24 March 2011

New Lutheran Quote of the Day

The decline of the knowledge and study of patristics in the present generation of theologians threatens to become catastrophic for our theology unless it can somehow be checked.  A church without patristics becomes a sect. -- Hermann Sasse, *We Confess:  Jesus Christ* p. 95.


Anonymous said...

Sasse wrote this in 1936. Presumably “it was checked” somehow and did not become catastrophic during the following three generations, or did it? Or was Sasse wrong?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Terry Maher said...

Speaking of since 1936, pretty much every modernist revisionist liturgical "movement" activist I have known or heard of is all into "patristics" convinced they offer a getting back to the "early church" or some such fantasy rooted in C19 Romanticism, the ecclesiastical counterpart to Rousseau's "noble savage". Patristics has easily caused as much -- I would say more -- harm than good, and should be approached with extreme care and in the firm understanding that these guys are just guys who like the rest of any of us either square with Revelation or they don't, and their being old guys is no indication that they do.

I guess I'm signed is as me, so I'll sign this,
Past Elder

melxiopp said...

In the democracy of holiness ain't none of us better than anyone else: "these guys are just guys". If Scripture is readily understood by anyone of average intellect then there's no need for fathers in the faith, just someone to be called to teach publicly that which many/most already know for themselves.

William Weedon said...


Well, I wonder if there were not a bit of a good response to Sasse - certainly Elert in his later years studied the fathers in great detail. We see the fruit of that in his *Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries*.


Dr. Chemnitz, I'm afraid, would strongly disagree. He knew, of course, that the fathers were not invariably right (as does Rome and the East - despite the hyperbole - just show them some choice passages...). But he could write thusly: "When we disapprove of anything in the writings of the fathers which does not agree with the Scripture and reject it, this is done without rashness but by a just judgment, without injury and disgrace to the fathers, without prejudice to their honor, and with their consent, and that this is done by those also who are incomparably inferior to the fathers. We have besides also the examples of the fathers themselves, who indeed do not impudently ridicule the errors of the ancients if they departed anywhere from the rule of Scripture but nevertheless also do not out of respect for the fathers approve or accept what does not agree with the canon of the Scripture." Examen II:261.


Um, not so much. See the Chemnitz above.

Anonymous said...

Sasse was right, of course, because he did not write about the LCMS but the church in Germany. But as he is want to, he tends to ascribe all evils to what is his current hobby horse. Cutting to the chase, I believe the church in Germany had abandoned the proclamation of the Gospel years earlier, which led to a church that not only had no clue about patristics (the Enlightenment did not look kindly on these benighted souls), but was able to consent to the Nüremberg Laws and all of the evils of Nazism.

As to Elert’s book (I find it difficult to accept a single instance as an answer to what Sasse claims is an epidemic), the most amazing aspect of it is that everything he writes in that beautiful first chapter, he contradicts in the rest of the book. And nobody notices! Whatever errors the early Church committed are sanctioned by virtue of their “ancientness”, without resort to the support of Scripture.

Finally, years ago I made a considerable effort to learn what the practices of the early Church were in order to see whether this “spirit” could be recaptured. Then I had the sudden insight that the Spirit Who guided the Church in its early days is the same Lord, the Holy Spirit, Who guides the Church today. Therefore, it is a good thing to study the Fathers who proclaimed the truth under His guidance. But we should firmly trust and believe that the same Spirit will guide us into the truth today.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Past Elder said...

Where is the disagreement? We both note that the "fathers" are neither always consistent with Scripture nor even with each other.

A difference maybe, in that I suggest, in light of that, caution rather than reverence.

By Scripture alone; we hold to the Confessions because they state the truths of Scripture, but re the "fathers" it's quaetenus at best, insofar as they agree with Scripture.

Since they are neither Scripture nor the Confessions they are distinctly in third place, and not alone there but right along with everyone else including us.

And indeed, the Spirit that was present in their age did not die with them but is present in ours too.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

We do not read the church fathers because they are infallible, but to learn from them as we learned from our own parents and grandparents. When we do we see that they had weaknesses and strengths, and that we are not experiencing anything that is uncommon in Christendom. We see in them just as we see in the Patriarchs God's mercy and faithfulness, and there is great comfort in that. Most of all, and I think to Sasse's point we learn that there are no new heresies under the sun, and we not only learn what is right from the church fathers, we may avoid the hazards of ignoring history.