Friday, November 17, 2006

Weariness of the Flesh

The second edition of Ancient Facts and Fictions Concerning Churches and Tithes, by Roundell, Earl of Selborne (author of A Defence of the Church of England Against Disestablishment), with a supplement containing remarks of a recent history of tithes, was published in London by Macmillan and Company in 1892. I know this because I own a copy. The one-hundred-and fourteen-year-old copy that I own has never been read. Not by anyone. Ever. In one hundred and fourteen years.

I know this book has never been read because the pages have not been cut apart. Consult an antiquarian book collector for the facts, but I believe the practice was to print at least eight pages on one large sheet, fold the sheet and bind it with other sheets so printed and folded. The reader would take his penknife and cut them apart as his reading progressed.

No one has made any progress through my copy of the Earl of Selborne’s Ancient Facts and Fictions etc. in one hundred and fourteen years. My copy is the old maid of my library, an ancient virginal icon of the words of Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

I own over a thousand books and do not understand the Preacher to be an anti-intellectual. Rather, the Preacher and the Earl together give a prudent admonition, the former explicitly and the latter inadvertently. The love of hardbound knowledge can go too far. There are books that one simply does not need. There have been many times when I have been tempted to buy a book and have conquered temptation by remembering Ancient Facts and Fictions Concerning Churches and Tithes. Even so, I have not thought of the Earl of Selborne’s volume as often as my long-suffering wife would like, but more often than she knows.

Which brings us to Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei, What the Lutheran Confessions Say about Worship, edited by James L. Brauer (Concordia Publishing House, 2005), a book I will not be buying.

Professor Brauer informs us in the preface that “this collection of quotations from The Book of Concord seeks to present significant portions of the confessors’ documents under a few central topics” (p. 6). Nine chapters follow the introduction. Each chapter contains questions. After each question are a series of quotations from the confessions, which the editor deems answer the questions he has posed. Following each quotation are notations quoting the German and Latin text from the 12th edition of Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirke. “The English text used is that of the Kolb/Wengert edition of The Book of Concord, except when the Tappert edition is used to reflect the Latin of the quarto edition of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which one finds in the Triglotta and Die Bekenntnisschriften”(p. 7).

In other words, when it comes to the quoted text, what we have here is a pretty kettle of fish. Any one who wishes to check the original context of a quotation will have to have at the very least a copy of Kolb/Wengert and Tappert. Of course, serious students of the confessions will have both of these editions. Serious students, however, will have their own questions about doctrine and practice that are best answered by simply reading the confessions and using the indexes.

Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei, What the Lutheran Confessions Say about Worship is the fool’s gold of reference books.

The first volume of the American Edition of Luther’s Works was published in 1955. The general introduction to that volume and each subsequent volume carried this statement: “Although the edition as planned will include fifty-five volumes, Luther’s writings are not being translated in their entirety. Nor should they be. As he was first to insist, much of what he wrote and said was not that important.”

Not only are some of the works under Luther’s name unimportant, but as specific introductions to the America Edition make clear, not all of the works are entirely Luther’s. The problem of editorial redaction is addressed frequently in the American Edition. Even in a work as important as the Lectures on Genesis there are indications of Melanchthonian interpolations. And let’s not even get started on the Table Talks.

The Reverend Joel Baseley did not get the memo. He has self-published Festival Sermons of Martin Luther (Mark V Publications). He admits the dubious origin of the books he is translating, and that significant passages come from Bugenhagen and Melanchthon and not from Luther at all. Then audaciously he proceeds with a foreword from another book found in the Weimar Aufgabe (that is to say, not from the books he is translating), wherein Luther states that what follows “is published completely under our supervision and direction.”

If the reader skips Baseley’s notes on the text he will never realize that this statement simply is not true by Baseley’s own admission. He will not know that the foreword from Luther does not belong to the book that Baseley has translated. On the other hand, no one who reads Baseley’s notes can help but be offended by such a duplicitous cut-and-paste job.

As for the quality of Baseley’s translation of Luther-Bugenhagen-Melanchthon sermon notes, this much is certain – the good reverend is a poor writer of English. His prose is purple. This he demonstrates beyond any doubt in his Christ Beyond Reason: Luther’s Treatment of Faith and Reason in the Festival Portions of the Church Postils (Mark V Pulications).

Yes, this means that the self-published sermon translations have a self-published companion volume. There we read, “Yet in an age of seemingly limitless discoveries and technological miracles, we are at the brink, perhaps, the dusk of the Enlightenment.” The use of “brink” with “dusk” here is just one example of over-writing. It should also be noted that the Enlightenment lasted through the 18th century. There is more out of date in this monograph than the prose style.

Christ Beyond Reason is full of examples that Baseley does not understand Luther’s late medieval use of the word “reason,” with its Scholastic, non-Enlightenment background. In addition, Baseley does not employ any other source, primary or secondary, for this commentary other than the sermons he has translated. This circle is too tight; the basis for this work to attribute anything to Luther is far too slight. More importantly, while Luther personifies “reason” as a trope, Baseley does so as a shortcut to thinking. The result is that what in Luther is a vivid statement becomes in Baseley an indefensible generalization.

So, we have here three books you need not weary the flesh reading.


Rev. Shane Cota said...

Thanks for saving me some cash, Fr. Hill. I was going to buy the Brauer book (at the hefty price), now I'll forget about it. You were too late to save me from buying the "Festival Sermons." One of the things you did not mention about the book of sermons is that it does not even really have sermons for a number of the feast days listed in the Table of Contents. I found that to be disappointing also.

By the way, I found your recent entries to be well worth the reading. In the past two weeks I was starting to think you were giving up already. Keep it up.

Michael James Hill said...

Dear Rev. Cota,
I am glad to be of service. And I will work on getting more the site more often. Though in my defense, the articles on this site are thoroughly edited. That takes time. In the long run, I think that will make the site worth your time. That is my hope. Nevertheless, I will try to get something up again soon. Thanks for coming by.

Jason Gerson said...

I have the CPH book that received poor marks here. I find it to be enormously useful. I don't know what Hill's problem is, but it seems he has a bit of a fixation on blasting anything coming from Concordia Publishing House. Do I detect the sound of an axe grinding here?

Michael James Hill said...

Jason asks a fair question, although I do not see how the review of one book demonstrates a "fixation." Perhaps Jason will enlighten us on this score.

Nevertheless, no, I do not have an axe to grind, a hidden agenda, or any kind of fixation. My argument against the Brauer book is that it is ackward to use and completely unnessary. There are better, and safer, ways to investigate what the Confessions have to say concerning the Brauer topics than his book provides.

Perhaps my review was not as clear as it should have been. However, I would suggest to Jason and others, with all due respect, that the articles I publish here be judged on their own merits. Speculation about supposed fixtations and axes to grind can so easly lead to the breaking of the 8th Commandment.

All that being said, thank you for your visit and your comment, Jason, and come again.

Jason Gerson said...

Mr. Hill, I notice that some people are addressing you as "Father" Hill. Are you a Roman Catholic priest?

Michael James Hill said...

Dear Jason,
No I am not a Roman Catholic priest. Why would you think that I am, given the articles published here?

I am afraid, Jason that your inquiry is off subject. I post it because I am a tolerant, liberal sort of a fellow and as a kind warning.

If you have a concern about my person, write to me at

but let us keep the ole blog here impersonal and on subject.

Jason Gerson said...

Dear Mr. Hill, I certainly did not mean to offend. I think it would be helpful for folks to know your background, education, experience so they can better understand where you are coming from on issues.

I just would like to know why some refer to you as "Father" ... thank kind of thing.

Michael James Hill said...

Dear Jason,

I took no offense. People call me "Father" because I am an ordained minister of the Gospel and they are kind.

You have however, inadvertantly raised a profound question. Is it true that knowing something of my background, education, and experience helps one understand the articles posted here?

On one hand, it seems obvious that knowing such facts would be helpful. All too often, however, knowing something about the author is just one step toward avoiding what he says. In the Missouri Synod in particular, the standard practice is to ignore the data and slap on a label (liberal, conservative, Church Growther, wanta-be-papist, etc.)

One of my goals is to provide the data in the posted articles which support my assertions. Another goal is to shake up some of the above catagories -- hence I admit to be liberal.

Now see what you have done, Jason? I told you that you were off subject and you continue to be, inspiring me to go way off subject. I am going to take my tongue out of my cheek now and go think about the subject you have brought up.