Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


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. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

24 September 2007

New Wine, Old Skins

This past Sunday I spent a little time watching religion on cable TV. Of course there's the packages of the mega-churches -- Joel Osteen, EWTN and the like. But also there were three services from local churches, one Congregational, one Baptist, and one ELCA.

The sermon from the Congregational church was interesting. It was on the "new wine, old skins" passage. The pastor mentioned that once we saw that as saying Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, but now under the transforming power of Jesus and the newness he offers we now understand not to find one religion better than another. And further, just as we no longer cite Scripture to uphold slavery, we now know better how to read Scripture so we no longer use passages of Scripture to bar women from any role of service in the church, or find homosexual behaviour wrong or against God.

Over at the ELCA service, the female pastor presided at a baptism and preached on the God and Mammon passage from the three year Vatican II lectionary now the common property, with minor revisions, of all heterodox liturgical churches.

Both services were thoroughly traditional in their respective contexts -- the "Lutheran" one straight from the LBW with vestments, choir and organ, the Congregational one with a robed pastor and robed choir, neither with a guitar, praise band or CCM anywhere to be found.

The Baptist one was by a preacher in an open collar casual shirt, and slacks. Since I was flipping channels I didn't hear any of the music, but the sermon had to do with Jesus dying for our sins so that we could be saved by faith in that -- concluding with a call to make a decision for this Jesus and accept him as one's personal Saviour.

Now I'll leave treatment of the subjects of womens ordination, ministry to homosexuals and decision theology to the blogs on the sidebar, many of which have taken up these subjects.

Here's an additional thought that hit me, watching all three of these. All three of course present a different message about Christ and Christianity than confessional Lutheranism, not to sweep that aside. That said, the two that were the farthest from it were also the two that in terms of order of service were the most traditional, both in terms of the "historic liturgy" we speak of and each denomination's own history, whereas the one closest to us, at least in that it gave the message that Jesus died for our sins and we are saved from them by faith in him, was the farthest from any historic liturgy, being not liturgical at all!

The point being, fidelity to the historical liturgy of the church guarantees nothing in itself, and it is possible to use the historic liturgy in a thoroughly heterodox effort. Therefore, the real enemy, if that is the best word, is not non-liturgical services or non-traditional church music, it is doctrine. Teaching.

This is not at all to say therefore liturgy and fidelity to it don't matter. They do. And the liturgy itself came about over the centuries as the expression of orthodox Christian teaching, doctrine in motion, so to speak, therefore it is the best vehicle for orthodox Christian teaching rather than service orders which originate in a denial of some of what we hold as confessional Lutherans. And therefore the one which in Christian Freedom we should choose.

That said, unless that choice springs from doctrinal agreement on our confession of faith, it is meaningless. Just as a non-liturgical type of service that springs from a non-sacramental understanding of the means of grace can on the one hand preserve some of the essentials of Christian doctrine, as we believe revealed in Scripture and correctly stated in the Book of Concord, yet on the other obviously not be the best choice, so also can a liturgical type of service that does spring from a sacramental understanding of the means of grace, and for that matter a traditional service after its own lights, thoroughly re-invent those essentials into something else.

If it is not the best choice to try to wrestle a manner of worship that arose from a denial of parts of essential doctrine to fit it, neither is it the best choice to simply champion liturgical worship and oppose other types of worship alone.

Our concern for correct doctrine is not misplaced. Without it, any kind of worship can serve heterodoxy. The ultimate danger is not from praise bands and CCM. An equal danger exists from liturgical and/or traditional services. Without clarity on and concord in sound doctrine, neither kind of worship itself will guard against heterodoxy, and either can be bent to serve heterodoxy, the one derived from it as well as the one not derived from it.

Therefore, simply crusading for liturgical fidelity is not enough -- not only can it not prevent heterodoxy, it will be seen as simply a stylistic preference.

Now, I am soundly and unequivocally for liturgical fidelity. What I am saying is, our case for it must be grounded not in liturgical fidelity per se but in the sound doctrine that the liturgy came about to serve. With this clarity and concord in sound doctrine, the "worship wars" and much else will take care of itself.

09 September 2007

William Derrida, Jacques of Occam

On a recent post on the blog Cruising Down the Coast of the High Barbaree -- a blog I read with great delight -- the subject of Nominalism came up. It came up for me years ago when writing a dissertation on Boethius' concept musica, which is a good deal more than we generally mean by the English cognate music.

What's Nominalism? The theory that our words and terms in theology and philosophy do not refer to such objective reality as there may be, but are simply names -- hence Nominalism, from the plural nomines of the Latin word for name, nomen -- for our various theological and philosophical concepts, which may or may not correspond to anything that objectively exists, and that therefore we should not confuse our theological and philosophical statements about reality with reality itself.

Which isn't such a bad idea all by itself. One can, for example, borrow concepts from Plato and Aristotle to explain Christianity's beliefs, but the danger is one can confuse those explanations with what is believed in itself, and end up believing in Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy more than Christianity while seeing them as the same. One can, for example, borrow Aristotle's distinction between substance and accident to explain what happens in the Eucharist, but one may well go beyond that to think that the Eucharist IS a change in substance without a change it accidents (accidents not being falling off your bike but what there is about something that can change without changing what it is, like appearance) and that this IS what Christ meant when he said This is My Body and This is My Blood. Substance and Accident are not realities, but names for concepts that may be useful in sorting out our experience. Therefore we ought to assume as few of these as possible in trying to sort out our experience.

This theory is often stated in the Latin maxim entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which translates entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary, or if you will, don't assume more stuff than you have to in explaining things. This is called Occam's Razor, after William of Occam (or Ockham), a 14th Century English Franciscan friar (we'll leave what distinguishes a friar from a monk to another time!) who didn't actually write the maxim but it does express the idea of shaving off, hence the razor, what you don't really need. It isn't literally a theory, but more a way of choosing among theories, which are models to explain a phenomenon.

The problem is, one can start to think that Reality is then basically unknowable, heck, maybe doesn't exist, or if it does what we think we know about it is just word shuffling and we're kind of left on our own. When it comes to God, rather than removing all the theological and philosophical shop talk, it can seem to make God more distant and unknowable than ever, who for all we know or can say may be something altogether different or may become so. Kind of hard to preach simple concrete truths taken to be revealed when they come in verbal concepts that may or may not really express what they are meant to.

The idea was a blockbuster, throwing the established theology and philosophy of the universities (called schools, or scholae in Latin, hence the name Scholasticism) steeped in Plato and Aristotle into a tizzy. Which in turn doesn't help a young fellow in seminary needing some certainty to calm his turmoil of soul and finding professors who were by and large raging Occamists. Kind of like turning up at a church university in a turmoil of soul and being given all kinds of tomes from the Rhine on historical-critical method. (The former happened to Martin Luther, the latter happened to me.)

The problem further is, this kind of thinking extends not just to scientific and philosophical theories and models, but to pretty much anything put into language. You're just reading words, language, not an explanation or description of reality but simply an exercise in the use of words or language be it scientific/philosophical or literary. And this seems to me to be also the message of an influential recent school of "post-modern" (roughly, since existentialism and structuralism, maybe we'll get to that along with friars and monks) thought called deconstructionism, whose best known proponent is the late Jacques Derrida. The idea being that our texts really don't tell us anything except that under certain conditions language functions in certain ways.

Now if this were only a matter of scientific or philosophical methodology, affecting academic researchers and leavng the rest of us alone, that would be one thing. Long before Ocaam, Thomas of Aquinas said (toward the beginning of contra gentiles) that theological supports or arguments for what we believe should be used only if they are helpful to people who already believe what we believe, and not to convince others of our beliefs lest they think our beliefs rest on such flimsy support . He said the only way to convince an opponent of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture, because what is beyond our ability to grasp can only be believed because God has revealed it, and only after that can theology help or not as the case may be. Yeah, he said that. Book One, Chapter Nine, summa contra gentiles. Thomists as a rule tend to blow right past that, but that's Thomists, not Thomas.

But suppose we avoid the Thomist in particular and theological in general trap and do what he says. Is Scripture then not a statement of what God has revealed, or even if it is it doesn't matter, since either way it's a text, and like all texts really only shows that under certain conditions language functions in a certain way? Just words, terms, names, nomines, quite distinct from any reality to which they may attempt to refer?

That's our problem. There is no retreat into Scripture if it has the same limitations, being language, as theology or philosophy. There seems to be three responses to this. One is, get all historical-critical and attempt to show precisely how language is functioning under just what circumstances -- not recommended unless you either don't have to work for a living or have decided to do that for a living. Another is, forget the whole thing and focus on your experience, what you feel and do -- deeds not creeds, everything validated out of your own personal piety, for which not just the historical movement but all this sort of thing should be called Pietism.

And there's another. In Scripture, a book, Jesus didn't promise to send more books, but the Spirit of God, and that Spirit would be a Helper and Guide. Faith is a gift of this Spirit. He told us to read the book and not avoid gathering to-gether. So read the book and attend a confessional Lutheran church, and as with any gift, don't take action to try to pry if from the hands of the giver like a little kid when Christmas presents are handed out, but let the giver give it in the only way he does, in his Word as read in Scripture and preached from a confessional pulpit by one called to do it, and if you have professed your belief, been baptised and are in the fellowship of the church, in Sacrament. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He can handle it. And he will.

New Blog

For such readership as this blog may have, please notice the addition of a new blog to the blogroll on the sidebar, RAsburry's Res. (What's a res? -- res is the Latin word for thing.)

It is a new blog -- not just new to me this time, new period, first posting 1 September 2007 -- by an LCMS pastor in St Louis MO. And so far IMHO it is a top notch addition to the Lutheran blogosphere, not to be missed.

02 September 2007

Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire

Writing my last post, a number of related thoughts that have rattled around in my head for some time about history and religion ran into another thought I read some years ago that the Reformation was a distinctly Western response to a distinctly Western problem. The result was something that has probably been thought by someone else before and better, nor is it a finished thought on my part. Here it is.

What if what we have in Western Christianity is simply the continuation of the state religion of the Western Roman Empire and in Eastern Christianity the continuation of the state religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The reformation of the faith and church to its true self would then need to happen outside the former empire, which it did in the Lutheran Reformation, originating in Germany.

Consider. Some consider the Roman Empire to have begun with Julius Caesar's appointment by the Senate as dictator in perpetuity (dictators formerly never held office for more than six months) in 44 BC. Julius accepted this position in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and the denarius was minted with his image and "dictator perpetuus" on one side and the goddes Ceres -- goddess of growth, agriculture and maternal love, the Roman version of Demeter (!), see the previous post -- and the title "augur pontifex maximus", high priest of the college of pontiffs, the highest position in the Roman religion, on the other. He did not rise to accept his position, and Senators fearful that he would make himself king assassinated him in the Senate on the Ides, aka the 15th, of March 44 BC. Others consider the Roman Empire to have begun 2 September (hey, that's to-day, spooky!) 31 BC when Octavian defeated his rival Marc Antony and his ally Cleopatra of Egypt at the naval Battle of Actium in the Ionian Sea, and also ordered the execution of Cleopatra's son Caesarion, who was 17 and was held to be, and very likely was, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, though Julius had named Octavian, his grand nephew, his son and heir. Others yet consider the Empire to have begun with the Senate giving Octavius, or Octavian, the title augustus (honoured, or august, one) on 16 January 27 BC. With any rival claimants dead by suicide, execution or military defeat, Caesar Augustus, Octavian, was the undisputed ruler, and became pontifex maximus in 13 BC. And the rest is history, as they say.

Caesar Augustus was the first real Roman Emperor, though for some time the facade of the Roman Republic continued. Despite frontier fighting with those outside the Empire, the Empire itself enjoyed a peace, the pax augustana or pax romana, that would last from 27 BC to 180 AD, attaining its greatest extent under the emperor Trajan (98-117). But by the third century, things became unworkable. The sheer size of the empire, the lack of any clear method of succession of power, and consequently frequent civil war, and the inability of the military to preserve internal order since they were concentrated on the borders to preserve external order, which in turn became impossible to maintain against invaders, about destroyed the empire until Diocletian managed to put a band aid on things and also in July 285 split the Empire in two, with himself as "augustus" of the Eastern part and his friend Maximius "augustus" of the Western half. Diocletian also considered the expansion of Christianity a threat to the state and launched possibly the most violent persecutions in history, certainly the most violent since Nero.

The arrangement yielded no new pax romana, the underlying problems still there, although the persecutions ended with Galerius in 311, then in 313 Constantine, the first Christian Emperor (more or less, he was not baptised until his death, meaning the Nicene Council, called by him in 325, was called by not only not a church leader but a civil ruler and an unbaptised person!), declared Christianity legal in 313. Constantine was proclaimed Emperor on 25 July 306 in York, England, then called Eboracum, where he was busily trying to settle the problems of the Third Century Crisis, and became sole emperor. With Constantine, everything shifts to the East. After his death, the Western Empire was split between two of his sons, and the East went to the middle son, all of them having variants of his name. Constant power struggles within and invasions from without destabilised everything. There was a reunion under Theodosius, see again the prior post, who was the last emperor of both East and West (Diocletian being the last emperor of an undivided empire).

The Western Empire continued until 4 September 476, when Romulus Augustus (what a name, combining one of the traditional founders of Rome with Octavian!) was deposed and never succeeded. The Eastern Roman Empire would continue until its defeat by the Ottomans in 1453, the Ottoman Empire itself lasting from 1299 to 1922, when the British Empire, having won World War I, partioned it into the countries that daily make the news now as a result.

The Eastern Empire considered itself and called itself Roman to the end. Latin was for some time its official language, though Greek was used outside the court and eventually became official. Yet in Rome, the elite spoke Greek, though in time that passed too. Each half, while sharing many common elements, took on its own culture even though the Roman borrowed much from the Greek, and the eventual prominence of each's language both symbolises and contributes to the outcome. The East outlasted the West by about a thousand years. However, once the Western Empire fell, the West attempted to come out of what are called the Dark Ages of overrun by the "Huns", those formerly outside the Empire, with the formation of the Holy Roman Empire when on Christmas 800 Leo III, the Bishop of Rome, an office which to this day bears the title pontifex maximus, crowned the King of the Franks Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor (imperator augustus, to be exact). This was a conscious attempt to re-establish the Western Roman Empire -- though someone famously said it was neither Roman nor holy nor an empire -- and lasted about a thousand years, until the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, dissolved it in the Napoleonic Wars in 1806. And after the Eastern Empire fell, Czarist Russia, having long since become Easten Orthodox, considered itself the "third" Rome (Rome itself and Constantinople -- I forgot, Byzantium, the capital of the Eastern Empire got renamed Constantinople after guess who, and was renamed Istanbul 28 March 1930 by the secular Republic of Turkey, which would no longer deliver mail addressed to "Constantinople", the capital having been moved to Ankara, the former Angora -- being the second).

The ancient Greeks contributed the intellectual foundations of what we now call the Western World, including those of ancient Rome, but it is to ancient Rome that the Western World and increasingly just the world, owes it ideas of public administration, what relates to how we live, how we rule, how we govern, how we exist as a society.

And I think it not too far a stretch, in fact not a stretch at all, to see the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as a religious image of the differences between the culture of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The Western Church, complete with a pontifex maximus, inherited Rome's administrative and legal bent, and the Eastern Church inherited Constantinople's more philosophical and artistic bent. The formal schism between the two in 1054 had immediate theological causes, but was culturally inevitable, bound to happen theology or not. One may note that in the East the Eastern Empire still existed at this time, but the Western Empire was gone and the intended reincarnation as the Holy Roman Empire in its place, and the recognition of the bishop of Rome as "first among equals" at world-wide, called ecumenical from the Greek, church councils was then also extended to the bishop of Constantinople, the new Rome -- both, curiously, called cities on seven hills, see the Book of Revelation (or Apocalypse from its Greek name).

This is not to say at all that the faith of Jesus Christ delivered to the Apostles disappeared. It is to say that Christianity took on much, some of which it would regard as essential and not cultural, from the state which adopted it as a religion, the Roman Empire East or West. The primary remains of this in the West is the Roman administrative, legalistic flair, and in the East the philosophical, mystical flair. In Roman Catholicism, even with the moderating and revisionist slant given it by Vatican II, one hears the religion of the Western Roman Empire, and in Eastern Orthodoxy one hears the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. While the Roman Empire, as a unified whole and as a divided empire, has passed into history, their eventual religions have not. And so the reformation of the church, the freeing of it from the accretions of Imperial culture East and West, was to happen from outside the Empire, had to happen from outside the Empire. And so it did, the Reformation being then not an event in the Western Church surviving the Western Empire, but an event in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church from outside the Empire, undivided, Eastern, or Western.

A couple of side points. In the lands of the Western Empire, the modern languages spoken are largely descendants of Latin, whereas in the lands of the Eastern Empire the languages are not derived from Greek, When Constantine was dedicated in 330, the ceremony was partly Christian and partly pagan -- and you thought Yankee Stadium was syncretism!

And about those accretions. They aren't necessarily bad. What's bad is if they contradict the books the church has said we can rely on, the Bible. Not if they are not found in the Bible, if they contradict the Bible. Big difference. What's also bad is, whether they do or don't contradict the Bible, if they are made into essentials. On these points, the Reformation would go well beyond the Lutheran Reformation to a near eradication of them, and then a replacement of them with other forms of righteousness before God through works rather than Jesus Christ, either way confusing justification before God with santification, personal growth in faith and grace -- confusing participation in the sacraments, personal decisions for Christ, avoidance of immorality and doing good works in general, with justification before God through faith given by the Holy Spirit apart from any external or internal work or act on my part in the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This post and non Lutheran Reformation resulted first in new state churches, sometimes forcibly including Lutheran ones (the Prussian Union comes to mind) and later in churches influenced by the "Enlightenment" political and theological theories which have become the unofficial state religions of the modern Western secular liberal states, abandoning even their prior confessions of faith, one broad group representing the religious Left and another the religious Right. So we confessional Lutheran churches uphold and teach the faith of Jesus Christ taught in the Bible and accurately stated in the Book of Concord, and uphold and maintain the usual customs, rejecting only what contradicts the Gospel and recognising that the rest are customs, not Gospel or even Law. We are the churchly echo of neither the ancient empire nor the contemporary liberal state. And we worship accordingly, in Divine Service, where God the Divine serves us his Word and Sacrament, not the other way around.

Oh well, Ceres is why we call it cereal. And July is for Julius Caesar and August for Caesar Augustus. You get to have your own month when you're a founding emperor and then proclaimed a god, otherwise we'd call the old fifth and sixth Roman months Quintember and Sextember, as we still do the remaining months September (7th), October (8th), November (9th) and December (10th). And drag, it really is 2 September even if the date stamp says otherwise -- I started writing this post just before midnight and forgot the date comes from when you hit Create, not when you hit Publish!.