The Case of the Lost Luther Reference – Solved

 an observation by John W. Berg

(This article was originally published in October 2005)


Now, most within the guild scanning the contents of this, the swan song of this modern day nightingale (such hubris!), the Magpie, seeing “Lost Luther Reference” will automatically think, “ah, Tom. IV, Jena” and assume this will be another attempt, and a cheeky one at that, to try to crack that historical nut, Jena German or Latin?


Well, thankfully, the case has already been cracked and you can read about it in the October 1979 issue of the Concordia Theological Quarterly or, if you are like me, have a child of seven years old find it for you on the internet on the Semper Reformanda web site. The sainted scholar Dr. Bjarne W. Teigen carefully and conclusively demonstrated that the ambiguous reference in the Formula of Concord, TD, VII 87, “Tom. IV, Jena,” is from the Latin of the Jena edition and which the Weimar edition correctly gives the proper folio pages, 585ff.


Now, if I haven’t already lost those outside the guild, perhaps the tease - “the Wolferinus correspondence” - will tell you why this seemingly insignificant reference, “Tom. IV, Jena,” has seen so much ink spilt over it.  And for those still at a loss, it involves the issue of the significance of the consecration, whether when the minister says “This is my body” we can say that the words the celebrant speaks are true or not, an issue still simmering between the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and its Big Brother, the Wisconsin Synod. The Wisconsin Synod says, “not so fast there, Olle, the words of consecration may be true, but only ‘proleptically’ so and until the reception one cannot say they are true.”  Wisconsin has great interest in making the case for the German and its efforts to prove that have fallen flat. (See my “Is Redividus: Some Thoughts on FC TD VII 78, the Synodical Conference and Bill Clinton” in Vol. II, 3 on that red herring issue of the “moment of presence.”)


But, I’m not going to talk about that. As I said, the one whom I was privileged to call friend solved that one and I am not capable of such scholarly pursuits (I guess I didn’t have to say that.) No, the “Lost Luther Reference” that I solved was: what is the reference to a quote attributed only to “Luther” offered by two Wisconsin Synod theologians in two separate writings to prove the idiosyncratic and thus sectarian view of what their synod calls the “public ministry.” Paul Kelm, late of their Synod Office Building and the director for a Wisconsin Synod program called “Spiritual Renewal,” (yes, something you might expect to find in Wisconsin with its pietistic roots… limbs, leaves, fruit and all) offers an unreferenced quote from “Luther” in an outline to support this point:


Baptism is the “ordination” of every believer into ministry (I Peter 2:9; Romans 12:1)


This was a lay ministry he was endeavoring us preachers to excite, enthuse and endorse with this Lutherian imprimatur:


In the New Testament the Holy Spirit carefully avoids giving the name sacerdos, priest, to any of the apostles, or to any other office. Rather, he applies this name to the baptized, or Christians, as their birthright and hereditary name from baptism. For in baptism none of us is born an apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor; but there all of us are born solely priests.  – Luther


Can’t argue with that. Interestingly, the exact same unreferenced quote also simply attributed to “Luther” can  be found in a study by David Vallesky, a former Wisconsin seminary president, entitled “Gifted to Serve” on what Dr. Kurt Marquart calls the “spiritual gifts scheme” (where one, even a woman, may look within themselves to see whether they have the “gift” of being a pastor, this by means of a rate yourself from 0 – 5 test with such probative statements as you “find that other Christians are able to relate to me and follow my leading.”)     


Now, I, being the skeptic and cynic that I am, wondered why neither scholar gave the reference. I can see such common Luther quip’s as “CRUX Sola est nostra theologia” being so offered.  But longer quotes, well, I wondered. So I set out to do a little investigation, especially since the quote itself did not support the contention of the authors (i.e. equating “priest” with “minister”), let alone the conclusion of the authors, that their theology of “everyone a minister,” as they see it, is that of Luther. A little time spent with the concordance in the suspect volumes of the American Edition (mid thirties to forties) and eureka, I found it. The quote is taken from Dr. Luther’s 1533 “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” (Vol. 38, p. 188). The title alone should inform you as to the point Luther was making in the quote, which is not the point these writers were attempting to make under the name of “Luther.”


But what I also saw was that the quote used by Vallesky and Kelm was translated differently from the AE translation. Now although either of these Wisconsin Synod men ought to be able to translate Luther from the original, I, being the unloving miscreant that I am, had my doubts that this accounted for the difference in translation from the AE.  So where to go but to the favorite source for harried Lutheran pastors and executives (especially parsimonious ones who don’t spring for the grand it cost at one time to procure the AE) but to the digest of all digests of the self described fat doctor, What Luther Says (WLS), which for the uninitiated is (when I, hot out of the aforementioned seminary [WLS], purchased it as my “Luther”) a three volume set of quips from Luther, which, in my opinion, is the lazy man’s “Luther” which too often results in a Luther ex machina.


Now Luther scholars, of whom I am not, know that there are many layers in Luther’s writings that one needs to peel back to find the gnesio-Luther. One must ask, was he writing to the laity or to the clergy, to princes or popes; was this a scholarly article, a polemical article or a devotional one; was this from the hand of Luther or from one of my many amanuenses; are the concepts and terms which he uses theological, philosophical, Aristotelian; what was the context of the time, and to what may the writing have been in response, that is, what was the current theological or political context? These are to name but a few of the barriers which must be overcome for one operating with the original languages (German and Latin) while knowing their period and idiomatic uses, let alone with what I now have purchased as my penance, the American Edition and, let alone searching the immediate context, which one assumes even the least of scholars can and should do. What Luther Says provides one little of this regulating information. 


So, a trip to the shelf, a bit of dusting and the last piece of the puzzle of the “The Lost Luther Reference” fell into place, the quote can be found under the section in What Luther Says, Volume III entitled “priests,” page 1140. But then the mystery took an old familiar turn. The quote had been edited. The quote used by Kelm and Vallesky from What Luther Says was complete, save for the last line conveniently clipped; the last line, which in the original work ends the thought (yes, even WLS, the book, that is, got it right).


So, here is the entire quote taken from What Luther Says with the omitted last line printed in bold. I think you will know why this line was clipped by those who promote an “everyone a minister” theology and who attempt to marshal “Luther” for support.


In the New Testament the Holy Spirit carefully avoids giving the name sacerdos, priest, to any of the apostles, or to any other office. Rather, he applies this name to the baptized, or Christians, as their birthright and hereditary name from baptism. For in baptism none of us is born an apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor; but there all of us are born solely priests. Then we take some from among these born priests and call and elect them to these offices that they may discharge the duties of the offices in the name of all of us.


Now, that’s what Luther really said.   §


Reverend Father John W. Berg is pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Fremont, California where he was elected by the baptized to discharge the duties of the Office of the Holy Ministry on behalf of the same in the name and stead of Christ.