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.