Thursday, 24 February 2011

Remembering Sophie

Although the anniversary has now passed, it is worthwhile remembering that the 22nd February was the anniversary of the execution (in 1943) of Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and friend Christoph Probst. They were university students at Munich in the dark days of WWII, and were charged with treason after distributing leaflets which stated, among other things, "“Every word that proceeds from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war. And when he names the name of the Almighty in a most blasphemous manner, he means the almighty evil one, that fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking maw of hell and his might is fundamentally reprobate. To be sure, one must wage the battle against National Socialism using rational means. But whoever still does not believe in the actual existence of demonic powers has not comprehended by far the metaphysical background of this war.”

Having been found guilty in the early afternoon of 22nd February, 1943, they were executed about 5.00pm.

Grave of Sophie & Hans Scholl, & Christoph Probst, Stadelheim Prison, Munich.

Sophie and her brother were devout Lutherans. According to witnesses, Sophie's last words before being beheaded were "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"

Lest we forget.

Memory eternal!

HT Cranach

Was God in Tahrir Square?

Was God in Tahrir Square? Of course, God was there as the one in whom all creatures "live and move and have their being", but was he there directing, through his mysterious providence, the events that led to the Egyptian Revolution? I suspect most Western Christians will bide their time answering that question, waiting to see what transpires as Egypt, particularly to the long-suffering Egyptian Christians. But we must not neglect to factor into our thinking the many places in the Bible which declare that God is, in a sense, Lord of all nations and the decider of their fates, for good or ill; verses such as Psalm 22:28, to cite just one example (take up and read!), and those which teach that that all things happen according to God's good purposes.

One factor in the Revolution that might point towards the presence of God in Tahrir Square is the advent of a moderate and tolerant form of Islam promoted by Egyptian clerics through television programs. Yes, it's the Muslim equivalent of US televangelists, and like the American versions thereof, they have garnered considerable popularity and political influence. It was evidently these popular figures who provided much of the moral support to the youth who spearheaded the revolution. We can only hope then that their intentions really are as benevolent as is claimed by their supporters - of this more below, but first a digression.

Western history teaches us that the liberty and tolerance that enabled modern representative democracies to develop and thrive was underpinned by solid Christian convictions. Western society is now facing a reversal of its fortuens precisely because, I would argue, that religious foundation is being systematically broken up. I would also argue that if Middle-Eastern societies are to thrive as free and democratic societies, then a moderate and tolerant form of Islam needs to appear to provide a religious ethos that supports democracy.

Perhaps the advent of the Egyptian Muslim televangelists, with their so-far benevolent attitude towards the Christians in their midst, is evidence of just such a movement? Not that God approves of their theology, mind you, but could he not use them to further his own purposes to bless the Egyptian people with "1st article of the Creed" gifts, while at the same time creating a more hospitable environment for the many Christians there? It's an intriguing prospect. God's ways are indeed mysterious, as Cowper's hymn reminds us: "He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will". And he does so in ways which we, often as not, don't see coming.

Click on the post title to read an article by an insider arguing that God was indeed in Tahrir Square, and follow events with interest and prayers for our Egyptian Christian brothers and sisters. Let's hope for their sake the report is not overly optimistic.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Earthquake in Christchurch (Updated)

Christchurch is a beautiful city in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's south island. Today it was hit by an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale. This follows a stronger, but less damaging earthquake (centred further away from the city) in September last year. Reports are coming in of 65 people dead with possibly hundreds still trapped in collapsed buildings as evening falls, while much of the city remains without power. The iconic spire of Christchurch Cathedral (pictured) has fallen. I know I have readers in NZ, but I'm not sure if any are in Christchurch; in any case, our thoughts are very much with with the people of Christchurch at present and our prayers rise for them (for US readers, New Zealand is to Australia as Canada is to the US, only much closer culturally and through immigration).

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1

Update
Click on the post title to view a video of the damage.

Update 23.02.2011
Eye-witness account reported here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/23/3146815.htm
Death toll now at 75. A large aftershock was reported this afternoon about 3pm Christchurch time.

Update 24.02.2011
Up to 120 bodies are believed to be still in the Canterbury TV station building in Christchurch. Australian search and rescue/recover teams arrived yesterday and within two hours they were searching buildings. A member of a former parish of mine who is a fireman with extra s & r training is serving in that group.

Update II, 24.02.2011
226 confirmed or presumed dead.
Earthquake Survivors Plagued With Guilt:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/24/3148251.htm

Update 1.03.2011
2 minutes' silence observed in NZ & Australia in memory of victims.
Recovery operations continue with international help. 200+ confirmed dead.
NZ Prime Minister John Key foreshadows an inquiry into responses to the Sept 2010'quake and how they may have left two buildings particularly exposed to subsequent 'quakes. Most of the 200+ dead in this quake lost their lives in two multi-storey buildings.

Update 02.02.2011: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/02/3153463.htm

Monday, 21 February 2011

Bernard of Clairvaux Denies the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

“I am frightened now, seeing that certain of you have desired to change the condition of important matters, introducing a new festival unknown to the Church, unapproved by reason, unjustified by ancient tradition. Are we really more learned and more pious than our fathers? You will say, ‘One must glorify the Mother of God as much as Possible.’ This is true; but the glorification given to the Queen of Heaven demands discernment. This Royal Virgin does not have need of false glorifications, possessing as She does true crowns of glory and signs of dignity. Glorify the purity of Her flesh and the sanctity of Her life. Marvel at the abundance of the gifts of this Virgin; venerate Her Divine Son; exalt Her Who conceived without knowing concupiscence and gave birth without knowing pain. But what does one yet need to add to these dignities? People say that one must revere the conception which preceded the glorious birth-giving; for if the conception had not preceded, the birth-giving also would not have been glorious. But what would one say if anyone for the same reason should demand the same kind of veneration of the father and mother of Holy Mary? One might equally demand the same for Her grandparents and great-grandparents, to infinity. Moreover, how can there not be sin in the place where there was concupiscence? All the more, let one not say that the Holy Virgin was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of man. I say decisively that the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, but not that He came with Her…I say that the Virgin Mary could not be sanctified before Her conception, inasmuch as She did not exist. If, all the more, She could not be sanctified in the moment of Her conception by reason of the sin which is inseparable from conception, then it remains to believe that She was sanctified after She was conceived in the womb of Her mother. This sanctification, if it annihilates sin, makes holy Her birth, but not Her conception. No one is given the right to be conceived in sanctity; only the Lord Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and He alone is holy from His very conception. Excluding Him, it is to all the descendants of Adam that must be referred that which one of them says of himself, both out of a feeling of humility and in acknowledgement of the truth: Behold I was conceived in iniquities (Ps. 50:7). How can one demand that this conception be holy, when it was not the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention that it came from concupiscence? The Holy Virgin, of course, rejects that glory which, evidently, glorifies sin. She cannot in any way justify a novelty invented in spite of the teaching of the Church, a novelty which is the mother of imprudence, the sister of unbelief, and the daughter of lightmindedness”

Bernard of Clairvaux, Epistle 174, in The Letters of St Bernard of Clairvaux (Sutton, 1998)[click on post title to view].

"Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090 – August 20, 1153) was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order...At the 800th anniversary of his death, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical on Bernard, Doctor Mellifluus in which he labeled him 'The Last of the Fathers'....Bernard also held some doctrines which the Reformers would later rekindle at the beginnings of the Protestant movement. Some people have therefore equated him with a Protestant before there were Protestants. In truth he held to a mix of the Reformers' doctrines and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church of his day.Bernard fought against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.Also of great importance to the Reformers would be Bernard's conception of justification. Calvin quotes Bernard several times to show the historical valididy of Sola Fide, which Luther described as 'the article upon which the church stands or falls'. Calvin also quotes him extensively in setting forth his doctrine of a forensic alien righteousness,or as it is commonly called imputed righteousness" [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_of_Clairvaux].

--+--

Note - The Immaculate Conception of Mary is the Roman Catholic dogma that the the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of original sin. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 frankly admitted that "[n]o direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture" (http://oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Immaculate_Conception#II._THE_HOLY_SCRIPTURE), and denied that the allegorical interpretation of passages such as Genesis 3:15 are an adequate scriptural foundation for the dogma. At best, it says, such passages serve as corroborative evidence. The witness of tradition is ambiguous, with many Fathers either ignorant of the belief or flatly denying it, including such prominent medieval theologians as Bernard, Bonaventure and Aquinas. The belief seems to have been purely an outgrowth of popular piety down through the centuries (even a young Luther was attached to it), and the dogma finally rests on the 'ecclesiastical positivism' of the 1854 papal ex cathedra definition. Indeed, Aquinas had stated that he could only believe the dogma on the basis of the church's authority, which points us to the significance of this dogma as a 'watershed' issue between those who adhere to sola scriptura and those who ascribe to either tradition or the church an authority equal to or above scripture.

Curiously, the belief in Mary's immaculate conception can be found in the Koran (3rd chapter), which fact likely points us to the origins of this dogma in the Marian piety of the Syrian Christians with whom Muhammed interacted as a trader - MH.

PS
I have added new links to essays on Luther and Bernard by Posset, Pedersen and Bell; check the essays column to the right.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Luther on Matthew 5:42


Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:42, ESV).

Christ is not commanding me here to give what I have to any scoundrel who comes along and as a result deprive my own family or others who may need my help and to whom I am obliged, and as a consequence suffer want and become a burden to others myself. He is not saying that we should give and lend to everybody, but to "the one who would borrow from you", that is, someone who really needs it.
Martin Luther, The Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luther's Works AE 21:117)

[Pic: Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount]

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Luther on the Happy Exchange

"Faith does not merely mean that the soul realizes that the divine word is full of grace, free and holy; it also unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul; and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vice and sin; these now belong to Christ. Here we have a sweet exchange and struggle. Christ is God and human being, who has never sinned and who's holiness is unconquerable, eternal and almighty. So he makes the sin of the living soul his own through its wedding ring, which is faith, and acts as if he had done it himself, so that sin could be swallowed up in him. For his unconquerable righteousness is too strong for all sin, so that it is made single and free from all its sins on account of its pledge, that is its faith, and can turn to the eternal righteousness of its bridegroom, Christ. Now is this not a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble, holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ and is swallowed up by him, so that she possesses a rich righteousness in her bridegroom."

Martin Luther, as quoted by Alister McGrath in The Christian Theology Reader, p441 (I can't find where McGrath has taken this quote from; either my eyes are deceiving me or he has made an error in his referencing).

Note - For Luther the 'happy exchange' is rendered possible by the ultimate happy exchange that took place in the Incarnation, in which a real 'communication of attributes' (communicatio idiomatum) between the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ took place. This is a facet of Lutheran Christology which rests on the reception and development of the orthodox Chalcedonian Christology, and by which the Lutherans attempted to move beyond the impasse between the ancient Antiochian and Alexandrian Christologies (see Nestorius, Eutyches, et al in the usual theological dictionaries).
Both the Reformed and the Roman Catholics reject the Lutheran Christology, and in particular the communicatio maiestaticum (the communication of divine attributes to the human nature of Christ's Person), mistakenly accusing the Lutherans of distorting the true human nature of Christ by attributing divine attributes to it (for the classic Lutheran defence, see Chemnitz). The Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes was all but forgotten by Lutherans in the 20th century, except among the "old Lutherans" in Europe and the New World who consciously maintained the orthodox Lutheran theology (e.g. see Pieper's treatment in the second volume of his dogmatics). Lately, it has been the subject of exploration and renewal by theologians such as Bayer & Steiger.

For further reading on this subject see:

Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), Lectures on Galatians, Large Catechism (Article 2).

Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology (Eerdmans, 2008), 10.2 & 10.4

Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures of Christ (Concordia,1971)

Richard A. Muller, 'communicatio idiomatum', in Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Paternoster, 1985) [not just a dictionary, but an indispensable handbook for the study of Lutheran & Reformed orthodoxy]

Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Concordia, 1951), Vol. II, p129ff

John Schaller, Biblical Christology (Northwestern, 1981)
[Schaller is especially clear on the scriptural foundations of all facets of the Lutheran Christology.]

Johann Anselm Steiger, “The communio idiomatum as the Axle and Motor of Luther’s Theology”, Lutheran Quarterly (Summer 2000), 125-158.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

O Sweet Exchange!

"O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation, that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!"

Is it Luther? Sure sounds like him, doesn't it?

But no, it isn't. Try about 1300 years earlier...from the bright Mediterranean world rather than late medieval northern Europe. It's Mathetes (a pseudonym which simply means 'The Disciple'), writing in his epistle to Diognetus about the late 2nd century AD or possibly earlier (some scholars think he may have been a disciple of the apostle John, based in part on his preference for the term 'the Word' to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ).

The 'sweet exchange' - our sins for Christ's righteousness - was one of Luther's favourite themes; here's proof that in his rejoicing over this image of the pure Gospel Luther had antecedents in the very early church...

“As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food..”
Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetus 9
[http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-08.htm#P708_130188]

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Free Kindle For Your PC

Now you don't even need a Kindle to read a Kindle e-book. Amazon are offering a Kindle Application for PCs for free. Just click on the post title to go to the page. No, I'm not receiving anything from Amazon for this plug, it's just too good not to share. For those of us outside the US, this provides cheap and easy access to thousands of books we would otherwise have to either buy a Kindle to read (sure, I know they're only AUS$139 now, but I'm afraid that's still too expensive for this poor pastor paying for the education of his three kids), or pay exorbitant local retail or overseas shipping prices (I know too that Book Depository.com ships for free, but their theology inventory is limited, they are often out of stock anyway, and I haven't found their prices that much cheaper than their competitors - not that I've bought a book from either them or Amazon for a couple of years now, but I was recently checking them for midwifery textbooks for my wife). The Kindle PC app will be especially handy for netbook users like myself who don't have to lug around a laptop if we want to read in bed, on a bus/train, in a coffee shop, wherever - netbooks are almost as handy as a Kindle in fact, but with much more functionality, of course. Anyway, according to the Amazon blurb, with this you can...
*Get the best reading experience available on your PC. No Kindle required
* Access your Kindle books even if you don't have your Kindle with you
* Automatically synchronizes your last page read and annotations between devices with Whispersync
* Create new highlights, notes, and bookmarks and manage those created on your Kindle
* Use the built-in dictionary to seamlessly look up the definitions of English words without interrupting your reading.
* Full screen reading view, color modes, and brightness controls offer an immersive reading experience
Sounds good.

Btw, while I'm endorsing products, I use an Acer Aspire One netbook for all my computer needs. I bought it when my last HP laptop died (after two years, just out of warranty, naturally). The Acer Aspire has already lasted two years + and has been superior in its performance when compared with the Compaq family desktop. And, it only cost me $300 with $50 cashback! No, I'm not getting paid to write this either...I'm just happy to recommend a product I'm happy with. Hey, maybe I should monetize the blog? Someone actually offered to buy it off me recently...but no, the old manse is not for sale!

Monday, 7 February 2011

To Change the World?

Following on from the last post about the Evangelical myth of transformation, we must note that liberal Christians too have their own version of this myth, which looks to the transformation of society and is often couched in the language of social justice. In light of this, the new book from James Davison Hunter looks very interesting. I have not read it yet, only the publisher's blurb and the extract available on Amazon, but it seems Hunter is advocating the practice of what he calls 'faithful presence' over against direct political engagement from either the 'right' or the 'left' by churches or para-church organisations, arguing that such engagement inevitably compromises the Gospel. In other words, he's calling for a large dose of Christian realism, which I thoroughly agree is necessary in this area. At least, that's my take on it. Here's the blurb:
The call to make the world a better place is inherent in Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive and provocative answers to these questions. Professor Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls “faithful presence”—an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real-life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of “faithful presence.” Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be.
I don't think there's anything new here, but Davison is sure to put his argument in an elegant way.

It has always been my impression that, at least until recently, Lutherans have had a very realistic view of what was achievable or even desirable as far as church involvement in the political sphere goes. I put this down to our strong belief in original sin and the "two kingdoms" paradigm.

Click on the post title to visit Hunter's website.

Friday, 4 February 2011

An Evangelical "Gets It"

I love it when someone "gets it", because not only do they get "it", but they switch others on to "it", and help to focus the attention of those who've already "gotten it" back on "it", because there's a part of us all that wants to wander away from "it", chasing our own versions of "it" down various dead end roads, from which futile quest some, tragically, never return. "It" is the Gospel, of course, the message of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake through faith, which also leads us on to an understanding of the Gospel in the wider sense, with all its doctrinal content revealing how what God has done in Christ applies to life. Specifically, in this case, the "it" is the primarily eschatological nature of "the Christian life", and how we are to live in the meantime...
"The other thing is the whole business of “transformation.” I notice how often that word comes up—our lives can be transformed, our churches can be transformed, our culture can be transformed. We imagine if we do everything right according to what the New Testament teaches us, that things will be completely changed. And if they aren’t completely changed, I’ve either bet my life on something that’s not true, or the Gospel itself is not true. I just keep on coming back to Luther’s truth that we are simultaneously justified and sinners. I keep on looking at my own life, and at church history, and I realize that when the Gospel talks about transformation, it can’t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature, except in a few instances. It must be primarily eschatological; it must be referring to the fact that we will in fact be changed. The essential thing to make change possible has occurred—Christ died and rose again. (And in this life we will see flashes of that, just like in Jesus’ ministry there were moments when the Kingdom broke in and we see a miracle. And these moments tell us there is something better awaiting for us and God is gracious enough at times to allow a person or a church or a community to experience transformation at some level.) But we can’t get into the habit of thinking that this dramatic change is normal, this side of the Kingdom. What’s normal this side of the Kingdom is falling into sin (in big or small ways), and then appropriating the grace of God and looking forward to the transformation to come."
Mark Galli, Senior Editor, Christianity Today magazine [italics mine].

Click on post title to read the full interview at the Mockingbird blog.
HT New Reformation Press blog (link in blogroll, right-hand column)

--+--

The obsession with personal and societal transformation in Evangelicalism seems to stem from two disparate sources: the Pietistic tradition of retreat from the evils of the world to cultivate holiness on the one hand, and from the opposite end of the spectrum the Theonomistic "let's take this world for Christ" world-view. Combine them, as in my experience Baptists especially tend to do, and you've got a mighty force which also hits the ground with an equally mighty thump when it inevitably runs into the cold, hard reality of this recalcitrant world.

Curiously, both approaches have their counter-parts in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in both of which the desires to either retreat from or take-over the world have had a formative role, shaping the ethos of each communion. The common denominator behind these tendencies in both Evangelicalism on the one hand, and Eastern and Western Catholicism on the other is, I think, an underestimation of the radical nature of sin, along with a confusion of Law & Gospel and a consequent misunderstanding of how God works in this world.

So, praise the Lord for Mark Galli, who through his writing is hopefully helping at least some Evangelicals to "get it". After all, if we can't realistically hope to turn all Evangelicals into "Evangelical Lutherans", we can at least hope that some become "Lutheran Evangelicals".

Further reading:
John Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace, Spirituality For Today (Concordia,2008)
Carter Lindberg, Modern Fanatici and the Lutheran Confessions, CTQ July 1995
Harold Senkbeil, Sanctification (Northwestern, 1989)
CFW Walther, Law & Gospel, A Reader's Edition (Concordia, 2010)
Francis Pieper, 'Man After the Fall' in Christian Dogmatics I: 526ff (Concordia)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Lord, have mercy!

As readers may have heard, a monster cyclone (or hurricane for northern hemisphere readers), more powerful than Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans, has crossed the north Queensland coast between Cairns and Townsville and is proceeding inland. Amazingly, initial reports this morning are that there has been no loss of life and the damage to property, while considerable, is not as bad as was feared. This is because the cyclone crossed the coast over the communities of Mission Beach, Tully and Cardwell, where most, if not all, of the population had been evacuated in advance. We can be very thankful that the point of impact with the coast was in this area, and I do indeed believe that the intercessary prayers of many Christians over the last several days have been favourably answered by God on this occasion.

Damage to buildings, along with the banana and sugar cane crops and the sugar mills which form the economic backbone of the area, is considerable, however, and will draw down extensive resources from government and private enterprise in the re-building effort. It is a particularly hard hit for this region, which is just now recovering from the impact of cyclone 'Larry' in 2006, which likewise devastated the banana crop, most of which is grown on family farms. For overseas readers, this has all happened about 1500 kms to the north of where I am in Toowoomba (see map) - Queensland is a big state, bigger than Texas, several times over in fact, but with a big heart to match! As the cyclone season still has another two months to go, and this is a 'La Nina' year (see Wiki for information on the 'southern oscillation index' and how it affects weather down here), we could still be in for more extreme weather this summer, so please keep our state in your prayers.

Our Premier (= state governor for US readers), Anna Bligh (yes, she's a descendant of Captain Bligh of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' fame, as it happens) has already, in layman's terms, raised the question of theodicy, which I'm sure will be on many peoples' minds, and will in turn be addressed in many sermons (including mine this Sunday). I had an elders' meeting last night where half the time was devoted to discussing the question of theodicy and praying for the protection fo the lives of those in harm's way. There are Lutheran congregations in most of the major population centres in this area (along, of course, with congregations of other denominations), and I expect the Queensland District of the Lutheran Church of Australia, with the help of Lutherans across the country, will be extending various kinds of support to those affected by this cyclone, as they have already done for the flood victims.

Click on the post title to view some pics of the cyclone's impact.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Some Interesting Quotes from Leo the Great Indirectly Pertaining to the Immaculate Conception of the BVM

I recently posted these quotes from the homilies of Pope Leo the Great over at 'Lutheran Catholicity'. This is a blog where I publish quotations from the Fathers of the church (broadly defined, up to and including Aquinas so far) which support the 'catholicity' of Lutheran doctrine. This is basically an apologetic effort, which I began to research some 10 years ago after a friend 'swam the Tiber' (converted to Rome), claiming that Lutheran doctrine was not catholic.

What is 'catholicity' as it pertains to doctrine? That's a complex question requiring more space to unravel than we have available here, but basically it means universality, i.e. extension in time and place: there are historical precedents for Lutheran doctrine in all phases of church history and in various locations. Contrary to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox claims, Lutheran doctrine is not a novum (i.e. a totally new thing), although it might be said that it represents a development of doctrine. I prefer to see it as a development in understanding and a purification of Western theology. Broadly speaking, Lutheran doctrine and theology represents a development of the orthodox Augustinian tradition in the Western church and a purification of that tradition in the light of the 'scripture alone' principle and advances in learning that had taken place by late medieval times.

So, do check out 'Lutheran Catholicity' (click on post title to view); it gets a lot less traffic than my other two blogs, but I regard it as the most important blogging I do. I'm afraid it's a bit 'naked' at the moment, but one day, d.v., I might have the time to tie it all together with commentary in the way I originally intended.

OK...without further ado, here's Leo:

"There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all."

"Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, "no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth." [Job 14:4-5, Septuagint] Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered."
First Sermon on Nativity (Sermon 21), Chapter 1

"And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception."
Second Sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 22), Chapter 3.

"... when by the condition of birth, there is one cause of perishing for all. And so among the sons of men, the Lord Jesus alone was born innocent, since he alone was conceived without the pollution of carnal concupiscence."
Fifth sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 25), Chapter 5.

[italics mine]

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Before my comments, just to make sure we're all on the same page, here's Wiki's summary of the Roman dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (pasting from Wiki saves me a lot of time!): "The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of Original Sin. It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts. The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary "was free from any personal or hereditary sin"."
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immaculate_Conception)

Four important points to note regarding Leo's views:

1. Clearly Leo believes that among human beings only Christ has been born innocent, i.e. without the stain of original sin.

2. Leo links the purification of the Virgin Mary from the stain of sin (i.e. from the 'pollution of concupiscence') during the conception and birth of Christ to the immaculate conception of Christ, not her own supposedly immaculate conception, of which he seems to know nothing.

3. Leo also appears to be a 'traducianist' rather than a 'creationist' when it comes to the origin of souls and the transmission of original sin. Lutheran theology allows for both opinions, although traducianism seems to be favoured by the greater number of orthodox theologians.

4. Leo regards the pollution of carnal concupiscence as truly sin, contrary to the later decision by the Council of Trent, which was itself contrary to the clear teaching of scripture, that concupiscence was only the 'fuel' or 'tinder' of sin (*see scripture references on concupiscence below).

In light of this, note the strong words and censures spoken against those who deny the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, as enunciated by Pope Pius IX in the papal bull which annoucend the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus (1854):

"And therefore, against all and everyone of those who shall continue to construe the said Constitutions and Decrees in a manner apt to frustrate the favor which is thereby given to the said doctrine, and to the feast and relative veneration, or who shall dare to call into question the said sentence, feast and worship, or in any way whatever, directly or indirectly, shall declare themselves opposed to it under any pretext whatsoever, were it but only to the extent of examining the possibilities of effecting the definition, or who shall comment upon and interpret the Sacred Scripture, or the Fathers or Doctors in connection therewith, or finally, for any reason, or on any occasion, shall dare, either in writing or verbally, to speak, preach, treat, dispute or determine upon, or assert whatsoever against the foregoing matters, or who shall adduce any arguments against them, while leaving them unresolved, or who shall disagree therewith in any other conceivable manner, we hereby declare that in addition to the penalties and censures contained in the Constitutions issued by Sixtus IV to which we want them to be subjected and to which we subject them by the present Constitution, we hereby decree that they be deprived of the authority of preaching, reading in public, that is to say teaching and interpreting; and that they be also deprived ipso facto of the power of voting, either actively or passively, in all elections, without the need for any further declaration; and that also, ipso facto, without any further declaration, they shall incur the penalty of perpetual disability from preaching, reading in public, teaching and interpreting, and that it shall not be possible to absolve them from such penalty, or remove it, save through ourselves, or the Roman Pontiffs who shall succeed us.

It seems that Pope Leo the Great would fall under the anathema! Of course, Roman Catholics will argue against this on the grounds that Pius was exercising his prerogative as Pope and speaking ex cathedra, vested with infallible authority, whereas Leo was simply exercising the ordinary preaching office. They might further add that the development of doctrine means the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary had not yet 'opened into full flower' at the time when Leo preached.

As to the first argument, our response would be that it is beside the point; the RC must still face the embarrasment of having not just Leo, but several other doctors and Fathers of the church, setting forth doctrinal positions at odds with the later Roman dogma, and in particular with the immaculate conception of Mary. So much for the catholicity of Rome!

As to the second point, it is surely very problematic for Rome when later developments of doctrine not only have no skerrick of evidence to support them in scripture or the earliest church tradition, but actually seem to contradict that evidence and tradition (e.g. that Christ alone was without sin). Thus we note that when the celebration of the immaculate conception of Mary first appeared in France, Bonaventure, one of the great medieval scholastics, referred to it as "this foreign doctrine". There is no organic development here, after the manner of Newman's 'acorn to oak' argument, but rather a parasitic and foreign growth has been allowed to develop upon the apostolic deposit of faith. The Reformer's were correct to apply our Lord's words to the scribes and Pharisees to the Roman church of their time, “You nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).


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Pope Leo I or Leo the Great (ca. 400 – November 10, 461) was pope from September 29, 440 to his death. He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy. He is also a doctor of the Church.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Leo_I; accessed 31.12011)


Quotations from Leo taken from Jean de Launoy, Joannis Launoii Opera omnia, Volume 1, Part 1, available on-line here: http://books.google.com/books?id=pZ8-AAAAcAAJ&dq=editions%3ABCUL1092554631&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false
Jean de Launoy (Joannes Launoius) (1603–1678) was a French historian. Known as "le denicheur des saints", he was a critical historiographer. He was on the sceptical side over the supposed papal bull Sacratissimo uti culmine. In papal politics he was a Gallican, in theology a Jansenist.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_de_Launoy)
de Launoy is cited as a source by Schaff in his History of the Christian Church.

*"Concupiscence" is the English translation of the Koine Greek epithumia (ἐπιθυμία). Epithumia occurs 38 times in the New Testament: Mark 4:19, Luke 22:15, John 8:44, Romans 1:24, Romans 6:12, Romans 7:7,8, Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:16,24, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 4:22, Philippians 1:23, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 1 Timothy 6:9, 2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Timothy 3:6, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:12, Titus 3:3, James 1:14,15, 1 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Peter 4:2,3, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:10,18, 2 Peter 3:3, 1 John 2:16,17, Jude 1:16,18, Revelation 18:14. The word "epithumia" is variously translated: desire, longing, lust, passion, covetousness, impulses, concupiscence.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concupiscence)