Saturday, September 24, 2005

C.F.W. Walther on the Three Hierarchies

Over on a thread at Here We Stand, the issue of Lutheran views of Cromwell and English Civil War (1640-1660) came up. The usual modern view of this struggle (see 1066 And All That) sees Cromwell's Roundheads (the Puritans and Parliament) as "right but repulsive" and King Charles's cavaliers (divine-right monarchy and the bishops) as "wrong but wromantic." By contrast, the father of the LCMS, C.F.W. Walther, made it clear where he personally stood:

When Cromwell, the miscreant, who sentenced his liege, the king, to death and instituted murderous and bloody trials throughout England, was at the point of death, he became alarmed. Summoning his chaplain, he asked him whether a person who had once been a believer could lose his faith, which the miserable chaplain negatived. Cromwell thereupon concluded that all was well with him, because he knew that once upon a time he had been a believer. Remembering the profound impression which the Word of God had made upon him at certain times in his life, he relied on the abominable comfort which his chaplain offered him, viz., that since he had had faith once, he still had it. This instance shows the awful effect of this doctrine of the Calvinists (Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, p. 215) .

Similar obiter dicta about "the so-called Wars of Deliverance from that monster Napoleon I" (p. 259) and how "People see the rule of the Antichrist in pantheism, materialism, atheism, socialism, nihilism, anarchism, and other horrible isms to which the modern age has fallen heir" (p. 68), put Walther in the conservative camp that saw the French Revolutionaries and their epigones as deeply pernicious in their espousal of a "right to rebel" and a replacement of the traditional estates with ideologically motivated mobilization.

At the same time, his "so-called" in front of the Wars of Deliverance and his insistence that is the Papacy, as the force anathemizing the Gospel which is the true Antichrist show that Walther resisted giving religious force and sanction to purely political struggles against the French Revolution and its legacy.

Walther's positive social vision was centered on the archaic division of society into three estates:

All mankind, you know, is distributed among three estates, appointed and ordained by God himself: the estate of teachers, of producers, and defenders, the Lehrstand, Naerstand, and Wehrstand, as the Germans call them. In view of the statement of David in Ps. 111:3 "His work is honorable and glorious," none of these God-ordained estates is to be esteemed lightly; for in each one of these estatats a person can pursue his way to heaven, please God and God's children and serve God and his fellow-men. What more do we need? In the estate of teachers we have those who teach in the Church and in the schools; in the estate of producers we have peasants, artisans, artists, and scholars; in the estate of defenders we have governors, state officers, jurists, and soldiers (Walther, Proper Distinction, p. 284).

While not specifying these as hereditary, this division is of course roughly the medieval division of clergy, nobility, and the third estate (peasants and bourgeois). Certainly this thinking is, while not specifically anti-democratic, not really in line with modern political thinking, whether of the Whig (free-market, liberty-centered) or Social-Democratic (government-managed, equality-centered) version.

This three-fold division in fact is much older than the Middle Ages and goes back to the ancient Indo-European division of society into three hereditary functions: the priests, the warriors, and the producers of wealth. This division is reflected in the social classes of India: brahmanas (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), and vaishyas (herder-farmers); of Iran: athravan- (priests), rathaestar (warriors), and vastriyo-fsuyant- (herder-cultivators); of Rome: flamines (priests), milites (equestrian knights), and quirites (plebeians). As summarized in this volume, linguistic, folkloric, and archeological research suggests this structure goes back to the common cultural progenitor of the European and Indo-Iranian peoples, in Ukraine and Southern Russia, around 4000-3000 BC.

What is particularly innovative and interesting about Walther's recasting of this three-fold distinction is his assignment of artists and scholars to the estate of producers, not teachers. In other words, creative minds are not "unofficial legislators" as the Romantic poets contended, and still less are analogous to priests as Matthew Arnold (about artists) or Richard Dawkins (about scientists) pretended, but with the humble craftsman. Painting the Sistine Chapel, or refining quantum mechanics is a worthy activity, but one more analogous to a cobbler making boots than to a schoolteacher instructing children or to a pastor building up a flock. I think present-day debates on the arts in church could benefit from this reconceptualizing the artist and researcher as producer, rather than teacher.

Labels: ,