“[Peters] has taken every aspect of what is covered in the catechisms and enriched it with comments from Luther’s lectures, sermons, and other works, to show how what is in the catechisms is just the tip of the iceberg, a fine introduction to the basics of the faith, but with the depth of the faith showing through in every line” (xvii). In other words, Peters shows that Luther did not work in a vacuum when it came to the Catechism (41). This volume covers Confession and Absolution, the Household Responsibilities (Table of Duties), the Marriage Booklet, the Baptismal Booklet, and the Household Prayers (Daily Prayers).
In Confession and Absolution, there is a fascinating history of confession, penance, and indulgences (31-40). Some memorable quotes from this section:
- Peters: “[Luther] is operating on two fronts. In opposition to the false, legalistic enslavement of the conscience within the Church of the Middle Ages, the reformer presses on without compromise for the free, unmediated relationship that each Christian has with Christ; against a libertine misuse of the newly recovered freedom, he is no less passionate when pointing to the fact that every proper Christian is bound to God” (30, cf. 67-68).
- Luther: “Whoever hears the absolution from the mouth of the father confessor hears in such words God Himself and receives His eschatological deliverance from sin. ‘God’s Word does not teeter-totter; He cannot be untrue to Himself; what He uttered here on earth is true also for the Last Day; His absolution, which is a whispered breath here, will be a mighty absolution there, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail’” (43, cf. 45, 50).
- Luther: “To bind and to loose is nothing other than to proclaim and to apply the Gospel” (92).
For the Household Responsibilities, Peters observes that “the household provides the central focus for one’s relationships in life, work, and economic activity” (111, cf. 114, 121) e.g. Luther’s explanation to the fourth commandment. These responsibilities are one possible way to live out “the all-encompassing command to love” (117, cf. 137).
The Marriage Booklet, like the Baptismal Booklet, was not an original part of the Small Catechism, but both were added as addenda in 1529 and in subsequent editions (143, 193). Like everything else in the catechetical efforts, these came about “because Luther desired to do away with the shocking circumstances that came to light as a result of the visitations to the churches” (143). There is an interesting section on marriage practices at Luther’s time (148-157). Some memorable quotes:
- Peters: “Marriage is and remains an action that involves release from one social relationship into another” (160).
- Peters: “Both partners, whose ‘I do’ promises have been heard by the witnesses, are to know that God Himself was listening in as well and that He plans to hold them accountable on the Last Day for what they said. This couple, whose hands have been interlaced by the pastor, ought to and should be certain that God Himself has interlaced their hands and considers them to be a married couple until death” (171).
For the Baptismal Booklet, Peters traces the baptismal formula history, noting that the one which Luther used was also a favorite of the Augustinians (194). Luther’s Flood Prayer has a winding history when it comes to its different biblical parts (200-217). Some memorable quotes:
- Citing Augustine, Peters: “If the sea, which prefigures Baptism, was a mare rubrum [red sea], it means that the saving flood of Baptism was consecrated through Christ’s cross, and it was made red by His blood” (203).
- Luther: “Thus we say at this point as well that the little children are brought to Baptism solely through extraneous faith and action. But when they are brought forward and the priest or the baptizer takes hold of them on behalf of Christ, He blesses them and gives them faith and the heavenly kingdom. For the priest’s word and action are Christ’ own Word and action” (220).
In the final section on Luther’s Household Prayers, Peters shows the monastic origins (among other possible origins) of the Morning and Evening Prayers (236-246). To summarize what Luther did in the Marriage and Baptismal Booklet (along with most everything else in the Reformation), Peters writes that Luther’s efforts were “to recast what was passed down in tradition, to purify it, and to subject it to the proper standard of the Holy Scriptures” (147, cf. 196f).
As noted by reviewers for this commentary, there are two caveats at the beginning of each volume. The commentary has not been submitted for doctrinal review to the LCMS, and Peters uses the historical-critical exegetical method (x). Peters’ historical-critical tendencies are not as apparent in this volume as others. Though there are some questionable statements that need more explanation:
- The three solas of the Reformation are “solus Christus, sola gratia, and sola fide” (74). (However, Peters could also be following Brunner (Dogmatics, 221), who substituted solus Christus for sola scriptura. Also if solus Christus is correct, sola fide should probably be the nominative case, sola fides.)
- Peters: “Baptism became a battle action waged by the new ruler Jesus Christ against the old gods, which were deprived of power by being reduced to being demons. Luther depicts in graphic detail this change in overlordship in his introductory comments in the Baptismal Booklet” (224).
- Peters: “[Baptism] gives to the child the full salvation of God, who becomes one with the triune God Himself and has thereby the total forgiveness of sins as well as new life under the gracious watchfulness of God” (231).
It is worth repeating that this commentary would be a worthy addition to any pastor’s library, especially to get into the original source materials. However more than that, Peters himself shows the importance of this work, “Learning the specifics of each lesson is intended to be more than just memorizing the biblical passages that apply to each section. Only where it is not simply learned but also applied daily will all go well in the household that gathers around the father of the house with the catechism in his hand” (140). Make the Catechism not just something to study but also a habitus practicus.
Note: Albrecht Peters’ Commentary on Luther’s Catechism for the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and Baptism and Lord’s Supper have already been reviewed for the Shepherd’s Study.
Albrecht Peters (d. Oct 26, 1987) was a professor at Ruprecht-Karl-Univeristät in Heidelberg, West Germany. Peters’ work on the Catechism began in the mid-1960s and was completed in the mid-1970s. Never published in his lifetime, it was posthumously gathered by his colleague Gottfried Seebass and published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht from 1990 to 1994. In German and English, this is the final volume of this five volume commentary.
The translator, Thomas Trapp, was a LCMS professor of religion and theology at Concordia University, St Paul, MN until 2012 and is currently a pastor at Emmaus Lutheran Church in St Paul. In addition to this volume, he is also the translator of Peters’ volumes on the Creed and Baptism and Lord’s Supper.
Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Confession and Christian Life, by Albrecht Peters, (trans. Thomas Trapp). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013. 304 pages.