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“Quia” Why This Little Latin Word Means So Much

December 27th, 2010
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Here, with respect to our confessional pledge, opinions are divided even as the churches themselves part company at this point. Here it also becomes clear why the Reformed Churches have not been able to preserve their Confessions. The “pious relativism” of the Reformed Confession finds expression in the quatenus (the “insofar as”) of the doctrinal pledge. Whereas the Lutheran pastor assumes the responsibility of teaching according to the Confessions “because” (quia) they are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures, the Reformed pastor does this only “insofar as” (quatenus) it is Scriptural, and because he regards the Lutheran pledge with the quia as presumption, yea, as an elevation of the Confessions above the Holy Scriptures.[1] What shall we say to this? First, that the properly understood quatenus (“insofar as”) is self-evident for every church which appears to the Reformation, since no church wants to teach anything which is not Scripture doctrine. It is so self-evident that one does not need to articulate it. Men can and must accept also the Talmud or the Tridentimum [creed of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent] quatenus, “insofar as,” they interpret Scriptures correctly. The quatenus pledge is really no pledge at all. Secondly, the question which comes into consideration in connection with the confessional pledge is simply and solely the question whether the Confessions are Scriptural, whether they are the substance of the Holy Scriptures, as the Formula of Concord expresses it. Only if I am unshakably convinced and that on the basis of most earnest searching in the Scriptures, can I accept it and promise that “I will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it, but by the help of God’s grace intend to abide thereby” (Conclusion of the Solid Declaration).

Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors no. 43, November 1956

[1] See Sasse’s “Quatenus or Quia?” in The Lonely Way I. Originally published in AELKZ 71.7 (18 Feb. 1938) pp. 152-154; Feuerhahn no. 201. MH

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  1. December 27th, 2010 at 16:43 | #1

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  2. December 28th, 2010 at 09:44 | #2

    In the Reformed tradition, however, Sasse is only correct as far as the Presbyterian/Westminster Standards stream. However, the Three Forms of Unity (today represented mostly by the United Reformed Churches) has always historically been a “quia” tradition. The Westminster Standards and Presbyterianism have always been a “quatenus” tradition, whereas the 3 Forms tradition has always been a “quia” tradition. So, it appears as though Sasse was not familiar with both streams.

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