22 March 2008

On the Descent

Our Lord Christ did descend into hell, battered hell open, overcame the devil, and delivered those who were held captive by the devil. (Blessed Martin Luther: House Postil I:480)

Christ has crushed hell, opened up heaven, bound and taken captive the devil, and delivered the prisoners. (Blessed Martin Luther: House Postil I:480)

The soul, having obtained union with the Word; descended into hell; but using its divine power and efficacy, it said to the ones in bondage, "Go forth!" (St. Cyril of Alexandria, as cited in Catalog of Testimonies VI)


Fr John W Fenton said...

There was, once, a letter... :)

Anonymous said...

Fill us in on the joke, Fr John.

William Weedon said...

I no longer have the letter, so if Fr. John does, perhaps he can post it. It was a letter to the Lutheran Witness, and it was signed by several persons (who were actually doctrinal reviewers) and they wouldn't reprint it. Why? Because it (a letter to the editor???) failed doctrinal review. Sigh.

I did draw up an initial draft myself, though it was one that (then) Pr. Robb Hogg drew up that was sent in. Here is my original, FWIW:

Dear Editors,

I was rather disappointed that both articles in the April 2001 Witness
dismissed out of hand the ancient church's preaching about the Descent
including the liberation of the patriarchs and OT believers - bringing them
from Sheol/Hades into everlasting joy. I do not see how this in anyway
contradicts the teaching of the Formula that Christ descended to hell in
triumph to crush Satan's power.

The liberation of the patriarchs and OT believers has remained a theme in
some of our hymnody - see especially "Now Glad of Heart" published by CPH.
"Who conquered death and harrowed hell and led the souls who loved Him well
all in the light of light to dwell..."

Further, the Bible passages listed as disproving the notion of liberation of
the OT saints do nothing of the sort! The first instance actually cites the
imperfect, the future: "SHALL be saved." The second instance ignores the
ending of Hebrews 12: "And all these, having obtained a good testimony
through faith, *did not receive the promise*, God having provided something
better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us." (vs.

Dr. Luther's sermon on the Descent into Hell seems to leave open the ancient
notion of deliverance of the patriarchs as well: "Whether we comprehend it
with or without pictures, is an indifferent matter, as long as we don't
become heretics and this article remains intact, that our Lord Jesus Christ
did descend into hell, battered hell open, overcame the devil, and
*delivered those who were held captive by the devil.*" The House Postils,
Vol. 1, p. 480 And again: "Christ has crushed hell, opened up heaven,
bound and taken captive the devil, and delivered the prisoners." The House
Postils, Vol. 1, p. 482.

William Weedon, Pastor
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Hamel, IL

WM Cwirla said...

Yup. I believe I was a signer of that letter, or one like it. I also had a paraphrase from Walther fail doctrinal review too, so don't feel too bad.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

What, then, does it mean that this teaching failed LCMS doctrinal review--despite its attestation in the ancient church and in Luther?

What, further, does it mean that the LCMS has failed this teaching in doctrinal review and yet you continue to teach it, and continue in good standing in the LCMS?

Finally, let it be noted that I was a doctrinal reviewer for the new hymnal. I reviewed the order of baptism and rejected it, because it omitted the exorcisms (Who could be an enemy of exorcism? Oh, yeah...) found in Luther's Taufbuchlein. I said that Luther's Taufbuchlein should be, in some sense, a standard by which to measure Lutheran baptismal rites. My decision was appealed and overturned, and the reason given by the Doctrinal Review committee was that Luther's baptismal rite has no normative status in the LCMS.

So there you go...

William Weedon said...

Fr. Gregory,

It means that the LCMS continues to grapple with whether it will remain Lutheran in Confession and practice, or whether it will become something other than that - and the confused situation does not necessarily mean the acceptance of relativism (live and let live); it may mean that the decision and the struggle has not yet had a decisive outcome. Keep us in your prayers!

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

My prayers are poor, weak, and infrequent. I will try--pray for me, that I might pray better.

I'm puzzled. It would appear that a situation in which differing views are tolerated--in which pulpit and altar fellowship continues between those of widely different views--is *precisely* an example of relativism.

The test I've heard some say--"When they no longer tolerate a confessional point of view"--is not relativism, but a new absolutism.

Can you, then, explain what would constitute Lutheran (as opposed to broad-church Anglican) relativism in your book?

William Weedon said...

Fr. Gregory,

Relativism would seem to imply that those who differ in views tolerate the other as "that's their right" and without seeking to engage the other side to persuade them (or dissuade them) to a different position. But I think the situation in the Synod at the moment on numerous issues is much more in line with the way that Jacobs could speak regarding the sin of schism: "A schism occurs wherever there is a disruption of the Church's organization for any other reason than that of notorious impurity in the teaching *that has prevailed and has not been remedied after repeated and patient efforts to have it corrected.*" [Elements of Religion, p. 214] There will, naturally, be disagreement about when the false teaching has prevailed and when the patient efforts to correct have failed.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thank you, Rev. Weedon. A couple follow-up questions, then:

1. What constitutes "engag(ing) the other side to persuade them to a different position"? To engage would seem more than to talk (or blog) past each other.

2. Are such efforts taking place now--if so, what sort and by whom? (As you know, I tried to "engage the other side" by speaking personally to a local pastor who practiced lay absolution--while he was present. It went nowhere.)

3. Does not the "Issues Etc." situation suggest that the problem is closer to what I have above labeled a "new absolutism" than to schism?

Thank you for your patience.

William Weedon said...

Fr. Gregory, do you know how intensely I dislike the honorific "rev."? :)

1. What constitutes "engaging the other side to persuade them to a different position" is the face to face, back and forth, such as we enjoyed at our last pastoral conference where the matter of worship was discussed and a forum was provided to clarify, understand, and seek to persuade.
2. Yes, they are taking place, as I just mentioned. I've also seen an increase in the desire of the Winkel to begin functioning in this way again. At a recent Winkel, Pastor Curtis and myself offered a position paper on affirming doctrinal dissent from anyone exercising the office of the ministry who has not been publicly placed into that office. We've been in discussions with our DP about publishing this dissent, and our dissent has been discussed also by the Circuit Counselors of the SID.
3. The Issues Etc. situation is one that remains an absolute mystery - and I don't think it beneficial to speculate on the whys and wherefores of it. We simply weren't told. But hopefully it will be remedied.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Since every Lutheran pastor is a bishop, shall I call you "Your Grace"? :-)

No back-and-forth we present here as to the nature (genetic vs. accidental) and depth (fatal vs. survivable) of Lutheranism's present situation will be as effective in answering the questions as simply allowing events to take their course. I only propose to speak when I see those I have loved slipping into relativism.

Thanks for your time.