Sunday, October 24, 2010

The place of "I forgive you..." and a poll on omitting the Preparation

We all learned in our history books that the Mass proper begins with the Introit - that the rite of preparation is just that. In days of yore, Lutherans insisted on communicants who made regular use of individual confession and absolution and thus prepared themselves that way. After the days of Pietism, things have obviously changed: all of our Divine Services now include a rite of public confession with either absolution or declaration of grace and individual absolution is perpetually in the process of being recovered (since the first MO Synod constitution!) with little outlook for recovery.

I have argued here and in the print journal that the old Common Service had it right in refusing to use the indicative-operative formula of absolution (I forgive you...) for public services and opting instead for declarations of grace or prayers (May the Almighty and Merciful Lord forgive us....; Grant this, Lord, unto us all.). In my opinion, this was the greatest improvement in LSB over TLH: restoring the option of using the old Common Service with the declaration of grace instead of TLH's innovative mass absolution.

I am convinced that one of the main reasons our people feel no urgency to recover the historic Lutheran practice of absolution is that since 1941 our orders have encouraged us to toss about the indicative-operative absolution in public worship to a room full of people about whose faith and repentance the pastor cannot likely have an intimate knowledge. Why go to Confession "for the sake of the absolution" if I get the very same absolution each and every Sunday? Since 1941 the currency of the indicative-operative absolution has been infinitely cheapened through usage inflation.

This hit me squarely between the eyes when I was translating the first setting of the Liturgy of Holy Communion in Liturgies et Cantique Luthériens (which I'll post later this week, Dv). I had always understood the "you" in the General Absolution as "thee" - as in TLH's Benediction. It's an individual blessing given, as it were, serially to a group. But in LCL it is not te that is used but vous! And now that I think about it, the editors of LCL are correct in interpreting the intent going back to TLH: while the Benediction is in the singular (thee) the Absolution is in the plural (you). But how can any Sacrament be given to people as a mass of people? We don't baptize crowds indiscriminately (y'all) we baptize individuals (thee). Likewise, with the Supper - it is given for thee.

How can you say "I forgive you" to a whole room of people, some of whom are visitors, many of whom are unexamined, and all of whom have made only a generic, rote confession that rises not even to the level of the Catechism's "one or two things"? Yes, the reply comes, but that's why it's prefaced with "Upon this your confession. . . ": if it's not really your confession, if you don't really mean it, then the absolution does not really count for you.

To which I reply: Bosh. So now we are cheapening sacramental words by making them conditional? This cuts against the grain of the gift our Lord gives us in John 20. Why do you need to make it conditional? If you don't think this person has true repentance and faith then these are not the words you should be saying to them, for, "Our word to you was not yes and no..."

(An aside: I gained some grudging respect for a certain pro-open communion professor at the seminary when he said to our class of first year seminarians: How can you not commune everyone if you just forgave them all their sins a couple of minutes ago? He was right: how can you not? Is your answer, "Upon this your confession"? That's a pretty lame response in my book; those words just won't carry that weight. Either commune them or stop it with the blanket indicative-operative absolution that you don't actually intend to cover all the people who hear the words.)

So either way you cut it, the words based on Jesus' institution of Absolution in John 20 (I forgive you...) are, in this parish pastor's opinion, most properly used only in individual settings. Or, to say all this much more succinctly: You should not say, "I forgive you," to someone unless you know, as much as any responsible undershepherd should know, that you shouldn't be saying, "I bind unto you..."

As I said above, we've covered this ground before. If you want my advice, make use of the LSB option for using a prayer for forgiveness or a declaration of grace in public settings. But there is another option for doing away with the general indicative-operative absolution: to omit that rite of preparation altogether and begin the Divine Service with the Introit as our history books taught us was once the case.

How often, if at all, is this done in your parish? Under what circumstances? How was it received by the congregants? Has it had any affect on the number of people who seek the Sacrament of Absolution?



  1. Heath,

    I think that you are right about the cheapening of the absolution. Older church orders from Germany often did have some sort of conditional statement attached. Absolution, in a sense, is conditional--upon repentance. We do not absolve the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. Is it wrong to have a statement to that effect? I don't know--clearly not ideal. Of course, there will be those guys (some of our friends) who say, "Why do you Confessional guys get so bent out of shape about declaring the Gospel? You do it in the sermon!" I don't buy that one. The formula for the absolution was intended for individual delivery. Plain and simple. I wish we could go back to beginning with the Introit, and keeping the absolution for the private setting.

  2. For clarification, in your estimation, what makes the specific absolution different from the other statements of absolution in the service, such as "The peace of the Lord be with you all" or the votum after the sermon? Are these not forgiving words as well (for where is there the Peace of the Lord apart from forgiveness)? Or even with the proclamation of the Gospel in the sermon - I trust that your sermons are not conditional. What differentiates the corporate absolution from all the other corporate declarations of forgiveness that are directly stated on Sunday morning?

    [ Personally, I think we worry too much that we might give security to hypocrites and the self-righteous. Hypocrites and the self-righteous will be secure whatever we say - that is part of what makes them hypocrites and self-righteous. And if we want people to appreciate the absolution, why would taking it away make them appreciate it more? Perhaps there will be an increase in private confession when we as pastors interact with our members and ask them how they are, what is bothering them, what they are struggling against, and then forgive them that, rather than just hoping that they wander into our offices. Thus endeth my rant - you don't need to respond to this as I'm sure most write me off as a kook here anyway, but I would like to know how you approach the above =o) ]

  3. Fr. Brown,

    The words make me think they are different. They are different words, you see, which mean different things. A declaration of the Grace of God spoken to all the world is simply a different thing than the direction forgiveness given by pastor to penitent. It's as different as, "May the Almighty and Merciful Lord grant you forgiveness" and "I forgive thee."

    "The peace of the Lord be with you all" is an optative wish, a blessing, or a prayer. "I forgive you" is a sacramental act before the court of heaven as surely as is "I baptize thee."

    My sermons are not conditional: Jesus died for you. All who trust in him are saved. You should trust in him.

    But see, that's a different ball of wax than: "I forgive thee."

    If you can't see the difference between different words, different moods (indicative, optative, subjunctive), and different pronouns, I just don't know that we can have a productive discussion on this one.


  4. Ah, it is a "sit". Hadn't even thought that it might be sit in the Latin.

    While that is subjunctive, I am not sure if that makes it take an optative sense. This is less precise in English because the translations we have are as follows:

    1. The Lord BE with you (Dominus Vobiscum)
    2. The Peace of the Lord BE with you always (Pax Domini SIT Semper)

    Both translate what would be indicative (I assume as the esse is absent) and subjunctive in exactly the same way - be. Normally the subjunctive mood in English is defined by the use of "may" or some other such helping verb. The question then becomes is that a poor translation into English, or is it in fact accurate?

    I think that you may be over estimating the optative sense here of the Latin Subjunctive. Rather than just a wish, the subjunctive is often used to describe the divine creation of reality, especially when the Word of the Lord is involved - the great example would be our Lord saying, "Fiat Lux". There is no sense of may, or doubt about creation - but rather the coming, present reality of light. I'd argue that blessings are reality, not doubtful.

    And as for 2nd person plural - it's what Peter uses in Acts 2. "in remissionem peccatorum vestrorum", "Vobis enim est repromissio". And these words are spoken even to those who reject his word as well as those who receive it.

    With all the other general words of absolutions (some subjunctive, some indicative) present in the service, I fear that putting so much additional weight upon "absolvo te" (or is it actually "absolvo vos" - I don't know, I haven't seen any Lutheran Latin orders using it) places an unnecessary burden upon pastors.

    Again, if your conscience dictates that you cannot say "absolvo" in the corporate setting, by all means don't. But I am not sure that it is something that I am wrong for not having doubts or concerns about.

  5. I think there needs to be another option in the poll - something between rarely and regularly. I omit the absolution during Advent and Lent, much to the consternation of absolutely everyone in my parish. It really doesn't matter how much I teach on it - they have been very thoroughly catechized to highly prize the absolution at the beginning of the Divine Service.

  6. Fr. Brown,

    It's "absolvo te."

    What Peter says to a crowd is "Hey guys, get baptized for the forgiveness of your sins." He does not say, "I forgive y'all."

    Let us be clear in our language. The only words of absolution proper in the service come in the Preparation: "I forgive you" is an absolution. The following are not absolutions: God have mercy on you. Jesus died so that your sins might be forgiven. The peace of God be with you always.

    All are words of Gospel, but they are not absolutions. I will have none of this Lutheran dogmaticians' "narrow and wide." Words mean things: absolution > absolvo = I forgive. Without "I forgive" it's not an absolution for this is the gift Jesus gave to the Ministry: "Whosoever's sins you forgive..."

    I can't see how it is helpful to say "I forgive y'all" to a crowd of people when you simply know that you don't mean those words for some people in the crowd: the Baptist visitor who you know is not repentant of his false theology of baptism; the Mormon visitor who does not believe in the Trinity, etc. It cheapens words when we say them but don't mean them full force.

    So why not just use the LSB declaration of grace? Then you can say the words and mean them for everybody to whom you speak them.


  7. Just to note that the form as it appears in indicative operative IS the traditionally form used in the Saxon Liturgy from the 16th century onward. What is missing is the "to all you who heartily repent of your sins and earnestly intend to amend your sinful life."

  8. Fr. Esget,

    I think that counts as regularly!

    Tell us more about your teaching with the congregation on this point. I assume you do this at the penitential times of year to encourage folks to come to Confession & Absolution. Am I assuming right?


  9. Fr. Weedon,

    Exactly - that's a really and truly and clearly _conditional_ absolution as Fr. Beisel noted also occurs in the Confessional Address in many rites.

    I am much less troubled by this than I am by TLH's innovation on the Common Service, but still think it is a liturgical misstep. Indeed, it's a case of "methinks [he] doth protest too much." If you've got to place such a condition on something it's an indication that the words do not fit the setting. You don't want to make Sacramental words conditional (Profs. Nagel and Feuerhahn have many good words here).


  10. A little more paraphrasing what I often heard from Prof. Feuerhahn on just this point. . .

    The absolution is to be received by faith. Faith is the response to a promise, a statement, an act of God. By placing conditions on these statements, we shift the focus from God's promise to the condition which adheres in us.

    When a penitent hears "I forgive you in the stead of Christ" he has something to hang his faith on. There is the promise bold and sure.

    When a penitent hears, "If you are really and truly penitent and have real and true faith, then I forgive you in Christ's stead" he suddenly has a couple hurdles to cross before coming to the promise. Am I really penitent? Do I really have faith?

    So my pastoral rule of thumb is simple: if I don't think I really know of someone's repentance and faith, I don't say, "I forgive thee." Instead I prod and comfort with law and gospel until I see that repentance and faith and then lay on the Sacramental Absolution with full force as a solid peg on which faith can hang her hat.


  11. There is a vibrant use of private confession in my congregation. The pastor values it for himself and wants the people in the congregation to know the joy and comfort he has found. He has been teaching on this for 19 years here. We do not always have the "preparatory service." But after catechizing, after explaining, after going without the conf/abs in the Service, he still has many people who are bothered when it's missing. And truly, I do not think there has been any increase of penitents seeking the private absolution because they didn't hear it on Sunday during the service. (Maybe Pastor knows otherwise. But from the things people say during Bible class, I really doubt it works that way.) Removing the absolution from Sunday morning's service tends to make the members ask, "So, is the forgiveness I have been receiving all my life an inferior forgiveness???"

    I have noticed here that, over the last few years, we have moved to having the preparatory rite more often, not less. And still, the number of people who show up in the confessional continues to grow.

  12. Fr. Brown,

    In my first reply I'm afraid I came off a bit testy - I know you can parse with the best of them. I apologize.

    What I meant to say was that we all must recognize that the parsing counts - that a declaration of grace really is a different thing from an absolution.


  13. Fr. Curtis,

    I still think perhaps you may put too much emphasis upon the parsing. If I may, let me quote from Luther in his writing on his revised Latin Mass.

    "But immediately after the Lord's Prayer shall be said, 'The peace of the Lord,' etc., which is, so to speak, a public absolution of the sins of the communicants, the true voice of the Gospel announcing the remission of sins, and therefore the one and most worthy preparation for the Lord's Table, if faith holds to these words as coming from the mouth of Christ [H]imself." (AE 53:28-29)

    I think that, while there is linguistic difference, to put that much weight on one construction over the other does a disservice. The Word of God does what it says and is efficacious, indicative, imperative, or subjunctive.

    Partially this comes because in English we have such a different understanding of logic and the subjunctive than the classical langauges. We associate "if" primarily with doubt, where as Classically speaking it is merely logical flow. When Satan says to our Lord, "If You are the Son of God" he is not expressing doubt or even setting conditions, but simply saying, "As you are, since you are. . ." (and I note that the "is" there is inidicative - but I would contend the sense still applies).

    We speak realities. We speak the Word of God which creates. You ask, "I can't see how it is helpful to say "I forgive y'all" to a crowd of people when you simply know that you don't mean those words for some people in the crowd: the Baptist visitor who you know is not repentant of his false theology of baptism; the Mormon visitor who does not believe in the Trinity, etc. It cheapens words when we say them but don't mean them full force." You are right in saying that they do not believe - but two things. First, I will speak the Word, and if the Spirit accompanies the Word and they believe - wonderful. If not, then let it be as heaps of coal upon their head. Second, I will still say "The Peace of the Lord be with you all" even though it does not rest upon the Mormon.

    Consider what our Lord says when He sends out the 72. In Matthew 10 we hear our Lord say, "As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you." (Of note, the vulgate adds "Pax huic domui" - and as there is no Greek variant along those lines, I take that to be a translation explaining what the greeting is).

    I think Susan hits the nail on the head - we should not deprive the faithful of their absolution either for the sake of the unfaithful (for that peace upon them leave them well and fine enough without our efforts) nor as a way of attempting to prompt more personal and direct absolution.

    Moreover - you would free the penitent from a conditional absolution (have I done enough to be absolved); why place that burden upon yourself? Why attempt to judge whether or not they are truly penitent as a precondition of speaking?

  14. In my parish, the Preparatory Rite is omitted for Festival Days when the Divine Service proper to the day is held (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, as well as Epiphany and Ascension). These services begin with an Opening Sentence and the Entrance Hymn [a Lutheranized Vatican II innovation, I know, I know]. The Preparatory Rite is also typically omitted if a Baptism would be conducted.

    There are few in the parish who seek out private absolution from me. When I have used the Declaration of Grace in the Divine Service, there are usually some questions raised by parishioners in my midweek classes. I would say that my parishioners have been trained to expect an absolution at the beginning of the Divine Service. [Since my arrival here, the parish is becoming accustomed to the Sharing of Peace as the conclusion of the Preparatory Rite....another innovation, I know, I know.]

    Heath, I think that this Preparatory Rite is completely here to stay in The LCMS. At best, the Synod might move to accepting the Declaration of Grace as standard in it. Perhaps parishes could adopt the Preparatory Rite from Compline instead. [With Lutheran Service Builder, it's a snap to insert into a service folder.....yet another innovation, I know, I know.] But total removal of the Preparatory Rite--save for rare occasions or maybe for festivals or a particular season--is simply not in the cards.


  15. One other thing (I got to drive to the hospital - it was ponder this or ponder football, and as I am an Oklahoma grad I had no desire to do this).

    To the prof who asked, "How can you not commune everyone if you just forgave them all their sins a couple of minutes ago?" I would respond, "My not welcoming them to the altar is not because I am retaining their sin, but for their sake and safety." I think saying that denying communion = retaining sins is a logical jump. I certainly would hope that I am not retaining the sins of the infants who I bless at the rail!

    More over - if a baptist were to approach the rail and there make verbal confession of his faith, repent of his sins of denying Christ's presence in the Word (for that's what they do with Baptism, with the Supper, and with Preaching, even) and professed his desire to enter and remain in communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church I would be quite inclined to commune him on the spot.

    It just might be awkward - which is why we like to have you do that publicly before hand.

  16. One final comment. I think sometimes we over emphasize subjective justification over objective. Should I say to the Mormon, your sin is forgiven - this is objectively true. Should he reject and disbelieve, his disbelief retains it. When I say, "I retain your sin" to the impenitent - I am simply speaking what is already real because of that man's unbelief. Sometimes I wonder if we don't worry too much about Subjective, forgetting that subjective comes and flows from the Objective.

  17. I put "regularly" although my practice is also to omit it during Lent and Advent, not during the rest of the Church Year. Some people don't like it and complain about it. I like it because it makes the Mass shorter.

  18. Fr. Brown,

    My disagreements with Dr. Luther's outlook on absolution and the ministry (especially as included in his Quasimodo Geniti sermons) is not a secret to readers of this blog.

    Not every word of Gospel is an absolution - at least, if our words are going to have anything approaching specific meaning.

    Second, yes, you are proclaiming to a Baptist that he has sins that need to be repented of when you won't commune him. Is telling lies about God not a sin? Don't Baptists lie about God when they say he doesn't want babies to be baptized? Shouldn't they repent of that?

    Now, it may well be that Baptists too shall be saved because they do not understand their sins to be sins - that they are sinning out of ignorance and thus venially rather than mortally. But it's a sin they need to repent of nonetheless and that is what we say to everyone we will not commune: I cannot commune you because you are not living in repentance and faith.


  19. Fr. Curtis,

    1. As a question (that is leading). You make a distinction between the wide usage of "absolution" and the narrow (absolvo te), beteween general and specific. While I know that it is important to keep the distinction clear between wide usages and narrow usages, other than what you propose here, is there a time where we exclude the specific use from the general?

    For example, when we speak of "Law" in the wide, that also includes "Law" in the narrow. When we speak of "Gospel" in the wide, that also includes the narrow. It seems as if you allow for absolution in the wide sense to be used in a corporate setting but dislike the narrow. I can't think of any other usage that allows the wide use of a term in a setting while proscribing it's narrow use. Thus your distinction here sort of sits poorly with me. (Also, if you have on hand links to those posts whereby frequent readers would be familiar with your qualms with Luther, I wouldn't mind seeing them)

    2. The purpose of not admitting one to the altar is not to retain their sin (if they aren't of my Church, not my job), but to keep them from falling into larger sin. It's not my job to punish my neighbor's kid, but I will stop him from playing in traffic. But I will have to think more on this -- it seems as though you read John 20 as more of a you are either forgiving or retaining with what you do, whereas I tend to understand it more as should you forgive they are, should you retain they are -- and having silence be an option. Still, I will think more.

    3. Just as a general question - is there a discussion somewhere on the practice of omitting the preparatory service in Advent and Lent. That is a custom I am by no means familiar with.

  20. 1. I'm arguing that "Peace be with you" is not an absolution. It is a Gospel word, but not an absolution. I do not think "absolution in the wide sense" is a useful or helpful category. To absolve means to say "I forgive." Without that word, it's no absolution: it might be a Gospel proclamation, a prayer, a declaration, a statement, but not an absolution.

    2. I agree that refusing to commune someone is somewhat different from saying to them, "Thy sins are bound." But let's be blunt: we are saying that a person we won't commune is not on the right state of spiritual wholeness to receive the forgiveness of their sins through the Sacrament. That is, they are living in a state of unrepentance (though it may be an unrepentance borne of ignorance rather than malice). I don't think it behooves us to soften that. To enter your analogy: it might not be my job to punish my neighbor's kid, but I can't help but notice he's all wrong and will not shy away from telling him so and that he needs to mend his ways.

    3. Beats me. Perhaps one of the brothers who follows that practice can answer your question.


  21. 1. I'm not sure, for how can there be peace with out forgiveness? I guess it boils down to whether or not forgiveness is given with words other than "I forgive" - and I would tend towards yes.

    2. I think I lean more towards viewing the heterodox more as the weak in faith who for their own sake must be kept from the supper, as opposed to those engaged in manifest immorality. isn't false doctrine manifest immorality -- for a teacher or clergy or apostate, I'd say yes. Otherwise, I'd just chalk it up to weakness of faith.

    3. Anyone?

  22. 1. Forgiveness can be declared in the abstract (God forgives sinners for Christ's sake), it can be prayed for (God grant us all forgiveness), or it can be directly given (I forgive thee.). Each of those has its place - one should not meld them all into one generic category and say, Aw shucks, forgiveness is forgiveness.


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  24. Public Absolution from Herzog Heinrich: "Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servants of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you who heartily repent of your sins, believe on Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly purpose by the assistance of God the Holy Ghost henceforth to amend your sinful lives, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of God + the Father, God + the Son, and God + the Holy Ghost. Amen."

  25. Private absolution from Herzog Heinrich: "The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would be gracious and merciful to you. He wants to forgive you all your sins, and this because his dear Son Jesus Christ has suffered for them and died for them. In the name of that same Jesus Christ, because he has mandated me to do this, in the power of his words where he said: 'Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven,' I say to you that all your sins are forgiven. They cannot hold you captive. They are altogether forgiven you as abundantly and completely as was won for you by Jesus Christ through his suffering and death, and which he commanded to be proclaimed in all the world through the Gospel, and this is now said to you, to comfort and strengthen you, as I now speak this to you in the name of the Lord Christ, for you to receive it gladly, setting your conscience at peace, as with a faith that cannot be shaken, your sins are surely forgiven you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go forth in peace."

  26. Lutheran liturgy historically offered both; rather than a choice of one or the other.

  27. Note the "indicative operative" was in the public but not the private and that the private is, despite that, actually far more comforting!

  28. Do you think that the long paragraph for the individual rite is actually meant to be read or was it a sort of Vademecum?

    It's a bit wordy.


  29. Fr. Curtis,

    Again, for clarification. There are differing ways of speaking the Word, and I associate the Church, the place to which I am called, as the place for directness. To the world at large, in abstract. As a means of blessing, "may". But to the community of the Baptized, I am direct. When I preach, I do not refrain from speaking directly about what "your baptism gives you" even if there is a Baptist visitor there who doesn't believe that baptism does that. Their lack of belief doesn't change what is given (although without faith one may not apprehend).

    Thus I am used to preaching with a strong second person focus. You are baptized. Christ has died for you, you are forgiven (absolveris).

    What of that construction - absolveris? (At least I think it is an "e" verb - I only hear it in the 1st singular, so I'm not completely sure) It is direct. Does it ring to you the same as absolvo te? I ask because if they ring the same, then then focus is on the recipient - the you. If they ring different and absolve te is viewed as irresponsible, it would be a focus upon "ego" - the agent - the idea that the speaker is the active agent of the directness (unless there is another distinction that you see).

    I tend to think of these two constructions as primarily the same - because whether active or passive, they are applied to "you" directly. And if a certain "you" does not receive this Word by faith... the Word is still true, it still gives Christ and His forgiveness, even though they reject Him. And, as I don't have a 1 Corinthians 11 for impenitent eavesdroppers or hypocrites, nor has there been a time where those were excluded from the service of the Word by the orthodox Church (with perhaps the exception of the lapsi, but when the Church is not yet public, there are some weird dynamics), I don't view either construction as dangerous or reckless.

    What is your take on the difference (or lack there of) between absolve te and absolveris?

  30. "I forgive thee" is a sacramental act, a speech act, words that actually do what they say. Saying in a sermon "remember that your sins are forgiven in Christ" is not a speech act; they are words to make a statement not perform an action.

    Other examples of speech acts:
    * I pronounce you man and wife.
    * I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
    * You are under arrest.

    And their non-speech act equivalents:
    * Since you are married, love one another.
    * You, beloved, are the baptized people of God.
    * You, sir, are sitting in a jail cell.

    Do we say that we are baptizing people when we say to them "You are baptized" in a sermon? Do we say that we are marrying people when we say, "You are husband and wife" in a sermon or a counseling session?

    That's the difference - and it is a vast difference.

    To put it another way: Forgiving someone is different than preaching about forgiveness. Saying "I forgive your sins" does what it says by virtue of Jesus' Institution of Absolution; saying "You are the forgiven people of God" in a sermon is a call to remembrance of the grace given in Absolution. Both are important and necessary, but they are two different things.


  31. And here I think I see where you and I have quite a different view of what preaching is. You note: "To put it another way: Forgiving someone is different than preaching about forgiveness." I do not preach *about* forgiveness, nor about Christ. I preach forgiveness. I do not preach about the Gospel, I preach the Gospel, and that Gospel does what it says.

    The Word is efficacious. Even "remember that you are forgiven" makes and causes one to remember (although rarely would I couch "you are forgiven" unless it is to be a "during this week, remember" - a blessing for the future).

    Doesn't preaching forgive? Doesn't it give anything? Is it merely empty words? Is preaching merely what the reformed teach about the Supper (a call to remember something that isn't actually happening here but only happened elsewhere) - or is is the giving of the life giving Gospel that creates faith and gives forgiveness?

    I think in your zeal for the Absolvo Te you undercut and gut the proclamation of the Gospel... almost like someone who would say that the Supper is so wonderful and that Baptism is. . . well, it's just not the fullness of the Supper. It seems as though you focus so much on the distinctiveness of Absolvo te that you deny the efficacy of the Gospel elsewhere.

    I would note the Gospel for last Sunday - when Jesus says, "Go, your son will live" - that is performative. Jesus doesn't have to say - "I heal your son." When the Word of God proclaims reality, it becomes real. Likewise, when I proclaim the Word of God, "You are forgiven" - it happens. I don't have to say that it is happening, it does, because the Word of God does what it says, makes real what it proclaims, is creative. It's not the structure or format that brings this about, but the proclamation of the Word itself.

    You are married... not the Word of God or the Gospel. You are under arrest - not the Word of God. Nor is "You are in jail." But what we are given to preach and proclaim - that is the Word of God, and that is reality.

    (As a note - I'd contend that pronounce you man and wife isn't "speech act" - it announces that you have witnessed the verbal promise of the couple - you don't marry them. I've only married one person - my wife. I've pronounced many to be married)

  32. Preaching forgiveness is not the same as forgiving someone.

    I really think this is uncontroversial. Again, words mean things. If you say "I forgive all of you yours sins" in your sermon, then you are absolving in your sermon. Otherwise, you are doing something else.

    For the logicians:

    A = Absolution
    F = "I forgive"

    A iff F.


  33. I could be more clear - let me try to say it this way.

    To proclaim forgiveness is to proclaim an objective reality: Your sins are forgiven before the court of heaven by the blood of Christ. Or: You are baptized.

    To do forgiveness, to actually forgive sins, is, well, to actually forgive sins: I forgive you. I baptize you.

    Both important - but both different. Otherwise, why does Jesus institute both preaching and absolution? Different, though related, gifts.

    Yes, I know Luther speaks differently: I just don't buy it.


  34. I think you push the distinction too far. This would be like saying that Baptism doesn't really unite you to Christ, because in the Supper we receive Christ's Body and Blood, so Baptism really isn't a Body of Christ thing. The focus on the specific propria is clouding the reality that whatever means, Christ is given.

    God overwhelms us with many means of grace, many avenues and vehicles of grace, and they all bring forgiveness and life and salvation (for wherever there is forgiveness, there also is life and salvation -- and I'd say if you give salvation, you also give life and forgiveness, and if you give life, you also give forgiveness and salvation).

    I also think you end up slightly tweaking objective and subjective just slightly. To preach is to proclaim an objective reality. When I hear the objective reality, I apprehend it subjectively. I do not need the specific "Te absolvo" to make that "actual" or real - the Objective brings about subjective reality.

    Of course, I see the full, unbridled Gospel all the time in whatever I do as pastor. My job is to forgive. Whether I preach, baptize, hear confession, administer the sacrament - I forgive. What I do... and not only when I say "Te absolvo".

    You ought to buy what Luther says here =o)

    But this means I don't want to hear a single thing about "Well Luther says" about perpetual virginity next time it comes up =o)

  35. At least we can agree on this important theological point: A Luther quotation does not a prooftext make.


  36. Pastor Curtis initially wrote that some Lutherans may think, "Why go to Confession 'for the sake of the absolution' if I get the very same absolution each and every Sunday?" And with regard to omitting the corporate absolution from the Divine Service, he concluded with, "Has it had any affect on the number of people who seek the Sacrament of Absolution?"

    Pastor C, you say that a Luther quote is not a prooftext. But what about the Confessions themselves? What I'm hearing from you sounds as if taking away the corporate absolution might prod people into desiring the absolution privately. And I'm trying to reconcile that with the line at the end of the Large Catechism which says that we never use coercion to get people to come to private confession. Do you think that some members who have never been to private confession may see the elimination of corporate confession precisely as coercion?

  37. Susan,

    When I say 'a Luther quotation' I'm speaking of his private writings, not the Confessions.

    Luther's entire exhortation to confession (which is actually not part of the Confessions, but an appendix that is not part of the 1580 BOC) is kind of odd. On the one hand he says "no coercion" then on the other hand he says that he won't consider you a Christian if you don't go to Confession and that he will hand you back over to the Pope to be forced to go.

    My pastoral practice is to follow one of the options - the Declaration of Grace - in our hymnals for the public Divine Service and to preach on the benefits of coming to Holy Absolution as it is spelled out in the Small Catechism. I can't see how following one of our Orders and preaching on the Catechism is coercion. But it certainly is encouragement.


  38. Have you had any members ask about it? Each time we do not use the public absolution I have members who express disappointment.

    About the HH private - wordy was par for the course in that order. Yes, the whole thing would have been read aloud!

  39. Fr. William,

    No one has ever mentioned it - but since they are here for just a service or two I really wouldn't expect it. Folks can be much more tolerant of stuff they don't like in other people's pastors :)



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