Illegitimi Non Carborundum
In 1992, thirty-two graduating seminarians were being traumatized by being politically singled out and denied calls during the period of upheaval at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne. CTS was to become my alma mater in a few years. But in 1992, I was working as a software consultant in Westchester County, New York. This was the Empire State’s most expensive county to live in (interestingly, the popular Socialist Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was raised in this enclave of wealth and privilege). The only apartment that I could afford was to rent the basement of a lovely family consisting of a retired Marine Corps colonel, his wife, and daughter.
On the walls of the Colonel’s basement that became my home for more than two years were plaques and pictures and other mementos of his stellar military career. The Colonel served three tours in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts, as well as a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit, and others. A plaque on the wall bore the joke Latin inscription: “Illegitimi Non Carborundum.” This is not a saying one will find in a theological dictionary, but is rather an old military joke in pidgin Latin that is supposed to translate as, “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.”
In many a dinner and enjoyable evening spent with the Colonel and his family, I learned a lot of wisdom that would come in handy in my later career in high school campus ministry and as a parish pastor. I learned the story behind the plaque. The Colonel had been up for promotion to Brigadier General. He failed the promotion board by one “no” vote. According to the Colonel, this was purely political. The illegitimi were not the Viet Cong on the battlefield, but rather the bureaucrats that comprised a different kind of minefield to navigate.
The Colonel had recently retired from the Corps and went to work as an executive. His friends and contemporaries would go on to become general officers, and one even became the four-star Commandant of the Marine Corps.
It was my honor to count the Colonel as a heroic man who made an impact on my life.
Another battle-scarred veteran (of the warfare that is not of flesh and blood) that I am honored to count as a mentor is Dr. David Scaer, who has recently published a memoir that, like Dr. Scaer himself, is anything but dull. It is called Surviving the Storms, published 2018 by the Luther Academy (427 pages). It is available as a paperback ($20.69) or hardcover ($35.99) from Lulu, but the best price is the Kindle version from Amazon ($9.99).
My gut feeling is that this was not easy to write, having to dredge up old wounds and relive moments of intense stress - both for himself and his family. Dr. Scaer has had, and continues to have, a remarkable career as a churchman, scholar, professor, mentor, instructor, and leader of the so-called “conservative” faction during several periods of turmoil in the LCMS’s turbulent 20th century, as well as the aftermath of those times that manifested themselves as dark days at CTS in the 1990s (which some at CTS called the Babylonian Captivity).
Like Dr. Scaer’s classes, the book can be a bit disorienting at times. But (like his classes), be patient, put on your seat belt, enjoy the ride - and you will learn a lot.
Several things jumped out at me as a result of reading this book.
First, the destructive nature of the 1974 St. Louis Walkout and its aftermath in the formation of the ELCA. The congregation that Dr. Scaer’s father served for more than four decades is now an ELCA parish, as is the church that Scaer was serving as pastor when he was called to Concordia Theological Seminary (at that time in Springfield, IL). Families, churches, and communities were divided, friendships were destroyed (or at least put under great strain), and many of those who left had regrets later on, especially as the gender issue, unmoored from the strictures of the high view of Scripture, made its natural move from women’s ‘ordination’ to endorsing deviant sexuality, to mockery of Scripture, and even to goddess worship.
Second, the depths of star-chamber skulduggery to which churchmen were willing to go to oppose CTS president Dr. Robert Preus is nothing less than shocking. The shameful, amoral conduct that became normalized at that time is depressing, enraging, and almost beyond belief. Dr. Scaer is not afraid to name names - though many (but not all) of the illegitimi have gone on to their eternal reward.
Third, the level of harassment that Scaer had to endure in the form of repeated barrages of charges of false doctrine that were permitted to be made again and again and again by the same person is beyond belief. Even Dr. Scaer’s at-times bitter opponents defended him against these nutty (but frightening) barrages. In the secular world, such badgering would be met with an arrest followed by a severe court order (my family and I were on the receiving end of a similar harassment).
Fourth, the fact that Scaer could have some rough-and-tumble dust-ups with other confessional and conservative professors and still defend them, speak highly of them, and fight for positions for them at the seminary - even after some substantial disagreements - is indicative of the nature of Theology as a discipline. It is not a profession for the thin-skinned or the faint of heart. It is definitely in the realm of what some people erroneously refer to as “toxic masculinity.”
What emerges from the crashing waves of turmoil is Dr. Scaer’s ironclad commitment to preach, teach, and confess our Lord Jesus Christ at all costs. Though he does not employ the metaphor, Scaer has lashed himself to the mast.
This book is, for me, an eye-opener. I began my seminary training in 2000, five years after Dr. Robert Preus’s untimely death, and only four years after Dr. Dean Wenthe began as the seminary president in the midst of the wreckage, taking on the unenviable task of rebuilding from the rubble. Many of the players: the good, the bad, and the ugly - were still on the faculty in my time as a student. Many of the wounds were still fresh.
The courage and fidelity of Dorothy Scaer also comes through in these pages. I’m quite certain that Mrs. Scaer could write a barn-burning memoir of her own.
Although the illegitimi did at times get Dr. Scaer down, they did not succeed in wearing him out. I heartily encourage my contemporaries to read this book. I also think it is an important read for seminarians and younger pastors, because if one is in the Holy Office, storms are bound to come your way, along with many illegitimi. Men who aspire to the Office, and men who are serving on the front lines of altar, font, and pulpit - as well as those destined to classroom and lecture hall - need to go in with eyes wide open, innocent as doves, and wise as serpents.
This book is not only a historical chronicle, but also a sort-of devotional regarding spiritual warfare and the need to depend upon Christ to stand firm in the storms.
Illegitimi non carborundum, and praise the Lord, guy!