Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thoughts on Augsburg

Sunday night, in quiet lonesome celebration of the Reformation, I read through the text of the Augsburg Confession. I realized, while I was reflecting on my Lutheranism, that I had never read the most accessible of its founding documents. Reflecting on it, what a phenomenal document, indeed! I could certainly spend a great deal of time reflecting on each article in turn, but I guess I'll just comment briefly on the remarkable prescience of the reformers. In Article XXIII: On Priestly Marriage, the Confession has this to say:
Many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity. [...] And it is to be expected that the churches shall at some time lack pastors if marriage is any longer forbidden.
This was written in 1530, mind you, just shy of 500 years ago. Granted, the Roman Catholic church has held off these twin threats for a shockingly long time, but both the fallout of "evil vices and iniquity" and a looming lack of priests are now dangerously threatening the future of the Catholic church in the West.

The other place where the reformer's vision struck me as particularly farsighted is in Article XXVIII: Of Ecclesiastical Power. I'd hate to be reading too much into this, but I don't think I'm the only one who has a hard time reading this sort of thing without making connection to the principles that underly the proper separation of church and state:
Since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; [...] For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things. [...] Therefore the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of the Church has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let it not beak into the office of another; let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it not abrogate the laws of civil rulers; let it not abolish lawful obedience; let it not interfere with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts; let it not prescribe laws to civil rulers concerning the form of the Commonwealth.
It is telling, then, to notice that the reformers seemed adamant to keep the Church out of affairs of state for the Church's sake. So much debate on the 'original' purpose of the Founding Fathers in separating Church and State in America comes down to back-and-forth about who needs protecting from whom, as if the one could only be corrupted by malicious forces from the other. The reformers here demand the separation of the "power of the Church and the power of the sword" and condemn church interference in state not out of secularist outrage, but rather recognizing that wielding power in temporal things weakens the Church in regard to the "eternal things".

I realize I could go on all night about this document, teasing out the implications of each article as I see them. I don't, however, have the time or energy to do that; nor do you have the time and energy (or interest) to read it all.

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