Brace yourselves: Sneak-peek of the English translation of The Apology of the Book of Concord, coming Summer 2015

…though perhaps you know it better as Apologia, Oder Verantwortung deß Christlichen Concordien-Buchs, In welcher die wahre Christliche Lehre, so im Concordi-Buch verfasset, mit gutem Grunde heiliger Göttlicher Schrift verteidigt: Die Verkehrung aber und Calumnien, so von unruhigen Leuten wider gedachtes Christlich Buch im Druck außgesprenget, widerlegt werden. I mean, I know I do.

IMG_1400Meet the Rev’d Dr. Holger Sonntag. You may have heard Dr. Sonntag interviewed on Issues, Etc., or you may have read his magisterial translation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations, Only The Decalogue is Eternal. You may not know of him at all. Whatever the case may be, you should be interested in what Dr. Sonntag is up to these days: an English translation of the Apology of the Book of Concord.

What does this mean? And why should I be interested in that?

Well, the Apology of the Book of Concord was a significant installment in the ongoing dialectic between the Lutherans and their detractors (both Roman and Reformed) in the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the Formula of Concord in the Lutheran princedoms. The following excerpt from the online Book of Concord site is helpful:

Numerous attacks on the Formula of Concord were published 1578, 1579, 1581, and later, some of them anonymously. They were directed chiefly against its doctrine of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the majesty of the human nature of Christ, and eternal election, particularly its refusal to solve, either in a synergistic or in a Calvinistic manner, the mystery presented to human reason in the teaching of the Bible that God alone is the cause of man’s salvation, while man alone is the cause of his damnation. In a letter to Beza, Ursinus, the chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism, shrewdly advised the Reformed to continue accepting the Augsburg Confession, but to agitate against the Formula. He himself led the Reformed attacks by publishing in 1581 the Admonitio Christiana de Libro Concordiae, or “Christian Admonition Concerning the Book of Concord,” also called Admonitio Neostadiensis, or “Neustadt Admonition.” Its charges were refuted in the “Apology or Defense of the Christian Book of Concord” (Apologia oder Verantwortung des christlichen Konkordienbuchs,in welcher die wahre christliche Lehre, so im Konkordienbuch verfasst, mit gutem Grunde heiliger, goettlicher Schrift verteidiget, die Verkehrung aber und Kalumnien, so von unruhigen Leuten wider gedachtes christliche Buch ausgesprenget, widerlegt worden) in 1582. Having been prepared by command of the Lutheran electors, and composed by Kirchner, Selneccer, and Chemnitz, and before its publication also submitted to other theologians for their approval, this guardedly written Apology, also called the Erfurt Book, gained considerable authority and influence.

You can read the full selection here. (Nota Bene: Do a text-search within the webpage for “Erfurt Book” and you’ll be taken to the relevant section in context.)

The following excerpt, which Dr. Sonntag has graciously given me permission to share, deals with the idea of absolute necessity, especially as it pertains to the question of election. It may get me in a bit of hot water to say so, but I think that this pretty much proves the thesis (advanced by the Rev’d Dr. Eric Phillips here, and maintained by others, as well) that Martin Luther did in fact err in his De Servo Arbitrio when he spoke of everything occurring by absolute necessity. Some Lutherans, many if not most of whom are far better theologians than I, counter that because the Formula of Concord cites De Servo, it has tacit confessional/canonical status for Lutherans, reasoning that the Formula would certainly not endorse it if it contained any material errors.

For the time being, however, I find myself unable to espouse this latter opinion: I do not think that the Formula’s citation of De Servo constitutes a plenary endorsement of every statement therein, and I think that the further explication of the Formula by its authors shows that this is the case. So, burn me, I guess. I’m not convinced that Lutherans semper et ubique regarded Blessed Martin’s diatribe as the pinnacle of Reformation thought until after the Luther Renaissance. Yes, I know that he said it was his best book; that doesn’t mean I have to agree with him. Or maybe I do, because I’ve actually seen a Lutheran pastor excoriated on social media (by fellow Lutherans) for not listing it as one of his top ten most influential books. As the kids say, “Smh.”

Without further ado…

From The Apology of the Book of Concord, ch. 12…


However, among other things, they accuse the Book of Concord of not being in sufficient agreement with Luther’s teaching by positing that the providence of God is nothing other than the prescience or foreknowledge.[1] However, the Book of Concord does not even mention the term ‘providence of God’ in the article concerning the eternal foreknowledge and election of God, SD XI: In the German text it speaks of ‘foreknowledge’ and adds the Latin term ‘prescience,’[2] lest it be ambushed by someone by means of these words (as it is still not our opinion to start an argument with somebody over mere words). But all this is of no use with these people, and nothing is safe from their distortions.


Now, however, it is evident that there is a big difference between God’s providence for all creatures and his prescience or foreknowledge. For the providence of God applies chiefly to the general preservation of all creatures, as they are created for as long as they are supposed to remain in such natural course. Likewise, it also applies to the special providence for dear Christendom and the congregation of God on earth and its members, etc., as this is known and discussed elsewhere in detail, which is not necessary to repeat here. However, prescience or foreknowledge means God’s knowledge by which he knows everything beforehand, including the evil, but not so that it is his gracious will that it should take place, etc.


From this it is easily seen, how sincerely they deal with the Christian Book of Concord and quote its words. The just Judge, however, will not forget it, but will certainly know to find it in his time.


Concerning the saying of Daniel, chapter 4[:35], where king Nebuchadnezzar says: “He does as he wills among the powers of heaven as well as among those who dwell on earth, and no one can stay his hand or say to him: What are you doing?” By this, they want to prove that everything that happens must happen by necessity, both good and evil.[3]


It is doubtless that king Nebuchadnezzar there speaks about the changes of governments and kingdoms, which the Lord gives to this or that one, as this is testified by the entire letter, in which king Nebuchadnezzar confesses, how amazingly God has dealt with him, how he took the kingdom away from him due to his arrogance and how he nonetheless later gave it back to him out of amazing and incomprehensible goodness. However, it is not at all about how in general both good and evil things or works must happen by necessity and that God works also the evil works in man no less than the good ones. It is therefore a horrible abuse of Scripture to adduce the same in this way and in the wrong meaning, concerning which our adversaries will have to give an account to God in his time.


It is likewise a horrible distortion that they quote the words of the Book of Concord so as to suggest it should teach that God ordains both good and bad things to happen,[4] while at the same place,  SD XI, 6, the very opposite is stated. For thus read the words of the Book of Concord:


The prescience or foreknowledge orders also evil acts, so that God has established the goal and measure of the evil he does not want, how far it should go and how long it should last, when and how he will hinder and punish it. Yet the beginning and cause of evil is not God’s foreknowledge. For God does not create and work that which is evil; he also does not help and promote it.

From these words it is clear that the Book of Concord does not teach or posit that God ordains good and evil things at the same time, as they adduce it, but that his prescience and foreknowledge apply also to evil acts or works, not that they ordained the evil (as our adversaries interpret it), but that they retain their order also in evil acts and works. How? By establishing the goal and measure of evil, how far it should go, how long it should last, and when they want to hinder and punish it.


Yet here everybody understands that there is a great difference between keeping order in the evil acts and works God does not want, establishing their goal and measure, how far they should go, how long they should last, when and how they should be hindered and punished, etc., and ordaining evil so that all sin and shame, and all evil works and deeds would be God’s own ordinance and institution.


In other words, ordaining evil and keeping order in evil acts and works which one does not want, but concerning which one considers and concludes, how far they should go, how long they should last, and how one wants to hinder and punish them – these two will never become the same thing, for which we refer to the judgment of all pious hearts and let the adversaries with their blaspheming and distorting go.


[1] Cf. Admonitio, 330.
[2] The Apologists here use the German words Vorsehung and Vorwissenheit, earlier they also used Versehung. While Vorsehung und Versehung can also mean predestination (e.g., the title of art. XI in the FC translates the German Vorsehung into Latin as praedestinatio and hence synonymous to electio aeterna), the Apologists here refer to SD XI, 4 where it is translated as praescientia in contradistinction from electio aeterna, cf. Grimm / Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, 25:1264-1267.
[3] Cf. Admonitio, 330.
[4] Cf. Admonitio, 330.

The English translation of The Apology of the Book of Concord, translated by the Rev’d Dr. Holger Sonntag and published by Lutheran Press, is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2015. You can check out Lutheran Press’s catalogue here.

Hat-tip to Nathan Rinne for putting me in touch with Dr. Sonntag. Check out Nathan’s blog.