Erasmus Sarcerius: Comfort for the Sick

Having instructed the sick person and obtained a confession of sins (see this post), Sarcerius proceeds to offer consolation by means of absolution and the Sacrament. Of particular note is the change in character of the sickness. By means of the forgiveness of sins, the sickness ceases to be a sin-sickness. And if death should follow, it is no longer a Zorntod – a death under God’s wrath. Rather, this sickness now serves to draw the afflicted to Christ, to the merits of his suffering and death, and finally to eternal life.

The certainty of Christ is set over against the certainty of this sickness and eventual death. The Sacraments are added for the strengthening of the weak and as seal and pledge of the promises delivered by the mouth of the pastor. The aim of the pastor’s consolation is the delivery of a good conscience, which requires the testimony of Christ’s body and blood. Notice, however, that in the misuse of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood consciences are again defiled. To receive the Sacrament in one kind only leaves the sick with no certainty that he is following God’s will and doing what is right.

Sarcerius is keenly aware of the temptation to fall back into old habits in the hour of great need, but he does not respond with indulgence. Instead, he presses earnestly forward, insisting that the command of Christ to eat and drink is the ground of consolation in the Sacrament. To step outside that command and institution is to abandon the hope for a good conscience. The question of Communion in one kind persists in 1559, pointing to the patience with which it has been treated. Nevertheless, patience must not give way to negligence. That is a delicate and narrow path to tread, and Sarcerius shows that such work continues even to the last hour.

Consolation

Now then listen to what a merciful God you have. You ought to have been eternally damned for your sins. For it is impossible for any man to help himself out of death and to be able to come to God’s grace through his ability or good life. Therefore God let his only-begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ, become man and die on the cross for our sins and rise on the third day so that we many be freed from our sins through him and come to the grace of God and eternal life. As Christ himself preaches: “Thus God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son, so that all who believe in him, etc.” (Joh. 3). Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, that he became man for your sake and paid for your sins on the wood of the cross and sacrificed his life? If you believe it, then I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Do not doubt that I now speak to you on God’s behalf. For Christ commanded that one should preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. And in John 20 he says: “Receive the Holy Ghost. The sins of those you forgive are forgiven. And those you retain, etc. ” Therefore you should certainly believe and hope in the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life through Christ and henceforth commend to the hand of your dear God that he do with you according to his divine will. For even if the sickness should continue unto death, it is no longer a sin-sickness, nor a death under wrath, but rather it is all together an encouragement that we come to that which Christ has earned with his suffering and death, that is, to eternal life. But so that such comfort may be more certain for us, the Lord did not want to leave it with such a statement alone. Rather, he first sealed it with holy Baptism. For you were baptized into Christ’s death, so that you may put it to use and should be freed from sin and death. Then, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper for his Christians as a new Testament, in which he gives us his body and blood for food and drink, so that we may be certain that such body was given for our sins and his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

But if we want to rightly handle that testament of Christ, we must not handle it otherwise than Christ himself has commanded. Now Christ didn’t say just to eat his body under or with the bread, but he also said to drink his blood under the wine and spoke: “Drink of it all of you.” Therefore I cannot and will not give you the Sacrament otherwise than as Christ commanded me to give it and the Christian Church all together has done for more than 1300 years. So you should not desire nor receive the Sacrament otherwise than as Christ commanded. Then you can be sure that you are following his will and not doing wrong.

So say to me, will you in this manner receive this most worthy Sacrament to strengthen your faith that the body of Christ is given for your sins and his blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

When the patient answers, “Yes,” then the pastor first kneels with the patient and prays with him the Our Father out loud.

Thereafter he goes to the table where the host and the wine is and he speaks the words of our Lord Christ out loud. First:
 

On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to his disciples and spoke: “Take and eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this for my remembrance.”

After these words he gives him the bread and says:
 

Take and eat, this is the body of Jesus Christ which is given for your sins.

Thereafter, he goes again to the table and speaks further: In the same way he also took the cup after the meal and gave thanks and gave it to them and said, “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the new Testament, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it for my remembrance.”

Take and drink, this is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ  which is poured out for your sins.

IF THE PATIENT IS PRESERVED, ADMONISH HIM TO PRAY AND intercede for him.

Let us now thank God. Repeat after me.

I thank you almighty God that you have restored me through this salutary gift of the body and blood of your son Jesus Christ, and I pray that you would let it give me growth to strong faith towards you so that I commend everything to your mercy and through the help of your Son and the Holy Spirit overcome everything and live eternally according to your promise. Amen.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Pastorale oder Hirtenbuch, trans. David Buchs, (Eisleben: Urbanus Raubisch, 1559), CLXXXIIv-CLXXXIIIv.

The Cross and Human Wisdom

On Shrove Tuesday in 1552, Erasmus Sarcerius preached a sermon on Christ and our cross. His text was Luke 18:31-43, in which Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a third time and heals the blind beggar outside of Jericho. He parsed the text into seven articles — the sixth is below for your consideration. It is a critique of those arch-heretics, Reason and Human Wisdom, who deceive even the disciples, keeping them from understanding the clear words of Christ.

Reason and Human Wisdom are such successful heretics because they seem to deliver on their promises for a time. Seeking honor leads to honor. Seeking prosperity leads to prosperity. Trust in their promises pays off in ways so delightful to our flesh that we overlook the times they fail to deliver. It’s a classic case of confirmation bias.

The end of trust in Reason and Human Wisdom is despair in time of need, especially in our greatest need at the hour of death. At that point, their promises come to an end, and they have no help to give. Instead they can only lead you to conclude that you are a wretched, miserable creature with no hope. But that bit of truth emerging from their heresy is too little, and it arrives too late.

Such honesty about Reason and Human Wisdom makes enemies with the world. It is an annoyance and burden to the flesh, and it must compete with the clarion call to talk about something more relevant, something that matters right now. It is striking how similar the voice of Sarcerius’ world is to ours.

For the Christian, the cross of Christ is a source of eternal comfort because it means that our weakness and crosses are not meaningless. Far from it. By faith in the promises of Jesus secured by his suffering, death, and resurrection, our weakness and crosses are given ultimate significance. They are the path to glory – a glory that does not terminate at the grave. It is a glory that is not self-serving and vain. It is the glory of perfection, holiness, and love. It is the glory of Christ, lifted up on the cross, drawing all nations to himself.

The sixth article holds before us the ignorance of Christ’s disciples as an example. They didn’t understand their master’s talk of his suffering and his resurrection. Luke shows us: “They understood none of these things, and the saying was hidden from them, and they did not know what was said.”
 

In view of such ignorance, we rightly wonder that the disciples were with Christ for so long, went in and out with him for so long and yet did not understand this saying of Christ concerning his suffering and resurrection.

The source of the disciples’ ignorance

It comes from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that persuaded the Jews to think that Jesus would be a worldly king and lord. Because they are now stuck in these thoughts, they have imagined him as a rich, powerful, and happy lord, who should rule and govern in this world with great honor, happiness, and prosperity. There was nothing more unimaginable to them than that the Christ should suffer and die. Because they couldn’t imagine it, they haven’t understood his sayings about the cross and resurrection.

What we learn from this sixth article

We learn that we cannot, by nature, direct or orient ourselves towards the teaching of the cross and the rescue from it. Therefore both the suffering of Christ and his rescue from it are not subject to reason and human wisdom. They can’t rightly judge and evaluate either the cross or the rescue.

Likewise we learn that the teaching of the cross is annoying and burdensome to our old Adam and our flesh, and that reasoning and fleshly men won’t be bothered with it.

Likewise we learn the source of our ignorance, in which we don’t understand the teaching of the cross nor the rescue from it. It comes namely from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that teach hatred of the cross and despair of human power and help in times of great need.

Likewise we learn the source of our burden and annoyance at the cross. People would much rather have good days than evil ones. They’d rather live and remain in peace and prosperity than have cross and misery. On that account one finds at all times people who regard temporal peace more than eternal blessedness and eternal peace. That’s seen nowadays in our time when, for the sake of temporal prosperity, God’s word and the truth are abandoned, and they cry out with clear voice that one must give way to the time and present needs. Among them he is a wise man who can accommodate religion to the times.

Likewise we learn that, by nature, we don’t know the right way to attain honor in the kingdom of Heaven. It is found in the cross. This ignorance is also a fruit of reason and human wisdom, which teach that one climbs to honor through honor, to power through power, etc. And for such heretics there is nothing more impossible to believe than that in the kingdom of heaven the right way to attain honor is the cross and weakness.

Likewise we learn that the kingdom of heaven is to be distinguished from a temporal kingdom. In the kingdom of heaven, one is great and comes to honor through suffering and death. In the latter, through power and riches.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Eine predigte von Christi und unserem Creutze: Item wie man von Christo dem rechten artzte beiderley gesundheit an leib und seel erlangen sol, trans. David Buchs, (Leipzig: Jacobum Berwald, 1552),

Erasmus Sarcerius: On Visiting the Sick

Erasmus Sarcerius (1501-1559) was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who studied under Luther and Melanchthon in Wittenberg. His activity during his career was chiefly as a superintendent. He labored to put Lutheran doctrine into practice in the church, and his efforts were lauded by the first generation of Lutherans. Not surprisingly his work faded into the background as it was largely local and fell victim to the vagaries of political shifts and confessional controversies. He did not expect anything different, however, often arguing that a work well-begun and not finished is far better than a work never begun. At the end of his life, Sarcerius published a pastoral theology which he wrote to give young pastors a leg-up into the ministry.

For your edification, here is the first part of his chapter on the visitation of the sick. It is the instruction that is to be addressed to the sick prior to receiving absolution and the Sacrament. There are several observations worth making initially. First, Sarcerius is principally concerned with ensuring that the patient knows the true character of sickness. Imagine a context in which death was much nearer and more imminent than it is for us today. It easily begins to seem like a part of the natural order, as harvest and slaughter are to farmers. Such an attitude towards death is an obstacle for the faithful to adequate preparation for dying.

Next, observe how Sarcerius is concerned to liberate the patient: you should make full use of medicine and doctors. God may indeed save you from sickness. If he does, it will likely be through means. It does not indicate a failure of faith to hope for good medicine and good doctors. On the contrary, it is a display of faith to make use of God’s creation towards the ends for which he has created it, so long as it is received with thanksgiving.

Finally, Sarcerius’ insistence on a confession from the heart may grate on us a bit, but notice how he parses it (revealing his background in pedagogy). Repentance from the heart is not a matter of sufficient feelings, but a posture over against sin. Do you wish that you had not sinned, and do you intend to do better?

My dear man, you now lie in God’s hands and don’t know which way God will take this, whether he will restore your health or pull you by death out of this life. Whether or not you regain your health, it is certain that you must someday die. You know what follows death. For you confess in faith that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and will return to judge the living and the dead. You also confess that you and all men must await not just death but also God’s verdict and judgment on the last day. On that account it is necessary for you properly to prepare for such a journey, and pay close attention to this work which God has now put before you. For there is a big difference between human sickness and death and the sickness and death of a cow. The cow must also die and suffer all kinds of sickness as we can see, but that is all natural, and the cow experiences it not from God’s wrath. It is the cow’s nature that it cannot remain forever and eventually must suffer a mishap, get sick, and finally die. But when it is dead, it is over and there is nothing left to expect.

But man must suffer sickness and death on account of sin. For the Lord threatened Adam in paradise and said: In the day that you eat of the tree you will certainly die. You should note this and know it well: the sickness that you now suffer is not without danger, nor do you experience it naturally. It is the penalty for your sin, you who are a child of Adam, born in sin, bearing a sinful nature from your father and mother, and having spent your life in sin against God and his word. Therefore you have two things to consider. The first is the lesser – that you are free to use doctors and medicines, created by God for the good of man. You are free to pray to God that he may give them success. For experience compels us to  acknowledge that, just as in many sicknesses it is harmful to eat or drink this or that, God has also created many fruits, roots, herbs, and other creations, which have special power and salutary effect both inside and outside the body. Therefore it is not only not wrong, but also useful and good in sickness to seek and use the help of men, as long as you hold God to be the best and most reliable doctor and with every medicine see and hope for his help. That is the first, but the lesser of the things that you should now consider. The other is this: how you may be released from sin and the wrath of God. You must begin with this part. For because sickness is rooted in sin, the sin must first be done away with if you would help the body. And especially must sin be done away with if body and soul are to be helped. For sickness stops when death comes. But sin does not stop since God’s judgment is yet ahead.

So say to me now, do you confess that you are a sinner, and do you want to be free of both sickness and sin? I don’t doubt it concerning sickness. For anyone would gladly be free from what weighs on the body. Therefore show only whether you are sorry for your sin from your heart and that you want to be released from it. What do you answer? Do you confess that you are a poor sinner and that you have your whole life long done and intended much evil against God and his word and against your own conscience? Is it sorrow from your heart so that you wish you had not done it, and if God grants you further life, you will no longer do it, but rather more earnestly hold to God’s word and will and do better? What do you answer?

Here he answers: Yes.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Pastorale oder Hirtenbuch, trans. David Buchs, (Eisleben: Urbanus Raubisch, 1559), CLXXXIIr-v.

The consolation that Sarcerius offers to such a penitent will follow in another post.

Review: Seven Books Against the Pagans

Paulus Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.  Translated by Roy Deferrari.  Fathers of the Church Series, no. 50.  (Washington, D.C.:  Catholic University of America Press, 2001).

Lately I have had a deep interest in late antiquity.  The establishment of the Church, the shifting of the Roman Empire from the west to the east, the struggles of Christianization—all of it continues to have a strong influence on our world today.  What better way to get a handle on it than to delve into primary sources?

I was initially attracted to one such primary source, the Seven Books against the Pagans by Paulus Orosius, written in the early 5th century, because it promised to be an important witness for the life of the Emperor Theodosius the Great.  While it kept that promise, it also raised another important question:  how do we answer critics who claim that things used to be better before Christianity?  Or perhaps a little wider, what do we say to the complaint that truth divides and causes more problems than it solves?

Orosius studied under St. Augustine in a time of tremendous upheaval.  In the year 410, Alaric, the first king of the Visigoths, sacked the city of Rome.  Even though the center of the Roman world had been shifting steadily eastward since Constantine founded Constantinople in 330, Rome remained a symbolic bulwark in the Roman imagination.  Its fall meant that everything had gone horribly wrong, and consequently it seemed as if the very world was coming to an end.  Though Christianity was well established in the Empire by this point, suddenly a strong criticism arose:  what happened to the good old days?  Why have we fallen so far?  For many, the only change between the heady days of Augustus four hundred years earlier and now was the introduction of a foreign element in the Christian religion.  It must be the reason why.  The old ways kept the peace.  The old gods had been forgotten, and therefore everything has gone off track.

Augustine himself famously addressed this argument in the monumental City of God, but he felt that the argument needed to be strengthened further.  Where he focused specifically on Roman history, he felt that it needed expansion.  He therefore asked Orosius to compose a similar work, but to expand his view to the world as a whole.  Orosius, like Augustine, therefore wrote Seven Books against the Pagans to prove a remarkable thesis:  things used to be far worse, and only with the coming of Christ and the Church has the world seen improvement.  Even if things are bad now, it is like complaining of the cold at the first sign of winter, forgetting the blizzards of years gone by.  Using various sources, he covers thousands of years of history in an effort to prove just that.

Admittedly, this thesis seems to ring hollow for many.  Especially as Orosius enters the Christian era, his coloring of people and events tends to grow.  He expresses confusion as to how Constantine could put members of his own family to death.  His connection of the ten persecutions prior to Constantine to the plagues of Egypt, while imaginative, seems forced.  His triumphalism leads him to downplay the very real problems in his own day, even as he admits them.

Yet Orosius leads us to address the question seriously.  Seeking the truth often means stirring up trouble.  Men frequently prefer peace to truth, and addressing old problems means disturbing that peace.  Orosius answers by saying that the good old days weren’t as good as they seemed.  There is truth to that.  Peace at the cost of truth cannot be good in any circumstance.  We don’t have to follow Orosius by arguing that the present time is necessarily much better.  There will always be division and problems in this life.  Christ promises a cross, not peace.  Yet at the same time, he ought to be commended for pointing out an obvious truth in a somewhat distorted way:  what God does is always good, and truth is to be preferred to peace if it comes to that choice.  Things may be as terrible in this sin-filled world as they have always been, but how blessed are the eyes of those who see the things which former generations longed to see!

Review: Melanchthon at the dawn

Gregory B. Graybill, The Honeycomb Scroll: Philipp Melanchthon at the Dawn of the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015)

Melanchthon” is a name which has lived in infamy. In a traditional rendering, he was simultaneously weak-willed and given to overestimating the strength of human free will. In the tradition of the Missouri Synod, he is Compromiser-in-Chief and a source of blight like unto devouring locusts. A man who authored three of the Reformation-era confessions in the Book of Concord and the 1521 Loci Communes that Luther recommended next to Scripture is surely someone who deserves biographers’ attention, whether complimentary or ill-disposed, and Gregory Graybill has given us a fresh telling of Melanchthon’s early years.

Graybill wonderfully connects Melanchthon’s biography to his times so that one always sees the man within scenes much bigger than himself, as his own life would have appeared to him. The ongoing strife within the Holy Roman Empire and the threats from France and from the Ottomans outside the Empire framed Melanchthon’s life. It was war that made Melanchthon’s father, Georg Schwarzerd, successful. Without war in the Rhineland, Georg’s craftsmanship and diligence as an armorer and gunsmith would have been useless. As war outside the Empire would protect the early evangelicals in Saxony from the full weight of Charles V’s attention, it was war inside the Empire that gave Melanchthon’s family the access to money and social connections that allowed Melanchthon to receive the wonderful education he did after the death of his father.

It was Melanchthon’s singular good fortune throughout his early life to have good connections. His connection to the eminent humanist and Hebraist John Reuchlin got him into the Latin school at Pforzheim and later the Greek professorship at Wittenberg over the preference of most of the Wittenberg faculty (Luther included) for Petrus Mosellanus. Like his father’s good fortune in business, Melanchthon’s connections were not mere nepotism, for Melanchthon’s prodigious abilities as a linguist, rhetorician, and humanist were apparent to all from his earliest education. Yet it was the combination of tremendous talent with great good fortune that brought a young man from a comfortable bourgeois obscurity to the epicenter of a theological revolution in Saxony.

Graybill maintains that Melanchthon’s theology was biblically and evangelically focused before his move to Wittenberg in 1518. He believes that Melanchthon’s grasp of biblical theology deepened greatly in an exchange with Luther beneficial to both of them: the younger man learning the Bible in much greater depth, the older man realizing the benefits of classical learning to a much greater extent. Graybill’s Melanchthon is not an appendage to Luther, and the biographer is eager to quote Luther whenever he praised Melanchthon as learned than himself. Graybill’s Melanchthon is the representative of his own stream of Rhenish humanism that produced Reuchlin, Bucer, and many others, and Graybill reminds the reader several times of the foreignness of the parts of modern-day Germany to one another in the sixteenth century. When Melanchthon took a Saxon bride (on the advice of friends and against his own inclination), his mother was upset that he had married a foreigner!

This book is very strong in its narration of Melanchthon’s early life with precisely the right amount of historical detail and a strong sense of the historical Melanchthon apart from the Melanchthon of hagiography or black legend. It is weaker in its often colloquial tone and poor print quality. At times Graybill’s phrasing is more supermarket paperback and less historical biography, and throughout the volume Fortress has printed blurry photos and placed images with little concern for an awkwardly blank third of a page beneath the caption. There are also elementary spelling errors and the supplying of the wrong homonym a couple times. The biographer’s efforts and the subject’s importance deserved much better. Nonetheless, the volume is worthwhile for the story it tells about a figure whose importance to the Lutheran Reformation can scarcely be overstated. The dearth of Melanchthoniana in English makes this volume well worth the reader’s time, and should you doubt its importance, pick up Preus’ The Second Martin in the same book order. When Martin Chemnitz first moved to Wittenberg and a year later took up teaching responsibilities at the university in the 1550s, it was Melanchthon’s house at which he stayed and under Melanchthon’s benevolent sponsorship that his theological professorship flourished. The power of good connections and the favors of elderly patrons to promising scholars endured from Melanchthon’s promising youth to Chemnitz’s.

Book Review: St. Patrick of Ireland

St. Patrick of Ireland by Philip Freeman.  New York:  Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2005.

St. Patrick looms vaguely in our cultural consciousness, mostly because his commemoration became secularized.  He has become an icon of Irish nationalism, even though he himself was not Irish, and many myths attached themselves to his work, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.  Patrick, however, provides an example of missionary fervor worthy of imitation in our day, especially when considering his hardships, the dangers he faced, and the life he left behind in order to be a worthy servant of Christ.

Philip Freeman sketches an easy to read picture of Patrick’s life, especially since Patrick himself left only two writings that have survived to the present day.  Most of Freeman’s book details the background necessary to understand Patrick’s work.  Freeman directs interested readers to further resources on early Britain and Ireland at the end, though his own treatment is wholly sufficient for even the most casual reader, and he includes a translation of Patrick’s two letters as well.  Freeman occasionally colors his presentation in ways I cannot endorse, but even his personal foibles do not detract from an otherwise informative book.

Patrick was born in a wealthy Roman and Christian family in late fourth century Britain.  He struggled with faith in his youth, committing some unnamed sin which would haunt him for the rest of his life.  While he was still young, however, slavers caught Patrick and carried him away to Ireland, where he labored as a slave for six years.  This enslavement had two effects:  it deprived him of a formal education, which meant that his command of the Latin language remained halting throughout his life; but it also drove him to rely on the Lord.  In the fires of tribulation, God shaped Patrick into a servant who would suffer much on behalf of His name.

After six years, he managed to escape and returned to Britain to be reunited with his family.  However, Patrick knew that he could not stay.  Contrary to all expectations, he knew that he had to return to the place of his slavery in order to be a servant of God.  Leaving behind his family’s wealth and the security of Britain, Patrick became a priest and returned to Ireland around the year 432.  There, amid the squabbling of the clan kings of Ireland and the opposition of the native druids, Patrick labored for many years.  He was not the first Christian on the island, but few before or after him affected that land so profoundly.

Late in his life, a nominally Christian British chieftain named Coroticus captured and enslaved some of Patrick’s flock, some of whom had just been baptized at Easter.  Deeply grieved, Patrick boldly wrote a letter to Coroticus, rebuking him harshly for his unchristian action (calling he and his men “citizens of hell”) and calling on him to repent.  This letter is one of the two which has survived.  Patrick’s concern for his people resonates throughout the letter, as well as his fearlessness in the face of adversity.

His action, however, enraged the British church.  Who was Patrick, this rustic bishop of backwards Ireland, to encroach upon matters outside his authority?  He should have left the matter to Coroticus’ own bishop, in their minds.  They therefore called Patrick to stand judgment, and his famous Confession, the other work which has survived, served as his legal defense.  In it, he described his own life and the work he had done in Ireland.  Patrick is not apologetic for what he has done; rather, he defends his ministry through his broken Latin.  His own words sum it up best:  “I would write these words of my defense again and again if I could.  I declare in truth and with joy in my heart–before God and his holy angels–that I have never had any motive in my work except preaching the good news and its promises.  That is the only reason I returned here to Ireland–a place I barely escaped from alive.”

Patrick, therefore, serves as a fantastic example for our own day.  Instead of fleeing Ireland forever, which he might have reasonably done after being a slave there, he returned with the aim of proclaiming the Gospel.  Instead of looking for fame and renown, he labored long among the Irish despite opposition from pagan and sometimes fellow Christians alike.  Instead of fearing men and harm to his own body or position, he feared the living God, proclaiming what is right as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.

Witnessing Like Boniface

The voice of the living God, given to us in the Scriptures, builds up the Church from age to age.  In no other source do we find the living Word.  Yet this does not mean that other writings are useless.  The lives of the saints give us concrete examples of how the Word of the Lord has borne fruit in every time.

Boniface gives us one such example.  Born in the late 600s in Anglo-Saxon England, the Lord called him to labor as a missionary in Germania, including parts of what is today Germany and the Netherlands.  His work lasted for decades until he was finally martyred on June 5, 754.  While he is known for his extensive correspondence and for being made the Archbishop of Mainz in 745, one event in his life stands out above the others.

Somewhere in what is now Hesse, Germany, a great oak tree stood.  This tree, called “Donar’s Oak,” was a symbol of the pagan practices of the area.  This sacred tree formed a sort of “natural sanctuary” for the pagans, a living temple or perhaps a copy of the world-tree of Germanic mythology.  As long as the tree still stood, it seemed to be a confirmation of the strength of the pagan gods.

Boniface was not the first Christian to labor in the area, however.  There were many Christians who lived there, but many were being seduced by the strength of this pagan cult.  In order to strengthen the faith of these wavering Christians and to give a bold testimony of the superiority of Christ, Boniface picked up an ax and prepared to cut down the tree.  What happened next is a matter of debate, however.  The biographies of Boniface all attribute to him a miracle.  Boniface had barely begun to chop down the tree when the whole mighty oak fell over and burst into four pieces.  Did a miracle occur?  Maybe, for the Lord is certainly capable of using miracles to strengthen the witness of the Church, as He does throughout the book of Acts.  Maybe not, because early medieval biographies like this attribute all sorts of miracles to the saints, some of which even the people of that day regarded as outlandish.  What is certain is that the tree was cut down.  Christ’s servant had done what no pagan had dared to do.  He then used the wood of the tree as part of a new oratory, a small church dedicated to prayer.

Miraculous or not, there are two important examples that we can draw from this account.  One is the strength of Christ.  The pagans were caught in a cycle of fear.  As long as their gods were happy, no misfortune would come upon them, and so things like this sacred tree provided a way of keeping them happy.  Victory proved that their gods still favored them, and so the strength of their gods meant a lot to them.  Boniface proved by cutting down the oak that Christ was stronger still.  This might seem odd to us today, since we don’t usually think of Christ in these terms.  Waiting to see whether Christ will lead our armies to victory seems almost foolish to us.  Yet Christ is in fact stronger than anything which the world brings.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:35)?  Boniface reminds us that there is no reason to be caught in a cycle of fear, for Christ reigns triumphant.  As missionaries, too, we should remember that the peace which Christ brings, shown forth in our lives, is often a powerful means of witnessing for Christ.

The other example is the fearlessness of Boniface.  Regardless of how much actual danger he was in, it still took tremendous courage to cut down that tree.  Being a witness for Christ is not always a comfortable or easy thing.  It may very well mean taking tremendous risks or even suffering at the hands of unbelievers, just as Boniface himself would be martyred years later.  Yet in the midst of all of it comes the clear promise that “he who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16).  “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:27-28).  “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).  Boldness, Christians, boldness for the kingdom!  You have nothing to lose, because you have everything in Christ.

Emanuel Greenwald (1811-1885)

St. Paul calls us to imitate him, because spiritual fathers worthy of the name are worthy to be emulated in what they say and do.  Nor is this limited to the apostles, because in every age the Lord richly provides His Church with saints that we should honor and imitate.  Frequently, however, such saints fall into obscurity, blazing as lights within their own generation, but largely forgotten in the next.  Yet the Lord never forgets them, and on the last day their crowns will shine like the sun.

When the days were getting colder in the year 1831, a young man riding on a horse arrived into New Philadelphia, Ohio.  All he carried with him were his meager belongings, a few books, and some letters authorizing him as one sent to labor in Christ’s vineyard.  He had no idea where the Lord would send him, only that he was to travel westward until the Lord called him to stop.  His name was Emanuel Greenwald.

Greenwald had a letter of introduction to a man named Michael Doll who lived in New Philadelphia and was warmly received.  That same evening, at the request of Mr. Doll and the people of New Philadelphia, who had been without a pastor for several years, Greenwald held a service, preaching on John 15:9.  Though he imagined that he would go on further west the following morning, the Lord had other plans for him.  October 27, 1831 thus marked the beginning of a ministry lasting for twenty years.

Being largely alone in that part of the American frontier, Greenwald nonetheless labored mightily.  At one time in the course of that long ministry, he served no less than fourteen preaching stations.  As his biographer Haupt tells us:  “East of New Philadelphia he established a congregation eighteen miles distant; northeast, another at fourteen miles; north, another twelve miles from town; west, twenty-one miles; southwest, twenty-seven miles; south, twenty-three miles; southeast, ten miles, with intermediate places, six, eight, five, seven miles; making, in all, at one time, fourteen preaching places, at which, as often as possible, Sundays and weekdays, in every month in the year, services were held.”  Thus in an area hundreds of square miles in size, riding long on horseback preparing his messages, Greenwald fulfilled his ministry.

Greenwald would go on in the course of his life to serve three other congregations in Columbus, Ohio, Easton, Pennsylvania, and finally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He would become a prolific writer, especially devotionally and for children.  He would serve as editor of several periodicals and as president of his synod.  That is beyond the scope of this short article.  Yet one other anecdote told by Gerberding provides a terrific insight into Greenwald’s character:  “Dr. Greenwald once went to synod, and on his arrival was asked to join a pleasure party before synod would open.  He excused himself and said that he must hunt up a servant girl, lately removed from his parish.”

Far more could be said of this remarkable man.  Yet consider the example he provides.  May our zeal match his, especially in a time when travel is far easier and the tools we have make the labor far lighter!  May we be so willing to serve the Lord wherever he places us, and not merely the places where we think we would serve best!  The Lord raised up Emanuel Greenwald to accomplish His purposes.  Let us not forget his labor, even as we give thanks to the Lord from whom all such blessings flow.

Review: The German Bible in America

The German Bible in America: An Exploration of the Religious and Cultural Legacy of the First European-Language Bible Printed in America by Don Yoder, ed. Patrick J. Donmoyer (Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, 2016)

Few would guess that the first Bible printed in the thirteen colonies was John Eliot’s 1663 Indian Bible produced for the Christian Indians and for missionaries among other Algonquin tribes. Fewer still would guess that the first Bible in a European tongue printed in the colonies was not printed in English. Not until Robert Aitken’s 1782 printing in Philadelphia, after the colonies had broken away from the mother country and its restriction of Bible printing to Oxford and Cambridge, would an English Bible be printed here. Instead, the first European-language Bible and so much of the colonies’ and early America’s religious literature were printed in German. Christopher Sauer Sr.’s 1743 edition of the Luther Bible was printed in Germantown (then just outside Philadelphia and now a part of it) as he stated at the project’s outset in his 1741 Bekanntmachung, “We have also taken notice that people from Germany arrive here in the greatest poverty, and are still coming, who have not even a Bible, and are not able to get one.”

Don Yoder, the late folklorist of Pennsylvania Dutch culture and religion, produced this volume on the Bibles of German America from colonial times down to the nineteenth century and left some of it unfinished at his death. What Yoder did not have opportunity to cover, Patrick Donmoyer of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center has fleshed out. The subject of German Bibles in America deserves far more attention than it has hitherto received, especially from so many American Lutherans whose heritage this is. The Luther Bible was the vastly predominant German translation of the Scriptures even for non-Lutheran Germans. Its competitors like the Swiss Froschauer Bible beloved of the Swiss Anabaptists did not seriously rival the Luther Bible for ubiquity.

Several elements will be of interest to our readers from this visually wonderful volume featuring so many beautiful editions, illustrations, and textual examples from two hundred years of printing. The material form and all the things in a Bible that are not strictly speaking the biblical text affect how we read Scripture, the connections we make, the mental images that impress themselves upon us, and much else about profitably understanding what we read.

  • German Bibles never lacked the Apocrypha.

In colonial and early republican America there are several beautiful examples of printed Bibles like the three editions of the Sauer family or the 1813 Somerset Bible of Frederick Goeb, a Lutheran minister who printed the first Bible west of the Appalachian Mountains in Somerset County, PA. One is unsurprised to find the Apocrypha printed in those texts. Yet even the barebones copies sent to Muhlenberg from the Canstein Bible Society in Halle for distribution to poor Germans contained the Apocrypha. The first edition of the German Bible without the Apocrypha that Yoder discusses was printed by the American Bible Society in 1849, an Anglo-American institution that did not print the Apocrypha in its own English editions.

  • German Bibles were copiously illustrated.

Relatively cheap copies could possess handmade fraktur drawings for bookplates or decoration. Weightier quarto or folio editions were always accompanied by engravings and later drawings, stereotypes, and lithographs. Scripture was always illustrated in great detail. This book is full of ravishing illustrations from the 1704 Merian Bible printed at Frankfurt-am-Main of Jesus’ baptism or unicorns standing next to Adam and Eve and from the 1726 Berleburg Bible brought to colonial Pennsylvania by radical Pietists with elaborate allegorical drawings of the Scriptures as the open door to the vision of the Lamb and of eternal life. This tradition was carried down to what Yoder calls the “Victorian family Bible,” the grandfather of contemporary study Bibles with scholarly articles and lithographs drawn from English Bibles.

  • German Bibles contained much besides the biblical text and illustrations of it.

Almost all copies had what is now called the “one-year” or “historic” lectionary, which one can find even today in all German Bibles printed by and for the Amish, who do not utilize the lectionary system. Such is the power of this tradition of including the readings for each Sunday and festival day that the above-mentioned ABS 1849 German edition sans Apocrypha did contain the standard lectionary readings. From 1805’s Jungmann Bible printed at Reading, PA a family register was included in nearly every Bible as well, and family charts and lists of family events metastasized throughout the nineteenth century as Bibles became repositories of all significant life information. Yoder mentions two court cases in which men established their own ages with reference to what was written in their fathers’ Bibles.

  • Widespread possession and regular use of the Bible were highly valued.

Many of the Amerikabriefe, letters written from the New World back to the German-speaking lands, mention the writer’s desire for a copy of the Scriptures. Lutheran and Reformed ministers in colonial Pennsylvania requested over and again that their overseers in the Old World would provide them with sufficient copies of the Scriptures to sell to the well-off and to distribute freely to the poor. Sauer’s own printing in 1743 sought subscribers so that some of the money raised from subscriptions could cover the cost of printing Bibles to be given away for free. The Bible was the basic text of the Lutheran and Reformed parochial schools that were everywhere in early German America.

And once the Scriptures were in a person’s hands, they were read. Pastor Brunnholtz of Philadelphia reported in 1752 that in his congregation “very many of them keep their hand-Bibles at hand during the sermon and Kinderlehre, and consult them eagerly so that I myself have often been cheered up when I see that through this they have been kept in attention thereby, also with the advantage, that they can repeat the sermon at home and can better remember the cite passages of the truths that are expounded.” Whether read in connection with the sermon or during the family meal, the Scriptures were for early German Americans in the words of Gottlob Jungmann’s Vorrede, “a Word of Atonement – yes, so that it may in the end prove itself the only means by which fallen human creatures may find access again to their GOD, to their Creator, yes, to their Redeemer.”

 

Reading Revelation with Goesswein (Part 6): Dating and Outline

The date and the outline of Revelation

Gösswein says with the great certainty that is his accustomed tone that Revelation was written in John’s old age during the reign of Domitian somewhere between AD 95 and 97. Though he cannot say precisely what year it was written, he avers that the persecution John suffered was the systematic persecution in Domitian’s time, not some sporadic, localized difficulty. Gösswein’s reasons for dating the book are threefold:

  1. The book is not early because Paul is gone. There is no indication of his presence among the churches of Asia Minor in the letters that occupy the first couple chapters of Revelation. For Gösswein that arguable textual fact slides right into the assertion that “all of the apostles had gone home except for John.” I do not think that follows necessarily from the absence of Paul in Asia Minor, but since this series is about Gösswein’s hermeneutics and not my own, it is by the by.
  2. The book is not early because early church tradition (no particular text is cited by Gösswein) says unanimously that Domitian banned John to the island of Patmos, whereon John received the Revelation. This happened near the end of Domitian’s reign, which is where Gösswein gets his AD 95-97 since Domitian died on 18 September 96.
  3. The book is not early because the churches have lost their first love. Gösswein’s rhetoric is impressive and densely Scriptural on this point. John’s words are meant to recall, to reassemble, and to firm up the failing churches descending into every kind of vice and heresy.

Of the three points, 1) and 3) are rather difficult to prove. 1) is an argument from silence, whereas John may have ignored Paul or Paul could have been entirely elsewhere (Spain or Rome, for example). 3) has the advantage of referencing the loss of first love John attributes to the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:4) but may create a unity of affect or concern where none exists. Not every church is soundly rebuked. Some are worse than others in their moral condition or delusions. And if one holds 1 Corinthians to be among Paul’s earliest or his earliest letter, there is no obstacle to believing that the church has been beset by all manner of problems from its inception. 2) is Gösswein’s strongest case for his dating of Revelation, but he spends comparatively very little time on it, despite its historical pedigree, which he does not mention.

The book itself he divides into seven parts, and to conclude our introductory material, here is a translation of his outline:

The first [section] (ch. 1:9-3) presents to us Christ as the Governor of the church, who walks among seven golden lights, and shows us how he governs seven congregations with his words.

The second (ch. 4-8:1) reveals him as the King who has the future in his hands and who also so rules the world that all sorrow must serve his church for the best.

In the third (ch. 8:2-11) Christ appears as High Priest in his holy church, who will not let the church’s borders be overwhelmed, though seven trumpets call awake entire armies of erring spirits.

The fourth paints Christ’s battle with the dragon, the world power hostile to God and the antichrist, in general outline down to the destruction of the enemies (ch. 12-14).

The fifth section (ch. 15-19) shows God’s judgments upon the enemies unto the satisfaction the wrathful righteousness at last finds and the song of triumph to which the elect give voice.

The sixth section (ch. 20) reveals how Christ has the dragon on a chain, until he throws him into the eternal murk, so that that dragon cannot any longer hinder the building up of the church, as Christ has permitted [hitherto].

The seventh section gives a physical pictures of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. With it the entire Holy Scripture concludes, whose beginning speaks of creation and fall and whose ending speaks of rebirth (Mt. 19:28).