28 February 2014

A Link? I Think So

The great Lutheran theologian, pastor, and writer Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) uses what seems to current thought some massive stretches in seeing in various Old Testament narratives Christ, and thus also Mary. To him, Gideon's fleece was a type of the Virgin, upon which "the Christ dew came." Or she is depicted in Aaron's rod (a dead stump) that budded and brought forth blossom, thus showing the one on whom God's favor rested. Where on earth did the man come up with such, to many in these days, fanciful notions?

I have long suspected the answer was that he learned them as a child in choir. Now I think I have the proof.

Lossius' Psalmodia was perhaps the most popular Cantionale of the sixteenth century. The copy of the edition I'm looking at was printed in Wittenberg back in 1594. There, we find a sequence for the feast of the Visitation, addressed mostly to Mary, but with a careful introduction explaining that this is a "salutation" and not an "invocation" and thus it is in the genre of Gabriel's greeting to the holy Mother and not in the nature of a prayer, which ought be addressed to God alone. The sequence (originally sung between epistle and gospel) is titled Ave, praeclara maris stella, and though Lossius attributes the text to Ambrose, it is generally recognized as having been composed by Herman the Lame, Abbot of Reichenau (d. 1054).

Here are some of the words from the text:

Te plenam fide, virgam almae stirpis Jesse nascituram, priores desieravant patres et prophetae. Te lignum vitae, sancto rorante pneumate parituram divini floris amygdalum, signavit Gabriel.

The fathers of old and prophets longed for you, faithful branch, to come forth at last form the generous stock of Jesse. Gabriel revealed that you, tree of life, moist with the Holy Spirit’s dew, God’s divine almond blossom would bloom. (p. 223).

There, in the Church's music and song, is written what Gerhard would later preach from the pulpit for Christmas day:

"The mother of this Lord was a virgin, for thus it was proclaimed in advance in Isaiah 7:14: Look, a virgin is pregnant, and she will bear a Son who will be called Immanuel. God also witnessed this through many a prototype. In Numbers 17:8, it is announced that Aaron's stick greened up and bore almonds; by this is shown that Mary, foreign to every natural and fleshly bloodline, force, or power, as a natural mother yet bore a true Son in a supernatural manner—just as the stick also bore almonds and yet remained a natural stick. Thus, in Judges 6:38, 39 God performs a sign before Gideon so that the dew fell on the spread-out fleece, but the entire ground remained dry; the next morning the fleece remained dry, and the ground was wet. Thus the pure virgin Mary alone among all women, through the working of the Holy Spirit, received this heavenly Christ-dew, about which Isaiah 45:8 states: Drip down you heavens from above. Later, this dew came upon the entire earth, that is, the fruits of this birth pertain to all mankind; however, Mary once more became a dry pelt, that is, she remained a pure virgin after the birth, just as she was before the birth." (Postilla I:51)

The sequence also likens Mary to the burning bush, and this we also find in the self-same homily of Gerhard: "By this fiery bush is also indicated that the Son of God wanted to assume His human nature from a pure virgin, without violating her virginity. For, even though the virgin body of Mary became pregnant by being filled with the Holy Spirit and by the overshadowing of the highest, yet her virginal chastity was not damaged." (Postilla I:46).

The original sequence included an invocation of the virgin (side-ways, at least), asking Jesus to "save us who pray to your Virgin Mother." This, of course, was altered to bring it in line with the Lutheran conviction that all invocation is addressed only to the Blessed Trinity:  "Save us, Jesus, who pray to your Father."

What I think all this shows beyond doubt is that the Church teaches us in the liturgy how the Scriptures are all Christ's book and thus are filled with "prototypes," intimations, if you will, of the incarnation, crucifixion, return and reign of Christ. Fascinating, no?


Unknown said...

Fascinating for Lutherans, I'm sure since this was never part of my catechetical instruction, never. However, these "prototypes" are replete in the hymns of the Eastern Church and are regularly sung in the Canon at Orthros (Matins) as well as the Dogmatica and Resurrectional Theotokia of Vespers. --Chris

William Weedon said...

Chris, indeed. Lutherans have forgotten very much of their own history, though, and helping unearth a bit of it is what this post was about.

Jake said...

Thanks for sharing this. I was just talking about this very prototype yesterday because it was a new one to me. I found a quote from Luther that Chad Bird seems to have translated in his work "Christ in All of Scriptures" but I was curious if Gerhard or any other Lutherans had really done anything with it.(http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/birdchristinallscripturesnotes.pdf)

Luther said: "The church fathers said that the burning bush represented the virginity of Mary. Just as the bush burned and was not consumed [verzehrt], so Mary gave birth to her son without affecting her virginity [ohne Versehrung]. 3. Although this is certainly a true doctrine (that her virginity was not affected), nevertheless this interpretation is too weak, and does not stand the test here, because God means to embody [“model”] a more significant truth. We see this in the words “I am the God of your father, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob”—these words cannot be connected to Mary, since she is not God. For this reason she can’t be the bush, but instead God himself is the bush. ..."

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Excellent. Looking forward to the time when we see these Sequences published in English.

William Weedon said...


I think Luther cannot be correct on this, because God is precisely manifested IN the bush, but He is the FIRE.

Jake said...

Agreed. I'll take Gerhard on this one.

Sean said...

OK, OK, I'll work on finishing my STM thesis on the Lossius Marginal Scholia... You and Masaki, always on my case....