Thursday, November 14, 2013

Melanchthon's Prayers for the Dead

Over on the CARM boards a Roman Catholic posted the following:
Council or Protestant Reformer? Here's a little quiz for your Thursday afternoon. Please identify the author of the following doctrinal quotations. Is it from a Catholic Council or a Protestant Father?
What followed were a series of quotes with two choices: a Roman choice, or a Protestant choice (all the quotes though were from Protestants). The goal appears to be to demonstrate that certain historically important Protestants held to particular Roman beliefs. This sort argument really is, in essence, futile. Protestants don't follow earlier Protestants as infallible interpreters. Nor is it surprising to find that the earliest generation of Protestant reformers may have still held to particular Roman beliefs on various things. Roman Catholics are quick to point to an infallible "development of doctrine" to explain their inconsistencies with earlier periods of church history. It's a double standard then to demand that Protestant doctrine did not (or could not)"develop" further away from Romanism as history progressed. So, while some of the quotes accurately reflected the beliefs of the Protestants being cited,  some of them were historically misleading, and when placed back in context said something much different than what the Roman church believes.  Here's another quote and choices:
4. Praying for the dead is not prohibited

“Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit”

a. Council of Ephesus
b. Phillip Melanchthon
This snippet is from Melanchthon's Apology of the Augsburg Confession. The problem with the statement as its presented is that Melanchthon (and the Lutherans) mean something different than Roman Catholics do when it comes to prayer for the dead. A lack of a context causes historical distortion. The entire context of Melanchthon's comment is in regard to those who perform ceremonies of masses to liberate souls from purgatory. Melanchthon's quote says (in a broader context):
Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit, but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead. Neither do the ancients favor the adversaries concerning the opus operatum. And even though they have the testimonies especially of Gregory or the moderns, we oppose to them the most clear and certain Scriptures. And there is a great diversity among the Fathers. They were men, and could err and be deceived. Although if they would now become alive again, and would see their sayings assigned as pretexts for the notorious falsehoods which the adversaries teach concerning the opus operatum, they would interpret themselves far differently.
One can actually find examples from Luther as well allowing prayers for the dead. What Melanchthon and Luther both emphasized though was that such prayers are not to be linked to purgatory. For these Reformers, both stood against the Roman notion that such prayers can alter the state of the departed. Why do the Romanists pray for the dead? ...To help in their eventual completed salvation, to beseech God to have mercy on the souls of those in purgatory.  That was the historical context in which Melanchthon and Luther defined what was proper and improper prayer for the dead.

As Luther said, Praying for the souls in purgatory with "vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations" are, according to Luther, "the devil’s annual fair." In his Preface to the Burial Hymns (1542), he states, "Accordingly, we have removed from our churches and completely abolished the popish abominations, such as vigils, masses for the dead, processions, purgatory, and all other hocus-pocus on behalf of the dead" (LW 53:325).

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