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Hermann Sasse for Contemporary Lutherans Nov 6, 2005
The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters Volume II (1941-1976), by Hermann Sasse. Translated by Matthew C. Harrison. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003, Pp.471. $21.95 (cloth).
Born twenty-three years after Loehe's death, Hermann Sasse (1895-1976) stood in the tradition of Wilhelm Loehe and transmitted that legacy to the twentieth century. Sasse, a son of the church of the Prussian Union came to understand himself as a confessing Lutheran while on a study leave at Hartford Seminary in the 1925-26 academic year. It was while he was in United States that he came to read Loehe's Three Books About the Church and it is this book that Sasse credits for turning him toward Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. Sasse would eventually leave the Prussian Union and become a member of the Bavarian territorial church, the church in which Loehe had been a pastor. And like Loehe, Sasse would find himself in conflict with the officials of that body. After a teaching career at Erlangen (where Loehe had also studied), Sasse would immigrate to Australia in 1948 to accept a post on the faculty of Immanuel Seminary (later renamed Luther Seminary) in Adelaide, a school that had historical ties to Neuendettelsau. Like Loehe, Sasse had a passionate for the doctrine of the Lord's Supper and its place in the life of the congregation. Sasse, like Loehe, was a churchly theologian with a heart for faithful missionary proclamation in the world. Both men held a high (but not "high church") view of the pastoral office and both were concerned with maintaining Lutheran identity grounded in the marks of the church (AC VII).
The essays in this volume come from the time of World War II through the end of Sasse's life in 1976. An earlier volume contains materials from 1927-1939 as well as a biographical sketch of Sasse's life. Another volume is anticipated that will contain Sasse's "Letters to Lutheran Pastors". The Lonely Way Volume II provides readers with essays and letters reflective of the range of Sasse's work. Four of the twenty-seven entries have to do with the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Three treat the doctrine of the ministry. Two of the writings examine Luther's significance for modern Christianity. Several deal with inter-Lutheran and ecumenical issues. The remaining essays address liturgy, women's ordination, and early church views of abortion. All of the pieces in this collection reflect the depth of Sasse's scholarship and piety, his knowledge of church history ancient and modern, and his far reaching ecumenical ties both to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed churches. He served as honorary president of Inter-Varsity Fellowship in Australia. Letters and conversations with his close friend, Herman A.Preus of Luther Seminary are frequently noted.
Sasse champions the liturgy for the sake of the church's dogma. This leads him to take a critical position over against the liturgical movement. Arguing that a real renewal of liturgy is need, Sasse writes "Liturgy and Confession: A Brotherly warning Against the High Church Danger" (299-322) in 1959. In this treatise, Sasse is critical of Saint Louis' Arthur Carl Piepkorn and his associates who published Una Sancta. A Lutheran liturgical movement, Sasse opines ought to be anchored in "the saving message of the justification of the sinner by faith alone" (314). Sasse chides the formulators of the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal for importing an Anglican eucharistic prayer into the Lutheran rite, pointing out the weaknesses of Gregory Dix's approach to liturgical theology. At the heart of his criticisms of the liturgical movement is Sasse fear that dogmatic content is lacking. The lex credendi lex orandi must also be reversible. "The liturgy defines doctrine only if doctrine defines the liturgy" (301).
Questions of church and ministry also engage Sasse. Sasse notes that both Rome and the Reformed see the ministry as an ordo whereas Lutheranism understands the "office as mandate" (120). Thus the office of the ministry is seen in terms of the Gospel rather than law. Forms of church government-congregational, episcopal, synodical, presbyterial are matters of human not divine law (122). Sasse offers a critique of Anglicanism from the perspective of Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: "There is no hint in Holy Scripture at a successio apostolica. The successio is a venerable tradition, an adiaphoron which, however ceases to be an adiaphoron if it is used to obscure the doctrine of Scripture on the true unity of the church" (274). For Sasse, the unity of the church is found in the one Christ. Individuals or whole churches may apostatize from the one church, but the essential unity of the church cannot be destroyed anymore than it can be achieved
This collection is entitled The Lonely Way. The title accurately characterizes Sasse's life. Like Loehe before him, Sasse was not easily at home in the Lutheranism of his day. He was critical of what he viewed as doctrinal indifference and unionism in the Lutheran World Federation. He was never completely at home with the Missouri Synod's old doctrine of biblical inerrancy or the formulations of Franz Pieper's Christian Dogmatics but neither did he see the emerging "moderate" movement as offering a more substantial theology.
Sasse's essays and letters give us glimpse into the life of world Lutheranism in the middle years of the last century. His polemics could be harsh; perhaps too harsh for ecumenically sensitive twenty-first century ears. Nevertheless the hard edge to his theology was prompted by his love for the confession of the Gospel- a confession that unites and divides. Truth and heresy were not quaint relics of a bygone era for Sasse: "Just as a man whose kidneys no longer eliminate poisons which have accumulated in the body will die, so the church will die which no longer eliminates heresy" wrote Sasse in 1969 (!90). Sasse wrote eloquently of the theologia crucis and so he knew that the church lives a cruciform existence. The theology of the cross made it possible for Sasse to work with patience and hope in the midst of disappointments over church politicians who had use for theology only as a tool for their programs and plans. So he writes "The sect cannot wait, for it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait, for it does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that" (328). Sasse's legacy gives us much to ponder as we look to that future.
Historical annotations by Ronald Feuerhahn add to the usefulness of this attractively done volume.
John T.Pless Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, Indiana
After Reading Vol. I, Who Could Not Read Vol. II Jun 9, 2003
Those interested in confessional Lutheran orthodoxy / theology and church history will be thankful for these excellent translations from the German by Matthew Harrison. The two volumes of "The Lonely Way" constitute the expression of one of the finer theological minds of the past 100 years, the late Hermann Sasse. We must thank his son for permitting the translations and publication by Concordia Publishing House(CPH)of St. Louis. I have made much use of these volumes recently as reference and quotation not to mention to tell others to place these volumes on the top of their reading list if they have them, or that they should obtain them.
Continued Blessed Reflection for Our Times Mar 5, 2003
Sasse comes forth upon reading him more as a great church historian and an accurate exegete. Are there two more vital things for our troubled times?
Sasse's thoughts were shaped in the crucible of extreme trials and strains, and thus are deep and rich in their preciour ore that is surfaced from Scriptural mines.
There is such pertinent material here, from real presence to female ordination to Vatican II. I especially found the comments on Piepkorn in his brotherly warning against "high church danger" to be very directed to our times.
Selective Fellowship should attract many readers, as well as the most insightful expose on the ancient office of teacher.
Readers of theology will be swept away by this remarkable man's knowledge and probes into theology, much of which is so applicable to our atheological culture.