Reformation history: what would you have done?

Luther and the Papacy, by Scott Hendrix, 1981

Yesterday’s re-published post talked about how kid’s don’t celebrate divorce.  Does that mean the Reformation could have been avoided?  Well… here is the re-published post for today….

Kids call things like they see them.

What would you have done during times like those in the Reformation when even the top authorities (the Roman Curia) were condemning teachings they ought not to have been condemning?  Or teaching what they ought not to have been teaching?  For example, regarding the beginnings of the Reformation, the Papacy had expanded indulgences to include the claim of granting forgiveness itself (note: full forgiveness from temporal penalties [including purgatory], not eternal ones [hell]).  Not only this, but “the extreme papal position on the authority of the unwritten tradition (controlled by the papacy) and also the extreme claims to power over Scripture and gospel [were the views held by most of Luther's opponents].”  The highest curial theologian, a Dominican by the name of Prieras, said the following: “In its irrefragable and divine judgment the church’s authority is greater than the authority of Scripture…the authority of the Roman Pontiff…is greater than the authority of the Gospel, since because of it we believe in the Gospels.”)” (see Tavard’s Holy Writ on Holy Church)…  He was really not opposed by any prominent voices within the Church (Erasmus may have written somewhat more sensibly, but he quickly fell out of favor with Rome).  By the study of church history and historical study of Scripture, Luther called into question this whole view of tradition and authority (see Headley’s Luther’s View of Church History).” Also, in defense of Luther, one has said, “Luther’s concerns were always ecclesiological. His was not an affair of the private conscience or judgment against the social, institutional church. His was not a subjective, individualistic experience opposed to objective authority.” (Robert Goeser, from his review of “Luther and the Papacy” here: )

But there is more!  A few years ago I was thrilled to find out that one of my R. Catholic heroes Sir Thomas More (A man for all seasons, the movie, rocks! – he was certainly on the side of the angels!) had written a work in the mid-1520s versus the Lutherans (though he wrote it under a pseudonym at the time – he wrote as some Spanish monk, I believe).  I checked out the first of the big two volume books from our local library system, and had a look. More’s main argument?: Basically (crassly), since the Church owns the Bible it can interpret and do with it as it pleases (not much room for exegesis of the actual text in his view – nor the Fathers for that matter). If a great Christian man like More could be so careless in taking the extreme position that he did, its little wonder that things progressed in the Reformation as they did.

Therefore, I think intellectual honesty requires us to admit that some Popes of the 15th and early 16th century who put forth authoritative documents would surely take exception to the idea that their pronouncements were not solemn, ex cathedra exercises. When this doctrine was formally defined in the late 19th century, it was not a new doctrine, but was one (namely, the Pope’s voice is more or less God’s when he says it is) that had had some currency for a while.

So what should Luther have done when Rome rejected his efforts to turn around the Mothership?  Being the lowly friar that he was, could he have submitted without giving the impression that he could accept this kind of rhetoric?

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Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


Re: Reformation Day: kids don’t celebrate divorce

Leading up to Reformation Day this year, I’ve decided to put up again some of my most important posts on the topic.

This one seems a good one to start with:

vsdivorceGood point (an appropriate follow-up to this):

“…Tomorrow will be celebrated by many Protestants as “Reformation Sunday.” To be sure, part of what Protestants celebrate on Reformation Day are what they believe to be the truths upheld and preserved within Protestantism. But without careful qualification, celebrating “Reformation Day” while remaining separated from the Catholic Church is a kind of performative contradiction, because it implies that separation, not reform, is the ultimate goal of the protest. Celebrating Reformation Day can be for that reason like celebrating a divorce, or more accurately, celebrating estrangement from our mother and from all our brothers and sisters who remain in her bosom, when in truth Christ calls us all to full communion and prays that we would be one. Moreover celebrating what is a division can blind the celebrants to the evil of that continuing division, just as celebrating divorce could blind children to its evil, or celebrating abortion could blind the celebrants to its evil.”

(there is a lot in this post that I don’t agree with to, by the way)

That said, we do celebrate the pure preaching and teaching of the pure Gospel of God and the administration of His Sacraments!


Note: Around the same time when I posted this about three years ago, the Lutheran blogger Paul McCain put a post up titled: Was the Lutheran Reformation a Tragedy.  He said “no”, and I left some comments there, which you can now read under the comments section from the original posting.

photo credit:

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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


“An Overview of the Influence of the Publication of Patristic Literature Upon the Reformation” by Paul Strawn

16th c. Lutheran Martin Chemniz... perhaps worth another look, to say the least.

16th c. Lutheran Martin Chemniz… perhaps worth another look, to say the least.  Go here to start doing that.

[NOTE: You can download Paul Strawn’s paper featuring groundbreaking research on the Reformation, “An Overview of the Influence of the Publication of Patristic Literature Upon the Reformation”, which this post summarizes, here]

In my last post, countering the Eastern Orthodox apologist Father Stephen Freeman, I wrote, in part…

“Actually, as a child of the Lutheran Reformation – which I submit was in fact a revival of patristic theology (a sneak peek at this below with more later this week) – I of course agree with some of Father Freeman’s key points…..

what’s this about the Lutheran Reformation being a revival of patristic theology? You’d better believe it. If Pastor Weedon’s remarks are widely true about the 21st century Eastern Orthodox church (where they are more “about venerating the icons of the fathers vs. actually reading what they wrote”) this really cannot be said about the 16th century Lutheran reformers and many of the faithful who followed in their train. Stay tuned for more soon…

In the meantime, here is a hint of what we are talking about. It is jaw-dropping stuff.”

I then posted this amazing image:




The image above is from a paper delivered by my pastor at a recent conference discussing Lutheranism & the classics (you can read another post here which contains the abstract, or summary, of the paper – or scroll down and see the starred footnote below*). The image simply makes clear in visual form something important it seems most historians of the Reformation – including Lutherans – have missed, namely, that in terms of publishing at least, the 16th century featured a great revival in the interest of patristic literature (specifically, it shows when editions of various father’s complete works were published in which cities and when).

I will now post some choice morsels from Strawn’s paper, which you can read in full here. Strawn’s paper starts like this (all bold are mine).  From the paper’s introduction (which I will quote at some length):

“In his groundbreaking work on the Italian monk and theologian Ambrose Traversari (1386-1439) Charles L Stinger, professor of history at Buffalo University, describes the revival of patristic studies at the beginning of the 15th century.[1] According to Stinger, significant catalyst for that revival was the desire on the part of humanists to confront Aristotelian scholastic theology with what they considered to be a superior alternative.[2] While Stinger’s treatment of the topic ends with the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence (1431-47), he makes the somewhat startling claim that a revival in patristic studies would continue all the way into the 17th century as a discernable conflict between patristic and scholastic theology, a conflict that would only come to an end when Protestant theologians “began to return to [Aristotelian] dialectics to analyze the orthodox creedal formulations of the Augsburg Confession and Heidelberg Catechism.”[3] This assertion, that a renewed interest in patristic studies emerged in the Renaissance and remained an important element of the theological development of the 15th and 16th centuries—even without a consideration of the conflict between scholastic and patristic theology—deserves consideration. For the role of patristic literature in the Reformation has been generally accepted either as a peculiar interest of 15th and 16th century humanists, or as a source for quotations from the tradition of the church which were duly deployed by Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians in long lists or chains—catenae—to support favored theological positions.[4] Such catenae are not generally believed to be taken from and compiled in the 16th century from the actual writings of the church fathers, but instead, so it seems, were somehow passed down from the late medieval period in manuscript form, or taken from other available sources. In other words, general perception appears to be that the writings of the church father were not readily available in printed form in the 16th century. But, as it will be somewhat tediously demonstrated below, they most definitely were. In fact, a significant portion of Jacques Paul Migne’s (1800-1875) Patrologia Graeca (first published in Latin (85 vols., 1856-1857) and Latina (221 vols. (1844–1855)) actually stem from this period, containing exact copies of works first printed in the 15th and 16th centuries.[5] While the usage of such catenae—whatever their origin—cannot and should not be ignored, Stinger’s assertion, and the presence of so much printed patristic material in the 16th century both beg the question as to the veracity and import of the revival of patristic theology for the Reformation of the church. Although Stinger’s analysis is not without difficulties, it does intrigue. Simply put: Was a significant aspect of the Reformation a revival of patristic theology?

Not surprisingly, Stinger’s work seems to have been hardly noticed by theologians, perhaps because, as it could be assumed, his efforts have been geared toward those with a general interest in the Renaissance. Hardly enough time has passed—relatively speaking—for the academic world to grasp the import of his work as far as Renaissance and Reformation history is concerned, let alone, Reformation theology…”

Strawn continues:

“Stinger himself, after the appearance of his volume on Traversari, turned his attentions to the Renaissance in Rome,[6] and as far as I know, has not continued to with his research to more fully develop his sketch of the role of patristic literature in the 15th and 16th century.[7] That task has fallen to another professor of history, Irene Backus, professor of Reformation history at the University of Geneva, who since the time of the appearance of Stinger’s work, has made the reception of patristic theology, especially among the Calvinist Reformers, a continuing focus of research.[8] Her work has begun to fill a hole in our understanding of the Reformation in general, pointing out the interconnectedness of the Reformation in Geneva and the interaction of its Reformers with the writings of the church fathers they, in many cases, edited and published. A first fruit of Backus’ efforts within the Lutheran tradition is the monograph of H. Ashley Hall, published just this year, entitled Philip Melanchthon and the Cappadocians: A Reception of Greek Patristic Sources in the Sixteenth Century.[9] This work, along with Backus’ exemplary scholarship over the last thirty years, still simply scratches the surface of what eventually must be accepted generally to be its own field of Reformation research….”

Strawn then presents the outline of the paper:

“As a matter of introducing the subject, this paper begins where the main point of Stinger’s research ends (ca. 1460). It presents an overview of the first century of the publication—that is the actual printing!—of patristic literature (ca. 1460-1569). No attempt, however, will be made to illuminate the proposed point of contention between scholastic and patristic theology.[10] Instead, by means of a simple overview of the first century of printed patristic literature, the idea will be supported that patristic theology in general exerted a meaningful influence upon the development of the Reformation.[11] Since Stinger’s work is relatively unknown in theological circles, the first part of this presentation contains a short history of the revival of patristic study during the Renaissance, upon which his research is chiefly based.[12] The second part contains an overview of the history of printing of patristic literature during the first century of its production (ca. 1470-1570). The final section examines the influence of the first century of printing of patristic literature upon the Reformation.”

So there are three sections to the paper from this point on:

  • The revival of patristic studies
  • The first century of the printing of patristic literature
  • The influence of the first century of the printing of patristic literature upon the theology of the Reformation

I will now share clips that stand out to me from each of those sections, and then, from the paper’s summary.

From “The revival of patristic studies”, or part 1:

“In the writings of the fathers, Petrarch believed he had found a synthesis of classical learning, Ciceronian eloquence,[13] and Christian piety. Petrarch’s death did not signal the end of such an interest in patristic literature, but a beginning, as the city of Florence became and remained a center for patristic study well into the 16th century.”

…. According to Stinger, the meaning of patristic literature forwarded at that time was primarily as a defense of a humanist education and secondarily, as a source for an answer to the spiritual necessity of the city culture of the Renaissance.[14]

…. an interest in patristic literature—especially of the Greek fathers—was awakened during the first half of the fifteenth century in Florence and elsewhere. The translation of the fathers of the Eastern church was in many instances undertaken in order to provide the theological support for a specific idea.

…. Many other examples of the revival of interest in patristic literature in the first half of the 15th century could be given, so what follows is limited to what was most important for the further development of patristic studies for theological purposes. For the Renaissance interest in the thought world of ancient Greece produced a “change of opinion” of the Greek fathers in the west, and therewith provided one of many reasons for a renewed attempt at the reunion of the Eastern and Western churches at the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence (1431-47). Since for both groups patristic literature was (apart from Holy Scriptures) the only theological foundation they shared, an intense theological discussion concerning the content of various church fathers would only awaken a greater interest in patristic theology.

…. When Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) gained control of Niccolo Niccoli’s library, he arranged for Parentucelli to oversee the 800 ancient manuscripts it contained.[15] Parentucelli also played an active role at the council of Basel-Ferrara-Florenz. As Nicholas V, in his role as pope, he began to collect patristic literature especially from the Eastern church, and translate the texts into the language of the west. The result of his efforts is clearly shown in the fact that the Vatican collection of Greek patristic literature became the largest in the western world at that time.[16]

…. In summary, shortly before the advent of the printing press in Europe a rather large number of patristic works were accessible from both the Western and well as the Eastern church, and there would presumably be a market for their publication. The problem of finding a Latin translation of a work written in Greek which had not already been translated by Jerome or Rufinus and others during the patristic period,[17] was to a certain extent solved by the Florentine humanists such as Traversari and Nicolaus V. Both had attempted to make the Greek fathers accessible to the Latin west.

In part 2, “The first century of the printing of patristic literature”, Strawn begins:

“Twenty years after the introduction of printing in Europe (ca. 1440) the writings of the church fathers began to come off the presses. An overview of the first one hundred years of their printing provides one basis (among many) upon which the question as to their meaning for and influence upon the Reformation can be answered. The reason for their printing would not be a surprise to any modern publisher: Apart from special circumstances, printers and editors of the Renaissance and Reformation produced only works with which they could make money. One can assume, therefore, that when a particular work was printed by a printer—who often was also the distributer—that an interest in that work existed. If a work were published frequently, then interest in it at that time is certain.[18] It is generally known, that besides the basic fact of publication, the size of a work, the language in which it was printed, introductory remarks and dedicatory letters, the names of editors and translators etc., provide a whole host of reasons as to why a book was printed. When such attributes of many books on a specific theme during a certain time-period are known, a picture of a general interest in that theme at that time emerges. Such work is normally not that of theologians, but of bibliophiles and historians. In the case of the first one hundred years of the printing of patristic literature it remains for such a picture to be created.[19]

Please note I was tempted to bold that entire paragraph above.

After some demonstration of what we know about the printing of the fathers in the 15th c, Strawn summarizes at one point “it is apparent, that the latter half of the 15th century witnessed a limited but meaningful production of patristic literature.

Good observations:

…. Another aspect of the production of patristic literature in the 15th century must also be noted. In general, the printers in Italy seem to have dominated the field. The appearance of Concerning Ecclesiastical Writers (De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis) by the German Benedictine abbot John Trithemius (1462-1516) in 1494, a 460 page biographical bibliography of 1014 authors from the history of the church, which already at that time had been printed or whose works were still in manuscript form, gives us a good impression of what patristic literature was generally known at that time. Also other works must be mentioned here, which provided access in one way or another to patristic literature or theology. Of note are works like the Sentences (Sententiarum libri quattuor)[20] of Peter Lombard (1096-1164), which appeared first around 1150, and is a work filled with citations of the works of the fathers.[21] It most probably was dependent upon a similar lesser-known work Concerning the Orthodox Faith (De fide orthodoxa) of the Syrian monk John of Damascus (675-749), a summary of the dogmatic works of the church fathers, which Berndt Hamm has described as predominantly nothing other than “a skillfully assembled Augustine florilegium supplemented with ample additional authorities.”[22] (Generally unknown is that Damascus’ work was made available in Latin translation in the west shortly before Lombard’s appeared, and the structure and content is quite similar.) The 12th century collection of canon law compiled by the obscure jurist (John) Gratian known as the Harmony of Discordant Canons (Decretum Gratiani or Concordia discordantium canonum) and the Golden Chain (Catena Aurea) of Thomas Aquinas both contained massive amounts of patristic citations and were printed frequently.[23]

Seems quite important:

In summary, the publication of western fathers dominated patristic printing in the 15th century, even though the eastern fathers were available in Latin translation in manuscript form and were printed to a limited extent. The works of Augustine were published the most frequently, followed by Jerome, Lactantius and Ambrose. The only works from eastern fathers that were printed frequently were Basil’s Oration to Young Men and the Church History of Eusebius.

Since the number of printed patristic works climbed dramatically during the first quarter of the 16th century, the general structure of that production can only be given. The most important tendency, and also the only that will provide a brief overview, is the emergence of the production of collected-works editions of patristic literature.[24] Great effort was made at that time, to collect and publish all the writings of a single father—a tendency which had begun already in the last decade of the 15th century.[25] The first of such editions would often contain one or more works which would later be attributed to a different father or source. This was, at that time already, not an unknown problem. As the 16th century progressed the identified inauthentic works were either attributed to another father or source, described as inauthentic but still profitable for study, or simply left out of new editions. As what might be expected, as new works of a church father were obtained, or new translations, these would be added to later editions. An editorial dilemma, with which the printers were confronted, were the editions of the Greek fathers. Because of the difficulties, which were encountered with the translation of works of larger size and other factors, it was not uncommon, that Latin translations from the patristic period, the 15th century, and the 16th century, would all appear together in one volume.[26] Editions printed in Greek, appeared gradually over time, usually only after they had appeared first in Latin translation.

A compilation of the collected-works editions of twenty church fathers[27] which are found in the national catalogs of Great Britain, France and the United States, demonstrates together with the catalogs of 16th century editions at the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel and the Bavarian State Library in Munich that between the years 1500 and 1569 over 200 complete collected works editions of church fathers were printed….

So here is what the image above summarizes…..

There is much more in part 2, but I must limit myself!

Part 3, “The influence of the first century of the printing of patristic literature upon the theology of the Reformation”.

He begins like this:

So at this point the question is raised as to whether or not patristic literature exerted some sort of theological influence upon the theology of the Reformation. Apart from the influence of Augustine upon various reformers this question has not been frequently asked.[28] This is somewhat of baffling situation, especially if the number of patristic works published in the first seventy years of the 16th century is known. If the Reformation is understood to be a battle between the reformers with the Bible on the one side, and the Roman Catholic church with tradition on the other, then it is no surprise that the influence of the earliest part of that tradition upon Protestant theologians remains to this present day a neglected field of study. It is also understandable, that a significant amount of the research has been dedicated to the use of patristic citations in the works of the Reformers, specifically in view of the question whether the claim made by the Reformers to be remaining within the tradition of the church was truly valid. Certainly this aspect of the influence of patristic literature of the 16th century upon the theologians of that period—upon both the Protestant and Roman Catholic side—is important to study. But this is not the only aspect of the influence of the published patristic literature at that time. For even when such a question is investigated more closely, of who remained in the “true tradition” of the church and who did not, it must also be asked, whether only one method of usage of patristic materials is valid for the entire era—a theologically very complex era—or whether there were in fact a number of different methods which must be understood in order to answer the question.[29]

He goes on to make several interesting points about how various Reformers (he spends some time on Martin Chemnitz in particular) used the Fathers and had different methods – and asks challenging questions that any studying this phenomenon would need to consider.

Particularly interesting to me is when he points out that that…

  • most of the work in the 20th c. on this topic attempted “not to detect the influence of patristic theology upon the Reformation, but how patristic works were used as rhetorical weapons during that period….”
  • “At the beginning of the 20th century, the attempt to discover the theological sources of the Reformers was deemed irrelevant”…

From the Summary:

“Such an overview can also not demonstrate the reason for such a large number of editions other than that the printers at that time thought that they would be purchased by the public. The astounding fact is simply, as the table shows, that up until the year 1545, a steady increase in the printing of collected works editions of the church fathers of both east and west occurred. Certainly the effect of the calling of the Council of Trent (1545-63) upon the printing of a few patristic works has already been noticed, but until now, not yet, as I believe, so graphically illustrated….

The inclination, to understand the citation of patristic sources in the works of the Reformers as rhetorical tools, instead of as witnesses to a possible interaction of the Reformers with the writings of the ancient church, remains somewhat the norm. Surely the analysis of “patristic as rhetoric” can offer many new insights in to the interaction of a Reformer with patristic literature—as Peter Fraenkel has shown. But the question, as to the influence of patristic theology, which was to be found in the patristic literature printed at that time, upon the theology of the Reformers, remains open. Of special interest are the works of the Greek fathers which were first printed and disseminated in the early part of the 16th century. Only when the assertion of Charles Stinger becomes more well known, that in the Renaissance a struggle between patristic and scholastic theology began and continued unto the period of orthodoxy in the17th century, can other themes beside “patristic as rhetoric” be discussed. In such discussions, the influence of patristic theology upon the Reformation can venture beyond the writings of Augustine to those of the entire patristic period.”



* Abstract of paper: “A common understanding of the usage of patristic sources during the Reformation period is that brief quotations were copied mechanically from the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1096-1164) or late medieval patristic anthologies. Relatively unknown is the fact that by the beginning of the 17th century, over 1600 volumes had been printed that contained the writings of the church fathers of both the west and the east. It is these works that provided the content for Jacques Paul Migne’s (1800-1875) massive 386 volume Patrologiae cursus completes. But even more startling, by delving into the question of the publication of just the collected-works editions of the church fathers that appeared between the years of 1460 and 1570, the distinct impression is made that the works of the church fathers in their entirety must have been much more influential in the Reformation period than has up until now been acknowledged. Simply an awareness of the common availability of the writings of the ancient church in the 16th century thus affords a new vista from which the theological developments of the period can be assessed.”

[1] Humanism and the Church Fathers. Ambrocio Traversari (1386-1439) and Christian Antiquitv in the Italian Renaissance (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1977).

[2] Cf. Charles G. Nauert, Jr., “The Clash of Humanists and Scholastics: an Approach to Pre-Reformation Controversies,” Sixteenth Century Journal IV. 1 (April 1973), pp. 1-18; John F. D’Amico, “Beatus Rhenanus, Tertullian and the Reformation: A Humanist’s Critique of Scholasticism,”Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte LXXI (1980), pp. 37-63; Peter Manns, “Zum Gespräch Zwischen M. Luther und der Katholischen Theologie. Begegnung zwischen patristisch-monastischer und reformatorischer Theologie an der Scholastik vorbei,” in Thesaurus Lutheri. Auf der Suche nach neuen Paradigmen der Luther-Forschung ed. Tuomo Mannermaa, Anja Ghiselli und Simo Peura (Helsinki, 1987) (Veröffentlichungen der finnischen theologischen Literaturgesellschaft 153 (1987) in cooperation with the Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, Schrift A 24). pp. 63-154.

[3] Stinger, p. 227.

[4] For example: “Even so, accessibility to the early Fathers for the Middle Ages was mostly through collections of excerpts from patristic sources on various topics known as florilegia….Roman Catholics and Protestants alike made use of these anthologies, endeavoring to show by citing different Fathers or different excerpts from the same Father how their doctrine presented the patristic and therefore true teaching of the church.” Cf. Daniel H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans: 1999), p. 181. Williams bases his assessment on Irene Backus, “The Early Church in Renaissance and Reformation,” in Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to A.D. 600, ed. by I. Hazlett (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991).

[5] Cf. R. Howard Bloch, God’s Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbe Migne, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

[6] The Renaissance in Rome (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1984) and in a revised and expanded edition (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1998).

[7] See also his “Greek Patristics and Christian Antiquity in Renaissance Rome,” in Rome in the Renaissance. The City and the Myth ed. P. A. Ramsey (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, 1982) Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies XVIII, pp. 152-169.

[8] Cf. esp. Lectures humanistes de Basile de Cesaree: Traductions latines (1439-1618) (Collection des etudes augustiniennes, 1990); The disputations of Baden, 1526 and Berne, 1528: Neutralizing the early Church (Studies in reformed theology and history), (Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1993); ed., The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists 2 vols., (Leiden: Brill, 1997);ed. Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation (1378-1615), (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions) (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

[9] Refo500 Academic Studies 16 (Göttingen/Bristol, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014).

[10] For more on the interaction between humanists and scholastics throughout this period see the works of Erika Rummel, esp. her The Humanist-Scholastic Debate in the Renaissance and Reformation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).

[11] The author realizes that he may be stating the obvious, but the appearance of works that shy away from this understanding of the role of patristic writings in the sixteenth century necessitates that it here be clearly stated.

[12] Cf. N. G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 1992); John Monfasini, Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and other Emigres (Aldershot, UK: Variorum, 1995) and Colin Wills, Sailing From Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World (New York: Delacorte, 2006).

[13] The concept of eloquence in the Renaissance encompassed an extensive matrix of ideas. See Hanna H. Gray, “Renaissance Humanism: The Pursuit of Eloquence,” Journal of the History of Ideas XXIV (1963), pp. 497-514.

[14] Ibid., p. 13.

[15] Ibid., p. 187.

[16] Ibid., p. 154.

[17] Cf. J. T. Muckle, “Greek Works Translated Directly into Latin Before 1350,” Mediaeval Studies IV (1942), pp. 33¬42; V (1943), pp. 102-114.

[18] Since most records detailing the number of copies printed in a single edition have not survived, and those that do exist demonstrate that the number of copies produced for an edition varied greatly from work to work, the best indicator of a work’s popularity is the number of times it was printed. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century, the number of books printed for any one edition generally ran between 150 and 2000 copies. See Rudolf Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550, 2nd ed., (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974), pp. 66-68.

[19] The following is based upon the works of twenty church fathers (Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Cyril, Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, Irenaeus, Jerome, Justin Martyr, Lactantius, Leo I, Origen, Tertullian, and Theodoret) printed between 1459 and 1569. The reference works used contain a majority of works still existing in Germany, France, England and the United States: G.W. Panzer, Annales Typographici ab Artis Inventae Origine ad Annum MD, Nuremberg 1797 (PAN), Ludovicus Hain, Repertorium bibliographicum, 4 vols., Stuttgart-Tübingen 1826-1838 (HAI), Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, Karl W. Hiersemann, Leipzig 1938 (GW), Catalogue General des Livres Imprimes de la Biblioteque Nationale, Paris 1897-1981 (CGL), The British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975, London since 1979 (BLG), The National Union Catalogue: Pre-1956 Imprints, Washington 1968-81 (NUC), and the Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des XVI. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart, since 1983 (VD 16). Unfortunately, a work containing the titles of books printed in Italy from 1500 to 1599 apparently does not exist. The primary source for the bibliography of the works of Gregory of Nazianzus printed in the sixteenth century is Agnes Clare Way, “Greogorius Nazianzenus,” in Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries Vol II, eds. Paul Oskar Kristeller, F. Edward Cranz (Washington D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1971), pp. 43-192, (WAY). Helen Brown Wicher’s article, “Greogorius Nyssenus,” in the same series (Vol V, eds. F. Edward Cranz, Paul Oskar Kristeller, (WashingtonD. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), pp. 1-250) provides the bibliography of Gregory of Nyssa for the same period (WIC). Irena Backus excellent bibliography of the Renaissance and Reformation editions of Basil, Lectures Humanistes de Bastle de Cesaree. Traductions Latines (1439-1618), (Collection des Etudes Augustiniennes, Serie Antiquite-125), (Paris: Institut d’Etudes Augustiniennes, 1990), was not available.

[20] NUC 453 lists the following editions: Strasbourg before 1468 (p. 577), Strasbourg ca. 1472 (p. 577), Speier 1477 (p. 577), Nuremberg 1481 (p. 577), Basel 1482 (p. 577), Basel 1484 (p. 577), Basel 1486 (p. 577), Venice 1486 (p. 577), Basel 1487 (p. 577), Basel 1488 (p. 577), Basel 1489 (p. 578), Venice 1489 (p. 578), Venice 1490 (p. 578), Nuremberg 1491 (p. 578), Basel 1492 (p. 578), Freiburg 1493 (p. 578), Basel 1498 (p. 578), Lyons 1499 (p. 578), Nuremberg 1500 (p. 578), and then strangely enough Paris 1536 (p. 578).

[21] Cf. L. Ott, “Lombardus, “ RGG3 V, 254.

[22] Hamm, p. 135. This is also close to Luther’s opinion of the work. See Lawrence Murphy, “The Prologue of Martin Luther to the ‘Sentences’ of Peter Lombard (1509): the Clash of Philosophy and Theology,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte LXVII (1976), p. 55.

[23] Cf. A. N. S. Lane, “Early Printed Patristic Anthologies to 1566: A Progress Report,” Studia Patristica 18 (1989), pp. 365-370.

[24] “Collected-works editions” are here defined as those works appearing with the title of opera omnia, or those works appearing in the book catalogs under the title “Collected Works.” This then does not include works of church fathers that contained more than one work from a specific father, of which there were many. It is not assumed that the collected works editions contained only the works of one church father (the collected works edition of BasiI, for example, is attributed only to BasiI, although many editions contain works of Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus), or that all of the works attributed to a specific church father continue in the present day to be attributed to that father. Significant, however, is merely the fact that such editions appeared. It should also be noted that the term “editions” here includes editions and reprints.

[25] Cf. the collected works of Ambrose, Basel 1492 (BLC 7, p. 5).

[26] For example, A 1545 edition of Origen’s works (Basel, VD 16, 0 909), contains translations of Jerome, Rufinus, Christophoro Persona and a few presumably from the editor, Erasmus.

[27] See above note 40.

[28] An incomplete list of various treatments of the influence of Augustinian theology upon the Reformers includes: Luther: Auguste Humbert, Les origines théologie modern: La Renaissance de L’Antiquite Chrestienne (l450-1521),(Paris: Librairie V. Lecoffre, J. Gabalda & Cie, 1911); A. Hamel, Der junge Luther und Augustin, ihre Beziehungen in der Rechtfertigungslehre nach Luthers erste Vorlesungen 1509-1518 untersucht (Gutersloh, 1934-35); Léon Christiani, “Luther et Saint Augustin, ” in Augustinus Magister, vol. II (Paris, 1954), 1029-1038; Leif Grane, “Augustins “Expositio quarundarn propositionum ex epistola ad Romanos” in Luthers Römerbriefvorlesung,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 69 (1972), 304-330; “La Reforme Lutherienne, ses Origines Ristoriques et son Caractere Theologique,” Positions Lutheriennes XX (1972), 76-96; “Divus Paulus et S. Augustinus interpres eius fidelissimus. Über Luthers Verhältnis zu Augustin,” in Festschrift für Ernst Fuchs, ed. G. Ebeling, E. Jüngel and G. Schunack (Tübingen, 1973) 133-46; Heiko Jürgens, “Die Funktion der Kirchenväterzitate in der Heidelberger Disputation Luthers (1518)” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte LXVI (1975), 71-78; Joachim Beckmann, Vom Sakrament bei Calvin, Die Sakramentslehre Calvins in ihren Beziehungen zu Augustin (Tubingen, 1926); H. Barnikol, Die Lehre Calvins vom unfreien Willen und ihr Verhältnis zur Lehre der übrigen Reformatoren und Augustins, Theol. Arb. wiss. Prediger-Ver. Rheinprov., t. XXII, 1926, (Neuwied, 1927); l. Cadier, “Calvin et saint Augustin,” in Augustinus magister, vol. II, (Paris, 1954), 1039-56; Luchesius Smits,”L’Autorité de Saint Augustin dans l’Institution chrétienne de Jean Calvin,” Rev. Rist. eccl. XIV (1950),672-77; Institution Saint Augustin dans L’Oeuvre de Jean Calvin, 2 vols, (Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp, 1957), F. Wendel, Calvin. The Origin and Development of his Religious Thought, trans. P. Mairet (London: William Collins, Sons and Co., 1963.),Jan. Marius J., Lange van Ravenswaay, Augustinus totus noster. Das Augustinverständnis bei Johannes Calvin,(Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,1990), (Forschungen zur Kirchen-und Dogmengeschichte 45); Melanchthon: Wilhelm Maurer, “Der Einfluß Augustin auf Melanchthons Theologie,” Kerygma und Dogma ?? (1959), 165-199.

[29] Cf. Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, ed. by David C. Steinmetz, Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 85 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowiz, 1999).

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Posted by on October 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


Should you Trust Father Freeman’s View of the Reformation? (or, Why Consider Confessional Lutheranism before Eastern Orthodoxy?)

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Weedon, describing his almost-conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy: “waking up from an enchantment – a beautiful dream – that wasn’t real”

Confessional Lutheran Pastor Weedon, describing his almost-conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy: “waking up from an enchantment – a beautiful dream – that wasn’t real”

I would venture that the Eastern Orthodox blogger Father Stephen Freeman is one of the foremost evangelists for Eastern Orthodoxy in America today. This is why, in my opinion, he should be effectively answered – so that those Protestants seeking for alternatives would know that there is much truth they will be deprived of if they embrace his views as Gospel.

Father Freeman has put up yet another rhetorically powerful post arguing against the typical Protestant view of the Bible. In the past, I have responded to him about issues like this here, here, and here (and Father Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy here). Unfortunately, he lumps all of Protestantism with the Reformation, calling our case “the tired rhetoric of the Reformation”. Actually, as a child of the Lutheran Reformation – which I submit was in fact a revival of patristic theology (a sneak peek at this below with more later this week) – I of course agree with some of Father Freeman’s key points (UPDATE: I would like to emphasize that I often have tried to find common ground with the E.O. – see my series “If all theology is Christology how wide the divide?  A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy“).

Writing against one of his Reformed critics Professor Michael J. Kruger, Father Freeman raises some strong points that would seem to counter-act most views of the Bible as “book”:

Kruger’s first points are to take me to task for arguing that “books” themselves are late inventions and contending that the Bible was not therefore thought of as a “book.” He indeed cites some early codices from the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries – but gives examples that actually reinforce my central point. He notes examples of bound gospels and an example of bound epistles. What he cites are precisely what we would expect: liturgical items. The Orthodox still use the Scriptures in this form – the Gospels as a book (it rests on the altar), and the Epistles as a book (known as the Apostol). They are bound in such a manner for their use in the services of the Church, not as private “Bibles.” These are outstanding examples of the Scriptures organized in their liturgical format for their proper use: reading in the Church.

16th c. Lutheran Martin Chemniz on Irenaeus' view: "By the will of God, they began to commit to letters... not a contrary, not a different, not another doctrine, but that very same doctrine that they preached orally." (Examination, p. 80)

16th c. Lutheran Martin Chemniz on Irenaeus’ view: “By the will of God, they began to commit to letters… not a contrary, not a different, not another doctrine, but that very same doctrine that they preached orally.” (Examination, p. 80)

(this said, we would also note reasons given not only in the N.T. books themselves but in church history as to occasion for their composition, i.e., things like safeguarding [see Luke1] the truth, to provide a statement and summary of the faith in writing [memory is frail], and it was necessary to counter heretics)

With this valid point, Father Freeman is off to the races in making other points that most Confessional Lutherans would be quick to agree with:

All of the “lists” that are cited in the notion of the evolution of the Canon are lists of what the Church reads. And the Church reads them in her services as the Divine Word of God, just as the Church herself is the Divine Body of Christ, just as the Liturgy is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, etc. The “Canon” of Scripture is as much a statement about the Church as it is about the Scriptures.

But all of this is lost, because for those who have reformed themselves out of communion with the historical faith and practice of Christianity, the context has been forgotten. They do not understand statements about the Church because they have forgotten the Church.

Yes – for example, as I heard recently from a commenter on one of my posts: “whenever you talk to a Calvinist about the early church fathers when it comes to the sacraments, they always seem to balk a little bit.”

Father Freeman: “The Church is the Scriptures and the Scriptures, rightly read, are the Church.” As those who don’t talk like this we would add that the Church, like the Scriptures, should be as God’s voice.

Father Freeman: “The Church is the Scriptures and the Scriptures, rightly read, are the Church.” As those who don’t talk like this we would add that the Church, like the Scriptures, should be as God’s voice.

We serious Lutherans can even see the point of the following statement, with a word of caution about the kind of veneration (this can simply mean “to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference“) he has in mind:

Those who canonized the Scriptures venerated the Mother of God, honored the saints, prayed for the departed, believed the Eucharist to be the true Body and Blood of Christ. They were the same Orthodox Church that lives and believes today. You cannot honor their “Canon of Scripture” while despising the lives and Church of those who canonized them.

Speaking of “the very American reform community from which Kruger criticizes my Orthodox teaching”, Freeman gets in a really powerful zinger here (yes, please see the post for original context):

The Bread and the Wine of the Eucharist was universally believed to be the very Body and Blood of Christ. These men ate God (using the language of St. Ignatius of Antioch). Yes, the Scriptures are theopneustos (“God breathed”), but so is every human soul….

The Orthodox have never said that blacks do not have souls. 

(nor have Confessional Lutherans for that matter).

That said, on the other hand, Father Freeman says things like this:

….we acknowledge that the Scriptures cannot be rightly read outside of and apart from the life of the Church.

"It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

While this is no doubt true insofar as it comes to understanding the Scriptures for all they are worth, we would want to emphasize, along with that great theologian Mark Twain, a key point (see pic)

Further, eager to distinguish His Church from all the children of the Reformation Father Freeman says:

The Scriptures are not “above” the Church nor the Church “above” the Scriptures. The Scriptures are “of” the Church and do not stand apart from the Church. 

…and later adds that

The championing of the Bible as the Word of God “over the Church” is a ruse. It is and has been a means of exalting culture and private fiefdoms over the proper life of the believing community, disrupting the continuity of faith.

An informed confessional Lutheran response is that all of this is all terribly simplistic. First of all, Father Freeman has heard me make the case that the Lutheran fight to preach as they saw fit – particularly at Magedburg in 1550 – simply cannot be seen in this way (see my comment to him about this here).

Second, let’s take this matter of the Scriptures – and I will begin by trying to emphasize common ground.  I would guess that we can agree that the Church ultimately comes from the Word of God, period – this really cannot and will not be disputed. We ultimately arise in both creation and redemption from the Word. The Church and the Word are always meant to go hand in hand, but, when conflict arises, the Church must submit to the Word from which it finds its life.

16th c. Roman Catholic W.D. Lindanus (1588): the nature of the Word of the Gospel abhors writing letters!

16th c. Roman Catholic W.D. Lindanus (1588): the nature of the Word of the Gospel abhors writing letters! (in Chemnitz, Examination, p. 75)

Of course, some Protestants of the Neo-Orthodox variety might want to, strictly speaking, limit the idea of the “Word of God” to the Person of Jesus Christ. Other Protestants, like N.T. Wright, are seemingly content to make sure Jesus Christ is the main focus of the church when it comes to speaking about “words”:

“When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh’… scripture itself points… away from itself” (Wright, Scripture, 24, quoted on 136 of Peter Nafzger’s These Are Written)

Here is where we confessional Lutherans are keen to point out that we are not just talking about the Church living from the living Word Jesus Christ – but also “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” – words of Spirit and life that proceed from that Word’s mouth. In this view – which we fiercely contend is truethe Word includes but is it not limited to the Scriptures – in fact the oral or preached word, as Father Freeman says, is always to be seen as primary. I think that Father Freeman would be with me up to this point. Nevertheless, more must be said.

Wright not quite right.

Wright not quite right.

Back to N.T. Wright for a moment: he is right because the good news is indeed not so much that God has given us His written word, but that He has given us the incarnate Word. Further when he says that the Holy Spirit does give us the incarnate Word through the written word (have Mark Twain and I lost Father Freeman at this point?). On the other hand, Wright goes wrong when he forgets to mention not only that the Scripture does in fact point to itself (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11), but that it also points to the incarnate Word who points us back to the written word – particularly as it regards His fulfillment of its Divine prophecies (see Luke 7:18-23 in particular but also all throughout the New Testament – also note my recent series on the significance of this matter)!

I would appreciate it if Father Freeman would speak specifically to these things just mentioned in that previous paragraph. Why is this so important? I have noted this before, so I will not belabor the point: for Lutherans, “Sola Scriptura” simply means that if a conflict arises between the wider Church and its Scriptures, the Scriptures, properly interpreted, must certainly correct the Church.* (see this post, which features a very practical question) Today’s Church cannot contradict yesterday’s Church, assuming that it was in harmony with, and did not contradict the Scriptures. Based on all the reading I have done in this area, this is what the Fathers of the Church always taught.

A question: Was any of the N.T. God’s will? “Christ never wrote a word. Christ never commanded his disciples to write a word. They were commanded to go forth, preach the gospel and to Baptize.” -- Father Freeman

A question for Father Freeman: Was any of the N.T. God’s will?  Acts 15:28 only?  “Christ never wrote a word. Christ never commanded his disciples to write a word. They were commanded to go forth, preach the gospel and to Baptize.” — Father Freeman

I must point out further realities that Father Freeman’s powerful rhetoric obscures:

“those who champion “God’s un-changing Word” and claim to be under the authority of the Bible cannot point to even two decades in which they have remained the same.”

I know Father Freeman knows that confessional Lutherans today all uphold the 1580 book of Concord, so I am puzzled as to why he thinks such blanket statements are responsible in any sense at all (see my own post where I emphasize this matter vs. Protestants myself).

Father Freeman is eager to have persons believe that Eastern Orthodoxy is the True Church of God on earth. Before any take that jump however, let me recommend listening to these videos from Pastor Will Weedon, a devout and beloved Lutheran pastor who got right to the edge of converting to Eastern Orthodoxy before turning away… Why could he not jump? Why, perhaps, should you not jump? Everyone who thinks that modern Eastern Orthodoxy is immune to good, sound criticism not just from the Scriptures but from their own spiritual fathers owes it to themselves and others to check out this video.


I highly recommend watching these highly engaging and informative videos (part 1 can stand alone if you can only watch one). They are, quite simply, amazing. If you currently feel like Orthodoxy might be the only option for you but still have misgivings for some reason (as someone who was attracted myself I can guess what these might be), I am quite sure you will not be disappointed.

VDMA-Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25)  The breed cannot vanish.

VDMA-Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) The breed cannot vanish.

For his part, Father Freeman largely operates as if the confessional Lutheran church does not exist – and in fact, from his point of view, we are indeed a “vanishing breed” (many of the young people here at this fine talk would no doubt contest that). He has said on numerous occasions that the struggles of Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers are of little interest to him. It makes me very sad to hear such a respected and prominent voice of Eastern Orthodoxy say this. For when you listen to Pastor Weedon – who, incidently, has great affection for the Eastern Orthodox – I submit you will see something beautiful – something beautiful that absolutely demands be paid attention to.

In fact, I think it’s just as Father Freeman ends his article:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2Co 3:2-3 NKJ)

And now…. what’s this about the Lutheran Reformation being a revival of patristic theology? You’d better believe it. If Pastor Weedon’s remarks are widely true about the 21st century Eastern Orthodox church (where they are more “about venerating the icons of the fathers vs. actually reading what they wrote”) this really cannot be said about the 16th century Lutheran reformers and many of the faithful who followed in their train. Stay tuned for more soon…

In the meantime, here is a hint of what we are talking about. It is jaw-dropping stuff:



*Again, we do agree that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, as the Scriptures say, but also that staying with the divinely revealed faith once delivered to all the saints means perpetually fleeing back to the Scriptures to test all things, particularly those things that seem wrong or unfamiliar (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11)!

Picture of William Weedon from his blog ; Father Freeman pic from ; others: Wikipedia


Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


Lover of Truth, Martin Chemnitz

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz

A re-post from Reformation day last year…

I am posting it again as a follow-up to this post that I did elsewhere (here also) about my pastor’s research, which has led him to ask this question of other scholars: “Was a significant aspect of the Reformation a revival of patristic theology?”  Serious Lutherans, of course, have always maintained “of course”.  But now, increasingly, my hope is that others will recognize they have to start paying attention.

Who is Martin Chemnitz?  He is known to be the primary author and editor of the Formula of Concord, the last of the confessional documents of the steadfast Lutheran church on earth, contained in the 1580 Book of Concord.

There is 17th century saying about this man that goes something like this: “If the Second Martin had not come, the first would not have prevailed”.

According to the Lutheran pastor and blogger Paul McCain, in this fascinating discussion about Mr. Chemnitz, this saying was evidently originally uttered by Roman Catholics.

To this day, McCain notes, Chemnitz’s answer to the Council of Trent, the Examination of the Council of Trent, goes unmatched.

Chemnitz (essentially): Halt! He shall not be moved! (for real story behind pic, see here)

Chemnitz (essentially): Halt! He shall not be moved! (for real story behind pic, see here)

Chemnitz’s opponents have often disparaged him by saying that his knowledge of the early church fathers is only apparent – that he did not really understand them but actually just used them, in effect doing violence to their actual views.   In other words, he was an excellent “quote miner” or “proof-texter” who actually just skated on the surface – as much as he needed to in order to win the arguments he was already convinced of.  I wonder if even some serious Lutheran historians have fallen prey to this account.

For many scholars who have delved into Chemnitz deeply and taken the time to cross-reference some of his quotations, they have not found this to be the case at all.

Here, complements of Pastor McCain’s blog, is Chemnitz explaining in his own words what he did SAMSUNGin his late twenties, upon being hired to work in one of the best theological libraries of his day:

“I should have given myself wholly to Theology earlier, had it not been for my dislike for superficial knowledge of any kind. Hence while I was destitute of books whence I might acquire solidly and from its foundations what is necessary for this study, I had no taste for Theology. For I could not approve of those who, satisfied with certain dictations, were not eager to understand the text from its fundamentals, or to arrive at a sound judgment of the points of controversy…Yet, to nourish godliness, my mind was always inclined toward this study.

So, then, when I now had the most desirable store of the best books in the ducal library, and God governing my course, I devoted myself wholly to the study of Theology. My method was this. First I read the biblical books through in their order, comparing all the various versions and expositions, old and new, which were in the library, and if I met anything that seemed memorable or remarkable, I made a note of it on paper arranged for this purpose. In the second place, I read the writings of the Fathers, from the earliest antiquity, and what engaged my attention was entered in my notes. In the third place, I diligently read those recent authors who pointed out the fundamentals of the purified doctrines, and chiefly those who wrote polemical treatises on the controversies of our time, the arguments of the Papists, Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, and from what foundations the explanations and solutions were to be taken, and what solutions were the best. The notes I made of all these things in my memoranda I still have and often inspect with great delight and profit.

The Acts 17 Bereans

The Acts 17 Bereans

It seems to me this man was a lover of the Bible.  A lover of the Fathers.  A lover of the Church.  A lover of truth.  A lover of Christ, the Truth.  To paraphrase something I wrote a while back (in this post), he trusted God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by the Church, which is in line with the Church of the past (particularly “Apostolic Fathers”), which is in line with the Apostolic Deposit in the Scriptures, which is in line with the Old Testament prophets.

Dive in, and examine Martin Chemnitz. (this post by current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison and the interview referenced above are great places to start).  You will see that the theology is the same as the first Martin, even as the delivery has less fireworks and more of a very deliberate and intentional theological approach – all to assure Christians everywhere of the pure comfort found in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.


Chemnitz pic: Wikipedia ; Examination of Council of Trent pic:

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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Power of Alien Faith

Unborn-Baby(Reprinted with permission from Pastor Karl Hess)

From his comments to me on the Brothers of John the Steadfast blog:

I think the reason this isn’t better known among Lutheran pastors is it wasn’t taught in seminary. You can look at Dr. Scaer’s book on Baptism and see that he stops short of reaching the conclusions the Lutheran dogmaticians make in the quotes above. I distinctly remember a class where Prof. Marquart was talking about the faith of infants and he didn’t seem to know the information above either. I only started to become aware of it when I stumbled on a passage dealing with it in Krauth’s “The Conservative Reformation.” And that was not a result of reading the whole book but of flipping around in it and accidentally finding it.

I’m not sure if this is true, but my suspicion is that this information wasn’t well known among the Missouri Synod fathers.

So like this presentation I recently talked about from my pastor, this is, I think, a rather significant piece….

Here is the article, in full:

Imagine a loved one undergoing the tragedy of losing a child soon after Baptism.  What comfort would you extend to the grieving parents?  No doubt you would say something like, “Thank God, your child was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.  Now he rests with his Savior.”  Few Lutherans would leave room for doubt that the child was in heaven, would they?

But change the chronology a few months.  The child dies just prior to Baptism, while still in the womb.  Here, for lots of Lutherans, even pastors, the water becomes a lot murkier.  Maybe the child is saved, goes the thinking of lots of Lutherans.  God is gracious, after all.  Perhaps the baby received the gift of faith in Christ through pre-natal exposure to Bible readings and sermons.  Or perhaps the mother’s reception of the body and blood of Christ has some salutary effect for the unborn child, others can be heard to say.

In reality, there is ground for certainty about the salvation of infants of Christians in both cases, and for the same reason.  We are not certain of the salvation of the baptized infant simply because he or she is baptized, any more than we are certain of the salvation of a baptized adult at his funeral based solely upon the fact that he is baptized.  A baptized adult, after all, may have fallen away from the faith, rejecting the promise of his Baptism.  Are children any different?

Yes.  We have a special promise about the salvation of infants and small children:  Jesus’ command, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).  We have a firm and certain promise here that all such children as are brought to Jesus—by others, no less—will be given the kingdom of God.  Thus when infants and small children are brought to Christ in Baptism we have a certainty regarding their salvation that we don’t have in the case of adults, who bring themselves.

But what about infants who are unable to be brought to baptism—such as those still in the womb?

They cannot be brought to Christ through the ordinary means of Holy Baptism.  Does this mean that Christ’s promise—“ the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”—does not apply to them?

That would be a strange turn of events.  The Son became an infant in the womb in order to redeem unborn children as well as all others, didn’t He?  Should unborn infants be denied the kingdom of heaven simply because they can’t be brought to Christ in Baptism, even though the parents would gladly bring them if they could?

Many Lutherans try to get around this problem by suggesting that exposure to the Word of God before birth is a way of bringing infants to Christ.  But this opens another can of worms.  Are we suggesting that infants understand sermons or Paul’s argument in the opening chapters of Romans?  Or are we saying that the Word of God works faith even when people don’t comprehend it?  And if that’s the case, why bother translating the Scriptures into English, or preaching at all?

There is another answer, and that is the one that was held by orthodox Lutheran theologians such as Luther, Johannes Bugenhagen, Johann Gerhard, and others.  They held that infants prior to Baptism were saved when they were brought to Christ in prayer.

Johannes Bugenhagen, Luther’s pastor, wrote:

Yes, I say more still on the basis of this promise of Christ, that the parents or others who are there may and should commend the little child with thanksgiving to Christ while it is still in the womb.  They should bring or offer the child to Christ with this or similar prayers: ‘I thank you, dear heavenly Father, that you have blessed us with the fruit of the womb.  Dear Lord Jesus, let this little child be yours, as you have said: “Let the little children come to me, and forbid them not, because of such is the kingdom of God.”  Upon this your promise we bring this little child to you with our prayers.  If it will be born and come into our hands, we will gladly also bring and carry it to you in baptism,’ etc.

The prayer may well be made with other words; nothing depends on that, so long as it proceeds from the promise of Christ concerning the little children.  So we should believe with certainty that Christ takes the child up [receives the child], and we should not commend it to the secret judgment of God.[1]

Johann Gerhard, the great Lutheran dogmatician of the 17th century, expressed the same thoughts:

One should not wantonly damn or exclude from the fellowship of eternal life the children of Christians who, before they can be brought to Baptism, die in the mother’s womb or are ripped away through an unexpected accident.  What pertains to children who die in their mother’s womb is obvious, as follows…through the prayer of their parents and the Church (which in public prays for all the pregnant women), such children have been commended to God the Lord.  Therefore, you need not doubt that God (according to His gracious promise about answering prayer, which He has demonstrated throughout Scripture) has heard you in this matter.  And what could not occur through the ordained means of Holy Baptism, He has accomplished for these children in an extraordinary manner without means through His Holy Spirit.  That He can do this He has demonstrated with the example of John the Baptizer, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, Luke 1:15, and who testified to Christ by jumping, v. 41…

God the Lord is not bound to means in the same way that we human beings are so that He cannot help through His divine power without means.  For in the same way as we humans are bound to means as pertains to the external affairs of this life, so also in matters pertaining to eternal life we are bound to the Word and the holy Sacraments; contrarily, as God the Lord is not at all bound to means in outward matters (since He can maintain the life of man without food [and] give health again without physicians) so also in matters pertaining to eternal life, He is not bound to the means which He Himself has ordained.  Thus, He can make a person saved without [using] them.[2]

Martin Luther, in discussing how infants receive the faith which they confess at their baptism, writes the following:

…baptism avails for nobody and is to be administered to nobody, unless he believes for himself…For the faith must be present before or at least in the baptism; otherwise the child will not be delivered from the devil and sins.

Therefore if their [the Waldensians] opinion were correct, all that is done with the child in baptism is necessarily falsehood and mockery.  For the baptizer asks whether the child believes, and the answer for the child is: Yes.  And he asks whether it desires to be baptized, and the answer for the child is again: Yes.  Now nobody is baptized for the child, but it is baptized itself.  Therefore it must also believe itself, or the sponsors must speak a falsehood, when for it they say: I believe…

…Therefore we here conclude and declare that in baptism the children themselves believe and have their own faith, which God effects in them through the sponsors, when in the faith of the Christian church they intercede for them and bring them to Baptism…children are not baptized in the faith of the sponsors or of the church; but the faith of sponsors and of the church prays and gains faith for them, in which they are baptized and believe for themselves….[3]

In other words, according to Luther, children are given faith before or baptism through the prayer of the sponsors, who bring the child to Christ in intercession.  Luther’s thinking along these lines extends also to unbaptized infants who die in childbirth, as can be seen from his “Comfort for Women who Have Had a Miscarriage”:

For this reason one ought not straightway condemn such infants for whom and concerning whom believers and Christians have devoted their longing and yearning and praying.

Nor ought one to consider them the same as others for whom no faith, prayer, or yearning are expressed on the part of Christians and believers. God intends that his promise and our prayer or yearning which is grounded in that promise should not be disdained or rejected, but be highly valued and esteemed. I have said it before and preached it often enough: God accomplished much through the faith and longing of another, even a stranger, even though there is still no personal faith. But this is given through the channel of another’s intercessions, as in the gospel Christ raised the widow’s son at Nain because of the prayers of his mother apart from the faith of the son.  And he freed the little daughter of the Canaanite woman from the demon through the faith of the mother apart from the daughter’s faith.10 The same was true of the king’s son, John 4 [:46-53] and of the paralytic and many others of whom we need not say anything here.[4]

What conclusions can we draw from this?

First of all, we can rejoice in the great comfort this gives us regarding the infants of Christians.  Parents who have lost children in miscarriage need not labor in doubt concerning their children but can rejoice that they have been brought to Jesus in prayer, whether their own or that of the church.  Parents who should lose their infants prior to baptism can also be comforted that their little ones have been brought to Jesus, and they are not lost because they were not immediately baptized upon leaving the womb.

Secondly, we can rejoice in the great privilege afforded us as Christians, that we are not only permitted to bring our infants directly to Christ in prayer, but also everyone who has been committed to our royal priestly intercession.  While we do not have the same promises for all people that we do regarding the little children, we have the promise that God hears us.

And this is what we call the power of alien faith: not that anybody can be saved by it, but that through it as an intercession and aid he can obtain from God himself his own faith, by which he is saved.  It may be compared to my natural life and death.  If I am to live, I myself must be born, and nobody can be born for me to enable me to live; but mother and midwife can by their life aid me in birth and enable me to live.  In the same way I myself must suffer death, if I am to die; but one can help bring about my death, if he frightens me, or falls upon me, or chokes, crushes, or suffocates me.  In like manner, nobody can go to hell for me; but he can seduce me by false doctrine and life, so that I go thither by my own error, into which his error has led me.  So nobody can go to heaven for me; but he can assist me, can preach, teach, govern, pray and obtain faith from God, through which I can go to heaven.[5]


[1] Johannes Bugenhagen, quoted in Karl R. Hess, „The Faith of Unbaptized Infants in Bugenhagen’s On Unborn Children,” Logia vol. 23 no. 2, p. 38.

[2] Johann Gerhard, A Comprehensive Explanation of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  (1610) Trans. The Rev. Elmer Hohle.  Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2000, pp. 173-175.

[3] Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Gospel for the Third Sunday after Epiphany”, Church Postil, 26-28, 31, 34.

[4] Martin Luther, “Comfort for Women who have had a Miscarriage.”–fQBqADrxXNJGj9rbLg

[5] Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany,” Church Postil, 31.


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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


To Those Who Confess “I Am a Lutheran!” (One More Appeal to My FiveTwo Brethren)

Thanks so much to those who have taken the time to look at my posts to the FiveTwo crowd (here and here)  Especially the person I met with personally who attended the FiveTwo Wiki2014 conference and told me her answer to my question “why do you want to be a Lutheran?” was “I am a Lutheran!”

That made me realize I need to say this: for those who have a strong sense of being Lutheran my question can also be understood as: “What keeps you Lutheran?”  “Why, particularly, do you want to stay Lutheran?”  

OK, here is my new appeal: Please prayerfully consider exploring what you might have in common with Pastor Richard Stuckwisch.  Spend a little time with this man by listening to him talk about living a “sacramentally-shaped life” (I myself plan on listening to all the FiveTwo lectures I can find that are free online).

Not only is Pastor Stuckwisch unrelentingly kind, patient and passionate about Jesus, but he to says “we become a living sacrament for our neighbor”.* And more: he talks about how worship in a church is not about strict uniformity and elsewhere notes that there is a lot of freedom in worship… what works well in one place may not work well in another

Now here is a traditional Lutheran you can really identify with, right?

Seriously though, before you are tempted to quote him as a “paradigm-shifting” “sacramental entrepreneur”, make sure you listen to him share those remarks in the context of his amazing talk.


Another note on my last post: a commenter there was under the impression that I thought that those who resonate with FiveTwo do not want to be Lutheran. That is not the case – as I said, I really do believe that many FiveTwo-ers do want to be Lutheran.  I don’t doubt that that desire is there – I just wanted to learn more about why they want to be, or to stay, Lutheran.

If my post did not make you question in the least whether or not you wanted to be Lutheran, I rejoice to hear that!

You see, I want to be faithful in the word – and that means the Lutheran confessions (I actually dropped out of seminary years ago because I did not know at the time whether or not I could, in good conscience, subscribe to them). I also want to be faulted for putting the best construction on things – as much as I feel my conscience will allow me to do that.  

I feel like it is responsible for me to do this because I do know more missional people who, when I ask them tough questions about the sacraments, for example, give me good, solid, Lutheran answers.  I do not think they are lying.

That said, I do think they should take very seriously the questions that many of the converts to confessionally-riveted Lutheranism have for them: why do you want to worship more like Baptists, evangelicals, charismatics, etc?  (see here again and comments, for example).  Whether these converts are conscious of it or not, are they not in fact stating the principle “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (the Latin loosely translated is “the law of praying [is] the law of believing”)?  Is that observation that our practices of prayer (and worship in general) affect our beliefs, so rooted in Christian history, to be quickly dismissed?**  

Note: I am still not sure if I want to do a thread dedicated to giving persons a chance to respond to the responses I received from that last FiveTwo post.  I really would like to have had more persons to have answered there before doing that.


Now, I don’t think I should discount the possibility that my last post might have made some persons question whether or not they did want to be Lutheran. In the event that that is the case, I again say this:

Please listen to Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk about “the word that sanctifies your days…”. (from the link supplied above: either one of his “Living the Vida Sacramenta” talks [mostly same talk for different audiences]).  I’ll be very honest: I can’t conceive that any Christian not listening to this would not want to embrace most all of what Pastor Stuckwisch says. This is some rich and beautiful teaching!  It sets my heart on fire! It makes me want to love all with Christ’s strong love.  To embrace any “interruption” – any neighbor – he might throw in my path!

I used to be pretty opposed to Lutherans who seemed to me overly concerned about traditional and historical stuff.  I rebelled against them.  I did not really understand the things Pastor Stuckwisch talks about much at all.  I think the kind of thing that really helped me is meeting pastors like him.  I realize some tend to think of confessional Lutherans as always veering towards “legalism” – I am afraid I once did to – but I think he truly defies such labels.  He, like many other good men, has clearly embraced with joy what he believes and lives it to the hilt. As such, he teaches with some real authority. He’d no doubt agree with this statement:

Doctrine is life because that just means living from the precious words that come from Christ’s lips!

If you can’t find yourself loving Pastor Stuckwisch and most all of his heartfelt message, that would make me very sad to hear, because it would be very hard for me at that point to have any idea about where to go from there….


Final food for thought….

At the FiveTwo conference it was talked about how each one of us had a “unique sacramental identity”.  This might sound  appealing, but let me share a quote with you from a friend that seems very wise to me now, but may very well have likely rankled me just fifteen years ago:

…if we want to speak of Christians having “sacramental identities,” it should be in the singular—”sacramental identity“—for it must be recognized that this identity is anything but unique, and that this is a good thing. We all share the name Christian, because all of us are being conformed to the image of the one Christ—yes, we are all being Christified, truly. It’s the same mould. It’s that lesson you learn in high school: you don’t have to try to be unique; you simply are unique, so get over yourself; no, the thing you have to try to do is be normal (i.e., conform to salutary norms).

Does that sound depressing to you? The “normal” or ordinary Christian life?  (new book by a non-Lutheran often thought to have Lutheran sympathies).  Or is there something wonderful about simple, humble, weak, and quiet (and perhaps sometimes boring)?

Get this: another more traditional pastor, Greg Alms, perhaps helps us to better understand how for some believers in particular, this is literally their life line… Speaking of his teenage struggle to have a “personal connection with Jesus”, he writes “I could never quite get there. As I struggled to establish a rapport with this Jesus who seemed to want me to be emotional and talkative, I recall a distinct feeling of not getting it, of missing something”…. He goes on: “Most of the time, I didn’t feel elated or close to Jesus. Mostly I felt guilty for not being a better follower…”  He went off to college, and drifted away… What brought him back?

“I only found Jesus to be meaningful and real to me individually when I looked for him in the shared experiences of “church.” I “experienced” Jesus in the voices of shared hymns that had been sung for centuries. I “felt” the presence of God amidst my personal inner struggles and hurts in the prayers I knew by memory, in doing the same things over and over, in things with little or no immediate emotional content: chewing bread, making the sign of the cross, hearing a formal, recited absolution of my sins. What became important to me as a Christian were these outward formal things. My personal relationship with Christ became rooted in the moments when I found myself surrounded by countless hosts of Christians in heaven and on earth, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” (read whole post here)

Note that Pastor Alms also says much more, including “There always has been a tension in Christian experience between the individual and the group”.  I hope his words about the importance of his experience of God make a bit of sense for you as they do for me. I know they would make sense to some young twenty-something Christians I talked with recently – two who can identify with some or all of Pastor Alm’s experiences.  

The article from Alms might be a good place to start to, but again, I really recommend Pastor Pastor Stuckwisch’s talk first…. Again, please consider giving the man a listen.



*So is Pastor Stuckwisch saying that we really are sacraments?  I’d suggest this a figure of speech…. metonymy, meaning “a figure of speech that replaces the name of a thing with the name of something else with which it is closely associated. We can come across examples of metonymy both from literature and in everyday life.”  Or, “the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.”

**Why the almost visceral reaction that so many converts to confessional Lutheranism have when they see Lutherans worshiping more like evangelicals, charismatics, etc?  I wonder if it has to do with something Pastor Stuckwisch talked about in one of his talks about freedom and responsibility (the second one): the sacraments (as well as the Word of repentance and faith in Christ) are not just a part of worship – included in worship – but are actually constitutive of it.

Of course as many veterans of the “worship wars” know it is not only converts to confessional Lutheranism that are dismayed but confessional stalwarts themselves.  Pastor Peters, at his very popular blog Pastoral Meanderings, offers less combative and more thoughtful commentary here in a post titled “Cross Pollination”.

“…we are told over and over again a Lutheran can be in fellowship with people who do not believe exactly as we do, a Lutheran can use worship formats that have no basis in our Confessions, a Lutheran can sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs written from vantage points vastly different than our Confessions (including here the Creeds) and it does not dilute or diminish the Lutheran distinctives at all.  But how can this be?  How can it be that we practice a communion discipline at odds with our own Confessions, we worship like people of other confessions, and we sing hymns and songs that do not adhere to the Lutheran practice of singing the Gospel and the faith, and NOT be affected by it all???

Cross pollination is not always a good thing.  In this case [NOTE: he is writing about ELCA agreements with its ecumenical partners] the Lutheran angst about requiring baptism (at least) of those who commune is occasioned not by a dispute with Lutheran doctrine and practice but a queasiness over how it goes down with ecumenical partners who do not have such a requirement.  In other words, our acceptance of a diversity of confessions that do not parallel or agree with our own is okay but not practicing a different requirement for admission to the Lord’s Table.  The inevitable conclusion is that what is always on the table for discussion and review is NOT the stance of others but our own historic and confessional identity — one that seems ever ready for surrender by those who care more about a supposed conflict with the Methodists rather than conflict and disconnect with our own theological tradition and historic practice (and that of the church catholic we claim to preserve in our Confessions).”

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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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