Concordia Historical lnstitute Quarterly Volume 95, Number 4, Winter 2022

The Australians called Hermann Sasse »Mr. Lutheran.« Werner Elert called him »Lutheranissimus«  (»The Lutheranest«). In this volume, John Stephenson calls him »the Lutheran Athanasius of his epoch« (146). The essays in this volume were prepared in celebration of Sasse’s 125th birthday (17 July 2020).
They explore Sasse’s contribution to the Lutheran Church as exegete, church historian, dogmatician, and ecumenist. Together, they testify to the enduring legacy of Sasse’s life and work among confessional Lutherans in the world today.
The volume consists of thirteen essays from German, North American, and Australian scholars and pastors. As a whole, the essays give readers a fuller picture of the theological, historical-political, and personal context in which Sasse labored and confessed Christ. They should also invite Lutherans today to confess the faith confessed at Augsburg (1530) with Sasse’s boldness, steadfastness, and even stubbornness. Sasse saw himself in his day going »the lonely way.« He went this lonely way when he condemned Nazi ideologies and a false government, when he critiqued attempts in the church to achieve unity without doctrinal concord, and when he sacrificed personal reputation and positions rather than abandon the clear confession of the Lutheran Church. This volume presents Sasse primarily as a light to lead others to follow that lonely and, as our Lord says, »narrow way« (Matthew 7:14), to suffer all rather than leave or forsake Him and His church.
Those who hope to get the most out of the volume will need to know some German. Seven of the thirteen essays are in German. Of those, Volker Stolle’s first of two essays, and the most criticaI essay in the collection, explores what he regards as shortcomings in Sasse’s early exegetical work. Stolle argues that Sasse was never fully committed as an exegete and allowed his interests in the history of dogma and religion to steer his New Testament studies. In Stolle’s second and briefer essay, he examines the circumstances surrounding Sasse’s caIl to Erlangen in 1933. Simon Volkmar’s essay argues against Stolle’s critique of Sasse and makes the case that it was precisely the dogmatic steadiness of Sasse and commitment to the doctrine of Christ that allows him to interpret the New Testament with greater clarity and to develop a doctrine of Scripture that avoided both liberalism and fundamentalism. As a number of authors point out, Sasse’s view of Scripture and his hesitancy to accept a strict view of inerrancy led many Missourians to keep him at arm’s length for fear that he was a liberal in confessional garb.
Christian Neddens and Wolfgang Sommer take up Sasse’s response to the rise of the Third Reich. Neddens skillfully analyzes Sasse’s ecumenical and literary activity during the 1930s. Sasse urged Lutherans to resist the church’s secularization, the state's totalitarian pressures and propaganda that led to the rise of »German Christians« (Die Deutschen Christen). Both Neddens and Sommer demonstrate, however, that Sasse’s resistance to National Socialism was entirely theological; he consistently critiqued the false regime on the basis of Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession, concerning God’s spiritual and secular regiment. Sommer's article investigates the details of the internal church struggles during Nazi Germany, and Sasse’s unpopular yet uncompromising commitment to the Lutheran Confessions. According to Maurice Schild's article, »Truth and Tyranny, Hermann Sasse’s 1936 Missive to Ludwig Fürbringer,« the Nazi regime was for Sasse never a legitimate government: »A regime which undermines the basic orders of justice, marriage and the family forfeits authority as a government; and that any obligatory duty to obey such a power then ›no longer exists‹.« (128). To resist such a regime, Sasse argues, is not revolution, but Notwehr (defense).
Werner Klän’s article on the office of the ministry and ecumenism serves more as an apology for the SELK (Selbstständige Evangelische Lutherische Kirche) than it does an essay on Sasse. Yet Klän’s approach to confessional  integrity and faithful ecumenism relies heavily on Sasse’s writing and thinking and shows why the SELK is and should continue to be rooted in the theology of the Lutheran Reformation. For all of this essay's strengths, however, readers may be puzzled to find that Klän infers from Sasse that churches have the freedom to allow non-ordained men and women to expound on the Scriptures in the Divine Service (Gottesdienst), if they should have the spiritual charisma to do so (195). The suggestion certainly stands in contradiction to Sasse’s body of work and especially his thoughtful essay, »Ordination of Women?« (1971).
In her biographical sketch of Sasse, and the last German essay, Andrea Grünhagen gives some helpful insights into the tensions that eventually arose between Sasse and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Sasse’s tensions with Werner Elert and Paul Althaus in Erlangen. Unfortunately, she covers only briefly his move to Australia and his activities as a churchman after the war, which may be of more interest to American and Australian readers.
The English contributions are excellent and one gets the sense that Sasse’s greatest impact has been on confessional Lutherans in the English-speaking world. Thomas Winger’s article, »Sasse as Interpreter of the Lutheran Confessions,«  demonstrates how Sasse breathed the air of the Lutheran Confessions in his writing and interpreted them through the Augsburg Confession. Maurice Schild’s article explores Sasse’s assessment of the state of the Lutheran Church in Germany and demonstrates that Sasse was always thinking globally about the church's confession. For the best modern account of Sasse’s influence on Confessional Lutheranism, read John Stephenson’s article in this volume. Matthew Harrison’s article, »Hermann Sasse’s View of the Office of the Ministry up to World War II,«  explores how Sasse carefully read the Book of Concord concerning the office of the ministry and attempted to find a middle way between Walther and Löhe concerning the pastoral office. A second future essay will explore Sasse’s view of the office of the ministry after the war.
The final two essays in English are by Jacob Corzine and John Pless. Corzine compares Sasse’s approach to ecclesiology to that of the 2017 Finnish Ecumenical Document Communion in Growth. Corzine uses Sasse’s distinction between articles of faith and articles of sight to critique gently those who seek to make the church an article of sight, as if the body of Christ could be fully manifest in the world through the church’s ecumenical efforts. Those who attempt to make visible an article of faith, as the Communion in Growth document tends to do, deny the true nature of the church as people who belong to God and are hidden in Christ, wherever His Word and sacraments are given faithfully. Finally, Pless’s article, »Sasse on the Sacrament of the Altar: Where Ecclesiology and Eschatology Meet, « explores Sasse’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper as basis for the church’s life together' until the Last Day. For most pastors and laity, Pless’s article will be the most accessible, concrete, and encouraging of the bunch.
This volume is another important contribution to understanding Sasse’s life and work. For English speakers, I would recommend starting with Hermann Sasse: A Man for our Times? (CPH, 1998). But the English contributions in this volume will certainly give the reader a richer understanding of Sasse’s theology and influence.
Jason D. Lane

Rezensierter Titel:

Umschlagbild: Der Theologe Hermann Sasse (1895–1976)

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Der Theologe Hermann Sasse (1895–1976)

Einblicke in seine internationale Wirkung als Exeget, Kirchenhistoriker, Systematiker und Ökumeniker
Klän, Werner/Corzine, Jacob/Grünhagen, Andrea/Harrison, Matthew C./Neddens, Christian/Pless, John T./Schild, Maurice/Sommer, Wolfgang/Stephenson, John R./Stolle, Volker/Voigt, Hans-Jörg/Volkmar, Simon/Winger, Thomas M.

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