Feast of John Caspar Mattes (November 8)   1 comment

Mason City Globe-Gazette, June 18, 1945, page 5

Above:  A Clipping from the Mason City Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Iowa, June 18, 1945, Page 5

Accessed via newspapers.com

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JOHN CASPAR MATTES (NOVEMBER 8, 1876-JANUARY 27, 1948)

U.S. Lutheran Minister and Liturgist

My research for adding some one to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days often entails consulting hymnal companion volumes.  These, I find, are of mixed value, due to frequently incomplete and occasionally inaccurate information.  I am, nevertheless, not overly critical of such books, for, via the wonders of technology, I can conduct research at home easily much of the time.  Much of this research would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the editors and authors of hymnal companion volumes decades ago.  (The oldest such volume in my library dates to 1935, although I have electronic copies of older hymnal companions.)  For example, in preparation for this post, I consulted newspapers via newspapers.com and old journals which Google has digitized.  I did this at my desk at home in Athens, Georgia.  I write these statements to explain the existence of information which contradicts certain information I read in Lutheran hymnal companions dating as far back as 1942.

This post is my attempt to write an accurate and concise account of the life of John Caspar Mattes (1876-1948), a man who was to my theological right. (And yes, many people are to my theological left.)  He was a Confessional Lutheran.  I am, however, a collegial Episcopalian, so I acknowledge the difference in opinions while dismissing their importance.  He was a giant for Christ.  Our saint’s liturgical work and hymn translations have survived him.  Some of his translations of hymns have enriched my spiritual life.  Such a man deserves recognition.

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Trenton Evening Times, November 13, 1908, Page 1

Above:  A Clipping from the Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, New Jersey, November 13, 1908, Page 1

Accessed via newspapers.com

John Caspar Mattes entered the world at Easton, Pennyslvania, on November 8, 1876.  His parents were Henry Louis Mattes (1825-1908) and Adelaide Havemann Mattes, who died, aged 91 years, in March 1927.  (She had lived with her son and his family for a long time by then.)  The Mattes family was staunchly Lutheran.  Henry Louis Mattes, a church organist, had helped to found the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (1867-1918), which broke away from the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the U.S.A. (1820-1918).  (I like to refer to Taylor’s Law of Denominational Schisms, which is that most of them occur to the theological right, usually out of a quest for doctrinal purity.  The result, more often than not, is the propagation of Donatism.  The study of religious history confirms this conclusion.)  Our saint graduated from Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, with his B.A. degree in 1898.  His next stop was the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mount Airy (near Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1901.  Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, granted him an honorary D.D. degree in 1925.

Mattes Article 1915 01

Mattes Article 1915 02

Mattes Article 1915 03

Above:  An Article from The Scranton Republican, Scranton, New Jersey, July 26, 1915, Page 4

Accessed via newspapers.com

Stability characterized our saint’s ministerial career.  Mattes, ordained in the old Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States (1748-1918), served as the pastor of St. Michael’s Church, Allentown, Pennsylvania, briefly (1901) before accepting a call to the Church of the Savior, Trenton, New Jersey.  He remained there until 1915.  During his tenure the congregation grew substantially.  During that time Mattes made a name for himself as a translator of hymns, especially German ones.  In April 1915 our saint joined the committee for the Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church (1917), which became the official service book-hymnal of the United Lutheran Church in America, or ULCA (1918-1962).  Mattes created a new arrangement of the History of the Passion (for use during Holy Week) and contributed six hymn translations.

Scranton Republican May 28, 1927, page 28

Above:  A Clipping from The Scranton Republican, May 28, 1927, Page 28

Accessed via newspaper.com

Mattes served in Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1915 to 1938.  At first he was the pastor of Holy Trinity Church.  1927 proved to be an eventful year for our saint.  First, in March, his mother, Adelaide, died at the age of 91.  Four months later a son, John, died by drowning in a lake.  Between those two deaths Holy Trinity Church merged with Zion Lutheran Church (also in town) to form St. John’s Lutheran Church.  Mattes became the assistant pastor of St. John’s Church.  In time the word “assistant” dropped from his title.

Pittston Gazette, October 31, 1938, page 3

Above:  A Clipping from the Pittston Gazette, Pittston, Pennsylvania, October 31, 1938, Page 3

Accessed via newspapers.com

Mattes resigned his pastorate in late 1938 to become a professor of systematic theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, an institution of the more conservative American Lutheran Church (1930-1960).

Pittston Gazette, December 30, 1938, page 3

Above:  A Clipping from the Pittston Gazette, Pittston, Pennsylvania, December 30, 1938, Page 3

Accessed via newspapers.com

Mattes, a product of a leading family of the old General Council (1867-1918), complained–frequently in writing–about the United Lutheran Church in America, or ULCA (1918-1962).  He was a Confessional Lutheran, and one of the bases of the merger had been flexibility in theology.  (This helps to explain why most denominational mergers occur to the theological left.)  The ULCA permitted more theological flexibility than our saint liked.  Thus Mattes, who had served as the President of the Wilkes-Barre Conference of the ULCA and helped to create the Common Service Book, left for the American Lutheran Church (1930-1960) in 1939.

The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960) was the result of the merger of three denominations:

  1. The Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States (1818-193o), which refused to join the General Synod (1820-1918);
  2. The Synod of Iowa and Other States (1854-1930), which separated from the Missouri Synod (1847-present); and
  3. the Buffalo Synod (1845-1930), which was of Prussian immigrant origin and strict doctrinal standards, out of reaction against the forced merger of the Lutheran and Reformed churches back home.

One consequence of the mergers which produced the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (1917-1960), which renamed itself The Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1946, and the United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962) was to inspire the three-way union which created the American Lutheran Church (1930-1960), whose ecclesiastical relations with the Missouri Synod irritated both the right wing of the Missouri Synod and the Missouri Synod’s more conservative ecumenical partners.  (I have been spending much time studying U.S. Lutheran denominations.)

Mattes taught at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1939 to 1948.  He died in that city on January 27, 1948.  Caroline Niedt Mattes, his wife, survived him, as did six of their children:  Henry, Alfred, Dorothea, Olga, Emma, and Charles.  Other legacies survive.  I think of his contributions to the Common Service Book (1917), the imprints he left in lives during nearly four decades of parish ministry, the influences which have passed down through his family, and the effects he had on students, and therefore on those whose lives they affected.

Mattes is a fine addition to my calendar of saints.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially John Caspar Mattes)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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