Monday, April 13, 2009

Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones: Romanizing Bunker Blaster?

We had our first-ever Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord on March 25 at my parish. Because we are rotating pulpits for Lent, my friend Pr. Eric Brown presided here, while I served a contemporary Lenten service at another congregation. He did a good job, my spies report. :)

When the Director of Music and I were selecting hymns for the service, I immediately thought of "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones." But there was controversy: do we sing "Alleluia" for this feast or refrain because we are still in Lent? I decided not to sing "alleluia". Correct me if I am wrong.

The big issue, however: how in the world did this hymn ever make it past our doctrinal review? Here are the words.

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
Raise the glad strain: “Alleluia!”
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, pow’rs,
Archangels, virtues, angel choirs:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises: "Alleluia!"
Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Eternal anthems echoing:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One:
“Alleluia, alleluia!”
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

First issue: Lutherans generally don't talk to our guardian angels, nor any other angel. The Confessions portray that talking to creatures we cannot see as prayer, and thus it would be idolatrous.

This leads to the second issue, the second stanza. Our Orthodox friends will recognize this stanza immediately. It's Marian, that is, addressed to the Virgin Mary. She is higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim because she "bore the eternal Word" in her womb. The cherubim and seraphim attend the the throne of God. She is the seat where the Son of God took residence.

But do Lutherans speak this way about the Virgin Mary? Not usually. Is it incorrect? I don't think so. But there's still a problem: we address her in this stanza. As a life-long Lutheran, I know it's one thing to address an angel ("pray to an angel"), but addressing the Virgin Mary? Das geht nicht.

Which is the issue in the last two stanzas as well, calling upon the saints and martyrs likewise to praise the Lord.

Now... I don't think I will call the wrath of the Brute Squad down on me for saying I'm very glad this hymn is included. I personally do not think it is incorrect. It is not idolatrous in the least.

But I cannot see how it jibes with the rhetoric of the Confessions which state:

But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. 3] He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2, 1: 4] If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc. (AC XXI)

...Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. But since neither a command, nor a promise, nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures concerning the invocation of saints, it follows that conscience can have nothing concerning this invocation that is certain. And since prayer ought to be made from faith, how do we know that God approves this invocation? Whence do we know without the testimony of Scripture that the saints perceive the prayers of each one? 11] Some plainly ascribe divinity to the saints, namely, that they discern the silent thoughts of the minds in us. They dispute concerning morning and evening knowledge, perhaps because they doubt whether they hear us in the morning or the evening. They invent these things, not in order to treat the saints with honor, but to defend lucrative services. 12] Nothing can be produced by the adversaries against this reasoning, that, since invocation does not have a testimony from God's Word, it cannot be affirmed that the saints understand our invocation, or, even if they understand it, that God approves it. (AP XXI)


  1. Rev. Luke T. Zimmerman said...

    Pr. Hall:

    I suppose the whole issue would be over the definition of "invocation." The Reformers would be opposed to the praying to the saints in glory, the heavenly host, and the Theotokos for aid. They are not to be invoked for help.

    However, what I don't see the hymn text invoking the saints, angels, or the Virgin Mary. Rather, we are giving them directive parallel to the text of the Psalter: "Alleluia! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts!" (Ps 148:1-2) and "Bless the LORD, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all His hosts, His ministers, who do His will! Bless the LORD, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!" (Ps 103:20-22)

    As the Psalmist writes, so the hymnist also wrote, and so we sing. Even those in heaven can be spoken to as the Psalmist writes, as they are His hosts and His works, and certainly, heaven is part of the LORD's dominion. I don't believe that this is the invocation that the Lutheran Confessions condemn.


  2. orrologion said...

    Pastor Zimmerman makes a good point. This seems more like an acknowledgement of what they are doing, a lauding of what they are doing rather than a request (lit., prayer) that they do anything in particular. Less are they phrases that seem to assume an actual conversation or hearing as does the full hymn to the Theotokos "More honourable than the cherubim" the Orthodox sing (and others?).

    I think any number of prayers addressed specifically to an angel, saint or the Theotokos side by side to this hymn (or other poetic examples of speaking to things that cannot hear, e.g., rocks, hills, heavens, etc.) would show the difference. One assumes that the saints can hear (due to the Incarnation and their perfection standing before the Father after shuffling off this mortal coil) and the other assumes they cannot hear due to lack of an experience of such and no Scriptural promise that such takes place. Neither side assumes the same of prayer to Christ, or that such direct prayer is allowed, commanded and heard.

    Wasn't Fr. Fenton on the approval committee for that hymnal? Perhaps his crypto-Orthodoxy was to blame in pulling one over on the LCMS. :)

    Blessed Easter Monday to you and yours, and all.

  3. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

    This 19th century Anglican hymn is thoroughly catholic, and therefore is thoroughly Lutheran -- ideally, if not actually or practically. There is NOTHING in this hymn that is in contradiction to our Lutheran confession. The substance is simply and plainly the communion of saints as we sing and confess every Sunday "...therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name evermore praising Thee and saying..." and in the Te Deum Laudamus. The fullness of Confessional Lutheran praxis is yet to be realized.

  4. revalkorn said...

    Singing this hymn brings to mind the conclusion of the proper preface: "Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven . . ."

    What we are doing is acknowledging the truth of the Divine Service: that we gather together with all the faithful of all times and all places. It is the comfort we acknowledge in the funeral liturgy, especially the prayers, where we ask the Lord to comfort us with the reality of the communion of saints.

  5. Dixie said...

    I see Pastor Hall's point. The hymn is one of human telling angels and the Blessed Mother and the martyrs, etc., to sing praises. Yet the implication of the BoC text cited seems to suggest Lutherans don't know if the saints hear why would the congregation sing directives when they don't know whether or not those directives will be heard? That would be like talking to a wall.

    But...from my point of view, I like the hymn and don't have a single concern that the directives won't be heard. :D

  6. Jon M. Ellingworth said...


    The directive is to the Communion of Saints (that includes us, here on earth, whom we "know" can hear) as well as the saints, angels, and host of heaven whom we "know" are singing such an anthem(s) eternally. The confessions are correct that we do not "know" that the saints can "perceive" our thoughts and prayers because the Scriptures are silent on this point. However the Scriptures do speak as to what the saints, angels, and hosts of heaven are doing (and singing) and that we join with them in Holy Communion.

    Let us not force the confessions into saying more than they do but read them in the catholic context in which they were composed.

  7. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

    Pr. Hall,

    After stating that you appreciate the hymn and find nothing about it idolatrous you wrote: "I cannot see how it [the hymn] jibes with the rhetoric of the Confessions"

    Let me ask you this hypothetical and completely uncharitable question: What, then, are you going to do about this apparant contradiction? Are you going to adopt a quatenus subscription to the confessions or leave the Lutheran church?

    If not, then I ask, do you "really" find the confessional statements you quoted to be at odds with the language of the hymn (or vice versa)? [I do not think that you do.]

    Though I do not know you personally, I glean from your posts that you have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the context in which the confessions were written and that Lutherans understand them not only as being faithful exposition of Scripture but also normed by them.

    Therefore, the confessional statement in question must be understood within it's context and subject to it's norm.

    Is there really a dilemma here for you? If not, then why did you post this?

  8. Christopher D. Hall said... comment didn't get posted. Second try:

    There's at least three different versions of quia subscription out there:

    Mine, which is what I'll call the Evangelical Catholic model. This tends to put more emphasis on the irenic confessions, especially on the AC. In such a model, our hymn is ok.

    Then there's the LCMS Academic view, or the CPH model. This is more literalistic and limited, and emphases the apologetic statements more. But it perverts certain notions, such as prayer for the dead, which the confessions allow, but the Q&A from the 1982 CPH Small Catechism denies. Under such a rubric, this hymn should not have passed, for it addresses dead people that cannot hear us. (Kyrie eleison!)

    Then there's the other method, which seems to emphasize FC X as the center of the confessions. These folks have forgotten most of what they ever learned, no matter what model or rubric or style it was taught.

    Now, lest I go to far, let me add: I believe there is some inner tensions in the Confessions, especially when you see the irenic tone of the AC set against the Smallcald Articles.


  9. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

    Stimmt. Thank you.

  10. Dixie said...

    Oh, be just found this cool youtube video and wanted to use it, so you fabricated an correspondingly explosive post!

  11. Dixie said...

    Rats...I forgot to add the emoticon that was supposed to go with that last post.


  12. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Dixie--no, I actually found that neat little clip *for* the post, believe it or not. :)

  13. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    But my dear Chris,

    (this is an in joke, I think) This hymn is merely descriptive of what is happening in heaven, and therefore not a matter of current binding practice concerning the confessions (snide jokes now ended).

    Your problem is you worry about what "Quia" 2 and 3 think and their inconsistencies. I just shrug and pray that I might avoid the same tower falling on me. It's a great hymn - and again, I think it is safe to say that the Saints are worshipping. . .

    Now, if the hymn didn't say "Raise the glad strain, Alleluia" but rather "Heal my back strain, oh now would you" - then it would be problematic. Other than that - run with it.

    And your site is wierding me out. The password is "Jurimanc" on a comment about a post where you are being slightly maniacal about the law of the confessions. I'm getting a little freaked here. . .

  14. Benjamin Harju said...

    Jon Ellingworth said:
    Let me ask you this hypothetical and completely uncharitable question: What, then, are you going to do about this apparant contradiction?The same thing anyone did or does about nixing AC XIV in the LCMS ;-)

    Really, though, this hymn - despite being Anglican in origin - draws upon traditional catholic cosmology and Eastern Orthodox prayers to Mary. So its foundation lies in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but its final form just slips within the range of belief allowed by Lutheranism.

    Lutheran watch dogs can analyze it to pieces, and in the end they will always find a way to understand it in light of the Scriptures but against invoking the saints. That does not change the fact that the language of this sung-prayer/ceremony is derived from something Lutherans reject.

    However, check your LW. The stanza addressed to Mary is missing there.

    As for Fr. Fenton, he was on the Agenda portion, not the hymn selection. If you use the new agenda or even the pocket version, traces of his fingerprints are all over it. (Except definitely not the "traipsing through the house" in the House Blessing, as he insists.)