Historical and systematic theology in the mirror of church history: the lessons of "ordination" in sixteenth-century Saxony.
Without in any way intending to do so, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (hereafter ELCA) and the Episcopal Church USA (Hereafter ECUSA) devoted nearly the final quarter of the twentieth century to providing scholars a case study of Professor Kingdon's observation, about Lutherans in particular. The matter at hand is a gradual development that began with sufficient consensus on Christ's physical presence in the elements of the Lord's Supper to allow what was called interim pulpit and altar fellowship between the two churches. A series of dialogues followed, and in 1996 a proposed "Concordat" emerged that was then forwarded to the general assemblies of each side a year later. It passed both houses of the ECUSA meeting, but narrowly failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority at the church wide assembly of the ELCA, which returned it for renegotiation.
The objective was what had come to be termed "full communion," a relationship that fell just short of a full merger between the two bodies. Its stumbling block in 1997 was the insistence from ECUSA that this step, which would bring the "interim" sharing of pulpit and altar to fruition, required that bishops in the ELCA henceforth be ordained or installed into their offices as part of the peculiarly Anglican "historic episcopate." According to this understanding, all bishops of the Anglican communion stand in a historic succession that the Reformation did not interrupt and that reaches back in time to the very earliest bishops in Latin Christendom. Within little more than a year, the Concordat returned in a somewhat revised form and with a new name--"Called to Common Mission (hereafter, CCM)." Stripped of the details and the arguments for its adoption, the document sidestepped one underlying difference by using the term "installation/ordination" as the sole descriptor for what happened when someone was elevated to the episcopacy, whether in the ELCA or ECUSA. At the same time, it insisted that apostolic practice required that at this "installation/ordination" three bishops must lay hands on the ordinand, and one of them must stand in the "historic episcopate," as described above. In the summer of 1999 CCM passed. It did so in spite of some grumbling about ancillary issues in the upper house of the ECUSA assembly, and it required an all-out campaign by the leadership of the ELCA plus but a handful of the then bishops. Even so, among the Lutherans, CCM could do not better this time than to muster a margin of victory that was as razor thin as the one by which the Concordat had failed two years earlier. But it was a victory, albeit perhaps of the Pyrrhic sort.
As the above reference to "an all-out campaign" and the narrowness of CCM's victory might indicate, the historic episcopate was and remains (in spite of its adoption) a subject of intense and even bitter debate among Lutherans. It is so much so that schism within the ELCA itself is a distinct possibility. Indeed, as of this writing, two years after the fact, the Wordalone Network, the original opposition group, has gone so far as to found at least the skeleton of what is called Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ as an alternative to the ELCA. This more formal Lutheran entity (or "lifeboat" as some call it) is currently growing at the rate of one or two congregations per week, and there are others. Indeed, the situation has become so reminiscent of a shale cliff from which pieces fall off with sufficient regularity that the local highway department has posted signs that read, "Beware of falling rock."
The pages that follow may or may not contribute to the final outcome of a debate that has now become a struggle for enforcement. The purpose here is instead to employ this development as a case study of particularly Lutheran approaches to Lutherans' own past. The intent throughout is to be as faithful as possible to the spirit of Ranke, that is to be relentlessly descriptive, while leaving prescriptive inferences to others. The strategy, therefore, is to employ the methods of church historians to analyze the debate itself. It is doubly fortunate that its point of departure is a phenomenon specific to a version of Christianity that is very keenly attached to and defamed by its various histories from Luther, Melanchthon, and The Book of Concord through the most recent past. The first point of the discussion may be surprising: by comparison with historical and systematic theology what might be termed "total church history" played a miniscule role in a debate that turned in large measure on a specifically historical understanding of an otherwise very historically minded form of Christianity.
As is common in serious debates, this one over "full communion" began on the most general issue and then proceeded to specific talking points. Thus, the first and abiding controversy concerned the meaning and the role to be assigned to Article 7 of the unaltered Augsburg Confession. (2) Indeed, the Wordalone Network, the chief opposition party, began its life with a second name, appropriately enough "Augsburg 7." The overarching question was deceptively simple: could the ELCA adopt and insist upon a form of ecclesiastical polity that Anglicans call "the historic episcopate" and that at least North American Lutherans have repeatedly rejected, and do so without abandoning the Lutheran heritage on such matters? Proponents of CCM concluded that the declaration of 1530 according to which "it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments" meant that matters of church polity were and are indifferent with respect to Christian unity. Hence, the ELCA was indeed free to adopt the "historic episcopate" without deserting its confessions or its concrete history. Although chastened in some respects, this much remains the reading of Article 7 for those who favor closer relationships with the Episcopal Church USA.
The opposition countered with two points on which it, too, remains equally adamant. In the first place, it emphasized the next sentence of Article 7, according to which, "It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere" as a condition for "the true unity of the church." (3) Secondly, CCM, while it did not require that Lutherans positively believe Anglican historical and theological assertions about their version of episcopacy, did and does require the ELCA (in harmony with the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral) to adopt the historic episcopate. Moreover, it did so precisely in the name of a particular form of Christian unity, which both churches called "full communion." In sum, it turned "human traditions, rites or ceremonies" into at least practical necessities for unity. On these two grounds, opponents therefore contended that Augsburg 7 and its famous satis est prohibited CCM under the conditions that had in fact been negotiated and according to which all future ELCA bishops must be "ordained/ installed" into the Anglican "historic episcopate."
Almost simultaneously the proponents moved their arguments to other portions of the Augustana. The first such change was toward Article 5 and the words, "To obtain such [saving] faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments." (4) Discussion degenerated quickly into arguments concerning the distinction between an office and the person of its holder on the one hand and the authority to bestow the office (with what were sometimes called its charismata) on the other. It goes almost without saying that by the mid-1990s positions had hardened and that a certain tendentiousness (see below) intruded into the exchanges. As with respect to the opening issue, no one was newly convinced of anything.
A third element informed the discussion throughout. Although it lay very much in the background and was never developed fully in any explicit way, it amounted to an attempt to introduce an overriding hermeneutic within which to resolve the failure to reach agreement on the first two topics. Proponents asserted that Luther and his colleague, Philip Melanchthon, actually preferred a church polity that featured great prominence for bishops who stood in apostolic succession. Article 28 of the Augustana was its alleged home. This, by far the longest of the articles in the Augsburg Confession, along with Article 4 on justification, assumed the existence of bishops as such and apparently granted to them "the power of God's mandate to preach the gospel, to give and retain sins, and to administer the sacraments." Given, or so the argument implicitly continued, that bishops today no longer hold what once were called "regalian rights," but exclusively religious ones, Article 28 could then be employed to explain away the differences over Article 5, and the theologians in opposition could be dismissed as "satis est reductionists." (5) Again, none of the active participants was newly convinced of anything the opposition had to write or say. The debate therefore failed to produce the most precious commodity of all, namely any semblance of consensus whatsoever.
For the church historian, this divisively argued, enacted, and now enforced difference of opinion has a certain mystifying quality to it, for the simple reason that almost none of the participants allowed the actual historical record to speak for itself. At its best, church history played the role of reluctant handmaiden to theologia, the Queen of the Sciences. Indeed, one acute participant sought to end the entire argument on three grounds. First, according to him, from the beginnings of the Reformation to the most recent past, "Lutherans have been and are still confused on the doctrine of the ministry." Secondly, "There is no way to resolve the difficulty by going more deeply into our own confessional sources because they bear the imprint of ambiguity inherent in Luther's own statements on ministry." Thirdly, the only "ecumenically viable way out of this morass" lies in "realigning and reconciling Lutheran ordained ministry with the episcopally ordained ministries in apostolic succession in the Eastern and Western branches of the one holy catholic church." (6) In this backhanded manner, a partisan systematic theologian thus used what is at base an historical assertion regarding a group of theological texts written in the distant past as an argument against further historical investigation of either them or their subject. In effect, he threw up his hands in despair at knowing what the Lutheran tradition might have taught and practiced on this matter, only to fall into the waiting arms of authority and coercive force.
Given that all the to-ing and fro-ing remained the virtually exclusive preserve of theologians, (7) it can come as no surprise to discover that the exchanges in this debate all rested on but a small portion of the dogmatic works in The Book of Concord. In addition, those who entered the lists treated these historical texts in a most ahistorical fashion. Finally, both sides' merest sampling of them constituted virtually the only historical sources that they consulted or brought to the table. As a result, the entire debate lacked contact with historical reality of any but the most thoroughly predigested sort.
It must be acknowledged, moreover, that unlike strictly theological interpretations, historical assertions about the same sources have a comparatively straightforward and almost self-evident character. At the very least, it is relatively easy for even the interested but relatively inexperienced observer to discover whether they are materially true or false. In this case, the disputants were content to rely almost exclusively on English translations of outdated editions of texts whose originals are in Early New High German and Latin. Only this naive situation of the theologian's going one-on-one with a naked, albeit translated, text could allow quoting but portions of it, for example, the first but not the second sentence of Article 7 or ignoring Melanchthon's continuation of Article 28 in his Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Papacy, as proof for their overriding interpretation of the whole. At the same time, all parties failed to take into account the findings of even historical theologians, for example, Jan Aarts's meticulous study of the young Luther, Hans-Martin Muller's magisterial article on ordination in the new edition of the Theologische Realenzyklopadie, Scott Hendrix's thoroughly convincing work on the young Luther's ecclesiology, and in particular the unsurpassed treatment of Luther's teaching on the "hidden church" by Carl Axel Aurelius, to mention but a few. (8) The irony in the situation is that the scholars just mentioned and in their best and most thoroughly researched work for the most part seconded the views of those who opposed CCM. Even so, those in opposition never consulted or cited these natural and impeccable allies. One can only infer that both sides remained so convinced that they could extract compelling truth from English translations of half-millennium-old naked texts that there was no need to do so.
By current standards, the behavior of both camps strikes one as, frankly, odd. The self-evidently clear demarcation between theology and church history and the overwhelming domination of the one over the other also seems sadly out of place in the present inter-and cross-disciplinary world of academic research in general. As is so for all the studia humanitatis, the essential data for the history of Christianity consists for the greater part of a surviving text or group of texts from the distinct past. For periods well before and after the sixteenth century, most students employ the techniques of comparative literature, linguistics, the social sciences, and archaeology, as well as simply studying the texts themselves. Thus, practitioners of these disciplines have taken their cues from Petrarch, Valla, Erasmus, and a host of Renaissance scholars, from whose methods Luther, too, and not just Melanchthon, also profitted. (9) To understand these texts and their authors in their own terms therefore requires far more than the insights of academic theologians or even historians of theology. At the very least, what the people who wrote the texts did must be brought to bear upon interpreting what they wrote and reportedly said, and well in advance of drawing conclusions for today that are clothed in having reached the "meaning" of the text or texts in question. There is consequently no compelling reason--save by appeal to one or another prior religious, philosophical, or political set of convictions--to maintain this gulf between theology and church history. To put a point on the matter, even those who seek to understand only the theological thinking that lay behind Luther's version of the Reformation need far more than the books of long-dead fellow theologians to accomplish their task. (10)
The very size of the total possible evidentiary base brings with it the first and most difficult task. It is to pose the right question. Ironically, the proponent of CCM who despaired of any further historical research pointed toward just this question when he declared in an article on "The Special Ministry of the Ordained," that "This mark of the church ... is the one most hotly disputed within our churches and between the churches." Yet, in the debate generally, the theologians who discussed such matters ignored the actual practice of "ordaining" to clerical status. (11) Consequently, such basic questions as who did what to whom, and then all parties agreed to call what had transpired an "ordination," remain shrouded beneath many opinions and little contemporary, primary evidence. Indeed, the very text of Called to Common Mission sidesteps this critical question by terming the rite that makes a bishop "installation/ordination." But there is no need to leave the matter so muddled. So, to put the question somewhat differently, what verifiably happened in an ordination and what messages did whatever happened in fact convey?
Too much, and not merely the debate but also the entire conception of the Reformation, is at stake to allow such ambiguity to persist. To illustrate with what some may presently regard as a counterfactual example, one could ask, is it possible that the actual rite of "ordination" did no more than publicly certify that the ordinand was duly prepared for service in the presence of witnesses who testified that he had been so called and was to be entrusted with the office? If so, then there is no evidence that the "ordination" gave to the newly ordained anything by way of special charismata. By extension, the clergy, who most certainly did constitute a social class, did not have any "special ministry" within "the church" that might legitimately be excluded from anyone else who was so trained and called. The clergy did, to be sure, in this case hold responsibilities peculiar to them in their congregation, but the fulfillment of these duties by no means required a more intimate connection to the divine than that held by other members who were simply among the baptized. Thus, much hinges on exactly what messages "ordination" sought to convey. Nor is only the governance of "the church" at stake. Exactly what "ordination" said is the lynchpin to the entire business of institutional ecumenism. So, too, at least in principle, is what might be intended by the phrase that Christians confess in common, namely that they believe in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church."
In addition to the telling question, only one further element is necessary in order to continue the investigation: primary sources, both new ones, some of which exist only in manuscripts, or those left unstudied, such as church orders, the enabling legislation that gave them force, private correspondence, civil decrees on apparently unrelated matters, and the like. Thankfully, in addition to formal treatises on the subject, the materials that reveal these more mundane doings are plentiful not only for this investigation but also for many others that could and should follow and test it.
The first and most readily available such sources are published in Emil Sehling's monumental collection of evangelical church orders from the sixteenth century. (12) But they are by no means sufficient for the task. (12) In order to complete the picture one must go to the surrounding materials and, most notably, manuscripts. For Wittenberg and Saxony, these latter are located in the Stadtsarchiv, which is presently situated in what were originally the electoral living quarters attached to the Castle Church, and in the Stadtkirchenarchiv St. Maria, where the materials are housed in one tower of the City Church, up a hill and across the central square. These two repositories of manuscripts can be augmented by imprints of the time that are located in the libraries of Wittenberg's Evangelische Predigerseminar and the famous Lutherhalle, in addition to the Herzog-August Bibliothek and research collections such as those at the Lutheran Brotherhood Foundation Reformation Research Program of Luther Seminary and the Center for Reformation Research of Concordia Seminary-St. Louis. Thus, the sources are both plentiful and readily available for the serious researcher.
For present purposes, the central part of this primary evidence is a booklet that bears the title Ordinatio ministerium verbi. Copies of this penultimate draft exist in printed and at least one exemplar of calligraphic form on two-toned, waxed, and heavy stock paper. Ordinatio-Lutherhalle, as it will be identified and cited, consists of three sections--a Latin introduction, a German formula, and another version in Latin for those "who do not understand the German language," an apparent necessity that reveals the frequency with which foreign candidates came to Wittenberg for ordination and why several people were often ordained at the same time. The odd, and ungrammatical, expression, "ordinatio ministerium," may be a simple mistake by which a copyist skipped a period or colon after the first word or elided the preposition, "ad." This circumstance might argue for a handcopied version and modestly strengthens the claim for this exemplar's being closest to the final manuscript, which has not been discovered. In any event, Luther himself probably drafted this early version sometime between late 1535 and early 1536, with repeated emendations by perhaps several individuals. It went through many variant editions throughout Germany, but, were it not for the Weimarer Ausgabe, the written rite might be rather difficult to find, for the simple reason that the copies were, so to speak, "used up," rather in the manner of Sunday worship bulletins today. To repeat, during the Reformation and beyond, there was a widely agreed-upon rite for what people living at the time called "ordination," and Luther himself played a substantial role in creating it. (13)
Even a relatively simple text of this sort may not be allowed to tell its story too soon, before it is clothed in its own context. For example, it should be noted that this small booklet was part of a general development in the Continental Reformation that was common in at least Lutheran lands during the mid-1530s. Of one preliminary fact there can be no doubt. Until the 1530s, the leaders of the anti-Roman reform movement paid little if any attention to the certification, broadly conceived, of new clergy. For the most part, they appear to have begun their work by looking to converts. By the middle of the decade, however, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and others among the Free Imperial Cities had established procedures by which new recruits became recognized publicly as a pastor and took up parish responsibilities. John Calvin doubtlessly learned much in this regard from his experiences in Strasbourg beginning in mid-decade such that his Ecclesiastical Ordinances date from 1541, or almost immediately upon his return to Geneva. The introduction of the Reformation into Denmark-Norway came in 1536 and featured the same attention to the problem of who could be a pastor. Finally, it was in all likelihood Luther himself who in 1535-36 composed Wittenberg's first and, as will be seen, enormously influential rite of ordination. Thus, the introduction of procedures for certifying new clergy in Wittenberg was fully synchronous with such efforts across Protestant and in particular Lutheran Continental Europe. (14)
It is far too tempting to conclude that the reform movement in general had reached a certain maturation such that reformers and governments moved quite naturally to regularize the selection and placement of clergy. Left by itself, this interpretation amounts to a partial truth, but one that often enough takes a bad turn toward the judgment that it was also a conservative reaction against the more "progressive" elements in the reform movement. Steven Ozment, for example, once declared that "the `freedom fighters' of the 1520s became the `new papists' of the 1530s" and following. (15) Given the current status of knowledge, such broad generalizations are, of course, unprovable, for the simple reason that nearly all history in premodern Europe, and in Germany in particular, is local history, and detailed local research is sadly lacking. Is there, then, any way to describe this general development in a somewhat more detailed and compelling manner as it played itself out at Wittenberg, if not elsewhere as well?
One related matter also has some currency and must be settled before proceeding. Was Luther compelled in any direct way to establish these particular procedures for ordination? The editors of the Weimarer Ausgabe insist that the decision to compose a rite of ordination did not grow from any identifiable particular event against which he was reacting. (16) Their contention predates the modern and mostly socialist tradition that identifies the Great Peasants' War of 1524-25 in particular with a turn toward conservatism in both Luther and the reform movement generally. It may nonetheless also have amounted to a certain prise de position against the writings of Engels and in particular Karl Kautsky's Communism in Central Europe during the Time of the Reformation, according to which the religious values of the reformers amounted to their time-bound ways of addressing the political, economic, and social realities of their own day. (17) Hence, when faced with revolutionary movements, they reacted by constructing churches that supported and depended on the authority of the princes and city councils. Official ordination was, by extension, one of the ways in which this turn to conservatism expressed itself.
On the other hand, there are at least two additional ways to understand the confluence of conscious church building in many locales at about the same time. The first is a variant of the commonplace that the Reformation took a conservative turn. Thus, much recent scholarship has widely agreed that the reform movement at least carried with it social and political consequences that had an undeniably authoritarian cast to them with the passage of time. Some, such as Peter Blickle, (18) continue to emphasize the Peasants' War, but more as a particularly arresting incident in this development than (perhaps) a cause of it. Others, for example Heinz Schilling and Gerald Strauss (19) take an explicitly longer-range view by characterizing such practices as discipline and catechization, which Strauss calls "indoctrination" and Schilling terms "confessionalization," as pointing in and of themselves to the developing absolutism of nascent early modern German states. Neither engages in specifically socialist forms of analysis, but the result is much the same. Shorn of theological or religious considerations, the Reformation becomes for them a handmaiden toward understanding Germany's Sonderweg or "special way" into modern Western history. (20) Two curiosities flow from this common interpretation: on the one hand, many theologians unwittingly assume the truth of these traditions and then, on the other, build their historical understanding of the new churches, including an alleged "semi-sacramental" form of "ordination," on them. In fact, the idea that Luther's later career featured a substantial change in his theological understanding of the offices of the church and its earthly nature is a myth. (21)
The second way of understanding this turn toward church building is also compelling and has, in addition, a winsome simplicity to it. In this scenario, the Diet of Augsburg and the Augsburg Confession provided the impetus for change. Thus, the Augustana is viewed as an attempt at compromise or a peace offering in which the reformers, to borrow a line from Oklahoma! "went about as fur as they could go," only to be rejected by Charles V and Eck's Refutatio. This understanding is certainly arguable and will, in fact, reappear in the discussion below. But one problem with it is a tendency to presuppose the ability to read the minds and intentions of Melanchthon, Luther, and the other reformers and then to draw the further inference that the evangelical Reformers' peace proposal amounted to a genuine ecumenical approach to their Roman opponents, bishops sacramental ordination and all. Left by itself, however, it amounts to no more than a dubious extension of a partial truth, whose utility now depends on what one chooses to make of it. (22)
As mentioned, much indeed is at stake here. There is also a goodly amount of confusion at present regarding what some call "the reintroduction of ordination." For example, it is common coin among many, who agree with Wilhelm Pauck but without citing him, to report that Luther bowed to a direct command from the Elector of Saxony when he reinstituted the practice of ordination. In Pauck's terms, Luther gave in to specifically political necessity. (23) One could certainly quote Luther's own words in support of this notion. Thus, he declared in an ordination sermon probably late in 1535,
As you know the ordination (ordinationem) of the church with its rites is necessary. But because the pope will not promote but impedes the course of the gospel, it is incumbent upon us to be vigilant and prayerful. Our elector necessarily commanded (ordinavit) that learned men and zealous preachers be selected and ordained (ordinentur) here, `lest someone unknown to us were to spring up and teach.... You witnesses of this public rite are obliged to pray most ardently that it may provide us pious and sincere preachers of the Word ... for there is less danger in a bad life than in [false] doctrine, by which a preacher is able to seduce a thousand souls ... as we all imbibed from the depraved doctrine of Munster. (24)
If only in passing, it is worth noting that his mention of the uprising in Westphalia a year earlier should be understood in this context both as an apt illustration for his sermon's main point and a warning that false doctrine could lead to evils in the here and now. But it is not evidence that those events in and of themselves played a role in the beginning of ordinations in Wittenberg. The need to teach and preach true doctrine had always existed. Now that its opponents could spring up in the twinkling of an eye, it was doubly imperative that parishes have recognized pastors who would both preach and defend the evangelical faith.
The relevant mandate or "order" from Elector John, however, sheds an unexpected light on the appearance of "ordination" into Electoral Saxony's way of conducting ecclesiastical business and Luther's own role in making this decision. Above all, Luther's report of it not withstanding, the electoral decree did not specify or require "ordination" as its means for making certain that only reliable preachers occupied Saxony's pulpits. Instead, it was a general decree that banned from the elector's territories any preaching from those who did not already and legitimately hold an established post. The version that was published in early 1536 reads in part, "additionally, no one, with the exception of the regular (ordentlichen) pastors, preachers, and chaplains to whom the office of pastor and preacher (seelsorg- und predigtampt) in each place is commended (beuohlen), should be allowed to preach and hold meetings in [private] houses or other places." The mandate's entirely prohibitive character is bluntly evident from the formulaic concluding declaration of such documents, according to which "all those who act or are discovered to be in contradiction with the foregoing" will be examined and "turned over to unremitting discipline and forfeiture of goods and body." (25) The relationship between the prince and the reformers was therefore straightforward: the prince condemned irregular preachers, while Luther and his colleagues developed a means (ordination) of publicly identifying those who had the right to preach.
In addition, it is reasonably well known that Luther had no liking for the term, "ordination," a word that only in English refers almost exclusively to an ecclesiastical act. Thus, in late 1533 he wrote that "To ordain should be termed and exist as `to call' and `to command' to the office of preacher the power of which Christ and his church have and must have ... just as it must have the word, baptism, sacrament, spirit and faith." (26) A rite that some contemporaries nonetheless conveniently called "ordination" did indeed, and almost on the heels of the Elector's mandate, come to play a part in providing pastors for Wittenberg, Saxony, and more distant places. The question is, therefore, did Luther in fact participate in creating a rite of ordination that suggested an ontological change in the newly ordained and that in turn put the clergy into some form of closer contact with the divine than was possible for mere lay people?
At last Ordination to the Ministry of the Word has its turn at center stage. At first glance, there was nothing very grand about the rite that it recommended and that was practiced under Luther's own eye in Wittenberg. To summarize briefly, it appears to have been customary to insert ordination into a normal worship service, a circumstance that from the beginning minimizes the event's importance as a distinct form of religious observance. Some versions had a designated ordinator, who was already a member of the local clergy and who conducted this portion of the service. In Wittenberg itself until his death in 1570, the most common ordinator was one Sebastian Froschel, whose clerical rank was that of diakon, that is a clergyman who held a lesser prebend than the one in whose service of ordination he was participating. This fact, too, detracted from the grandeur of the occasion, as did the circumstance that the other participants were identified simply as "presbyters from the area," that is pastors (elders?) from other congregations.
During the rite itself, which required no more than between five and seven minutes and normally fell between the sermon and the closing benediction, the ordinand presented himself in the chancel and listened to readings from Acts 20:17 ff. and 1 Timothy 3:1. After the ordinand said, "I promise" to the injunctions of these passages, "Then with the imposition of hands on the heads of those very [ordinands], the ordinator says, `Our Father,' etc." commonly with additional petitions against the Pope and "the Mohammedans" but without the traditional ending. A general prayer of forgiveness and intercession ended with the ordinator's declaration regarding the candidate, "that with these very petitions from this church there is the confirmation of his calling (Beruf/Vocatio)." Depending on local custom and the Sunday of the month, the service concluded with the Lord's Supper and the Benediction, or the Benediction alone. (27) The ordination was complete.
The questions, however, have just begun. Indeed, this little booklet itself makes it possible to go well beyond the term, "ordination," and to begin resolving the issue of how participants in the rite, along with the observers, were expected to regard it, that is, what the brief ceremony was to convey to them and what it most certainly meant to Luther and his coauthors. The first question is, "What were they doing in general, and by what right?" The necessary starting point is to note that the exact meanings of the label, "ordination," as employed by its users and whether in the German or Latin of the time, may surprise modern readers of English only.
In the first place, once the aura of sanctity that now surrounds the term is blown away, the very word, "ordination," whether in its nominative or verbal forms, comes to earth and reveals that it is carrying at least two meanings. The sermon that Luther delivered on the subject sometime after October 24, 1535 illustrates the point. The first and third sentences read as follows in a free translation: "As everyone knows, the ordination (ordinationem) of the church with its rites is necessary," and "Our Elector necessarily ordered (ordinavit) that learned men and pious ministers of the word of God be elected and ordained (eligantur et ordinentur) here." (28) The Latin and the German word (in this case the same) thus had a secular usage and as well as an ecclesiastical one.
Secondly, it is at least arguable that sixteenth-century Lutheran uses of the terms owed more, at least in Germany, to the secular than it did to the traditional ecclesiastical meaning of the act itself. It is therefore not surprising that a regulation that governed requirements for ordination and that issued from Wittenberg's theological faculty in late 1569 (effective in 1570) described the calling and ordination of a new pastor as "Ihme desz Pfarrambt zu befehlen," that is, literally, "to order him to the office of pastor." (29) The classical Latin usage, "to put in order," became "to order" and, by extension, "to command." Thus, Luther's understanding of 1533 and earlier prevailed in both theory and practice, as did the sense of the elector's mandate of 1535-1536. "Ordination" came to evoke the idea of doing all things, in this instance preaching the word and administering the sacraments, in good, public order, and no more.
The rite of ordination as it was actually practiced therefore conveyed to all just this understanding and gave with it at least two additional messages--first, that the newly "ordained" pastor had been legitimately called and, secondly, that he was now publicly certified for his new post. In addition, it should be obvious that no one--not the ordinator, not the candidate, not the elders, and not the congregation--was participating in a sacrament or even a "semi-sacrament." Instead, ordination as practiced was the public part of a process that began with a congregational call and ended with a rite that reaffirmed this call.
Thus, it can come as no surprise that ordination to clergy in the Saxony of the sixteenth century belongs to a genre of similar public rituals, such as those of a pope newly elected, a king succeeding to the throne, and even the inauguration of a president of the United States. In each case, the new officials present themselves to the public as the final act through which their taking office is recognized by all. Much the same is true with respect to sixteenth-century ordinations. As the ceremony neared its end, the elders, the ordinator, and other clergy who were present commonly placed their hands on the head of the ordinand, but it was the faithful who confirmed by their prayers the specific calling to which he had already consented. The similarity with the late medieval and early modern French acclamation, "Le roi est mort. Vive le roi!" is unmistakable. (30) The public rite did not make the pastor, but it was public.
Additional evidence regarding what was actually transpiring lies in the fact that not all areas of Lutheran Germany employed every part of this formula. One had the ordinator begin the ceremony by specifically identifying the clergy as "we bishops, that is, called pastors and preachers." Hohenlohe's order chose a different means of demythologizing the event by declaring, "So that the called servant may profitably exercise his office through the granting of divine grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, the superintendent with the entire congregation should proceed directly--without the laying on of hands--to the admonition, call upon God, and therefore pray, `Our father,' etc." Other aspects of Hohenlohe's practice corresponded to Luther's and his colleagues' formula, which the local authorities probably had at hand. But the Hohenlohers would not abide any laying of hands on anyone in their "ordinations." (31) That their rite was public was enough.
Perhaps research into the local manuscripts of these areas will reveal the specific reasons that lay behind explicitly adding the identification of bishops with pastors and preachers or the express prohibition of the laying on of hands. It is possible that the local authorities had simply been reading Luther or Melanchthon on the first point and Bugenhagen on the second. But it is undeniable that the rite of ordination was at base a symbolic public act that, even with the laying on of hands, was only mildly constitutive at most and carried with it no more and no less than an assertion and confirmation of congregational approbation that in turn underlined that body's pivotal role in choosing its own pastor. The laying on of hands, where allowed, had been reduced to an attestation of congregational approval that ended with the Lord's Prayer and extra petitions ad libidum. In practice, the local congregation had extended the call, the ordinand accepted it, and then all those present both audibly and visibly confirmed it through their verbal agreement, deeds, and prayers. Throughout, the rite contained not a recorded word, gesture, or act from which an observer could identify any ontological change in the newly ordained.
What, however, about the opening suggestion that consulting practice may help theologians to understand the texts that they study for their own purposes? It should be obvious that ordination as a prescribed practice from the late 1530s forward harmonized precisely with Luther's views on the calling of a pastor from as early as his That a Christian Congregation or Assembly Has the Right and Power to Judge all Teachings and to Call and Dismiss all Teachers as Proven from Scripture of 1523. Thus, the very words (Ordinatio ad Ministerium Verbi) that Luther and his colleagues used to identify the rite, calling it the "Ordination to the Ministry of the Word," also bluntly endorsed the plain meaning of Article V of the Augsburg Confession for all to see, hear, and read. According to it, "the office of preaching (Predigtampt/ministerium verbi)" was itself divinely instituted, and without respect to any temporary holder of it. "Through these [word and sacrament], as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who produces faith where and when he wills in those who hear the gospel." (32) When they were written, these simple words foreshadowed a reality that was yet to come. They verbally abolished any save functional distinctions between clergy and laity and put their relationship to things divine on utterly equal footing. Then, during the 1530s Luther and his colleagues visibly and actually ripped down the first wall that he had identified in the Address to the Christian Nobility of 1520.
Consequently, "realigning and reconciling Lutheran ordained ministry with the episcopally ordained ministries in apostolic succession in the Eastern and Western branches of the one holy catholic church" may or may not constitute wise counsel for the present. But the Lutheran theology and practice of ordination scarcely supply evidence of continuity with the medieval church. Quite the contrary. They underline Lutheran distinctiveness at that time. (33) Above all, both contradict the teachings and ecumenical wishes of many North American Lutheran theologians and church officials today. Moreover, the evidence--all the evidence--is univocal.
The rite itself renders another matter at least worthy of continuing theological and church historical research. The earlier question sought answers in some detail with respect to what messages the little ceremony conveyed concerning what was happening in an ordination and by what right. To this point, it should be clear that the congregation in extending its call was literally fulfilling the divinely established office of public ministry by naming a person to this office. The most casual reading of the rite also brings to attention the fact that something either appears to be missing from evangelical ordinations or conceived in an utterly different way from common religious theory and practice at that time.
What is missing in functional terms is "The Church" in any sense other than its existence in congregations gathered about word and sacrament that extend calls to people who in their offices will meet the need to have the word preached and the sacraments administered. The "order," whether as Befehl or Ordinatio, both started and ended with the local congregation. As will be seen below, it is very difficult, if not utterly unwarranted, to identify any role, save perhaps as friendly observers, for "higher" ecclesiastical bodies or their agents. Indeed, the place of "The Church," as the term is commonly used, has been so thoroughly pushed aside that there are few grounds even to employ the term when translating "church" from languages that either have no or almost always use the definite article. If one read only the order for ordination, one would find that "The Church" has been identified with word and sacrament as noted above on the one hand, and as the diachronic company of believers on the other. Even the ordinator was no more than the liturgist or perhaps the master of ceremonies who presided over what other pastors, elders, entire congregations, and the ordinands were doing, with or without the laying on of hands. To be sure, Luther and his followers always commended good order, and the earliest Lutheran ordinations were conducted in good order. But the order was "congregational," albeit not with the term's present connotations. (34)
If only to come close to completing the evidentiary circle, one should add that Luther's order was used far beyond the boundaries of Electoral Saxony. The example of Hohenlohe has already been mentioned. It is from 1579, and the editors of the Weimarer Ausgabe unearthed editions of the Ordinationsformular from as far north as Hamburg and Hanover and as late as 1702, not including more recent efforts, beginning at Leipzig a generation later, to produce a complete edition of Luther's works. Some were more elaborate than the briefest version, as summarized above, to the point, for example, of including an opening choral piece and an appropriate collect. As time passed, and perhaps owing to the numbers of ordinands who presented themselves at Wittenberg, the ceremony was added to the Wednesday church service with its preaching on the catechism. (35) But the original substance of the rite as composed in 1535-1536 remained unchanged.
The conclusion is unavoidable. The suggestion that advocates of CCM drew from Article 28 of the Augustana according to which the reformers preferred episcopacy in order to maintain "The Church" is both incorrect and irrelevant to the main discussion. In the first place, the "historic episcopate" did not exist in 1530, nor was episcopal succession as such at issue. (36) Secondly, "The Church" as all churches taken together did not exist either. But above all, the essential truth is that Luther and his followers by no means considered their evangelical church to be a temporary expedient on the grounds that it had no bishops in historic succession and no clergy who had undergone an ontological change that truly fitted them for their callings.
The reformers instead were acting in harmony with their broader theological convictions, again as plainly understood. They were therefore legislating for at least their own foreseeable future and not for any temporary present. It is, to be sure, arguable that those who wrote and subscribed to the Augsburg Confession exhibited a remarkable open-handed willingness to abide the ecclesiastical institutions that existed all around them. In sum, they were willing, as in Article 28 and for the purpose of keeping the peace, to leave untouched the purely regalian rights of prince-bishops. Nonetheless, in and of itself just such a stance presupposed the continuing separate existence of all parties. The Augsburg Confession was thus both theological text and political act at the same time. Indeed, the negotiations that followed submission of the Augustana, Eck's Refutatio, and preceded Melanchthon's Apologia suggest that once the Augsburg Confession was rejected, the gloves came off on both sides for the simple reason that no agreement could be reached. Whether such an agreement can or should occur in the twenty-first century is an utterly different matter. In terms that do relate to the realities of Article 28, the answer, however, amounts to the obvious. Times have indeed changed since the writing of the Augsburg Confession, and in the most telling way. For the most part, Christians today do not plan to wage war against or to use their political power to subjugate one another on the grounds of differing religions. To put it differently, at least in most of the Western world, there is no public need in the least to abridge religious differences.
On the other hand, might the circumstances that ushered in the return of ordination (now an evangelical practice) suggest a different conclusion? Here, the entire discussion turns on the proper reading of Luther's repeated references to "necessity" as his guide in resurrecting "ordinations" according to a recommended formula. As noted, those who have treated this issue have implied or directly declared that the "necessity" was, purely and simply, an order from the elector to which Luther and his colleagues yielded, however reluctantly. (37) This reading of the evidence has been questioned above on other grounds. Here, the problem resides in the very meaning of the word, necessitas, in all its forms. In his sermon of 1535, Luther ascribed "necessity" first to the "the church" and secondly to the elector. Given the above analysis of his ordination sermon and the rite itself, it should now be clear that the "necessity" of which he spoke amounted to no more than the requirement to do all things, and preaching in particular, in good order. It was the same for the elector, albeit in a civil rather than an ecclesiastical sense. In each case it was an abiding necessity, although it had different but nonetheless complementary objectives. The bald assumption that Luther was acting out of necessity (understood as anything other than arranging for the preaching of the word and the proper administration of the sacraments) and bowed to princely prerogative is a myth that obscures more of material truth than it reflects. What was consistently "necessary" from Luther's, Melanchthon's, and the Confessions' point of view was that the word be preached and the sacraments administered in accord with it.
Granted that higher ecclesiastical authorities, as such, were not included in the process of ordaining a pastor by right, was the congregational call therefore effectively the only determinant of who would qualify for the ministry of word and sacrament? At least in Saxony one other body played an essential role in the process, although the extent to which it was finally determinative is unclear. This body was the faculty of theology, first of Wittenberg alone and then, after the War of the League of Schmalkalden and the absorption of Ducal Saxony, of Leipzig as well. The manuscript formula for ordination thus began with these words: "First, with the examination having occurred the preceding day." One of the published versions contains particularly compelling evidence of the importance participants placed on the examination. The printer apparently had forgotten to include this attendant circumstance for proceeding with the ordination, so someone, presumably an unknown ordinator, wrote it into the margin by hand. (38) As early as 1557, an ordinance concerning the training of pastors for all of Saxony was published in Dresden, and according to it candidates for the pastorate were "Finally, to be rigorously examined in Christian doctrine." The same sort of entrance requirement applied also to elevation to the rank of superintendent. Holders of this office were to be "Noble, of good public appearance, experienced, learned, and thoroughly practiced godfearing men of the universities (hohen schulen) and come with the recommendation of the theologians." (39) All qualifications should be ascertained before presenting the candidate to the elector for ratification of election. The Saxon authorities, both ecclesiastical and civil, would tolerate no false teaching in their pastors and no having fallen from the truth by those on their way to ecclesiastical preferment.
Two final pieces of evidence illustrate that this confessional pre-qualification for ordination acquired sufficient importance that it appears to have become as necessary as the call itself and equally intended for permanency in the recruitment and placement of pastors in Saxony. The first is an unicum that depends on the unverifiable report of the archivist in the Stadtkirchenarchiv. It resides in an anteroom to the area in which the archive's manuscripts are stored in the left tower as seen when facing the main portal of the City Church. This long oval table, which is not on public display, features three spaces for seating on one side, each of which has a large area that looks like a tic-tac-toe grid for taking temporary notes, while the other side is a blank surface. According to the archivist, this is the very table at which three members of the Wittenberg theology faculty conducted the examinations that preceded ordination.
The other piece is both unquestionably more substantive and of contemporary provenance. Appearing in German in 1552 and in Latin two years later, Melanchthon's Examen ordinandus was arguably one of the ever alert schoolmaster's most influential works, precisely because he wrote it to assist candidates in preparing for the examination. Its first part, "On Christian Teaching," consisted of thirty-six sections in the Latin edition, with sometimes several questions in each, ranging from "the difference between Christian teaching, and heathen religion and other sects" to the nature of "temporal authority." There followed sections on church polity, "useful outward ceremonies" for worship, "Christian schools and studies," and finally the administration of church property and finances. It was, to use Melanchthon's opening words, a "Christian church order" (Christliche Kirchenordnung), at least in its German edition. The later Latin version was arranged more in the manner of an advanced catechism for pastors-to-be and plunged directly into matters of doctrine with the question, "And what will you teach," to which the proper answer was, "I will teach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." But with question two, matters became more difficult: "What is the relationship between the doctrine of the Church of God and foreign sects?", and then came, "What is God?"
The most telling fact about the Examen may be that these questions and answers do not appear in a theological treatise. Instead, as Melanchthon himself declared on the title page for the first edition of his handbook, it was "The examination, in German, of the candidate for ordination as it is used in the churches at Wittenberg." The Latin description was a little wordier as well as more detailed: "The examination of those who are heard in advance of the rite of public ordination, by which they are commended (bevohlen) to the ministry of the Gospel." (40) The author unquestionably participated in these grillings; only thereby could he report on their contents. Hence, one may imagine a candidate's coming into a room and finding Melanchthon, Luther, and Justus Jonas, or Nicholas Amsdorf sitting on the distinctly other side of the oval table.
The examination and the learning that were to be demonstrated in it formed far more than another requirement that candidates for the pastorate had to satisfy. The willingness of the faculty to endure the tedium that actual examinations likely engendered suggests just how highly the very leaders of the evangelical movement regarded teaching and learning as a means of actually delivering the verbum pro me to real parishioners in real congregations. The laying on of hands was optional, as the case of Hohenlohe, to say nothing of Bugenhagen's disapproval of the practice, demonstrated. Like the prior call from a congregation, the examination, too, was obligatory, as the manuscript sources make abundantly clear. In just this spirit, a decree of 1533, two full years in advance of a settled practice for ordination, declared, "And in as much as Wittenberg, moreover, is the capital of Electoral Saxony and that heretofore it has had an established university (eheliche Hohe Schul) on account of which by the grace of God the Holy Gospel has in this recent time been revealed, therefore the churches in the land of Saxony should be a Metropolis and the pastors of the same should have the supreme superintendent (Obersuperattendent), according to which all other churches are to order themselves." (41)
After the Peace of Augsburg and the confirmation of the union between Electoral and Ducal Saxony, the faculty of theology at Wittenberg appears to have had its sails trimmed at least a little. In regard to someone who appeared with a call in hand, the decree of 1557 read that "he should then be sent for the examination to the universities of Wittenberg or Leipzig. And when he is found to be sufficiently learned and virtuous in terms of his office, to which he has been called, is enlisted [as a pastor] and installed." In this instance, "enlisted" means literally, "written down on the list," that is the Ordinationsbuch as kept in the City Church. (42)
To summarize, the process leading to certification or ordination as a pastor therefore consisted of three formal steps that normally occurred in the following order: (1) a call to a particular congregation; (2) passing the theological examination; (3) a public service of ordination that ratified steps one and two. In the case of someone who had served earlier as a pastor and therefore had already met these conditions and been ordained but was now taking up a new post, these same two requirements still applied. The only apparent difference was that the person was not sent to Wittenberg or Leipzig. Instead, the superintendent and "schossene Lehen Herren," that is, "important laymen" conducted the examination. Good order was thereby maintained and at the same time the laity, who are not to be identified with commoners in sixteenth-century Saxon congregations, exercised their right and power to judge all teachings as well as to call and (presumably) to dismiss their pastors. (43)
Precisely because teaching and practice cohered with one another, certain further conclusions become obvious. Luther and his colleagues prescribed an "ordination" that was absolutely devoid of any sacramental character whatsoever. Moreover, what may be called the enabling legislation describes a process for filling Saxony's pulpits with reliable pastors that was utterly faithful to Luther's version of a congregational ecclesiology. The entire system, if it may be called that, rested not only on the call but also on the theological learning and acumen of both the congregation and the candidate. Finally, and if only in passing, this long term coherence between teaching and practice suggests that there was nothing hasty, temporary, or helter-skelter about the entire undertaking.
One question remains. Is there further evidence that this manner (and perhaps others) of doing church history also sheds light on the theological texts themselves? Does it deepen the understanding or, perhaps, correct misunderstandings of them in their own terms? The first step must be to reexamine at least a few texts for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is any apparent dissonance between them and what actually was established.
An obvious place to begin is not with Luther, about whom the story should by now be relatively straightforward, but with Melanchthon, who learned the evangelical theology from Luther and perhaps not perfectly so. In addition and if only for the purpose of growing the theology of the Lutheran Reformation some feet and planting them firmly on the ground, it is more important to turn to his Examen Ordinandus rather than the Loci Communes. Melanchthon himself may have agreed, for at the end of his examination booklet in both German and Latin he included a section entitled, "What the Christian Church is, and where it is, and by what signs it is to be recognized." The last point is the most relevant for present purposes, namely that the true church was marked by signs "which cannot be hidden but are to be observed with ears and eyes, namely the pure teaching of the Gospel, the right use of the sacrament, and loyalty to its ministry." The true church was "the gathering of all people who receive the true teaching of the Gospel and have the right use of the sacrament." Here, toward the end of his life, he repeated what he had written in article seven of the Augsburg Confession. (44) Hence, and at least on this matter, a practical handbook seconded a theologically weighty text that many have tried to explain away.
But does this study of how one actually became a pastor shed additional light on the specifically theological texts of the reformers? For example, what was Melanchthon's purpose in having the candidate for ordination deny during the examination that he was speaking of some "Platonic idea?" The answer is simple enough. Even freshly ordained pastors were not to exalt themselves into the position of The Good Shepherd. Christ ruled his own church, but how? The teacher answered even this question, writing, "In which congregation (Versammlung) the Lord Christ, by means of the office (Dienst) of the Gospel, is powerful (krefftig), turns many to eternal life and sanctifies [them]." What could have remained a Platonic ideal came to the ground in Melanchthon's writings just as it did in practice. The reformers brooked no compromises whether with the passage of time or the change of circumstances. Melanchthon even went so far as to tie his description of a true church, expressis verbis, to the third article of the Creed. (45)
When words become deeds and cross validate one another, as they do here, the words take on new weight. They still require further investigations, in the course of which they may also take on a somewhat differently nuanced meaning from what can so easily be mistaken in the best modern American English translation. Thus, not just any church order would do on the grounds of the satis est. For Melanchthon, Luther, and their colleagues the content of preaching was verifiable on a parish-by-parish and pastor-by-pastor, if not sermon by sermon, basis. The agreement of which the Augustana spoke had to be evident not only to clever theologians but also to the laity. Here, in a congregation that people could see and hear, was the church, and it was a fully incarnate reality.
There can be no questioning Luther's absolute clarity in his continued adherence to the congregational call, with no need for a bishop in historic succession, and to the absolute necessity of an educated clergy--and laity--in order to maintain the purity of the Gospel. The first point is well established in the already mentioned treatises of 1520 and 1523, but it leaves one very practical question begging. How can congregations be relied upon--no matter what Luther, quoting Jesus, may have concluded in 1523--to exercise their power and rights responsibly? Here again, turning to nontheological writings and deeds sheds light on at least the Saxon reformers' answer.
To put it simply, just as they would educate the pastors-to-be and examine them, so, too, would they educate and examine the average parishioner. This much is evident not only by way of Luther's catechisms and the fact that they were both preached from the pulpit and used as instructional materials in the classroom, but also from his two treatises on education of 1524 and 1530, namely To the Councilmen of all Germany on the Establishment of Schools and his Sermon on Keeping Children in School. The first was a general plea on behalf of basic educational opportunities for all, which, according to Luther, would benefit both civil society and true religion. But in the second, written about the time of the Diet of Augsburg and even as the Turks were marching up the Danube toward Vienna, the emphasis shifted toward the necessity of preparing pastors and parishioners for the work of the Gospel. In this task, the Latin language, for example, was essential: "Even though a boy who has studied Latin should afterward learn a trade and become a craftsman, he still stands as a ready reserve in case he should be needed as a pastor or in some other service of the word.... It is especially easy in our day to train persons for teaching the gospel and the catechism because not only Holy Scripture but also knowledge of all kinds is so abundant ... that one can learn more now in three years than was formerly possible in twenty." (46) Thus, Luther's well-known emphasis on education for all, both boys and girls, was not just a contribution to peculiarly modern Western culture, as is a commonplace in the history of education. In many respects, it was an essential part of creating a whole of which congregational calling, theological training, and public ordination were also parts. It was, so to speak, the earnest money payment on the Lutheran Reformation's entire vision of the true church. (47)
One other possible question remains. Did Luther and his colleagues hold to these convictions during at least their lifetimes, or did they abandon them in any way, including their understanding and practice of ordination? The most telling reply comes from a potentially odd source, namely a sermon that Luther preached in 1539. This sermon was not just an ordinary part of the church year and his duties. He preached it at Leipzig on the occasion of the death of Duke George and the overnight official adoption of the evangelical religion. Their devoutly Catholic ruler had long persecuted those in the territory that followed Luther, so they had cause to celebrate, with the result that Luther's sermon took on something of an official character.
The text was the one appointed for the following day, John 14:23, "Those who love me will keep my word." On this occasion, Luther in effect expounded on his doctrine of the church, declaring, "All subjects and governments must be obedient to the Word of their Lord. This is called administration. Therefore a preacher conducts the household of God by virtue and on the strength of his commission and office, and he dare not say anything different from what God says and commands." Thus the office of preaching both called the church into being and sustained it, but only on the condition that the pure word was taught. In the manner of any good preacher, he repeated what had become his central point: "in the church one should teach and preach nothing besides or apart from the Word of God." "So," he added, "where you hear this, there you may know that this is the true church." Thus, "here in the Christian church it should be a house in which only the Word of God resounds. Therefore let them shriek themselves crazy with their cry, church, church! Without the Word of God, it is nothing." Then, near the end, he repeated it again: "If anybody wants to teach human precepts, let him do so in secular and domestic affairs and leave the church alone." (48) In this way, Luther assumed throughout, as he had in his treatise of 1523, that the laity was fully capable of judging whether they were or were not hearing the Word of God.
Two conclusions should be almost self-evident. In the first place, the writing of church history must not allow itself to be swathed in the mysteries of words, even if they come from the best of systematic and historical theologians. Secondly, theologians who in any way base their conclusions on readings of the past must tell the whole truth about it, that is, the truth unvarnished by present theological thinking or seriously held ecclesiastical projects. One final example will illustrate the mischief that can grow from transgressing these warnings. A major statement, now almost twenty years old, from the Roman Catholic/Lutheran Joint Commission claims that for Lutherans "in principle a sacramental understanding of the ministry is not rejected." (49) In the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, to which the authors refer, Melanchthon did indeed write, "If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament." But then he continued by observing that using "ordination" in such a way would require adding to the sacraments not only marriage but also "many other states or offices ... as, for example, government," and then, why not alms giving? (50) Much is made in the same publication, whose commission was chaired by then Professor George Lindbeck of Yale Divinity School, of the alleged fact that "Both in the Catholic and in the Lutheran understanding, therefore, ordination can be received only once and cannot be repeated." As has been demonstrated, a statement such as this one shows no understanding of "ordination" as it was conceived and practiced by Luther, Melanchthon, and their colleagues if only because the rite was in fact repeated. (51) To put the matter simply, if the Commission had read and accurately reported the entire text, it never would have come to the conclusion it did.
Both historical and systematic theologians are therefore at risk when the task requires penetrating beyond the letters of the texts to their spirit, but without the benefit of total church history. The parties to the statement above appear to have assumed that "ordination" had the same meaning then that they ascribe to it today. But their text is a half-millennium old, and awareness of its total context renders such a reading of Melanchthon so odd that it moves the eye down the page of the Apology. There it discovers that what the author gave in one sentence he took away in several paragraphs that employed the time-honored rhetorical technique of the reductio ad absurdum. One can scarcely resist the temptation to suggest that once again twentieth-century authors either got taken in by Melanchthon's irony or, quite simply, chose not to report the entire, clear sense of the text.
Taking care with respect to real history and moving beyond accustomed methods and presuppositions provide hope for a far more carefully nuanced systematic and historical theology in the future. Perhaps church history itself, a child of the Reformation, will regain full standing as a scholarly discipline in its own right. In the best of all worlds, it might also lead those who call themselves Lutherans, but are not in any but the most nominal sense, to admit the truth and declare publicly who they really are. Then, perhaps, they, too, would join with Luther, who declared in his preface to Galeatius Cappela's History of the German Peoples, that "Historians are the most useful people and they can never be honored, praised, and thanked enough." (52)
(1.) Robert M. Kingdon, "The Church: Ideology or Institution," Church History 50 (1981): 81-97.
(2.) See James M. Kittelson, "Enough is Enough! The Confusion Surrounding Article VII of the Augsburg Confession and its Satis Est, Lutheran Quarterly 12 (1998): 249-70 and the literature cited there. For another survey from a different point of view, consult Carl E. Braaten "The Special Ministry of the Ordained," Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999), 126 ff. For the longer-range background, consult the very helpful articles by Todd Nichol and Walter Sundberg in Marc Kolden and Todd Nichol, eds., Called and Ordained. Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of Ministry (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 77-113.
(3.) Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2000), 43.
(4.) Ibid., 40-41.
(5.) Carl E. Braaten, Mother Church. Ecclesiology and Ecumenism. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 26, for the amazing judgment, "I will have to state again and again what seems banal: Luther never intended to emigrate out of the Roman Catholic Church and to found a new church of his very own." For a corrective, see Dorothea Wendebourg, "`Staat und Kirche' Referate und Tagungsbericht: Das Amt und die Amter," Zeitschrift fur evangelisches Kirchenrecht 45 (2000): esp. 15-16.
(6.) Braaten, Marks, 126.
(7.) The most recent discussion from the negative side is equally limited to strictly theological analysis. See Vitor Westhelle, "Augsburg Confession VII and the Historic Episcopate," dialog: A Journal of Theology 39 (2000): 222-28, who comes close to accusing his opponents of being a gnostic. The one slight exception to the rule is Kittelson, "Enough is Enough!" For an example of how liturgical theologians treat the matter, see the late Ralph F. Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination Rites in the Early Reformation Church (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), esp. 50 ff. for a spirited defense on the "efficacy" of ordination "as a liturgical act," and n. 20 for an utter misreading of Melanchthon's Apology to article XIII of the Augustana. See n. 48 below and the attendant text, which the author chose not to discuss.
(8.) Jan Aarts, Die Lehre Martin Luthers uber das Amt in der Kirche. Eine genetisch-systematische Untersuchung seiner Scriften von 1512 bis 1525. Schriften der Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft, A 15 (Helsinki: Hameenlinna, 1972); TRE 235, 347-56; Scott Hendrix, Ecclesia in Via; Ecclesiological Developments in the Medieval Psalms Exegesis and the Dictata Super Psalterium (1513-1515) of Martin Luther (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974). Carl Axel Aurelius, Verborgene Kirche: Luthers Kirchenverstandnis in Streitschriften und Exegese 1519-1521 (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1983) The older church historical work remains Georg Ritschel, Luther und die Ordination (Wittenberg: R. Herrose, 1889), now updated by Harald Goertz, Allgemeines Priestertum und ordinierte Amt bei Martin Luther. Marburger theologische Studien 46 (Marburg: N. G. Elwart, 1997). For a very recent contribution that focuses more on the unitary ministry of word and sacrament and the lack of any distinction between episcopal and pastoral office, but without discussing ordination as such, see Wendebourg, `Staat und Kirche'. The one partial exception to the rule comes from Wilhelm Pauck's chapter on "The Ministry at the Time of the Reformation" in The Heritage of the Reformation (Glencoe, Ill: Glencoe, 1973). He treated for the most part the relationship between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities on the way to the "state church," rather than the clergy and its ordination. For a modest corrective, see James M. Kittelson, "Strasbourg, the Landesherrlichekirchenregiment, and the Relative Autonomy of Lutheran Churches in Germany," Locus. An Historical Journal of Regional Perspectives 2 (1990): 131-43, and Toward an Established Church. Strasbourg from 1500 to the Dawn of the Seventeenth Century. Veroffentlichungen des Instituts fur Europaische Geschichte, 182 (Wiesbaden: Philip von Zabern Verlag, 2000). For brief summaries of developments in and bibliography about other locales, see Hans J. Hillerbrand et al., eds., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 4 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
(9.) This essay by no means affords the space to digress into the literary-critical discussions that swirl around deconstructionist and postmodern approaches to texts. If there is a theoretical base to the recent effort to treat the relationship between a text and its context, it is to be found in an extension of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Anchor, 1967).
(10.) See the defense of theological approaches addressed to historians in Scott Hendrix, "Rerooting the Faith: The Reformation as Rechristianization," Church History 69 (2000): 658-77, which is, in one sense, the other side of the coin to this study by virtue of its attempt to promote historical reflections on the part of theologians generally and historical theologians in particular.
(11.) Among studies of particular areas, Bernhard Vogler, Le clerge protestant rhenan au siecle de la reforme (1555-1619) (Paris: Editions Ophrys, 1976), and Bruce Tolley, Pastors and Parishioners in Wurttemberg during the late Reformation, 1581-1621 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995) are useful, but also representative in their failure to consider ordination as such.
(12.) Emil Sehling, ed., Die evangelische Kirchenordnungen des sechszehnten Jahrhunderts, 11 vols. (Leipzig: O. R. Riceland, 1903-).
(13.) Ordinatio-Lutherhalle will be the usually cited text. The copies in WA 38:423-33 have no title at all or one of "ordinatio ad ministerium' or "ordinatio ministrorum." Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination, 100 ff., offers somewhat altered translations from the published versions, which he terms "the major manuscripts." They were taken, instead, from published orders, and the only completed manuscript (which Smith did not use) is likely Ordinatio-Lutherhalle. As a consequence, on page 107, he makes a major blunder in reporting that "The Latin version does not include any of the rubrics." Since the writing of this essay, the author has discovered another, likely earlier, version of the text with numerous handwritten alterations.
(14.) In general, consult the essays in Leif Grane and Kai Horby, eds., The Danish Reformation Against its International Background (Gottingen: Van den Hoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), esp. 149-63.
(15.) Steven Ozment, The Reformation in Southwestern German Cities (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974), 164. As another illustration, Eric Gritsch concludes his introduction to the translation of Luther's That a Christian Congregation Has the Right and power to Judge all Teachings and to Call and Dismiss Teachers, Proved from the Scriptures, with the judgment that "In the later development of the Reformation, congregationalism, so strongly emphasized by Luther here, had to give way to the state church," AE 39: 304. This view of course owes much to Pauck, as in n. 6 above.
(16.) W A 38: 408-10.
(17.) Abraham Friesen, Reformation and Utopia: The Marxist Interpretation of the Reformation and Its Antecedents (Wiesbaden: Fritz Steiner Verlag, 1974) remains the standard interpretation, but for a more sympathetic assessment, see the prolegomenon to Thomas A. Brady, Jr., Ruling Class, Regime, and Reformation in Strasbourg, 1520-1555 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978).
(18.) Peter Blickle, The Revolution of 1525. The German Peasants' War from a New Perspective, trans. by Thomas A. Brady, Jr., and H. C. Erik Midelfort (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), esp.183-193. For an excellent survey of the literature and a fine bibliography, consult Heinrich Richard Schmidt, Konfessionalisierung im 16. Jahrhundert, 12. Enzyklopadie deutscher Geschichte (Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 1992).
(19.) For example, Gerald Strauss, Luther's House of Learning. Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978) and Schilling's, "Die Konfessionalisierung im Reich. Religioser und Gesellschaftlicher Wandel in Deutschland zwischen 1555 und 1620," Historische Zeitschrift, 246 (1988): 1-45 and Heinrich Richard Schmidt, "Sozialdisciplinierung? Ein Pladoyer fur das Ende des Etatismus in der Konfessionalisierungsforschung," Historische Zeitschrift, 265 (1997): 639-82 for a telling critique of Schilling's effort to tie the Reformation to Germany's Sonderweg.
(20.) Thus, for example, although on opposite sides of the question of Luther's responsibility, Pauck, Heritage, and Braaten, Marks of Christ, ignore this possibility. So, too, does Ritschel, Ordination, who wants to find from Luther a somewhat higher notion of ordination in the formula itself, much to the disdain of Clemen, W A 38: 409.
(21.) See, for example, the thorough misreading of Wilhelm Maurer, Historical Commentary on the Augsburg Confession, trans. by H. George Anderson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), by Michael J. Root, "The Augsburg Confession as Ecumenical Proposal: Episcopacy, Luther, and Wilhelm Maurer," dialog: A Journal of Theology 28 (1989): 223-32. Far more persuasive is Leif Grane, The Augsburg Confession. A Commentary, trans. by John H. Rasmussen (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1987), esp. 248-49.
(22.) See n. 6, above.
(23.) See Kittelson, "Relative Autonomy," 131 ff.
(24.) W A 41: 454-59, with a report, quoted here, at 762-63: "Scitis ordinationem ecclesiae cum suis ritibus necessariam esse. Sed quiam papa non promovet, sed impedit cursum euangelii, nobis vigiliandum et orandum est. Noster elector necessario ordinavit, ut eligantur et ordinentur hic docti viri it pii ministri verbi dei, et ne quis ingnorantibus nobis surgat et doceat.... Illius publici ritus vos depetis esse testes, eum ardentissime orare.... Sed minus est periculi in vita mala quam in doctrinam qua predicator 1000 animas seducere potest, sicut videmus Munsteri pravam doctrinam."
(25.) Stadtarchiv 17 (Bc5), fol. 203: "Item, das auch nimands verstattet solt werden, ausserhalb den ordentlichen Pfarherrn, Predigern vnd Caplanen, denen jedes orts die seelsorgund predigampt beuohlen, jnn heusern noch andern orten zu predigen noch versammlung zuhalten ... alles bey straff vnd verlust, Leibs und guts, vnnachleslich gegen denen, die solchs anders hielten oder vberfunden wurden furzuwenden." Pauck's position and the views of those who repeat it is therefore a case of overrationalizing events that more or less tumbled over one another.
(26.) Compare Article 5 in BC, 40-41. For Luther's judgment, WA 38: 401. Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination, 66-67, esp. nn. 73-74, where the author concludes, "The Elector carried out the examination process through the authority granted to the theological faculty at Wittenberg," but declares that "No extant copy of the decree itself exists." In fact, the electoral decree does exist and says precisely nothing about ordination or the examination. The one cited here does, however, exist, and it is purely negative in character. Thus, Luther and his colleagues had a free hand with respect to how they would certify fitness for office.
(27.) Ordinatio-Lutherhalle and the texts at WA 38:423-33 are identical in their ordering of the events and virtually so in terms of what was actually said and done.
(28.) For the Latin text, see n. 24 and observe that there are copies of what likely was the same sermon.
(29.) Archiv der Evangelischen Stadtkirche "St. Maria" Wittenberg (Hereafter Stadtkirchenarchiv), A I 6: [1.sup.v] -2. Because this procedure included a superintendent, it continued, "Ihme desz Pfarrambt zu befhelen, lassen Zwayer Churf. Geregenwertig in schriben, beweilligung, unnd beschehlich an die Universitet vnnd Rates, handen am das Chrfustliche Consistorium alhie."
(30.) This mode of argumentation, called "thick analysis," owes much to Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973) and leads to a deeper understanding of public rituals in particular than does a simple reading of any associated texts. It also brooks fewer misunderstandings of "official" texts that are heavily marked by intentionality and a certain self-consciousness.
(31.) Evangelische Kirchenordnungen, 1: 376. "Und damit der berueffene diener sin ampt aus verleihung gottlicher gnaden und durch hilfe des Heiligen Geistes nutzlich verwalten konne, soll der superintendens mit der gantzen gemeine ohne hend uflegen und bitt auf die vermahnung Gott anrueffen und also betten: Vater unser, etc."
(32.) From article five of the Augsburg Confession in BC, 40-41.
(33.) See Braaten, Mother Church, 26, who developed a fuller argument for sacramental ordination in The Apostolic Imperative. Nature and Aims of the Church's Mission and Ministry (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1985), 138-63, esp. 141 for a burlesque of what he dismisses as the "functionalist" view of ministry.
(34.) Thus Gritsch, for example, is guilty of thoroughgoing anachronisms in his remarks about the "state church" and "congregationalism." AE 39: 304. The "state" did not exist nor did even the notion of "congregationalism" as presently held. Those enfranchised in particular congregations were most commonly the descendants of the original donors of property to establish and maintain it, in accord with the late medieval German legal doctrine of Grundherrschaft. This fact played an enormous role in cases as different as the calling of Amsdorf to become bishop of Naumburg and the difficulties of Hausmann with his position as preacher in Zwickau a few years earlier. Thus, Luther was a "congregationalist" in this sixteenth-century sense that each post and each congregation were different, although the legal relationships had a certain general commonality.
(35.) The evidence for the crush of ordinands is to be found at Stadtarchiv 17 (Bc5), fol. [400.sup.v]-[401.sup.v], which spelled out the procedures to be followed when someone presented himself for ordination. The first step was to conduct a background check. For the general picture, Georg Buchwald, ed., Die Wittenberger Ordiniertenbuch, 1537-1560 (Leipzig: Wigand, 1894-95), 2 vols., is a little disappointing. The names indicate only those who legitimately acquired positions with but scattered and incomplete references to actual ordinations.
(36.) That the "historic episcopate" and discussions of episcopal succession could not have been at issue in Article 28 on the grounds that even the idea of such things did not exist in 1530, see the forthcoming Mark D. Menacher, "Called to Common Mission: A Lutheran Proposal," Logia (Epiphany, 2002).
(37.) See n. 6 regarding Pauck.
(38.) Ordinatio-Lutherhalle, fol. [1-[2.sup.v]]: "Primum, Examinatione facta, praecedente die, si fuerint donei oretur ab Ecclesia per concionem admonita, pro eis et universo ministerio." For the marginal addition in one of the printed versions, WA 38: 423.
(39.) Stadtarchiv, 17 (Bc5), fol. [400.sup.v]-[401.sup.v]: "Endlich, auch fleissig Examinirt werden in der Christlicher lahr auch ein mal odder ofter offentlich predigen." A superintendent should be "Erbare, wolbetagte, erfarne, gelerte, wol geubte, Gottfurchtige Menner jnn hohen schulen vnd an daswo mit rath der Theologen" before being presented for ratifaction. The work in which these instructions appeared is General Articul und gemeinen bricht wie es in den Kirchen mit den Pfarheren, Kirchendienern ... zu Sachsen ... verordnete vnd beshehen Visitation gehalten werden soll (Dresden, 1557).
(40.) Corpus Reformatorum. Philippi Melanthonis Opera quae Supersunt Omnia, 23 (Halle/Braunschweig: C. A. Schwetschke et filium, 1855): cll. Xxl-cX, -88, here [XXXV],  ff. (Hereafter cited as CR) That Melanchthon had students in mind is evident at the beginning of one German edition, "Hunc librum auctur primum vernaculam linguam scripsit, deinde eum latine retexuit, quaproper utraque lingua hoc loco recudendus est," which is reminiscent of the introductory remark to the Latin version of the ordination rite. CR, cl. [XX].
(41.) Stadtarchiv 17 (Bc5), fol. [133.sup.v]: "Und nachdem Wittenberg sonst die Hauptstadt in der Chur zu Sachsen, und ehe u. dasz eine eheliche Hohe Schul ist, darumb durch Gottes gnaden das Heil. Evangelium in dieser letzhie Zeit revelirt, so soil die Kiche im Lande zu Sachsen ein Metropolis, und der pfarrern derselbst die Ober-Superattendent haben, nach dem sich alle andere Kirchen zurichten ... auff allwider Superattendenten in Churfurstenthumb." See also fol. [400.sup.v]-[401.sup.v].
(42.) Ibid. Specifically, Buchwald, Ordiniertenbuch, the published version of the ms. volumes held in the Stadtkirchenarchiv.
(43.) Ibid., fol. 399. For the exact referent of the terms, see n. 33 above. In the case of an urban, and therefore public, foundation, these people would amount to representatives of the government.
(44.) CR 23, cl. LVVV: "Hie merck, das wir nicht fon der Kirchen, als fon einer Idea Platonica, reden, da nimand wisse wo sie zu funden sey.... Darnach sollen wir uns auch vmbsehen, wo dieselbige ist. Nemlich wo dise Zeichen gefunden werden, di dicht verborgen sein konnen, Sondern mit ohren vnd augen zu mercken sind. Nemlich reine lere des Euangelij, rechter brauch der Sacrament, vnd der gehorsam gegen dem Ministerio, in gottlichen geboten."
(45.) Ibid., "So offt wir nu diesen Artikel im Symbolo sprechen, Ich gleube das eine heilige Kirche sey, das ist, Eine versamlung, die das Euangelium in rechten gleichten verstand hielt, darin viel auserwelte sind zu ewiger Seligkeit." The comparison with Augsburg VII is obvious.
(46.) AE 46: 231-232. (WA [30.sup.II]).
(47.) For evidence, contra Strauss, Luther's House, that suggests the fruits of this enormous educational effort, see James M. Kittelson, "Successes and Failures in the German Reformation: The Report from Strasbourg," Archive for Reformation History 73 (1982): 153-75. Most recently, and again contra Strauss, see also Mary Jane Haemig, "The Living Voice of the Catechism: German Lutheran Catechetical Preaching, 1530-1580," (Th.D. diss, Harvard University, 1996). That the effort was made to teach the catechism and that it was by and large successful therefore cannot be denied, despite the attempts of Susan C. Karant-Nunn, "The Reality of Early Lutheran Education: The Electoral District of Saxony," Lutherjahrbuch 57 (1990): 128-46. See also Kittelson in Danish Reformation.
(48.) AE 51: 303-12.
(49.) The Ministry in the Church (Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1982), 15, as repeated by Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination, 50 n. 20, who ignores the totality of the master rhetorician's treatment and offers the notion that he and Luther may have been "willing to accept the office as a sacrament," a move that would seem to invent the idea of a "sacramental office."
(50.) For Melanchthon's full text, BC, 220-21.
(51.) Ministry, 16-17. See Stadtarchiv 17 (Bc5), fol. 399-[401.sup.v], which deals with two cases of receiving a pastor who is new to a particular calling. In one, the superintendent was responsible for calling together "selected laymen" first to examine the person and then to ordain him publicly. In the other a person who was already serving and therefore ordained (likely in a different jurisdiction of which there were plenty), the first step was to conduct a background check, then, "das er dann zu der Examination jnn die Universiteten gen Wittemberg oder Leiptzig geschickt. Unnd wann er vor genugsam gelert und tuglich befunden zusolchem seinem Ambte, dazu er beruffen auffgenomen eingeweiset und jnuestirt werde." No attention whatsoever should be paid to any claims that he had been ordained or installed anywhere else earlier. "Die Ordination der Priester sol zu Leiptzig vnnd Wittemberg vorgenommen auch allermas gescheen vnnnd gehalten werden.... Endlich, auch fleissig Examinirt werden in der Christlichar Lahr auch ein mal odder ofter offentlich predigen vnnd so befunden das derselbe an Lahr vnnd Wandel vngeschickt were," those who had sent him should be warned.
(52.) LW 34: 226-227, where he also declares that an historian must "have the heart of a lion" in order to tell the absolute, unvarnished truth, no matter who becomes annoyed by it.
James M. Kittelson is professor of history and director of the Lutheran Brotherhood Foundation Reformation Research Program at Luther Seminary.
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|Author:||Kittelson, James M.|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2002|
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