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How to Engage in Intentional and Prayerful Theological Study, According to John Gerhard

August 17th, 2010 1 comment

My colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, the General Editor of the English translation of Johann Gerhard’s Loci Theologici, shared with me a copy of something he prepared, in honor of, and memory of, Dr. Gerhard, whose heavenly birthday we commemorate today. Here is what Dr. Mayes sent to me:

“Some friends have asked me to share what I’ve been learning from Johann Gerhard’s “Method of Theological Study.”

“With regard to the study of Scripture, Gerhard and many other Lutheran theologians advise a twofold approach: cursory and accurate reading. With the cursory reading, you read the Bible in the vernacular, two chapters in the morning and two chapters in the evening, according to this plan:

“Morning (didactic books): Genesis (50), Job (42), Psalms (150), Proverbs (31), Ecclesiastes (12), Song of Songs (8), Isaiah (66), Jeremiah (52), Lamentations (5), Ezekiel (43), Daniel (12), Hosea (14), Joel (3), Amos (9), Obadiah (1), Jonah (4), Micah (7), Nahum (3), Habakkuk (3), Zephaniah (1), Haggai (2), Zachariah (14), Malachi (4). Apostolic Epistles in the NT. Total: 665 chapters.

“Evening (historical books): Exodus (40), Leviticus (27), Numbers (36), Deuteronomy (34), Joshua (2), Judges (21), Ruth (4), 1 Samuel (31), 2 Samuel (24), 1 Kings (22), 2 Kings (25), 1 Chronicles (29), 2 Chronicles (36), Ezra (10), Nehemiah (13), Esther (10), Judith (16), Wisdom (19), Tobit (14), Sirach (51), Baruch (6), 1 Maccabees (16), 2 Maccabees (15), Fragments of Esther (9), Fragments of Daniel (5), Prayer of Manasseh (1), 3 Esdras (9), 4 Esdras (16). The four Gospels, Acts, Revelation. Total: 670 chapters.

“As you read, you should write the theme of each chapter at the top of the page. E.g., for Gen. 1: “Creation.” If you follow this plan, the heavy thinking is done in the morning, and the lighter reading is done in the evening. The schedule allows you to miss something like 30 days and still finish in one year.

“With the accurate reading, you read the Bible in the Greek and Hebrew, beginning with the NT epistles. In this manner of study, you may only work through a few verses per day, and you are often reading a trusted commentary on the original text alongside. Gerhard says that for each chapter of the Bible, you should take notes on the following things:

“1. The summary and scope of each chapter.
2. Its general outline.
3. Significant emphases of words or phrases. (For this one, I simply note the definition of unusual words or phrases.)
4. The differing interpretations of ancient or recent teachers of the Church. (This is where you compare translations: especially Luther’s German translation of 1545, the Vulgate, if you’re able, as well as the KJV, plus the accurate modern translations.)
5. The resolutions of apparent contradictions.
6. Significant doctrines and observations that are not obvious at first sight.
7. Solid sayings of the Fathers. (Here is where I put the exegesis of passages treated by the Book of Concord, to start off with. Later, as I read Luther or the early church fathers I can add their exegesis in the correct place as I come upon the interesting quotes.)

“This is a work that will require many years. The first time through, Gerhard says, one should concentrate on annotating at least something and leave the rest of the space in one’s very large notebook blank, to be filled in from one’s future study.

“I have started this procedure, but on the computer. I am making one word processor file for each chapter as I come to it. To make it easier, I made a template that has the aforementioned seven items as headings. The reason for taking notes like this is to make preaching, teaching, writing, and debating easier. For the sake of preaching and catechizing, adding an 8th item for illustrations could be helpful.”

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

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).

Whatever you think, whatever you say, whatever you write, it has no taste unless Jesus be in it.

November 6th, 2009 1 comment

chi_rhoJohann Gerhard’s astounding doctrinal work, his Loci Theologici, is being presented to English speakers in a magnificent translation. The third volume in the series On Christ is going to be arriving at Concordia Publishing House very soon. Gerhard begins his presentation by explaining that nobody can know the doctrine of Christ by nature, but only by Divine revelation in the Word (Matt. 16:17; Rom. 16:25). He explains that Christ “is the center of all the prophetic and apostolic Scripture, the foundation of the Church, the treasury of our hope, the fountain of salvation and grace. it is from Him that we are called Christians, and from Him come down all things necessary for our salvation.” Johann Gerhard On Christ (CPH: 2009), p. 3).Then he concludes his introduction by commenting on the practical use of the doctrine of Christ.

“The practical use is exhorting, that we learn the doctrine of Christ with singular zeal and diligence and fortify our hearts against any corruptions thereof. As Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8), so also He must be the beginning and end in our meditations and studies. Whatever you think, whatever you say, whatever you write, it has no taste unless Jesus be in it. Bernard, on Song of Songs, sermon 1.5, col. 532 writes: “Every food for the soul is dry if that oil is not poured upon it. It is tasteless if it is not seasoned with this salt. If you write anything, it is tasteless to me unless I read Jesus there.”

Johann Gerhard on the Unity of the Church

October 27th, 2009 7 comments

unityAnother juicy morsel from the pen of Blessed Johann Gerhard, which will appear in the forthcoming translation of his volume concerning the Church, courtesy of Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, the general editor of the Gerhard Loci Theologici translation project. You can subscribe to the series and receive each volume as it comes out. To subscribe to the series call 800-325-3040.

Whether the union of members with each other and with their head is a mark of the Church.
§ 231. The first section. Is the union of members with each other and with their head a proper and genuine mark of the Church? We respond. (1) We confess that the Church is one on the basis of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. The reasons for this unity we explained earlier (§ 34), among which the chief is the unity of faith and doctrine (Eph. 4:5).

(2) Therefore unity per se is not a mark of the Church. Rather, it must be connected with faith and doctrine, Eph. 4:5: “One Lord, one faith;” v. 13: “. . . until we all attain to the unity of faith” (Athanasius, Letter ad Antioch.). “Only that is the true concord which is of faith. Without that, it is the best dissent; the most destructive concord,” as Gregory Nazianzen writes (Orat. 1, de pace).

(3) Not just any unity of faith and doctrine is a mark of the Church, but only the unity of true faith and doctrine, that is, of prophetic and apostolic doctrine, for that alone is of immovable and perpetual truth. Therefore the unity of faith that is a mark of the Church must be based on one foundation of doctrine: the apostolic doctrine. Accordingly, the Church is said to be “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” (Eph. 2:20). It is said about the heavenly Jerusalem that “its wall has twelve foundations and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”( Rev. 21:14). Accordingly, in Zech. 8:19 “truth and peace” are joined.
In fact, truth is set ahead of peace so that we may understand that God approves of only that peace, concord, and unity which enjoys the foundation and bond of truth. John 8:31: “If you remain in My Word, you are truly My disciples.” John 17:21: “That they may be one in Us.”

(4) Although the true Church is one and its true members agree in one religion, yet we cannot infer from this that, wherever there is unity and agreement in religion, there suddenly is the true, apostolic Church. You see, there are two kinds of unity, as Thomas teaches (on Ephesians 4, lect. 1): “One is good, the other is bad. One is of spirit, the other of flesh.” “The unity of piety is to believe correctly; the unity of wickedness is to believe wrongly,” as Ambrose says somewhere. As God’s Church is one, so the devil’s Babylon is one. Christ says, Matt. 12:[26]: “If Satan is divided against himself, how then will his kingdom stand?” There was unity among those who demanded the making of the golden calf (Exodus 32). All the priests of Baal were unanimous in opposing Elijah and Micah. At the time of Jeremiah all the people were unanimous in opposing the true worship of God. Christ was condemned to death by the common counsel of the priests and elders and with the assent of the entire people. The entire city of Ephesus rose up against Paul. After Christ’s ascension, Jews and gentiles fought against Christ’s Church. Although heretics may differ from each other, yet they are agreed on one heresy. In Rev. 13:16 we have this prophecy about the Antichrist: “It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave to be marked on the right hand.” The Jesuit Ribera comments on this passage: “The apostle means the infinite number of those who will be adherents of the Antichrist” (surely in harmony and peace). All this shows that not just any unity but the unity of faith and doctrine, and not any unity in faith and doctrine but the unity in the true apostolic doctrine and in the truly catholic faith is a mark of the Church.

(5) The statements of the ancients belong here, in which they teach that we must evaluate unity on the basis of the truth of faith. Cyprian (De unit. ecclesiae) says: “The Church is one just as the light of the sun is one, though the sun has many rays; just as a tree is one, though it has many branches; just as a spring is one, though it has many streams. Unity is preserved in the origin.” Here he takes the origin to mean Christ and the doctrine of Christ.

** The pagans once reproached Christians with the charge that “unity of faith does not flourish among them.” Augustine, De ovibus, c. 15: “Only this has remained for those” (evil-speakers) “to say against us: ‘Why do you not agree among yourselves?’ The pagan heathen who have remained, having nothing to say against the name of Christ, reproach the Christians with the disagreement of Christians.” Clement of Alexandria, Stromat., bk. 7: “This, then, is the first thing they cite against us; they say that one ought not believe because of the disagreement of the sects [haereses], for the truth is slowed and deferred when some people set up some dogmas and others establish other dogmas. To them we say that there have been more sects among you Jews and among you philosophers who were held in the highest esteem among the Greeks,” etc. **

When the Arian Auxentius boasted about the unity of the Arians, Hilary gave him this answer (at the beginning of Contra Auxent.): “Indeed, the name of peace is lovely and the idea of unity is beautiful, but who doubts that only the unity of the Church and of the Gospels is the peace of Christ?” Afterwards he adds: “The ministers of the Antichrist boast of their peace, that is, of the unity of their wickedness, behaving not as the bishops of Christ but as priests of the Antichrist.” Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. 1, de pace: “It is better for a disagreement to arise for the sake of piety than to have a corrupt concord.” Jerome writes (Letter ad Theophilum, against the errors of John of Jerusalem, vol. 2, p. 185): “We, too, want peace, but the peace of Christ, true peace, peace without hostilities, peace in which war is not covered, peace which does not subject people as foes but joins them as friends.” When Augustine (domin. 2. post octavas paschae de pace et unitate, Sermon 1) had diligently recommended the pursuit of peace, he added: “But this peace is to be guarded with good people and those who keep the commandments of God, not with the hostile and wicked, who have peace among themselves in their sins. The peace of Christ is beneficial for eternal salvation. The peace which is in the devil leads to eternal destruction. We must always have peace with the good and war with the vices, since the evils of wicked men should be hated,” etc. Hugh, De claustr. anim., bk. 3, c. 9: “Another peace is considered, that of the wicked and of this world. Another is pretended, that of the devil and of heretics. Another is commanded, namely, that we not fight against heretics.”

Categories: Johann Gerhard

Why is There Strife and Conflict in the Church?

October 22nd, 2009 2 comments

Johann Gerhard offers these thoughts:

(7) We must also add that the unity of faith and doctrine in the Church in this life is not perfect nor absolute in all parts, for at times among the members of the true Church controversies occur which tear apart that holy unity. Therefore a distinction must be made between an absolute unity, perfect and free of all dissent, which will first take place in the church triumphant, and a fundamental unity which consists of agreement over the principal articles, though controversies may arise over some less principal parts of the faith or about indifferent ceremonies or even about the interpretation of some passages of Scripture. <P5:490> This is the sort of unity that takes place in the church militant, for in it we never find such a harmony but that it is mixed with some disagreements. For in this life “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Augustine, De civ. Dei, bk. 15, c. 5:

Good people and good people, if they are perfect, cannot fight among themselves. Those who make progress but are not yet perfect can do so, as every good man fights another to the degree in which he fights against himself. In every man “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” Therefore spiritual concupiscence can fight against the carnal concupiscence of another, or carnal concupiscence can fight against the spiritual concupiscence of another in the same way as good and evil people fight with each other; or certain carnal lusts of two good but not yet perfect people fight among themselves in the same way as bad people fight with bad people. This goes on until the health of those being cured is brought to final victory.

Here Augustine is disclosing the cause of discords in the church. The truly devout have not yet been renewed perfectly. Rather, some remnants of the flesh remain in them. Therefore they do not attain the exact and perfect knowledge of the mysteries of faith. In some matters they dream and stagger. In the reborn, the flesh still battles against the Spirit. Therefore it can happen easily, especially at the suggestion of the devil, that those who indulge in the opinions of the flesh stir up contentions in the church. Yet unless stubbornness is added and unless the foundation of faith is removed, they are not immediately separated from the body of the Church because of that.

For Your Sake…

April 6th, 2009 Comments off

the-crucifixion-1500-x-900cm-2005As our hearts, souls and minds are focused keenly on our Lord’s passion and death during these days of Holy Week, we ponder the enormity of the love of Christ in that the One who was so rich, became so poor. The One who knew no sin, became sin for us. Here is how Johann Gerhard describes the practical use of the doctrine of our Lord’s humiliation.

The practical use is: (1) Consoling, for pondering Christ’s love for mankind and His kindness. The apostle shows this use in 2 Cor. 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” Christ was rich because of the true and real communication of the divine properties to the flesh, because “the whole fullness of the deity dwells in Him bodily” (Col. 2:9). He was rich because He was given a name that is above every name (Heb. 1:4). He was rich because of the communicated power to govern heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). He was rich because He shared infinite and divine knowledge, because “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were hidden in Him” (Col. 2:3). He was rich because of the subjection of all things (Matt. 11:[27]; John 3:35).

Christ had been enriched with these treasures from the very first moment of His incarnation, as we see from the personal union, from His working of miracles, and from a special demonstration of this power and majesty. But He became poor with His emptying, humiliation, and assumption of the form of a servant. For that reason, He was born poor in a stable, He rested in the lap of a poor mother, He lay down in a poor hut. The Wise Men gave Him a gift of gold. He was presented to the Lord with a pair of turtledoves, which was the gift of poor people. As a poor boy, He was reared in the home of His parents. He was considered the son of a poor carpenter. He felt poverty in His fasting. He did not have His own dwelling place. He was stripped of His clothing on the cross and finally was laid in a grave that belonged to someone else. All of these have to do with Christ’s poverty and emptying. But with this poverty He made us rich. Just as He earned life for us with His death, so He restored heavenly riches to us with His poverty. For this reason His poverty is set before us as material for our happiness (Zech. 9:9). Christ’s poverty is our patrimony, our savings in life, our traveling allowance [viaticum] in death, because with His poverty He acquired for us heavenly riches.

(2) Instructing us to imitate Christ. The apostle shows this use in Phil. 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” He sets before us: (a) The example of Christ, worthy of imitation. “Let human weakness be ashamed to show pride, because divine majesty humbled itself so.” Augustine, Sermon 39 de verb. Dom.: “Deign to be humble for God’s sake, because God deigned to be humble for your sake.” Christ emptied Himself so that He, without whom nothing was made, appeared to be almost nothing, but you boast immensely and think that you are something when you are nothing. How absurd and preposterous is it for the highest heights to be humbled and for the lowest lowliness to wish to extol itself? (b) The consequent reward for humility. Christ humbled Himself; therefore God exalted Him. In the same way, you will not reach the heights except through a life of humility. Bernard, Sermon 2 adscens.: “The best road to exaltation is humility.” Because Christ through the nature of His divinity did not have anything by means of which He could increase, He found how to increase through descending. In the same way, there is no way for you to come to the heights except through the depths.

Source: Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces, Exegesis 4, On the Person and Office of Christ (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, in production). Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes for sharing this quote with us. This volume will be available October 2009.