The Quarterly Newsletter of Wittenberg Academy
The Ninety-Sixth Thesis
Chaplain's Corner- p. 8
Sing to the Lord a New Song
Rev. Larry Beane
Scholars' Spotlight - P. 24-26
A MAtter So Great
Timeless Essay- That Which is Beautiful -P. 18-19
Featured Missionary Family and Teacher -P. 20-21
On the Road with Wittenberg Academy- p. 22
Poetry- p. 23
Church Music- George Herbert
From Our Teachers p. 12-17
~The 'Singing' CHurch of the Reformation
~Vivacity, Perspicuity, and the Nature of the Soul: Selections from George Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric."
Music brings people together. It teaches. It rouses the memory. Music inspires soldiers and soothes babies. Music is powerful insofar as it moves the emotions and the emotions drive the passions of man. Our reason and all our senses are First Article gifts that God gives and preserves for the praise and glory of God and the service of our neighbor. Martin Luther, in his interpretation of Psalm 3:5, went so far as to say that “music has the natural power of stimulating and arousing the souls of men.”
Music moves the emotions, but so also does the Word of God move the emotions. For this reason, Luther asserts that nothing should be so closely linked as music and the Word of God. Luther further explained this in his 1538 preface to a collection of hymns on the Passion of Christ:
Here one ought to speak of the use of a matter so great as music. But because of its infinite variety and value this is a subject far too great for the finest eloquence of all the most eloquent speakers. We can now adduce only this one fact: Experience testifies that, after the Word of God, music alone deserves to be celebrated as mistress and queen of the emotions of the human heart (of animals nothing is to be said at present). And by these emotions men are controlled and often swept away as by their lords. A greater praise of music than this we cannot conceive. For if you want to revive the sad, startle the jovial, encourage the despairing, humble the contented, pacify the raving, mollify the hate-filled- and who is able to enumerate all the lords of the human heart, I mean the emotions of the heart and the urges which incite a man to all virtues and vices?- what can you find that is more efficacious than music? The Holy Spirit Himself honors it as an instrument of His specific office when He testifies in His Holy Scriptures that His gifts came upon the prophets through its use, that is, the impulse (affectus) toward all virtues, as is seen in the case of Elijah; again, that its use drives out Satan, that is, the power which impels toward all vices, as the case of Saul, king of Israel, shows. Not in vain, therefore, do the fathers and the prophets want nothing more intimately linked to the Word of God than music. From this arise so many hymns and psalms, in which the message and the (singing) voice act upon the heart of the hearer at the same time, while in other animated and living bodies music alone, without any message, causes reactions.
Given the power of music, therefore, extreme care should be taken that we use it rightly when connecting it to the Word of God. Rev. Dr. Daniel Reuning describes the effect of music in terms of Dionysian and Apollonian forces. Reuning explains it thus:
Music that communicates emotions with a Dionysian force is that kind which excites us to enjoy our emotions by being thoroughly involved or engrossed in them with our entire person. Our enjoyment of the emotion then becomes ego-directed, driven by the desire for self-gratification. This direction often shows itself in keen physical involvement; people become emotionally involved through stomping of the feet, swaying of the body, clapping of the hands, and waving of the arms. Music that solicits from us this kind of emotional response allows us to enjoy our emotions from the inside and very experientially. This kind of music is clearly anthropocentric in nature, because it turns man to himself, rather than away from himself, with the result that he becomes the appreciating center of his own emotions and experiences. Herein lies the goal of all entertainment and popular music, which must please or gratify the self if it is going to sell. Luther used the word "carnal" to describe this approach and produced his hymnbooks and choirbook, so as to wean people away from it.
His music and that of the Lutheran heritage communicates a message with an Apollonian force, which allows our emotions to be enjoyed, while at the same time retaining control and mental freedom. We are relieved of the urgent requirements of our inner drives. Under Apollonian influence our emotions are viewed empathically or contemplatively in a more detached fashion, so that they might always be subject to our discretion and judgment. Since the major point of the Reformation, as of Scripture itself, was to turn man away from everything within himself as the source of hope and assurance of salvation - to the grace of God alone, earned for us by Christ Himself - it was logical for Lutherans to use Apollonian music. Man-directed Dionysian music would only confuse or contradict the message through its anthropocentric emotional forces. Just as hymns and spiritual songs with words full of Dionysian content, doting upon human experience and feelings, are incongruent with the biblical proclamation of the Gospel, so also is music that revels in Dionysian emotionalism. Thus, because music has so much influence on one's understanding of the Gospel, Apollonian reinforcement was the obvious choice. Furthermore, this choice is just as relevant to us today, since the emotional forces in music keep on conveying their unique messages, remaining unaffected by changes in time or environment - a truly universal expression!
God created man an emotional creature and saw that it was very good. Yet, as with anything good, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh take that which is good and use it for ill. Very well-meaning folks throughout history have taken music intended to aid the Gospel and turned it into an aid for our flesh. Christ must remain the center and focus of worship, otherwise worship turns inward and becomes about ourselves and our feelings. When we become the focus, this idolatry sets us up to feed the Old Adam’s despising of the Law that curbs the flesh and shows us how to lead Godly lives.
Luther, Bach, Walter, Nicholai, Heerman, Gerhard, and others knew that music and the associated words are not adiaphoria. Even modern research supports Luther’s thoughts concerning music in worship. We would do well to consider this as we go about the important work of teaching our children the faith, especially when we teach them the faith through hymns. + JCB
Mrs. Jocelyn C. Benson serves as Wittenberg Academy's Head Teacher.
Concordia Theological Quarterly Volume: 48 Number: 1 in 1984, p. 17-21.
From the Head Teacher's Desk- p. 3
A Matter so Great
Mrs. Jocelyn C. Benson
2019 Witttenberg Academy Family Retreat Memories
and 2020 Family Retreat Announcement- P. 30
A Matter so Great
Registration is Open
for the 2019-20 Academic Year
Thanks to generous benefactors, we are delighted to again offer a New Student Tuition Discount for the 2019-20 academic year. Please note the following details:
New full time scholars will receive a 20% tuition discount when meeting the following qualifications:
Is registered for at least 6 credits for the academic year (must be high school or junior high school courses) and sets up FACTS payment plan for the year. For new scholars this must be done by August 15 preceding the academic year.
Must pass at least 6 credits or the discounted money will be owed back to Wittenberg Academy.
Do not delay! Scheduling changes can be made later on within your registration by contacting Mrs. Benson. Registrations received after August 15 will be accepted, but the Tuition Discount will NOT be applied.
Students are welcome to pursue a Wittenberg Academy Diploma or take classes à la carte.
"Wittenberg Academy combines the best of a physical school education with the best of homeschooling. You will meet people from across the country (and even the world). You can easily discuss questions, ideas, or perceived problems in your topic of study with other students and your teacher. Yet at the same time, you have the freedom to pursue personal interests and engage in activities for which most students don’t have the time. Finally, you will learn much more than many students, while having a lot of fun along the way."
~ WA Student on why others should Attend WA
2019-20 Academic Year
New Student Tuition Discount
Oh Sing to the Lord a New Song
Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:1-3)
The Lutheran Church is often called the Singing Church. One of my high school teachers, a Roman Catholic priest, tried to get us boys to sing during Mass. He exhorted us to “sing like Lutherans.” Of course, we Lutherans enjoy a rich heritage of hymns from the flowing ancient Latin chants, to stirring sixteenth century German chorales, to modern hymns in every language that powerfully proclaim the “salvation of our God” in Christ. Our hymnals are chock full of law and gospel, of cross and comfort, of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But why do we sing the Divine Service itself? Why do pastors often chant prayers?
First of all, there are no steadfast rules about singing or speaking our worship. There may be occasions when speaking the service is a better option. Maybe the organist is off and the congregation may not be confident enough to sing without accompaniment. Maybe the pastor has a bad cold and can’t chant his part (I speak from experience!). Maybe it is customary for the congregation to speak the liturgy on somber occasions like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.
Sometimes pastors will avoid chanting their parts of the service until a congregation has been catechized and has become familiar with it being done. But the normal, common, default position, as indicated by the musical notes in our hymnal, is to chant the liturgy! Why?
There are indeed practical reasons. In former times before microphones and speakers, the pastors had to chant in order to be heard, that is, to make their voices carry. In ancient times, the church would sing Psalms antiphonally with each other and with the clergy, taking turns chanting their respective parts. This became a longstanding custom in the church. Music also aids memory, to the point where monks and nuns often had all 150 Psalms committed to memory.
But there are also less pedestrian reasons to sing our worship. The main reason is, in the words of the Psalmist, we are singing a “new song” to the Lord, a song of salvation, of renewal: a celebration of His victory for us, expressing the joy of being delivered from our enemies, a joy that simply cannot be contained. For “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
Music is as natural to mankind as is language itself. The first musician recorded in the Book of Genesis is all the way back in Chapter 4, very early in human history. Jubal was a descendant of Cain, and “he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Gen 4:21). His name is the origin of the word “jubilation.” For once again, our worship of the Lord is a celebration: of creation, of His mercy, of His victory over evil, of His love for us and redemption of us. Ultimately, the greatest jubilation of all is Easter, when God Incarnate rose from death – the death upon the cross that won the victory over death and Satan for us – rising again to new life with the guarantee that because “we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Rom 6:5).
This is the greatest victory of all: the victory of the cross and the empty tomb, the victory of our redemption, our victory over sin, death, and the devil. And so every Sunday is a mini-Easter, and every time we gather around the Lord’s Body and Blood we are not only celebrating, but participating in the resurrection of our Lord!
How can we restrain our joy?
We are hardwired to sing when we celebrate. Can you imagine going to a birthday party to celebrate a loved one, the room decorated, the guests smiling, gathering around the festive cake with joyful friends and family members, and then speaking the words to “Happy Birthday to You”? Or what about celebrating our American independence from Britain, and remembering the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in 1812 in which Francis Scott Key, a nervous prisoner, could not tell the outcome of the barrage of cannon fire until the smoke cleared and he saw Old Glory flying defiantly above the ramparts? Can you imagine celebrating this great victory by collectively reading the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”?
The Divine Service is a celebration. And in fact, the technical liturgical term for the pastor who leads the service is “celebrant.” We celebrate the victory of our Lord when we worship! And so, we sing.
And when we sing the praises of our Lord, even in our imperfect croaking and wheezing, we are preparing for eternity. For being in the presence of Jesus is to celebrate His victory on the cross. And in celebration of this victory of victories, not even the angels can be restrained from singing. In fact, we will join with them in eternity to sing the “New Song” mentioned in Psalm 98, as we read in the Book of Revelation:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:6-10).
We sing from Genesis to Revelation, and we sing for all eternity. We sing the New Song to our Lord who has done marvelous things! We celebrate with great joy the salvation of our God.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song! Amen.
Pastor Larry Beane serves as Chaplain and a Paideia instructor for Wittenberg Academy.
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The Lutheran Church has been known as the Singing Church of the Reformation. Luther, unlike Calvin and Zwingli, saw music as a gift of God and a great way to proclaim the Gospel. In many places the Lutheran Church still is the singing Church. However, in some places the people do not sing unto the Lord with any sort of enthusiasm; in some places they don’t sing. There are various causes and remedies to be explored.
I. For many years musical training has decreased in schools. Budgetary requirements have forced cuts in many voluntary activities (like sports and music). In many places there is little or no classroom music, let alone choir or band. Thus schools have educated a generation with little or no musical training. One of the few places where people participate in music is in Church. In similar manner few people have been trained to play the organ. Thus, there is a generation of people who are uncomfortable singing being led by untrained organists. Sometimes the organ itself is insufficient to lead the singing (many naves have only a parlor organ).One should not wonder, then, that people don’t sing well in many congregations.
What should be done? First, if the schools will not train people in music, then the Church should do what it can to aid people. Even small congregations can have a choir (with only three people, if need be) whose primary task is to help lead the singing of the hymns and liturgy; this has been the primary task of choirs since the time of Luther! Second, budding organists should be encouraged. Identify pianists who have any sense of service and offer to have them trained (at least in the basics). Then, encourage them to learn from knowledgeable teachers how to LEAD the singing. Concordia Theological Seminary – Fort Wayne has workshops for organists every summer. Sometimes there are local organist workshops. If these are not feasible Kantor Kevin Hildebrand has prepared videos about playing the organ and leading the service: https://www.ctsfw.edu/about/faculty/kantor-kevin-hildebrand/# These videos may also demonstrate what may be needed in a new organ.
II. For centuries the Church has designed buildings fit for the service AND for singing. With the advent of microphones and sound systems such acoustics were forgotten or changed. Many sound engineers prefer a dead room (no reverberation, that is, sustaining of music in the air after the musician stopped, similar to a miniature echo) over a live room (where the sound lingers in the air). Earlier buildings were high and long with hard surfaces to aid the speaking and singing. Now, many Church buildings are low and broad with soft surfaces; these take away from the lingering of sound and the ability to hear people participating with one another. In these naves people feel like they are singing alone. This does not lead to confident singing.
What can be done? Short of rebuilding one can minimize the absorption of sound in a few ways. First, if you have acoustical tile (sound absorbing tiles) one can replace them with wood (whether tiles or solid wood). Second, if there is carpet, either replace it with wood or stone tile or, at a minimum, with carpet which is tightly woven. Padded pews also can absorb sound, but can still be acceptable if there are other hard surfaces. When people hear that they are not singing alone they often sing far more joyously, especially the uncertain singers!
III. Many have a limited understanding of how music in the Church is to be performed. There are those who have been taught that music is to be slow and quiet so that one may meditate upon the words. This way of thinking springs from Pietism, a theology that puts one’s heart above Scripture. Some hymnody is slow; some music is soft, but that does not mean that all music in the Church is to be slow and soft. The high points of the liturgy (the Gloria in excelsis, Worthy Is Christ [AKA This Is the Feast], and the Sanctus) are big angelic songs of praise; they are the loudest sections of the liturgy. Most of the hymns from Luther’s time – and for a century or so thereafter – are full of life and meant to be sung at a lively tempo. In many of the hymns the half note (or dotted half note), not the quarter note, receives the pulse. Thus Awake, My Heart, with Gladness is sung best at the dotted half note pulse = 45 per minute, NOT a quarter note = 45 to 60 (as has been heard).
Others only want to sing what they hear on Christian radio. This portrays a misunderstanding of what is music for the Church. For the most part (choral music excepted) Church music is congregational singing. Music on the radio is soloistic. Such music is rhythmically and melodically complex; it is not intended for the Church and even when sung in the Church it usually is not sung well. Instead, use the Church choir to teach Lutheran hymnody at a good tempo.
In some places the singing in the service is moribund. Church music was never intended to be without life. If one follows the suggestions presented here (as well as one is able) there is a better chance of the congregation being an excellent (or, at least, better) member of the Singing Church of the Reformation.
Kantor Thomas Lock serves as the Music instructor for Wittenberg Academy.
The 'Singing' Church of the Reformation
At Wittenberg Academy, we pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful because we value those things which endure. In keeping with this philosophy, we highly recommend that students use printed books and readings as much as possible. Our instructors supply information so that families may purchase necessary books or print off copies of readings. At the same time, we recognize the financial sacrifices that many families already make to provide an excellent education for their children. For this reason, we also offer options for using web or other electronic copies of readings, most of which are available free of charge. Since the choice to use print, electronic, or combined means for readings will not limit a student’s participation in classes, each family may utilize the option deemed best-suited for them.
A Statement from Our
Board of Directors
"Vivacity, Perspicuity, and the Nature of the Soul: Selections from George Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric"
The Scottish Enlightenment was a "hotbed of genius*" that gave rise to advances in letters, philosophy, and science. As the Scottish Enlightenment worked out the implications of Sir Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning, intellectual societies blossomed in every quarter. The Philosophical Society of Aberdeen (The Wise Club,) was one such enclave. George Campbell, along with Thomas Reid, founded the group in (1758). They were keenly interested in responding to the works on skepticism of David Hume. In their view, Hume's position was subversive of faith, and The Wise Club aspired to answer his arguments, in a decorous spirit of intellectual inquiry, but upholding the Christian faith. Beyond answering Hume, The Wise Club's constitution focused the society's efforts on realizing the promise of Baconian Method. "Faculty psychology," in particular, had great currency in their day. Consider, for example, how Bacon's definition of rhetoric: "The application of reason to imagination for the better moving of the will," presupposes those elements that constitute the human soul. This ubiquitous perspective motivated Campbell's project, to elucidate an exhaustive philosophy of rhetoric, based on an up-to-date "scientific examination of the human soul." After having fleshed out his insights, in dialogue with his friends at the bi-weekly meetings of The Wise Club, Campbell was ready, in 1776, to publish his Philosophy of Rhetoric. Incidentally, a good friend of both Reid and Hume's, over in Glasgow, Adam Smith, published two important works in 1759 and 1776 respectively: A Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations.
Reid was impressed with Smith's acclaimed "Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres," from a decade prior. Now Smith requested that his unpublished works be burned upon his death. However, a set of student notes was discovered a century later,+ and these were eventually published and are still available through Liberty Press. I have attempted to teach those lectures in my rhetoric courses, but, being student notes, they are so spotty and fragmented that, when it came time to choose a text, I turned rather to Campbell's more complete, elaborate, and eloquent Philosophy of Rhetoric. Following is a sampling of chapter titles we will discuss from Philosophy of Rhetoric.]
Bk I Chap. IV: The Relation Which Eloquence Bears to Logic and to Grammar
Bk I Chap. VII: Man as endowed with: Understanding, Imagination, Memory, and Passions
Bk II Chap. VI: Of Perspicuity
Bk III Chap I: Of Vivacity as depending on the choice of words
Sect. I: Proper Terms
Sect. II: Rhetorical Tropes
Part I: Preliminary Observations Regarding Tropes Part II: Tropes that are conducive to Vivacity
Part III: Tropes that are obstructive to Vivacity
We will utilize archive.org's, online version of Campbell's work, so no books need be purchased for our summer session! A series of articles here will preview each week's discussion topic . . .
Dr. Tallmon serves as Rhetoric instructor at Wittenberg Academy. This article is the first of a series explaining Dr. Tallmon's summer seminar on rhetoric.
* H/T U of Glasgow's Craig Smith, https://www.adamsmithworks.org/life_times/introduction-craig-smith-11-1 accessed 4 March 19. Recommended also: Arthur E. Walzer. George Campbell: Rhetoric in the Age of Enlightenment. Albany: State University of NY Press, 2003.
+ William Purcell. "A Reassessment of Adam Smith's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres" (Spring 1986) Central States Speech Journal, 45-54.
When was the last time you heard someone say “what a beautiful baby!” or “look at that beautiful sunset!” or “these flowers are just beautiful!”? How do we know that babies, sunsets, and flowers are beautiful?
When God created the heavens, earth, and everything therein, He said it was good. The note on Genesis 1:31 in The Lutheran Study Bible sheds light on what is meant by good and thus by what means we know what is beautiful: Martin Chemnitz says in Loci Theologici, “The word tob [good in English] refers to something which is beautiful or pleasant, which delights the eye of the beholder or the mind of one who considers it, as Genesis 3:6 says of Eve.” If we want to know what is beautiful, we have to go to the creator of beauty- God. If we want to know what is true, we go to the source of Truth- God.
Lutherans are primary source people. We believe, teach, and confess that Scripture interprets Scripture, that to know Truth we must go to the Source of Truth, and that to know beauty we must go to the Creator of beauty. It is only natural, then, to also extend that “primary source thinking” to all areas of learning .
The ear is trained to identify beautiful music by listening to beautiful music. The eye is trained to identify beautiful art by looking at beautiful art. We are fortunate, as Lutherans, to have a beautiful hymnody to which our children can listen and beautiful art and architecture at which our children can look. That was too easy, right? What about Math, Science, Literature, Logic, Rhetoric, Theatre, Language, History, and Theology? Where is the beauty there? I suggest it is everywhere, but it is difficult to see if you don’t go to the source.
When was the last time you heard your child express awe over the beauty of math? Could it perhaps be the source of the math? By removing learning from the source from which it came, we have done a very good job of stripping it of its beauty. The scientists, mathematicians, writers, historians, artists, etc. responsible for the majority of what we study today were very quick to acknowledge God as the Author and Source of all that is beautiful. In fact, many wrote boldly that true understanding of things could not be had apart from acknowledging that God created and sustains all things. There is evidence from the writings of Kepler, Linnaeus, Copernicus, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Boyle, Pasteur, and others that science and math are at a loss at the exclusion of God.
Why, then, do we study Math, Science, History, etc. apart from the source of that which we study?
Are we not robbing ourselves of richness and beauty in learning and thus ultimately the ability to recognize beauty in all of life?
I suggest, dear friends, that we strongly consider the sources from which we teach and learn. If we believe, teach, and confess primary sources, then why not consider primary sources for learning in all of life?
The God of all creation, the fountain and source of all blessing, gave us beauty. He gifted men and women throughout history with knowledge by which they gave an account of the beauty of creation through Math, Science, History, Literature, Logic, etc. May we, like them, seek and find beauty in all of life, whether it is babies, sunsets, flowers, or Math.
This article was originally run in the May 2013 edition of the Ninety-Sixth Thesis.
Timeless Essay- That Which is Beautiful
Missionary Family Feature
Dr. James Tallmon
Rev. Joel and Clarion Fritsche serve the Lord as missionaries of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in the Dominican Republic. In this role, Joel plants new churches in this country. He forms and develops groups of believers into mature, self-sustaining and self-replicating congregations through Word and Sacrament ministry. Joel also serves as the director of Concordia Seminary and Mercy Center in Palmar Arriba (which is in the Santiago province of the Dominican Republic). As director, he teaches courses and helps prepare men to be pastors who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this country and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
the Fritsche Family
Dr. James M. Tallmon taught rhetoric at the college level from the time he entered graduate school, for thirty years, until he left the ivory tower to be headmaster of Trinity Lutheran School in Cheyenne, WY. He also taught grades 7 & 8 at Trinity Cheyenne. Dr. Tallmon, a longtime friend of Wittenberg Academy, served on the Wyoming District High School Task Force. He holds his Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Ethics from the University of Washington (1993) and his web home is the Rhetoric Ring (www.rhetoricring.com).
By George Herbert
Sweetest of sweets, I thank you: when displeasure
Did through my body wound my mind,
You took me thence, and in your house of pleasure
A dainty lodging me assigned.
Now I in you without a body move,
Rising and falling with your wings:
We both together sweetly live and love,
Yet say sometimes, "God help poor Kings".
Comfort, I'll die; for if you post from me
Sure I shall do so, and much more:
But if I travel in your company,
You know the way to heaven's door.
On the Road with Wittenberg Academy
Lutherans for Life Conference September 14 ,2019
Trinity Lutheran Church
Vine and Branches Conference October 5, 2019
St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church Worthington, MN
MNSD All Workers Conference October 17, 2019
Mayer Lutheran High School
Rural and Small Town Mission Conference November 14-16, 2019 DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bloomington-Minneapolis South
Mrs. Benson will be conducting a breakout session at the Rurual and Small Town Mission conference. We would love for you to stop by and say hello if you are attending either conference!
Written by Nicole Rodriguez
It was an odd way to begin the term, by reading Ecclesiastes, but he knew what he was doing as he led us in the familiar words, “Vanity of vanities...All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Through the Bible, he reminded us that everything we do under the sun will only lead to death. What, then, is our purpose? Possibly it wasn’t the best question to ask a teacher, but I asked him anyway. “Is learning vanity, then?”
I almost think he had been waiting for the question. “Yes,” he told me. “Learning is vanity—apart from Christ.”
God’s Word alone makes learning meaningful. “Further up and further in!” Aslan invited the children in The Last Battle. They followed him in that glorious flight into the Heavenly country, for their joy was to follow while he led. In the same way, Jesus invites us to come “further up and further in,” by learning, with His Word as the foundation. He tells us to “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it [we] may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). His Word is the only Truth that gives learning its meaning, for, without it, learning is nothing more than vanity.
God reveals Himself in the normal school subjects that we study every day. Math and science show us God’s created order. Romans 1:20 tells us, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” We can look at the world around us and wonder at God’s greatness. I live in Montana, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can look out my bedroom window to see the mountains, step outside to kneel in the green grass of spring, and smell the maple blossoms with their spicy, magical scent. Two mourning doves came up to our porch today and wheeled airborne only feet from the window—majestic grey wings fluttering, spreading out to show off their beauty—while I gasped, speechless. Yesterday, I found two ducks swimming in the fountain outside the local library and laughed to see the male investigating me, making sure I was safe. Truly, God has given us wonders in nature!
The humanities show a longing to create, as we were created in the image of God. We have a grand heritage of music, literature, and art. We can claim such great names as Bach, Telemann, Handel, and Mendelssohn as fellow Lutherans. As we listen to Bach’s intricate fugues, hearing the subject travel among four or five voices, as we wonder at how Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words can perfectly reflect our own joys and sorrows, as we marvel at Handel’s Messiah, with its totally Biblical words and majestic arias, we see that this too is a reflection of God’s glory. One of the highlights of my life was being able to stand inside the cathedral of Notre Dame and take in the beauty of the architecture, the stained-glass windows that had survived the world wars, and appreciate that this too was made to give glory to God. On receiving the news of the fire on the Monday of Holy Week, I mourned as if for a loved one. Can the theme of “all is vanity” creep into our churches as well?
It shows us once more not to put our trust in the things of men, done under the sun. When my teacher read to us from Ecclesiastes, my question about the vanity of learning did not come only from impulse. I had just finished a semester of a secular philosophy and literature class— which exemplifies the idea of vanity! For an entire semester, my classmates demonstrated to me what harm a flawed worldview can do, turning the focus inward, toward our sinful selves, rather than outward, toward God. They disregarded my views as just another option among many, and I had to daily remind myself that Jesus’s name is the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). I touched my forehead during class, knowing that I had good reason to be uncomfortable, for after all, Jesus told us that we are not of this world (John 15:19). By virtue of the invisible cross placed on my forehead in baptism to mark me as Christ’s own, I was set apart. Ironically, we read Ecclesiastes in that class as well—along with works such as Siddhartha. No one made any distinction between the two, and our teacher told us to find meaning in the text of Ecclesiastes without using the rest of the Bible for support. I didn’t realize how the false teaching was suffocating me until the end of semester, when the class ended and Christmas week began. Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, so my family attended Divine Service two days in a row, along with two evening services. It astonished me to physically feel clean. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacrament. The words of the liturgy comforted me in the promise of forgiveness, and a visiting pastor commented on my smile throughout the services. As Christians, we are not of this world. We can counter the devil’s lies and accusations with a triumphant shout, “I am baptized into Christ! No one can snatch me out of His hand (John 10:29). See, His mark burns bright on my head, shining with His own blood. It is His cross, by which He marks me as His own! ‘What can flesh do to me’ (Psalm 56:4)? ‘For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39).”
The discussions of my secular philosophy class had been nothing but vanity. I had responded joyously to Divine Service as though I had come home, for the presence of God in Word and Sacraments is the closest thing on this earth to heaven. However, on this earth, vanity persists as long as sin and death do. So we look forward to the final coming of our Lord Jesus, knowing that, though Notre Dame may burn, the Church that transcends a single building endures. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until then, we surround ourselves with God’s Word, the only Truth, and learn about Him through the gifts of science and humanities. We pray, as in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) and “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)!
Built on the Rock
If you feel so moved, a GoFundMe account has been set up for the Wolf family. Please keep the family in your prayers.
Our beloved Aaron Wolf passed away suddenly on Easter Sunday. It is a devastating loss to his family and a terrible loss to Chronicles, The Charlemagne Institute, and the conservative cause.
In his mid-forties, Aaron is survived by his incredible wife Lorrie, their six children, and his mother and father.
He was a man of abounding goodness as father, husband, and Christian. Readers of Chronicles know that he was also a tenacious defender of Western Civilization and the lives of the unborn and most vulnerable. He made Chronicles possible through his industry as an editor, seeing the magazine through to production every month. His generosity toward colleagues, writers, and even strangers was unstinting, and he bettered the lives of everyone who knew him. Aaron set a benchmark for us all.
Congratulations to Nicole Rodriguez and Elizabeth Paul for co-winning the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education's Rhetoric level Essay Contest! We will be featuring both of their papers in the next two editions of the Ninety-Sixth Thesis.
Aaron Wolf Family Memorial Fund
Did You miss your opportunity to pick up a t-shirt at a conference this summer?
Did you get one and want another?
If so, we have great news for you!
You can now purchase Wittenberg Academy t-shirts year round online! They will also be available at the conferences listed in the 'On the Road with WA' page.
A point of confession
2019-20 Academic Year Dates
Michaelmas: September 3-November 22
Christmas: November 25- February 28
Easter: March 2- May 22
Trinity: June 1- August 21
"For if we wish to have excellent and able persons both for civil and Church leadership. we must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and education our children, so that they may serve God and the world. We must not think only about how we may amass money and possessions for them. God can indeed support and make them rich without us, as He daily does. But for this purpose He has given us children and issued ths command: we should train and govern them according to His will. Otherwise, He would have no purpose for a father and a mother.Therefore, let everyone know that it is his duty, on peril of losing the divine favor, to bring up his children in the fear and knowledge of God above all things (Proverbs 1:7). And if the children are talented, have them learn and study something. Then they ma be hired for whatever need there is."
~ The Large Catechism, Part I: The Fourth Commandment, 172-174
Wittenberg Academy's 4th Annual Family Retreat
Wittenberg Academy held their 4th Annual Family Retreat on April 25-27, 2019. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Korcok spoke on the liberal arts. We were blessed to have many families that enjoyed three days of fun, fellowship, and worship. We hope to see everyone again next year!
Next year's Retreat will be held on April 23-25, 2020.
Registration is now open for the 2020 Wittenberg Academy Family Retreat!
When: April 23-25, 2020
Who: Plenary speaker forthcoming
Cost: $300 per family (Includes room & board)
WE hope to see you there!
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