“Then in Distress We Upraise” (3)

Time once again for #MelanchthonMonday!

This is the third installment dealing with a petitionary poem by Joachim Camerarius and its Nachleben.

In Part 1, we looked at the poem itself. Last week, we looked in Part 2 at a letter Melanchthon wrote to Camerarius in which he referred to the poem and applied it to the present circumstances of the church in Europe. 

I mentioned then that Melanchthon in fact refers to the poem not just once but multiple times in his writings; this week we look at a second instance.

It comes from Melanchthon’s Annotationes in Evangelia, interpretive and homiletical notes for the Gospel texts appointed for the days of the church year. 

The Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity is Luke 10:23-37. First, the text in the King James:

23 And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:

24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

One notices that most of this passage comprises the Parable of the Good Samaritan–exactly the passage Melanchthon mentions and interprets figuratively just before referring to Camerarius’s poem in the 1550 letter.

In dealing with the Gospel texts, Melanchthon’s custom is to divide them into loci or “topics” in order to better organize his exposition of the text. This passage he divides into four loci: the doctrine of faith; the doctrine of the law; the definition of “neighbor”; and the allegorical interpretation of the example used in the story. We are concerned with the fourth. 

Here is what Melanchthon says:

On the Fourth Topic

Christ correctly answers the Pharisee, painting a picture of the greatness of his sin and signifying that sin is not taken away by the ministry of the law, but in some other way. The wounded man signifies the entire human race, which has been despoiled of the spiritual gifts that it had in the beginning, wounded, disfigured in manifold ways, and twisted by the ignorance of God and contempt for God. The powers of nature, too, are corrupt, and death has been added. And these very wounds are much greater than the reason is able to judge. For just as we do not understand the greatness of God’s wrath against sin, so we do not sufficiently understand either sin or death.

The priest and the Levite pass by this wounded man. The wounded man is not helped by the ministry of the law. Sin and death are not taken away by the law. But the Samaritan, Christ, rejected by the people of the law, comes. This one binds up his wounds and pours on them wine (that is, the preaching of repentance) and oil (that is, the gospel and the Holy Spirit), by which eternal life is begun; and he puts him on his own animal (that is, his body or ministry), and entrusts him to the church, and gives the servant two denarii (that is, the preaching of the law and of the gospel), and he adds, “If you spend anything in addition, I will pay it,” as if to say, “Labors, perils, and a lack of counsel are added; in all these things I will be present, and I will help you.”

In this picture, Christ shows how we are healed: namely, by Christ through the ministry of the gospel. Here they trifle about works of supererogation, as if the allegory signifies private works that are not commanded by God, when it actually signifies that works that healing requires, which have been commanded by God.

Then, Melanchthon offers one final paragraph, at the conclusion of which he quotes the entirety of Camerarius’s poem (without referring to Camerarius):

He mentions such works–that is, labors, perils, and struggles– in which he signifies that he will be present and will provide for the expenses they require, because there is a constant need for divine aid in the task of governing. For innumerable things happen in which our counsels and our powers are overcome by the greatness of the perils, when we must pray as is recounted in 2 Chronicles 20: “When we do not know what we ought to do, we have this alone left to us: that we direct our eyes to you.”

When in the vaporous darkness that sickens our mind with its thick gloom,

     Searching our heart as we may, still we find no cure at all,

Then in distress we upraise the dim eyes of our heart to you, O God:

     Faith looks for no other aid; you alone hear us and help.

Father, all glorious in might, by your counsels rule all of our actions,

     So that our work may praise, always, your glorious name.

It is remarkable how coherent this is with Melanchthon’s use of the poem in the letter. The letter provides a use of the allegory of the Good Samaritan in a piece of occasional writing, with application to particular, concrete circumstances in the lives of Melanchthon and Camerarius. This passage in the Annotationes provides the general exegetical undergirding that makes it possible. The Annotationes provides the theory, the letter the practice. Or, better, the Annotationes provides the genus, and the letter shows us one of its species. And in each instance, literature provides the equipment for living.


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