About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2019/10/03

Reading the Augsburg Confession

I was preparing for the Reformation Sunday re-reading the Augsburg Confession (of course I read it during my theological studies but this time I was reading it in English and thus somehow with fresh eyes). I got all the way to Article XI on Confessions:

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12)

I stopped reading. What a bizarre argument from the Scripture?!

Firstly, Psalm 19 is a famous composition. In its first part (verses 1-6) it is a beautiful hymnic rendition of a creation myth with some interesting Ancient Semitic parallels. The second part (7-10) merges it with the meditation on the Law (Torah) and the final part (11-14) wraps both parts into the author’s plea for innocence and protection from errors and from the perception of heresy. Thus in its final part the Psalmist intends to keep the creation myth and the revelation of Torah together and in harmony. The biblical half-verse 12a is quoted out of context and without understanding of its wider cultural, literary and religious context. (I know that at the time of Reformation, theologians did not have access to ANE literature and cultural context, but they did not pay attention to the context of the psalm itself anyhow.)

Secondly, even the terminology of this article is muddied. The article is talking about “confession of sins” but then it quotes the biblical passage which speaks about “errors” in understanding and teaching. (And the broader context makes it amply clear even in their 16th century understanding). Although there is an overlap between sins and erroneous teachings(thoughts), there is also a clear and large difference between these two terms both in theology as well as in everyday life.

Thirdly and most importantly, what kind of epistemology is it, to settle a need for thoroughness of confession or the lack of it by pointing to one biblical half-verse?! How could the authors even think that this is a satisfactory argument in matters of practical theology in deciding the need for thoroughness of confession or depth of self-examination?

All the other Reformation confessional standards are riddled with similar examples of biblical proof-texting. To a greater or lesser extent they all used the Bible (biblical text) as an epistemological jimmy which could be used, manipulated and twisted to open/answer any and every question and problem in faith and also in life. Here is the beginning of biblical fundamentalism (that original sin of Protestantism) and we have been struggling with it ever since.

Translatability

In my computer I have a Biblical software (BibleWorks9). As a pastor I use it almost every day. It contains Bibles in all the original biblical and ancient languages and hundreds of different translations in dozens of modern tongues. Besides seven translations in my native Czech, there are also no fewer than thirty six English translations.
    Christian theologians have been pioneers of the art and science of translation from the oldest times of Hexapla of Origen of Alexandria (circa 240 CE) and Vulgate of Jerome (400 CE). The Reformation brought a further impulse in the development of linguistics and the theory of translation. Missionary activity of pietism took this endeavor global to languages all around the world. Thanks to theologians and Bible scholars we now have modern linguistics with diverse theories of translation and a full spectrum of translation strategies from word-for-word all the way to loose idiomatic translations.
    Interestingly, this Christian translation zeal stopped largely on the level of language, as if other aspects of life and culture did not need translation. Take for instance the elements of the Holy Communion - the bread and wine, the staple food of the Mediterranean. Viticulture (growing of grape vine) was introduced by monks and early Christian missionaries into regions as diverse as Scotland (11th century) on the northern side to the Caribbean (as early as 1493) on the south side. Needless to say growing grapes in these different climate zones was possible but it has never prospered there.
    One can only wonder why the Bible can be translated into local languages but symbols are bound by this strange fundamentalism of elements. Why the holy communion has never been truly inculturated and celebrated with the local staple foods. Join us on this World Communion Sunday when we try how it might feel to translate Holy Communion into the Mesoamerican context.