Thursday, September 24, 2009

Luther's Works Volume 69 and an Exegetical Bone to Pick with the Doctor

Pastors on the LCMS roster should have received a letter from CPH advertising the first in what will be 20 new volumes (vols. 56-75) of Luther in English: American Edition, vol. 69, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 17-20.

These new volumes are under the general editorship of Christopher B. Brown - a classmate of mine who was ABD in Reformation studies at Harvard while he was working on his MDiv in St. Louis. Yeah, that kind of smart. He's now teaching at Boston U and no doubt keeping the separated brethren on their toes.

The managing editor will be familiar to many Gottesdienst readers as the editor of the Brotherhood Prayer Book: Benjamin T. G. Mayes. Doctor Mayes is also the editor for the Gerhard volumes coming out of CPH at a regular pace - and those are also well worth picking up. (By the bye, he'll be hosting another BPB Gregorian chant workshop at Emmaus in St. Louis on October 17. ) If you are a Lutheran theological bibliophile, do not visit Dr. Mayes' cubicle at CPH: you will immediately die of coveting.

More Gottesdienst connections. . . one of last year's Octoberfest presenters, Rev. Aaron M. Moldenhauer (SOB, 2008) translated some of the material for this volume as did I.

In short: rush out now in a buying frenzy. They've got a good deal going on subscriptions to all 20 volumes, be sure to check that out.

The volume has great introductions and wonderful notes - the editors really did their homework and were much too humble in the introduction to the volume. The work here is just superb. And as always, you will find wonderful gems from Luther like this, "Christ, in His Life, never did a good work in order to become righteous, and yet He did good works all the time." (AE 69.329). Isn't that a great way to preach the distinction between justification and sanctification?


This volume contains eleven of Luther's sermons (in one format or another: full text, notes, or outline) on the Quasimodogeniti Gospel (John 20:19-31) preached between 1522 and 1540. And this is the definitive proof that Luther's take on the ministry is, well,....gosh, maybe "Wisconsonite" is the best word:

"This is the highest work that a Christian is able to do: that through preaching I should bring [my neighbor] to the same [faith] to which [I have been brought]. He appoints each one to this office. [Hoc ad officium quemlibet instituit.]. . . It is the office of everyone to instruct his neighbor, etc. And this power is given not to the clergy alone (though [here it is] spoken to the apostles) but to all believers." (AE 69.336-37)

"[For] the Lord has committed a public office to called ministers (and to everyone privately)..." (AE 69.322)

" 'Those whose sins you remit, their sins are remitted. Those whoses sins you retain, their sins are retained.' This power is here given to all Christians." (AE 69.330)

A half dozen other quotations from these eleven sermons to the same effect could also be brought forward. And it sounds familiar, right? Haven't I read this somewhere before?

Pieper, vol. III, 442: “Luther points out, too, that the means of grace have the same nature, power, and effect, whether administered by common Christians or by ministers in their public office. He writes: 'We firmly maintain there is no other Word of God than the one all Christians are told to preach; there is no other Baptism than the one all Christians may administer; there is no other remembrance of the Lord's Supper than the one any Christian may celebrate; also there is no other sin than the one every Christian may bind or loose.'"

Or again: “Like all spiritual gifts the means of grace, including Baptism, are given by God directly to the believers, all Christians. The believers do not get them from the pastors, but vice versa. Pastors administer Baptism in their public office as the called servants of the believers.” (Pieper, III, p. 279)

So why not just have every Christian take turns? That's a matter of Law: there are objective commands not to do that: “A congregation would be acting contrary to God's ordinance if it appointed the public ministers by lot, or according to the alphabet. . . and in defense of such action claimed that all Christians are spiritual priests. . . . No, Scripture on the contrary warns 1 Tim. 5:22: “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” (Pieper, III, p. 441)

So why the office of the ministry? For the sake of good, more than that, right? To do it publicly, but privately everyone else is still exercising the ministry, which is nothing other than the rights of the spiritual priesthood – which is totally different than the ministry, mind you, and the latter is not derived from the former – well, that is, it does receive its powers from the former, and not vice versa...where was I? Well, I can never keep it straight. I confess: it confuses me. Luther, Walther, Pieper: they all seem to try to take back with the left what the right hand has given.

And here, I think, in AE vol. 69 with Luther's Quasimodogeniti sermons we see why: it's an exegetical issue. When Luther sees the apostles in the texts where the ministry is conferred on them by Christ (especially John 20 and Matthew 28) he sees the apostles as representatives of all Christians individually and not the clergy as a group or office. What is given to the apostles, is given individually and personally to all believers.

Heaven knows I've got more to learn from than teach to these great men, but still: I've never been able to buy into that. And it seems to me that the Missourians have always been selective with that exegesis. For example, when it comes to keeping women out of the public ministry (not out of the ministry, I suppose, for all Christians have that already as their individual and personal charge?), the apostles suddenly represent the clergy. So also in the LW and LSB Ordination Rites, John 20 and Matthew 28 are introduced as the texts concerning the institution of the office of the ministry.

Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

(I really wanna know.)

But I think that in these Holy Week and post-Resurrection happenings the apostles represent the clergy, or better: the office of the ministry. What is given to them, is given to Christ's called ministers. It is the faithful women in the Gospel, especially Mary at the foot of the cross and Mary Magdalene at the tomb, who represent the Church and every Christian. Makes sense, doesn't it? The Church is the Bride – and as CS Lewis said in his amazing essay, “Priestesses in the Church?”: we are all feminine in our relation to God the Father.

The Lord and His Bride.

(But not in that weird DaVinci Code kind of way...See the propers for her day if you don't believe me.)

I've got no problem with saying that all spiritual power, the Word and the Sacraments, every grace and honor, reside in the Church as the original possessor thereof. She is the Bride of Christ – all that is her Lord's is hers, including the Holy Ministry, for She and her Lord are one flesh. But it's another thing altogether to say that therefore every single individual Christian possesses the authority individually to preach, teach, and conduct the sacraments privately (but not publically - what on earth does that mean anyway?). That, I think, is an error born from this exegetical mistake of taking the apostles to be the representatives of all individual Christians. fontes. What do you think about that exegetical point about the apostles on the one hand and the Marys on the other? I'm not interested in seeing a bunch of quotes from Walther and Luther in the comments and those so inclined to prove that I am not Waltherian, early Missourian, or a follower of Luther's personal doctrine on the topic can save their time: Confiteor. Indeed, let's even set the Confessions aside for a moment – after 400 years of arguing over the topic, from Osiander vs. Luther to Grabau vs. Walther to "Carl Vehse" vs. Petersen, it's clear that both sides think that the Confessions support their side and we won't solve that here.

But how about a very narrow discussion of the Bible texts – what do you think of my contention that in the Holy Week, Resurrection, and Ascension narratives the apostles represent the clergy and the faithful women, especially the BVM and the Magdalene at the tomb represent the whole Church?

UPDATE: Also consider the contradiction to Luther that the Wittenberg faculty presents in 1674.

An Laici casu necessitatis possint absolvere, quemadmodum baptizare possunt?

Are laymen able to absolve in a case of necessity as they are able to baptize?

Praesuppono, quaeri tantum de absolutione, an ea in casu necessitatis, a Laicis fieri debeat et possit: non vero quaestionem eam de subsequente Sacramenti Sanctae Eucharistiae exhibitione, hanc enim per Laicos nullo modo fieri posse (licet baptismus ab illis in casu necessitatis possit administrari, nec administratus debeat iterari) intelligi debere, nostri Theologi, uti notum est, passim demonstrant.

I presuppose that the question is put only concerning absolution, whether it ought and is able to be performed by laymen in a case of necessity: this question is certainly not to be understood concerning the performance of the following sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, for our theologians, as is known, demonstrate time and again that this is in no way able to be performed by laymen (of course, baptism is able to be administered by them in a case of necessity, nor should the minister perform it again).



  1. Kudos for the courage to bring this up. And sorry I cross-posted unawares, probably only minutes after you put this up. The two posts are related, coincidentally.

  2. This was clear already from the Hauspostilla prior to the publication of this volume (which I do hope to get hold of soon).
    Sasse argues somewhere that in John 20 the Apostles are both the Office and the Church, though in other places he runs the keys to the Church from Matt 18 and to the Office in John 20.

    Let me ask this, Fr. Heath, how do you understand the giving of the Spirit in John 20? What is the connection between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the words immediately following?

  3. I took down the other post. It's in the queue.

  4. I would note one thing here. There is a vast difference between "can" and "should and ought". Are some of the qualms you have with Luther here based on the fact that people are saying "should and ought" and using Luther, even though he only says, "can"?

    Also, I would note that Luther speaks of the Word and Baptism - would Luther see the administration of the sacraments as a ... derivative of the speaking of the Word? Every Christian is called to confess. . . and as such to speak. As such, is Luther speaking to a different issue and problem (an idea that the laity ought not even know the Word) than we face generally speaking today?

  5. Fr. Fritz,

    Great minds and all that, no doubt.

    Fr. Weedon,

    The Spirit is given and given and given. Here he is given for the task of the Ministry - a special outpouring for this Office. The people of Israel had the spirit, so did the King - but not everybody was the king.

    Fr. Brown,

    You are correct in noting the issue of potest (can). Even if Luther is right, he was wrong to assume that you could put a potest in a bottle and stop it from becoming a debet (should). A potest will always become a debet (should).

    Just so happens I disagree with Luther about the potest. Any and every individual Christian is not given the authority to exercise the ministry. As a member of the Church, we can say that we all "own" the Ministry, "have" all spiritual authority, or what have you. But I contend that the authority to exercise the ministry is something else altogether, and that if one does not have that, non potest et non debet.

    But again - I'm mostly interested in the exegesis here. The apostles here represent the clergy/office. The women represent the Church. You agree?


  6. Good to bring this up. I believe this is the "issue of the day" for us to sort out among us. How we understand this has all kinds of day-to-day ramifications in the parish. So, kudos for raising it. It has been an issue I have been struggling with for some time.

    From the study I have done it seems to me that to understand the Apostles as representing the Church was an innovation in exegesis not seen until the 20th Century. The Apostles were seen as representing the Office. I do not believe I have run across anything stating the womeen represent the Church. I'll have to dig in the Fathers...

  7. Ah, and see, that's where you and I tend to fundamentally cross - I say a potest is simply a potest and must remain always a potest and never move to a debet -- except where there is a clear debet. There is a clear debet to exercise the potest in the private life, but there is no debet unless one has been publicly called to do so publicly - where there is not debet, no debet can be claimed.

    I really did that just because the Latin was fun.

    As to the women=church and Apostles=office, I think that holds well - and it is interesting to note that the command Mary receives to speak uses a familial, private identifier - go tell My brothers - adelphous. The Apostles, on the other hand, receive a public identifier - whoever - an tinwn.

    I would gather from Luther's usage here that any speaking of the Word is the power to forgive or retain - to speak either Gospel or Law. However, the ones whom you ought to speak the Word to (debet) is dependent upon your calling - with no vocatio there is no duty or mandate to speak.

    Note that even above, Luther ties the speaking of every Christian (in contrasting to that of the clergy) in private terms. . . the fact and gift of the public ministry does not usurp or destroy the other vocations and how they are to speak God's Word. It is still the head of the house who "debet" to teach his family.

    It is precisely because people do not pay attention to the difference between potest and debet (on both sides -- including those who shy away from the joys of God's gracious potest because they fear its abuse!) that we run into these problems.

  8. Fr. Brown,

    But here's the rub: we live in reality, where every potest does in fact become a debet.

    If lay people can administer the sacrament - well, let's have them do that. Because, after all - even if they shouldn't, they can: no harm, no foul.

    That's what we have in the Missouri Synod. I'm not saying that's good right and salutary - I'm just saying it's a fact: a potest will always become a debet.

    But all that is beside the point. I say the potest for people outside the office to conduct the sacraments, preach, and absolve in the stead of Christ simply does not exist. The authority to do those things was given to the Office of the Ministry - the authority to tell men to exercise that authority (that is, the authority to ordain) is given to the whole Church.


  9. "I say the potest for people outside the office to conduct the sacraments, preach, and absolve in the stead of Christ simply does not exist."

    And here's where I would disagree with you - because that power is simply the power of the Word (whether it is verbalized or attached concretely to physical elements in a Sacrament). Otherwise, you have just stated that the laity cannot conduct a valid baptism - which goes beyond the bounds of long accepted practice (see, I can cite Church practice as well).

    You also made a jump, a change of words there. Aright after you speak of "potest" you say "he authority to do those things was given to the Office of the Ministry "

    You are confusing "ability" and "authority" to do something here - I may have the ability to shoot someone with a gun, but that doesn't mean I have the authority to do so. I may have the ability to impregnate women, but outside of marriage I have no God-given authority so to do. The ability to do something does not justify it - for we all have the ability to violate the commandments and yet certainly have no authority to do so. In fact, the essence of love is often shown in not exercising what you would have the ability to do -- we are instructed to turn the other cheek when we have the ability to strike back.

    Part of this is a problem of English - we have lost the word "may". "Can" now covers both ability and authority, ability and permission. It's a distinction that we have to fight against. But our fight against this is not to be done by denying the power of God's Word, even if it is "merely" spoken by the laity, or by denying the efficacious usage of God's Word outside of the public ministry.

  10. Without the authority to act in the stead of Christ, you don't have the ability. That's my contention.

    Baptisms performed by laity are more problematic that we usually give them credit. We assume the practice because of tradition. But where are laity given the authority to baptize? This was the topic of the paper I gave up at the Fort back in January. Here's a brief summary (working on getting it read for publication now).

    So where is the authority given to all Christians to perform baptisms?

    Possible answers:
    1. In Matthew 28. Well, then we are back to the problem of whom do the apostles represent. Furthermore, and this is the big problem with the way Pieper talks about it: you've lost all certainty if you base baptism on the status of the baptizer as Christian. It goes like this:

    A. All Christians may baptize.
    B. A person is a Christian by faith alone.
    C. I can never know for certain whether another person has faith.

    Therefore: I can never know for certain whether a given "Christian's" baptism is valid.

    The problem does not exist with the clergy b/c they do not baptize on the basis of their personal faith (that is, "because they are Christians") but rather by virtue of the authority objectively delivered to them in ordination.

    In short, if lay baptisms are valid on the basis of the person's being a lay person (that is, having faith) then we can never know whether these baptisms are truly valid.

    Possible Answer 2. Everyone who is baptized, has the ability to baptize. This would get around the problem of basing baptism on personal faith - there would be something objective: Bob is baptize, so Bob has the ability to baptize another.

    Tertullian floats this possibility. It's intriguing, but that's it I'm afraid. Right away we run into: where is this written? Furthermore, in the next breath (in de Baptismo) he makes special mention of saying that of course this does not apply to women...

    Possible Answer 3. Based on the importance of Baptism for salvation, and based on what the Church knows about God's desire to bring salvation to all men, and based on the Church's possession of all that is her Lord's, the Church, with much fear and trembling, goes beyond the letter of God's order in the Scriptures and asks all Christians to be the hands and mouth of the clergy in life and death situations ("to become the pastor to another" as the Tractatus says).

    Without the infallibility of the pope to comfort us, answer three is not the most satisfying. But I think it is right.


  11. Or. . . if I might take another tact. In this sinful world there are an awful lot of rubs. . . that's cause there's sin. Our response to sin is not to deny the Word because of the way people abuse it (which is very close to what "we live in reality, where every potest does in fact become a debet" skirts along -- God was quite aware of reality when he gave us His Word) -- rather, we simply hold fast to the Word, not attempts to put up our own solutions that God is well able to handle with His own Word and Power.

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  13. "So where is the authority given to all Christians to perform baptisms?"

    Again, I will note that authority is a different beastie from ability. Logically speaking, they are two different things. You make a jump here from a discussion of potest to debet. . . and as such, you step outside of what Luther is speaking to in the citations which lead to this whole post.

    That being said, I would posit a fourth option for consideration. The power (i.e. the ability - the potest) lies within the Word itself. Again, even with option 2 and the ordination, that is simply an application of God's Word - Ordination only has any power because it is an application of God's Word.

    =o) Besides, you're the one who says (at least to me) that if you are going to buck the historical consensus of the Church, the burden lies upon you. Prove your contention the the Lay cannot (non potest) perform Baptism =o)

  14. I wonder if we could all agree to the following:

    1. The clergy is the servant of the word and not the other way around.

    2. The validity of baptism is not based on the faith of the administrator, but on the word.

    3. God's word does not need to be spoken by a pastor to become God's word or effective to condemn and save.

  15. I have a copy of a translation of one of Luther's Quasimodogeniti sermons (I believe from 1521).

    In it he says that a person may have the Holy Spirit in two ways. The first way is what he called a dangerous way--to have the Holy Spirit according to an office. This way is dangerous because, although you have been given the Holy Spirit, it is not given to confer the gifts of God upon you, but rather to give the gifts out to others.

    The second way is to have the Holy Spirit according to your person--a blessed way. Here, the Holy Spirit is given, not to be given out to others, but to confer the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    The Apostles are representative of both in this passage. They receive the Holy Spirit according to their persons when our Lord speaks peace to them. Then He proceeds to give them the Holy Spirit with an office (The Office) when He sends them to forgive and retain sins.

    The notion that every Christian becomes a minister by virtue of Baptism, or faith, or whatever, is really a Romish error. They hold that the conferral of the Office grants the Holy Spirit to the person. This is just the inversion, i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit to the person confers and office.

    I don't know if this distinction holds through Luther's other sermons. I look forward to receiving my copy and reading for myself.

  16. Rev. Skillman,

    It is just like the Seminary, with you speaking words of clear wisdom! Although the cleanshaven picture left me unsure as to if it were actually you.


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