October 22, 2017

Luther on Holy Days

I am reading lots o’ Luther these days for my seminary class, so I will probably inflict a fair amount of it on you, our dear Internet Monk readers.

Today, I am reflecting on one of Luther’s later works, On the Councils and the Church, in which the Reformer writes about the role of church councils and the teachings of the Church Fathers in reforming the Church.

The following passage interested me because it shows Luther’s pragmatic side when it comes to matters like observing the Church Year. He is no iconoclast, wishing to forbid all ceremony and keeping of special days. He sees value in the Church unifying around various celebrations. On the other hand, he is clear that such matters “are not to be lords over Christians” and that they take on second-order importance to Christ and the Gospel.

We therefore have and must have the power and the freedom to observe Easter when we choose; and even if we made Friday into Sunday, or vice versa, it would still be right, as long as it were done unanimously by the rulers and the Christians (as I said before). Moses is dead and buried by Christ, and days or seasons are not to be lords over Christians, but rather Christians are lords over days and seasons, free to fix them as they will or as seems convenient to them. For Christ made all things free when he abolished Moses. However, we will let things remain as they now are, since no peril, error, sin, or heresy is involved, and we are averse to changing anything needlessly or at our own personal whim, out of consideration for others who observe Easter at the same time we do. We know we shall attain salvation without Easter and Pentecost, without Friday and Sunday, and we know that we cannot be damned — as St. Paul teaches us — because of Easter, Pentecost, Sunday, or Friday.

– Luther’s Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III

 

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For another article on this work of Luther, see “Luther on the Marks of the Church.”

Comments

  1. I guess this had to do with the controversy on how to affix the date for observing Easter.. But Luther also preached that increased leisure time created opportunities for the Devil: “Hence it would also be a good thing if there were fewer saint’s days, since in our times the works done on them are for the greater part worse than those of the work days, what with loafing, gluttony, and drunkenness, gambling and other evil deeds…” Would he have felt at home in America – the “no-vacation nation”? Busyness doesn’t seem to have made us much more morally good here.

  2. I wish more Americans were “averse to changing anything needlessly or at our own personal whim, out of consideration for others”.

  3. I have a lot of sympathy for Luther.

    From his point of view, Superman is the bad guy.

    • Right, Superman was one of those pietistic methodists that ruined Lutheran worship.

      Jimmy Olson is Lutheran though.

  4. Richard Hershberger says:

    As an aside, if anyone was struck by the citation being from volume 41 of Luther’s Works, that is from a 54 volume set (plus volume 55, which is actually an index to the previous 54 volumes). This is estimated to be about a third of Luther’s complete output: the guy was not shy. Those volumes were translated and published from 1955 to 1986. Concordia Publishing House recently began a new series of a planned additional twenty volumes. You can subscribe for the low low price of only $34.99 per volume ($49.99 in stores, in the extremely unlikely circumstance that you find it in a store) and shipped directly to you. Operators are standing by!

    But seriously, Concordia is the publishing house of the LCMS. While I am an ELCA member, credit must go where credit is due. Concordia does an excellent job on this sort of thing, and is to be commended.