All of these in part signal a shift in the way Rome has viewed Lutheranism (and some other Reformation churches). At least that is the imagery. No one would say Francis is the model of clarity (least not those who have watched the unfolding drama of divorced Roman Catholics and the Synod that tried to figure out what accommodation might be done with them), but those who think his words, gestures, and symbolism is moving Rome toward a recognition of Lutheran orders and some sort of sharing of communion are way ahead of themselves.
Rome cannot and Pope Francis knows that Rome cannot recognize Lutheran sacraments or begin some sort of Eucharistic sharing. The Mass is the bulwark of Roman exclusivity. The claims of the papacy have not changed and to change them is to make Rome, in effect, one among many legitimate communions and this neither Francis nor Rome can do. Clearly since the medieval times and perhaps sometime before, papal claims have been:
- The Pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth;
- He has episcopal jurisdiction over all members of that Church;
- To be a member of the Church is then to be in communion with the Pope;
- God has providentially promised that the papacy shall guarantee truth and prevent error (in theory at first and established by the First Vatican Council as dogma).
As one who would rejoice at the healing of the 16th century breach, neither Lutherans nor Roman Catholics can simply photoshop nor wish away the great divisions that remain. At the core and center is what to do with the papacy. The truth is that both Lutherans and Roman Catholics have accumulated things along the way that both communions would best shed to be more authentic to their tradition and to their claims. Such internal reformations must precede the external embrace of these churches and both should start with Scripture and the Creeds and then proceed to councils and confessions. Bad Lutherans do not make good Roman Catholics and bad Roman Catholics do not make good Lutherans. The key to any future hopes of reconciliation lie not in being less than who we claim to be but fully who we claim to be -- on both sides. Such real ecumenism cannot be satisfied by an occasional place at the rail or even interim Eucharistic sharing. The ELCA has proven that these do not strengthen anything but only confirm and expose the weakness in both sides.
For all the water over the bridge since 1517, the Great Reformation deserves more than Lutherans being willing to be thrown a bone by Rome and Rome giving the appearance of being able to live with the legitimacy of some of the Lutheran claims. This division is significant but in length of life it is a child half as old as the great schism of East and West and this division remains in place to this present day. My point is this. Honor the past by confronting the divisions honestly and not by glossing them over or providing a photo op.