Sunday, March 30, 2008

Roundtable 32: The Smalcald Articles: The First Part

"The Awe-Inspiring Articles on the Divine Majesty" is how the first part of the Smalcald Articles is described. Repeated here are the historic creedal formulas that confess the Holy Trinity, and the two natures in Christ. Luther saw no point in spending any time discussing these truths, since "both sides confess them" and concerning these articles "there is no argument or dispute." To this day, between classical Lutheranism and the Church of Rome, there is no dispute over the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures in Christ. Unity in the Trinitarian Christian Faith is a blessing from God, for which we should always be deeply grateful. It is a fundamental starting point for our two confessions. Sadly, today we can no longer assume other Christian confessions do in fact insist on the historic confession of Trinitarian and Christological doctrine. For instance, the United Church of Christ, the most liberal of the various mainline protestant churches, includes in its clergy ranks individuals who are not Trinitarian in their confessions. What is the implication for us today that both then, and now, historic Lutheranism is one with Roman Catholicism in the confession of the Holy Trinity and the two natures in Christ? As we reflect on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, how, and why, does it inspire awe? What is the result of this awe? What implications does it have for the church's confession and practice? For your life?

21 comments:

Gleason said...

I was sharing notes by Dr. Stephen Mueller (CCI) with an old high school classmate about the Trinity and was surprized that he objected to an eternal Christ. Even more, I was astonished that he rejected the Nicene creed because his parish's (Church of Christ) creed is that there is no creed. Your comment that we have unity with Rome in the trinity is important for us to remember.
In Christ,
Gleason

William Weedon said...

For those who can access it, there is a cassette recording of Dr. Sasse addressing this article of the SA at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It is an absolutely wonderful lecture by the good Dr. and shows the depth of both his piety and his scholarship. These sublime articles of the divine majesty are always at the heart and we need to return to them constantly - for our very worship flows from and around them. Just think in the Divine Service how many times the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures is confessed via praise and adoration!

William Weedon said...

Notice, Pastor McCain and Pastor Cwirla, that I utterly restrained myself from comment on the Latin variant. Almost.

Paul T. McCain said...

Oh, do tell, Pastor Weedon, do tell. Are you perhaps referring to the semper virgo remark that Selnecker slipped into his Latin translation of the German when referring to Christ.

William Weedon said...

Now, I'm behaving myself, Pr. McCain, and will not point out that the ecumenical version of the Book of Concord, the Latin one, which was offered in 1584 for the WORLD to know what Lutherans taught included that, um, interesting phrase, and did so without a single voice of objection to it being raised until, um, let me see, was it the 20th century? ;) Seriously, I don't want to side-track from the sublime articles of the divine majesty, and that has the potential to do it, but it, perhaps, points to what was at one point also utterly common ground between Lutherans and Rome that simply didn't warrant the need for any discussion.

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Weedon, no, there is no need to derail our conversation with the ever-interesting conversation about the concept that all Lutherans in the sixteenth century believed: that Mary gave birth to Christ with her virginity preserved and remained a virgin for the rest of her life. It is not an article of faith for Lutherans, but may be believed without endangering orthodox understandings of God and the Holy Trinity. And, as Francis Pieper says in his great dogmatics, a person may choose not to believe in the semper virgo and not be considered a heretic if, in all other respects, his Christology is orthodox.

William Weedon said...

But rather than you and I chase each other around Aaron's rod that budded and Gideon's fleece, we can simply refer blog readers to LQ's, Lutheran Liturgy's, and other archived discussions of the topic.

By the way, I am curious if you agree that 1584 was really the BOC as "ecumenical proposal" if you will - the definitive statement Lutherans offered to the theological world in defense of their faith (I ask this apart from Niccolai's insertion of the semper virgo epitaph)

Paul T. McCain said...

Pr. Weedon, I'm not sure you could claim that the fact that the BOC was provided entirely in Latin was an act intended to make it an "ecumenical document." But I do see your point.

Latin was simply the language of scholarship at the time and so there was nothing terribly remarkable about using it. Obviously, putting the Confessions in Latin did have the decided effect of providing them to the world in a language all theologians could read. That it has that effect is clear, but if this was the reason why it was put in Latin will probably remain impossible to prove, but it certainly was one very good reason to do so.

William Weedon said...

I think that was the point - they needed to put the book in the language that all the scholars of the Church could read, so that people everywhere would know exactly what Lutheran Christians believe, teach, and confess.

And totally off-topic - but hearkening back to previous discussion - you know something weird that NEVER occurred to me before? Pr. Curtis pointed this oddity out: in the AC, the matter of the saints was put, not under the abuses, but under the items that they didn't expect to have argument on. Odd, eh?

[Weedon - the expert at not keeping ANY online conversation on topic...]

Paul T. McCain said...

And thanks for not keeping anything on topic here.

: )

William Weedon said...

Alright, alright. Back on topic. I wonder if Rome would have nodded agreement to I.4:

"He was conceived, *without cooperation of man*, by the Holy Spirit."

The role of Mary's "fiat" enters in, and in an essentially synergistic system this becomes a type of the Christian's essential "yes" to God so that man and God together accomplish salvation - God doing the lion's share, of course - but human cooperation viewed as indispensable.

I don't think Rome would have quibbled about anything else in this first part, but I think they might just have choked on that, and Luther didn't even seem to realize it would be a choking point. Off base or not?

William Weedon said...

Oops. Never go by the English. I just looked at the Latin and it has "virili" - thus it meant without male intervention. Certainly Rome would NOT choke on that!

Paul T. McCain said...

I think it is something to take great joy in, and be extremely grateful for, that historic, authentic, confessing Lutheranism is entirely in agreement with Rome when it comes to the doctrine of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity and the doctrine of the person of Christ. We can not necessarily say this about the Reformed churches, with whom we have serious differences when it comes to the two natures in Christ.

We differ though over the work of Christ, but not His person and two natures, nor the Trinity.

Thanks be to God!

Anonymous said...

Paul, As much as I enjoyed reading (and partially understanding) the back and forth between you and Pastor Weedon, I have a far more simple comment as I read your blog post ... Does the following have an extra word in it? "As we reflect on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, how, and why, does it IS inspire awe?"

Your brother,
Phil :)

Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks bro!

Luke said...

Rev. McCain:

I suppose one of the things that we can draw from our agreement with Roman Catholicism on the Doctrine of the Trinity is that the Western Catholic Church was a faithful "hand-downer" of the teaching from the Councils.

The agreement on the Trinity is evidence that both (a) the forefathers of the Reformers fulfilled their duty of passing down what had been given to them and (b) the Reformers did not abandon that inheritance given to them. It also bears witness of the Reformers' desire not to teach anything new, as the Augustana was adamant to point out. Where what is right is taught in the Church, we as Lutherans are quick to commend and to lift up.

A modern, ecumenical implication of this statement from the Smalcald Articles is where we turn for further discussions on the Holy Trinity. Where new controversies may arise regarding the doctrine of God, especially His Triune nature, Lutherans would be biased to look to Roman Catholic sources, as well as our own, for guidance and teaching. It would also be our duty to defend, alongside Roman Catholics, the proper teaching on the Holy Trinity.

Another implication is that we would accept baptized people from the Roman Catholic Church into membership without requiring another baptism, since they would have received it before. The proper teaching on the Holy Trinity is foundational to that decision.

~Pr. Luke Zimmerman
(LTZ)

Anonymous said...

I would rejoice that there is consensus with Rome on the doctrine of the Trinity and on the Person of Christ; however, there was one little obscure little *hiccup* as far as the genus maiestaticum of the communication of attributes is concerned. Some Roman theologians of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century agreed with Calvin that Christ could not be present according to His human nature everywhere. That is why the Roman priest has the power to effect the presence of Christ according to His human nature through his celebration of the Mass. This is in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia under "Ubiquitarians": http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15117a.htm.

Joanne said...

A friend with lots of relatives in Pennsylvania commented in an email last week about friction between Luties and UCCers. I didn't get the reference until later when touring the Lehigh Valley ELCA website and realized that the ELCA and the UCC have merged to some degree. At the least, they must be in pulpit/altar fellowship. Now I am learning here that some UCC are not even Trinitarian. My, my, the things one picks up hanging out on the net. Joanne

john p said...

I think Lutherans can (and do) express the doctrine of justification throughout the confession of the trinity. I refer to the way that the definition of the three persons states almost inherently the notion that it was on account of Christ that men are redeemed, even though it was also by the same God that they were created and from whose image they fell, as well as the teaching about the Holy Spirit by whom they are revived and enlightened, etc., despite their sinful nature. If you were to remove this doctrine and nullify the learning of the early church on this subject, you would soon have, instead of Christ, some sort of aberration on monotheism (as we are, indeed, discussing in variant non-trinitarian denominations) in which there could soon be no Christianity, as a religion in which the chief article pertains to what happens on account of Christ. Well, I should say, the trinitarian doctrine is also a necessity, in part, to complete the puzzle with the doctrine of the two natures in Christ.

On the topic of agreement, I wonder about its implications as (a) do Roman catholics confess it merely as information, as descriptive of the deity, under the hubris of papal authority to determine theology or (b) do they have spiritually have a sense of justification by retaining the true confession of a doctrine, viz. of the trinity, in which the systematic teaching of justification is apparent if not obvious. I would be curious how to view this disjunction, if you think it is really not relevant or if there is something to it, as well as the emphasis on the notion of justification in the trinitarian doctrine, if that is real or simply enthusiastic of me to think.

gagewall4121 said...

I've read ELCA's Ted Peter's 1993 "God As Trinity" in which he sets forth the rediscovery of the doctrine of the Trinity in the last half of the last century. He shows how that it is once again fashionable to talk Trinity if you are a modern Christian theologian. Perhaps wannabe theologians in the UCC should follow Peter's lead; however, it might only be an exercise in aesthetics because it is possible to talk about it without believing in it. The Roman Catholic Church embeds the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures in Christ in its discourse more "religiously" than the ELCA or even other generic Protestant churches. It is so deeply embedded that modern theologians like Kueng, Schillebeecx, Rahner, von Balthasar do not dismiss it but take it for granted when they do theology. Classic Lutheranism and Rome's faithfulness to the doctrine of the Trinity is a powerful witness to the world of the one true God.

Lisa S. said...

In some ways, thinking about the Trinity makes my head explode. I just can't wrap my brain around it. Still, I think it's important to recognize that this is a link that we have with Rome and the Orthodox Christian faiths.