Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Treasury of Counsels and Decisions

The Treasury of Counsels and Decisions, ed. Georg Dedekenn and Johann Ernst Gerhard, 2nd ed. (1671) is a pastorally focused collection of counsels and decisions, dealing both with doctrine and practice. The topics chosen for inclusion, even in the volume on civil government, deal especially with situations a Lutheran pastor would have faced. This is to be expected, given the goals of Dedekenn, a pastor, in producing the Treasury.

The theme of inter-confessional disputes is woven into many places of the Treasury. This theme shows how important it was to the editors of the Treasury and their readers to confess the distinguishing features of their Lutheran doctrine and practice clearly. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as important pastoral-liturgical rites and as foundational events in the Christian’s life of faith, likewise are discussed in great detail, as is the Evangelical practice of private confession and Absolution. The church’s government and the office and duties of pastors form another large constellation of questions. Questions concerning the “black arts” are significant. Questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics are very important in the Treasury – betrothal, for example, is the biggest topic both in terms of questions and of pages.

Christian Grübel’s New Appendix, added to the 1671 edition of the Treasury, is a pastoral handbook, similar to Dedekenn’s and J. E. Gerhard’s volumes, but not as full and complete. In addition to pastoral issues, Grübel also adds much source material on recent controversies, making his volume something of a repertory for recent polemics, in a way that the other volumes are not.

The Treasury is uniquely Lutheran. The issue of inter-confessional relations runs throughout the cases collected by Georg Dedekenn, Johann Ernst Gerhard, and Christian Grübel. In case after case, the Lutheran theologians and faculties profile themselves in distinction from Roman Catholic and Reformed Christians. The doctrinal focus of the counsels likewise sets forth uniquely Lutheran views. In the many cases dealing with Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession, exorcism, and various adiaphorous ceremonies, the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith is set forth with confidence. The underlying viewpoint is the certainty that what is being set forth is the truth. And it is this truth which can instruct and assure doubting consciences.

The Treasury is pastoral. Even in the sections dealing with the duties of civil government, the cases presented generally deal with how civil government and the church intersect, and how pastors should relate to civil leaders. A major focus of the Treasury is the pastor’s office and duties, and in this way it, in many places, comes to resemble a pastoral theology or pastor’s handbook, but with its content drawn directly from the leading theologians and faculties of post-Reformation Lutheranism.

The Treasury is dogmatic. The table of contents for the work shows the wide variety of topics addressed. The first volume, dealing with dogmatic and ministerial topics, is by far the largest, and much of it deals with issues of right belief, not just of right behavior. The dogmatic focus is furthermore seen in the documentation of intra-Lutheran controversies, which Grübel’s New Appendix reported in detail.

The Treasury is practical. The wide range of questions included deal with ethics in all areas of life, both in public and in the family. The volume on marriage contains the biggest topic of the Treasury: betrothals. Also, the limitations of religious pluralism were an area of practical concern for one’s life in seventeenth-century German Lutheran society.

These are all cases of conscience, and so the writers of these counsels write with confidence and seriousness. Indeed, a certain degree of seriousness is necessary for a genre of casuistry to exist in the first place, for if the matters discussed were not serious, they would not have been recorded. This attitude of serious contemplation of right faith and behavior is coupled with reverence for God’s institutions. The sacraments, as divinely instituted means of grace, are treated with reverence and even veneration. The counsel-writers likewise treat the offices of princes and pastors and the estate of marriage with honor as offices instituted by God for the good of his people and of the world.

Yet the counsels included in the Treasury also point clearly at the problems experienced by Orthodox Lutherans. The parish system combined with compulsory confession led to many cases of conscience. Personal conflicts and disputes, as well as the specter of war, gave people consternation and caused them to seek expert advice.

For more information on the Treasury, see Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).


  1. Great blog. I look forward to keeping up with it. Is there any way to increase the font size and clarity of the text on the blog. I don't think it is my computer, but perhaps it is.

  2. Looks great on mine. On a Mac you can zoom in by using Command +.