Also sprach der Vorsteher. Ein Blog für Alle und Keinen.
Von Terence Maher, PhD.
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.
If you, like good king Wenceslaus in the song, looked out on the Feast of Stephen -- that's 26 December, but we'll get back to that -- you might think Christmas is over. Already on the evening news on Christmas day the local stations are posting Christmas tree pick up sites and times. Some hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. On 2 January, Valentine's Day candy is in the stores.
That fits with the world's Christmas season. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent. The idea is preparation there too, but not as in buying presents and food. It's about a preparation of repentance for celebrating the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, for the coming of faith in him into our hearts, and for the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.
For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. Neither his coming in history or our hearts nor his return is prepared for by buying stuff.
Christmas Is Not Just One Day!
The church's celebration of Christmas does not begin with December and end on Christmas with New Year's tacked on. It begins on Christmas and continues for several days! Our Christmas manger scenes often have the "humble" shepherds and the "important" visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- all there. But as the story reads the Three Kings were not there at Christmas! They arrived twelve days later, 6 January, which we celebrate as Epiphany. These twelve days from Christmas through Epiphany are the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, yet is now largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen?
The Original Christmas.
Well, to me it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth!
It's not that there wasn't Christmas, this is "Christmas" as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!
Developments In The Western Church.
In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on narrowed its focus to the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, give it the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles.
I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, growing up pre-conciliar RC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas. In later life I was to find out this is one echo of all the stuff mentioned above. Growing up, decorations were always left up through Epiphany, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I do the same in my house now. And I'll post about Los Tres Reyes (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.
Developments In The Eastern Church.
This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places yet keeping the Nativity on this day. And there's the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention.
In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all.
And Then Came Vatican II, Oy.
And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, Rome, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, Vatican II in the 1960s, to make it a moveable feast, not on 6 January but on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January. So, if you listen to Rome (and if you listen to Rome, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West now either! Nice going, guys.
For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) it appears that Epiphany has survived as 6 January.
So What's This Feast of Stephen Thing?
"Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". Getting back to that, you think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this Feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Well, the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and, it being the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life -- generally called death in the world -- the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.
So Who's This Wenceslaus, Why Is He Good and Why Is He Looking Out?
Wow, has this guy got a story. Right here, call it ironic, coincidence, or one of those divine consistencies that look like loose ends until you know what they are, but he ended up being a martyr for the Christian faith just like the first one, Stephen, on whose feast he looked out.
Here's a short version of the rest. Wenceslaus, also Wenceslas, is English for his name Vaclav. He was functionally king of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. But, as he was backed by the German Holy Roman Empire, his title was not actually king but duke, which is just below a king.
This was first via the Duke of Saxony and King of the Germans Henry the Fowler/Heinrich der Vogler. But then via his son Otto I, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope, aka bishop of Rome, John XII -- who, btw, then turned on Otto who went back to Rome and had a layman elected pope instead as Leo VII, Otto being used to naming bishops and abbots, and then, when John staged a comeback but died and left Benedict V on the papal throne, Otto went back to Rome yet again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's (his) OK. There's some hermeneutic of continuity for ya, to paraphrase another Pope Benedict, XVI. Otto was the first clear Holy Roman Emperor since Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, Karl der Grosse) was crowned the first Imperator Augustus in the West since the Fall of Rome on 4 September 476 by the bishop of Rome Leo III on Christmas in 800.
Wenceslaus being backed by such a power did not sit well with some Bohemians, including in his own family, all of them caught between changing religions along with their entire social order.
He's called good because he stayed with the Christian faith of his grandmother who raised him, St Ludmilla, who was herself converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius no less, the "Apostles to the Slavs". His brother Boleslaus (Boleslav) though stayed with the native Bohemian religion of their mother Drahomira, who had Ludmilla killed. Boleslav didn't like the Germans or their state-run Christian church. The martyrdom happened when Boleslav arranged to have Vaclav killed, then took the throne. But, he ended up having to work with the Germans anyway and then his son, also named Boleslav, became Christian and took over from him and established the bishop's seat in Prague!
The irony, coincidence, or divine consistency continues to our time. This man Vaclav who in his own time was killed for selling out to the Germans and their power and new religion is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, which in 2000 established his feast day of 28 September as Czech Statehood Day, a national holiday.
Yeah, that's a short version. Oh, and what was he doing looking out on the Feast of Stephen? Checking things out after he woke up, but the rest of the story is told in the carol by John Mason Neale, same guy who wrote O Come, O Come Emmanuel based on the O Antiphons posted about earlier. Small world, huh? Or another of those consistencies. Ain't it great when loose ends become consistencies!
Anyway, good duke Vaclav spotted a guy scrounging for food and asked his page where the guy lived. He then set out with his page to bring the man and his family aid. The page started faltering due to the cold and snow, but when he followed in Vaclav's footsteps found the ground warm to his feet. Now how's that for being, uh, ablaze!
We Still Got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!
Guess what, you can still follow in the good king's footsteps. Neale's carol concludes:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.
So let's get on with the Twelve Days of Christmas like, give him his due, Good King Wenceslaus!
NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen! LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night! That's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, it's that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken. So far, Twelfth Night has not been retitled First Sunday After The First Saturday In January Eve, though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time. Maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany, which in some places in the gift giving day, not Christmas, just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him. BAKE A CAKE; that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places. HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea! And like good king Wenceslaus, DO SOMETHING TO HELP SOMEONE IN NEED! Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.
The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!
And therefore the church doesn't, but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!
In addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses at three distinct times of the day to contain it all.
That's exactly what the word Christmas is, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English, Old English, to be exact, that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas.
25 December is not Jesus' date of birth. The actual date is unknown. Scripture does not record it according to any calendar, although context clues would suggest sometime in about what we call October. From which I think it is safe to conclude that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.
So why 25 December? Well, in the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, the day and the general time of year already had a religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, every year at the time of the winter solstice was the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children.
That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and, with his five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians from their hang out Mount Olympus, did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his own five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)
Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public.
Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demostrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness.
In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, for example the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar, and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.
So it looks like the whole Christmas thing originates with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. Well, anybody might ask, but I'm trying to get a chuckle out of Lutheran readers, who'll recognise the phrase often used in Luther's Small Catechism to introduce an explanation. Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?
Don't think so. Consider. What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite. Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, some of which he encapsulates in mythology and some of which he considers the latest of enlightened thinking, Man who will thus destroy himself, to avoid which God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that the creation of God may become children of God, and in the mass as the pledge of that salvation.
A child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will;`who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers.
These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, looking forward and trying to make sense of our situation, so God reveals it to us. Which the liturgy will exactly sum up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? -- The Lord has said to me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:1,7. See below, or with my fellow geeks and wannabes, vide infra).
We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.
Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three.
The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight. The Historical Birth in Bethlehem. Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1. Collect O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth. Epistle Titus 2:11-15. Gospel Luke 2:1-14.
The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn. The Spiritual Birth in the Believer. Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew. Collect Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds. Epistle Titus 3:4-7. Gospel Luke 2:15-20.
The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day. The Eternal Generation in the Trinity. Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew. Collect Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin. Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12. Gospel John 1:1-14
May I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weinachten!
Antiphon is a word transliterated from Greek words that mean "opposite voice". What does this mean? Or for you non-Lutherans, what does that mean?
Well, originally, which is to say in ancient Greek music theory, it means something sung and also sung an octave higher, like C and the next C on a piano. That's antiphonia, as distinct from symphonia, singing in unison, or paraphonia, singing a fifth higher, like C to G on a piano.
Doesn't seem to describe what we mean by antiphon, does it? So how did we get from what the word actually meant to what we mean by it now?
The Psalms aren't texts, they're lyrics -- all that survives of musical compositions whose music is lost. They have a parallelism in structure that suggests they may well have been performed by alternating singers or groups of singers. As Christian worship emerged from the synagogue, that's exactly what they were, performance of the Psalms by alternating choruses. At first this was repetition of the males by boys an octave up, hence it was called antiphonia, not because it was alternating choruses but because the boys sang an octave higher than the adult males, just like the term means.
Then, by about the 300s, they started adding another verse, generally a related Scripture verse to the Psalm, sung by all before, and generally after each Psalm verse or two. Before you know it, antiphon doesn't have a bloody thing to do with octaves which is what it really means, but is associated with the idea of two alternating choruses singing back and forth, and also with the added prefatory text and tune which was called antiphon all by itself.
Confused? It gets worse, or better, as you may see it. Books containing the texts to the sung parts of the Mass came to be called antiphonales, and books containing texts to the spoken part of the Mass were called lectionaries, literally, stuff that is read, not sung. Then, antiphonale came to mean a book of chants for the Divine Office (Matins, Vespers, Compline etc) as distinct from a graduale, a book of the chants for Mass.
Enough to drive you nuts, or reach for the St Louis Jesuit stuff, huh? A word that means at the octave means alternating choruses except when it means added prefatory verses unless you mean the book of chants for Divine Office. Don't worry, took me a while to catch on too -- and I was a music major in the pre-conciliar Roman church.
Some say antiphonal singing of the Psalms started with St Ignatius of Antioch, who was an Apostolic Father and traditionally is said to have been a student of St John the Apostle. It really only caught on in the Western Church with St Ambrose, who compiled an antiphonale, yeah that word again and here with a different meaning yet, that being a collection of stuff suitable for antiphonal, as in alternating choruses, singing.
OK. Now to the "O" antiphons -- antiphon here in the sense of the prefatory text itself. There are various versions in various places going back centuries so far that my man Boethius mentions the practice.
I say my man because the title of my doctoral dissertation is "On a Contemporary Boethian Musical Theory". Boethius was born the same year as St Benedict, founder of the grand and glorious Order of St Benedict, the SOBs, I mean OSBs, as well as the wider even grander and gloriouser "Benedictine tradition" found cited in all the recruiting material of universities sponsored by the Benedictines, like the one I graduated from. (A false comparative and a dangling participle in the same sentence: we Benedictines may not always follow the rules but we know what the hell they are.) That would be 480 or thereabouts, in case you got lost there.
He died in 524 or 525, depending on who's counting. It would have been later except the Western Roman Emperor, Theodoric the Great, who was an Arian, had him executed on grounds of treason for conspiring with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justin I, who was orthodox and catholic, as distinct from Orthodox and Catholic because we all know he'd be Missouri Synod Lutheran to-day. While he was awaiting execution he wrote his most famous work, On the Consolation of Philosophy. God bless me if I'm not going to post on its Rota fortuna, the original Wheel of Fortune, just as soon as I'm sure a really great picture of Vanna White won't land me in copyright problems.
But I digress. Some form or another of "O" antiphons have been around for almost the entire history of the church, but the Benedictines arranged what has become the standard, one each at Vespers each day from 17 through 23 December, right up to Christmas Eve. Each one starts with a salutation of Christ by "O" and one of his Biblical attributes. In order, they are: O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Morning Star), O Rex gentium (King of the Nations), O Emmanuel (God With Us).
Now, it's Advent, right, and late in it and about to be Christmas. So looky here -- starting with the one the day before Christmas Eve, put the first letters going back of each attribute of Christ and what do you get? Ero cras, that's what, Latin and guess what that means in English, I will come to-morrow! Benedictines man, are we good or WHAT! The whole series sums up the Advent preparation then concludes it, right down to a Psalm-like acrostic in the titles!
Never heard of such a thing? Sure you have. The popular Advent/Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a composite of the whole series! You can find some excellent meditations on them on some of the blogs listed in my blogroll, and start with Pastor Weedon's.
6 December is the feast of Bishop St Nicholas of Myra. That's not at the North Pole, but a town in Lycia which was in what is now the southwestern coast of Turkey.
OK "everybody knows" that "Santa Claus" has his origins in the stories about St Nicholas, "St Nick" or -- nicknames in some languages coming from the last rather than the first part of a given name -- Santa Klaus morphing into Santa Claus, and he went around giving anonymous gifts to kids tossing them over the transom into their shoes, which is where putting the shoes or hanging stockings comes from.
Now what was the point of that, so there's be kids like you see in the commercials waking up in nice homes and being all happy with their yet more stuff for Christmas?
Hell no. St Nicholas came from a wealthy family, and as a pastor gave pretty much all his inheritance away to help poor children and families. And particularly, in those days, poor girls without a dowry would likely not end up wives and mothers in nice households and likely would end up as prostitutes. So the gifts had a real rough practical edge to them, to help turn a life around by giving them a start their circumstances couldn't.
And the same guy who did this -- whaddya wanna call it, outreach, winning souls, meeting needs -- also was at the Council of Nicea at a time when it seemed the whole church was heading into heresy of Arianism. And what did they do, say wow look at how those Arians connect with people, maybe we should quit worrying about all these barriers we put up and preach and worship more like they do with our content?
No, St Nick was among the most vocal standing for the catholic faith against Arianism, which led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed we confess at mass. So next time someone says we gotta get rid of all this hang up on doctrine and liturgy and get with the mission field and outreach, take a bloody clue from St Nick.
Or Wilhelm Löhe, whose half-fast Lutheran church body found him just not quite with it and stuck him in a little town in Bavaria, from which he arranged spiritual and temporal missionaries all over the world and worked mightily for authentic Lutheran liturgy and doctrine, whose good effects are bearing fruit to this day.
Hell yes there's a Santa Claus. It's you, me, us, St Nick and the whole communion of saints. So get out there and do something for somebody in a tight spot, and stand for the pure Christian faith and worship confessed in our Confessions, among which is the Nicene Creed btw, instead of all the bogus feel-good happy-clappy crap.
Scripture records the birth of Jesus, but it records no direction to celebrate either it or a preparation for it. But it records no prohibition of doing so either. The Christian Church has evolved various practices to commemorate one of its most outrageous claims, that God became Man in Jesus, the Incarnation, and, considering the magnitude of what is celebrated, has evolved a season of preparation for it. These celebrations have taken on various forms in various places, and even various forms over time in the same place. But they all have the same idea, for Christ's church to celebrate to-gether and proclaim one of the world and life changing events of Christ. Which is the idea of all of the church's liturgy.
What Is Advent?
Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a coming, and translates the Greek word parousia, which designates not the coming of Jesus at his birth but his coming again to judge the world on the Last Day. Advent is in fact a preparation for three comings of, or turnings toward, Christ and the three will culminate in the liturgy for Christmas, Christ's Mass, in three distinct liturgies. No other season or celebration in the church year is like this.
Here are the three. Our Advent preparation for the historical coming or birth of Jesus culminates in the celebration of that event in the mass in the night, Midnight Mass. Our Advent preparation for the coming or birth of Jesus in the heart of believers, in us, culminates in the mass at dawn as evidenced in the first believers, the shepherds who went to the manger. Our Advent preparation for his second historical coming, in judgement and in glory, which has been the subject of the final Sundays of the church year before Advent, culminates in the mass during the day, which celebrates the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity in the being of God in which redeemed Man will fully participate after the end of time.
Advent then precedes Christmas as Lent precedes Easter, a time of repentance and preparation. For both seasons, church vestments etc are purple, the colour associated both with penance, our part, and royalty, his part as King of kings. However, the purple is the darker royal purple rather than the Roman purple of Lent, the colours like the seasons they reflect being both similar yet distinct in kind of event to which they lead.
The rite of Salisbury, called Sarum in Latin, England, has a hybrid liturgy of English and French influences following the Norman Conquest in 1066 (King William of Normandy appointing its bishop, St Osmund, how's that for "apostolic succession"!). The Scripture readings and other prayers proper to the day are different than the Roman rite, as is the colour of vestments, not purple but blue. This use of blue as the colour for Advent has had a more general usage in the West in recent years, though with the Roman propers. Well, the new Roman ones, from its new three year cycle from the 1960s, which will not be considered here -- one can look them up and put on a little Simon and Garfunkle or other holdovers of the time if one is so inclined.
What the heck -- in the Eastern churches the liturgical colour is generally red!
This is not the first time the Sarum rite has influenced Western usage, generally through its appropriation into the Church of England. The traditional Lutheran practice of counting Sundays in the rest of the church year from Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost is a Sarum influence too.
The Old Advent, "St Martin's Fast".
In fact, Advent in the West used to be even more like Lent. From the fourth or fifth century or so Advent was, and still is in the Eastern church under the name Nativity Fast, a 40 day time of fasting and penance much like Lent. In the Western church it started on 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours, Martin Luther's namesake, with the day being something like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in Lent. This "quadragesima sancti Martini", the forty days of St Martin, died out by the late Middle Ages, and Advent as it is generally known in the West took shape and is what we use to-day.
To this day, in some places the traditional main dish for Christmas is goose. In fact, one of my favourite phrases in English, not suitable for reproduction here, derives from this custom, let the reader understand. The Christmas goose may derive from Advent when it was St Martin's Fast. Martin didn't really want to be a bishop, and is said to have hid himself in a flock of geese from those seeking him to persuade him to accept the post, whose noise nonetheless gave his location away. So goose became the main food for St Martin's Day kicking off Advent.
The Current Advent.
Anyway, each Sunday emphasises a different aspect of the preparation and the comings noted above. Below are listed the Scripture passages used for the Introits and Scripture readings. Roman usage (which Rome ditched at Vatican II) has the same Introits but varies as noted from ours in the Epistles and Gospels for the Western Advent.
I had never understood this variation and mentioned that once in the combox on a blog. Pastor Benjamin Mayes responded citing Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p.438, which states our usage follows the Comes attributed to St Jerome and its final version, The Lectionary of Charlemagne, which Rome later modified to accomodate its new feasts.
What's a comes (pronounced KO-mays)? It's a Latin word meaning companion, here, a companion book of readings for mass to the rite's service book itself. Now we more commonly call such a book a Lectionary, from the Latin for "readings". The list of the readings is still often called by its Greek name, pericope, meaning section, here, the sections of Scripture appointed to be read.
In Latin and Hebrew, the title of a text is usually the first word or two of the text rather than something separate. Accordingly, some of the Sundays of the church year are called from the first word of the first proper text to them, the Introit. The Sundays of Advent, Lent, and after Easter are nicknamed from their Introits. This practice has fallen into disuse with many churches following Rome's 1960s revisionism of the lectionary. Or one can as my former synod did abolish Introits altogether!
Psalm numbers in the old Roman usage followed the Septuagint, whereas we follow the numbering of the Hebrew Bible. That usage counts what we call Psalms 9 and 10 as one psalm, likewise 114 and 115, and divides both 116 and 147 in two, so between 10 to 148 the numbering is different by one. Since Vatican II Rome generally uses the Hebrew Bible numbering too, but below both will be given in the format: Hebrew numbering (Septuagint numbering).
Roman usage Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5 Gospel Luke 3:1-6, our third Sunday Epistle, the Luke passage not used by us.
Away in an animal feeding trough, the real meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is a warm time filled with comfort, family, presents, good food, along with our religious sentiments, for many of us. Christmas as in the event we celebrate was nothing like that. It was rough. Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth -- I've been there twice and that ain't easy under any circumstances, and my observation would be it ain't easy being the about to deliver wife either -- in town to follow the law and get counted in the census with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals. That's what "away in a manger" was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, the word coming into English from the French to eat, in turn from the Latin to chew (mandere). Fact is, our word "munch" has the same root.
So the King of kings is put in a feeding trough for animals in a cold stable. You don't make up this kind of stuff. Humans who are gods in myth are emperors and such, not working class kids born in a barn. Top it all off, this child "away in a feeding trough" will one day give himself to be the food of eternal life, giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink at mass as the pledge and promise of our salvation through the merits of his death and resurrection. Guess it kind of fits then.
For those of you whose Christmas isn't going to be all warm and cozy and filled with cheer, guess what, you're right in there with those at the first Christmas. That was a little rough too. Born in a stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and pretty soon his family having to high tail it out of town into political exile too. So you're not excluded at all, and you can take it right to him, because he knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry. And he also knows all about how merry doesn't really get determined by what happens in this life, on Christmas or any other day!
To Thee have I lifted up my soul, in Thee, O my God, I put my trust. Let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me, for none of those that wait on Thee shall be confounded.
Psalm 25 (24):1-3 as used in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent.
I remember things better by the day than the date.
For example, in my mind my wife Nancy died the night before Thanksgiving, 2140 hours, 1997, rather than 26 November 1997. Dates fall on different days in different years, and the night before Thanksgiving always seems more like the anniversary of it rather than 26 November. This year, 26 November is Thanksgiving, and I guess in my mind it would just seem wrong to remember it on Thanksgiving rather than the night before.
In addition to the obvious, what amazes me about it, then, now, and all points in between, is that it has not produced a crisis of faith, let alone a loss of faith. Now, if you haven't gleaned it from some of my posts, crises of faith and loss of faith were pretty much constant for me from Vatican II in the 1960s to professing the faith of the evangelical Lutheran church in 1996.
Vatican II tore up and stomped on pretty much everything that was the basis of my life. However, the death of your wife and mother of your children, toss in that their ages were fifteen months and three months at the time, is a tearing up and stomping on at a whole different level and place.
I've been me for a while now, and "me" no doubt about it would take that as the final insult after all the rest from a god who probably doesn't exist anyway so forget the whole thing, it's a cruel joke that ain't funny.
But it didn't happen. Not Thanksgiving Eve when she died, not the next day when I spent Thanksgiving afternoon at the funeral home picking out caskets and stuff like that before arriving late for some turkey at the family dinner like everyone else. Not in the first few weeks of not having a clue how this single working dad with two babies will work beyond just getting through each day. Not later as routines emerged that worked but obviously aren't the ones we hoped and planned for. And not later as difficulties and challenges emerged.
That's not me. No way I can be like that, guaranteed, take that to the bank, I cannot do that. But it happened. Since other spiritual forces and powers do not bolster faith in Jesus Christ, I think we're going to chalk this up to the Holy Spirit. When they say faith is entirely the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, believe it, they ain't kidding.
Her funeral was the following Saturday. It was right by the service book at the time, all about faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation from sins unto eternal life. You couldn't have been there without getting the message that the only dead people present aren't in caskets but dead in sin unjustified by faith in Jesus Christ through whose merits alone they are counted saved unto eternal life, a promise He extends to all including right here and now.
The sermon concluded as follows, which I hear twelve years later as clearly as the moment the pastor said it:
A few days ago, most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.
As a counterpart to my post on what became of Sukkot as the Christian liturgical calendar emerged out of the Jewish one, here's a little something on the secular Sukkot here in the US called Thanksgiving.
Turns out, there were two "first" Thanksgivings before the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Two years earlier, on 4 December 1619, English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, roughly 20 miles up the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, begun 14 May 1607. The ship's captain, John Woodleaf, led a service of thanksgiving and the settlement charter directed the date to be observed thereafter. Thereafter lasted until 1622 when the native population, not so grateful for their arrival, forced their retreat to Jamestown.
54 years earlier, Spanish settlers celebrated thanksgiving for their safe arrival 8 September 1565 at what is now St Augustine, Florida. This the first recorded thanksgiving in America, but, as this was Spaniards in a Spanish colony, La Florida, which didn't pass to English control until 1763 or become a state until 1845, it doesn't get much airplay.
Thanksgivings were held at various times and places in the colonies, after the harvest, as days of prayer, not eating! The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national thanksgiving, which was Thursday 18 December 1777. The first national day of Thanksgiving in the United States as such was proclaimed by President Washington for Thursday 26 November 1789.
Presidents and governors proclaimed thanksgivings off and on, but then starting with President Lincoln's designation in 1863 of the last Thursday of November as a day of national thanksgiving, all presidents since had year by year designated the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Until FDR. In 1939 the last Thursday in November would be the 30th, and President Roosevelt was persuaded by business leaders that a longer Christmas shopping season -- once upon a time it was considered inappropriate to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving -- would help the economy out of the Depression with more sales. So he declared Thanksgiving the next to last Thursday in November that year.
The new Thanksgiving was widely derided as "Franksgiving" -- Roosevelt's first name being Franklin -- and had no force of law, some states observing the new "Democrat" Thanksgiving and some the old "Republican" Thanksgiving. A Commerce Department report in 1941 found no significant difference in sales from the change, and Congress passed a law designating the fourth Thursday in November, which some years is the last and some the next to last Thursday, as Thanksgiving Day every year. 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current law -- by which time a new world war had maybe redirected things away from retail sales to graver matters.
Funny, Washington didn't have a thing to say about sales, Christmas, Christmas sales, food or football regarding Thanksgiving when "Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President Lincoln, whose example had been followed since. Here is the original proclamation of the original national Thanksgiving Day by President George Washington. Amazing stuff. Beautiful stuff. Our stuff. May we find something of it in our national celebration in 2009 as we did 220 years ago at the first one in 1789.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Here is what the world knows, I hope. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, Congress in 1954 changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.
What's An Armistice?
The English word armistice is transliterated from the Latin armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce, a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities may well resume at some point. And always have.
Here is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of, guess what, soldiers! Hmm.
Who Is St Martin of Tours and Why Is He Patron Of Soldiers?
Martin was born a pagan around 316 in what is now Hungary, and was what is now called a military brat. Then as now, military families move a lot, and Martin grew up where his father, a tribune (roughly equivalent to a modern colonel) in the crack unit the Imperial Horse Guard (equites singulari Augusti), was stationed at Ticinum, which is now Pavia, Italy. Being a military kid, he was named Martin, from Mars, the Roman god of war.
The year of his birth, 316, was also the year it became legal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire, but it was a decidedly minority religion, and in the army the cult of Mithras was common. When Martin was ten, he ticked off his parents by starting to go to church and taking instruction as a catechumen (you know, the Sunday School, mid-week, etc of the time). However at 15 (331) he joined the army as sons of senior officers did, in a provincial cavalry unit (ala, or wing) and about 334 was stationed at Samarobriva, the Roman name for Amiens, in northern France.
One day, by the city gate of Amiens, he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave half to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. This shook him up, and he got baptised that year, 334, at 18. He remained in the army, but in 336 when it looked like the army and the local Gauls were about to engage at Worms, he declared he was a soldier of Christ and could not fight. He was thrown in the brig (military jail) and charged with cowardice. He offered to be in the front lines but unarmed, and the army was going to do just that with him, but the Gauls made peace with Rome and the battle did not happen.
After that Martin was discharged from the service. He went to Tours, and began to study with the renowned, even in his own time, St Hilary. He was a convert too. who vigourously opposed the Arian "Christianity" of the Visigoths and was elected by the faithful of Poitiers as their first bishop (they did that then), married with a daughter and all (they did that then too). Martin set about combating the Arian heresy too, which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now.
He and Hilary were both forced into exile by persecution. Martin lived as a hermit but when Hilary was restored in 361 Martin joined him. He started a monastery in nearby Liguge, which is still there as the now Benedictine (of course) St Martin's Abbey, from which he preached Christianity all around the area. Later, the people of Tours made him their third bishop when the old one died in 371 and he was finally persuaded to accept. From there soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul, and to get away from the attention of his office he established another monastery, Marmoutier, which also later became Benedictine, on the other side of the River Loire in Tours, about 372, which lasted until the French Revolution in 1799 and is largely in ruins now.
A good insight into Martin is this: uncompromising as he was in preaching the true doctrine, when Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, and his followers were brought before the Emperor on charges of false doctrine, heresy, stemming from their severe asceticism, the penalty was beheading, and Martin, though he was quite opposed to Priscillian, hurried to Trier, where the Imperial court held forth at the time, not Rome, to protest the sentence as both unjust and an unjust imposition of civil power in a church matter. The Emperor relented, then beheaded them in 385 after Martin left. This was the first time ever that a Christian executed another Christian for heresy, and Martin was absolutely disconsolate after he heard the news.
Martin died 8 November 397 and was buried 11 November, which has become his feast day, though the date of death is the usual practice. He was widely venerated for centuries, which I will not go into except for this, soon after his death it became the custom to begin a 40 day fast in preparation for Christmas, the quadragesima sancti Martini or St Martin's Fast, with his feast day being the last non-fasting day until Christmas. This eventually shortened into what we know as Advent now.
An Armistice on St Martin's Day 1918.
So, 11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Hmm. Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? Wanna know something else just a little too co-incidental? The military campaign that led to the armistice is the Hundred Days Offensive, aka the Grand Offensive, from 8 August to 11 November 1918. Guess where the Hundred Days Offensive started. With the Battle of Amiens, where the Roman officer Martin had given the freezing beggar the cloak. Hmm.
The armistice of 11 November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become World War One, as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two. Along with the millions of lives lost, and millions more of lives forever changed, something changed in what might be called the spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.
The Titans had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who were the victorious Olympians, or if there even were such, was not clear. The old world order, and its certainties both temporal and eternal, were gone. Man began to speak of life as absurd, and the search for "meaning" was on amid an apparently essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man. The resolution? Well, 91 years later in 2009 hostilities continue amid the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.
So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of them.
There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the One God has sent, that because of Him one can be washed clean by being covered in his sacrificial blood, and even amid the brokenness of this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it, dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day as God calls and feeds Man in the church wherever his Word is properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.
Interesting that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against false doctrine and corruption from state control of the church.
So on 11 November, Armistice Day now Veterans Day and also St Martin's Day, as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for real and for ever.
Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis. Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee. (John 14:27, used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)
Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:
Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
Here's something, regarding the position that our problems in the LCMS derive from, or continue because of, the lack of a correct polity.
On the Beeb (the BBC) I see a story reporting that The Church of Sweden, a Lutheran body, will starting November perform same-sex weddings for homosexual couples, following the Swedish government's decision in May to give homosexual couples the same legal status as heterosexual ones. The archbishop of the church is all for it.
Now, there has been a bishop in Uppsala since King Ingold the Elder of Sweden in the 11th Century, under the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen in Germany. The bishopric was made an archbishopric in 1164, although the Archbishop of Lund (under Danish control then) was the senior bishop (primate) in Sweden and ordained the archbishops of Uppsala. Then several Uppsala archibishops got themselves ordained by the Pope directly, and finally with the Pope's permission the Archbishop of Uppsala declared himself primate ot Sweden in 1467.
In 1531 the King of Sweden, Gustav I, aka Gustav Vasa, named Laurentius Petri archbishop. What happened was, the archbishop Gustav Trolle had sympathies with the Danish king, but when the Danish king's rule in Sweden ended in 1521 Gustav had to flee to Denmark. Whereupon the Pope ordered the Swedish king, Gustav Vasa, to reinstate Gustav the archbishop (I know, too many Gustavs), but the king had Johannes Magnus consecrated archbishop instead, however, Johannes did not go along with Lutheran teaching, so the king sent him abroad as a diplomat to Russia and in 1531 appointed Petri archbishop.
So, while there has been a continuous list of guys called bishop or archbishop of Uppsala for centuries, this is not the same as apostolic succession or continuity of the historic episcopate. A bishopric is not the same as an episcopacy. A bishopric is the area under an office called bishop; an episcopate or the episcopacy is the office of bishop itself; the episcopate is bishops collectively. The continuous existence of a bishopric is there for all to see; the continuous existence of the episcopate in those who occupy the office of bishop in a bishopric is a matter of some dispute. The continuity of episcopal polity does not mean the continuity of the episcopate.
In Eastern Orthodox eyes, succession is not a purely mechanical matter of who ordained whom, it is also something in communion with the wider church, and the actions just recounted not being actions in communion with the wider church, there would be no consensus as to whether they retain continuity or do not retain continuity or whether it cannot be determined. And in Roman Catholic eyes, the last valid sitting bishop of Uppsala was Johannes Magnus and the last archbishop period was his brother Olaus who though appointed by the Pope never saw Sweden in that capacity, and Sweden started over, as it were, as a mission country and now has a valid archbishop, whose seat is Stockholm.
An example of what was said in the prior post, that the historic episcopacy has not even held to-gether a common view of what the historic episcopacy is or who even has it. This is of Christ, or needed in his church, or even if needed, has worked? Hardly. Nor, btw, could we solve it in this case and jump back to the archibishop of Lund, either with regard to historic episcopacy or historical doctrine -- the current archbishop there is a Lutheran woman, as was her predecessor, the first woman archbishop in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden. She is however the first female bishop appointed through the vote of her church, the others having been appointed by the Swedish government, from which the church became independent only in 2000.
Yep, those bishops really hold the traditional faith to-gether against all the forces within and without the church, yeah right.
This is not a post about same-sex marriage, womens' ordination or apostolic succession. The point is, the first two named issues represent departures, whether one sees that as a good or bad thing, from what had been previously universally understood and upheld by those who claim the third, and those who claim the third do not have a common understanding of what that is or whether each other has it. Meaning that, polity, even if it is the preferred polity, does not conserve the church or preserve its faith unchanged over time from the Apostles, and in fact, if it does, then it hasn't, which means the whole thing, not just the polity but the faith itself, is wrong at worst and unneeded at best.
And gee, this from Sweden and just a couple of weeks ago, the Evangelical Church of Germany, in German the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, or EKD -- a church, says so right in the name, that also says it isn't a church, which it isn't but a federation of 22 regional church bodies, called landeskirchen in German, except the landes (lands) of which they are kirchen (churches) aren't around now, they are formerly independent German speaking former states of which they were state churches, 9 Lutheran, 2 Reformed, and 11 Lutheran-Reformed from the state-enforced Prussian Union -- anyway as of a couple of weeks ago says the Augsburg Confession is not considered its or even one of its confessional documents. But they got bishops! They got the preferred episcopal polity!
Yes, it would have been nice had the bishops, including the bishop of Rome, heeded the call back to the Gospel which we believe was the Lutheran Reformation. But, it didn't happen, and it isn't happening. It is very good that we have learned that the resulting differences do not have to become part of bloodshed and war; it will also be good for us to recognise that the preferred polity is not the required polity, and history has born that out, that even where it in some form or understanding has been retained, the Christian faith as we confess it has not.
The word of the Lord endures forever, because it is the word of the Lord, not because of a preferred church polity. And now, one of the main reasons why it might be preferred, namely, because it is also a required function of the state and all that has been known for centuries, either does not exist or does not exist with the force of former times which contributed much to the former bloodshed and war. Thanks be to God for his gift of seeing this to Walther and the rest who established our beloved synod the LCMS.
Well, let's do what we usually do on this blog, start at the beginning and work our way through. And the beginning is, what the hell is a bishop? Yes we all have an image of somebody in special robes and hats and stuff who's important in a church, but I mean exactly, what is a bishop?
I. What Does The Word "Bishop" Mean?
The English word "bishop" derives from a slang usage in Latin, biscopus -- as is for example the German Bischoff or the Spanish obispo -- which is a corruption of the proper Latin word episcopus, which in turn is a transliteration, a spelling in one alphabet of a word from a language in another alphabet, of the Greek word episkopos. (BTW, "episkopos" is itself a transliteration of the actual Greek letters into the ones my computer has.)
OK then, so what does episkopos mean? It is a compound word: the prefix means "over" and the base word means "seeing" or "looking" or "examining". So, the word literally means one who oversees, who looks in on, who examines. Consequently, translating the word rather than transliterating the letters, one could use the words overseer, supervisor, superintendent, like that.
Thus in English, being as it is, we have the noun for the office of a church superintendent from the Germanic root as bishop, but the adjective relating to it from Latin and Greek as episcopal.
II. What Does The NT Mean By The Word "Bishop"?
So that's what the word itself means, now, what do we mean by it? That's where the fun starts. The word itself is used only five times in the NT: Acts 20:28, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:7, and 1 Peter 2:25. The King James and later revisions of it use "bishop" to translate it, but ESV we use, though in the KJV line, uses the more literal "overseer" as does the popular NIV. But, does the office, call it bishop or overseer or whatever, mentioned there correspond with the offices as understood by the various churches that have them now? That's the problem.
In Acts, Paul is speaking to the elders at Ephesus, telling them he will not be with them and they must be overseers, shepherds of Christ's flock, against the false teachers that will arise after he is gone. In Philippians it is simply part of the opening of the letter, addressing the overseers and deacons there, but no explanation of the office. In Timothy he mentions the two offices of overseer and deacon, but describes qualification for those offices rather than the nature of the offices themselves. In Titus he offers similar qualifications for the congregations to select their overseers. And in First Peter the reference is not to the office at all, but to Christ!
Let us note a few things about these five passages. First, one is not about an office filled by a human at all but the function of Christ himself within us. Second, of the remaining four, one is about Paul and the other three are by Paul's authority. Third, the danger primarily cited is false doctrine and the maintenance of true doctrine without which there is nothing to be missional about. Fourth, there is no reference whatever to selection by St Peter or approval by him; rather, selection is by the congregations themselves after the Apostles are gone under the criteria of doctrinal and moral guidelines only.
Therefore, to understand these as establishing a succession of authority based on external criteria such as who consecrated whom is a stretch, to put it mildly, on the basis of Scripture. In its first decades, the organisation of churches became more fully developed, and by 100 years or so after Christ's earthly lifetime all major Christian congregations were headed each by a single overseer or bishop, as distinct from presbyters/priests and deacons attached to him.
Well that's it right there, isn't it -- no bishops, no church, been that way since the Apostles, the writings of the early Fathers show it!
III. What Did We Come To Mean By The Word "Bishop"?
No it isn't. Why not? Well first, we have the same problem with the texts of the early Fathers as we do with the text of Scripture, which is, the same word may be used, but does it mean in the text what it means in the teaching of this or that church? Even in the most vocal of the early Fathers about bishops, Ignatius of Antioch, what is clear is that a bishop-priest-deacon structure existed by his time, but it cannot be maintained without controversy or challenge that he is speaking of these offices as the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches do.
As Christianity spread, what the overseer oversaw spread too. It grew from the congregation itself to new congregations growing out of it and around it, so the overseer came to oversee an area, not a single congregation. These areas and their administration, and consequently the understanding of the power of their administration, followed the civil administration of the Roman Empire. Most notable in that evolution of "bishop" were the civil reorganisations of Diocletian, Emperor from 20 November 284 to 1 May 305.
Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into four quarters which were further subdivided into administrative units he named from the similarity of the word administration, dioecesnis in Latin, a transliteration from Greek, and his own name, Diocletian. In English the word is diocese. Each diocese was led by a vicarius, meaning deputy or representative, the source of our word vicar. Representative of whom? Why, Rome of course. Starting to look familiar? This from the Emperor who also launched the worst persecution of Christianity ever in the Roman Empire, from 303 to 311.
Speaking of looking familiar, even the well-known headdress of the office, the mitre, comes from the camelaucum, or in transliterated Greek kamilaukion, of officials in the Eastern Roman Empire court.
Church administrators ran parallel to civil administrators, and as particularly in the Western Empire the civil administration was falling apart, church administration filled in, the church now being the official state church, consequently bishops were both church and civic administrators. In the Eastern Empire, which would last another 1,000 years or so, the function remained part of the overall hierarchy church or civil. In the West, though the Roman Empire was gone, the political units that emerged retained a structure in which church offices were civil offices too, of established state churches.
This persisted for hundreds of years, in an arrangement which Americans have a hard time grasping because it has never been the case here, in fact is specifically outlawed by an amendment to the Constitution. That amendment is not "separation of church and state" and does not even contain the phrase, but is about "establishment of religion", which means exactly what we have been talking about, where a religion is the official religion of the state, its officers state officers and its buildings state buildings, maintained at state expense.
IV. The Situation.
Another factor is this: even in those churches which claim authenticity based on their bishops, there is not agreement among them about what that authenticity exactly is, or who has it. In the Roman Catholic Church, a concept at the heart of this is "apostolic succession", in which it is believed that each present validly ordained bishop has an authority transmitted to him in a direct line of consecrations going back to the Apostles. Therefore, even a bishop who is at adds with Rome nonetheless by virtue of his office can validly ordain other bishops and priests. So, Eastern Othodox bishops ordain valid bishops, Rome says.
So then does Rome ordain valid bishops according to the East? Well, apostolic succession in the East also considers it a function with the whole church, not just an individual bishop, so a bishop ordaining a bishop apart from the whole church, in a separate body, cannot be said to be ordaining a valid bishop. So, there are various answers from the East about Western bishops as to validity ranging from Yes to No to We Can't Say For Sure.
Furthermore, Western bishops do not recognise each other as valid bishops all the time. Rome considers Anglican bishops to be no bishops at all due to changes in the rite and other doctrines made in the Anglican church. It also does not recognise Lutheran bishops as real bishops due to a break in episcopal consecration. Which also means it does not recognise sacraments other than Baptism and Marriage as valid there either -- Baptism because anyone may baptise, Marriage because the couple marries even if they don't think it's a sacrament..
V. This Is A Solution?
Before we even get to the LCMS, have bishops been an answer to anything, at all, ever, in the church? No. There isn't even agreement as to what a bishop is or how a bishop comes to be, apart from deciding one of the competing claims is right and the rest therefore wrong.
Bishops, in anything like the form and content they have in the Roman and Eastern churches, have no basis whatsoever in the overseers of Scripture. Bishops guarantee nothing. It is claimed they guarantee the true faith against error. But Scripture says the true faith is the guarantee of the bishop. Paul does not say appoint bishops so you will have the true faith, he says keep the true faith so you will appoint true bishops. The relationship goes both ways. Rome and the East make it one way because of the civic nature bishops acquired in the Roman Empire.
The Arians had bishops too, didn't stop them from being Arians. Bishoprics would be bought and sold, as for example we saw with Alberecht of Mainz, who took out a huge loan from Jakob Fugger to buy his way into the office at age 23. Bishops as officers of the state, in the states which had become Lutheran after the Reformation, followed the orders of the state in creating a state ordered union of Reformed and Lutheran worship and belief.
VI. The LCMS.
In fact it was just this, the state ordered and enforced through its bishops compromise of true doctrine and worship, which we call Lutheranism, with false doctrine and worship, that caused many to think of leaving for the United States where they would be free to worship and exist according to their beliefs. Accordingly, Pastor Martin Stephan of Dresden began an emigration society for Saxon Lutherans to go from there to St Louis MO. Some 700 to 1,100 people and five ships left in November 1838, one ship was lost at sea, the rest arrived in New Orleans on 5 January 1839. They proceeded up the Mississippi to Perry County MO to begin a community there and around St Louis for which they elected Pastor Stephan bishop.
Did that save them or guarantee anything? No. Before long, Bishop Stephan was embroiled in allegations of embezzlement and sexual misconduct. On 30 May 1839 he was deposed as bishop and excommunicated from the community, which turned to the remaining senior pastor, CFW Walther, for direction. Which brought up not just what to do for a bishop, but how to have a church at all. Did it need to be connected to or even resemble the churches they had known in Germany?
Strong debate was held about this in Altenburg where Walther was pastor at the time. His position, after intensive study of Luther, was no, the church here did not have to be connected to or even resemble the church in Europe. And that prevailed. There were no more bishops. Walther became pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in St Louis in May 1841 and remained so until his death 7 May 1887. Meanwhile, 12 pastors from 15 Lutheran congregations formed a new church body in Chicago 26 April 1847. It was called Die Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio, und andern Staaten. Which means, The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States, now shortened to Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
VII. Why LCMS?
You know what? At that time there were already dozens of Lutheran synods in the United States? Why form another one? Why not just throw in with one of them, maybe get them to throw in with each other too?
Here's why not. At the time, in part due to the experience in the old countries of the state enforced union of Lutheran and Reformed elements into one church body and in part as a reaction to the new circumstances here in the US, these Lutheran bodies were barely recognisable as Lutheran. The idea was, that all that stuff about a Real Presence in the Eucharist, Baptism which actually conferred God's grace, not a personal decision, the focus on such things and liturgies to convey them, all that stuff maybe was fine in the old countries but simply were not communicating here, so to survive and grow in America, Lutheran churches had to get rid of all that old doctrine and liturgy and get more in line with the Reformed nature of American Protestantism generally.
Huh? We talking 1840s? Judas H Priest on a raft, we hear that same stuff now! Our beloved synod, unsere geliebte synode, was founded precisely and exactly to oppose these opportunistic trends, and instead enthusiastically hold out and promote the light of authentic Lutheranism as stated on our Confessions, which in confessing we hold to be Christianity itself! If we do not maintain that, there is nothing to carry forward in mission. Nothing from Christ anyway.
You know what? Those who hold such a view of re-inventing Lutheranism into something that markets well as American Protestantism already had a synod, the General Synod, founded in 1820, whose great leader was Samuel Simon Schmucker, which split apart over the Civil War and theological disputes, came back to-gether in 1918 as the United Lutheran Church in America, which in 1962 joined a new body the Lutheran Church in America, which in turn on 1 January 1988 joined with the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA. Heard of them lately?
And guess what? They got bishops!
So we have gone from an office in Scripture whose nature was to shepherd the faithful in the true faith, doctrine and practice in the knowledge that many false ones will appear, whose occupants will be chosen by the congregations based on already being known for their doctrinal and moral orthodoxy, to a system derived in its design and power and even dress from Roman Imperial administration that remained a state office and function for centuries even after Rome East or West disappeared, which while filled here and there by saintly pastors have also been little more than worldly offices bought and sold like a barrel of oil, a guarantee of nothing but confusion, scandal and strife, operative through the power of the state not the Gospel.
Back in Dresden, Saxony (Sachsen) they knew well the curse of the historic bishops and bishoprics and left for the United States which had no such traditions to impede the practice of confessional Lutheranism, yet even once here the centuries-long force of this impediment to the church led them to yet have a "bishop" but not in the old state mode. But God was to show them a better way, his way, which was really what their hopes and dreams yearned for but could not fully grasp.
That was to be free of the whole mess, a church organisation that was not a continuation here of the ancient and European political models from which they came, and not an adoption of American Protestantism with its Reformed basis either. Rather it was to be based on what is confessed in the Lutheran Confessions, the pure faith of Jesus Christ and a church body like what is described in Scripture, where the Christian faith the Confessions confess are the Rock on which the church is built, where its overseers are chosen because of their championship of this rock against which even the gates of hell shall not prevail, not mistaking themselves for the rock in the process but overseeing, with the right of investigation and judgement, as our founding constitution of 1847 says, as to whether pastors care for the congregations they serve with sound doctrine in preaching and sound pratice in liturgy or weaken and compromise the truth of our Confessions with pandering to what plays well, "new measures" as they were called then, exactly the measures some advocate to-day.
Not a bishop in sight -- in the historical sense. But exactly what Scripture intends when it speaks of the overseers of the church, an office to which the term "bishop" became attached. What a magnificent gift of God! And to-day we carry this message not just to German immigrants amid the confusion about Lutheranism, but, and in concert with other confessional Lutheran bodies in the International Lutheran Council, to the whole world amid its confusion about everything!
But where's the guarantee? What happens if the right guys lose? Is truth a matter of a vote at a gathering? We can and should make our efforts, but the guarantee is where it has always been, just as false teachers will appear as they have always done. The guarantee is not in a man, or a group of men, or in an institution, all of which can and have failed, but in the rock which is not revealed by flesh and blood but God the Father in heaven, to which God and his word of grace we are commended which will build us up and give us an inheritance among those who are sanctified.
Men, groups of men, and institutions, even beloved ones, may come and go, and if they go the way of false doctrine and practice, the guarantee was not to them but to the rock of the word of God which will raise up new ones. Which is exactly why the motto of the Lutheran Reformation is not about a church body or its officers but the Word of God:
Verbum domini manet in aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever. Amen.
Yeah, everybody knows 31 October is the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door and started the Reformation. Everybody knows it's Halloween too. What does this mean?
What does "Halloween" mean?
Let's start with Halloween. The word is a contraction actually, the "een" being short for "even" being short for "evening". Evening of what? Evening before the Hallows, that's what. So what or who in the hell are the hallows? "Hallow" is the modern English form of a Germanic root word meaning "holy", which also survives in modern German as "heilige". The Hallows are the holy ones, meaning the saints.
1 November has for centuries been celebrated in the West as the Feast of All Hallows, cognate with the German word for it Allerheiligen, which is now usually expressed in English as the Feast of All Saints. The term Hallowmas was once common for it, the mass of all hallows. Halloween then is a contraction for the Eve of the Feast of All Hallows, the night on 31 October before the feast on 1 November.
About the only other times you hear "hallow" in some form or other in modern English is its retained use in the traditional wording of the Our Father, "hallowed be thy name" or held holy be thy, the second person familiar form of address modern English doesn't use, name, or the phrase "hallowed halls" in reference to a university or some esteemed institution.
The Origin of All Saints' Day. Lemuralia.
So when did we start having a Feast of All Hallows on 1 November? Well, we started having a Feast of All Hallows, or Saints, before it was 1 November. In the Eastern Church, all the saints are collectively remembered on the first Sunday after Pentecost. It really got rolling when the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Leo VI (886-911) built a church in honour of his wife when she died, but as she was not a recognised saint he dedicated the church to all the saints, so that she would be included in a commemoration of all saints recognised as such or not.
In the Western Church, the whole thing got rolling when Pope Boniface IV got permission in 609 AD from the Roman emperor Phocas -- this would be the Eastern Roman Emperor, as the Western Roman Empire was long gone by this time -- to redicate the Roman Pantheon to Mary and all martyrs. What's the Pantheon? A big temple built by Agrippa, Caesar Augustus' best general officer, to Jupiter, Venus and Mars in 27 BC. It was destroyed in a major fire in Rome in 80 AD. The emperor Domitian rebuilt it, but it burned again in 110 AD. The emperor Trajan began reconstruction and it was completed by the emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. That's the building that's there now.
Boniface rededicated the Pantheon to Mary and all martys on 13 May 609 (might have been 610) AD. Why 13 May? Because it was on that day that the old Roman Lemuralia concluded. What's a Lemuralia? The Roman poet Ovid says it originated when Romulus, one of the co-founders of Rome from whom the city is named, tried to calm the spirit of his brother Remus, the other co-founder. Why would Remus' spirit need calming? Because Romulus killed him with a shovel to make sure he didn't name and rule the city, that's why.
At any rate, over time it became the day, or rather days, there were three of them, 9, 11, and 13 May, when the head of the household (the paterfamilias, father of the family) chased off the lemures (one lemur, two or more lemures) who were vengeful spirits of the dead ticked off at the living, for either not having been buried properly or treated well in life or remembered well in death, and out to harm or at least scare the crap out of the living.
Because they appeared so scary, they were also called larvae (one larva, two or more larvae) meaning "masks", which is also how the "mask" of early stage life in some animals nothing like the adult stage, such as the caterpillar to the butterfly, came to be called larva. Anyway, paterfamilias went out at midnight looking to one side and tossing black beans behind him saying "haec ego mitto his redimo meque meosque fabis", or "I send these (beans), with these I redeem me and mine" nine times. Then, he banged bronze pots to-gether saying "manes exite paterni" or "Souls of my ancestors, exit" nine times.
Western All Saints' Day Gets Moved By The Pope. Samhain.
In putting the Feast of All Saints on 13 May, Boniface meant to both replace the old Lemuralia and transform it into a Christian observance for all the Christian dead. The replacement anyway worked, and over time the Lemuralia were largely forgotten. So why isn't All Saints' Day still 13 May? Because Pope Gregory III (731-741), btw a Syrian and to date the last pope not a European, built a place in St Peter's -- the old one begun by Constantine, not the one there now, remember that, it'll pop up later -- in Rome for veneration of relics of all saints, and moved the date to 1 November. It stuck, and in 835 Louis the Pious, son and successor to Charlemagne (aka Karl der Grosse), with a big nudge from Pope Gregory IV, made it officially stuck and there it is to this day.
Thing is, there already was another non Christian celebration about this time. The Celts had something called Samhain, which means "Summer's end" and is still the word for November in Irish, as two other of their big celebrations, Bealtaine and Lunasa, are the Irish words for May and August. It was a harvest festival, but also included the realisation that Winter is coming and thus grain and meat for the season for people and livestock alike is prepared, the bones of the slaughtered animals thrown into bone fires, which is now contracted to bonfires, from which the whole community lighted its individual home fires. Also it was thought the world of the living and the dead intersected on this date, and the dead could cause damage to the living, so the living wore costumes to look like the dead or appease them or confuse them and minimise the potential damage. Your original trick or treat.
So a feast that started out to replace or transform one pagan observance involving the dead ends up on another, first Roman then Celtic. So whadda we got? A supposedly Christian celebration that's just a non-Christian one with a Christian veneer over it? Well, to some extent, yes. The mistake would be to see this as the whole story. Judas Priest, we ain't even got to the Reformation yet, howzat figure into all this? How come Luther's out there nailing stuff to the church door on Halloween? Was he trick or treating or something?
As to the general idea, guess what, people die, Christian or non Christian, and the people they leave behind feel the loss and want to remember them. Hardly surprising that Christians would want to do that, hell, everybody does, and that's why there's remembrances of various kinds in cultures all over the world. Given the Christian knowledge of salvation from sin and death by the merit of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a commemoration of those who have passed from this life to the joy of that salvation in God's presence would even more suggest itself, and show the fulfillment of a universal human inkling with all its folklore in the revelation of the Gospel. IOW, if anyone ought to commemorate their dead, it's Christians who know God's revealed truth as to what death, and life both here and beyond, is all about.
But, as we've seen, it's easy to get confused again, get drawn back into the folklore, begin to evolve a sort of hybrid of truth and the guesswork expressed in the folklore, and confuse that for Christianity itself. As an example, remember old Gregory III setting up a place to venerate relics in St Peter's? Why would one venerate something from the body of a dead Christian? Is there even the slightest suggestion of such a practice, or it having any merit, in the Bible? No. Luther mentioned there are many things which even if they began with a good intent originally become so clouded with the sort of thing we manufacture for ourselves in folklore that the intent is long since lost.
What Is An Indulgence?
What is an indulgence anyway? It has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin, and we'll see in a minute doesn't have bupkis to do with Purgatory either. In Roman Catholic thinking, a sin may indeed be forgiven, but, consequences remain for punishment. Some sins are so serious that, if one does them knowing they are serious yet freely deciding to, the rejection of God is so complete that it is mortal to the life of the soul, for which reason they are called mortal sins, and the punishment and consequnce is eternal.
But, even if one repents and is forgiven for a mortal sin, it's still like most sins which aren't so serious, called venial sins, where the punishment is not eternal loss of life but temporal, the sin reflects an attachment to some part of God's creation over God himself, and one must undertake the removal of that attachment to creatures rather than the Creator through works of mercy, charity, penance, prayer and the like; one must undertake the sanctification, the making holy, of himself, and the problem is, while this may be done over time, you may die before you have enough time here. Hence Purgatory, where the process begun here is completed if you die before completing it here and "walk right in" as they used to say.
But good news! Not good news as is the Gospel; if that were understood we wouldn't even be into this nonsense, but guess what, you don't actually have to do all this cleansing and santifying yourself. There's a whole treasury of merit from Jesus and the saints, and just as one's sins affect others, so since we're all members of the body of Christ the church, the merit of Christ and the saints can affect others too, and the church, given the power to bind and loose on Earth and it will be bound or loosed in Heaven, can apply that merit to other members, not to forgive the sin but reduce the temporal consequences needing sanctification, and that application is tied to various pious things you do, like say venerating a relic.
Holy crap that's a lot of thinking! I guess the message that by HIS stripes, meaning the marks of his suffering, we are healed, that he redeemed us like a coupon, paying the price, taking the punishment we are due for us, is just too good to really be true, so we tack on all these human thinkings-through onto it to make it more palatable to our understanding.
St Peter's, Luther, and Tetzel.
Well back to this church that's been standing in Rome for over 1000 years through lots of stuff good and bad and is in pretty bad shape, but given as Constantine started it you kind of don't demolish stuff like that, so whaddya do? Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) was the first guy to think yeah maybe you do either completely rebuild it or tear it down and build a new one. He had some plans drawn up but died before much was actually done. Finally Pope Julius II (1503-1513), the one just before Leo X to whom Luther addressed "The Freedom of the Christian", laid the cornerstone for the new St Peter's in 1506.
Costs a lot of money, and Julius liked building stuff. The project was begun 18 April 1506 and wouldn't be completed until 18 November 1626 when Pope Urban VIII dedicated the church. Funding was to be provided in part by selling indulgences. Facilitating this was Albrecht, or Albert. von Hohenzollern, who became archbishop of Magdeburg at age 23 in 1513 and bought himself election to the powerful post of archbishop of Mainz in 1514. To pay for it he got a HUGE loan from Jakob Fugger -- don't laugh, he was a serious, serious dude, banker to everyone who mattered, loaned Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession was presented, most of the money to buy being elected Holy Roman Emperor, for example.
Albrecht then got permission from Pope Leo X to sell indulgences to pay the loan off as long as half was sent to Rome to pay for St Peter's. A Fugger agent tended the money, and Albrecht got his top salesman in a damn Domincan (friars are always suspect; if they were up to any good they'd have been proper monks like the Benedictines, everybody knows that) named Johann Tetzel.
When the gold in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.
Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, Die Seele aus dem Fegefeuer springt!
Not even RCC theology, as Cardinal Cajetan later said. Now, it would be overly simplistic to the point of just plain false to ascribe Luther's posting of the 95 Theses to Tetzel and that famous jingle. The sources, the depth, the background of what led to the Reformation go much deeper than that -- which is why I spent all that time on all that ancient stuff. This had been coming for a long, long, time, centuries of it. Tetzel died a broken man, shunned by all sides, and while Luther fought him strenuously, as he lay dying Luther wrote him a personal letter saying the troubles were not of his making, that that child had a different father, as Luther put it.
For us Lutherans to-day to not understand what that different father was would be false to our Lutheran Reformation and to Luther himself. What do we really have here? A misunderstanding (Luther) in reaction to a misunderstanding (Tetzel and indulgences and the late mediaeval papacy) which once the misunderstandings are cleared up, maybe issue a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification or something, the whole thing is resolved and we're one big happy family again? No, and in the words of the great theologian Chris Rock, hell no.
Theologians like to call the problem one of justification versus sanctification. What does this mean? Sanctify, to make sanctus, which is the Latin word for holy, right back where we started. Justify, to make justus, which is the Latin word for just. How can a person be just before God if he is not holy? Well, he can't. It gets worse. Not only can he not be just before God if he is not holy, there is no amount of time and works that will make him holy enough to be just before God. It gets worse yet. That's even when God calls out a people and gives them his Law to show them exactly what he wants, and sends prophet after prophet to get them back on course.
But having shown us that with the Law, it gets better with the Gospel, which is just a contraction of old English words for good news. And the good news is this, that he has himself done for us what we could not do for ourselves, which is, fulfill the Law on our behalf, taking the punishment we deserve on himself and paying our debt, thus literally redeeming us. Turns out those human inklings were on to something but couldn't grasp what. Salvation is by works, but the works of Jesus, not us; our salvation is by faith in the merit of Jesus, that as he took our sin and it was credited to him though sinless, we take on his holiness and it is credited to us though we are unholy.
It's so utterly simple. What then, we are to do no works at all? Not in the least. We are to do good works; we are not to trust in them for our salvation in any part but to trust wholly in his. This too is utterly simple. It's our sinfulness that wants to make it complicated, figure our works have just got to have something to do with it, and mix that in with the good news of salvation through faith in the works of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and come up with a sort-of good news where it's all him, except that it's you in there too with some punishment to work off and holiness to attain.
Thus do indulgences become a corruption of the Gospel and obscure it, whether they are sold or not. Thus does so much else become a corruption of the Gospel and obscure it -- the office of holy ministry becomes a priesthood, celebration of those who have gone before us in faith become another spirit/ancestor thing, the church itself becomes a part of the state, doing good works because we are saved becomes doing good works in order to be saved, on and on.
And worst of all in that the mass, or Divine Service as we often call it, becomes no longer first his gift of his word to us through the transformed synagogue service of prayer, Scripture reading and preaching and then his gift of the same body and blood given for us now given to us as the pledge of our salvation and his testament to us his heirs, but a work to be done and effective not through the power of his word to do what it says by simply by having worked the work.
And so on 31 October 1517 Father Martin Luther posted his document on the door of a church in Wittenberg. The title was Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiaru, If that sounds like Latin it's because it is. It was an invitation to a formal moderated academic event called a Disputation, in which a statement or statements are argued to be true or false by reference to an established written authority, such as, in religion, the Bible.
The church was All Saints Church in Wittenberg -- hey, the all saints thing again! -- which was and is commonly called the Schlosskirche, or castle church, as distinct from the Stadtkirche, or town church, of St Mary. It was built by Frederick III, called The Wise, who was the Elector of Saxony, one of the seven who elected Holy Roman Emperors. He also founded the University of Wittenberg in 1502, in which Luther was a professor of theology, and attached the castle church to it as the university's chapel.
Luther was awarded the Doctor of Theology degree by the university on 19 October 1512 and two days later became a member of the theological faculty there with the position Doctor In Bible. The "95 Theses" as they are commonly called were written therefore in the academic language, Latin, rather than the language of the land, German, because it was an academic document calling for the academic event called a disputatio, or Disputation.
So he wasn't out trick or treating, All Saints Church had a huge collection of relics of the saints, thousands of them, collected by Frederick, and veneration of them was one way to earn an indulgence, for which purpose they were put on display once a year. You get 100 days indulgence per relic. By 1520 Frederick had over 19,000 of them, and taking that as a round number, (19K x 100)/365 is 5,205 years and some change. Now, the "days" are not, as is often thought, time off from Purgatory; it is time off from what would otherwise have to be punishment here on Earth, therefore shortening one's stay in Purgatory, where there are no earthly days, to complete what was not completed here in earth.
Holy crap that's a lot of thinking! Oh yeah, we've been there before. Now we see how out of hand it was, and also see that the out of hand thing isn't the worst part, you can curb the out of hand stuff, and it is now largely curbed even in the RCC, but the worst part remains, the near total eclipse made of the good news of salvation in the Gospel, getting justification and sanctification all mixed up.
So, the power and efficacy of indulgences was the surface of a much deeper problem, the obscuring of the Gospel and the perversion of the church's mission to spread it and minister its sacraments, those gifts of grace, grace coming from the Latin for "free", gratis, from Christ himself, in Baptism and the Eucharist.
A Quick Look East.
BTW, the Eastern Church isn't off the hook here; while this indulgence thing was a Western thing and there is no equivalent to the remission of temporal punishment for sin in the Eastern Church, there was the practice of absolution certificates, which in some places did lift punishments but primarily were issued by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to pilgrims there and were distributed abroad, which absolved the sins of whoever bought them -- as distinct from an indulgence which does not absolve sin but remits punishment due to forgiven sins, which if they're forgiven then why is there still punishment, holy crap brace yourself for a lot of thinking -- and the proceeds paid for the heavy costs, including taxes, of maintaining the shrines in the Holy Land. Even worse than indulgences, or at least just as bad, technical differences regardless.
You know what? The Disputation the 95 Theses called for was never held. Something much better happened. It's called the Lutheran Reformation, in which no new church was started, but the one church, the church that has been there all along, the church that will be there all along, the only church there will ever be, was reformed where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered after the institution of Christ rather than that plus a hell of a lot of thinking that added all sorts of emendations by Man.
This reformation was at the risk of life in the beginning from the powers that be. Thankfully those times are over, but as with the indulgences themselves, it is not that itself which is the main thing, but the Gospel for which it was done. We celebrate this great working of the Holy Spirit, in reforming the church against both pressures to maintain the old errors and pressures to take the Reformation into further errors, on 31 October, Reformation Day.
Reformation Day, whether it's Sunday or not, until recently. As if something for which our Lutheran fathers risked literally everything needs to be moved for the convenience of us who benefit from it to the nearest Sunday to make it easier and therefore get more numbers. Any of us need police protection to safely move about as Lutherans that moving it to Sunday will change?
Thanks be to God for the reformation of his church!
And Happy Halloween while you're at it.Happy All Saints Day (Allerheiligen) too!
Ein Merkzeichen meiner Theologie. "This is my compendium theologiae." 8 Juli/July 1530
A Beggar's Daily Portion
We are beggars. This is true.
Those are Luther's last words, written, as he could not speak, the first in German, the last in Latin.
So how does a beggar get his daily food? Here's how.
Luther lays it out in the Small Catechism, Section Two, Daily Prayers. You can read these Daily Prayers from the Small Catechism online right away, and print PDFs in full and for free, here. We beggars find there what we need for devotional prayer -- the Sign of the Cross, the Creed, the Our Father, a short prayer for morning and evening, and for before and after meals. None of it original with Luther. Nothing in "Lutheranism" is.
The following links give basic sources for our faith. Most are online, and all available in print as well from Concordia Publishing House.
For beggars who are pastors, formerly "priests", Luther notes in the Large Catechism that they are relieved of the useless and burdensome babbling of the seven canonical hours in their personal prayer, and encourages them to drop that altogether for morning, noon, and evening reading from the Catechism or Bible, and the Our Father.
Food For A Beggar's Daily Portion.
The Small Catechism with Explanation. The Small Catechism is itself the handbook of our faith. You can read it online here, and get the app for your phone. The book, ePub or Kindle versions of the Small Catechism also have an Explanation and Appendices that are great for study. Sie können auf Deutsch hier lesen.
The Lutheran Study Bible.You'll want a Bible of course, and this is the best study Bible around hands down. If if isn't in the budget right away, don't hesitate to get the Concordia ESV Pew Bible. You can read the Bible in the English Standard Version here, oder die Lutherbibel hier, or the Clementine Vulgate here.
The Augsburg Confession. This is the primary specifically Lutheran statement of the Christian faith. You can read it online here. It and the Small Catechism are also included in Concordia, aka The Book of Concord, the defining statements, or confessions, of our faith. You can read the 1921 Bente edition online in English, German or Latinhere. Or get the more recent Readers Edition The Book of Concord. You can get Readers Edition The Augsburg Confession from it separately. God Grant It, daily readings through the church year from the sermons of C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and
Portals of Prayer, an LCMS devotional quarterly. There is nothing better than the short daily readings and Scripture verses in these two for the "whatever your devotion may suggest" part.
The Lutheran Hymnal. TLH embodies the common worship of the pure Christian Church of all ages, and we beggars, past, present and future, pray as one as well as individually.
But don't make a burden or a law about these books. It is not necessary to learn everything at once, but one thing after another, so you don't get overwhelmed.
Further material is in the Reference Book List below in the sidebar.
The Food of Word and Sacrament.
And go to Divine Service every Sunday, that's your food too, and Divine Office if you are lucky enough to be in a parish that does it! Right in your own parish you find Baptism, the Sacrament, preaching, and your neighbour; this is greater than all the saints in heaven, as they were themselves made saints by Word and Sacrament.
Das sage ich aber für mich: Ich bin auch ein Doktor ... und muß ein Kind und Schüler des Katechismus bleiben, und bleib es auch gerne.
Divine Service / Liturgy
The service of God to Man of Word and Sacrament.
Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, except that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns. These have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ.
Therefore, since the Mass among us follows the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that it cannot be disapproved. This is especially so because we keep the public ceremonies, which are for the most part similar to those previously in use. Only the number of Masses differs.
... we keep many traditions that are leading to good order (1Cor. 14:40) in the Church, such as the order of Scripture lessons in the Mass and the chief holy days. At the same time, we warn people that such observances do not justify us before God ...
from The Augsburg Confession, Articles XXIV & XXVI.
Calendar Of Annually Revised Posts. Scroll down to Blog Archive to find links.
Advent. Hell Yes There's A Santa Claus. (6 Dec) O What's an Antiphon? Christmas / Navidad / Weinachten. (25 Dec) The 12 Days of Christmas. Happy Whatever Day This Is. (1 Jan) Wilhelm Löhe. (2 Jan) Epiphany / Theophany / Los Tres Reyes. (6 Jan) Roman Empire/Church, East/West/Holy. (16 Jan) - founding day of the Roman Empire Candlemas. (2 Feb) A Love Story For St Valentine's Day. (14 Feb) The Confession of St Peter. On Chairs Too. (22 Feb) Readin', Writin', and Absolute Multitude. (25 Feb) - founding day of The University of Iowa The Transfiguration of Jesus. What's A Septuagesima? Gesimatide. What's A Quadragesima? Lent / Fastenzeit. Divine Service -- What's That and Why Bother? (12 Mar) - the real feast of St Gregory the Great, not 3 Sep Divine Office -- What's That and Why Bother? (21 Mar) - the real feast of St Benedict, not 11 July The Annunciation / Lady Day. (25 Mar) Palmarum and Holy Week. Maundy Thursday / Gründonnerstag. Good Friday / Karfreitag. Easter Vigil / Osternacht. Pascha / Easter / Counting the Omer. Paschaltide / Quinquagesima paschalis. The Founding of the City, 21 April. May Day, May Day! CFW Walther. (7 May) Pentecost / Shavuot / Pfingstfest. Armed Forces Week And Day. Memorial Day Is Not All Saints Day. (30 May) St Boniface, OSB. (5 June) When In Rome ... The Nativity of St John the Baptist. (24 June) The Augsburg Confession. (25 June) The Fourth of July. A Different St Nicholas -- and Alexandra, Passion-Bearers. (17 July) Robert Barnes. (30 July) The Dormitory of Mary. (15 August) On St Bernard, Sacred Heads, ATMs and Other Stuff. (19 Aug) St Monica and Vatican II For Lutherans. (27 Aug) - Vatican II's Monica feast day, the real one is 4 May Augustine and Happy Birthday, Western Catholic Church. (6 Sep) Holy Crap Day. (14 Sep) The Divine Environment. An Essay on the Lifted Cross. It's Fall, What Happened to the High Holydays and Sukkoth? St Michael's Day / Michaelmas / Michaelistag. (29 Sep) Jerome. (30 Sep) Boethius, Terence, Wheel of Fortune. (23 Oct) Reformation Day etc / Reformationstag usw. (31 Oct) Election Day. What's An Armistice? Veterans Day/St Martin's Day. (11 Nov) Thanksgiving. (19 Nov) A Thanksgiving That Lasts An Eternity.
A DAILY BIBLE VERSE, GREAT LUTHERAN BLOGS, THE LUTHERAN WITNESS, MY LUTHERAN HEROES, WE ARE BEGGARS. THIS IS TRUE, THE "PRELUDE" TO MY FAITH, THE ONLY THEOLOGIAN WORTH READING, THE ONLY PHILOSOPHER WORTH READING, ABOUT ME, FACEBOOK BADGE, FEEDJIT LIVE TRAFFIC FEED, BIG BLOGROLL O'VARK ( BBOV), PAST ELDER PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE, LUTHERAN SITES, THE TIBER, REFERENCE BOOK LIST, SOME GOSPEL MUSIC AND PREACHING, NEWS, REFERENCE AND SEARCH SITES.
Which are Luther's last words, written as he could not speak, the first words in German and the last in Latin, 18 February 1546.
In a letter of 9 July 1537, Luther wrote that he really wasn't all that big on a plan to collect his works in a series of volumes, that he would rather see them consumed as Saturn, in Greek mythology, consumed his children, except maybe De servo arbitrio and the Catechism.
De servo arbitrio is a theological treatise, therefore in Latin, of 1525. The title is usually known in English as "On the Bondage of the Will". It more literally translates as "On (or concerning, or of) Bound Decision (or choice)". Both the title and the work itself counter Erasmus' treatise De libero arbitrio, or Of Free Will, of 1524.
Which is the whole thing, or nothing -- what is it to be saved, what is salvation anyway, and how does it come about?
Here is a link to an online posting of the first English translation, by Henry Cole in 1823, who literally translates the title as "On the Enslaved Will".
I'm glad the Saturn urge didn't prevail, though, because "Babylonian Captivity" (1520), the work that set an initially sympathetic Erasmus off against Luther, and the House (1542, 1549) and Church (1527) Postils (sermons on the lectionary -- the real one -- readings; homilies) I put right up there with "Bondage" and the Catechism (meaning both the large and small ones).
Hey, the Hauspostille are from after he wrote that letter anyway.
Not to mention, though Luther would mention it, that it is not about Luther or his writings, but the faith of Christ, which we hold with one heart is accurately stated in the Book of Concord, Concordia in Latin, which Luther never saw, complied 34 years after his death, and of whose contents he wrote only the Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles.
The Jerusalem Bible, Alexander Jones gen. ed. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1966.
Three Treatises (Martin Luther), 2nd Rev Ed. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970. (The 1520 treatises.)
Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (1943) St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1943. 1965.
* Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (1991) St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. 2005, 2008. (The 2008 version uses the ESV and the Concordia Reader's Edition BOC in the Explanation, neither of which existed when the volume came out it 1991, and the new illustrations from 2005. The first version is still in print too and uses the NIV and the Tappert BOC in the Explanation, with the new illustrations.)
Complete Sermons of Martin Luther (7 vols.) Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2000. (Actually the complete Church and House Postils)
* Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2 ed. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
* The Augsburg Confession. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006. (Booklet of the AC from Concordia)
* Law and Gospel. A Reader's Edition. CFW Walther. St Louis: Concordia Pulishing House, 2010.
The Reformation Essays of Dr Robert Barnes. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2007.
The Apostolic Fathers, Jack Sparks ed. Nashville: Nelson, 1978.
* God Grant It. Daily Devotions from CFW Walther. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
To Live With Christ. Bo Giertz. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
* Portals of Prayer. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, quarterly periodical.
Jewish Literacy. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1991.
The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, 2. Ed. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode Ltd, 1962. The "Singer Siddur".
The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1955. 1917.
* The Lutheran Hymnal. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.
Lutheran Service Book. St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
Saint Joseph Daily Missal. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1950.
Manual of Prayers. Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1916. 1888. Imprimatur by James Cardinal Gibbons.
1. This is a parody of Nietzsche's Götzen-Dämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt, meaning Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophise with a Hammer. It means Dawn, or, How One Theologises with a Hammer.
2. The line comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero's work Orator ad M Brutus, About the Orator, Also Dedicated to Brutus, Chapter 34, section 120, and means Not to know what happened before you were born is to be forever a child.
3. The line comes from Decimus Junius Juvenalis' Satire Ten, line 356, and means You should pray for a sound mind in a sound body, asking, he goes on to say, for a strong heart that sees long life as the least thing giving the ability to endure anything, that has neither wrath nor desire, and would prefer the hard labours of Hecules to the self-indulgent pleasures and luxuries of Sardanapalus, the decadent Assyrian king of legend.
4. It's a line from Heauton Timorumenos, which in Greek means The Self-Tormentor, Act One, scene 1, line 25, by Publius Terentius Afer, whom you may know as Terence. It means I am human, I think of nothing human as alien to me. Despite the Greek title the play itself is in Latin. Roman education included Greek.
5. The line is a motto used by the Austrian (the part where he was born is now in the Ukraine) music theorist Heinrich Schenker. He may have based it on lines from either or both of Augustine's Confessions or Irenaeus' Against Heresies, that say God is always the same knowing in the same way things that are not the same nor in the same way. He saw tonality as the composing-out through structural levels in music of this divine attribute, for which the Nazis rejected him as having corrupted music theory with Jewish monotheism. He died in 1935 before Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, but his wife Jeanette ended up in Theresienstadt, which the Nazis tried to make a showcase for how the camps weren't so bad (the same one from which Dr Viktor Frankl survived to give Man his greatest psychology, logotherapy), and died there four months to the day before the Soviet Army liberated the camp 8 May 1945.