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How Lutherans Regard the Errors of the Church Fathers

November 16th, 2010
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Martin Chemnitz, in his magisterial work, Loci Theologici, or “Chief Theological Topics,” has a comment about how we are to regard and deal with the errors of the early church fathers. We do not ignore them or overlook them, but neither do we dwell so much on them that we fail to recognize the benefit and blessing of reading them and gaining what wisdom is to be found in their writings and so Chemnitz says:

It is not our purpose to be like Ham, who uncovered his father’s shame. Thus we shall not deal with the lapses of those by whose labors we have been aided and whose gray hairs we ought to honor, but we will refer to them only as warnings so that we may be cautioned by their examples to be more careful and diligent in preserving the purity of this doctrine, so that we never give occasion to anyone to follow in these footsteps.

Martin Chemnitz and Jacob A. O. Preus, Loci Theologici, electronic ed., 470 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

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Categories: Church Fathers
  1. November 16th, 2010 at 07:02 | #1

    That’s interesting…I’ve been looking at the same material for a post on Chemnitz’s explanation of why many of the the Fathers could know the doctrine of Justification and yet get it wrong so often. It’s not up yet, but will be soon, d.v. He puts it down to being distracted by other questions (Christology, etc) and combatting antinomianism among pagan converts.
    Meantime, I’ve just got an admission from an erstwhile Lutheran come Roman Catholic that the official Roman doctrine on the penal nature of temporal sufferings is, well, I said “false”, he said “not helpful”…but it’s a start!

  2. Randy Keyes
    November 16th, 2010 at 09:13 | #2

    Luther’s _On the Councils and the Church_ was instrumental in my view of a proper usage of church history/tradition. This adds a nice touch, too.

    Thanks again,
    Randy Keyes

  3. Ryan
    November 16th, 2010 at 09:26 | #3

    “It is not our purpose to be like Ham, who uncovered his father’s shame. Thus we shall not deal with the lapses of those by whose labors we have been aided and whose gray hairs we ought to honor”

    Such good advice as we too strive to return many neglected practices or doctrines to our own churches, like every Sunday Communion or other current issues, never forgetting the shoulders of the warriors who fought, in our current congregations, other battles that we may stand in this time.

    In addition, the whole thing to realize with error is that it is often very personal and invisible to the one that holds it – we ourselves must read the Father’s and other older writings (as C.S. Lewis recommends) that they may also critic us and our own errors for we are not immune. I honestly fear the errors that I may hold unwittingly.

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