Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christ the first-born of His ever-virgin Mother

My pastor preached a fine homily this morning on the Luke 2 pericope about the purification of the Virgin Mary.  There is an aspect of the text, however, which is worth exploring.  Namely, what does the Gospel here tell us, and not tell us, about Mary's virginity, and about her motherhood?  Does the fact that Mary and her Divine Son submitted themselves to the laws of purification imply that He did, in fact, open His mother's womb, thus making her ritually impure and in need of purification? 

To these questions there are two sets of answers, on the one hand they could be answered according to modern, post-Enlightenment assumptions.  On the other hand, there stands the traditional Lutheran point of view, a view held by serious biblical scholars of every epoch of the Church's rich history, from the first centuries to the present day.  It was the view of the Church Fathers, the Doctors of the Church (including the Blessed Reformer himself), and all Lutherans through the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, and beyond.

As you might have already inferred, mine is the traditional view, and I am happy to give voice to it.  The present reflection will not give a full argument for that view, but it is worth, in the time & space afforded me in this instance, at least showing how the traditional Lutheran view is not incompatible with the Gospel.

The pure and holy Virgin (this is what we call Mary in the Smalcald Articles) submitted herself to the levitical laws of purification, or what in Jewish tradition are called the laws of Niddah, because, of course, Jesus was her first born son, but not because He opened her womb, for He did not.  That is, as the Fathers teach, as Luther preached, and as the Formula of Concord confesses, our Lord's birth did not open His mother's womb. In fact, her virginity was kept intact, and she remained a virgin. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is Mary's first born.  This is absolutely true.  For it means that Mary had no child before Jesus, and it also means that Jesus was truly born.  He is not a phantom, nor did He exit Mary's belly some other way than through the normal way, ie., by passing through the birth canal.  The Creed is trustworthy and true when by it we confess that Christ was born, and that He was born of Mary.  (It says a bit more, in fact; namely, it says that He was born of the "Virgin" Mary, but more on that later.)  "First born," however, implies subsequent children no more than the "until" of Matthew 1 implies that Mary and her holy guardian Joseph had relations after the birth of the Christ Child.  I will be a Christian until the day I die, but that does not mean that after my death I will cease to be a Christian. 

Jesus truly and physically descended His mother's birth canal, ie., experienced a true birth, and yet He does so while preserving her womb from ever opening.  Not only does He not cause her the loss of her virginity, but in fact He preserves and strengthens her virginity.  Mary is the icon of purest virginity and most fruitful maternity, and thus shows herself reflective of something far greater than herself.  Namely, as St. Ambrose says, Mary is a type of the Church.  This perfect virgin-motherhood is a paradox, and one fully in keeping with other paradoxes, like the physical Christ's entrance into the closed room after His resurrection, and His whole communion (not partial) with each communicant until the end of the age.

I reiterate, this traditional way of viewing Mary is not to glorify Mary for her own sake, but serves, rather, to point us toward great spiritual truths, about her Son, about the Church, and therefore also about the Christian soul, which is, I would argue, a sort of microcosm of the Church.  In the case of Mary's purification, for example, I would suggest that because of her purity and holy virginity, Mary is the perfectly free lord (or lady) over the purification law, subject to it not at all, and yet out of love she is the perfectly dutiful servant of the law, and in complete subjection to it.  In this she is the icon of the Christian, as Christian, who is described similarly by Luther in his treatise The Freedom of a Christian

I would even suggest, in fact, that when St. Luke tells us earlier in the chapter that the shepherds joined company with the Holy Family, since the text would seem to place this before the purification, even before the circumcision, that we see in this social gathering a rather peculiar non-seclusion of this Jewish mother, who would normally be kept apart from all social intercourse during this time of impurity, thus perhaps sending us a message that she was not in fact, in need of purification, that she had, in fact, kept her virginity intact, and gave birth without the shedding of blood or the suffering of pain.  This, too, serves not to deify Mary, but to portray for us the purity of the Bride of Christ, and therefore also the purity of the members thereof.  Those who are baptized into the redemptive death of Christ are able to confess a holiness and purity which they may not necessarily recognize with their own eyes in this life, but which, nonetheless, enables them to stand in any company without fear.  In fact, in Christ they are a blessing to others.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Traditional Albanian Folk Music

The following is an example of an Albanian folk song, a style which has deep medieval roots.  This song, as you will see, is not exactly of a very happy theme.

Here is another clip, with a brief explanation of the style:"

One of the most interesting things about the Albanian iso-polyphonic style is the degree to which it reminds me of certain types of chant used in the ancient church, such as Byzantine and Old Roman, especially with the prominent drone.  And it goes to show, in my view, the inextricable Christian aspects of traditional Albanian culture.  Consider, for example, the following Old Roman Kyrie:"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


On Friday, after I got off work, I went down to the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building to cast my early vote, happy to take advantage of this way of avoiding having to vote on election day, since my Tuesdays tend to be long enough at the brewery. 

The Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building, by the way, while it is not without a sleek modernist sort of beauty, does not compare well, in my view, with the majestic German Renaissance Revival architecture of City Hall across the street. 

And who could enter the Municipal Building and be so callous as not to think of the man after whom it is named, Milwaukee's last great Socialist mayor.  Yes, I mean Socialist with a capital S.  That is, Milwaukee has a history of electing actual Socialists to City Hall.  And to be sure, when I say that Zeidler was great, I am not, in this instance, commenting on whether or not I agree with his policies as mayor, but simply observing that he was one of the truly great men of Milwaukee history and of 20th century American civil government.  If you do not read any of his other books, at least read Zeidler's political memoir, A Liberal in City Government.

But I digress. 

The line in which I waited to vote was almost two blocks long.  On the one hand, it is good to see such community spirit and civic activity.  On the other hand, neither the manner of conversation I heard around me nor the process in place (which actually discourages one from showing his ID, and could conceivably encourage mischief) did much to inspire confidence in the quality of modern American civil elections.  I was much less bothered by the man who showed up wearing apparently nothing but a blanket than I was by these two factors.  Overall, however, it was decently organized, and the large crowds handled rather efficiently.

There is room in my household for precisely one politically active person, and so my wife was free to remain in the warmth of our home while I was out, facing the process and casting my vote.  (I could not agree less with the axiom that holds that it is an American citizen's right, even duty, to vote.)  

Tonight we watch, as spectators, and we pray for pious and faithful rulers, and good government.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

the Our Father & the pastor's priestly role at the altar

This morning in the pre-mass announcements, Dr. Wieting explained that when the pastor prays the Our Father alone at the altar, this serves to signify the reality that Christ Himself prays with us, and if I recall correctly, he said that moving forward he will be using this option in Lutheran Service Book's Divine Service III once a month.  I wish to voice here my strong support for this practice.

I do not recall the Our Father being chanted very often by the celebrant at Luther Memorial in the year and a half that we have been there.  And, in fact, I would infer from the catechetical nature of the announcement that the Church in this place is rather unaccustomed to the practice.  And so I applaud Dr. Wieting for the courage to introduce it.

To be sure, when the pastor sings or recites the Our Father alone at the altar, he is not really praying alone, but is giving voice to the prayer of the whole Church, which of course includes all of the baptized in attendance.  We are not talking about a return to pre-Reformation notions of the mass, which would have the people feel no particular need to participate in or even know what is happening at the altar.  And so I reiterate that the celebrant must give voice, not only theologically but also literally.  It is not sufficient to mumble the prayers of the mass quietly at the altar, like my last pastor likes to do.  No, whether recited or chanted, the Our Father must be vocalized clearly and distinctly. 

Traditionally, the people then unmistakably make this praying their own by joining in the Amen.  Modern American Lutherans, in fact, are in the habit of singing an expanded "Amen" by prefacing it with the doxological For Thine is the kingdom, etc.  (I do not discourage the use of this doxology, but would only warn that too many Lutherans, like the good Protestants they think they are, assume that whenever the Our Father is prayed, it must include this expanded conclusion).  And so, when one steps back and ponders what is happening, I would actually argue that the effect of the pastor solemnly chanting the Our Father with the people responding with their robust and heartfelt singing of the doxology & Amen is that the point is reinforced, not denied, that this is the prayer of the whole Church. 

But isn't it the case, nonetheless, that every Christian ought actively to pray this prayer?  Our Lord's teaching of the Our Father was an answer to a disciple's prayer that Jesus would "teach us to pray," after all.  Indeed, we should pray the Our Father fervently and often.  We should pray it privately and also as households.  We should pray it in class groups, in social groups, and when the Church is gathered for a prayer office.  We should pray it verbatim and also make it the model for our whole prayer life, and the subject of our meditation.  However, this does not imply that there are not circumstances wherein one might pray on behalf of others.  The celebration of the holy Eucharist is one such circumstance.  And the very office of the one, in that case, who is thus praying has, by his ordination, certain priestly facets. 

The Church itself is called to a certain priesthood, by means of which her members both speak God's Word when needed and pray on behalf of others.  The pastoral office, too, is priestly, and some of the most prominent aspects of the pastor's priestly ministry are when he is "standing at the altar" (as AC XXIV quotes St. John Chrysostom).  The "priest" word is scandalous to many Lutherans, at least in reference to the one man in the room who is ordained, for it evokes notions of one who makes propitiatory sacrifices for the rest of us.  Let us be clear.  There is precisely one priesthood, that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the presbyteral office is the office of Christ in the Church.  This Lutherans confess.  That this office has certain priestly dimensions, then, ought not be too hard to swallow, though none of them involve making sacrifice for sins.  What our Lord accomplished in His all-availing sacrifice on the cross (in which He is both priest and victim) He graciously dispenses through the hands and mouths of his ordained servants.  Besides delivering to the people the good gifts of God, the priest also gives voice to the people's faithful prayers.  At the very same time, we might say that he serves a priestly role in another sense, namely, he shows, or manifests, the activity of Christ, in Whose priesthood his ministry is comprehended.  That is, the presbyter speaks and prays in the person of Christ, and thus pictures for us the fact that our prayer is not apart from Christ, but in and with Him.  In fact, He is here, praying with us.  In like manner, it is good for the pastor to be the first to receive Holy Communion, at his own hands, and thus show us that Christ Himself is here in our midst, eating and drinking with us.

So I encourage and support the practice of the celebrant chanting the Our Father, and the people responding with their faithful Amen.  And I pray that eventually it will be the weekly practice.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

the fascination of wickedness

In the fourth chapter of the Book of Wisdom, or what some call the Wisdom of Solomon, there is that wise and rather juicy line, For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind.  And while the King James Version, because of its timeless and poetic beauty, really ought to be the version we hear publicly read in the Church's English language liturgical celebrations, this is one of those passages which is perhaps a bit too quaint to be appreciated without consulting a more literal translation as well, like the RSV: For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 

The fascination of wickedness.  Such a rich phrase.  The sacred writer knew well the fallen nature of sinful men.  We are so easily fascinated.  Pascal's pensee on this passage is that, in order to keep worldly passions from harming us, we ought to proceed as though we had one week to live.  That's a good thought.  We should strive to live with the awareness that eternity is just around the corner, for whether one has decades or minutes left in this world, it is really, as the saying goes, just a matter of time.  Christians in the pre-modern world had a much healthier awareness than we tend to have of the fleeting nature of life in this world.  The morbid nature of what popularly passes for culture in our modern age should be reminder enough for the thoughtful Christian not to let himself get distracted by it.  Self-discipline, however, cannot and will not turn (convert) the Christian and keep him away from what is harmful to his soul.  The reason for this is that his very heart, according to his sinful nature, is the real source of harm in his life because it is the reason for his distractibility.  It is the very heart of man, the best and most essential part of him, the part that turns all the rest, that is bewitched, fascinated by all manner of evil-including one's own sense of self-righteousness, darkened, and obscured.

The outwardly disciplined (ascetic) life of the Christian monastic tradition (and there is a noble history of this tradition even among the churches of the Augsburg Confession) is a praiseworthy way of life.  But that very history, as many can attest, shows that such discipline, such a purposeful keeping away from worldly distractions, in no way ensures that sin and wickedness will not creep in.  It need not creep in, because as we have said, it comes from within. 

Saint Jerome's experience is instructive in this regard.  Every time he felt himself distracted by his passions, he moved further away from distractions.  Finally he came to realize that the world is not the only problem; there is also the self, and it will not do to think one can escape the self.

Of course I am not arguing that we ought to give up on self-discipline. We need more of it, not less. Nevertheless, it is worth constantly reminding ourselves and confessing that it is the heart itself that needs conversion, and that we cannot convert ourselves. It must come from outside of us. 

For discipline to be truly helpful, spiritually beneficial, and healthy, it must be Christian in its very character.  That is, it must flow straight out of the side of Christ, and be immersed in the fountain of mercy that flows from His pierced and broken heart.  If the Church in this world is always in need of reformation (ecclesia semper reformanda) -for it is made up of sinful men, likewise the Christian in this world is in constant need of being connected to God's mercy and grace in Christ, he is in constant need of the remedy for his constant life of sin, namely the sacramental gifts we have in the Church, which flow from the wounds of Christ Himself, in Whom alone we find all joy and comfort, indeed, our salvation.

I think another way, then, to view this passage in Wisdom chapter 4 is to turn it over and think of it the other way around.  Namely, on what ought we be focused?  We might say that Saint Paul restates this wisdom of Solomon thus in his letter to the Philippian Church:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.

In a world of uncertainty we can be certain of this, Christ is truth itself. 
The one honest word is the eternal Logos Himself. 
As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ is our righteousness. 
The only true purity is the pure life of God, revealed to us in Christ.
There is no loveliness in this life apart from the One Who is love itself.
There is no good report that compares to the evangel of the grace of God in Christ.
Who is virtuous but the one exemplary Man Himself?
Who is praiseworthy but Christ?

In counseling us to think on these things, Paul is first of all orienting us to the One worthy of our attention, Christ Jesus our Lord.  And if you want to view Christ most honestly, that is, in a way which clearly sets forth what He is all about, then view Him as St. Paul pictured Him in his preaching to the Galatians, according to His bloody and life giving death. 

We who, as Wisdom 4 reminds us, are so easily bewitched by the distractions of the flesh, are asked rhetorically by the Apostle, Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Let us fix our gaze, and the gaze of our heart, on Him, and, indeed, seize every opportunity to make use of the sacramental gifts by which His Word and Spirit abide in us.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

you may not make the sign of the cross

Today I noticed a rather humorous inconsistency in Lutheran Service Book, the liturgical resource currently favored by LC-MS officialdom.  This takes a bit of set up, so let me explain.

All five of the Mass "settings" in LSB have a rather poorly worded rubric encouraging all to make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the liturgy when they hear the trinitarian invocation.  (The point of the present argument is not to hold forth on why I do not like the statement in question, but if you are interested, it reads as follows:  The sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.)  The rite of baptism (p. 268) begins likewise with the invocation, but does not have this word reminding everyone that they are permitted to make the sign of the cross.  While I encourage, support, and promote the use of the sign of the cross by those who believe and are baptized, let me say again that I am not a fan of this lamely worded rubric.  Nevertheless, it is there, at the top of the preparatory rite of every eucharist.  In fact, we even had it printed out in the bulletin today, along with pretty much the whole liturgy (today and tomorrow "Setting Five" is the version of the week). 

Yet right above that rubric in the printed bulletin, in all-caps, is this: MONDAY ONLY.  That is because this morning we had a baptism instead of the preparatory rite.  So we go to page 268 for the baptism, where we have the invocation without any reference to whether or not the people may make the sign of the cross. 

Think about it.  This means that it would be rather easy for someone to infer that for the first of the two liturgies, the one with the baptism, he may not make the sign of the cross.  After all, the rubric The sign of the cross may be made by all etc, is prefaced in this case with the warning, MONDAY ONLY. 

I don't blame the poor pastor who has to make these things intelligible to the people week in and week out.  Rather, this problem is one of the results of producing a liturgical book by means of committees and subcommittees.  The democratization of liturgical planning is bad enough; what we now have is something worse, the synodocorporatization of the liturgy.  The life of such a creature means, among other things, the martyrdom of consistency of message.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

a word against careless use of the Sacrament

More from Thomas a Kempis:

But greatly must we mourn and lament over our lukewarmness and negligence, that we are not drawn by greater affection to become partakers of Christ, in whom all the hope and the merit of those that are to be saved consist. For He Himself is our sanctification and redemption. He is the consolation of pilgrims and the eternal fruition of the Saints. Therefore it is grievously to be lamented that many so little consider this health-giving mystery, which maketh heaven glad and preserveth the whole world. Alas for the blindness and hardness of man's heart, that he considereth not more this unspeakable gift, and even slippeth down through the daily use, into carelessness.

The Imitation of Christ, Book Four

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the wondrous grace of the Eucharist

O God, invisible Creator of the world, how wondrously dost Thou work with us, how sweetly and graciously Thou dealest with Thine elect, to whom Thou offerest Thyself to be received in this Sacrament! For this surpasseth all understanding.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Monday, August 27, 2012

from Dracula

"It is the eve of St. George's Day.  Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?  Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?"  She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect.  Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting.  It was all very ridiculous, but I did not feel comfortable.  However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it.  I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go.  She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me.  I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemd so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind.  She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, "For your mother's sake," and went out of the room. 

Bram Stoker, Dracula

more precious than the greatest shrine on earth

From The Imitation of Christ:
Many run to diverse places to visit the memorials of departed Saints, and rejoice to hear of their deeds and to look upon the beautiful buildings of their shrines. And behold, Thou art present here with me, O my God, Saint of Saints, Creator of men and Lord of the Angels. Often in looking at those memorials men are moved by curiosity and novelty, and very little fruit of amendment is borne away, especially when there is so much careless trifling and so little true contrition. But here in the Sacrament of the Altar, Thou art present altogether, My God, the Man Christ Jesus; where also abundant fruit of eternal life is given to every one soever that receiveth Thee worthily and devoutly. But to this no levity draweth, no curiosity, nor sensuality, only steadfast faith, devout hope, and sincere charity.

Thomas a Kempis, 1380-1471

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Preparing to receive the Eucharist

A passage from the fifteenth century:
Behold, Noah, that just man, laboured for a hundred years in building the ark, that he might be saved with the few; and I, how shall I be able in one hour to prepare myself to receive the Builder of the world with reverence? Moses, Thy servant, Thy great and especial friend, made an ark of incorruptible wood, which also he covered with purest gold, that he might lay up in it the tables of the law, and I, a corruptible creature, shall I dare thus easily to receive Thee, the Maker of the Law and the Giver of life? Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, was seven years building his magnificent temple to the praise of Thy Name, and for eight days celebrated the feast of its dedication, offered a thousand peace offerings, and solemnly brought up the Ark of the Covenant to the place prepared for it, with the sound of trumpets and great joy, and I, unhappy and poorest of mankind, how shall I bring Thee into my house, who scarce know how to spend half an hour in devotion? And oh that it were even one half hour worthily spent!

The Imitation of Christ-Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

early church reverence for the eucharist

When Lutherans advocate and practice traditional reverent care for all clear and discernible particles of the consecrated bread and wine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, are they relapsing into a thirteenth century vintage scholasticism rejected by the Blessed Reformer?  This accusation has been in the air now for several years, and has not been recanted; so it still must be answered and thrown down anew with every opportunity, for the sake of the Gospel and of those who might be impressed by such as make these allegations. 

Certainly such care and reverence is not a departure from the theology and practice of the Reformer himself, as has been amply shown here and elsewhere.  But is it even the case that it arises only out of late medieval theology and rubricism?  We might not be so quick to entertain such ideas if we go back a millenium earlier, and give a fair hearing to the early church. 

And so, for example, from the third century, let us consider these words of Origen, who gives witness to the prevailing practice of his day.
You who are accustomed to attending the divine mysteries know how, when you receive the body of the Lord, you guard it with all care and reverence lest any small part should fall from it, lest any piece of the consecrated gift be lost.

As further food for thought, I suggest that this witness, in itself, implies the likelihood that this type of practice and level of care for the Sacrament predates the third century, and goes back into the silent age of the first few centuries, the age when the Sacrament was considered such an awesome mystery that it was considered best for the most part not to even speak or write about it publically, and comports with the care intimated in the New Testament itself, where, eg., our Lord instructs after the miraculous feeding in John 6,  "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

the essence of typography

I like how Robert Bringhurst, in his book, The Elements of Typographic Style, sums up the art of typography (page 11).
Typography is the craft of endowing human language with a durable visual form, and thus with an independent existence.  Its heartwood is calligraphy-the dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand-and its roots reach into living soil, though its branches may be hung each year with new machines.  So long as the root lives, typography remains a source of true delight, true knowledge, true surprise.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

a scene from The Diary of a Country Priest

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films, The Diary of a Country Priest. In this scene, the young priest visits one of his parishioners, a proud woman who, though not a church delinquent, has nonetheless allowed herself to become estranged from God.

While the skilled Lutheran pastor will have certain things to say and certain accents he will make which in some ways differ from the Roman Catholic perspective, nevertheless there is much I love about how this scene plays out. I must add, too, that this scene cannot be fully appreciated without having seen the whole film. In fact, I also recommend the book, which is even better than the film.

One of the things the viewer must bear in mind, going into this scene, is that the priest is going into this visit under a weight of great suffering. He suffers physically (he won't know until later that it is stomach cancer), and also spiritually. It is in that context of suffering and weakness that he enters into this pastoral visit. 

Leadership consultants know that one should not go to an important meeting in such a condition.  Many in the church feel the same way.  Yet here he is, in a state of weakness and vulnerability, the degree of which seems analogous to the condition of Jesus when He met the devil in the wilderness after a forty day fast.  In fact, this is an apt comparison, for a number of reasons.  For the priest, in this pastoral visit, is not involved in a mere business meeting, requiring the mere conveying of information and a good impression.  Rather, he is engaged in a serious spiritual conflict.  This is a front in a great spiritual warfare.  To be sure, this is not to say that there is hostility between him and his parishioner.  He is there out of love for her.  She is not the enemy; the enemies are sin, death, and the devil himself.  Put another way, he wrestles not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  And in this fight it is not what we bring that matters, for God's grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in weakness.  The spiritually mature Christian knows his weakness, and glories in his infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon him.  Indeed, it is the power of Christ which is at work in this confrontation; in fact, it is the very work of Christ Himself through the ministry of this humble priest. 

And in the end, it is Christ's peace which the priest bestows upon his penitent, a peace that will renew her life, and which will cost the priest more suffering and scandal.  But for that, you must see the movie.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Apocrypha-Lutheran Edition?

It is good that CPH is finally publishing the Apocrypha. It seems, however, that it will be in the modern ESV translation. Also, some of what is said in the CPH web page on this publication is disingenuous. For example:

For more than 100 years, the Apocrypha has been left out of English versions of the Bible. Concordia Publishing House is proud to announce the 2012 release of the first and only ESV edition of the Apocrypha with notes and annotations by Lutherans.

The second sentence in that quote does not follow logically from the first, for it could almost give the impression that CPH is reversing the century old trend of leaving the Apocrypha out of the bible, when in fact, this publication still leaves the Apocrypha out of the bible. It merely continues the decades long American trend of printing the OT Apocrypha in a separate volume.  Doing so in the ESV, and doing so with “Lutheran” notes, these are the things that are different.  Yet it remains the case that this new CPH books continues the American tradition described in the first sentence of the passage quoted above, a most unhealthy, uncatholic, and unlutheran tradition.

When I want to read the Apocrypha in traditional English, and I usually do, I open my King James Bible, which I obtained from Cambridge University Press before I started seminary, and it still serves me well.  At other times, I like to consult my RSV Bible with the Apocrypha, a modern English version which has stood the test of decades of use, and, frankly, of rather ecumenical usage.

Let CPH publish the King James with Apocrypha, and a modern English bible with Apocrypha, whether RSV, or their trendy ESV.  And add as many new Lutheran notes as you like.  Then we will have real progress toward a healthy evangelical and catholic appreciation of our biblical heritage among our people.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

spectacles & the liturgy

The year I started seminary study I went to get an eye exam, and sure enough, I was found to be in need of glasses for reading.  After a couple of years those glasses disappeared.  As I recall, I left them sitting on the table at a restaurant, and when I went back, they were gone.  Well, I've finally decided, several years later, to invest in another exam and pair of glasses.  I'm very mindful of these glasses, perhaps more so than people who wear theirs all the time, since I put mine on when I read, write, and work on the computer, and take them off when I'm not engaged in those tasks.  In other words, they go on and off quite a lot, and I'm continually handling them.

And one of the thoughts to which I'm repeatedly drawn, as I fumble with these glasses in church, is that the need to wear glasses at Mass is a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with the state of the liturgy in the modern Church.  In theory, the Lutheran Church prides itself in being the praying Church, ecclesia orans; in reality, she has fallen from that ideal, and prefers to live her common life as the reading Church, ecclesia legens.  I find myself having to put on my glasses for parts of the liturgy in which I am least interested in participating, like 20th century hymns of questionable worth, or clever confessions of sin, like the so called Setting Four.

When I wear glasses at Mass I am also holding whatever it is that I am reading.  This, of course, robs me of the freedom to hold my hands in prayer and worship.  Reading also robs me of the ability to gaze upon the altar, or sacred art, or close my eyes. 

More importantly, the Church is leaving behind the disabled, the illiterate, the very young, and the attention challenged.  The liturgy was meant to be known, deeply, by the the Church's members, and worship was meant to involve the mind, the heart, and the body.  These are ancient lessons we could learn anew, if we were to move away from the trend to use liturgical forms which require us to read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Christological Nature of the Distribution of the Sacrament

When the ordained presbyter consecrates the bread and wine in the celebration of the venerable Sacrament of the Altar, he is engaged in an essentially christological activity, for in his recitation the all-powerful Word of Christ Jesus Himself is accomplishing that which it expresses.  It is the office of Christ that is being executed through these simple actions of the priest.  The same actions performed by someone who has not been called into that office in no way bring with them the promise that Christ's presence and grace are involved.  As His Grace, Bishop Jobst Schone, put it in his 1996 essay, The Christological Character of the Office of the Ministry and the Royal Priesthood, "There is no doubt that Luther regarded ordination as absolutely necessary for full practice of the pastoral ministry, in particular, for administering the eucharist. He would never concede this to the non-ordained even in cases of emergency."  This ought not be a scandalous claim, though if it were not only the general position, but also one that were generally taken seriously in today's Missouri Synod, then I dare say we would have less pastors rushing through the Words of the Sacrament, and it would certainly not be the case that laymen are still to this day given official permission from Districts of the Synod to [supposedly] celebrate the Sacrament.  (The seminaries show themselves to be complicit in this scandal by inviting these men, not to repent and cease, but to enroll in alternate route seminary study.) 

Be that as it may, I would like to challenge those among us who do still hold such old fashioned views to take their thinking one step further than is generally done today.  That is, not only the consecration of the elements, but also the giving out of the venerable Eucharist is an essentially christological activity, and traditionally left to those men who are called and ordained for eucharistic Ministry.  Just as by the mouth of the celebrant Jesus Himself consecrates His Holy Supper, likewise by the hands of Christ's ordained ministers Jesus Himself feeds His people.  Our Lord wants this to be His Supper, by which He feeds us His own self for food; He did not set it up as a celebration of the assembled community, in which it is important for the people to be represented by the assistance of certain laymen.  As Luther says, in the Supper "Our Lord is at one and the same time chef, cook, butler, host, and food." 

Lutheran tradition assumes that both the celebrant of the Mass and anyone he has to assist him in giving out the Sacrament will be men who are currently (ie, not merely training to be) ordained ministers in the Church.  In the case of the celebrant, he must be a presbyter.  If he needs an assistant, traditionally he would employ for this service either another presbyter who happens to be present, or an actual deacon.  (And with the mention of "deacon" I am speaking a foreign language to many, so I must leave off that topic for another occasion.)  Elders, let us be clear, are not ministers of the Church.  Neither are seminarians.  And to be clear, in the category of seminarian are those who are referenced by LCMS custom as "vicars."  These men are done a disservice, to their thinking and formation, when they are given tasks that ought to be reserved for ministers of the Church, though too often they see the wrong example growing up, they see it in college, they receive muddled teaching on it, and they are pressed into this position in field work, in pulpit supply, and on vicarage. 

In a sense it is quite natural for a church to deem it suitable to give to spiritually mature laymen (like "elders") or otherwise prominent and honored persons of the parish (such as political leaders, etc) prominent roles in the celebration of the eucharist.  But what feels natural, and in some places what has been done for generations, isn't always what is right.  The tendency to give ministerial responsibilities to men who are not ministers is hardly new to our time.  It is reminiscent of an episode in the career of St. Ambrose, the great fourth century bishop of Milan.  The bishop was celebrating Mass, and the Emperor Theodosius approached the altar.  Ambrose inquired why Theodosius was entering the sanctuary, and the emperor, well meaning and accustomed to a practice which prevailed elsewhere, responded that he was going to assist at the altar.  Ambrose, through his deacon, answered the emperor firmly and pastorally, "My lord, the law is that you go out and stand with the rest.  The purple robe makes princes, not priests."

I suggest that one of the clues to this traditional approach to the administration of the Sacrament is still built into our liturgy, though it is easily overlooked.  Namely, when the communicant receives the consecrated Host he usually hears either the words "Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins" or an abbreviated form of essentially the same thing.  And likewise, when the communicant receives the precious Blood of Christ, he usually hears either the words "Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins" or an abbreviated form of essentially the same thing.  And if we stop and listen to these words, perhaps one of the thoughts that will come to most of us is that they remind us, to a great degree, of the words of Jesus Himself in the words of the institution of the Sacrament.  They are, in fact, modeled on those holy words, and in a sense they are a restating of them.  How much more clear would the christological nature of the feeding of the Supper become if we could always count on hearing those words of distribution, so eerily reminiscent of the Verba Christi, coming from men who actually are ministers of Christ?

I am thankful to be at a church where at least the pastor still gives out the Host.  I have been in less fortunate situations in the past.  For example, there are churches where the Supper is given out on both the north and the south halves of the altar rail simultaneously, so that there needs to be besides the pastor, three others, namely, one for the second paten and two for the chalices.  In that scenario, if one ends up taking communion on the side that is not served by the pastor, then he will end up receiving both the Host and the Chalice from the hands of laymen.  The pastor may as well sit down and let others handle the distribution of the Sacrament, like some Roman Catholic priests do today.  Yet even in some of our more mindfully traditionalist parishes, there is room for more consistent thought and practice in this regard.

Good pastors would begin to rethink aspects of their eucharistic practice if they were to consider these matters not only in terms of the rubric of gospel freedom, but also that of vocation.  That is, a man ought ask not merely whether he is forbidden by chapter and verse to do this or that, but whether God is clearly, manifestly, calling him to do it. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

a point of churchly etiquette

At the church where Ruth and I are active and hold membership I do not serve the church as deacon.  I knew that most likely I would be, for the present, setting aside official diaconal parish ministry when we switched to our current church, and I was willing to do so because transferring to our current parish means having a pastor who is faithful to the Gospel and to his calling.  So in the grand scheme that trade-off is worth it.  This situation means that my wife and I are again together in the pew for Mass.  And so I have gone back to a practice that may seem curious to some, so I thought I would reflect briefly on it here.

I refer to the fact that when we get up to go to Communion, I do not do what most considerate and loving husbands and heads of households would do, and step aside to let the wife go first.  That is a rubric of social etiquette which, when in the church, I completely ignore.  I do not judge others for their proclivities in this regard, but would simply like to offer a thought or two on why I do what I do in terms of the order in which we go to Communion. 

As I say, giving a lady the deference, when walking in line, or, say, when going through a door, is a custom of social etiquette, and a very worthy one.  It is part of what it means to manifest respect for the fairer sex; it helps foster in our young people the important lesson that a man should act like a gentleman, part of which means to treat ladies with modesty and respect, to treat them as ladies, in other words. 

So why do I not do this in church?  It is because, while there are many points of identity and intersection between worldly etiquette and churchly etiquette, there are also points at which they traditionally do not manifest themselves in the same way, and this is one of them.  There was a time in the church when all the men would take Communion first, and only then the women would receive Communion.  This was easily facilitated in many churches by the men and women being segregated from each other.  I am not advocating a return to that practice.  It is instructive, however, to consider the order intended by this custom, and how we might preserve such order in our modern church.  Consider what the Blessed Reformer writes in the 1526 Deutsche Messe, "Let there be a decent and orderly approach, not men and women together, but the women after the men, wherefore they should also stand apart from each other in separate places."  Reverence for the Word of God, both in terms of the Gospel, and the faithful preaching thereof, and in terms of the true presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in his Sacrament, and manifesting and fostering such reverence by traditional practices of churchly order and etiquette, these are of greater importance to Luther's liturgical thinking than modern notions of conceiving the liturgy as a celebration of the assembled community. 

In our modern milieu, for the most part the people gather in the church according to nuclear familial units.  That is, whole households worship together in the same pew.  And of course I advocate no change in this regard.  We might draw certain lessons, however, from the way our forebears worshipped and conducted themselves in the church.  And I suggest one way we can translate this lesson of order is for the husband and head of the household to walk to the altar before his family, and to take Communion first.  In doing so, he shows himself to be the leader, the husband, the head of the family.  He literally leads his wife, and children if applicable, to our Lord.  He thereby sets the example of spirituality for his family.  She (or they) see him get up first, and when he gets to the end of the pew she might even see the example of his genuflection before leading her to the altar.  Then, at the altar he kneels down, setting the example of reverence for his family.  His posture, his signing himself with the holy cross, all of these things, too, have the added benefit of being examples for his family.  Finally, the celebrant and his assistant arrive and place the Sacred Host in the man's mouth.  I am not saying that the wife actively and directly sees all of this, as though she is there to study her husband.  Nevertheless, he provides the spiritual leadership and sets the very real, flesh and blood, example of Christian piety for his family.  It is the Christian husband's role to lead his wife and family in prayer, and what we often overlook is that Sunday morning (and whenever else they have the chance to go to Mass together) is one of those times when he gets to do just that, by bringing his family to church, and also by his conduct in the church.

And what does it mean that he eats and drinks of the Blessed Sacrament before his wife does?  It means, for one thing, that he sees any strength and moral and spiritual leadership he provides in his house as first deriving from what he is fed at every Eucharist.  To a degree it is analogous to the tradition of the pastor (whose office is that of spiritual father of a church and the office of Christ, Who is husband to His Church) giving Communion to himself before he gives It to the people.  (As Luther writes in the 1523 Formula Missae et Communionis, "Then, while the Agnus Dei is sung, let him communicate, first himself and then the people.") 

It is not the goal of any Christian to be the focus of attention in the church.  Nevertheless, by our conduct we do set an example, each according to his station and place in life.  And by maintaining traditional order in our churchly conduct we foster and cultivate the environment conducive to spiritual benefits we cannot know or foresee.

Monday, May 7, 2012

liturgical thoughts on the book, French Kids Eat Everything

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Karen Le Billon's book, French Kids Eat Everything, a book I highly recommend to you, dear reader.  It describes, by means both of autobiographical anecdote and informed research, the stark contrast between the French food culture and that of North America (to be sure, America is not singled out-she continually uses the language North America-her main experience on this side of the ocean being in Vancouver).  There is more to life than the two party American political divide, how much moreso when that divide is dumbed down and oversimplified into ignorant caricatures.  Therefore let me just remind and assure my more overtly Republican friends that France is a friend of America, and there are valuable aspects of French culture from which we could learn and benefit. 

In the case of the present study, the French attitude toward food, and the culinary aspect of education, is described in detail. This is an education that is not limited to the school, nor to an elite class, but begins almost from birth, and is supported by every aspect of daily life.  Raising the child to appreciate food and truly to enjoy and respect food is part of what it means to raise him to be bien éduqué.  As such, it is essential to expose the child, by stages, though beginning quite early and aggressively, to a great variety of foods-fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, etc, their smell, taste, feel, look, and texture.  To accomplish this, the child is raised naturally to expect to try whatever is on his plate, rather than to have the freedom to choose not to eat something if it doesn't strike his fancy.  What is important in this approach is not so much fostering the child's personal freedom, but teaching him to develop his taste.  As a result, he develops a very mature appreciation and taste for good food, which also happens to be very good for him.  By contrast, the American tendency is to cater to the child's desire-to feed him exactly when he wants to eat, to feed him what he wants, and to allow him to refuse to eat something that he has decided he does not like.  What is important in this approach is the child's individuality, and the integrity of his sense of personal freedom.  As a result, he develops likes and just as many dislikes, regardless of whether those likes or dislikes are qualitatively good for him, and he will, by and large, settle into a lifestyle that is largely oriented toward junk food and his more immature culinary tastes.  In contrast to the French, we must admit that the American approach too often raises a child to be an adult who is stuck in a culinary infancy.  This is the briefest of summaries, and as I say, I commend the book to your own study. If I ever find the time, I would like to discuss it in detail here.

For the present, however, I wish to draw a connection between the contrast in food cultures as described in this book and what this contrast might teach us about where we are going wrong liturgically in the modern Church.  The modern approach to liturgy, certainly in the American Confessional Lutheran scene, tends toward preserving the people's sense of their own personal freedom in the Gospel, their freedom of liturgical choice, we might say.  The people get what they want, and when they want it.  I might add here that another dynamic which very much factors into the liturgical dimension of pastoral ministry is fear, and I believe this is often the case even among those who might not routinely and overtly sense this fear.  It is naturally never very far from the surface, for the people have the power to punish, even fire and evict, a pastor who displeases them.  For those whose experience prevents them from accepting this as plausible, except where the pastor "must have done something wrong," I assure the reader it has happened many times and will happen again. 

And so we emphasize the slowest and most "sensitive" approach to change, if at all.  We know the value of waiting till everyone is "on board."  Even better to make change happen so slow that the people don't even notice it happening.  Like the American parent with the temperamental child, we don't want to upset the people.  Maybe stretch it out to, say, a fifty year plan.

Many of the same Confessional scholars and church leaders who emphasize this Gospel freedom in their approach to liturgical leadership astutely admit that the wonderfully rich and healthful diet of the traditional liturgy would be good for our people, and so they come up with well intentioned ideas of long term change, and in some cases unproven social experiments, such as creating a dumbed down version of the traditional liturgy with the hope that it will eventually lead the people on to something better, not unlike giving your children McDonald's food because, after all, it is better than Doritos, Twinkies, and doughnuts, hoping that one day they will express a desire to eat real, natural, healthy cuisine. 

It has been openly admitted, for example, that the inclusion of the "Setting Four" in Lutheran Service Book was intended merely for those congregations that have lacked a historical practice, with the intention of introducing them to a form of the liturgy that will at least be an improvement over the practice to which they had been accustomed.  (See this Gottesdienst discussion, including the comments.)  Whether this odd contrived experiment has resulted in an improvement in the practice of some congregations will certainly be argued by some advocates, though there is no evidence that it will lead them to a true appreciation for a richer diet of the traditional liturgy.  Just as importantly, notice what else has manifestly resulted.  This order has become a regular part of the liturgical diet of many congregations.  My own parish is one example, a church with a reputation for better than average liturgical practice.  Once a liturgical order has been introduced, it will have its fans and advocates, and since the people's taste and desire, their freedom, is of central value, it will stay in rotation, and eventually become domesticated and be considered quite normal.  Scholars will one day sing its praises, like now happens with "Setting One."  Elbowed further to the fringe in this process is the order with real, organic connection to our liturgical tradition.  And pushed even further to the fringe, as a mere oddity of taste, are those more solemn aspects of the traditional usage, earning for themselves the suspicion of legalism and Romanism. 

My point, I hasten to clarify, is not to use this whole discussion as a guise under which merely to pick on Setting Four.  Picking on Setting Four would require a separate blog entry, and it would be a worthy endeavor, like picking on Setting One and Setting Two.  Rather, it is an effort to promote the conversation in what is perhaps a new, but I think a healthy, direction. 

Another point of contact we might make between the French approach to food and the Church's liturgical life is the French aversion to snacking.  It leaves one at times with the real feeling and sense of an empty stomach, or what we might even term "feeling hungry," yet this is not seen as a bad thing.  It helps to promote an anticipation for and true appreciation of the next meal, which is usually a wonderfully thought out and well prepared meal.  Likewise, I suggest our eucharistic piety would be greatly edified (that is, the rich feast of the Lord's Holy Supper would be more fully appreciated) if we would more actively promote the traditional practice of fasting, which helps, among other things, to increase our sense of need for the gift of the Supper.  Bon repas doit commencer par la faim.  The other lesson we might draw from the non-snacking culture of the French is the fact that there is a rhythm to the Liturgical Year; that is, we cannot fully appreciate the feasts of the liturgy if we practice it at will all year round.  Rather, we liturgically "fast" from aspects of it in certain seasons, and learn to slow down, and more fully sense and enjoy the whole rhythm of our liturgical life.

Our modern approach infantilizes the Church and its liturgical tastes.  I suggest we could learn from the French approach to food education, in which even the infants, out of love for them, are brought, sensitively but quite actively, out of infancy and finally to the maturity of good taste.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saint Athanasius the Deacon

2 May, in the Western Church, is the day traditionally kept as the feast of Saint Athanasius, the great fourth century bishop of Alexandria and doctor of the Church.  Keeping a saint's feast means, first of all and most essentially, celebrating his life in Christ by means of the ultimate Christian feast, the Holy Supper of our Lord's Body and Blood, ie., the Holy Mass, wherein the Christian community is blessed with the joyous opportunity to feast upon the Saint in whom all true saints have their holiness, the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ our Emmanuel. 

Unfortunately, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, by and large, is not yet at the point in her development where it is normal for a Christian to expect to hear the Mass at his local LCMS church on a saint's day.  What is the reason for this? 

It is partly explained by the less than wholesome and catholic ways the saints are treated among us, where, for example, Lutheran Service Book refuses the title "saint" to the saints who came after the age of the Apostles, both when it comes to the listing of holy days and in the author citations for the hymns. 

It is partly explained by the tendency in our church too often to prefer pedagogy over liturgy, catechesis over mystery.  Not that teaching and catechesis ought not have a healthy place in the Church, but that place ultimately is to lead people into the holy mysteries of God.  The pedagogical tendency to which I refer is manifest, for example, in the telling fact that on saints' days it is far more common to see a plethora of summaries of a saint's life in the cyberworld than to see the people gather in actual flesh and blood liturgical assembly.  So a paragraph on a blog or on Facebook, whether it be cleverly composed or copied from some official church site, passes for commemorating a saint and keeping his feast. 

But mostly, I suggest, it is explained by the fact that ours is a church that is not evolved to the point where it could be said to be marked by a truly eucharistic culture and piety.  This observation is not made out of disrespect to the liturgical progress that God has brought about to this point in our history, but rather out of the fervent prayer and the hope that, for the sake of our young people, for the sake of their future children, and for the sake of our witness to the world, we will thus grow.  That, to be sure, is the "church growth" for which we should actively strive, not numerical but spiritual.  Call it the Sermon on the Mount's corrective to the Church Growth Movement (seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you). 

Let the Mass truly be once again the chief divine service for Lutherans. 

Having offered that little diatribe, let me now share a brief thought on our saint of the day, the holy bishop Athanasius.  It was in the early stages of the post-persecution era, the supposedly peaceful Constantinian age, in which the devil attacked the flock in the most effective and clever way, by sowing and cultivating the seeds of theological discord within.  And this discord not about what in a later millennium would be thought of as secondary or non-fundamental doctrine, but about the very heart of Christian doctrine and confession, the person and natures of Christ, and the Holy Trinity.  Athanasius labored long and hard in his episcopal career, in the decades following the Council of Nicea, in defense of the full divinity of Christ, the uncreated One, who for us men and for our salvation took on flesh and became man.  For against this confession stood Arius, a popular priest from Alexandria, Athanasius's own back yard.  The Arian problem was more than merely a man, it bloomed into a real movement, with followers across the spectrum of society.  Despite the cartoonishly inaccurate rhetoric we get from anti-Lutheran Catholic apologists about the unity of the Church before 1517, we cannot appreciate the disunity of the Church in the age of the christological controversies.  Whole dioceses could be in the hands of rival parties.  It was as hostile and uncertain a time to be a Christian as the fourteenth century epoch of the rival popes, or the midst of the Smalcald War.  As Adrian Fortescue puts it in his excellent 1908 book on the Greek Fathers,

During the very lifetime of the heroes who could show the glorious wounds they had received under Diocletian, the Christian Church was tossed by a raging storm that nearly wrecked her.  Bishops fell on every side, intruders and counter-intruders filled every see, Anathemas and counter-Anathemas thundered across the empire from Tyre to Milan, so that the wretched layman who wanted to serve God in peace may well have wondered whether the old cry of Christianos ad leones were not on the whole pleasanter than the shouts of Homousios and Homoiusios, of which he understood nothing except that, whichever he said, someone was sure to excommunicate him.

The towering figure in the early days of this warfare on the catholic side was St. Athanasius.  He suffered dearly for his confession of Christ, being sent into exile five times.  His was a very real sort of martyrdom, a costly witness, for which he received his crown in Christ. 

Now you will recall the curious fact that I titled this reflection Saint Athanasius the Deacon, and that not to disrespect his episcopal dignity, but to honor his churchly servanthood.  For a deacon never really ceases being a deacon, even when his circumstances change, whether to a seeming loss of diaconal ministry or a promotion in rank.  But I also highlight Athanasius as Deacon because of the remarkable role he played when he served under Bishop Alexander.  When the ecumenical council of bishops convened at Nicea, there was a deacon from Egypt present, the holy and learned Athanasius, who was made deacon six years earlier.  So strong was his theological leadership that his succession to the great see of Alexandria was a foregone conclusion. 

I am the least of all deacons, but I look to Christ, whose whole life was diaconal to the core, and I look to the great exemplar deacons of Christ's Church, among whom St. Athanasius stands as one of the great confessors of Christ our Lord.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christus Resurrexit

Christus resurrexit. Vere resurrexit.
Christos anesti. Alithos anesti.
Krishti Ungjall.  Vertete Ungjall.
Al-maseeh qam. Haqqan qam.
Christ est ressuscite.  En verite il est ressuscite.
Cristo esta resucitado.  En verdad, esta resucitado.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Luther throw out books of the Bible?

The following is a blog post which I wrote over two years ago.  I see the readership of this blog changing, so that some have not seen posts from that far back.  Plus, it is still quite relevant.  People are buying my prayer book, for example, and in it is listed the books of the Bible including the Apocryphal books.  Such a concept will be new to many Lutherans, so a brief review of the matter will be helpful to them. And since regrettably I am not able lately to write as much as I'd like, I decided to post this one, virtually as is, from February of 2010.  Cheers.

It seems to be the overwhelming accepted version of history among most Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants alike these days that Catholic Bibles are bigger than the Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out a number of the books of the Bible. This notion requires not merely a No, but more like a double or triple No. When I see laymen make this mistake, I often take the time to correct them in a friendly and respectful way. But when I see priests, theologians, apologists, writers, and other types of public teachers teaching this nonsense, such occasions call for a respectful yet firm and resounding answer. For 1. such people have less of an excuse for their intellectual transgression, and 2. when lies of this sort come out of their mouth, or from their pen, it is more dangerous. To be clear, when I use the term "lies" here, I know that many who are guilty of these lies do not mean them as such. Some, on the other hand, promote them with such clear animosity toward the Reformer that it makes me wonder. Either way, though, that Luther threw books out of the Bible is a lie, and I would like to help correct it.

I heard this nonsense again a few days ago, this time on Milwaukee's Catholic radio station, on a program called "Go Ask Your Father," hosted on that occasion by Father Richard Simon. According to Simon, Luther "threw out" Ecclesiasticus, along with the other deuterocanonical books.

There are at least a couple problems with the notion that "Catholic Bibles are bigger than Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out parts of the Bible." First, Catholic Bibles are not, truth be told, bigger. They are bigger than modern Protestant Bibles, yes. They are not, however, bigger than the Lutheran Bible. In fact, the Catholic Bible is even a tiny bit smaller than the Luther Bible. The Anglican Bible, ie, the King James, in fact, is even bigger than either the Luther Bible or the Catholic Bible. I will elaborate below. Second, we must emphatically answer and correct the lie that Martin Luther threw things out of the Bible.

The chief difference between the Bible in official use in Luther's time on the one hand, and Luther's German translation on the other, is the way in which the writings are arranged. Let me take this opportunity, however, to say a word regarding the Vulgate, the Bible of Luther's time, before I proceed. As meaningful as Luther's translation was for the church of his time, as inspiring as it was for translators in other lands, perhaps most notably England, and as important a place as it holds in our Lutheran tradition, none of this means that in translating the Bible into German that Luther rejected or had disdain for the Latin Bible, the Vulgate. Before, during, and after Luther's translating work, the Bible that he lived on, memorized, prayed, and often quoted in the classroom, to the end of his life, was the Vulgate. When Luther spoke of the importance of learning the Biblical languages, and compared the languages to the sheath of the sword of the Word of God, he had in mind not only the Hebrew and Greek, but also the Latin. The Latin scriptures are a part of our Biblical heritage, and they are part of our Lutheran heritage. In some ways the literary achievement of Luther's German Bible is analogous to that of Jerome's Latin Bible. And we do a disservice to our students today, especially our future priests and theologians, when we do not include the Latin in their training.

What we call the Old Testament Apocrypha, writings which in the Roman Catholic scheme are incorporated among the rest of the Old Testament, Luther placed together, at the end of the Old Testament. Where are these writings in the Catholic Bible? Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, which is also called Sirach, come after the Song of Songs in Catholic Bibles. Baruch comes after Lamentations. Tobit, and Judith, come after Nehemiah. 1 and 2 Maccabees come after Malachi. What we call The Rest of Esther is included with Esther. The Song of the Three Holy Children is found in the third chapter of Daniel. The History of Susana is found at the beginning of Daniel, and Bel and the Dragon at the end of Daniel. These are all included by Luther, together, at the end of the Old Testament.

Some readers may have been surprised when I mentioned above that Luther's Bible even has a bit more than the Catholic one. What I mean by that is that he includes The Prayer of Manasses, with the OT Apocrypha, a writing which you will not generally find in Catholic Bibles. Before concluding, however, that Luther here is guilty of the opposite of what he is usually accused of, and that he innovated by adding a book to the Bible, bear in mind that The Prayer of Manasses has a real history in Biblical tradition, and that even Rome includes it in the back of the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate. The English Church, with the publication of the so-called King James Version, in 1611, went a bit further than Luther or Rome, in that you will see in the Apocrypha the inclusion of 1 and 2 Esdras, which are also, I hasten to add here, like The Prayer of Manasses, included in the appendix of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, though left out of most modern Catholic Bibles.

It might be helpful here to add that there are other examples of seeming differences between a Lutheran Bible which includes the Apocrypha on the one hand, and the classic Roman Catholic Bible, such as, say, the Douay-Rheims, on the other, differences which are really more matters of terminology. For example, what Douay-Rheims calls 1 and 2 Esdras are what we call Ezra and Nehemiah. (What we call 1 and 2 Esdras, the Vulgate calls 3 and 4 Esdras.) What we call 1 and 2 Chronicles Douay calls 1 and 2 Paralipomenon. What we call 1 and 2 Samuel Douay calls 1 and 2 Kings, while what we call 1 and 2 Kings Douay calls 3 and 4 Kings. Such are really merely differences of nomenclature, and of numbering.

In many ways I appreciate Gary Michuta's book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, despite its clear bias. Let me quote Michuta from page 245 and following:

Catholic apologists sometimes claim that Martin Luther removed the Deuterocanonical books from Scripture. This assertion is not entirely true. Luther's German translation of the Scriptures included all of the Deuterocanon.

Here Michuta, a good scholar, is guilty of gross understatement. He comes clean later, when he says that, "It is, therefore, incorrect to say that Luther removed the Deuterocanon." (246)

Significant in this discussion too, I suggest, is not only what is on the shelf in a Luther Bible, but what role these texts play in our liturgical tradition. And here an honest appraisal of Lutheran liturgical tradition will reveal that texts from the Old Testament Apocrypha are read as the lessons on many saints' days, that they are the basis for hymns, and that they show up elsewhere in the propers, especially in introits and graduals. Traditional Lutheran practice also has several canticles which derive from places like Tobit, The Song of the Three Holy Children, and Judith, among others.

Are there Lutheran catechetical curricula that teach that there are precisely 66 books in the Bible? Yes. And as innocent as the intentions of their creators may be, I must respectfully say that they are wrong. They are doing our children a disservice, whose minds are being implanted with these notions that will be near dogma to them. As they go through the later grades and mature physically, intellectually, and mentally, their spiritual maturity will not be all it could be, for they will have yet one more anti-Catholic bias as part of their implicit thinking, since after all, "of course" the Catholics must be wrong for having those extra books. They are also spiritually cheated simply because they are being denied all the rich content in the Apocryphal writings of the Old Testament. A few years back Fr. Burnell Eckardt, at the Concordia Catechetical Symposium, held forth beautifully on the catechetical value of The History of Susana. That is just one example. Luther, Chemnitz, and many other theologians and preachers in our tradition drew deeply from the treasures to be found in Wisdom or Sirach, or Tobit, and the rest.

True, when Lutherans teach that there are 66 books in the Bible, they are in a sense simply being true to the reality of printed bibles that are published, promoted, and used in the world of modern American Lutheranism. This trend is a Protestantism, which needs to change. And printing the Apocrypha in a separate volume is not the answer.

The books of the Bible, and the way they are divided, can be conceived in a variety of ways. Martin Chemnitz can be a good example in this regard, if we study his Ministry, Word and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. I recommend to Lutheran parents and catechists that you teach your children and students something like what I used to teach my Sunday School kids. I required them to learn, and then each recite in front of the class, the books of the Bible, as you find them in the list below. They will complain and not believe they can do it at first. After they learn it, they will tell you with excitement, and after they recite it, they will have a great sense of pride and achievement. To be clear, I did not require my Sunday School kids to learn how many chapters are in each book, which you see in parentheses below. I do think that this can and should be done in the later grades.

To my friends who are of the Anglican tradition, though I enjoy 1 and 2 Esdras, the reason they are not in the list I composed is simply that they are not in the Luther Bible and are not part of Lutheran tradition. When I publish the diglot Bible, however, I am thinking of including them as an appendix.

The Books of the Holy Bible

1. Genesis (50 chapters)
2. Exodus (40 chapters)
3. Leviticus (27 chapters)
4. Numbers (36 chapters)
5. Deuteronomy (34 chapters)
6. Joshua (24 chapters)
7. Judges (21 chapters)
8. Ruth (4 chapters)
9. First Samuel (31 chapters)
10. Second Samuel (24 chapters)
11. First Kings (22 chapters)
12. Second Kings (25 chapters)
13. First Chronicles (29 chapters)
14. Second Chronicles (36 chapters)
15. Ezra (10 chapters)
16. Nehemiah (13 chapters)
17. Esther (10 chapters)
18. Job (42 chapters)
19. Psalms (150 psalms)
20. Proverbs (31 chapters)
21. Ecclesiastes (12 chapters)
22. Song of Songs (8 chapters)
23. Isaiah (66 chapters)
24. Jeremiah (52 chapters)
25. Lamentations (5 chapters)
26. Ezekiel (48 chapters)
27. Daniel (12 chapters)
28. Hosea (14 chapters)
29. Joel (3 chapters)
30. Amos (9 chapters)
31. Obadiah (1 chapter)
32. Jonah (4 chapters)
33. Micah (7 chapters)
34. Nahum (3 chapters)
35. Habakkuk (3 chapters)
36. Zephaniah (3 chapters)
37. Haggai (2 chapters)
38. Zechariah (14 chapters)
39. Malachi (4 chapters)

40. Tobit (14 chapters)
41. Judith (16 chapters)
42. Additions to Esther (7 chapters)
43. Wisdom (19 chapters)
44. Sirach (51 chapters)
45. Baruch (6 chapters)
46. Song of the Three Holy Children (1 chapter)
47. History of Susanna (1 chapter)
48. Bel and the Dragon (1 chapter)
49. Prayer of Manasses (1 chapter)
50. First Maccabees (16 chapters)
51. Second Maccabees (15 chapters)

52. Matthew (28 chapters)
53. Mark (16 chapters)
54. Luke (24 chapters)
55. John (21 chapters)
56. Acts (28 chapters)
57. Romans (16 chapters)
58. First Corinthians (16 chapters)
59. Second Corinthians (13 chapters)
60. Galatians (6 chapters)
61. Ephesians (6 chapters)
62. Philippians (4 chapters)
63. Colossians (4 chapters)
64. First Thessalonians (5 chapters)
65. Second Thessalonians (3 chapters)
66. First Timothy (6 chapters)
67. Second Timothy (4 chapters)
68. Titus (3 chapters)
69. Philemon (1 chapter)
70. Hebrews (13 chapters)
71. James (5 chapters)
72. First Peter (5 chapters)
73. Second Peter (3 chapters)
74. First John (5 chapters)
75. Second John (1 chapter)
76. Third John (1 chapter)
77. Jude (1 chapter)
78. Revelation (22 chapters)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the problem with the short term lay mission trip

At this link please find an article, which references another article, and ultimately a video which started the whole discussion.  The video has sparked widely diverging opinions.  Unfortunately some of it has sunk to immature accusations.  I myself find nothing particularly hateful about the video.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it.  This is quite regardless of whether I would have done a similar video in the same style.  For it is the central point the gentleman makes that is important, not how he makes it.  That point is not, as some falsely infer, to condemn all who go on these short term "mission" trips; the point, rather, is to attack a certain mindset.  It is a mindset not always found in its fullest, boldest, most consistent form; that is, some are guilty of it in lesser degrees, and some in more degrees, than others.  Nevertheless, it is a faulty sort of spirituality which is, in its essence, all too common today.  I do not blame those guilty of this way of thinking of mission trips (especially the youth) as much as I blame the culture of the modern Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (the LCMS is not alone in this, but is my chief concern here). 

Modern Lutheran church life encourages an unhealthy approach to volunteer work by using language like "mission" and "missionary," which implies that God has actually called and literally sent the youth to do the work they will do for ten days or a fortnight, language which confuses this volunteer work with the ministry of the Gospel.  Missionary work is halieutic in nature; that is, the missionary cannot say that he'd rather be fishing because fishing is precisely what he is doing.  Those who help, in a variety of ways, in these mission fields, are doing valuable work of love, but they are not doing missionary work.

The Church encourages and promotes an unhealthy approach to this work by its tendency to shine a spotlight on it.  In some cases the student volunteers become minor celebrities, and go on virtual speaking tours (like some of the seminarians who led several parish "Bible studies" a few years back to talk about the clean up work they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).  Going off to a foreign mission field, if done for the right reasons, used to be a noble way to be forgotten and and to diminish, so that Christ may be promoted (as the holy Forerunner sought to decrease so that Christ may increase).  Today, however, it too easily earns praise and attention, in many cases despite the intentions of the young Lutheran who may have, for his part, done nothing but pure selfless work.  Our Lord tells us, in the sixth chapter of Matthew, to do alms, but to do them in such a way so as not to blow a trumpet, so that the left hand is not even aware of what the right hand is doing. 

The work that is done on these trips is good, helpful, and appreciated.  If it distracts in any way, to any degree, or for whatever motivation, from one's local calling, from the love that can be shared with those God has placed around us, or from the work of Christ for each of us and for His Church, then such has become spiritually harmful to our youth, and to the Church in general, despite how it may feel.  The junior relative of the "mission" trip, I hasten to add, is the "servant event," and thus poses a similar potential for misleading our youth if not handled judiciously and carefully.  Both can easily become modern extensions of the medieval pilgrimage impulse, in which the Christian finds some level of spiritual fulfillment by going off, to a far country.  It is our Lord, let us always keep in mind, who went off to a far country, and spent His inheritance prodigally on us.  Wherever we are in this world is our place of receiving good gifts from Him.

I would ask those offended by the video to watch it again, and try to absorb and meditate upon its message.