Reformation Day: 95 Theses Stuff

Other than daily Bible reading, I have only two other reading traditions: Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions on January 1st and Luther’s 95 Theses on October 31st. If you’d like to read through the 95 Theses, you can do so HERE.

While I’m at it, why not? Check out the 95 Theses Rap HERE. You have to credit the guys for the line ‘I’ve got 95 theses but a pope ain’t one.’

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497 Years Later: Here I Stand

October 31, 1517: the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

May all our consciences be held captive by the Word of God:

In [commitment] a person asserts his rational independence by obeying the dictates of his own conscience, that is, of obligations laid down for himself by himself. Luther defined the situation by declaring, ‘Here I stand and cannot otherwise.’ These words could have been uttered by a Galileo, a Harvey or an Elliotson, and they are equally implied in the stand made by any pioneer of art, thought, action or faith. Any devotion entails an act of self-compulsion’…

…The freedom of the subjective person to do as he pleases is overruled by the freedom of the responsible person to do as he must.

– Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp. 308, 309

Who Wants to be Insulted by Martin Luther?

Since it is October, and October 31st marks the 497th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, every Sunday I have been sharing hymns from the Protestant Reformation. Today I wanted to share a little website that I enjoy.

Martin Luther was not what we would call ‘politically correct.’ In his polemics he was not shy about insulting his opponents (if he thought an insult was warranted). Who wouldn’t want to be insulted by Martin Luther? Well the ‘Lutheran Insulter’ can take care of that for you.

So, if you would like to brighten your day by being insulted by Martin Luther, head on over to the Lutheran Insulter: HERE

Make sure you click ‘insult me again’ enough times to get to my personal favorite:”You are like mouse-dropping in the pepper.”

Sunday Hymn: From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee

Since it’s October, I am sharing hymns that came out of the Protestant Reformation (beginning October 31, 1517) in the 16th Century. From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee is an English rendering of Martin Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 130.

For the record, this is an amazing version of the song to sing congregationally; it is also relatively easy to play on a guitar. Here’s a video with the lyrics below:

From depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?

To wash away the crimson stain,
Grace, grace alone availeth;
Our works, alas! are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth:
No man can glory in Thy sight,
All must alike confess Thy might,
And live alone by mercy.

Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His Word
Upholds my fainting spirit:
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort, and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.

What though I wait the livelong night,
And till the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in His might;
It doubteth not nor feareth:
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed;
And wait till God appeareth.

Though great our sins and sore our woes,
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free.
From all their sin and sorrow.

On Giving Up On the Right Thing

A fuller title for this article might be The Contradictions of Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther Through the Contradictions of G.K. Chesterton.

The subject of this post has been renting space in my mind for the past couple of weeks. I am not sure that I know how to express my thoughts, but that is a major part of the reason why I write to begin with. Part of the problem is that the subject has as much, perhaps more, to do with a mood than an idea. The mood in question is that of a conscientious Protestant coming to grips with a purposeful rejection of Roman Catholicism while at the same time honoring the ancient doctors of the church (imperfect as they, and I, are) and their teachings, especially when dealing what I deem to be major errors in their teaching and lives.

I am by no means a historian, but I am a lover of church history; for I am a lover of the church, and hence of Christians in general.  I am a lover of Francis of Assisi, of Thomas Aquinas, and of G.K. Chesterton. Therefore it would make sense that I would love books written by Chesterton on Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas.

Saint Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton
Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, by G.K. Chesterton

Yet I am a Protestant, and I doubt that any of these men, but especially Chesterton, would have much time for me. This is why, I think in at least one sense, Protestants can be, and should be, more catholic than the Roman Catholics. I can, and do, love Chesterton and Martin Luther. But Chesterton could never love Martin Luther (though perhaps he has by now learned to do so). We can say that we believe in ‘the holy catholic church’ and mean it in an entirely different sense; indeed a greater sense; for we really do mean ‘universal.’ I can think that the asceticism of Francis, the philosophy of Aquinas, and the anti-Protestant priggishness of Chesterton are all deeply flawed, and yet still love the men. But I digress.

Chesterton waxes hagriographically about Francis and Thomas, and that is all fine and good. I would expect nothing less. His defense of their ascetic ways, they were monks after all, is par for the course. I can even see some sense in his defense of the monastery. But his diatribe against Luther at the end of his biography of Thomas Aquinas set me in a melancholy mood for over a week; and I’m still fighting my way through it, trying to dance in the gray rain with my typing fingers.

Chesterton praises the Christian rationalism of Thomas and the Christian naturalism of Francis to the high heavens. And certainly, though imperfect, those things are indeed worthy of praise. He acknowledges the contradiction of Francis, who, though he loved nature and romance, practically gave up on it through his asceticism. Chesterton argues that he did not pursue marriage and fasted himself to death out of a greater romance with God; to him it is a justifiable contradiction: that is, more of a paradox or parable of history. It is no surprise that materialistic Christians give up on nature when the great saint of ecology did the same

Chesterton is not so fast to point out the great contradiction of Thomas, though he acknowledges the event that displays it. For Chesterton, Thomas was, perhaps, the first true Christian humanist; for he valued the mind of man, and called mankind to love God with the mind. Aquinas was an Aristotelian philosopher and therefore a rationalist of sorts. He spent his life in charitable debate, writing tomes upon tomes in defense of the faith. But, since he loves Aquinas, and sets him up as the great Christian humanist, it causes Chesterton to (mostly) implicitly and (sometimes) explicitly set Aquinas the humanist over and against Augustine of Hippo, whom Chesterton implicitly portrays as anti-humanist.

The anti-humanism of Augustine, as alluded to by Chesterton, is his belief in the total inability of man, in his own strength, to please God. How can one exalt humanity who says that man has nothing, and can do nothing, that is pleasing to God? Chesterton excuses this in Augustine as merely a point of emphasis: true, but perhaps over emphasized, especially by Augustine’s ‘followers.’ Of course there really should be no problem with Augustine’s teaching on man’s inability, for it is only the logical extension of the doctrine of Original Sin (which Chesterton himself argued was the only doctrine of Christianity that could be proved by universal experience), which is only an extension of the teaching of the epistles of the apostle Paul.

At the end of his biography of Aquinas, Chesterton sets the historical stage for the Protestant Reformation; and he sets it as a battle between two monks:

It is often remarked, as showing the ironical indifference of rulers to revolutions, and especially the frivolity of those who are called the Pagan Popes of the Renaissance, in their attitude to the Reformation, that when the Pope first heard of the first movements of Protestantism, which had started in Germany, he only said in an offhand manner that it was ‘some quarrel of monks’…

…And it was a quarrel of monks (p. 182).

The monks that Chesterton has in mind are not Luther and Tetzel, but Augustine and Aquinas.

Luther, Chesterton says, took the anti-humanism of Augustine to the extreme. After all, Luther was the one who wrote and sang (though he was only paraphrasing Psalm 130), ‘To wash away the crimson stain, grace, grace alone, availeth/Our works, alas, are all in vain, in much the best life faileth/No man can glory in thy sight/All must alike confess Thy might/And live alone by mercy. Luther made man into a beggar. Yet, ironically, as Luther made man into a beggar, he actually left the monastery and went out into the world.

A long quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes Luther’s pilgrimage to, and from, the monastery well:

Luther had left all to follow Christ on the path of absolute obedience. He had renounced the world in order to live the Christian life. He had learnt obedience to Christ and to his Church, because only he who is obedient can believe. The call to the cloister demanded of Luther the complete surrender of his life. But God shattered all his hopes. He showed him through Scripture that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. Monasticism had transformed the humble work of discipleship into the meritorious activity of the saints, and the self-renunciation of discipleship into the flagrant spiritual self-assertion of the ‘religious.’ The world had crept into the very heart of the monastic life, and was once more making havoc. The monk’s attempt to flee from the world turned out to be a subtle form of love for the world. The bottom having thus been knocked out of religious life, Luther laid hold upon grace. Just as the whole world of monasticism was crashing about him in ruins, he saw God in Christ stretching forth his hand to save. He grasped that hand in faith, believing that “after all, nothing we can do is of any avail, however good a life we live.” The grace which gave itself to him was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious self. This time even that was taken from him. He obeyed the call, not through any merit of his own, but simply through the grace of God. Luther did not hear the word: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolation of forgiveness.” No, Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only part of the world.”

Luther’s return from the cloister to the world was the worst blow the world had suffered since the days of early Christianity. The renunciation he made when he became a monk was child’s play compared with that which he had to make when he returned to the world. Now came the frontal assault. The only way to follow Jesus was by living in the world…(The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 47-48).

For Chesterton, Luther was truly a bull trampling on the vineyard of the church; but what he was actually trampling on was the waste pile of the sort of humanism that destroys humans. The humanism Luther destroyed was the sort that starts with a capital H; the kind that exalts man and his powers. If that happened to be something that was rampant within the church, then so be it; ‘let God be true though every man be a liar.’ We have now set the stage for the contradictions.

Francis, we have already noted, essentially gave up on romance and nature for the ascetic life of extreme, perpetual self-denial; and by self-denial, we are not speaking of the denial of sinful pleasures, but of the denial of good, God-given pleasures. This asceticism came to a climax in the last days of Francis; for it would appear that he essentially fasted himself to death. At the very least his fasting ruined his health and precipitated his death. The naturalist denied nature.

As for Thomas, the climax of contradiction comes for him, like Francis, near the point of death. Thomas, that great rationalist and writer, gave up writing on account of a mystical experience:

His friend Reginald asked him to return also to his equally regular habits of reading and writing, and following the controversies of the hour. [Aquinas] said with a singular emphasis, ‘I can write no more.’ There seems to have been a silence; after which Reginald again ventured to approach the subject; and Thomas answered him with even greater vigor, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things which make all my writings like straw’ (p. 116).

Francis is the naturalist who gives up on nature. Thomas is the rationalist who has a mystical experience and gives up on reason. Martin Luther only gave up on himself. Luther, says Chesterton, was a man with a loud voice that attracted attention. Ironically, Luther himself decried the voice of man and said all man’s babbling availed nothing. Chesterton writes, I will not say argues, for he doesn’t argue but only asserts, that Luther was essentially a cult of personality. Ironically, he also says that Luther’s great sin was the destruction of personality in the doctrine of man’s total inability.

Thomas is a rationalist who, in the end, sees its futility and covers his mouth (again, no wonder modern experientialists give up on reason when the great doctor of reason gave up on it long before). Francis is a lover of creation who gives up on all creation, including himself. Martin is a monk who leaves the worldliness of the monastery for the sake of a lost world. A monk who leaves the monastery that he might find true holiness outside of it – how Chestertonian.

Chesterton loves the monks, but he despises Puritanism as a movement to bring the monastic life of prayer, meditation, and spiritual discipline into the common house of the common family. What do we say to these things?

I will not give up on Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, or G.K. Chesterton; nor will I give up on Martin Luther. But I will give up on myself. In the battle of the monks I will side with Augustine. But there is no real battle here. For, in the words of Luther,

That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through Him who with us sideth.

Let us be Christian naturalists: that is, lovers of nature, because Christ is a lover of His creation. Let us be Christian rationalists: that is, deep thinkers, for Christ calls us to love God with all our minds. Let us be despisers of ourselves because we are sinners, and lovers of our fellow-men because they are created in the image of God. Let us be people of discipline and self-denial, but let us go into the world and enjoy the good gifts of God as we do so. If we give up on anything, let it be on our own abilities. For, ironically, Chesterton sums it up well when he says, ‘The truth is that people who worship health cannot remain healthy’ (St. Francis of Assisi, p. 20).

But, perhaps, St. Francis himself said it even better: ‘Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything’ (p. 67).

The Worldliness of the Monastery (Bonhoeffer)

In this post I simply want to record a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that will come up (Lord willing) in some future thoughts about my summer reading on Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. Bonhoeffer describes the Augustinian monk Martin Luther’s journey to and from the cloister (paradoxically) as a journey, first, into worldliness, and then into the world:

…Luther passed through the cloister; he was a monk, and all this was part of the divine plan. Luther had left all to follow Christ on the path of absolute obedience. He had renounced the world in order to live the Christian life. He had learnt obedience to Christ and to his Church, because only he who is obedient can believe. The call to the cloister demanded of Luther the complete surrender of his life. But God shattered all his hopes. He showed him through Scripture that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. Monasticism had transformed the humble work of discipleship into the meritorious activity of the saints, and the self-renunciation of discipleship into the flagrant spiritual self-assertion of the “religious.” The world had crept into the very heart of the monastic life, and was once more making havoc. The monk’s attempt to flee from the world turned out to be a subtle form of love for the world. The bottom having thus been knocked out of religious life, Luther laid hold upon grace. Just as the whole world of monasticism was crashing about him in ruins, he saw God in Christ stretching forth his hand to save. He grasped that hand in faith, believing that “after all, nothing we can do is of any avail, however good a life we live.” The grace which gave itself to him was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious self. This time even that was taken from him. He obeyed the call, not through any merit of his own, but simply through the grace of God. Luther did not hear the word: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolation of forgiveness.” No, Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only part of the world.

Luther’s return from the cloister to the world was the worst blow the world had suffered since the days of early Christianity. The renunciation he made when he became a monk was child’s play compared with that which he had to make when he returned to the world. Now came the frontal assault. The only way to follow Jesus was by living in the world…(The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 47-48).

The Mercy Seat

Exodus 25 records God’s instructions to Moses regarding the ark of the covenant:

  • 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. 17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

Francis Schaeffer comments:

This ‘mercy seat’ was the lid, the second part of the ark. A very important thing, this lid.

It was Luther, when translating the Old Testament into German, who first used the term ‘mercy seat.’ It is a beautiful, poetic phrase – but it also accurately communicates what the lid of the ark really was, a place of mercy. Yet if a person does not know the Hebrew word being translated, ‘mercy seat’ may confuse, because this word actually meant ‘the propitiation,’ ‘the propitiatory,’ ‘the covering’ – a covering not like a jar lid, but a covering in the sense of atonement…

The propitiatory covering was exactly the same size as the box. They matched. The atonement exactly covered the law. Here, I feel, is the balance we find in the New Testament – the balance of the character of God. God is holy…and God is love. Both must be affirmed…

Verse 22 contains the most important clause: ‘and there I will meet with thee.’ God did not meet the Jews at the level of the law. He met them at the level of the mercy seat. Undoubtedly, this is why Luther, loving the Lord as he did, called the covering the ‘mercy seat.’ He understood that this is where God meets everybody who is met by him.

No Little People, pp. 112-113.

  • He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

Christ is the Mercy Seat of the world.

The Law was in the box. The Law was covered by the propitiation. The world seeks to find God in that box, that ark, the ark of the covenant, when it should seek him in another ark – Noah’s ark, the ark that is covered inside and out with the atoning pitch that keeps the waters of the flood out.

The box of the ark of the covenant suffocates and brings wrath. The Mercy Seat covers the demands and penalties of the Law. That is where God is to be found. You will not find his love in that box. You will not find his love at the level of Law. You must seek atonement, that is the place to find his love. And Jesus Christ is our true Mercy Seat, the place, make that the person, where God meets with sinners and communes with them in love. He covers sins (mercy), he communes with sinners (seat). He forgives and sits down at the table.

  • Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).

Thank God for the Mercy Seat:

  • Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (Rom. 3:25).

The Lord has written the promise of the resurrection…in every leaf in spring-time

The Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.

-Martin Luther, Watchwords for the Warfare of Life, p. 317.

  • Job 14:7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. 8 Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.
  • Psalm 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

Strength for Today

  • John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

God gave the children of Israel manna, yet only enough to last each day, that they might trust in his provision each day, one day at a time. Jesus is the true bread which comes down from heaven to sustain and energize our souls. As we depend upon him each day for sustenance and power we find that, ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lam. 3:22-23).

The bread was fresh for the Israelites with each new day that they might depend on God and not the flesh. The mercies of Christ are fresh for us each day that we might depend on Christ and not the flesh.

As Martin Luther put it, we should live ‘as if Christ died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming again tomorrow.’

The Doing of That in a Day, Which May Ordinarily Take a Thousand Years

I’m trying to compile some of my favorite George MacDonald quotes from C.S. Lewis’ anthology. That’s all I intended this to be, but then I began to think of quotes I read elsewhere that were related. Why not write them down in one place?

On Miracles:

Think of Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’ (John 5:19).

The Father said, That is a stone. The Son would not say, That is a loaf. No one creative fiat shall contradict another. The Father and the Son are of one mind. The Lord could hunger, could starve, but would not change into another thing what His Father had made one thing. There was no such change in the feeding of the multitudes. The fish and the bread were fish and bread before…There was in these miracles, I think in all, only a hastening of appearances: the doing of that in a day, which may ordinarily take a thousand years, for with God time is not what it is with us…Indeed, the wonder of the growing corn is to me greater than the wonder of feeding the thousands. It is easier to understand the creative power going forth at once – immediately – than through the countless, the lovely, the seemingly forsaken wonders of the cornfield (George MacDonald Anthology, pp. 12-13).

To this add C.S. Lewis’ thoughts, building off of MacDonald:

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn the water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see…But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.

He continues,

God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase, and men, according to the fashion of their age, say… ‘It is the laws of Nature.’ The close-up, the translation, of this annual wonder working is the feeding of the five thousand. Bread is not made there of nothing. Bread is not made of stones, as the Devil once suggested to Our Lord in vain. A little bread is made into much bread. The Son will do what He sees the Father do…When He fed the thousands he multiplied the fish as well as the bread. Look in every bay and almost every river. This swarming, pulsating fecundity shows He is still at work.

Finally, he applies this principle to the Virgin Birth:

This time He was creating not simply a man, but the man who was to be Himself: the only true man. The process which leads to the spermatozoon has carried down with it through the centuries much undesirable silt; the life which reaches us by that normal route is tainted. To avoid that taint, to give humanity a fresh start, He once short-circuited the process…For what He did once without a human father, He does always even when He uses a human father as His instrument. For the human father in ordinary generation is only a carrier, sometimes an unwilling carrier, always the last in a long line of carriers, of life that comes from the supreme life (Essay on Miracles, from God in the Dock).

So then, for Lewis and MacDonald, miracles are God speeding up, or (to use Lewis’ words) ‘short-circuiting’ the process. In Jesus’ miracles he was effectively hitting ‘fast forward.’ He was breaking the speed limit of the so-called ‘laws of nature.’

As to the purpose of such miracles, Lewis cites a quote by Athanasius from On the Incarnation:

Our Lord took a body like to ours and lived as a man in order that those who had refused to recognize Him in His superintendence and captaincy of the whole universe might come to recognize from the works He did here below in the body that what dwelled in this body was the Word of God.

Pure gold from MacDonald and Lewis.

But add to this Martin Luther’s take on Psalm 147:12-14 (which says):

  • Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! 13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. 14 He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.

In his vocation man does works which effect the well-being of others; for so God has made all offices. Through this work in man’s offices, God’s creative work goes forward, and that creative work is love, a profusion of good gifts. With persons as his “hands” or “coworkers,” God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man’s life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc., etc.). Through the preacher’s vocation, God gives the forgiveness of sins. Thus love comes from God, flowing down to human beings on earth through all vocations, through both spiritual and earthly governments.

When we pray that God would give us our daily bread, he does so through the means of human agency, the same goes for many other areas. All of life is, therefore, a miracle in some sense. But the workings of natural and human agency are so common that God must short-circuit the process to shake us out of our unbelief and monotony – and this is what we deem as a true miracle.