The latest on confession and indulgences

Todd alerted me to this story from Reuters:

The Vatican has granted priests the right to forgive the sin of abortion when hearing the confessions of hundreds of thousands of young people attending a Roman Catholic youth festival in Spain this week.

The termination of pregnancy is a sin punishable by excommunication under Church law. The World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims will attend a mass confession in the presence of Pope Benedict on Saturday in a central Madrid park.

“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the Madrid archdiocese said in a statement on its website.

Two hundred white portable confessional cabins have been erected in Madrid’s Retiro Park where hundreds of priests will take confessions in different languages from the pilgrims who have travelled to Spain from around the world.

The pontiff will sit in one of the booths on Saturday morning to hear confessions from three visitors, ahead of a mass with up to 6,000 seminarians.

The Vatican already announced on August 11 that it had authorized a plenary, or full indulgence, to all the young people attending the celebrations.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven and is traditionally granted to WYD pilgrims.

via Priests to forgive abortion in Pope youth festival – Yahoo! News.

First of all, could this be one of those many cases in which the reporter completely misunderstands a religious teaching?  Can it be true that in the Roman Catholic Church a woman who has had an abortion cannot normally repent, confess, and be absolved of that sin?  (Please, may a Catholic reader clear this up for us.)  If this is true, we see again the difficulty of finding full forgiveness under the Roman Catholic penitential system.  More certain, I suppose, is getting an indulgence.  Rome doesn’t sell them anymore, but gives them away for the good work of attending a youth rally!

If this is a correct account, it shows how Lutherans actually have a higher view of confession than Rome does. We also have a higher view of Baptism, which deals with all sin throughout one’s life, not just original sin, and the Lord’s Supper, which we receive for forgiveness, not having to already be pure in order to take it.

UPDATE:  Mollie Hemingway has confirmed with canon lawyers that priests cannot forgive the sin of abortion without special arrangement.  She gave me this quotation linked from a comment in her own discussion of World Youth Day:

“Elaine, I am a canon lawyer. The article is correct. Not all priests have the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion with its attendant automatic excommunication. If a person goes to Confession and confesses abortion, and the  priest does not have the faculty to absolve it, he will request the person come  back a few days later. In the meantime, he will notify the bishop and ask for  the faculty to absolve the sin and lift the excommunication. When the person comes back, then the confession is completed and absolution is given. Many dioceses (such as the one where I work) have granted all priests in the
diocese this faculty.”

So forgiveness comes from the bishop rather than the Word and the promises of the Gospel.



Rembrandt & the Face of Jesus

Bob Duggan on a Rembrandt exhibit in Philadelphia that I’d really like to see, having always been astounded and edified by the artist’s portrayals of Jesus:

For millennia now, believers and nonbelievers have wondered what Jesus may have looked like and grasped at any and all evidence in their search. In the exhibition Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through October 11th, a turning point in that search created by the artistic innovations of Rembrandt helps us see where that search has been and, perhaps, where that search will go. In learning how Rembrandt changed the face of Jesus from divine, inhuman perfection to human accessibility we can learn what the “true” face of Jesus might truly be.

From the earliest days of Christianity up until Rembrandt’s 17th century, the idea of portraying Jesus as human reeked of blasphemy. Iconoclasts often violently repressed any attempts to portray Christ as anything less than fully, perfectly divine. Historically “accurate” representations of Jesus, such as the Veil of Veronica, the Mandylion, the Shroud of Turin, and the Lentulus Letter, set the standard rules followed when depicting Jesus during the Byzantine era and beyond. Just a century before Rembrandt’s birth, Dutch Protestants swept the churches clean of unacceptable portrayals of their savior. Into that environment stepped the revolutionary and rebellious Rembrandt.

“Not only did Rembrandt abandon these traditional sources,” writes Lloyd DeWitt, curator of the Philadelphia leg of the exhibition’s tour and editor of the show’s scholarly and captivating catalog, “but as many scholars have persuasively proposed, and visual and circumstantial evidence consistently supports, he used as his model a young Sephardic Jew from the neighborhood in which he lived and worked.” At the centerpiece of Rembrandt’s revolution stood seven portrait heads (and perhaps a now-lost eighth) of Jesus Christ from various angles and shown in various states of mind and mood. This exhibition reunites these portrait heads (including the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s own, shown above) for the first time since they once stood in Rembrandt’s studio for his use and the use of his students more than 350 years ago.

Whenever Rembrandt needed to depict Jesus, he called upon these tools for guidance and inspiration. This exhibition also collects those works by Rembrandt in which he depicted Jesus both before and after his experimental portraits done from life in what may be the largest single presentation of these works ever. “Rembrandt’s concept of Christ changed significantly as his art evolved from one decade to the next,” argues George S. Keyes in his catalog essay, with “Rembrandt’s earlier representations of Jesus [showing him] in dramatically charged events” and later depictions making “Christ… an object of profound meditation.” This evolution can clearly be seen in Rembrandt’s almost endless returning to his favorite story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus and the Supper at Emmaus. From small drawings focusing on the explosively radiant divinity of Christ at the moment of revelation at Emmaus to paintings such as the Louvre’s 1648 Supper at Emmaus focusing more on the reactions of the disciples than on the more-reserved, resurrected Jesus (whose appearance seems based on the “Philadelphia” head), Rembrandt shifted away from Jesus as the heroic superbeing of antiquity towards a more human, more accessible to believers, and, perhaps, truer face of Christ. Just as the Louvre’s restored Supper at Emmaus (in the United States for the first time since the 1930s) glows with new life after losing layers of yellowing varnish, Rembrandt’s new and improved Christ glows with a new relevance that restores him to the faithful, including Rembrandt himself. . . .

Adrift on a sea of debt and rudderless after the death of his wife, Rembrandt anchored himself in art and faith, then passed on those values to the members of his studio through these heads of Christ. Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus passes those values down to us. Rembrandt loved the story of Jesus at Emmaus for its depiction of Christ as teacher, opening the eyes of His disciples to the truth of his being and his continued connection to them. Rembrandt reconnected in a deeply personal way with Jesus by choosing a Jewish model—an outcast, like the outcasts with whom Christ (and Rembrandt himself) chose to keep company. As amazing as it is to come face to face with so many Rembrandts in a single setting—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—the true wonder of Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus comes in standing face to face with a revolutionary moment in the depiction of Christ. Seeing Jesus as human seems commonplace today in our post-romantic age, but this exhibition reminds us of just how revolutionary and how important that shift—led by Rembrandt—once was and still is.

via How Rembrandt Changed the Face of Jesus | Picture This | Big Think.

I would add that it isn’t just that Rembrandt’s pictures of Jesus show Him as  “human.”  They affect us more than that.  They depict Him as human while also being divine.  They are personal rather than impersonal.   I ascribe that to the Reformation understanding of Christ and the Gospel, that Jesus is “for you.”


Rembrandt's Jesus


HT: Joe Carter

The Antichrist, revisited

You have GOT to read Mollie Hemingway’s column in the Wall Street Journal, which should definitively put to rest the media’s shocked discovery that Lutherans believe that the papacy is the antichrist.   The piece has the best lede (journalese for opening paragraph) that I’ve read in a long time:

American political reporters aren’t known for their vocal support of Roman Catholic teachings. But when they discovered recently that Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was once a Lutheran, they began defending the papacy as if they were the Vatican’s own Swiss Guard. They asked with concern, could Catholics even vote for a former Lutheran?

The media as the Swiss Guard!  After patiently explaining the Lutheran position and its historical and theological context, she also includes an interesting detail about the current antichrist’s–I mean, pope’s–interest in Lutheranism!

And yet the current pope, Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans. As his biographer John Allen has written, the Lutherans are to Pope Benedict what the Orthodox were to his predecessor John Paul: “the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity.” Indeed, far from the sectarian battles that reporters may envision, the fact is that confessional Lutherans and Pope Benedict are partners in the battle against what he has called the “dictatorship of relativism.”

via Mollie Ziegler Hemingway: Michele Bachmann and the Pope –

Those edgy, dangerous Lutherans

You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway on the Lutheran/anti-Christ controversy, in which she notes the irony of the media becoming indignant over the “anti-Catholic bias” of the Lutheran confessions, while they themselves savage Roman Catholic beliefs at every opportunity.  An excerpt:

Also, you’re kidding me that Lutheran views on the papacy are controversial. Again, there is no doubt that they were controversial back when Pope Leo X was in power. Where’s the controversy now? Except in the pages of papers that are normally working overtime against Catholicism and its views on abortion, euthanasia, the priesthood, marriage and social norms? And traditional Christian views on homosexuality are now “controversial,” too. How come that never works the other way? You know what word wasn’t used once in that 5500-word hagiography of Dan Savage and his support for consensual adultery that the New York Times Sunday magazine frontpaged two weeks ago? “Controversial.” . . .

But the WELS is controversial. Got that? I want everyone to remember that confessional Lutherans are the new dangerous, edgy people. I have so wanted this reputation for so long and I don’t want this opportunity to be missed. We’ve been tarnished as the people of casseroles and you-betcha for too long.

But who thinks that we’re so edgy? Hard to tell. Here’s how the Post puts it:

It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist.

By whom? By noted theologianreporter Joshua Green? By 16th Century Catholics? The passive voice is really inappropriate considering how much this article is built around the claim of a controversy that presumably extends beyond the Washington Post newsroom or liberal blogs that never would have supported Bachmann in any case. I mean, I doubt that lapsed or collapsed Catholics give much of a hoot about it and I’m pretty sure that all of the more regular Mass-going Catholics I know would pick the media over the Lutherans when deciding who’s involved in a coordinated, if not vicious, campaign against their church.

The history of classical Christian education

I am very excited about the publication of Thomas Korcok’s  Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future.  It supplies what has long been needed:  a history of classical Christian education as practiced in the Reformation tradition.  Dr. Korcok shows that the Lutheran approach to  education has always been the classical liberal arts + catechesis.

He also shows that the various theological conflicts were also manifested in educational conflicts:  The scholastics did practice the liberal arts  but with an emphasis on logic, whereas the Renaissance & Reformation educators emphasized rhetoric, with its attention to original texts (such as the Bible).  The Renaissance humanists tended to believe that the liberal arts were sufficient to instill morality, but the Lutherans insisted also on the necessity of Christian catechesis.  The enthusiasts, considering the liberal arts too worldly, wanted only Bible-reading schools.  The pietists also considered the liberal arts too worldly and wanted schools to concentrate only on job-training.   The rationalists considered the liberal arts too old fashioned, wanting only scientific education.  But the Lutherans believed that the liberal arts approach to education–training students broadly, with lots of history, great books, and objective knowledge from mathematics through music–combined with rigorous catechesis, was the best approach in forming young people so that they can think like a Lutheran.

Pastors, parochial school teachers, and parents should read this book.   So should anyone interested in classical Christian education.  (I suspect that much of what holds true for Lutherans also applies to various Reformed educators, who also practiced this approach.)

Here is what Paul McCain of CPH says about the book:

A great new book is now available on Lutheran education which, historically, has been the key to the success of the Lutheran Church’s ability to transmit the confession of the Church to future generations. You may order it here, via the web, or call 800-325-3040. Here is a sample for you to download.

The liberal arts model has traditionally been preferred in Lutheran elementary classrooms. No other educational paradigm so well meets the requirements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. There is no reason that the liberal arts cannot be adapted to meet contemporary needs. The question is, what should be the main focus of a contemporary presentation of the arts?

Thomas Korcok demonstrates how the Wittenberg theologians settled on a liberal arts education as the preferred model for Evangelical Christian elementary schools. He then traces how that model persisted and was adapted as Lutherans moved from Europe to North America. Korcok concludes that the liberal arts model fits our contemporary setting as changes in society today make it ever more important to have an elementary education that is compatible with Evangelical Theology. The book includes:

-Historic exploration of educational models in view of theological truths
-The challenge of influences that push educators either to the Word as objective truth or away from the Word toward secular standards of truth
-A definition of an Evangelical Liberal Arts approach, its flexibility, and how it fits into classrooms today
-Extensive references to educational, historical, and theological literature

via Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future – New Book from Concordia Publishing House | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

You can order the book from the link in my first paragraph or from the CPH website, along with downloading a free sample.  The book is scheduled for release in August, but you can pre-order it.   I wrote the foreword.

Along these lines, I should put in a plug for the 11th annual Conference of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, July 12-14,  in Sheridan Wyoming, which is where I am heading this week.  I’ll be giving a couple of talks.  If you are in Sheridan, be sure to  introduce yourself!

The end of the Hapsburg dynasty

The line that gave us most of the Holy Roman Emperors–including Charles V, before whom Luther confessed his faith at the Diet of Worms, who was presented the Augsburg Confession, and who battled the Reformation with the sword–is now extinct.

The eldest son of the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire has died in Germany at the age of 98.

Otto von Habsburg was born in 1912, as the heir to the empire, but it collapsed at the end of World War I and the Habsburg family went into exile.

After World War II, Mr Habsburg became a champion of European unity during its Cold War division.

He served as a member of the European parliament for two decades. He is to be buried in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Mr Habsburg only officially relinquished his claim to inherit the empire in 1961 and five years later was allowed to return to Austria for the first time since the family fled in 1919.

via BBC News – Habsburg: Last heir to Austro-Hungarian empire dies.

The Hapsburgs, or Habsburgs, ruled the Holy Roman Empire, including through the bloody attempt to exterminate Protestantism in the Thirty Years War, until Napoleon ended that institution.  After that, they reigned in the much-reduced empire of Austr0-Hungary, which did not survive World War I.  But now that long historic family line is ended.  But its historic nemesis, Lutherans, are still in existence.

CLARIFICATION:  As commenters have pointed out, there are still Hapsburg descendents.  But now that the Austro-Hungarian empire is gone, to which Otto had a claim, there is no longer a claimant to the hereditary throne.