Review of Ecclesia Lutherana by Joseph A. Seiss

Ecclesia Lutherana: A Brief Survey of the Evangelical Lutheran Church by Joseph A. Seiss, Philadelphia: Canton Press of Sherman & Co., 1868, 276 pp.
[The author Joseph A. Seiss (1823 – 1904) was an American Lutheran minister. Oddly for a Lutheran, he was a dispensationalist. Even more strangely for a Christian he wrote a book on Pyramidology.]
[My own copy is in very good condition for its age. Its condition is helped by the book having a rigid cover and thick stock of paper.]
Ecclesia Lutherana begins with a brief history of Luther’s Reformation which Seiss sees as a return to the true faith of the ancient Christian church. He notes that the “papal system” “arose during the sixth and seventh centuries after Christ.” (p. 33)
It strikes me that Lutherans like Seiss will refer to “Luther and the Reformers” in a positive light, but will not positively mention Zwingli, Calvin, or other Reformed theologians specifically. There is a partisanship that acknowledges the greatness of the Reformation but refuses to acknowledge the work of Reformers with whom the Lutherans disagree with on the sacraments.
Seiss defends the importance of creeds and confessions. He sees the Augsburg Confession as “pre-eminently the greatest and most glorious Confession of Protestant Christianity.” (p. 49)
He quotes a number of times from D’Aubgine’s History of the Reformation, in part it seems to show a non-Lutheran’s positive appraisal of the Lutheran Reformation.
At times he writes quite eloquently. Speaking of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone, Seiss writes, “Nations caught up that one truth, and lived: Rome heard it, despised, staggered, and fell.” (p. 67)
Most of the book is a fairly standard telling of the history of Luther and the Reformation. He praises Luther for his translation of the Bible into German, for his catechisms, and for his hymns. Seiss seems to forget the preference for Psalm-singing of the Reformed when he quotes another author saying:

“The Reformed Churches of France and French Switzerland, seem to have had no literature corresponding to the Hymns of Protestant Germany. The same absence of an Evangelical national hymn-literature, springing up spontaneously, as a natural growth of the Reformation, which characterizes the Reformed Churches of France and French Switzerland, exists also in the sister Church of Scotland. None of the strictly Calvinistic communities have a hymn-book dating back to the Reformation.” (p. 85)

Against the Papal claims of Rome, Seiss notes that “Paul claims that he was not one whit behind, or inferior to, Peter, or any other Apostle. 2 Cor. 11:5 ; 12:11. Nay he did not hesitate to resist and censure Peter and by inspiration of God declared himself right in so doing. Gal. 2:11.” (p. 92) And against Episcopalian claims Seiss replies, “Whatever men may say, a thorough prelatist, is virtually a papist.” (p. 96)
In a section defending Lutheranism against the charge of Rationalism, Seiss comments, “Unable to turn the German people from that Bible to which they owe so much, Satan instigated the attempt to explain away its mysteries, and to reduce its wonders to the limits of the ordinary and the natural.” He lists German advocates of Rationalism as “Semler, Morus, Koppe, Eichhorn, Steinbart, Henke, Gabler, Paulus, Spalding, and Teller.” (p. 129) He admits that Rationalism “also crept into sections of the Lutheran church, and did, in the last century, taint and lead astray many of its ministers and people.” And adds, “There is nothing to be gained by denying this truth.” (p. 130) Yet he argues that Rationalism plays no part in the Lutheran confessions nor in the great Lutheran theologians.
There follows a defense of the Lutheran view of communion against Roman transubstantiation, and a defense of “the power of the keys” in ministers pronouncing forgiveness of sins which reference especially to John 20:22, 23. He notes that those opposed to doctrine of the keys “do not say ‘the Church baptizes thee,’ or ‘Christ baptizes thee,’ but they say ‘I baptize thee.” (p. 169)
Seiss notes that “the Lutheran Church has few pecularities” (p. 191) but he does not mention any. The Lutheran view of communion, however,—whether right or wrong—must be admitted as a peculiarity considering that no other church teaches it as they do. In fact, its universal rejection by the numerous other denominations of the Reformation and post-Reformation should give Lutherans a reason to reconsider their position.
He notes some of the Lutheran missionary endeavors and writes about the early Lutheran churches in America. The book concludes with a sermon given on the 350th anniversary of the Reformation. The book is an interesting historical piece, but little of the material is not found already elsewhere.

1 thought on “Review of Ecclesia Lutherana by Joseph A. Seiss”

  1. “Whatever men may say, a thorough prelatist, is virtually a papist.”
    That is a very good point. I’ve always thought they were half-way to Rome, but the more I deal with them I’m beginning to think the above statement is correct. They never left being under state control.

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