Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roundtable 13: Repentance

"Strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruit of repentance." --Augsburg Confession Article XII: Repentance. par. 1-6; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, p. 38.

The Reformation of the Church was sparked in the confessional, as others have noted on this blog. Father Martin Luther, hearing confessions, became enraged when Christians appealed to the indulgence they had purchased as their "get out of jail free card" when it came to a serious repenting from and turning away from evil and putting their trust in the mercies of God in Christ. The Christian life is marked by returning, again and again, to the fount and source of all loving kindness, our Lord Jesus Christ. This article rejects any teaching that implies that our works of satisfaction are part of true repentance. And it also carefully notes that repentance is marked by the fruits of good works, which are "bound to follow" it. The article rejects the Anabaptist assertion that once a person is justified he can never lose the Holy Spirit, or that a person can ever reach such a point of perfection that he can actually not sin. I'm a bit puzzled why the Novatians are mentioned in the article. Others may enlighten on this point. And the article most pointedly rejects Rome's view that faith alone is not sufficient to receive forgiveness, but must be merited by our own works of satisfaction.


William Weedon said...

I think the Novatians were mentioned because they denied repentance to those who had fallen into what they deemed grievous sin after Baptism. The Church of the Augsburg Confession knows that the entire life of the Christian is lived on the path of repentance - thinking of the first of the famous 95. Thus, repentance remains open to the Christian who has sinned for so long as he or she is still breathing in this life. We would never say to a single soul: "Sorry, that was TOO much sin for the Savior's absolution to be spoken over you."

What I have found most striking in this particular article is the very last sentence: "...or the punishment of purgatory."

Jörg Ackermann said...

The Novatians were a group who called themselfes "the Pure" and came up in the third century. They denied repentance to those who denied their faith during the persecution of Christians at that time. Later on they denied repentance for those who had fallen into "Todsünden" (deathly sin).

The last sentences in the Concordia edition (10, second paragraph "They also reject those ... or the punishment in purgatory.") I cannot find in the german or Latin editions of the BOC (neither in BSLK nor in Müller/Triglotta). I have no idea where this comes from. (I just have the 1st edition of Concordia.)

Pomeranus said...

Pastor Weedon is probably right. The footnote in the BSELK notes a statement from Luther's 1528 Confession (WA XXVI, 507, 14): "Vergebung der Sünden ist nicht auf einmal als in der Taufe zu gewarten, wie Novater."

Michael Zamzow

Paul T. McCain said...

Care to elaborate on what about the reference to purgatory was striking?

Paul T. McCain said...

I have to admit that about a year ago I could tell you precisely where that portion of the AC comes from, but that information slipped away from me and I now do not know. Ryan?

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

That little clause wasn't originally in the German text, thus it isn't in the Mainz manuscript which was used as the basis for the 1580 Dresden BoC. It was, however, added and included in the 1531 editio princeps.

What has caused a lot of confusion on this little clause, I think, is a footnote in the K/W edition concerning the Latin text: "The text in italics was first added to the 1531 editio princeps and is also found in the 1580 and 1584 Book of Concord."

Well, I've checked it out. The footnote is correct in that it is included in *both* the German and Latin editio princepts of 1531. It is also included in Selneccer's unofficial 1580 Latin BoC, which had simply used the editio princepts. I believe, knowing that the editio princepts simply went into the official 1584 edition as well, it was mistakingly assumed that this clause went along with it. But -- I've checked. It isn't there in the 1584 Lepizig Latin edition. My guess is that when Andreae, Chemnitz, et. al., were editing the text for 1584 they noticed that this clause, which they had been well familiar with since the editio princepts edition had been well circulated, hadn't made it into the German (using the Mainz text). Thus, my hypothesis is that they made an editorial revision to the text that went into the 1584 BoC in order to more closely reflect that which had actually been delivered to the emperor on June 25, 1530, and took this clause out. Thus, unless there are some printings of the 1584 edition that vary and I'm unaware of that include this, the footnote in K/W (pg. 47, #79) is wrong here.

Now -- how that clause got into Concordia: A Reader's Edition I can't answer. Fortunately the editor is here who, though hypnosis may be required to elicit an answer, has it tucked away somewhere in his head. :-)

I almost hate to suggest as much - though we're all prone to err - but is it possible that somewhere in the editing process you or one of your editors found this footnote in K/W and actually trusted that it was correct?

Paul T. McCain said...

Ryan, I wish I could tell you, but all I can remember now, and it is now coming up on over two years since we did the work on the actual texts of the Lutheran Confessions. All I can recall is that we actually found this phrase in the Latin 1584. It might have been in something Schaff did? I'm just not sure. I'm know it was not K/W since we did not use that text while creating Concordia due to copyright restrictions. Like I said, I do know it had to do with the Latin, but now sure how we got it. Just can't remember.

Paul T. McCain said...

Just a note on this article in the AC. We have been referencing the Apology as we move through the Augustana, but here, as in the case of AC IV, the text in the Apology that corresponds to the AC text is very long, so it will probably be the case that we will want to take up that article separately when we get into the Apology.

William Weedon said...

What I find striking in the reference (and even more intriguing with the history of the phrase) is the implication given to Rome that we're not prepared to argue about Purgatory.

This struck me some years ago in reading through the AC and Ap that it was really not until you reach the SA that the Lutherans explicitly address the matter and leave it in grave doubt - and speaking of it as an abuse that followed from the misuse of the Mass.

We tend to read the Symbols from our current perspective. But, as Dr. Nagel always taught us with Luther, you read him not backwards but forwards. Thus, it seems to me that in the early days the Lutherans were not prepared to simply declare that purgatory or purgation did not exist, but rather to say: Scripture is silent on such a thing and we should be too.

Of course, the hoot on purgatory is from the 95 thesis where Dr. Luther suggests that if the pope can release from purgatorial suffering, he simply set everyone free for the sake of holy love and not for monetary gain. :)

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

It may very well be possible that it is in some of the earlier printings, but was later removed. I'll do some more digging when I have the chance.

wm cwirla said...

This article is really a commentary on what it means to "do penance" (agite poenitentiam), the Vulgate's unfortunate translation for metanoieo. Rome had three parts: contrition, confession, and works of satisfaction (the lack of which would have been made up in purgatory). The Reformers hold two parts, corresponding to the Law and the Gospel: contrition and faith. Both are seen as the work of the Word - the Law working genuine terror of conscience that feels the wrath of God against sin, and the Gospel working trust in the heart that we are justified by grace for Jesus' sake.

The papal Confutation accepted the first part of this artice which deals with sin after Baptism, but it rejected the second part, insisting on the three part scholastic understanding of penance.

The rejections of AC XII are noteworthy, rejecting first the Anabaptists for their "once in faith always in faith," then the Novations, an ancient heresy that denied restoration to the fallen, and lastly unnamed Rome and its teaching of satsifaction.

As Paul indicated, Melancththon's response in Apology XII is a treatise unto itself, addressing Rome's three-fold understanding, defending the two-part Law/Gospel form, and also extolling Absolution as a proper sacrament, the office of the ministry as the voice of Christ. It also has a nice section on the discipline of God, wherein His forgiven children still suffer temporal discipline which cannot be abrogated by works of satisfaction.

A good summary passage of Apology XII is this: "This understanding of penitance is plain and clear, it adds to the honor of the power of the keys and the sacraments, it illumines the blessing of Christ, and it teaches us to make use of Christ as our mediator and propitiator" (Ap XII.43).

Apology XII stands alongside Apology IV in articulating the article of justification as it applies to the ongoing life of the justified in a life of repentance. This hearkens back to the opening thesis of Luther's 95 Theses wherein he states, "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

Amen, Cwirla. Couldn't have said it better (or half as well) myself.

I just lectured to a bunch of seminarians today on AC 11/12. I probably spent too much time on Novatian, but it's worth dealing with due to the fact that the situation in which "penance" is defined in his day is very foreign to us today.

For the sake of the average reader, who simply sees the name "Novatian"and thinks he had "went off the rocker" with his assertions -- a bit of context is in order there.

The Decian persecution (250-251 A.D.) had presented the Church with some new challenges - namely, how do you go about restoring those to the faith who had apostatized during persecution? After all, this had really been the first empire-wide persecution of Christians. Other persecutions, prior, had been mostly local persecutions. And, that said, there hadn't been any real persecutions at all for nearly 40 years prior to the Decian persecutions. In order to decide the question, Cyprian called a council of Bishops in 251 to decide the question.

While it had formally been the case that those who had apostatized, and later desired readmittance to the Church, would be admitted to an order of the "penitents" whose penance would be finally complete (and satisfied before God) upon their death, Cyprian allowed that some who had fallen to the "mortal" sin of "apostasy" during the persecutions could be dealt with differently.

It wholly depended upon the nature of ones apostasy. The decrees of the first council called by Cyrpian at Carthage actually called for an examination of such persons. Had they "apostatized" by word only, or had they signed a libellus? Had they merely signed a sheet of paper, or had they additionally sacrificed to pagan gods in the presence of their persecutors?

The decisions of the council at Carthage, while the seem radical to Christians today, were actually a step toward more leniency than had been before.

Basically, the council determined that each case should be "examined." Those who had rejected the faith, but hadn't conducted the "sacrifice" to pagan idols could be admitted with a time of penance. Those who had conducted the sacrifice, however, could be admitted to the order of the "penitent" so long as they lived a life of penance, confession, sorrow, etc., and would be granted restoration to the Church, and given the Sacrament of the Altar, on their death bed. The council also determined that those who were on their death bed, but hadn't previously practiced penitence couldn't be "restored," but could be left up to God who may or may not count their own "blood" (or death) as the proper completion of their contrition.

While that sounds TOTALLY radical to most Christians today -- it should be remembered that this was a CONCESSION of the Church. For nearly 100 years it had become the custom that the apostate COULDN'T be readmitted to the Church except at their death beds. The only exception was "Martyrdon" which was considered to be the total recompense of ANY sin or apostasy that had committed in life. Thus, oddly enough, you have an odd crowd of previous apostates ACTIVELY seeking martyrdom (it was their only SURE redmption -- so they thought).

Novation basically continued to assert the "old order" despite the Cyprian reforms. In other words, he said that NO ONE who committed a "mortal sin" (apostasy, fornication/adultery, blood shed) could be restored to the church in this life. In other words, the amount of penance required for such sins was SO GREAT that no human could possibly live long enough to pay for it. Thus, all apostates (no matter how they had become apostate) couldn't be redeemed into the Church. Instead, they had to live a life of contrition, penance, fasting, public humiliation, etc., which could only be COMPLETED by their own death. Thus -- for the Novations there was NO HOPE of reconciliation for those who had committed mortal sins during this life.

Paul T. McCain said...

Ryan, good review of the history surrounding Novatianism, but...why did Melanchthon reference them in the Augustana? Were there other protestants embracing the views of Novatian that he wanted to distance Lutheranism from?

wm cwirla said...

Thanks, Ryan, for that great historic summary of Novationism.

I think there are at least two reasons for Melanchthon's condemnation of the Novations here.

First, it fits with Melancththon's strategy of being as catholic as possible in the Augustana. We condemn all the same heresies, demonstrating that we are loyal sons of the western catholic tradition.

Second, the issue with the Novations serves as a good example of how the early Church struggled with the nature of repentance and the restoration of the fallen. As Ryan indicated, the Novations were conservatives over and against a view toward leniency. This is an interesting case of the older, more conservative position being incorrect, and how the Gospel impulse tends to trump notions of puritanism or moral rigorism in the Church.

Paul T. McCain said...

My question about the Novatians is this. Was the reference to them put in there only to anchor the Lutheran Church on the side of the ancient orthodox Church, or where there groups around in the 16th century that were guilty of Novatian tendencies, hence the jab at the Novatians after a left hook to the Anabaptists?

wm cwirla said...

Leif Grane is likewise puzzled. He notes that the Reformers are interested in distancing themselves from the radical reformation, specifically Denck and Schwenckfeld. He then writes:

"The condemnation of the Novations seems somewhat irrelevent. It is most likely taken from Luther's Confession of 1528. Similar phenomena, however, may also be observed in certain enthusiasts. [Grane cites Urbanus Rheigius who is supposed to have labeled the Anabaptists as neo-Novations.] (Grane, Commentary142).

Clearly the interest of the Reformers lies in the last condemnation concerning meritorious satisfaction.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...

I imagine, in a way, the condemnation of the Novatians to some extent reflects the general movement that had consummated in the 4th Lateran Council in 1215. Thus, in that respect, it's almost as though the AC is trying to take as much of the council as they can -- even though they had just rejected one of the council's major tenants in article 11.

Basically (in addition to being the council that had affirmed Transubstantiation) as a dogma of the Church, the 4th Lateran Council had also declared a mandatory, yearly, submission to the sacrament of Penance. Likewise, yearly communion on Easter was also instituted which had to be preceded by going to Penance. Then the kicker -- the penalty for not doing it was essentially excommunication. More literally, being "barred from entering the Church for life."

Again, as objectionable as the 4th Lat. council seems, it was again a decisive move away from the old model of one-time penance for those who had committed mortal sin. The 4LC was also, simply, making official what had more or less grown to be the predominant practice. I believe, the practice of repeated confession grew out of the Keltic monasteries in the 8th/9th Centuries. It was a discipline among the monks, which got carried over to the priestly order, and the lay people.

So to digress, it does seem like the condemnation of the Novatians at least, in a round about way, affirms that the 4th Lat. Council, even if misguided at points, was trying to reflect a good, genuine concern for the benefits of repeatable confession. After all, the mercies of God are infinite. I hadn't though of it like this before, but I think Cwirla was right in that it really does function as an added separation from the Anabaptists who had pretty much denied the sacrament of penance entirely -- thus the allusion to the "Anabaptists" as contemporary Novatians isn't really a HUGE leap. After all, the Novatians allowed "penance," but didn't allow restoration. FWIW.

On the other hand, the threat behind the policy of the 4LC had effectively trampled back upon itself. If it is mandatory, with serious threats involved for those who don't do it, it really messes up with the idea of genuine contrition. Thus, the infamous distinction between "contrition" and "attrition." The former, being genuine sorrow for having disappointed the Father. The latter, being sorrow emerging from "lower" motivations such as the fear of hell, and now the fear of being barred from the Church. Thus, Rome had effectively said that the power of the Keys, through the imposition of satisfactions, would "perfect" one's contrition, thus transforming attrition to contrition.

In the Apology, Melanchthon argues at a point that such distinction might be valid "on paper," but the common person is often completely unable to distinguish if he is really "contrite" or "attrite" (is that a word?). What matters is simply that the law has done its deed -- it has driven people to despair, no matter how one parses it out, thus they need the Gospel. And absolution "is the Gospel itself." As Melanchthon points out, in the Roman system one can't really discern at what point he is really forgiven. The Absolution had more or less been reduced to the priest's "rubber stamp" of approval on the penitents contrition. The emphasis in this article, however, is on absolution. It is the absolution that must "predominate" in the Sacrament of Penance (hence, why Lutherans don't so often refer to it as "the sacrament of Penance").

I believe it is Grane who points out that the Apology, for article 12, could just as easily be renamed "Concerning Law and Gospel." If there is a clear "locus" for the distinction between law and gospel in the Confessions, arguable, it is most clear here in Apology 12.

Eric said...

Interesting comments here, esp. the speculations about Menlanchthon's strategy re: the 4th Lateran Council.

I see the inclusion of the Novatians in this article to be quite natural, though--not something that requires much explanation. There is always a heresy lurking on either side of a true doctrine; thus it is part of a good and precise confession to repudiate both of them. I think that's all Melancthon is doing here: "Some say that Christians cannot lose the Holy Spirit--even that they can avoid sin entirely. And on the opposite extreme, others say that when Christians DO lose the Holy Spirit, that's it; there's no more absolution for them. We steer the straight and orthodox course between these two errors."

William Weedon said...


That's my take too. I didn't and don't see it as a puzzle. It always made sense to me.