Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Regarding October 23...

When I put together Daily Divine Service Book my goal was to include a full, and truly Lutheran sanctoral calendar. The basis for this was Loehe's Martyrologium, but I also wanted to include the days and commemorations from LSB. An Alert Reader pointed out that I had yet to explain the exception to this rule: DDSB has no feast of "St. James, Brother of the Lord" on October 23rd where LSB does. So here's why not.

This feast came new to Lutheranism in Lutheran Book of Worship as "St. James, Martyr" but was rejected by Lutheran Worship. I think LBW got it from the American revision of the Book of Common Prayer. The feast is again left out of the ELCA's newest hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. If it has any history in modern German Lutheran hymnals, I am unaware of it but would happy to be corrected.

Lutheranism is, of course, part of the Western Church - indeed, in accordance with our own self-understanding, we should really say that Lutheranism is the continuance of the Western Church cleaned up from certain errors (the three P's: Purgatory, Prayer to saints, and the Pope's lavish claims), by the grace of God. In the West, the James who is denominated as "the brother of the Lord" has usually been considered as identical to "James the son of Alpheus." Read all about it. Consequently, in the West, "James, the brother of the Lord" is celebrated on May 1, the Feast of St. Philip and St. James (the Less, the Just, son of Alpheus). In the West, there is no feast of any St. James on October 23.

In the Eastern Church, however, the judgment has been different. They identify "James, the brother of the Lord" as someone other than one of the apostles. Namely, as one of four children of Joseph of Nazareth from his first marriage. The evidence for this comes from the Protoevangelium of James. Read all about it. His day in the East is, indeed, October 23.

Including this feast day in a Lutheran calendar is, therefore, a bit polemical. It makes a definite statement about which James is which, and it is a statement contrary to the West's tradition.

Secondly, to modern American ears the name of the feast is a bit polemical in another way. When the East calls James "the brother of the Lord" they mean one thing and modern Protestants, like the Anglo-American Common Prayer mean quite another.

[Here in passing we might note another title in LSB that was not adopted in DDSB: St. Mary, "Mother of our Lord." This was, in my opinion, a most unfortunate choice. In the Ecumenical Creeds and our Lutheran Confessions, and in all the old Lutheran calendars, she is "Mary the Bearer of God (Θεοτόκος, Gottesgebaererin)" or "the Virgin Mary" or "the Blessed Virgin Mary." To those with any church history, the title "Mother of Our Lord" is fraught with meaning as it was the title that Nestorius insisted upon using, and no other. If using the Confessions' title of "Bearer of God" was thought to be too difficult or confusing for today's laity, then why not just "The Virgin Mary" as she is called in the Creed? Or just "St. Mary"?]

Well. Isn't it all adiaphora? Who cares whether one thinks that the West or East is right about which James is which? Indeed, they might both be wrong and we could add a couple other James' Days to the calendar. But it's precisely the fact that this is a judgment call that made me most hesitant to add the feast. When in doubt: dance with who brung ya. We're a Western Church. Likewise with titles given to Mary - let's stick with our own tradition. Same thing when it comes to Mary and "the brothers of the Lord." If you really think the meaning of that term is adiaphora, then why would you go out of your way to proclaim an opinion contrary to the whole history of the Church? It it doesn't matter then honor your fathers in the faith by accepting their opinion.

So I suppose this is a matter of general outlook. And my outlook is this: let's not reinvent the wheel and let's be content with what our own fathers have handed us.



  1. Having listened to a lecture by Dr. Nagel about which St. James day our paper was due ("Not James the Greater, or James the Lesser, but James the brother of our Lord")which culminated in a due date of October 23, I've been inclined to stick with that date.

  2. David,

    So Dr. Nagel was of the opinion that the East is factually correct in getting all the Jameses straight. That's a fine opinion. As is the opposite opinion.

    So the choice comes down to this: when your opinion, in a matter of adiaphora, conflicts with your received tradition - what do you do?

    My argument is that exactly because it's adiaphora, or in this case a matter of historical inquiry which cannot claim absolute certainty, then why not set aside our personal opinion for the opinion of our tradition?


  3. Can someone please enlighten me how James brother of our Lord can be identified with James son of Alphaeus, an apostle from the first, when John 7 says that Jesus' own brothers did not believe in Him?

  4. Pr. Hagen,

    See the Catholic Encyclopedia article I linked to.

    In the West, the "brothers of the Lord" have usually been understood to be a wide group, cousins. Hebrew does not have word for coeval relatives other than "brothers" - that is, there's no special word for "cousins." In the East, the "brothers of the Lord" have always been understood to be Joseph's children from a previous marriage. See the article linked to above from the Orthodox.


  5. You know my thoughts on this, but I'll offer them one more time for them to be dismissed. :)

    Humility is also a very important part of the catholic tradition; and that means submission to something that I myself might think could and should be done otherwise or better. We have a hymnal and liturgy which we have received, for better or for worse. I think we set a poor example when we on our own (even for the best of reasons) decide to ignore our book.

  6. Fr. Weedon,

    Well that's just the rub, right? What when our book ignores our books?

    But the good thing about LSB is that it abounds in "may rubrics." If a parish wishes to celebrate this James in this was on Oct 23, God bless them. I have simply offered my reasons for choosing to exercise the authority that LSB's own "may rubric" gives me.


  7. For my part, I fought as hard as I could for "St. Mary, Mother of God," but the Commission on Worship was determined to stick with the nomenclature that was already in Lutheran Worship. I suppose one could at least applaud the introduction of August the 15th (in LW and LSB), which was not to be found in TLH (as I recall). Nestorius did not insist on "Mother of Our Lord," actually, but "Mother of Christ." It was rather St. Elizabeth who sang, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concerning "the Mother of my Lord." And of course, if "Lord" is rightly heard and understood, it says nothing less profound or pointed than "God." Even so, as I have said, I fought as hard as I could for "Mother of God," and I was overruled. So be it.

    On the other hand, I both proposed and pushed for the Feast of St. James on the 23rd of October. We took the date as much from the WELS as from the Anglicans in this case. But it is clear that there is a James identified in the Holy Scriptures as the Brother of Our Lord, and the Holy Scriptures are more ancient, more catholic, and more ecumenical than all the diverse and varying traditions of the East and the West put together. He was "commemorated" in the Holy Scriptures before Rome ever decided to merge him out of existence, and so, I suppose, one could say that "we" exercised our freedom in the Gospel by remembering him once more.

    On account of the different ways in which "Brother of our Lord" can be understood (or misunderstood, as the case may be), I exercise my own freedom, as well, by referring to him as "St. James the Just, Bishop and Martyr."


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