Aaron Wolf, Memory Eternal

Aaron Wolf would have been 50 years old in 2024, but in God’s mysterious providence, my friend and colleague will remain forever 45. That, to me, makes his accomplishments seem all the greater five years after his death. Chief among those accomplishments, of course, were his wife, Lorrie, and his six children, Gus, Kati, Carl, Nora, Josie, and Peter, but the task that falls to me today is to discuss a different accomplishment: the body of work that Aaron left behind.

Aaron was an incredibly gifted writer and speaker whose voice, both in print and in speech, was so beautiful and so clear that, when you finished one of his columns or he concluded one of his lectures, you were never left wanting, even though you always desired more. In the 21 years that we knew each other, 19 as colleagues, I watched his voice develop as a mighty oak unfolds from an acorn—a true development, and not just a layering on of more knowledge, more experience, more deadlines met, and more words published. His voice was there from the moment he first introduced himself to me—a gift from God, like the faith with which his voice was intimately bound.

What developed over the years was Aaron’s ability to see everything he wrote or spoke about in the light of that faith, and to bring others to see all things that way. Nowhere is this more clear than in the sample of Aaron’s monthly column, Heresies, that I have chosen to commemorate this anniversary.

Writing a little over two years before his death, Aaron is, in this column, prophetic in both senses of the word: the original religious sense, calling a people back from their worship of idols to a truth that they have abandoned and forgotten; and the common sense of predicting the future, mostly obviously in the events that would unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, just 18 months after this column was published in the February 2016 issue of Chronicles.

Incidentally White” is an intellectual tour de force, tying themes that Aaron had (at that time) explored in depth for 18 years—history, memory, kith and kin, race, the Southern land in which his roots could be found—to the undying faith in Jesus Christ that lay at the heart of who Aaron was, and is, and ever shall be. In clear, irrefutable, and achingly beautiful prose, Aaron explains why all that we are and all that we do is only incidental unless and until it is joined to the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrifice that allows us to become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, the only non-incidental relationship in this life and the next.

To those who would invert the proper order of things—who would make the incidental essential, and the essential incidental—Aaron offers in this column a message of hope. For just as Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, He entered into time not to abolish our history but to redeem it. He became man not to break the bonds of kith and kin or disrupt the mystic chords of history and memory, but to sanctify them through the baptism of water and of spirit. He came not to make our hearth and home and native land less important but, when oriented to His Cross, more so.

In short, in sacrificing Himself for us, Christ showed us the proper way to relate the incidental to the essential, to take the history, the memories, the people, and the places that we are constantly making into idols and to restore them all in the light of His grace. The lie at the heart of the ideologies of both right and left is the lie of the serpent in the garden: that we may become as gods through the strength of our own will. The only way we may become as gods is if we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of the one true God and see the world recreated through His resurrection. In the 21st century, few have reminded us more clearly of this reality than Aaron.

Reborn as a son of God through his baptism, which united him to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Aaron D. Wolf entered eternal life on Sunday, April 21, 2019. Earlier that day—Easter Sunday—as they celebrated the resurrection of our Lord in the standing-room-only sanctuary of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Aaron had whispered in wonder to Lorrie, “This is the closest we will get to Heaven in this life.”

In the column below, those of us who miss Aaron more with each passing year can take solace in reading his words and hearing his voice calling us once again to remember that our faith, like his, must never be incidental.

May God grant Aaron Wolf blessed repose and eternal memory.

— Scott P. Richert was executive editor of Chronicles until April 2017 and is now publisher at Our Sunday Visitor.

“Incidentally White” was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Chronicles.

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