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.

Cranach’s artistic confession of faith

We had been discussing Lucas Cranach’s seal of the winged serpent, crowned with a ring, and what it might mean.  Thanks to Tom Hering for digging up this scholarly article by Wayne Martin, professor of philosophy of the University of Essex, who offers a reading of the artist’s “Eden” in the Courtald Gallery in England.  As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but  that meaning was rendered visually.  Prof. Martin points out that Cranach this time puts his signature seal not at the bottom in a corner, where it usually goes, but right on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (You can just make it out below the snake.)  The squiggly curves of the stylized seal are echoed in the similar squiggly curves of the snake and in the curls of Eve’s hair.  Thus, the artist is identifying himself with temptation and with sin.  But those squiggles are also echoed in the vine, laden with grapes, a symbol of Christ (“I am the vine”): specifically, His sacrificial blood as given for us in Holy Communion (“This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins”).  In the painting, the vine covers Adam and Eve’s nakedness, just as Christ’s blood covers the sinfulness of Lucas Cranach and all of us.

Prof. Martin doesn’t quite understand the Gospel of the evangelical Reformation.  He professes “shock” that a pious Christian would “identify himself with evil.”  Like many people he assumes that being a Christian means being good, rather than facing up to one’s true sinfulness and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  He is also confused about different covenants and the pre-lapsarian state.  Still, even despite himself,  he discerns Cranach’s ubiquitous theme of Law and Gospel.

J. W. Montgomery on Cranach’s Seal

I heard back from the distinguished scholar John Warwick Montgomery on the symbolism of Lucas Cranach’s seal, the winged serpent device from his coat of arms that he used to sign his paintings and that we have adopted as the logo of the Cranach Institute and this blog.  (See the title heading above.)

I’ve now had an opportunity to research this.  I was particularly helped by the wonderful Cranach exhibit last month at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.   The exhibit included examples of Cranach’s coat-of-arms and the exhibit description makes the following point:  “En remerciement de ses loyaux services, Luca Cranach se voit remettre dès 1508 des armoiries, un serpent ailé tenant une bague dans sa gueule qui lui servira désormais de signature.”  [In appreciation of his loyal services, Lucas Cranach received in 1508 (from Frederick the Wise) his coat-of-arms--a winged serpent holding a ring in its mouth--which served from then on as his signature]  We are also informed that in 1537, following the death of his son Hans, Lucas Cranach modified the design of his coat-of-arms, “lowering the serpent’s wings” (Cranach et son temps [Paris: Beaux Arts/TTM, 2011], p. 65).

Viewing the serpent as a dragon, one has a strong tendency to see it as alchemical symbolism.  However, contemporary dictionaries of the subject (e.g., the standard Dictionaire hermetique [Paris, 1695]) and modern authorities (Carl Gustav Jung) present the alchemical dragon or serpent very differently:  as the ouroboros which eats its own tail, or as an uncrowned dragon symbolising the element mercury).
It is therefore far more productive to view the coat-of-arms from a straightforward heraldic standpoint.  Rietstap’s Armorial Général (2d ed., 1884) includes a listing for the Cranachs, describing the coat-of-arms as consisting of a crowned serpent with bat’s wings, holding in its mouth a golden ring with a ruby.  A variant (apparently used by later generation Cranachs) consisted of a serpent surmounting a crown of thorns.
But why the particular symbolism chosen or employed by Cranach himself?  Here, we are strongly warned as a general principle in interpreting heraldic figures to avoid simplistic equivalents or easy allegory.  Symbols are often chosen for aesthetic reasons, not with any attempts at profundity or classical/theological reference.  Emile Gevaert’s marvelous L’Héraldique: son esprit, son langage et ses applications (Paris: Editions du Bulletin des Métiers d’Art [ca. 1920]) offers some assistance.  A serpent can symbolise “prudence” and at the same time “desire” (p. 362).  (Here,  I am immediately reminded of the arms of the Aldine printing house in Renaissance Florence, consisting of an anchor and a dolphin, to carry the idea of simultaneous solidity and progress.  Note also that Cranach’s serpent is given wings, making it not just an earthly beast but at the same time a dynamic, heavenly creature.)  One thinks inevitably, as well, of the biblical reference to serpents as “wise” (Matt. 10:16).
As for the addition of a crown or diadem (uncommon on a heraldic serpent), its presence generally signifies that the arms belong to a “household of eminence”–and “a crown surmounting a figure seemingly indicates a power which the bearer does not derive from himself” (Gevaert, p. 210).  In the case of the Cranach arms, the latter point could remind the observer that Cranach received the grant from his prince–or (since any legitimate coat-of-arms results from a grant and is not the personal creation of the bearer) it might represent Cranach’s Refomation belief that he is saved and receives his talents by God’s grace, not through any personal capacity or efforts on his own part.  The golden ring in the serpent’s mouth could perhaps reinforce this interpretation, since a ring, like a circle, represents eternity theologically, and gold is the colour not just of nobility and richness but also of faith and divinity (= God).  The ruby on the ring could represent “the pearl of great price,” i.e., the gospel.
Beyond this I cannot go.  It would be important to check any surviving Cranach correspondence, particularly in the years surrounding 1508 and 1537, to see if by chance Cranach himself  interprets his coat-of-arms–as Luther does in his oft-quoted letter to Lazarus Spengler  (see my Heraldic Aspects of the German Reformation (Bonn: Verlag fuer Kultur und Wissenschaft, 2003).
JWM

Versions of Cranach’s Seal

As an update to the post on tweaks to this blog, let me show you some different versions of Cranach’s Seal, as we try to interpret what it means.  (I thought it is an image of redemption; Tom Hering suggested it was alchemical symbolism, so I’ve asked Dr. Montgomery; it could also be some kind of conventional heraldry symbolism–someone who knows something about heraldry, please chime in.)    Special thanks to Abby for alerting me to the final version here, which is the most expressive, detailed, and dragon-like.  Should we use that one for our logo, or is it too disturbing?


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