Augsburg Confession – Article 18 – Free Will

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 17, click here.)

Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2

And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3

We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.

(To continue to Article 19, click here.)

Notes

1 Some examples of such choices are provided in the quote at the end of the article. Cf. also Wade Johnston, An Uncompromising Gospel (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2016), pp. 13-14: “[In his Heidelberg Disputation] Luther…addressed the problem of free will—the existence, or lack of existence, of free will in matters of salvation. Here Americans bristle, but we must remember that Luther isn’t talking about whether or not we can choose Big Macs or Whoppers, vanilla or chocolate custard, but whether or not we can decide to be saved, whether we can choose to do what is necessary for us to be righteous.”

2 For more proof passages, see Genesis 6:5 (before the Flood); 8:21 (after the Flood); John 3:5,6; 8:31-36; 15:16; Romans 8:6-8.

3 Like the quote from Ambrose in Article 6 (see Note 2 there), this quote from Augustine is not actually from Augustine. It is usually attributed to Pseudo-Augustine, a title that can apply to a number of as-yet unidentified authors. However, the work is ancient; it was already being falsely attributed to Augustine in the 800s AD, and it was obviously preserved because it was thought to be of value. The work is usually called Hypognosticon or Hypomnesticon contra Pelagianos et Coelestianos, which means An Instructive Letter Against the Pelagians and Coelestians. The original Latin quote can be found in col. 1623 (Book 3, Chapter 4, par. 5) here.

Here is a supporting quote actually taken from Augustine: “A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth… God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 3, par. 5; original Latin quote in col. 203 here).

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Augsburg Confession – Article 8 – The Efficacy of the Gospel

Articles 6, 7 & 8 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 7, click here.)

We likewise teach that, although the Christian church, properly speaking, is nothing else than the gathering of all believers and saints, nevertheless, since in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, even public sinners,1 remain in the company of the pious, the sacraments are just as effectual even when the priests who administer them are not pious, as Christ himself declares: “The Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc.”2

We therefore condemn the Donatists and all others who hold otherwise.3

(To continue to Article 9, click here.)

Notes

1 Melanchthon appears to use false Christians and hypocrites synonymously here, as many continue to do today, to refer to people who say and do one thing in church assemblies but say and do the contrary at other times. Nevertheless, we may distinguish false Christians, hypocrites, and public sinners as follows: False Christians are those just mentioned, those who give some sort of lip service to Christianity but clearly do not take it to heart and put it into practice in their everyday lives. Hypocrites, as Jesus usually defines them (e.g. Matthew 15:7,8; 23:25,27), are those who both give lip service to Christianity and outwardly put it into practice, but they do not actually believe the gospel to which they outwardly adhere and their motives are false and selfish. Hypocrites may, in fact, be the most active and dedicated members at a church. (Thus it is technically incorrect to identify anyone as a hypocrite, unless you are Jesus of Nazareth, since only God can see and judge the heart.) Public sinners are those who, for whatever reason (oftentimes, though not always, due to laziness on the part of the church’s leadership), still have some sort of official connection to and standing in a Christian church or organization, but it is manifest to everyone from the consistent evidence of both words and deeds that they are wicked and impious.

2 Matthew 23:2f; for other proof passages, see Matthew 16:15-19 and Philippians 1:15-18.

3 The Latin version concludes: “…the Donatists and those who have similarly denied that the ministry of wicked men may be used in the church and who have thought that the ministry of wicked men is useless and ineffectual.” The Donatists were a sect of Christianity named after Donatus Magnus, one of the bishops of Carthage in North Africa in the early 4th century AD. They were a strict group of African Christians who denounced the bishops who had conducted themselves in an unbecoming manner during the persecution under Diocletian (Emperor from 284-305) and claimed that the ministry and all the ministerial acts of such bishops were invalid.

Augsburg Confession – Article 7 – The Church

Articles 6, 7 & 8 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 6, click here.)

We also teach that one holy Christian church must exist and remain at all times, and that this church is the gathering of all believers,1 among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered in accordance with the gospel.2

For this is sufficient for true unity of the Christian church, that the gospel is preached there in harmony according to a pure understanding of it and the sacraments are administered there according to God’s Word.3 And it is not necessary for true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies instituted by men be uniformly observed everywhere, as Paul says to the Ephesians in Chapter 4: “One body, one Spirit, as you were called to one and the same hope of your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

(To continue to Article 8, click here.)

Notes

1 The Latin version reads: “And the Church is the gathering of the saints…,” in harmony with the Bible’s usage of the word saint (cf. e.g. Acts 8:3; 9:1,13; see also Romans 1:7; 15:25,26 [where he is clearly talking about living people to whom he is going to deliver a collection that has been taken for them]; 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 13:13; Ephesians 1:1; 6:18 [where we are told to pray for the saints, not to them, nor that they are praying for us]; Philippians 1:1; 4:21; et al. The reader may refer here to compare this usage to current usage of the word in the Roman Catholic Church.

2 This does not mean that there cannot be members of Christ’s church in visible organizations where false doctrine is taught and tolerated and the sacraments are taught and administered incorrectly. But where there are members of Christ’s church in such false churches, they are such only due to the pure gospel doctrine that continues to be taught there in spite of the false doctrine. However, just because God’s word does not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11), even when it exists alongside false doctrine, that does not mean that the false doctrine should not be taken seriously. Any false doctrine continues to pose a serious threat to one’s spiritual condition (John 8:44; Romans 3:13; 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:3,4).

3 Some would like to use this sentence, especially as it appears in the more concise Latin version (“And it is sufficient for true unity of the church to agree on the teaching [doctrina] of the gospel and on the administration of the sacraments.”), to teach a sort of doctrinal minimalism (a la, “We only have to agree on these two things in order to be in fellowship”). Militating directly against this understanding are especially:

  1. the German version (“according to a pure understanding of it [namely the gospel]”),
  2. the definition of “the gospel” itself, which is hardly a simplistic term (see e.g. Romans 1:1ff; 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1ff), and
  3. the context of this phrase in the article, especially considering how Melanchthon continues. Melanchthon’s point is not that very little is required for unity in the church, but that the requirement for unity should be the main thing – the doctrine of God’s word and the correct teaching and administration of the sacraments – not “ceremonies instituted by men.” This is also the point Melanchthon is making by citing Paul’s words in Ephesians 4.

Augsburg Confession – Article 5 – The Ministry of the Word

Articles 3, 4 & 5 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 4, click here.)

In order that we may obtain such faith, God has instituted the ministry of the word [das Predigamt], namely the sharing of the gospel and the sacraments.1 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith where and when he pleases in those who hear the gospel, the good news that teaches that we have a gracious God through Christ’s merit, not through our own merit, when we believe this.2

And we condemn the Anabaptists and others who teach that we receive the Holy Spirit apart from the physical word of the gospel, through our own preparation, meditation, and work.3

(To continue to Article 6, click here.)

Notes

1 Since the concept of the ministry is such a warmly discussed and debated topic in Lutheran circles today, a translation of the Latin version is also included here: “In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and dispensing the sacraments has been instituted.”

2 Much emphasis is placed on what is termed objective or universal justification today within the Lutheran Church, which is indeed a scriptural teaching (Isaiah 53:11,12; cp. the use of “many” in this sense in such passages as Matthew 20:28 [which is explained in 1 John 2:2]; 22:14; 26:28; see also John 12:32). (Note, however, that confessional Lutherans reject what is termed universal salvation or simply universalism [Matthew 7:13,14].) However, this article shows that it would have been unthinkable to the Lutheran confessors to talk about the gospel and salvation without talking about faith. Melanchthon here defines the gospel as “the good news that teaches that we have a gracious God through Christ’s merit…when we believe this.” To put it another way, borrowing from a paper delivered by a Lutheran seminary professor: “Paul and Silas’s response to the jailer at Philippi’s question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:31), does not need any hyper-orthodox correcting from us a la, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. Nothing. It has all been done for you by Christ. Away with this synergistic notion that you need to “do” something!’”

3 By the time this article was penned, Melanchthon (and to a greater extent, Luther himself) would have had a number of people in mind with this condemnation, including, but not limited to, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Thomas Müntzer, Nicholas Storch, Melchior Hoffman, Hans Denck, Ludwig Hetzer, Balthasar Hubmaier, and Ulrich Zwingli (on Zwingli, see here). Luther generally labeled people who believed that God operated outside of his Word and the sacraments, or communicated additional truth to themselves or others outside of his Word, Schwärmer or Rottengeister – fanatics or rabble-rousers. Anabaptist (German: Wiedertaufer) means “one who baptizes again,” a label that referred explicitly to the rejection of infant baptism and the resultant practice of being re-baptized as an adult. For more on the Anabaptists, see note 3 under Article 9.

Three Bach Cantatas

J.J.

Preliminary Acknowledgment

These three cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) were recently performed by La Follia Austin Baroque. I was graciously given the opportunity to work with these cantatas in connection with this concert, for which I hereby express my deepest gratitude to the ensemble’s director. As a result of this work, my faith in my Savior Jesus was strengthened, as was my ability to express it, and my prayer is that readers of this post will experience the same benefit. I also wish to acknowledge the lovely performances in that concert by the singers and instrumentalists, especially of the arias.

BWV 151 – Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt

Foreword

This cantata was first performed on December 27, the Third Christmas Day, in 1725. However, while it was the first time this text was set to Bach’s music, it was very likely not the first time this text had ever been set to music. Bach took this text from a book titled Gottgefälliges Kirchen-Opffer (God-Pleasing Offering for Worship), written by Georg Christian Lehms (Darmstadt: Johann Levin Bachmann, 1711). In his foreword, Lehms said that he wrote the book for use in the city of Darmstadt, and that the plan was to have one of his pieces of poetry sung to accompaniment every Sunday and festival, and he wanted as many people as possible to have his book in front of them as the words were being sung so that they could, as he put it, “really fix the words into [their] soul.” That means it was most likely set to music by some composer in Darmstadt in 1711, or perhaps 1712, but that composer’s cantata setting is unknown…because that composer was not Johann Sebastian Bach.

This particular libretto by Lehms is based on the appointed Gospel from the Third Christmas Day, John 1:1-14, in which John, one of Jesus’ apostles, meditates on the mystery of the incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by the Son of God and his dwelling in our midst. Borrowing from John’s thoughts and others elsewhere in the Bible, Lehms puts himself as a representative Christian in the stable of Bethlehem, watching from a distance as Jesus is being born and applying to himself the beauty of the moment, and the profound, invisible, and eternally signficiant truths behind it.

Bach takes the meditations of that spectator in Bethlehem’s stable and makes them soar on the wings of music. You can watch a performance of his beautiful music here.

A few notes on the German text: In the opening aria, kömmt is simply an older variant of kommt, the regular third person, singular, present tense form; Lehms perhaps considered it a more poetic form (somewhat akin to cometh for comes in English). It is also important to note that, although many translations render the second line simply, “Jesus is now born,” wird geboren is an emphatic present passive construction – is being born – not a present perfect construction like ist geboren – is/has been born. This is underscored by the addition of anitzt, “under the present circumstances, at present, presently, now.”

Unless it was simply a hasty mistaken (possible, but not likely), Bach made a telling change in the fourth movement, the tenor recitative. In the original, Lehms says that since Jesus has left his Father’s home out of love for us, we in turn desire “to let” (lassen) Jesus into our heart. I do not know the extent to which Lehms was influenced by Pietism or might have been a Pietist himself, but regardless, the language of “letting Jesus into one’s heart” is Pietistic language (and has carried over into much of modern day American Christianity). Bach changed lassen to fassen; instead of letting Jesus into our hearts, Bach has us fixing him more firmly, or framing him, in our hearts. In other words, Bach recognized that if we believe that Jesus is our Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell, Jesus is already there in our hearts through such faith (a fact which Pietism seemed to enjoy calling into doubt). But the more we consider Jesus’ self-giving love for us, the more we want to make sure he is fixed there firmly, stays there, and holds more sway there.

For the chorale, Lehms incorporated the final (eighth) stanza of Nicolaus Herman’s Christmas hymn, “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich,” which is usually dated to 1560, when it first appeared in print in its complete form. However, a four-stanza version had already appeared in print around 1550, though with serious typographical errors.

1. Soprano Aria

Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt,
Jesus wird anitzt geboren!
Herz und Seele freuet sich,
Denn mein liebster Gott hat mich
Nun zum Himmel auserkoren.

Sweet comfort, my Jesus is coming;
Jesus is now being born!
Heart and soul rejoice,
for my God most dear has
now selected me for heaven.

2. Bass Recitative

Erfreue dich, mein Herz,
Denn itzo weicht der Schmerz,
Der dich so lange Zeit gedrücket.
Gott hat den liebsten Sohn,
Den er so hoch und teuer hält,
Auf diese Welt geschicket.
Er läßt den Himmelsthron
Und will die ganze Welt
Aus ihren Sklavenketten
Und ihrer Dienstbarkeit erretten.
O wundervolle Tat!
Gott wird ein Mensch und will auf Erden
Noch niedriger als wir und noch viel ärmer werden.

Be jubilant, my heart,
for now the pain departs
which has so long burdened you.
God has his Son most dear,
whom he so esteems and cherishes,
sent down to this world.
He leaves the throne of heaven
and will the entire world
from its chains of slavery
and its bondage deliver.
O marvelous deed!
God becomes a human, and wishes to become on earth
still lowlier than we and still far more wretched.

3. Alto Aria

In Jesu Demut kann ich Trost,
In seiner Armut Reichtum finden.
Mir macht desselben schlechter Stand
Nur lauter Heil und Wohl bekannt,
Ja, seine wundervolle Hand
Will mir nur Segenskränze winden.

In Jesus’ humility I can find comfort,
in his poverty, riches.
For me this man’s sorry state makes known
nothing but pure happiness and well-being;
yes, his marvelous hand
will only twine wreathes of blessing for me.

4. Tenor Recitative

Du teurer Gottessohn,
Nun hast du mir den Himmel aufgemacht
Und durch dein Niedrigsein
Das Licht der Seligkeit zuwege bracht.
Weil du nun ganz allein
Des Vaters Burg und Thron
Aus Liebe gegen uns verlassen,
So wollen wir dich auch
Dafür in unser Herze fassen.

O precious Son of God,
now you have opened heaven to me
and through your humiliation
the light of salvation have restored.
Since you now, all on your own,
the Father’s castle and throne
have left out of love toward us,
so we desire also,
in return, to frame you in our heart.

5. Chorale

Heut schleußt er wieder auf die Tür
Zum schönen Paradeis,
Der Cherub steht nicht mehr dafür,
Gott sei Lob, Ehr und Preis.

The door to paradise so fair
He op’ns again today,
No more a cherub guarding there—
To God all praises pay.

BWV 82 – Ich habe genung

Foreword

Bach composed this cantata in preparation for the Festival of the Purification of Mary (sometimes also called the Presentation of Our Lord) in 1727, though he had already composed the second and third movements for his wife Anna Magdalena at least two years earlier. Since the Law of Moses pertaining to purification after childbirth said that the appropriate sacrifices were to be made 40 days after the birth (Leviticus 12:1-8), the Festival of the Purification was fixed on February 2 – 40 days after Christmas Day, counting inclusively.

In preparing this cantata, Bach as usual had the appointed Gospel reading for that festival in mind, Luke 2:22-32. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text, to which Bach would have referred:

And when the days of [Mary’s] purification arrived, according to the Law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… And behold, a man named Simeon was in Jerusalem, and he was pious and God-fearing and was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came into the temple at the instigation of the Spirit. And when the parents brought the child Jesus into the temple…he took him in his arms, praised God, and said, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, just as you said, for my eyes have seen your Savior, whom you have prepared before all peoples, a light to enlighten the heathens and for the glory of your people Israel.”

The particular libretto Bach selected especially seized and expanded upon the little word “now,” spoken by Simeon, and the contentment with which that word is positively dripping. Why was Simeon ready now? What was he now ready for and looking forward to? How can the peace and contentment conveyed in that word now be ours? And how might we put that resignation and contentment into our own words today?

In order to answer these questions, the as-yet unknown poet juxtaposes Simeon’s physical taking of the Christ into his arms, especially in view in the first half of the first movement, with our spiritual embracing of Christ through faith in him, which is in view in the subsequent movements. And Bach puts the poet’s resultant readiness, even eagerness, to face death to music. There is perhaps no better piece of music a Christian could be listening to, pondering, or singing as he or she dies than the aria constituting the third movement. You can watch a performance of this cantata here.

A few notes on the German text: The most discussed word in this cantata is usually the third – genung. Most performances and printings of the text today will use the modern genug, but it is clear that Bach himself, probably relying on his source text, consistently used the variant genung, which dates back to the 14th century and – according to the Deutsches Wörterbuch (1961), the definitive German language dictionary based on work begun by the Brothers Grimm in 1838 – “also appeared often enough in the 18th century both in prose and in verse.” Regarding the pronunciation, the Wörterbuch says:

[This form of this variant] is Middle German in the widest sense, including Franconia and the Rhine, but it also appears in Upper [i.e. Southern] German in isolated instances. It was pronounced genunk, which is also how it was written at first, for the form cannot be explained from the pronunciation standpoint of genûch or genŭch, but only from the standpoint of genŭk, which thus must also date back to the 14th century.

However, poets like Lessing (1729-1781) and Göthe (1749-1832) would occasionally rhyme genung with words like jung, suggesting that perhaps by the (late?) 18th century, when used, it did not retain its original pronunciation. Bach’s libretto does not help, since the word is not rhymed with anything, except perhaps itself. I personally cannot imagine Bach wanting the word to get lost in the back of the throat at the end of the phrase, especially considering its importance to the cantata’s message, and I therefore personally prefer the genunk pronunciation, although I have only heard it employed by one virtuoso (very beautifully, I might add).

As for the phrase “Ich habe genung” itself, the literal rendering “I have enough” communicates almost nothing clearly in English. The phrase is an idiomatic one in the biblical and liturgical context, which could be paraphrased, “There is nothing else I need and I am completely prepared to die.” Thus my rendering: “I am content.” There is some precedence for this; there is an Easter hymn titled, “Es ist genug,” that has been translated “I am content!”

Another mistake commonly made in translations is to render the first line of the fifth movement, “I rejoice in my death.” Sich freuen auf etw. (acc.) is an idiomatic phrase meaning “to look forward to/eagerly anticipate something.” A literal translation misses the full impact of this powerful expression of faith in Christ.

1. Bass Aria

Ich habe genung,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genung!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.
Ich habe genung.

I am content;
the Savior, the hope of the pious,
I have taken into my eager arms.
I am content!
I have beheld him;
my faith has pressed Jesus against my heart.
Now I wish—gladly were it yet today—
to depart from here.
I am content.

2. Bass Recitative

Ich habe genung.
Mein Trost ist nur allein,
Daß Jesus mein und ich sein eigen möchte sein.
Im Glauben halt ich ihn,
Da seh ich auch mit Simeon
Die Freude jenes Lebens schon.
Laßt uns mit diesem Manne ziehn.
Ach! möchte mich von meines Leibes Ketten
Der Herr erretten;
Ach! wäre doch mein Abschied hier,
Mit Freuden sagt ich, Welt, zu dir:
Ich habe genung.

I am content.
My comfort is just this alone,
that Jesus can be mine and I his very own.
In faith I hold him,
since I too see with Simeon
the joy of that life already.
Let us go with this man.
Ah! If only from the chains of my body
the Lord would deliver me.
Ah! Even if I were to depart right here,
gladly would I say, world, to you:
I am content.

3. Bass Aria

Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen,
Fallet sanft und selig zu!
Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier,
Hab ich doch kein Teil an dir,
Das der Seele könnte taugen.
Hier muß ich das Elend bauen,
Aber dort, dort werd ich schauen
Süßen Friede, stille Ruh.

Sleep sweetly, you weary eyes,
close gently and happily!
World, I will stay here no longer;
there is simply no part of you
that could be of use to my soul.
Here must I heap up misery,
but there, there shall I see
sweet peace, quiet rest.

4. Bass Recitative

Mein Gott! wann kömmt das schöne: Nun!
Da ich im Friede fahren werde
Und in dem Sande kühler Erde
Und dort bei dir im Schoße ruhn?
Der Abschied ist gemacht,
Welt, gute Nacht.

My God, when is that beautiful “Now!” coming
when I will depart in peace
and rest in the sand of the cool earth
and there with you in your embrace?
My farewell has been said,
world, good night.

5. Bass Aria

Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod,
Ach, hätt er sich schon eingefunden.
Da entkomm ich aller Not,
Die mich noch auf der Welt gebunden.

I look forward to my death—
ah, had it but arrived already!
There shall I escape all the trouble
which has as yet confined me to the world.

BWV 8 – Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben

Foreword

The early 16th century Scottish poet William Dunbar, in his famous “Lament for the Makars,” writes:

Since there for death is rem’dy none,
Best is that we for death dispone,
After our death that live may we.
The fear of death discomfits me.

In this cantata, Bach attempts to help his audience do just that—dispone or prepare for death. He composed it in preparation for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1724, which fell on September 24 that year. In preparing it, he once again had the appointed Gospel reading for that Sunday in mind, Luke 7:11-17. Here is a portion of Martin Luther’s translation of that text:

But as [Jesus] was drawing near the town gate [of Nain], behold, a dead man was being carried out who was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and many people from the town were accompanying her. And when the Lord saw her, he was grieved for her and said to her, “Don’t cry.” And he stepped forward and touched the coffin, and the pallbearers stopped, and he said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and he gave him to his mother.

With that concept in mind of Jesus bringing comfort in the midst of death and its sorrow, Bach selected a libretto for his cantata that was based on a hymn written around 1690 by Kaspar Neumann, who had been a well-known Lutheran pastor in Breslau, Silesia – today Wrocław, Poland. Even though only the first and fifth stanza of Neumann’s hymn are incorporated word for word as the first and last movements of the cantata, the other movements, written by an as-yet unknown poet, are based on all the intervening stanzas of Neumann’s hymn. One can therefore effectively argue that Kaspar Neumann is really ultimately responsible for all of the textual content of this cantata.

What Bach heard in this libretto, and in Neumann’s hymn on which it was based, was a personal meditation on Jesus’ words, “Don’t cry.”

Neumann first squarely confronts the fact that death is unavoidable, due to original sin—the teaching that we are not born with a blank slate, but a blackened one, and are therefore deserving of death and headed for death. Bach reflects Neumann’s expression of the inexorable countdown to death with a very clock-like rhythm in the first movement.

Neumann then acknowledges and addresses the fears that all people, including Christians, have as they consider the inevitable reality of death.

But then the voice of his faith in Christ takes over and Neumann concludes by expressing the serenity he is able to have in the face of death because of Christ’s saving work and his promise to raise the bodies of believers from death on the Last Day and bring them safely to his side.

You can read a rhyming translation of Neumann’s original hymn here.

1. Chorus

Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?
Meine Zeit läuft immer hin,
Und des alten Adams Erben,
Unter denen ich auch bin,
Haben dies zum Vaterteil,
Daß sie eine kleine Weil
Arm und elend sein auf Erden
Und denn selber Erde werden.

Dearest Got, when will I die?
My time continually slips away,
and heirs of the old Adam,
among whom I too am included,
have this as their patrimony,
that they for a short while
are poor and miserable on earth
and then themselves turn into earth.

2. Tenor Aria

Was willst du dich, mein Geist, entsetzen,
Wenn meine letzte Stunde schlägt?
Mein Leib neigt täglich sich zur Erden,
Und da muß seine Ruhstatt werden,
Wohin man so viel tausend trägt.

Why, my spirit, do you shudder at the thought
of when my final hour will strike?
My body draws closer to the earth each day,
and there must eventually be laid to rest,
where so many thousands are carried.

3. Alto Recitative

Zwar fühlt mein schwaches Herz
Furcht, Sorge, Schmerz:
Wo wird mein Leib die Ruhe finden?
Wer wird die Seele doch
Vom aufgelegten Sündenjoch
Befreien und entbinden?
Das Meine wird zerstreut,
Und wohin werden meine Lieben
In ihrer Traurigkeit
Zertrennt, vertrieben?

I confess my weak heart does feel
fear, worry, distress:
Where will my body find its rest?
Who is going to be the one
to free and unfasten my soul
from the yoke of sin imposed upon it?
What’s mine will be dispersed,
and where will my loved ones,
left behind in their sorrow,
be separated and scattered?

4. Bass Aria

Doch weichet, ihr tollen, vergeblichen Sorgen!
Mich rufet mein Jesus: wer sollte nicht gehn?
Nichts, was mir gefällt,
Besitzet die Welt.
Erscheine mir, seliger, fröhlicher Morgen,
Verkläret und herrlich vor Jesu zu stehn.

No! Begone, you absurd, useless worries!
The one calling for me is my Jesus; who would not go?
Nothing I truly enjoy
is in the world’s possession.
Show yourself, blessed, joyful morning,
when I get to stand transfigured and glorious before Jesus.

5. Soprano Recitative

Behalte nur, o Welt, das Meine!
Du nimmst ja selbst mein Fleisch und mein Gebeine,
So nimm auch meine Armut hin;
Genug, daß mir aus Gottes Überfluß
Das höchste Gut noch werden muß,
Genug, dass ich dort reich und selig bin.
Was aber ist von mir zu erben,
Als meines Gottes Vatertreu?
Die wird ja alle Morgen neu
Und kann nicht sterben.

Go ahead, O world, keep what’s mine!
You’re already taking my flesh and my bones for yourself,
so take away, too, my poor possessions.
It’s enough that, out of God’s great bounty,
I still get to have the highest good;
it’s enough that I am rich and blessed there in heaven.
What really is there to inherit from me,
except my God’s paternal faithfulness?
That is new every single morning
and cannot die.

6. Chorale

Herrscher über Tod und Leben,
Mach einmal mein Ende gut,
Lehre mich den Geist aufgeben
Mit recht wohlgefaßtem Mut.
Hilf, daß ich ein ehrlich Grab
Neben frommen Christen hab
Und auch endlich in der Erde
Nimmermehr zuschanden werde!

Ruler over death and life,
make one day my end a good one;
teach me to give up my spirit
with truly calm and composed courage.
Grant that I have a decent grave
next to pious Christians
and also that at last, in the earth,
I nevermore be put to shame.

S.D.G.

Luther Visualized 15 – Treasures of the Reformation

The Law and the Gospel

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on panel, after 1529; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

I am posting this out of order; it was originally intended to be the last post in this series. However, it is fitting to post it on this day commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

There are any number of treasures or hallmarks of the Reformation that could be highlighted on this day—the three solas, as just one example. But in 1549, three years after Luther’s death, when a young Martin Chemnitz accompanied his relative Georg Sabinus on a trip to Wittenberg and “in a letter written in Greek” asked Philipp Melanchthon “to show [him] a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of theology,” Melanchthon gave a response that bespoke Luther’s lasting influence on him. He “replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.”

If a person could only be given one piece of advice before opening and reading the Bible on his own, this would indeed be the best. There are two main teachings in the Bible, the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and how we should live. It shows us that we can never measure up to God on our own, and therefore it threatens, terrifies, and condemns us and thereby prepares us for the Gospel. The Gospel shows us our Savior Jesus and how he has lived and died for us. It showcases God’s gracious promises to us, and so it comforts, assures, and saves us. This distinction is the single greatest aid for reading and understanding the Bible. As the apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And if there is one piece of artwork that correctly and beautifully captures that distinction, yes, encapsulates all of the Reformation’s and confessional Lutheranism’s theology, this painting by Cranach is it.

The left half of the painting depicts the Law. The defenseless sinner is driven by death and the devil towards eternal destruction in hell, having been judged guilty by Jesus, enthroned in heaven above as Judge of the world. The man was unable to keep God’s law and earn God’s favor because of original sin, inherited as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, portrayed in the background. In the foreground on the right, the chief prophet Moses, holding the two tables of God’s law, explains to the other Old Testament prophets that the Law can only condemn and hope must be sought elsewhere. The tree on the right is bare, representing how the Tree of Life is not accessible to fallen mankind by his own powers, or how fallen mankind is spiritually dead and can produce no good fruits (works pleasing to God).

The right half of the painting depicts the Gospel. Jesus is portrayed not as Judge of the world, but as the Savior of the world. John the Baptist points the defenseless sinner to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) through the atoning sacrifice of his life on behalf of sinners. Through this good news, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, instills faith in the sinner’s heart, and thus the sinner receives the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice; the sinfulness of his heart is covered by Jesus’ blood. The rest of the panel depicts, for the most part, scenes from Jesus’ life. In the background, instead of judging from heaven, he comes down from heaven to share in our humanity and suffer our condemnation in our place (the incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary). In the foreground, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is portrayed as the ultimate proof of his victory over death, the skeleton under his left foot, and the devil, the dragon under his right foot. In the upper right hand corner, Jesus ascends into heaven, the nail-marks in his feet still showing. The counterpart to the serpent’s tempting and mankind’s fall into sin in the left half is the prefiguring or foreshadowing of Jesus’ redeeming work through the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9) in the right half. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15). The tree in this panel is leafy, representing how the Tree of Life is accessible to fallen mankind through faith in Jesus, or how the one who believes in Jesus has spiritual life and produces good fruits.

What God does in his law demand
And none to him can render
Brings wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the law requires,
And lost is our condition.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Your death is now my life indeed,
For you have paid my ransom. – Paul Speratus, 1523

Today is an anniversary celebration like none other. Happy Reformation Day, dear readers!

Sources
August L. Graebner, “An Autobiography of Martin Kemnitz” in Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, October 1899), p. 480

Cranach Digital Archive here and here

Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993), #390

Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

Similar Paintings

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on oak panel, early 1530s; housed in the Scottish National Gallery

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was a renowned artist and contemporary and sympathizer of Luther. This painting, clearly influenced by Cranach’s above, is usually titled An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments or even The Old and the New Law, but the painting itself clearly identifies its contrast between the law (lex) and grace (gratia). (The painting correctly shows that both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim grace in Christ.) On the left the two tables of the law are given from heaven to Moses. The law makes us conscious of our sin (peccatum; Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), inherited from Adam as a result of the fall into sin (Romans 5:12-19). The wages of sin is death (mors; Romans 6:23). Nevertheless our justification was foreshadowed (mysterium justificationis) through the bronze serpent erected on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9), and Isaiah the prophet (Esayas propheta) foretold of salvation through the coming Christ (“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son [Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium]” – Isaiah 7:14).

At the center of the painting is man (homo). “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body subject to death [Miser ego homo, quis me eripiet ex hoc corpore morti obnoxio]?” – Romans 7:24.

On the right, John the Baptist (Ioannes Baptista) points sinful man to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), who takes away the sin of the world (Ecce agnus ille Dei, qui tollit peccatum mundi – John 1:29). His coming down from heaven to take on human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary is the token of God’s grace. An angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the valley below. Jesus as the living bread who came down from heaven (John 6:51) on the right side is the antitype to the bread that was rained down from heaven on the Israelite camp in the wilderness, depicted on the left side (Psalm 78:23-25). As an adult, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he came to seek and to save what was lost and that he must suffer, die, and rise again in order to do so (Mark 8:31; Luke 19:10). His crucifixion is pictured as our justification or acquittal from sin (justificatio nostra) and his resurrection from the dead as our victory (victoria nostra) over death and the devil (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Middle Panel of the Epitaph Altar for John Frederick the Magnanimous in the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar, oil on lindenwood panel, 1555.

Duke John Frederick I of Saxony commissioned the work to the left a couple years before his death. Lucas Cranach himself died the following year, so the project was taken up and completed by his son. 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; and John 3:14,15 are printed on the pages of Martin Luther’s open Bible. John the Baptist points to Christ with his finger; Luther points to him with his gaze. Cranach the Elder painted himself in between the two, with Christ’s blood spilling onto his head. (He has made himself the counterpart to “the defenseless sinner” of his earlier painting.) His gaze is directed at the viewer, inviting him or her to worship Christ as Savior with him. The other unique detail is the angel flying in midair in the background over the shepherds, which has a double allusion. The first allusion is to the angel who announced the birth of Christ. This second allusion, indicated by the scroll he holds, is to Revelation 14:6,7. Johannes Bugenhagen, the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, preached on those verses for Luther’s funeral and identified Luther as the angel or messenger mentioned there. (Subsequent Lutheran preachers have also not shied away from that identification, though they also apply it to any Christian who faithfully proclaims the gospel.) The words printed on the victory banner borne by the lamb beneath the cross are those of John 1:29. The other details correspond exactly to Cranach’s earlier painting above.

Luther Visualized 5 – The Tower Discovery

Luther Rediscovers the Gospel

Martin Luther, from his preface to Tomus Primus Omnium Operum Reverendi Domini Martini Lutheri, Doctoris Theologiae, etc. (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545)

This is the seventh and final page of Martin Luther’s preface to the first volume of the first attempted compilation of his works, published in 1545. The page begins:

At last, by the mercy of God, as I was earnestly meditating days and nights, I started paying attention to the context of the words [in Romans 1:17], namely, “The righteousness of God is revealed in it [viz., the gospel], just as it is written: ‘The righteous person lives by faith.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous person lives by a gift of God, namely by faith…

Sources
Lewis W. Spitz and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Lewis. W. Spitz, Sr. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 34:323-338

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 2:177, no. 1681 (recorded by Schlaginhaufen in 1532); 3:228, no. 3232abc (recorded by Cordatus in 1532); 4:72-73, no. 4007 (recorded by Lauterbach in 1538); 5:26, no. 5247 (recorded by Mathesius in 1540); 5:210,234-235, nos. 5518,5553 (recorded by Heydenreich in the winter of 1542-1543)

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 221-227

Archeological excavation of the basement of “the tower,” © Red Brick Parsonage, 2013

The published preface mentioned above was the first time Luther made his gospel rediscovery public. From the Table Talk sources cited above, however, you can see that he had often talked about it privately with his friends before 1545. Most of Luther’s retellings focus exclusively on the content of his discovery. But the 1532 retelling, recorded by both Johannes Schlaginhaufen and Conrad Cordatus, is different. There Luther also makes a point of identifying the location (one gets the impression the group was near the site of the famous discovery at the time): “But when I was in this tower one time (in which there was a privy for the monks), I was speculating on those words [in Romans 1:17].” Another copy of Cordatus’ transcription has: “But when I was in this tower and sweating room…” And after describing his epiphany, he concludes, according to both of his transcribers, “The Holy Spirit introduced this art to me on this latrine” or “on this tower” or “on this latrine on the tower.”

Luther’s latrine in the excavation behind the Luther House Museum (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018).

What are we to make of this? I cannot make anything of it except to take Luther at his words. Consider the following:

  1. The plain language of Luther’s description (with several references varying in explicitness) recorded by two different transcribers
  2. The effort at covering up the location in Johannes Aurifaber’s famous 1566 edition of Luther’s Table Talk, which has Luther concluding: “The Holy Spirit alone introduced this art to me” (emphasis mine). Such a cover-up would be unnecessary if Luther’s companions understood that he was referring to his study, where scholars will frequently try to locate his discovery.
  3. We know that Luther’s study was on the third floor of the tower (Brecht, 227). The latrine, as you can see from the pictures, was clearly not. How could Luther and his conversational transcribers confuse the two, or use the basement latrine to refer to the entire tower, including Luther’s study?
  4. We can only verify that Luther used the tower as his study from 1522 onwards (info marker outside the excavation in 2013), but his epiphany most likely took place in early 1518 (some scholars date it earlier).
  5. In all of his descriptions of his epiphany, Luther never once says he was at his desk or reading; he always says he was speculating or meditating.
  6. The ground floor of the tower had under-floor heating. The warm air from a small stove was led through the pictured conduit under the floor slabs (info marker). Considering that this conduit went right above the latrine, it would have indeed made it a “sweating room.”
  7. According to an info marker outside the excavation in 2013, at some point the tower was demolished and earth was deposited over the top for a garden, preserving the ground floor and basement underneath. (Ironically, it was in an attempt to plant another garden there that the latrine was discovered in 2004.) This fits perfectly with Georg Rörer’s copy of Schlaginhaufen’s transcript; either he or someone else wrote “in the garden” above “on this latrine.”
  8. According to an info marker outside the excavation in 2013, the tower with the latrine “could only be reached from the monastery” (later Luther’s house after the monastery was gifted to him). This accords with its description in Cordatus’ transcription as “a privy [or private place] for the monks.”
  9. Finally – and this is admittedly more speculative – the basement had another, larger room in addition to the latrine. Luther’s 1532 retelling took place in the summer between June 12 and July 12. Would it not make sense for Luther and his companions to be conversing in the basement to get away from the heat, thus enabling Luther to say in effect, “It happened right here” (without us having to imagine a more awkward setting)? To those who would think this unlikely due to some lingering smell down there, an info marker outside the latrine says, “A small drain served to take the sewage waste from the latrine out of the building. At the time it was in use, the land sloped down quite considerably from east to west and from north to south so that the majority of the sewage was washed away.”

Many of course who are convinced that Luther’s famous discovery happened on the toilet, and who are not sympathetic to his reforms and teachings, love to make crude jokes about “the 95 Feces” and Luther going to discharge his waste and having something even worse come out, namely Lutheranism. Never mind all that. The Bible consistently testifies that the triune God’s modus operandi is to bring order and glory out of disorder and shame (creation, Judah and Tamar, crossing of the Red Sea, the Messiah’s birth, etc.) and to hide the truth behind weakness, shame, offense/scandal, and foolishness (Jesus’ choice of apostles, crucifixion, the means of grace, the theology of the cross, etc.), so that only those who are earnestly and genuinely seeking the truth find and remain with the truth (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 5:6; 13:11-15). Luther’s tower discovery on the toilet, then, really isn’t all that surprising. If you want to find the truth, you often have to look in the least likely places, according to our natural human reason. And if you want to find the truth of the gospel in 1518, you have to look in the bathroom at a monk from an ordinary copper miner’s family performing one of life’s less attractive chores. If you care nothing for the truth, you will run away disgusted. But to those who love the truth, that bathroom is one of the most attractive places on earth.