Monday, 26 April 2010

Sasse Revival Widens

The revival of interest in the theology of Hermann Sasse continues. For about 10 years after Sasse's death in 1976, his two primary published books, 'Here We Stand', and 'This Is My Body' were kept in print by the Lutheran Publishing House in Australia, but that was all that was available in English. Around 1986, however, Concordia Publishing House published the first of a series of translations of Sasse essays by the US based Australian theologian Norman Nagel, and the 'Sasse revival' really began. Now interest in Sasse is once again extending beyond German and English readers to other languages ('Here We Stand' was originally translated into several languages after its initial publication, including, we believe, Japanese). For example, here is a pic of a Portuguese translation of 'Here We Stand' that we found in the catalogue of a Brazilian academic bookseller (don't ask!):

We can't let the occasion go by without including a provocative extract from the English translation of 'Here We Stand': Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. 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 (trans. Theodore Tappert), Augsburg Publishing House, 1938, pp. 110-11.

Note: By 'Evangelical' Sasse means Lutheran; in German 'Evangelische' is/was a synonym for Lutheran or more generally for Protestant.

Comment: Sasse's concern is to define and defend the Lutheran faith over against the Reformed outlook which was leading German Evangelicals towards a Lutheran-Reformed Union in his day (the present EKD, or 'Evangelical Church in Germany'); but we may also turn his thought around to counter a present-day danger, crypto-Romanism in the Lutheran Church. If the Evangelical Church is the medieval Catholic Church reformed, then the distinctly Roman Catholic Church begins with the Reformation, or more specifically with Rome's authoritative response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent. Roman Catholicism surely reaches its 'apotheosis' with the promulgation of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at Vatican I in 1870. This doctrine, which exalts the Pope over scripture and history, stands in absolute contrast to the Evangelical rule of faith, which is that scripture alone establishes doctrine (see the relevant entries at 'Lutheran Catholicity' [link from this blog] for various patristic testimonies to the primacy of scripture).

[Sola scriptura is often misunderstood both by Evangelicals and Catholics as though scripture were the only authority in the church (solo scriptura would be a better slogan for this view, which stems from the Anabaptist Radical Reformation rather than either the Lutheran or Reformed branches of the Magisterial Reformation). The true conception is that scripture is the primary authority in the church, but creeds and confessions and the teaching office of the church also have real authority, albeit subordinate to scripture. I will be posting more on this in the near future, d.v. .]

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