by Dr. Jack Kilcrease
VDMA is an acronym that stands for the Latin slogan: Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (“the Word of the Lord remains forever”), which was used throughout the Lutheran Reformation. It originally appears in Isaiah 40:8 and was also used by the
Apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Pt. 1:24-5). Both scriptural passages refer to the eternal faithfulness of God and his living Word. The unchanging faithfulness of God to his Word is at the very heart of the gospel as understood by the Lutheran reformers.
In Isaiah 40, where the phrase first appears, God speaks to Isaiah and gives him a vision of the future redemption of Israel and the human race. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah primarily deal with God’s judgment of faithless Judah. In chapter 40, God tells Isaiah that although Israel had sinned and will be sent into exile in Babylon, the unchanging faithfulness of God’s Word nevertheless transcends all transitory human faithlessness.
Throughout the rest of the book of Isaiah, God shows how his faithful and eternal Word will redeem creation. First, he will bring his people out of exile in Babylon. However, this is only a preliminary stage in his plan to do away with sin altogether through the substitutionary sufferings of Christ, whom Isaiah refers to as the “Servant.” The Servant will embody the faithfulness of the eternal divine Word. Through his sufferings, the Servant will overcome the barrier of sin by making “many to be accounted righteous” (Isa. 53:11) and becoming a “covenant to the people” (Isa. 49:8). Therefore, in his first epistle, the Apostle Peter cites Isaiah to explain how this same unchanging Word of God manifests itself in the justification of true believers through the work of Christ (1 Pt. 1:24-26).
Luther’s recognition of the unchanging power of God’s Word was at the very center of his Reformation. Luther believed that God’s Word of law and gospel remains true in spite of all attempts to place conditions upon it or cover it over with human traditions. For Luther, Word of God was living and active. In speaking his Word, God not only promises justification to sinners, but also enacts it by creating faith in their hearts and minds. Those redeemed by Christ are then able to live life of freedom by the power of grace received by God’s faithful Word.
For this reason, the slogan Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum took on a very special significance in the Lutheran Reformation. As early as 1522, Fredrick the Wise ordered the slogan sewn onto the official court liveries of himself and his courtiers. Fredrick’s successors in the court of electoral Saxony continued the practice. Later, in 1531 when the Lutheran princes gathered themselves together in the Smalkaldic League for the sake of collective security against the Catholic Emperor, the slogan also became their official motto. It appeared on armor, flags, cannons, and all manner of objects. By adopting this motto, the League confessed that God’s redemptive promise of the gospel could not be thwarted. Even if the Emperor was able to overcome the Lutherans through his political might, the redemptive Word would vindicate them on Judgment Day.
The present situation of the Christian Church within an increasingly secularized culture, reveals again the importance of the unchanging nature of God’s Word. Whether or not the Christian Church stands in a strong or secure earthly position, we know that God has spoken the immutable word of his grace in Jesus and therefore has already overcome sin, death, and the devil. For this reason, much like the Lutherans of the sixteenth century, we need only to rely on the Word alone and trust in its final vindication on the Last Day.
Jack Kilcrease is a member of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.