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.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

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.

25 December 2011

The Twelve Days Of Christmas, 2011.

If you, like good king Wenceslaus in the song, look out on the Feast of Stephen -- that's 26 December, but we'll get back to that -- you might think Christmas is over. Already on the evening news on Christmas day the local stations are posting Christmas tree pick up sites and times. Some hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. On 2 January, Valentine's Day candy is in the stores.

That fits with the world's Christmas season. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent. The idea is preparation there too, but not as in buying presents and food. It's about a preparation of repentance for celebrating the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, for the coming of faith in him into our hearts, and for the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. Neither his coming in history or our hearts nor his return is prepared for by buying stuff.

Christmas Is Not Just One Day!

The church's celebration of Christmas does not begin with December and end on Christmas with New Year's tacked on. It begins on Christmas and continues for several days! Our Christmas manger scenes often have the "humble" shepherds and the "important" visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- all there. But as the story reads, the Three Kings were not there at Christmas! They arrived twelve days later, 6 January, which we celebrate as Epiphany. These twelve days from Christmas through Epiphany are the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, yet is now largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen?

The Original Christmas.

Well, to me it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth!

It's not that there wasn't Christmas, it's that this is "Christmas" as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!

Developments In The Western Church.

In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on narrowed its focus to the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, give it the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles.

I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, growing up pre-conciliar RC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas. In later life I was to find out this is one echo of all the stuff mentioned above. Growing up, decorations were always left up through Epiphany, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I do the same in my house now. And I'll post about Los Tres Reyes (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.

Developments In The Eastern Church.

This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places yet keeping the Nativity on this day. And there's the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention.

In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all.

And Then Came Vatican II, Oy.

And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, Rome, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, Vatican II in the 1960s, to make it a moveable feast, not on 6 January but on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January. So, if you listen to Rome (and if you listen to Rome, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West now either! Nice going, guys.

For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) it appears that Epiphany has survived as 6 January.

So What's This Feast of Stephen Thing?

"Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". Getting back to that, you think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this Feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Well, the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and, it being the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life -- generally called death in the world -- the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.

So Who's This Wenceslaus, Why Is He Good and Why Is He Looking Out?

Wow, has this guy got a story. Right here, call it ironic, coincidence, or one of those divine consistencies that look like loose ends until you know what they are, but he ended up being a martyr for the Christian faith just like the first one, Stephen, on whose feast he looked out.

Here's a short version of the rest. Wenceslaus, also Wenceslas, is English for his name Vaclav. He was functionally king of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. But, as he was backed by the German Holy Roman Empire, his title was not actually king but duke, which is just below a king.

This was first via the Duke of Saxony and King of the Germans Henry the Fowler/Heinrich der Vogler. But then via his son Otto I, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope, aka bishop of Rome, John XII -- who, btw, then turned on Otto. So Otto went back to Rome and had a layman elected pope instead as Leo VII -- Otto being used to naming bishops and abbots. Then, when John staged a comeback but died and left Benedict V on the papal throne, Otto went back to Rome yet again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's (his) OK! There's some hermeneutic of continuity for ya, to paraphrase another Pope Benedict, XVI. Otto was the first clear Holy Roman Emperor since Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, Karl der Grosse) was crowned the first Imperator Augustus in the West since the Fall of Rome on 4 September 476 by the bishop of Rome Leo III on Christmas in 800.

Wenceslaus being backed by such a power did not sit well with some Bohemians, including in his own family, all of them caught between changing religions along with their entire social order.

He's called good because he stayed with the Christian faith of his grandmother who raised him, St Ludmilla, who was herself converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius no less, the "Apostles to the Slavs". His brother Boleslaus (Boleslav) though stayed with the native Bohemian religion of their mother Drahomira, who had Ludmilla killed. Boleslav didn't like the Germans or their state-run Christian church. The martyrdom happened when Boleslav arranged to have Vaclav killed, then took the throne. But, he ended up having to work with the Germans anyway and then his son, also named Boleslav, became Christian and took over from him and established the bishop's seat in Prague!

The irony, coincidence, or divine consistency continues to our time. This man Vaclav who in his own time was killed for selling out to the Germans and their power and new religion is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, which in 2000 established his feast day of 28 September as Czech Statehood Day, a national holiday.

Yeah, that's a short version. Oh, and what was he doing looking out on the Feast of Stephen? Checking things out after he woke up. But the rest of the story isn't told in the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song. That was first published in England in 1780. Despite recent speculation, there is no evidence the gifts were code words for Catholic catechesis under persecution. Lyrical peculiarities come from its being an adaptation of a French song. It was introduced in the US in 1910, as part of the Christmas programme at Downer in Milwaukee, now part of Lawrence University.

The rest of the story is told in the carol by John Mason Neale, same guy who wrote O Come, O Come Emmanuel based on the O Antiphons posted about earlier. Small world, huh? Or another of those consistencies. Ain't it great when loose ends become consistencies!

Anyway, good duke Vaclav spotted a guy scrounging for food and asked his page where the guy lived. He then set out with his page to bring the man and his family aid. The page started faltering due to the cold and snow, but when he followed in Vaclav's footsteps found the ground warm to his feet. Now how's that for being, uh, ablaze!

We Still Got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!

Guess what, you can still follow in the good king's footsteps. Neale's carol concludes:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

So let's get on with the Twelve Days of Christmas like, give him his due, Good King Wenceslaus!

NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen! LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night! That's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, it's that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken. So far, Twelfth Night has not been retitled First Sunday After The First Saturday In January Eve, though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time. Maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany, which in some places in the gift giving day, not Christmas, just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him. BAKE A CAKE; that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places. HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea! And like good king Wenceslaus, DO SOMETHING TO HELP SOMEONE IN NEED! If you don't know someone in need, ask your pastor, he will. Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!

And therefore the church doesn't, but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!

Textual Note: I am most honoured that The Lutheran Witness asked if they could print this post as an article in the December 2010 issue. That article is not the same as this post, but was based on the 2009 blog version of this post by their excellent editorial staff. The print version was approved by me, and you can read it online. Generally I revise the annual posts in my Blogoral Calendar somewhat from year to year, so this is not the exact text of the printed version.

23 December 2011

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weinachten 2011!

Here is the 2011 edition of my Christmas post.

In addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses, or divine services, at three distinct times of the day to contain it all.

That's exactly what the word Christmas is, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English, Old English, to be exact, that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas.

25 December is not Jesus' date of birth. The actual date is unknown. Scripture does not record it according to any calendar, although context clues would suggest sometime in about what we call October. But we just don't know, though many theories abound. From which I think it is safe to conclude that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.

So why 25 December? Well, in the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, both the day and the general time of year already had religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, every year at the time of the winter solstice was the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children.

That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and, with his five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians from their hang out Mount Olympus, did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his own five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)

Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public.

Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demonstrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness.

In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, for example the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar, and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.

So it can look like the whole Christmas thing originated with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. Is that it then? Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?

Don't think so. But also I don't think it is at all necessary to become defensive about the fact that other new life and new light stories pre-existed it, or to insist that Christmas was entirely independent of them, or (yeah, I know, too many ors) to fasten on to one or the other of the many attempts to theologise, like Cyprian, the date of 25 December.

Consider. What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite. Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, some of which he encapsulates in mythology and some of which he considers the latest of enlightened thinking, Man who will thus destroy himself, to avoid which God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that the creation of God may become children of God, and in the mass as the pledge of that salvation.

A child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will;`who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers.

These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, looking forward and trying to make sense of our situation, so God reveals it to us. Which the liturgy will exactly sum up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? -- The Lord has said to me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:1,7. See below, or with my fellow geeks and wannabes, vide infra).

We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.

Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three, as it prepared for them in Advent.

The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight.
The Historical Birth in Bethlehem.
Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1.
Collect
O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth.
Epistle Titus 2:11-15.
Gospel Luke 2:1-14.

The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn.
The Spiritual Birth in the Believer.
Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew.
Collect
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds.
Epistle Titus 3:4-7.
Gospel Luke 2:15-20.


The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day.
The Eternal Generation in the Trinity.
Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew.
Collect
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12.
Gospel John 1:1-14

May I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weinachten!

10 December 2011

O What's An Antiphon, 2011.

Antiphon is a word transliterated from Greek words that mean "opposite voice". What does this mean? Or for you non-Lutherans, what does that mean?

The Original Antiphon.

Well, originally, which is to say in ancient Greek music theory, it means something sung and also sung an octave higher, like C and the next C on a piano. That's antiphonia, as distinct from symphonia, singing in unison, or paraphonia, singing a fifth higher, like C to G on a piano.

Doesn't seem to describe what we mean by antiphon, does it? So how did we get from what the word actually meant to what we mean by it now?

What Happened Next.

The Psalms aren't texts, they're lyrics -- all that survives of musical compositions whose music is lost. They have a parallelism in structure that suggests they may well have been performed by alternating singers or groups of singers. As Christian worship emerged from the synagogue, that's exactly what they were, performance of the Psalms by alternating choruses. At first this was repetition of the males by boys an octave up, hence it was called antiphonia, not because it was alternating choruses but because the boys sang an octave higher than the adult males, just like the term means.

Then, by about the 300s, they started adding another verse, generally a related Scripture verse to the Psalm, sung by all before, and generally after each Psalm verse or two. Before you know it, antiphon doesn't have a bloody thing to do with octaves which is what it really means, but is associated with the idea of two alternating choruses singing back and forth, and also with the added prefatory text and tune which was called antiphon all by itself.

Confused? It gets worse, or better, as you may see it. Books containing the texts to the sung parts of the Mass came to be called antiphonales, and books containing texts to the spoken part of the Mass were called lectionaries, literally, stuff that is read, not sung. Then, antiphonale came to mean a book of chants for the Divine Office (Matins, Vespers, Compline etc) as distinct from a graduale, a book of the chants for Mass.

Enough to drive you nuts, or reach for the St Louis Jesuit stuff, huh? A word that means at the octave means alternating choruses except when it means added prefatory verses unless you mean the book of chants for Divine Office. Don't worry, took me a while to catch on too -- and I was a music major in the pre-conciliar Roman church.

Some say antiphonal singing of the Psalms started with St Ignatius of Antioch, who was an Apostolic Father and traditionally is said to have been a student of St John the Apostle. It really only caught on in the Western Church with St Ambrose, who compiled an antiphonale, yeah that word again and here with a different meaning yet, that being a collection of stuff suitable for antiphonal, as in alternating choruses, singing.

The "O" Antiphons.

OK. Now to the "O" antiphons -- antiphon here in the sense of the prefatory text itself. There are various versions in various places going back centuries, so far that my man Boethius mentions the practice.

I say my man because the title of my doctoral dissertation is "On a Contemporary Boethian Musical Theory". Boethius was born the same year as St Benedict, founder of the grand and glorious Order of St Benedict, the SOBs, I mean OSBs, as well as of the wider even grander and gloriouser "Benedictine tradition" found cited in all the recruiting material of universities sponsored by the Benedictines, like the one I graduated from. (A false comparative and a dangling participle in the same sentence: we Benedictines may not always follow the rules but we know what the hell they are.) That would be 480 or thereabouts, in case you got lost there.

Boethius died in 524 or 525, depending on who's counting. It would have been later except the Western Roman Emperor, Theodoric the Great, who was an Arian, had him executed on grounds of treason for conspiring with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justin I, who was orthodox and catholic, as distinct from Orthodox and Catholic because we all know he'd be Missouri Synod Lutheran to-day. While he was awaiting execution he wrote his most famous work, On the Consolation of Philosophy. You can read a lot more about all this in a post I added in 2011, called Boethius, Terence, Wheel of Fortune, posted a little before 23 October, the feast of St Boethius in some places. Why is my namesake Terence, who'd be my patron saint except he ain't a saint or even Christian, in there? Because he had a lot to say about Fortuna, the goddess who is the "fortune" in Rota Fortuna, or Wheel of Fortune, that Boethius takes up.

OK Now the "O" Antiphons.

But I digress. Some form or another of "O" antiphons have been around for almost the entire history of the church, the Biblical basis being Isaiah 7:14, but the Benedictines arranged what has become the standard, one each at Vespers each day from 17 through 23 December, right up to Christmas Eve. Each one starts with a salutation of Christ by "O" and one of his Biblical attributes. In order, they are: O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Morning Star), O Rex gentium (King of the Nations), O Emmanuel (God With Us).

Now, it's Advent, right, and late in it, and about to be Christmas. So looky here -- starting with the last antiphon, from the day before Christmas Eve, go back each day and put the first letter of each attribute of Christ to-gether and what do you get? Ero cras, that's what. Latin, and guess what that means in English -- I will come to-morrow! Benedictines man, are we good or WHAT! The whole series sums up the Advent preparation then concludes it, right down to a Psalm-like acrostic in the titles!

Never heard of such a thing? Sure you have. We sing it all the time! The popular Advent/Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a composite of the whole series!

02 December 2011

Hell Yes There's A Santa Claus, 6 December 2011.

6 December is the feast of Bishop St Nicholas of Myra. Yeah, jolly old St Nick, except Myra is not at the North Pole, but a town in Lycia which was in what is now the southwestern coast of Turkey.

OK "everybody knows" that "Santa Claus" has his origins in the stories about St Nicholas, "St Nick" or -- nicknames in some languages coming from the last rather than the first part of a given name -- Santa Klaus morphing into Santa Claus, and he went around giving anonymous gifts to kids tossing them over the transom into their shoes, which is where putting the shoes out or hanging stockings comes from.

Now what was his point in doing that, so there's be kids like you see in the commercials waking up in nice homes and being all happy with their yet more stuff for Christmas?

Hell no. St Nicholas came from a wealthy family, and as a pastor gave pretty much all his inheritance away to help poor children and families. And particularly, in those days, poor girls without a dowry would likely not end up wives and mothers in nice households, and likely would end up as prostitutes. So the gifts had a real rough practical edge to them, to help turn a life around by giving them a start their circumstances couldn't.

And the same guy who did this -- whaddya wanna call it, outreach, winning souls, meeting needs -- also was at the Council of Nicaea at a time when it seemed the whole church was heading into heresy of Arianism. And what did they do, say wow look at how those Arians connect with people, maybe we should quit worrying about all these doctrinal barriers we put up and preach and worship more like they do but with our content?

No, St Nick was among the most vocal standing for the catholic faith against Arianism and Arius himself, which led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed we confess at mass. So next time someone says we gotta get rid of all this hang up on doctrine and liturgy and get with the mission field and outreach, take a bloody clue from St Nick.

Or Wilhelm Löhe, whose half-fast Lutheran church body found him just not quite with it and stuck him in a little town in Bavaria, from which he arranged spiritual and temporal missionaries all over the world and worked mightily for authentic Lutheran liturgy and doctrine, whose good effects are bearing fruit to this day.

Funny thing is, there's about as much myth and stories about St Nicholas himself as there is about Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, if you will.

On the gifts thing, some versions of the story say it was at one time, for a poor man with three daughters, some say it was three times as each daughter grew up, some say it was through an opened window, and some say the third time the dad was waiting to see who was doing this so Nick tossed it down the chimney and it fell in the girl's stockings hung by the fire to dry, but other versions say the dad found out who it was only to be told by him to be grateful to God, not him personally.

On the Arius thing, some say he slapped Arius and was thrown in jail for it, whereupon Jesus and Mary appeared to him, loosened his chains, gave him a copy of the Gospels and a bishop's stole (omophorion) respectively, and when the Emperor (Constantine, no less) heard of it released him and reinstated him, but others say this was a vision to Constantine directly, and some say to all the "bishops" at the Council.

Not to mention after his death, when even the real St Nick got caught up in commercialism. He was buried in Myra, and it is said that every year his remains exude what is called myrrh, a rose-smelling watery liquid, to which miracles are attributed. In 1087 Myra was overtaken by Muslim powers -- the Eastern Roman Empire was pretty much losing control of Asia Minor generally at this time -- and his remains were removed to Bari, in Italy on the southern Adriatic coast, which had been under Byzantine control but had been taken by the Lombards and Normans. Stories disagree whether these were pious sailors to whom St Nick himself appeared telling them to keep the saint's remains under Christian control, or pirates.

Good for the local pilgrimage industry though. The Venetians started saying his remains were actually brought there, with only an arm left in Bari, and built a big church about it. An examination in the 1950s revealed the skeleton in Bari is intact. And the myrrh secretions continue there. Not to mention, on 28 December 2009 the Turkish government announced it will seek the return of the remains from the Italian government, to Demre, the modern town near Myra's ruins. While St Nick's stated wish to be buried there is noted, and the questionable removal of his remains, it has been noted too that it would be good for that descendant of the pilgrimage industry, tourism. Indeed there is both a statue of St Nicholas and "Santa Claus" in town!

What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. A bunch of saint stuff coming out of the decadence and corruption against which the Reformation stood? Or does it show that be it St Nicholas or Santa Claus, the whole thing is simply story and myth, elaborated by a culture as a means of transmitting certain values, with religion being culture and myth taking itself way too seriously?

Or is it that the stories and myths are taken way too seriously and the values lose their point? We can get all caught up in whether it was three daughters on three times, or three daughters on one time, through a window opening or down the chimney into stockings, whether Jesus and Mary came with the Gospel book and the omophorion to Nick himself or in a vision to the Emperor or came anywhere to anyone, whether he struck Arius or was even at the Council at all.

Point is, none of that is the point. Somewhere in there is a pastor from a wealthy background who was a steward of the gifts God had given him as a response to the gift of salvation through faith in the merits of Christ God had given him -- good works because we are saved, not in order to be saved -- and who directed gratitude for the gifts through him to Christ who is the gift of God who saves, and not to an abstract "value" or himself which don't. And somewhere in there is a pastor, call him "bishop" or whatever you want, who stood fast for the truth of Jesus as God and Man by faith in whose merits in his death and resurrection we are saved (the Gospel).

Hell yes there's a Santa Claus. It's you, me, us, St Nick and the whole communion of saints. So get out there because you're saved and do something for somebody in a tight spot, and stand for the pure Christian faith and worship confessed in our Confessions, among which is the Nicene Creed btw, instead of all the bogus feel-good happy-clappy crap and Vatican II wannabeism.

25 November 2011

Advent 2011.

Here's the 2011 version of my Advent post.

Why Have An Advent?

Scripture records the birth of Jesus, but it records no direction to celebrate either it or a preparation for it. But it records no prohibition of doing so either. The Christian Church has evolved various practices to commemorate one of its most outrageous claims, that God became Man in Jesus, the Incarnation, and, considering the magnitude of what is celebrated, has evolved a season of preparation for it universally, both Eastern and Western church. These celebrations have taken on various forms in various places, and even various forms over time in the same place. But they all have the same idea, for Christ's church to celebrate to-gether and proclaim one of the world and life changing events of Christ. Which is the idea of all of the church's liturgy.

What Is Advent?

Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a turning toward, a coming, and translates the Greek word parousia, which designates not the coming of Jesus at his birth but his coming again to judge the world on the Last Day. Advent is in fact a preparation for three comings of, or turnings toward, Christ and the three will culminate in three distinct liturgies for Christmas, Christ's Mass. No other season or celebration in the church year is like this.

Here are the three. Our Advent preparation for the historical coming or birth of Jesus culminates in the celebration of that event in the mass in the night, Midnight Mass. Our Advent preparation for the coming or birth of Jesus in the heart of believers, in us, culminates in the mass at dawn, as evidenced in the first believers, the shepherds who went to the manger. Our Advent preparation for his second historical coming, in judgement and in glory, which has been the subject of the final Sundays of the church year before Advent, culminates in the mass during the day, which celebrates the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity in the being of God in which redeemed Man will fully participate after the end of time.

Advent then precedes Christmas as Lent precedes Easter, a time of repentance and preparation. For both seasons, church vestments etc are purple, the colour associated both with penance, our part, and royalty, his part as King of kings. However, the purple is the darker royal purple rather than the Roman purple of Lent, the colours like the seasons they reflect being both similar yet distinct in kind of event to which they lead.

The rite of Salisbury, called Sarum in Latin, England, has a hybrid liturgy of English and French influences following the Norman Conquest in 1066. Duke William II of Normandy, aka the "Conqueror" and King William I of England, the first of the Norman kings of England, created the diocese out of two earlier ones and appointed a fellow Norman its bishop, "Saint" Osmund, the Count of Seez and Earl of Dorset and his Lord Chancellor, with the approval of Pope Gregory VII. Well sort of approval. This was part of the Normans' rather systematic assertion of control over everything -- more on that below.

Meanwhile, old Pope Greg was having a hard sell on his championship of clerical celibacy and the supremacy of church, meaning the Roman Church under the pope, over state among the Germans -- hell, he excommunicated Heinrich (Henry) IV, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, not once but twice -- and so as not to spread his efforts too thin he cut the Normans some slack. How's that for "apostolic succession"! And oh yeah, Greg's a "saint" too in the Roman church.

William being a duke in Normandy was still under the French king, Phillip I, (duke ranks just below king) but now as king of England, which he was crowned on Christmas 1066, he was not, but on an equal basis. William also messed up our good Germanic language English by making French the language of the ruling class, which it remained for about 300 years, and by the end of his reign (1087) about 90% of England was under a French-born aristocracy with which he replaced the native English one, forever changing English culture. Yeah, the Anglo-Saxon culture was an import too, but hey, we Angles were ASKED by the original English to come over from Germany, and gave the place its name, Angle-land, England. The Saxons and Jutes can speak for themselves. But I digress.

The Sarum rite Scripture readings and other prayers proper to the day are different than the Roman rite, as is the colour of vestments, not purple but blue. This use of blue as the colour for Advent has had a more general usage in the West in recent years, though with the Roman propers. Well, the new Roman propers, from its new three year cycle from the 1960s, the basis of the common new lectionary for all heterodox liturgical churches, which will not be considered here -- one can look them up and put on a little Simon and Garfunkle or other holdovers of the time if one is so inclined.

This is not the first time the Sarum rite has influenced Western usage, generally through its appropriation into the Church of England. The traditional Lutheran practice of counting Sundays in the rest of the church year from Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost is a Sarum influence too.

The Old Advent, "St Martin's Fast".

In fact, Advent in the West used to be even more like Lent. From the fourth or fifth century or so there was, and as we shall shortly see still is in the Eastern church under the name Nativity Fast, a 40 day time of fasting and penance much like Lent. In the Western church it started on 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours, Martin Luther's baptismal namesake, with the day being something like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in Lent. The fast started the day after. This "quadragesima sancti Martini", the forty days of St Martin, died out by the late Middle Ages, and Advent as it is generally known in the West took shape and is what we use to-day.

To this day, in some places the traditional main dish for Christmas is goose. In fact, one of my favourite phrases in English, not suitable for reproduction here, derives from this custom, let the reader understand. The Christmas goose may derive from Advent when it was St Martin's Fast. Martin didn't really want to be a bishop, and is said to have hidden himself in a flock of geese from those seeking him to persuade him to accept the post, whose noise nonetheless gave his location away. So goose became the main food for St Martin's Day kicking off Advent.

The Eastern Church follows to this day a similar, but not the same, 40 day pattern of a season of preparation and penitence before Easter and Christmas, and our former Western "St Martin's Fast" was closer to it. In the Eastern Church, it isn't called Advent, but the Nativity Fast, and lasts 40 days, just like the St Martin's Fast, but they count them consecutively, from 15 November to 24 December. That's why it also has a similar but not the same nickname: 15 November is the day after the feast, East or West, of St Philip the Apostle, so it is sometimes called "St Philip's Fast". The liturgical colour is neither purple nor blue, but red, and, where in the Western church the liturgical year begins with the First Sunday in Advent, in the Eastern church the liturgical year begins 1 September.

The Current Advent.

Anyway, each Sunday emphasises a different aspect of the preparation and the comings noted above. Below are listed the Scripture passages used for the Introits and Scripture readings. Roman usage (which Rome ditched at Vatican II) has the same Introits but varies as noted from ours in the Epistles and Gospels for the Western Advent.

I had never understood this variation and mentioned that once in the combox on a blog. Pastor Benjamin Mayes responded citing Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p.438, which states our usage follows the Comes attributed to St Jerome and its final version, The Lectionary of Charlemagne, which Rome later modified to accommodate its new feasts.

What's a comes (pronounced KO-mays)? It's a Latin word meaning companion, here, a companion book of readings for mass to the rite's service book itself. Now we more commonly call such a book a Lectionary, from the Latin for "readings". The list of the readings is still often called by its Greek name, pericope, meaning section, here, the sections of Scripture appointed to be read.

In Latin and Hebrew, the title of a text is usually the first word or two of the text, called the incipit, which means "it begins" in Latin, rather than a separate title. Accordingly, some of the Sundays of the church year are called from the first word of the first proper text to them, the Introit. The Sundays of Advent, Lent, and after Easter are nicknamed from their Introits. This practice has fallen into disuse with many churches following Rome's 1960s revisionism of the lectionary. Or one can as my former synod did abolish Introits altogether!

Another similarity between Advent and Lent is that a little over halfway through these preparation/penitential seasons, the coming joy peeks through in the readings, starting with the Introit, and so the liturgical colours reflect that with the purple yielding for that Sunday to rose or pink, which is also why the so-called Advent wreath has a rose or pink candle among the rest. It's for the third Sunday in Advent, which is called Gaudete Sunday from the incipit of the Introit for it, which means "rejoice" and quotes Philippians 4:4-6. The Lenten parallel with rose vestments is Laetare Sunday, from the incipit of the Introit, Laetare Jerusalem, which means "Be joyful Jerusalem" and quotes Isaiah 66:10-11.

Psalm numbers in the old Roman usage followed the Septuagint, whereas we follow the numbering of the Hebrew Bible. That usage counts what we call Psalms 9 and 10 as one psalm, likewise 114 and 115, and divides both 116 and 147 in two, so between 10 to 148 the numbering is different by one. Since Vatican II Rome generally uses the Hebrew Bible numbering too, but below both will be given in the format: Hebrew numbering (Septuagint numbering).

Here are the names and readings of the Sundays in Advent, with this year's dates.

Ad te levavi. The First Sunday of Advent. 27 November 2011.

Introit Psalms 25 (24):1-3 psalm verse 25 (24):4, Epistle Romans 13:11-15, Gospel Matthew 21:1-9.

Roman usage Gospel Luke 21:25-33 our second Sunday Gospel.

Populus Sion. The Second Sunday of Advent. 4 December 2011.

Introit Isaiah 30:30 psalm verse 80 (79):1, Epistle Romans 15:4-13, Gospel Luke 21:25-36.

Roman usage Gospel Matthew 11:2-10, our third Sunday Gospel.

Gaudete. The Third Sunday of Advent. 11 December 2011.

Introit Philippians 4:4-6 psalm verse 85 (84):1, Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5, Gospel Matthew 11:2-10.

Roman usage Epistle Philippians 4:4-7 Gospel John 1:19-28, our fourth Sunday readings.

Rorate coeli. The Fourth Sunday of Advent. 18 December 2011.

Introit Isaiah 45:8 psalm verse 19 (18):1, Epistle Philippians 4:4-7, Gospel John 1:19-28.

Roman usage Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5 Gospel Luke 3:1-6, our third Sunday Epistle, the Luke passage not used by us.

Away in an Animal Feeding Trough, or, The Real Meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is a warm time filled with comfort, family, presents, good food, along with our religious sentiments, for many of us. Christmas as in the event we celebrate was nothing like that. It was rough. Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth -- I've been there twice and that ain't easy under any circumstances, and my observation would be it ain't easy being the about to deliver wife either -- in town to follow the law and get counted in the census with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals. That's what "away in a manger" was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, the word coming into English from the French to eat, in turn from the Latin to chew (mandere). Fact is, our word "munch" has the same root.

So the King of kings is put in a feeding trough for animals in a cold stable. You don't make up this kind of stuff. Humans who are gods in myth are emperors and such, not working class kids born in a barn. Top it all off, this child "away in a feeding trough" will one day give himself to be the food of eternal life, giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink at mass as the pledge and promise of our salvation through the merits of his death and resurrection. Guess it kind of fits then.

For those of you whose Christmas isn't going to be all warm and cozy and filled with cheer, guess what, you're right in there with those at the first Christmas. That was a little rough too. Born in a stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and pretty soon his family having to high tail it out of town into political exile too. So you're not excluded at all, and you can take it right to him, because he knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry. And he also knows all about how merry doesn't really get determined by what happens in this life, on Christmas or any other day!

To Thee have I lifted up my soul, in Thee, O my God, I put my trust. Let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me, for none of those that wait on Thee shall be confounded.

Psalm 25 (24):1-3 as used in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent.

24 November 2011

A Thanksgiving That Lasts An Eternity.

I remember things better by the day than the date.

For example, to me my wife Nancy died the night before Thanksgiving, 2140 hours, 1997, rather than 26 November 1997. Dates fall on different days in different years, and the night before Thanksgiving always seems more like the anniversary of it rather than 26 November, which this year is the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

In addition to the obvious, what amazes me about it, then, now, and all points in between, is that it has not produced a crisis of faith in me, let alone a loss of faith. Now, if you haven't gleaned it from some of my posts, crises of faith and loss of faith were pretty much constant for me from Vatican II in the 1960s to professing the faith of the evangelical Lutheran church in 1996.

Vatican II tore up and stomped on pretty much everything that was the basis of my life back then. However, the death of your wife and mother of your children, toss in that their ages were fifteen months and three months at the time, is a tearing up and a stomping on at a whole different level and place.

I've been me for a while now, and "me" no doubt about it would take that as the final insult after all the rest from a god who probably doesn't exist anyway so forget the whole thing, it's a cruel joke that ain't funny.

But it didn't happen. Not Thanksgiving Eve when she died, not the next day when I spent Thanksgiving afternoon at the funeral home picking out caskets and stuff like that before arriving late for some turkey at the family dinner like everyone else. Not in the first few weeks of not having a clue how this single working dad with two babies will work beyond just getting through each day. Not later as routines emerged that worked but obviously aren't the ones we hoped and planned for. And not later as other difficulties and challenges emerged and still emerge.

That's not me. No way I can be like that, guaranteed, take that to the bank, I cannot do that. But it happened. Since other spiritual forces and powers do not bolster faith in Jesus Christ, I think we're going to chalk this up to the Holy Spirit. When they say faith is entirely the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, believe it, they ain't kidding.

Her funeral was the following Saturday. It was right by the service book at the time, all about faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation from sins unto eternal life. You couldn't have been there without getting the message that the only dead people present aren't in caskets but dead in sin unjustified by faith in Jesus Christ through whose merits alone they are counted saved unto eternal life, a promise He extends to all including right here and now.

The sermon concluded as follows, which I hear fourteen years later as clearly as the moment the pastor said it:

A few days ago, most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

Amen.

May your Thanksgiving be a prequel to a Thanksgiving that lasts an eternity!

15 November 2011

Thanksgiving 2011.

As a counterpart to my post on what became of Sukkot as the Christian liturgical calendar emerged out of the Jewish one, here's a little something on the secular Sukkot here in the US called Thanksgiving.

Guess what! There were two "first" Thanksgivings before the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts! The second first Thanksgiving before the first Thanksgiving was two years earlier. On 4 December 1619, English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, roughly 20 miles up the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, begun 14 May 1607. The ship's captain, John Woodleaf, led a service of thanksgiving and the settlement charter directed the date to be observed thereafter. Thereafter lasted until 1622 when the native population, not so grateful for their arrival, forced their retreat to Jamestown.

The first first Thanksgiving before the first Thanksgiving was 54 years earlier. Spanish settlers celebrated thanksgiving for their safe arrival 8 September 1565 at what is now St Augustine, Florida. This the first recorded thanksgiving in America, but, as this was Spaniards in a Spanish colony, La Florida, which didn't pass to English control until 1763 or become a state until 1845, it doesn't get much airplay.

Thanksgivings were held at various times and places in the English colonies, after the harvest, but as days of prayer, not eating! The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national thanksgiving, which was Thursday 18 December 1777. The first national day of Thanksgiving in the United States as such was proclaimed by President Washington for Thursday 26 November 1789.

Presidents and governors proclaimed thanksgivings off and on after that, but then starting with President Lincoln's designation in 1863 of the last Thursday of November that year as a day of national thanksgiving, all presidents since had year by year designated the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Until FDR. In 1939 the last Thursday in November would be the 30th, and President Roosevelt was persuaded by business leaders that a longer Christmas shopping season -- once upon a time it was considered inappropriate to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving -- would help the economy out of the Depression with more sales. So he declared Thanksgiving the next to last Thursday in November that year.

The new Thanksgiving was widely derided as "Franksgiving" -- Roosevelt's first name being Franklin -- and had no force of law, some states observing the new "Democrat" Thanksgiving and some the old "Republican" Thanksgiving. A Commerce Department report in 1941 found no significant difference in sales from the change, and Congress passed a law designating the fourth Thursday in November, which some years is the last and some the next to last Thursday, as Thanksgiving Day every year. 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current law -- by which time a new world war had maybe redirected things away from retail sales to graver matters.

You know what, Washington didn't have a thing to say about sales, Christmas, Christmas sales, food or football regarding Thanksgiving when "Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President Lincoln, whose example had been followed since. Below is the original proclamation of the original national Thanksgiving Day by President George Washington. Amazing stuff. Beautiful stuff. Our stuff.

But where among our stuff now does one will find talk of:
- a duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of, to be grateful for the benefits of, and humbly to implore the protection of, Almighty God,
- a duty to observe a day of public thanksgiving and prayer for his favour particularly in being able to form our kind of government,
- service of a great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all good,
- joining in prayers to the great Ruler and Lord Of Nations to pardon our wrongs, enable us to perform our duties, make our government a blessing of wise, just and constitutional law, to guide all Sovereigns and Nations in good government, to promote true religion and virtue, to increase science and such prosperity as he knows best among all mankind.

This is what Thanksgiving is meant to be. This is what Thanksgiving was proclaimed to be. And not as a matter of Lutheran belief, or any other belief, but as just being American, our stuff. Yet one does not find such specific talk in the public discourse now. On the one hand are those who think such talk has no place in our stuff, and on the other those who think this is a specifically Christian nation, and both equally missing what our stuff is all about.

And either way, Washington the city sounds rather different than Washington the man and first president of these united states. May we find something of President Washington in our national celebration in 2011 as we did 222 years ago at the first one in 1789.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

02 November 2011

What's An Armistice? Veterans Day / St Martin's Day 2011.

Here is what the world knows about it, I hope. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, in 1954 Congress changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.

What's An Armistice?

The English word armistice is transliterated from the Latin armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce, a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities may well resume at some point. And always have.

Here is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of, guess what, soldiers! Hmm.

Who Is St Martin of Tours and Why Is He Patron Of Soldiers?

Martin was born a pagan around 316 in what is now Hungary, and was what is now called a military brat. Then as now, military families move a lot, and Martin grew up where his father was stationed, at Ticinum, which is now Pavia, Italy. His father was a tribune, which is roughly equivalent to a modern colonel, in the crack Roman unit the Imperial Horse Guard (equites singulari Augusti). Being a military kid, he was named Martin, from Mars, the Roman god of war.

The year of his birth, 316, was also the year it became legal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire, but it was a decidedly minority religion, and in the army the cult of Mithras was common. When Martin was ten, he ticked off his parents by starting to go to church and taking instruction as a catechumen (you know, the Sunday School, mid-week, etc of the time). However in 331 at 15 he joined the army, as sons of senior officers did, in a provincial cavalry unit (ala, or wing) and about 334 was stationed at Samarobriva, the Roman name for Amiens, in northern France.

One day, by the city gate of Amiens, he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave half to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. This shook him up, and he got baptised that year, 334, at 18. He remained in the army, but in 336 when it looked like the army and the local Gauls were about to engage at Worms, he declared he was a soldier of Christ and could not fight. He was thrown in the brig (military jail) and charged with cowardice. He offered to be in the front lines but unarmed, and the army was going to do just that with him, but the Gauls made peace with Rome and the battle did not happen.

After that Martin was discharged from the service. He went to Tours, and began to study with the renowned, even in his own time, St Hilary. Hilary was a convert too. who vigourously opposed the Arian "Christianity" of the Visigoths and was elected by the faithful of Poitiers as their first bishop (they did that then), married with a daughter and all (they did that then too). Martin set about combating the Arian heresy too, which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now.

He and Hilary were both forced into exile by persecution. Martin lived as a hermit but when Hilary was restored in 361 Martin joined him. He started a monastery in nearby Liguge, which is still there as the now Benedictine (of course) St Martin's Abbey, from which he preached Christianity all around the area. Later, the people of Tours made him their third bishop when the old one died in 371 and he was finally persuaded to accept. From there he soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul, and, to get away from the attention of his office, he established another monastery, Marmoutier, which also later became Benedictine, on the other side of the River Loire in Tours, about 372, which lasted until the French Revolution in 1799 and is largely in ruins now.

A good insight into Martin is this: uncompromising as he was in preaching the true doctrine, when Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, and his followers were brought before the Emperor on charges of false doctrine, heresy, stemming from their severe asceticism, the penalty was beheading, but Martin, though he was quite opposed to Priscillian, hurried to Trier, where the Imperial court held forth at the time, not Rome, to protest the sentence as both unjust and an unjust imposition of civil power in a church matter. The Emperor relented, then beheaded them in 385 after Martin left. This was the first time ever that a Christian executed another Christian for heresy, and Martin was absolutely disconsolate after he heard the news.

We should remember that 385 is just five years since the Imperial Edict of Thessalonica defined what is and is not the Catholic Church and made the Catholic Church the state religion. Hence, heresy is a state offence punishable by the Empire.

Martin died 8 November 397 and was buried 11 November, which became his feast day, though the date of death is the usual practice. He was widely venerated for centuries, which I will not go into except for this, soon after his death it became the custom to begin a 40 day fast in preparation for Christmas, the quadragesima sancti Martini or St Martin's Fast, with his feast day being the last non-fasting day until Christmas. This eventually shortened into what we know as Advent now. More on that in the "Advent" post coming up.

An Armistice on St Martin's Day 1918.

So, 11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Hmm. Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? Wanna know something else just a little too co-incidental? The military campaign that led to the armistice is the Hundred Days Offensive, aka the Grand Offensive, from 8 August to 11 November 1918. Guess where the Hundred Days Offensive started. With the Battle of Amiens, where the Roman officer Martin had given the freezing beggar the cloak. Hmm.

The armistice of 11 November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become World War One, as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two. Along with the millions of lives lost, millions more lives were forever changed, and, something changed in what might be called the spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.

The "Titans" had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who the victorious Olympians were, or if there even were victors or Olympians, was not clear. The old world order, and its certainties both temporal and eternal, were gone. Man began to speak of life as absurd, and the search for "meaning" was on, amid an apparently essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man.

The resolution? Well, 93 years later in 2011 hostilities continue amid the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.

So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of them.

There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the One God has sent, that because of Him one can be washed clean by being covered in his sacrificial blood, and even amid the brokenness of this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it, dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day as God calls and feeds Man in the church wherever his Word is properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.

Interesting that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against false doctrine and corruption from state control of the church.

Conclusion.

So on 11 November, Armistice Day now Veterans Day and also St Martin's Day, as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for real and for ever.

Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis. Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee. (John 14:27, used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)

Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:

Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

24 October 2011

Reformation Day / Reformationstag. 31 October 2011.

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" which is in turn 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 in the phrase "hallowed halls" in reference to a university or some esteemed institution. "Hallowed be thy name" literally means held holy be thy name, "thy" being the second person familiar form of address modern English doesn't use.

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 on 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 whether 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 -- again this would be the Eastern Roman Emperor, as the Western Roman Empire was long gone by this time -- to rededicate 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 martyrs 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 and 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? And 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 consequence is eternal if there is no repentance.

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 sanctifying 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 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 at the name, he was a serious, serious dude, banker to everyone who mattered. He 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.

Reformation.

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.

Conclusion.

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!

05 October 2011

Boethius, Terence, Wheel of Fortune. 23 October 2011.

Festschrift for the feast of St Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, 23 October.

Now whoda thunk that an apparently purely entertainment TV game show actually references one of the more important topics in philosophy with a history back to ancient Rome and an influence for centuries thereafter, including why there's Lutherans and what we think we're doing here.

It all comes from the Latin phrase "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" which is usually translated "fortune favours the brave" and generally taken to mean than those who take risks, or at least action, are going to be luckier, or at least get more results, in life than those who don't.

It was first written by a Roman playwright named Terence, which is also my first name.

There's just a bit more to it than that. Here it is.

About Terence, or, My Name Is Terence and I'm a Playwright.

The English name Terence comes from the Roman playwright Terentius. It wasn't my birth first name, Douglas is, but I got it when adopted at about six months old. Well hell, it wasn't Terentius' birth name either, how about that? Wasn't even his first name, ever! Hell, he wasn't even Roman, nor was I of the ethnic descent of the people who adopted me!

Here's the deal. My namesake was born around 185 or 195 BC, in or around Carthage, or else to a woman in Greek-speaking Italy (yeah, they spoke more Greek than Latin in Rome back then, it was the cultural language) who was sold into slavery and taken to in or around Carthage. He himself was sold as a slave to a Roman senator named Publius Terentius Lucanus, who brought him to Rome, gave him an education, and then, apparently impressed with the result, freed him.

OK Romans had three names. First comes the praenomen, which means your first name, or given name as it is called. Second comes the nomen, aka the nomen gentile or sometimes the gentilicium, which by whichever designated the clan, or gens, from which one came. Third and last comes the cognomen, which designates your family within the clan. This structure is even older than the Romans, who got it from the Etruscans before them.

But that's Romans, not slaves or kids of slaves who become slaves themselves. Nobody knows what Terentius' birth name was, but it wasn't Terence, sure as hell. His name reflects his status as a Roman citizen, upon being freed. So he took the praenomen Publius, meaning "public", which was one of the relatively few first names, and also his former master's first name, and took the clan name of his master, Terentius, and for a last name to distinguish his family within the clan, took Afer, since he was not a blood Terentius but from Afer.

Afer, what the hell is that, sounds like Africa. Yeah it does and for good reason. Africa now means the whole continent, but in Terence' lifetime it meant the land of the Libyan tribe the Afri, who hung in and around Carthage, which is in modern Tunisia but was founded as a Phoenician colony in 814 BC, or so the Romans said. But when the Romans trashed Carthage in 146 BC, by which time Terence had been dead several years, the Carthaginians themselves were called Punic, a reference to Carthage's Phoenician origin, and Afri came to mean the Libyan Berbers around them.

So hard telling. He may have been a Berber, although that use of Afri is just a little later than his lifetime, or he may have been Afri, who according to Flavius Josephus, the great Roman historian, were descendants of Abraham's grandson Epher, hence the name Afri, or he may have been none of the above and who knows what, since when you're a slave you don't get a hell of a lot of choice about where you end up.

Afer as a Roman cognomen meant people who whatever else were from in or around Carthage, but doesn't clarify whether he was from there originally, and if so was he Afri or something else, or was something else and got brought there.

So we got a guy whose birth name and people are not known, who was sold as a slave but treated well and educated, and when freed took his former master's praenomen or given name, his clan name, within which he was distinguished by his Carthaginian/Tunisian origins at least with regard to the Roman world.

About Terence, or, My Name Is Terence and I'm a Blogger.

Now, when I was adopted, my new mom wanted to name me Cornelius Steven, but my new dad wanted Terence James. Dad won. Which is unusual twice over. For one thing generally moms get naming rights, and for another the usual RC practice in those days was to name a kid after one of the saints. So here's my dad naming me after a pagan Roman playwright and the RCC allowed it, and so I was baptised at Holy Name By God Cathedral in Chicago.

My adoptive parents were of Irish-American stock, which completes both the irony and the fittingness of the name Terence for me. I learned later, from seeing the adoption papers among my parents' stuff after they died, my original name. Douglas John, and the last name, Clutterham, is English, from the Suffolk area specifically, making me an Angle by descent.

So I get a first name from a guy whose first name it wasn't! Which is OK, you don't hear Publius much these days. And neither that Terence nor this one started out with the name, or came from the people who gave him that name (he wasn't Roman and I ain't Irish), but got names that look like it by, as they say in insurance, major life event. He by being freed from slavery and made a Roman, me by being adopted. I doubt Dad was thinking of all that, but he did know the correct spelling to give me, which, the original being Terentius, is Terence. No double damn r.

It's all good. Later in life, when I fell in with the Puerto Rican student community at university and they, saying I thought like them (which is crap English btw, should be, thought as they), culturally adopted me, so to speak, well, there ain't no Terence in Spanish, so I was dubbed with an honorific neologism, El Teraco.

And totally in tune with what was to come, namely, the great gift of the Christian faith, as revealed in Scripture and accurately confessed in the Book of Concord. Luther admired the plays of Terence and quoted them a lot, and thought they were good for kids to learn in their educational formation.

Ain't that a kick? My first Lutheran pastor once said -- not sure if he was joking or not -- that my growing up in Minnesota and going to a Bavarian Benedictine founded school and picking up German and the whole German thing was God's way of getting me to be ready to be Lutheran, so I could lapse into German when ranting. But right there at the RC baptismal font, I was given the name of a Roman playwright Luther admired!

About the Saying, or, What the Translations Can't Translate.

First, the phrase itself. I think I learned it "Fortuna fortes adiuvat". OK, "adiuvat" is the verb and verbs go at the end of a sentence in Latin, so at least that part's right. It means "helps" or "assists" or "aids", and you can see it in the English word "adjutant", which means a helper, or assistant, or aide. So what's "fortes"? The direct object of the verb, the one helped or assisted or aided, and means "the brave" or "the strong", and you can see it in the English word "fortitude" for courage aka guts or grit.

So, the generally accepted Latin form is "fortes fortuna adiuvat" and the generally accepted English translation is "fortune favours the brave", and it was widely used as a proverb and first appears in a play by Terence, namely, line 203 of Phormio. End of story? Oh hell no.

For one thing, the first of many, some Latin scholars contend that it should be fortis fortuna adiuvat. Huh? Well, Latin is an inflected language, which means that the function of words is shown by differences in how the word ends rather than by prepositions and word order as in English. These differences are classified into typical uses of words, called cases, and direct objects, which are that to which the action of the verb is applied, go in what is called the accusative case.

Some say that while "fortes" is the overall ending of the word in the plural accusative in Latin generally, in Terence' time, which was the era of the Roman Republic, before the Roman Empire -- Terence lived from either 195 or 185, depending on which ancient source got it right, to 159 BC, which according to some ancient sources was when he was lost at sea, making him either 26 or 36 when he died -- the accusative plural was then fortis, not fortes, and so in his play it's actually fortis fortuna adiuvat. The Latin texts available online give it both ways.

The next thing is, fortes literally means the strong, as in physically powerful, not the brave, but just like "strength" itself, the word took on a figurative meaning of brave or courageous from the associated connotation of those characteristics with the physically strong -- like we may say "Be strong" meaning to man up and get through it rather than start working out. So that makes it literally "fortune favours the strong".

Next thing, about the verb. "Favours" is a little different than "aids' or "assists". "Favours" is more a general reference to your overall chances, but "aids" or "assists" or "helps" means that someone or something is actually actively helping or assisting you. That's a real big difference, and that's where "fortuna" comes in. The word is obviously the root of the English words "fortune", "fortunately" and the like, but while now it's like random chance or good luck or something like that, in Latin and to the ancient Romans it wasn't just that but the goddess Fortuna who was in charge of that.

So altogether, that makes it more like the goddess "Fortuna helps the strong".

That was a real big deal. Fortuna's sacred day was 11 June -- holy crap, that's the day before my damn birthday, and holy crap again the later state church of the Roman Empire, which still survives in an RC or EO parish near you, has holy days for its "saints" still! -- and the cult of Fors Fortuna (hey, there's that "strong" thing again) was found all over the Roman world and was a festival on 24 June.

Now Fortuna was known as Tyche to the Greeks, from whom the Romans took much of their original state religion, and as Tyche was all over the Greek world before the Roman world. The Roman name comes from Vortumna, which means "she who spins the year" and if you're paying attention, there you go with a "wheel of fortune". But, just like with the saying from Terence, wheel of fortune isn't all there is to it. It's rota Fortuna in Latin, the wheel of the goddess Fortune, as she spins the year and what happens to you shakes out. Thing is though, you don't get to buy any damn letters to move things in your, uh, favour, so instead, you'd better hit her temple and make her happy, or else just say she's a fickle whore who does what she damn well pleases. Both opinions and behaviours were common in the ancient world.

About Augustine's Answer, or, So What?

Now is this just some more musty old stuff from Past Elder? Hey, why do you think books with titles like "Purpose Driven Life", "Your Best Life Now" and "Man's Search For Meaning" are best sellers for years? Why do you think people say "shit happens"? Judas H Priest, the whole question of is life just a bunch a random stuff that happens without any meaning or any ability to change it much and then you die, or does it have a meaning, maybe even a reason or purpose, and you can get in there and affect it, has been bugging Mankind since there's been Mankind. It's the biggest question of all -- Why?

So we've got the wheel of the goddess Fortuna, and the original Wheel of Fortune, Rota Fortuna. As she spins the wheel, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, stuff just seems to happen, and here we are wondering if there's any rhyme or reason to it, to life. A lot people still wonder that about life.

Terence's phrase became a commonplace saying and had been used and/or quoted by heavyweights of Roman literature. Pliny uses it in his Epistles (don't freak, no lost works of the Bible here, just means "letters"). Cicero referred to it as a proverb. Virgil used it in the Aeneid (Book Ten, Line 284) as audentis fortuna iuvat. Audentis is where English gets audacious, iuvat is just plain helps, the "ad" intensifies the intention toward (that's what ad is, toward) someone, so you get the idea. And Ovid topped that in his Metamorphoses (10/86), saying not just Fortuna but God himself helps the bold. Well OK he actually wrote audentes deus ipse iuvat.

Another guy from Carthage, good old Augustine, took Fortune on in De civitaitis Dei contra Paganos (On the City of God Against the Pagans). Gus wrote The City of God right after the Visigoths trashed Rome in 410. The Romans were wondering if maybe that happened because the state had not only abandoned traditional Roman religion for the new state Catholic Church, established by the co-emperors Theodosius in the East and Gratian and Valentinian II in the West with the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380, but also destroyed the sites and institutions of the old Imperial religion. As part of making the case that this is not so, he says Fortune, since she brings good things to good and bad people alike, is unworthy of worship -- his answer to why good things happen to bad people I guess, along with why abandoning stuff like that didn't bring down the whole damn Empire.

About What Sets Up Another Answer, or, Everything Falls Apart.

But Boethius, writing over a century later, about 524, as he was waiting to be executed, took a different slant on Fortuna. Holy crap, executed -- for what? Well, more Goths, this time of the Ostro kind. Visigoths were from what is now Spain, Ostro or East Goths were from the Balkans.

The Western Roman Empire was gone by then, the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, having been deposed by Odoacer, a non-Roman Roman officer of uncertain origin though his name is Germanic, on 4 September 476. Odoacer's army proclaimed him the first "King of Italy" though he was a "barbarian". At first the Roman Senate thought it would be fine to just continue under the remaining of the two Roman Emperors, the Eastern one, Zeno at the time. Zeno made Odoacer a Patrician but also thought he should restore emperor Julius Nepos, whom Romulus Augustus had overthrown. Well actually his father Orestes, Julius Nepos' military chief of staff (magister militum) did, then named him emperor.

Odoacer declined to do so, and as his power increased, Zeno determined to get rid of him and promised Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, he and the Ostrogoths could have Odoacer's Italian kingdom if they would get rid of him. Theodoric and Odoacer's forces slugged it out all over Italy. Now both these guys were Arian Christians btw. Anyway, a treaty was signed and a celebration arranged, at which Theodoric proposed a toast then killed Odoacer personally. And that's the real story of the real "Dietrich von Bern". (OK you Lutherans oughta be laughing like hell right now, if not, go read the preface to the Large Catechism.)

Which far from being a useless story shows that the century between Augustine and Jerome, both of whom we saw in recent posts on each's feast days, and Boethius, was one hell of a century. Quick time line for review:

380, the Roman Empire both East and West constituted the Catholic Church and made it the state religion on 27 February with the Edict of Thessalonica; pope, after killing supporters of a rival, is Damasus, proclaimed to have the true faith from Peter, emperor Gratian refuses title of pontifex maximus, head of the state Roman religion, established by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, elected by the Senate after the death of the first king and co-founder of Rome (21 April 753 BC) Romulus; the Babylonian Captivity of the Church begins;
382; Jerome called to Rome to help Damasus, run out of town after Damasus dies;
390, the Roman Empire destroys the Temple of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi;
391, the Roman Empire destroys the Serapeum and Great Library of Alexandria;
392, the Roman Empire ends the Eleusinian Mysteries after 2,000 years;
393, the Roman Empire ends the Olympic Games for Zeus, begun 776 BC, after that year's;
394, the Eastern Empire crushes classic Roman resistance to the Catholic Church on 6 September at the Battle of The Frigidus;
394, the Roman Empire disbands the Temple of Vesta, established by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome (715-673 BC) , and puts out its eternal flame;
395, Augustine becomes Bishop of Hippo;
410, the Visigoths under Alaric sacked Rome on 24 August;
420, Jerome died on 30 September;
430, Augustine died on 28 August at 75;
455, Rome was sacked again this time by the Vandals;
476, Romulus Augustus was deposed becoming the last Western Roman Emperor on 4 September by Germanic foederati (non-Roman allies) of Rome under Odoacer;
475 to 480, somewhere in there, Boethius was born.

The entire world these guys knew changed completely during these decades. Jerome himself said of it, that the city which had conquered the world had now itself been conquered. Augustine and Jerome lived at the end of the Western Roman Empire, which is also to say at the end of the full Roman Empire either divided into East and West or undivided, whereas Boethius was born right about the time the last Western Roman Emperor was deposed.

As the Western Roman Empire approached its end, at the same time as its state Catholic Church was busy destroying the institutions of the classic Roman religion, its theologians were busy incorporating and synthesising the state church's faith with classic Roman philosophy -- which religion and philosophy were derived from ancient Greece before them -- and the bishop of Rome increasingly became a symbol of stability that the emperor of Rome no longer was.

Holy crap, there's have been even more sacks of Rome without that. "Pope" Leo himself met with no less than Attila the Hun in 452 and averted a sacking by the Huns, due to the grace of God, or just maybe the one helluva lot of gold he brought along to buy them off, and then on 2 June 455 met with Genseric, King of the Vandals, to try to repeat his performance with Attila, which this time did not prevent a sacking but did hold its severity down somewhat with less physical destruction than the Goths did in 410.

But the Vandals, like the Goths Germanic types who were Arian Christians and who by then were operating out of North Africa, made off with so much loot and people to be sold as slaves that centuries later the religious and social order destruction following the French Revolution was described as "vandalisme" by the bishop of Blois Henri Gregoire in 1794, the year the Reign of Terror ended, and that quickly became a name for any notable destruction -- vandalism.

It is right here that the doctrine of "Petrine" supremacy becomes established. Petrine, what the hell is that. Nothing to do with St Peter, but with the popes, the bishops of Rome, who had come from being proclaimed by the Roman Empire as conservators of the true Apostolic faith in 380 to just 70-some years later meeting with leaders of powers about to kick Rome's ass. And which eventually did, but in the face of the oncoming destruction Leo asserted a religious authority complementary to his civil influence, with the bishop of Rome assuming the significance of the long-gone undivided emperor of Rome, the last emperor of an undivided Roman Empire being Diocletian, who retired (about the only one to do so without being killed into retirement) 1 May 305.

So from an edict issued during the reign of the last Roman Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Empire, Theodosius in 380, Leo just decades later harks back to the last Roman Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire. Just as "Rome" became more a concept as new imperial seats of power (Trier, Milan, etc) emerged, with in the words of Herodian "Rome is where the Emperor is" (OK that's an English translation of his Latin words), so now Rome asserts itself as the seat of power, and not just a concept, and that is where Peter, meaning his supposed successor the bishop of Rome, is and heads the whole Christian church, with the heads of local churches valid insofar as they are "in communion" with him.

None of which has the faintest justification in Scripture, but when the entire world about you is swirling down the tubes politically and culturally it looks pretty good, and when this pontifex maximus, now the Roman pope rather then the Roman emperor, is about all that's left it looks damn good. Unfortunately it still looks damn good to many looking for the Kingdom of God to have the same external signs of visibility and continuity as a Kingdom or State of Man.

About Boethius' Answer, or, So What Revisited?

Theodoric was interested in keeping the culture and institutions of the Roman Empire going, and appointed Boethius his Master of Offices (magister officiorum), the head of the government bureaucracy. Theodoric was educated in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Empire, and kind of worked out a deal where the defeated Romans could continue their thing under his rule while the Goths continued the Goth thing. As part of this, Theodoric, though an Arian, was pretty favourable toward the Pope, head of the Catholic Church, about the only major institution of the Roman Empire in the West to survive. Theodoric was effectively but unofficially the new Western Roman Emperor.

Boethius, a Roman, was a Trinitarian, or Nicene, Christian, which is to say Christian in the usual sense now, and eventually Theodoric, an Arian Christian, came to distrust him, thinking he might be more in sympathy with the effective AND official emperor of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, then Justin, also a Nicene Christian. So he ordered him tried and executed for treason. Thing is, while he is awaiting execution, he writes this book, one of the most influential books ever, and for some time THE most influential book in philosophy, as a consolation, but it's not the Consolation of Christianity but the Consolation of Philosophy. Well, De consolatione philosophiae, actually. Christianity is never mentioned or treated by name, but it sounds a lot like Christianity, and that's because since Augustine Christianity sounded a lot like Plato.

The basic idea of the Consolation is pure Platonism -- even if everything looks like it's going right straight to hell it ain't. Now you might say well hell, don't Christians believe that too? Well yes they do but with a different idea about why that is. For Christians it's not just a matter of an ideal world that is truly real beyond the mess we see, old Fortuna spinning her wheel, here in what appears to be real.

But Boethius, and this is typical of everything about him, blended Christianity and Roman/Greek philosophy to-gether, so that while Fortuna may indeed spin her wheel, apparently at random and pretty much indifferent to the results, nonetheless, distinct from Gus' take that therefore she is unworthy of worship, she is herself subject to God and her effects and any other such effects all bend to the unseen plan of God, so it's all good even when it looks like pure crap. So the Consolation is kind of like the Book of Esther, in which as the rabbis pointed out God is not mentioned yet he is everywhere present in it.

OK full disclosure, some read Boethius yet, including me. I like the dude. He was on a mission, and the mission was, to pass on the learning and wisdom of the Greek/Roman world falling apart to the new world emerging from it. In which he translated in the new language of learning, Latin, the great works of classic learning in Greek.

Hell, I wrote my damn doctoral dissertation on him, specifically his attempt to pass on the system for organising and teaching knowledge outlined in De arithmetica, which you may have heard of as the Seven Liberal Arts, and more specifically on his four-fold division of one of those arts, called musica but it means a hell of a lot more than we do by "music", what we mean by music being the lowest level of it and best left to the uneducated. Well hell, you didn't think the future Past Elder was gonna write another music theory dissertation in which some obscure piece or musical relationship is analysed into further obscurity while putting everyone who isn't into such things, which is nearly everyone, to bloody sleep, now did you? Hell no.

You can read a rather good summary about Boethius by "Pope" Benedict XVI, given at a general audience on 12 March 2008, here.

Boethius succeeded in his mission. His works would form the backbone of the learning system for centuries in the new world that emerged from the ancient. The Consolation was one of the bedrocks of education and formation for hundreds and hundreds of years to come. King Alfred of old England, Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth (not the current one the first one, Judas) all translated it, it's all over Dante and Chaucer's original works, Shakespeare too, and students read and studied The Consolation for a thousand years after.

About Time, or, Conclusion.

The Wheel of Fortune was, and endures as, an allegory. You can get all hung up in why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and whether there's anything to life but a bunch of stuff that happens and then you die, but what you gotta see is that the wheel keeps on turning. Big wheel keeps on turning, proud Mary keeps on burning, just like Tina Turner said. Things change, and you can't get all hung up on one point in the process. The mighty fall, the lowly rise. Riding high in April, shot down in May, like the Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon song written for Sinatra says. Hey, that song made it into the Tony Hawk video game Underground 2.

Stay in the process, not one point of it, and that applies equally to when things look good as to when things look bad. You can't put your trust in any one point, whether you like that point or not, in the process, because the process is gonna keep right on processing. There ain't no Fortuna, and the process itself ain't God either. And just like Boethius -- not to mention St Paul -- said, there is a God and while things aren't all good all things do work to-gether for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Fortune does favour the brave. And as Ovid tweaked it, God himself's gonna help ya. Except Ovid didn't know how. None of us (Mankind) do, did, or can, which is why the whole life thing bugs us so much and we come up with all sorts of answers to it. God himself helps you with finding out how too. He reveals it, first in the Law of Moses, then in the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ. The wheel stops there even if it keeps on turning in the world. Sooner or later the world is gonna stop too. But the good news is, you're free even when you remain here, Jesus paid your price on the cross, he gives you new life in him in Baptism, his Law and Gospel are proclaimed to you in preaching by the Office of Holy Ministry, and he gives you his body and blood in Holy Communion that he gave for you at Calvary as his sure pledge.

Besides, Vanna is way better looking than any representation I ever saw of Fortuna. It didn't occur to me while it was happening, but it's kind of a wild ride that a guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence says something that goes right into Boethius, the major force in the intellectual transition from the ancient world to the modern one, then as the postmodern one is emerging from that another guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence becomes a Philosophiae doctor writing about it for the postmodern world.

So take it from Terence, either one of us -- Fortuna fortes adjuvat. Yeah I know I wrote adiuvat above but since I'm saying it as I remember being taught it I'm writing it with the spelling more common to ecclesiastical Latin as I was taught to write and pronounce it. But more importantly, take it from God how that works out, as he revealed it to us in the Law and Gospel of Scripture.