284: Letters to Lutheran Pastors by Hermann Sasse

by Gerard


284.1: Sasse, Hermann. Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume 1: 1948-1951. Edited and translated by Matthew C. Harrison. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2013. App. 600 pp. ISBN 978-0-7586-2800-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 280: Denominations and sects of the Christian Church
  • 284: Protestant denomination of Continental origin and related bodies
  • 284.1: Lutheran churches

This is a whopper of a book. It catalogues the translated letters of Hermann Sasse, a confessional Lutheran theologian, written from 1948 to 1951. At this point in his career, he had survived the National Socialist regime of World War II Germany and had been teaching religious studies for two decades at the University of Erlangen. In 1949, he moved to Adelaide to teach at the seminary at the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia. These letters detail his concerns with confessional faith, Lutheran ecumenism, and how a body of churches should teach its theological precepts to the world.

It takes a lot of will power to mow through these letters. Sasse’s philosophy is precise and pointed. He has clear objections to some rituals and theosophies that other churches use in their masses. But more so, he has a lot to say about how a person approaches their faith. He believes that everything one does in relation to religion must have meaning, depth, understanding, and precision. Without any of these, many of the acts done by the faithful are simply pantomime.

Sasse’s letters are also erudite almost to a fault. His communications with his fellow pastors frequently reference the entire history of the Lutheran schism with the Catholic Church and he isn’t afraid to lace his invectives with historical minutiae. For students of Lutheran philosophy, these letters will contain a treasure trove of information. But for everyone else, there is the danger that this collection will just be seen as the irate ramblings of a person who wants other Protestants to think like him. I can sympathize with Sasse, though, and if you believe in something hard enough, then you just might as well.