15 December 2012

Good words in the middle

of the Advent fast. These are from Dr. Luther's wonderful commentary on 1 Peter, particularly the exhortation: "Be sober." Enjoy!

Sobriety serves the body externally and is the chief work of faith. For even though man has become righteous, he is not yet completely rid of evil lusts. To be sure, faith has begun to subdue the flesh; but the flesh continues to bestir itself and rages nevertheless in all sorts of lusts that would like to assert themselves again and do what they want. Therefore the spirit must busy itself daily to tame the flesh and to bring it into subjection, must wrestle with it incessantly, and must take care that it does not repel faith. Therefore those who say that they have faith, think that this is enough, and, in addition, live as they please, are deceiving themselves. Where faith is genuine, it must attack the body and hold it in check, lest the body do what it pleases. For this reason, St. Peter says that we must be sober.

But he does not want the body to be destroyed or to be weakened too much. Thus one finds many who have fasted themselves mad and have tortured themselves to death. Even though Saint Bernard was a saintly man, he, too, was afflicted for a time with such folly. He denied his body so much that his breath stank and he could not associate with people.16 Later, however, he came to his senses and also told his brothers not to hurt the body too much. For he realized that he had made himself unable to serve his brothers. Therefore St. Peter demands no more than that we be sober, that is, that we stint the body as long as we feel that it is still too lascivious. He does not prescribe any definite length of time for fasting, as the pope has done; but he leaves it to everyone’s discretion to fast in such a way that he always remains sober and does not burden the body with gluttony. He must remain reasonable and sensible, and he must see to what extent it is necessary for him to mortify the body. It does no good at all to impose a command about this on a whole crowd or community, since we are so different from one another. One has a strong body, another has a body that is weak. Therefore one person must deny it much, and another person must deny it little, in such a way that when this is done, the body remains healthy and able to do good.

But it is also wrong for the other crowd to come along and say that they are getting on well by not fasting and by feeling free to eat meat.17 For these people, like the others, do not understand the Gospel either and are of no importance. They do no more than disdain the pope’s command. Yet they do not want to gird the mind and the understanding, as Peter says. They let the body have its way, with the result that it remains indolent and lascivious. It is good to fast. But one fasts in the right way by not giving the body more food than is needed to keep it healthy, and by letting it work and wake, in order that the old ass may not become too reckless, go dancing on the ice, and break a leg but may be bridled and follow the spirit. It should not imitate those who, when they fast, fill themselves so full of fish and the best wine at one time that their bellies are bloated.

This is what St. Peter means by being sober.

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