Full Text for Matthias Loy: Theologian of American Lutheran Orthodoxy (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER October 1974 Volume 38, Number 4 Matthias Loy: Theologian of American Lutheran Orthodoxy C. GEORGE FRY Thc writer, an ordained pastor in l'hc Americnr~ Lztthertrn Chrcrch, is associnte professor of history, Cnpital U~zivrrsity, (~olzimbus, Ohio. 'I'hc nrticle is hnscli oir his doctor01 dis- sertation szchmitted to the University of Ohio. M ATTHIAS LOY ( 1 82 5- 19 15) was the greatest churchman produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Ohio in its entire one hundred and eighteen year history.' Dr. Loy was an educator, serving as a professor at Capital University and the Evan- gelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in CoIumbus for forty-one years. Professor Loy was also an administrator, acting as president of Capital University for almost a decade, at a time when "the presi- dent's job had come to include just about everything except stoking the furnaces."' Concurrently Loy was an editor, having charge of the Ohio Synod's official journal, the Lutheran Standard, for more than a quarter of a century. As an adventure in scholarly journalism, Loy founded Thc Colzlmbz~s Theological Magazine in 1881 and managed it for almost ten years. Loy was also a prolific writer, the author, editor, or translator of more than fourteen books ranging in subject matter from liturgical formulas and hymnals to catechisms and doctrinal essays. Pastor Loy also found time to be President of the Ohio Synod from 1860 until 187 8 and again from 1880 until 1894, a period of thirty-two years, more than a third of the denomi- nation's history. During his presidency the Synod ceased to be mere- ly a regional body confined to the Upper Ohio River Valley and be- came a national church with congregations from coast to coast and even in Canada and Australia. Loy was also an effective pastor and a persuasive preacher. Pre-eminently, however, Matthias Loy was a theologian-ranking with C. F. W. LValther and Charles Porter- field Krauth as one of the three most effective advocates of Lutheran Orthodoxy in the United States in the nineteenth centurv. THE WAY TO ORTHODOXY During Dr. Loy's funeral service in Grace Church, Columbus, the Reverend Robert E. Golladay predicted in his eulogy that "when men get the right historical perspective, Dr. Loy will receive credit . . . as one of the greatest conservative leaders of the Lutheran Ch~rch."~ What was obvious at the man's burial was not evident at his birth. In fact most of the forces present in his youth served to drive him toward heterodoxy rather than orthodoxy. His advocacy of confessionalism came about in spite of his upbringing, not because of it. Matthias Loy was the fourth of seven children born to Matthias and Christina Loy, two impoverished German immigrants attempting to make a living as tenant farmers in the Blue Mountains of Cumber- land County, Pennsylvania. His childhood in that lovely but lonely place was one of physical and spiritual deprivation. The Loys wert marginal farmers, always but one step removed from povert Ir t later years Loy recalled that his father, after a trip to Harris urg returned with "a toy that even astonished niy mother for its beauty and ingenuity, and which had cost the suill of ten cents. 1 reinember how I sought a hiding place when my father pulled the string and a cock leaped from the box. It was amazing."' Difficulties multiplied with the years. The land was niggardly in its return for all the labor lavished upon it. Three of the children ancl then the mother died. Medical and burial expenses, coupled with heavy indebteciness and the frequent unemployment of father Loy, pushcd the family into near desperation. The clder Loy forsook the farm, failed as a butcher, and finally, in the 1840's, took up the management of a German saloon in south Harrisburg. Young R'latthias was "hired out" at many tasks-farm hand, brickyard worker, and, by the age of thirteen, bartender. He recalled that he was exposed to "gatherings and per- formances which even then seemed to me of questionable propriety."; When on one occasion he dared express his disapproval of the con- duct that occurred in his father's house, he was slapped across the face for his ''impudent intcrference" and was ~romptly expelled from the household for the sake of "the pence of the family." At age fourteen he was apprenticed to tllc printing establisllment of Baab and Hummel in Harrisburg. He never returned to his boyhood hoille again. Hc was all alone in the world. This crisis, coupled with the ordinary anxictics that come with adolescence, caused young Loy to look for religious resources with which to face the future. His spiritual legacy was very scanty. From his sainted mother, a Pietist from Wuerttemberg, he had acquired a casual acquaintance with the rudiments of the Christian religion. This, ho.cvever, was more than matched by the secularism of his fa- ther. Loy remembered that he had not seen a church until hc was past six years of age. For a brief period he was enrolled in a com- munity Sunday School operated by the Presbyterians in Hogestown, a post village nine miles west of Harrisburg. The content of the curriculun~ was largely Deism. Loy later recalled with deep regret ihat the only prayer he knew as a lac1 was thc rationalistic "Uni- vcrsal Prayer" of Alexander Popc: Fatl.ier of all! in every age, In every clinle ador'd, Bv saint, by savage, or by sage, Jehovah, Jove, or Lord." At the insistence of his rnother all the Loy children had been bap- tized as infants into the Lutheran faith with the exception of an elder brother whose baptism was postponed because the Lutheran circuit rider, when asked to administer the sacrament, refused to do so because he "had become an Anabaptist and was planning to estab- lish a Baptist sect."' Loy, however, had never received any instruc- tion in the Lutheran Church. He vaguely remembered, however, that his mother wished him to be a Lutheran. At the age of sixteen, therefore, he turned to the Lutheran Church for help. It was the year 1843 and the nation was being swept by the Millerite revival. William Miller, a New England Baptist, on the basis of selected passages from the apocalyptic literature in the Bible, had predicted the imminent second coming of Christ. ~icross the coulltry great revivals were in progress-and the enthusiasm affected the 11lenlbers of the Zion Lutheran Church in Harrisburg. The pastor, the Reverend C. PV. Schaeffer, a "New Measures Lutheran" of the Samuel Simon Schmucker stripe, was conducting "protracted meet- ing~."~ hlatthias Loy showed up and presented himself at thc "anx- ious bencl:~" where The revival 'workers' whispered into my ears, as I knelt in silence before the altar, some tllings which were llleant for my encouragement, but which only left me unmoved because of their failure to reach my conscience.!' lifter "being saved" Loy enrolled in an adult class in revealed re- ligion and was received into the Lutheran Church. He resolved to become a minister, hoping to attend Gettysburg Theological Sem- inary, then the center of liberalism in the 1,utheran Church. Little did Loy realized how far his spiritual legacy of Pictism, Secularism, Deism, Calvinism, Unionism, Revivalism, and New Measures Lu- theranism (which even alIowcd him to bc a member of the Masonic 1,oclge) was froin the Lutheran Orthodosy of Martin Luther, Mar- tin Chemnitz, and the Confessions of the Church. I-le had never even heard of the Book of Concord! Because of a severe attack of "inflammatory rheumatism" Loy's pllysician urged him to seek a healthier climate than that of eastern Pennsylvania. When the opportunity presented itself for him to be- come a printer for the United Brethren Publishing House in Circle- ville, Ohio, Loy decided to go west. I-Ie intended only to remain a brief period, recover his health, save some money, and then return to the East to enroll at Gettysburg. Upon his arrival in Ohio in the autumn of 1847 Loy was surprised to learn from a local Lutheran pastor of the existence of an Ohio Synod and a Columbus theological school. Loy remembered: "I had never heard of such a Seminary and of such a Synod, but that presented no difficulty to my 11lind.l' As a scholarship student, Loy was promptly enrolled in the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus. It was at this institu- tion that he rece~ved the only two years of formal higher education deemed necessary to be a pastor. In 1849, after a two year "cram course" that included academy, college, and seminary, Loy was graduated and installed as a minister in I)elat\lare, Ohio. It was in Columbus that young Loy was exposed to Orthodox Lutheranisnl for the very first time in his life. In part this was due to the i.nfluence of 147. F. Lehmann, the "Walking Encyclopedia," who was "deanJ' of the theological seminary, "headmaster" of its preparatory division, and past& of ~rinit~-Church, Columbus." The Reverend Christian Suielmann. a Badenser, was another teacher who emphasized 0rthod6xy. But it was ~~ielmann's task to be a John the Baptist, pointing beyond himself to a more significant per- son, namely, C. F. Ft7. Walther. Spielmann encouraged Loy to read Der L~therancr.'~ In the pages of that publication Loy learned of the ancient and venerable Lutheranism of the fathers. Beyond all doubt, Matthias Loy was the most important convert that Walther made. Within a few months 1,oy had 111oved from "American Lu- theranism" of the S. S. Schmucker variety to a staunch ancl life-long Confessionalism. The relationship between the two Inen became much more, howcver, than that of author and admirer, mentor and student. They were pod personal friends, n)-workers, and labored together for the creatlon of a unitcd, orthodox Lutheran Church in the United States. Even the brcak-up of the Synodical Conference and the outbreak of the "l'redestination Controversy" could not erase the ties of faith and friendship which so closely bound the tn.0 men. I:urthcr~~~ore, the careers of bVa1tXler in thc Missouri Synod, %.,oy in thc Ohio Synod, and Charles Porterfielci Kraut11 in the General Councjl, rnust be seen as a conlnlon effort to preserve traditional Lu- therall theology from the corrosive effccts o.f "the acids of modernity'' in the last half of the nineteenth century. These three titans - IValt'her in the TvVest, Icrauth in the East, and L.oy in the middle- could be compared to three anchors holding fast the ship of Lu- theran Collfessionalislll during the ferocious storllis of the A~loclernist- Fundainentalist Controversy. THE DANGERS OF: ~_II~ER~~LISM 'The second half of the nineteenth century was a very difficult time for theology in the U~~iteci States. Professor Arthur hleier Schlesinger, Sr., called it "il Crilical Period in American Religion."'" It was, as the very word "crisis" irnplies, a time of decision. A wllole generation had to chose betryeen adherence to the ortl~odox doc- trines of the church or tile search for radical ncw fornlulations of faith. The process T.T~~S painful ancl devisive. John L. Spalding, the I3onla11 Catholic Bishop of l'eoria, Illinois, reported that "the waver- ing of rcligious belief 11~s unsettIed all other things so that nothing al>penrs any longer to rest upon :I firm and immovable basis.""' As th,. I\(f.r,~r rirrlr3.i i3nFI~oi170~ +.l>nx crL l-;c+~vi,>nc ,>ollor1 y Charles Darwin and his disciples, appeared to undernline the Riosaic doctrirles of the special creation of man, the ordination of the natural orders," the fall, original sin, ancl the proto-evangelical prornise of a Saviour. The Nctv Sociology, manv said, contradicted spirit.'" It taught the relativity of religious knowledge. Increasingly, many Protestant theologians taught that the canonical Scriptures were arr evolutionary moral product of primitive Hebrew culture. To many this meant that the Bible was no longer a binding doctrinal authority. Xobert Ingersoll, the noted agnostic, toured the nation lecturing on "Sonle hlistakes of hloses." A New York rector of the Protestant Episcopal Church was reported to have said publicly what many mrere secretly thinking: "the New Testament is a book written by a lot of chumps who were thick in the head . . ."I6 Remarks such as this caused most mn.jor Protestant denominations-with the ex- ception of the Lutheran-to divide over the issue of the authority of Scripture. Somc became Liberals, others Fundamentalists. Into this crisis stepped Loy, who found he had a two-fold task-the resto- ration of Orthodoxy within 1,utheranisnl and its preservation against the double threat from without--that of both Modernism and the Neo-Revivalism. 'CVriting in the spring of 1 SG6 Loy carefully surveyed the theo- logical scene and made these penetrating comments: What was once settled as fundamental orthodoxy has, in vari- ous particulars, become strangely disturbed. The old ways of thinking no longer fit and satisfy and conlmand the stern and unfilltering consent, as they once did . . . Notice the con- traclictions, the inconsistencies, the vacillations of theological opinion, in all stateinents of om time,-how vague the lan- guage chosen, how uncertain the note struck, how inany the loopholes of evasion! . . . . Try if you can get a definite declar- ation of tl~cological faith from your intelli4ent friends of any de- ,. 1, 0 7. I opinion, in aa stitein&ts of 6ur time,-how vague the lanl &age chosen, how uncertain the note struck, hok inany the loopholes of evasion! . . . . Try if you can get a definite declar- ation of theological faith from your intelligent friends of any de- nomination. Question the professed teachers of religion, and notice how slolvly, how guardedly, how vaguely they answer direct inquiries . . . . There has 1)ecn an alnlost universal loos- ing of olcl n~oorings, n breaking anlay froin the firm fastenings of other days, anci a drifting no one can tell whither." Aware of the theological climate of his epoch, Loy knew7 he could not ignore its consequences for his task as a theologian. But unlike his- liberal conteinporaries, whom LO? accused of lacking clarity, he did not feel impelled by these develoynlents to formulate a decidedly different understanding of the Gospel than that of his Lutheran forebears. .T,oy rejected Liberali'srn, and its central premise of the necessity of theological reconstruction, on four grounds : First, Liberalism was guilty of presentism. In the words of Dean I:'C7illiam Inge, Loy had "no confidence that the spirit of this age is wiser than the spirit of past ages."ls X,oy ivrote: To those who by reason of use have thcir senses exercised to discern thc signs of the times it cannot be a matter of doubt, that the progress and achievements of our age have been nlainly of a material sort, and that the gain which might have accrued to the kingdom ,, of God T by 7 facilitating the preaching of the 1. 1, . . divesting it of its spiritual truth and power. 'I'l~ere is a great danger of losing now what . . . was achieved in . . . the great Lutheran Reformation.'" Presentism- the exaltation of the current moment over eternity- caused this total capitulation to secularism. Indeed, the very word "secular" means "here and now as opposed to hereafter." Loy's in- sight has been vindicated in more ways than one. Albert Schweitzer, who could hardly be accused of a bias toward Orthodoxy, concurred with L,oyJs analysis of the situation. Schweitzer felt that techno- logical progress accompanied by theological retogressioil had re- sultecl in a materialistic society dangerously devoid of spiritual re- SOLI~C~S.~" Furthermore, the "Secular Theology of the Sixties," com- plete with the "death of God," is the logical consecluence of Liberal- ism as Loy so eloquently foretold a century ago. Second, Liberalisin was guilty of negativism. Loy felt that the religious thought of the nineteenth century served only a negative function, to act, in the opinion of Professor John Theodore Mueller, ;is . . . a kind of foil to set off the beauty of a strictly confessional theology as co~nparecl with the frequently false, or at least in- adequate, presentation found in the great majority of boohs on dogmatics which have been issued . . . since the death of Schleiermacher, in 1834.?' Il,oy belie\~ed that often things were in fact thc exact opposite of what tiley presented themselves to be. If Liberalism advocated the reconstruction of theology, could it not be that in reality it meant- the destruction of the accumulated labor of generations of believers? ....,',,A..-.Ab., .,-*.-A. *.-.- -" .,--=. . . . "----- -.-- -A Schleiermacher, in 1834.?' I.,oy believed that often things were in fact thc exact opposite of what tiley presented thenlselves to be. If Liberalisnl advocated the reconstruction of theology, could it not be that in reality it 11leant the destruction of the accu~l~ulated labor of generations of believers? The result ~!ould be a voicl-a vacuum-which woulcl be fillecl, not rrith a finer faith, but with a return to the priillal superstitions ancl primitive paganisms of the race. Loy ~vould not be a bit surprised to see a century of Neo-liationalism end in a renaissance of occultisnl in the 1970's. 'I"hirtl, 1,iberalism was guilty of relativis1.n. 1,oy saw in Liberal- ism not something new, but instead something olcl. 'They i~ligllt call themselves blodernists, but in reality they were reviving an ancient heresy-neopkilia, the "love of the new." This spiritual disease, ac- cordi~~g to St. Luke, had its origin not in the Gospel but among the Atheniarl philosophers who "spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (rlcts 17 : 2 1 RSV). Jdul~Jjct\i:een tl~s apl>roacil :lncl J-;utneran theology : First, as I,iberalism tencied to malel \VilS recovered, for When llome had shroudcd earth in night, God said again, Let there be light! And Luther with the Gospel came ruption ot rihe meclie: 333 40. 'Theuclorc G. Tappert, "Orthocloxisrn, Pietism, and Rationalism," The Luthern~z Heritage, Vol. I1 of Christian Social Responsibility, edited by Harold C. Letts (Philaclclphia : Muhlenberg Prcss, 1957), pp. 43-50. 4 1. I,oy, Doctrine of lustificatzon, p. 1. 42. Loy, The Christiun Church, p. 2. 43. I,oy, "Introduction to Volume 11," p. 9. 44. Loy, Thc Christian Church, p. 89. 45. Quoted by Tappcrt, "Orthodoxism, Pietism, and Rationalism," p. 44. 46. Lutheran Stundard, XXVI (Decernbcr 15, 1866), p. 190. 47. Loy, Thc Christian Church, pp. 94-95. 48. Quoted by Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrtnal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, tr. Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 30. 49. Lutheran Standard, XXlV (Decembcr 1, 1 864), p. 4. 50. Sidney Alexander, Lions and Foxes: Men and Idcas of the Italian Renais- sancc (Ncw York: Macmillan Publishing Company 19741, p. iii. 5 1. Loy, TIzc Christian Church, p. v. 52. Matthias Loy, "When Romc Had Shroucied Earth in Night," Evangelzcal Lutheran Hymnal, Published by Order of the First English District of the Joint Synod of Ohio and Othcr States (Columbus: Lutheran Book Concern, 1908), Number 150. 53. llobert I). I'reus, Tlzc Theology of Post-IZcformation Lutheranism: A Study of Theological Prolcgomelzn (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), p. 36. 54. Quoted by Jaroslav Pelikan, From Lz~ther to I