The Piety of the People

While St. Kurt (Marquart) lay dying from ALS, a Reverend David Petersen collected stories of the good saint to present to him before he entered Paradise rather than to each other after he had.  That was a good idea.  One of the most moving came from the good Rev. Petersen himself.

He told how as a seminarian he was at a party at which parodies of hymns like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and more were being made.  St. Kurt took him aside and said in his non-confrontational, comforting way, “We must not make fun of the popular piety of our people.”  Not yet transferred to the Church Triumphant but on his way, St. David (Scaer) said in an article somewhere that he thought doctrinal scrutiny should be suspended in the case of hymns.  I can’t go as far as St. David but Oh that I would go as far as St. Kurt.

Chesterton tells a story that is fitting here.  A count is showing Chesterton around his huge and costly palace that had been wrecked, burned, and left in ruins by the retreat of the Red Army after the Battle of Warsaw. Chesterton commented that it must be terrible to see his family home destroyed thus. The count replied. “’Oh, I do not blame them for that,’ he said. ‘I have been a solider myself, and in the same campaign; and I know the temptations.  I know what a fellow feels, dropping with fatigue and freezing with cold, when one asks himself what some other fellow’s armchairs and curtains can matter, if he can only have fuel for the night.  On the one side or the other, we were all soldiers; and it is a hard and horrible life.  I don’t resent at all what they did here.  There is only one thing that I really resent.  I will show it to you.’”  He takes Chesterton to a statue of the Virgin Mary with the head and hands shot off.  (Chesterton, Autobiography, 312).

Let us not shoot the hands or heads off the popular piety of our people.  There are better hymns to sing than “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Just as I Am,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Lift High the Cross,” and on and on we could go.  But when a person has grown up singing a hymn, particularly when it is associated with emotional things like death and funerals, and has drawn comfort from it, we are not soldiering against the enemy we when we attack it, we are into pillaging.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
This entry was posted in For Pastors Only. Bookmark the permalink.