Christian communities, Communion of the Saints, Martin Luther, Protestant Reformation, Smalcald Articles, Veneration of Saints
I think all know that in the west, 1 November is All Saints Day. But like so much, our definitions differ a bit. In the Roman tradition (and the Orthodox, as well) it is rather narrowly defined. As in so much, we Protestants see it a little differently.
I have written about my parents, and how this is one of the times that I especially think about them here, as Jessica also has here. For both of us, it can be a bit troubling because while we think our fathers were good and perhaps Godly men, they decidedly weren’t churchly men. We have also often said here, that our hymnology complements the rest of our theology very well, and so.
That is kind of my point here today, while we have the greatest respect for the formal Saints in the Roman and Orthodox traditions, when the Rev Dr Luther studied the Scriptures he found that, all believers in the Christ are referred to there as saints, and thus the Communion of the Saints consists of us all from the Apostles on through the child baptised this morning, and will continue until he returns to us. Along that line in his commentary on 1st Peter, Luther says this
Thus Scripture calls us holy while we are still living here on earth, if we believe. The papists have taken this name away from us and say: `We should not be holy; only the saints in heaven are holy.’ Therefore we must get the noble name back. You must be holy. But you must be prepared not to think that you are holy of yourself or on the strength of your merit. No, you must be holy because you have the Word of God, because heaven is yours, and because you have become truly pious and holy through Christ. This you must avow if you want to be a Christian (Luther’s Works 30:7).
In his 1531 Galatian commentary he reflects a bit more on the views he previously held.
When I was a monk, I often had a heartfelt wish to see the life and conduct of at least one saintly man. But meanwhile I was imagining the sort of saint who lived in the desert and abstained from food and drink, subsisting on nothing but roots and cold water. I had derived this notion about unnatural saints from the books not only of the sophists but even of the fathers . . . But now that the light of truth is shining, we see with utter clarity that Christ and the apostles designate as saints, not those who lead a celibate life, are abstemious, or who perform other works that give the appearance of brilliance or grandeur, but those who, being called by the Gospel and baptized, believe that they have been sanctified and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Thus whenever Paul writes to Christians, he calls them saints, sons and heirs of God, etc. Therefore saints are all those who believe in Christ, whether men or women, slaves or free (Luther’s Works 27:81-82).
And here you also can see part of his belief that monasticism was a bad thing for the faith. I agree but less strongly. I think that he was affected badly by it because he vowed to join the monastery only because he had been badly frightened by a bolt of lightning and had vowed to St. Anne that he would if he was spared. And it seems to me from his writing that his propensity to slip into depression was greatly increased by the monastery. Also germane is that he found that it tended to lead to classes of Christians, I too have occasionally found it a prideful vocation. He also found that occasionally the veneration of Saints could lead to idolatry, and in fact, he warned us to be careful of this with the Theotokos as well, although he, and many of us still venerate her.
In the Smalcald Articles, on the article “How One is justified before God, and of Good Works,” we find
What I have hitherto and constantly taught concerning this I know not how to change in the least, namely, that by faith, as St. Peter says, we acquire a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ, our Mediator. And although sin in the flesh has not yet been altogether removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it . . . but the entire man, both as to his person and his works, is to be called and to be righteous and holy from pure grace and mercy, shed upon us [unfolded] and spread over us in Christ (Smalcald Articles, III.13.1-2).
According to the Confessions, the Christian becomes holy in the same way he becomes righteous: by God’s grace for Christ’s sake through faith. By His grace God reckons the holiness of Jesus Christ to the account of the believer. The holiness of a Christian therefore is not his own holiness, but the holiness of Jesus, won for all on the cross. Our holiness is a gift, given to us for the sake of Jesus who died for us; our holiness is not the result of our merits or good works.
If by His death Jesus Christ has taken away all your sins, then are you not holy? For to be holy means to be without sin. Therefore, when God no longer counts our sin against us, we are holy indeed! This is the way our Confessions proceed.
This holiness of Christ, won for us on the cross, is communicated to us through Word of God and received through faith.
For, thank God, a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy Christian Church. This holiness does not consist in albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other of their ceremonies devised by them beyond Holy Scripture, but in the Word of God and true faith (Smalcald Articles, III.12.2-3).
In the Large Catechism this same theme, that holiness comes through the Word of God, is further developed.
For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God’s Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. (Large Catechism, Third Commandment, 91)
And so, my fellow saints, in a year that has not been overly kind, in the world, to our little company, with more than one of our members being stricken seriously, let us pray for them to regain their strength, and for the Grace to join those who have gone before us,and are waiting for us.
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