Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Society of St. Polycarp

I received word today from Rev. Fr. Larry Beane, Dean of the Society of St. Polycarp, that I had been welcomed into membership in this beloved brotherhood.  I am honored to be a part of this Society.  In a day and age when being Lutheran is defined in a variety of ways, I find myself drawn toward those who refuse to define Lutheranism beyond how our very own Confessions define it.  To belong to a brotherhood of Lutherans who take being Lutheran seriously and commit themselves to a common rule is entirely appealing to me, since I, too, am "committed to the confessional, liturgical, sacramental, and spiritual renewal of the Church of the Augsburg Confession" (Introduction/Preamble to the Rule of SSP).  While I don't yet know all the brothers who belong to the Society, those I do know are brothers for whom I have long had the deepest respect and admiration, including Fr. Beane, our Dean.  These are men who are faithful to, and remain steadfast in, their confession of the faith, and, as I said, I'm honored to be counted among them.  What follows is the Rule of the Society, to which all members voluntarily commit themselves:

The Rule of the Society of St. Polycarp 

As Lutheran Christians who understand ourselves to be a part of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we have joined ourselves voluntarily in a fellowship to be known as the Society of St. Polycarp. The Society is made up of Lutheran clergymen and laity committed to the confessional, liturgical, sacramental, and spiritual renewal of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Since our Church's problems are not political, but rather spiritual, we pray God to grant us repentance, and seek no political aim. Members of the Society commit themselves to the following Rule: 

1. Members of the Society confess Holy Scripture to be "the pure, clear fountain of Israel" and also "the one true guiding principle," i.e., the sole norm or "judge, rule, and guiding principle" of the same (FC Ep. Comprehensive Summary, 7; FC SD Comprehensive Summary, 3). We rejoice in the tradition of the Holy Doctors and Fathers of the Church, in whom Christ kept His promise that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against (My Church)" (Mt 16:18), so that the Lutheran confessors could say that "the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith" (AC Preface to XXII, 1, Latin). We reject all methods of interpretation that seek to understand the meaning of Scripture apart from the guidance of the Church, through which God gave us the Scriptures.

2. Members of the Society will promote the importance of daily prayer and meditation on Holy Scripture.Members will commit themselves to praying at least one of the daily offices, keeping fellow members as well as the Church Catholic herself in their prayers. The ideal use of the offices is in the corporate setting; however, the praying of the offices in private is to be carried out if there is no alternative.

3. Valuing Holy Absolution as "a voice from heaven" (Ap. XII, 40), members of the Society will avail themselves of the benefit of this sacrament, as well as promoting its use. Members will seek out father confessors of their own for regular and frequent private Confession and Absolution.

4. Members of the Society will promote the Sacrament of the Altar as the chief parochial service in the Church of the Augsburg Confession (AC XXIV, 34). Members will receive the Sacrament of the Altar often, as well as encouraging others to receive it frequently, thereby restoring the traditional Lutheran understanding of the central place of the Sacrament in Lutheran worship. As the Lutheran Symbols assume the weekly celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar (AC XXIV, 34-38; Ap. XXIV, 1), members of the Society will promote this evangelical and catholic practice in their own parishes and in the work of the Society.

5. As the Sacrament of the Altar is the true Body and Blood of Our Lord that is truly present, distributed, and received (AC X, German), members of the Society are committed to the evangelical and catholic doctrine of closed communion, i.e., not admitting to the altar to receive the Holy Communion those who have not previously been examined and absolved (AC XXV, 1-2), let alone those of a confession of the Faith contrary to that of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

6. Members of the Society will promote the historic liturgies of the Church Catholic, since such liturgies shape pastoral practice and teaching that is consistent with the evangelical and catholic Faith as it has been handed down in Holy Scripture, the Ecumenical Creeds, and the Symbolical Books of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

7. As the Lutheran Symbols confess the Blessed Virgin Mary to be "the pure, holy, and ever-virgin Mother of God" (Theotokos, Gottes Mutter), as well as "that the blessed Mary prays for the Church" (Ap. XXI, 27; SA I, IV, Latin; FC SD VIII, 24), it is altogether fitting, proper, and consistent with the Faith of the Church Catholic to honor the Blessed Virgin in liturgical celebration. Members of the Society will seek to restore the traditional Marian feasts of the Church of the Augsburg Confession (i.e., the Feasts of the Purification, Annunciation, and Visitation) as a testimony of the grace of God through her, that we might imitate the Blessed Virgin in word and example, and in thanksgiving for the Incarnation of the Son of God through her humble submission to the will of God. Members of the Society will also promote the observance and celebration of saints' days and commemorations. This is wholly in keeping with the evangelical and catholic tradition of the Church of the Augsburg Confession, whose Symbolical Books acknowledge the saints as fitting exemplars of the catholic Faith worthy of imitation, as well as our heavenly intercessors (AC XXI, 1; Ap. XXI, 4-9).

8. As the Church of the Augsburg Confession understands herself as a part of the One Holy, Catholic, andApostolic Church, particularly as she exists in the West, members of the Society will take seriously the commitment to the proper ecumenicity this demands. Members will pursue dialogue with:
  • Fellow Lutheran Christians to foster and promote Lutheran unity.
  • Our separated brethren in the Roman Church, with which the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 clearly sought reconciliation.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church, following the example of the exchange between the Lutheran theologians of the University of Tübingen and Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople (1573-1581).
This reflects not simply the Lutheran commitment to the unity of all Christians, but ultimately the will of Our Lord Himself (Jn 17).

9. Members of the Society will make every effort to make a retreat once a year for the purpose of disciplined prayer and study, silence and reflection, as well as the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar.

Following the example of our patron, members of the Society ultimately strive to be faithful to Our Lord, recalling His words to St. John the Theologian: "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev 2:10). Members also pray God's grace that we may be able to hand over to our posterity the tradition we have received as Lutheran Christians, and that we may be able to confess with our forebears at Augsburg that "nothing has been accepted among us, in teaching and ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the catholic church. For it is manifest that we have most diligently been on guard so that no new or ungodly doctrines creep into our churches" (AC Conclusion, 5, Latin).

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Borne c. A.D. 69
Died c. A.D. 155

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, modern day Izmir, Turkey. Before dying as a martyr, Polycarp was recognized a leader by the Christians in Asia Minor. Because of his position in the church, the death of Polycarp is one of the first and best recorded and documented deaths of a Christian martyr.

Polycarp was brought to the faith by the Apostle John. He also knew the Apostle Paul. The Apostle John, the only Disciple of Jesus to die a natural death, died at an advanced age at Ephesus c. A.D. 100 bringing an end to the "Age of the Apostles" considered to run from A.D. 33, with Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven after his death and Resurrection, to A.D. 100, at John’s death.

Polycarp belonged to the generation of church leaders who followed and had known and been taught by the Apostles themselves. Many second century Christians looked to Polycarp as a living link to the Apostles. One of these was Polycarp’s disciple Irenaeus.  St. Ignatius of Antioch was his friend and contemporary.

During his lifetime, Polycarp wrote, taught and fought for the faith, defending it against the many heresies that tried to creep in with the passing of the Apostles. 
He was martyred on Easter Eve.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

Two things.

First, it's "Beane". I never got the fun of the rhyme, though, until you spelled it that way: "Dean Beane"! *laugh*

Second, a question. You wrote, "I find myself drawn toward those who refuse to define Lutheranism beyond how our very own Confessions define it." What does this mean? Who does this?

Fr. Matthew J. Uttenreither said...

Welcome, Fr. Messer.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Fr. Kornacki:

Lutheranism is defined beyond its self-definition in the Confessions in any number of ways. One that comes to mind immediately is how, by both practice and teaching, many parish pastors, churches, full time elected bureaucrats, and seminary instructors stand against the traditional Lutheran view of liturgical innovation, embedded as that view is in the very Confessions to which they once vowed subscription.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...


What do you mean I misspelled the Dean's name? Go back and read it again and you'll clearly see that it is spelled correctly! :) (Thank God for the edit feature).

Secondly, I'm referring to those who treat our Lutheran Confessions as nice, historic documents, which contain some general truths, but do not view them as continuing to be fully definitive regarding what Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice. I see this play itself out in a number of ways among Lutheran pastors today. For example, I had a pastor long ago who would just come out and say, "The Lutheran Confessions do a good job of defining some crucial doctrines in the 16th century context, but they don't speak to many of the issues we face in the 20th century." Another example: Many LCMS pastors I know believe they can adopt and employ the practices of those whom our very own Confessions condemn, because they conveniently interpret everything our Confessions say about worship contextually. Along these lines, many Lutheran pastors wrongly pit the sola Scriptura principle against our Confessions, saying things like, "Don't tell me what our Confessions say about this. Show me what Holy Scripture says," as if our Confessions are not the correct exposition of Holy Scripture they are.

Thus, I am drawn toward those who continue to see our Confessions as definitive of Lutheranism and take seriously their ordination vows to perform all their duties in accord with these Confessions.

Hope that helps.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Thanks for the welcome, Fr. Uttenreither!

LambertsOnline said...

Congratulations! I also follow Father Hollywood's blog and wonder if you'll also have to read up on Austrian Economics? Just joking, once again congrats!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Thanks, Dave. I, too, follow Father Hollywood's most excellent blog, but am thankful that having an understanding of some of the political and economic items he posts there (which are always interesting) is not a pre-requisite for membership in SSP! :)