“Our one Father, God, lives and our mother, the church; and neither are we dead who live to God, nor do we bury our dead, inasmuch as they too are living in Christ.”
On Monogamy, 7.
“Our one Father, God, lives and our mother, the church; and neither are we dead who live to God, nor do we bury our dead, inasmuch as they too are living in Christ.”
On Monogamy, 7.
“Christ is the Rock by which and on which the church is founded. And thus it is overcome by no traces of maddened people. Therefore the heretics are not to be heard who assure themselves that there is to be an earthly reign of one thousand years; who think, that is to say, on the same wavelength with Cerinthus. For the kingdom of Christ is now eternal in the saints, although the glory of the saints shall be made known after the resurrection.”
— Victorinus of Petovium
Commentary on the Apocalypse, 16.
I’m going to start regularly offering quotes and snippets from the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Starting…now. And, if you want to understand how/why Lutherans cherish and value the wisdom and teaching of the Church Fathers, here is a helpful article by Carl Beckwith explaining how we read and use the writings of the Fathers based on Martin Chemnitz’ discussion of this topic in his Loci Theologici: beckwithchemnitzchurchfathersjustification-4
“The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration. But just as one who never lived cannot die, adn one who has not did cannot rise again, so too one who was never born cannot be reborn.”
On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism 2.27.43
A gold nugget from the forthcoming volume on “The Church,” by Johann Gerhard, part of the Gerhard LOCI project.
Nazianzen, Sermon de se ipso contra Arianos, at the beginning:
Where are those who define the church by multitude and despise the little flock? Who measure divinity and weigh the people? Who consider grains of sand valuable and insult the very lights of the world? Finally, who have gathered the shells but have held the pearls in contempt, etc.? They have houses; we have a dwelling. They have temples; we have God. And, in addition, because we are temples of the living God, we are living sacrifices, spiritual burnt offerings. They have the crowd; we have the angels. They have rash boldness; we have faith. They have threats; we have prayers and petitions. They have gold and silver; we have the cleansed doctrine of faith.
“On the Church,” § 181.
The opinion of these fathers is that a thing should not be believed or accepted because someone of the fathers either thought or said so, unless he proves what he says from the canonical Scriptures, that the fathers could have thought differently from what truth demands, and that we have been called by the Lord to that liberty that we may freely judge about the writings of any and all persons according to the canonical writings, and that when we disapprove of anything in the writings of the fathers which does not agree with the Scripture and reject it, this is done without rashness but by a just judgment, without injury or disgrace to the fathers, without prejudice to their honor, and with their consent, and this is done by those also who are incomparably inferior to the fathers.
Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, I:261
The Lutheran Church has never despised or even disregarded the traditions that have come down from the ancient fathers of the Church. What has been preserved by the teachings and doings of Christian men from the apostles’ time down to the present day is precious. The light which it gives in regard to the faith and the labors of love which the Holy Spirit wrought in other days, the lives which were rendered luminous by rays from heaven – as others were rendered dark by obscuring blackness from hell, in its rage against the Anointed of the Lord – the Church is not willing to forget. She desires to learn the lessons of history and rejoices in her fellowship with men of God who lived and suffered in the same glorious cause in which she is still engaged with the same assurance of faith which made believers strong in other days. But she knows that some professed to be Christians who were not such, and that Christians could err in the past as in the present, and therefore she applies to the Christians of other times the same unerring rule that she applies now, and holds fast as God’s truth only what is declared in God’s Word.
Matthias Loy, The Augsburg Confession, p. 179.
I can’t think of a more foolish attitude I harbor at times than when I look back on previous generations and assume they were ignorant, unenlightened, unaware and totally outside of what I’m thinking and experiencing today. I was reminded of something the British writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy (Chapter 4):
“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton goes on to say: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
And here’s the rub. While it is absolutely true that previous generations did not have the same technologies or understanding of “how things work” in their world, but is there such a vast difference between 21st century people and those of previous centuries? Are we so far removed we think we can not possibly learn anything from our fathers, grandfathers and ancestors in the past. I’m particularly struck by this when I consider, as I grow older, how my own parents appear ever increasingly wise. The tradition in Asian culture of revering their elders has much to commend it. Today, we regard those older than us as people who, obviously, are not as “in touch” with “reality” as we are. And even more so do we view our ancestors as hopeless irrelevant.
Here’s some concrete examples of where I see the arrogant oligarchy in action over against those who have come before. Christian worship: Why is it that in the past twenty-five years the worship forms that have been used for thousands of years, have come to be regarded as wholly inadequate and must be replaced with forms that have little in common with the historic worship forms of the past? Why do I sometimes assume that nobody can possibly understand how I’m feeling when faced with a difficult situation who is a member of a generation far removed from mine? Why did I, for example, the other day when looking at Starck’s Prayer Book, smile at the fact that there were prayers there to be prayed as a thunderstorm approached and to be prayed after it was over? “Oh, how quaint,” I thought. Then I felt shame, as I considered the fact that dangerous thunderstorms back when there were no safe buildings, or emergency services, or advanced warning, were devastating.
Do you have some examples from your life where you see yourself as part of the arrogant oligarchy? Would you share some by way of comments?
Each time I read a golden nugget like this from St. Augustine, I’m once more reminded that, as my beloved early church father professor, Dr. William Weinrich observed to me years ago, “When you are reading St. Augustine, you simply realize you are in the presence of a great and profound mind.” Amen! Thanks to Pastor Alms for this gem. Here is what Augustine said:
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, of that Lord by whom all things were made and who was made [flesh] amid all the works of His hands; who is the Manifestor of His Father, the Creator of His Mother; Son of God born of the Father without a mother, Son of Man born of a mother without a father; the great Day of the angels, small in the day of men; the Word as God existing before all time, the Word as flesh existing only for an allotted time; the Creator of the sun created under the light of the sun; ordering all ages from the bosom of of His Father, from the womb of His Mother consecrating this day; remaining there, yet proceeding hither; Maker of heaven and earth brought forth on this earth overshadowed by the heavens; unspeakably wise, wisely speechless; filling the whole world, lying in a manger; guiding the stars, a nursling at the breast; though insignificant in the form of man, so great in the form of God that His greatness was not lessened by His insignificance nor was His smallness crushed by – His might. When He assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations, nor did He cease to reach from end to end mightily and to order all things sweetly. When clothed in the weakness of our flesh He was received, not imprisoned, in the Virgin’s womb so that without the Food of Wisdom being withdrawn from the angels we might taste how sweet is the Lord.
HT: Pastor Alms for this great quote from Gregory of Nazianzus. Chew on this one for a while.
We were created that we might be made happy. We were made happy when we were created. We were entrusted with Paradise that we might enjoy life. We received a Commandment that we might obtain a good repute by keeping it; not that God did not know what would take place, but because He had laid down the law of Free Will. We were deceived because we were the objects of envy. We were cast out because we transgressed. We fasted because we refused to fast, being overpowered by the Tree of Knowledge. For the Commandment was ancient, coeval with ourselves, and was a kind of education of our souls and curb of luxury, to which we were reasonably made subject, in order that we might recover by keeping it that which we had lost by not keeping it. We needed an Incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him, that we might be cleansed; we rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him; we were glorified with Him, because we rose again with Him. Many indeed are the miracles of that time: God crucified; the sun darkened and again rekindled; for it was fitting that the creatures should suffer with their Creator; the veil rent; the Blood and Water shed from His Side; the one as from a man, the other as above man; the rocks rent for the Rock’s sake; the dead raised for a pledge of the final Resurrection of all men; the Signs at the Sepulchre and after the Sepulchre, which none can worthily celebrate. Yet none of these equal to the Miracle of my salvation. A few drops of Blood recreate the whole world, and become to all men what rennet is to milk, drawing us together and compressing us into unity.
“After light has come to the nations and saving rays have shined for the preservation of men, that the deaf might receive the hearing of spiritual grace, the blind might open their eyes to God, the weak might grow strong again with eternal health, the lame might run to the church, the dumb might pray with clear voices and prayers when he saw his idols forsaken, and his lanes and his temples deserted by the numerous concourse of believers, what can be more crafty, or what more subtle, than for the enemy, Satan, detected and cast down by the advent of Christ, to devise a new fraud, and under the very title of the Christian name to deceive the incautious? He has invented heresies and schisms, through which he might subvert the faith, corrupt the truth, and divide the unity. Those whom he cannot keep in the darkness of the old way, he circumvents and deceives by the error of a new way. He snatches men from the Church itself. While they seem to themselves to have already approached to the light, and to have escaped the night of the world, he pours over them again, in their unconsciousness, new darkness; so that, although they do not stand firm with the Gospel of Christ, and with the observation and law of Christ, they still call themselves Christians. Yet they are walking in darkness, they think that they have the light, while the adversary is flattering and deceiving, who, according to the apostle’s word, transforms himself into an angel of light, and equips his ministers as if they were the ministers of righteousness. They maintain night instead of day, death for salvation, despair under the offer of hope, perfidy under the pretext of faith, antichrist under the name of Christ; so that, while they invent things like the truth, they annul the truth by their subtlety. This happens, beloved brothers, so long as we do not return to the source of truth, or do not seek the Head nor keep the teaching of the heavenly Master.”
Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church, 3
HT: Pastor Scott Murray’s excellent daily e-devotions available at: MemorialMoments.org
An aspect of Lutheranism that is somewhat unknown, unfortunately, to many Lutherans, is the fact that we never renounced, rejected or otherwise denigrated a study of, and love for, the church fathers. In fact, it was a Lutheran who coined the word “patrology” to refer to the study of the writings of the church fathers. The “church fathers” are those theologians of both East and West, who lived and produced theological works from roughly 100-500 a.d. There is remarkable consistency across their writings, and Lutherans delighted particularly in showing their opponents in the Roman Catholic Church that the Lutheran confession of the ancient faith was thoroughly consistent with the teachings of the church fathers. While never elevating extra-biblical opinions of the church fathers above Scripture, as Rome did, Lutheranism has never rejected, but rather has embraced, the early church fathers as our own. It is a false and misleading claim that the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Church are the ones who are faithful to the early church fathers, in fact, it is Lutheranism that is the most authentic and faithful confession of the faith of the church fathers.
Carl Beckwith put matters well in an article published in an issue of Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 68:3/4, July/October 2004, when he wrote:
“Lutherans have always recognized the value of studying the early church fathers. Whether Martin Luther or Johann Gerhard, C.F.W. Walther or Hermann Sasse, one finds a considerable familiarity with and appreciation of the church fathers. In his important study on post-Reformation Lutheranism, Robert Preus explains, “The Lutherans were convinced that the church fathers were worthy of being read directly, although critically, ‘dividing the straw from the gold.” ” The Lutherans appealed to the fathers, according to Jacob Preus, because they “were part of the ‘heavenly witnesses,’ men standing before the judgment seat of God and bearing witness to their faith.” By using the testimony of these heavenly witnesses, the Lutherans demonstrated the continuity of their teaching with the church catholic.”
How then can a person go about learning more about the church fathers and reading them, not uncritically, but with understanding and appreciation? For this task, I recommend a person read the works of Johann Gerhard and Martin Chemnitz, both of whom were very familiar with the early church fathers and made much use of them in their theological writings. Rather start to tackle, right away, entire works of the Church Fathers, an anthology of their writings, organized around topics, can be very helpful. The very best resource like this is rather new, it is the five volume series Ancient Christian Doctrine, offering quotes of the early church fathers around the Nicene Creed and its various points. It is very well done.
Finally, here is a nice summary of how Lutherans should regard, and make use of, the church fathers. Dr. Beckwith concludes his article:
“Martin Chemnitz’s approach to the fathers is one of esteem and discernment. He appreciates and makes use of their contribution to Christian doctrine, their guidance in theological terminology, and their many struggles to defend God’s word against the heretics. When the fathers fail to distinguish between law and gospel, distort the articles of justification and sanctification, or overemphasize works and discipline, Chemnitz seeks to understand why such statements were made. He does not see their shortcomings as an opportunity for ridicule but rather as a call for diligence that we not repeat their mistakes in our defense of God’s word. When we reverently and faithfully approach the fathers, we do so knowing they sought only to confess the faith that leads to everlasting life. Just as we pray today for brotherly correction when we stray from God’s word, so too we correct these heavenly witnesses when they stray from the only rule and norm for doctrine, God’s inspired and inerrant word.”
When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune: shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse him, then; remember him, let him keep watch within you, pay heed to him…A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let him remind you of those words: “Who can this be? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”
St. Augustine; Sermons 63.1-3
It is hard finding the needles in the haystacks of the endless books being produced these days. Believe me, I know it from an insider’s perspective. I receive tons of e-mails and track Publisher’s Weekly religiously looking at all the new releases. The majority of things published are not, in my opinion, worth the paper it is printed on. And precisely so when you bump into a “keeper” is stands out. I’ve got three publications to tell you about. Intervarsity Press has been releasing in recent years some really fine books. You might be familiar with their Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, but now they are releasing a five-volume set called Ancient Christian Doctrine, and I learned from a colleague today of yet another project they are doing Ancient Christian Texts, featuring exegetical works of the ancient church that are hard to find anywhere in English, but mostly not translated before. I would like to draw all three of these collections to your attention. Hint: buy these at Amazon.com for the best price!
I had not heard of these sites before. In case you haven’t, and in case you are the kind of person who would care to know, check it out. It is all of Migne, which remains to this day the most extensive and thorough collection of the Greek and Latin Church Fathers. And here is an even easier to use site of just the Greek fathers from Migne.
As the blog site said that posted this information: It’s a great time to be a nerd. Nerd nirvana. I don’t even want to think about how much time I could have saved when I was working on research projects, writing graduate seminar papers, and tracking down obscure footnotes to Migne in various editing projects if I would have had all this, then. Seriously. I’m talking sometimes a couple hours trying to find one bloomin’ quote from an obscure Latin or Greek father.
"It is the mark of a moderate mind not only to think reverently with the Church, but also to speak reverently with the Church; and it is the mark of obedient children not to hold the voice of their mother in disdain."
On the Nature of God and On the Most Holy Mystery of the Holy Trinity
CPH: 2007, pg. 300.