Friday, November 28, 2003

Article XVII: Of Christ's Return to Judgment

1] Also they teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and 2] will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, 3] but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

5] They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Here returning to an ordered read through and commentary on the articles of the Augsburg Confession, I'm skipping XVI. and commenting on XVII. because of its applicability in light of recent lectionary texts.

First, some things must be said about this article. It has had such a complicated history of conversation around it that I feel inadequate to the task of commenting on it in brief. It runs counter to contemporary movements in Lutheran and Catholic thought on the subject. The comments on the Anabaptists is apt, because of certain teachers of the time who actually taught this, but the "Jewish opinions" listed above seem to actually apply to certain radical Anabaptists and/or hyper-spiritualists. I am not sure in what way the idea can be considered "Jewish".

It is a good reminder that the clear creedal witness is to a general resurrection, not simply the resurrection of the righteous, but a resurrection of all the dead. Thus preaching of the resurrection, and Christ's involvement in the judgment attendant thereof, can honestly and forthrightly be done in the midst of all people. The resurrection applies to everyone.

The AC phrases the next comment in a helpful manner. Eternal life and endless joy are "given", they are gifts that the elect receive. They are not intrinsic to those raised from the dead, something they already have that will simply be actualized. Instead, they will be given these gifts, joy and eternal life.

The ungodly and the devils, on the other hand, receive no gifts. Instead, they are condemned. This is not a negative gift, like coal in your stocking for being bad. They are condemned into a place where they have already put themselves. The distinction can be made another way: the elect receive something from God that is abundant beyond measure and undeserved. the ungodly get what they deserve, which means nothing.

There seems to be very little wiggle room, based on this article, for theories of the last judgment that allow for annihilation of the ungodly, or the burning away of that which is sin in them, or some other transformative last ditch effort by Christ to conform the ungodly and devils into the kingdom through the judgment. The anathema makes this clear. The anathema also makes clear the fault of any theory that before the general resurrection there will be any kind of other thing going on. This contra the Left Behind series, among other Rapture-esque myths.

Melanchthon comments very little on this article, other than the affirm that the council approves it without qualification. Thus the Roman and Lutheran factions were in complete agreement on this article. Are they today?

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