Monday, April 18, 2011

Where are the saints in LSB?

When singing a hymn at Mass, one's eyes sooner or later are drawn to the bottom of the page out of the natural tendency to want to learn about the origin of the hymn.  At least that's the case if the one we're talking about is me.  Who wrote it?  When did he live?  Et cetera.  Even if you already know the hymn well, you might want to glance to that data, to remind yourself of exactly what was the year of the author's birth, or death, etc.  Or maybe just to find out what is this horrid nineteenth century tune that has been inflicted upon this venerable hymn.  Anyway, this habit of mine has led me to discover something about the latest Missouri Synod service book, Lutheran Service Book, which makes for a minor, yet real, annoyance.

I refer to the fact that the saints are not listed as saints.  The Lutheran Hymnal unabashedly tells us that St. Ambrose wrote "Splendor Paternae Gloriae."  Service Book and Hymnal boldly ascribes "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  In Lutheran Worship, "Father We Praise You" is ascribed to St. Gregory I.  The hopelessly low church Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal is a mixed bag in this regard.  It tells its readers that Ambrose is fit to be described as Saint Ambrose, but for some reason cannot bring itself to cite Bernard or John of Damascus as saints.  Lutheran Service Book, however, goes further than any of these in its refusal to put a simple "St." before the names of men who have been universally venerated as saints for centuries upon centuries.  Hymn 874, for example, lists "Ambrose of Milan" as the hymn writer, and "Gregory I" on the next page.  Needless to say, saints like John of Damascus (478, 487), Bernard of Clairvaux (449, 554), and Thomas Aquinas (630, 640) do not get saintly recognition either.  I could be wrong, but I don't see any hymn in LSB where it is admitted that an author is a saint. 

Is this some effort to make the hymn citations appear more scholarly? I do not know, but I will say that it succeeds in making for a style that appears decidedly less churchly, whatever the intention was.  Was it an effort to be more consistent, and thereby avoid having to deal with complicated questions like whether to refer to saints like Luther, Hus, and Nicolai as saints, since they are not universally recognized as such?  The Church is filled with inconsistencies and hard questions.  It is the duty of churchmen to face them.

If consistency, however, were the goal, that would beg the question of why the strange bifurcated approach to the sanctoral cycle on pages xi-xiii.  First there is a list of those who made the cut for "feasts and festivals."  These are "saints."  It is comprised of New Testament saints, and the Archangel.  Then, on the next two pages, there are those whose observance is now called "commemorations."  There the reader is encouraged to suppose that Valentine is not a saint, Justin is not a saint, Monica is not a saint, neither is Chrysostom, or Ignatius of Antioch, or Polycarp, or Lucy.  If this is the new approach, then it becomes superfluous to use the term "sanctoral cycle" for that aspect of the liturgical year. 

The saints ought to be honored and venerated among us, their brethren in Christ, and one of the little ways we do that is to be willing to give them the title "saint" within our own churchly books.


Rev. Luke T. Zimmerman said...


I also comment on the titles of the "saints" in the LSB Commemoration Calendar (pp. xii-xiii): There must have been some major "episcophobia" at Synod or CPH headquarters.

It is humorous to read on SEP 3 the listing "Gregory the Great, Pastor". Certainly, he was pastor to his people in Rome, but one would think that a pope might just get the title "bishop" in the listings.

The same can be said for Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Cyprian of Carthage, Clement of Rome, Nicholas of Myra, and Ambrose of Milan. Bishops all; why not use the churchly title?

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

You're absolutely right, Fr. Z. It is just plain anachronistic to use "pastor" in these cases.

I also think it is odd to invent a slew of new categories, so that, eg, now St. Bernard of Clairvaux is commemorated as Hymnwriter and Theologian, instead of Abbot and Doctor of the Church, and St. Jerome is Translator of Holy Scripture, instead of Priest, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church.

Anonymous said...

It makes you wonder if they were doing this to not "offend" those LCMS churches that aren't should I say this...orthodox Lutheran!

Oh wait, they don't actually use the hymnal!
-Peter Sovitzky

Anonymous said...

I really like your blog, by the way, Deacon Gaba! I check it everyday! Great links!
-Peter Sovitzky
(though I live in the NW Chicago Burbs, I was raised in Milwaukee!)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks Peter. I don't post here as often as I'd like, but hopefully things will improve.