In honor of ninth-century missionaries Cyril and Methodius, we read about the theology of mission work with an excerpt from Mission from the Cross.
The study of languages, especially learning the vernacular of a specific group of people, was always an important component of training missionaries and much of their success on the field hinged on a thorough knowledge of the customs and language of a target people. A mark of success is for a missionary to preach the Gospel in a foreign language without having to rely on translators. Protestant mission has always adopted an open attitude to embrace other languages for worship and proclamation. Luther was one of the first successful modern adherents to that approach. But before him, the missionary Ulfilas (ca. 311–383) developed an alphabet for the Gothic language and translated the Bible into it. This East Germanic language, now extinct, was the first time a northern European language became a literary language.
In contrast, Roman Catholic mission rigidly clung to Latin as the liturgical language and suppressed vernacular languages until Vatican II (1962–65), with the only exceptions granted to the two great missionaries to the Slavs, Constantine (later Cyril, 826–829) and Methodius (ca. 815–885). Coming from the East, Cyril and Methodius applied and were granted legal permission for their work by the Roman see. They created an alphabet, the so-called Glagolitic Script, and provided a translation of Scripture and liturgy in what we know today as Old Church Slavonic, the forerunner of modern Slavic languages. In general, however, Rome regarded such practices to be revolutionary and an abrogation of the use of Latin as the sole liturgical language of the West. Rome considered the language of the barbarians to be unfit for the dignity of liturgy, even if worshipers understood little of what was going on in the service.
Luther himself diligently pursued the translation of the Bible into German and in so doing followed the rule of watching closely the “mouths of the people.” In other words, Luther noted carefully people’s ways of expressing themselves as they pursued their daily chores and duties. This principle laid down by the reformer has become an inspiration for all Protestant missionaries.
Devotional reading is from Mission from the Cross, pages 174–75 © 2009 Klaus Detlev Schulz. Published by Concordia Publishing House.
Rejoice in the love of the Father.
Praise him in the name of the Son.
Reach out in the pow’r of the Spirit.
Go forth in the Three in One.
Hymn text is from “Go Forth” by Dawn Rathman © 1997 Logia (A Division of Concordia Publishing House). All rights reserved.