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.

25 July 2008

25 July A.D. 306 in Eboracum, Britannia

So what was up 1,702 years ago to-day in wherever Eboracum is, whatever that is.

Eboracum was the name of a city founded by the Romans in AD 71 in England. Yeah, that's a long way from Rome. The Romans began conquering what is now England in AD 43. A group called the Brigantes originally collaborated with the Romans but became more troublesome and eventually the Roman Ninth Legion under General Quintus Petillius Cerialis was sent to put and keep them in order. This accomplished, a fort was established and given a Latinised version of the native Celtic name for the place, "field of yew trees". General Cerialis was named Governor of Britain by Roman Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 until he died in 79, and was himself a distinguished military officer and had participated in the original Roman invasion in 43.

Eboracum was a centre of Roman power in England for some time to come. Running such a far flung empire was a bit of a job -- no radio, TV, Internet, phones, air travel, railroads, motor vehicles, etc -- and in AD 293 the Roman Emperor Diocletian became the last emperor of an undivided empire, splitting it into Eastern and Western sections, each to be ruled by an Augustus with a Caesar as assistant. This arrangement was called the Tetrarchy. Diocletian became Augustus of the East and Galerius the Caesar, and Maximian became Augustus of the West with Constantius the Caesar. Diocletian and Maximian co-abdicated as co-emperors in 305 and the Caesars became Augusti, Galerius then ruling the East and Constantius the West.

Now, Constantius had this wife Helena. Well maybe. I mean, he had this Helena but whether she was wife or concubine is not documented. Anyway they had this son in 272 and he was named Constantine. But in 293 when Diocletian named Constantius as the Western Caesar, part of the deal was he divorce Helena and marry Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximian, the Augustus whose Caesar he was to be. Which he did. She did not remarry and lived afterward in obscurity though her son was very devoted to her. Her son was also hoping to become Caesar, but a military officer named Severus got the nod instead at the insistence of Gelarius the Eastern guy. Constantine served with his father's military campaigns in England, and when his father died on 25 July 306 in Eboracum, his army immediately proclaimed him Augustus, but, Galerius said Severus had the job.

Obviously, there would be controversy ahead. Constantine notified Galerius, and Galerius got so mad he about burned the portrait Constantine had sent. In the end, he gave him the title Caesar, not Augustus, which still went to Severus. Constantine conquered his way back toward Rome, showing an ever more clear disgust for the "barbarians" beyond the Empire's frontiers. In Rome he was put down as the son of a harlot, a reference to Helena's unclear status, and Maxentius, son of Maximian, claimed the title Emperor. Maximian proposed a deal -- his daughter Fausta to be Constantine's wife, though he already had one, but hey, and he gets the title Augustus and will lay off Maxentius. Constantine took the deal, dumped his wife and married Fausta in Augusta Treverorum (now Trier in Germany, nice place!) in 307. The next year Galerius was so concerned about the West's inability to settle down that he called a council with himself, Maximian and the retired Diocletian, whose compromises no-body accepted. By 310 Maximian was in open revolt, committed suicide, leaving Constantine without the prop of legitimacy through Maximian, whose son Maxentius was ready to take up the fight, and on 25 July Constantine began to appeal to a supposed ancestry and a vision from Apollo as the authority for his rule rather than the tetrarchy and councils. Constantine won over Maxentius' forces throughout Italy and took Rome.

Constantine went to Milan to forge an alliance with the new guy in the East, Licinius. That was the marriage of Constantine's sister to Licinius. Why Milan, not Rome? In 293 Diocletian made it the Western Roman capital, having made Nicomedia (in Turkey, you'll hear about one of its bishops later) the Eastern Roman capital in 286. Supposedly this meeting is the origin of the Edict of Milan, granting tolerance to Christianity. Actually, it wasn't an edict, wasn't from Milan and wasn't the granting of tolerance. Galerius had done that just before his death in 311, and the Edict of Milan is actually a letter to the governor of Bithynia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey containing a town named Nicaea, by Licinius granting tolerance to all religions and restoration to Christians of property taken from them during persecutions, and signed by both emperors. The "Edict" was more of a middle ground from tolerance per se into a favoured status with special provisions for Christians, leading to the eventual proclamation of Christianity as the state religion.

But the alliance fell apart. War broke out between the two, Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East, and by 320 Licinius began persecuting Christians again, allied with Goths of the native pagan religions, and by 324 full scale civil war was underway. Constantine's forces won, sporting a symbol said to have been revealed to him, the labarum, or chi-rho. Licinius surrendered, on a deal that his life be spared, but Constantine had him killed the next year anyway.

That next year, 325, was a big one. From that point on, Constantine was the emperor both West and East. He began to rebuild Byzantium, close by Nicomedia, as the second or New Rome (Nova Roma), later renaming it Constantinople, Constantine's City, imagine that. He also, though not a bishop, not a priest, not even a baptised Christian, called a church council to settle correct theology about Jesus against primarily the Arians. You get to do that when you rule your known world.

To top that, next year in 326 he did something even more amazing than calling a council of the Christian church when you're not a Christian -- that is, if you believe Baptism is a means of grace uniting one to the life of Christ rather than through a personal decision -- namely, he had his son and wife killed, with his mother's prodding. Exactly what that was all about will probably never be known, but it was one of two things. Supposedly Fausta his wife was raped by Crispus his son (how classically Greek) or the two were having an affair, and either he discovered this and had them both killed, or, Fausta lied that it happened to keep Crispus, who was not her son, from being named emperor over her sons, he believed it and had his son killed, then found out she lied and had her killed. Either way, wow.

Days Of Our Lives and then some more. Crispus was the son of Constantine and his wife Minervina, whom Constantine had to divorce to marry Fausta to get on with his upward career mobility. And here's Helena his mother, who got dumped by gramps Constantius for exactly the same reason. How bizarre is that? Fausta won though -- Crispus was executed but her three sons all became Roman emperors. Oddly, none of them revoked the damnatio memoriae, the removal of all traces of the person, of her enacted by Constantine. At any rate, the whole thing changed Constantine forever, and he never set foot in the Western Empire again.

So he who was first proclaimed emperor in a far flung northwest outpost of the Western Empire (by an authority that had not the authority to do it, the army) ends up solidifying the Roman Empire in the East as the West slowly crumbles. By 337 Constantine was wearing out being Great and all, and he finally sought Baptism on 22 May just before he died from, not one of the victorious Trinitarians at the Council of Nicaea he called, but Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, long a court favourite despite a brief exile and chief apologist for Arius. Really. I'm not making this up.

Not to mention Constantine retained the title pontifex maximus, the title of Roman emperors as head of the pre-Christian Roman pagan state religion priesthood. Maybe that's why there's no pope in the East. The West was crumbling. It finally fell 4 September 476 when the last Western Emperor was deposed, and the title pontifex maximus passed to the bishop of Rome. The Eastern Empire would last another millennium, until 1453 when it was overthrown by the Ottomans, who themselves would last until 1922. Well, actually, there are "popes" in the East, but not in the pontifex maximus sense of the Roman one.

While the end of the persecutions was welcome per se, the favoured status of Christianity also transformed the religion from one for whose truth one would rather die than betray to a religion one joined for political and social gain. The transformation of Christianity's status was complete when Theodosius I, on 27 February 380, declared Nicene Trinitarian Christianity the official, universal, or catholic, state religion of the empire. He deposed some bishops and appointed others, ended state subsidy for the former state religion, for example closing the Temple of Vesta, putting out its fire and disbanding the Vestal virgins, and ending the Olympic Games, which had been held since BC 776, after the ones held in 393. So much for my kingdom is not of this world.

Theodosius was the last emperor of both the East and West, the split then becoming permanent. But the state religion of the Roman Empire, East and West, with their respective churches, would outlast the empire which created them, East and West, and lasts to this day, 1,702 years since Constantine was proclaimed emperor by his army. And it would continue to combine Christian, non-Christian and political elements into a hybrid or synthesis, and continues to this day. The Holy Spirit, though, inspired a Reformation of the church back to its true content and nature starting with the very barbarians, aka Germans, dissed by Constantine on his conquering way to Rome setting off the whole mess.

And what happened to Eboracum? It's still there. After the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, the Angles -- more Germans -- invaded and took over, and called the city Eoferwic. Then the Vikings -- not Germans exactly, but Germanic -- blew in in 866 and called in Jorvik, probably a re-pronunciation easier on Viking ears. Then in 1066 the Normans -- not a bunch of guys named Norman, but people from Normandy across the English Channel -- really blew in and took over, William the Conqueror sacking the place, and in time the name morphed from Jorvik to York, with variant spellings. And so it is to-day, York, England. We have a York in Nebraska too, and everyone knows of the new York in, well, New York.

So what's that all about, a French smoothing over of rough Germanic edges? Well not exactly. The Normans themselves came about from Vikings raiding the area, joining up with the locals, providing a hedge against more Vikings raiding, taking on the local culture but adding their original one, and becoming The Northmen, from which the name Norman and Normandy derives. So it's Frenched over Vikings on top of Vikings on top of Germans on top of Romans on top of Celts on top of, some say, the Old Ones. That's where my ancestors come from. And they say we came to a melting pot. True that, but we came from a melting pot too.

Whew. You can't make this sort of stuff up. The great thing is, all you really need to know is laid out in The Little Catechism. And the thing I like best about poking around in all this stuff is to appreciate ever more fully how true it is that all you really need to know is laid out in The Little Catechism. And what a miracle it is that we have it.

17 July 2008

A Different St Nicholas

To-day, 17 July 2008, is the 90th anniversary of the murder of Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, with his wife and children.

The brutality of these murders would in time to come be visited upon millions of Russians, as the regime which ordered and carried them out blossomed into a world power. While we hear endlessly about the six million victims of one group specifically targeted by Nazi Germany, that was only roughly half of the total number of the victims of the regime. And if relatively little is said about the other half, even less is said about the even greater number murdered under our ally against Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia under Stalin. By the most conservative estimates, this would be 4 million from direct repression and 6 million from the results of enforced economic theory, namely, collectivisation, for a total of 10 million -- well in excess of 6 million and roughly equal to estimates of Nazi victims, however more recently available material generally indicates a total of around 20 million, nearly twice by our ally of what our enemy managed to attain in toto and over three times the 6 million of that particular specifically targeted group.

The course of that regime itself passed into history on 26 December 1991. Ten years ago, 17 July 1998, the 80th anniversary of their murders, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra and three of the children (not all were then found) were buried with state honours in the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in St Petersburg, where all Russian Emperors since Peter the Great are buried. The President of post Communist Russia, Boris Yeltsin at the time, attended along with members of the House of Romanov. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia had declared them saints and martyrs in 1981, and on 14 August 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church itself declared them saints and what are called Passion Bearers, people who were killed, though not specifically for their faith, and who met their deaths with Christian humility and dignity -- not a judgement on his rule, rather universally regarded as weak and incompetent at best, but rather on the why and manner of death. On 16 June 2003 Russian bishops consecrated the "Church on the Blood", built on the site of the house where the royal family was murdered.

There is still a Russian Orthodox Church, there is still a House of Romanov, and there is still a Russia.

Nicholas' feast day is to-day, 17 July.

05 July 2008

United States, Free Churches

What if you woke up one morning, turned on the TV, logged on your Internet service provider, or opened the morning paper, and you saw or read something like this:

The President of the United States has declared that churches in the United States will no longer direct their own affairs or constitute their own leadership, and this function will now be assumed by a new government department, the Department of Religious Affairs and Education, and a commission will be appointed to write a common worship service book for the new United Church.

All candidates for ordination will indicate whether they support the Union, their ordination vows will express support for the Union, seminary professors and other religion professors will support the Union, and denominational designations such as "Lutheran" will be dropped from church names.

That is absolutely unthinkable in the United States of America.

And that is exactly what happened in the Kingdom of Prussia under King Friedrich Wilhelm the Third. Over time, but you get the idea. The decree about writing a new common liturgy for all churches was in 1798, the new agenda was completed in 1821, the order for its sole use was the next year, 1822, and the mandated name changes came in 1829. Resistance was widespread among Lutherans; by 1834, pastors who resisted the decrees were suspended from the ministry and those who persisted were imprisoned, and many began to leave for other countries seeking the freedom to worship and teach according to their confessions. One such emigration led to the formation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in the United States.

It was different here in the US. Being founded out of colonies of a country with an established, which is to say, a state religion, a specific denomination endorsed and supported, including financially, by the state, and many of these colonies owing their origin to escaping the burden of being outside the state religion, this new country specifically rejected the establishment of any particular church.

This does not at all mean that no religious presence shall be allowed in the public sector, but that no particular church shall be a part of the government and the government shall not be a part of any church.

We are here free to be Lutherans -- and the Catholics are free to be Catholics, the Methodists free to be Methodists, the Baptists free to be Baptists, on and on, and for that matter the Jews are free to be Jews, the Muslims free to be Muslims, and so forth.

So for us Lutherans here in the United States, in addition to the many benefits that are ours in common with all here in the United States due to our independence as a nation, we celebrate our freedom to be Lutheran, itself our version of a benefit shared by all here. Throw in an extra firework for that one!

Wouldn't it be an irony beyond measure, a sadness beyond description, if we were to squander this great freedom and do to ourselves what the government cannot, our church do here what the government did there -- alter our liturgy to be more in common with other churches, alter our teaching so as to seem less distinct from other churches and therefore more appealing, start dropping the word "Lutheran" from our usage, tie financial and other church support to acceptance of such church actions, even keep an eye on the 500th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession just as Friedrich Wilhelm had his eye on the 300th?

Yes, wouldn't it. Or rather, isn't it.

May we Lutherans here in the United States, who have recently celebrated our national independence allowing our great freedoms and blessings here, renew our dedication to the faith declared to the government there in the Augsburg Confession, whose anniversary we have also recently just celebrated, and free of state and state churches, never act as if we were not, doing to ourselves in freedom what the government cannot, but believe, teach and confess the faith presented in the Augsburg Confession against all efforts to suppress, modify or co-opt it in our day as they did in theirs.