Will we let Paul Gerhardt teach us, or will we ignore him?
One of Cyberbrethren’s readers sends in this fascinating account offering more detail of just what Paul Gerhardt was up against. These details are very often downplayed or ignored. All those Lutherans out there pining about what’s so "wrong" about orthodox Lutheranism’s supposed stubborn and unloving attitude toward non-Lutheran churches need to keep in mind that finally there is no possibility of agreement between those who deny the chief parts of the Small Catechism and those who confess them. Efforts today to move away from the classic expressions of genuine Lutheranism and ape the worship styles and forms of non-denominationalism while claiming that in so doing we can retain the substance of Lutheranism are equally unwise and dangerous. Will we ignore the lessons that history teach us? Thanks to Michael Zamzow for these comments and his translation. By the way, I’ve placed copies of paintings of the Lutheran Divine service in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy in various places in Germany, throughout this post, so you can have some sense of what Lutheran worship services were like in the days of Paul Gerhardt. Some might say, "No, those can’t be Lutheran services, they look Roman Catholic." Look again. Notice how they feature the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar in
both kinds! A dead give-away that you are looking at a Lutheran Divine Service. Also, in my studies, the manner in which the Sacrament is depicted follows the similar pattern of depiction common in every painting of Lutheran worship from the 16th century forward, persons in the same general configuration, etc. Interesting, no? [Disclaimer: No, I'm not suggesting every pastor run out and thrown on a chausable and start doing it this way. Changes in matters like this take a long time and a lot of teaching. The reason I show these paintings is to dispel the mythology that Lutheranism in its golden years was basically "low church" and "little liturgy." The move toward playing down liturgy and ceremony and beautiful ornamentation came in as a result of Pietism, not as a result of the Reformation.]
Mike writes "The website of Luther in Braunschweig has a great short biography of Gerhardt. The
description of what Gerhardt was up against is described in a way that shakes us out of our Rodney King illusions. Here is a hasty translation. Can one really appreciate Gerhardt if one plays down his orthodox
Lutheran commitment. Do his hymns speak from the depths if they are
made shallow expressions of a generic Protestantism?" Here is his translation:
"The Calvinists at that time behaved toward Lutherans with the same arrogance with which the representatives of "modern", so-called historical-critical Biblical interpretation behave toward those Christians who "still" consider the Bible to be God’s Word. Calvin had asserted for himself the claim that he actually understood Luther better than Luther understood himself. In the catechism of the Calvinists (<i>Heidleberg Catechism</i> the question (78) is posed: "Do bread and wine become the real Body and the Blood of Christ?" The answer is a clear "no" with the additional comment: "so the holy bread in the supper does not become the Body of Christ itself, even if the sacrament is traditionally called the body of Christ." And the Holy Mass is shortly thereafter termed "blasted idolotry." With these statements the Calvinists targeted not just the Roman, but equally the Lutheran Mass.
For decades Calvinist minded preachers tried to gain influence in Berlin. In 1613 Elector John Sigismund fell away from the Lutheran confession and converted to the Reformed faith. There
was an uproar in Berlin in 1615. The trigger was iconoclasm which took place in the Berlin cathedral. The year before the church had been confiscated from the Lutherans and turned over to the Calvinists even though there was only a handful of them in Berlin. They consisted for the most part of courtiers and the court preacher who were of Reformed background.
The Calvinists removed all the precious art from the ancient cathedral. They tore the crucifixes out and shattered the pictures whose rubble the threw in the river. They smashed the baptismal font and
eliminated the altars. The left the house of God barren and empty except for a simple table in the chancel. After that the majority of Berliners, who were of a Lutheran persuasion,–the Berliners were still pious back then!–defended themselves with public uproar.
Over the years the Calvinists tried again and again to assert themselves and were supported in their efforts by the Elector. Thus the conflicts escalated –exacerbated by the Great Elector abolishing the subscription of pastors to the Formula of Concord. With the renewal of an edict from 1614 he forbade clergy to speak about the matter from the pulpit. He forbade his subjects to study theology and philosophy in Wittenberg."