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


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

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

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

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

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

24 January 2009

Candlemas (2 February) 2009. A 40 Days of Purpose.

In the Law of Moses, when a woman gives birth to a boy, she is ritually unclean for seven days, then in the "blood of purification" for another thirty three days, total of forty days, at which time she goes to the mikveh for a ritual bath of purification.

What's a mikveh? The word, also given as mikvah, means collection -- what is collected is water, not just any water, but water from a natural source, such as rain, or better yet "living water" from a spring or well, which must be naturally transported, not pumped or carried. Total immersion in the water of a mikveh -- anyone thinking Baptism? -- is considered so important, restoring ritual purity after ritually impure things have happened, such as childbirth, that a Jewish community must provide a mikveh even before it builds a place of worship (synagogue).

So, to observe and fulfill the Mosaic Law, Mary was purified in a ritual bath in a mikveh, after which her first-born Son was presented in the Temple to dedicate him to God. In the Western Church, since the birth of Jesus has been set on 25 December for its celebration, the celebration of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple is fixed forty days later, 2 February. However, we saw in an earlier post that Epiphany, 6 January (at least until 1960s Rome got a hold of it), originally contained all the events of the early life of Jesus including his birth, on top of which 25 December in the Gregorian calendar of the West and now in civil use most of the world falls on 7 January in the Julian calendar still in liturgical use in the East, so the 40th day falls on Gregorian 15 February in the East, and is called The Meeting of the Lord.

Either way, either part of the church, either calendar, forty days after Jesus' birth celebration.

The Gospel account of it is Luke 2:22-40, the Gospel reading for the day. Part of it relates Simeon the Elder, who had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. When Mary brought Jesus for the meeting, Simeon saw him and recognised him as the Messiah, saying what is now called the Canticle of Simeon, or, from its first words in Latin, nunc dimittis: now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. This reference to light gave rise to the custom of blessing the candles on this day for use in the church during the year, which in turn has given the day yet another name, Candelemas.

The nunc dimittis has also become a feature of the Office of Compline, the completing church office of prayer for the day. In the Lutheran Common Service, that most wonderful version of the Western liturgy, it is also sung after Communion -- a practice continued even in our Vatican II wannabe services of late, though of course with the Vatican II-esque option of doing something else instead. 1960s Rome downplays the candles and Mary stuff for the Simeon thing. Simeon did no such thing. He got the purpose about Mary and light to the people.

Simeon said something else too, and it should not be forgotten. The joy of the Messiah cannot be separated from the reason why he came, which isn't all that pretty. Saviours are great, as long as it's not about salvation from sin. Jesus would run into this again, to put it mildly, and Satan would even tempt him about during another forty days the church is about to celebrate in imitation of his forty days in the desert, Lent. He said:

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against -- yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (this to Mary) -- that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

The cross, the crucifixion, the payment for redemption from sin, is present here too, as the central event in the life of Jesus, the life of Man, and the life of each man. Bishop Sheen once remarked that the crucifix is the autobiography of every Christian.

As with Christmas, Candlemas is sometimes taken as simply a Christian version of pre-existing observances. 2 February is the date of Imbolc, a Celtic observance of the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It was associated with the goddess Brigit, where sacred fires were maintained by 19 consecrated women in Kildare -- sort of an Irish Vesta -- some of whose legends seem to have been passed to the Christian St Brigit, and which figure, through mingling of Irish and African slaves in the New World, may be the source of Maman Brigitte in Voodoo. Imbolc was also a time of weather forecasting, with Spring coming on, when snakes or badgers or other animals were watched to see if they would come out of their Winter hibernation, indicating a short Winter, or not, indicating a longer one.

Well, as with superficial similarities with pre-Christian Winter solstice observances, the content of fulfilling the Mosaic Law by the newborn Messiah is rather different than all that, including the references to light. But, as to watching animals for a clue to the length of the remaining cold weather -- hello, Groundhog Day, which is also, guess what, 2 February!

And then there's the Roman Lupercalia, the Wolf Feast, honouring the she-wolf who raised Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, celebrated this time of year too. In it, the Luperci, the priests of the wolf (lupus in Latin) sacrificed, well, originally people, but then two male goats and a dog, whose blood was put on the foreheads of other Luperci, then there was a feast, then the Luperci cut thongs from the animal skins -- called februa, so there's your February! -- and put on the rest, running around town, with women coming forward to be lashed by the thongs to insure both fertility and easy childbirth. This lasted well into Christian Rome, and some think Pope Gelasius in the 490s used Candlemas to replace and remove Lupercalia.

So what do we have here? Later, Christianed-over versions of universal themes, or, universal themes that derive from natural knowledge of God, and therefore have something to them, but could never even have guessed the Law and Gospel in the revealed word of God in Scripture.

Well, as we saw with Christmas and will see with Easter, both. You got your choice. Yeah, there is 2 February as modern and presumably more civilised and less superstitious observances that Winter will end sooner or later and nice weather come back -- Groundhog Day, which also has the advantage that you're way less likely to have the cops called on your Groundhog Day party than if you try to have a Lupercalia.

And, there's 2 February as something to which these things have only the crudest of inklings in the fallen heart of Man -- The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary.

22 January 2009

Going Postil!

I ordered "The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther", a seven volume set sold by Christian Book Distributors (CBD) at It's not the complete sermons of Martin Luther at all. It's the complete postils of Martin Luther.

What in all day Friday is a postil? Well, the term is also given as postilla, and is short from a Latin phrase, post illa verba textus, and it means a marginal note to a Biblical text, a little note written in the margin of a Bible. Then, such notes being commentaries, it expanded to mean a commentary separate from but attached to a Biblical text. Then it became a word for a homily, which is not the same thing as a sermon, but a sermon on a Biblical text, usually one of the ones just read in a service, whereas a sermon can be on any theme. Finally, it referred to a cycle of homilies for the Biblical readings for the church year. This will be the real church year, not the one invented by Rome in the 1960s.

There are seven volumes to the set. The first four -- which were originally published as eight -- are the Kirchenpostille, the Church Postils, which are notes for pastors as a help in preparing sermons on the Biblical readings for the day, and the last three are the Hauspostille, the House Postils, later actual sermons preached by Luther. $40.98 delivered to the door. I'm not a pastor, I'm not preparing any sermons, I'm not even an elder now. But who would pass up study and devotional material like this for the Scripture passages we read through the church year, especially at the price!

The package shipped from Peabody MA 12 January 2009 and arrived at a Sortation Center of the United States Postal Service the same day in Northborough MA. The next day it left and arrived at a Sortation Center in Matinsburg WV. It left there the next day, 14 January 2009, and arrived at a Sortation Center in Brooklyn Park MN 16 January 2009. Monday through Friday. It left Brooklyn Park MN 19 Janauary 2009, Monday, with an estimated arrival at the destination, my house, 20 January. It actually arrived 22 January, 2009.

So the Postal Service completed its work as the postil service. But sortation? Sortation? Judas H Priest on a raft, what is sortation? Well, I guess I'll read the postils, and post about them after they are processed through my sortation center aka head.

12 January 2009

"Everybody blames the Lutherans."

A great line from the latest canonical work of the greatest theologian of our time, Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino".

From "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964) on as an actor, and from "Play Misty For Me" (1971) as a director, his work has explored the gritty this-worldly intersection of good and evil, between ideal and reality, between representatives thereof, and within the representatives themselves.

I wonder though, if this is his "The Shootist" as an actor. Regardless, a stunning work.

05 January 2009

Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire, 2009.

Festschrift on the Anniversary of the Roman Empire, 16 January 27 BC.

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

This post will examine this development in ten sections.

I. The Founding of the Roman Empire on 16 January, 27 BC.
II. Diocletian Splits the Empire into East and West, July 285.
III. Constantine, 306.
IV. Constantine is Emperor both East and West, 325,
V. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Opens New State Religion, 380.
VI. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Closes Old State Religion, 392/3.
VII. Western Empire Collapses in 476, Eastern Empire Continues to 1453.
VIII. West Makes Comback As Holy Roman Empire, 800, Lasts Until 1806.
IX. Summation nostra aetate, In Our Time.
X. Conclusion.

I. The Founding of the Roman Empire on 16 January, 27 BC.

Rome was founded from early settlements on 21 April 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus (hence the name) and Remus. Romulus was the first of seven kings, the remaining six being elected. He divided the men into those fit for military service and those not, then from those not established the Senate as an advisory council of 300 men, 100 from each of the three Roman tribes, the Ramnes or Latins, the Tities or Sabines, and the Luceres or Etruscans, from the best men as he saw it. The word senate comes from the same root as senile, btw, meaning old man, take that as you will, and he called its members patres, fathers, their descendants being patricians. He also established a legislative body, the Comitia Curiata. If you're hearing modern English words committe and curia, you're right: it literally means a co-meeting of an assembly of men. There were 30 curiae, 10 for each tribe. The Senate proposed the new king to the Comitia Curiata, then the people voted and if successful the candidate would be determined by an augur to see if it was God's will, and if so he would then ask the Curia to grant him imperium, rule. The new king (rex) was pretty much everything -- top executive, lawmaker, judge, and king of sacred rites or rex sacrorum.

In 510 BC, the Senate and people of Rome changed this and established Res publica romana, the Roman Republic. The Senate governed, and the king's power was split, held by two consules (singular, consul) for a one year term, and the rex sacrorum as well as other chief priests and the virgins of Vesta were run by a new office, pontifex maximus, the supreme bridge builder literally, and in emergencies a dictator could be chosen for a six month term. Yes, there's still a pontifex maximus in Rome.

Some consider the Roman Empire to have begun with Julius Caesar's appointment by the Senate as dictator in perpetuity in 44 BC. Julius accepted this position in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and the denarius was minted with his image and "dictator perpetuus" on one side and the goddess Ceres -- goddess of growth, agriculture and maternal love, the Roman version of the Greek Demeter -- and the title "augur pontifex maximus", high priest of the college of pontiffs, the highest position in the Roman religion, on the other. He did not rise to accept his position, and Senators fearful that he would make himself king assassinated him in the Senate on the Ides, aka the 15th, of March 44 BC.

Others consider the Roman Empire to have begun 2 September 31 BC when Octavian defeated his rival Marc Antony and his ally Cleopatra of Egypt at the naval Battle of Actium in the Ionian Sea, and also ordered the execution of Cleopatra's son Caesarion, who was 17 and was held to be, and very likely was, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, though Julius had named Octavian, his grand nephew, his son and heir.

Others yet, and these are the guys who are right, consider the Empire to have begun with the Senate giving Octavius, or Octavian, the title augustus (honoured, or august, one) on 16 January 27 BC. With any rival claimants dead by suicide, execution or military defeat, Caesar Augustus, Octavian, was the undisputed ruler, and became pontifex maximus in 13 BC. And the rest is history, as they say.

Caesar Augustus was the first real Roman Emperor, though for some time the facade of the Roman Republic continued. Despite frontier fighting with those outside the Empire, the Empire itself enjoyed a peace, the pax augustana or pax romana, that would last from 27 BC to 180 AD, attaining its greatest extent under the emperor Trajan (98-117).

But by the third century, things became unworkable. The sheer size of the empire, the lack of any clear method of succession of power, and consequently frequent civil war, and the inability of the military to preserve internal order since they were concentrated on the borders to preserve external order, which in turn became impossible to maintain against invaders, about destroyed the empire.

II. Diocletian Splits the Empire into East and West, July 285.

Diocletian put a band aid on things, and in July 285 in Milan, then called Mediolanum, split the Empire in two, with his friend and fellow general officer Maximian first as "Caesar" of the West, then on 1 April 286 Maximus as "Augustus" of the Western half too, Diocletian remaining "Augustus" of the Eastern part. Diocletian set up Nicomedia, in modern Turkey, as the Eastern Roman capital in 286, and Milan as the Western Roman capital in 293, though Maximian largely ruled from Trier, then called Augusta Treverorum, in modern Germany. Though Maximian would commit suicide on Constantine's orders and Diocletian it seems committed suicide over it, so retirement wasn't so good.

Diocletian also considered the expansion of Christianity a threat to the state and launched possibly the most violen persecutions in history, certainly the most violent since Nero.

The arrangement yielded no new pax romana, although the persecutions would end with Galerius in 311. The underlying problems remained. Running such a far flung empire would be a big job to-day, but then there was no Internet, no TV, no radio, no phones, no air travel, no railroads, no motor vehicles, etc. The split of the empire to manage it better resulted in an arrangement called the Tetrarchy: each half would have its Augustus, with a Caesar as an assistant. Diocletian was the last Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire. Going forward, Diocletian was Augustus in the East, with Galerius the Caesar, and Maximian was Augustus in the West, with a guy named Constantius the Caesar.

On 1 May 305, Diocletian and Maximian retired as Emperors simultaneously in Milan and Nicomedia -- the first to leave power voluntarily. This left the Caesars to become the Augusti, Galerius ruling the East and Constantius ruling the West.

Now, this Constantius had this wife Helena. Well, maybe. I mean, he had this Helena, but whether she was wife or concubine is not documented. Anyway, they had this son in 272 and he was named Constantine. But, in 293 when Diocletian named Constantius as Western Caesar, part of the deal was he divorce Helena and marry Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximian, the Augustus whose Caesar he was to be. Which he did. Helena did not remarry and lived afterward in obscurity, though her son Constantine was very devoted to her, and also wanted to become Caesar, but a military officer named Severus got the nod instead at the insistence of Galerius, the Eastern Augustus.

III. Constantine, 306.

Constantine served with his father's military campaigns in England, where he was trying to solve part of the mess described above, which historians call the Third Century Crisis. Their base of operations was a town called Eboracum.

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

When Constantius died there on 25 July 306, his army immediately proclaimed Constantine his son Augustus, but, Galerius said Severus had the job. Constantine notified Galerius, and Galerius got so mad he about burned the portrait Constantine had sent. In the end, he gave him the title Caesar, not Augustus, which still went to Severus.

Constantine conquered his way back toward Rome, showing an ever more clear disgust for the "barbarians" beyond the Empire's frontiers. In Rome he was put down as the son of a harlot, a reference to Helena's unclear status, and Maxentius, son of Maximian, claimed the title Emperor. Maximian proposed a deal -- his daughter Fausta would be Constantine's wife, though he already had one, but hey, and he gets the title Augustus and will lay off Maxentius.

Constantine took the deal, dumped his wife and married Fausta in Augusta Treverorum (Trier) in 307. The next year Galerius was so concerned about the West's inability to settle down that he called a council with himself, Maximian and the retired Diocletian, whose compromises no-body accepted. By 310 Maximian was in open revolt, said Constantine was dead, took back the royal purple, but the army remained true to Constantine, who was of course very much alive. In July 310, captured at Massilia (now Marseille, France), Maximian hanged himself. At firsr Constantine said it was a personal tragedy, but then said it was the result of a conspiracy to kill him and he was offered suicide rather than be tried and executed, then issued a damnatio memoriae, a damnation of memory, sort of the original airbrushing out of the photos, where all coins, statues, inscriptions etc with a person's name were defaced or destroyed, against him.

When Diocletian, in retirement in a palace he had built in his native Dioclea (hence his name) near Salona, Dalmatia (modern Split, Croatia), heard of this he went into a deep despondency, and seeing the Tetrarchy once hailed as bringing order to the whole world in ruins through the actions of Constantine and his longtime friend and colleague Maximian dead, he died on 3 December 311, most likely by suicide too. So retirement didn't work out too well for either retired emperor.

This though left Constantine without the prop of legitimacy through Maximian, whose son Maxentius was ready to take up the fight, and on 25 July Constantine began to appeal to a supposed ancestry and a vision from Apollo as the authority for his rule rather than the tetrarchy and councils. Constantine won over Maxentius' forces throughout Italy and took Rome.

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

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

IV. Constantine is Emperor both East and West, 325.

That next year, 325, was a big one. From that point on, Constantine was the emperor both West and East. He began to rebuild Byzantium, close by Nicomedia, as the second or New Rome (Nova Roma), later renaming it Constantinople, Constantinopolis actually, meaning Constantine's City, imagine that. The ceremony of dedication on 11 May 330 was partly Christian and partly pagan -- and you thought Yankee Stadium was syncretism! He also, though not a bishop, not a priest, not even a baptised Christian, called a church council to settle correct theology about Jesus against primarily the Arians. You get to do that when you rule your known world.

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

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

So he who was first proclaimed emperor in a far flung northwest outpost of the Western Empire by an authority that had no authority to do it, the army, ends up solidifying the Roman Empire in the East as the West slowly crumbles. By 337 Constantine was wearing out being Great and all, and he finally sought Baptism on 22 May just before he died, from not one of the victorious Trinitarians at the Council of Nicaea he called, but from Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, long a court favourite despite a brief exile and chief apologist for Arius. Really. I'm not making this up.

Not to mention Constantine retained the title pontifex maximus, the title of Roman emperors as head of the pre-Christian Roman pagan state religion priesthood. Maybe that's why there's no pope in the East. Well, actually there are "popes" in the East, but in the pontifex sense, not in the pontifex maximus sense of the one in Rome. After Constantine's death, the Western Empire was split between two of his sons, and the East went to his middle son, all three having variants of his name. Constant power struggle from within and invasions from without destabilised everything.

Eventually, a Spanish military officer in the Roman army named Theodosius became Augustus/Emperor in the East in August 378 by Gratian the Western Emporer after Valens the Eastern Emperor was killed in battle, then when Valentinian II, the remaining Western ruler, was found hanged on 15 May 392 -- the preacher at his funeral in the Western capital Milan, the bishop thereof, Ambrose, as in "Saint" Ambrose, steering clear of whether it was murder or suicide -- became Emperor of both East and West, the last to do that.

V. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Opens New State Religion, 380.

While the end of the persecutions was welcome per se, the favoured status of Christianity also transformed the religion from one for whose truth one would rather die than betray to a religion one joined for political and social gain. The transformation of Christianity's status was complete when Theodosius I, on 27 February 380, declared Nicene Trinitarian Christianity the official, universal, or catholic, state religion of the empire. He deposed some bishops and appointed others in the new state religion, and ended state subsidy for the former state religion. So much for my kingdom is not of this world.

VI. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Closes Old State Religion, 392/3.

The Olympic Games began in 776 BC. The Greek city states were almost constantly at war, but for the Games, there was peace. In addition to athletic qualification, one had to be male, of the free class, and Greek speaking to participate. There are several myths as to why the games began, but why the games ended is clear. The Emporer Theodosius I, aka Theodosius the Great, the last Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, outlawed them after the games of 393 AD as part of the establishment of Christianity as defined at the Council of Nicea as the state religion, as we saw.

For that matter, he also shut down the Temple of Vesta in the Forum in Rome, put out its "eternal" fire, and disbanded the Vestal Virigins. He started out fairly tolerant of pagans, whose support particularly among the ruling class he needed, but got himself excommunicated by St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in 390. His governor in Thessalonica had been assassinated, and he ordered massacres in retaliation, but after excommunication did public penance for months and his orders against pagan institutions probably were an extension of this. The Olympic Games, by whatever account associated with the pagan Greek gods, became, as they say, history.

This also ended a practical effect of the games -- time was counted in Olympiads, the four year interval between games, giving a unity to the various calendars of the city-states, and this of course ended with the games no longer being held. The site remained, however, until it was destroyed in an earthquake in the Sixth Century. In the 2004 modern Olympic Games, the shot put contest was held in the ancient stadium. What's a stadium? Where the stade (stadion) race is run, the original single event of the Olympics, a sprint of somewhere around 200 metres, the exact length unknown. Over time other events were added, and the games were one of the two great rituals of ancient Greece, the other being the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Now, the basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries was the story about Hades seeing Persephone out one day picking flowers, went nuts for her and took her away to, well, Hades, the realm of death, with the OK of Zeus, her dad. Her mom Demeter, aka Ceres by the Romans, goddess of life, therefore fertility and agriculture, went looking for her, abandoned her duties, causing famine and drought, and finally with the help of Zeus found her and thus ended the calamity with the first Spring. However, Persephone had to abide by certain terms. She had to spend four months with Hades in the Underworld, four months with Demeter, and the last four she could choose, and she chose Demeter. The four months with Hades are the hot, dry Greek Summer, prone to drought and forest fires, during which the saddened Demeter neglects her duties until Persephone comes back.

Theodosius shut down the Eleusinian Mysteries too, in 392! There were a few holdouts from the Nicene Christian end, but they were stomped out four years later by Alaric, King of the Goths, who was an Arian Christian. So, between Nicene and Arian Christianity and an earthquake, the more or less thousand year era of the Olympic Games and two thousand year era of the Eleusinian Mysteries came to an end. And speaking of forest fires, in Persephone's four months with Hades, aka Summer, of 2007, massive forest fires nearly destroyed the site of the ancient Olympics, which hosted one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the twelve metre tall ivory and gold Statue of Zeus, but thanks to modern firefighting, unless you say Zeus relented to save what's left and let Persephone come back and then Demeter got active again, what's left is still left and made it through this most recent threat.

What's of Lutheran interest about this? Well, the Games of course have their modern version, though one no longer needs to be male or Greek speaking to participate. The Mysteries, what were they? Nobody knows for sure. They were secret initiation rites into the deal about Demeter and Persephone, thought to unite the initiate with the gods, with divine power and a good outcome in the afterlife. Nobody knows exactly how they started, but they drew from all over, open to all, free and slave, male or female, as long as you hadn't murdered anyone and weren't a barbarian, which is not what you may think, it's someone who can't speak Greek and instead makes stupid sounds like bar-bar, literally. There were Greater and Lesser Mysteries, the Lesser being done every year around March, when Summer is just around the corner, and the Greater every five years in late Summer, when the Fall rains and planting come and the new year (in the local calendar) begins.

So whaddya think, on Sunday morning do we have a toned down Greek mystery religion filtered through Nicene Christianity and the new Imperial state religion loosely based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Jewish messianism that would have passed into history long ago were it not so reinvented through Greek mythology, or do we have the revealed religion of God through Jesus Christ, completing and fulfilling the incomplete hints of it found in human religion in Greek antiquity and everywhere and in the previously revealed religion of the Old Covenant?

I'll go with the latter. And I'm glad the site of the classic Games made it through the 2007 fires.

VII. Western Empire Collapses in 476, Eastern Empire Continues to 1453.

The Western Empire continued until 4 September 476, when Romulus Augustus (what a name, combining one of the traditional founders of Rome with Octavian its first emperor!) was deposed deposed by the Germanic king Odoacer and never succeeded. So he was the last Western Roman Emperor. Well, sort of. His father, Flavius Orestes, was appointed by Julius Nepos as a senior general officer, magister militum, working with the Germanic foederati. The foederati -- see the word federal in there? -- were non-Roman tribes bound by a treaty (foedus) where though they weren't citizens they weren't colonies either. But they had to supply troops to Rome, and by this time the Western Roman military relied heavily on them. Orestes struck a deal with a Germanic foederati king, Odoacer, to overthrow Julius Nepos, which they did on 28 August 475 in Ravenna, which had become the Western capital in 402. Nepos fled to, guess where, Dalmatia, same as old Diocletian. Orestes put his son Romulus Augustus on the throne though he was barely a teen. But then Odoacer turned on Orestes and captured and killed him on 28 August 476, then deposed Romulus on 4 September 476, though letting him live in consideration of his young age. The Roman Senate, acting for Odoacer, asked the Eastern Emperor Zeno to reunite the Empire, but Zeno said Julius Nepos was the rightful ruler, yet allowed Odoacer to rule in Zeno's name though Nepos was recognised as Emperor.

So, you could say Julius Nepos was the last Western Emperor too. Nepos, btw, was killed in exile by his own soldiers, caught in the middle of his own efforts to retake power from Odoacer and the efforts of the Emperor before him, Glycerius, to exact revenge. Glycerius was not a rightful Emperor, having been appointed by a previous magister militum, Gundobad, rather than the rightful appointer, the Eastern Emperor Leo I, who eventually appointed his nephew Nepos (hence the name). Glycerius surrendered to him without a fight, Gundobad having abandoned him, in consideration for which Nepos made him bishop of Salona, Dalmatia. When Nepos was killed 25 April 480, Odoacer, who wasn't even a Nicene Christian but an Arian, made him bishop of Milan.

Ah yes, bishops in a direct line of succession from the Apostles.

The Eastern Empire considered itself and called itself Roman to the end. Latin was for some time its official language, though Greek was used outside the court and eventually became official. Yet in Rome, the elite spoke Greek, though in time that passed too. Each half, while sharing many common elements, took on its own culture even though the Roman borrowed much from the Greek, and the eventual prominence of each's language both symbolises and contributes to the outcome.

The East outlasted the West by about a thousand years. It continued until its defeat by the Ottomans in 1453. The Ottoman Empire itself lasted from 1299 to 1922 when the British Empire, having won World War I, partioned it into the Middle Eastern countries that are in the news almost daily right now.

After the Eastern Empire fell, Czarist Russia, having long since become Eastern Orthodox from the Eastern Roman Empire, considered itself the "third" Rome -- Rome itself being the first and Constantinople being the second. Constantinople, the Eastern Empire capital itself a rename of Byzantium by Constantine after Constantine, got renamed again as Istanbul on 28 March 1930 by the secular Republic of Turkey, which would no longer deliver mail addressed to "Constantinople" and had moved the capital of Turkey to Ankara, the new name for Angora.

VIII. West Makes Comeback as Holy Roman Empire, 800, Lasts Until 1806.

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

So what's that all about, a French smoothing over of rough Germanic edges? Some see it that way, but that's not really the deal. The Normans themselves result from Vikings -- there you go, more Germanic types -- raiding the area, joining up with the locals, providing a hedge against yet more Vikings raiding the area, taking on the local culture and adding their original one, and becoming The Northmen, from which the names Norman and Normandy derive.

So it's Frenched-over Vikings on top of Vikings on top of Germans on top of Romans on top of Celts on top of, some say, the Old Ones. That's where my ancestors came from. And they say the US is a melting pot! True that, but where we came from is a melting pot too.

Well, once the Western Empire fell, the West attempted to come out of what are called the Dark Ages of overrun by the "Huns", those formerly outside the Empire, with the formation of the Holy Roman Empire when on Christmas 800 Leo III, the Bishop of Rome, an office which to this day bears the title pontifex maximus, crowned the King of the Franks Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor (imperator augustus, to be exact). This was a conscious attempt to re-establish the Western Roman Empire -- though someone famously said it was neither Roman nor holy nor an empire -- and lasted about a thousand years, until the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, dissolved it in the Napoleonic Wars in 1806.

Things were off to a roaring good start, with the chief religious functionary of the state religion crowning the head of state and all. Charlemagne put to-gether a pretty good empire, emphasising -- in case you thought this was a new idea with the current European Union -- a pan-European identity. Well, actually, his grandfather Charles Martel, which means "The Hammer", put it to-gether for him but did not take the title Emperor, or even King as his son Pepin did at Pope Zachary's nomination. Charlemagne completes the transition from his grandfather and father as Roman Emperor, Imperator Augustus to be exact, so crowned by the Roman Pope in 800.

But we all die, even emperors, and Charlemagne died 28 January 814 in Aachen (Germany), his capital. He was buried the same day in Aachen Cathedral -- hell, call it right, the Kaiserdom, Imperial Cathedral -- which he had begun as his palace chapel and was consecrated in Mary's (as in Jesus' mother) honour by Pope Leo III in 805. In 1978 it was among the 12 places designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. An eyewitness account says when Emperor Otto III opened the vault in 1000, Charlegmagne was sitting upright as if still ruling, only the tip of his nose having decomposed. It's been opened since without similar report.

Back to the story, Charlegmagne the year before he died had named his only surviving son who wasn't a bastard -- not what you think, I mean in the technically correct sense of not the legitimate offspring of a husband and wife -- his successor. Well, sort of. It's always "sort of" when it's "Roman". Charlemagne was actually married to Desiderata, princess daughter of the Lombard (a Germanic tribe in northern Italy) king Desiderius as part of a peace with him, in 770, but the next year the marriage was annulled, Pope Stephen III having said Pepin said he was to be married to someone Frankish, and she went home to her dad's court and war came in 774. This getting rid of inconvenient first wives is sort of a pattern, isn't it -- right along with the church finding it OK, in case you thought Henry VIII started it. But, there were no kids and the next year he married the 13 year old daughter of Swabian (Southern Germany) Count Gerold, Hildegard. There were nine kids, though he appears to have had this Himiltrude in there somewhere as a wife or concubine, so maybe Hildegard was Wife #3. Oh well.

Anyway, this son and successor is Louis, known as the Pious. Originally, folllowing the usual custom, Louis was to share his father's rule divided with his brothers, and such were Charlemagne's provisions in the Divisio regnorum (Division of the Rule) of 806, but by 814 his two brothers who also weren't bastards were dead so Louis got the whole pie. He rushed to Aachen and crowned himself, though on 5 October 816 Pope Stephen IV, who followed after Leo III who had crowned his father, crowned him officially in Rheims. Then ordered everyone to be loyal to Louis.

Louis tried real hard, but most of his rule was plagued by continual frontier wars with those outside his realm and civil wars, three of them, with those inside his realm. Starting to sound like the problems that always get Roman Empires -- running a big realm with no modern communications or travel, keeping the lid on externally and internally, and specifically re internally providing for an orderly succession, Gets 'em every time. Louis had his unmarried sisters and bastard brothers enter convents and monasteries, to avoid power brokering marriages -- he also ordered all cloisters to follow the Rule of St Benedict, kick ass Louis! -- and provided for an orderly succession in his ordinatio imperii of 817, which both followed the custom of dividing among sons and also the custom of the first-born taking pride of place, that being Lothair who would be Emperor.

But there were problems. His nephew Bernard was also in on the succession deal, but when he revolted and wanted more, Louis had him blinded, from which he died two days later. So in 822 he does public penance before the Pope (Paschal I this time), and let his relatives out of their monastic orders, both of which lost him his cred with the nobles and pretty much everyone. On top of that, his wife Ermengarde died in 818, whom he seems to have genuinely loved, and in 820 he marries Judith, daughter of Count Welf of Altdorf (way southern Germany, called Weingarten since 1865 from the name of the wealthy abbey, Benedictine of course, founded there in 1065), which leads to a son Charles in 823. Which led to the civil wars, the existing sons of the deceased wife having none of this new guy horning in on what's theirs. Louis died on 20 June 840 and war over who got what continued for three years until the Treaty of Verdun in 843 settled things among the three surviving sons and pretty much set the Europe we know now, along with its conflicts. Lothair got the Emperor title and the Middle Frankish Kingdom, Louis "the German" got the Eastern Frankish Kingdom which is pretty much Germany now, and Charles "the Bald" got the Western Frankish Kingdom which is pretty much France now.

But no real empire emerged. The Middle Frankish Kingdom fell apart and the other two and about anyone else with some money and an army were at it all the time, including the damn Vikings from the North. The guy who really re-established things was Otto I, son of Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) out of East Francia, Louis the German's third. Heinrich ensured the recognition of West Francia by East Francia which was still under Carologian rulers. But when his son Otto was crowned with the title Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope John XII at St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this was the translatio imperii, the transfer of rule, in which this German empire was considered -- especially by those who ran it and/or hoped to benefit from it -- as the new Roman Empire in direct succession from the old Roman Empire, though of course the actual Eastern Roman Empire was still up and running at the time.

For that reason, Otto is considered by some the real first Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire -- Das Heiliges Roemisches Reich in German, or Sacrum Romanum Imperium in Latin -- earned the quip of not being holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire by largely being held to-gether by the same three forces Otto put it to-gether. One was his control over bishops and abbots and their investiture into office not to mention selection for office; Two was proprietary churches, meaning they belonged to the ruler who owner the land on which they stood unless otherwise agreed by charter; Three was the use of an appointed rather than hereditary advocatus, or Vogt in German, to run church properties and estates. Power was a balance of concessions to local rulers for support in order to have power over local rulers, with the Pope in the balance too.

For example, Pope John XII who had crowned Otto soon turned on him, so Otto went back to Rome, deposed Otto, and had a layman elected Pope, that being Leo VII, but then John attempted a comeback, but died and was followed by Benedict V, so Otto heads back to Rome again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's approval.

Silver and gold have I none indeed.

So on it goes, back and forth. Eventually, the Golden Bull of 1356, passed by the Reichastag, the legislature of the HRE, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, fixed the election of "Roman Emperors" to be by seven electors who would elect a "King of the Romans" (rex romanorum, roemischer Koenig) in Frankfurt in the old East Francia. Emperor-elect was sufficient for rule, but the Pope would then officially crown the King of the Romans Holy Roman Emperor. The electors are: the Archbishops (who were also temporal rulers, hence the term Princes of the Church) of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the King of Bohemia, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. The papal coronation was not specified, and the last HRE to be crowned by a Pope was Charles V, crowned HRE by Pope Clement VII in Bologna in 1530.

Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession is addressed? Yes, the same. He was Spanish too -- yay -- the son of Felipe I and Joanna (sometimes called The Mad) of Castille, though he was born and raised in Ghent, Flanders (modern Begium then under Spanish control) and never did speak Spanish very well despite being King of Spain too, as Charles I. He is said to have said "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse".

Charles' reign would have been peaceful except for a few things: by his time the Eastern Roman Empire had collapsed in defeat to the Ottomans in 1453, who were then threatening to conquer Europe itself; colonisation of the Americas and the Pacific had opened up an entirely new world to manage, literally, and the combination of Christian, non-Christian, and political elements from the state religion of the Roman Empire through the same state religion of the Holy Roman Empire had finally sparked an effort to recall the church to its nature and mission as established by Christ, not Romans of varying descriptions. And that effort is called the Lutheran Reformation.

Charles more and more left dealing with the Reformation to his brother Ferdinand. He hoped the Council of Trent would solve everything and put everything back to-gether. It didn't. How to handle the worldwide empire, and the wealth that flowed from it, in the Americas (including Nebraska where I am right now) and the Pacific, almost continual war with France, and almost continual war with the Ottoman Empire -- led by Suleiman the Magnificent, no less -- was an enormous job, and eventually took its toll, not to mention lifelong health problems such as epilepsy, arthritis, and an inability to eat well due to an enlarged lower jaw. Charles abdicated all his titles on 16 January 1556, leaving his son Felipe II King of Spain and its empire and his brother Fernando Holy Roman Emperor, and retired -- not as you or I do, but with an entourage of fifty or so to special apartments -- to the monastery of Yuste in Spain, not a Benedictine one but of the Hieronymites, the Order of St Jerome, a Spanish order which took St Jerome as its patron saint and lived under the Rule of St Augustine, like the Augustinians of whom Martin Luther was a member. He died there 21 September 1558.

16 January. Remember that? 16 January 27 BC, when the Roman Senate make Octavian Emperor, Augustus. 16 January 1556, Charles to whom the Augsburg Confession is addressed as a statement of Christian teaching abdicates everything.

The Holy Roman Empire continued until Napoleon. Francis II was the last Holy Roman Emperor, and after his defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz abolished the HRE on 6 August 1806. Ironically, the monastery of Yuste, where Charles V, also a Hapsburg, had retired was also destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars.

Francis II though, thinking the HRE was about at an end, set up shop as Franz I, Emperor of Austria in 1804, and this dynasty lasted until Karl I, when it was defeated in the First World War. On 11 November 1918, Armistice Day, he relinquished the throne, but he did not say abdicate, hoping to be recalled. He never was, the Austrian parliament enacted a law 3 April 1919 banning any Hapsburgs from Austria unless they accepted simple status as citizens, and he died in poverty in forced exile in Madeira, an island off Protugal, 1 April 1922.

On 3 October 2004 he was beatified, one step before being declared a saint, by Pope John Paul II on the basis of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints 2003 conclusion of his heroic virtue and one miracle through is intercession, who also declared 21 October, the date in 1911 of his marriage to Princess Zita, as his feast day. On 31 January 2008 a second miracle (one won't do it for sainthood) was formally certified, the miraculous cure through his intercession of a woman in Florida -- who's a Baptist!

His oldest son, Otto, headed the family for many years, opposed Hitler, who sentenced him to death, and was active as a Member of the European Parliament of the European Union until 1999, and in January 2007 passed the torch of head of the House of Hapsburg to his oldest son, Karl, though he remains Crown Prince and pretender to the throne, and lives in Bavaria. Archduke Karl, born 11 January 1961, was also a member of the European Parliament and serves as director of the non governmental organisation (NGO) UNPO, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.

Whew, we're done. You know, you just can't make this sort of stuff up.

IX. Summation nostra aetate, In Our Time.

The Roman Empire, the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire, spanned over 1,800 years, and are now gone. Great guys like Otto and Karl seem worlds removed from the carryings-on of some of their ancestors. We all seem worlds removed. The current Pope Benedict hasn't crowned any emperors. What has this to do with anything?

The state religion of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire, Czarist Russia and the Holy Roman Empire after them, respectively, has outlasted the empire which created them, and is still with us in their respective churches. Tu es Petrus, thou are Peter, Christ said to Peter in the phrase often cited for their legitimacy. Legitimacy? Who in their right minds looking at all we've looked at find the slightest thing about Thou art Peter about it? Who in their right minds would find such fleshly goings-on at all related to God become Man in the flesh? Yet this perversion of the Incarnation from a truth and an event into a theological and ecclesiastical principle, a fabrication for the benefit of those who would benefit from it by those who would benefit from it, is a captivity from "Babylon" that continues to captivate many. Until it is recognised as such.

What one finds is Christian elements mixed up with pagan elements of the old state religion, largely focussed on matters of succession, the longstanding bane of the empires, with generous helpings of political necessity and expediency thrown in too, into a hybrid or synthesis continuing to this day.

This is not at all to say that the faith of Jesus Christ delivered to the Apostles disappeared. It is to say that Christianity took on much, some of which it would regard as essential and not cultural, from the state which adopted it as its new state religion, the Roman Empire East and West.

Tertullian first applied the pagan Roman religious term pontifex to a "bishop" about 225 when the Roman bishop, aka pope, Callistus relaxed the penance for adulterers -- as a derogatory reference, not a good thing, describing him as acting like a pagan religious leader. Pope Damasus (366-384) is said to have been the first to use the term, though others say this is unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, Theodosius, he who ended the Olympic Games etc, called him pontifex, and the term became a reference to a bishop, summus pontifex or the original phrase pontifex maximus for the bishop of Rome, the pope. Leo I and Gregory I are also cited in this regard.

And behave like the officers and head of the old pagan religion they did, for centuries, as we saw. The idea of a bunch of pontifices in a collegium pontificum headed by a pontifex maximus/summus derives not at all from the institution of Christ but from the morphing of leadership and ministry in the church after the Roman Imperial state religion appropriated the model for its pastors as Christianity took on the role of state religion, then further took on its Eastern and Western characters due to the collapse of the Western Empire and its subsequent history centuries before the collapse of the Eastern Empire.

The differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as a religious image of the differences between the culture of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The Western Church, complete with a pontifex maximus, inherited Rome's administrative and legal bent, and the Eastern Church inherited Constantinople's more philosophical and artistic bent. The formal schism between the two in 1054 had immediate theological causes, but was culturally inevitable, bound to happen theology or not.

Remember, in the East, the Eastern Empire still existed at this time, but the Western Empire was gone, with the intended reincarnation as the Holy Roman Empire in its place, and the recognition of the bishop of Rome as "first among equals" at world-wide, called ecumenical from the Greek, church councils was then also extended to the bishop of Constantinople, the new Rome. In the lands of the former Western Empire the modern languages spoken are derived from Latin, which remained its liturgical language, whereas in the lands of the former Eastern Empire the languages are not derived from Greek, which was not its liturgical language other than for Greeks.

Thus the primary remains of this in the West is the Roman administrative, legalistic flair, and in the East the philosophical, mystical flair. In Roman Catholicism, even with the moderating and revisionist slant given it by Vatican II, one hears the religion of the Western Roman Empire, and in Eastern Orthodoxy one hears the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire.

While the Roman Empire, as a unified whole and as a divided empire, has passed into history, their eventual religions have not. And so the reformation of the church, the freeing of it from the accretions of Imperial culture East and West, was to happen from outside the Empire, had to happen from outside the Empire. And so it did, the Reformation being then not an event in the Western Church surviving the Western Empire, but an event in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church from outside the Empire, undivided, Eastern, or Western.

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

This post- and non-Lutheran Reformation resulted first in new state churches, sometimes forcibly including Lutheran ones (the Prussian Union comes to mind) and later in churches influenced by the "Enlightenment" political and theological theories which have become the unofficial state religions of the modern Western secular liberal states, abandoning even their prior confessions of faith, one broad group representing the religious Left and another the religious Right.

X. Conclusion.

So, confessional Lutheran churches uphold and teach the faith of Jesus Christ taught in the Bible and accurately stated in the Book of Concord, and uphold and maintain the usual customs, rejecting only what contradicts the Gospel and recognising that the rest are customs, not Gospel or even Law. We are the churchly echo of neither the ancient empire nor the contemporary liberal state. And we worship accordingly, in the historical liturgy of the Divine Service, where God the Divine serves us his Word and Sacrament, not the other way around.

And after all this stuff, the great thing is, all you really need to know is laid out in the Little Catechism. The thing I like in poking around in all this stuff is that you appreciate ever more fully that all you really need to know is laid out in the Little Catechism, and that, in view of all this stuff that happened, what a miracle of the Holy Spirit it is that we have it!

Some asides. You pick up some interesting tidbits along the way too. Like the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, a figure of which tops the capital of Nebraska, is why we call it cereal. Or that July is for Julius Caesar and August for Caesar Augustus. You get to have your own month when you're a founding emperor and then proclaimed a god, otherwise we'd call the old fifth and sixth Roman months Quintember and Sextember, as we still do the remaining months September (7th), October (8th), November (9th) and December (10th).

Textual Note. This post is an entirely new entity. It consists of new material and material rewritten from four earlier posts, "A Wonder of the World and Forest Fires" on 27 August 2007, "Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire" on 1 September 2007, " 25 July A.D. 306 in Eboracum, Britannia" on 25 July 2008, and "More Twelve Days of Christmas, 2008" on 27 December 2008. About the most consistently hit page on this blog is the Eastern/Western one, but so much else related to it is in the other three or wasn't included in them, so the format was to assemble all the material from the prior posts and the new material within the structure of the Eastern/Western post.

04 January 2009

Happy Epiphany / Theophany / Los Tres Reyes 2009!

Gee whiz. Everyone took down their Christmas trees already because everyone knows Christmas is over. So what's an Epiphany, what's a Theophany, and who are these three kings, or los tres reyes as one says if one has the good fortune to speak Spanish.

Well, guess what, we're not sure they were kings and we don't know for sure that there were three of them -- that's inferred from there having been three gifts in the Biblical story. All we know is the Christian Church has for over 1,500 years celebrated a major feast on 6 January, but not always celebrating the same things. Man, sounds like one of those things we can just leave to the dustbin of history and stick to the Gospel, just preach Jesus, huh?

Maybe not. Consider. The word epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. The word theophany is more specific, coming from the Greek for an appearance or manifestation of God. The former is more common in the Western Church, and the latter in the Eastern. The earliest known reference to the feast comes from a non Christian source, the soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman of Greek descent, who in his later years wrote a history of the Roman empire to continue the work of Tacitus. His Res Gestae Libri XXXI covers the years we know as 96 to 378, but, of the thirty one books only the last eighteen, covering 353 to 378, are still around, or extant, as they say. His reference in 361, still in his lifetime, is the earliest known reference to a Christian feast celebrated on 6 January. OK, so we've nailed down that from at least the fourth century Christians were celebrating something that had to do with the manifestation of God, which, being Christians, would have to do with Jesus, on 6 January.

Actually the original feast was a combination of all the events of the young Jesus, from his birth, to his circumcision, the visit from whoever it was that visited from the East, his naming, his baptism, and his first public miracle changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana. From there, various local churches in various places spun off some of these events, or didn't, on to their own days, resulting in a celebration on this day but not of the same things. So we can nail this down too, that 6 January is among the oldest and most important of the Christian church's celebrations, which over time took on varying significance in various places.

Unfortunately, we can also nail down that, in the West anyway, even among those who have a liturgical calendar 6 January now passes relatively unnoticed. Even more unfortunately, if one follows the Roman Church, ever ready to act like the state religion of the Roman Empire that it is, and even more unfortunately yet followed into the abyss by other Christian bodies willingly even with no state forcing it to do so, 6 January isn't even the feast day any more, after over a millennium and one half of observance!!!

The mitred monkeys made the feast to fall on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January, bumping what was the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on that day, poor guy -- which in years where there was no Sunday between the Circumcision on the 1st and Epiphany on the 6th was celebrated on 2 January, btw -- in the 1970 novus ordo, a new mass with a new calendar and lectionary to fit, all in the service of the new religion re-invented from the old at Vatican II. Well, I guess when you're the Whore of Babylon you can pretty well do what you want, you will do pretty well what you want, but why those of us out here in the ecclesial unions -- Rome's term for churches that aren't really churches, not being in union with the one church, themselves of course, but preserve some truth along with their respective errors in churchy associations -- would have the slightest inclination to follow this madness either exactly or in adaptations for own use defies all explanation since it makes us brothelial unions following the Whore in its further retreat from the Gospel of Christ.

Now, back to Epiphany, in the Western Church (not to be confused with the Roman Church) 6 January has come to celebrate the arrival of the Magi. OK, so what's a Magi and where did they arrive. Well, we don't know for sure. Great -- after all the above, we actually do find more dustbin of history stuff, let's just preach Jesus?

Maybe not. Consider. What's a Magi? The word Magi -- did you notice it's pretty close to the word magic? -- comes from a Latin version of the Greek plural of a word they derived from the Persian word for the priests of Zoroaster. These guys are sometimes called astrologers, but that can be misleading because then the term had no reference at all to storefront fortune tellers and the like, but rather to the application of astronomy and mathematics to phenomena in the best science of the time, which later lead to the term being applied to all sorts of occult religion and what came to be called magic.

Now, Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels that records the visit of the Magi. Interesting that he does not record the birth of Jesus itself where Luke does but does not record the Magi, and Mark doesn't bother with any of it, starting with Jesus' Baptism. In my scripture classes at a Catholic university, also attended by pre-seminarians, we learned that this of course shows the evolution of the story by writers of the Christian community as a pious expression of their faith rather than anything to be taken literally or written as some kind of accurate record as we now understand accurate.

Yeah, well, getting back to the Christian faith and church, Matthew only says they were from the East, which means they weren't Jews, like the shepherds in nearby fields who also came.So here is the next thing we can nail down. The Magi represent the manifestation of Jesus the incarnation of God to the Gentiles, non Jews, for the first time. These men, whatever their origin, were not followers of the religion God revealed to the the Jews, but of the best wisdom and science of their own place. So in the visit of the Magi we see two things: one is that God became Man in Jesus for all people, not only his own, and the wisdom of all people, even apart from the revelations of the Law and the Prophets, both leads to Jesus and is completed in Jesus.

St Paul would later preach accordingly to Gentiles, not first instructing them in the Law and the Prophets, but taking their own religious ideas and pointing out how it both leads to Christ, but is not able to be complete without Christ, and is fulfilled and made complete in Christ. Being a Gentile, that Jesus' birth from the outset showed this is from God for Jews and Gentiles alike is a pretty big deal to me, certainly on that alone worth celebrating in a major way.

In the West, the names of the Magi are traditionally given as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Not Biblical but fairly well settled on by the eighth century. The Eastern Church has other names for them, not the same ones in all places, and with the exception of the Syrian ones none of them show any clear Persian derivation. Here's something I find fascinating: among some Chinese Christians, it is believed that one of the Magi was Chinese. Liu Shang was an astrologer (in the sense above) in the Han dynasty at the time of Jesus' birth and discovered a star that was supposed to indicate the birth of a king, whereupon he was absent from the imperial court for about two years -- about enough time to follow the Silk Road (man, I gotta post about the Silk Road some time) and make it to Palestine!

On the other hand, Marco Polo said he was shown the tombs of the three Magi about 1270 south of modern Tehran. On the other hand (yeah, I know, that makes three hands) St Helena supposedly found the remains of the Magi on her trip to Palestine -- Helena being the mother of Constantine, and 80 at the time of this trip -- and took them to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which were later taken to Milan, then by order of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in 1164, before Marco Polo, taken to the cathedral at Cologne, where they are, or something is, to-day.

Interesting indeed, but not something to get all caught up in, because the significance of the Magi isn't their names or where their remains are, but the manifestation of God to all people of which they were the first example.

One interesting custom follows from the Western names for them. At the New Year there is the custom of writing the initials of the three, CMB, above the door to one's house to ask for blessings in the new year. Now, this follows the idea of the Magi coming to Jesus' home, but we represent them usually at the manger, not his home, and this custom probably reflects the tradition that they arrived some time later after the Holy Family had either returned home or were staying elsewhere around Jerusalem after the birth itself. So there is some variation in just where they arrived, as well as when they arrived and who they were.

But again, the point isn't in the details, it's in that they visited the Holy Family where they were living at the time. CMB, their initials, is then an acronym for Christus mansionem benedicat, may Christ bless this house. This is done by Sternsinger, German for star singers, a reference to the star which guided the Magi, children who carry a star and dress like the Magi, who write the initials and collect donations for charitable work. The custom of house blessings continues to this day -- at least Pastor Weedon blogged about doing some, though I don't remember he mentioned any sternsinger.

Also, in many places, especially those of Spanish derived culture, Epiphany is the gift giving day, after the example of the gifts of the Magi. This is Los Tres Reyes, the three kings. You put your shoes out, and if you're smart put a little hay in there for the camels, in some places (like PR) it's a box of hay under the bed, and you can leave a little note for the present you'd like, and on Epiphany you wake up and there's your presents, brought by the three kings! How about that, no clown in a red suit jumping down the fireplace, but the Magi coming by with presents for you just like they did for Christ.

I read in Spain there have been demonstrations against Santa Claus, a McWorld displacement of bringing gifts to children by the Magi. Jolly good show, I say! The whole world doesn't have to follow the secular Christmas customs of the United States, and, the Magi are considerably less removed from their Biblical character than Santa Claus is from St Nicholas.

But apart from these customs in other places, Epiphany isn't going to be much of a deal here in the US. However, there are signs of hope! Epiphany may be saved from cultural invisibility by the same commercialisation that has saved Christmas. Yes, you read it right, saved Christmas -- think how Christmas would disappear entirely in the secular "politically correct" world were if not for the revenue it generates for the economy and business. And, as the Latin presence in the US continues to expand, many retailers are finding that by making more of Epiphany with its gift giving traditions they can extend the harvest of the season!

Yes, that will come at the expense, so to speak, of the "real meaning of Epiphany" just as with Christmas, but it keeps it visible in a world that doesn't really want to hear the meaning of any of this, and that's where the church can come in, you know, preaching the Word and stuff like that.Myself, though of English descent, and later culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university, I was adopted by a couple of Irish descent, and Dad always called Epiphany "Little Christmas" following Irish custom, and there was one more present on Epiphany. I continue that with my own boys, though we don't do the whole box of hay thing -- they don't even speak any Spanish! Yet. But the idea is to tie it to the Magi, the manifestation of God to all people, the giving of what one has to Christ, the giving to each other as he gave to us, and most of all, his giving himself to us and for us. On 6 January.

Finally, what's this Theophany stuff? In the Eastern Church, while in some places it is still along the multifaceted lines of its original observance, 6 January is not associated with the Magi at all but usually a celebration with focus on the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan by John. Theophany is a wonderful name for this feast, being as we saw more specific than Epiphany -- specifying who is being manifest here, God. And on the event of Jesus' Baptism, we have the only time when all three Persons of the Trinity were manifest to Man at the same time: God the Father speaking from the heavens, God the Son in Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending from the heavens.

The West has come to celebrate the Baptism separately from the coming of the Magi, but this beautiful celebration of the Eastern Church has much to show us about the Baptism of Jesus, whether we celebrate it this day or separately.Theophany and Epiphany both celebrate manifestations of God, though different ones, and both are on 6 January. However, the Eastern Church liturgically uses the older Julian calendar, in which 6 January falls on what is 19 January in the Gregorian calendar in secular use pretty much everywhere now.

So, between the Great Schism of 1054 and Vatican II, equally disastrous splitting events in Christianity, ain't nobody gonna be in church for nothin on Gregorian 6 January unlike hundreds and hundreds of years of those who came before us in faith and thought they were passing it on -- except for the years when it falls on a Sunday anyway, or if you're a red hymnal or die type (I raise my hand here), or if you follow that part of the LSB that follows the Christian Church rather than Vatican II, or belong to groups in other churches attempting to maintain the faith amid the onslaught of revisionism and Vatican II wannabeism.

Whatever their names, wherever they came from, whoever they were, whenever they got there, and wherever that was, and whether it's the coming of the Magi or the Baptism of the Lord, let us celebrate and rejoice in the appearance of God, the manifestation of God to Man in Jesus Christ, 6 January and every other day too!!

02 January 2009

Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe

Pastor Loehe died on 2 January 1872 at age 63. Following the traditional custom of the church of regarding what the world calls the date of death as the date of birth to eternity and commemorating its great models on those dates, our beloved synod commemorates him to-day.

I don't have a single profound thing to say about him. But as soon as I get caught up with Robert Barnes, he's next on my list. From what I can tell, I just gotta like this guy.

For one thing, his wife died after six years of marriage and he had four kids to raise by himself. I get that. Same thing happened to me after four years of marriage and two kids.

But that's not all. Like me, he was a convert. He was real taken with our Confessions, and like people like that tend to be, was real taken with Lutheran liturgy, especially the mass, and making it central to parish life. Check. This also seems to have run him afoul of church leaders. Check. He had a real concern to get this message out, not just get a message out, get this message out. Check. To the extent that some saw him as a little too rough, too combative, and too conservative. Check. Yet he also had a concrete concern for physical as well as spiritual needs, not always found along with "conservatives". Check. He was Bavarian. Check -- hell, I'm not even German of any kind however I grew up in Minnesota and ended up at a university sponsored by a Benedictine abbey founded out of Abtei Metten in Bavaria with money from King Ludwig himself, with German still commonly heard at the time I was there. Judas at chapter, even my blog is Bavarian blau und weiss.

So maybe down the line I'll have something profound to say about him, but at this point I just gotta like the guy and it encourages me to find people like him behind our beloved synod and makes me feel at home.

01 January 2009

Go Big Red! Gator Bowl 26-21! Go Big Red!

Happy Whatever Day This Is, 2009!

In the world, it's simple -- Happy New Years!

The Gregorian Calendar, the Western calendar that is pretty much the conventional standard the world over now even when alongside traditional calendars, counts this the first day of the new year. It wasn't always so, even in earlier Western calendars.

New Years Day was 15 March in ancient Rome. But in 153 B.C., the date of the new year was changed to 1 January, that being the date when the two ruling consuls were chosen. "Were chosen", passive voice, indicates an agent, someone who did it, so who did it? Originally they were elected. Passive voice again, who's the agent, who elected them? The Comitia Centuriata, that's who, made up of all Roman citizens and divided into centuries, which are theoretically voting groups of 100 though not in practice, which voted first within itself and then as a unit in the election.

But, the consuls did not assume office until being ratified by election by the Comitia Curiata, which was made up only of members of elite families. There were two other assemblies in old Rome, the Comitia Calata and the Comitia Tributa, the former under the leadership of the pontifex maximus and concerned mostly with ceremonies and the latter administrative and judicial. There were two consuls, not one, and they ruled to-gether. The plural of consul, consules, literally means walking to-gether. However, as the Roman Republic waned and the Roman Empire emerged, while the facade of the republic remained, power moved from the people to the Emperor.

Gee, curia, pontifex maximus, what was once the real deal becoming a facade with real power in a single man, elected officials giving way to appointed ones -- does that course of events in Rome sound like Church as well as Empire? Well, that's another story. Or maybe it isn't. Anyway back to New Years.

Dionysius Exiguus -- Dennis the Short, in the sense of humble -- in his tables for the dates of Easter in 525 A.D. (anno domini, year of our lord, A.D. being his invention too!) came up with a new system for numbering years to replace naming them after consuls and the system of the Emperor Diocletian, who had been a major persecutor of Christians. He set the start of the new year in the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar at 25 March to co-incide with the Feast of the Annunciation. Annunciation of what? The announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear Christ, count 'em, nine months, the period of human gestation, before the celebration of Christ's birth on 25 December. The years themselves though continued to be lined up from January to December Roman style.

Why New Years Day three months into the list of months of the year? Because years of Our Lord do not begin from his birth but from his conception, which is the beginning of a life. Thus God's entry into human history in the Incarnation as Jesus begins with the conception, not the birth, and therefore the years since his coming into humanity date as does all life from conception, not birth.

We English call The Annunciation Lady Day, and it was New Years Day until 1752 when the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar was official. In fact, the tax year in the UK still begins on 6 April, which is 25 March in the Julian Calendar adjusted to the Gregorian one.

Well, that's the way it was until the Gregorian Calendar we use now came about. Who's Gregory. It's Pope Gregory XIII, who on 24 February 1582 decreed it in the papal bull "inter gravissimas", which means "among the most serious". Ancient practice in Rome and many other places was to name a document after its first word or two (the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible are this way) and the bull starts "Among the most serious duties of our pastoral office ... ". A papal bull, btw, doesn't mean what you might be thinking, chucklesome as that is. It's a formal charter by a pope, taking its name from the bulla, a cord encased in clay and stamped with a seal, used to prevent tampering and thus ensure authenticity. Call it a low tech anti hacking device.

The new calendar, a revision of the old calendar of Julius Caesar, wasn't immediately adopted in the civil realm, although it was during this period that adoption of 1 January as the start of the new year really took hold. The new calendar corrected the drift of the Julian calendar, but the original motivation was to establish a common date for Easter throughout the Christian Church following what it took to be the provisions of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It met with resistance from non Catholic countries, Protestant and Orthodox alike, seeing it as a Catholic power play, and of course had no relevance to the traditional calendars outside the Christian world of the time. In fact even in Europe the last country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, Greece, only did so in 1923, even after Japan (1873), China (1912) and the newly Communist Russia (1918)!

So the story's over, the world now has one calendar functionally, while other traditional ones can continue to be used locally.

Sort of. 1 January falls eight days after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. OK, it's the eighth day of Christmas, let's continue our Christmas celebration as we saw in the previous post. But guess what? In the Law -- Law of Moses -- on the eighth day after birth a male child is to be circumcised, according to the Law, to put him within the Law, and is also given his name. So on what we call 1 January now, the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus, wherein he is under the Law that he will fulfill, and his blood is first shed for us as he is put under the Law as it will be shed in his Crucifixion as he redeems us from the condemnation of the Law -- the good news, the Gospel!

And with it, is celebrated his naming, either on the same day, or the day after, or the Sunday after but before Epiphany if there is one. Jesus, a form of Joshua, who, as Joshua took over from Moses and completed the journey to the Promised Land, so this Joshua takes over to complete the journey for us, that due to sin we cannot make, to the promised land of eternal life with God. And too the maternity of Mary as mother of this fully human and fully divine child who would do this for us is honoured too.

So for the Christian, it's Happy Feast of the Circumcision (and Naming) of Jesus!!So the story's over, there you have it!

Well, yes it is, however, Rome, be it Empire or Church, is ever at the ready to tinker with stuff, and tinker they did at Vatican II in replacing the church calendar and lectionary in its various forms for centuries with a whole new one with three different versions of the year, (maybe this year the church will finally ash can this latest Roman revisionism rather than tinker with it some more, God willing!) and guess what, gone is the Circumcision and now is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God! I'm sure she loved that one! It ain't about me, you clowns, it's about him. Or, as she had to say to those serving the wedding at Cana, Do whatever he tells you.

And that is her message, for which we honour her, but above all listen to her. Happy Feast of the Circumcision, and whether you include it this day, to-morrow, or next Sunday, the Name of Jesus!!

And do whatever he tells you, like his mother said.