Bo Giertz on awakening and liturgy

Following my previous posts on Bo Giertz and Swedish Lutheranism, it turns out that today is the commemoration of Bishop Giertz, who died on 12 July 1998. So here is an extended quotation from Giertz (update: full version here):

It is important for us that both awakening and liturgy be given their proper and pristine Christian place in the life of the congregation. Awakening is always needed, not only because the church must always be a missionary church and reach out after those that are on the outside, but also because there is always the need for awakening even among the most faithful members of the church. The church has exactly as many sinners as she has members. The old Adam in each one of us is prone to fall asleep, to make the Christian life a dead routine, to use liturgical form to cloak his self-complacency and impenitence. It is not difficult to fashion a form of religion that suits the ego and allows the old Adam within to become sovereign again. One may go regularly to church and Holy Communion. One may cherish beautiful church music and lovely sanctuaries. One may be honestly convinced that one possesses the correct doctrine and loves the pure preaching of the Word. And at the same time one may be thoroughly obsessed by self-love, complacent with one’s self, satisfied with one’s own pious accomplishments and totally indifferent to the troubles and burdens of one’s fellow men, which are so apparent before one’s very eyes. The Holy Spirit always needs to awaken slumbering souls, stir up the dust, push the old Adam against the wall, and blow a new breath of life into the dead bones. Awakening is never superfluous, as long as we are in the flesh.

Liturgy is just as needful. There can be no normal church life without liturgy. Sacraments need form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern. It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over. One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation. But the possibilities are soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. In circles where people seek to live without any forms, new forms are nevertheless constantly taking shape. Favourite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are served. But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy. They contain less of God’s Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scripture, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular. The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order.

From Giertz’s Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening; excerpt from his letter to the Gothenburg diocese upon assuming the bishop’s post [Herdabrev, 1949].

Via Pr Eric Andrae on the SSALT mailing list.

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7 thoughts on “Bo Giertz on awakening and liturgy”

  1. ‘But the possibilities at soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. In circles where people seek to live without any forms new forms are nevertheless constantly take shape.’
    I lost it when the translation lost it. Sadly, because it seems a beautiful thought. Thanks

    1. Vivien: thanks for this. I’d posted it somewhat hastily, and missed that in my rapid proof-reading. I think it is meant to read as follows (and have edited the post accordingly):

      But the possibilities are soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. In circles where people seek to live without any forms, new forms are nevertheless constantly taking shape.

  2. Ok so we need liturgy. I can totally go along with that (even though liturgy is described here as sort of spontaneously generated by the community, which is quite Romantic and would be nice and all that, nevertheless historically demonstrably untrue and this Romantic account masks the top-down regulative role liturgy has always played. But nevermind the minor quibble for now.)

    And then we come to Awakening (which sounds very Scandinavian Lutheran not that that’s a bad thing at all). This is needed because the church is “missionary” (I totally agree with the caveat that word for this is “apostolic”). Here is where I’m honestly struggling. As best as I can make out from the excerpt regularly going to church, regular Holy Communion, conviction that “one possesses the correct doctrine and loves the pure preaching of the Word” do not necessarily entail Awakening, for “the Holy Spirit always needs to awaken slumbering souls, stir up the dust, push the old Adam against the wall, and blow a new breath of life into the dead bones.” So presumably this liturgical life of Word & Sacrament is not /bound/ to bring forth such fruits of the Spirit?

    What am I missing contextually from the essay? Is it a critique that one’s honest convinctions about what constitutes correct doctrine and pure preaching are not actually so? This can be inferred but he does not appear to want to say this. Or is it something else?

  3. IOW Liturgy is the formal /cause/ of Awakening …. And here is BG’s own testimony to this. http://www.esgetology.com/2011/05/13/the-young-giertz-discovers-the-mass/ So I don’t quite understand the central disjunction of this present thesis: “It is important for us that both awakening and liturgy be given their proper and pristine Christian place in the life of the congregation” though I can certainly form an hypothesis as to where it comes from and why BG is perpetuating it.

    Can you help me out?

    1. I think The Hammer of God may express more fully what Giertz is getting at here. The pattern in each novella can be crudely summarised as: pastor is “going through the motions” (liturgy without awakening); pastor gets drawn towards a pietism that rejects the church’s “dead” ministry of word and sacrament (awakening without liturgy); pastor (having had his conscience mangled by pietism) then discovers that true awakening is to be found precisely in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church.

      ISTM this can be found also in the Small Catechism’s call to drown the old Adam by daily contrition and repentance. A Christian life that lacks that daily, personal return to one’s baptism – awakening – is to that extent inadequate (in the sense of failing to lay hold fully of what is given to us in our baptism). However, that daily awakening is found, not by rejecting baptism as a “dead work”, but precisely by returning to it and appropriating it for oneself.

      Or there’s Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning within us as we walked along the road?” Liturgy (word and sacrament) and awakening (burning hearts) inextricably linked.

      Finally, I’m guessing the immediate context of the letter – its being Giertz’s first communication to his diocese – is also relevant. Giertz would no doubt face a mixture of churches and Christians, on the whole spectrum from pietist to intensely orthodox, and he’s saying: “I can relate, and minister, to all of you; but none of you will get a free pass from me.”

  4. That is very helpful, especially the reminder about the immediate context of the letter. Thank-you.

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