[The Luther Letter Index] [Project Wittenberg]
The Luther Letter May-June 2003
"Notes on Luther, the Reformation, and the Modern World"
Edited by William R. Russell, Ph.D.
Editorís note: As spring turns into summer, we combine two months worth of Luther Letters into oneÖ.
There is an old saying, "If you want to see if God has a sense of humor, make plans." I donít think Luther said that, but he could have--he ended up leading the very sort of Reformation that in 1522 he writes he doesnít have time to pursue:
"These [medieval prayer] books need a thorough reformation if not total exterminationÖ. But I just donít have the time to undertake such a reformation; it is too much for me alone. So until God gives me more time and grace, I will limit myself to the exhortation in this book. To begin with, I offer this simple Christian form of Prayer and mirror for recognizing sin, based on the Lordís Prayer and the Ten Commandments."
This is a new item for The Luther Letter: a regular discussion of things the Reformer probably did not say or do, but for which he is often given credit or blame. This is supposed to be a discussionóif readers can find evidence of the items I mention, please feel free to say "gotcha!" and send along your evidence. Email me directly at RussellWllm@aol.com and corrections will be printed. This month, we note that Luther probably never said, "If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today." Sure, he couldíve said itóthe ethical hope and sense of leaving something positive in the world from which others would benefit are Lutheran themes. Still, those words did not flow from his lips.
A.G. Roeber, in an article whose date and volume numbers I have lost, but whose journal name and page numbers I have, describes a perennial problem facing pastors: "Martin Luther quickly realized, however, that while the task of those called to the pastoral office was to preach the Word that announced that message of salvation by faith alone, immediate attention had to be paid to the hearers and how they made sense of this ëgood news.í Lutheran laity over many generations have come to know ëthe gospel in a nutshell,í (John 3:16) as one of the simplest summaries of where their faith should be grounded. Lutherans have relied on this passage to state that something about the very nature of an otherwise hidden and mysterious God can be known. The unbounded love of God the Father for a fallen humanity and creationóhence the key characteristic of His fundamental natureóare revealed in the mystery and scandal of the cross and resurrection of His Son Jesus, the Christ. Those who believe this remain sinners, even after hearing the gospel, having been baptized, and continuing a life-long journey of ërepentance,í the theme Luther announced at he beginning of the Ninety-Five Theses. But the believers are also, simultaneously, saved."
How ordinary people received these subtle theological dynamisms of ëLaw and Gospelí; ësimul justus et peccatorí and the odd-sounding ëthree solasíógrace alone, faith alone, Scripture aloneóconcerned Luther and the other reformers from the very outset. They bound these insights together by insisting that ëChrist aloneí summed up what all believers should understand as the center of the confessing church."
Luther and Oecolampadius
I recently sent off an entry on the Swiss Reformer, John Oecolampadius, to be included in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Protestantism (Routledge). In my research, I came across an article by New Zealander Thomas Fudge. Fudge begins his article with words of interest for the Luther Letter reader(s): "Martin Luther called him a great Christian." However, Fudge notes that Luther was not always so positive toward the Reformer of Basil. Hegoes on to bemoan the lack of attention Oecolampadius has received, and blames Luther for at least some of it: "ÖPerhaps it has something to do with his classification in the ranks of the notorious Schw”rmer so abjured by Luther. Following his decision to cast his lot in with Zwingli at Zurich, Oecolampadius became theologically suspect and persona non grata to the Wittenbergers. According to Luther the deceitful Daedalus of Zurich, Zwingli, deceived the young Icarus of Basel, who plunged to his destruction through heresy and dangerous liaisons. Clearly Lutherís opinion cannot be blamed entirely for Oecolampadiusí fate, but it certainly did not help the latterís reputation."
The Ecclesiology of the Smalcald Articles
"Does Luther belong to the rubbish-heap of the church today? This is the question to which this essay has to give an answer, especially with reference to the ecclesiology of his Smalcald Articles. The answer in many quarters is undoubtedly affirmative. The retraction of the Lutheran Confessionsí condemnations of deviating teaching issued so often by prominent churchmen within the church bodies of Lutheran background may be aimed very clearly at the statements of the Smalcald Articles on the papacy and the Church of Rome. The Smalcald Articles are indeed not very popular and are regarded as disturbing the peace of Israel, as much as the equally disapproved Formula of Concord. Because of the clarity that the ecclesiology of The Smalcald Articles possesses, this is unavoidable. It not only draws a clear line between heresy and orthodoxy, but even more so makes this difference e to be something more than an academic controversy. It goes to the very warfare between God and Satan, centered around penitence as an escapee from the doom of original sin to the alien righteousness of Christ. Such belief has always belonged to the rubbish-heap of history, and Saint Paul rightly observes: "we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day" (I Cor. 4:13) In this sense as well our answer must be affirmative: Yes, the ecclesiology of The Smalcald Articles belongs to that rubbish-heap, where the sacrum depositum of all true Christianity is preserved until the day of judgment. Yea, "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach" (Heb. 13:13). Thus sayeth Tom Hardt in a lecture given on March 10, 1998, at the Theological Institute of Finland, Helsinki, Finland.
Personal Prayer Book (1522); "Piety and Ritual in Early Lutheranism," The Concordia Theological Quarterly, 119-143; "Icarus of Basel? Oecolampadius and the Early Swiss Reformation," Journal of Religious History, vol. 21, no. 3, October 1997; Logia, sometime in 1998.
[The Luther Letter Index] [Project Wittenberg]
Document revised, 2003 Aug. 7, ICLnet. Project Wittenberg is coordinated by Reverend Robert E. Smith