Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wedge Becomes the Ax

In my previous post I dealt with the idea that the Lutheran teaching on justification maintains continuity with the patristic witness on the topic, specifically focusing on those Fathers of the Church cited by the person to whom I was responding.  In the process of addressing this issue, the following conclusions were brought out:
  1. The Orthodox Church, in that its teaching purports to be that of the Fathers, relies on them to elucidate the Scriptural teaching of salvation, including Justification.
  2. The Orthodox Catholic teaching on Justification - as seen just in the Fathers cited - involves having been justified, being justified, and the hope of being justified in the future.  That is, a) we are justified in Baptism through the transformation of our human nature into the likeness of Christ's human nature, b) we are progressively transformed according to the inner man through faith working through love, growing in likeness to Christ, and c) we hope to be found righteous on the Last Day when we are assessed of the stewardship of our initial baptismal transformation and gift of the Spirit in Baptism. In short, justification in Orthodoxy (and Catholicism) is transformation.
  3. The Lutheran concept of justification teaches that our fate at the Last Judgment will be determined by the merits of Christ becoming our merits through faith, and that because Christ has earned a declaration of righteousness we will be found righteous on that Day through faith alone.
  4. The Lutheran concept of justification depends on a slight - but very serious - emendation of the patristic witness: instead of justification conceived as the merits of Christ acquiring transformation for us (viz. the Resurrection in the Spirit), justification is conceived as the merits of Christ themselves being our righteousness.  The transformation belonging to the Resurrection is excluded in every respect from our righteousness before God.  The transformation belonging to the Resurrection is seen as God's free gift to those who believe, the logic being that since faith acquires Christ's merit, what that merit deserves (transformation; surety of being found righteous at the Last Judgment) must come naturally from it.
  5. The Lutheran departure on the teaching of justification can be seen not only in the description of how one becomes righteous in and of itself, but also in the way in which Lutherans come to different conclusions about the value of works, the means of transformation, and the criteria of our Final Judgment
  6. The Lutheran position, by departing from the patristic witness, manages to drive a wedge between the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. The wedge can be described as making Christ a Treasury of Merits for our justification, rather than the archetype of our transformation for our justification.  Where there should be a smooth transition from the work of Christ to acquire humanity's ultimate transformation (via the Cross and Resurrection) to the work of the Spirit who impresses the transformitive work of Christ upon us in order to transform us, Lutheranism instead re-orders salvation by inserting a Treasury of Merits between Christ's saving work and the transformation that the Spirit works in us.
  7. This doctrinal wedge between Christ and the Spirit has resulted in a breach of catholicity among Lutherans.  Whenever faced with an issue of catholicity vs. 16th Century Reformation principle, catholicity is made subservient to the wedge - and is ultimately expendable.
In this article I wish to demonstrate how the Lutheran change in what salvation is (lex credendi) required a change in Christian worship (lex orandi). 

Sharpening the Wedge

When considering the connection between Lutheran justification and Lutheran worship, my mind immediately went to a document from my first year at seminary.  The document is "Luther's Liturgical Criteria and his Reform of The Canon of The Mass" by Bryan Spinks of Churchill College, Cambridge (Grove Books Ltd, June 1982).  In this article Spinks makes the argument that Luther's reform of the Canon of the Mass was misdiagnosed by liturgical scholars as conservative, pruning, and haphazard.  Instead, he argues, Luther's reform of the Roman Canon was radical, intentional, and driven by his firm belief in justification by faith alone.

Spinks writes (pg. 37):
The reason for the new canon [found in Formula Missae and Deutche Messa] is to be found in Luther's doctrine of justification by faith and its relation to the command 'Do this in remembrance of me.' The old canon was in obedience to this command, for throughout it spoke in terms of 'We do.' It was a response to God's action in Christ, seeking by faithful obedience and repetition and intercession, to enter into the sacrifice of Christ. This seems to have been precisely Luther's objection. For Luther, the sacrifice of the cross and the forgiveness of sins were God's gift to man which could only be received with thanksgiving. It could not be actively entered into by man, whether by imitation or by intercession. 'Do this in remembrance of me' was to proclaim again what God had done for man, and Luther seems to have concluded that the most effective way of doing this was by letting God himself speak in the words of institution. Thus Luther's reformed canon replaced 'We do' with 'He has done.' His starting point was 'Dominus Dixit.' As he explained:
' " He sent forth his word, and thus (sic) healed them," not: "He accepted our work, and thus healed us." '
Instead of trying to participate and enter into the sacrifice of Christ by lifting our hearts to the heavenly altar, we stand in awe with Isaiah as Christ speaks to us on earth, granting us pardon, and therefore taking us up into his sacrifice.  In doing this, Luther believed that he had replaced the canon with the gospel; the canon had given up its place at the marriage feast to Christ its master. 
Note that Luther does not object to entering into the sacrifice of Christ, according to Spinks.  What he objects to is entering into that sacrifice by offering our own sacrifice (by imitation or intercession).  According to Spinks, Luther believed that Christ Himself takes us up into His sacrifice through the word of forgiveness. The Sacrament of the Altar is but a visible sign of this word of forgiveness.  By believing the words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" (Small Catechism) one worthily receives the Sacrament, for it is only by faith that one can receive the merits of Christ that constitute Lutheran justification.  The purpose of the Mass for Luther is to proclaim salvation by faith alone, which necessitates the exclusion of any sacrificial work on our part.

However, the Roman Mass is loaded with sacrificial language.  A cursory reading of the historical development of the Roman Mass will reveal that the thanksgiving that happens in the Mass happens precisely through making an offering (i.e. sacrifice).  For a very long time everyone was expected to present a token offering - viz. bread or wine - to the clergy at the offering procession.  These offerings were tokens of the complete offering of one's self to God in the sacrifice of the Mass.  In the ancient mind there was no sense of thanksgiving without giving it in some tangible, material way.  The spiritual sacrifice of the Mass offered by us is essentially incarnated through the physical offering we make.  Our offering is taken up by Christ and perfected by making it His Offering - even His Body and Blood offered for our salvation once-for-all on the cross, and perpetually present in heaven for our benefit.  Certainly an abuse of this idea arose when people made offerings but then did not follow through with actual participation in the liturgy itself (as in the Private Masses).  Yet the principle of sacrifice in the Mass is as old as the document evidence for the Roman Mass itself.

For Luther to excise sacrificial language from the Canon (as well as the Offertory) does not restore the Roman Mass to an earlier, more pure form.  It does not restore a lost catholicity.  It witnesses to Luther's break with catholicity.  It demonstrates just how new and radical Luther's teaching is.

The Ax

Luther's approach to the Roman Mass can be put this way: What are all of our human works doing in the place where God is trying to give us His completed work of salvation that can only be received by faith and not by works? For Luther the Mass is about the Gospel, and the Gospel is about proclaiming access to a Treasury of Merits that makes all human work unnecessary in view of one's relationship to God now and in the coming Final Judgment.  And this Treasury of Merit can only be owned by putting your faith in it (or more specifically, in Him, for this Treasury of Luther's is Christ).  Therefore the Mass's job is to set forth the object of faith - the incarnate Treasury of Merits - so that it may be received in faith.

But why would this preclude offering a sacrifice?  It does not preclude any sacrificial offering, but simply a propitiatory sacrificial offering.  Consider the Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV:19 on the subject:
Moreover, the proximate species of sacrifice are two, and there are no more. One is the propitiatory sacrifice, i.e., a work which makes satisfaction for guilt and punishment, i.e., one that reconciles God, or appeases God's wrath, or which merits the remission of sins for others. The other species is the eucharistic sacrifice, which does not merit the remission of sins or reconciliation, but is rendered by those who have been reconciled, in order that we may give thanks or return gratitude for the remission of sins that has been received, or for other benefits received.
We see here how the Apology wishes to divide sacrifices that gain God's favor from sacrifices that render thanksgiving - as if that were possible.  The Apology goes on to make a serious argument against the "ceremony of the Mass" availing ex opera operato.  The Lutheran view formulated here is that the only offering made in the Mass is one of thanksgiving, and that this thanksgiving must come from the heart (faith). Yet the polemic tries to characterize the offering of the Roman Mass as simply an empty work of men that works just because you do it.  I am sure there was some room for criticizing empty ritualism, but the point of the polemic goes beyond that.  The polemic asserts that offering the Mass for the living and the dead is meaningless.  It cannot avail against sins unless one is present to participate in genuine faith, and then the help against sins comes from the eating and drinking in faith, not the offering in the Mass.  For while the Lutherans admit a "real presence" of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, they exclude the continual offering of this same Sacrifice (viz. Body and Blood of Christ) for our benefit.  This Sacrifice cannot be sacrificed in our midst, because when it was originally offered that offering was alone sufficient to acquire the merits necessary to save.  (Here save means not only to give entrance into the Church, but also into the heavenly banquet at the Parousia.)

It is as if the Lutherans were to ask, "Why do you need more merits? Christ covered that need. You must be trying to add human works to the equation." The complaint rests on this notion that Christ is not only a Treasury of Merits, but that when He said, "It is finished" He meant that He had acquired all the merits we need to be forgiven and to enter into the coming kingdom now and forever.  Any attempt to offer works, sacrifices, and especially Christ's own offering on the cross cuts against the "it is finished" conception of Christ as an already complete Treasury of Merits for us.  To suggest that Christ's offering is made present and continuously offered in our midst in the sacrifice of the Mass suggests that salvation (as defined above) is not quite settled, and that maybe we do not have enough merits really to be saved yet.

Yet the Roman Mass is not built on the presupposition that Christ is an all-sufficient Treasury of Merits in the Lutheran sense.  The Roman Mass is built on the presupposition that we are taken up into Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit and presented to God in the most supreme fellowship.  This is accomplished by the only means possible: the self-offering of Christ on the cross.  The offering of the cross is exactly this, that Christ has offered up humanity itself back to God by offering up Himself as the perfect and True Man (Ecce Homo), who offers up His life that it may become the life of the world that had lost its life through sin.  This is the supreme epitome of humanity AND divinity, because it is the pinnacle of love.  The world can be transformed and returned to God by passing from death to life in Christ's death and resurrection.  The sacrifice of the Mass is based on the baptismal experience, and it is the continuation of this baptismal experience until the Parousia.

The Roman Mass is also built on the presupposition that Christ's priesthood is perpetually active in heaven and on earth.  The priesthood held by individual men is a stewardship of Christ's priesthood in our midst.  In the sacrifice of the Mass, not only is our offering taken up into Christ's Offering, but the priesthood in our midst at the altar is revealed as really Christ's own priesthood by that same Offering, wherein Christ perpetually does the sacrificing.  All is taken up into Christ, or better put, Christ is all in all.

Since the Roman Mass does not know of a 'gospel of completed merits' it cannot meet Luther's needs.  The Roman Mass accomplishes what Christ's sacrifice accomplishes, because it is the entire creation taken up into Christ and His offering through the Church.  It is all creation taken up into Christ and returned to God. This includes the dead, for Christ descended to the dead in Hades and brought salvation there, too.  Did He do it by offering merits to those who lacked them, or did He do it by overcoming the very power that imprisoned those there, that is, by transforming death to life? It is the latter, not the former.

Since the Roman Mass is concerned with the Catholic and Orthodox Gospel, and not the Lutheranized gospel of the 16th Century, it has in view that our transformation spans the time of our baptism until our bodily death and even into the General Resurrection.  In this time we may sin, face evil, and we will definitely face all sorts of needs and require every sort of divine help as we sojourn in this life towards the life to come. All of this, too, is taken up into Christ's offering, that it may be transformed into that which will transform us into the likeness of Christ.


The fruit of Luther's liturgical reforms can be seen down to the present day.  When I was a Lutheran I was very concerned about keeping traditional Lutheran liturgy alive.  This meant keeping the Lutheranized Mass dressed up in as much of its historical reverence and ceremony as possible.  After all, if you believe that Lutheranism has fixed the problems of the historical liturgy, and therefore returned the Mass to its proper purity, shouldn't you all the more try to maintain catholicity by maintaining all the outward forms, prayers, and ceremonies of that liturgy?  After all, lex orandi, lex credendi and all.

Yet Luther's reforms of the Mass severed the silver cord of catholicity by cutting out the Gospel for a high medieval, reformationed gospel.  The element of catholicity that remains is a belief that Christ's true Body and true Blood are present for the faithful to eat and drink at the Mass.

I have seen at least two directions Lutheran worship has taken based on Luther's reforms of the Mass.  One has been to maintain a Catholic exterior - observing traditional vestments, medieval ceremonies, and the like - in an attempt to establish (the facade) that Lutheranism is the historic Catholic Church gone right. Historicity and catholicity is of the utmost importance among these Lutherans, and they might say that without historicity and catholicity Lutheranism is neither Lutheran nor Catholic but Protestant.  Yet the truth of the matter is that the liturgical evidence is stacked against their claim for catholicity.  Such Lutherans can make their liturgies as solemn, rubrically precise, and ceremonially right as possible, but they will never be catholic, because they lack the Faith that kept all that sacrificial language in the Roman Mass not just since Pope St. Gregory the Great's time, but as far back as the document evidence for the Roman Mass itself exists.  Without this catholic Faith the best Lutheran liturgy can attain to in terms of catholicity is wishful thinking.

The other direction I have seen Lutheran worship take is based directly on Luther's revision of the Gospel. Spinks points out that what traditional elements Luther left in his Mass were for the sake of the weak who would stumble in the faith if too many obvious changes were made.  What Luther insisted on was that his gospel was preached above all, so that the simple people could hear it and believe it.  The modern purveyors of Contemporary Worship in Lutheranism have based their revisions of worship on this model.  The people need to hear the preaching of the Luther-gospel, but they should not be offended by old ceremonies and out-dated customs that have no relevance for the simple, modern man.  Catholicity is not an issue in these churches, because their worship leaders have adequately learned the Lutheran lesson: faith alone in the message is the goal, while ceremonies are to aid the simple people in learning and sincerity toward God.  Catholicity is expendable, because the only history that counts is the writing of the autographs of the New Testament, followed by Luther's interpretation of them, followed by the needs of modern man.

The Contemporary Worship situation is a real threat and problem for the catholic-minded Lutheran.  The only way to preserve catholic-esque worship in many Lutheran congregations is to sell the idea that Lutheranism is supposed to maintain a sense of catholicity, and that this notion of catholicity should be valued, cherished, and defended.  "Liturgical Worship" becomes a necessary part of this battle for catholic identity in the hearts and minds of Lutheran parishioners.  This is why a high interest in "liturgical worship" often leads people out of Lutheranism, because Lutheran Worship is in its essence NOT catholic (as was said above), and the quest for catholicity eventually leads one to the Orthodox or Roman churches where true catholicity comes from in the first place.

Having said all of this about Lutheranism, I cannot help but look at today's post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church.  Liturgically-speaking there is a lot of confusion going on there.  There is a lot of freedom given to people to do what seems best to them, and not enough oversight.  The Contemporary Worship milieu has infected the faith and piety of that church.  It is an infection from the ground up. I cannot help but wonder what influence the introduction of a new gospel in the 16th Century by a German monk has had on the present liturgical infection Rome experiences today?  I also cannot help but wonder what will happen to that church if its bishops do not do something about the problem soon, before another generation grows up thinking the current way of things is what Christianity is all about.  Liturgical indecency is comparable to bad morals: in a church both have great power to scandalize, and both can drive sincere people right out of the faith.