Category Archives: Hermann Sasse

Ubi et Quando Visum est Deo

As parents never can warrant the faith of their children, no single generation of the Church can guarantee the faith of the next generation.

It is not faith, but superstition, if I assume that because we have Christian schools, colleges, faculties, parishes, catechism, confessions, a ministry for the administration of the means of grace, the next generation will be Christian.

We must not misinterpret the 5th Article of the Augsburg Confession. “That we may obtain this faith, the Office of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Ghost is given, who worketh faith where and when it pleaseth God….”

This “ubi et quando visum est Deo” must not be overlooked. It does not justify the Calvinistic doctrine on predestination. But it reminds us of the fact that also the Lutheran Church knows of the mystery of Predestination.

Of course we know that the word of God is never preached in vain. But how many or how few may be brought to real, living faith, that is solely in the freedom of God….

Herman Sasse, “Problems of Lutheran Evangelism”

Hermann Sasse on Distinguishing Law and Gospel

Some quotes from the essay “Law and Gospel” in Letters to Lutheran Pastors: Volume 3

For the modern Christian, as for the world outside of the church, preaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are distasteful to the point of being offensive. The modern Christian knows no more what the church’s real responsibilities are than what they really mean. The world makes fun of the church because its only task is preaching. To this we answer that the world does not know the power of the divine Word. It does not recognize that behind the feeble words of human beings is the almighty Word of the Almighty God, which “is like a fire,” the “living and active” Word, which “is sharper than any two– edged sword,” which “pierces through to the division of the soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is the judge of thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4: 12). How could the world have known, how can it know, that God created and still maintains the world through this Word? Quite literally all mankind lives because of this Word!
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In the face of all the misunderstandings on the part of the world and all the errors which have arisen within Christendom, let us make this point absolutely clear: the task of the church in the world consists uniquely and alone in the preaching of the Word of God and in administering the Sacrament. All other functions which the church as a living organism develops and uses serve only to fulfill this task. All activities which the church can legitimately exercise in the world are by– products of preaching and the Sacraments. Christ had no other purpose in sending His church into the world than preaching and distributing the Sacraments. Only in accomplishing this task is the church recognizable as the church. In addressing this issue of identifying the basic church functions, the Reformation claimed that the marks of the church were the Word and the Sacraments. In these signs the church could be recognized. To be sure brotherly love, providing for the poor and the sick, moral discipline, prayer and worship will be present wherever the church is, but a fellowship (congregation) with only these marks is clearly unrecognizable as the church. Brotherly love can be found in the synagogue. The poor and the sick are provided for by modern secular governments. Moral discipline is a part of Buddhist monasteries. Prayer and worship are features of all religions in the world. The Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper can be found only in the church. They are the indelible marks of the church (notae ecclesiae).
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The moral sensitivities of the natural man are in no way satisfied by the Bible. It contains no system of ethics. No ethical ideal is held up as a standard. All the Bible’s moral injunctions can be found in other religions and philosophies [Weltanschauungen]. In fact, the moral sensitivity of the natural man finds the Bible offensive, because its central theme is that God accepts sinners and only sinners as righteous.
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For if Christendom itself is so under the influence of modern culture and its anthropology so lacking in understanding that it no longer comprehends the depth of human sin, then it is high time that it earnestly puts this question to the church of the past, especially the church of the Reformation: “Have you ever considered, have you ever pondered, the enormity of sin?”
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Only the person who has fearfully and earnestly taken up the question of sin and forgiveness can really understand what the church’s message is all about. Whoever has not come to this point– and this is especially true of the modern man since the Enlightenment with very few exceptions– must think the church’s message insane or must twist it around to make some kind of sense out of it.
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God is not gracious to us because we have improved our lives or because we have made moral progress. In fact, we keep only a small part of His Commandments. He is gracious only and solely because Christ died for us and because His righteousness has become our righteousness. On the Last Day, salvation will not be given to those who have fulfilled the Law, but to those who fed and gave drink and sheltered Christ in the least of their brothers (Matthew 25). They have no knowledge of what they have done (vv. 38– 39). Everywhere in the preaching of Jesus it is clear that “the reward in heaven” is a completely unearned reward. At this point the Law and the Gospel come to a parting of the ways. This distinction does not mean that one has nothing to do with the other. They are both God’s Word. Both belong to the Old as well as to the New Testament. The Gospel as the promise of the coming Redeemer is already present in the Old Testament. Similarly, the Law does not cease to exist in the New Testament, though Christ is the end of the Law, that is, He is the end of the Law as a way of salvation. To be sure, Jesus preached the Law alongside of the Gospel, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the announcements of divine wrath and the Day of Judgment. So the Law and the Gospel together both belong to the Word of God. Without the preaching of the Law there is no preaching of the Gospel. There is no authentic preaching of the Law in the sermon unless there is something of the Gospel there. For example, Luther sees Gospel in the introduction to the First Commandment. He understands the words “I am the Lord Your God” as Gospel. On that account the reformer can correctly say: “Within Christendom two sermons must be preached: the first is the teaching of the Law or the Ten Commandments and the other is about the grace of Christ (Gospel). Because where either Law or Gospel is incorrectly preached, the other is ruined. Where one goes down, the other goes under with it. On the other hand, where one remains in place and is properly set forth, it brings the other along with it.”
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Since the eighteenth century Enlightenment, modern man has seen Jesus Christ only as a religious teacher with a moral agenda. The essence of the Gospel as the teaching of Jesus is its proclamation that the quintessence of religious truths is the truth that God is our Father and that we human beings are one another’s brothers. Similarly, the quintessence of ethical commandments is the double command of loving God and the neighbor and what is known as the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Whether or not it was done deliberately, the uniqueness of the Gospel was taken out of it. Even the synagogue confesses God as our Father. Stoicism teaches that we men are brothers. The double command to love God and our neighbor is taken directly from the Old Testament, and the Golden Rule is a rational truth which every pagan recognizes or can recognize on his own. But in no way can these abstract religious truths produce the doctrine of the incarnation.
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Between the Scylla of legalism and the Charybdis of antinomianism defines a narrow and dangerous path which the church must follow in her ethical thought. Whether she finds the way depends on the purity of her proclamation, and on this depends her existence. It is my wish that the World Conference of Churches meeting at Oxford [1937] would be so endowed that churches of Christendom would serve in some way as a lighthouse on this way. Each of the churches must find its own way. They can only find their ways by turning away from the world’s tempting siren calls and in this benighted century to listen to the voice of Him who speaks to Christendom the same message which He spoke to the apostles and the reformers and which they believed: “I am the way” [John 14: 6].

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She Remains Queen in The Guise of A Beggar

The Lutheran Reformation, by distinguishing between Law and Gospel, has rediscovered with the freedom of a Christian man also the freedom of the church with respect to liturgy and constitution. It is one of the great dangers of the modern liturgical movement which goes through the whole of Christendom that we forget the liturgical freedom of a Christian church, as established by 1 Corinthians 14, and be “again entangled in the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). The author of these pages remembers the shock he got when an outstanding young theologian of a “Lutheran” church in Germany who had discovered the beauty of Gregorian chant explained to a meeting of theologians that there was a liturgy that belonged to the very essence of the church. The church from which he hailed was so unliturgical that in its official liturgy it had no consecration of the Lord’s Supper, but used the Words of Institution only as a form of distribution in order to avoid any appearance of “catholicism.” Thus a wrong law on the one side produces a wrong law on the other side. It is time to remember that the church of the Lutheran Reformation was able to combine the freedom from liturgical laws with the freedom to retain whatever could be retained of the old liturgy without endangering the Gospel. We have to learn again from a great liturgiologist like Wilhelm Löhe who restored the old liturgy as far as possible that the church remains what she is even without the beauty of a great liturgy. “Sie bleibt Königin auch im Bettlergewande” [She remains queen in the guise of a beggar] (Drei Bücher von der Kirche, III, 9, Stuttgart, 1845), 130. Even the present pope [Pius XII] has told his clergy that the greatest services held today are perhaps the services in the countries beyond the Iron Curtain where neither liturgical vestments, nor a proper altar, nor Gregorian chant are available.

– Hermann Sasse, “Consecration and Real Presence”, written in 1957

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Pertinent Quotes from Sasse’s Letter 20

Do yourself a favor and buy this book today. The first letter, if you are a Missouri Synod pastor or layman and care about what the Missouri Synod once confessed and (supposedly) still confesses today, will make you cry and repent on your knees. But Sasse gives hope, as you’ll see in the last quote. There are many others wonderful things Sasse says in this letter. These are merely the tip of the iceberg. Now, I beg you, please buy this book.

Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod, 1951

Missouri would be no Lutheran Church if she had not asked herself again and again on what her understanding of the missionary duty of the church is founded. Missouri would have no right to call herself Lutheran had she not again and again measured her own actions by the Word of God, and acknowledged and confessed her own sins. However, the errors and sins which were committed in this area do not change the fact that this church has recognized the missionary duty of Lutheranism.

For this type of Lutheranism possessed that which, given a missionary situation, makes a church a missionary church: the consciousness of vocation and a firm dogmatic conviction, without which missionary preaching is impossible. The consciousness of the Stephanist church as being the remnant of the pure Lutheran Church was refined through catastrophe. Through Walther’s preaching and pastoral ministry [Seelsorge] was produced the true Lutheran Church consciousness in the sense of a congregation standing in justifying faith and living by the means of grace. This explains the consciousness of vocation found in the Missouri Synod. And this consciousness of vocation is inseparably bound up with the dogmatic conviction of Lutheran orthodoxy.

[Walther’s] Lutheranism is limited, not by the theology of Spener, but by that of the orthodoxy of the late sixteenth and of the seventeenth centuries. Luther seen through the spectacles of orthodoxy is the Luther of Walther and of the Missouri Synod. This is certainly not a perfect picture of Luther; nevertheless, it is better than those which are pietistically and romantically colored.

The secret lies in the existence of genuine congregations which are able to attract people and to integrate them into themselves, to stir up their slumbering faith and to draw them into the service of Christ. The secret of the missionary successes of Missouri is the living congregation of the Missouri Synod.

It happens again and again in political history that nations, despite long wars waged with each other— indeed, in these very wars—grow into unity. So it can happen in the history of the church, that churches which fought hard with each other concerning the truth become one. For the church of God on earth is also subject to the law of secular history that peace is achieved through struggle. In any event, those who themselves surrendered pure doctrine without a struggle have no right to criticize the Lutheran Churches in the Anglo-Saxon world on account of their doctrinal controversies. There simply is no preservation of pure doctrine without the fight against false doctrine, no affirmation of the truth without negation of error, no confession of the church without condemnation of heresy. Therefore condemnation of error can be understood only when one knows which truth is being defended with the anathema. Also in the case of the Missouri Synod, the struggle against error was only the negative side of the effort in behalf of the preservation of the pure Gospel as they understood it.

Faith cannot be bequeathed by one generation to another. It must be born anew in every generation, must be worked through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. As parents can never guarantee the faith of their children, so the church of the present cannot assure the faith of the next generation. She can lay down her teaching in books. She can establish schools in which this doctrine is transmitted to youth. But what this youth will do with the doctrine transmitted to it lies beyond the power of the church. Faith cannot be transmitted. This also constitutes a limit to the transmission of the Confession of the church . For us Lutherans the Confession is the great expression of the continuity of the church. It expresses the great consensus of faith, teaching, and confession which unites the church of all times, the oneness of true faith, which binds us today with the fathers who believed before us and with all coming generations who will believe after us. We transmit this Confession to our children in order that it may become their Confession. Whether it will be their Confession depends solely on the grace of God in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, who through the means of grace, as through instruments, “works faith when and where He pleases” [AC V].

It is not the question concerning the strength of the external organization, the constitution, the growth of the congregation , or the school system . Nor is it the question with respect to the position of the Confession as the basis for the message and work of the church. Rather, it is the question concerning the strength of the Lutheran faith in the sense of the genuine deep faith of the heart in the saving Gospel, which the Holy Spirit alone can give. It is the question whether and to what extent this strongest confessional church of Lutheranism is a truly confessing church, a church in which the Lutheran Confession is not merely held in honor as the confession of the fathers and therefore in force and unassailable. It is the question whether the Confession is the confession of a living faith of the congregation and therefore the formative life principle of the church. It is the question which Missouri, even as every other church, must ask herself in humility and must answer before the face of God: Are we still Lutheran?

It is sufficient to note that in the Missouri Synod itself the minds of men are deeply troubled over the question whether the Synod is still a Lutheran Church in the essential sense of the word, or whether she is in danger of losing her Lutheran character. It is not accidental that this question arose in connection with the problem of church fellowship, the correct doctrine concerning the oneness of the church and of a practice in conformity with this doctrine. For the essence of the Lutheran Church becomes manifest in connection with the question of where the limits of church and church fellowship lie.

What does the great satis est [“ it is sufficient for the true unity of the church …”] mean? What does consentire de doctrina evangelii [“ to agree regarding the doctrine of the Gospel,” AC VII 2] mean? What is the minimum of consensus which must be there if church fellowship is to be possible? Is it sufficient that there is a factual agreement in the preaching of the Gospel? Or must this also be expressed by a joint confession? It is no small surprise to the European theologian who addresses these questions to the varied groupings within the Missouri Synod, and tries to understand their discussion, to find that they do not understand our question. They are unconcerned about the understanding of the Augsburg Confession, Article VII, but about the exegesis of a Scripture passage, namely, Rom. 16: 17ff. This passage appears to them to be the locus classicus for the doctrine concerning the limits of church fellowship. For years the whole debate has revolved around this passage as though there were not a number of other passages in the light of which the Pauline admonition to avoid those who cause divisions and offenses must be understood. The biblical doctrine concerning the oneness and the boundaries of the church, concerning schism and heresy, concerning conduct toward schismatics and heretics must be drawn from many passages, which shed light on one another…. The fruitlessness of the debate which has been waged for many years about Rom. 16: 17ff. is explained by the one-sidedness with which this passage has been singled out. This passage cannot give the desired information because Paul does not name the false doctrines for which anathema is intended but assumes that they are known.

The Lutheran Confessions no longer play the role in the life and in the theological thinking of the Missouri Synod— in fact, for all of American Lutheranism they play nothing of the role— which they played during the nineteenth century [Sasse’s emphasis here]. They are recognized as the self-evident and unassailable foundation of the church. To test them on the touchstone of Scripture is considered unnecessary. Their complete agreement with Holy Scripture is presupposed. Anyone who would deny this would be considered no longer a Lutheran. This is a deep and honest conviction.

the Confession is far from playing the role which it was compelled to play during the nineteenth century in the struggle for the preservation of Lutheranism in the face of the demands of unionism, as we have shown in another connection (Letters to Lutheran Pastors, nos. 10 and 15). At that time the Confession was needed to save the very existence of the Lutheran Church. Today the existence of the Lutheran Church is no longer in question (so at least it appears to the Lutheran brethren), and so the Confession recedes in their thinking. The consequence of this has been that considerable parts of American Lutheranism appear to have made their peace with the union, e.g., the great United Lutheran Church or the Augustana Synod. Even in the churches of the Synodical Conference the Confessions are now the undebatable or no longer debatable presuppositions of the church rather than the expression of the great consensus of faith [AC I 1], from the vantage point of which the great decisions of the church must be made. Even in the case of pressing [ganz aktuellen] theological and ecclesiastical questions, which must be answered on the basis of the Confession, it is no longer consulted.

One of the reasons for the astonishing receding of the confessional writings in the Lutheran theology of America during the past generation is probably to be sought in the fact that the Lutheran Churches had to conduct their debates not with the other confessions, but among themselves…. It is not to be criticized that Lutherans in a certain situation declare how they understand certain doctrines of the Confession. Yet such formulations can never take the place of the ancient Confession itself. They lack completely the character of the Confession of the church, even when they have been approved by a synod. According to Lutheran understanding, a synod is unable to establish a new confession. This only the church can do— the orthodox church as a whole— by receiving a definite text as her confession.

The “Brief Statement” is, as it were, an epitome, drawn up for practical purposes, indicating how at the moment the chief doctrines of the Lutheran Confessions are understood by the Missouri Synod. More than this it cannot and does not desire to be. Necessary and useful as such a document is for practical use, it is nevertheless inevitable that also apart from the discussion for which it was intended it will be understood and treated as confession of the Missouri Synod, and that in the life and practice of the church it will for many actually take the place of the Confession of the church which it was meant to support.

Are we mistaken if we miss this joy with our brethren in the Missouri Synod when they speak of the Confession? Are we mistaken in believing that their understanding of the doctrine is wholly orthodox, but only in the sense of correct doctrine, while real orthodoxy includes a joyous praise to God? In the case of the old Missouri of Walther, it is still plainly noticeable that here, even as in the classical time of orthodoxy, dogma and liturgy belong together— how greatly St. Louis formerly influenced liturgy in America! If it were still so today, would not then orthodox Lutheranism in particular have something of importance to say to the liturgical movement in America? Christian America, more than many Lutherans sense, waits today for a word from Lutheranism. Members of the Protestant churches in the United States sense the fact that the surrender of the confession of the fathers which has taken place in all these churches during the past century constitutes an irreparable loss of something that is essential for church and for Christianity.

The Wisconsin Synod, for instance, never accepted the narrow concept of church as it prevailed in Missouri, according to which only the local congregation is really church and can act as a church, yet both were in the Synodical Conference. Nevertheless a very extensive measure of agreement on theological questions was the presupposition for communicatio in sacris.

No one desires to abandon the old Lutheran Missourian doctrine as it is expressed in the “Brief Statement.” The difference appears to lie only in the question of how one makes this doctrine effective today.

The polemics between these two parties [the “ecumenical” Missourians and the Confessional Lutheran supporters] which is so deeply regretted by all members and all friends of the Missouri Synod owes its acidity and its hopelessness above all things to the fact that both sides talk past each other, either because they do not understand the dogmatic side of the problem at all or at least insufficiently. By moving the whole problem into the area of ethics and pastoral theological casuistry (How does the individual pastor or the individual Christian or the individual congregation act in a given case on the basis of Scripture ?), the “ecumenical” Missourians overlook the fact that the problem is dogmatic and theological, and therefore cannot be solved with the means of pastoral care alone. The Confessional Lutheran men on the other side do not understand why the old solutions have become questionable for many and that they are in need of further examination, which must lead either to new proof or to revision. They consider it self-understood that Lutherans, between whose churches there remain unsolved differences with respect to the doctrines treated in the “Brief Statement,” can have no pulpit, altar, and prayer fellowship with one another. Basically, both sides make the same mistake, which is a result of the retreat of the “Lutheran Confession” in the thinking and acting of their church. It strikes one as strange that “A Statement” of 1945 contains no appeal to the Confession . It spoke of “the great Lutheran principle of the inerrancy, certainty, and all sufficiency of Holy Writ” and otherwise appealed in every article to the “historic Lutheran position” in the questions discussed. There is not the faintest trace of understanding for the fact that the question of church fellowship and the limits of the church, and this means the question concerning the essence of the Lutheran Church, has been placed anew before our generation through the events of world history and therefore needs a new answer, whatever that answer may turn out to be.

If it belongs to the essence of the Lutheran Church that it is a confessional church, the Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession—which in turn means, since the later confessions are all commentaries on the Augsburg Confession, the Church of the Book of Concord— then it is a matter of the very existence of the Missouri Synod that it remain also in the future the church which is loyal to the Confession, rooted in the Confession, and proclaiming the evangelical truth attested by the Confession. It is a matter of her theological, not her physical, existence…. But the vital question for a church is not so much whether it will continue to live, but whether it will remain that which it has been and which according to its innermost essence it ought to be.

Reformed Fundamentalism makes the relationship to Christ depend on the relationship to the Bible, as Catholicism makes it depend on the relationship to the church. This is a wrong deduction from the fact that without the Scripture or the oral Word which is based upon the Scripture we would know nothing of Christ. The faith of the Lutheran Church in the Scripture is based on her faith in Christ. It is basically faith in Christ because the Bible, and this is true of the whole Bible, is testimony concerning Christ . Our faith in the Bible as the infallible Word of God is therefore an entirely different faith from the faith of Fundamentalism in the Bible , which at least logically and factually precedes faith in Christ. The conviction that the Scripture from beginning to end is inspired and therefore the inerrant Word of God, whose statements can be trusted absolutely, is not necessarily Christian faith.

Historical research in Lutheran theology has shown how deeply orthodoxy was influenced by that same Aristotelian philosophy which Luther had banished from dogmatics. We know now that orthodoxy is a very similar synthesis of the natural (reason) and supernatural (revelation) knowledge of God as was the scholasticism of the Middle Ages. Francis Pieper [1852– 1931], the great systematician of the Missouri Synod, could have known this if he had taken cognizance of the results of historical research. But he was so completely the systematician, and so completely imprisoned in the systems of orthodoxy, that he disregarded history [Sasse goes on to mention Jaroslav Pelikan’s book “From Luther to Kierkegaard” as a fine example of understanding orthodoxy historically].

For as soon as the sola Scriptura is superordinated to the sola fide we are on the road to a false understanding of the Lutheran Church. It is the Reformed understanding of the evangelical, the Protestant Church, which emerges victorious.

The church today also has one thing which preserves her— only one thing, only one person— Him who has reserved for Himself the task of being the Savior of His Body. One of the most comforting truths which the New Testament teaches us with respect to the church is that the prayer for the preservation of the church is not our prayer alone . The greatest of all prayers which are preserved for us in the Holy Scripture, perhaps the greatest prayer which ever was spoken on earth , is the prayer in John 17 of the eternal High Priest for His church on earth. We know from Scripture that it is not on earth only that prayers are spoken. There is praying also in heaven. The mystery of prayer reaches into the Holy Trinity itself, as the prayer of Jesus shows. This is our comfort, dear brethren, wherever we may be performing our office in the church in this difficult and sorrowful time, as it was the comfort of our fathers during the “evening of the world,” as they regarded their time. This comfort gives us the strength to work while it is day [cf. John 9:4]. The most necessary task we have to perform in the English-speaking world is that we learn again to read Luther and the Confessions as men began to learn to do it in Europe after the First World War. Here lies your greatest theological task, brethren, in the Missouri Synod. That which your church has done since the days of Walther to preserve the knowledge of Luther, you must now do for a second time. If this can be done together with other Lutheran Churches of your country, and perhaps with the Lutherans of the whole English-speaking world, it will be all the better for all concerned [emphasis mine here].

Sasse: Not A School of Thought, But the Catholic Faith

The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the [First] Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.

For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. And just as the very nature of the Reformed Church emphasizes its strong opposition to the medieval church, so the very nature of the Lutheran Church requires it to go to the farthest possible limit in its insistence on its solidarity and identity with the Catholic Church.

It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages, and no more was it romanticism or false conservatism which made our church anxious to retain as much of the old canonical law as possible, and to cling tenaciously to the old forms of worship.”

Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, Augsburg Publishing House, 1938, pp. 110-11

 

Sasse

The Context Behind “The Quote”

One of the most often quoted phrases of  Hermann Sasse is in his essay “The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council” (The Lonely Way, Volume Two). Here is the context surrounding “the quote”. I have put “the quote” in bold print for your convenience.

“It is worthwhile to ask whether in this patience does not lie one of the reasons why the Roman Church seems to be much more successful than our Protestant churches in bringing about real and lasting reforms. We are patient where we ought to be impatient, for example, in tolerating all sorts of heresies which are bound to destroy the church. And we are impatient where patience is required…. But the symbol of the ecumenical synods lives and will be the creed of the church until the end of the world. There was only one symbol, the Nicene Creed, and it was even forbidden to make new ones. Up to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 it was confessed in the form of the Council of Nicaea of 325; since Chalcedon, however, it is used in the form of the Council of Constantinople of 381. The idea that the church must again and again produce new confessions was foreign not only to the ancient church, but also to the Reformation.

We have, of course, to rethink and, when necessary, to reformulate our faith. But it would be wise to ask ourselves if we have to do that according to the pattern which Christian youth movements developed at the turn of this century, when everybody believed in conferences as the great means of progress in the church. The conference – with its preparatory committee, plenary sessions, group meetings, reports to the full assembly, and solemn acceptance of a paper in which the results are proclaimed – has become a sort of sacred institution, hallowed by the memories of happy days and spiritual experiences in the past. Meanwhile, we should have learned that the great problems of Christian doctrine are a little more complicated than Christian young men sixty years ago believed. The time has come when our methods of ecumenical work must be overhauled. If we can learn anything from the Roman council, then it is what thorough, patient work means to the church.

We have been too much influenced by a certain type of sectarian Christianity, which for a long time flourished in America. The sect cannot wait; it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait, for it does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that. What the present council has already achieved in some years, not weeks, has been achieved as the result of the work of decades. The great liturgical reform has been prepared over the course of fifty years of hard work in the center of the Liturgical Movement. The doctrine of Holy Scripture, which will be proclaimed in the last session of the present council, will be the fruit of the labors and controversies of more than seventy years. The great dogmatic reform announced by Pope John in the words quoted above, which amounts to no less than the liberation of Catholic dogma from the fetters of Aristotelian philosophy, will certainly require the work of more than one generation. How do we intend to meet the challenge which this means to the theology of the Lutheran Church? Perhaps by leaving it to the commission on Faith and Order? If so, who gives us the guarantee that this commission will still exist in twenty years’ time?”

– The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council, “The Lonely Way, Volume Two”, pages 327-328

Hermann Sasse on Theological Differences

There is no other theology than orthodoxy. Nothing else warrants the name. Therefore orthodoxy belongs to the essence of the Lutheran Church and its theology. If orthodoxy as such is already to be counted as uncharitable—obviously charity is here being understood differently than in the New Testament—then we confess to the “uncharitableness” of Paul and John.

But we must distinguish between those who find fault with orthodoxy as such, and others who point to the errors and sins to which orthodox theologians are particularly prone. Every occupation has its own temptations, dangers, pet sins. Why should the occupation of theologians be exempt? On the contrary, according to all rules of human psychology and according to everything that we know from Holy Writ about the nature of sin we may well expect that the general sinfulness of theologians will work itself out in some particularly choice occupational sins. For Satan will not miss the glorious opportunity to discredit the preaching of the Gospel by causing the preacher to fall. Luther knew this, and therefore warned his followers constantly against vaunting themselves above the Papal Church in matters of morals. “Vita mala est apud nos sicut apud papistas.” [“Life is just as evil among us as it is among the Papists”] (Tischreden, WA I, 294, 19.) A part of this vita mala, so we are assured by our critics, is how we contend for the truth and against error. The lack of charity that men detect in us becomes manifest not so much in the fact that there is a struggle, as in our manner and attitude.

There now is the picture that we have of ourselves. The orthodox theologian is the man who is right. He is truly right. But can a man always be right without suffering harm in his soul? What is more, the orthodox theologian knows that he is right. He must know it, else he could not speak up. Looking at it from the viewpoint of psychology, what self-assurance must grow out of this knowledge! What miracles must not the Holy Spirit perform in the hearts of such men if they are not to perish because of superbia [pride]! Consider furthermore the relationship to one’s fellowmen, particularly to those who have the misfortune to be in the wrong. To declare to other men that they are errorists, that they do not belong to the Church (sic!), to renounce pulpit and altar fellowship: who is capable of doing that without suffering injury in his soul?

And yet all this must be done. It was necessary in the Church of the New Testament. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” [2 John 10]. Is this really the Apostle of Love who is speaking thus? Indeed, it is. And he speaks with the authority of Him who, if we have erred in such a matter, will say to us in the Last Judgment: “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in” [Matthew 25:43]. That is how it happened—it was during the last great persecution in Alexandria—that Christians of different confessions sat together in the dungeon, and together were led to their execution. But to bid each other God speed, —no, that they did not do.

What miracles, by which the Church is preserved! What yawning chasms by the way! What temptations lurking even there where people of the same Church are disputing with one another about matters of doctrine!

The more serious a Church is in matters of doctrine and in its concern for purity of doctrine, the greater is the danger that it will sin in these points. Even Luther failed again and again in the language of his polemics, which is not to be excused by the greater excesses of his opponents and the fact that his generation was accustomed to such language. During the era of Orthodoxy there was much sinning, in the controversies between the various confessions as well as in theological polemic within the individual churches, particularly also the Lutheran. The swift and thorough collapse of the orthodox theology of all confessions at the end of the 17th century is explained in part by the fact that men were weary of this endless bitter wrangling.

In this connection it dare not be forgotten, however, that this orthodox theology also was acquainted with other methods of discussion. There is, for example, a document that was a real effort at a truly Christian discussion with another church body, namely V. E. Loescher’s Friedfertige Anrede (Conciliatory Address) to the Reformed congregations of Germany (in Part Three of the Historia Motuum of 1724). Among Lutherans of the Awakening there was also an earnest striving for sanctification in this respect. Thus at the beginning of his “Confessions” A. G. Rudelbach admits, “I will not deny that I had to struggle lest I find in myself a fulfillment of that terrible symptom of the Last Days: the love of many shall wax cold.” (C. R. Kaiser: Rudelbach, 1892, p. 20.)
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Those theologians who were snapping up the documents of the Reformation and the works of the orthodox theology had all gone through Pietism, and some came from Schleiermacher’s theology of experience. The Romantic view of man, of history, of society was working in them as in all educated persons of that time. So it was not to be avoided that for the time being they read the Confessions through the spectacles of their previous theology and worldview. It could not be otherwise. It was inevitable that different types of Lutheranism should develop.

But it should have been avoided that these theological tendencies be consolidated into set types of churches. Things would not have come to this pass had men spoken differently with each other, if each had made the effort to understand the particular slant (die Brille) of the other man as well as his own, if each had realized that he himself as well as the others were still but on the way of discovery as far as Lutheran doctrine was concerned. Then it would have been possible to arrive at a better mode of discussion.
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In all these unhappy debates two types of Lutheranism, two types of Lutheran Awakening stood opposed to each other: a Lutheranism that was among other factors substantially influenced by Lutheran Pietism, and a Lutheranism influenced substantially by a return to the orthodoxy of the late 16th and the 17th century. Perhaps the Awakening of the Lutheran Church from the fatal stupor of Rationalism had to be, to begin with, an Awakening in the direction of the Lutheranism of Spener or that of Quenstedt. But these two types of the Lutheranism of the Awakening could and can only be transitional stages toward an Awakening of the Lutheran Church in the sense of the Lutheran Confessions, which, as the Formula of Concord states explicitly, are to be interpreted according to the doctrine of Luther “as the leading teacher of the Augsburg Confession, ”—and not according to Quenstedt or Spener.

Will God grant us another such continuation of the Awakening? If it shall come, it can come only by this that all bow before the Word of God as the sole “judge, rule, and standard” of all doctrine of the Church, but which fulfills its function of judging, ruling, and directing only then when all who read, hear, and interpret it will let this same Word call them to repentance. Scripture helps us to recognize the Eternal Truth only to such an extent as in its judgment of doctrine we at the same time hear a judgment concerning ourselves and our lives, the judgment of Him who condemns the sinner and justifies the believer—the Judge and the Savior of the World.

But to the Word that is preached faithfully, be it before many or few, is given the great promise that it shall not return void. The Holy Spirit is always at work, not only when it is Pentecost. And there are generations that work for a harvest that others will reap. One thing we know. If God will still give another Awakening to the Lutheran Church and to Christendom in general, then it will, like the Awakening of the 19th century and like every New Day in the history of the Church, begin with repentance. But this call to repentance we are already able and eager to hear, even today.

– Letters to Lutheran Pastors #15, “The Results of the Lutheran Awakening of the 19th Century”