LOGIA, 22 (2013) vol. 2
This volume, which is the result of cooperation between Klän and Ziegler that began in the 1990s, follows the two existing volumes in the German-language series In statu confessionis, in which essays and other shorter writings by Hermann Sasse have been collected. It contains essays and other thus far unpublished writings from Sasse’s early years (1929–1944). The complex historical situation of that time makes significant demands on the reader’s historical knowledge, but the editors’ copious footnotes help clear up questions posed, rather than answered, by the text. The twenty-nine texts in the volume are divided into three thematic sections (»Union and Confession,« »Church Struggle,« and »Ecumenism«) and one nonthematic section (»Evaluations and position statements«). At the front of the volume is a short »historical-biographical introduction,« providing an introduction to the essays and the questions that are important for reading them. Werner Klän concludes his introduction with the wish that the following quotation from Sasse be understood as the guiding principle of the volume: »Confessional loyalty and true ecumenism belong together.« The selection and organization of texts make it clear that the editors tried to follow this principle. In the following, in order to provide at least a representative depiction of the content of the volume, I briefly summarize two of the texts the editors selected for the collection.
The first, just three pages long (80–82), bears the title »Lutheran Church and Church Governance (Regiment).« The index of first publications at the back of the volume indicates that the essay first appeared in 1934. Sasse deals in the essay with the consequences of an assertion, with which he also begins the essay: »Lutheranism is the only one of the main Christian confessions that does not recognize a particular external order as belonging to the essence of the church« (80). The last part, »to the essence of the church,« is particularly important to Sasse. On the one hand, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, and on the other hand the Reformed church, each recognizes its particular form of church governance — the threefold office with the principle of apostolic succession for the former and the presbyterial and synodical structure for the latter — as a nonnegotiable mark of the church. Over against all of these churches stands the Lutheran church, which counts among its marks only the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s institution — and no particular form of church governance. This means that the Lutheran church can live under various governmental structures; however, she is not free to concede her external government »to the state or other worldly authorities« (81).
That this happened in German history, in the form of church governance through territorial nobility, is not to be seen as a proof to the contrary. What then was an emergency solution had its reasons but should not have been permitted to become a permanent situation. Even though no form of church governance can guarantee the preservation of pure doctrine, some forms exist — among them, church governance through territorial nobility — that promise to destroy it in time. In 1934, Sasse was concerned that this exact thing was happening, that the raison d’être of the Church of the Augsburg Confession would fall away through the forced consolidation with the Reformed — something made possible by the form of church governance. In this context, Sasse says it is time to »be earnest, that only such a church regiment is bearable for the Lutheran Church, which does not contradict what our confession teaches about the church, about the unity of the church, about her spiritual office, and about her church regiment« (82). Thanks to the editors, the reader is informed about what specifically Sasse has in mind: the April 1934 attempt of the then-active Official for Evangelical Affairs in the Reich leadership of the NSDAP and Director of the Prussian Ministry of culture, August Jäger, to homogenize the German state churches as much as possible.
A second grouping of texts of particular interest comes under two titles: »Why must we hold fast to the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper?« (105–22), and »Quatenus or Quia« (123–28). Three texts are encompassed here: first, an initial Sasse essay, then a response by a certain Pastor Höppl, and finally Prof. Sasse’s answer to Höppl’s objections, all from 1938. In the essay, Sasse deals with the question »Why must we hold fast to the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper?« Beginning with a quotation from Ernst Käsemann, he engages at a foundational level the ability of the so-called modern research to mediate any doctrine at all out of exegesis. Where one suggests that no modern exegete can in good conscience defend the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of the Scripture, Sasse asks rhetorically which doctrine of the Augsburg Confession would not be subject to this judgment (111). Exegetically, he argues against Käsemann, who distinguishes and separates Pauline from Johannine from Synoptic, that it is decisive that one consider the »entire witness of the New Testament concerning the Supper of the Lord« (117). Specifically, this means drawing on St. Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper when interpreting the shorter reports in the Synoptics. If the reports in the Synoptics are perverted, such that one has a symbolic understanding, one of two things has happened: One takes either the Reformed path of a »violent redefinition” of the original meaning of St. Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper, or the path of Protestant modernism, which denies St. Paul’s teaching as »false and nonbinding.« Sasse, in conclusion, maintains that the approach of Protestant modernism — which destroys the unity of Holy Scripture — also destroys its authority. In this case, both Scripture and Supper have fallen, for they belong together as the center of the life and doctrine of the church (122). With this discussion, Sasse lays the foundation for what he had asserted at the beginning of the essay: the audience-member perspective of a quatenus ordination vow is to be equated with a Reformed understanding of confessional subscription, and although it is understandable in the individual case, it must nevertheless be carried out publicly and not secretly (106–7).
Pastor Höppl’s reaction follows this essay, as Höppl feels himself challenged by Sasse’s describing the quatenus as Reformed to choose between quia and quatenus. He holds to the quatenus, arguing that he permitted himself the understanding of his ordination »as ordination on Christ, the truth« (124). From this, he deduces that the quatenus not only follows for the Confessions, but also for the Bible. Sasse answers Höppl’s objections with a threefold defense for the necessity of the quia. First, there is a great danger in the churches, as they are subject to the whim of theological fashion. For the sake of Christian love, Protestant pastors need to hold to their doctrinal subscription (125–26). But such a subscription cannot be mediated by an »inasmuch. « In saying this, Sasse is not suggesting changing the position of the Confessions as norma normata into that of the Bible, which is norma normans, but rather that the quatenus must be denied wherever it is used to trivialize the question of »what we would have to do, if our Confessions did not teach according to the Scriptures« (126– 27). Finally, he draws attention again to Höppl’s conclusion that the quatenus must also apply to the Bible. If what is at stake is »the Christ, who is to be sought through the Bible,« and not »the Christ, who is to be found in the Bible,« then one makes his own reason into norma normans. From this follows »the concession of the proof via Scripture in dogmatics,« and when that is lost, »the end of the Reformation« is the result (127).
The volume lacks little in terms of quality and arrangment. The printing errors are minimal (on page 228, »redargint« for »regarding«; on page 253, a missing space: »Rechtfertigungdes«). An index allows inquiries according to topic or person. The details of initial publication are missing from the first page of the articles, where one might expect them, but are handily gathered and arranged chronologically on a page in the back of the volume. The historical introduction mentioned above is rather short, leaving the reader wishing for more. This work, however, has been done in other places, as the footnotes in the introduction show, so that one could hardly expect the editors to repeat it. Finally, it ought not go overlooked that the volume is introduced with a foreword from the respective heads of the church bodies of the editors: President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche. It was a joy to read Prof. Sasse’s texts in the volume, which, though not new, were for the most part unknown to me. They show the same theological acumen one is accustomed to expecting from Sasse. It remains only to thank the editors, who, through the publication of this volume, have made the texts more readily available.