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Law, so the Passover of the full paschal lamb Jesus had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Spirit! Just as God had commanded the counting of the Omer, the fifty days connecting Pesach, aka Pascha, and Shavuoth, Pentecost, so now God himself counts the Omer from the Pascha of the Lamb he provided, his Son, to the Shavouth or Pentecost so that on the very day where his people once celebrated only the giving of the Law, they still celebrate that and added to it is the giving of the Spirit!

And what happened as a result of that? The Apostles were men who knew all you need is Jesus, men who knew for a physical fact that Jesus had died and risen again, men who knew Jesus is first.  They had all that, but on that basis alone were scared and afraid and huddled around each other in the comfort of others who had all that, tending to their prayers and the internal matters of their little band.  "All that" is not all, and not sufficient, neither for the Apostles nor for us.  The rest came on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law -- they gave the Law, and then the Gospel, no longer scared and afraid. Not only that, each one there heard it in his own language, addressed directly to him!

And what did the people do after this amazing event? Everybody just up and believed?  No.  They did the same as the Apostles had done when the women told them the tomb was empty and he had risen. They didn't believe them. Some thought this is just a foolish wishful story, others sought to figure out what this means, others thought they're just crazy, probably drunk, out of their minds. That's what happened first. That's what STILL happens when people hear the mighty works of God told to them -- when WE hear the mighty works of God told to US. Some form of the same three reactions:  1) it's a really nice story stemming from our deepest wishes; 2) let's talk about this and dialogue as to what it all means; 3) those guys are crazy.

That's what happened first. The amazing event wasn't the amazing event.  It wasn't and isn't about the languages.  After the languages was nothing but unbelief.  The rest didn't happen until something else happened, and that's the amazing event and the big deal about Pentecost.

The Biggest Sign and Wonder Of Pentecost.

Peter then stood with his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry and laid it right out for them, clean and clear. This is what Joel and David had spoken about, Jesus delivered by the plan of God to us whom we in our sinfulness abandoned the Law and in turn delivered him to the power and law of the world to be killed, Jesus delivered by the power of God from the power of death and our sinfulness which inflicted that on him, Jesus risen again and now placed on the throne of David at the right hand of God, Jesus having been given the promise of the Spirit so that now you see and hear this: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

That's the Law. And when they heard the Law, given now for the first time in its fulfillment on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law long ago, they were cut to the heart. People by nature want a religion of works, stuff they can do to make it all right, stuff they can do to feel OK with God, with each other, and within themselves. And the world offers all sorts of versions of that. Some of them go by the name Christianity. And the feelings and purpose they impart are utterly false.

God himself has shown us in the Law exactly the stuff he wants us to do, and we showed ourselves absolutely incapable of it by our own reason and strength, even in a scenario where there are but two people and one commandment, even when a people is called and set apart to do the full Mosaic Law and be an example to the nations, to the extent that we handed his prophets and finally the One he sent over to the power of our own ideas and law to be killed, and still reject their message to this day.

So much for a religion of works. We can't do it even when God himself shows us exactly how, no matter how hard we try in purpose driven living or to attain our best life now. What's worse, just like those on this Pentecost, and just like those delivered from Egypt in the first one, we don't get it even when the mighty works of God are directly addressed to us even with wondrous signs, preferring instead to think it over or think they're just nuts!

Pentecost came to-gether not in the signs and wonders, which can still leave us in unbelief, but when Peter and his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry laid it out clean and clear. It still does. It was then, when Peter had given the Law in its horrible consequences, that they, we, thought not about what it all means, not let's think this over, not maybe there's some good ideas here, not maybe these guys are nuts, but instead were cut to the heart by the fruitlessness of their, our, own reason and strength, and asked Peter and his brothers, Men and brethren, what shall we do? It was then and only then that they could tell them the Good News, the Gospel.

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

What happened then? Same thing that happens now. They that gladly received his word were baptised, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The Holy Ghost Church.

Guess what! There's an emerging church all right. Not just lately, not out of some marketing scheme supposedly crafted to the taste of the times, but ever since the outpouring of the Spirit on that Pentecost whose historical happening we celebrate every feast of Pentecost.

We may not be in Jerusalem, the Temple is not physically there to go to in one accord, and Peter and the other Apostles are not personally our preachers. And it makes not the slightest difference. The taste of our or any time has no taste for the Gospel and it is worthless to pander to it thinking that will produce a taste for the Gospel. That will produce only what it always produces -- a religion of works, stuff to do to catch the God buzz in a quest after one's own feeling better, on the surface all about Jesus or God but really all about me, or, a lot of discussion about what it all means, or, a rejection of it as wishful thinking at best and lunacy at worst.

What produces a taste for the Gospel is the Law. That's why the Spirit was given to proclaim the Gospel on the feast celebrating the giving of the Law! And we have the reality of Pentecost before us no less than they. Huh?  The Temple is in ruins and Peter and the Apostles are gone. So how's that, how is Pentecost not just another thing you read in a book that supposedly comes from God, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

Because the true Temple Jesus has been raised again on the third day, and has taken his place with the Father, and has sent his Spirit as he promised. And that Spirit speaks the same message to us now as it did that day in unbroken continuity and succession, which is not that Peter and the Apostles are still physically here, not that other men are still here in a succession of corporate hierarchy, not in those who produce signs and wonders or miracles of church growth and attendance in his name, but that the clean and clear laying out of Law and Gospel as was heard that Pentecost continues to be heard in the faithful preaching of those in the Office of Holy Ministry unto the ends of the earth despite sin, the world and the gates of hell itself.

And when this happens, the same thing follows as did then. Those who receive this proclamation of Law and Gospel are baptised, they continue steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching handed on in the church, especially in those books upon which the church has said you can absolutely rely as the inspired word of God without error, the Bible, and in preaching by those called to do so of that Word, they continue steadfastly in fellowship and community and gathering with each other, they continue steadfastly in the breaking of the bread, the mass, the church's liturgy, wherein Jesus was only fully discerned for who and what he is even when he was bodily here for forty days after he rose, and they continue steadfastly in prayer.

Conclusion.

That is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and every bit of it is as available here and now as it was on that day we read about in Acts, in the Epistle or Christian haftorah for Pentecost, every bit of what was pointed to in Ezechiel's chariot of fire we read about in the original Pentecost haftorah. Pentecost comes to-gether, despite all our vain and sinful efforts to make it happen in some other way more to our liking, the same now as then as ever. Accept no substitute! There is no substitute, even if it claims his name or produces signs and wonders and warm feelings in his name, as true and false teachers and even Satan himself alike can do!

Pentecost is about the one thing they cannot produce and only the true Spirit of God can. As the Little Catechism explains:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.

What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.

06 May 2016

C.F.W. Walther. 7 May 2016.

What if the times were like this: Lutherans are saying that while there may have been historic merit in the Lutheran Confessions, the fact is the old doctrines and practices no longer make sense to people in our day, and the church must change to fit the times, adopting new measures if it is to draw people to Christ, and leave the old things to former times, things like liturgy and sacraments and concern for doctrine.

Huh? Aren't the times exactly like this? Well, thing is, the times I have in mind in this description are two centuries ago, Lutheranism in the US in the 1800s! If they sound just like our times, and they do, that is because, to borrow Bishop Sheen's phrase, there are no new errors, just old errors with new labels, so they look new to us and take us in.

The fact is, the circumstances and condition of Lutheranism at the time of the formation of our beloved synod are exactly those of our own. And now, with the added twist that in our times even within our beloved synod one hears the very same old errors, now with new labels, that the synod was formed to counter;  the same errors that, instead of which, our beloved synod was formed to offer solid, orthodox Lutheranism grounded in the Confessions of the Lutheran faith, our Concordia (aka the Book of Concord), so that not only the book but the synod may present the faith of Christ correctly stated in Concordia in our teaching and liturgical practice with one heart, as the name Concordia means.

So on this "feast day" of CFW Walther, our first synodical president, instead of offering something about him, I'm offering his own words about that which he was all about offering. Well, his own words translated from German, with a few notes from me indicated like [this].  They are so timely they could have been written this morning.

We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished "outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments," [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: "You must keep such and such a thing!"; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist [on what "Methodist" means here, see the note below], who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, "Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice."

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years [this is now about 400 years]. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the their joy in such a lovely manner.

We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. 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 lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search [just as true now of those born right here but also without such an understanding]. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

The objection: "What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?" was answered with the counter question, "What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: "It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments".

(C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

Note. His reference to "Methodist" should not be confused with the present United Methodist Church, a body formed in 1968 from the union of the Evangelical United Brethren and the The Methodist Church, which itself was formed in 1939 from a reunion of three groups originating in the Methodist Episcopal Church. However, the conflation of the Holiness Movement with the Social Gospel is characteristic throughout, with the emphasis on personal feeling of sanctification in living still prominent in "evangelical" churches to-day and Pietism in our own history.

Hat tip to Pastor Paul T McCain, on whose excellent but now defunct blog Cyberbrethren I saw this excerpt.

01 May 2016

May Day, May Day! 2016.

If you know why I just said "May Day" twice instead of thrice, good on you! I'll explain it shortly for the others, but perhaps you will find the rest of the post entertaining nonetheless.

So it's May first, or 1 May, to put it correctly. Did you make someone a May Basket and leave it to-day? Huh? Judas H Priest in the archives, more musty stuff from Past Elder? Whatever am I talking about?

OK, maybe you've heard "May Day" as a distress signal in the movies. So why "May Day" for a distress signal, did something really bad happen on 1 May once? No. The expression originated from the legendary Croydon Airport in London, which closed 30 September 1959. It was the first airport to begin what is now called air traffic control, in 1921. A senior radio officer named Frederick Stanley Mockford was asked to come up with something understood by all concerned to indicate distress, a grave or immanent danger needing immediate help.

It was to be a spoken radio equivalent to the radiotelegraphic SOS in effect since 1 July 1908; the telephonic 9-1-1 was decades away. Since at that time most of the traffic was between Croydon and also legendary Le Bourget airport in Paris (that's where Charles Lindbergh would land in 1927, and is still open, business jets only), Mockford chose the French phrase "Venez m'aider", Come to my aid. "May Day" is an English corruption of the French phrase.

Now, when given as a distress call it is said three times, to avoid confusion since, the conditions under which it is given are likely fairly confused already. Therefore, to honour the practice, I said it only twice since this is not a distress call.

However, May Day as a day has long had varying significances. Well here they are. The original May Day was a Roman (as in Empire, not Church, though it is sometimes hard to tell the difference) festival of Flora, goddess of flowers. The word flora is still the botanical term for plants, and is the basis of the word for flower in Latin derived languages, such as the Spanish flor. Floralia, the feast, happened on IV Kalends of May, which is between what we call 27 April to 3 May, and was associated with springtime, new life, fertility, end of Winter, all that good stuff.

Others also had Spring-is-here-hooray goings-on. Our good friends the Germans had Walpurgisnacht, Walpurgis Night. What in all flying Judas is that? Well the custom was pretty common among Germanic types, like the Vikings, and included bonfires to keep away pesky spirits and the return of light etc. Ain't got nuttin to do with the name though. Walpurga was an English girl who went with Boniface and some other English guys from Devon, that southwestern tip of Mother England, whose language at the time was Germanic so some of them set off the evangelise the German people. She died on 25 February 777, or 779 depending on who's counting, which was and still is in some places her feast day.

But her remains were dug up and moved -- this is known by the more elegant phrase "translation of the relics" -- on 1 May, and as the Christianisation of Europe proceeded, that became her feast day in many places, and the coming of light became associated with her feast day, so that the bonfires and the clergy of the indigenous religion -- witches, pejoratively -- had to scatter with the coming of St Walpurga's Day, May Day. Hence Walpurgis Night, the night before as a last big blow out. No word on special flights to Blocksberg for those whose brooms are in the shop.

Another related celebration is the Celtic Beltane. So, build a bonfire, dance around the May pole -- now there's a phallic fertility symbol for you, and related to the sacred tree thing of pre-Christian Germanic types. Boniface (whose real name was Winifred) supposedly cut down Thor's Sacred Oak in 723 but we still have Thor's Day, Thursday, or Donnerstag, his German name being Donner. Or, make a May basket of sweets, but instead of for Flora leave it on somebody's doorstep anonymously, maybe for your own choice to be Queen of the May.

Speaking of which, that practice survives in some Catholic circles as May crowing, where a crown is put on a statue of Mary, who has the whole month of May dedicated to her. Wasn't always Mary though. May is actually named from the Greek fertility goddess Maia, or Maia Maiestas in Latin, and in Rome (as in Empire, not Church, though yeah it's hard to tell the difference) the first and fifteenth of the month were her holy days. Not sure what Miriam (Mary) the mother of Jesus would think of being a reconstituted Maia, but it probably ain't good. Do whatever he tells you, she said, and he didn't say bupkis about nuttin like this.

Alternatively, May Day is also International Worker's Day. This celebrates the victories of the labour movement, especially the recognition of the eight-hour workday. The date was chosen by the Second International, an association of socialist and labour movements, in 1889. Why 1 May? To commemorate the executions of some of the participants in a strike for the eight hour day on 4 May 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Hey, didn't I say 4 May, not 1 May? Yes I did. However this particular strike was one of many throughout the land, as the eight-hour workday was supposed to become standard 1 May 1886 and that is when strikes in support of it began. On 4 May at the Chicago one, someone tossed a bomb at the police line -- this is the origin of the phrase "bomb throwing anarchist" -- and it is unknown how many actually died. Among the four eventually executed by hanging for the incident, none was the "bomb throwing anarchist".

The Roman Catholic Church reconstituted that too (they do that a lot).  To counter International Worker's Day, in 1955 along with his (in)famous revisions of the Holy Week liturgy, Pope Pius XII abolished the feast of St Joseph as patron of the universal church established in 1870 by Pope Pius IX for the Wednesday of the second week after Easter and created a feast of St Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on 1 May, also thereby boofing the feast of Saints Philip and James from that date.

All that said, why not make a little basket of sweets for your sweetheart and give it to her as a surprise. And, if you go to an eight-hour workday, remember that the eight-hour workday didn't happen because the forces of the market efficiently and enlightenedly produced it, but because some people worked damned hard to bring it about in the marketplace despite its forces.

21 April 2016

21 April. The Founding of the City.

Huh?  What city?

Well, when you use the definite article ("the") with "city" you know it can only mean one thing, Rome. Marcus Terentius Varro (no relation, though Roman naming practice would indicate there is!), who lived from 116 to 27 BC, right at the time the Roman Republic was transitioning to the Roman Empire, calculated what in the modern calendar we now date as 21 April 753 BC as the date of the founding of Rome.  Varro was an incredible scholar, one of the most remarkable anytime anywhere, and wrote extensively on pretty much everything, though only one work survives complete and only a few survive in fragments.

His one surviving complete work is Rerum Rusticarum Libri Tres, meaning On Things Agricultural in Three Books.  (See "rustic" in there?)  Among many other duties, he owned a large farm near Reate (modern Rieti, in central Italy), which was a central point in the Roman road linking Rome to the Adriatic Sea on the other side of what is now Italy.  That road was called the Via Salaria, meaning Salt Road, a major trade route beginning with the pre-Roman Sabines gathering salt from the River Tiber, which was a huge factor in the founding of Rome, hence Varro's connexion to it. 

Roman improvements to the Via Salaria survive to this day in rural areas where the destruction after the Fall of Rome by the Germanic barbarians wasn't so severe.  The Via Salaria had a role in the introduction of Christianity to Rome, which is covered in the "22 February. The Confession of St Peter.  On Chairs Too" post on this blog, so you can read about that there.

But I can't let Varro go without mentioning that this incredible genius, for example, with no technology to detail it, by sheer observation and deduction therefrom, anticipated modern epidemiology and microbiology by noticing the disease coming from hanging around swamps and marches, warning against it and positing the existence of organisms not visible to the eye that enter the body and cause the disease. His Disciplinarum libri IX (Disciplines in Nine Books), though itself now lost, we know from other ancient sources was the model for the encyclopaedia as we know it, and the basis from which that pillar of education, the Seven Liberal Arts, treated elsewhere on this blog, derives.  Helluva guy.  We use stuff that comes from him every day and hardly know of him.  Rome, always Rome.

We use stuff every day that comes from Rome and hardly know of that either.  Rome itself went through three distinct stages, namely kingdom, republic and empire, from 753 BC to 476 AD.  That's 1,229 years!  And though the western part of the Empire containing Rome itself fell in 476, the eastern part of the Empire continued until 1453.  That's another 997 years for a total of 2226 years!  And, what took itself as a reconstitution of the Roman Empire lasted until 1806.  That's another 353 years, for a total of 2579 years!  Over two and one half millennia!!

At its founding Rome was a kingdom.  This was from 753 to 509 BC, 244 years; there were seven kings.  Kingship was elected by a senate, not hereditary, but, the king was absolute in all areas; he was chief lawgiver, chief executive, chief judge, chief priest.  Then the kingdom was abolished for a system of elected executive officials, laws made not by direct popular vote but by elected representatives, a separation of powers, and a constitution.  Sound familiar?  This was from 509 to 27 BC, 482 years. 

Eventually though, the success of the Republic was also its downfall.  Conflict between the Patricians, descendants of the founding fathers ("patres", hence "patrician") and their families from the Kingdom, and the Plebeians, everyone outside that class ("plebs", Latin for "common people") grew worse. The "Conflict of the Orders", though it saw the Plebeians attain the political rights originally held by the Patricians only, also saw the emergence of an unofficial aristocracy of plebeians who did well financially with the successes of the Republic, so the general situation of most people did not change, and increasingly though they had political rights they were not inclined to use them, but rather looked to a strong executive who would give them stuff as the answer.  Thus did a provision for a dictator, originally meant as a provision for a limited time to get through a period of crisis, become a dictator for life in Julius Caesar and eventually a reversion to a supreme ruler, an emperor, in his adopted son, Octavian, in 27 BC, though the institutions of the Republic, most notably the Senate, still existed.  Outwardly a republic, but really a dictatorial empire.  Maybe that sounds familiar too.

The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC to 476 AD, 503 years.  Sort of.  By 476, there was one Roman Empire, but it was divided into two parts, eastern and western.  This was done by Diocletian, the son of a slave who became emperor, in 285 to solve the enormous instability in the empire that arose in the third century (which is called, oddly enough, the Crisis of the Third Century).  The western part, which includes the city itself, collapsed in 476.  The eastern part did not.  That's the "sort of". 

The eastern part was later called the Byzantine Empire since it was Greek speaking, but they themselves used no such term, and saw themselves as the Roman Empire, period; they continued Roman traditions and considered themselves Romans.  They briefly tried to maintain order in the fallen West but did not succeed, and found a much greater threat in the rise of Islam, which having already conquered most of what we now call the Middle East, had their sights on Constantinople, the capital.  Islamic conquest was stopped in the eighth century, but later this reversed with the Battle of Manzikert in modern Turkey in 1071, resulting in steady decline to the point where the Roman Empire called upon the Roman Empire for help in 1095.

Huh?  Howzat, were there two Roman Empires?  Well yeah, sort of.  Oh great, another sort of.  Well, history is full of them, and they have a lot to do with how our present is.  Here's what happened.  Rome's problems weren't only the internal social ones mentioned above.  Externally, there was the threat from the Germanic barbarians beyond Roman borders, which resulted in two sacks of Rome, one in 410 by the Visigoths commanded by Alaric, the other in 455 by the Vandals under Genseric.  Finally, Odoacer, the Scirian leader, deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus (what an irony, same name as Rome's legendary founder after whom the city was named) on 4 September 476.  And the Senate went along with it!  Even so he professed to be under the eastern emperor, Zeno, but he wasn't impressed and sent the Ostrogoth king Theodoric to conquer him, which he did.  Theodoric invited Odoacer to a reconciliation banquet, at which he killed him on 15 March 493, then set about restoring the lost glory of Rome.  And that's the real story of Dietrich von Bern.  (Lutherans, if you're not laughing, check your Large Catechism for God's sake.)

What's not to be missed here is that, though Rome as a political reality was gone, and though none of these guys were Romans, and, though these non-Romans were the destroyers of Rome as a political entity, and, though they were Arians, a version of Christianity opposed to the one the empire had defined, they nonetheless appealed to either or both of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire and the cultural legacy of the western part and the Empire as a whole for legitimacy! 

The reconstituting of western Rome proceeded further with Charles Martel (Karl Martell, Carolus Martellus), King of the Franks.  Franks?  More Germanic types, known to the Romans before things fell apart, the only Germanic group that was not Arian, many had served in the Roman army all the way back to Julius Caesar.  Legends with written documents from as early as the seventh century attribute their origin to the losing forces of King Priam at Troy, the same origin as Virgil, on commission from Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, in the Aeneid attributed to, guess who, the Romans!

External to the south was the rise of Islam; the Umayyad Caliphate had conquered its way across northern Africa and up the Iberian peninsula into what is now the middle of France.  This was halted and its reversal begun on 10 October 732 at the Battle of Tours (aka Poitiers), when Charles, leading united forces against a vastly superior force, in one of the most stunning military achievements ever, so soundly defeated the forces of the Caliphate that he got his nickname The Hammer (martellus in Latin) and set the stage for the reconstruction of some sort of unified order in Europe.  This came to fruition in Charles' grandson, also named Charles, who further consolidated his rule in the lands of the old western Empire, and on 25 December (yes, Christmas Day) 800 AD was crowned Emperor of the Romans, Imperator Augustus, by the last surviving authority of imperial Rome, the bishop of Rome, at the time Leo III, at St Peter's Basilica (not the one there now, the one built by Constantine that was there before) in Rome.  For such accomplishments, the first unified ruler in Europe in over three hundred years, he is called Pater Europae, the Father of Europe, and also Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, Charlemagne.

Oh OK, you're talking about the Holy Roman Empire, right?  Well, sort of.  Great, another sort of.  Well, history is ... like we said above.  The "Holy Roman Empire" didn't see itself as the Holy Roman Empire.  That term didn't even arise until the thirteenth century, by which time the "Holy Roman Empire" had been around some four hundred years. 

From the start, in 800, it was simply the Roman Empire, period, reconstituted, a translatio imperii, transfer of rule in Latin, from ancient Rome with the same legitimacy.  But the eastern part of the Roman Empire thought it was still the Roman Empire, and didn't think much of these former "barbarians" thinking they had reinstituted the Roman Empire, not just the western half but the whole thing.  At the time the eastern claimant to being the Roman Empire was ruled by Irene, as regent for her son who was too young to assume rule.  For a time she thought of marrying Charlemagne, who was eligible at the time, but the idea never came to anything.  So there's the "sort of", two entities each considering itself the Roman Empire.  The Roman Empire (the eastern half that survived) called upon the Roman Empire (the western half revived) in 1095 for help against Islamic conquest.  Thus began what are called the Crusades (though they weren't called that until well after the last one).

Interesting to note that the appeal was not from one Roman Emperor to the other.  It was from Alexios I, Roman Emperor as in the one in the east, but not to the "other" Roman emperor Henry IV, the "holy" Roman emperor at the time; rather, the appeal was to the bishop of Rome, that last surviving authority of the Rome that fell, which at the time was Pope Urban II.

The Roman Empire as in the so-called Byzantine Empire, fell to Islamic conquest on 29 May 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, who claimed both the sultanate (secular) and caliphate (religious).  The Roman Empire as in the so-called Holy Roman Empire would last from 25 December 800 to 6 August 1806, following defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz.  That's just over a millennium!

So there's your total of over two and one-half millennia, i.e. (hey that stands for id est, that is, in Latin, we're using Roman stuff all the time) over 2,500 years, of political entities derived from and based on Rome.  OK that's impressive but it's over, right?  Wrong.  Enter the "Third Rome".

There's a third Rome?  Yeah, sort of.  Great, another sort of,  Well, history is ... getting the idea?  When Sultan of Islam Mehmed II successfully led the conquest of Constantinople (he was only 21 at the time btw!), he proclaimed himself Caesar of Rome, Qayser-i Rum, since the western empire was long gone and he had possession of the capital of the eastern, Constantinople the new Rome (as in city).  And, it was supported by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the state church in the eastern empire, with Mehmed installing the Christian Patriarch and the Patriarch crowning the Islamic emperor. Even what would have been the heirs of the last "Byzantine" Emperor, Constantine XI (his deceased brother's sons, since he left no heir), served Mehmed and attained high office in that service.  Mehmed was intent on there being a third Rome, the first being pagan, the second Christian and the third Islamic. 

He had his sights set on conquering the west including the city of Rome but died before carrying it out, and though the title wasn't used much after him the concept was, and the Ottoman Empire lasted until 1 November 1922, not even a century ago at this writing, when having been on the losing side of World War I and having lost much Middle Eastern territory to the winning side, a revolution led by Mustafa Kemal (aka Ataturk) abolished the sultanate threw out the Osmans, literally, the last sultan, Mehmed VI, leaving the country on 17 November that year.  The man who would be Sultan of Islam if it still existed, Bayezid Osman, is 91 as of 2016, the first to be born outside of Turkey and after the end of the Empire, lives in the United States and even served in the US Army.  After some hesitation, the caliphate was abolished by Turkey on 3 March 1924.  Turkey remains much in the news these days, as do efforts to re-establish a caliphate.  BTW "Islam" in all this is Sunni Islam, not to be confused with Shiite Islam, which has entirely different ideas about succession of authority in Islam.

Also following the fall of Constantinople and the end of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire, some Eastern Orthodox, the state church of that empire, took refuge in Russia, which was also Orthodox since St Vladimir, aka Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, in 988, and the idea spread that Moscow, itself and as the main city of the land, was the new, third Rome.  This took a big uptick when Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow (no Tsars yet), married the niece of Constantine XI, the last eastern Roman emperor.  Thing is, succession by line of descent is a later idea, and was not the established norm for Rome.  The claim rests more really on the continuance of the Orthodox Christian faith of the "Byzantine" Empire.  Ivan began to use the title Tsar, which is the expression in Russian of, guess what, Caesar.  Sometimes it's written Czar, in which the derivation is even clearer.  This became the formal title of Russian emperors, lasting until 1917 with Nicholas II, overthrown and executed by the Communists.  Though it's not the only case of it, it's significant in this case that the double eagle symbol of the "Byzantine" Roman Empire (Rome itself used a single eagle) was adopted in the coat of arms of the Russian Empire, continued in the coat of arms of the short-lived Russian Republic, and discontinued with the aberration of Russian history that was the Soviet Union.

Hey wait a minute, ain't Kiev in Ukraine?  Yes, but sort of.  Ukraine is actually The Ukraine, why, because the word "Ukraine" means "borderland".  Borderland of what?  The Russias, that's what.  Why the plural, ain't it just Russia?  Sort of.  The word "Russia" comes from Rus', and describes a people and the broad area in which they lived, not a country per se.  Hence, the Kievan Rus'.  That's why the czars were called Czar of all the Russias -- all the present lands of the Rus'.  The Ukraine is The Borderland of that.  Western European countries have been trying to bring it under their sphere of influence for centuries, a fact not lost on the current president of Russia.

Speaking of which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was formed.  Take a look at the coat of arms adopted by the Russian Federation in 1993.  Know what's at the top?  The double-headed eagle, the basics going right back to Ivan III.  Moscow, the Third Rome.

Not to mention, Moscow is built on seven hills, just like Constantinople before it and Rome before it.  Wild, huh?

The concept of a third Rome was prominent in the formation of modern Italy as a unified state from the many historic small states on the peninsula.  This was to be a third Rome, as in, the first one of emperors, the second one of popes, and a third one of the people, as the name of the movement expresses, Resorgimento, cognate with our resurgence, a rebirth or revival, which also included dominance of the Mediterranean area.  The first big step was the establishment of a unified kingdom of Italy on 17 March 1861when Victor Emmanuel, of the House of Savoy and King of Sardinia, became King of Italy, as the Kingdom of Sardinia, which controlled much of the Italian peninsula, became the Kingdom of Italy and the capital ended up in Rome.  This movement changed, not in essentials but in intensity, with the king's appointment of Benito Mussolini as prime minister in 1922.  With this the stage was set for the cataclysm we now call World War II.

Fascism.  Now the word is mostly used as a pejorative, to put down anyone advocating government action with which you don't agree.  But it arises right here.  Fascism is a modern term; it originates with Mussolini's 1932 essay "The Doctrine of Fascism".  (He actually only wrote part of it but it all appeared under his name.)  What we now call World War I was in its time called The War To End All Wars.  It didn't, but it ended much else, on a scale unprecedented in human history.  Fascism addresses that situation.  The term has been associated with the right wing of the political spectrum since World War II, but actually Fascism opposes all wings of the political spectrum, right and left, as relics of the past inadequate to the new modern situation.  It views the right as backward and the left as destructive, and cares nothing for how it is classified since it sees all those classifications as variable.  The future it believes belongs to authority, which alone can manage human life, therefore, no human value exists or develops outside of or apart from the state since the state alone can comprehensively nurture all aspects of human life.

This would indeed be the Resurgence, a strong unified nation out of a broken set of pieces after the war, with the strength and unity coming from strong government, a re-surgence of the Roman Empire.  The Fascists gained control in several localities and eventually did the famous March on Rome, so powerful that in 1922 the king thought it better to appoint the Fascist leader prime minister than risk the bloodshed that would follow if he didn't.  This in turn inspired a young man, also a WWI veteran, north of the Alps in his desire to effect a strong united Germany following the defeat and loss of the German Empire.  Adolf Hitler directly modelled his first attempt to take power in Germany after Benito Mussolini, the next year, 1923.  That attempt failed, but eventually he succeeded.  Since for a strong unified nation there can be only one political party since there is only one movement that is right, the leader of that party once in office is the official leader of the state.  Mussolini's designation in 1922 as The Leader, Il Duce in Italian, from the Latin dux, meaning leader, was the direct model for Hitler's designation in 1934 of himself as The Leader, der Führer in German.  The model being Julius Caesar, who precipitated the evolution of Rome from a republic to an empire, and Octavian, aka Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.

The term "fascism" comes from, guess what, a Roman thing, the fasces lictoriae.  OK OK I'll translate.  Fasces means bundles.  Lictoriae means of the lictors.  Great, what's that?  Fasces is plural, the singular is fascis, bundle.  Bundle of what?  Rods, usually birch, bound by a red leather strip, with an axe in the middle with its blade sticking out, a symbol of the authority of any level of Roman magistrate; lictors are the guys who carry them before the magistrate.  These were used throughout the entire history of Rome, from the Kingdom on.

Oh wow so WWII is the legacy of Rome in modern times?  That's a hell of a thing to ascribe to something you seem to think is good, there, Past Elder.  Yeah it would be, if that were what I am doing.  I'm not.  These guys forgot something about the fasces, and it expresses what they forgot, or more accurately overlooked, about Rome.  Which is, within the Pomerium, the axe is removed from the fasces.  What does this mean?  (Lutherans should ask this of everything.)   Pomerium is a Latin contraction of post moerium, meaning, behind the wall; it's the original area of Rome as ploughed out and demarcated by Romulus on, guess when, 21 April.

It means that in the heart of the city, the axe, a sign of ultimate power even over life and death, therefore a sign of absolute authority, was not allowed.  The idea being, power has its limits, and at the core of things, power rests with the people through their elected representatives, not a Leader.  That's what a republic is, literally, res publica, "a public thing" in Latin.  This principle is what is the essence of Rome.  It was well served by its sixth king, Servius Tullius, who besides preserving the nation militarily also extended power to all classes, which had as its outcome his assassination in 535 BC by his own daughter, Tullia, and son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.  When the latter became the seventh king, outrage at this tragic crime (that's what it was called, tragicum scelus) led to not only his ouster as king but ouster of the kingdom itself as unRoman.  The Republic was established and the office of king abolished and split between two officials, called consules, so power never was totally held by any one man.  No Leader.

It didn't last.  So what happened.  The Republic did allow for a dictator -- from the Latin for "to speak", one whose word becomes law -- to be appointed, for a limited time to address a specific crisis.  Oh well there's the problem, then, huh?  Well, sort of, again.  This actually worked quite well for some time, and when the guy who changed it, Julius Caesar, came along, it hadn't been used for 120 years, and then was given a new form, with no time limit.  Sulla, the guy who last had it, kept it for about a year, then retired.  Which set the stage for Gaius Julius Caesar to bring back the regular dictatorship, then have it extended to one year, then renewed annually, and finally being named dictator perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity.  Which shortly morphed into an emperor, the first being Julius Caesar's adopted son, known as Caesar Augustus, and of course with that, though many of the institutions of the Republic continued, the Republic was no more, an empire took its place, with an absolute leader at the head.  So Rome devolved into an essentially unRoman entity, and it is that entity which generally comes to mind when one says "Rome".

The legacy, that which influenced and was incorporated into later times, of the Roman Empire is immense.  Our language, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few.  And of course, science and philosophy, as Rome absorbed ancient Greece and other cultures, bearing new fruit and passing them on to us.  Most of that, however, happened before the Empire.  And that's the key.  Rome itself, or more accurately, many within Rome itself, knew this was happening even as it happened. 

About 125 years after the Roman Republic ended on 16 January 27 BC when the Senate proclaimed Octavian with the new title Caesar Augustus, Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis) decried this change in his Satire X around 100 AD, about 30 years after Nero's death, in the famous phrase "panem et circenses", bread and circuses.  The Romans had traded the dignity and freedoms of the Roman Republic for the Empire, based on who would give them stuff ("food and entertainment") for free, i.e., paid for with someone else's money via the government.  Bread and circuses, meaning food and entertainment.  It's from this that the country in The Hunger Games is called Panem; circuses comes from the circles within which public entertainment was staged.  No surprise that later in the same Satire Juvenal says rather than the wrong, or wrongly exaggerated, desires expected from one's own efforts or appropriated from the efforts of others, such as power and wealth, one should desire mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.  And no surprise he warns in another Satire (VI, to be exact) of the dangers of a government so powerful.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?  -- who guards the guards themselves, or, who watches the watchers?

And that's the great question.  Power.  Power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  In a word, society, Latin again, societas, how do we form and organise our associations, literally, with each other.

Plato thought the guardians will be their own guardians against abuse and corruption by what is called the "noble lie" in politics and the "pious fiction" in religion.  That is, a myth of a religious or political (or both) nature told by an elite that doesn't actually believe it but uses it for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the greater good.  Yeah well, sounds good but doesn't work out that way.  So what is the greater good, and how is that established or maintained?  The only constant among Man's various answers to that is an elite in power, so we're right back to power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  Societas, how, why, and for what purpose do we associate ourselves?

After the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government had been worked out in the closed proceedings.  He replied: A republic -- if you can keep it.  All the essential features of a republic come from Rome.  A constitution (Rome's was not written like ours, it used precedent, and that is still a feature in our legal system), regular elections, term limits, quorums to do business, veto, impeachment, filibuster, the "power of the purse", separation of powers so that power does not concentrate in one office or office holder -- all of this comes to us from Rome.

The Roman Republic, that is.  Rome blew it.  It traded the Republic for an Empire.  While that Empire contributed much to life as we know it now, most of that comes from the Republic, and some of it, particularly when it comes to authority, does not, but both the good and the bad influences everything.  Another third Rome is not a country, but a culture.  Again:  Our languages, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few, and of course, science and philosophy.

Will we keep it?  Will it be mens sana in corpore sano or panem et circenses, a sound mind in a sound body or bread (food) and circuses (entertainment)?  Will we get carried away by exaggerated desires for the fruits of our labours and/or fruits appropriated from the labour of others, and turn to a guardian who will deliver them to us?  What has been passed to us from and through Rome is an astounding heritage that has yielded an even more astounding harvest of knowledge, with more to come.

Senatus populusque romanus.  SPQR.  Sums it all up.  Well, if you know what it means it does, so in case you don't, here it is -- it's Latin for The Roman Senate and People.  It's the classic inscription put on coins, and public documents and buildings.  "People" in this usage means government as a whole; the people, as represented in their assemblies.  A free and sovereign people, the root of authority.  This came into use, as one might expect, after the Kingdom with the Republic.  And it continued after the Republic into the Empire, but no longer meant what it said, and was discontinued after Constantine.  The outer form was there but the inner content was not, the assemblies really being a rubber stamp for the will of the emperor, as the embodiment of the people and therefore of their will.  That's the trade.  Sound minds and bodies of free and sovereign people traded for food and entertainment provided by an authoritarian guardian.

Outwardly a republic but really a dictatorial empire.  Let's not do that.  Learn from Rome, the eternal city.

21 April 2769 ab urbe condita, from the city having been founded.

04 April 2016

Problem Pregnancy? The Annunciation, 25 March 2016.

Note - for 2016, published 4 April, following the octave of Easter.

It's the feast of the Annunciation. OK, so what was announced? The story is related in the Gospel according to St Luke, 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel (which means "God is my hero" in  Hebrew) announced to a Jewish girl named Miriam (better known in English as Mary) that God wanted to cause her to become pregnant with the promised Messiah, and that she should name him Joshua (which means in Hebrew "God rescues", which is better known in English as Jesus, from the Latin for the Greek for the Hebrew).

Of course, if God is causing the pregnancy, God is not the parent but the father. The complication is, Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who presumably will be taking care of causing her pregnancies, and in their culture, engagement pretty much was marriage, just the time between the promise of marriage and holding the wedding ceremony.  So, if she said yes but Joseph did not believe "It's OK God did it", which is not something a guy is inclined to believe, he would be within his rights under the Law of Moses to have her put to death. Mary knew that. How's that for a problem pregnancy?

While it's fine to get all into the miracle of a pregnancy cause by divine intervention rather than human intercourse, it might be well to spend a little more time on this -- Mary faced a real hard decision on this pregnancy, like the risk of death, it was not at all convenient for her, but, she trusted God and said yes.

Luke also records that Yes, in the famous Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, which has become a central part of the Divine Office about which this blog recently posted, associated with Vespers or evening prayer in the Western church and Matins (which if you mistake the Catholic Church for the catholic church no longer exists) in the Eastern church.

Well now, how about that, the Messiah comes from a troubled pregnancy!  Maybe we can put that in the context of troubled pregnancies as well as of the Messiah; there is only one Messiah, but we have a lot of troubled pregnancies. Far from being something shunned or ignored, Christianity and the Christian Church started with one!

And how about this, notice that the date on which the Annunciation, which would then be the date of Jesus' conception, is celebrated exactly nine months, the period of human gestation, before 25 December, the celebration of Jesus' birth. OK, nine months, I got it -- but, there's more to it than that.

Our current way of numbering years comes from a guy named Dionysus Exiguus, which means Dennis the Short.  He introduced his calendar reform in 525 A.D.  His main goal wasn't to work out calendar details, but to fix a date for the observance of Easter, since when to celebrate it was disputed.  In the course of that, he assigned the beginning of the new year to the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March.  Why?  Because years would be dated from the time of grace, which began when Jesus' life began, In the Year of Our Lord, or anno domini (A.D.) in Latin, and since life begins with conception rather than birth, years would be counted as before or after his conception, not after his birth.

Pretty big what is now called "pro-life" statement there.  This pro-life statement is not an accident but quite intentional.  From ancient Rome the practice had been to number years from 1 January, the day the new consules took office.  So this was a change.  It became prevalent with Charlemagne, who used it as the system throughout his empire, the basis of post-Roman Europe.  The beginning of Jesus' earthly life on this date of his conception was such a big deal that it was New Years' Day, the beginning of the new year, until relatively recently, in Mother England as late as 1752.

In the calendar used now throughout the world, years are still numbered with reference to Jesus' life, but the world has erased much of the reference.  First was the move of New Years Day back to 1 January, which happened when the Gregorian (so called from Pope Gregory the Great who authorized it) calendar replaced the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar used in Dennis' time. You can read more about that in this blog's New Years post, but of interest here is that this is the origin too of "April Fools".  As the Gregorian calendar took hold across Europe, starting in 1582, not only did the start date for the year change but the "drift" of the Julian calendar was fixed, so that those who held on to 25 March as New Years Day also found 25 March in the old Julian calendar now fell in April in the new Gregorian calendar, thus making them "April Fools", with pranks being played on them.

Isn't that hilarious?  Hey, wanna know what hilarious is, where it even comes from?  Like everything else worth anything it's from or through the Romans, this time the Hilaria, from the adjective hilaris meaning "cheerful", a big feast of public games and merriment in honour of Cybele, the mother of the gods, especially masquerades where you could poke fun at anything, to celebrate, guess what, the arrival of better weather and more daylight and the departure of Winter, on guess when, the eighth day before the Kalends of April, which is the first day after the vernal equinox, which makes it, guess what -- 25 March!  

The second erasure has been in recent decades, since the Gregorian calendar is in use now throughout the world in lands with a Christian history or not, calling the A.D. years the Common Era or C.E., and the B.C. years (Before Christ) Before the Common Era or B.C.E. Well, what's "common" about it, there was people around before and after Christ, but it removes the mention of him even though it's still dated from him.

Although the Western church calendar does contain provisions for moving the Annunciation should it fall in Easter, which is possible, the Eastern church moves it under no circumstances whatever, so important is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' life, and it would be celebrated as well as, for example, Good Friday. How's that for a statement that life begins at conception?

In Mother England the Feast of the Annunciation is also known as Lady Day, the lady being Mary.  This has some echoes even in the secular world. It is the first of the four quarter days, marking the quarters of the year, when rent was due and servants were hired, and Lady Day as the first Quarter Day is also when landowners' contracts with farm workers began. 25 March in the old Julian calendar became 6 April in the new Gregorian calendar, and 6 April to this day begins the tax year in the UK.

To be complete, the Quarter Days align roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, and they are Lady Day, 25 March, Midsummer Day, 24 June, Michaelmas, 29 September, and Christmas, 25 December.

So Happy Lady Day!  But back to problem pregnancies, especially to those ladies in troubled pregnancies with tough times ahead if you go through with it. God gets it, he chose to come into the world that way. His mother gets it too. So does his church. We're all with you, and welcome you to be with us.