August 2021 A.D.
Martin Luther’s Large Catechism
The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
Pastors’ Study Group, Faith, Plano, TX, by Rev. Clint Stark, St. John of Frisco, TX, May 6, 2021 (Revised and clipped for St. John newsletter)
With the assumption that a thorough introduction to the Large Catechism (LC) was done previously, I won’t rehash the events leading up to the writing of the LC. Here are a few bullet points1 that pertain to catechisms in general through the centuries and to Luther’s second chief part, The Apostles’ Creed:
- The Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer appear in the earliest catechisms, which Luther continued.
- Luther reduced the Creed down to 3 chief parts, unlike previous medieval catechism that had 12 or more parts. However, Luther sees no problem with more parts and explanations, but does this simplification for the simple and children.
- I would say that as you read through Luther’s explanation to the first article take note that is written in a proclamatory way to enkindle faith and not simply information to be downloaded.
The Apostles’ Creed (A. Creed or just, Creed) gets lots of ‘airtime’ in our Book of Concord 1580 (BoC). First, as one of the three ecumenical creeds, followed by its inclusion the small and large catechisms. According to our synodical catechism, it is the oldest of the three creeds and contains the doctrine of the apostles, though not written by them. It is also considered the baptismal creed—the content of the faith given at baptism, and is used liturgically in the LCMS in the rites of baptism and confirmation, a continuation of the church catholic tradition. It is a good summary of the faith and, to my knowledge, wasn’t written in direct response to a heresy, like the other two creeds. It is the only creed to mention the decent into hell from First Peter, but that is beyond the scope of my first article paper, but I look forward to the next presenter’s paper.
And, again, while the A. Creed, does get a lot of ‘airtime’ in the BoC, the doctrine of the Trinity (AC 1), as revealed in Scripture—Father, not mother, Son and Holy Spirit–or that God is the Creator, was not an overt point of contention among the Lutherans, Romanists or Reformed at that time. Nor, was there debate about the many moral issues that fall under the umbrella of the first article: life began at conception, murder of the young and aged was sinful, men were men, women were women, and unnatural relationships were still queer/weird. They were not contending with stem cell research or the religion of environmentalism. These issues, and more, come later, hence the ever-expanding questions in the LCMS synodical catechisms’ explanations.
The issues mentioned above—macroevolution2, God as mother, or the many moral applications under the first article–were not contentious issues among Christians at the time of Luther writing the catechism or throughout the reformation era. I would argue that those church bodies or individuals within church bodies denying God as the creator in six literal days, primarily comes post Darwinism, which, sad to say, has included nominal Lutherans too. And, those, like leftists in the ELCA today, who have also denied God as Father, comes even later, which certainly is a trinitarian error and puts them outside the Christian religion. And, of course, the root error that leads to such blasphemy is the unbelief that rejects God’s inerrant Word and a quia subscription to the BoC.
On that note, while the overt issues above (macroevolution, God as mother, or the moral issues) were not in contention among the Lutherans, Romanists and Reformed at the time of the reformation—everyone confessed the Doctrine of the Trinity—that doesn’t mean that there weren’t trinitarian errors and inconsistencies or errors under the first article. Certainly, many of the reformed errors in Christology, logically are trinitarian errors also, but they are [thankfully] inconsistent in their confession. While they may say that, “the finite is not capable of the infinite,” which is an error in Christology and so denies the Trinity because then, “the infinite is not infinite”—they still would not flat out deny the Triune God or AC1. Similarly, both Rome and the Reformed at that time confessed that God created man, as a peripheral issue under the first article–but they certainly made errors in their anthropology after the fall in their doctrines of original sin and its application to the will in conversion, human reason, the problem of evil, etc. But, enough of the convoluted introduction—let’s read Luther.
Part II 3
The Apostles’ Creed
1 Thus far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine, in which we have seen all that God wishes us to do or to leave undone. Now, there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God, and, to state it quite briefly, teaches us to know Him fully.
Is it fair to glean from Luther’s words here, that the first chief part is Law, obviously, but the second chief part is the Gospel, primarily in the second and third articles?
2 And this is intended to help us do that which according to the Ten Commandments we ought to do. For (as said above) they are set so high that all human ability is far too feeble and weak to [attain to or] keep them. Therefore it is as necessary to learn this part as the former in order that we may know how to attain thereto, whence and whereby to obtain such power.
3 For if we could by our own powers keep the Ten Commandments as they are to be kept, we would need nothing further, neither the Creed nor the Lord’s Prayer.
Do you think this way of speaking is mostly lost in Lutheranism today—that Christians are powered by the Gospel (Creed and LP) to keep the Law? If so, is it because we are over correcting against methodism or complete sanctification in the narrow sense? Luther’s morning prayer seems sincere in asking that, “…You would keep me this day also from sin…” Or, the Matins’ prayer, “Defend us with the in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin…”
4 But before we explain this advantage and necessity of the Creed, it is sufficient at first for the simple-minded that they learn to comprehend and understand the Creed itself.
5 In the first place, the Creed has hitherto been divided into twelve articles, although, if all points which are written in the Scriptures and which belong to the Creed were to be distinctly set forth, there would be far more articles, nor could they all be clearly expressed in so few words.
Reminds me of, “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologian to swim in without ever touching the bottom” St. Jerome”
6 But that it may be most easily and clearly understood as it is to be taught to children, we shall briefly sum up the entire Creed in three chief articles, according to the three persons in the Godhead, to whom everything that we believe is related, so that the First Article, of God the Father, explains Creation, the Second Article, of the Son, Redemption, and the Third, of the Holy Ghost, Sanctification.
7 Just as though the Creed were briefly comprehended in so many words: I believe in God the Father, who has created me; I believe in God the Son, who has redeemed me; I believe in the Holy Ghost, who sanctifies me. One God and one faith, but three persons, therefore also three articles or confessions.
8 Let us briefly run over the words.
9 I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
10 This portrays and sets forth most briefly what is the essence, will, activity, and work of God the Father. For since the Ten Commandments have taught that we are to have not more than one God, the question might be asked, What kind of a person is God? What does He do? How can we praise, or portray and describe Him, that He may be known? Now, that is taught in this and in the following article, so that the Creed is nothing else than the answer and confession of Christians arranged with respect to the First Commandment. As if you were to ask a little child:
11 My dear, what sort of a God have you? What do you know of Him? he could say: This is my God: first, the Father, who has created heaven and earth; besides this only One I regard nothing else as God; for there is no one else who could create heaven and earth.
Luther appeals to the natural and special revelations of God—design demands a designer and the Scriptures also teach. He also is looking at the Creed through the lens of the 10 Commandments, here the first commandment. And, if you read paragraph 10, which is full of heavy theological concepts—he answers these big concepts in childlike faith, This portrays and sets forth most briefly what is the essence, will, activity, and work of God the Father…..As if you were to ask a little child.” It seems as though Luther is always trying to enkindle faith via the promises and goodness of God in the most beautiful and simplistic way.
12 But for the learned, and those who are somewhat advanced [have acquired some Scriptural knowledge], these three articles may all be expanded and divided into as many parts as there are words. But now for young scholars let it suffice to indicate the most necessary points, namely, as we have said, that this article refers to the Creation: that we emphasize the words: Creator of heaven and earth.
Certainly, this obvious and simple point is lost on many today, even those in some church bodies—that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. And, as Luther points out—since it is obvious that God is Creator 4 via natural revelation, the logical follow-up is what kind of God is He, which we known from Scripture.
13 But what is the force of this, or what do you mean by these words: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker, etc.? Answer: This is what I mean and believe, that I am a creature of God; that is, that He has given and constantly preserves to me my body, soul, and life, members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on, food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestics, house and home, etc.
This is no deistic and a-personal theology. God has created ME and still takes care of me.
14 Besides, He causes all creatures to serve for the uses and necessities of life sun, moon, and stars in the firmament, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces, birds and fishes beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce, 15 and whatever else there is of bodily and temporal goods, good government, peace, security.
God works through means. This also shows the primacy and dominion of man in the creation.
16 Thus we learn from this article that none of us has of himself, nor can preserve, his life nor anything that is here enumerated or can be enumerated, however small and unimportant a thing it might be, for all is comprehended in the word Creator.
Really? This is true? But, what about vaccines and quarantines? We can’t preserve our life, but can we hasten its end? If so, how do we make such distinctions? Is it a Christian virtue to try to add more days to your life (Matt 6)? Discuss, role of medicine to ease suffering vs prolong life. Does child prevention fit here? Who Creates and sustains life as He wills? Do we trust Him?
17 Moreover, we also confess that God the Father has not only given us all that we have and see before our eyes, but daily preserves and defends us against all evil and misfortune, averts all sorts of danger and calamity; and that He does all this out of pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a benevolent Father, who cares for us that no evil befall us.
A very good confession of original sin and mercy of God. Also, a confession against a theology of glory. Can we as sinners every say, about evil befalling us, “We don’t deserve this?” I can’t recall where Luther says something to this effect, “If we could see all the darts and snares that devil lays for us that the Lord protects us from, we would die from fear.”
18 But to speak more of this belongs in the other two parts of this article, where we say: Father Almighty.
It seems to me that Luther is saying that the almightiness of God is shown primarily in His mercy (2nd and 3rd articles) and not as Creator, which is I think is spot on—very Lutheran and not Calvinist.
19 Now, since all that we possess, and, moreover, whatever, in addition, is in heaven and upon the earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God, it is readily inferred and concluded that it is our duty to love, praise, and thank Him for it without ceasing, and, in short, to serve Him with all these things, as He demands and has enjoined in the Ten Commandments.
Of course, right? If we are creatures and our entire creation and sustenance depends of God the Father, some acknowledgment is due, right? I would put the above language in the third use of the Law category.
20 Here we could say much if we were to expatiate, how few there are that believe this article. For we all pass over it, hear it and say it, but neither see nor consider what the words teach us.
Second use of the Law?
21 For if we believed it with the heart, we would also act accordingly, and not stalk about proudly, act defiantly, and boast as though we had life, riches, power, and honor, etc., of ourselves, so that others must fear and serve us, as is the practise of the wretched, perverse world, which is drowned in blindness, and abuses all the good things and gifts of God only for its own pride, avarice, lust, and luxury, and never once regards God, so as to thank Him or acknowledge Him as Lord and Creator.
This is true, of course. We, as sinners, often live as practical atheists. On the proud side, we do not live as if we are dependent beggars. However, it goes the other way too. If we live in fear of something other than God, we also live as if God isn’t good and in control.
22 Therefore, this article ought to humble and terrify us all, if we believed it. For we sin daily with eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and possessions, and with everything we have, especially those who even fight against the Word of God. Yet Christians have this advantage, that they acknowledge themselves in duty bound to serve God for all these things, and to be obedient to Him [which the world knows not how to do].
I would say this is a distinction between, “we are all sinners and there is no distinction” and “there is a distinction between sins of weakness and dominance or the sins of Christians and the world.” I think many ‘Lutheran’ sermons preach the Law to Christians as if they are the world.
23 We ought, therefore, daily to practise this article, impress it upon our mind, and to remember it in all that meets our eyes, and in all good that falls to our lot, and wherever we escape from calamity or danger, that it is God who gives and does all these things, that therein we sense and see His Paternal heart and his transcendent love toward us. Thereby the heart would be warmed and kindled to be thankful, and to employ all such good things to the honor and praise of God.
Unbelief is the root of sin. What if we lived as if we believed this, how freeing that would be? This is a gracious invitation to believe and trust in God above all things like in Matt. 6. 5
I would also say this implicitly brings up the “problem of evil”. If God is good and protects me, how do you explain when it doesn’t look like he does? “I thank God that the piano fell out of the window and missed me by inches, but it killed grandma.”
24 Thus we have most briefly presented the meaning of this article, as much as is at first necessary for the most simple to learn, both as to what we have and receive from God, and what we owe in return, which is a most excellent knowledge, but a far greater treasure. For here we see how the Father has given Himself to us, together with all creatures, and has most richly provided for us in this life, besides that He has overwhelmed us with unspeakable, eternal treasures by His Son and the Holy Ghost, as we shall hear.
Luther, like a good Lutheran, can’t wait to move to the second and third articles. While first article gifts are good, they are not as important, in some ways, as the next two articles. If I made a comparison to the Lord’s Prayer, the first article is daily bread, which comes much later than the first three petitions, which deal with spiritual and eternal things.
In summary of the first article, I would say Luther kept his thesis to keep it simple and focus on “God creating me.” There was no lengthy explanation on the creation on angels, etc.
Other thoughts, comments, or questions? Anything in the synodical catechisms, new or old, worth pointing out here?
Here ends the paper [shortened/edited for newsletter] I presented for discussion at my monthly pastors’ study group.
2 You could even add deism or other forms of ‘Christian’ versions of evolution.
3 https://bookofconcord.org/large-catechism/part-ii/ (all following LC quotes are taken from this website)
4 284 Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies declare the work of His hands. 285 Rom. 1:19-20 What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse. 286 Heb. 3:4 Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.
5 [Mat 6:25-34 ESV] 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
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