Sunday, March 18, 2012
Catholic leftovers in the Lutheran Church
Good brother William Weedon spoke of a book under translation for CPH. According to Weedon we can look forward to the upcoming Kevin Walker translation of Ernst Zeeden's masterful work *Faith and Act: Medieval and Lutheran Practices Compared.* It will be an important work for lovers of Lutheran liturgy to have on their shelves. Nagel gave me a copy of the German some years ago. By the way, I think Zeeden's original title was a hoot: "Catholic leftovers in the Lutheran Church Orders of the 16th Century." (my emphasis)
That title was pure genius. Of course it will not be used for the English translation. That would be too, well, obvious. That is exactly the point of folks in Lutheranism today. Too often the things of ceremony and celebration, rite and ritual, vestment and versicle, piety and propers (geez how long can I keep it up) are leftovers. Catholic leftovers that stink in our Lutheran fridge and need to be excised from the Lutheran kitchen as soon as possible. Not that is NOT the perspective of Zeedon's original work. He does not dismiss these as ancient accidents that somehow kept in the life of Lutherans. He addresses them as part and parcel of the Lutheran confession and liturgical identity -- the practice of what we proclaim. But that is not how most folks see them today. Clergy and lay throughout our Lutheran churches are uncomfortable with the ancient Lutheran skin. So they distinguish style and substance as if we were talking transubstantiation in worship forms/practices and dogma. The goal, of course, is to eat the leftovers -- to get rid of the Catholic usages as if they were yesterday's style in clothing or shoes and get current where the people, the action, and the Lutheran identity is now.
The whole point of this book is not to suggest that these were somehow overlooked in the Lutheran housecleaning of the sixteenth century and its Reformation but rather to see how Lutheran confession and practice conserved and kept all but that which conflicted with the Gospel -- not as an accommodation to the weak and ignorant folk in the pews who could not stand any more than the barest form of change but as the evidence and proof of the consistent claim of Lutheranism to be the genuine and faithful continuation of the one and true evangelical and catholic faith and church from the earliest days of Christian history. And this is the rub. When we ditch these liturgical practices and church usages as if they were leftovers decaying in our modern day Lutheran fridge, we are also ditching essential Lutheran core confessional and theological identity. Lutheranism is not evangelicalism with a more formal worship service. Lutheranism is the catholic faith rescued from its Babylonian captivity to Roman and medieval abuse and distortion. Period.