Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

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Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lutheranism and Holy Ground/Sacred Space/Relics/Icons-a Quandry

Scripture: Old Testament - 2 Samuel 11:1-27
New Testament - 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Psalms: Morning-67
Evening-46, 93

Icon of the Day: Our Lady of the Don

Something has been bothering me recently. I wonder how much of it is simply my misunderstanding something key to Lutheran theology, or if there is something far more silly going on within the broader spectrum of the Lutheran Confessions. The subject in question is what is called, "Holy Ground" or "Sacred Space." Particularly, how this relates to what we understand "sacred objects" or relics of saints to be.

According to the Smalcald Articles (II ii 22-23), "Even if there were some good in them, relics should long since have been condemned. They are neither commanded nor commended. They are utterly unnecessary and useless. Worst of all, however, is the claim that relics effect indulgences and the forgiveness of sin and that, like the Mass, etc. their use is a good work and a service of God.”

Sounds pretty damning for relics at all doesn't it? However, I can't imagine this was written against all use of relics or honoring of saints, or our understanding of Holy Ground. I recall a radio program on KFUO where Fr. Weedon made the comment that within our PRIMARY theology, we don't have a theology of sacred space within Lutheranism. Where am I confused or in error? How is it that icons and relics from holy men and women of God have done miracles? Not to salvation, surely no! Nor to the forgiveness of sins which leads to salvation. But my question is simply thus: How can we say that the use of relics is superstitious and that the practice should be abolished when clearely in the Holy Scriptures there are various usages of relics and sacred space AFTER the incarnation???

Certainly the Smalcald Articles cannot be going against the CONCEPT of relics or sacred space, for it is clearly mentioned about St. Paul's handkerchief (healing and used as a witnessing tool without the apostle's physical presence) in Acts 19:11-12. God works through this object of the apostle's and the only thing we can seem to take from this is that healing on any plane (spiritual or physical) occurs by an action of divine grace. There is also the shadow of St. Peter in chapter 5 (verse 15) doing the same. Is this only an apostolic gift or does it continue today? Could someone keen on Lutheran theology let me know what is going on here? What our stand is on icons as means of grace using this same mindset? Please HELP!!!!

In Christ.


Blogger William Weedon said...

Did I say that on KFUO? Goodness, I can't remember everything I say. If I speak against "holy ground" if you will, it is because I have learned that we must not oppose the sacred to the secular, as though God only got a piece of the world as His. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof!"

That is not to deny that God works through the material of creation - it is to affirm it! It's not to say that all is "secular" but to affirm that all is "sacred" - all is His! And He certainly may and has worked through objects of His creation in astounding ways. Paul's hankies being a prime example, or Peter's shadow!

Because, as the Orthodox are wont to pray, the Spirit, the Comforter, fills all things, there is no limit to what God is up to in the created world. We see that preeminently in the Sacraments, but they are precisely NOT blips on the screen, but manifestations of His usual way. He takes creation to His purposes and uses it to dump His blessings upon His people. Water, bread, and wine are not then viewed as in isolation, but as manifresting what all creation is meant to be: full of God, and bearing His divine might for the blessing of humanity.

Does that make any sense?

8:27 PM  
Blogger William Weedon said...

Oh, and one more thought: remember that we read the SA as commentary upon the AC. Remember precisely what the Reformers were dealing with in the traffic of relics and how they were being abused! Just as if you had on the SA and read them incautiously, you might conclude that Lutherans reject the Mass (NOT true!), so it is the actual USE to which the relics were being pressed at the time that leads to the vociforous rejection of them in SA. Ask yourself a question: would any Lutheran not give honor to Luther's bones? Would we not recognize that them as sanctified by the Lord and awaiting the day of resurrection?

8:35 PM  
Blogger Father Hollywood said...

I think Fr. Weedon makes a great point here. Relics were terribly abused in the middle ages. And yet, we have the Biblical examples you cited, as well as 2 Kings 13:20-21, in which the Lord uses relics to work miracles.

We do treat the bones of the saints with great reverence in our funeral liturgy. The new LSB Pastoral Care Companion even includes a rite of blessing of a grave. There is something very poignant about the ancient custom of placing relics in and under our altars. Of course, anything can become superstition or idolatry - but I do think iconoclasm and gnosticism are equally sinful forms of idolatry as is the opposite error of treating relics as magic charms.

It is funny when relic-decrying Lutherans make pilgrimages to Wittenberg to meditate at Luther's grave or to St. Louis to venerate Walther's pipe.

I do believe the reformers were correct to excise the macabre superstitions and mercenary trade in human bones from the church's life - but I also think we modern Lutherans have gone too far in rejecting the incarnational in favor of the gnostic, in buying into the paganism and dualism that condemns the physical world while lauding the spiritual.

A Christian's grave is a holy place by definition (he is a saint, after all). We treat the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with great reverence - more so than we would treat the remains of, or items handled by, heroes of the Christian faith.

If nothing else, relics remind us that the Christian faith is not mythology - but real, physical, cast in space and time, that the Church is made of real flesh-and-blood "living stones."

10:02 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Thank you very much for your answers. I had a feeling that the SA had to be read in some special context (I was somewhat unaware that it was ALWAYS the context of the AC which is in turn within the context of the Roman practices of the middle ages)...similar to Luther's comments on saintly intercession and invocation. They are not so much denied as they are not to be required for the forgiveness of sins unto salvation apart from Christ alone. This would then follow why altars are not to be held aside for saints, but the statue of the Theotokos holding the Christ child in Zion Lutheran's Sanctuary is allowable as long as it is not done as Fr. Beane has said, in a spirit of idolatry or superstition. In other words no masses are done through co-mediators to the Father except for Christ, the high priest of the new covenant.

The physical representations and objects of saints bring us to revere them and how Christ has saved and worked through their lives for His glory.

Would an accurate statement then be that as people are made holy and set aside for God to use, He uses them for our benefit by drawing us to them, He works the grace of the Gospel in a way usually not realized (within our primary theology ;-)).

Fr. Weedon, I believe you said that within the interview about "myths about worship." I have several hours a day in an office right now doing mundane tasks that allow for hours of time to listen to radio programs. Between KFUO, Way of the Master, and Ancient Faith Radio's "Our Life in Christ" and the "Church prays the hours," there's quite a bit I pay attention to. That right there is the ultimate hodge-podge in theological feasts.

P.S. Fr. Weedon, why have you not returned to KFUO recently....or have I missed it? I always learn about twenty different things when I listen to the station....but twenty-one when you are on.

10:36 PM  

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