19 August 2009

Is it heresy?

I've often heard Lutherans use the term "heresy" to describe the excessive Marian devotions rejected by our confessions. Is it "heresy" (or is it merely "error") to pray to Mary and refer to her as "Mediatrix"? Do such practices remove one from the Church? Should we refer to people who hold such Mariology by the honorific "Saint"?

Is there any consensus among us Lutherans on this?

--- Rev. Larry Beane


Ariel said...

I have to comment on this, and give my view on it. I don't know if "heresy" would be the word I would use...but put it is this way, it is not Biblically sound. Mary does not have the role of "Mediatrix" or "Intermediator" for us. There is already someone as that role, and that someone is Christ. He alone intercedes for us, both in prayer to our heavenly Father and on the cross for our sins and transgressions.

It's funny how the more about orthodox/confessional Lutheranism I learn about (including the ways that it's supposedly "too Catholic"), the more I am more aware of what DOES seperate us from Roman Catholics. Both commemorate the early church fathers, the patriarchs, the saints, etc...but Roman Catholics also consider them to "intercede" for prayers as well, which is a similarly un-Biblical teaching.

A "Christ-centered" faith is one that clings ONLY to the mercy and love of Christ to be our sole salvation.

James T. B said...

Every time I have heard debate on this topic, Rome has always gone to great pains to show that the saints in heaven pray for us. Lutherans have never disagreed with this.

One way that Rome gets off the track is their idea that we should ASK the saints in heaven to pray for us in the same way we ask the saints on earth to pray for us. It is this communication with the saints in heaven that is wrong. It is attempting to communicate with the dead and should be handled as such.

Another error is the idea that the prayers of the saints in heaven somehow contribute to our salvation. Jesus was extremely clear when he said that He and He alone is the way to the Father.

We can honor the work that God was able to accomplish through the saints who are in heaven. We can remember them. We can even hope to follow their godly example. On the other hand, it is sinful to try to talk with them in prayer or consider them as contributors to our salvation in anyway.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Sometimes I wonder why we soft pedal around issues of false doctrine. Any false doctrine that people choose over the Truth is by definition a heresy. Heresy simply means "choice" - and when you have made a choice to believe something other than the right teaching, you have fallen into Heresy. We shouldn't minimize any false doctrine, for little errs grow into big errs (as the whole development of Marian piety demonstrates).

Now, if you want to use the modern distinction where heresy refers only to really, really bad errors that directly confound the heart of the faith. . . I would say that those who merely "pray" as a matter of communication and ask for prayer isn't horrid (it's no worse than a person sighing and saying, "Oh dead spouse, I wish you were around). There is a desire to be with those who have died (and yet, we have this in the Supper, and so many people shrug that off). If someone actually holds to the line that "prayer" to saints is simply an acknowledgment that they are living in the presence of Christ and the prayer is not a worship of them but simply talking to them. . . eh, not horrid. Even asking them to pray. . . eh, not too horrid (although I still say let the Saints who rest from their labors just enjoy heaven!).

A full bore heresy is where Mary becomes a required intercessor for salvation to occur, because this denies the primacy and sufficiency of Christ.

If you make a distinction between mere error and heresy, I would imagine this is where it would fall.

Petersen said...

It is heresy.

The distinction, however, that needs to be made is between hetereodoxy and heretical. The hetereodox hold to various heresies but are kept in the one true faith by grace. The Holy Spirit prevents them from taking their errors to their logical conclusions. They hold to a mixed doctrine, some error and some truth. The Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and Eastern Orthodoxy all fit in the category.

Heretical groups are those who deny the Person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. They deny the essence of the Faith. This category would include Arians, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, etc.

The idea that Mary participates in our salvation and bestows some of her good works to our account out of your grace is heresy. If taken to its logical conclusion it would deny Christ. Thanks be to God that He preserves some from going that far.

- Petersen

William Weedon said...

For to everyone who believes through the word of the Apostles, the promise is given for Christ's sake and by the power of this prayer, that he shall be one body and one loaf with all Christians; that what happens to him as a member for good or ill, shall happen to the whole body for good or ill, and not only one or two saints, but all the prophets, martyrs, apostles, all Christian, both on earth and with God in Heaven, shall suffer and conquer with him, shall fight for him, *help, protect, and save him* and shall undertake such a great exchange that they will all bear his sufferings, want, and afflictions and he partake of all their blessings, comfort, and joy.

How could a man wish for anything more blessed than to come into this fellowship or brotherhood and be made a member of this body, which is called Christendom? For who can harm or injure a man who has this confidence, who knows that heaven and earth, and all the angels and the saints will cry to God when the smallest suffering befalls him?
--Blessed Martin Luther, Sermons on John XVI-XX (1528), cited in *Day by Day* p. 353

Also worth observing - this is something Fr. Curtis pointed out to me - that in the Augustana, the cult of the saints is NOT listed among the abuse articles. Curious, no?

All of which is to say: in rejecting the invocation of the saints, let us not forget that as one body in Christ, the saints do indeed ever intercede for us according to the will of God; joined as one Body to our Head, who ever lives to intercede for us, how could they not? But I trust that one of the things they pray for us is that we would repose our confidence entirely in the Lamb of God and not in themselves...

Petersen said...

And another thing - we should distinguish between errors and heresy. We do not break fellowship over errors. Whether the Body and Blood of Christ remain in the reliquae after the distribution or not is an open question in Lutheranism. It so happens that they do. Of course they do! There is no word or promise for a miracle to withdraw them or change the Body and Blood into bread and wine. But it is an open question, which is to say, we tolerate error on it. So if you insist on the error that the Body and Blood of Christ miraculously change into bread and wine apart from any clear Word of Holy Scripture, I will tolerate it, even though you are wrong. So also if you insist on the silly idea that John 6 is not about the Holy Communion or that the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about Christ, etc. Those things are errors, not heresy.

The intercession of the saints is an open question. The idea that St. Mary dispenses her good works to the faithful for their salvation is not.

- Petersen

William Weedon said...

Another thing worth noting is the manner of its rejection in our Symbols. Actually, the AC says nothing further than "Scripture does not teach us to call upon the saints or to ask the saints for help." The Ap amplifies this by underlining what was said and what was not said: "we do not REQUIRE the invocation of the saints." The reasons are laid out: prayer should proceed from certain promise. We have no command, no promise, no example in the Scriptures about saintly invocation, hence "without the testimony of Scripture, how do we know that the saints know about the prayer of each one?" As an uncertain matter, then, they argue that it cannot be required, although there is the curious Ap XXI:13: "This new invocation in the Church is unlike the invocation of individuals." What does that mean? The SA II:25ff. is, of course, more emphatic, calling it one of the Antichrist's chief abuses that conflicts with the chief article and pointing out: "Besides, we have everything a thousand times better in Christ." The SA is agnostic about whether the saints in fact pray for us in heaven (quite in contrast to the quote I provided above) and in tension with the Ap asserting that Blessed Mary prays for the Church and all the saints. I read that uncertainty in SA mostly as another polemic, and stick with the earlier quote that accords with the Ap.

Chad Myers said...

I have found, having had extensive discussions with Protestants of many flavors on this subject, that they still fundamentally miss the whole point of intercession and see it as a 'roadblock' or as an 'instead-of' situation as opposed to an 'also, and' situation. Ariel (first poster) exemplifies this, albeit scrupulous, confusion.

You have a mother and a father, do you ignore your mother and only talk to your father?

Do you ignore your brothers and sisters when you talk with your mother?

No, you have a family, you have many people who love you in your family and who can help you.

Catholics are Christ-centered, but we do not completely forget about the rest of our family who can be aids in time of trouble or need.

Mary is a very powerful aid for us and a wonderful advocate.

If we are Christ-centered and are committed to imitate Christ in all things, then why do we ignore the fact that Christ turned to Mary many times and even obeyed her unquestioningly?

Mary was a HUGE part of Christ's life. Why, then, do you refuse to make her a part of YOUR life?

When humans die, do you not believe we have Eternal Life? If so, do you really believe that that life is completely separate from all creation that God made for us? I reject that notion. Eternal Life involves communion with the Church here in Creation (though not necessarily two-way communication in the sense we are used to).

Does humility, charity, and all the virtues that Christ was so careful to teach us here on Earth suddenly become completely worthless once you get in heaven? No! You are now perfected in your adherence to these virtues.

So how much more charitable will you be when you are perfect in heaven -- wishing to do what you can for the poor souls still here on Earth?

You will give the most powerful and effective thing you have to help them: Your perfectly oriented prayers from your perfected heart of giving.

Mary is one of many, but happens to be a very special one since Christ himself, through the Holy Spirit, elevated her. Gabriel, the Archangel attested to this fact: "Hail, full of grace" -- a salutation he would give no other human in New Testament times.

Chad Myers said...

"The idea that Mary participates in our salvation and bestows some of her good works to our account out of your grace is heresy. If taken to its logical conclusion it would deny Christ. Thanks be to God that He preserves some from going that far."

- Just for the record, this is not what the Roman Catholic Church teaches at all. I'm not sure who said this or what gave you that impression.

Mary does not save us. I will say, though, however, that we all participate in same way shape or another in the holiness of the people around us. We can help damn someone as much as we can help raise each other up.

This is why we have a Church and a community and a congregation and worship is an inherently communal activity (not meant to be done only alone or just in private).

In that respect, Mary is like many of the rest of us, only she has an elevated place in the eyes of Christ (a favored place, so says Gabriel) so how much more influence does she have than the rest of us?

By way of comparison Moses, Elijah, Abraham, etc also have lots of influence because God elevated them to special places of importance in his plan.

Mary doesn't save us, Christ did that. But Mary, like all our brothers and sisters alive or in Heaven, wish to help us along our way "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" Paul says (Philippians 2:12-13).

One last thing: If you think asking Saints for their prayers is 'talking with the dead', then do you not believe in Eternal Life? Are they alive in Heaven or dead? Did Christ not talk over and over again about Eternal Life?

Reformationalist said...

Ye watchers and Ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels' choirs:

O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises; Alleluia!
Thou Bearer of the Eternal Word,
Most Gracious, magnify the Lord:

Respond ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest:
Ye holy Twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song:

und so weiter ....

Presumably we are not uttering heresy as we sing this hymn!


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Chad Myers said...

"we do not REQUIRE the invocation of the saints." - Exactly. Catholics agree with this. Intercession with Saints is not a REQUIREMENT of salvation.

As with many things in Catholic/Protestant dialog, we're arguing past each other. (which is a good thing, because it means it's a misunderstanding and not necessarily a fundamental break)

A question to those who question whether the Saints in Heaven are aware or interested in the events on Earth after passing from this world:

Why did Moses and Elijah appear to Christ during the Transfiguration?

Father Hollywood said...

Yesterday, our church body commemorated Bernard of Clairvaux. The Memorare prayer at the top of my post is often attributed to him. He didn't write it, but it contains phraseology almost identical to what Bernard wrote about Mary.

Bernard wrote considerably about Mary, and was rather over the top in his devotion to her. He referred to her as: gratiae inventrix, mediatrix, salutis restauratrix saeculorum (discoverer (or inventor) of grace, mediator, restorer of health of the ages).

Luther and the early Lutherans were most familiar with Bernard's (excessive) devotion to the BVM (and don't shy from criticizing them). Bernard used the word "mediatrix" to describe her. He prayed fervently to her. He insisted that various Marian antiphons (such as the Salve Regina) be used in the office prayers of his monastery.

If these errors are "heresy," then Bernard is not a saint, but a heretic. If this is true, he should not be in our calendar of commemorations.

But before you shoot that angry letter off to the COW, check the Book of Concord. Bernard is mentioned 8 times.

In the Apology, (Ap IV:211 Tappert), Bernard is numbered among the "holy Fathers" (sancti patri). In Ap XXVIII:20, he is numbered among the "holy men" (sancti viri). In the Smalcald Articles III:III:17, Luther refers to him as "St. Bernard" (St. Bernhard) in the German text (he is only "Bernhard" in the Latin translation). In the Large Catechism, Luther numbers him among the "fathers" (Vaetern, patribus) and he is specifically called "St. Bernard" (St. Bernhard) in the German, while the Latin translation uses the title "Divus" ("divine" - which was a common medieval honorific for saints): Divo Berhardo).

In the German translation of the Apology, Melanchthon even taunts the papists a bit with the rhetorical question: "Is St. Bernard also a heretic?" ("Ist St. Bernhard auch ein Ketzer?") - which does not appear in the Tappert, which only gives the Latin).

So, "Is St. Bernard also a heretic?" Is Melanchthon also taunting us?

Either we have to distance ourselves from our own confessions, or we come up with some really clever slice-and-dice sophistry to call a heretic a saint (here might be a good play for the "simul iustus et peccator" card...), or we're going to have to admit that the earliest Lutherans, while staunchly condemning false doctrine and confessing the truth of the gospel, cut errorists more slack than we do - at least as far as the word "heretic" goes.

I maintain that there is a big difference between someone who prays to Mary as Mediatrix seeking salvation and/or favors from the BVM (as do some Roman Catholics, as did St. Bernard) and a person who denies the divinity of Christ (as the Jehovah's Witnesses do). The former is error, the letter is heresy. The former are within the Church (and can even be lauded for their holiness), while the latter are extra ecclesiam.

Otherwise, we should cut pages 638 and 639 out of the Treasury of Daily Prayer.

John Frahm said...

Yes it is a heresy, especially the part about being a Mediatrix. Good grief that is blasphemous.

William Weedon said...

Exactly, Fr. Beane. The invocation of the Blessed Mother and all the saints in St. Bernard and all the fathers does not "overthrow the foundation" - the true knowledge of Christ and faith. This is the way the Apology points us in VII/VIII:20,21 in regards to the writing of the fathers.

William Weedon said...

I think, Fr. Frahm, it would be better to stick to the category of error. Think of the parallel with the Assumption. As a theological opinion it is no heresy. When it is elevated to a dogma that must be believed for eternal salvation, THEN the elevation of theological opinion to the divine dogma IS heretical. Similarly, as long as the language of Mediatrix is not something required for salvation (and it's not in Rome, I don't believe) then it is not heretical but erroneous. If someone holds that it MUST be believed to be a Christian - that would be heretical.

Petersen said...

We can find heresies in almost all the fathers. That doesn't mean they were heretics. But they were often confused and were always fighting against their fallen flesh even as we are. They are not saints because they had the right doctrine. They are saints because they are declared to be so by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Being a saint doesn't make you infallible. Writing things useful for the Church doesn't mean everything you write or every opinion you hold is worthy. So also while we do not break fellowship over errors we do break fellowship over heresy. So while we count the Roman Church as within Christianity and do not say they are heretics, like the JWs, nonetheless we are not in fellowship with them. This is not because they got a few details wrong, made some mistakes, etc, but because of heresy.

William Weedon said...

What we're disagreeing on is the definition of heresy. I would offer this definition:

Heresy is error that overthrows the faith.

When a jurisdiction of Christ's Church adopts a non heretical error as its official position, it thereby becomes heterodox; not heretical.

Reformationalist said...

William has again accurately applied the hammer straight upon the nail.

Nicely put!


Father Hollywood said...

A heretic is a person who espouses heresy. Montanus was a heretic whose heresy was Montanism, and he was outside of the church. The Gnostics were heretics who believed in Gnosticism.

This is where I think we need to make a distinction between heresy and error.

The Lutheran Confessions condemned the errors of the cult of saints, but nonetheless do not call Bernard a heretic. In fact, they laud him as a saint. He is inside of the church, his errors notwithstanding.

The ELCA hymnal has a commemoration for Albert Schweitzer, who denied the virgin birth, the resurrection, the supernatural, and the divinity of Jesus. While correct doctrine does not make a saint, heresy (such as denial of the divinity of Jesus) certainly does take one outside the church, and to call Albert Schweitzer a saint (a "holy person") by honoring him in a sanctoral calendar is to mock the very concept. Why is this not so with Bernard?

This can only mean that there is a fundamental distinction between such *errors* as praying to saints and *heresies* such as denial of the Trinity. I agree with Pr. Petersen that the fathers taught many errors in their frailty, but when they taught heresy, they were condemned as heretics and called to repent. Those who died outside of the communion of the church were denied Christian burial. Their churches were not recognized as Christian.

I just do not see how the error of praying to the saints can rise to the level of heresy if our own confessions not only do not condemn or anathematize such men and declare them outside the church (as we certainly do Arius, Valentinus, Sabellius, Muslims and others specifically called "heresy" in AC1), but in fact, to the opposite: call them saints, holy fathers, divines, and consider their errors not to be so severe and grievous as to remove them from the church or impede their salvation.

K said...

"Our prayer should include the Mother of God . . . What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor . . . We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her . . . He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary. (Personal Prayer Book, 1522).

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

When "Mary" is brought up among us we are very quick to focus on "excessive Marian devotions." This focus is unfortunate for a number of reasons, primarily that we lose sight of the benefit to us in God choosing Mary. The honor that Scripture places on her even seems to make us uncomfortable, not to mention the devotion accorded her by the great majority of those within historic Christianity (both West and East). So, rather than allow Mary to draw us to humbly focus on Christ we are quick to focus on other Christians and proudly and gloriously claim our distinctions.

Any "excessive" practices can be and often are wrong. Every religion, denomination, sect, confession, etc. offers opportunity to excess. I am very cautious here to use the word "heresy." Mary seems to be used among us as a touchpoint to show that we are not like other Christians rather than to be honored for who she is.

Scripture and tradition place Mary on a high place because of God's mercy and her humble trust and submission. I used to belief the broad brush theory and characterize other Christians on the question of Mary until I did some study on my own on what is really taught among these Christians. There are many examples why the broad brush theory does not work and here is one. Among Votive Masses Mary is given just one out of the seven days.

There is so much involved in this question of Mary that excesses may go two ways and not just one. What about the Holy Trinity? What about the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ? If we are to speak of "heresy" we have our hands full in this world in knowing confessing and worshipping the one true God.

While there may be small eccentric groups that place Mary above Christ, these are but the rare exception. Mary's role is not as hammer to beat other Christians over the head, especially those who share the faith in the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as Son of God and Son of Man.

Chad Myers said...

John: I think you're jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you should investigate a little further before you simply pronounce things heresy:


Did Moses save the Israelites? No. God did. Moses was the instrument of God's will. In a similar sort of way, Christ saved us. Mary's cooperation and obedience in God's will contributed to the salvation of us all (just like our own cooperation with God's will contributes to our own salvation today).

Neither Mary nor Moses was required, yet God chose that humans cooperate, obey, and assist. Why? Does God need us? Certainly not. He chose to do it that way. He chose Moses, he chose Mary. We revere Moses for his cooperation. We revere Mary for hers.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

You will find a lot of agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics regarding Mary. We too revere her and call her blessed for her pivotal role in the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord (whom she praises as her Savior).

Where we differ is in the invocation, in seeking favors from Mary (or Moses or any other departed saint). Even good and holy practices can degrade into idolatry - such as the bronze serpent on the pole that was initially kept with the holy things in the ark, but later had to be destroyed as an idol - because the devotion of the people had fallen into something more than a healthy devotion.

When reverence evolves into worship, that's when it becomes a problem. The early Lutherans saw the mess the cult of the saints had created, and concluded that this unscriptural practice fed other errors and bad practices - such as the mercenary Masses and the traffic in indulgences. Worst of all, it took the focus away from Christ and displaced the devotion of the people. The devotion to the saints had devolved into a kind of bureaucratic pantheon - prayer to Anthony to find lost items, prayers to Joseph to sell a house.

I do believe most Roman Catholics do not worship (latreia) Mary, but it is hard to deny that there is a cultus within the Roman tradition in which Mary is prayed to, asked for favors, and treated almost as a goddess - rather than the mother of God, the humble maidservant who points us to her Divine Son.

There is also the opposite error of almost denigrating the "most holy" (sanctissima, per our Lutheran confessions) mother of God as an over-correction. Lutherans are not immune from this kind of thing, to be sure.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

The wrongfulness of dogmatizing the Assumption, which Fr. Weedon correctly brings up, is analogous, I suggest, to a tendency on the part of modern Lutheranism. I am thinking of the Lutheran habit of systematizing, one might even say dogmatizing, categories, and even terms, so that they have one meaning, and so are always "good" or "bad." That isn't always inappropriate, but things like language, the history of Christian thought, truth, fairness, and intellectual honesty, are sometimes sacrificed in the process.

For example, a saying like, "There is one mediator," is of course a powerful statement of unequivocal and evangelical truth, from the pen of the Blessed Apostle, yet ought not be employed as a proof text against any and all talk of Mary as mediator. I would argue that many writers, Bernard included, at times speak of Mary being "mediator of all grace" simply as a way of speaking of the Incarnation itself. That is, it is through Mary that the Immanuel enters the world. This could be shown by many examples. Admittedly this isn't always the intention of the writer; don't get me wrong, I do not endorse every instance of such phraseology.

It is important to keep in mind, too, I suggest, that there is marian devotion and then there is marian devotion. Too often it is all lumped together as simply alien to Lutheran sensibilities. Yet Saint Bernard's devotion to Mary, as drippy and syruppy as he can be (not without reason is he the mellifluous Doctor), is not of the same nature as, say, the inner locutions of Fr. Stefano Gobbi, or the need some have to see Mary in their food, and in the oil stains on the freeway. On the whole, Bernard's is a devotion that is appreciated only in profound relation to the Incarnation, and the Passion of Christ. And few have thus served the Church better than Saint Bernard.

I will just add that I am happy to take this opportunity to comment on the saint on the 20th, his real feast day.

Petersen said...

"What we're disagreeing on is the definition of heresy. I would offer this definition: Heresy is error that overthrows the faith."

OK. This is getting silly. I am not bothered by the invocation of the saints - rightly done. I prefer the idea of St. Mary's perpetual virginity. There is no animosity between me and Fr. Hollywood or Fr. Weedon. And I don't think we're in serious disagreement here. But I think there is some sloppy language here and we can do better.

The idea that St. Mary as Mediatrix is only an "error" is unhelpful and confused. It is heresy. That is an important word. We should not try to soften it. The definition of heresy as an error that overthrows the faith is fine. That is the distinction between errors of doctrine and errors in open questions. Errors of doctrine threaten to overthrow the faith. When Rome makes an error regarding prevenient grace, the intervention of the saints toward salvation (super erogation), the sacrifice of the Mass, etc, they are not engaging in errors of exegesis and open questions. They are holding to errors that threaten to overthrow the faith. They are contrary to the clear Word of God. They are heresies. These are not mere opinions of men based upon ambiguity. They are pernicious and deadly. We need to name them as such. I know heresy is a mean word. But sometimes we need to use the right word even if it is politically incorrect. In any case, I hardly think error is that much nicer.

But - and this is huge - the Roman Church is not a heretical group. They are a Christian body. Why? They have not taken these heresies to their logical conclusions. They hold these errors, which deny the Trinity and the Person and Work of Christ, even while they also worship the Holy Trinity. They have heresy that would overthrow the doctrine of Christ (not mistakes, but deep doctrinal error, heresy) and Truth mixed. They hold these things together of course, as do all of us still infected with the old man, by the grace of God.

They hold to heresies, errors that would overthrow the faith, and truth, so they are not heretics. They are not JWs. They are not outside the Church. But they are in danger.

I think you guys have a soft spot for St. Mary (or maybe Bernard) and an over reaction to bad Lutheranism which have clouded your thinking here. I don't think you'd give the same spirited defense for Rome's synergism or superstitions regarding the saints. So why now? Why this? I think you may be over reacting to the protestant errors so rampant among us.

Anyway, to the original question, I still maintain that while the intercession of the saints is an open question, where pious men might disagree and remain in fellowship, the idea that St. Mary is Mediatrix is heresy. Not everyone who holds that St. Mary is Mediatrix is damned to Hell. Many of them are confused and misled and by the grace of God cling to faith in Christ. But that particular heresy (along with others) stands against the doctrine of Christ. It is dangerous and deadly. It is not an opinion. It is not some murky idea from a single passage. It is clearly a violation of the Holy Scriptures. Thus it prevents us from being fully united with those to hold to it on this side of glory, even if they are completely orthodox in all other things.

- Petersen

Father Hollywood said...

Again, David, I agree that we agree. :-)

But where we disagree is where the sloppy language comes in. You can't separate "heresy" and "heretic."

A "heretic" believes in "heresy. The noun describes him for what he does (believes). An Anglophone is a person who speaks English. An orthodox Christian believes in orthodoxy. A heterodox Christian believes in heterodoxy.

It would be silly to say "I speak English, but I'm not an Anglophone." It is equally silly to say: "I believe in heresy, but I am no heretic."

The "problem" is that Bernard's errors are tolerated by the authors of our confessions - not excused, but tolerated. These errors do not remove him from the church. He is not in the same category as Arius, because his *error* is not in the same category as Arius.

I heard a district president say: "I exercise episkope, but I am not a bishop." Again, this is like saying: "I speak English, but I am no Anglophone."

The JWs are heretics. Their "church" is a heretical "church." They are outside of the una sancta. The Presbyterians and the Baptists (whom Luther arguably did not even hold to be Christians) are errorists. And let's face it, denying the efficacy of Baptism and denying the Real Presence is not a minor deal. And yet, I don;t think anyone is prepared to call them heretics. I certainly am not.

When I use the word "heretic," I use it in the sense of Arius - someone outside the church. When I use the word heresy, I use it to mean teachings that are outside of the church. Maybe others use those words differently, but we should seek a common vocabulary lest our confessions become postmodern mush.

forestboar said...

No one has commented on the confessional distinction between prayer to saints that is merely useless, and prayer to saints that is blasphemous. (Ap XXI)
To pray to the saints, and ask them to intercede for us is not heresy, merely useless. They already pray for us and holy scripture gives no indication that that they hear us.
To demand prayer to the saints is heresy, and our confessions call it so.
To pray for them for propitiation is blaspheme, and overthrows the faith by definition.
As for calling saints mediators, they certainly do intercede in heaven on behalf of the whole church, and so any saint could be called "mediator" or "mediatrix" in a limited sense. It simply depends what you mean by your terms. A mediatrix is certainly a far cry from a redemptrix, which would, again, be heresy by definition.

Petersen said...

How about the term "semi-heretic?" We rightly call the Roman church semi-pelagian. Pelagius was a heretic, as outside the church as the JWs, because of his heresy. There is no dispute on that. The Roman church holds his error, the seed of his heresy, but it does not hold it exclusively. Obviously, this is from a Lutheran perspective, the RC makes similar charges against us. In any case, from our perspective they are semi-(as opposed to full-blown) pelagians. Substitude the word heretic for pelagian and you get: semi-heretic. Or, we could just use the word hetereodox which really means the same thing as semi-pelagian.

That is not nonsensical. In the first place, no heretic (unless he is a just an obstinate a-hole) says, "I believe in heresy." Everyone says, "I believe in orthodoxy." The Roman church never says, "I am semi-pelagian" anymore than they say, "I am pelagian." Those who are hetereodox do not believe in hetereodoxy. They believe in heresy while also believing in orthodoxy. They are semi-heretics. But to be truly a heretic to hold fully to the heresy, to take it to its conclusion. The distinction between pelagian and semi-pelagian is the same as that between a heretic and a heterodox Christian.

Your Albert Schweitzer remark deserves comment. But suffice it to say that I remember my sainted grandfather with flaws and virtues. I am not ignorant of his heresies (he was a mason and a methodist), but I am also aware of his orthodoxy. He is sainted by God's grace which was delivered to him through orthodoxy despite his heresies. I can rightly call him a saint and remember that which he said and left that is good, even while I choose to leave what was not so good, or was even wrong, behind, and also to criticize it.

We see much in Bernard worth preserving and we rightly thank God for him and his work. But there is some that should be left or criticized. We do the same with all the saints. We are hardly holding up St. Peter's denial of Our Lord or his slip back into circumcision and saying, "Here is something to be imitated." We do Bernard no dishonor in picking and choosing from among his writings that which is helpful and good and that which was confused or unhelpful.

Back to Schweitzer, can we do the same with him? Probably not. Why not? Because his errors were pervasive and central to his theology. But among the fathers, we receive none, including the many who are favorably mentioned in the confessions, without criticism. Even St. Augustine, arguably the most influential Western father, and most loved by the confessors, is not embraced on every point. So also, in fairness, we should note that the blessed Reformer is not either. How "bad" can one be and still be embraced by the confessors? I don't know. But I do know that we use Bonhoefer, Patrick Henry Reardon, C.S. Lewis, and Pius Parsch around here, but we don't use Rick Warren or Albert Schweitzer. Who is "worse" C.S. Lewis or Pius Parsch? I suspect the dividing line is more subjective than objective.

I see, btw, that brother Keith has called me out about my use of "open question" over at Gottesdienst Online. This is an on-going complaint of his against me. I suppose I should pay attention this time and try to see what the fuss is about.

- Dave

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dave:

Semi-pelagianism is not a heresy. It is an error. It falls short of the heresy (hence: "semi").

Again, I think we are using the term "heresy" differently.

My great-grandfather who was a devout Baptist (who read his well-worn Bible daily) and Mason is in the same category as your grandfather - not a heretic. We could call him a heterodox Christian, an errorist, etc. - but they are certainly not in the same category as Arius. Nor are their errors.

Luther made a distinction between heresy and schism, for instance. I don't have the citation, but he pointed out that since Rome recognized our Baptisms, they had no grounds to call us heretics; from their perspective, schismatic would be more apropos.

Your use of heresy to be any teaching that removes one from fellowship with the LCMS is, I believe, too harsh. It places us 2.3 million members of the LCMS (and those in communion with us) as the only non-heretical expression of Christianity, while placing the 2 billion others in the category of heresy.

I just don't know that we Lutherans have ever used "heresy" to mean any errors that stand in the way of altar and pulpit fellowship.

And I still don't see how you can have a person who believes in heretical teachings, but is not a heretic. I think you are trying to eat the cake and have it.

Rev. George Borghardt said...

I agree with Pastor Petersen. That gives me great joy too!

I would also ask that we take the time, all of us, to make a clear confession on this - what do each of us believe concerning the invocation of St. Mary (or any saint). What do we confess concerning Mary as mediatrix?

These are not just neutral doctrines that we can either confess or deny. These terms are not just neutral words that we can redefine as we wish. "Invocation of Saints" and "Mediatrix" have a history and a definition. We would do well to point to them and say, "these things deny our doctrine of justification and should not be taught among us."

I think this is important due to the many laity who read this blog who might consider some to be for the invocation of saints. If they thought we had Roman leanings before this, what do they think now!

I came from Rome. I have no love affair it's doctrines. Nor do I reject any of them solely because they are Roman Catholic. Scripture norms my teaching.

It's very important for the sake of my people for me to always be clear about what we confess and deny.

I realize we are discussing the finer points of doctrine ("what's a heresy and what's an error?"), but on this hot topic (Invocation of St. Mary), we'd do well to be clear on what we confess. We need more than "it depends on what you mean by 'mediatrix.'" How would you confess this to your parish?

I say this because I've already received a communication from one of members concerned about the Romanizing tendency of some of the posts here. So, please answer this person's concern. It is never beneath us to step back and bring it down a bit for someone who might be offended or struggling.

And... it's always good for us to confess and deny (as the Augustana does) concerning this topic.

Rev. George Borghardt said...

Btw.. this is from the Roman Catholic Catechism. What do we reject from this? What do we find helpful?

Remember, as the hymn says, "simple words for tender youth."

956 The intercession of the saints. "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.... They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus.... So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped." (LG 49; cf. 1 Tim 2:5.)

Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life. (St. Dominic, dying, to his brothers.)

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. (St. Therese of Lisieux, The Final Conversations, tr. John Clarke (Washington: ICS, 1977), 102.)

967 By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity. Thus she is a "preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church"; indeed, she is the "exemplary realization" (typus) (LG 53; 63.) of the Church.

968 Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. "In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (LG 61.)

969 "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation .... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (LG 62.)

970 "Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin's salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.” (LG 60.) "No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.” (LG 62)


William Weedon said...

Fr. Borghardt,

We are all agreed that the invocation of the saints is an erroneous custom; that it has no foundation in the Sacred Scriptures; that it has no place in evangelical practice.

I think we're also agreed that the saints in heaven intercede for us; that to paraphrase Chemnitz, they remember the burden of life under the cross and so pray for the church on pilgrimage to come to share in the joy of the Church at rest.

But to denominate every erroneous teaching or practice as "heresy" would not the usual language of the Lutheran Church. Heresy tends to be reserved for those who deny "the awe-inspiring articles on the Divine Majesty" (SA I) or who assault "the first and chief article." The devout Roman Catholic who prays his rosary as his priest direct him, but who comes to the Table confessing that he's only a poor sinner who depends for his pardon entirely upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - such a person is no heretic, even though we could not share church fellowship with him due to his persistent clinging to error.

But with all that said, this has mostly been disagreement over terminology and I see no big disagreements from any of the Lutheran pastors posting here. The challenge in Lutheranism is not that our folks are going to begin praying to the Blessed Mother; the challenge is to be able to speak of her as our Confessions do without being accused of being Romanist!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear George:

Aside from the Chad, who is himself a Roman Catholic, not one commenter here has advocated invocation of the saints in any way.

The question is "Is it heresy?"

The question is not "Is it error?" or "Is it wrong?" The question is not "Is it Lutheran?"

The question is: "Is it heresy?"

This is an important pastoral question that ought not be swept under the rug or dismissed with the epithet "Romanizer!" Many of our parishioners were baptized in Roman or Protestant churches.

Luther argues that recognition of baptism means the separation is not heresy, though it is not unreasonable to call it "schismatic." His argument cuts both ways.

This is an important pastoral question for many who have Roman or Protestant relatives - for the distinction between heresy and error may also be interpreted as a heaven and hell type distinction.

Like it or not, our calendar and confessions call Bernard of Clairvaux a saint and a holy father, and even scoff at any suggestion that he could be a heretic. Bernard also confessed Mary as Mediatrix and prayed to her. Bernard (whom the LCMS venerates) said the exact kinds of things that you cite from the Vatican! Do you have a response to that?

This says to me that that errorists can not only be saved, but they can even be venerated as saints among us. This ought to provide *comfort* - even as we condemn errors and do not teach or condone such false doctrine in our churches.

Roman Catholics, Reformed Christians, and Baptists are not in the same category (heretics) as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians - all of whom are heretical organizations that are not part of the Church.

I think we need to make these kinds of distinctions, not only because it is pastorally wise and necessary, but because it is theologically true. I actually heard a lifelong Lutheran, an employee of one of our seminaries, say that only Lutherans have salvation. What a terribly un-Lutheran thing to say! But it sure does tickle our ears. We like being right.

We need to always take heed of ourselves, lest our correct emphasis on right doctrine become itself a form of works-righteousness, adding "sola doctrina" to the other solas.

Among Lutherans, pride and self-righteousness are far more common and likely sins than invoking the saints.

Rev. George Borghardt said...

Pastor Weedon,

I have no doubt that no one is a crypto-Romanist here. I simply wanted a confession of what is confessed by us, so that no one accuse anyone of being Roman Catholic.

When one of my most Lutheran and open-minded (in a good way) parishioners gets concerned about some of the posts, I thought it best to ease them by asking the brothers to make a clear confession.

For teaching purposes I posted the RC Catechism quotes. Again, I'm not on a witch hunt or trying to be anti-Roman Catholic. I'm trying to make it clear what they teach and what we teach.

As we sharpen one another like iron sharpens, let us always remember that we are teaching in a public forum. Our readers are important too.

I'm looking forward to talking to you Sunday night on HT-Radio. Christ alone, brother!

In Christ,

Pastor Borghardt

William Weedon said...

Looking forward to another Solus round!

Rev. George Borghardt said...


We would all do well to beware of pride and arrogance - not just laity, but especially we who have been ordained.

Taking the time to step back and make a clear confession is a gift. That way no one would call you something you are not.

Popes and councils err. Some of our beloved saints confess things that are just wack. What did Luther say of St. John Chrysostom? Great preacher but couldn't distinguish Law and Gospel. Yet, many of my friends read one of his sermons on Easter Vigil. And of St. Augustine, "After the Gospel came clear to me, I had no use of Augustine." Yet, Luther made reference to him all the time!

The Confessions also have that great quote from Dr. Luther about magnets and lemon juice and the German word for God coming from the word for "good." We take these things as gift. Who couldn't rejoice in someone thinking (even wrongly) that God is so good that even the word for Him comes from good! (smile)

The world isn't going to end if dear St. Bernard had a boo boo in his teaching. We take the best of the saints and cherish what the Lord did in and through them. But, what suffering might befall us (or you!) if someone misunderstood your pious thoughts to be confessing something that you would never confess!

And thus.. my request :)

WM Cwirla said...

Wow - I've been away from the blogosphere for a while, and look what we have here. Just a late comment or two to the original post. The distinction between "error" and "heresy" is really simply a matter of degree and is largely irrelevant. An error left unchecked and allowed to take a life of its own can easily become a heresy.

Certainly the veneration of Mary as Theotokos is meet, right, and salutary, as the Council of Chalcedon notes, since it confesses the Incarnation, as do the icons of Mary in the East always depicted with her Son.

As for prayer to Mary, I believe the Confessions are abundantly clear that though she and the saints pray for us, we have no basis in the Word to pray to them. And, since consorting with the dead is strictly forbidden, we would do well not to open that door.

The designation of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces or Co-Redemptrix, however, goes far beyond the doctrine of the incarnation and partakes of the synergism (synergeia) of those groups who regard Mary in this way.

For a brief but cogent discussion of these titles of Mary and the synergistic character of the cult of Mary, see Hermann Sasse, This is My Body p. 17 and particularly ftnt 8.

My two cents, late in the game.

Father Hollywood said...

Thanks, George!

I trust my previous post cleared up any misunderstandings about what I confess.

K said...

I don't get it. I was just looking at a list of saints that the Lutheran church honors throughout the year and a majority of them are Roman Catholic. Wouldn't most of these saints have honored, revered and prayed to Mary throughout their earthly lives? Why is the Lutheran church honoring a bunch of "heretics"?

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

Dear K,

The names of saints on the Lutheran calendar may overlap with both the Church (West and East) since the "saints" do not necessarily belong to any specific church body but to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. That is, they are recognized throughout the church and throughout time for their confession of faith and/or work on behalf of Christ and His Church.

It may surprise you but the majority of Christians throughout the world and throughout history honor Mary. Post-Reformation developments such as the "Enlightenment", rationalism, pietism, etc. have distorted both reformation and church history so that such things as valid honor of Mary and other practices seem foreign today, especially to protestants who do not have much history outside of the reformation.

We need to be more cautious in our reactions. We would not want to see the angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, Luther and others included on our list of heretics because of what they have said or written about Mary.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In the course of this entire discussion, no one has mentioned the Lutheran term that has been the way out of this - felicitous inconsistency (Ah, thank you Pieper and whoever put him in English).

Petersen makes a distinction between open question errors and errors on things that have had the historical consensus of the Church. That too is useful.

How about this - a Heresy is any error that violates the clear and established doctrine of the Church (such as the incarnation or the manner of salvation). One who persists in such heresy is a heretic and out be excluded from the Christian congregation.

However, due to felicitous inconsistency, they may end up in heaven due to not following through on their heresy to its faith destroying conclusions.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

So heresy doesn't keep one out of heaven as long as they are minor heresies, not major heresies.

Meh. I'm not buying it.

Why not just call what you would deem a heaven-excluding error a "heresy" and use the lesser term "error" to deal with false doctrine that is not destructive of the faith?

I kinda thought that's what we did with the term "heresy." That seems to be how the Church has always used the terms "heresy" and "heretic." Joan of Arc was convicted of heresy, and later canonized - but her conviction was overturned. She is not considered a heretic/saint, but a saint who was falsely accused of heresy.

A "felicitous inconsistency" is a situation in which a person does not believe the error that his church teaches.

St. Bernard most certainly prayed to Mary, relied heavily on her, and called her "mediatrix."

Bernard is by no means an example of a "felicitous inconsistency" (Walther quotes to the contrary notwithstanding).

Either Bernard is 1) According to me, a Christian who held errors, but not the kind of error that removes one from the faith and from salvation (which would be a heresy), or 2) According to you, a heretic who is not condemned for his heresy. In fact he is a heretic/holy father, a heresy-holding saint both condemned for heresy and celebrated in our sanctoral calendar.

Does any other group of Christians on the planet define heresy this way (not that I do, but it seems a lot of my colleagues do).

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

Without addressing either "open question" or "felicitous inconsistency" there is also the possibility that those who are quick to point name heresy and heretic on church fathers or Christians today who show devotion to Mary are placing too much weight on that devotion.

I say this because, after further investigation, one often finds both in the writings of the same church fathers and in discussion with current devotees of Mary no confusion as to Jesus' priority over her and their recognition of his unique role in the salvation of men. The same unique recognition of Jesus and His salvation is also found in similar investigation concerning the Saints and devotion to them.

Therefore, at first glance it may appear to the critic that devotion to Mary and the Saints is, at worse, idolatry and, at best, a distraction from Christ when all along such devotion to Mary and the Saints may only be a recognition by those demonstrating devotion of the reflection of the Lord's glory and grace in the lives of people. If devotees to Mary and the Saints understand that neither Mary nor the Saints are Jesus Christ nor the Holy Trinity what good does it do us to attribute their devotion as false when there is the real possibility that without further investigation we are falsely understanding what is the true focus and depth of their devotion.

I have been encouraged to find among those who demonstrate the traditional devotion to Mary and the Saints that there is no confusion as to the identity of Who is the Savior from sin. On the contrary, this has also brought discouragement because of earlier misconceptions , misunderstandings and characterizations I previously would have assumed that the same people had no idea of Who really is our Savior.

Might not the devotion to Mary and the Saints also reflect a greater understanding and appreciation of the Lord's own grace and mercy and salvation and how that grace and mercy has been shown to men through the ages? For one example, we see Mary's own response to His grace and mercy in the Magnificat.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Why do we excuse or minimize false doctrine by calling it "error" instead of heresy? Is it a good false doctrine if it is little? Is it just like someone saying what they did was just a little "mistake" instead of a sin, or a crime? Heresy is a nasty sounding word. False doctrine is a nasty thing.

I'm not going to only call a "heaven-excluding error" heresy because of something called humility. I can judge something as being a heresy. I can even say that something is an error which places someone completely outside the pall of Christendom - but determining whether or not a person who claims belief in Christ but also professes heresy obtains heaven is beyond the scope of my abilities. I'm not going to run around judging people right and left and saying "oops, you got question 8 wrong, it's to hell with you." I will attack error up and down, I will attack those who teach error (I would generally reserve the word "heretic" not for one who believes, but one who teaches heresy, which I would say is in keeping with the Scriptural teachings concerning false prophets) - but I'm not going to sit and try to determine whether someone outside my flock is saved. That's God's prerogative - I will warn them of their errors and teach the truth, and leave it at that.

But error that contradicts the teaching of Scripture is dangerous - it's "heresy" - it is choosing (for that is what heresy means) to ignore the Word for something of one's own imagination - and that is dangerous and often deadly.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

You ask a great question: "Why do we excuse or minimize false doctrine by calling it "error" instead of heresy?"

Because all errors are not created equal.

Denying the Trinity, for example, is an error. So is using the Book of Revelation exclusively to establish a doctrine of the church. Francis Pieper calls the denial of the perpetual virginity an error we can all live with if everything else a person believes is orthodox. Pieper also believed the Bible asserted a heliocentric universe - and yet Lutherans do not call Pieper a heretic.

Errors come in all shapes and sizes.

Some remove the holder from the one holy catholic and apostolic church (such as the Jehovah's Witnesses' denial of the divinity of Christ), while other errors do not (such as the Reformed denial of the Real Presence).

This is why we have different words. "Heresy" is a much more serious issue than mere error. I would think we all agree that the Jehovah's Witness is outside the church, that he is a heretic; but the idea that Presbyterians are heretics and outside the church is certainly a minority view within Lutheranism.

It would be like accusing a surgeon using a scalpel instead of a chainsaw to cut out a patient's tumor of being somehow "soft on cancer."

Words mean specific things! "Heresy" does not mean any and all false doctrine. Their definitions are related, but not identical.

For once again, if any and all false doctrine is "heresy," then we had better remove Bernard of Clairvaux from our sanctoral calendar.

I would suspect that if one of your parishioners were praying to Mary, you might put him under church discipline (and deem him a heretic) rather than have a potluck in his honor.

However, the early Lutheran drew a huge distinction between the errors of Bernard and the heresies of Arius. In a sense, Bernard's Marian devotion was "excused" by the early Lutherans - in the sense that it was not treated as heresy. It was not considered correct, but neither was Bernard deemed a heretic.

This is one difference between the Lutheranism of our confessions and the Lutheranism that is practiced in America today.

Petersen said...


Do you have examples of the distinction you make between heresy and error, or excused errors, in the Lutheran fathers or in the confessions?

I can easily find examples contrary in Luther. But those are really not helpful to what I was saying given the polemical character of Luther's writings.



Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dave:

St. Bernard is himself an example from our confessions.

See my comment above (I think it is the 12th one from the top) for confessional citations.

If Bernard's errors rise to the level of heresy, he would have been condemned with Arius rather than lauded and styled "holy father," "saint" and "divine."

Our confessions draw a distinction!

Petersen said...

I look at the same evidence, that is, that Bernard is commended, and draw a different conclusion, namely, that he held to some heresies but that, unlike Arius, he was kept in the faith by the grace of God so that he also held to the truth. Do you know of any place where the Confessions make the distinction as you make it between error and heresy? In other words does anyone ever articulate the distinction you make or is this simply your conclusion from the fact that the Confessions commend men who held to various errors?

We agree that the confessions do not call Bernard a heretic and that we should not either, that a heretic is someone outside of the church, like unto Arius or the Jehovah's Witnesses. I hold that Bernard was hetereodox. You have been unwilling, I think, to accept that term. But maybe not. Would you agree that he was hetereodox? If so what is your definition of hetereodox? Those who hold errors, but not heresies, alongside the truth?

Admittedly, the distinction I am drawing is mainly from Pieper. I am unaware of it in the Confessions, though it is in no way distinct from the confessions. Alongside Luther's polemics about priests and monks having demons, etc, I also find him speaking of the Roman church has holding Christians who are confused about their doctrine and holding to heresies through ignorance so that by the grace of God they are forgiven. This is from the Galatians commentary. I think there is another passage where he says the same of some priests. I don't have Latin, and that is in Latin, so I can't check the translation, but you could. Also, of course, Luther's polemics in this regard (saying that Roman priests, Zwingli, and anyone who ever disagrees with him have demons) make him a bit unreliable in this question. Nonetheless, there is at least one instance, in the English of the AE, of Luther speaking in this way. He doesn't use the term hetereodox but he does speak of the errors as heresy.

"Therefore I have wondered a great deal that with these destructive heresies persisting for so many centuries the church could still endure amid such great darkness and error. There were some whom God called simply by the text of the Gospel, which nevertheless continued in the pulpit, and by Baptism. They walked in simplicity and humility of heart; they thought that the monks and those whom the bishops had ordained were the only ones who were religious and holy, while they themselves were profane and secular and therefore not to be compared with them. Since they found in themselves no good works or merits to pit against the wrath and judgment of God, they took refuge in the suffering and death of Christ; and in that simplicity they were saved."

Luther, M. (1999, c1963). Vol. 26: Luther's works, vol. 26 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (26:140). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dave:

I don't believe our confessions ever define the terms "heresy" or "heretic" (unlike modern legal documents that begin with a list of definitions). It would seem that these terms were likely pretty well-defined - especially in the day and age of extensive writings on canon law (like "rite vocatus" - it needed no definition in our Symbols because everyone knew what it meant).

But our confessions do describe specific heretics and their heresies - these are people like Arius who are completely outside of the church - not merely like Erasmus, who was bitterly contested (and even hated) by Luther, but never condemned by Luther as someone outside the church.

I have no problem with the term "heterodox" - though our confessions never use the term.

Once again, if Bernard is a heretic, he cannot be a "holy father," "saint," and the like.

I have a similar question: Do our confessions ever describe an individual as a "heretic" and as a "holy father" or "saint" at the same time?

While honoring John Huss, counting him as a "father" gifted with the Holy Spirit (LC IV:50), for example, I don't believe our Lutheran fathers would have simultaneously considered him a heretic - in spite of his "conviction" of heresy. Luther did not agree that Huss was a heretic (as evidenced from the Large Catechism, to which we are bound). Certainly, Huss is nowhere called a heretic in the Book of Concord.

And yet, Huss did not agree 100% with all the positions that would later become "Lutheranism."

I think it's fair to call Huss, though heterodox, a martyr, a saint, and a father in the faith.

I do not agree with the Roman Church that Huss is a heretic (that is, a holder of heresy). Do you?

Petersen said...

Dear Larry:

You ask: "Do our confessions ever describe an individual as a "heretic" and as a "holy father" or "saint" at the same time?"

No, of course not. But I believe they make a distinction between heresy and heretic that you do not. In other words, a person who holds to various heresies while also trusting in the grace of God is not a heretic, just a sinner.

Your example of Erasmus is pointedly helpful. Erasmus's heresies are dealt with at length in the Confessions. They are anathemized! So also I found Luther in the Smalcald articles refering to enthusiams as the source of papal heresy: "In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism." This enthusiasm and papal heresy includes Erasmus, to be sure. Yet, as you rightly point out, Erasmus is not called a heretic as Arius is. For Luther, more than any other, Erasmus is the spokesman for the papacy.

The same is rightly said of John Hus. He is a martyr and a saint and I completely disagree with Rome's casting him as a heretic. I would put St. Bernard in the same category as Hus, Augustine, Jerome, etc. But not Erasmus. that is not to say that he was a heretic outside the church but neither has he left us much that is helpful. He is hardly a father and he wasn't a martyr. BTW, my recolletcion is the Bondage of the Will Luther does call Erasmus a heretic and worse. But perhaps my memory is faulty on that point.

Now, to invoke the Luther-Erasmus analogy, I think I have you by the throat. I think I have shown that the confessions use the term heresy for what you prefer to call error and that they use the term heresy to describe false teachings held by believers but stop short of calling them heretics or saying that they are outside the church in every case.
Seriously, I want to repeat that our disagreement is only that of nuance as we seek the most faithful and clearest way to speak. I do not think we disagree about Bernard, the role of St. Mary, or of the fate of those whom God forgives and loves despite their sins in false doctrine. Nor do I think we are all distant in regards to our distaste for the protestant prejudices and historical ignorance that so infects our synod.

As always, fraternally,


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dave:

You simply can't sever the terms "heresy" and "heretic" as though they both begin with the first four letters owing to a Darwinian random coincidence. Heretics hold heresy, and heresy is that which is believed by heretics.

I don't dispute that the terms (like any other) can be used in both a broad and narrow way. I have made it clear that I am using the term in a narrow sense: heretics are those who believe in heresy. And since I'm the one who posted the question "Is this heresy?", that is how the word ought to be used in this conversation.

Whether you avoid the term "heresy" (which I do for the sake of clarity) or if you use the word "heresy" in this case (perhaps at least in part owing to a sinful form of triumphalism like that of the Pharisee in Luke 18), either way the reality is this: we venerate and laud a "holy father" who prayed to Mary and called her mediatrix. This fact is shocking to a lot of Lutherans - owing to the fact that we do have a rather harsh polemical tradition in dealing with other Christians.

Bernard's errors are clearly not as serious as that of Arius. Praying to Mary simply does not rise to the level of denial of the Trinity. And modern Lutheran polemics that try to equate the two (praying to Mary and denying the Trinity), both as equally bad errors (or "heresies") are simply acting contrary to our confessions.
There are a lot of confessional Lutherans (lay and clergy) who actually do refer to Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Pentecostals as "heretics" and either imply or outright aver that they are hellbound. That is an ecclesiological error (though I would not call it a heresy -grin-), and it is rooted in pride.

In our own LCMS tradition, we have a quote from Walther floating around that Bernard did not invoke the saints (huh?) - followed by smug assertions of his salvific Lutheraninity. Well, if he is saved by being a Lutheran, if he is a saint because he didn't invoke the saints, what happens when we find out that he did?

We are not saved by being Lutheran, being right, or holding to the right doctrine. We are saved by grace alone, and any boasting ought to be done in Christ alone. We Lutherans have become very good at belittling and hereticizing other members of Christ's body. We may not turn the BVM into an idol, but we do turn doctrine into an idol.

Any attempt to use the word "heresy" in an imprecise way to muddy the waters in order to imply or assert that praying to Mary as Mediatrix removes one from the true Church, or even from Augustana XXI-type sainthood, is dishonest and presents a muddy doctrine.

If that's the case, let's get rid of the Mary-praying "heresy"-practicing Bernard from our commemorations - along with most of the rest of the pre-reformation saints, and stop teaching that we are in a continuous communion with the ancient church.

Instead, I see us in communion with the ancient church - even where there was error. I prefer to be very clear and use "heresy" in its most lucid sense as that which makes one a "heretic" and thus outside the church.

Again, not every error and false doctrine rises to the level of heresy. There are other numbers between 0 and 10 on the knob, or else Bernard would not be lauded as a saint in our confessions and hymnal.

Here's a pastoral question for you: if Bernard of Clairvaux presented himself at your rail, would you commune him?

Paul McCain said...

Let's hear from the chief teacher of the churches of the Augsburg Confession, from one of the documents our Confessions specifically commends to us, his Galatians Commentary Galatians, v 9 (from Project Wittenberg, translated by Theodore Graebner - - Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949):

"To tolerate a trifling error inevitably leads to crass heresy. The doctrine of the Bible is not ours to take or to allow liberties with. We have no right to change even a tittle of it. When it comes to life we are ready to do, to suffer, to forgive anything our opponents demand as long as faith and doctrine remain pure and uncorrupt. The Apostle James says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." This passage supports us over against our critics. We protest we desire nothing more than peace with all men. If they would only permit us to keep our doctrine of faith! The pure doctrine takes precedence before charity, apostles, or an angel from heaven.

Let others praise charity and concord to the skies; we magnify the authority of the Word and faith. Charity may be neglected at times without peril, but not the Word and faith. Charity suffers all things, it gives in. Faith suffers nothing, it never yields. Charity is often deceived but is never put out because it has nothing to lose; it continues to do well even when ungrateful. When it comes to faith and salvation in the midst of lies and errors that parade as truth and deceive many, charity has no voice or vote. Let us not be influenced by the popular cry for charity and unity. It we do not love God and his Word what difference does it make if we love anything at all.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul:

Good stuff, and all true to a T - although it doesn't answer the question about whether Bernard is guilty of (specifically) heresy.

Given our commitment to pure doctrine (which we all heartily endorse), when we call Bernard a "holy father" and a "saint" and honor him in our commemorations - even though he prayed to Mary as Mediatrix and publicly taught false doctrine, we are not "tolerating error" or compromising "pure doctrine."

Nor are we condemning holy father Bernard who prayed to the Mediatrix as a *heretic*.

Once again, there are errors that take one outside the church, and there are errors that do not (even though they are false doctrine, and certainly can be a slippery slope to heresy as the Blessed Reformer wisely reminds us).

Hopefully, the next edition of LSB will not be de-commemorating St. Bernard of Clairvaux or deeming him a heretic. :-)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


I've done just a brief bit of research because I couldn't remember an ancient source using the word "Heterodox". If one was an errorist, one was following a Heresy. . . there was right, and there was wrong. (Liddel and Scott recorded only 1 usage of the term through late antiquity)

However, some distinctions were made between various heresies - the Baptisms from some were accepted upon conversion (which is where we probably draw the line for the modern term heterodoxy) - others were not. (There also was the distinction of being Schismatic, but that doesn't need be addressed here)

However, you have repeatedly brought up the idea of whether or not a heretic was going to heaven - even in the Early Church that wasn't the definition of a heresy (something that removes one from heaven) - indeed, even the injunction against communion a heretic was lifted at the deathbed (according to Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First 4 Centuries)

I tend to think that the word "Heterodox" has lost its impact in today's society, for it is contrasted to "Orthodoxy" - and how (thinks the modern mind) can any one group, body, or confession lay claim to Orthodoxy when there are so many options.

But one calls a false teaching a heresy, and everyone knows what you mean.

As such, I will say that Bernard indulged in heresy with the way he viewed Mary - and thanks be to God he understands better now.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

"As such, I will say that Bernard indulged in heresy with the way he viewed Mary - and thanks be to God he understands better now."

We don't disagree in substance, but I much prefer a more narrow use of the word "heresy" since we need a word to fit that bill - especially in light of the way the Church is fracturing.

We need to be able to distinguish between degrees of false doctrine - as emotionally gratifying as it may be to describe ourselves as the only Christians on the planet who are heresy-free. And "thank you God for not making me like the ELCA." ;-)

But we do need to distinguish between the errors of Arius (which remove one from the Church) and those of Bernard (which do not). For we accept Roman ordinations as valid, but we do not accept Mormon ones. We accept Methodist baptisms, but not Jehovah's witness ones.

So, what do we do with the ecclesiastical (or pseudo-ecclesiastical) acts of priestesses? Are there groups who claim to be "church" that are not "church" - whose errors take them out of bounds?

The word "heresy" is often used in this way - and we need a word to do this.

In your use of the word "heresy" to be simply a synonym with "fasle doctrine" of any degree, you have to make a distinction between "heresy" and "heretic." In other words, you have to explain to someone why Bernard's prayers to Mary (which you call "heresy") do not make him a "heretic."

I think you are complicating things, and also leaving us no word to differentiate between the errors of Arius and the errors of Bernard. These is a huge gap between the two, and applying the label "heresy" to both but "heretic" to only one is not helpful.