Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Milwaukee Bucks and Life

The outcome of a sports contest, positive or negative, really has little impact on the life of the civilized and emotionally balanced man.  It’s not as though one’s life depended on it, after all.  Nevertheless, it can be fun sometimes to watch such things, and to let this be one small way in which one takes part in the culture of his city.  So obviously I’m a Bucks fan (that’s basketball, for those of you who are even less sports minded as I am).  Two days ago the Bucks had a game for the record books, for they lost in a rather spectacular way.  So it got me thinking, does the ugly loss the Milwaukee Bucks suffered have anything to teach us about life itself?  I think it does.  For if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it big, especially if that something has any value or worth, or if you hope to clarify whatever that value might be.  The Bucks didn’t just lose; they lost big.  In the end, the score was 120 – 66, the biggest loss in the history of Milwaukee Bucks basketball.  Admittedly, there have been other big losses in professional basketball.  Here are some of the more notable ones, which I found after doing a brief search online.  (Note that a couple of them were games where Milwaukee was the winner.)
  • 15 December 1985 - Milwaukee Bucks 140, Sacramento Kings 82
  • 29 December 1992 – Sacramento Kings 139, Dallas Mavericks 81
  • St. Joseph’s Day, 1977 – Golden State Warriors 150, Indiana Pacers 91
  • St. Stephen’s Day, 1978 – Milwaukee Bucks 143, Detroit Pistons 84
  • Christmas, 1960 – Syracuse Nationals 162, New York Knickerbockers 100
  • All Souls’ Day, 1991 – Golden State Warriors 153, Sacramento Kings 91
  • St. Joseph’s Day, 1972, Los Angeles Lakers 162, Golden State Warriors 99
  • Candlemas, 1998 – Indiana Pacers 124, Portland Trail Blazers 59
  • 17 December 1991 – Cleveland Cavaliers 148, Miami Heat 80

Indeed, Thursday's game wasn’t even the worst loss in playoff history.  That distinction goes to a game played on Saint Joseph’s Day, 1956, in which the Minneapolis Lakers beat the St. Louis Hawks by a score of 133 – 75.  I think the Bucks loss yesterday was second only to the St. Louis loss in 1956 in terms of playoff games.

But there can be no dispute that what the Bucks accomplished was a failure of historic proportions. And when one considers their record of the past couple years, including much of the second half of this season, it may not seem all that surprising.  Indeed, Chicago fans might also say that it is not surprising considering that the Bucks were playing the Bulls.  Personally, I buy neither of those arguments.  In this very playoff series, the Bucks showed that they can compete with, and beat, the Bulls.  One of their losses in this series came only after going into double overtime.  Then, they win in Milwaukee on a last second shot. Then, they win in Chicago rather handily.  The Bucks were not expected to advance far in the playoffs, or even win this series.  At the start of the season they were not even really expected to get into the playoffs.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that to lose in this way, where a team gets into such a hole and then spends the rest of the night just increasing the depth of the hole, cannot be explained by a difference in ability.  It can only be explained psychologically. 

We have all seen teams on a losing streak which included games they “should have” won, or batters going too long without a hit, or field goal kickers who seem to have lost their confidence. One gets into a losing situation, and then finds it hard to climb out of it.  It’s called defeatism.  And it’s easy to chalk it up to having “given up,” but I suggest that it is not quite that simple.  Experiencing the defeatist mentality, the mindset by which one really defeats himself, and learning to overcome it, these are valuable lessons for a young team with much potential.  But none of this is, in fact, about sports.  Nor is it even about “motivation” or vile notions of “success.”  It is merely to say that on the road one travels in life, while there are many obstacles and challenges on that path, often the biggest are those which are self-made, and internal.

Where would I be if I would have played the game that the seminary asked me to play?  I don’t know.  But although one could make the case that there was a certain injustice involved, ultimately, the failure to play the game was mine.  That’s my problem.  But it’s going on “ten years burning down the road.”  And I can’t refight any of that.  My calling is to walk the path which is before me.  Sometimes, indeed, in the midst of life’s journey, the path may seem more like a dark wood, in which the way has been lost.  And so, at least when we are wise, we keep with us the best companions we know, as Dante was able to bring with him (in life as well as in art) the wisdom of the ages as personified in the spirits of Virgil, St. Bernard, and Beatrice.  But the question must continually be asked whether an obstacle on the path, as monstrous as it may be, is external, or merely self-made.  If it is self-manufactured, then it should and can be destroyed just as surely as the sinful self can be conquered.  He, that is, the Old Adam or our sinful nature, cannot be tamed or transformed or converted, but must be drowned, killed, and destroyed, along with all the obstacles he conjures to beset one’s path. 

I do believe that of the Christian’s chief enemies (the devil, the world, and the flesh) the most underrated, and in a certain sense most dangerous, is the self.  One naturally wants to escape that which afflicts and torments him.  With David we confess:

“O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I flee away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I get me away far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would make haste to escape, because of the stormy wind and tempest.” (Ps 55)

Yet in our fleeing we still never really seem to escape. I am reminded of St. Jerome, who even after leaving the immoral culture of Rome and seeking to live ascetically in the desert, found to his chagrin that he was plagued perhaps more than ever by temptations of the flesh.  The problem is that the enemy David laments in the psalm we quote above is not merely the wickedness of the world.

“For I have spied unrighteousness and strife in the city. Day and night they go about within the walls thereof; mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it. Wickedness is therein; deceit and guile go not out of her streets.”

There is, in fact, something more insidious going on.

“For it is not an open enemy that hath done me this dishonour; for then I could have borne it. Neither was it mine adversary that did magnify himself against me; for then peradventure I would have hid myself from him. But it was even thou, my companion, my guide, and mine own familiar friend.”

The one most familiar, the one who is your constant companion, the one closest to you, this one can be your worst and most treacherous enemy.  And for the Christian, we know that this is exactly what the Old Adam in us is.  What is closer than one’s own fallen (deathly) flesh?  And who, therefore, shall save me from the body of this death?  I for one thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  For by the paschal mystery the incarnate God has become even closer to me than my own flesh.  For I have been plunged into the paschal mystery of His death, and therefore also raised up with Him into the new life of His resurrection. 

But let us note well that new life in Christ means more than that heaven will be my home after this life is complete.  It means that I have the ability to trample Satan under my feet right here and now. Of course it is really Christ Himself who accomplishes this (Romans 16), for His conquering of Satan in His death (foretold already in Genesis 3) is a conquering that extends into my own life, and gives this little life great significance.  So I now have the ability, in Christ, to curse and destroy the most essential and dire enemies which come before me, and say of them, as David does: 

“Let death come hastily upon them, and let them go down quick into hell; for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.”

Or as we declare with David in another psalm (118):

“They kept me in on every side, they kept me in, I say, on every side: But in the Name of the Lord will I destroy them. They came about me like bees, and are extinct even as the fire among the thorns: For in the Name of the Lord I will destroy them.”

Believe it or not, dear reader, there are all too many Christians today who are embarrassed and scandalized by the fighting words in the psalms, like these.  How sorry I am for them!  For the enemies are real, and we are completely and perfectly fitted in Christ to take them on.  What matters in this conflict, in fact, is life and death, and as the Christian confesses in the midst of his afflictions with this same psalm, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” That death defying victory includes victory over the phantoms of our own making.  The same obstacles we raise, we can raze.  They include the defeatist mindset. They include the power we grant to our past. They include the low opinion we give to the dignity of our own personhood. 

So while none of this is to say that success or wealth or secular prosperity are to be expected, it is to say that the devils which haunt us, as frightening as they are, do not get the final say, or the final victory, and in fact many of them will rather handily be blown away even in the here and now by the breath of God, as we exercise our right to invoke the live-giving Spirit, Whom Christ breaths upon His people from the cross. And that’s what the final Bucks game means to me.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Paschal Vigil Mass in the Traditional Latin Form

No LCMS Vigil Mass around here tonight (ours at Luther Memorial is tomorrow morning), so I took the opportunity to hear and experience (a good portion of) the Paschal Vigil in Latin at St. Stanislaus, a church which is under the pastoral care of priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.  (The Institute of Christ the King is a society within the RCC that is devoted to the traditional use in their Rite.)  The Latin Mass is hardly favored in the modern RC Church.   There is no aping after things Romanist in telling you what I loved about what I witnessed tonight.  For those things could rightly happen among more Lutherans as well.

Here are some of the things I witnessed.

Thinking I was too early, and wondering if the doors were even open yet, upon entering I saw several people already in their pews, on their knees in prayer.

I heard no talking, no chit chatting, no greetings, no laughter, no joking.  The quiet prayer and worship happening in the church before the liturgy began was deafening in its stunning confession of what the people there believe to be the purpose of that space.

I saw whole families, including the very young, enter in silence, all dressed respectfully and modestly, each one genuflecting before entering the pew.  That includes boys who looked like they were no more than about a year old.  They probably see their father do the same every Sunday at Mass, and want to imitate him, and perhaps have also been actively trained by Mom or Dad.

I saw dozens of women's heads covered, same for the little girls.

I heard the triple Lumen Christi, and the Latin Exsultet, beautifully chanted as it should be, by a deacon.

And I saw a wonderful crew of male acolytes, some quite young, very well trained, and all reverently doing their part.

I also heard some beautiful Latin.

I didn't stay very long after the exsultet, since I had to get back home to work on the Latif's Death By Chocolate Cake for tomorrow's dinner.  But, even though this was hardly my first time at a Latin Mass, I walked out so awed by the experience that I forgot to leave the little hand-held candle there.  St. Stan's (as it is routinely called in Milwaukee) is a diverse urban parish that takes pride in its church and takes its liturgical tradition seriously.  And I am grateful for the witness given by these things tonight.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

a bad resolution

Ministerial and sacramental fraud, by which I mean the public teaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments on the part of those not called to do so, is a great cause for concern in today's church.  If there were only one known case of it, it would be a scandal, and would merit immediate action on the part of the greater church.  The fact is, however, that it has slithered its way into the bloodstream of modern American Missouri Synod Lutheranism. It is rampant. Everyone knows it. Opinions merely differ on the degree to which it is a bad thing, and what to do about it.

I applaud those who are striving to combat the problem.  However, not every effort to that end is worthy of the Church.  One effort I would highlight is a resolution which the Northern Illinois District of the LC-MS passed a few weeks ago.

The text of the resolution can be found here, and reads as follows:

The 58th Convention of The Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod 40 March 6-7, 2015
Resolution 2-12B To Address Licensed Lay Administration of Word and Sacrament

WHEREAS Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession says, “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the church or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly orderedcall” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord);” and
WHEREAS in 1989 our Synod at Wichita adopted Resolution 3-05B, regularizing under particular circumstances that the following be done by men who do not hold the Office of the Public Ministry: composing and delivering sermons, leading public worship services, and administering Holy Baptism and Holy Communion (1989 Convention Proceedings, 111- 2 113); and
WHEREAS there has been tension over this issue for the past 25 years; and
WHEREAS in 2007 the Synod established the “Specific Ministry Pastor Program” in which men are trained, examined, certified, called, and ordained in order to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (Res. 5-01B, 2007 Convention Proceedings, 133 ff.); and
WHEREAS this program was designed to meet the objective, among others, of providing pastoral ministry where full-time ministry cannot be maintained and does so without conflicting  with Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Northern Illinois District respectfully request the Synod to discontinue the new licensing of laymen to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (1989 Res. 3- 16 05B); and be it further
RESOLVED that those who are currently licensed be encouraged to enroll in the regular or SMP track leading to ordination; and be it further
RESOLVED that those who are currently licensed but not enrolled in the regular (i.e., residential seminary) or SMP track discontinue publically preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments within three years of the adoption of this resolution by the Synod in convention; and be it further
RESOLVED that an extension of the above deadline for those currently licensed can be granted by the appropriate District President in extreme circumstance, and that upon consultation with and the agreement of the President of the Synod; and be it finally
RESOLVED that the Northern Illinois District in convention submit this resolution as an overture to the Synod for consideration at the 2016 convention of Synod.
The following part is good, worthy, and right:

 "RESOLVED that the Northern Illinois District respectfully request the Synod to discontinue the new licensing of laymen to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments (1989 Res. 3- 16 05B)"

However, it is immediately followed by this:

 "and be it further
RESOLVED that those who are currently licensed be encouraged to enroll in the regular or SMP track leading to ordination"

This second "resolved" statement would have the church approve and reward violators of our Confession by welcoming them into seminary, and eventually granting them holy ordination.

Next, we have this:

"and be it further
RESOLVED that those who are currently licensed but not enrolled in the regular (i.e., residential seminary) or SMP track discontinue publically preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments within three years of the adoption of this resolution by the Synod in convention"

This officially permits, allows, and by implication endorses these men continuing in their improper activity for three additional years. Not merely three years from now, but three years from the resolution's adoption by the Synod convention.

Next we have this:

"and be it further
RESOLVED that an extension of the above deadline for those currently licensed can be granted by the appropriate District President in extreme circumstance, and that upon consultation with and the agreement of the President of the Synod"

This one grants a bureaucratic loophole to the above three year deadline. Are there "extreme circumstances" which make lay administration of the Eucharist acceptable?  How about lay preaching?  Do we glean that from the Augustana or the Book of Concord?

Such efforts might or might not be politically and bureaucratically wise.  This resolution, however, does not square with a church that takes seriously its Confession (eg., CA XIV), and cannot be defended on Confessional grounds. It should not have passed.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Franz Ferdinand of Austria, RIP

I wasn't online yesterday, & hence didn't comment on the importance of the 28th of June for the history of the First World War.  It was the day, of course, on which, in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered, setting in motion the events which tragically led the world, a month later, into the great and awful war of 1914-1918. This year being the centennial of the start of that war, I encourage any and all to take time to study the First World War anew.  Regarding the Archduke, I am fascinated by his life and his place in Austro-Hungarian history, but also by his insistence on marrying the woman with whom he was in love, despite the fact that, by royal custom, since Sophie was not a member of one of the reigning families, they had to endure the humiliating social consequences of a morganatic marriage. Their marriage was loving, and produced four children, Sophie, Ernst, Maximilian, and a stillborn. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

house blessing

Our home, which we share with one of our bright young undergrad nephews, was blessed tonight by our pastor, Reverend Kenneth Wieting, who brought his lovely wife, Barbara.  Also in attendance was our niece Rachel, and our nephew David.

We thank God for His blessing upon this household and this dwelling, and we thank Dr. Wieting for pastorally caring for us in this special way.

An important aspect of the evening, I hasten to add, was the bacon cheddar puffs and the chocolate chip bars, which Ruth made.  Also on hand were some Lakefront Brewery products, and a tasty pinot noir.

Here are some pictures from the post-blessing conversation.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Catholic Faith Confessed in the Athanasian Creed

We are in the broad season of the liturgical year in which the Athanasian Creed has a home in our life of prayer.  And so I would take a moment and share one preliminary thought.  Namely, as clever as the famous Latin diagram of the connection of the persons of the Trinity may be, I would urge that it is deeply problematic to say or imply, by words or example, that this diagram is the catholic faith.  The Quicumque Vult would remind us, rather, that the catholic faith is identified with our worship of the Triune God, and faithfulness to the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Milwaukee Notebook

Recently my wife informed me that our friend and fellow parishioner, Carl Swanson, has started a blog with Milwaukee as its main theme.  I thought, could this really be, a well written blog which focuses on the uniqueness of our great city?  No. It can't be.  Surely it's too good to be true.  It turns out she wasn't joking.  So I'm happy to recommend Carl Swanson's Milwaukee Notebook.

Here is Carl's profile:

And here is his blog:

You will also now see it linked in the blog list on the right side of this blog.

Thanks, Carl, for putting the effort into this endeavor, and I look forward to much more of it.

complicating matters of worship

Those in the Church who think the liturgy is theirs to manipulate or tweak, who think the liturgy is their personal (or parish or bureaucratic) possession with which to tinker, have come to surround their position with notions now treated as axiomatic.  We can pass over the irony that a movement which sees its ideas as axiomatic also tends to be seen as courageous and brave.  More important is the fact that the very foundations of an idea are in question when its advocates treat them as beyond question.  I am here to challenge just such axioms.

For example, liturgical traditionalists are often thought (even by some liturgical traditionalists) to be advocating a complicated liturgical practice, while, conversely, the liturgical innovators are often thought to be advocates of simplifying the liturgy.  This becomes the template, the assumption, upon which all participants in the conversation agree, forcing the one side to come up with arguments for their complications and enabling the other side to assert that theirs is the side that is truly caring, pastoral, and user friendly.  Yet at its core there is something misleading about this line of thought.  Sure, a liturgical style freed from detailed rubrics may in one sense be described as simplified, but this dichotomy is well worth a deeper look.

Consider something as small as the salutation, "The Lord be with you."  The traditional response to this in Latin is always and everywhere "Et cum spiritu tuo," the traditional rendition of which in classic English is always "And with thy spirit."  Such language is at once precise and poetic, familiar and dignified, rich and simple.  And in that classic simplicity it is deeply memorable.  It becomes part of the comforting ritual of our common life together, a life which unites the family of baptized brethren in the worship of Christ our Immanuel, a family in all its intellectual, physical, emotional, cultural, linguistic, and generational diversity, a family which includes those who lack sight to see the printed page, those too young to know how to read, those who never learned, those without the mental capacity to follow along with frequent changes in liturgical settings, those with short attention spans, those whose hearing is waning, and whose liturgical response might be set on a sort of auto pilot set decades earlier, and those from sister parishes in other states, and other continents. 

By contrast, the situation which often prevails today is one in which there is no certainty about what one's response should be until he has had the chance to study which of the five masses in LSB will be used that day.  If it happens that Divine Service 1, 2, or 4 is being used, then he must know to say "And also with you."  If he is supposed to be turned to Divine Service 3, then he should say, "And with thy spirit."  If his church is using Divine Service 5, he is directed by the book to say, "And also with you" (despite the fact that this mass is often described as being based on Luther's German Mass, wherein the phrase "and also with you" will not be found in any language).  At Vespers, before the collect the response is not "and with thy spirit," as it is in Divine Service 3, but rather "and with your spirit," thus throwing everyone off.  In the Funeral Service, a rite which often brings together generations of family and friends, many of whom have fond memories of the liturgy of their youth, they are now called upon to say "and also with you."  Finally, with all of this diversity of forms in the book, what is a congregation to say when, outside of a printed service, the pastor opens a bible study or some other such meeting with the words, "The Lord be with you"?  Unfortunately, the result in our age will often be a slightly confused combination of responses. 

Which way is simpler and which has complicated matters, the traditional consistency of form or the modern service book's diversity of form?  It's really the people's fault, for they ought not be going into worship with expectations.  They should learn that those who have put such hard work into all of this material have done so out of love and care for them.  They should meet these planners halfway.  Seriously, though, sometimes the consistency is broken down even further.  I attended a Holy Week liturgy recently where two different responses were used within the same liturgy.  Consistency from place to place may be long gone, but now so is consistency within a parish, and even within the same hour of worship, necessitating the constant reading of the printed material in our hands, and thus stultifying our sense of worship.

Consider just one more small element of our liturgical life, the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.).  This is not a mere extra word of doxology we tack onto our psalms and introits, a little something we do for the sake of liturgical flourish.  In other words, it is not a mere formality.  It is, rather, a beautiful and immensely rich prayer.  And once it becomes part of the very heart of a man, once it is woven into the very fiber of his life of prayer, then, as with all of the greatest prayers, it may begin to elevate him to contemplation and true prayer.  Saint Francis said, "Study well the Gloria Patri.  In it you will find the whole substance of the Scriptures."  But the first step toward such prayer and contemplation is knowing the text by heart, just as before we can begin to appreciate how the Small Catechism can serve as a rich form of prayer, Luther would first have us settle on a form of it, and learn it.  Learn it to the degree that it soaks into the heart, mind, and soul.  Then one is properly fit to begin learning to use such forms as the vehicle for what Luther in his open letter on prayer calls true prayer

But what is the situation today with our use of the Gloria Patri?  In Divine Service 1 and 2, the following form is used at the Nunc Dimitis after Communion, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen."  The same will be used for introits.  In Divine Service 4 the Gloria Patri is not to be found at all, unless a church chooses to opt for the introit or psalm instead of a hymn before the Kyrie.  The hymnic paraphrase of the Gloria Patri found on page 211 of that service is not the Gloria Patri, but, as I say, a paraphrase.  A church could quite conceivably use Divine Service 4 and never have the Gloria Patri.  If a church uses Divine Service 5, the Gloria Patri might be heard once if the planners of the liturgy there opt for an introit, possibly twice if they opt for a psalm instead of a gradual (is the Gloria Patri used where a psalm replaces a gradual?), and quite conceivably not at all.  For the sake of throwing a bone to the traditional element, the makers of the LSB included a rendition of the Common Service, Divine Service 3.  And so one might expect to hear the classic wording, "Glory be the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."  Don't be so quick with your expectations, though, dear reader.  Yes, the classic form is found at the Nunc Dimitis.  But how about the introit?  There it gets a bit tricky.  The book tells the reader (you see that we are now first and foremost readers in church, rather than worshipers) that the classic form of the Gloria Patri may be used.  And what happens if they use the introit as it is printed in the normal LCMS material?  They get the modern version.  So the traditional service in LSB affords occasion for the most inconsistency of all.  That's hardly a bone that satisfies traditional notions of consistency of form.

Many more aspects of the liturgy could be discussed in their relation to the question at hand.  But the two we have explored here, the response to the salutation and the Gloria Patri, suffice to show just how deceiving some of our accepted notions can be.  The way toward a worship life that is spiritually edifying in its essential simplicity is the way of consistency.  That way is blocked by the current accepted worship forms.

Monday, December 30, 2013

An Extra-Mild Post

For a good while now, I suppose at least six months, I've been away from not only this blog, but also Facebook, and even personal email.  It is not that I decided to cut down or draw back from Internet usage, though I respect those who have made such decisions.  On the whole, Americans have become too disconnected from the real world.  This, however, was not a decision of that sort.  The reason I have been away is simpler and less philosophical, though it will be hard for some to understand.  Namely, I have been kept from it by lack of time & energy.  Beginning, I suppose, around the start of the summer busy season at the brewery this year, my days have been dedicated to long hours at work, which is not to complain about my work, just to share with you what's been going on with me, ie., not much besides shipping and invoicing beer.

I'm trying, finally, to get back to interaction with my friends on the Internet and my activity here, etc., which is helped by the fact that my boss convinced me to take some vacation time.  It feels weird to be away from my job.  Suddenly, about half of Springsteen's oeuvre doesn't apply to me.  You know, all those songs about a guy who's been working all week, or who's late for work, or who's getting off work, etc.  The first few days of my vacation were consumed with Christmas activities and so forth.  Now, I seem to have come down with a cold-almost of a type bad enough that I would not want to be at work if I were not on vacation.  So I suppose it's a good thing I'm on vacation.  So, while I'm in no condition for social interaction, these next few days of my vacation should enable me to spend some overdue time in my study, getting some good reading, maybe a bit of writing, and hopefully even making an appearance on Facebook.  I was actually thinking of getting back onto Facebook first, then posting something here, but I couldn't think of my password, so I created a new one, and updated some other information, and as a consequence, Facebook is requiring me to wait 24 hrs to log in. 

So for now, I'll let this serve as my notice that I am back online, and my request that you forgive any failure to respond to anyone in any Internet format: Facebook, blog comment, email, whatever.  I was not consciously ignoring you.  Rather, I was literally ignorant of all activity in this realm, and so was not here to respond, let alone correspond.  It's certainly not that I didn't have anything to say.  Perhaps I'll finally get back to sharing some of those things here.

And now, I wish to give you a little treat on this the Sixth Day of Christmas.  And I dedicate it in particular to my sister, Fatime.  (Please note that Fatime's name is spelled in the Albanian manner, but is pronounced the same as in the following Youtube video.)  On Sunday mornings, as I drive out to the edge of town to pick up my nephew for Mass, sometimes I say a psalm to myself, other times I have a CD playing, sometimes I have NPR on the radio (WUWM 89.7 FM), sometimes I listen to the Catholics (Relevant Radio 100.1 FM), sometimes I check Radio Milwaukee (88.9 FM), and sometimes I turn the dial to WMSE (91.7 FM).  One of the things you will hear on MSE on Sunday morning is Frontier Radio Theatre, which plays old radio shows, and once in a while the show played in that time slot is an episode of the old Dragnet radio show.  Yes, you guessed it, when WMSE broadcasts the old Dragnet shows, the listener also gets to hear the commercials that were made for that show back in the day (circa 1951).  I confess that I find these commercial ads most amusing (so does my nephew), for they cannot help remind us of the Fatime that he and I both know (my sister and my nephew's mother).  


Sunday, April 7, 2013

thoughts of Luther at mid-career

Ruth pointed out to me that my blog has accumulated some spam comments, so I took a few minutes to clean that up.  Now that I'm here and have a minute, perhaps it would be good to offer a thought or two.  After all, if I merely subtracted the spam comments and didn't add something, then I would only be doing something negative, and we wouldn't want that.  I am, if nothing else, a positive Lutheran.  Where have I been lately?  Working.  Which is cool, considering that there was a while there, in 2011, when I was out of work.  And indeed, there was a couple years, from, say, '08 to '11, where I was moving from one abusive and/or otherwise soul-crushing job to another.  So I am quite blessed with my current work situation.  But it makes for long days.  A goal for the next few months will be to try to regain some space in the week for blogging, etc.  Badly mistaken you would be if you were to conclude that the slowness of posting here is due to sparsity of things on which to write.  In the coming weeks I might just get to some of them.  For now, a note on Luther at mid-career.

Today at Luther Memorial Chapel, in the Bible study after Mass, we began what will probably be several weeks on the Johannine epistles.  This is a massively significant part of Holy Writ, and I look forward to the discussion that will surely develop out of it.  Because I am strange, when the topic was announced after Mass, it reminded me of Luther's 1527 lectures on 1 John, and Luther's life-situation at the time, and for a moment, while walking down the stairs to get in line for coffee, I became unstuck in time, and went to Wittenberg, 1527. 

Why did Luther choose to lecture on First John that year?  I believe it was in large part because of what was happening in his life.  Despite it being the ten year anniversary of the "crushing of the indulgences," it was otherwise a hard year for Doctor Luther personally, and for the church around him.  1527 proved in many ways to be a year of crisis, and for Luther himself we might even say it made for a real mid-life crisis.  First, consider his productivity.  In that year he preached on average a bit more than once per week, wrote over a dozen tracts or treatises, wrote on average two letters per week, was engaged in his ongoing work on the German Old Testament, this besides his lectures and his ongoing battle with Zwingli over the truth of Christ's presence in the Holy Eucharist.  Second, consider his standing in the greater world.  He was still an enemy of both Rome and the Empire.  Third, consider that he became a husband two years earlier.  He cared deeply for his wife and children; at this time Kate was pregnant with her second child. 

We must now add into that mix his troubled health.  Luther suffered severe headaches, dizziness, bouts with the kidney stone, a buzzing in his ears which caused him great pain, and severe chest pain, which brought him to what he and everyone else feared was his deathbed.  He had Bugenhagen hear what he thought might be his final confession, and even expressed concern for the physical and spiritual care of his wife and children. 

If all this were not enough, the plague came to Wittenberg that year.  Luther firmly believed and taught that men of public responsibility ought not flee the plague, so while the university was temporarily moved to Jena, Luther, with a few others (notably Bugenhagen and Georg Rorer), stayed in Wittenberg, where the former friary, now the de facto Luther home, became a veritable hospital.  Many people close to Luther, and close to his heart, fell victim to the plague or other physical afflictions not made any easier by the presence of the plague. Rorer's wife Hanna died after giving birth to a stillborn child.  Here I must interject that while Luther is widely known as a man of great passion in his writings, many do not appreciate that he was also a man of great compassion, which is to say that he empathized, or suffered with those around him.  When Rorer's wife died, Luther mourned as though it were his own wife that died.  In the midst of all of this, they worried for Luther's son, John, who was teething, and indeed, for Katherine, who was with child.  To this we can now add Luther's bouts with depression, and his spiritual anfechtung

What does a man of God do in times like this?  He prays, even more than when times are good.  And he is there for the people.  That is, he clings to the Word, for his own sake, and for the sake of his hearers, and the church at large.  That Word includes the comforting texts of the letters of Saint John, who in the midst of his own persecution, by both false brethren and the empire of his day, steadfastly remained attached to the worship of Christ, our Immanuel, the One Who walks among the seven lampstands, and makes His presence, His very real and fleshly presence, among us.  He walks with us even in the fiery furnace of the worst moments of this life, when the world, the flesh, and maybe even synod refuse to walk with us.  The Gnostic temptation, in the first century, as in the sixteenth or the twenty first, is to conclude that the world is essentially evil and also that it is unfitting for God to join Himself to actual flesh, and thus to join us to His divinity.  Luther knew that in Christ we have a Brother Who has joined Himself to our flesh, and also to our suffering.  In fact, no one has suffered what He suffered.  By the end of 1527, Luther may have already written, or begun to write, his great hymn paraphrase of Psalm 46.  Even when the devil and the world do their best to weaken us, we can stand firm in the confession of what John in his letters calls "the truth," which I take in part to mean Christ Himself, the Man Who lives, and Who fights for us.  Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth. 

(I am reminded that Philipp Nicolai, another great Lutheran churchman and hymn writer, also served in the midst of great suffering, as his parishioners in Westphalia in the late sixteenth century died by the hundreds from the plague; and he too fortified and comforted his people in part with hymns, such as "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying".  But I digress.)

So I look forward to this study of the letters of Saint John, the beloved disciple, who has so much to teach us today about the love of God in the midst of the false love of the world.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Luther on modes of presence

In the first place, an object is circumscriptively or locally in a place, ie. in a circumscribed manner, if the space and the object occupying it exactly correspond and fit into the same measurements, such as wine or water in a cask, where the wine occupies no more space and the cask yields no more space than the volume of the wine.
In the second place, an object is in a place definitively, ie. in an uncircumscribed manner, if the object or body is not palpably in one place and is not measurable according to the dimensions of the place where it is, but can occupy either more room or less.  Thus it is said that angels and spirits are in certain places.  For an angel or devil can be present in an entire house or city; again, he can be in a room, a chest or a box, indeed, in a nutshell.  The space is really material and circumscribed, and has its own dimensions of length, breadth, and depth; but that which occupies it has not the same length, breadth, or depth as the space which it occupies, indeed, it has no length or breadth at all.  Thus we read in the gospel that the devil possesses men and enters them, and they also enter into swine.  This I call an uncircumscribed presence in a given place, since we cannot circumscribe or measure it as we measure a body, and yet it is obviously present in the place.
This was the mode in which the body of Christ was present when he came out of the closed grave, and came to the disciples through a closed door, as the gospels show.  There was no measuring or defining of the space his head or foot occupied when he passed through the stone, yet he certainly had to pass through it.  He took up no space, and the stone yielded him no space, but the stone remained stone, as entire and firm as before, and his body remained as large and thick as it was before.  But he also was able, when he wished, to let himself be seen circumscribed in given places where he occupied space and his size could be measured.  Just so, Christ can be and is in the bread, even though he can show himself in circumscribed and visible form wherever he wills.  For as the sealed stone and the closed door remained unaltered and unchanged, though his body at the same time was in the space entirely occupied by stone and wood, so he is also at the same time in the sacrament and where the bread and wine are, though the bread and wine in themselves remain unaltered and unchanged.
In the third place, an object occupies places repletively, ie. supernaturally, if it is simultaneously present in all places whole and entire, and fills all places, yet without being measured or circumscribed by any place, in terms of the space which it occupies.  This mode of existence belongs to God alone, as he says in the prophet Jeremiah, "I am a God at hand and not afar off.  I fill heaven and earth."  This mode is altogether incomprehensible, beyond our reason, and can be maintained only with faith, in the Word.
All this I have related in order to show that there are more modes whereby an object may exist in a place than the one circumscribed, physical mode on which the fanatics insist.  Moreover, Scripture irresistibly forces us to believe that Christ's body does not have to be present in a given place circumscriptively or corporeally, occupying and filling space in proportion to its size.  For it was in the stone at the grave, but not in that circumscribed mode; similarly in the closed door, as they cannot deny.  If it could be present there without space and place proportionate to its size, my friend, why can't it also be in the bread without space and room proportionate to its size?  But if it can be present in this uncircumscribed manner, it is beyond the realm of material creatures and is not grasped or measured in their terms.  Who can know how this takes place? 
Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, 1528

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I Kneel During Holy Communion

The following is a reflection I posted at this blog in 2011.  The topic is ever-relevant, and some may benefit from considering my take on the question.  So I post it anew.

Whether at my own home congregation, or really any other church I might visit, I would not be surprised if some people see that strange guy in the next pew and wonder at his unusual practice. They might even ask themselves questions like these, Why is he kneeling on the floor? or, Is he Catholic? or, Does he think he is more pious than everyone else? or, Is he trying to draw attention to himself? or maybe, Is he worshipping bread? These are good questions, and so I'd like to address the general concern behind them by reflecting briefly on exactly why it is that I kneel in church.

According to Lutheran doctrine, doctrine that is rock solid and stands firm against all opposition because it derives from the Word of Christ Himself, the bread of the Lord's Supper is the very Body of Christ, and the wine of the Supper is the very Blood of Christ. To be clear, when I say "of the Lord's Supper," what I mean is the valid celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, not the documented cases of liturgical fraud perpetrated by so-called deacons and so-called vicars who think it is their place to play pastor. Let me also clarify that the reason Lutherans traditionally add the word "very" to such a statement is to signify that when we say "body" we actually mean Christ's own real body, His true flesh and blood. This doctrine cannot be emphasized enough in today's religious milieu, wherein Protestants, Roman Catholics, and even many Lutherans fail to appreciate what it is that Lutheran theology holds regarding the presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist.

When, for example, Lutheran theology speaks of the consecrated bread as bread, neither is it a denial of the presence of Christ's holy Body in the Sacrament nor does it imply a so-called consubstantiation. It is, rather, an insistence on taking every part of the Words of Christ's Testament seriously, and an understanding that there is no need to infer an annihilation of the physical elements that were placed upon the altar. I do fear, however, that too many Lutherans have been cheated out of being trained properly, by catechesis as well as by liturgical example, in the wonderful, awesome, and comforting reality of the presence of Christ's very body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and so in many cases are actually harmed by hearing the Lutheran teachers in their life who tend only to speak of the consecrated bread, to the exclusion of it being the real Body of Christ in our midst.

Consider for a moment the genius of Luther's Little Catechism on the what of the Eucharist:
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.
Every part of that statement is important and meaningful, yet the very core statement by which it begins, before all the commas, is true in and of itself. It is true that the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament are sub pane et vino (as it says in the Catechism), yet if one cannot bring himself simply to say of what is in the hand of the celebrant, after the Words of Consecration have been spoken, that it is the very Body of Christ, then he has yet to appreciate the eucharistic realism of Lutheran doctrine. That is, he has yet to appreciate the reality of what is going on in his midst. Nor does Luther in this brief definition feel the need to resort to any of the handy formulae to which we have become so accustomed, like the ubiquitous prepositionally plentiful formula in, with, and under, though some feel it to be sine qua non to the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament.

In fact, while I don't absolutely condemn them, it is worth noting here that conceptions such as the spatial prepositions in, with, and under are understood by Luther (eg., the Great Confession of 1528) and the Lutheran Confessions (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration VII) to be inferior to the plain identification language of Christ's own testament. Consider, eg., this riff in the Great Confession:

Even if nothing but bread and wine were present in the Supper, and yet I tried, simply for my own satisfaction, to express the thought that Christ's body is in the bread, I still could not say anything in a more certain, simpler, and clearer way than, "Take, eat, this is my body." For if the text read, "Take, eat, in the bread is my body," or, "With the bread is my body," or "Under the bread is my body," it would immediately begin to rain, hail, and snow a storm of fanatics crying, "You see! do you hear that? Christ does not say, 'This bread is my body,' but, 'In the bread, or with the bread, or under the bread is my body!'" And they would cry, "Oh, how gladly we would believe if he had said, 'This is my body;' this would have been distinct and clear. But he actually says, 'In the bread, with the bread, under the bread, so it does not follow that his body is present." Thus a thousand evasions and glosses would have been devised over the words "in, with, and under," no doubt with greater plausibility and less chance of stopping it than now. (306)

Luther would have us recognize with the eyes of faith, first of all, the radical and wonderful reality that in the Blessed Sacrament the real Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present. His Body and Blood are present not merely when we have engaged in all of the requisite action of the sacrament, but by His Word spoken by His called and ordained Minister over the bread and wine in the eucharistic celebration. The Words which bring about that which they declare are Christ's. The priest and celebrant of the Sacrament is Christ. So no, it is not the celebrant's act of speaking the words that makes the Sacrament, nor his faith, nor our faith, but Christ's own testament and Word, which He declares in our midst through the mouth of His servant, and by that Word and testament (made effective like all testaments must be, ie., by the death of the one who gave it), His real flesh and blood are present, right there on the altar.

Now before proceeding, let me emphasize that the stark terms by which I describe the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament are intentional and chosen with due consideration. But does this not mean that the Lutherans believe in a sort of cannibalism? No. For that notion implies a mode of Christ's presence by which He is present in a circumscribed manner, and is gradually eaten up, part after part (as though one person takes this part of Christ's arm, and the next takes His little finger, etc.). Yet we have always taught, with Thomas Aquinas and all of churchly tradition, that Christ's holy Body is given out, in each particle, to the first as to the millionth. He gives His all to each one. While He is consumed by the communicant, yet His presence, like the burning bush of old, is never consumed. As Luther said to Zwingli at Marburg in 1529, "God is above all mathematics." Or as we confess in the great seventeenth century hymn by Johann Franck:
Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ's Body e'er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth
And yet we need not shy away from realistic terminology in order to protect ourselves from the accusations of a capernaitic or cannibalistic eating. These charges are baseless, and we need not buy into their premise. So Luther, for example, in his Great Confession of 1528, is bold to assert that the communicant tears Christ's Body with teeth and tongue:
Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body,” and whoever sees the bread sees Christ’s body, as John says that he saw the Holy Spirit when he saw the dove, as we have heard. Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.
Luther did not invent this realism; we see great precedent for it. First, of course, I would argue that we have Christ's own preaching, given to us by the beloved disciple, in his sixth chapter, where Jesus is bold to use an earthy, realistic verb like trogein, which gives the picture of chewing and masticating. I bring this up, knowing that John six, and its place in a theology of the eucharist, is much controverted among Lutherans, and will be dismissed out of hand by many. We also have a long tradition of theological and devotional testimony, stretching from the early church through the medieval age. Take, for example, Berengar's often forgotten first confession of 1059, which speaks of the body of Christ being chewed by the teeth of the faithful. Or take these words of St. John Chrysostom from the fourth century:

Wherefore this also Christ hath done, to lead us to a closer friendship, and to show his love for us; he hath given to those who desire him not only to see him, but even to touch, and eat him, and fix their teeth in his flesh, and to embrace him, and satisfy all their love. (quoted in Alvin F. Kimel's article, "Eating Christ", Pro Ecclesia Vol. XIII, no.1)

Or take this prayer to the eucharistic Lord, ie, the Sacred Species after the consecration:

Hail forever, most holy flesh of Christ, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness! Hail forever, heavenly drink, before all else and above all else the highest sweetness! (a medieval prayer, from the Sarum Missal, quoted in Kimel's article as above)

And despite how some mistakenly use a passage in the Formula of Concord as a statement against the stark realism of Luther's Great Confession as being dangerously capernaitic, we must make clear that the Formula of Concord actually perpetuates this realism by its full endorsement of the Great Confession:
Now, as regards the various imaginary reasons and futile counter-arguments of the Sacramentarians concerning the essential and natural attributes of a human body, concerning the ascension of Christ, concerning His departure from this world, and such like, inasmuch as these have one and all been refuted thoroughly and in detail, from God's Word, by Dr. Luther in his controversial writings: Against the Heavenly Prophets, That These Words "This Is My Body" Still Stand Firm, likewise in his Large and Small Confession Concerning the Holy Supper, and in other of his writings, and inasmuch as since his death nothing new has been advanced by the factious spirits, we would for the sake of brevity have the Christian reader directed to them and have referred to them. etc.
Many Lutherans, unfortunately, give in to the notion that Luther was guilty of a crass capernaitic understanding, and so they come up with ways to soften his eucharistic realism, claiming, for example, that we may speak of Christ's body in the Sacrament but not His flesh, or that it is in no way accurate to speak of Christ being physically present, but rather that He is substantially present. While a term like physical can be misleading, if it is not qualified by pointing out that Christ's presence in the Supper is not of the same local, or circumscribed mode as is my body in this room right now, nevertheless, using such a term as physical not only cannot be ruled out per se, but can actually be helpful, especially over against the protestant gnostic worldview that is all around us today. Further, while one can certainly argue that the term substance is accurate and even preferable, if properly understood, it too can be misleading, for it can actually lead to a softening of the reality of Christ's presence in the minds of our people.

As Dr. John Stephenson puts it in his article, "Reflections on the Appropriate Vessels for Consecrating and Distributing the Precious Blood of Christ" (LOGIA, January 1995),

Luther's consistent testimony that not the mere idea or substance of Christ's body but rather the "true, natural Body" itself is present in the Eucharist prompts one to deem it appropriate to label the real presence a "physical" presence, while making the qualification that the body naturally present is present in the definitive and not in the circumscriptive mode.
I find it unfortunate that popular LC-MS publications give in to just the sort of softened language which sets up, intentionally or not, a distancing from the realism of Luther's language. Take, for example, the 2010 CPH book, Lutheranism 101, which out of an admirable desire to clarify matters, ends up awkwardly distancing its position from language used by the Blessed Reformer, and taken over into the Confessions. On page 150 we read:

Yikes! Are Lutherans Cannibals?

Because Lutherans teach that Jesus is really present with his body and blood, they have been accused of cannibalism. Rest easy; it isn't true. A cannibal eats physical flesh with his teeth. While we teach that Jesus is bodily present, we do not teach that He is physically present. Things are physical when they take up space; we believe that Jesus is really present with His body and blood but in a mode that doesn't take up space. Can He do that? Yes!
It is all very admirable what the writer is here trying to do, but he ends up twisting himself in a knot to stay clear of the capernaitic position. Luther's realism is not capernaitic, and his contemporary opponents knew this. So all this twisting, in which, mind you, the writer unfortunately does a lot of relying on the spatial preposition "with" (an over-use of which is suspiciously Philippist) ends up unnecessarily leading us away from good earthy realist terms like flesh.

Even Pope Paul VI, a bona fide Thomist, in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei, says that in the Sacrament:

Christ, whole and entire, in His physical 'reality' is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.
The reality, then, is that in the Holy Mass, ie., in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are present on the altar, on the paten, in the chalice, and in the pastor's hand. And as you approach the altar, He is there waiting to be joined with you in this great and mysterious way. Already, while you wait for the usher to get to your pew, there are people, your brothers and sisters in Christ, who are going back to their pew, bearing in their bodies the Eucharistic Lord. And then you get to the altar, and kneel down. The pastor walks toward you. His thoughts might be on what is doing. They might momentarily stray to things he sees around him, or what he said in the pulpit, or what he will do later. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Himself, in His sacred Body, is in the pastor's hand, and is being placed on your tongue. The real and precious Blood of Jesus is then given to you. Even as you get up, and walk back to your pew, He abides with you. In those moments you, and those around you, are veritable tabernacles of the presence of Christ in the venerable Eucharist. What could this be but holy ground?

Let us also note why it is that Christ makes Himself present in the Holy Supper. He does so not to be worshipped. In fact, He knows full well that in the Sacrament of the Altar He will be disregarded, even abused, by many in this world. He makes Himself present precisely for us. He became a man for us men and for our salvation. The same incarnational reality obtains in the Holy Supper. He comes to us in the Eucharist to bring to us that salvation which He earned in His bitter passion. He wants to deliver and serve it to us personally. In uniting Himself to the communicant in the Holy Supper, the baptized Christian finds the high point of his life in this world, and realizes his true identity as one whose soul is espoused to Christ. In that gift, that self-giving, Christ promises the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of utter forgiveness leaves us with pure and true life itself, life in its fullness, and thus salvation. The unbeliever who receives this awesome and holy Presence, on the other hand, is confirmed in his unbelief; he is totally unprepared for such a gift, and can only be harmed by it.

Christ nowhere demands to be adored and worshipped in the Eucharist. It is not as though He has said, "At what time ye hear the sound of the sanctus bells, ye fall down and worship My presence the Blessed Sacrament." Those who make this point are quite right. He doesn't make such a demand. Our Christian brethren of past ages, and even today in other lands, however, faced with the awesome reality of the salvific gift of Christ's holy Body and precious Blood in the Sacrament, have preferred to approach the matter of their posture or comportment from a different perspective, namely, by the simple thought, Why would I not fall to my knees and adore Him here, where He has promised to be present?

And so, in traditional fashion, some of us will, even in twenty first century America, kneel down during the consecration, and for the entirety of the Communion. It is a good way to prepare oneself in prayer. It is a good way to remind oneself of what is happening. It is a good way to thank Him afterward. And it is a good witness.

In case anyone is tempted to think of this as an aping after Roman Catholic practice, let us set the record straight. Matters are not nearly so clear cut and easy to divide into the neat categories too many of us were taught by our teachers. On the one hand, Eucharistic adoration, though you may not see it much among your friends or in your own congregation, is truly at home in the Lutheran tradition. And on the other hand, the common Lutheran notions of the ritualism and reverence to a fault that will be found in Roman Catholic churches are really cute, but sadly naive. There are many Roman Catholic parishes today, and in some places virtually whole dioceses, where Roman Catholics are ridiculed by other Roman Catholics for daring to genuflect or kneel before the eucharist. They are mocked as "cookie worshippers." In terms of actual Catholicism on the ground (instead of, say, rumors, folklore, or centuries' old texts) what we see is that in many places Catholics (including some pastors and bishops) are repulsed and embarrassed by traditionalist Catholics in a way reminiscent of the attitude of the Philippists of old, for whom adoration of the eucharist was artolatreia - bread worship. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us. So no, I am not copying the Roman Catholics when I kneel; rather, too many Roman catholics have become Philippist in the brave new post-conciliar age. I am daring not to go with them.

What is the Christian thing to do with the weaker brethren in your midst? We all know the answer to this. We are patient with them. We make allowances for them. Faced with the true presence of the Creator of all things, Who comes to me in the holy Eucharist, my heart and knees fail me. They are too weak to stand before Him. I am bold to approach, for He invites me. But I do so with awe and wonder. I cannot not kneel. And so now you know, dear friends, my reasons. Bear with me, even as we bear one another's burdens.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

a thought on the Anima Christi

This morning after returning from the altar, I was praying the Anima Christi, and when I came to the familiar line, "Body of Christ, save me," I was reminded of what blessed Paul the Apostle writes to the Romans, chapter 7, "O wretched man that I am!  who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"  We can say, then, that the Body of Christ saves, or delivers, us precisely from our own body of death.  I love this juxtaposition; and to be sure, it is not that the body is inherently bad and we must escape it. Rather, the salvation of our flesh lies in our entering by faith into the paschal mystery of the life giving death our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the Christian, nothing could be more life affirming, and body affirming, than this Supper.

from the Great Confession of 1528

My grounds, on which I rest in this matter, are as follows:  The first is this article of our faith, that Jesus Christ is essential, natural, true, complete God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable.  The second, that the right hand of God is everywhere.  The third, that the Word of God is not false or deceitful.  The fourth, that God has and knows various ways to be present at a certain place, not only the single one of which the fanatics prattle, which the philosophers call "local."  Of this the sophists properly say: there are three modes of being present in a given place: locally or circumscriptively, definitively, repletively.
Blessed Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rutler on the Novus Ordo

After a brief description of what the Oakland, California School Board termed "ebonics," Fr. Rutler continues:
What I do object to is the suggestion that all this is the brainchild of the Oakland School Board. Thirty years ago, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy invented a proleptical and prolegomenous form of "Ebonics" for the new vernacular Mass.  Catholics in America have thus been speaking this way since Vatican II.
Mark Twain deftly mastered the syntax, as did the nineteenth-century repertoire of dialect songs, like those of Stephen Foster.  One might protest that these were affectations of an idiom, but so were the many wistful Irish songs written by the agile Jewish song masters of Schubert Alley.  The most distinguished precursor of ebonical syntax in drama, after Harriet Beecher Stowe, was Dion Boucicault, whose play The Octoroon opened in the Winter Garden in New York City on December 5, 1859.  By a strange coincidence, that was the day Senator Charles Sumner returned to his Senate desk after having been beaten with a cane by Senator Preston S. Brooks on May 22, 1856 during a debate over slavery in Kansas.  No such violence has yet been inflicted on a liturgical translator, not even on those responsible for the alternative opening collects of the ebonical Novus Ordo, the English translation of the Roman Rite which parses like Thomas Cranmer on Prozac.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

To Thee I Show My Wounds

One of the prayers I often use before Mass is a prayer of Saint Ambrose.  One line in that prayer goes like this:
To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. 
As I pondered those words recently, it was surely helpful that I happened to have within my sight the large crucifix above the altar.  For I came to see that this is precisely what Christ does.  He shows His wounds; He lays bare His shame.  He shows them to His Father, and He shows them to us. 

In the brief moments before the start of Mass, the Christian has the opportunity interiorly to bare his soul, as it were, before the holy God, and to ponder both his great need for forgiveness and healing and the fact that he is about to receive God's forgiveness and healing lavishly set before us in Christ's Word and Sacrament.  I hasten to add that the Christian has also the rich opportunity to do the same thing quite orally in the Sacrament of private Confession. 

And when he thus bares his wounds, and lays bare his shame, whether interiorly before the Holy Supper or orally in Confession, it is encouraging to consider Christ crucified as clearly set before us, for there He shows us His wounds.  His wounds remind us simultaneously of our sin and shame, on the one hand, for that is what they reflect, that is what He bears thereby, and of our salvation and healing, on the other hand, for by those wounds we are healed.  His wounds are so deep they have the capacity to bear and swallow up even our sin.  His wounds are an invitation for us to find our consolation within them.  Indeed, sacramentally speaking, we do just that. 

I hasten to add that this is yet another devotional benefit of praying before the crucifix.  If you are denied this opportunity in your church, develop a hunger for it, and give voice to this need.  If your church does have a crucifix, develop and cultivate your appreciation for it.

O You Lamb of God

Is the common, dumbed down style of language, which is inflicted on us in four out of the five mass orders in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's latest hymnal, really just as beautiful and worthy of liturgical use as is the classic liturgical English that has been sung in the Church for centuries?  The answer to this can no longer be assumed as self-evident; nor do many today even appreciate the value of the question, who have been led to think that beauty should be demoted in the priority scale of considerations for how best to address liturgical matters, and consigned a place far behind new priorities, like comfort.  Therefore we must never tire of addressing these questions anew in today's church. 

I suggest that one unscientific way of putting the vulgar second person singular pronoun, you, to the test, in terms of it's use in addressing God in the liturgy, is to take the classic English version of the eucharistic hymn, "Agnus Dei", and imagine just replacing "thou" for "you." 

So instead of singing this:
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God

try this instead:
O Christ, You Lamb of God

Obviously the makers of modern liturgy know this is unworkable, so they leave out altogether the opening address to "Christ," and go straight to "Lamb of God."  And of course the "O Christ" is a poetic flourish and not in the Latin.  Nevertheless, a little exercise like this goes to show the linguistic and aesthetic limitations of throwing in the "you" where we once had "thou."

the art of hagiagraphy

Though I do not always agree with Father George Rutler, he being a Thomist and I being a Lutheran, I do deeply appreciate much of what he has to say, in theological, liturgical, and historical matters, as well as the way he says it.  In some ways he is a jolt of fresh air amidst the liturgical devastation of modern Romanism.  One of my favorite reads, by the way, is his book, Coincidentally, in which, for example, the discerning reader gets a particularly tasty riff on the Novus Ordo.  I also recommend his book on the Cure of Ars, The Cure D'Ars Today, but only for the theologically discerning.  In the following passage he reflects on the balance that must be struck when writing about the saints.
In depicting the saints, there are bad and good portraits. It may be that Vianney scorned his portraitists, not because they drew bad likenesses, which they usually did, but because they liked him. Hagiagraphy may flatter saints but, when it does, it insults them; an affectionate picture of a man who is detached from the world can make him seem disconnected. In true devotion, though, to like a subject can give a good likeness. Strachey's word portraits of his eminent Victorians were no truer for being written with venom. In the case of the saints, you either have to attach yourself to their detachment, and let sympathy become empathy, or you have to reject it until scepticism becomes satire. But either is more apt to give some sense of a soul than the clinical indifference which claims to be objective. No one can remain indifferent to an object and get an impression of it.
The one pertinent consideration is the validity of the impression. Though it should not be shaped by less than history, it may take its form from a calculus behind history; it may be under the influence of a tale more delicate and shining than the most fabulous enchantment; it may have met the truth of myth and the object of legend. The saints impress by possessing their own heart's desire within themselves. If the prophets have prefigured a truth to come, the saints have postfigured a truth that came and stayed. When the wise have lived to foretell the way of God with man, the lives of the saints are its very telling. Here is how the saints make such an impression, and no unbeliever has dared completely to deny it. The atheist denies God, but he ignores the saints; he would not do that had he not been influenced by a need to ignore them. The need assumes a paradoxical and even compulsive quality, like the nihilist insisting it is true that there is no truth and like the atheist believing that there is nothing to believe. But the saints continue to live visible lives. As the sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, the saints are living sacraments; they are sacraments of the sacraments. And no story about them, no display of their souls' architecture, can be so grand and schematic as living their story with them. The voice of Ars said it: "At the Holy Altar I had the most singular consolations. I was looking at the Good God."

christological implications of Zwinglianism

Zwinglianism is not merely a slightly incomplete view of the eucharist, but even has christological implications; in this passage, Luther sheds light on one of them:
They raise a hue and cry against us, saying that we mingle the two natures into one essence.  This is not true. We do not say that divinity is humanity, or that the divine nature is the human nature, which would be confusing the natures into one essence. Rather, we merge the two distinct natures into one single person, and say, God is man and man is God. We in turn raise a hue and cry against them for separating the person of Christ as though there were two persons. If Zwingli's alloeosis stands, then Christ will have to be two persons, one a divine and the other a human person, since Zwingli applies all the texts concerning the passion only to the human nature and completely excludes them from the divine nature.  But if the works are divided and separated, the person will also have to be separated, since all the doing and suffering are not ascribed to natures but to persons.  It is the person who does and suffers everything, the one thing according to this nature and the other thing according to the other nature, all of which scholars know perfectly well.  Therefore we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, "neither confusing the natures nor dividing the person.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Zwinglian arguments face the meat grinder of Luther

In this section of Martin Luther's great treatise against Zwingli and for Christ's presence in the Eucharist, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, we get a particularly penetrating riff.
Let this suffice to show that our interpretation is not contrary to Scripture or the Creed, as this mad spirit deludes himself into believing.  Next he comes to the two principal points at which I have attacked most strongly, viz. that Christ is at the right hand of God, and that the flesh is of no avail, where he was to prove that these two propositions make it impossible for Christ's body to be present in the Supper.  I had called attention to these passages with capital letters, so they might not skip over them.  Now this dear spirit comes along with his figure, alloeosis, to make everything plain, and teaches us that in the Scriptures one nature in Christ is taken for the other, until he falls into the abyss and concludes that the passage, "The Word became flesh," John 1, must not be understood as it reads, but thus: "The flesh became Word," or "Man became God."  This is to give the lie to Scripture.
I cannot at this time attack all this spirit's errors.  But this I say: whoever will take a warning, let him beware of Zwingli and shun his books as the prince of hell's poison.  For the man is completely perverted and has entirely lost Christ.  Other sacramentarians settle on one error, but this man never publishes a book without spewing out new errors, more and more all the time.  But anyone who rejects this warning may go his way, just so he knows that I warned him, and my conscience is clear.
You must not believe or admit that this figure, alloeosis, is to be found in these passages, or that you can put one nature of Christ in place of the other.  The insane spirit dreamed this up in order to rob us of Christ, for he does not prove it to you nor can he do so.  And even if this error of his were true and right, it still would not prove that Christ's body cannot be present in the Supper.  I have pressed them to show conclusive grounds why these words, "This is my body," just as they read, are false, though Christ is in heaven.  For the power of God is not known to us, and He can find a way to make both true, viz. Christ in heaven and His body present in the Supper.  That was the principal question.  What I demanded, writing in capital letters, was that they should show how the two were contradictory.  But he is silent on this point, passes over it without one letter as if it did not concern him, and spouts meanwhile about his alloeosis.
When I proved that Christ's body is everywhere because the right hand of God is everywhere, I did so-as I quite openly explained at the time-in order to show at least one way how God could bring it about that Christ is in heaven and His body in the Supper at the same time, and that He reserved to His divine wisdom and power many more ways to accomplish the same result, because we do not know the limit or measure of His power.
Later, the Doctor goes into a discussion on various modes of existence, which you won't want to miss.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

distinguishing the merit of Christ from the distribution of merit

The day is far spent, so I assume you have read some Luther already today.  That's okay; read some more.  From, where else? the Great Confession of 1528. 
The blind fool does not know that the merit of Christ and the distribution of merit are two different things.  And he confuses them like a filthy sow.  Christ has once for all merited and won for us the forgiveness of sins on the cross; but this forgiveness he distributes wherever he is, at all times and in all places, as Luke writes, chapter 24, "Thus it is written, that Christ had to suffer and on the third day rise (in this consists his merit), and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name (here the distribution of his merit comes in)"  This is why we say there is forgiveness of sins in the Supper, not on account of the eating, nor because Christ merits or achieves forgiveness of sins there, but on account of the word through which he distributes among us this acquired forgiveness, saying, "This is my body which is given for you."  Here you perceive that we eat the body as it was given for us; we hear this and believe it as we eat.  Hence there is distributed here the forgiveness of sins, which however was obtained on the cross...
In the same way I carefully wrote against the heavenly prophets that the fact of Christ's suffering and the use of it are not the same thing: factum et applicatio facti, seu factum et usus facti.  The passion of Christ occurred but once on the cross.  But whom would it benefit if it were not distributed, applied, and put to use?  And how could it be put to use and distributed except through Word and sacrament?  But why should such great saints read my treatise?  They know far better.  Well, they have their reward, that they consider the fact and the application to be one and the same, and thereby reduce themselves to folly and shame.  They fail to see that in the Supper the application of the passion, and not the fact of it, is concerned.  It serves them right for never reading, or for reading superficially-so proud and presumptuous are they-what has been written against them.
(AE 37)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to deal with a Zwinglian

From the Great Confession of 1528:

Next this fellow leads my finger, as if I were a blind man, to the word, "Do this," which St. Paul is said to explain thus: "As often as you eat this bread," etc.  From this he attempts to deduce that with the words, "Do this," Christ refers to the eating of the bread and not the eating of his body.  Of course, if St. Paul had said, "As often as you eat this bread which is not the body of Christ"-which this spirit has added out of his own head-there would have been no need to lay my finger on it; I would have been able to see it more than five paces away. Every time I hope they will produce scripture, they produce their own dreams.  Therefore I repeat, I would like them to lay their finger on the preceding word, where Christ refers to the bread and yet says, "This is my body." Here also stands the word "this," which is waiting to be grasped by the fanatical spirit's fingers. That word exerts a greater and stronger pressure upon me to conclude that Christ's body is eaten in the bread than this fellow's word "this," out of which he would like to make mere bread.  For my word "this" and his "this" both refer to one and the same bread, as they admit. And yet, where I cite the word "this" it reads, "It is my body"; but where he cites the word "this" it does not read, "It is not my body," but he must insert it and skip over the whole context in which my word "this" stands. What a faithful, zealous expositor of scripture!
Now let the whole world be judge between me and this spirit, which bread must yield to the other. My bread has on its side the text, "Eat, this is my body," and explains with emphatic words that this bread is the body of Christ. The spirit's bread has on his side the text, "Do this," or "As often as you eat this bread," and does not explain that it is mere bread or that it is not the body of Christ.  No, the spirit must emend the text and say it is not Christ's body, as he has been commanded to do-yes, by the devil! Now if one "this" must yield to the other, then properly his should yield to mine, since his is bare and naked apart from explanations, whereas mine carries its explanation with it. Or else he must sweat still more in order to prove that my "this" must yield to his "this."  Finger-pointing doesn't help. If he wished to act fairly and squarely, he should not point out to us with his fingers how his "this" indicates the bread. This indeed we could discover without his spirit, explanations, and arguments.  But he should first parry the thrust of this text, "Eat, this is my body." If he could prove that the bread there is not proclaimed as Christ's body, then of course we would know perfectly well ourselves that his "this" does refer to mere bread. However, he does not do this. Thus it is a "begging of the question" and hopeless twaddle, for he does not answer what we ask and beg him to answer, as I continually complain. We say, however, that if the first "this" refers to the body of Christ. then his "this" in the next instance must refer to it also; for "this" in both cases refers to the bread, and yet the first at the same time stands in immediate connection with Christ's body, as the words say, "Eat, this is my body."
(AE 37)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Christological View of St. Michael Is Not Heresy

Last Sunday & today we had seminarian-led catechesis, and I appreciated it, because it was on the Holy Trinity, a truly great topic.  Last week, however, the point was made, in one of the vicar's power point images, that one of the trinitarian heresies is the idea that Christ and Michael are the same.  It is quite possible that he did not mean it the way it reads, but of course this point must be clarified, lest it lead people to draw the wrong conclusions.  Today I was going to take a moment in class and clarify the issue, but I never got the chance.  I walked in a bit late, because of coffee clean up, and at no point during or at the end of class did I find the opportunity.  So I do so now.

There are heretical sects, most notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, which teach that Jesus Christ was merely the incarnation of the Archangel Michael.  That, of course, is a christological heresy, one which offers a novel twist on the ancient heresy that denies Christ's true divinity.

On the other hand, there are Christians who believe that Michael, the Archangel, is the Lord Himself, the uncreated Angel (messenger) Who is Himself the message, the eternal Logos, ie., the Lord Jesus Christ, in a pre- or extra- incarnational manifestation. 

To view Michael as Christ is not the same as viewing Christ as Michael, if "angel" not be read in a literalistic manner.  In this instance, I am not attempting to argue that Michael is Christ, for that would require a more thought out, better organized, and thorough argument than what I can give this afternoon.  Nevertheless, we must be clear that it is not heresy.  It has a long history among right-thinking Christians, and it has its advocates even today.  I confess that it is my own view, as well.

Christians are free to disagree with this interpretation of the scriptural witness to the Archangel,  but there is certainly nothing heretical about it.  There are sound exegetical and theological arguments behind it, and I would suggest that it fits well with the christus victor theme of the atonement, and can help us appreciate the fact that the battle which Christ fights for us is waged in several dimensions, including the cosmic and the historical, even within the individual soul of the Christian.