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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Luther's Works Volume 69 and an Exegetical Bone to Pick with the Doctor


Pastors on the LCMS roster should have received a letter from CPH advertising the first in what will be 20 new volumes (vols. 56-75) of Luther in English: American Edition, vol. 69, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Chapters 17-20.

These new volumes are under the general editorship of Christopher B. Brown - a classmate of mine who was ABD in Reformation studies at Harvard while he was working on his MDiv in St. Louis. Yeah, that kind of smart. He's now teaching at Boston U and no doubt keeping the separated brethren on their toes.

The managing editor will be familiar to many Gottesdienst readers as the editor of the Brotherhood Prayer Book: Benjamin T. G. Mayes. Doctor Mayes is also the editor for the Gerhard volumes coming out of CPH at a regular pace - and those are also well worth picking up. (By the bye, he'll be hosting another BPB Gregorian chant workshop at Emmaus in St. Louis on October 17. ) If you are a Lutheran theological bibliophile, do not visit Dr. Mayes' cubicle at CPH: you will immediately die of coveting.

More Gottesdienst connections. . . one of last year's Octoberfest presenters, Rev. Aaron M. Moldenhauer (SOB, 2008) translated some of the material for this volume as did I.

In short: rush out now in a buying frenzy. They've got a good deal going on subscriptions to all 20 volumes, be sure to check that out.

The volume has great introductions and wonderful notes - the editors really did their homework and were much too humble in the introduction to the volume. The work here is just superb. And as always, you will find wonderful gems from Luther like this, "Christ, in His Life, never did a good work in order to become righteous, and yet He did good works all the time." (AE 69.329). Isn't that a great way to preach the distinction between justification and sanctification?

But.

This volume contains eleven of Luther's sermons (in one format or another: full text, notes, or outline) on the Quasimodogeniti Gospel (John 20:19-31) preached between 1522 and 1540. And this is the definitive proof that Luther's take on the ministry is, well,....gosh, maybe "Wisconsonite" is the best word:

"This is the highest work that a Christian is able to do: that through preaching I should bring [my neighbor] to the same [faith] to which [I have been brought]. He appoints each one to this office. [Hoc ad officium quemlibet instituit.]. . . It is the office of everyone to instruct his neighbor, etc. And this power is given not to the clergy alone (though [here it is] spoken to the apostles) but to all believers." (AE 69.336-37)

"[For] the Lord has committed a public office to called ministers (and to everyone privately)..." (AE 69.322)

" 'Those whose sins you remit, their sins are remitted. Those whoses sins you retain, their sins are retained.' This power is here given to all Christians." (AE 69.330)

A half dozen other quotations from these eleven sermons to the same effect could also be brought forward. And it sounds familiar, right? Haven't I read this somewhere before?

Pieper, vol. III, 442: “Luther points out, too, that the means of grace have the same nature, power, and effect, whether administered by common Christians or by ministers in their public office. He writes: 'We firmly maintain there is no other Word of God than the one all Christians are told to preach; there is no other Baptism than the one all Christians may administer; there is no other remembrance of the Lord's Supper than the one any Christian may celebrate; also there is no other sin than the one every Christian may bind or loose.'"

Or again: “Like all spiritual gifts the means of grace, including Baptism, are given by God directly to the believers, all Christians. The believers do not get them from the pastors, but vice versa. Pastors administer Baptism in their public office as the called servants of the believers.” (Pieper, III, p. 279)

So why not just have every Christian take turns? That's a matter of Law: there are objective commands not to do that: “A congregation would be acting contrary to God's ordinance if it appointed the public ministers by lot, or according to the alphabet. . . and in defense of such action claimed that all Christians are spiritual priests. . . . No, Scripture on the contrary warns 1 Tim. 5:22: “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” (Pieper, III, p. 441)

So why the office of the ministry? For the sake of good order...er, more than that, right? To do it publicly, but privately everyone else is still exercising the ministry, which is nothing other than the rights of the spiritual priesthood – which is totally different than the ministry, mind you, and the latter is not derived from the former – well, that is, it does receive its powers from the former, and not vice versa...where was I? Well, I can never keep it straight. I confess: it confuses me. Luther, Walther, Pieper: they all seem to try to take back with the left what the right hand has given.

And here, I think, in AE vol. 69 with Luther's Quasimodogeniti sermons we see why: it's an exegetical issue. When Luther sees the apostles in the texts where the ministry is conferred on them by Christ (especially John 20 and Matthew 28) he sees the apostles as representatives of all Christians individually and not the clergy as a group or office. What is given to the apostles, is given individually and personally to all believers.

Heaven knows I've got more to learn from than teach to these great men, but still: I've never been able to buy into that. And it seems to me that the Missourians have always been selective with that exegesis. For example, when it comes to keeping women out of the public ministry (not out of the ministry, I suppose, for all Christians have that already as their individual and personal charge?), the apostles suddenly represent the clergy. So also in the LW and LSB Ordination Rites, John 20 and Matthew 28 are introduced as the texts concerning the institution of the office of the ministry.

Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

(I really wanna know.)

But I think that in these Holy Week and post-Resurrection happenings the apostles represent the clergy, or better: the office of the ministry. What is given to them, is given to Christ's called ministers. It is the faithful women in the Gospel, especially Mary at the foot of the cross and Mary Magdalene at the tomb, who represent the Church and every Christian. Makes sense, doesn't it? The Church is the Bride – and as CS Lewis said in his amazing essay, “Priestesses in the Church?”: we are all feminine in our relation to God the Father.

The Lord and His Bride.

(But not in that weird DaVinci Code kind of way...See the propers for her day if you don't believe me.)

I've got no problem with saying that all spiritual power, the Word and the Sacraments, every grace and honor, reside in the Church as the original possessor thereof. She is the Bride of Christ – all that is her Lord's is hers, including the Holy Ministry, for She and her Lord are one flesh. But it's another thing altogether to say that therefore every single individual Christian possesses the authority individually to preach, teach, and conduct the sacraments privately (but not publically - what on earth does that mean anyway?). That, I think, is an error born from this exegetical mistake of taking the apostles to be the representatives of all individual Christians.

So...ad fontes. What do you think about that exegetical point about the apostles on the one hand and the Marys on the other? I'm not interested in seeing a bunch of quotes from Walther and Luther in the comments and those so inclined to prove that I am not Waltherian, early Missourian, or a follower of Luther's personal doctrine on the topic can save their time: Confiteor. Indeed, let's even set the Confessions aside for a moment – after 400 years of arguing over the topic, from Osiander vs. Luther to Grabau vs. Walther to "Carl Vehse" vs. Petersen, it's clear that both sides think that the Confessions support their side and we won't solve that here.

But how about a very narrow discussion of the Bible texts – what do you think of my contention that in the Holy Week, Resurrection, and Ascension narratives the apostles represent the clergy and the faithful women, especially the BVM and the Magdalene at the tomb represent the whole Church?


UPDATE: Also consider the contradiction to Luther that the Wittenberg faculty presents in 1674.


An Laici casu necessitatis possint absolvere, quemadmodum baptizare possunt?


Are laymen able to absolve in a case of necessity as they are able to baptize?


Praesuppono, quaeri tantum de absolutione, an ea in casu necessitatis, a Laicis fieri debeat et possit: non vero quaestionem eam de subsequente Sacramenti Sanctae Eucharistiae exhibitione, hanc enim per Laicos nullo modo fieri posse (licet baptismus ab illis in casu necessitatis possit administrari, nec administratus debeat iterari) intelligi debere, nostri Theologi, uti notum est, passim demonstrant.


I presuppose that the question is put only concerning absolution, whether it ought and is able to be performed by laymen in a case of necessity: this question is certainly not to be understood concerning the performance of the following sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, for our theologians, as is known, demonstrate time and again that this is in no way able to be performed by laymen (of course, baptism is able to be administered by them in a case of necessity, nor should the minister perform it again).

+HRC






Pr. H. R.16 Comments