Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pope Benedict's Sermon on Christmas Eve

A friend sent the link to the text of Pope Benedict's Christmas Eve sermon (Thanks Matt!). I found this following excerpt wonderful. It is highly resonant with Luther's sermon on the Nativity.

Pope Benedict preached on Psalm 2 and the phrase, "The Lord said to me, you are my son, this day have I begotten you.":
But there is more: in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself became man. To him the Father says: “You are my son.” God's everlasting “today” has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God's eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendour and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you.” God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendour of that “today,” of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.
(The full text may be found at .)

Luther's sermon is not dealing with Psalm 2, but the Nativity, and the phrase from Benedict, " he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him," is reminiscent where Luther says that God's majesty is not what we contemplate in the Nativity but his utter human vulnerability. In the Incarnation, the Son of God becomes pure gospel. "Trust him! Trust him!" Luther cries. It is no wonder that Christmas is many Christians' favorite festival. Here we have a picture of God who comes to us in complete defenselessness, utter dependence, and yet to save. That God thinks enough of us to come to us is awesome on its own, but that God trusts us to be dependent on human parents is itself perhaps even more incredible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Luther on the Annunciation...

To this poor maiden marvelous things were announced: that she should be the mother of the All Highest, whose name should be the Son of God. He would be a King and of his Kingdom there would be no end. It took a mighty reach of faith to believe that this baby would play such a role. Well, Mary might have said, “Who am I, little worm, that I should bear a King?” She shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it; and because she believed, God did to her as he said…. there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child, that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of the three. The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin had been chosen to be the mother of God… [1]

[1] Bainton, Roland H., ed., Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1948, pp. 14-15

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Incarnation

From the online archive of Hans Urs von Balthasar, an excerpt of a Christmas meditation on the Incarnation.

But who will step out along this road that leads from God's glory to the figure of the poor Child lying in the manger? Not the person who is taking a walk for his own pleasure. He will walk along other paths that are more likely to run in the opposite direction, paths that lead from the misery of his own existence toward some imaginary or dreamed-up attempt at a heaven, whether of a brief pleasure or of a long oblivion. The only one to journey from heaven, through the world, to the hell of the lost, is he who is aware, deep in his heart, of a mission to do so; such a one obeys a call that is stronger than his own comfort and his resistance. This is a call that has complete power and authority over my life; I submit to it because it comes from a higher plane than my entire existence. It is an appeal to my heart, demanding the investment of my total self; its hidden, magisterial radiance obliges me, willy-nilly, to submit. I may not know who it is that so takes me into his service. But one thing I do know: if l stay locked within myself, if I seek myself, I shall not find the peace that is promised to the man on whom God's favor rests. I must go. I must enter the service of the poor and imprisoned. I must lose my soul if I am to regain it, for so long as I hold onto it, I shall lose it. This implacable, silent word (which yet is so unmistakable) burns in my heart and will not leave me in peace.
For all of our talk about the spirit of Christmas, Balthasar truly reaches into it. Too often we are told that the spirit of Christmas is inside each of us. NOT SO! There is no peace inside us. We must go as the shepherds did to behold the peace that laid in swaddling cloths in a manger.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus' Sermon on the Annunciation

Again have we the glad tidings of joy, again the announcements of liberty, again the restoration, again the return, again the promise of gladness, again the release from slavery. An angel talks with the Virgin, in order that the serpent may no more have converse with the woman. In the sixth month, it is said, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin espoused to a man. Gabriel was sent to declare the world-wide salvation: Gabriel was sent to bear to Adam the signature of his restoration; Gabriel was sent to a virgin, in order to transform the dishonour of the female sex into honour; Gabriel was sent to prepare the worthy chamber for the pure spouse; Gabriel was sent to wed the creature with the Creator; Gabriel was sent to the animate palace of the King of the angels; Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to Joseph, but preserved for Jesus the Son of God. The incorporeal servant was sent to the virgin undefiled. One free from sin was sent to one that admitted no corruption. The light was sent that should announce the Sun of righteousness. The dawn was sent that should precede the light of the day. Gabriel was sent to proclaim Him who is in the bosom of the Father, and who yet was to be in the arms of the mother. Gabriel was sent to declare Him who is upon the throne, and yet also in the cavern. The subaltern was sent to utter aloud the mystery of the great King; the mystery, I mean, which is discerned by faith, and which cannot be searched out by officious curiosity; the mystery which is to be adored, not weighed; the mystery which is to be taken as a thing divine, and not measured. "In the sixth month Gabriel was sent to a virgin." What is meant by this sixth month? What? It is the sixth month from the time when Elisabeth received the glad tidings, from the time that she conceived John. And how is this made plain? The archangel himself gives us the interpretation, when he says to the virgin: "Behold, thy relation Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is now the sixth month with her, who was called barren." In the sixth month--that is evidently, therefore, the sixth month of the conception of John. For it was meet that the subaltern should go before; it was meet thai: the attendant should precede; it was meet that the herald of the Lord's coming should prepare the way for Him. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man; espoused, not united; espoused, yet kept intact. And for what purpose was she espoused? In order that the spoiler might not learn the mystery prematurely. For that the King was to come by a virgin, was a fact known to the wicked one. For he too heard these words of Isaiah: 4, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son."And on every occasion, consequently, he kept watch upon the virgin's words, in order that, whenever this mystery should be fulfilled, he might prepare her dishonour. Wherefore the Lord came by an I espoused virgin, in order to elude the notice of the wicked one; for one who was espoused was pledged in fine to be her husband's. "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph." Hear what the prophet says about this man and the virgin: "This book that is sealed shall be delivered to a man that is learned." What is meant by this sealed book, but just the virgin undefiled? From whom is this to be given? From the priests evidently. And to whom? To the artisan Joseph. As, then, the priests espoused Mary to Joseph as to a prudent husband, and committed her to his care in expectation of the time of marriage, and as it behoved him then on obtaining her to keep the virgin untouched, this was announced by the prophet long before, when he said: "This book that is sealed shall be delivered to a man that is learned." And that man will say, I cannot read it. But why canst thou not read it, O Joseph? I cannot read it, he says, because the book is sealed. For whom, then, is it preserved? It is preserved as a place of sojourn for the Maker of the universe. But let us return to our immediate subject. In the sixth month Gabriel was sent to a virgin -- he who received, indeed, such injunctions as these: "Come hither now, archangel, and become the minister of a dread mystery which has been kept hid, and be thou the agent in the miracle. I am moved by my compassions to descend to earth in order to recover the lost Adam. Sin hath made him decay who was made in my image, and hath corrupted the work of my hands, and hath obscured the beauty which I formed. The wolf devours my nursling, the home of paradise is desolate, the tree of life is guarded by the flaming sword, the location of enjoyments is closed. My pity is evoked for the object of this enmity, and I desire to seize the enemy. Yet I wish to keep this mystery, which I confide to thee alone, still hid from all the powers of heaven. Go thou, therefore, to the Virgin Mary. Pass thou on to that animate city whereof the prophet spake in these words: 'Glorious things were spoken of thee, O city of God.' Proceed, then, to my rational paradise; proceed to the gate of the east; proceed to the place of sojourn that is worthy of my word; proceed to that second heaven on earth; proceed to the light cloud, and announce to it the shower of my coming; proceed to the sanctuary prepared for me; proceed to the hall of the incarnation; proceed to the pure chamber of my generation after the flesh. Speak in the ears of my rational ark, so as to prepare for me the accesses of hearing. But neither disturb nor vex the soul of the virgin.

Manifest thyself in a manner befitting that sanctuary, and hail her first with the voice of gladness. And address Mary with the saturation, 'Hail, thou that art highly favoured,' that I may show compassion for Eve in her depravation."

The archangel heard these things, and considered them within himself, as was reason able, and said: "Strange is this matter; passing comprehension is this thing that is spoken. He who is the object of dread to the cherubim, He who cannot be looked upon by the seraphim, He who is incomprehensible to all the heavenly powers, does He give the assurance of His connection with a maiden? does He announce His own personal coming? yea more, does He hold out an access by hearing? and is He who condemned Eve, urgent to put such honour upon her daughter? For He says: 'So as to prepare for me the accesses of hearing.' But can the womb contain Him who cannot be contained in space? Truly this is a dread mystery." While the angel is indulging such reflections, the Lord says to Him: "Why art thou troubled and perplexed, O Gabriel? Hast thou not already been sent by me to Zacharias the priest? Hast thou not conveyed to him the glad tidings of the nativity of John? Didst thou not inflict upon the incredulous priest the penalty of speechlessness? Didst thou not punish the aged man with dumbness? Didst thou not make thy declaration, and I confirmed it? And has not the actual fact followed upon thy announcement of good? Did not the barren woman conceive? Did not the womb obey the word? Did not the malady of sterility depart? Did not the inert disposition of nature take to flight? Is not she now one that shows fruitfulness, who before was never pregnant? Can anything be impossible with me, the Creator of all? Wherefore, then, art thou tossed with doubt?" What is the angel's answer to this? "O Lord," he says, "to remedy the defects of nature, to do away with the blast of evils, to recall the dead members to the power of life, to enjoin on nature the potency of generation, to remove barrenness in the case of members that have passed the common limit, to change the old and withered stalk into the appearance of verdant vigour, to set forth the fruitless soil suddenly as the producer of sheaves of corn,--to do all this is a work which, as it is ever the case, demands Thy power. And Sarah is a witness thereto, and along with her also Rebecca, and again Anna, who all, though bound by the dread ill of barrenness, were afterwards gifted by Thee with deliverance from that malady. But that a virgin should bring forth, without knowledge of a man, is something that goes beyond all the laws of nature; and dost Thou yet announce Thy coming to the maiden? The bounds of heaven and earth do not contain Thee, and how shall the womb of a virgin contain Thee?" And the Lord says: "How did the tent of Abraham contain me?" And the angel says: "As there were there the deeps of hospitality, O Lord, Thou didst show Thyself there to Abraham at the door of the tent, and didst pass quickly by it, as He who filleth all things. But how can Mary sustain the fire of the divinity? Thy throne blazes with the illumination of its splendour, and can the virgin receive Thee without being consumed?" Then the Lord says: "Yea surely, if the fire in the wilderness injured the bush, my coming will indeed also injure Mary; but if that fire which served as the adumbration of the advent of the fire of divinity from heaven fertilized the bush, and did not burn it, what wilt thou say of the Truth that descends not in a flame of fire, but in the form of rain?" Thereupon the angel set himself to carry out the commission given him, and repaired to the Virgin, and addressed her with a loud voice, saying: "Hail, thou that are highly favoured! the Lord is with thee. No longer shalt the devil be against thee; for where of old that adversary inflicted the wound, there now first of all does the Physician apply the salve of deliverance. Where death came forth, there has life now prepared its entrance. By a woman came the flood of our ills, and by a woman also our blessings have their spring. Hail, thou that are highly favoured! Be not thou ashamed, as if thou wert the cause of our condemnation. For thou art made the mother of Him who is at once Judge and Redeemer. Hail, thou stainless mother of the Bridegroom of a world bereft! Hail, thou that hast sunk in thy womb the death (that came) of the mother (Eve)! Hail, thou animate temple of temple of God! Hail, thou equal home of heaven and earth alike! Hail, thou amplest receptacle of the illimitable nature!" But as these things are so, through her has come for the sick the Physician; for them that sit in darkness, the Sun of righteousness; for all that are tossed and tempest-beaten, the Anchor and the Port undisturbed by storm. For the servants in irreconcilable enmity has been born the Lord; and One has sojourned with us to be the bond of peace and the Redeemer of those led captive, and to be the peace for those involved in hostility. For He is our peace; and of that peace may it be granted that all we may receive the enjoyment, by the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory, honour, and power, now and ever, and unto all the ages of the ages. Amen.

Found at

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Interview with John Milbank

There is a fascinating interview with John Milbank over at The Other Journal. I am sure it will take a while before I digest and understand all that Milbank says here in his discussion of capitalism. But it is a very interesting read nonetheless. I am sure that I will have something to say about the interview at some point later on.

Grace and Peace,

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Response to Katrina and sin...

It can be escaped. As much as I try, I must wrestle with the hurricane and its dreadful aftermath. Internet news reports, television specials, newspaper accounts... all point to one huge fact. We are a sinful world. I don't mean this statement in the way some have meant it. New Orleans was not hit with a hurricane because it was more sinful than the rest of us. Katrina was not divine retribution. No.

What is apparent though is that we are sinful. No matter how we look at it, we are broken people who are curved in on ourselves, whether we are in the middle of the hurricane aftermath or not. In places that should have been sanctuaries, women were raped, and people killed. When the storm was coming, and people were evacuating, there were stories of people in SUV's leaving, but not taking others with them.

In the gospel lesson tomorrow, we hear the reading open with, "If another member of the Church sins against you..." So often we approach this part of Jesus' Church Sermon (Matt. 18) as a lesson on how to avoid conflict and be a healthy congregation by confronting those who sin against us. But WHAT IF, we approach this lesson from the other perspective... mainly that WE are the ones who are sinning against another brother or sister. Would we be ready to hear the accusations of another against us? Can we truly live in the Spirit and be open to our brother's or sister's solo approach? Will we be able to hear the cries of the Gulf Coast residents who cry out, "Where is our help? Why haven't you done anything?"

In this congregation, we have been studying the Large Catechism. Last Tuesday, we came across the fifth commandment, "You shall not kill." In his explanation, Luther radicalizes this commandment, so that none of us can say, "Ah! Kept that one!" Luther writes,
This, then is the brief summary of this commandment (to impress it most clearly upon the common people what this commandment means by “not killing”). First, we should not harm anyone, either by hand or deed. Next, we should not use our tongue to advocate or advise harming anyone. Furthermore, we should neither use nor sanction any means or methods whereby anyone may be mistreated. Finally, our heart should harbor no hostility or malice against anyone in a spirit of anger and hatred. Thus you should be blameless in body and soul toward all people, but especially toward anyone who wishes or does you evil. For to do evil to someone who desires good for you and does you good is not human but devilish.
In the second place, this commandment is violated not only when we do evil, but also when we have the opportunity to do good to our neighbors and to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm or injury, but fail to do so. If you send a naked person away when you could clothe him, you have let him freeze to death. If you see anyone who is suffering from hunger and do not feed her, you have let her starve. Likewise, if you see anyone who is condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him although you have means and ways to do so, you have killed him. It will be of no help for you to use the excuse that you did not assist their deaths by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from them and robbed them of the kindness by means of which their lives might have been saved.
You have withheld your love from them and robbed them of the kindness by means of which their lives might have been saved.

Is there anything more damning to us? As we respond, we are to respond in a way that would bring about the wholeness that God intends.

May we give till it hurts. Pray unceasingly. Bear the cross that we might truly live.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Vocation and Faith

I once read an old ditty that went something like,

The businessman went to church,
He never missed a Sunday.
The businessman went to Hell,
For what he did on Monday.

How often is there a disconnect between our faith and our job? I would normally have pointed to the Enlightenment that produced the privatization of our faith, removing it from the public sphere, at least explicitly. However, I came across a section of Luther’s sermons on John (Luther’s Works, vol 24, ed. Pelikan, Oswald, Lehmann, Concordia Publishing), that speaks to issues of vocation and being a Christian that would seem to imply that there might have been something similar going on back then. I think Luther’s sermon can say something to us today.

In his sermon on John 15:5, Luther roots his discussion of whether or not one’s vocation is pleasing to the Lord in a discussion of baptism. He writes:

Therefore he who wants to be helped out of such doubt should be intent solely on coming out of himself and all his works into Christ and on learning to know how we come to grace through Him, are pleasing to God, and thus through faith are grafted into Him as branches. Then he can say: “I know, praise God, that unfortunately I am a poor and unworthy man and have deserved nothing but hell and wrath before God; but I also know that God is gracious to me for the sake of Christ the Lord, who suffered and died for my sin. And since I am in Christ and am cleansed by Him, God takes pleasure in my life and works, which proceed from such faith, and regards them as good fruit.”

Thus I can speak differently about my vocation and my activities from the way a heathen, a Turk, or an unbelieving saint can speak; for I am not only a prince or the head of a household, a man or a woman, who administers an office or vocation as the others also do; but I am also baptized and washed with the blood of Christ. This has nothing to do with my station or calling in life. For Baptism does not make me a prince, a subject, a husband, or anyone else; but it does make me a Christian. Furthermore, I also have the Word, which tells me that Christ died and rose again for me. This same Word makes no one a priest, a monk, a master, a servant, etc.; but it does create a heart that receives God’s grace and is cleansed by faith. This is what it means to be and remain in Christ. Then they may preach to me what they please; I adhere to the fact that I am baptized, not to my life and my vocation but to the Man called Jesus Christ.

Our sense of worth is not derived from our vocation, notice. Rather it comes out of being baptized. This baptism brings us into a particular way of life. At the end of the quote, Luther says, “I adhere to the fact that I am baptized, not to my life and my vocation but to the Man called Jesus Christ.” Baptism is the chief vocational foundation, because it unites us with Jesus Christ. We must not think that every vocation then is equal, or perhaps more precisely, not every way we can earn money to sustain ourselves can properly be called a vocation.

By rooting our primary allegiance to Jesus, there must then be certain jobs that are out. There are some ways of earning income that are impossible to remain faithful while doing. Our baptismal life is a free pass for us to do what we please. And just because we might be in a proper vocation does not mean that we cannot fall into sin carrying out our duties.

However, when we are faithful in carrying out whatever duties we have, then we may know that we please God. When we carry out fair buying and selling practices as a merchant, God is pleased. The temptations to cheat, steal and gouge competitors and customers is great. Formation in the faith is necessary so that one learns to trust God in all things, including one’s vocation.

Because our identities are rooted in our baptism, as folks who are united with Christ, our vocations then become good works that flow out of our identity as Christians. Because we approach our vocations as faithful children of God, we are sanctified. Wherever we occupy ourselves with the Word, and practice discipleship, God sanctifies us. Our very vocations become arenas for the formation of a Christian holy people, become the testing ground where our faith is exercised and Christian virtue is practiced. In that way then, our vocations become treasures for us in heaven, as Luther writes again,

Wherever there is such faith and assurance of grace in Christ, you can also confidently conclude with regard to your vocation and works that these are pleasing to God and are good and true Christian fruits. Furthermore,such temporal and physical works as governing a land and people, managing a house, rearing and teaching children, serving, toiling, etc., also develop into fruit that endures unto life everlasting.. Thus the holy patriarch Abraham and our holy ancestress Sarah will be commended and praised on Judgment Day for their marital life. Although the married estate will come to an end and will be no more, as will all the life and activity of this world, yet this holy Sarah and others with her, will receive their little crowns because they were pious spouses and mothers, not by reason of their works per se -- for these had to cease -- but because they did these works in faith. In like manner, the works of all Christians are performed to God’s everlasting pleasure; they will not be despised, as will those of non-Christians, but will have their eternal reward also in yonder life, because they are works done in Christ and grow from the Vine.
Our vocations are places where we live out our faith, and by them we are sanctified, becoming more and more like Christ. God is always pleased to see these fruits of faithful labor. Living out our faith is not always easy, in fact it requires death, death to the old ways. In our new life however, we are transformed into the image of Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, August 26, 2005

A New Screwtape Letter?

In his column published today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tony Norman brings to light correspondence between Pat Robertson and Lord Stinkblossom.

Norman raises the issues that are all too apparent. If only Norman would have remembered that to break Commandment 2-10 was to transgress the very first one as well. Nothing like a double dip!

Robertson's call to assasinate (and let's be honest... that was Robertson's intent) is a vicious hypocrisy and a terrible obstacle to the Gospel. When Christians call for the murder of anyone, it is a terrible witness to the good news of God in Christ Jesus.

Some may state that a pre-emptive assasination would be allowed if it saved life in the long run. If that is true, only a genuine authority of the state should call for it. Rather than call for a murder, why doesn't he marshall the forces that he does have at hand. Why doesn't Robertson call for his Christian Coalition to pray for Chavez? Why doesn't he call for some bold missionaries to enter Venezuela and preach the gospel?

Well, maybe that's not the best solution... after this outburst, I am almost convinced that Robertson couldn't identify the Gospel if it saved his soul.

Grace & Peace,


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Brother Roger's Funeral

The following piece was in the NY Times...

For those who do not know, Brother Roger was the head of a distinctive monastic community in France, known as Taize. Taize is an ecumenical community made up of Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Reformed members. The community is probably best known for its style of worship which involves the many-fold repetition of short musical pieces that are most commonly verses of Scripture. The community gathers a wide variety of people from all over the world.

As the article states, Brother Roger was murdered in the middle of an evening worship service.

We continue to pray: Eternal rest, grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Grace and Peace,
August 24, 2005

At His Funeral, Brother Roger Has an Ecumenical Dream Fulfilled

TAIZÉ, France, Aug. 23 - Brother Roger Schutz pursued many ecumenical dreams in his long life, but in death one of them came true: At a Eucharistic service celebrated Tuesday by a Roman Catholic cardinal for Brother Roger, a Swiss Protestant, communion wafers were given to the faithful indiscriminately, regardless of denomination.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's council for the unity of Christians, who celebrated the Mass, said in a homily, "Yes, the springtime of ecumenism has flowered on the hill of Taizé." Beyond religious divisions, Brother Roger also abhorred the division between rich and poor. "Every form of injustice or neglect made him very sad," Cardinal Kasper said.

Brother Roger's community and friends, including President Horst Köhler of Germany and the retired archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, attended the liturgy in the vast wooden monastery church at Taizé, while thousands more followed it on a huge screen in fields outside the church.

Brother Roger was 90 when he was stabbed to death by a Romanian woman, Luminita Solcan, 36, during an evening service in the church one week ago. His successor, the Rev. Alois Leser, a Roman Catholic priest from Germany, prayed for forgiveness: "With Christ on the cross we say to you, Father, forgive her, she does not know what she did."

The gathering here in the hills of eastern France under leaden, showery skies reflected the spirit, and also the popularity, of Brother Roger, the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor, who first gathered followers here in 1940. The monastic community here encompasses about 90 members from 20 or so countries and virtually every Christian denomination. Four Roman Catholic priests from among the members celebrated the funeral Mass with Cardinal Kasper.

Brother Roger's simple wooden coffin, a wooden icon lying upon it, was carried into the church by brothers. It was followed by a group of Romanian children who had been visiting the community when Brother Roger was killed.

Brother Roger founded Taizé as a monastic order only a 10-minute drive from Cluny, the site of Europe's largest and best-known monastic abbey before its destruction during the French Revolution. In the 1970's, Taizé developed into a pilgrimage site where people from different countries and faiths gathered annually at Easter. Many returned, in sadness, on Tuesday. Holding candles, they followed his coffin in procession to the Taizé cemetery.

Petra Simmert, a schoolteacher from southern Germany, came with her husband and two children. She is Protestant, he Catholic; one child is Catholic, the other Protestant. "We're an ecumenical family," she said, with a laugh. Watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II on television, they saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, give communion to Brother Roger, even though he was not Catholic. "That struck us," she said.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hart's Beauty (part 3)

In Part 2 of Beauty, Hart begins by recognizing that to speak of the Christian narrative might prove an unwieldy task. He chooses in his Dogmatica Minora, to focus on what he calls the “most elementary and binding canon of catholic confession, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol (in its unadulterated Greek form)…”[1] His choice of using the unaltered version of the Nicene Creed, belies clearly an ecumenical concern. The Church itself is often dragged into the enmeshments of the world, and its current division proves that. Hart’s return to a less fractured time, I think, shows a level of regard for the One Church for which we all should be striving. His effort here is unitive, recalling us all to the faith that most Christians would hold as authoritative. His appeal to the Creed as elementary and binding, might of course reach the objection, “What? Scripture isn’t good enough?” The Creed is indeed scriptural. It is a summary of the Christian narrative as explicated and expounded in the Bible. Anyone who thinks otherwise will be hard-pressed to consider anything else that Hart says. Hart engages the witness of scripture without stooping to proof-texting.

He chooses four discrete “moments” in the landscape of Christian theology, so that he does not go off unbridled into the “hermeneutical open spaces.” He sets out to describe the Trinity, Creation, Salvation, and the Eschaton. He does so by means of setting forth specific theses in each moment he considers. He says at the outset of his dogmatic essay that there is no systematic or deductive sequence, however, one should not assume that there is no direction at all to this section. In fact, as it becomes clear, the analog is brilliant. Throughout Part 2, one can see that the four parts hang inextricably from one another. Themes of Trinity show up in Salvation. Creation appears in Eschaton.

Hart employs ten theses throughout his Dogmatica. After each thesis, he includes sections that help lead the reader to understand the implications of each. Some of these sections are lengthy, which should be expected, since the entire Dogmatica takes up a majority of the book. Underlying the entire the rationale for beauty and infinity is the doctrine of the Trinity. Christian understanding of love grows out of the perichoresis of love that is central to the understanding of the Trinity. Within this pericoresis, Hart finds divine fellowship and joy and immutability. That the Trinity exists in a complete shared dance among the three persons, allows for a difference that he sees as a distance. That beauty is the true form of distance means that somehow beauty is taken up into the nature of the Trinity itself. Probably from my own indoctrination into the pondering of the mystery of the Trinity, where the different was verboten, I cringe at his use of different. He is surely not saying that the three persons are separate from one another, so I grant him this use, but I just wish there was another way.

In the Creation portion of the Dogmatica, Hart places creation solely within the Trinity. In his first thesis in Creation, Hart writes, “God’s gracious action in creation belongs from the first to that delight, pleasure and regard that the Trinity enjoys from eternity, as an outward and unnecessary expression of that love; and thus creation must be received before all as gift and as beauty.”[2] The delight that God finds in created things is the basis for a Christian theology of creation. “It is delight that constitutes creation, and so only delight can comprehend it, see it aright, understand its grammar. Only in loving creation’s beauty – only seeing that creation truly is beauty – does one apprehend what creation is.”[3] If creation is delight, then creation cannot be, Hart argues, an overcoming of something. Myths of God creating by overcoming chaos are not only unhelpful, but also hurtful. If creation arises out of conflict, then violence is inherent to its structure. If creation arises out of love and delight, then violence is nowhere to be found, and then Christian evangel can indeed be one of peace. Creation ex nihilo is meant to speak of a God who gives his bounty, and not one who is at war. The creation for delight must be apprehended as gift. Hart takes to task the Nietzschean voices that would discount and dismiss the gift language. Their argument that Hart recounts is that the role of gift in society has been thoroughly reduced. A gift becomes for the Nietzschean a token of power and superiority, one that creates a “calculus of indebtedness.” What a terrible thing for God to foist upon us! The gifts of God become a way for God to control, manipulate and oppress us. Hart removes these objections by turning to love, both agape and eros. For Hart, eros is essential, because it is central to the teleological aspect of the Christian life. Hart writes,

Creation is, before all else, given by God to God, and only then – through the pneumatological generosity of the trinitarian life – given to creatures: a gift that is only so long as it is given back, passed on, received and imparted not as possession but always as grace. This is indeed a “circle” – the infinite circle of divine love – and for that very reason capable of a true gift: one that draws creatures into a circle upon which they have no natural “right” to intrude. And if creatures participate in God’s language of love – in this erotic charity of the gift – simply by being creatures, it is all but impossible for them not also to give, not to extend love to others, not to donate themselves entirely to the economy of agape: the gift must be actively withheld not to be given.[4]

The theme of gift continues as Hart moves on to salvation. While the entire work is impressive, this section needs to be held up as a generally brilliant part. Hart maintains a thoroughly trinitarian scheme of salvation while also being thoroughly Christological. Again, this awe at Hart’s work here might simply be a novice’s wonder at the adept, but it seems to me that the Salvation section of the Dogmatica is the gem of the whole treatise. Jesus Christ, the God-man, is the one who brings about the restoration of the human image. Christ is the eternal image of the Father after whom humanity was created in the beginning. The restoration then of humanity is to the original beauty. Which of course, seems to play right into the hands of the Nietzscheans as they see in the cross only more violence; Hart is forced to once again ask the question of the book. Hart asks, “Does the language of sacrifice within Christian thought, inextirpable from Scripture, make of the gospel a tale that defeats itself in the telling, the beauty of whose rhetoric proves in the end to be another – and particularly meretricious – variant of the glamour of violence?”[5] Hart’s answer is a resounding “No!” Hart turns away from the use of the crucifixion as particularly salvific, but rather to the sacrifice that Christ makes. The violence that happens is the response of the powers and principalities, which Hart dubs the totality. Hart sees the sacrifice of Christ not as one of violence, but one of oblation, offering, gift. Hart wrestles with Anselm’s theory of the atonement, Cur Deus Homo, and all the baggage that it has collected along the way. Hart retells Anselm that moves away from violence, but remains embedded in sacrifice. Christ offers his life to God as a gift, which is utterly trinitarian in nature. Hart writes,

…the story of Christ’s sacrifice belongs not to an economy of credit and exchange but to the trinitarian motion of love, it is given entirely as gift – a gift give when it should not have needed to be given again, by God, at a price that we imposed upon him. As an entirely divine action, Christ’s sacrifice merely draws creation back into the eternal motion of divine love for which it was fashioned. The violence that befalls Christ belongs to our sacrificial order of justice, an order overcome by his sacrifice, which is one of peace; for though totality seeks to convert Christ into an abstract credit, in order to preserve itself as an enclosed circle of stable exchange between the life of the particular transgressor and the universal dispensation of civic stability, the donation that Christ makes of himself draws creation into God’s eternal “offering” of himself in the life of the Trinity.[6]

Hart’s argument is based on the claim that for Anselm, the redemptive element in Christ’s death is not his suffering, but instead his innocence. This retelling of Anselm is sure to find many critics, but it is intriguing. Thankfully, there is no one dogma of the atonement.

Hart closes his Dogmatica by examining the Eschaton, which really is for him brief. Unlike the other three points, the Eschaton is almost an afterthought. This section is unbelievably terse. The Eschaton is the vindication of a particular story, affirms the created goodness, and exposes other stories as false and damnable.

Finally, in his concluding remarks, Part 3, “Rhetoric without Reserve,” Hart wrestles with how we avoid persuading others. The Nietzscheans see persuasion as a veiled form of violence. Our evangelism must not become, as it too often has in the past, coercion. We must as a people find ourselves drawn into the place of the crucified one, seeking conformation to Christ’s image. Hart writes,

Theology must, because of what its particular story is, have the form of martyrdom, witness, a peaceful offer that has already suffered rejection and must be prepared for rejection as a consequence. In resisting the myth of a hermeneutical neutrality that can govern persuasions from without, theology perhaps summons the specter of holy war, of the chaos of endless persuasion and repersuasion; but the only answer Christian though can pose over against this apprehension is its own way of the inversion of violence, God’s vindication of the crucified over against the orders that crucify, and its own urging to the world of the model of peace that Christ offers. Against the violence of rhetorics, it can do no more that offer a rhetoric of peace. The cross is not an ending, merely marking the closure of all metanarratives, awaiting translation into a speculative Good Friday more radical than even Hegel contemplated; rather, it inaugurates a world, the true world restored to itself, whose particular nature binds Christians to occupy, if they must, within this war of persuasions, the place of the warred against, the excluded.[1]

Only in enduring the wounds of Christ in our body may we show the way of beauty and peace.

[1] Ibid, p. 441

[1] Ibid, p. 153

[2] Ibid, p. 249

[3] Ibid, p. 253

[4] Ibid, p. 268

[5] Ibid, p. p. 349

[6] Ibid, pp. 371-372

Hart's Beauty (part 2)

Nietzsche confronts theology with a story this is diametrically opposed to the Christian story. And for this Christians should be thankful, since through Nietzche’s opposition, the reminder exists that there is another story to tell, Hart writes, “in which the being of creation is an essential peace, hospitable to all true difference, reflecting the infinite peace of God’s triune life in its beauty and diversity.”[1] Hart’s story here is that the Christian evangel (not always Christianity mind you, but the kerygma of the faith) is one of beauty because it brings peace to a world held in subject to other stories that keep up the violence against one another. With all of the energy that Hart employs against Nietzsche’s Dionysian story, it almost appears that for Hart, if the Christian evangel is not the one true story, then there is no story that would better describe our reality than Nietzsche’s.

But Hart’s concern is actually in beauty, and he goes through great lengths to lay out and unfold (beauty cannot be defined) what he means, and gives some boundaries as to how beauty operates. In section 3 of his Introduction, he undertakes this task. Hart writes, “beauty is a category indispensable to Christian thought; all that theology says of the triune life of God, the gratuity of creation, the incarnation of the Word, and the salvation of the world makes room for – indeed depends upon – a thought, and a narrative, of the beautiful.”[2] His first theme into beauty is “Beauty is objective,”[3] meaning beauty is not something ephemeral. Beauty possesses as Hart says, “a phenomenal priority, an indefectible precedence over whatever response it evokes.”[4] The beautiful is a vehicle for communicating God’s glory, and as such, one finds it to be delightful (the theme of delight/joy arises again and again). The second theme is “Beauty is the true form of distance.” While reading through Beauty, this distance theme arises again and again, and by the end, it is certainly resonant that beauty is the true form of distance, but for me, it remains elusive, slipping through my fingers whenever I try to make it more concrete. This elusiveness is most likely my inexperience with the concepts. To help elucidate this theme, Hart writes,

If the realm of created difference has its being for God’s pleasure (Rev. 4:11), then the distance of creation from God and every distance within creation belong originally to an interval of appraisal and approbation, the distance of his delight. God’s pleasure – the beauty creation possesses in his regard – underlies the distinct being of creation, and so beauty is the first and truest word concerning all that appears within being… beauty does not merely adorn an alien space, or cross the distance as a wayfarer, but it is the true form of that distance, constituting it, as the grammar of difference.[5]

At its heart, it would seem that the distance Hart speaks about is one that will allow for the procession and return, a continual donation and response brought about by beauty. Without that distance, that boundary, how would we know that we are not in the end curved in on ourselves, wrapped up in the continual struggle and violence that grasps every other story.

His other themes of beauty that follow after this are, “Beauty evokes desire.”[6] Here Hart quotes Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine in his support. Once one tastes God’s glory, then one is led to stretch out ever more toward a greater and greater embrace of the divine glory. This sort of thing is truly one of the strengths of the book. Hart, being Eastern Orthodox, is clearly ingrained with the teaching of the Church Fathers, but not to the exclusion of the West, exemplified here, by the use of both a Cappadocian and Augustine. Hart seems to be fluently bilingual in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Perhaps this sort of argument is precisely what is needed to answer the modern voice of Nietzsche, a return to the voices before the Enlightenment and the split between East and West. Then, as much as now, the Church sought to be a formative voice in the creation of a Christian people. Perhaps it is to that time that the Church must return to find once again the voice that shares this story of peace to a people mired in sin.

“Beauty crosses boundaries.”[7] Because beauty is about revealing God’s glory, it cannot be held back by any obstacle we try to set in its way. “Beauty’s authority, within theology, guards against gnosticism.”[8] Hart gives two reasons for this. First, beauty in the real world shows the world to be the theater of God’s glory. If beauty exists here, then God must not eschew this world. It is not irretrievably bad. Second, the revelation of God’s glory in the beautiful shows this world to be unnecessary. God’s expression is free and for God’s pleasure alone. Finally, “Beauty resists reduction to the ‘symbolic.’”[9] The aesthetic moment, when the beautiful is regarded, cannot later be appropriated to create a more vital meaning. The symbol “arrests the force of the aesthetic, the continuity of the surface, in order to disclose ‘depths.’”[10] At the moment beauty is apprehended, one is to attend to the glory proclaimed there, and avoid seeking some secret gnosis.

[1] Ibid, p. 127

[2] Ibid, p. 16

[3] Ibid, p. 17

[4] Ibid, p. 17

[5] Ibid, p. 18

[6] Ibid, p. 19

[7] Ibid, p. 20

[8] Ibid, p. 20

[9] Ibid, p. 25

[10] Ibid, p. 25

D.B. Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite

A book that caught my attention over a year ago, Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Eerdmans), finally got read cover to cover a week ago. Hart's book is a beast. However, it is entirely satisfying, even if I have some issues with it. I am posting a summary of it here, because I think it is well worth it.

Hart gets to the issue quickly, wasting little time in the Introduction. This quick move at the beginning is perhaps the one and only quick moment in the entire work. The rest that follows is carefully planned, thorough, intricate and at times, wordy. One might wonder if when he wrote this treatise (book, almost seems to diminish Hart’s effort), he had made a wager to use all of the GRE vocabulary words (The Beauty of the Infinite did require the use of an unabridged dictionary several times). As the pages went by, it did seem obvious that it was more the case that every word Hart employed was done so because it was exactly the right word with the right connotations for the right explanation.

As stated though, he does get to the point at the very outset. Hart writes,

Is the beauty to whose persuasive power the Christian rhetoric of evangelism inevitably appeals, and upon which it depends, theologically defensible? Admittedly, at first, such a question might appear at best, merely marginal, at worst somewhat precious; but, granted a second glance, it opens out upon the entire Christian tradition as a question that implicitly accompanies the tradition’s every proclamation of itself. Christianity has from its beginning portrayed itself as a gospel of peace, a way of reconciliation (with God, with other creatures), and a new model of human community, offering the “peace which passes understanding” to a world enmeshed in sin and violence.[1]

Is it theologically defensible? Hart believes so, and thus does in fact open, if not the entire Christian tradition, then the core of it, most notably in Part 2 of Beauty, where he tackles the Trinity, Creation, Salvation, and the Eschaton. Hart seeks to delve into each of these theological wells, exploring them for an understanding of true beauty and what that might say to a world enmeshed in sin and violence.

Much of Hart’s work is done particularly with engagement of the world keenly in the forefront. After setting the stage nicely in his Introduction, lays the question before the reader, defines terms, which is unbelievably helpful, explicates what he means by Beauty, Hart’s Part 1 “Dionysus against the Crucified: The Violence of Metaphysics and the Metaphysics of Love” engages the postmodern narratives of violence in the world. The primary representatives Hart picks for postmodernism are, of course, Nietzsche and Heidegger (Hart follows Milbank here), or at least the philosophers who most propound their form (e.g. Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida). Hart takes one of Nietzsche’s favored typologies, Dionysus and Apollo. In his work, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche points to a dipole in human nature, typified by the classical figures of Dionysus and Apollo. Apollo was the god of light, meditative, restrained, signifying all that is ordered. Dionysus was seen as the god of wine, unrestrained, orgiastic, crossing boundaries, and losing one’s self. These figures are both necessary, creating a structure where the unbridled energy of Dionysus is subject to the reasoned authority of Apollo. Dionysus is the creative force, and thereby is necessary.[2] At the heart of the relationship between Dionysus and Apollo is violence. The two are ever locked in a struggle. Violence, therefore, becomes the world’s essential creative power. Against this figure of indestructible life, ecstasy, joy, and power, Nietzsche places the figure of the Crucified. Hart quotes Nietzsche from The Will to Power,

Dionysus versus the Crucified: there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in their regard to their martyrdom – it is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation. In the other case, suffering – the “Crucified as the innocent one” – counts as an objection to this life, as a formula for its condemnation. – One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. … The tragic man affirms even the harshest suffering: he is sufficiently strong, rich, and capable of deifying to do so. The Christian denies even the happiest lot on earth: he is sufficiently weak, poor, disinherited to suffer from life in whatever form he meets it. The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life; it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.[3]

To be weak is the worst for Nietzsche since he sees the will to power as the motivating force in humanity.

[1] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003, p. 1

[2] Ibid., p. 40

[3] Hart, ibid, p. 97 (again, quoted from Nietzsche’s Will to Power)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

New Prefect in the Congregation....

With a move that I find somewhat interesting, and would never have guessed, Benedict XVI named Archbishop William J. Levada to be the new Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I am somewhat surprised that an American is given this position. I don't know what it means, but it is interesting. You can read more here.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, May 13, 2005

Star Wars -- Epsiode III Versus the Council of Nicea

This webpage is really too funny.

The thought that Star Wars Episode III is a rewriting of Nicea is rather amusing.

Grace and Peace,

Thieves in the Night

1 Thessalonians 5

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Never more has this passage been on my mind. Yesterday evening, some parishioners and I discovered that our church building had been broken into yet again. This is the third time since last August. Each time they have stolen the coins (really not all that much) in our Coins for Christ bottle (a 5-gallon water cooler jug). Are these attempts a reminder for us about the day of the Lord? And how do we respond to them? The talk in the congregation is about security systems, which might be appropriate. After all, we spend almost $200 every time a brick goes through a window and $5-10 is taken. What is the balance between stewardship of our building, and our mission to live out the Gospel?

A lot of arguments can be made about justice, and security, and stewardship, but my fear is that we use those to neglect our mission to the poor and those in need. The folks that the police suspect are in great need and probably mentally unstable. What is our responsibility toward them? How do we love them? This question is perhaps one of the great challenges of Christianity. Love does not always look the same. But we are called to live out our faith, I believe, through works of mercy.

How do we as Christians bear wrongs patiently? Putting up security systems or barriers to entry? Are we more secure then? When they say, “There is peace and security.” Then sudden destruction will come upon them. It is generally thought that Paul was writing here about a slogan of sorts propagated by the Roman Empire. We are not saved through our security. Our trust should not be placed in that peace and security. In fact, a friend of mine has made the claim that as Christians we are free to live in holy insecurity. We must not wall ourselves off as Christians ignoring our call to proclaim the Gospel. Our lives as Christians are ones that look forward to the coming of Christ, and as such, we are free to live with the world crashing in on us. Our security is ultimately assured.

How free are we to live lives where we seek not to repay evil for evil? How do we care for the ones who are in need? We should live, I think, as the chapter in Thessalonians, closes, full of the grace of Jesus, who did not return insult with insult, or violence with violence. It is probable that some sort of security measures pop up here at the congregation, but it is my hope that we move forward with another response as well.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, May 09, 2005

Links for Perusal

Pentecost is coming. A wonderful little piece on Pentecost is to be found at Anytime the Cappadocian Fathers are quoted, I am interested. :)

Also, some interesting articles on capitalism at The Other Journal. The first is by Dan Bell, professor at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS). He talks about the problem with the problem with capitalism. His piece is interesting, but I think he could go further with the eschatological implications. If capitalism deforms our desire, so that we are led away from our true end in God, then capitalism (at least as it is currently practiced at any rate) is a system that diverts our vision to the end of time. We work not for this life, but for the eschaton, and the Reign of God which comes then.

The second is by D. Stephen Long, who professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. His main point is that Adam Smith is the father of another kind of "church." Some acquaintance with the economic personalities, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, is helpful. This article is part memoir, part critique. Interesting for sure, but could have some more teeth.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, May 06, 2005

Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Pope Benedict XVI

The election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the chair of Peter was one that made me a little nervous. After all, Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And as such, the media would have us believe that he is a rotweiler. He is against all sorts of things that good Americans should be for… women priests… gay and lesbian marriage… warm and fuzzy bunnies. Ok, maybe he does like warm an fuzzy bunnies, but if he is German, then those warm bunnies probably came out of an oven. Not surprisingly, at his election, I was cautious. This man had after all written the document Dominus Iesus, in 2000, which seemed to be a step away from the recently signed and agreed upon Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). That document was a major breakthrough in ecumenical relations between the Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Justification is, for Lutherans after all, that idea by which the Church stands or falls. How is it that we are made right with God? The Augsburg Confession says in its fourth article, aptly titled “Justification,”

Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

What is at stake here? Naturally that we are in no way justified by our own works. We cannot earn or storm our way into heaven by the merit of anything that we have done. And of course, the confutation of the fourth article says as much. What happens though, is that the Roman Catholic stance talks about works that are done through God’s grace make one worthy, which is difficult for many Lutherans to swallow. What I think is happening here, is that the two parties have been talking past one another. Lutherans want to talk about justification, but Romans have been talking mainly about the life lived after justification, or in other words, sanctification. That idea is a problem since Lutherans don’t agree as to whether any sanctification happens at all in this life, or if in our justification, we are merely declared righteous, and only made so at the end when Christ returns. But this conversation is one for another time.

Back to Benedict… With conversations that I have had, things that I have read, and the like, I am beginning to feel somewhat optimistic and hopeful in Benedict. Much of this optimism started with an email that was forwarded to me by one of my classmates at seminary. The email had been written by our systematic theology professor, David Yeago, who had said that Ratzinger was one of the four or five greatest living theologians, and had single handedly saved the JDDJ from being out and out rejected. Then, when reading another blog, Confessing Evangelical (which I really like and heartily recommend), the confessing evangelical quoted a newspaper article by Christopher Howse, who said something similar to Yeago, but with much more detail. Howse wrote,

According to the Lutheran theologian, Joachim Track, Ratzinger made three concessions that saved the agreement from collapse (including a declaration thatjustification and final judgment were God's gracious acts).

If this incident showed Cardinal Ratzinger as an altogether more open and conciliatory figure than the fierce enforcer depicted by his opponents, his actions as pope will be watched almost as keenly by Christians outside his jurisdiction as by the flock of this German Shepherd.

In an article by John Allen, reporter for the National Catholic Recorder, Ratzinger is even mentioned as pondering the status of the Augsburg Confession. Allen writes,

"Ratzinger has been involved in dialogue with Lutherans from way back,” said Br. Jeffrey Gros, ecumenical affairs specialist for the U.S. bishops. “In the 1980s he was even interested in declaring the Augsburg Confession [the first Lutheran declaration of faith] a Catholic document. To think that he wanted to torpedo this [agreement] is a total misread.”

This in itself is interesting, since the Lutheran World Federation requires only that a body recognize the Augsburg Confession in order to be Lutheran. If Ratzinger were to do declare the CA a “Catholic document”, what would this do to Lutheran bodies across the world? Again, something fascinating, for future pondering.

So what were the three concessions that Ratzinger made? (quoting from Allen’s article, with some comments of mine)

  1. He agreed that the goal of the ecumenical process is unity in diversity, not structural reintegration. “This was important to many Lutherans in Germany, who worried that the final aim of all this was coming back to Rome,” Track said.
  2. Ratzinger fully acknowledged the authority of the Lutheran World Federation to reach agreement with the Vatican. This concession might seem like a nitpick, but it has much to do with a view of the location from which authority stems, which will be a further issue in ecumenical dialogue.
  3. Ratzinger agreed that while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God’s gracious acts. Amen and amen… Too often Lutherans have held that we need not do any good works, since we are justified by God’s grace alone. A healthy dose of language that impels us to work for the furthering of the Kingdom is greatly needed. We are freed FROM sin, death and the devil, as well as being freed FOR something… As I reminded my Confirmation students last week, the Kingdom is coming no matter what. We pray “Thy kingdom come” so that it might actually come in and among us.

Being a German, Benedict XVI would surely be looking for some reconciliation in his homeland. On a recent visit to the Vatican the current presiding bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, encouraged John Paul II to allow Eucharistic sharing between Rome and Lutherans by 2017, five hundred years after Luther posted the 95 theses. Maybe, the time is right.

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, April 14, 2005


The other day, I called a parishioner who was to begin chemotherapy in a few days. I wanted to schedule a visit with him for Communion and Anointing before the chemo began. He asked if I knew of any specific blessing or prayer for chemotherapy. He was looking for something that spoke specifically to the eradication of the cancerous cells, and the thriving of the healthy cells. I told him that I didn’t know of anything off the top of my head, but I would do some searching. As of yet, I have not found anything specific, but my thoughts did turn to a specific parable.

My parishioner’s talk of ridding the bad cells, and keeping the healthy ones, made me think of the parable of the Weeds in the Wheat (Matt. 13: 24-30). There seem to be so many parallels here. And, actually, at first glance, I was hesitant to reflect upon this passage. From the surface, I thought that this text could actually be used to discourage a treatment like chemotherapy. The master thought that in trying to gather the weeds, some healthy wheat would be gathered up and lost. So, the servants were to wait until harvest time, and then the weeds were to be gathered to be sent to the fire.

After some reflection though, I changed my mind. The parable is clearly eschatological. Jesus begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed…” and the emphasis on the time of the harvest when the weeds will be burned places our perspectives firmly on the horizon of time. God’s Reign is one where all the wickedness of the enemy who sowed these weeds will be ended.

Therefore, the problem is not, I think one with the parable. Instead the issue seems to be one with our modern notions of medicine. We have ripped medicine from its eschatological moorings in God’s action in the world. Jesus’ preaching was one the proclaimed the beginning of God’s Reign in the world, “Repent and be baptized. The Reign of God has come near.” Part of that proclamation then was also manifested in his miraculous deeds, and some of those deeds were healings.

Our healing is always something that comes from the power of God. Too often we perceive healing to come from doctors or modern pharmaceuticals. In many ways, we lose any perception of God being present in the healing at all. And healing is almost always exclusive to the removal of symptoms and restoration to a previous state. Healing, properly understood however, is something that should look forward to the ultimate restoration of all things. Here and now, healing should point us forward, not back. The healing visited upon us should have us not look forward to a previous state of our bodies, but should have us look forward to and anticipate the Reign of God.

So in my parishioner’s case, I went to him and read this parable. We talked about the parallels in this parable, the burning of the weeds and the chemotherapy’s burning of the cancerous cells. We talked about medicine and healing being a foretaste of the Reign of God, and that he would be taking an oral chemo drug. Then, I anointed him, and we shared in the Eucharist, as we looked forward to that time when we gather around the throne and share with all believers the great and promised feast.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.