Monthly Archives: January 2012

And now for something completely different…

Warning: no infant theology in this post.

I am a librarian by day.  I’ve recently produced some video tutorials that deal with issues related to searching, research, and the nature of authority – and I think their applicability goes beyond our library (Concordia St. Paul).

I put a bunch of time into them and thought I’d keep track of them here.

So, if you are interested…

My favorite (discusses how to determine which sources are good for research and academic work. It includes information about the nature of authority / reliability):

This one goes along with it (discusses practical tips that can be used to help locate and evaluate quality web sites that are appropriate for your research and academic work):

This one is my second favorite (an introduction to doing research):

This one (on Advanced Searching) is is almost my second favorite (understand how the nature of language and the structure of databases can affect your search):

…and this one goes with it (advanced search features databases have in common that help us to search efficiently, effectively, and specifically — getting great control over our results):

Finally, a video on Copyright Law (for educators- to supplement the SOPA mania from a few days ago):


Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


Guileless sinners

My wife and I have joked about how our 23 month old is the first of our boys to have a conscience (though we assume all of their baptisms “took”).   When he does something wrong and is called out on it, he can very clearly display some sorrow.

This is not to say that there are times when he stubbornly resists us when he is told he is wrong.  But it seems to be very binary: he either resists us, or he shows sorrow for doing wrong and gladly receives our forgiveness.

Now, I suppose some young kids might pretend to be sorry in order to “get the forgiveness”, but  unless he is a really good actor, this would not be our youngest.  He is a sinner to be sure, but it seems to me that this is not an area where that infection manifests itself (yes, perhaps he is playing us for the gullible fools we are: ) )

In any case, he is not going to question the whether the sincerity or depth of his own repentance is sufficient in order for our forgiveness to really “count” and do what it is supposed to do, that is, make everything between us better again.

Now I suppose at some point we might wonder whether he is really sorry, or just sorry he got caught, but I don’t feel the need to think such thoughts at this point.

And I suppose he may at some point start to doubt whether or not we really are forgiving when we start to explain to him (when older) that forgiveness does not always mean the removal of all consequences and further disciplines.  But that would be doubting our sincerity, not his own.

Such is the faith of a child, which we are to imitate.  What are the real keys here?   Well, do God’s pastors give God’s forgiveness themselves?   Yes.   Do God’s messengers simply forgive 70 x 7, whenever  a person may ask for forgiveness from them?  Yes.   They deliver to us the gifts won by Christ.  When it comes to confession and absolution, “we can take one another by our words, not having to probe into the vague area of  ‘sincerity,’ because we can take God, who is by nature sincere, by his Word” (a quote from a pastor I know).

For the Bible tells me so.  As such, knowledge of eternal life and peace with God are our inheritance.

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


God incarnate, Balaam’s ass, the book of Genesis, and faith like a child

Although the Christian rejoices to confess the Nicene Creed, for example, he rejoices to hear the Biblical narratives even more.  After all, the primary purpose of theological truth extracted from Scriptures in Creeds and Confessions is not to become the primary way of teaching the faith, but to fight error when it becomes necessary.

Hence, when Arius denies that the Son of God always was, the Church, in keeping with the Rule of Faith, goes back to the Scriptures to confirm the truth they have known, however tacitly or explicitly – that Jesus was the Son of God.  Likewise with the other Christological controversies.

For we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  His words are Spirit and life.   We treasure every word of the Word incarnate.  We rejoice in every jot and tittle of the whole.

In regards to this, Luther said something to the effect that it would even be unacceptable to deny that Balaam’s ass spoke.

Of course, there seems to be a real difference here in denials.  If one says that Jesus was not God, this directly undermines the foundation of the Christian faith.  The person believing such a thing can have no confidence that such a Jesus is strong enough to save them.  It seems clear that denying that Balaam’s ass spoke would not necessarily undermine confidence in the same way.

And yet – it is easy to see how such a denial could have implications as well (this is not to deny that there are not “open questions”, which the LC-MS has never denied [though not all questions purported to be “open” really are….]).  When one picks at one thread through denial, it does not take long for all of it to come apart….  If a “Balaam’s ass did not speak” movement arose and gained momentum, it seems to me that such a notion might need to be addressed in the Church’s confession.

Very interesting here are the comments of Origen (c.185-254 A.D.), commentating on Genesis 1-3 (located here):

What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first “day,” then a second and a third “day”—evening and morning—without the sun, the moon, and the stars? [Sun, moon, and stars are created on the fourth “day.”] And that the first “day”—if it makes sense to call it such—existed even without a sky? [The sky is created on the second “day.”]

Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings, by using an historical narrative which did not literally happen. (p.71)

Cited from Origen’s “De Principiis“ 4.1.6, translated by Marcus Borg, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally“ (2001).

Hmm.  What does it mean to be child-like? Childish? (literalistic?)

On this thread, which inspired this post, one woman said the following

Joanne, at comment #82:

The New Testament writers and Jesus take God’s creation account at face value. They believe it. The Hellenes found that account and pretty much all of the plan of salvation to be a scandal. The Hellenes great philosophical knowledge (we call much of it science), convinced them that the world simply does not agree with God’s account.

From day one, Christians maintained the creation account against the erudite Hellenes. As the quotes from Origen so clearly indicate, highly educated Hellenes who converted to Christianity were deeply embarrassed by its simplicity and its simple Greek. Surely, collating Christian belief with Hellenic philosophy, what we would call science today, would greatly improve Christianity in the eyes of the wise.

By which I mean to say that the unbelievers have always been modern and wise in the knowledge of this world. It was not in their nature to believe miracle stories or simplistic accounts of creation. In every age the believers are a stumbling block to the Jews and a scandal to the Hellenes.

And God’s simple message just might be, “believe my simple stories and you will live with me forever.”

On the other hand, another, Kitty at comment #84, said this:

It’s almost like we earn extra points for being crass literalists. Or was metaphor a product of our fallen nature? Or perhaps it’s the handiwork of the devil?

The whole thread is worth reading, I think.

What does it mean to be child-like? Childish?

And what do we make of the fact that Luther, for example, evidently believed animals died before the fall (see comment #2 and this for more)?

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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part II of II)

In a penitential act, Luther climbs the "Scala Sancta", supposedly the stairs "that led up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem" (Wikipedia), and brought to Rome in the 4th c. by St. Helena (from the 2003 Luther movie)

Yesterday’s and today’s posts are a summary of some of the core elements of an introduction to a forthcoming book on confession and absolution from Lutheran Press by Pastor Holger Sonntag, where he claims “in studying his modifications of the sacrament of penance one can see how Luther’s ‘reformation breakthrough’ unfolds”, and demonstrates the same.  All quotes are from Pastor Sonntag unless otherwise noted, and all citations are taken directly from the introduction, and have not been checked by me.  I realize the connections between this and “theology like a child” may not be readily apparent to all readers.

Part II

Other important notes and factors involved here, prevalent in Luther’s day:

  • “an enumeration of all known mortal sins committed since the last confession” was required  (for the 2nd work)
  • “’secret’ sinners, that is those in mortal sin whose state is known only to God and themselves, ought to refrain from taking communion lest they commit another mortal sin.” (S. Th. III, qu. 80, 6)
  • “the performance of some sort of temporal punishment for the sins of the penitent which had been imposed by the priest”, depended on the gravity of the sin committed (for the 3rd work)
  • priests would be guilty of mortal sin for offering communion, for example, to persons known to have not received the sacrament of penance – including the fulfillment of the imposed works of satisfaction.
  • “the ‘quest for a gracious God’ led to the inclusion of a petition for long life into the common prayer for forgiveness (publica absolutio) that was read by the priest after the sermon” (to do one’s part “to shorten the stay of one’s agony in purgatory”)
  • concupiscence, or wrongful desire, was not understood as sin but only as an inclination to sin (CCC, para. 404-405, 1734-1736) – it was considered to be in the same category as things like disease, death, and weakness of character – these remaining “consequences” of original sin (“penalties” in Thomas: S. Th. III, qu. 69, 3) were all seen as helpful for training in godliness (for all 3 works: contrition, confession and satisfaction)
  • while standard works of satisfaction given by priests merited in themselves remission for punishment, works done to gain an indulgence merited this remission due to the “treasure of the church” (a bank of good works) administered by popes and bishops (S. Th. Suppl. III, qu. 25, 2, see also the 1343 bull Unigenitus Filius Dei by pope Clement VI).  Indulgences made works of satisfaction “easier”
  • by becoming a Lutheran one was automatically excommunicated
  • the excommunicated could not be absolved by his priest, but needed to wait until the competent authorities had lifted it, at which time works of satisfaction could commence
  • excommunication, unlike acts of penance, is not an expiatory punishment, but is “medicinal”, meaning that it is not meant to be, in part, a “payment of reparations to self, neighbor, and God by doing good deeds.”  It was not normally done by mere priests, and was not just a withholding of communion from the impenitent, but a severing of all communion between him and the church (to bring him to his senses)  – though starting in 1418 (Council of Constance) a person could associate with the excommunicated again

Who or what will finally save me in the last judgment?  Based on the information above, it does not seem unfair to say that for Rome, “faith in the divine mercy” means not the free forgiveness of all sins for Christ’s sake, but “God’s gracious acceptance of man’s works of virtue to blot out man’s sins” (Sonntag, summing up Chemnitz, Examen, 438).   Really, is the perfect love required in contrition and the following acts of penance possible for a person even after the word of absolution?  As Pastor Sonntag writes, “love seeking to fulfill the demands of the church, not trust in the gospel of Christ, was the common denominator of all such contributions of the sinner “ and “[the] human contribution to confession rendered its practice perpetually uncertain both as to the ultimate effectiveness of the works prescribed by the church’s human authority (“How can I be certain that these particular works will do the job, given that none of this is found in God’s Word?”) and the quality of their performance (“How can I be certain that I was in the right state of mind when doing what is required of me, have I given an accurate description of the circumstances of all my (mortal) sins, so that the priest’s evaluation would be accurate?”)”.  As Chemnitz argued following the Council of Trent (which did not condemn or even discourage the practices above, save the excesses on indulgence sales), “because the relation between faith and God’s certain word of promise was denied, faith, understood as assent to doctrines taught by the church, needed to be made valid by man’s uncertain love” (Sonntag, summing up Chemnitz, cf. Examen, 181, 190-192)

And for consciences like Luther’s – which were particularly attuned to both the teachings/requirements of God’s Law and those of the Church – this could only mean the necessary emergence of the doctrinal distinctions of the Lutheran Reformation- for the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ obliterates categories that obscure it.  As Pastor Sonntag sums things up: “one realizes that Luther became the ‘Lutheran’ and Reformer of the church he was in the context of his wrestling with the traditional sacrament of penance in light of God’s biblical Word.”

In sum:  “God… wants his free – that is, free for man, but costly for Christ – gifts to be received simply by faith in the gospel.”

(Think this was interesting?  Fair?  If so, now read this and this)


Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine (part I of II)

In a penitential act, Luther views the head of John the Baptist in the 2003 Luther movie

Today’s and tomorrow’s posts are a summary of some of the core elements of an introduction to a forthcoming book on confession and absolution from Lutheran Press by Pastor Holger Sonntag, where he claims “in studying his modifications of the sacrament of penance one can see how Luther’s ‘reformation breakthrough’ unfolds”, and demonstrates the same.  All quotes are from Pastor Sonntag unless otherwise noted, and all citations are taken directly from the introduction, and have not been checked by me.  I realize the connections between this and “theology like a child” may not be readily apparent to all readers. 

Part I

Information about penance prior to the Reformation follows.

As Pastor Sonntag says, [the sacrament of penance’s] importance for the whole life of the Christian at the time of Luther can hardly be overestimated”.  Meritorious prayers, fasting, and alms drove the whole show/system, even during the mass, where the prayers could be a work of satisfaction (S. Th. III, qu. 79, 7).  Perhaps this is less so today, but I am no expert here.

In sum, Scripture + Aristotle (per Thomas) -> Roman penitential system -> necessary emergence of Reformation doctrine.  Luther’s “reformational breakthrough took place when God made him realize that this question – What do I have to do in order to get a gracious God? – was  wrong.” (italics and bold mine, G. Martens, “Agreement or Disagreement on Justification by Faith Alone,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 65 (2001): 218)

Indulgences – those Reformation-starting things – were a part of the Roman Catholic teaching and practice of the sacrament of penance, which is private confession before a priest (they were technically “extra-sacramental” but presupposed the sacrament).  Buying (yes, this language was widely used) indulgences did not obtain the forgiveness of guilt and its eternal consequences, but the forgiveness/alleviation of the temporal consequences of sin – perhaps all temporal consequences (for example, not only “works of satisfaction” given by the priest [this is what “loosing and binding” meant: works of satisfaction], but all the punishment in purgatory a person needed to complete) – assuming proper contrition and confession of course.  Those who only committed “venial sins” had only temporal consequences (including purgatory) to be concerned about.  Therefore, in the sacrament of penance, the distinction between mortal and venial sin was critical (Cf. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica (S. Th.), I-II, qu. 88; CCC, para. 1854-1864, 1955).

Let us look at the sacrament and virtue of penance in more detail.

When committed, mortal sins – sins vs God’s Law done with full knowledge and consent – destroyed the baptized man’s love of God (charity) – though not the spiritual orientation towards God he received in baptism (see below)  – putting him on a path to hell (love alone makes alive and ties together all the other virtues – including faith – of the Christian – see S. Th. II-II, qu. 23, 6-8; CCC, para. 1827-1828).  Enter the solution of penance, which strictly speaking, was not necessary for venial sin (though commendable).  The sacrament was effectual/valid if the hell-bound sinner was made worthy by doing three “meritorious acts”: contrition of the heart, confession of the mouth, and satisfaction or compensation by good works – and the priest absolved him (absolution would usually take place before the third act, but its validity/effectiveness was contingent on the subsequent actions of the penitent).  Note again that the forgiveness given in the sacrament takes away the guilt and eternal punishment of a particular moral sin, but not the entirety of its temporal punishment.

Actually, penance began with the desire to blot out one’s sins before God with opposed acts of virtue –  this was a “special virtue”  in that it was not just “a good habit or a perfection of the capabilities of man’s soul” that all men could share, but one that became “theological” by an infusion of divine grace, a spiritual substance given freely by God.  Here, faith, hope, and love – but especially love, or charity – began to take effect in the fallen baptized, creating the inner sorrow over sin – purely out of love for God – which leads to contrition for one’s mortal sin(s).  This was made possible in part not only because original sin had been removed at baptism, but also because baptism had created in man – though a union with the divine nature (II Peter 1:4) – the ability and disposition to act like the divine nature.   If the fallen sinner, who still had this stable orientation/habit given at baptism, also resolved to attend confession as soon as possible, this could remove the guilt and punishment (all of the eternal, some of the temporal) of mortal sins (someone who did penance only out of fear of punishment was only “attrite” – better than nothing).  Where is the meaning of Jesus Christ’s work here?  Christ’s life and death made this all possible: “divine grace was the heavenly orientation and assistance earned by Christ on the cross and infused into man by means of the sacraments”. So, “grace alone” and “Christ alone” in this sense.

The third necessary act – satisfaction by good works – was prompted by the moral virtue of justice itself (which all men shared), and this required that there be a “just exchange of things” and “compensation”.  In other words, a “balancing of the scales” with God by good works, or acts of virtue, namely prayer, fasting, or almsgiving (or “works of superogation” if another who had surplus works shared their merit with you).  God’s justice demanded that sin be atoned for by offering an equivalent compensation, and God, using both the priest and other means, imposed this punishment upon the sinner (all punishment embraced in patience could function as a work of satisfaction, to pay for one’s own sins – and beyond!).  According to the rules of commutative justice, either the sinner or someone in his place (*not Christ*) had to offer an act of virtue (see Thomas Aquinas, S. Th. I-II, qu. 87, 6. ; see also the S. Th. Suppl. III, qu. 12, and qu. 13, 1-2).  In such fashion God’s grace could be merited (by grace alone of course), and the forgiveness of the guilt and punishment or wages of their sins obtained.

To be continued tomorrow…

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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Uncategorized