Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — Liturgy and Dogmatics

Liturgy and Dogmatics

A paper given at the 2002 Symposia by Dr. Kurt Marquart on whether liturgy or dogmatics has primacy in understanding “lex orandi lex credendi”. He critiques some Catholic scholars’ notion that liturgy informs dogma.



Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — Liturgy and Dogmatics — 14 Comments

  1. Kurt Marquart published a written version of his talk, “Liturgy and Dogmatics” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 67:2, April, 2003, pp. 175-190). Marquart begins:

    The purpose of this article is to unpack the tangle of issues hidden beneath the deceptively self-evident commonplace lex orandi lex credendi. At the surface level this maxim seems plausible enough: of course there is reciprocity between worship and doctrine! All decent doctrine is prayable, and all decent prayer reflects and inculcates sound doctrine! If this were all there is to it, we could without further ado simply commend the motto to religious educators for practical implementation. But our little motto is not as simple or innocent as it seems. The original form of our now simplified saying was ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi– “that the obligatory manner of praying may determine the obligatory manner of believing.” The clause comes from a fifth century collection of anti-Pelagian pronouncements by Roman pontiffs, compiled probably by Saint Prosper of Aquitaine? The original meaning then is clear: the authoritative rule of prayer determines the rule of believing, not vice versa.

    Before pointing out the confession Lutheran doctrine standing against such a notion, Marquart quotes extensively from two major Romanist advocates of this clause, Aidan Kavanagh and David Fagerberg (a former ALC Lutheran), e.g.,

    Our first affirmation is that liturgical theology is primary theology… Because encounter with God precedes reflection upon that encounter, liturgy is the ontological condition for theology. This is what tradition means when it says that the law of prayer (lex orandi) establishes (statuat) the law of belief (lex credendi), and not vice versa. Thus our second affirmation is that liturgical theology originates and resides in the communal rite.

    All this can be applied to the Missouri Synod’s past (and even the present) with this quote:

    “We might summarize the liturgical distinction between the parties in this way: Grabau worked in the direction lex orandi lex credendi (what is prayed in confessed); the Saxons worked it the other way, lex credendi lex orandi (what is confessed is prayed).” — William M. Cwirla, “Grabau and the Saxon Pastors: The Doctrine of the Holy Ministry, 1840-1845,” Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, 62 (1995), p. 93.

  2. The perpetuation of the teaching of Aidan Kavanagh has done much harm to the LCMS. The notion that dogma is secondary theology and liturgy is primary theology is a very dangerous teaching.

    For sure, when I am praying or worshiping there is something primary about that since it involves my sense perception but that is as far as the notion of “primary” should go. Kavanagh does some strange metaphysics with this notion that is tied up in American pragmatism (what works is what is true) and Hegelian/Marxist thought that being is tied up in doing (materialism) whereby he subjugates dogma to liturgy.

    It is a rejection of the simple subject/ object ontology of common sense in which the knower critiques things that are outside of him and wherein words accurately represent things in reality. There is no catching up of reality in praxis (doing). Reality is able to judged by reason and thus, we are able to take words and analyze what they mean. Thus, the words used in the liturgy are to be judged by the rational concepts of dogma to see whether they accurately reflect the reality described in the Bible.

    In simpler terms, to the doing of liturgy critique dogma instead of having dogma critique liturgy is non-sensical. Doctrinal truth from Scripture determines how we worship. How we worship (doing the thing) does not determine doctrinal truth.

  3. @Pastor Tim Rossow #2
    In simpler terms, to the doing of liturgy critique dogma instead of having dogma critique liturgy is non-sensical.

    I’m having trouble making sense of this; did it lose something on the way to the page?

    (I’ll listen to Marquart again, too, but I think my problem is getting my head around the concepts quoted, rather than Marquart himself.)

    Thanks for posting this, Brian!

  4. Helen,

    Some professors at Fort Wayne require the reading of Aidan Kavanagh’s books. I had to read one for a Doctor of Ministry course.

    Kavanagh teaches that the liturgy is primary theology and that doctrine is secondary. He does this because he has a view of reality that grows out of late modern philosophy that teaches that doing a thing (experiencing it) is a more primary and meaningful than knowing something or thinking about it. The implication is that we are in more direct contact with God when we worship than when we think about Him (theology). There is some truth to this but when you subjugate theology to liturgy you have lost the rational (doctrine) basis for critiquing worship. This of course leads to all kinds of problems.

  5. Rev. Wiley,

    You are offering false alternatives. When it comes to enjoying the benefits of the sacrament one must receive it.

    When it comes to judging if the sacrament is offered rightly, one must think and talk about it.

    These are two different things. It just so happens that to rightly worship one must think before one speaks and if one speaks (worships) falsely, it is not practice that will get one back on the right track but thinking.

    I look forward to heaven where I shall feast at the everlasting banquet and in between meals think and talk about the glorious Lamb. Thankfully I will not have to worry about erroneous thought or talk because my body of sin shall have been finally buried.

  6. @Pastor Tim Rossow #4
    Kavanagh teaches that the liturgy is primary theology and that doctrine is secondary.

    Thank you for further explaining. (It seemed to me that there was a typo or omission in that particular sentence, but perhaps if I read it again, now, I’ll get it.) 🙂

  7. @Pastor Tim Rossow #4

    This makes me think of the Eastern Orthodox worship. And why, maybe, they didn’t teach the Bible to parishoners for all these years. People in the EO are oblivious to the Bible except what is contained in the liturgy or special services. Since they think Martin Luther was so mistaken in what he did (his interpretation of justification and his making the Bible accessible to everyone — which, they think also opens up to laymen the ability to make their own interpretations — and is why they oppose Sola Scriptura apart from church traditions added on), they seem to not trust people with interpreting Scripture similar to the old view of the Roman Catholics. (Not sure where individual Bible study falls among RC at the moment.) Simply, going to church is enough. The church hierarchy will govern how people think about Scripture and Traditions. I myself want those higher than me in my church to teach me. But then there is also immense value in reading Scripture on my own. To “study things about God” (theology). I believe the Holy Spirit can be trusted to guide this.

  8. Abby,

    Your hunch is right on. Many of those at our seminaries who digested too much of guys like Kavanagh ended up leaving their parishes and converting to Eastern Orthodoxy!

  9. @Pastor Tim Rossow #9

    So that explains it! I couldn’t understand how a Lutheran pastor could give up justification. Actually, I still can’t. Because we have good liturgy and the right view of the Sacraments.

  10. @Pastor Tim Rossow #4

    “Kavanagh teaches that the liturgy is primary theology and that doctrine is secondary. He does this because he has a view of reality that grows out of late modern philosophy that teaches that doing a thing (experiencing it) is a more primary and meaningful than knowing something or thinking about it.”

    This also sounds like the bent of Contemporary Worship services. Remove Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and relegate Holy Communion to once a month. And preach 5 and 10 steps to how-to-do-anything for a better life and better relationship to God.

    Sounds like we can fall off both sides of the horse.

  11. Abby,

    You are two for two on hunches.

    It is fascinating that with justification it is two sides of the same coin – 1) Romanists who teach works righteousness and 2) Evangelicals who work good works into salvation via the back door (“Jesus is your saviour but is he your Lord?”) and with worship – The East has a mysticism of liturgy where it is higher than dogma and 2) the COWO’s who have a mysticism of emotion without the liturgy that is likewise above dogma.

    Keep hunching!

  12. Rev. Smith @ 5 …
    The CTS faculty …
    Kavanagh …

    … have a point. The point is that we are ever in danger of replacing the sanctuary with the classroom. We fall into thinking that theology primarily happens with one’s nose stuck in a dusty theology book, that the true theologians are only those clad in tweed with letters behind their names, that the Scriptures belong to professional exegetes and not to the pastors and people of Christ’s church.

    All this is honored as if it were “primary theology” while what happens in the sanctuary or the homes of Christians becomes “secondary theology.” In the opinion of some, the guest speaker during the Sunday School hour (PhD, of course) trumps Christ in the Sanctuary. Seen it. The seminary students attend their lectures religiously but don’t think twice about skipping chapel even when there’s communion. Seen it.

    Every so often we need to be reminded that the classroom is not the church, that receiving the sacrament is better than talking about it, that theology belongs to the pastors and Christ’s people in the pews.

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