Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Large Catechism

In preparation for this week's sermon I was reading through different passages in the Confessions, and came upon this from the Large Catechism:

All this, then, is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, to begin and daily to increase hoilness on earth through these two means, the Christian church and the forgiveness of sins. Then, when we pass from this life, he will instantly perfect our holiness and will eternally preserve us in it by means of the last tow parts of this article. (LC II, 59 -italics mine).

It's the second sentence here that interests me. On what passage(s) of Scripture, do you think, Luther's teaching of instant perfection in holiness is based?


William Weedon said...

1 John 3:2? 1 Cor 15:51,52?

Fraser Pearce said...

The 1 Corinthians pasage seems like the most likely candiadte, doesn't it? Although it doesn't seem to be talking about perfection in holiness.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Pearce,

I confess that I think the first John passage seems the more likely candidate: we will be like him, and why? Because we shall then see him as he is.

In the meantime, we've got ongoing transformation from beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (2 Cor) and so we press on from one degree of glory to another. But the big job comes to its grand conclusion at the End. Which is really on the End of waiting for the unveiling of the glorious ways of God, no?

Fraser Pearce said...

But do you think the 1 John passage deals with *instant* perfection in holiness? I'm just thinking through Luther's teaching that our holiness will be ‘instant’; I’m considering what he might mean by using the word ‘instant’. We Lutherans are usually reluctant (at least in our public teaching) to be too specific on questions regarding the state of human beings between death and the resurrection, and indeed I’m not aware that we have any (other) dogmatic teaching on how the resurrection of the body will take place. I would have expected Luther to share his opinions regarding instant perfection in holiness in tabletalk, but I’m curious to see it as part of the Catechism.

Do these musings make sense to you?

Thanks for the comments, by the way!

Schütz said...

I tend to agree with Fraser. There is no debate that our holiness will be perfected in Christ before our entry into the beatific vision. How could it be otherwise? Sin cannot enter the presence of the Holy one. This seems to be the point of 1 John 3:2. Thus far, Lutherans and Catholics agree.

But this passage seems to be formulated against the idea that this perfection is a process. In Luther's time (and until recently) the doctrine of purgatory was often expounded in the way that suggested a passage of time.

1 Cor 15:51-52 which speaks of a "change" in a "twinkling of an eye" seems to address the instantaneous change from "perishable" bodies into "imperishable" bodies, and that this change will take place at the last trumpet--ie. at the resurrection. Again, no problem there. But I share Fraser's skepticism as to whether this passage addresses the question of the perfection of holiness. What Luther does seem to agree on here is that when we die most of us (at least, if not all of us in Lutheran understanding) die in imperfect sanctity. This transformation from imperfect/incomplete sanctity at the time of death to perfect sanctity at the moment of resurrection is what is in question with the doctrine of purgatory.

Is it "instantaneous"? It might be. Not even Catholic doctrine has anything to say about this. It is certainly something that occurs outside of the realm of present temporality, so it would be hard to say that it is a period of time (in fact, this is expressly repealed in Catholic teaching of purgatory). Nevertheless, there remains the conviction that any work of sanctification is a process, a work in progress (Phil 2:12-13), begun in this life but indeed continuing after our death and being finally completed by the moment of resurrection.

William Weedon said...

Schütz and Pr. Pearce,

I don't think it is possible to reject purgation per se. I mean, there IS 1 Cor. 3 to deal with. As a friend of mine (an Orthodox priest) likes to say: seeing God may be an ouch before it is a wow.

But the idea of instantaneous is, I suspect, built off of things like: "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" AND "today you shall be with me in Paradise" and "then we shall know fully" and such.

William Weedon said...

Oh, and one more thought. The LC definitely does not view this "perfection" as static. It speaks of growth even in eternity - I think under the second petition of the Lord's Prayer.

Fraser Pearce said...

Pr. Weedon and Herr Schutz,

Thanks for the comments.

The Second Petition quote is: "God's kingdom comes to us in two ways: first, it comes here, in this time, through the Word and faith, and secondly, in eternity, it comes through the final revelation. Now, we pray for both of these, that it may come to those who are not yet in it, and that it may come by daily growth here and in eternal life hereafter to us who have attained it."

I find it interesting to compare this teaching with the teaching on instant perfection, and to consider how they relate to each other.

"Ouch!" before "Wow!" is kinda cute. It seems that C S Lewis subscribed to this sort of teaching.

William Weedon said...

Yeah, holding them together suggests that "instant perfection" refers more to the capacity to eternally grow than to any static change. And I confess - I LOVE Lewis on this. "Higher up and in!"