Friday, November 6, 2009

Proof Against It















In the latter pages of Richard Adams' Watership Down (which I just completed with my 7th and 8th Grade literature class), I came across this reflective statement:

"Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it." (p. 465)

I wonder if that might also be the rationale for why some people also like horror movies.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not Feeling So Well?

If you take some sort of dark comfort at the thought that at least you don't have a condition a bad as others, of if you ascribe to the old apothegm, "Misery loves company," you might take heart at knowing how much Luther suffered with his illnesses.

Martin Brecht's biography of Luther is superb (and not just in describing morbid details). The following description comes in his third of three volumes on Luther Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (1532-1546). This is from pages 185-186.:


It is possible that Luther might have been more actively involved at the assembly and might have had his position accepted had he been healthy. This time it was not heart problems, but kidney stones that became evident on 8 February when he passed a stone and experienced bleeding. In the following days he could participate in the discussions only sporadically.

On Sunday, 18 February, he was well enough to preach. He freely applied the gospel of Jesus' temptation by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11) to the church that had been tempted by external persecution, heretical perversion of the Bible, and now by the anti-Christian papacy and its mass. Only Christ himself could put an end to this.

Later that same day he suffered extreme pains. An enema administered by the landgrave's personal physician understandably not only did not help but caused persistent diarrhea that weakened the patient. Melanchthon was quite concerned about this inept treatment.

On 19 February Luther was unable to urinate, and this persisted for eight days. Although there were several physicians of the princes in Schmalkalden, at Luther's request Dr. George Sturtz was summoned from Erfurt with suitable medications on 20 February. Previously, too, they had obtained medicine from Erfurt. . . .

The surgeon (Steinschneider) from Waltershausen was summoned. The elector's surgeon had a golden instrument fabricated for an operation. Luther had to suffer even more at the hands of the physicians who were helpless in his case, and, when all was said and done, he would rather have died.

"They gave me as much to drink as if I had been a big ox." They offered him broth made from almonds. They also tried, from the Dreckapotheke (excrement pharmacy), remedies made from garlic and raw manure.

From 25 February onward, Luther's condition grew increasingly critical. Melanchthon could not hold back his tears while visiting him. Their previously substantial differences were now obviously irrelevant. Luther was prepared to accept his fate from God's hand. However he had an urgent wish to he in the territory of Electoral Saxony. Although hardly in condition to be moved, he wanted to leave Schmalkalden. To his consternation, Melanchthon postponed the departure for a day because, for astrological reasons, he thought the new moon was an unfavorable date for this undertaking.

Before Luther's departure on 26 February the elector visited the patient and wished him God's grace and healing for the sake of the Word. Luther advised him to pray against the devil, the real adversary. The papal legate would be happy about Luther's death—in fact, the status of Luther's health was an important political consideration on all sides—but with Luther's death the pope would also lose an important person who was praying for him and he would not escape the evil to come. Luther thanked his sovereign for all that he had done for the sake of the gospel, and exhorted him to continue to work for it.

John Frederick stated his concern that God would take away "his precious Word" along with Luther. Luther, however, mentioned the many theologians who had taken it to heart and understood it very well. The anxious elector took this as an opportunity to admonish all those present to preserve the pure Word.

Luther also feared that after his death the gospel would be threatened by controversies. Interestingly, in this context he asked whether all the theologians had unanimously signed the articles, which, as mentioned above, was not the case. Melanchthon was able to tell him only that all of them, even Blaurer, had signed the Augsburg Confession and the Wittenberg Concords.

Before leaving, the elector assured Luther that he did not need to be concerned about his wife and children: "For your wife shall be my wife, and your children shall be my children." Nevertheless, Luther was afraid that the city governor, Hans Metzsch, who was at odds with him, would take revenge upon his family. Amsdorf should look after Katy. The patient's pains were so severe that he feared he was losing his mind. He felt miserable and had to vomit. Like Stephen, he felt he was being "stoned." But he held fast: "God still remains wise and Christ, my Lord, my wisdom and God." They should stop praying for him in the churches. God had now been "prayed, importuned, and cried to" enough. God would do the right thing. If Luther surrendered to the devilish pain, Christ would take revenge upon him. In this trust he commended his soul to God.

For the trip a copper basin was specially prepared so that towels could be heated and applied to the patient while traveling. When Luther entered the wagon, he made the sign of the cross and wished those standing around: "The Lord fill you with his benediction and with hatred of the pope." In his deathly illness Luther was aware of the significance of this final unreconciled word. The legate apparently assumed that Luther was already dead and had been taken away secretly. He therefore sent his servant to find out if this were so, but Schlaginhaufen prevented him from seeing Luther: "You will not see Luther in eternity." Bugenhagen, Spalatin, Myconius, Schlaginhaufen, and Dr. Sturtz accompanied the patient. Two men walked beside the wagon in order to moderate the discomfort of the trip on the poor road. Possibly, it was this jolting that saved Luther's life. The trip was excruciating, however.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Sum of the Christian Life

Here's a piece of Luther's Work which I had not read before but was glad to have come across it. It is his Sermon on the Sum of the Christian Life (1532) found in the American Edition of his works, vol. 51, beginning at page 256. It's a nice one to read in conjunction with his treatise The Freedom of a Christian. when considering sanctification in the life of Christ's people.

Now, as for him who will neither heed this nor be moved to hold God’s Word in honor and esteem and gladly hear and learn it whenever he can, I do not know how to advise him, for I neither can nor will drag anybody in by the hair.

Anybody who despises it, let him go on despising it and remain the pot-bellied sow that he is until the day when God will slaughter him and prepare a roast for the devil in the eternal fires of hell. For such a person cannot be a good man, nor is it a human sin, but rather the devil’s obstinacy, when a man can so despise that for which God himself has appointed a place, person, time, and day, and besides admonishes and pleads with him so solemnly through his command and promise, and lays all this at our doorstep free of charge.

This is something for which you ought to run to the ends of the world, something you cannot pay for with any gold or silver. And yet it is such an easy service that it costs you no labor or work, no money or goods, only to lend your ears to hear, or your mouth to speak and read, and surely there is no easier work than this. For even though this may bring with it the peril that you will have to bear the cross and suffer for it, yet the work in itself is easier than even the easiest of labors.

If you can sit day and night in a tavern or somewhere else with good companions, gossiping, talking, singing, and bawling, and not grow tired or feel that it is work, then you can also sit in church for an hour and listen in the services of God and his will. What would you do if he commanded you to carry stones or to go on a pilgrimage or imposed some other heavy work upon you, as was imposed upon us formerly, when we willingly performed everything we were told to do and into the bargain were fleeced of money, goods, and body with silly lies and frauds?

But now we have the damnable devil, who makes the people so blind and so surfeited and sated that we do not realize what a treasure we have in the dear Word and go on living so rudely that we become like wild beasts. Let us take it to heart then and remember, whenever we preach, read, or hear God’s Word, whether it be in the churches or at home through father, mother, master, or mistress, and gladly believe that wherever we can obtain it we are in the right, high, holy service of God, which pleases him beyond all measure.

Thus you will be warmed and stirred to love hearing it all the more and God will also grant that it bear fruit, more than anybody can tell. For the Word never goes out without bringing forth much fruit whenever it is earnestly heard, without your being the better for it. Even though you do not see it now, in time it will appear. But it would take too long to tell all the fruits now, nor, indeed, can they all be numbered.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Misanthrope

Moliere, anyone? The explanation of this painting by Pieter Bruegel is as follows:

The Dutch inscription reads: 'Because the world is perfidious, I am going into mourning'. The moral of the painting is that such a relinquishment of the world is not possible: one must face up to the world's difficulties, not abandon responsibility for them. The hooded misanthrope is being robbed by the small figure in a glass ball, a symbol of vanity. His action shows how impossible it is to give up the world. The misanthrope is also walking unawares towards the mantraps set for him by the world. He cannot renounce it as he would wish, and he is contrasted with the shepherd in the background who guards his sheep and who is more virtuous than the misanthrope because of his simple, honourable performance of his duties, his sense of responsibility towards his charges.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Swine Flu and the Plague


From the amount of air-time given to issues surrounding the Swine Flu, it must be pretty serious. But by comparison, I wonder what the media coverage and popular reaction would be if we were hit with a plague such as that known in Luther's day.

The following are some excerpts from the translator's introduction and Luther's treatment of this subject found in AE 43:115ff. It was apparently written on an All Saints' Day, 1527 -- on the tenth anniversary of Luther's burning the papal bull against him.

WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE: To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1527).

[from the introduction]

On August 2, 1527, this dread plague struck Wittenberg. Fearing for the safety of Luther and the other professors at the university, Elector John, on August 10, ordered Luther to leave for Jena. Five days later the university moved to Jena, then to Schlieben near Wittenberg, where it remained until April of the following year.

Unmoved by the elector’s letter or by the pleas of his friends, Luther, along with Bugenhagen, stayed to minister to the sick and frightened people. By August 19 there were eighteen deaths; the wife of the mayor, Tilo Dene, died almost in Luther’s arms; his own wife was pregnant and two women were sick in his own house; his little son Hans refused to eat for three days; chaplain George Rörer’s wife, also pregnant, took sick and lost both her baby and her life; Bugenhagen and his family then moved into Luther’s house for mutual encouragement.

Writing to Amsdorf, Luther spoke about his Anfechtungen and about the hospital in his house, closing his letter by saying,

So there are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have and and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen. At Wittenberg on All Saints’ Day in the tenth year after the trampling down of the papal bull, in remembrance of which we, comforted in both respects, have drunk a toast.”

By the end of November the plague had definitely receded and in December Luther’s wife was happily delivered of her child, Elizabeth.

[from the treatise]

Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them.

To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly ff one holds no public office.

I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread. Who would not acclaim these earnest people to whom death is a little thing? They willingly accept God’s chastisement, doing so without tempting God, as we shall hear later on.

Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16 [:18], while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned.

When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion. Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 15 [:1] and I Corinthians 12 [:22 ff.]. To put it briefly and concisely, running away from death may happen in one of two ways. First, it may happen in disobedience to God’s word and command. For instance, in the case of a man who is imprisoned for the sake of God’s word and who, to escape death, denies and repudiates God’s word.

In such a situation everyone has Christ’s plain mandate and command not to flee but rather to suffer death, as he says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” and “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Matthew 10 [:28, 33]. Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death.

We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay ff it had been necessary.

We read that St. Athanasius fled from his church that his life might be spared because many others were there to administer his office. Similarly, the brethren in Damascus lowered Paul in a basket over the wall to make it possible for him to escape, Acts 9 [:25]. And also in Acts 19 [:30] Paul allowed himself to be kept from risking danger in the marketplace because it was not essential for him to do so.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Regarding the question, "Did Luther use a drinking song as the basis for A Mighty Fortress Is Our God?" put together by the Rev. Richard Lammert, Technical Services Librarian, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

This is a common misconception, but the answer is an undeniable “no.” Martin Luther wrote both the words and the tune for “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (in German “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”). Carl F. Schalk, a well-known contemporary hymnologist, writes in Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988) as follows:

“Luther also set his hand to the task of writing hymn melodies. It is generally acknowledged that at least three hymn tunes are from Luther’s own pen. “Wir glauben all an einen Gott”, “Ein feste Burg,” and the Sanctus hymn from the German Mass, “Isaiah dem Propheten das geschah.” Considering his own musical experience and training, and living at a time when the Meistersinger tradition prescribed that poet and tune writer were one and the same person, it would be strange had he not attempted to give musical expression to his own texts” (p. 26).

Leonard Woolsey Bacon, in The Hymns of Martin Luther Set to Their Original Melodies. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883), refers to a near contemporary of Luther’s in reporting that the tune is by Luther:

“It seems superfluous to add to this testimony the word of Sleidan, the nearly contemporary historian, who says expressly concerning “Ein’ feste Burg” that Luther made for it a tune singularly suited to the words, and adapted to stir the heart. If ever there were hymn and tune that told their own story of a common and simultaneous origin, without need of confirmation by external evidence, it is these” (p. xix).

In contrast to these definite statements attributing the tune to Luther, one can note that there are scholars who question this. For example, William Barclay Squire in his article on Martin Luther in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., edited by Eric Blom (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1959) says:

“The following are the hymn-tunes which have been ascribed to Luther, though none with any degree of certainty: ... ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’” (v. 5, p. 447). One should note, however, that if Luther himself did not write the tune, absolutely no source is given for the tune.”

The idea that Luther adapted his tune from a drinking song is probably from a misunderstanding of the tune in “bar form.” It is easy to see here that “bar” is a technical term, because it is precisely the same word in German. For example, in Liederkunde, 2. Teil, edited by Joachim Stalmann (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), we find the statement “Luther baut einen neunzeiligen Bar” [“Luther builds a bar of nine lines”] (p. 61).

Willi Apel in Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969) says the following on p. 80-81 about “Bar form.” Of particular importance is the connection of the form with the Meistersingers, as seen also in the first quotation from Carl Schalk:

“The name is derived from the medieval German term Bar, a poem consisting of three or more Gesaetze (i.e., stanzas), each of which is divided into two Stollen (section a) and an Absegang (section b). ... [The Bar form] found its way into the repertory of the troubadours ... and ultimately into that of the minnesingers and Meistersinger, who called it Bar and used it for nearly all their lyrical songs. It is equally common in the German ... Lutheran chorales and the various compositions based on them (organ chorales, chorale cantatas, etc.). ... Of particular importance is the type of Bar in which the Stollen recurs complete at the end of the Abgesang, thus leading to the form a a b a. An appropriate designation for this is rounded Bar form. Several hymn melodies show this form.”

“A Mighty Fortress” has the “bar form” A A B A’. One can diagram it thus:

A A mighty Fortress is our God, A trusty Shield and Weapon;
A He helps us free from ev’ry need That hath us now o’ertaken.
B The old evil Foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
A’ On earth is not his equal.

Despite the analyses of musicologists, one could still claim that Martin Luther “knew a good tune when he heard it,” and adapted it for his own purposes. To think that Luther adapted a drinking song for “A Mighty Fortress,” however, goes completely against the practice of the Reformer. This is amply stated by Richard C. Resch, “Music: Gift of God or Tool of the Devil,” Logia 3 (Eastertide/April 1994) no. 2: 36, where he makes reference to Markus Jenny, Luthers geistliche Lieder und Kirchengesaenge (Koeln: Boehlau Verlag, 1985):

“Martin Luther is one of the most misunderstood church fathers with respect to the use of music in the church. Claims that he used tavern tunes for his hymns are used in defense of a music practice that freely accepts worldly associations. Such conclusions bear no resemblance to Luther’s writings on the subjects of worship and music. In fact, Luther’s actions teach us quite a different lesson. In his search for the right tune for his text “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her” [“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”] , Luther learned about the power of worldly associations. According to the Luther scholar Markus Jenny, Luther’s first wedding of this text with a tune was “a classic example of the failure of a contrafacta.” He set it to a secular dance song that begins, “I step eagerly to this dance.” The dance and tune were closely associated with a Christmas wreath ceremony that was often held in taverns. Luther found the secular associations to be so strong that he eventually wrote a fresh tune that was free of worldly associations. He then indicated on the manuscript that this new melody was to be used in the Sunday service and with children. Luther’s modification of this beloved hymn is indication of his sensitivity to the harmful power of worldly associations in the worship practice of the church.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Outrage Redivivus

Bill Bennett used to think that outrage was dead. I wonder if he sees things differently now that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage (to name a few) are building up a full head of steam. Could such "outrage" ever get to the point of being outrageous? Oh, for the days of Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.

Wassup 2016?


So, Chicago won't get the opportunity to lose oodles of money by hosting the 2016 Olympics. Oh well. If we really still want to lose money, we could always sponsor another World's Fair. That was pretty cool.