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02 July 2015
  The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 July, New Testament (One Year Lectionary)

Durer: The Visitation This major Christological feast commemorates the joyous visit Mary paid to her relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth, following The Annunciation. Inspired by the amazing news that she was to become the mother of the Christ and in response to the joyous word that her old and previously barren kinswoman was also pregnant, she joined Elizabeth during her sixth month of pregnancy (see Luke 1:39-56).

After Mary declared the wondrously good news, Elizabeth replied to the Virgin, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ... Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (vv. 42, 44)" She concluded by giving full credit and glory to God while also commending her young cousin's hearty faith: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (av. 45)"

Mary responded with the Magnificat, the beautiful song of praise beginning, "My soul magnifies the Lord. (vv. 46-55)" It's not clear whether Mary stayed there until after the birth of John or if she left immediately beforehand; Luke merely said that the Virgin "remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (v. 56)"

And so, as we encounter God sending the Forerunner and the Messiah into the world, we see a study in contrasts. Two women stand before each other. One seemingly too old to bear children now carries the final prophet of the Old Covenant. The other, youthful and as yet unwed — completely unprepared in the eyes of the world — carries the One who brings both the Advent and the Fulfillment of the New Testament. And again we see, in the fullness of time, one age passing away while another age begins — an age that has no end but which lasts unto eternity.

The reaction of Jesus' unborn cousin and the words of his mother also serve as reminders to many Christians about the sanctity of life. Christian pro-lifers point to John's celebration as clear evidence of the humanity and the consciousness of children who are still in utero.

In Roman Catholicism, Vatican II changed the date of the observation from 2 July to 31 May in order to more accurately reflect the Bible's chronology regarding the life of Christ. Several other Western churches followed suit. In The Lutheran Church —Missouri Synod, today is celebrated in the One Year Lectionary while the Three Year Lectionary moves the feast date to 31 May.

Note: This illustration by Albrecht Dürer is from the Web Gallery of Art.

Lection

Psalm 138
Isaiah 11:1-5
Romans 12:9-16
Luke 1:39-56

Collect

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Magnificat

My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
   for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
   for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
   and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
   He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
   in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
   to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

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30 June 2015
  + John the Steadfast, Elector of Saxony +
30 June AD 1468; transferred from 16 August*

Protest at Speyer The first Protestants weren't Martin Luther and his fellow theologians. Instead, the word was first applied to the German rulers who opposed the imperial laws adopted at the Second Diet of Speyer in 1529. Chief among these protesters was John, Elector of Saxony, who thereby gained a reputation as the first and foremost Protestant.

Although John is not well-known outside of Lutheran circles, he should be. He earned the title John the Steadfast (Johann der Beständige) for his steadfast confession and defense of the Evangelical (Lutheran) doctrine and its pastors and theologians. Without his unshaken conviction that Luther's teaching was true and his steadfast actions in defense of the Reformation probably there would be no Lutheran nor Protestant churches today. Without John's protection, Luther likely would have experienced the same fate as Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance. Without John's wisdom in political affairs, the Lutherans in Germany might have been murdered like the 70,000 French Calvinists on Saint Bartholomew's Day in 1572.

German Lutherans maintain special remembrance of the role that John the Steadfast played in defending their religion. The Wittenberg Castle Church has two prominent tombs today. These are not the graves of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, who are buried in front of the pulpit, but the tombs of John and his elder brother, Elector Frederick III. The electors are buried in front of the altar under huge bronze memorial slabs. They are flanked by alabaster statues, depicting them kneeling in prayer, and by magnificent bronze sculptures of the two electors in ceremonial garb and sword.

Young John the Steadfast John the Steadfast was born on 30 June 1468 at Meissen, a city now known for its famous porcelain. He received a scholarly education, was trained in the arts of the knight, and gained prestige in battles against the Ottoman Turks.

John became an enthusiastic reader of Martin Luther's writings. When the papal bull was published against Luther in 1520, John was responsible for making sure it was not enacted in Electoral Saxony. At the Diet of Worms, his correspondence helped to convince and encourage his brother Frederick the Wise to be more bold in his defense of Luther, resulting in Luther's protection at the Wartburg.

In October 1522, John heard Luther preach sermons at the court of Weimar on the powers and limits of secular authority (German: Von weltlicher Obrigkeit). These sermons became John's personal political philosophy.

Upon the death of Frederick in May 1525, John became the Elector of Saxony. In those days, the Saxon Elector was second only to the emperor in power and influence in the Holy Roman Empire. Upon his accession, John announced to the clergy of Saxony that, in the future, the pure Word of God should be preached without human addition and that all useless ceremonies were to be abolished. In February 1526, John ratified a treaty with the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, which was soon joined by other Lutheran states. This was the beginning of political organization in defense of the Lutheran church.

Elector John the Steadfast John the Steadfast also defended the Lutheran church from economic disaster. The Saxon aristocracy had been appropriating church lands, which had previously been used as capital assets to pay the salaries of clergy, teachers, janitors, maintenance, and capital improvements. John put a stop to this capital drain, ensuring that the church was properly endowed for the present and future. John also assisted Luther and Melanchthon in the reform of the University of Wittenberg, setting a pattern for Lutheran universities until the present day.

The imperial laws adopted at the Second Diet of Speyer in 1529, if enacted, would have resulted in the eradication of the Lutheran religion in the Holy Roman Empire. Along with his allies, John the Steadfast protested these laws. Emperor Charles the Fifth then challenged the Protestants to defend their new religion and its practices, which they did at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Their defense is known as the Augsburg Confession, with its first signature being that of Elector John the Steadfast.

From this history, we learn that the first defenders and confessors of the Lutheran church were laymen. Their spiritual heirs should remember that the Lutheran church cannot survive without laymen who continue to confess and defend this faith.

John the Steadfast met his Savior on 16 August 1532* and was succeeded by sons John Frederick I and John Ernest (Johann Friedrich and Johann Ernst). John Frederick became sole elector of Ernestine Saxony in 1542.

Thanks to Martin Noland for permission to use his article on Elector John posted at Brothers of John the Steadfast.

*Transferred to his birthday because the LCMS Calendar of Commemorations remembers the patriarch Isaac on 16 August.

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29 June 2015
  + Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles +
29 June, New Testament

The Confession of Saint Peter ("You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God") is commemorated on 18 January, and the Conversion of Saint Paul on his approach to Damascus a week later, on 25 January. On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles. The date is the anniversary of a day around AD 258, under the Valerian persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.

Peter and Paul The Scriptures do not record the deaths of Peter or Paul, or indeed any of the Apostles' deaths except for James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2), but they are clearly anticipated (see the readings below), and from an early date it has been said that they were martyred at Rome at the command of the Emperor Nero, and buried there. As a Roman citizen, St. Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. An early tradition claims that St. Peter was crucified head downward.

The present Church of St. Peter in Rome replaces earlier churches built on the same site going back to the time of the Emperor Constantine, in whose reign a church was built on what was believed to be the burial site of Peter. Excavations under the church suggest that the belief that this is the true home of his burial predates Constantine.

Lection

Psalm 46
Acts 15:1-12 (13-21)
Galatians 2:1-10
Matthew 16:13-19

Collect

Merciful and eternal God, from whom the holy apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son, grant that, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may with like constancy confess Your truth and be at all times ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us; even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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28 June 2015
  + Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor and Confessor +
28 June AD 200

Irenaeus of Lyons Irenaeus (ca. AD 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus' return, he became Bishop of Lyons.

His most famous writing is Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). This work condemned several errors but focused especially on Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church.

Despite a few stray texts, very little suggests that he did not die a natural death. He was buried in Saint John's Church, Lyon — a congregation later renamed in his honor. Huegenot Calvinists destroyed his tomb and his remains during in 1522, during a period of iconoclasm.

Collect

Almighty God, You upheld your servant Irenaeus, giving him strength to confess the truth against every false doctrine; keep us, we pray, steadfast in Your Word and grant us the practice of true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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27 June 2015
  + Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Confessor +
27 June AD 444

Cyril of Alexandria Saint Cyril (ca. AD 376-444) became Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is "rightly called and truly is the Mother of God" — Theotokos, "the God-Bearer" (Formula of Concord, Epitome, VIII:12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God.

The Council was responding to the Nestorian heresy, which distinguished so completely between the divine and human natures of Christ that claims were made that the divine Christ did some things while the human Jesus did others.

Some of the differences are quite subtle; perhaps even Nestorius himself could not have foreseen the full ramifications of his position, including a "resurrection" of only the divine nature. Ephesus condemned the title of "Christ-Bearer" (Christotokos) for the Virgin, since the Nestorians would only claim that Mary bore the Christ, but not God Himself.

Cyril receives almost as many brickbats as he does bouquets, even from orthodox Christians, because he's also known for being what one person calls "an ill-tempered, quarrelsome, hasty, and violent man." This seems especially so during his early years as Bishop of Alexandria.

A particularly acute example of his extreme rigidity comes from his closing of Novatianist churches, although the Novationists weren't particularly unorthodox. Their "fault" was as much one of pride as of theology — they descended from those who'd stood firm in the persecutions of earlier years and refused to associate or worship with the heirs of those who recanted the Faith under persecution. Their main theological aberration were insisting upon rebaptism of converts from "lapsed" Christianity and an attitude that was, perhaps, less than Christ-like in dealing with erring brothers.

Cyril also ran the Jews out of town. The reason given was that they were seditious and violent, although we're left with little evidence. This action likely contributed to an ongoing feud with Orestes, the imperial prefect. These disagreements seemingly spilled over into a quarrel with the prefect's friend, the neo-platonist scholar Hypatia, who was later murdered by a mob.

Few have directly condemned Cyril for her death but the leaders of the mob certainly claimed the bishop as their leader. In modern times, Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, blamed Hypatia's death (and the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria) on dogmatic Christianity's desire to root out rational paganism. However, other scholars see the whole feud as an internal Church struggle and no one has yet established a definitive cause (or date) for the final destruction of Alexandria's library.

At any rate, and despite the considerable rancor that accompanied his early years as bishop, the mature Cyril worked diligently to reconcile the Nestorian and Orthodox parties. His efforts led many of the less virulent Nestorians back to full communion.

The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril's Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. He still speaks clearly to our age, especially as the old Christological heresies are trotted out under new guises.

Collect

Heavenly Father, You used Your servant Cyril to confess the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of Your Son being one person with fully divine and human natures. Grant that we, also, might be constant in Your Word, bold in Your confession, and steadfast in Your worship, to the glory of Your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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26 June 2015
  + The Holy Prophet Jeremiah +
26 June, Old Testament

The holy prophet Jeremiah is counted as one of the four "major prophets" of the Old Testament, along with Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. His name means "Established (or Raised up) by Yahweh (the Lord)."

He was active as God's prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah ca. 627 to 582 B.C. As he fulfilled his calling, he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

In his preaching he often used symbols such as an almond rod (Jeremiah 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), or a potter at work (18:1-17). His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God's anger toward his rebellious people. He suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen. As far as can be known, he died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly. He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God's people to repentance.

Jeremiah Jeremiah also is credited by many as the author of the book of Lamentations. The book consists of five separate poems, of which the first four are acrostics consisting of verses whose first words begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In English translations, of course, this style completely disappears.

Chapter 3 is an especially well-developed acrostic. There are twenty-two letters in Hebrew and the other chapters have 22 verses. However, this chapter has sixty-six, grouping sets of three verses under each letter of the alphabet. Thus, verses one through three begin with א (aleph), verses four through six with ב (beth), seven through nine with ג (gimel), and so-on down the line. Chapter Five, while not an acrostic, still has 22 verses.

The themes of Lamentations unfold as follows: Chapter 1 treats the fallen and desolate city of Jerusalem as a widow weeping over her loss. Chapter 2 connects her misery with the sins of the nation and her people which brought God's judgment. Chapter 3 expresses hope that the Lord's punishment will result in blessing for His people and affirms His goodness: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.' (vv. 22-24)" Chapter 4 is a lament on the destruction of city and temple but lays the blame upon the people's sins. The final chapter outlines the city's continuing troubles and prays that the Lord will finally restore Zion and not abandon His chosen people, although their sins are great and they certainly deserve it.

The book of Jeremiah similarly proclaims harsh judgment upon persistent sin while also reminding the Lord's people of His faithfulness. It looks to a time when the need for the Law's commands and punishments will cease and all will be made right. The clearest expression of this thought is in 31:31-34, where a "New Covenant" of grace is promised, a covenant established by the blood of the coming Messiah: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Scripture says nothing of how prophet's life ended. Chapter 43 reveals that Johanan took Jeremiah, the prophet's faithful scribe Baruch ben Neriah, and a remnant of Judean people, to live in Egypt. This directly contradicted the Word of the Lord Jeremiah had just spoken in Chapter 42, forbidding such a move and warning of dire consequences. Since Jeremiah 52:31 mentions the reign of Evil-merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, many think that he may have been at least 90 years old when he died. Some ancient traditions claim that he was stoned to death in Babylon. Others say that he finally went to Babylon with Nebuchadnezzar's army.

See Happenings for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Jeremiah.

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25 June 2015
  The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
25 June AD 1530

Diet of Augsburg Note: Please see Ask the Pastor for more on the history and theology of the Augsburg Confession and its presentation.

The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Philipp Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone.

Signed by leaders of several German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on 25 June 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord.

An historical sidelight: Because of imperial protocol, Melanchthon wasn't allowed to make — or even attend — the presentation. Instead, two of the Saxon chancellors gave the oral reading and handed the written Latin and German copies to Charles V.

Lection

Psalm 46
Isaiah 55:6-11
Romans 10:5-17
John 15:1-11

Collects

O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour our Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people, keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptation, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Almighty God, we praise You for those You have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life, including your servant Philipp Melanchthon. Raise up in our own day pastors, teachers, and theologians inspired by Your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to Your Church and proclaim Your kingdom; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymn

God's Word Is Our Great Heritage

   God's Word is our great heritage
   And shall be ours forever;
   To spread its light from age to age
   Shall be our chief endeavor.
   Through life it guides our way,
   In death it is our stay.
   Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
   We keep its teachings pure
   Throughout all generations.

Notes on the Propers: The suggested readings come from the LCMS hymnal Lutheran Worship, as does the first collect. These propers may also used for the Commemoration of the Doctors of the Church, including Luther and C. F. W. Walther. The second collect is modified from James Kiefer's Hagiographies.

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24 June 2015
  The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
24 June, New Testament

His Name Is John This day celebrates the birth of a son to the elderly and previously childless couple Elizabeth and Zechariah the priest. On the eighth day, his parents had him circumcised according the the Law and named him John ("Yahweh is gracious").

John would grow up to be the last prophet of the Old Testament and the Forerunner of the coming Messiah, his younger cousin Jesus. Notice that today's date is six months before Christmas — the Nativity of Our Lord — since the Annunciation to Saint Mary came "in the sixth month" of Elizabeth's pregnancy.

The Christian Church remembers Saint John the Baptizer's prophetic ministry and commemorates his martyrdom on 29 August.

Lection

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13
Isaiah 40:1-5
Acts 13:13-26
Luke 1:57-80

Collect

Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation; now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Additional Reading

Past Elder's post on The Nativity of St. John has some background material and some interesting notes about the Christian Calendar, the dating of Biblical events, and the kalends.

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14 June 2015
  + The Holy Prophet Elisha +
14 June, Old Testament

The Prophet Elisha and the ShunammiteAfter the prophet Elijah defeated the priests of Baal and then fled Jezebel's wrath, The Lord came to him on Mount Horeb. He told him to anoint new kings of Syria and Israel. He also commanded Elijah to anoint "Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, (1 Kings 19:16)" a member of the tribe of Issachar, to replace Elijah as the prophet of God to the northern kingdom of Israel ca. 849-786 B.C.

During Elijah's final days on earth, Elisha refused to leave his mentor's side. Elisha asked Elijah to grant him a final blessing, saying, "Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me. (2 Kings 2:9)" Once he saw the elder prophet taken up into heaven, Elisha took up Elijah's mantle and assumed the prophetic office (2 Kings 2:1-14).

Like Elijah, Elisha played an active role in political affairs. He also performed many miracles, foreshadowing the miracles of God's own son. Among these, he cured the Syrian army commander Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27), fed a multitude of hungry men (2 Kings 4:42-44), and restored life to the son of a Shunammite woman (4:8-37). A vocal opponent of Baal worship, Elisha lived up to his name, which means "my God is salvation."

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12 June 2015
  The Council of Nicaea
Summer AD 325, Observed 12 June

Nicaea The Christian Church's First Ecumenical Council was convened in Nicaea (modern Isnuk, Turkey) in the early summer of AD 325 by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The emperor presided at the opening of the council. The major intended topic was the ongoing Arian controversy.

The council ruled against the Arians, who taught that Jesus was not the eternal Son of God but was created by the Father and was called Son of God because of his righteousness. The chief opponents of the Arians were Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and his deacon, Athanasius. The council confessed the eternal divinity of Jesus and adopted the earliest version of the Nicene Creed, which in its entirety was adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Other topics included celebration of the Resurrection and how the date for Easter would correspond with Passover, the Miletian schism, validity of baptism by heretics, and the restoration lapsed Christians who renounced the Faith under persecution. The Council also established a number of new canons (Church laws). Enumeration varies, but twenty is the number suggested by the editors of the Early Church Fathers:
1. prohibition of self-castration, as done by Origen;
2. establishment of a minimum term for catechumens;
3. prohibition of the presence in the house of a cleric of a younger woman who might bring him under suspicion;
4. ordination of a bishop in the presence of at least three provincial bishops and confirmation by the metropolitan;
5. provision for two provincial synods to be held annually;
6. exceptional authority acknowledged for the bishops of Alexandria and Rome, for their respective regions;
7. recognition of the honorary rights of the see of Jerusalem;
8. provision for agreement with the Novatianists;
9-14. provision for mild procedure against the lapsed during the persecution under Licinius;
15-16. prohibition of the removal of priests;
17. prohibition of usury among the clergy;
18. precedence of bishops and presbyters before deacons in receiving Holy Communion, the Eucharist;
19. declaration of the invalidity of baptism by Paulian heretics;
20. prohibition of kneeling during the liturgy, on Sundays, and in the days of Eastertide.
   (Summary from Wikipedia.)
Their version of what we now call the Nicene Creed was almost identical to what is now used in the Church until the third section, where the original ends, "We believe in the Holy Spirit." It fell to the Second Ecumenical Council (First Council of Constantinople) to add what is now used. Therefore, the confession used in the churches may properly be called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The so-called filioque (where "and the Son" was inserted after the words about the Spirit proceeding from the Father) was only later added by the Roman Catholic Church and never accepted in the East.

The Council also saw the first major collaboration between Church and state since Christianity began and signaled a rise in imperial influence in affairs of the Church. Constantine called it, presided over the initial session, and, in many respects, set its agenda. While his personal religious beliefs may have been part of his reason, most scholars agree that his main fear was that a divided Christianity would result in a divided Empire. The historical irony is that the Roman Empire fractured before any major schisms in Christendom.

Nicene Creed

Nicene Fathers I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian [catholic] and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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11 June 2015
  + Barnabas, Apostle +
11 June, New Testament

St Barnabas "Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Acts 4:36-37). Here Scripture makes first mention of Saint Barnabas.

This name given by the Apostles matches what we know of his actions. When Saul of Tarsus (or Paul) came to Jerusalem after his conversion, most of the congregation wanted nothing to do with him. They knew him only as a persecutor and an enemy of Christ's Church. Barnabas, however, willingly gave him a second chance. He sought him out, spoke with him, and brought him to meet the other Christians, vouching for him.

Later, Paul and Barnabas went on a missionary journey together, taking Barnabas's cousin Mark along. Part way, Mark turned back and went home. When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out on another such journey, Barnabas proposed to take Mark along, and Paul was against it, saying that Mark had shown himself undependable. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, and so he and Mark went off on one journey, while Paul took Silas and went on another. Apparently Mark responded well to the trust given him by the "son of encouragement," since we find that Paul later spoke of him as a valuable assistant (2 Timothy 4:11; see also Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24).

Lection

Psalm 112
Isaiah 42:5-12
Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3
Mark 6:7-13

Collect

Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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05 June 2015
  + Boniface of Mainz, Bishop, Missionary, and Martyr +
5 June AD 754

Saint BonifaceThe man who later became known as Saint Boniface was born around AD 670-680 at Crediton, Devonshire, England and baptized Winfrid or Wynfrith. Although he was educated, he became a monk — at that time a calling often avoided by people of learning or means. While still in England, he was ordained as a presbyter and was inspired by the example of others to become a missionary.

Upon receiving a papal commission in 719 to work in Germany, Winfrid devoted himself to starting, organizing, and reforming churches and monasteries in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. After becoming an archbishop, Boniface was assigned to the See of Mainz in 743. Ten years later he resigned his position to engage in mission work in the Netherlands.

His time of activity overlapped the period in which Pippin the Younger and Charlemagne reigned and his work of converting the Saxons to Christianity was seen as a boon for expansion of Frankish rule. Yet Boniface never operated as a pawn of the kingdom of the left hand. Instead, he balanced alliances among the Carolingians, Bavarian rulers, and the papacy and often consecrated bishops who were already his followers in order to keep others from meddling in ecclesiastical affairs.

History isn't clear as to exactly when people began calling Winfrid "Boniface," Latin for "good deeds." However, his entire life gives ample testimony to events which would lead to this appellation.

Among his most famous exploits was the felling of Thor's Oak, an ancient tree believed sacred to the Nordic and Germanic god of thunder. Accounts from the period relate that when Thor (or Donar/Donner) didn't strike him dead with a lightning bolt, the locals agreed that the Christian God was supreme and agreed to be baptized. In a practical yet also symbolic gesture, Boniface used the wood of the fallen tree in the construction of a chapel in Fritzlar.

On June 5, 754, while awaiting a group of converts for confirmation, Boniface and his companions were murdered by a band of pagans in Friesland. The above picture is a commemorative statue in Dokkum, The Netherlands — a town near where he was martyred. Erected in 2004, it commemorated the 1250th anniversary of his death. Boniface is known as a great missionary and is sometimes called the "Apostle to the Germans." According to historian Christopher Dawson, no other Englishman had any greater influence upon Europe's history.

Suggested Lection

Psalm 115:1-8 or 31:1-5
Acts 20:17-28
Luke 24:44-53

Collect

Almighty God, who called Your faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering raised up a people for Your own possession, pour forth Your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many Your holy Name may be glorified and Your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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01 June 2015
  + Justin, Martyr +
c. 1 June AD 167

Born in Flavia Neapolis, Palestine around AD 100, near the close of the New Testament period, Justin was the son of pagan Greek parents. He was a philosophy student who studied in Alexandria, moving from Stoicism to Pythagoreanism and then Platonism as he sought to make sense of life. He converted to the Christian faith and became a teacher in Ephesus and Rome. Justin wrote that his conversion came as he observed the steadfast faith of Ephesian martyrs and through an elderly Christian whom he met along the shore of the sea.

St. Justin, MartyrJustin probably wrote much more than we have preserved, but three extant works show his intellect, his never completely abandoned Platonic philosophical education, and his inclination toward apologetics — that is, an intellectual defense of the Faith.

In his First Apology, addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and his adopted sons, Justin defended Christianity as the only rational creed. He included accounts of contemporary baptismal and communion rites, quite possibly designed to rebut distorted accounts from anti-Christian sources. Some of these anti-Christian writings claimed that Christians were cannibals (probably because of a distorted second hand understanding of the Lord's Supper).

He addressed his Second Apology to the Roman Senate. It counters spurious charges of immorality and the like that were being made against Christians. He said that only those who misunderstood the Faith would accuse it of undermining Roman society and countered that Christians made good citizens.

His Dialogue with Trypho the Jewish rabbi shows him at his strength. He carefully defended Christian teaching while allowing that the Church would continue to welcome Jews and would let them remain faithful to the laws of the Torah. While he may have edited it to provide himself with a few good lines, the text reads as a faithful exposition of an actual conversation.

Justin was living in Rome when the cynic philosopher Crescens stirred up trouble for the Christians. After refusing to make pagan sacrifices, Justin was arrested, tried and executed, along with six other believers, including Charites, Paeon, and Liberianus. The official Roman court proceedings of his trial before Rusticius, a Roman prelate, document his confession of faith. The account of his martyrdom became a source of great encouragement to the early Christian community.

Much of what we know of early liturgical practice comes from Justin. For example, in the First Apology he gave this brief description of Holy Communion: "On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of water mixed with wine are brought to the leader and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the Universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things. When the leader has finished the prayers and thanksgivings, the whole congregation assents, saying, 'Amen.' ('Amen' is Hebrew for 'So be it.') Then those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent."

Suggested Lection

Psalm 16:5-11 or 116:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 12:44-50

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who found Your martyr Justin wandering from teacher to teacher, seeking the true God, and revealed to him the sublime wisdom of Your eternal Word, grant that all who seek You, or a deeper knowledge of You, may find and be found by You; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
 
31 May 2015
  The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
31 May, New Testament (Three Year Lectionary)

Durer: The Visitation This major Christological feast commemorates the joyous visit Mary paid to her relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth, following The Annunciation. Inspired by the amazing news that she was to become the mother of the Christ and in response to the joyous word that her old and previously barren kinswoman was also pregnant, she joined Elizabeth during her sixth month of pregnancy (see Luke 1:39-56).

After Mary declared the wondrously good news, Elizabeth replied to the Virgin, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ... Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (vv. 42, 44)" She concluded by giving full credit and glory to God while also commending her young cousin's hearty faith: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (v. 45)"

Mary responded with the Magnificat, the beautiful song of praise beginning, "My soul magnifies the Lord. (vv. 46-55)" It's not clear whether Mary stayed there until after the birth of John or if she left immediately beforehand; Luke merely said that the Virgin "remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (v. 56)"

And so, as we encounter God sending the Forerunner and the Messiah into the world, we see a study in contrasts. Two women stand before each other. One seemingly too old to bear children now carries the final prophet of the Old Covenant. The other, youthful and as yet unwed — completely unprepared in the eyes of the world — carries the One who brings both the Advent and the Fulfillment of the New Testament. And again we see, in the fullness of time, one age passing away while another age begins — an age that has no end but which lasts unto eternity.

The reaction of Jesus' unborn cousin and the words of his mother also serve as reminders to many Christians about the sanctity of life. Christian pro-lifers point to John's celebration as clear evidence of the humanity and the consciousness of children who are still in utero.

In Roman Catholicism, Vatican II changed the date of the observation from 2 July to 31 May in order to more accurately reflect the Bible's chronology regarding the life of Christ. Several other Western churches followed suit. In The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, today is celebrated in congregations following the Three Year Lectionary while the One Year Lectionary retains the July feast date.

Note: This illustration by Albrecht Dürer is from the Web Gallery of Art.

Lection

Psalm 138
Isaiah 11:1-5
Romans 12:9-16
Luke 1:39-56

Collect

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Magnificat

My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
   for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
   for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
   and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
   He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
   in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
   to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

NB: Although the Visitation is a Christological feast, the observance of Trinity Sunday takes precedence in most liturgical calendars.
 
  The Feast of the Holy Trinity
The First Sunday after Pentecost

JesusThe Feast of the Holy Trinity, or Trinity Sunday, is a movable festival on the Church calendar in Western Christendom. Its date of celebration depends, as do Lent, Ascension Day, and Pentecost, upon the date of Easter.

Often, the Church Year is divided into two approximate halves. The "festival half," sometimes (rather inappropriately, in my opinion) termed "the Lord's half year," runs from the First Sunday in Advent through the week following Pentecost. This period encompasses all of the major Christological observances. Trinity Sunday is sometimes considered the close of the festival half but is usually understood to be the beginning of the non-festival half, sometimes called "the Church's half year." Its proper liturgical color is white, but except for certain special observances, green will be used for paraments and vestments until the church year closes.

This day celebrates the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — One God yet Three Persons — a fact revealed in Scripture but apprehended only by faith, since its comprehension defies human logic. Some people with a literalistic (rather than literal) understanding of the Bible attempt to deny this doctrine since they cannot find "Trinity" or "Triune" or "Three Persons" in the pages of Scripture. However, the sum total testimony of the Old and New Testaments certainly speaks of God as One yet also as Three Persons.

Regardless of the lectionary cycle used, the appointed Scriptures for the day reflect both God's undivided unity of self and His Triune nature. While not often used by most of the Christian Church during the rest of the year, much of the Western Church uses the Athanasian Creed as its confession of faith on Trinity Sunday.

TrinityLection: Three Year Series, Year B

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8
Acts 2:14a, 22-36
John 3:1-17

Lection: One Year Series

Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-7
Romans 11:33-36
John 3:1-15 (16-17)

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. Keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, now and forever.

Holy TrinityHymns

Holy, Holy, Holy

   Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
   Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
   Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
   God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

   Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
   Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
   Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
   Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

   Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
   Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
   Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
   Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

   Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
   All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
   Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
   God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Three Persons, One GodHoly God, We Praise Your Name

   Holy God, we praise Your Name;
   Lord of all, we bow before You.
   All on earth Your scepter claim,
   All in heaven above adore You.
   Infinite Your vast domain,
   Everlasting is Your reign.

   Hark! The glad celestial hymn
   Angel choirs above are raising;
   Cherubim and seraphim,
   In unceasing chorus praising,
   Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
   "Holy, holy, holy Lord!"

   Lo, the apostolic train
   Join Your sacred Name to hallow;
   Prophets swell the glad refrain,
   And the white robed martyrs follow;
   And from morn to set of sun
   Through the Church the song goes on.

The Holy Trinity   You are King of Glory, Christ;
   Son of God, yet born of Mary.
   For us sinners sacrificed,
   As to death a Tributary,
   First to break the bars of death,
   You have opened heaven to faith.

   Holy Father, holy Son,
   Holy Spirit, Three we name You,
   Though in essence only One;
   Undivided God we claim You
   And, adoring, bend the knee
   While we own the mystery.

Related item: Tainted Trinitarian Theology Trouble at Martin's Mumbles.

 
28 May 2015
  The Formula of Concord
28 May AD 1577

Jakob Andreae After Martin Luther's death, political changes altered the face of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church. Emperor Charles V exercised control over all of southern Germany and most of the north. The Augsburg Interim, a capitulation disguised as a compromise, denied justification by grace through faith alone. It also officially recognized seven sacraments, confessed transubstantiation, and re-instituted the Mass as a sacrificial thank offering. Most of the defeated Lutheran princes went along with the Interim.

Although Philipp Melanchthon initially opposed the Augsburg Interim, some combination of fear and his conciliatory nature led him to accept its demands. The damage continued with the Leipzig Interim, which continued to compromise justification by faith while also restoring Catholic rites to Baptism, reintroducing Corpus Christi processions, and otherwise granting favor to Roman practice.

During the same period, a number of doctrinal controversies intruded among the Lutherans. Some grew out of Melanchthon's ongoing compromises with either Rome or the Reformed. Others sprang from the reactionary excesses of his opponents, including Matthias Flacius. Almost two dozen confessions ranging widely across the doctrinal spectrum were composed between 1546 and 1577, variously appealing to the Augsburg Confession for support of often contradictory positions.

Book of Concord In the early 1570s, Jakob Andreae published Six Christian Sermons against the Philippist party and other Crypto-Calvinists. Meanwhile, Elector Augustus of Saxony, a staunch Lutheran who had been deceived by the Crypto-Calvinists and had actively opposed Lutheran theologians, came to his senses when confronted with Joachim Cureus's refutation of the Evangelical understanding of the Lord's Supper. He imprisoned many of those who'd misled him and began active support and encouragement of a uniting Lutheran confession.

Martin Chemnitz urged Andreae to revise and edit his Six Sermons into a formal statement of harmony. Andreae responded with the eleven articles of the Swabian Concord. Chemnitz and David Chytraeus added further revisions, producing the Swabian-Saxon Concord. Meanwhile Balthasar Bidembach and Lukas Osiander the elder had also composed a proposed uniting document, the Maulbronn Formula. Andreae, Chemnitz, David Chytraeus, Nikolaus Selnecker, and others met in Torgau from 28 May-7 June 1576 and drew the Swabian-Saxon Concord and the Maulbronn Formula together into the Torgau Book.

Elector Augustus received and passed along suggestions and criticisms of the Torgau Book to its authors, hoping that one more round of work would complete the task. Chemnitz, Andreae, Selnecker, Chytraeus, Andreas Musculus, and Christophorus Cornerus joined to complete the Bergen Book, which became known as the Solid Declaration or the Thorough Declaration. As this was being done, Andreae also worked on an Epitome or summation of the same doctrinal articles. The six men's work was completed by 28 May 1577.

These two works were included together as the Formula of Concord in the Book of Concord of 1580, along with the three Creeds and the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms, the Smalcald Articles, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. The Epitome briefly summarizes each controversy, confesses true doctrine, and rejects and condemns false teaching. The Solid Declaration is less rigid in structure, instead delving into each topic in much greater length.
 
25 May 2015
  + The Venerable Bede +
25 May AD 735

Bede Today marks the heavenly birthday of Bede (pronounced BĒD). Since his commemoration often falls near the end of Eastertide, it's quite likely that many Christians have close familiarity with one of Bede's best known (and one of this Aardvark's favorite) hymns, the Ascension anthem "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing."

Bede (673-735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first person to compile a history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. He was ordained when he was thirty.

Probably the most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history and his careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. His skill in both history and theology gave him the ability to complete a synthesis between the older Celtic monasticism and the later Rule of Saint Benedict.

Known best for his book Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People), he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his edition of the Vulgate was the standard in Catholicism until 1979 and his commentaries still provide fresh insights for today's readers.

Bede also popularized the use of Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi ("in the Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ") in speaking of the time since our Savior's birth. This is usually shortened to Anno Domini or AD.

Bede Translating John His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John's Gospel into English when death came. He also said that Bede died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips.

Attested hymns include Hymn­um can­en­tes mar­tyr­um ("The Hymn for Con­quer­ing Mar­tyrs Raise"), Hymnum ca­na­mus Do­mi­no (translated variously as "A Hymn of Glo­ry Let Us Sing," "The Hymn of Glory Sing We," and "Sing We Tri­umph­ant Hymns of Praise"), and Praecursor al­tus lu­mi­nis ("The Great Fore­run­ner of the Morn"). He also wrote vernacular poetry.

Bede received the title "Venerable" within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England's greatest saints.

Lection — ESV Except as Noted

Psalm 78:1-4 or 19:7-14
Wisdom 7:15-22 (NRSV)
Matthew 13:47-52

Collect

Heavenly Father, who called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to Your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship, grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of Your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make You known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing

A hymn of glory let us sing New songs throughout the world shall ring
Alleluia, Alleluia.
Christ, by a road before untrod Ascendeth to the throne of God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

The holy apostolic band Upon the Mount of Olives stand
Alleluia, Alleluia.
And with His followers they see Jesus' resplendent majesty
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

To Whom the angels drawing nigh, "Why stand and gaze upon the sky?"
Alleluia, Alleluia.
"This is the Savior," thus they say. "This is His noble triumph day."
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

"Again ye shall behold Him so, As ye have today seen Him go."
Alleluia, Alleluia.
"In glorious pomp ascending high Up to the portals of the sky."
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

O grant us thitherward to tend And with unwearied hearts ascend,
Alleluia, Alleluia.
Unto Thy kingdom's throne, where Thou As is our faith, art seated now,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Be Thou our Joy and strong Defense, Who art our future Recompense,
Alleluia, Alleluia.
So shall the light that springs from Thee Be ours through all eternity,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

O risen Christ, ascended Lord, All praise to Thee let earth accord,
Alleluia, Alleluia.
Who art, while endless ages run, With Father and with Spirit One,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

More on Bede's hymns and related information from NetHymnal.

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