Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I saw Valkyrie

This film is about an elaborate plot to assasinate Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1944. A disgruntled Colonel Stuaffenberg, played by Tom Cruise attempts the assasination at the Wolf's Lair Nazi bunker. The plan is to reinstate the Chancellor after the coup and deploy the Reserve Army to crush the SS and secure Berlin.

The movie is exciting and there are some excellent scenes of Hitler's inner circle. There is a great scene with Hitler, Joseph Goebbles, Heinrich Himmler, and Hermann Goring laughing and joking at the Eagles Nest.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Filled with the Holy Ghost Elisabeth exclaimed to Mary "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" And so it is with us that on Christmas that we are reminded that the Lord comes to us - comes into the flesh to to heal, teach, and breathe life into lifeless lungs.

Christmas is all about the incarnation of God into flesh to invite creation into the forgiveness of sins, peace, and communion. As Christ immerses himself into the church, Christians turn to one another finding joy in their neighbor - serving them and offering sacrifice. Christmas is not a spiritualizing feeling or sentiment but a bodily communion of God into man and therefore humankind toward and for one another. Christmas is an eternal celebration of the Mass in which Christ is infant, creator, healer, priest, meal, and sacrifice - stretched out high for the forgiveness of sins.

God's great commandment to love one another finds its substance in God's incarnation in Jesus. For in him is creation itself - life and light. God becomes flesh, dwells among us - and lo I am with you til the end of the age. We behold his glory, full of grace, and truth through the precious gifts given in the church. God's advent into man is not only about restoring communion with him but rather communion with one another.

God comes not to be served but to serve His people and and rejoin them into living fellowship and love with each other. This organic reintegration of humanity is given in the present - in Christ's holy meal and word in which an apocolyptic rebirth of creation opens with new eyes of faith and purity. The Christian no longer sees the world with suspicion, fear, anxiety, and shame but rather sees the incarnation of God in family, friend, and neighbor. God becomes man to give himself to all - desiring to to suffer, die and rise for all. Likewise, in God's birth and holy passion we find ourselves in the same dusty path of calvary - that we give ourselves, die in baptism, and daily arise as ressurected vessels.

This new life finds its substance in God's incarnation into man and humanities reawakening with the eyes of faith. The incarnation has everything to do with what it means to now life as a holy saint in Christ church. Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together...

"The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living to much in the flesh. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body. In the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ inthe body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected community of God's spiritual-physical creatures. Therefore, the believer praises the Creator, the Reconciler and the Redeemer, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of other Christians."

The Christian only through this gift can now sees God's incarnation in creation itself. For God found it disirable to suffer, die, and rise for even the most vile of men. So we are called to find the beauty and richness of God's creation even for the most undeserving of mercy and in the very darkest places. In Christmas, we find a reminder that Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection becomes our very own. As God physically encountered his creation in Christ so we must physically meet each other in concrete acts of love. We are given the blessings of proximity and life with one another - which is itself a gift - that God might support us with a community of human love and prayer.

Christmas reminds us that the church catholic - the holy fellowship of all believers in Christ - is an incarnate body - creatio ex nihilo - an encounter of God in flesh and humanity into and for each other - wrapped up in Christ's holy word and sacrament.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"For solitude and melancholy are poisonous and fatal to all people, and especially to a young man. Accordingly God has commanded us to be joyful in his presence; he does not desire a gloomy sacrifice...participation in proper and honorable pleasures with good and God-fearing people is pleasing to God, even if one may at times carry playfulness too far."
Martin Luther - May 23, 1534
taken from a letter to Prince Joachim of Anhalt

The covenant with Abraham contains provisions of which all the families of the earth benefit (Gen 12:3). We find that God defines the chosen line by which the Messianic blessing would eventually come: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (later named "Israel"). Worship and sacrifice are central to these promises of land and blessing as God instructs Abraham to make an altar, calling upon his name (12:8). Involved in this covenant was the promise of a great nation, that Abraham would be blessed, and that all the earth will be blessed. Furthermore we find that the one who curses will be cursed (12:3) which becomes a central principle whereby God intervenes to pronounce judgment on nations surrounding Israel for their mistreatment. The narrative as a whole shows that the covenant promises of God will be fulfilled despite the shortcomings of men. Abraham doubts God’s promise to give Him a son yet Sarah indeed gives birth (21:2). The promises from God’s covenant make Abraham and his family passive recipients whom depend solely on the faithfulness of God. Therefore Abraham is not righteous by his deeds but by his reliance on God’s Word.

The exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament establishes a pattern for how God interacts and delivers His people. The Passover that precludes the exodus is especially telling of God’s saving grace. Moses orders the killing of a lamb without blemish for every Israelite household (Ex. 12:5). The blood of the lamb was painted over the door posts so that the final plague might Passover and thus appease the wrath of God. The communal eating of this animal as an atoning sacrifice shows how God reconciles the world to Himself. This event however is a mere shadow of what is to come through Christ the paschal lamb who will cleanse people from all sin. God continues to deliver His people by parting the Red Sea and drowning their oppressive enemies (14:26), providing manna "bread from heaven" in the wilderness (16:4), and provides instructions for worship so that His people might remain in His covenant. With the exodus of the Israelites it is clear that God is patient when his people are terrified and face trials of their faith. The Israelites are confronted with many troubles but the Lord works through promises and always keeps His Word.

God makes a very special covenant with David after Saul’s failure to serve as king. We find that God finds favor with David, seeking "a man after His own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). In Second Samuel chapter seven God sets forth specific plans for David saying, "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (vs. 13). This offspring of David is Jesus whereby the covenant with God finds fulfillment. Isaiah clearly prophecies of this Son of David (9:6-7). What is sure is that God Himself will come as king to deliver his people, bringing righteousness. The plans set forth also involve a place of worship for the divine presence. Furthermore, God promises to establish a dynastic house of kings which will rule "forever" (vs. 13). This rule of kings however is shown to be disastrous with sin and failings. David himself, one whom God has found great favor, is an adulterer. His sons become guilty of incest, fratricide, and incest (13:13). Zion theology erroneously looks for an earthly reign of an earthly leader – this "liberator" of their own imagining will not come.

Among the Minor Prophets, the theology of Hosea stands out as a particularly revealing testimony to how God lovingly interacts with His people. The prophecy contained here reveals a dark time where apostasy and the worship of Baal is common for Israel (4:6). The use of marriage between Hosea and Gomer is used to represent the relationship between God and His people. Hosea deals with an unfaithful wife whom does not return His love. Hosea is continually gracious and takes her back after all kinds of infidelities. Here we see how we in the church are continually being reconciled back to God through repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Restoration in Isaiah (Major Prophet) is also a central theme. Isaiah warns against idolatry and testifies that salvation is near. There is a message to be vigilant and ready for salvation (62:6). The "suffering servant" clearly points to Christ in Chapter 53. Isaiah also makes it clear that God is one who extends his mission to gentiles and foreigner. God is one "who gathers the outcasts of Israel" (56:8). This theme carries throughout, that God is not just a tribal God of the Israelite nation but the true god of all humankind.

The Psalter as a gift for worship cannot be overemphasized. It has been a resource for God’s faithful people since ancient times. We know that Jesus prayed the Psalms in synagogue which in fact testify to Himself. It is likely Luther as well had the complete Psalter memorized, as was the custom in the monastery. The Psalms are a great teaching tool in the Old Testament. The idea of Lex orande Lex credende would make the psalms essential to harmonize prayer with proper belief and theology. For the Lutheran theologian there is no speculation. God has defined himself, his work, and has defined us. God has given us also the language to communicate with Him through His very Word of which the Psalter is of such benefit. My personal experience with the psaltery in the context of worship and the daily office make this clear. Our spiritual, emotional, and theological vocabulary is set before us in what Luther calls the "mini Bible." In worship these songs are either sung directly, antiphonally, or in a responsorial order. We study and sing the Psalms that we might teach, pray, and suffer in faith with David in the mighty ark of the Church.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Luther's Chief Article in Smalcald

The chief article in the Smalcald Articles is the office and work of Jesus Christ (SA II, 1). This office of Christ is given for our justification through faith, apart from all works of the law. Jesus lifted high for the forgiveness of sins, for Dr. Luther is the heart and focus of all the Scriptures. This is reflected in all articles which hang off the first and chief article of Jesus Christ, which “stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world.” The Christological controversy does not blend or pit the divine and human natures against each other but distinguishes Christ’s true gospel from papal crimes against the church. Luther concedes that there is no specific dispute over the confessed creeds regarding the trinity and economy of relations. The dispute involves the Reformation breakthrough which confesses Christ’s full atonement for sinners, apart from papal lies and malfeasance.

The address of the chief article is spoken only after the revelation of sin from the Holy Scriptures (SA III, 1). The law comes by way of crushing imposition, accusing at every turn, revealing inherited sin and its utter depths. The sweet words of the Lord forgives sinners, speaks peace, and builds His church. The Smalcald articles are not fragmented confessions but one exposition of Christ’s blessed and simple institution – the forgiveness of sins. Beginning with the second article, the Mass under the papacy is identified as the “greatest and most terrible abomination, as it directly and violently opposes the chief article.” For Luther the “chief error” is enthusiasm which seeks to deal with God apart from Jesus’ Holy Word and sacrament. Human inventions (enthusiasm) have set themselves against the pure doctrine of our Lord – who is the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The Mass under the papacy contains the other abuses such as indulgences, pilgrimages, monasteries, masses for the dead, and invocation of the Saints. All these inventions negate the chief article of Christ’s work by propping up false avenues of merit. The 14th article of Smalcald, concerning monastic vows, which might otherwise be seen as a secondary point of dispute, likewise, stands “in direct conflict with the first and chief article.” According to Luther, monastic vows deny Christ and are “blasphemy against God.”Other contemporary theologies do not start with the office and work of Jesus but rather set him up in an office which is not his own. He may become a demanding judge, an exemplary moral leader, an ambassador for social justice, or an object of romantic sentiments. For Doctor Luther, Jesus is the subject of creation, eternal, begotten Son of God, who becomes incarnate in the Virgin and justifies the ungodly. The Smalcald Articles and the Augustana rightfully confess Jesus as the Alpha and Omega. Besides being simply an exemplary model, he is exemplary sacrifice and meal, who creates faith ex nihilo in baptism, word, and His Supper. The Smalcald Articles must not be seen as separate or isolated doctrines but rather form one doctrine (SA II, 1) proceeding from the words of Jesus. We hear the address of the Gospel with our ears and eat with our mouth the promise of God in Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Basilica of Saint Josephat
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Trinity (1515)
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Ps. 50:14-15

Psalm 50 is an exhortation against false worship and empty sacrifice. Our God is not pleased by our offerings which are so often presented with conceit and veiled in vanity – “For every beast of the forest is Mine” (Ps. 50:10) By our nature we are inclined to imagine that we can somehow appease the wrath of God on our own terms. Yet our Lord rebukes us saying, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats?” Where God lacks nothing we are in need of everything. We, the elect, are the beneficiaries of the continual blessings bestowed upon us by the one and only sacrifice which grants us to stand blameless before God – by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is we that eat His flesh and drink His Blood. This Psalm reminds us of our hopelessness apart from the Christ, and implores us to remain vigilant in the discipline of our first two Commandments – that we might fear, love, and trust in God above all things and continually call upon His name in every trouble – forever giving praise.

Bell at Kramer Chapel

Saint Cyril declares that baptism "was at once your grave and your mother." The baptismal font is your tomb and womb. For Saint Cyril of Jerusalem his catechumens have become sons and daughters of one Mother, which is the church. Regarding this baptism he writes in his protocatechesis, "It is the ransom for captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; holy indissoluble seal; the chariot to heave; the luxury of Paradise; the gift of adoption." In the font – In the waters of Holy Baptism is the participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. This is not a figurative participation – it is not metaphoric of an alternative event – rather it is the true cataclysmic, cosmic reality of the blessed exchange with the Lamb of God – the Christ – Jesus. Jesus overcame the enemy, by becoming a servant unto death – washing, healing, teaching, and dying. And what a blessed death, which became the very slaying of death itself. Death was swallowed whole – death was consumed buried in the body of Christ. Death buried, and banished by a God-man. And what a blessed death it is for it is your own. Saint Paul writes:

Know ye not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death? Therefore we are buried together with Him by baptism into death: that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." (Rom. 6:3-5).

Where is this death? Where is this newness of life? Is it in the meditations of nature? Lofty thoughts about a God of power and might? Is it in our strivings to be better, more virtuous people, more productive and well known members in our communities? Does it come from the barrage of self-help books that promise you a more successful career, improved happiness, and higher esteem? Dear Christians, there is no life here – only crafty deceptions. There are no restored souls from lofty thoughts, increased happiness, or self help books. Death, salvation, and life come through the baptismal font. A cold block of cement or thousands of shabby wooden rotting fonts in rural parishes across the world deliver thousands of saints every year. They approach the altar or are carried there as infants for a blessed burial, a blessed death, and a most glorious resurrection to walk forever in the newness of life – the very body of Christ.

You descend into water as broken vessels, and are made dead. This font becomes your tomb, your shroud of death. You are dipped three times, for a three day burial in the bosom of the earth - which you share with Jesus your Christ. Your former man was laid in a coffin, descended through the waters, and flooded to a certain death in the Red Sea – by blood of the Lord. Pastors pronounce death with water and the invocation of the Divine Name. This is a necessary and blessed death for the curse of sin is death. Yet like Christ we are not left for dead but are resuscitated when the breath of life is breathed into our nostrils by the Holy Spirit. Here, we sinners, with our diseased and broken bodies and souls are put to death and are resurrected.

Pastors, simple men of all types, vested with the authority of Christ perform these Holy Mysteries not with any power of their own but with the power of God who declares you holy sons and daughters. In this font you are buried and dead. Yet you are never left for dead but just as surely resurrected as Christ. From the tomb of the font a perfect shroud of righteousness is wrapped around you. God does not see your sin. He does not see an ungrateful heart. He does not see your failures as a father, a mother, a son, or daughter. He does not see that bitter and dark secret that you have tried oh so hard to forget. He does not see a desecrated body that has been defiled by the monstrous devils and tempters of this world. He sees you as a holy saint. He sees not a blemish on your body or an impure thought in your heart. He sees not your life story with all your troubles and tears but sees your life story in His Son only. He sees a righteous one. He sees you – who sings his praises, and hallows His Holy Name. He sees you wonderfully and perfectly made because He sees Christ in you and for you.

The Roman Missal for the consecration of the font refers to the Holy Spirit "who is to make fruitful with the mingling of His mystical power this water prepared for the rebirth of men, that a heavenly race conceived in holiness may come forth from the immaculate womb of the divine font." Understanding our spiritual life in light of our human birth is essential to any understanding of the Gospel. In this font the Romanists and Saint Cyril suggest a very helpful symbol that we might better understand the totality of all that takes place in baptism. As Saint John writes in his Gospel, "But as many as received Him, He gave them power, to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13). Christ Jesus was both true God and true man. Not just spirit but blood and flesh. It is flesh that was tempted – flesh of a man – who like us was tempted by Satan – who hungered, thirsted, cried, and laughed. Our human birth came from the waters of a mother who bored us in pain. And in sin we are conceived - and in sin we enter into a fallen and shattered world. As Nicodemus did learn, we cannot enter a second time into our Mother’s womb to be born again. Our births from our dear Mother’s was a one time event. And yet the birth from our mother’s womb was not the final declaration of all matters on life. For God ultimately had plans for us – that we might be born again of water and the Holy Ghost. God willed that we be born of the womb of Holy Mother Church. A virginal and holy birth, born of God, born from above, born as redeemed saints. Here you are adopted by a jealous and loving Father who wants you so dearly that His own son is sent to shed blood. Rivers of water and blood flow forth from a pierced side, giving a new birth to us blind beggars. In a most treasured hymn, God’s Own Child, I Glady Say it we sing: Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

The simple baptismal font does not look like it contains the complete mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord. Yet our Lord comes through means that give us great comfort. In the font, with the eyes of faith, there is a tomb and a blessed womb. There is death and burial. There is resurrection and life. There is water and blood. There is the body of Christ who stands with you in the Holy waters of your baptism. He gives all things to you. And God the Father sees you as His most prized possession. He delights in you at this simple font. He sustains you and provides for you until the final day when you will inherit heaven to dine and sing with your Lord. And in your baptism angels rejoice with all the company of heaven. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Praying the psalms is none other than joining in the eternal prayer of Jesus Christ and his Church. The prayer encompasses the enter life of the church - through bitter despairs in the pit of hell to the heavenly riches in the great sanctuary.

The community of the church does not live its life in static bliss but rather finds herself in the continual rhythem of receiving God's spoken Word of comfort - and being gathered by outstretched arms.

The experience of suffering is not an appendage to the Christian life but the portal – drawing out the very rhythm of life in Christ. Praying the psalms is to Pray in, with, and under Christ. This eternal prayer captures the totality of the life of the church who finds herself only in Christ’s Holy Passion – crucifixion, and resurrection.

When affliction strikes the human heart, the Psalms are God’s great gift. They provide a model for prayer and song for Christ prayed them with his disciples and prayed them from the cross. In the baptismal life of a Christian, all must turn to the lament in the divine liturgy, "Lord, have mercy." Calling upon the name of the Lord is God pleasing and he promises to deliver.

"For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength" (ps. 88:3-4). The daily crucifixion and ressurection in the baptismal life of a Christian must naturally encounter weakness and suffering. Christ promises to come in suffering, for only faith can take hold when we completely despair of our own personal plan of deliverance.

"As silver tried by fire is pure

From all adulteration,

So thro' God's Word shall men endure

Each trial and tribulation.

Its light beams brighter thro' the cross,

And, purified from human dross,

It shines through every nation."

"O Lord, Look Down from Heaven Behold"

Martin Luther, 1523

The Lutheran Hymnal

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Henry Hamann writes...

"If a pastor aims at a congregation whose members live by faith active in love - which is the only thing that finally counts in Christ Jesus (Gal. 5:6), and if he were sure that all his flock were doing just that, there would be no need at all for any further organization in his congregation beyond the barest minimum for the sake of order. There would be no stewardship and evangelization committees, no frantic searching and scratching of heads, so that every member in the congregation would have something to do, no elaborate programs to show that everybody keeps busy in some spiritual activity. But there would be a mighty spiritual, churchly movement, as all members of the congregation would live their free lives of faith, loving their fellowmen and serving them in freedom, heedless of self, as the whole body of Christ wouuld grow and build itself up in love, each part doing its work. And that mighty spiritual movement would exert a tremendous attraction on the unbelieving world, as the Holy Spirit would, through it and the preached Word of the Gospel, add to the church daily those who were to be saved."

Concordia Journal/January 1988 The Translation of Ephesians 4:12 - A Necessary Revision. p. 43. Henry P. Hamann

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Young Turkeys - young

David Hume's Natural History of Religion

"The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from an anxious fear of future events; and what ideas will naturally be entertained of invisible, unknown powers, while men lie under dismal apprehension of any kind, may easily be conceived. Every image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice must occur, and must augment the ghastiliness and horror, which oppresses the amazed religionist. A panic having once seized the mind, the active fancy still farther multiplies the objects of terror; while that profound darkness, or, what is worse, that glimmering light, with which we are environed, represents the spectres of divinity under the most dreadful appearances imaginable. And no idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity........The heart secretly detests such measure of cruel and implacable vengeance; but the judgment dares not but pronounce them perfect and adorable. And the additional misery of this inward struggle aggravates all the other terrors, by which these unhappy victims to superstition are for ever haunted."

From David Hume, The Natural History of Religion (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 1957), p. 65-66.

David Hume (1711-1776) is dearly loved among the universities for developing an anthropological approach to natural religion. For Hume, all religions come from primitive people who responded to a chaotic world around them, particularly the fear of death. Ignorance and stuperstition are the products of slavish religions which stifle natural reason and the senses of discernment.

Hume understands that the greatest crimes in world history are commited due to superstitious piety and devotion which is sparked by fear. He writes, "Those who undertake the most criminal and most dangeous enterprizes are commonly the most superstitious" (p. 73). This is seconded by the university system today and nearly every social justice crusader - who generally accepts the broader assertions of the enlightenment. The rise of the papacy and defending the western world from the Turks is held up as the final discussion point about the undeniable nature Christian tyranny.

Headed into this new millenium we stand amongst smoldering ruins of the bloodiest century in world history. The 20th century is marked by the most criminal and dangerous enterprizes ever committed. Yet they were enterprizes not waged by the Holy Father or religious nuts but rather by those who systematically divorced religion from rule. It took some 150 years for Hume's assumptions about man and the shackles of religion to form in the European Continent and the Soviet Union.

The greatest terrors are only possible when clergy, preaching, and worship are silenced and "natural reason" and "the will" take over. Every instance of malice, vengeance, cruely, and severity are not expressions of the Christian, as Hume suggests, but rather the natural man set free from fear and any conception of accountability to God. The great lesson is that atheism and the supression of religion is the root and cause of the greatest terrors.

With the atonement in mind, Hume suggests: "The heart secretly detests such measures of cruel and implacable vengeance." The atonement is always a scandal because it makes foolish the wisdom of the world and counfounds the hard-hearted and proud. Cruelty, and implacable vengeance are not attributes expressed in God, of which Hume ironically suggests - thus implicating himself in his own accusation. Vengeance and cruelty are rather mans attributes that are expressions of his own will not God's. The atonement reveals only God's infinite mercy for a rebellious creation. Only God can rectify cruel hearts and does so by taking justice and wrath up into himself. That he pours himself out for all does not reveal vengeance but humility and love which defies the greatest imagination.

Vengeance, violence, and wrath are attributes which Hume suggests religionists throw upon God. But in believing this he has essentially done it himself. Vengeance, violence, and wrath are only unique properties to the fallen man. Grevious offenses are developments not of God but a rather man's contribution to a creation that God pronounced 'good.' In the creation account fear, violence, and murder are the enterprizes of 'creature' whose heart strays from 'creator.' The creature in turn creates that which has thrust the world into crime, death, and despair. Ultimatly only the Creator, eternal and begotten can create anew and take back those who had become violent, miserable, and cruel - and in Christ's its done.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crave Coffee House

A stop with some fellow students to the Crave Coffee House in St. Louis, Missouri

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Lament to God

'The Scream' by Edvard Munch

Concerning the speech form of a lament, Oswald Bayer writes:

"It is proper ‘against God to press toward God and to call out:’ to the God revealed in the gospel. Only through Christ does the Holy Spirit let one see into the heart of God the Father. Only inthis way will he be experienced as love. But to turn this understanding into a theological principle would make it a form of enthusiasm, which impatiently does away with the difference between faith and seeing – supposing that the terrifying hiddenness of God and the way it contradicts his love have been left in the past already."

Although it is true that all has been rectified in Christ, the Christian who lives simultaneously as sinner and saint on this side of the grave must meet both the “revealed God” and the “unrevealed God.” He meets the God who suffers, dies, and announces peace and mercy to all as well as the God who is behind hurricanes, earthquakes, school shootings, and unimaginable sufferings. We meet the God revealed in the womb of Mary who takes away the sins of the world as well as the hidden God who governs a world that appears at times as a screaming, murderous, and chaotic nightmare.

Bayer notes that how we understand God is not a matter of “thinking” and working these contradictions out but rather “confessing.” In confession we run to God who meets his people with outstretched arms on a cross – who prays for us – intercedes – blesses – and forgives.

Yet all encounter a God who likewise afflicts, chastises, and stands behind the most unspeakable horrors of the world. God is not absent – not far off – but always present at work. Because we meet this God, the “lament” and the “cry” must follow as an inevitable consequence of this seeming contradiction which all people must confront. The terrifying works of God remain hidden works, un-preached works, indecipherable works before the final consummation of all things.

Therefore both the believer in Christ and unbeliever will lament and cry. The Christian lament however is functioning as an expression of meeting both the revealed God in Jesus Christ and oppositely the God who seems to whip the world into all kinds of despair and disorder. The cry of the unbeliever who seeks God outside of Christ deals only with the hidden God who is utterly terrifying and unknowable. Therefore this cry is a cry in the dark with no particular hope to rest in except vain idols and false messiahs. This is the cry in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' where the terrified figure looks into the black void of the unrevealed and hidden God outside of Christ and is twisted and contorted into a vortex of hopelessness and deathly fear.

The Christian lament however deals with the unspeakable horrors of this world but does not seek to decifer in them the innerworkings of God. He seeks not the unsearchable God outside of the Christ. Through violence and despair the Christian lament holds God accountable to his promise finding hope in faith. As Bayer notes, only in God's act on the cross, has the Father's heart been revealed - and it is a heart who pours forth life not for some but for all who will drink in faith.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Charles Baudelaire: The Artist and Critic

A guitly pleasure is reading the art critism of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). He was on the forefrontof defining the modern novel, modern artist and poet. In this collection of writings he is not happy with the predominant art scene in Second Empire France. He refers to artists as “spoilt children” with a handful of exceptions. This majority he also sees “very skilled brutes, mere manual laborers, village pub-talkers with the minds of country bumpkins” (397). His hostility to the conservative Academy with its stranglehold on the public’s understanding of the aesthetic is evident through his razor sharp sarcasm and humor. His ideal artist serves the imagination as a lover of life, observing the crowd, finding joy in that which is transient. The common human experience is beautiful and deserves a perceptive eye to best express “human being and their luminous explosions in space (409). Baudelaire’s understanding of the role of the art critic is one of communion with the artist’s vision, sharing in experience and ephemeral curiosities. The activity of defining beauty is also central to the critic’s role. This is clear through Baudelaire, himself a critic, by his own propensity to cleave to the various meanings of beauty.

Baudelaire deplores the French taste for realism and the attempt to replicate nature in landscapes, historical or genre paintings. As to the doctrine of meticulously coping nature as the highest of arts, Baudelaire notes that the imaginative man would reply – “I regard it as useless and tedious to copy what is there in front of me, because nothing of that satisfies me. Nature is ugly, and I like the figments of my own fantasy better than the triviality of material reality” (298). The realist and artist of imagination, according to Baudelaire, are diametrically opposed. The realist imitatively and mechanically reproduces that which has been done. Art, for him, must be the projection of dreams, presenting visions of beauty incapable of being extracted from meticulous landscapes or history paintings, those most common as the Salon in Paris. Baudelaire sees the French art world as retrogressive due to the artists’ habitual mania with antiquity. This obsession ignores the transitory, which is ever so important for dealing with the human experience.

Beauty, according to Baudelaire, has a duality: it includes both that which is eternal and that which is variable or transient. This reflects the duality of man, therefore also reflecting further upon the art world and its objective and subjective expressions. Baudelaire links the ‘eternal’ with the soul of art, and the variable as its ‘body’ (393). The ‘body’ is what has been neglected in the French art world. Baudelaire is a dazzling humanist above all else. He longs for the brilliance of human ideas with their unique or obsessive passions. He seeks the expression of the ‘body’ and ‘flesh’ of common day labors and joys.

Baudelaire writes of a German peasant who desires a painter to capture him and his family; his wife by his side, with daughters preparing supper, and sons returning from the field. The peasant insists on the painter capturing the armchair in which he sits, inherited from his father, and the smoke of his pipe through the setting sun. This common peasant scene is highly worthy of admiration for Baudelaire, “Loud Cheers for that peasant! Without knowing it, he has understood painting” (291). The affection and magnificence of the common life stands in contrast to the French publics’ fascination with historical scenes of grandeur, of Caesars, and Napoleonic conquests.

Nature, as a basis for all things beautiful, as idea championed by the highly conservative Academy, Baudelaire rejects with fervor. “Nature,” teaching nothing – with the exception of compelling man to “sleep, drink, eat and to protect himself as best he can against the inclemencies of the weather” (425). The “natural human,” from the womb essentially has a corrupted nature bound to physiological demands and uninspired behavior. The cure to this misplaced aesthetic of nature, for Baudelaire, is the perfect art – the human imagination – which freed from external realities, indulges in the most fantastic of dreams.

The painter who searches for the transient and fleeting body of majesty aims for ‘modernity.’ This quest to extract beauty from the contemporary fashions of the day contrasts the inclination for many French painters to stagnate in the fashions of Renaissance, Greek, or times of Roman glory. He accuses these painters who resort to the past of neglecting the present: “You have no right to despise the transitory fleeting element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, no to dispense with it” (403). Painters of the Renaissance and those of antiquity remained loyal to modern fashions, not rejecting them. He deplores this deprived imagination and the failure to bring out the significance wrapped up in the exceptional beauty of contemporary dress. He insists on the artist’s responsibility to represent each age with its fashions and fleeting trends with honesty and charm – thus highlighting beauty held within a unique circumstance.

Baudelaire writes of color, contour, sound, and scent as providing the imaginative man with moral significance. These things hold critical value in his aesthetic tastes – complementing or challenging line and form as the leading means of representation. Baudelaire describes encountering a dear friend who as a child paid close attention to his father dressing: “…he had always been filled with astonishment, mixed with delight, as he looked as the arm muscle, the colour tones of the skin tinged with rose and yellow, and the bluish network of veins” (398). Baudelaire’s fascination with the recounting of this childhood experience sheds light on the importance of examining common memories with an eye for feeling and color, which in turn intensifies the impact of sensory, historical, and emotional value. The inclusion of his friend every day encounter with a specific memory also reveals an understanding of man and woman, each with his or her individual passions and curiosities, as the center of creative expression and output, as opposed to a certain corporate school with a carefully defined aesthetic.

An anonymous artist is described who fulfils and surpasses the criteria for an imaginative artist. Baudelaire sees him as a “man of the world (flattering term)” – and one who understands the world and its customs: “he wants to know, understand, assess everything that happens on the surface of this spheroid” (397). The origin of this knowledge lies in curiosity. This curiosity is the kind most clearly seen in that of a child.

This “childish” genius can be linked with the importance of the “unconscious” – a word Baudelaire uses to describe this summit of artistic expression. On this concept he writes, “moral reflections and musings that arise form the drawing of an artist are in many cases the best interpretation that the critic can make of them; the notions they suggest are part of any underlying idea, and by revealing them in turn, we may uncover the root idea itself” (422).

As a value of an aesthetic, the word “unconscious,” not yet popularized by Freud, may have rallied many fellow critics to an entirely new concept, thus adding to a much needed vocabulary for the Impressionists waiting in the wing. For Baudelaire, the young receive beauty in the form of impressions ripe with “the joy the child feels in drinking in shape and color” (398). Like the child, the true artist, shares in this drink – casting his joyous impressions in inks and watercolors from the shadows of the crowd.

Baudelaire suggests the artist should express the intricacies of beauty in seemingly mundane human experience without yielding to the rigidity of the official art system. The critics job lies in living the transient, appreciating the imaginative lover of life as the center of artistic expression.
Quatations from Art in Paris, 1845-62: Salons and Other Exhibitions Reviewed by Charles Baudelaire

Christian Freedom

"Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St. Ambrose to Enter Milan Cathedral"
Anthony Van Dyck
National Gallery London

Martin Luther’s confession of “Christian Freedon” with his belief in need for rigid social order is reconciled by his writing on what he consider the “two kingdoms.” Luther’s understanding of these separate realms comes from a treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian (1520), in which he sets forth two propositions: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Although these statements appear to contradict one another, Luther notes that he is simply quoting the Apostle Paul who writes, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all” (1 Cor. 9:19). These seemingly contradictory ideas of freedom and obedience lay the foundation for how Luther goes on to distinguish heaven from earth, state and church, and law from Gospel.

Luther’s treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian” strikes at the very heart of Reformation theology which confesses salvation as free gift through faith alone. Luther scours both old and new testaments finding one confession and one testament in Christ and Christ alone. Herein can he see Scripture in two parts consisting of God’s encounter with his creature which expresses both command and promise – crushing encounter with law – and gracious address through promise in Christ. The commands take place most concretely through the Ten Commandments received by Moses on Mount Sinai. These commandments for Luther do not hold any value as pertaining to salvation but provide a different purpose, “They (commandments) are intended to teach man to know himself, in through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability,” (57). This desperation and helplessness are not detrimental to acquiring righteousness, but rather absolutely necessary for the reception of the Gospel. The Holy Gospel supersedes and eradicates the condemnation of the law for God himself bears it and executes judgment and justice in and of himself.

Receiving this promise, Luther notes from the Gospel of John is a matter of faith alone, which of itself is not of human design but passively received gift, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He has sent.” This immersion into the Gospel by God’s work is how Luther begins his explanation of the nature of “Christian liberty.” His understanding of freedom spring from an exchange of faith coupled with the promise of the crucifixion of the old man whose nature had thus clung to the law rather than promise, “Faith, which is a small and perfect fulfillment of the law, will fill believers with so great a righteousness that they will need nothing more to become righteous.” This magnificent exchange for Luther means that the righteousness and glory of Jesus Christ is imputed to the faithful as attributes which can rightfully be called ones very own. In the same way, the failed commandments and curse of sin extending to the whole of humanity throughout time is placed upon Jesus and drowned in his death on the cross. Luther writes of this freedom is much lovelier terms, using holy marriage to describe this exchange:

Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he take the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers. (p. 60).

The grand way in which Luther speaks of this union reveals the depth of passion he holds for such an exchange and his certainty of such as event. This certainty is grasped by faith and the exchange Luther paints is not metaphorical but God’s act in Christ in which he weds himself to the church through the Son. The freedom he speaks of is secure in the gift of faith, which overrides the damnation of the law, while acquiring the bridegroom of Jesus Christ and his gifts of salvation and eternal life.

As the freedom of a Christian deals with receiving faith, life, and salvation from God, Luther views vocation as a position where the Christian freely serves his or her neighbor in fervent love and kindness. Although this love is created and fed by faith, vocation does not exact a governing role over faith. In the way that salvation is claimed by God in Christ in the spiritual realm, love takes root by and through faith in daily vocation. The works that take place in vocation do not merit any divine or redemptive favor. In Luther’s Large Catechism he further distinguishes the two kingdoms: “In God’s sight it is actually faith that makes a person holy, it alone serves God, while our works serve people,” (LC 406). In other words we might say, “God does not need your help but desires faith” – a faith which is ultimately claimed in Christ’s reordering of the cosmos in the crucifixion and resurrection. Visually, vocation and the temporal realm can be seen as existing on a horizontal plane in which a Christian does not escape from the world but is rather organically reincorporated into it for the purpose God’s love toward his creation. The spiritual realm is accessed vertically by Christ’s descent into the flesh of the virgin – who encounters man and remakes him at the event of the cross. Although distinguished realms (temporal and spiritual) they are not wholly separated for the Christian but rather reconciled and brought into a divine ordered harmony.

It is Luther’s understanding that coerced social order by temporal governance is not necessary for the baptized Christian who is faithfully nurtured in the spiritual milk of Christ’s cross but remains divine in its origin serving the common good, suppressing evil and preserving peace. The ‘realist’ might be critical of this assessment, yet Luther is ever focused on the wholly new creation who finds true freedom in the new slavery of God’s justifying act in and through Christ, “This I that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness of wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man’s righteousness and salvation.” Therefore, this freedom is otherworldly – marked by God’s reestablished communion with his creation – in which God is creator, man is creature – and the alienation from the law is consumed and buried – forever forgotten. This relationship in Christ has a “vertical” quality, which contrasts the earthly realm of family, neighbors, rules, and various social roles. This is to say that the established relationship between Creator and creature is unassailable by all that which exists throughout the bitter despairs, challenges and temptations of daily life. Luther notes however, that God is ruler of both kingdom, “First we must provide a sound basis for the civil law and sword so no one will doubt that it is in the world by God’s will and ordinance,” (Temporal 85). However, later on in Luther’s treatise on temporal government he also writes that redeemed Christians suffer and persist in daily life apart from coercive civil law:

"…among themselves (Christians) and by and for themselves, need no law or sword, since it is neither necessary nor useful for them. Since a true Christian lives and labors on earth not for himself alone but for his neighbor, he does by the very nature of his spirit even what he himself has no need of, but is needful and useful to his neighbor. Because the sword is most beneficial and necessary for the whole world inorder to preserve peace, punish sin, and restrain the wicked, the Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to function and be held in honor and fear." (temporal 94).

For an ex-communicated heretic his reverence for authority may be surprising. Luther is careful to continue with precise distinction between his understanding of the spiritual and earthly kingdoms. His theology never borders on Christians utopias as remotely possible. Although he retains a belief that the new creature in Christ fulfils and exceeds temporal law obediently and joyfully, such theocratic or Christian governance is impossible, “…for the world and masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name” (Temporal 91). From Luther’s own personal experience with “anfechtungens,” his awareness of the enormity of sin and the human condition without external restraints he describes as, “…loosing the ropes and chains of the savage wild beasts and letting them bite and mangle everyone…” This worldly government he sees as necessary to subdue disorder and evil passions while administering earthly justice. In Luther’s lecture on Genesis he historically pieces together how the fallen man made the care-free social order of paradise into a coercive order through which civil law must function:

“Moreover, there was no government of the state before sin, for there was no need of it. Civil government is remedy required by our corrupted nature. It is necessary that lust be held in check by the bonds of the laws and by penalties. For this reason you may correctly call civil government the rule of sin, just as Paul calls Moses also the minister of death and sin.”

This post-sin justice from the law is universal and cross-cultural and maintains social order in a way to protect people in body and property. The earthly life of a free Christian is bound to secular authorities and its social, financial, and physical demands. The spiritual life of a free Christian is not jeopardized by the various offices of vocation expressed in the horizontal plane with all the possible elements of diversity assumed by a given post.

It is common for many to confuse the kingdoms of heaven and earth, to merge them, contort them, or alternatively to complete separate them as did the Gnostic heresies. For example, some protest the act of war and killing as intrinsically evil and contradictory to the faith of Christian. Although Luther is well aware of the misery of war and injustice, he also clearly sees the other side of war, “But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honors and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish,” (Whether Soldiers Too Can be Saved p. 96).

Retributive killing in response to murder, Luther sees as divine in its origin, rooted in Cain’s fear of the sword after killing Abel, as well as God’s extremely definitive laws after the flood, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Luther sees capital punishment as a basic precept of earthly justice which remains constant regardless of the winds of political or moral persuasion, “The credit or blame belong to men if this law instituted by God is not carried out; just as other commandments of God, too, are broken” (Temporal Authority 88).

It is important to understand vocations defined by war and punishment, to highlight the visualization of the volatility of various earthly offices, to grasp Luther’s conviction that the free and faithful Christian is undisturbed in matter of faith. We have seen the necessity of the offices of the civil judge, the soldier, and the executioner. These offices, in which violence and killing can be commonplace, can be maintained by the free Christian fulfilling his or her civil duties commanded by God. Luther insists that while the soul is bound up in the body of Christ, the body remaining in this earthly life remains bound to worldly rulers. Therefore the duties that go along with these offices pertain to earthly justice and matters of civic duty, which can neither jeopardize or nullify standing with God. Earthly justice therefore must be carefully distinguished from spiritual justice which is only defined through means of grace and Christ’s encounter with his dearly beloved.

In Luther’s treatise, “Whether Soldiers Too, Can Be Saved,” he writes, “For the very fact that the sword has been instituted by God to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve peace is powerful and sufficient proof that war and killing along with all the things that accompany wartime and martial law and have been instituted by God” (p. 95). The violence and “all things accompany” wartime having no impact on salvation for the free Christian seems very much a liberating concept for the consciences of those holding offices dealing in such works of violence and turmoil. Luther makes certain to even reach out to the executioner, the most feared villain in medieval society – to extend mercy and calm his conscience, “There must be those who arrest, prosecute, execute, and destroy the wicked…” (p. 103). One can imagine a masked executioner holding a blood sword after severing the head of a criminal, yet if Christian, remains faithful and righteous before God in both spiritual and civic realms.

Luther’s reverence for social order as directed by civil government is absolute, yet for the free Christian does have its’ limits. Where temporal government has dominion over the citizenry and property, its’ authority comes to a screeching halt where it encroaches on spiritual matter, “Therefore where the temporal authority presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads souls and destroys them” (p. 105). This type of infringement would be for a government to coerce a soul to believe that which is contradictory to Scripture, or to inhibit the hearing of the gospel and the reception of the sacraments of the church. The teaching and treasures of the church are handed over to Bishops and Pastors to be servants of Christ and freely give to all. As for heresy, government is also incapable of serving the church – for the sword is of no use, “Here God’s Word must do the fighting (p. 114).

In response to a government which coerces unbelief in matter of faith or hinders Christ gifts, Luther instructs the free Christian to rebuke the corrupt authority by saying, “It is not fitting that Lucifer should sit at the side of God. Gracious Sir, I owe you obedience in body and property; command me within the limits of your authority on earth, and I will obey” (p. 112). Therefore, government has no divinely ordained right to sit with God and intrude upon matter of the soul. This passage also highlights the confusion of the two kingdoms that such a government would seek.

Luther never entices a Christian reader to raise up against such an authority but to only deny its’ power in the territory of the spiritual realm, which carries faith. The matter of faith for the free Christian is not to react with hostility or anger to temporal rule. Luther’s every thought and argument is focused squarely on new life in Christ, which leaves no room for violent or hostile resistance to authority, “Christians do every good thing of their own accord and without constraint, and find God’s word alone sufficient for them” (p. 118).

Christian freedom is a new state of affairs where liberty is marked by release from the law and condemnation where a submissive and peaceful heart operate joyfully in the social order under temporal authorities. Luther asserts that God has dominion over both spiritual and earthly kingdoms, where only the Christian can find harmony between the two - mediated by God’s act on the cross. The Christian who receives citizenship in heaven is not spiritually deterred or jeopardized by faithful execution of one’s God-given vocation. God divinely rules through civil government and works all things for his creation through his established social order. As for the intricacies of social justice as relates to temporal matters, Luther is not excessively entrenched, for his meditations are focused wholly on the condition of the soul for the free Christian, where temporal rule cannot tread.

For a Christological Interpretation of Temporal Authority I have written here.

Financial Bailout

Everybody I have talked to seems to be screaming "no" to the automotive bailout. This comes on top of the massive financial bailout of the mortgage crisis. There is an astounding discrepancy between the view of ordinary Americans and Washington leadership. These bailouts are alleviating any responsibility from the irresponsible banking processes - highly leveraged mortgages. At the root of the crisis is the desire for Americans to live beyond their means - cars, houses, property are not rights - not entitlements - but fruits of long hard work.

The democrats and president elect seem to be most in favor of the massive bailout of the big three auto companies - being bound to the unions - The taxpayer will pay a frighteningly high burden to very temporarily sustain the auto companies. The billions of dollars poured into auto companies from tax payers does nothing to address competitiveness and the root causes of the trouble facing the economy. The ingenuity and inventiveness of engineers and American labor ought to have free reign. Cars made in the East are produced from essentially slave labor. Eastern cars makers are pumping out high quality cars for cheap. There is little chance for American auto companies to stay competitive with the slave-labor produced cars from the Asia. To compete I would put those in the the American prison system into automotive factories to exploit our own free labor. American auto workers would maintain their positions, taking more specialized jobs to bodly compete with a higher product.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bayer's 'Justification as Creation'

Detail of Creation of the Sun and Moon
at Sistine Chapel 1508-1512

Oswald Bayer Writes:

"...justification is simply not an isolated topic, next to which other topics can exist; it has essential importance and its connected with every topic. Justification does not affect just my individual life, not even just the history of the world, but impacts the history of nature as well; it affects all things. It is thus not sufficient to speak of the article on justification solely as the arciculus statis et cadentis ecclesiae - as the article on which the church stands and falls. Instead, the meaning of justification must be taken seriously in its breadth, with ramifications that have application for a theology of creation and for ontology." (p. 98)

Justification is an act of creation by God - his will which is independent of man's will to create and make himself. The way we often think of justification is that it is one of many doctrines of the church. Bayer is suggesting that it is an ontological performative act of God - justification is creatio ex nihilo. Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the forgiveness of sins are given as gift in the same way that the heavens, earth, and seas are whisked into creation.

The Lutheran Confessions grasp this - that salvation is given as gift by and through faith - given by Christ freely - through God's binding act at the incarnation and cross.

Both the marxist and capitalist abhor that God becomes man and creates 'out of nothing.' In this way, right and left are no different - for they see the human unit as a unit of production who must essentially justify himself. That humanity is spoken into creation - spoken into actualization - and spoken into Christ's redemptive act is the great scandal to all.

God clothes us with an imputed righteousness - alien to ourselves but now wholly ours - given by the wedding ring of faith. God's act on the cross is the creation restored in him. The same God who hovered above the waters is the God who is baptizing, giving His name - who continues to create, sustain, and enliven. The God who creates justifies because it is his nature to love justice and who's justice is to love and rectify to the point of death on a cross. And his justice is grace upon grace, riches upon riches. The God of creation is the God who gives himself completely and justifies the ungodly.


I've been spending some time with Michel Foucault - particularly his writings on discipline and punishment and his analysis of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison system...Will write more later...
Gramma, mom, and myself

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bach Collegium

Not enough can be said for the sacred music sung by the Bach Collegium on Sunday afternoon. Bach's Sing to the Lord a New Song, some Schuetz and a Brahms funeral piece. The Brahms funeral work was gorgeous and so moving it would not have seemed unnatural at the more climatic moments in the piece that Christ might rupture the building wide and bring all to completion. Thanks to the Bach Collegium singers of Fort Wayne - a great treasure of sacred music of the church has been preserved, shared, and celebrated.

I'm looking forward to the coming Messiah Sing Along on December 2nd at Queen of the Angels Catholic Church. I hope to see everybody there.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Galations 4:1-7

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Taking of Christ (1602)
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Galatians 4:1-7

This text is a compelling confession encapsulating the entire cosmological account, creation, sin, slavery, and God’s incarnational offensive. The letter as a whole is personally intimate as Paul reveals the content of his heart and the marks of Jesus on his body, which testify to the scandalous nature of the cross. He rebukes the Judaizers with vicious rhetorical theological stabs for jeopardizing the reception of redemption in Christ by their teaching on the law. The power of the law is a cosmic and elementary power which can snatch those baptized back in the yoke of slavery. Therefore this letter has a place in reformation history for recovering a proper understanding of faith alone, as gift of Christ whereby the rectification of a sinful world is purified in the cross. The forensic character of justification of the individual sinner triumphs in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Galatian letter, however emphasizes the unity of the human community which has universally been subject to the enslaving power of the law in sin. God’s incarnation in the world and under the law to redeem all whom are enslaved drains us of our Calvinist blood, and places us in a wholly new creation, which is in God Himself.

This text is one of several climatic addresses within the letter. It follows after a brief historical unfolding of the promise made to Abraham and to his offspring, in which Paul points out is indeed the Christ (3:16). A short commentary on the delivery of the law and its use is set forth, concluding that the scriptures imprisoned (sygkleio) everything under sin. The termination of slavery is marked not by a teaching, an idea, or state of mind but an aggressive act – a decisive and absolute physical incursion. The imprisonment and captivity of the law is binding until the (note definite article) faith came (v. 23). This invasion of faith is the incarnation of Christ. The word faith (pistiv) and Christ are used interchangeably. The faith which has been apocalyptically made public through Christ is received through Holy Baptism, in which Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female is truly incorporated into man who is fully God - Jesus. In light of this advent of faith in Christ, the proper understanding of the promise given to Abraham is revealed, which is Christ and Christ only. Now that Paul has clarified Abraham’s role in salvation history, apart from law, circumcision, and race can he paint the broader portrait of the covenant promised. Only now can he speak of the radical nature of the promise and what it truly means to be sons and heirs.

1. I say that the heir so long as he is a child. The radical nature of the promise and sonship is to indeed receive it as a child (Mk 10:15). The use of heir (klnponomos) and child (vnpios) do not function as mere metaphors to describe the relation in Christ. The drama being described uses these words in the fullest and most real sense, anticipating and realizing the new creation as a fashioning and performing of these titles. Though he is no different from a slave, though he is Lord over all. The heir of the promise of faith is a slave. Paul uses doulos not simply referring to the piety of service based upon the reconciliation of God, though this does occur as a matter of course. The heir of God however, is killed and born into slavery in childlike innocence and unconditional trust, a true restoration of heaven. Being made a slave is the source of Christian freedom in which the baptized lacks nothing.

2. but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Paul believes the Christian is the Lord over all not in a purely eschatological way only in the future, but truly in the "here and now." The liberation by means of God’s act on the cross does not elevate the baptized into an omniscient body that is not subject to authority and guardians. The liberated son finds life in the absolute trust received only by faith given in Christ’s movement into the human heart. This divine slavery finds life not only in trust in the heavenly father but as a consequence also in all authority, pastors, parents, and neighbors. That the baptized awaits the time appointed by the Father’s mirrors Jesus’ passion in which he also awaited His father’s appointed time. Paul knowing the scriptures and the evangelist’s gospel sees the church’s life only in Christ’s passion. That Jesus preached that no one knew the appointed time except the Father has been an unresolved problem in theology (Mt. 24:36). Jesus’ apparent absence of divine omniscience is commonly understood as an act of humility. Though in God’s redemptive act, His own Son reestablishes, fulfills, models, and presents the majestic glory of the purest love and communion in, with, and of God. It seems Paul, in light of the epistles movement, sees the appointed time as crucifixion of the old cosmos in Christ’s cross. This appointed time (prothesmia tou patros) is itself the crucifixion, particular to a precise moment in history under Roman powers, yet also reverberating across the expanse of the heavens and earth. The community of the church, as Jesus himself embodies, is Lord over all not because he and she is manipulating and controlling future events but because God is love and so dearly desires our own love. And he claims it in Christ.

3. In the same way also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary spirits of the cosmos. Martyn finds the drama set forth in vv 3-5 to be "nothing less than the theological center of the entire letter (Martyn 388)." The enslavement is set in an imperfect tense, expounding on the horrid sustained oppression of the cosmos held in chaos by elementary spirits. This oppression as children, subject to the enslaving power of the cosmos is the nightmarish bondage into which one is born. This state of affairs as an enslaved child to the elementary spirits is contrasted to the brand new state of affairs where the child’s inheritance is of all things, given in the act of crucifixion.

4. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born from a woman, born under the law. The theological precision of this verse is remarkable for it provides a summation of the cosmological character of the Redemption that God sends. This is the answer to the enslavement. It is solely God’s act, not dependent upon the manners or movement of the helpless child of the prior stage of existence. Regarding God’s act of redemption Martyn perceptively notes its aggressive nature, "Paul does not think of a gradual maturation, but rather a punctiliar liberation enacted by God in his own sovereign time" (389). This rapid fire confession of this great redemptive act contains all the elements of a refined and polished creedal statement. It has the genus idiomaticum, the incarnatus, and Dei passio in that he is born of Mary and under the law. Paul’s understanding of the law in the Galatians letter is not limited to a neat litany of prohibitions in the Torah but expresses a more supernatural power, the very binding of the human race (5:1-2). The power of the law is a demonic force which can compromise the gospel and hurl one back into the bondage of slavery. Yet, Paul confesses that the Son of God is born under this law and the elementary principles of the prior captive age. This bold incursion of God into a cosmos governed by evil and enslaving elements presents a incalculable conflict that suggests an illustration of God’s action that only Christus Victor can address.

5. In order that he might redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. The hina clause illumines why God initiates his battle, born of the Virgin, subjecting himself to the enslaving cosmos. Paul’s theology confesses the very reception of God’s redemption as the very act of victory to reign in the new creation. With the hina and reception (apolambano) we can hear Jesus’ great uper umwv as a blessed and holy invitation to partake of adoption as God’s very own.

6. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" Paul can rightly declare his addressees as sons because of their baptisms into the church. He is speaking the liturgy and returns them to God’s act in them. In this way the liberation from the enslaving cosmos is a returning to baptism which is the beginning and ending of God’s act on the cross. Only through Holy Baptism which truly liberates, crucifies, recreates, and strengthens can the son truly be a son and cry out the Lord’s Prayer before the community of the faithful. The filioque is set forth as Jesus shares in the full deity the Father, sending His spirit into human hearts claiming them as his own. The full communicative union is now complete as the Father sees all humanity incorporated into his Son, whom he loves and finds pleasing. By the crucifixion in baptism, the new creation can come out from her hiding place, awaking from a long nightmare whose peaceful end had been promised since the beginning.

7. So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God. This is Paul’s magnum opus in which he tears apart the erroneous and limited promise likely espoused by the Judaizers for claming Abraham and following in the law. The false teachers have made a mockery of God’s work, stripped Christ of his glory, and pointed back to the enslaving principles of the supernatural and demonic power of the law. Paul is preaching the communion the Galatians already have in God through Jesus Christ. Though God has always been present among his people he has now performed the act which is the only act that matters. The crucifixion and resurrection given to the church is itself the incarnation in which God heals every wound and calms every terror. ‘God with us’ takes on a meaning that only Luther can rightly express that God is "with us in mud and in work, so that his skin smokes." This singular cosmic act rectifies everything that has gone awry and violently wages war against every enslaving power – law, flesh, and idolatry. Finding sonship in God and His inheritance for Paul is composed in the person of Jesus whose greatest invitation is love toward creation. Being an heir to God is receiving Him in such a way that orients humanity toward and organically into one another, as Jesus immerses himself into his church.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distinctive Nature of Lutheran Hymnody

Hans Holbein the Younger
detail of "The French Ambassadors"
On desk is a copy of Johann Walther's "Geystliches Gesangb├╝chlein" (Hymnal) (Wittenberg 1524), containing Luther's hymns, along with a Lute, which Luther was very skilled at.

The Lutheran Church is the “singing church.” She sings at the home, at church, at work, and at the market place. She must sing because she is filled with the Gospel and preserved steadfast in the church. Luther writes “Following the example of the prophets and fathers of the church, I intend to make German Psalms for the people, i.e., spiritual songs so that the Word of God even by means of song may live among the people.”[1] The Reformation was a movement that was constantly singing – after all the Gospel was recovered and given back to the people after years of papist abuse. The alleluias and glorias poured forth with new and revived vigor. The purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was given back to the blacksmith, the farmer, the peasant, and the children. There was a flourishing of hymns produced particularly in the years 1523 and 1524 in which the catechism and many psalms were set to hymns. The Reformation reclaimed the universal priesthood of all believers, in which all Christians could approach the altar, receive grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy, and joy upon joy.

What distinguishes Lutheran hymns is a theology which gives God’s name in baptism, proclaims the justification of the sinner for Christ’s sake, and nurtures the saint unto the final resting place. Justification apart from work or merit, freely given and freely received is always the proclamation. It is the proclamation and the beauty in which it is lyrically declared that ultimately defines the hymn. Proclamation deals not with speculation and mere subjective feelings but with certain events which resonate in the halls of heaven and in the divine liturgy of the church. The event of God’s incarnation and Christ’s Passion frames the body of Lutheran hymnody in which the church ultimately find their only identity – that of Jesus.

A hymn’s proclamation is set forth in the performative word which is not dependent upon the interdisciplinary will of the church but her passivity and receptivity to Christ’s mercy poured out for all. Lutheran hymnody does not probe the inner depth of the Christian in the pew, searching the human heart for some divine spark or emotional appeal. The appeal, emotion, and depth are only in Christ’s heart and pierced side for his creation. Therefore the gaze of the Lutheran hymn is not an inwardly focused meditation but an outwardly (extra nos) focus on Christ’s cross. It does not seek anywhere else. It seeks and proclaims the God who reveals himself in Christ. It does not provide guesswork, or suppositions of a God not revealed, a God not preached. In the transfiguration it is God who says to Peter, James, and John “Listen to him!” In worship and in the sacred music of the church it is the oratio, meditatio, tentatio which remains transfixed simply on the words and promise of Jesus. Christ’s words actually give life out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). A true hymn does not point to a sign or symbol, but sung and heard truly perform God’s work and create faith.

The comfort of the Lutheran hymn is in a historical event, that he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered for our offenses, rising on the third day for the remission of sins. In the historical event of the cross, Jesus and His church recline outside of time before the heavenly father. It is in this objectivity, this certain eternal event – surely given and received through the gift of faith, in which the church finds comfort.

Luther encouraged the congregation to sing and pointed to a wide variety of traditions. From the melody of the Sanctus of the Missa in deominicis adventus et quadragesimae he wrote “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old (LSB 960).” He wrote “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest (LSB 498)” based upon the hymn in the Latin Daily Office of Prayer. The richness of the Psalter also provides prayerful hymn meditations such as “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” (ps. 130), as well as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (ps. 46). Luther understood music as a gift from God. He also believed it had the power to chase away the devil and awaken faith. Luther writes, “For the evil spirit is ill at ease wherever God’s Word is sung or preached in true faith. He is a spirit of gloom and cannot abide where he finds a spiritually happy heart, that is, where the heart rejoices in God and in His Word.”[2] For this reason, during the reformation, congregational singing was set on the same level as the Pastor’s preaching and the prayers of the church. It was and still is a method of preaching and spreading doctrine. Due to the free expression of the doctrine of the church, that of Christ and him crucified, Lutheran hymns provide comfort. Robin Leaver, in his analysis of Luther’s liturgical music comes to this conclusion, “For Luther, therefore, music is a God-given benefit to humankind: it may be developed and refined in new ways, but the raw material of music – physical vibrations in the air, the proportions and relationships of different pitches, and so forth – is absolutely and fundamentally the gift of God in creation.”[3]

During the Reformation Luther called poets, lyricists, and musicians to write hymns for the church. Children learned catechetical hymns and melodies which they in turn taught to their parents and anyone interested. Theology was given back to the people as hymns such as Dear Christians One and All Rejoice and Salvation Unto Us Has Come were sung across Germany.
Theology and the proclamation of God’s Word guides the body of Lutheran hymnody. Theology is dead if it does not sing. As David declares, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him,” (ps. 98:1). Saint Paul admonishes Christians to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (eph. 5:19). It is not that God needs our song but rather that he gives it to us as a gift so that we might rejoice, teach, and build one another up in the true faith. If theology expresses it self in hymns it must also be true that the sacred music expressed is thoroughly Christological.
We must be honest that a great deal of hymns circulating in the greater church are not thoroughly Christological in content but rather appeal to the base emotions and fleeting sentiments. Carl Shalk writes about Lutheran hymnody:

Music in the church functions as viva vox evangelii, as the “living voice of the Gospel,” proclaiming His Word to the world. Its does this, as music is associated with texts that speak clearly and directly of Law and Gospel, of sin and salvation. From such a perspective, music in the church can never be simply teacher, pedagogue, entertainer, or another way of filling the Christian community with useful information. It is the living Gospel itself, laying bare a person’s utter alienation from God, always accusing yet always bringing the final word of reconciliation, hope, and promise. Texts, therefore, are of crucial importance. But so is music itself with which those texts are associated.[4]

The catholicity of Lutheran hymnody is proven by its mass appeal across the globe. No one proves this better than the Lutheran J.S. Bach who took the church’s music and gave it flight into the heavens and back. Bach is more popular than Luther around the globe for introducing Lutheran theology and sacred music. His music has awed the world and preached to millions. Bach took the Holy Gospel and Luther’s catechetical drive and proclaimed it through heavenly cantatas, passions, and sacred music. Jaroslav Pelikan quotes Friedrich Smend, who writes, “Bach’s cantatas are not intended to be works of music or art on their own, but to carry on, by their own means, the work of Luther, the preaching of the word and of nothing but the word.”[5] Because the sacred music preached by God is nothing but the Word and the Word alone it transcends all cultures and all times. It is not culturally bound or bound to any point in time. This is the mark of the corpus of Lutheran hymnody – that its proclamation and movement into the human heart be fixed on Christ’s cross alone.

The cross of Christ is eternally before the Father and therefore Lutheran hymns continue to be composed and sung. The catholicity of the sacred music of the church ensures that hymns continue to be composed and written. As God lacks a free will to come and save his people, so the church lacks a free will to compose new hymns. All theologies of glory must be crucified so that a hymn can take flight from the renewed heart of the baptized Christian. In the Divine Liturgy of the church a much greater chorus of voices is present in the everyday chorales and canticles sung among the faithful.

[1] LW 15:274

[3] Leaver, Robin A (2007). Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications. Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans (p. 70).
[4] Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988, p. 51.
[5] Bach Among the Theologians. Eugene:Wipf and Stock Publishing House, 1986, p. 26.