Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why you need to come to Oktoberfest in Kewanee (Oct 10-12)

* The chance to receive Holy Absolution before Mass.

* A reverent celebration of the Mass with solid preaching.

* The top notch German potato salad at St. Paul's Octoberfest supper.

* Prof. Scaer

* The best evening of drinking and theological discussion in the Missouri Synod.

* That point in the evening when Fritz puts on Hotel California and asks, "Now, what does this hymn mean?"

* Solemn Vespers to close your Sunday.

* A most gracious hostess in Mrs. Eckardt.

* Good company - a wonderful group of faithful pastors to bounce ideas off of, commiserate, and debate.

I could go on and on. Octoberfest in Kewanee is simply what a general pastors' conference should be but what many, sadly, are not. It will refresh you for your busy fall and winter and send you home with some new theological thought to chew on - it always does!

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents.

To register, please call 309-852-2461 and leave your registration information (name[s] and address) or register by email with the the option of using PayPal with an account or a major credit card, by
clicking here. Or you may pay the registration fee when you arrive. Please register ahead, even if you choose to pay when you arrive.

See you in Kewanee, Dv!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Signs of Reverence at the Consecration

This week's poll asks about the signs of reverence that accompany the Consecration at your congregation.

Gottesdienst has long advocated the ancient practice of elevation and genuflection after each consecration - I'm sure our resident medievalist and Editor-in-Chief will, as is his wont, chime in with the story of how that got started in the Church. But however it got started, this ceremony is a remedy to today's cultural default setting of lack of reverence and awe.

In speaking with seminary classmates and other pastors at conferences and so forth, I find that these ceremonies (along with the celebrant communicating himself) have only the removal of the Battle Flag of the Republic from the Sanctuary to rival them for controversy and consternation in the parish. Tragically, the problem often gets worse with the more teaching a pastor does. That is to day, the consternation this reverence toward the Sacrament causes many Lutherans today stems not from a misunderstanding of the ceremony but from understanding it perfectly well.

"It's too Catholic," a member of the Antigenuflecting Society of Dies Irae Lutheran Church might say.

"Well," responds Pastor Schickelgrüber, "it's simply an expression of the fact that we really believe that what is on the altar is really the Body and Blood of Jesus."

"Aha! I told you it was too Catholic! Panolater!"

OK, nobody has every said "panolater" to me, but you get the point.

But don't be too put off by this, dear pastor - it is an opportunity to do some real shepherding of the sheep. Your reverence at the altar and your preaching on the Sacrament will lead folks to ask questions and you will get to explain more and increase their understanding of this great Mystery. Every once in a while, even one of the shouters of Too Catholic will come around (some, of course, never will).

But it is incumbent upon our generation to do this teaching - of this I am convinced. The conversations I've had with active, lifelong, faithful, pious, Midwestern Lutherans on this topic almost always include a statement along these lines, "Huh. Pastor Soandso never talked like that in my confirmation class. . ."

Perhaps it was the infrequent communion, the Protestantizing influence of integrating into English-speaking American society, or the rampant receptionism taught in Missouri Synod seminaries in the mid-twentieth century - but my impression is that many of our parishes were simply not well catechized on what the Sacrament is. I, at any rate, have encountered more than a few lifelong Lutherans who had an essentially Presbyterian view of the Supper.

And here's your deep thought for today. Have you ever noticed how some of the communion hymns in our hymnals are in Presbyterian hymnals and others are in Roman Catholic hymnals? Would we be better off to toss out all the hymns that a Presbyterian could sing with a clear conscience? I think so. Would we be better off tossing out all the hymns that a Roman Catholic could sing with a clear conscience? I think not.

Too Catholic, again, I suppose. . .


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Combating Receptionism

Continuing with Fr. Stuckwisch's theme of reverence at the Lord's Supper. . .

Did you ever think we'd see the day when the Missouri Synod had a man in the presidium who was a forthright and well-spoken opponent of receptionism? The Rev. Dr. Scott Murray wrote a wonderfully clear and concise demolition of receptionism for Logia a while back - you can read it here; it would make a great study for a Winkel. He carefully examines the historical circumstances that made this error popular in the Missouri Synod from a perspective of deep and abiding respect for the theologians he is taking to task. It is an excellent example of churchmanly rebuke.

So there's one idea for combating receptionism - spread around that article by our new Fifth Vice President.

And here's another: genuflect (or if your knees are bad: deeply bow) after each of the consecrations on Sunday. All ceremonies teach - and this ancient ceremony makes clear our confession that once Jesus speaks his Word, reality adjusts itself accordingly.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reverent Wisdom from St. Cyril of Jerusalem

So it's been forever since I've posted anything; not because I have no thoughts, but because it has wearied me to think of writing them down, and I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps soon I shall rediscover my mojo and find my muse and resume my own writing of blog posts.

In the meantime, I came across the following from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fifth Mystagogical Catechesis (his instruction of the newly-baptized communicants in the days following their Holy Baptism and First Communion at the Feast of the Resurrection). I was particularly struck by the faithful piety and reverent wisdom of his words, and I'll candidly admit that I long for such an attitude to have free course among our fellowship at large. To preach and teach of the Lord's holy body and precious blood, but then to handle the same as though they were simply bread and wine, and to conduct oneself at the Lord's Altar as though it were a Sonic drive-up or the local hotel lounge, betrays and undermines the truth of the confession and demonstrates ignorance, hypocrisy, foolishness, or a lack of piety and reverence. That's not okay.

But here is how St. Cyril beautifully explains it to his neophytes, in the joy of their Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion, in the confidence of Christ's Word:

"Approaching, therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or thy fingers open; but make thy left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King. And having hollowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying after it, Amen. Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members. For tell me, if any one gave thee gold dust, wouldest thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss? How much more cautiously then wilt thou observe that not a crumb falls from thee, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

"Then after having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be thou hallowed by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thine hands, hallow both thine eyes and brow and the other senses. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who hath accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.

"Hold fast these traditions unspotted, and keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, by the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen." (St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses, edited by F. L. Cross, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986, pages 79-80)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Who Communicates the Celebrant?

The current issue of The Lutheran Witness gives us the occasion for our poll this week. The Q&A section is from the pen of Dr. Jerald C. Joersz and seeks to answer this query: "...we and other members of our congregation are offended by a practice recently introduced by our pastor. During the Communion, he communes himself. Is this proper?"

From his answer, it is clear that Dr. Joersz is not really a fan of the traditional practice of the Celebrant communicating all the communicants, including himself. I am gratified that he at least notes that this practice is "permissible." However, this is clearly damning with faint praise: according to Dr. Joersz, asking a lay person to communicate the Celebrant is the "preferred option."

Now, what Dr. Joersz means to say is any one of the following: 1) that he prefers this practice; 2) that he thinks the traditional practice is flawed; 3) that this is what the majority of LCMS parishes see on Sunday morning.

But surely, he must know that this deputizing of the laity to perform the Celebrant's duty is not the objectively preferred option since he himself quotes the current convention-approved rubric instructing the exact opposite practice!

Should Doctor Joersz or anyone else wish to argue against the practice of the Celebrant communicating himself, I welcome that debate. But clarity and objectivity are required for a helpful debate. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's official rubrics state: The pastor and those who assist him receive the body and blood of Christ first, the presiding minister communing himself and his assistants. I think any fair minded person would have to say that the official rubrics of LSB make this practice "preferred" for the LCMS.

For a host of reasons, I would argue that this traditional practice would be the preferred option even if the LCMS said it wasn't. But, dear reader, I would at the very least try to make clear to you that I was arguing against the LCMS' official position. Indeed, if you wish to send a check for $20 for the support of the journal and an SASE, I will send you the Annotated List of My Disagreements, Great and Small, with the Official Line of the LCMS (please put ALMDGSOLLCMS in the memo line).

But here is why I am most frustrated with this piece. The Rev. Dr. Joersz fumbled a gold-plated chance to Be a Classy Guy (BACG) and Help a Brother Out (HABO). Here's how he could have handled this question, keeping intact all his own scruples on the issue at hand.

The transition to a new pastor can at times be confusing for both pastor and parishioners! I hope you take this as an opportunity to discuss this issue with your new pastor - because, I bet he would be very surprised at your offense. In fact, he is only doing what the instructions in the Synod's hymnal say. . . .

That being said, I for one, prefer a different practice and like to ask a layman to commune me for these reasons. . .

But the point is, both options are good, right, and salutary - I pray that your pastor's ministry will be a blessing to you and that you will be a blessing as a parishioner to him.

More often than you might think we pastors get questions about a neighbor's practice. For example, I might get a question about a guy in my circuit who uses an Entrance Hymn instead of the Introit per the rubrics in LSB. I think this is absolutely daffy: the Introit is really important, it summarizes the theme of the day, and it's, like, you know: THE BIBLE. Why would LSB encourage tossing out a proper for a hymn? And why on earth would any pastor make use of this allowance?

But here's what I would say to that lay person miffed at his pastor: If you look in your hymnal, you'll see that the pastor can either include the Introit, Psalm, or an Entrance Hymn at this point in the service. I would encourage you to talk to your pastor about why he decided to use a hymn instead of the Introit.

A good rule of thumb: if you won't take the time to speak to a brother pastor about your gripe with his practice, you don't get to gripe about his practice to his parishioners when they come itching for ammunition against him. This is especially so if what the pastor is doing is in no way sinful, but simply not what you would do in a similar situation.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Et Tamen Virgo Mansit

[Note: The following is a guest essay by the Rev. Dr. John R. Stephenson, Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. He is also the General Editor of the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series and the author of volumes 12 (The Lord's Supper) and 13 (Eschatology) in the series.]

Et tamen Virgo mansit—Und gleichwohl eine Jungfrau geblieben ist—And yet she has remained A Virgin

Some thoughts on the dogmatic status of FC SD VII, 24 from John Stephenson

Permit me to make an oblique approach to a topic that the Book of Concord treats in the context of the “lofty articles of the divine majesty” in general (Smalcald Articles, Part I), which are “not matters of dispute or contention,” and of the Person of Christ in particular (FC SD VIII).

When they reach the years 1547 to 1549, Martin Chemnitz and his fellow writers of the History of the Sacramental Controversy (i.e., Timothy Kirchner and Nicholas Selneccer) tell how Peter Martyr Vermigli denied the real presence so crassly as to arouse censure even from the Calvinising theologian, Martin Bucer. The co-authors register their own offence at Vermigli’s Reformed sentiments on the Blessed Sacrament, appending a sentence that takes aim at Vermigli on other matters also.

And a Christian heart is justly horrified by his horrible, detestable talk about Mary the pure Virgin and other such things—Un[d] was der grewlichen abschewlichen redden/von Maria der reinen Jungfrawen/under dergleichen mehr sind/darob ein Christliches Herz billich erschrecket.[1] (512)

Despite repeated efforts during spare half hours over the last several years, I have been unable to discover what off-colour remarks Vermigli let slip concerning the one whom St. Elizabeth described as blessed among women (Lk 1:42). Indeed, speaking under the same inspiration as her aged relative and hence with luminous humility, St. Mary the Virgin herself prophesied that all generations would call her blessed (Lk. 1:48); as the Church sings the Magnificat at Vespers, she concurs with these holy women.

Unable to confirm my initial suspicion that Vermigli was among the first to deny the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, I remain impressed by the disposition of heart and tone of voice in which the three co-authors of the History speak of one whose nativity the old Missouri Synod once saw fit to celebrate on the 8th of the present month (see William Weedon’s blogpost of 8 September 2010: http://weedon.blogspot.com/2010/09/just-sos-you-know.html )

Clearly, the generation that promulgated the Formula of Concord was unanimously minded to express itself with deepest reverence on the subject of the Mother of our Lord. Equally clearly, as a glance at a single paragraph of the article of the Formula of Concord devoted to the Person of Christ will show, that generation of Lutheran confessors solemnly and deliberately reaffirmed a dogmatic decision taken (at the latest) by the Fifth Oecumenical Council that assembled in Constantinople in A. D. 552-553.

In the company of other mainline Western confessions, Lutheranism professes the Chalcedonian Definition forged at the Fourth Oecumenical Council of A. D. 451. But, as David Yeago has pointed out in an article[2] that I used to have my students read in the years when I taught Lutheran Confessions II, historic Lutheranism views the Chalcedonian Definition through the lenses of one and only one of the two main schools of Christological reflection that flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era.[3]

Somehow, by way of exegetical reflection, Luther embraced the mindset of ancient Alexandrian Christology when commenting on the Christ hymn of Phil. 2 in 1519. In the course of the sacramental controversy of the 1520s, Luther’s grasp of Alexandrian Christology deepened greatly, and he researched its historical nitty-gritty for his On the Councils and the Church of 1539. As is well known, the major patristic scholar Martin Chemnitz plumbed the depths of this brand of Christology, with the result that St. Cyril of Alexandria features as the most quoted ancient author in the Second Martin’s Two Natures in Christ.

To cut a long story short, FC SD VIII and its official appendix, the Catalogue of Testimonies (which the next edition of Kolb & Wengert should bump up from the companion volume of Sources and Contexts to the actual text of the Confessions themselves—presumably we are no longer to be intimated by a Reformed-leaning elector in a tantrum), view Chalcedon through thoroughly Cyrillian spectacles. Yeago has shown how Luther’s distinctive theology remarkably mirrors that of the Fifth Oecumenical Council,[4] which anathematized selections from the works of three Antiochene (sadly, Nestorian-inclined) bishops of the fifth century (namely, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyhrrus, and Ibas of Edessa), who had managed to escape censure in their lifetimes. Is it an accident, pray, that LSB invites its users to commemorate, on 14 November of each year, Emperor Justinian (+565), among whose many claims to fame is his having been the prime mover and shaker of the Fifth Oecumenical Council? Indeed, our Calendar highlights the late emperor as not only a Christian Ruler but also a Confessor of Christ.

As it stands shoulder to shoulder with Alexandrian Christology in general and with Justinian and his Council in particular, FC SD VIII recoils from the Antiochene brand of Christology that produced Nestorius, attacking it as picturing the Two Natures of our Lord as juxtaposed in the manner of two boards of wood stuck back to back (SD VIII, 14-15). And it reserves especial ire for the low Christology of Paul of Samosata (SD VIII, 16) who deemed our Lord a mere man adopted into a sonship of God different from that of Christians only in degree, not in kind. Paul of Samosata and his Unitarian successors reduce the hypostatic union to an especially glittering instance of the mystical union.

It is an open secret that, in the wake of the Enlightenment and all that, Antiochene Christology has come back into vogue—even such a meticulous scholar as J. N. D. Kelly found it hard to write kindly of St. Cyril of Alexandria. And all major Western confessions now nurse within their bosom vipers sympathetic to the perspectives of Paul of Samosata.

Given classical Lutheranism’s predilection for the Christology of Alexandria and its most famous confessor of the truth of our Lord’s Person, namely, St. Cyril, paragraph 24 of FC SD VIII simply fits. Of course, a Samosatene would repudiate this paragraph with vigour, and a modern Antiochene would want to qualify it, at least.

Their Alexandrian-Cyrillian perspective rendered it inevitable that Chemnitz and his fellow confessors of FC SD VIII would voice their Yea and Amen to the dogmatic decision of the Third Oecumenical Council, held at Ephesus in A. D. 431, to the effect that St. Mary “wahrhaft Gottes Mutter …ist/vere Theotokos, Dei genitrix est—is truly the Mother of God.”[5] Of course they are going to say this, since they are completely at home in the Alexandrian thought world of the hypostatic union and the communion of natures and with the things that are “wont to be said—dici solent[6] by those who have stood, stand, and shall stand in this diachronic line of tradition.

Oddly, having reiterated the foundation of hypostatic union and communion of natures,[7] Chemnitz and his fellow confessors could have passed straight to their confession of Mary’s divine motherhood,[8] but careful readers of the Solid Declaration will notice that they deliberately and solemnly make a further point that culminates in a crystal clear proclamation of a truth that (to my best knowledge) was first dogmatised by Justinian’s council, that is, the Fifth Oecumenical Council of 552-553. Permit me to quote the German and the Latin texts, subjoining thereto my own rendering of the Latin:

Welcher seine göttliche Majestat auch in Mutterleibe erzeiget, daß er von einer Jungfrauen unvorletzt ihrer Jungfrauschaft geboren; darum sie wahrhaftig Gottes Mutter und gleichwohl eine Jungfrau geblieben ist.[9]

Is filius Dei etiam in utero matris divinam suam maiestatem demonstravit, quod de virgine inviolate ipsius virginitate natus est. Unde et vere Theotokos, Dei genitrix est, et tamen virgo mansit.[10]

He the Son of God showed His divine majesty even in the womb of [His] Mother by being born of a Virgin without detriment to her virginity. Whence she is truly the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and yet she has remained a Virgin.

Call in question the wisdom of the confessors of 1577, if you will, but please do not pretend that they were making an off the cuff remark with which they thought pious Christians free to disagree. No, for their own part they were confessing dogma, giving voice to the rule of faith to which they were committed, standing in a great diachronic and synchronic consensus of Holy Christendom from which they would have shuddered to depart.

As they incorporated the hymnody of early and later Lutheranism into the liturgy, the classical Lutherans were memorizing, meditating on, and singing dogma, the rule of faith that they both derived from Scripture and used to unlock its meaning. A friend drew my attention a couple of years ago to an edition of the hymnal produced by a sainted pastor of the SELK, one Pfarrer Schwinge, that was published by the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in the former East Germany and that continues in use among those in Germany who stand in communion with the Wisconsin Synod. Pfarrer Schwinge’s great merit was to recover the original wording of the classic Lutheran hymns whose content was progressively watered down in successive editions of the “generic” hymnals of the German Lutheran-Reformed hybrid “Church”.

For starters, let’s look at Luther’s 1524 rendition of St. Ambrose’s Veni Redemptor Gentium (“Saviour of the Nations, come”). The third stanza of the East German Lutherisches Kirchengesangbuch’s #69 is simply omitted in my 1975, Hanover-printed edition of the generic Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch’s #46. The third stanza appears as LSB #332, 3, but does “Yet remained a virgin mild” capture the fullness of “doch blieb Keuschheit rein bewahrt—and yet chastity remained purely preserved”? Then let’s turn to the famous hymn of Lutheranism’s first female composer, Elisabeth Creutziger (whose husband, Caspar, according to Chemnitz & co. in their History, later took off at a Zwinglian tangent). In its second stanza EKG #120 wreaks great damage upon the original text preserved in LKG #120’s version of Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn. LSB #402’s The Only Son From Heaven reduces five German stanzas to four, and, alas, weakly renders the watered-down (actually, mutilated) version found in EKG’s second stanza (okay, translation is difficult, tell me, but let’s consider the original). “O time of God appointed/O bright and holy morn” loses the eschatological overtones of “Für uns ein Mensch geboren/im letzten Teil der Zeit—For us born a man in the last segment of time,” preserved even in the generic hymnal. But—get this—the generic hymnal replaces Frau Creutziger’s “der Mutter unverloren/ihr jungfraulich Keuschheit—the Mother undeprived of her virginal chastity” with “daß wir nicht wärn verloren/vor Gott in Ewigkeit—that we should not be lost before God in eternity.” Foul play, eh?

As we shall shortly see, the good Frau Creutziger has not been the only victim of inner-Lutheran dirty pool in the matter of an author’s saying one thing concerning the Blessed Virgin only to have their words either crassly changed or severely distorted.

It seems to have become a standard opinion among many contemporary Lutherans that the NT evidence overwhelmingly overturns the dogma confessed by those ignorant old coves, Chemnitz & co. (not to forget the first Martin, who forthrightly labeled Helvidius (infamous in the ancient Church for his denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity) a “coarse fool—ein grober Narr.” So let’s ponder the inspired text.

First of all, the author of the NT Apocalypse pictures the Blessed Virgin Mary in ch. 12 of his work as the Mother of One Seed, on the one hand, and of “the rest of her seed”, viz., all Christians, on the other, with nothing in between. Since the Apostle to whose care Christ committed His Mother is the likely author of the last book of Sacred Scripture, this description is surely significant.

Secondly, Johannes Ylvisaker was so impressed by the dying Jesus giving His Mother into the care of the Apostle John, the Blessed Disciple, that he expressed his conviction that Mary could have had no other children living at that time.[11] Note well that “from that hour the disciple took her eis ta idia, into his home” (Jn 19:26-27). The Blessed Disciple does not recall that a few weeks later, sometime in Eastertide, he handed over the Blessed Mother to a natural son, now converted, who in due course stood at the head of the Church of Jerusalem. That pious, even saintly man, dear Dr. Marquart of blessed memory, found these verses of the Johannine Passion narrative thoroughly convincing with respect to the support they give to the dogma propounded in FC SD VIII, 24.

Thirdly, if the James who presided over the Apostolic Council recorded in Acts 15 was indeed a natural son of Mary and Joseph remarkably converted during the Easter period and constituted an Apostle by the Risen Lord, isn’t it mighty odd that St. Luke omits to record this startling fact? He does tell how St. Matthias took Judas’ place among the Twelve, and he carefully introduces Saul to his readers before relating his subsequent ministry as Paul. But, as in ch. 12 he describes the blessed end of James brother of John first introduced in Lk 5:10, of whose induction into the apostolate we learn in Lk 6:14, he conspicuously avoids mentioning more than the name of the James who presides at the apostolic council (Ac 15:13); he sees no need to supply further detail concerning him. This is an indication that James Bishop of Jerusalem is to be identified, most likely, with the 9th-named apostle, described as the son of Alphaeus in Lk 6:15, or—less likely if this figure is someone distinct from the second apostle with the name James—with the James mentioned in the Lucan resurrection narrative at 24:10, whose mother was a certain Mary. As he mentions this same woman in Mk 15:40 and specifies her son as mikros/little-small-“lesser” James, the second evangelist opens up the possibility that this man was the second James of the apostolic list, whose stature whether physical or personal put him somehow in the shade of his namesake the son of Zebedee. At all events, insistence that three evangelists would introduce the Mother of God into their accounts of the Passion and/or Resurrection, listing her after other women and under a different identity is, as we say in the North of England, too daft to laugh at. St. John leaves us in no doubt concerning his companion at the foot of the Cross when he solemnly tells how “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother …” (Jn. 19:25), self-evidently listing her before the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

Whether those mentioned by the synoptists, John, and Paul as “brothers” of the Lord were, as the East supposes, children of St. Joseph by an earlier marriage, or, as Rome teaches, cousins of Christ on whichever side of the Holy Family, does not affect the integrity of FC SD VIII, 24 or its biblical support.

I am much impressed by an argument in favour of FC SD VIII, 24’s “and she has remained a Virgin” advanced by Burnell Eckart in an entry on his Gottesblog website dated 6 November 2009: http://gottesblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/rev.html . To put Eckart’s point in my own words, I just cannot wrap my mind around the possibility that St. Joseph, a devout Jew who needed no lectures on what all is involved in the holiness of God, would presume to effect and exercise physical union with a body selected by the Almighty from eternity to be the womanly holy of holies. If a personalized ark of the covenant were living in your house, you would not treat such a one according to the analogy of a regular piece of furniture.

A note of oddity attaches to Mary’s initial response to Gabriel’s announcement that she is to be the mother of David’s greater Son, for “How shall this be since I know no man—poos estai touto, epei andra ou ginooskoo? (Lk 1:34)” is not the reply one would expect from an engaged woman, who would have no doubt concerning the physical mechanics of her forthcoming conception of a child. I would not wish to entertain the notion, popular in some Roman Catholic circles, that Mary had already, nun-like, vowed lifelong celibacy, but I cannot refrain from registering the singular quality of her answer.

An advocate of the perpetual virginity of the BVM once remarked to me that some explanation has to be sought and given concerning the explosion of virginity as a permanent lifestyle in the early Church from the time of the NT onwards. Okay, we Lutherans have an instinctive aversion to virginity in the form of lifelong celibacy and cling—in this point at least—to a sentence found in the Apocrypha: “For he created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome” (Wisdom 1:14). But we cannot expunge from the sacred text St. Paul’s big plug for celibacy in 1 Cor 7, in which chapter he imparts commands concerning sexual conduct that blow antinomianism out of the water and challenge our cowardly accommodation to current mores. Again, I would point to an odd turn of phrase in this chapter (which might be expounded under the heading “sacramental ethics”), where the Apostle favours, in certain cases, the non-consummation of a standing engagement (1 Cor 7: 37). “To keep her as his virgin—teerein teen heautou parthenon” might make better sense if we add the words, “As Joseph did.” Why did the four daughters of Philip, of whose burial in Asia we hear from Eusebius, preserve lifelong virginity? It makes sense if, along with many others, they were following two supreme examples from the time of the Church’s foundation.

Alas, as he confessed FC SD VIII, 24 in the second volume of his Christian Dogmatics, Francis Pieper joined Elisabeth Creutziger in the ranks of victims of foul play. Over the years, as I read Pieper’s Christology section (to my shame only in English translation, although a complete German set of his work sits on my bookshelves), this writer struck me at one point as a crusty, even bad-tempered old cove prepared to offer a forthright opinion without offering much textual backing for his view.[12] Around a decade ago someone brought to my intention how Pieper’s translators took unfounded liberties with the words he actually wrote, moving a small quantity of footnote material into the body of the text, omitting some sentences intended to form part of the main argument, and then brusquely omitting the footnote extended over three printed pages in which he carefully substantiated his contention that honest exegetes can doch (after all) subscribe to FC SD VIII, 24.[13] In the German original of this section, by way of contrast, Pieper appears as an elegant and erudite author in command of his subject matter. If Pieper is still to be used in the classroom and not relegated into forgetfulness as new works of dogmatics (however slowly!) appear, CPH would do well to revise the translation, checking its accuracy and, above all, ensuring that contemporary readers have access to all that the St. Louis dogmatician committed to paper and saw through the press.

C. F. W. Walther was much blunter than Pieper in his own attitude to FC SD VIII, 24. Whereas Pieper (especially in the German original) followed the medieval scholastic technique of setting forth arguments on both sides of the issue before coming down firmly for one option over the other, at the 1867 Colloquium held in Milwaukee between members of the Iowa and Missouri Synods, Walther declared the perpetual virginity of Mary off limits for discussion:

Grossmann: “When you subscribe to the confessions, were you aware of the fact that they declared the permanent virginity of Mary?” Walther: “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.” Grossmann: “Do you still believe this to be true doctrine?” Walther: “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.” Grossmann: “What are your reasons for considering this a true presentation?” Walther: “Pardon me, but you have no right to ask this question.”[14]

At the end of its doctrinal articles, the Augustana pointedly aligns itself within and not outside the preceding tradition of the Western Church (AC, conclusion of first part, 1[15]), and the Solid Declaration gives a hugely important direction concerning Lutheran theological method in SD RN 17, which I quote from Tappert: “In the first place, we reject and condemn all heresies and errors which the primitive, ancient, orthodox Church rejected and condemned on the certain and solid basis of the holy and divine Scriptures.” Luther himself had, after all, declared in 1532 how “it is a perilous and dreadful thing to hear or believe anything against the unanimous testimony, belief, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian Church.”[16] There is, then, such a thing as rightful Lutheran appeal to the Vincentian Canon, the determination of orthodoxy in virtue of what has been taught everywhere, always, and by everybody—quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. This un-Roman Catholic way of doing theology (check out John Henry Newman’s Development of Doctrine!) might not in fact be the sole preserve of the Christian East and High Anglicanism.

Which leads me back to a point close to where I began, namely the Christology proclaimed by the Fifth Oecumenical Council held in Constantinople in A. D. 552-553 under the aegis of Emperor Justinian of blessed memory. As it ensures that Chalcedon be read through Cyrillian lenses (i.e., with the spectacles worn by the confessors of 1577), the Sentence of Contantinople II against the “Three Chapters” refers (if I count correctly) four times to the “ever virgin” Mary.[17] If the Fathers of the Fifth Oecumenical Council were wrong to speak of the Lord’s Mother in this way, why should we trust their appraisal of the Christology of the three Nestorianising Antiochene bishops whom they consign to the heretical side of the aisle? If we may not be confident that the Holy Spirit has guided the Church, described by St. Paul as the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3: 15), into a diachronically and synchronically ascertainable confession on which we may rely and to which we must cleave in our exposition of the Word of God, then are we not ipso facto “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4: 14) and hence no better situated than the mindless chatterboxes of a decaying Liberal Protestantism? For the sake of the peace of our earthly Zion, we may admit with Pieper that, “If the Christology of a theologian is orthodox in all other respects, he is not to be regarded as a heretic for holding that Mary bore other children in a natural manner after she had given birth to the Son of God.”[18] But for the reasons set forth above I respectfully maintain that Pieper is right to contend that those who profess, according to the dogma (re)stated in 1577, that the Mother of God “has remained a Virgin” are not exegetically out to lunch, and that there is much wisdom in sticking on this and other points of doctrine and practice with the “unanimous testimony, belief, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian Church.”

[1] Histori des Salramentstreits, 512.

[2] David S. Yeago, “The Bread of Life: Patristic Christology and Evangelical Soteriology in Martin Luther’s Sermons on John 6,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 39, 3 (1995): 257-279. “[T]he Christology on which Luther’s theology of faith …depends is …identical with Patristic orthodoxy, as articulated at Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and II Constantinople. Luther’s loyalty to the catholic dogmatic tradition is not something extrinsic to his evangelical message, arising perhaps from a conservative temperament. On the contrary, apart from the context of catholic dogma, Luther’s evangelical convictions make no sense whatsoever. In fact, we must go further and say that this distinction is ours, not his: for Luther, catholic dogma itself provides the substance of his distinctively ‘evangelical’ theology” (257).

[3] The Definition itself masterfully walks a tightrope between the Antiochene and Alexandrian ways of approaching the Christological mystery, deftly preserving the positive contributions of both sides (viz., Antioch’s insistence on the full humanity of our Lord, and Alexandria’s confession of His full divinity and of the unity of His person), while canceling their respective defects (viz., Antioch’s tendency to split Christ into two persons, and Alexandria’s to secure the unity of His person at the expense of the completeness of His manhood). As it walked the golden middle way between Alexandria and Antioch, Chalcedon offered the option of understanding its Definition in terms of one or other of two sets of supporting documents, namely, the letters of Cyril to Nestorius or the Antiochene-sounding Tome of Leo. While our Catalogue of Testimonies dutifully quotes Leo the Great, its perspective is overwhelmingly that of Cyril.

[4] “Specifically, Luther’s Christology stands firmly in the broad stream of what modern scholars call ‘Neo-Chalcedonianism,’ which originated in the effort to interpret and receive the definition of the Council of Chalcedon so as to show its compatibility with the central concerns of the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria. This Cyrilline reading of Chalcedon, which achieved conciliar approval at the second Council of Constantinople in 552, was developed in the sixth and seventh centuries by such figures as Leontius of Jerusalem and Maximus the Confessor, and was given influential text-book formulation in Book 3 of John of Damascus’s The Orthodox Faith. Luther certainly knew the main lines of the Neo-Chalcedonian Christology from the Sentences of Peter Lombard, who cites John of Damascus at considerable length …Luther’s Christological priorities …are precisely those of the whole Cyrilline tradition” (“Bread of Life,” 268f.)

[5] Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 8th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhock & ruprecht, 1979), 1024, lines 39-40.

[6] BS 1024, line 25.

[7] BS 1024, 30-35.

[8] BS 1024, 39-40.

[9] BS 1024, 36-41.

[10] BS 1024, 35-40.

[11] “If she had children in the flesh at the time these words would be unintelligible, to say the least.” Johannes Ylvisaker, The Gospels: A Synoptic Presentation of the Text in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), 218, n. 229a. In this lengthy and intricate footnote, Ylvisaker observed that “the Hebrew ach occurs frequently in the Old Testament to denote a connection which is more remote” than “brother” in the sense of fellow biological child of identical parents. Curiously, he could still talk going on a century ago of “the view of Protestantism, viz., that the brethren of Jesus are really His cousins.” And he declared himself “forced to the conclusion that James in Gal. 1:19 is the apostle James the Less, the son of Alphaeus.” “After the demise of James the Elder in 44, the Acts refer to one James only, invariably without any added designation (Acts 12:17; 21:8; 15:13). The name James was sufficient. There were no others.”

[12] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: CPH, 1951) II:308f.

[13] Franz Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik (St. Louis: CPH, 1917) II: 369, n. 848.

[14] See J. L. Neve, A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in America, 2nd. ed (Burlinton, IA: The German Literary Board, 1916), 289, n. 221.

[15] “As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers” (Lat., qtd from Tappert). “Haec fere summa est doctrinae apud nos, in qua cerni potest nihil inesse, quod discrepet a scripturis vel ab ecclesia catholica vel ab ecclesia Romana, quatenus ex scriptoribus nobis nota est.” BS 83, 7-11.

[16] WA 30/III: 552. 13-15.

[17] Norman P. Tanner, S. J., ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, two vols. (London & Washington: Sheed & Ward & Georgetown University Press, 1990) I: 113, line 17; 114, line 20f.; 116, line 29f.; 121, line 29.

[18] Pieper, Christian Dogmatics II:308.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eucharistic Vestments II - What to do with that spare pastor.

If you have been to a few North American Lutheran parishes with more than one pastor, you have probably witnessed the bewilderment about what to do with that spare pastor on Sunday morning. The rubrics in our hymnals speak about "assisting ministers" - but where do they stand? What exactly do they do? How do they vest?

Serving as one of these misplaced pastors is an odd experience. It gives one a distinctive third wheel feeling when one is to read the Gospel lesson, for example, but just sort of hang out over at the left end of the chancel while the celebrant leads the rest of the service.

But there is no need for this to be either confusing or stressful - the assisting minister should simply vest and serve as a liturgical deacon. Of course, if yours is one of the few parishes that is blessed with a real live ordained deacon, all the better! But it is appropriate for any pastor to serve the deacon's liturgical role when he is called upon to assist in the Divine Service.

Detailed rubrics for such a celebration with deacon, and even subdeacon, can be found in the edition of Piepkorn and McClean that Fr. Petersen caused to be published.

A deacon is most appropriately vested in alb (and amice), cincture, deacon's stole, dalmatic, and maniple.

I have found that even pastors who are unfamiliar with a liturgical deacon's role much appreciate being involved in the service in such a thought-out and dignified manner - as more than an afterthought. We join with two other parishes for Ascension and Epiphany services and keep a set of vestments - dalmatic and tunicle - for these occasions. A copy of Piepkorn/McClean and a matching set of chasube, dalmatic, and tunicle would be a fine addition for any circuit that regularly gathers together for such services.

And for the parish with two or more pastors, contrast the unity and beauty of this manner of conducting the Divine Service with the simulcast approach becoming more and more popular in certain circles. In this model, two services occur at the same time, the second beginning some 15 or 20 minutes after the first service. This allows the preacher to move from one worship space to the other.

Such a procedure is American in more than just its efficiency. Lost is the idea of the Divine Service as a unified act, a pressing together of the whole people of God in that place toward a common goal: receiving the blessing of God together, as community. The sermon, and the bearer thereof, is very much the cog dropped into the machine at just the right spot and time.

In sum, making use of multiple pastors by using the traditional liturgical roles of celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon adds a sense of unity, beauty, dignity, and reverence to the Divine Service.


Eucharistic Vestments

The poll at right this week asks our readers about the vestments worn in their parishes at the Divine Service. Within living memory, the vestments customarily seen in American Lutheran churches have undergone nothing short of a revolution. The inestimable Rev. Walter Otten, for example, can tell you the story of his various struts down the catwalk to get voter assembly approval for cassock and surplice and later alb and stole. When he retired not so many years ago, his successor brought in the chasuble without drawing any controversy. While your mileage may vary, it has been my experience that today's laity tend to appreciate the more elaborate, traditional vestments of our forefathers and accept them even where they have not been in use before.

A Lutheran Divine Service in 16th century Denmark. Both of the pictures were thankfully hijacked from Fr. Frahm's excellent discussion of Lutheran worship.

While vestments in the Christian tradition grew up gradually, and usually by baptizing secular dress, we should not commit the etymological error and assume that all they are is secular dress and that they can be changed without meaning or consequence. We must encounter the symbolical world of the Church as we find it, not attempt to explain it away. And in the symbolism of the Church, vestments serve a very useful function: they set apart the pastoral office and each vestment says something about the office as can be seen from the traditional prayers that attend each vestment (which make for a nice Bible class topic, by the bye). Furthermore, they add beauty to the services of God's house and incidentally aid the pastor in proper decorum as it is especially difficult to be sloppy with one's hands while wearing a chasuble!

For these reasons, the wearing of vestments was one of the traditions that the Lutherans were glad to retain at the time of the Reformation. Indeed, when Karlstadt imitated the Swiss by celebrating the Supper in street clothes, Luther famously roared back into Wittenberg with alb, stole, maniple, and chasuble.

Today, I would wager than the cassock cut alb (an invention of the Anglican-catering Almy Co.) and stole is how most LCMS pastors vest for most every service. A more traditional manner to vest would be cassock, surplice, and stole for the non-Eucharistic services where there is preaching (subtract the stole for prayer services without preaching) and alb, stole, and chasuble (and even a maniple and amice) for the Divine Service. This also serves to highlight the Divine Service and goes along well with an attempt to reclaim the celebration of the Lord's Supper on every Lord's Day.

Finally, a full disclosure statement: my mom sews chasubles, other vestments, and paraments so I have a familial interest in their promotion.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Installation Service for LCMS Officers

My colleague and neighbor, Pr. William Weedon, has an excellent summary and analysis of yesterday's installation service at the CSL chapel.


Saturday, September 4, 2010


When it comes to worship and order in the church, some folks in the Missouri Synod just don't care what the Confessions say. But there are others who do care, and yet also want to jettison the received tradition of Lutheran forms of worship. They hang their hats on SD FC X - but even more so on a particular understanding of that article. They understand it to be saying that each and every Christian congregation has the authority to make up whatever rites and ceremonies it likes and that each and every congregation is encouraged to do so to fit its "context."

At this point in the debate, a defender of the traditional Lutheran heritage of worship will have many places to turn in the Confessions to combat this notion - to show that acceptable "diversity" in Lutheran worship never included tossing out the Western Mass, doing away with reverence, dividing congregations by age group or preferred musical taste, etc. And that is an important argument to make.

But there is also this: history. The fact is, the men who wrote and signed the Formula of Concord all lived in churches where such decisions were most certainly not made at the parish level. The bishops, called in some places superintendents, sometimes working with consistories and even Christian princes put forth ecclesiastical law regarding worship that was binding on the local parish. Read all about it.

I am not myself a scholar of the Kirchenordnungen, so I'll leave it to others to supply good bibliography and commentary. I only make the plea that we give attention to this important fact that stares us right in the face: the men who wrote and signed the Confessions had binding church law regarding worship. Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all. . .


Friday, September 3, 2010

More On Contextual Worship

"Clowns do not belong in church. They belong in circuses. That's mixed-up there."
- Leo Beane, age 5

Finally, Sts. Timothy and Titus get contextual

From the Daily Announcements of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis for today, September 3.

Contextual Worship/Chapel Bands

If you are gifted in the ways of music or can run a sound board, come audition to be a part of a chapel band. Come sign up for an audition time at the Information fair on Friday (9/3) or Tuesday (9/7). Or email XXXXX@csl.edu [a student address - +HRC] if you are unable to be at the info fair. Email me with any questions. Thanks.

I wonder if they will be playing at the installation?

The seminaries - for worse, not better - have followed a funding model for quite a while that is basically identical to how all private institutions of higher learning function. Therefore, if won't be blog analyses of how "contextual worship" is inferior to Lutheran worship, but rather complaining donors who will stop this sort of thing - if it is ever to stop.