Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All Adiaphora Equal?

As our favorite radio host, Rev. Todd Wilken, is quick to remind everyone: "Just because there are many right ways to do something doesn't mean there are no wrong ways."

Even the pagans understood what seems too difficult for the average American Lutheran pastor to grasp: all adiaphora are not created equal.

The Lutheran confessors did not invent a new word when they used the Greek word, "adiaphora." The word was perhaps new to them, however, in an age of humanism and revival of classicism.

The stoics had long used the word as "a technical term characterizing the things that lie outside of the categories of virtus and dedecus, the sole good and the sole evil." (Loeb Classical Library: Seneca - Moral Essays vol. II, p.156f) The Latin Stoics used the word, also familiar to students of the Lutheran Confessions, indifferentia, or "matters of indifference."

Since the Lutheran confessors were borrowing a word from the classics, here's a little piece of the term's Stoic baggage we'd hate to leave behind.


Who among wise men... who count virtue as the sole good, denies that even those things which we call "indifferent" (indifferentia/adiaphora) do have some inherent value, and that some are more desirable than others?

- Seneca's On the Happy Life, xxii.3

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Virtuous Pastor and Trials

Well, usually I begin a post with an excerpt from our Seneca's writings, but this time I'd like to preface the excerpt instead.

I am a pastor, but surely every Christian is beset on every side by trial and difficulty without and within. For Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have many troubles," and elsewhere, "no student is above his master... if the master of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!" Who isn't sorely tempted by every proffered escape from such struggle as we endure who would be faithful to our Lord? With such thoughts in mind I do not now presume to interpret or apply Seneca's wisdom, but only to commend the following to you in time of trial as a sort of discipline of reason alongside all encouragement of the true Faith.


Therefore let the highest good mount to a place from which no force can drag it down, where neither pain nor hope nor fear finds access, nor does any other thing that can lower the authority of the highest good; but Virtue alone is able to mount to that height. We must follow her footsteps to find that ascent easy; bravely will she stand, and she will endure whatever happens, not only patiently, but even gladly; she will know that every hardship that time brings comes by a law of Nature, and like a good soldier she will submit to wounds, she will count her scars, and, pierced by darts, as she dies she will love him for whose sake she falls - her commander; she will keep in mind that old injunction, "Follow God!" But whoever complains and weeps and moans, is compelled by force to obey commands, and, even though he is unwilling is rushed none the less to the bidden tasks. But what madness to prefer to be dragged rather than to follow! As much so, in all faith, as it is great folly and ignorance of one's lot to grieve because of some lack or some rather bitter happening, and in like manner to be surprised or indignant at those ills that befall the good no less than the had - I mean sickness and death and infirmities and all the other unexpected ills that invade human life. All that the very constitution of the universe obliges us to suffer, must be borne with high courage. This is the sacred obligation by which we are bound - to submit to the human lot, and not to be disquieted by those things which we have no power to avoid. We have been born under a monarchy; to obey God is freedom. (Seneca's On the Happy Life, xvi.5-7)

Monday, September 01, 2008


I do not call them pupils of the wise, but merely "squatters." Certain of them come to hear and not to learn, just as we are attracted to the theatre to satisfy the pleasures of the ear, whether by a speech, or by a song, or by a play. This class, as you will see, constitutes a large part of the listeners... They do not set about to lay aside any faults there, or to receive a rule of life, by which they may test their characters; they merely wish to enjoy to the full the delights of the ear.
- Annaeus Lucius Seneca, Epistle CVIII

Well, it has been a long time, my friends. So, what has drawn me out of retirement as the faithful Lucilius? I suppose Our Seneca still has some words of wisdom for us. I dropped the blog about two years ago when I got too busy to study Seneca, but now I'm too busy with the meat of ministry NOT to study Seneca. Well, the above passage pretty much says it all.

"Squatters." They like to gather in church on Sunday morning, or at a National Youth Gathering (see above pic from 2007), and PRETEND to be Christians. They are not present to hear the Word preached. They are not sitting around or standing up clapping their hands or wiggling and convulsing to the newest liturgical groove music because they want to amend their sinful lives and be shown the Way. They are not present to have their sins forgiven. They do not sit in the Stoa in order to receive wisdom, except perhaps as a tickling fancy on the eardrum.

Sadly, if our Seneca is right (and I believe he is), they make up the majority of persons gathered in places of "worship" on Sunday morning.

Well, if they're not gathered around the Word to test their character, to be proven wanting, and to receive forgiveness and instruction in the Way of life, why are they there at all?

Well, we may be separated by nearly 2000 years, but Seneca hits the nail on the head. He says that we all of us have within us something that resonates with Truth, and even the most willful sinner will cry and shout approval when he hears his own sins laid bare; however, this is the same as the coward who can feel patriotism stir in his breast as he watches men sacrifice their lives for their nation in the movie theater. It is the same as the adulterer who weeps to see true love exemplified by the actors in a movie about fidelity and suffering for the same.

So why attend the theater? Why turn the Church into such a theater? The answer is simple: Because by doing so we reduce the Christian faith to a momentary assent to what is True, a singular point of time, a finite experience of repentance, a "moment of conversion," but without the conversion. We turn the entire Faith into a pious ejaculation (that's monk-talk, so don't make too much of it).

My friends, it gets worse. What happens when even the Truth has to be cut away from the entertainment, so that there is no discomfort of sins laid bare?


For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
- St. Paul's Second Epistle to St. Timothy (4:3)