The Joseph Sittler Archives — The Expanding Scope of Grace
The Joseph Sittler Archives — The Expanding Scope of Grace
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Sittler was in love with language. He loved to read it, he loved to hear it sung, and he loved to write and speak it. He was a consummate stylist. He put words together in such graceful and creative combinations that people felt compelled to write down his words on whatever might be available, including a napkin or the back of a book.

Sittler attributed his love of language, first, to the words of the Bible and the preaching of his father. In a chapter of Gravity and Grace (GG) entitled “Language: Allure and Boundary,” Sittler writes about his father reading the liturgy at Communion: “I didn’t know exactly what father meant when…he said “ ‘And therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven...’ ”but I knew it was something very big.” These forces probably contributed to the relatively formal and “old fashioned” vocabulary and cadence of his speech. In GG (77) he writes that “Our generation has lost its ear for multidimensional language.” The statement applies to both secular and religious language, but he was particularly concerned about the latter. “Yet without the recovery of that [multidimensional] language, I think we are going to have a very difficult time transmitting the Scriptures to future ages.” In other words, Sittler looked to the past — to tradition — to bring us into the future. He was not averse to developments such as non-gendered language for God, but he stressed that considerable imagination and care are required to come up with new words that convey the same “rhetorical beauty” as the original words.

At the same time, Sittler believed with theologian Paul Ricoeur that well-chosen words may transcend the writer or speaker’s original intention. (Running with the Hounds, p. 14) Language can “take upon itself a life of its own,” he says. The contemporary reader must immerse herself in great language and work diligently to search out its meaning. Sittler applied to language the same requirement for discipline that he did to every aspect of life.

A sample of materials on Language available from the Archives

  • Equipping the Saints for Ministry (Texas Lutheran University), Audiotape (7/80) available online

  • The Holy Spirit and Human Reflection (Concordia Summer Theological Conference, Minnesota), Audiotape (7/26/82)

  • Conscience and Capitalism (Wartburg College, Iowa), Audiotape (1982)




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The Anguish of Preaching by Joseph Sittler

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