Monday, June 25, 2007

Presentation of the Augustana

It is a pity, in my view, that the Presentation of the Augustana (25 June) does not seem to get a whole lot of attention in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Yes, I know it gets a bit more attention in years when it falls on a Sunday. And when it falls even just a day or two away from a Sunday, it is not a feast that will be transferred very often, since John's Nativity cannot be tampered. So the Lutheran Church's yearly celebration of her chief Confession seems to have the best chance of exposure only in urban churches that have daily Mass, or at least daily worship in the Divine Office, and at school campuses that have a presence in the summer, and that have a pastor, or dean of chapel, or rector, who cares enough to make it happen. So the odds are not in this feast's favor. In many cases, as I have outlined above, this is for very understandable reasons. I am not nesessarily ranting, in other words.

I strongly believe, however, that men and women who call themselves Confessional Lutheran, and whose circumstances are such that they are vocationally devoted to a life of prayer and service to the Church, that is, for example, seminarians, presbyters of all sorts (whether parish pastors, missionaries, hospital chaplains, military chaplains, campus pastors, seminary instructors, church bureaucrats, etc), deacons, school teachers, deaconesses, etc, would do well to be praying some form of the Daily Office, at least once or twice a day, and at least in that way, keep feasts such as this one.

One of the things that the feast of the Presentation of the Augustana will hopefully inspire in such people, is the renewed desire to immerse oneself in the Augsburg Confession. I myself have no great expertise on the Augustana, no great wisdom to impart regarding the Confession. I cannot help but share a thought or two, though, which if nothing else, will at least broadcast a little something of my own concept of what this great Confession means, and can mean to the Church.

I have never heard of anyone who actually, honestly, read through the Augustana and then concluded that it is a Protestant Confession. The Catholic nature of the Augustana permeates it, and is unmistakable. It comes through in many ways. I will not take the space here to go into them; I just want to share some general observations at this point. Those who have read it with their eyes open, though, know exactly what I am saying. Even a man as firmly Papist and anti-Lutheran as Karl Adam admits this. He writes, for example, in his Roots of the Reformation, "We should be even more struck by the fact that the Confession of Augsburg, drawn up by Melanchthon and approved by Luther, which in evangelical Christianity ranks even today as an authoritative confession of faith, makes no mention in its first part of any fundamental dogmatic difference...and in fact expressly declares that the whole dispute is concerned only with certain abuses..." The Confession of the Christian faith as formulated in the Lutheran Symbols, centering as they do around the Augustana itself, is a deeply and inherently Catholic Confession. The more we read, ponder, and pray the words of the Augustana, the more we will become conviced of the Catholicity of our Confession, and the more willingly we will desire to actually teach it and practice it. The Augustana will prove itself, in other words, to be the perfect tool if we really want to show ourselves distinct (if we really do want to proclaim our "Lutheran distinctives") over against the dominant religious opponents of our time, that is, the Protestant Gnostic milieu which overwhelms us on all sides.

I would make just one more observation at this point. The best way to read the Augustana is not merely as a series of articles, but as an organic body. It is one Confession, which finds its center in the Person of Christ, or our Redemption, that is to say, the third and fourth articles together form the center, the heart, which gives meaning, and relevancy, to the rest. The other articles are not less important, or unimportant, but concentrate around, and have their real meaning in Christ. As Dr. David Scaer said at the Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium about fourteen years ago (I will paraphrase from memory, since my copy is now lost), the message of the Augustana is that Jesus Christ is the full and complete manifestation of God to men. This is great comfort, for it means that we need not look for God out in the cosmos, nor in the inner abyss of the self, but only in Christ, our Immanuel.

Those are my meager thoughts on a Monday night in Fort Wayne.


William Weedon said...

Not at all meagre. It is a great confession - and we cannot forget that at one point the current pope could even dare to speak of it as a confession of the catholic church!

The great pity is that Lutheranism moved away from its spirit. But since we acknowledge ourselves as the churches of the Augsburg Confession, there is always hope to recover it and celebrate it. May God grant it to our presbyters and parishes!

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

"But since we acknowledge ourselves as the churches of the Augsburg Confession, there is always hope to recover it and celebrate it. May God grant it to our presbyters and parishes!"

This is certainly my prayer, and hope, even expectation in Christ.

Father Hollywood said...

Well said, Brother Latif. In my own experience, I find intensive teaching on the AC (not only its articles, but a historic background as well) - as we did recently at our parish's annual Adult Retreat (I was the speaker, and the AC was the topic) has a profound effect on Lutherans who come to grips with what's really in there.

I believe if we are to have any hope of recovering our historic confession in the U.S. - and bringing American Lutheranism away from fads, slogans, marketing schemes, and other such gimmicks - it will involve a rededication of our people to the AC.

It should be reveiewed often. Children should be reciting it along with the catechism. Pastors should be praying it regularly. I have found that when people begin to see themselves not merely as "followers of Luther" (which is how the Reformed and many of the heirs of the radical reformation do as well) but rather as Augsburg or Evangelical Catholics - their entire Christian outlook changes. Their piety changes. Their vocabulary changes. Their taste in Christian art and music changes - all for the better.

It is indeed not only possible, but it is our heritage, to be unabashedly "big C" Catholic, traditionalist, and firmly rooted in the Gospel all at the same time.

When I was a 17 year old inquirer, I asked a wise pastor "So, what do Lutherans believe?" He handed me the AC. I read it in one sitting, and my life has never been the same. What a treasure that only gathers dust in the vast majority of our churches! How many problems rooted in our lack of concord with one another could be solved (not merely swept under the rug) by really submitting to the AC (however, I have seen some rather dramatic attempts to make it say the opposite of what it really says - but that's a discussion for another day).

Thanks be to God for the reformers (such as Blessed Martin and Blessed Philip), for the Augustana and the other confessions of the Concordia, and for you, once again, Latif, for a fine post!


Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, Fr. Beane, for you words. I must say, on the subject of the Augustana, that the talk you gave recently on the importance of the Augustana in our Church is simply outstanding. The Society of Saint Polycarp, and other readers of The Polycarpian, will soon have your paper before them, and I do hope that you will submit it at some point also to a larger forum.