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.

23 October 2009

Is Having Bishops A Problem?

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.

19 October 2009

Is Not Having Bishops In LCMS A Problem?

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.


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.


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!

VIII. Conclusion.

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.

15 October 2009

Reformation Day etc / Reformationstag usw, 31 October 2009.

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.

Reformation Day. Reformationstag.

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!

11 October 2009

What Happened To These Three Sites?

I removed three sites from my "Lutheran Sites" element of my sidebar. Reason being, they are not there any more. I have no idea what happened to bring this about. Anyone knowing anything about why these three went down, please comment!

Consensus, at

Law and Gospel by C.F.W. Walther, at

Sacred Meditations by Johann Gerhard, at

05 October 2009

On Daily Devotional Stuff.

Growing up RC, I had almost literally unlimited resources available for things to use for daily prayer, from pamphlets and booklets in the back of church to prayer books and on and on. My choice was a Lives of the Saints, not the big bleeding Butler one, but a handbook size volume drawn from it with a saint per page per day basically, drawn from the church calendar.

If you got to know the right priest, you might find out that the church actually has this whole round of daily devotional stuff all day every day, and it's called the Divine Office. Or since the Revolution, er, Vatican II, the Liturgy of the Hours. It's actually part of the public worship of the church just as much as Mass, though you never saw it in an ordinary parish, though the priests had to pray it individually.

Generally this stuff is done by religious orders, particularly monks. The Franciscan sisters who staffed the hospital in whose chapel I served 0600 Mass for years chanted Matins beforehand. Later I went to a college run by the best monking monks, not merely monked over, since ever the monking world monked its first monkery, the SOBs, I mean OSBs, the Order of St Benedict (Ordo Sancti Benedicti actually, and actually it's not technically an order, but that's for another time).

The abbey church was also a parish church, and the public was welcome at all the office hours prayed there. Not only that, but for Sunday Vespers students were allowed to participate right along with the monkeys in the stalls. So, being a music major, and my theory teacher in college being also the Abbey organist and director of the Abbey schola cantorum, and thinking I might just take up monking myself, there I was.

However, the Revolution was in full swing, and Father was relieved of his university and monastic assignments by the powers that be after my sophomore year, and sent to parish work far, far, away. He was replaced for liturgy by a committee of a guitar-playing sociology professor, a guitar-playing German professor, and a guitar-playing theology professor. My senior year yearbook has a picture of them carrying on like you'd think they were all ablaze or something, with the caption "We need a new church -- with no pews!"

Such was the Revolution. They kept a close eye on this Concordia Seminary in St Louis MO, everyone rooting for developments there to pull the oppressed, repressed, suppressed and depressed LCMS out of the late Middle Ages and into the world of post Vatican II "renewal" like other churches. Except me.

I continued to use my Lives of the Saints, but no longer any reference to the office hours. Then I finally bailed from Christianity altogether in 1973 -- thinking of course that RC was Christianity in its full, true, and original form, and since that had imploded, no point in looking at wannabes, though I wished the poor bleeders trying to stay the course in LCMS well.

The Christian mistake, as I saw it then, did not invalidate the OT, as I called it then, and for the next 23 years I used for daily study the Law (torah) and Prophets and Writings (haftorah) selections in the Ashkenazi tradition for the Sabbaths and Festivals given in the legendary Hertz Chumash -- which among other things nails the historical-critical thing I was taught right to the wall, and remains one of my three "study" Bibles to this day.

On 15 December 1996, through I process I won't detail here but can only be the work of the Holy Spirit, I professed the Lutheran faith in a WELS parish. And being from then to now a big fan of the Little Catechism -- you kinda gotta be if you're gonna make that profession and mean it -- undertook morning and evening prayer, and prayer at meals for that matter, just like it suggests in the LC, with "whatever my devotion may suggest" being at the time the daily Meditations, a WELS publication similar to the LCMS Portals of Prayer I use now.

Luther's Morning and Evening Prayers from the LC struck me as pretty much everything has in Lutheranism as laid out by the Lutheran Reformers themselves -- straight up, uncomplicated and to the point, with a very straight up, uncomplicated and to the point message of the Gospel itself. Absolutely perfect for daily private devotions, not public prayer of the church in parishes or monasteries, for those who live in households, not ordered religious communities. For those who like a little more verbiage and something closer to a formal order, there are short orders available in our hymnals and study and reference Bibles from CPH.

I'm all for the Divine Office as part of the public prayer of the church along with the Divine Service. The thing about it is, this is public, not private, community, not individual, prayer. There is benefit from prayerful study or studious prayer of it. I would certainly not discourage anyone from that. One of the annual posts of my Blogoral Calendar is on the Divine Office to help foster appreciation of just that. But one is not praying the Divine Office in this way any more than one is participating in the Divine Service by studying or praying it at home.

To this day, I see nothing better for those who live in households for personal, private devotions than what the LC suggests, with something like Portals of Prayer, or what I have used since its publication, the selections from Walther called God Grant It, or what I just recently got, Bo Giertz' To Live With Christ. If you're LCMS you've got an LC and there's Portals of Prayer available in the vestibule of any parish worthy of the name, so you're all set. If not, you can get the LC for $10.25 and Portals of Prayer for $9/year; God Grant It is $19.99 and To Live With Christ is $8.00 on sale from $20.49; all at Concordia Publishing House.

So then, it's simple: the Sign of the Cross, the Creed, the Our Father, and if you choose, and I would recommend you choose, a daily reading from Portals of Prayer or God Grant It or To Live With Christ, and the Morning or Evening Prayer as applies. Five, maybe ten minutes, can stretch to more if you want or can.

Then go to your work or your sleep -- do not attempt both at once, as it annoys employers and spouses respectively -- joyfully and in good cheer!