06 January 2009

No Mere Idea

Treasury of Daily Prayer is certainly a stellar resource for praying the Daily Offices with the Church, according to the liturgical year, using a standard lectionary, etc., and many of the devotional readings that I've seen thus far have been quite good. However, I must take issue with the little explanation of the Epiphany of Our Lord on page 1094. Here's what it says (see if you can spot the problem):

The feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord commemorates no event but presents an idea that assumes concrete form only through the facts of our Lord's life. The idea of Epiphany is that the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is recognized by the world as God. At Christmas, God appears as man, and at Epiphany, this man appears before the world as God. That Christ became man needed no proof. But that this man, this helpless child, is God needed proof. The manifestations of the Trinity, the signs and wonders performed by this man, and all His miracles have the purpose of proving to men that Jesus is God. Lately, especially in the Western Church, the story of the Magi has been associated with this feast day. As Gentiles who were brought to faith in Jesus Christ, the Magi represent all believers from the Gentile world.

Did you spot the problem? It's rather like that little story of a batch of brownies tainted by just a small amount of dog droppings. For the most part, the batch of brownies can be considered "good" in that it has the usual, tasty (and fattening) ingredients, but that little bit of doggie doo-doo taints the whole batch. Likewise here in this reading.

What is the problem? The notion that Epiphany "commemorates no event but presents an idea that assumes concrete form only through the facts of our Lord's life" (emphasis added). How utterly Platonic (from Plato the Greek philosopher who advocated the ideal over the more material)! What an open door to Gnostic tendencies that spurn the material world, created by God and good, and favor the speculative!

On Epiphany do we really set aside and celebrate this great feast day of the Church for "an idea," not an event, even if that "idea" "assumes concrete form"? I was under the impression that we have such ceremonies "for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (Augsburg Confession, XXIV:3; Concordia, p. 47).

No, I say drop the strange notion of presenting and commemorating "an idea" becoming concrete (Can you say, "Ugh, how philosophical!"?) and instead cling to the event that Epiphany does indeed celebrate: the Son of God in the flesh revealing Himself as the light and life of the world. We see this in the story of the Magi coming to worship the Infant Jesus. We also see it in our Lord approaching John the Baptist to be baptized and thus reveal Himself along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yes, Virginia, these are events, not merely an idea.

Actually, we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord by focusing on a Person--Jesus, the very Son of God made flesh, even as He's wearing diapers and nursing at His mother's breast. We celebrate His work of revealing Himself to the world, both by becoming flesh and then by showing Himself to the world, first to the Jews (e.g. presentation in the Temple), then to the Gentiles (e.g. the Magi).

Perhaps the underlying problem in this little reading on this Epiphany of Our Lord is that it sees Christmas and Epiphany as two separate events. Let's not tear asunder what God has joined together. Christmas and Epiphany are a package deal. Together they give us the God who took on flesh, the God who humbled Himself to become one of us, the God who reveals Himself as both God and Man, the God who restores us to life with Him. For that matter, also keep the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension in the package. After all, Epiphany doesn't mean anything with out "the rest of the story."

No, Epiphany is not about a mere idea, even if it somehow becomes concrete. Rather, Epiphany is about the very real, very flesh and blood Son of God and the very real event of Him manifesting Himself to us. Yes, Virginia, there is an Epiphany event.


Paul McCain said...


I think you probably could/should have chosen a better metaphor for your post, but....I agree with you.

I read it this morning and said, "Huh?"

This one is a stinker.

These "blurbs" were prepared by the LCMS Commission on Worship and while most are quite good, this one was quite bad.

I noticed right away that it appears to be unaware of the historical events actually commemorated on Epiphany in the ancient church.

Then the whole "idea" talk was just weird.

Now, if you would have some posts on the Treasury complimenting it, and praising it and recommending it, that would be good too!

Did you push it in your congregation and place a batch order yet?


Randy Asburry said...

I suppose the beauty of metaphors is in the eye of the beholder, eh? :-)

As for complimenting, praising, and recommending, let me see what the RAsburrysRes fee schedule says for such advertising. :-)

(Actually, it appears to be getting some good free advertising from several other blogs. Perhaps CPH could give them a little stipend for the PR work? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Gracias, Pr. Asburry. I really appreciated this post and as always, the earlier posts.

I also appreciated your metaphor. Quite PC in my book! :)

And begging your patience, dear Pr. McCain, but do you give out free copies of your book, if we promote it on our blogs? I'd love to have one! :)

William Weedon said...

Actually, it was a bit of plagiarism in action, I believe. For the words are also found in *Sermon and the Propers* I:136

"The Epiphany, however, commemorates no event but presents an idea that assumes concrete form only through the facts of our Lord's life. The idea of the Epiphany is that the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is recognized by the world, He was manifested as God, and the world recognizes Him as God."

Lindemann in turn, I believe, plagiarized them from Pius Parsch, but I don't have his little volume to make sure.

Randy Asburry said...


Great idea for the free PR given for CPH products. I like it. :-)

Although I'm waiting for the second printing to come out, and hopefully they'll fix the little essay called "Praying Luther's Small Catechism." Treasury has many great strengths and resources (There you go, Paul! ;-), but leaving out Baptism (accidentally, I'm sure)? In the long run, that could have some pretty serious ramifications, kind of like the business in TLH (The Lutheran Hymnal) when they somehow left out the music for the pastor's parts of the liturgy. Now we have many of the Lutheran faithful who actually insist that the pastor *not* sing his parts. So, just thinking of the law of unintended consequences here.

Randy Asburry said...


That's interesting. Add "a bit of plagiarism" on top of the "stinker" of a paragraph? Hmmm. I don't think I had caught that in Lindemann before, but then again, I may not have read his section on the Epiphany in a long while. Guess I'll have to get out my Exacto knife the next time I do, eh? :-)

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

And to complicate things even further, not just an idea but a "Feast." :-) Blessed Epiphany.

Randy Asburry said...

And "No Mere Feast" at that. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Anonymous said...

Pr. Asburry, the more I think about the PR idea the more I like it too.

It could a lovely tax deduction as an advertising expense for the CPH... Maybe CPH could give away other books for reviews by all of the blogging pastors too?

As for poor no-name bloggers like myself, maybe he could write us off as a charitable expense? I have my eye on a few other books I'd like at CPH...

What sayeth thou, 'O dear Pr. McCain? :)

(this is my sorry, I couldn't resist comment!)

Paul McCain said...

Randy, glad your Sabbatical is having such a mellowing impact on the level of your snarkiness, but it's early.

; )

Paul McCain said...

SjB, nice try.

: )

Anonymous said...

Can I have more than one try? It is a worthy cause... think of all the wonderfully astute and extraordinary pastors you could have reviewing your books? All of the global internet exposure... all of the happy pastors using your books... all of the impressed parishioners who will buy your books... all the CPH sales... $$$

Now, doesn't that make you want to reconsider? :)

Randy Asburry said...

Watch out, SjB, you don't want to make him snarky. :-)

(I'm still wondering where that snarkiness comment came from. After all, I only used a vivid metaphor. And hey, didn't I learn something about calling a thing what it is? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Snarkiness? Too funny!

He can't win! That would only bring out the BIG guns! Nothing quite like the dangers of irritating an oldster who has the know-how, time, and persistence to pray for a worthy cause!

That ought to worry him - I'll die before he does and if he doesn't give in before I die, then I'll have the clout of being in heaven still fussing at God about the young whippersnapper needing to use his vocation to distribute cups of cool water to us blog readers by passing out books to the pastors so they can care for God's sheep! Surely he doesn't want that kind of attention in heaven? :)

Yep - it's definitely not a good idea to irritate us oldsters who are bibliophiles and love to read blogs like yours! :)

And it was a great metaphor! One piece of doggie doo-doo added to a brownie mix! Yep - that is calling a thing what it is and helping us sheep to be discerning readers! :)

Anonymous said...

I hope you know I'm teasing you Pr. McCain? It was another one of those 'I couldn't resist the temptation to have fun with you' moments. Nothing like too much coffee 1st thing in morning! :)

Anonymous said...

My dear friend Randy Asburry wrote: "hopefully they'll fix the little essay called "Praying Luther's Small Catechism." Treasury has many great strengths and resources (There you go, Paul! ;-), but leaving out Baptism (accidentally, I'm sure)? In the long run, that could have some pretty serious ramifications..."

Don't taze me, bro!

I wrote that little essay on Praying the Catechism. While moving the section on Baptism wasn't my intention, yet I think I understand the point the editor was making by moving it. Namely, that the entire Small Catechism is a confession of how the Baptized live out their life in Christ. So in some ways that change (moving and reshaping the paragraph on Baptism) was quite reasonable and good. It isn't something I would have thought of, but it has some real merit. Of course, I should let the editor speak for himself, but I'm guessing that was the reasoning behind the change. I must add that to say I have enormous respect and confidence in the editor is an understatement.

Of course, there is no perfect book. Not even the Bible is perfect, with all of the translation and textual issues. But for my money, the TDP is exceedingly well done.

Now, Paul, about those advertising goodies.... :-)

Rev. Tom Fast

Randy Asburry said...

Hey, Tom,

Good to hear from you! I hope you and yours had a joyous Christmas.

No, I'm not tazing you, bro. I thought I had heard you were the author of that fine little essay, but I didn't want to same something publicly and then have it be wrong. Very nice job on the essay, btw.

Actually, you're shedding some interesting light on that little omission of Baptism in the ordering and overview of the Parts of the Catechism. Here I thought it was merely an accidental matter--a printing problem, a paragraph accidentally getting the "Cut" command in the proofing process, etc. (No, I'm not trying to cast any blame whatsoever; just giving my 8th Commandment-governed thoughts of putting the best construction on things.)

I know the general editor too, as well as most of the assisting editors. And I'm not trying to call them into question in any way.

However, my concern remains, though a bit refocused. When one looks at the ordering of the paragraphs summarizing the parts of the Catechism, they clearly set the reader up for *six* - count 'em, six - chief parts. The essay very nicely sums up the first three parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. Then it transitions by mentioning "the last three parts." So I, the reader, expect to see *three* - count 'em, three - more chief parts.

Right away I read, "In the next section," which nicely treats Confession, and I think, "Part 4?" The following paragraph then says, "The last of the Six Chief Parts...", but my mind, merely reading what's on the page has only counted "Part 5" by this point. Then, in the next paragraph, the essay sums up "These parts...."

So, what I'm saying is that I, the reader have been set up for "Six Chief Parts," but in the final printing I'm only seeing five.

I can certainly appreciate and agree with a nice paragraph on how praying the Catechism is living in our Baptism. Good stuff! However, five parts explicitly explained in the essay, and skipping over/omitting/moving the paragraph on Baptism, still doesn't add up to "Six Chief Parts."

I'm afraid that an average reader would not "get" the fact that the Baptism paragraph has been moved in order to tie it together with praying the Catechism. I especially don't think that Joe the Average Reader would read come to that paragraph at the end of the essay, think, "Oh, there's the chief part on Baptism. It's just been moved," and mentally move it back to its proper place in the essay's outline.

As I have learned in my days of writing: the writer may think he knows what he is saying, but only the reader really knows what the writer is truly saying. No, Tom, that's not any aspersion on you, the author of this piece; just a principle that when we write and edit, we do need to keep in mind what the reader takes from the print on the page. In this case, I still hold to my earlier expressed concern that down the road people could very well look at this very fine essay and conclude that Baptism is somehow not a part of the "Six Chief Parts," or at the very least be a bit stymied by reading on only five parts when they are expecting six.

I would say that the second printing of "Treasury" would do well to add back a paragraph on Baptism in the explanation of the Chief Parts *in addition to* the paragraph saying how praying the Catechism is living in our Baptism. After all, what harm can it be to mention Baptism in more than one paragraph? ("Repetitio mater studiorum est.") (And, yes, Rev. McCain, you may pass this on to the editors of the "Treasury," because I offer it in the highest respect for them and with great appreciation for the "Treasury" over all.)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your kind words. Actually, many people have asked me about the "lacuna" but I've never really given much of an answer simply because I did't realize anyone was that worked up about it. But I do understand your concern and in no way took your words as an insult or anything like that.

Here's what happened. The editor was kind enough to ask me to write this essay. Though I was mortified at the thought, I was comforted at the same time by imagining that noone was really going to read it anyway. So I said, "Yes." I wrote the essay, with the paragraph on Baptism in its "proper" place. The editor and I went back and forth with suggestions and counter suggestions, like editors and writers always do. I wrote probably three or four drafts. Without going into detail, during the period of my writing I had some exceedingly difficult and heavy crosses to bear. Those matters needed my attention more than anything else did. So after the fourth or fifth draft, I said to the editor: "I'm done. You take it from here. I completely trust you with any changes you make, you don't need to show them to me." I meant that with all my heart. I still do. I hold these guys in highest regard. So the fact that the essay has the Baptism paragraph seemingly out of place is really my fault, due to the fact that I put the editor in a terrible position of having to make decisions without my input. Had I allowed him to contact me and run it by me, things might have been different. But I did't give him that option. So I take responsibility for the result. My bad. Yet in the same circumstances I'd do exactly the same thing. Life was coming at me in such a way that I really had no other choice.

After its publication, the editor then called me and said he really felt that a new paragraph on Baptism needs to be put in the "lacuna." He asked me to write it up before the second printing. I haven't yet done that. I hope to do so. We'll see.

I hope this helps. I apologize to the editors for putting them in such a pickle.

Tom Fast