Archive for the ‘Fathers of the Church’ Category

Basil the Great

January 10th, 2014 Comments off


While January 10 is set aside in our church for the commemorations of the three Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and his friend Gregory of Naziansus, for their distinguished work and lives of holiness. This post is only about Basil. (Pronounced :Baahsil – sil as in pill, emphasis on first syllable). Here is information about this steadfast defender and confessor of the Holy Trinity. He is referred to several times in the Lutheran Confessions approvingly as one who faithfully confessed God’s Word. He is mentioned in the Formula of Concord in the articles on Original Sin, Free Will and Christ.

St. Basil was Bishop of Caesarea (an area now in eastern Turkey) in the fourth century and is one of the foremost Doctors of the Church, who along with St. Athanasius, is noted as an outstanding defender of Christian orthodoxy during the Arian heresy – a heresy which, among its other errors, denied the Divine Nature of Christ. St. Basil was the son of St. Basil the Elder and Emmelia, the daughter of a Christian martyr, and was one of ten children, three of whom became saints – Basil, Macrina and Gregory. Basil, along with his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa and his friend St. Gregory of Naziansus, have been called the “Cappadocian Fathers” – renowned in Church history for their distinguished work and lives of holiness.

Raised mostly by his grandmother, Basil studied in his hometown of Caesarea, and later at both Athens and Constantinople where he developed his lifelong friendship with Gregory of Naziansus. After completing his education, Basil returned to Caesarea and became a teacher. Shortly thereafter, Basil underwent a profound spiritual conversion and set out on a journey in 357 to visit monasteries in Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine. Upon his return, he gathered disciples and founded a monastic community near Annesi where his sister Macrina had already established a religious community. The earlier influence of Macrina seems to have diverted Basil’s course from that of being a prominent lawyer to that of religious life. Because of his innovations and philosophy of monastic life, and especially his creation of the Lesser Rule and the Greater Rule, Basil is considered to be the Father of Monasticism in the Eastern Churches. He gave monasticism a theological content and transformed it into an intellectual movement from simply the popular and evangelical movement it had been before. Basil’s monasteries had schools attached to them, preparing children for life in the monastery or for life as strong Christians “in the world” outside the monasteries. The Rule of St. Basil is still followed by members of religious communities in both the Eastern Catholic and the Orthodox churches.

In the year 360, Basil reluctantly left his hermitage and embarked on a journey to Constantinople, the Imperial capital, to take part in a church council. Some what later, after his ordination, Basil played a major role in the administration of the diocese of Caesarea under Bishop Eusebius and this eventually brought the two men into serious conflict. Basil withdrew to his monastic community but was recalled in 365 at the urging of Gregory of Naziansus. In 370, he was chosen as successor to the episcopal see at Caesarea, which had been elevated to a metropolitan see. His appointment was lauded by St Athanasius but was not welcomed by the Emperor Valens, who had fallen into the Arian heresy. Throughout the next ten years, Basil was noted for his dutiful care of the poor and disadvantaged, his defense of the rights of the Church in the Empire, and most of all, his steadfast opposition to heresy, especially the widespread Arian heresy. While defending himself before the Emperor Valens, Basil was so fiery that a courtier questioned his nerve, to which the saint gave his famous response: “Perhaps you are not familiar with a proper bishop.”

Due to the efforts of Valens to reduce Basil’s power and influence, and also to the ongoing controversy over the heretical Bishop Melitus of Antioch, Basil’s friendship with Gregory was severely strained. Basil died on January 1. 379, at a time of terrible upheaval in the Roman Empire – the Goths were on the attack against the Empire on many fronts and the Arian heresy was raging with many leading church figures having fallen into heresy. Because the saint was so beloved, his funeral was attended by an enormous weeping crowd, including Christians, Jews and pagans.

St. Basil is ranked as a giant figure in Church history for his spiritual achievements and for his vast contributions to the Church in the tempestuous fourth century. The great saint was the one who formulated the classic definition of the Holy Trinity as three Persons in one Nature. His letters show us a remarkably holy and eloquent man, who, while never strong physically, was utterly fearless in both his defense of orthodox Christianity and while facing threats and pressure from the imperial authorities. The saint has left us over three hundred letters, mostly written after he became bishop. His other writings include – a treatise “On the Holy Spirit”, three books against Enomius, an heretical bishop, a compilation along with his friend Gregory from the works of Origen in the Pholokalia, and the fragments of his Lesser Rule and Greater Rule. He is also the ascribed formulator of the Liturgy of Saint Basil, still used on certain days of the year by both Eastern Catholic churches and Orthodox churches. His feast day is January 2.


Categories: Fathers of the Church

Commemoration of Wilhelm Loehe: Pastor and Missionary

January 2nd, 2014 16 comments

Today is the day set aside in the calendar of commemorations in Lutheran Service Book to remember and praise God for the life and ministry of Pastor Wilhelm Löhe. He is remembered among us chiefly as the founding father of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an institution he gave as a gift to The LCMS. But we do well to recall what Dr. C.F.W. Walther said about Loehe: “Next to God it is Pastor Loehe whom our synod must almost solely thank for the happy increase and rapid strengthening in which it rejoices; it must rightly honor him as its real spiritual father.”

Although he never left Germany, Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe, born in Fuerth in 1808, had a profound impact on the development of Lutheranism in North America. Serving as pastor in the  Bavarian village of Neuendettelsau, he recognized the need for workers in developing lands and  assisted in training emergency helpers to be sent as missionary pastors to North America, Brazil,  and Australia. A number of the men he sent to the United States became founders of The  Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Through his financial support, a theological school was established in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a teachers’ institute in Saginaw, Mich. Loehe was known for  his confessional integrity and his interest in liturgy and catechetics. His devotion to works of  Christian charity led to the establishment of a deaconess training house and homes for the aged. Löhe, through study and reading of the classic sources of Lutheran theology: Scripture, the Confessions, Luther and the orthodox dogmaticians, reclaimed a deep love for the Lutheran Confessions, the liturgy and the chuch’s sacramental life and call to works of mission and charity. He was an ardent advocate of the primary place of the Small Catechism in the life of the Lutheran congregation, school and home and is perhaps most well known among us today as a catechist and founder of the Lutheran deaconess movement. Source Löhe’s most well known work is his Three Books About the Church. You can read more about Löhe’s theology and life in this book. There is an interesting overview of Löhe’s life and times available in this article.
Löhe, like all of us, had his faults and failings. His emphasis on the divine institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry led him to some excesses in how he explained its powers and duties. He was wrong on the millennium. He is today in some of our circles often dismissed in a ham-fisted manner by those who often do not understand well what Walther taught on the ministry. It is a continuing point of conversation as to what extent Walther misunderstood and even misrepresented Wilhelm Löhe, viewing him through the controversies he had with a Lutheran pastor in New York, Grabau. Löhe’s own assessment of conversations with Walther and Pastor Wynken is interesting to read. When he gave Concordia Theological Seminary to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Löhe issued a caution to The LCMS that we do well to consider today: 

In closing we want to share with you what is making our hearts
heavy, especially since it is of the utmost important to the seminary
in Fort Wayne. With much regret we have noticed that your first
synodical constitution, as is set now, did not completely follow the
example of the first congregations. We fear, and most likely rightly so,
that the basic, strong mixing of democratic, independent,
congregational principles into your church constitution will cause
more harm than the meddling of the princes and authorities did in our
church at home. Careful study of the apostles’ many lessons concerning
organizing the church and ministry, would have better and differently
taught the dear brothers from among the laity. Constitution is a
dogmatic, but not a practical adiaphoron. May that which the NT
teaches of constitution, organization and ministry at large, be the
right locus of the new seminary, and may the results of new research
done by Lutheran theologians in the home country not be considered
inferior and be ignored by the professors and teachers at Fort Wayne.
If a large, interconnected church is to be assembled which is to be a
haven for harried souls, care must be taken that she be endowed in
holy form and shape by which she can be recognized and grasped.

Signed with heartfelt, loyal love and esteem your devoted friend
and Brother,

Johann Conrad Wilhelm Loehe
Pastor at Neuendettelslau in Franconia

Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor

November 9th, 2013 8 comments

Portrait of Martin Chemnitz in St. Martini Church, Braunschweig, Germany.
Photo © Paul T. McCain. All rights reserved.


Si Martinus non fuisset, Martinus vix stetisset. So goes the little rhyming quip, in Latin, that Roman Catholics used to describe Martin Chemnitz. It means, “If the second Martin had not come, the first Martin would not have stood.” His Roman Catholic opponents recognized how important Chemnitz was to the legacy of Martin Luther and came up with this phrase after Chemnitz wrote his magisterial The Examination of the Council of Trent, which, to this day, remains the most thorough and exhaustive study and refutation of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, as it was most formatively expressed during the Council of Trent. Quite the compliment, coming from his lifelong theological opponents and sparring partners!

The picture of Chemnitz was painted shortly after his death, and is displayed in a very ornate memorial frame that hangs to the right of the altar in Chemnitz’ church in Braunschweig, St. Martin’s. See the note below for more details on the painting.

Who was Martin Chemnitz? He was the most significant second-generation Lutheran theologian, whose efforts in the decades after Martin Luther’s death were, in large part, responsible for the preservation of the Lutheran Reformation. The portrait in this post is a photo taken in Chemnitz’ church in Braunschweig, Germany, where he served as Superintendent, or “Overseer” of the congregations, pastors and other church workers in Braunschweig. In addition to his pastor and church administration duties, he was a prolific author. We are fortunate to have preserved a brief autobiography that Chemnitz wrote, translated into English. You can read it here. Pastor David Jay Webber has a great web site that has a number of Chemnitz quotes on key topics that gives you a good insight into his thinking. Included on that web site are a collection of period engravings of Chemnitz’ works.


St. Martini Church in Braunschweig, Germany.
Photo © Paul T. McCain. All rights reserved

His most significant work we have already referred to, The Examination, but he also wrote the most definitive Lutheran explanation of the Bible’s teaching about Christ, which in the study of theology is called Christology in his The Two Natures in Christ, and a wonderful volume on The Lord’s Supper, which was the culimination of earlier works on the Supper. He prepared a volume for the examination and testing of clergy to make sure they were faithful and orthodox in their teaching and preaching, which, in English translation, is titled Ministry, Word and Sacraments: The Enchiridion. A lesser known work On the Lord’s Prayer, by Chemnitz, is also available in English. Other works by Chemnitz include a large volume of sermons for the entire Church year, and The Theology of the Jesuits, neither of which have been translated into English. He continued the work of Philip Melanchthon in preparing formal doctrinal presentations of the teachings of the Bible, as confessed by Lutherans. Chemnitz work Theological Commonplaces, prepared the way for the greatest of the Lutheran doctrinal theology books from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, Gerhard’s own Loci. The Wikipedia article on Chemnitz has a good bibliography of his many works. The best biography of Chemnitz available in English is Dr. J.A.O. Preus’ work The Second Martin.

Here is a very nicely done small biography of Chemnitz, by Joshua Zarling.

If Martin Luther is considered the greatest theologian of the Lutheran Church, then Martin Chemnitz is without a doubt our second greatest Lutheran Father. Chemnitz is certainly deserving of the title “the Second Martin”, and was the primary bulwark of orthodox Lutheran theology in the latter part of the sixteenth century. Born in Treuenbrietzen, in 1522, he was the last of three children given to Paul and Euphemia Chemnitz. Chemnitz’s life of education was varied and marked by constant moving (because of financial difficulties). He studied at Wittenberg (1536-1538), Magdeburg (1539-42), Calbe (1542), Frankfurt on the Oder (1543-44), where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, again at Wittenberg (1545-47) under the tutelage of Melancthon, and Königsberg (1547-53). At Königsberg he was able to obtain his Master of Arts degree, and began his study of theology (from 1550-1553) in the Duke’s personal library. From there he again returned to Wittenberg, and was made a member of the faculty in 1554. Later that year, he accepted a call as coadjutor of Braunschweig to his friend Joachim Morlin and pastor of Martin Church, where he would remain until his death in 1586. During his time in Braunchweig he received his doctorate at the University of Rostock (1568), and took over the office of the superintendent (1567). It was the latter part of the sixteenth century that proved to be one of the greatest battlegrounds for orthodox Lutheranism, which found itself facing many opponents and varied controversies. The Catholic Church, newly revitalized from the council of Trent (1545-1563), was now ready to take a decisive stand against the Protestants. John Calvin had come onto the scene, along with his corrupt theology. It was in the doctrines of the Lord’s Supper and the Person of Christ that Calvinism posed its greatest threat to Lutheranism, with proponents of these errors masking their heterodoxy under the supposed title of “Lutheran” (these men were named “Crypto-Calvinists” because they hid their Calvinistic inclinations). Under the unsteady hand of Melancthon, Wittenberg itself became a hotbed for Crypto-Calvinists. Add to this the Osiandrian controversy, the Synergists and the Anabaptists, and one can clearly see that Satan was again hard at work trying to destroy the Gospel, which had been snuffed out in medieval theology, but God had again brought to light through Luther. It was in these turbulent times that God graced our Church with the second Martin, who, using Scripture as his guide, soundly defeated the errorists in turn. In response to the Catholics he wrote his famous, four-volume work Examination of the Council of Trent, one of the great masterpieces of Lutheran theology. Against the Crypto-Calvinists he worked tirelessly, writing De Coena Domini (The Lord’s Supper) in 1560, and De Duabus Naturis in Christo (the Two Natures in Christ) published in 1570, and expanded in 1578. But his greatest contribution to Lutheranism is his work in producing the Formula of Concord. In collaboration with Jacob Andreae, Phillip Selnecker, David Chytraeus, Andrew Musculus, and Christopher Korner, the Bergic Book was produced in 1577, which we today call the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. This was the flag under which orthodox Lutheranism rallied. Unbiased, it simply reproduced the Scriptural positions of the doctrines in question, taking its stance on the Bible and Luther. The doctrines of the Lord’s supper and of the Person of Christ were hammered out, so that there was no place for the Crypto-Calvinists to hide. The work itself, written primarily by Chemnitz, was ascribed to by most of the Lutheran parts of the empire (Chemnitz’s home town, Braunschweig, did not subscribe to it until years later, not because of doctrinal differences, but because of a personal quarrel between Duke Julius and Chemnitz). We in the WELS would do well to better acquaint ourselves with Martin Chemnitz, both his life and his works. Our second greatest Father, he stands out as a theologian and pastor in the truest sense, following in the footsteps of the first Martin and taking an uncompromising stand on Scripture. The 17th century saying is certainly true (written above in Latin), “If the second Martin (Chemnitz) had not come, the first Martin (Luther) would not have stood.”

*Is that a rosary in Chemnitz’ hand in the portrait? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, we have no evidence of the use of the rosary by Chemnitz, or Lutherans. The conventions of the day when preparing portraits were very strict. Painters would routinely painting into portraits symbols of the person’s vocation and responsibilities: hence, in the portrait we see a quill pen and book, to indicate Chemnitz’ work as an author and scholar, and the rosary is included as a symbol of his faith and piety.


New Flash: Justification by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, is Not Something New in the Church’s History

January 7th, 2013 8 comments

Roman Catholics often like to accuse the Lutheran Church of having invented the idea that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church teaches we are saved by grace alone, it is the faith alone part, that it is so desperately wrong about. Rome, in spite of all the nuanced subtlety in how they explain it, still teaches that we are saved through a formula that goes like this: faith + works = justification. But adding works in a discussion of how we are saves will always result in one of two things: proud Christians who think that, in some way, however small, they are contributing to their justification before God, or Christians who despair when they recognize that they can not do what God demands. The pure Gospel message that salvation is 100% a result of God’s grace and God’s work is the only true and lasting comfort a person can have. So, how “new” is this teaching?

When you start digging around in the Early Church Fathers you discover, without too much difficulty, that in fact they did preach and teach what the NT teaches and preaches on this point. For example, St. Chrysostom once said:

‘What does he mean when he says: “I have declared your justice?” He did not simply say: “I have given,” but “I have declared.” What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone (ἀλλʼ ἀπὸ χάριτος μόνης). Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest independently of the Law.” The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (δικαιοσύνη δὲ Θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and not through any labor and suffering.’

John Chrysostom (349-407), from ‘Adversus Judaeos’, VII, §3, PG 48:919; translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 7.3.2 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 186-187.

HT: Mark Henderson.

Categories: Fathers of the Church

Reason and Faith: Can Anything Be Believed That is Against Reason?

November 20th, 2009 2 comments

faithMore from Blessed Johann Gerhard, from an unpublished translation….in the works at a certain publishing house you know…or should know!

Whether anything should be believed against reason.
§ 252.
Up to this point we have been showing that Bellarmine’s boasting is false when he says that the Roman church teaches no error, and no shamefulness. Now concerning his third boast, that “nothing in it is taught against reason,” we respond: (1) The norm of faith and truth in the Church is not principles of reason or rules of philosophy but Holy Scripture.

(2) What Bellarmine plainly declares here is false, that “the mysteries and articles of faith are merely above reason but not contrary to reason.” Surely, if reason keeps itself within its own sphere and does not meddle in the secrets of the divine mysteries but reverently applies this rule to the highest mysteries of faith: “The things that are placed above my comprehension, concerning them I shall not presume judge on the basis of my principles;” I say, if reason behaves in this way, we admit that the articles and mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason. But if—and this happens often—reason is so presumptuous as to pass judgment on and make declarations about the mysteries of faith on the basis of its own principles and according to the rules of philosophy, if it exalts itself above its lady, theology, <P5:522> like stubborn Hagar; then surely the mysteries of faith are not only above but even contrary to reason. This is very obvious from the article on the Trinity of persons in one divine essence, on the resurrection of the dead, on the presence of Christ’s body in the Supper, etc.

(3) Therefore a distinction must be made between reason left to itself without restriction, which runs about unbridled and is carried around by its reckonings, which judges and decides on the basis of its own principles, which are common notions, perceptions, experience, etc., and reason restrained by God’s Word and kept in obedience to Christ. This judges and decides on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of God’s Word, which has been set forth in the Holy Scriptures. The mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason considered in the latter respect, but they are contrary to reason considered in the former respect.

(4) Some express this in such a way a distinction is to be made between reborn and unreborn reason. But in order for this distinction to be complete, we must necessarily add that when reborn reason, on the basis of its own principles, assails the articles of faith explicitly handed down in the Scriptures, to that extent it is no longer acting as reborn reason. In the same way, when a reborn man follows the kindred corruption of his flesh and indulges in sin against his conscience, to that extent he is no more acting as a reborn man. In fact, he ceases to be reborn. We have discussed this in greater detail in our On the Interpretation of Scripture ([1610] Loci, vol. 1, [locus 2]), § 174.

(5) Therefore just as reason in the articles of faith can be considered in two ways, so also we can establish two kinds of paradoxical statements opposed to reason. One kind of paradoxical statement is opposed to the reason of an unreborn person judging on the basis of its own principles. In the mysteries of faith we do not need to pay too much attention to this, because in articles of faith one must not depart from the letter for the sake of something paradoxical to human reason. But the other kind of paradoxical statement is opposed to the reason of an unreborn person judging on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of the Word. We must pay careful attention to this in the mysteries of faith since it is paradoxical with respect to both reason and faith, that is, to reason embracing the principles of faith and clinging to them tightly. The basis for this distinction is taught in the following statements of Scripture: Gen. 18:14: hayippale’ meyhowah dabar “Will anything be hard for the Lord?” as Arias Montanus translates it, or: “Will anything be hidden from the Lord?” as Vatablus renders it, or: “Is anything impossible for God?” as Luther translates it. Pala’ is “separated” and “divided” either from man’s knowledge and intelligence or from his action and strength, so that he cannot attain that by reason nor perform it by strength. Therefore the meaning of the divine oracle is this: Even if something has been placed above the comprehension of human reason and above human powers, yet that is not difficult for God, much less impossible, because God “can do more than we understand” (Eph. 3:20). The word pele’ means “strange” or “secret.” Therefore the meaning is: Even if something may seem strange and paradoxical to men, yet to God it is not strange and secret. Zech. 8:6: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: if it is strange (yipale’) or difficult, if this seems paradoxical and impossible in the eyes of the people, will it also be strange and paradoxical (yipale’) in My eyes?”

In Luke 1:34, Mary the God-bearer [θεοτόκος], full of wonder, asked: “How could a virgin, who does not know a man, become a parent?” The angel then answers her (v. 37): “With God no word will be impossible.” That is to say, although among humans it may seem impossible and incompatible with reason for a virgin to conceive and bear a child without a man’s seed; yet with God, this is not impossible or absurd.

In Matt. 19:26 Christ also makes this distinction, that “among men some things are impossible;” that is, that in their judgment many things are impossible, absurd, and paradoxical, but with God all things are possible.

In Luke 5:26, when Christ healed the paralytic with a divine miracle, the people said: “Today we have seen strange things [παράδοξα],” that is, things which were placed above the comprehension of reason. The same word is used about divine miracles in Wisdom 16:17 and Sirach 43:30. In Wisdom 5:2 the heavenly glory of the blessed is called the “paradox of salvation” [παράδοξον τῆς σωτηρίας] which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ascended into the heart of man” (Isa. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9).

Maximus’ Maxims

June 17th, 2009 Comments off

To deny the Word is to fail, through fear, to do what is good.

To betray Him is to deliberately to choose to commit sin.

The outcome of every affliction endured for the sake of virtue, is joy.

The outcome of every labor, is rest.

The outcome of every shameful treatment, is glory.

The outcome of all sufferings, for the sake of virtue, is to be with God, to remain with Him, forever, and to enjoy eternal rest.

— Maximus the Confessor

Categories: Fathers of the Church