Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Acting Catholic While Remaining Lutheran. . .

There is always the charge against the liturgical that they like to act as if they were Catholic [when, since they are Lutheran, of course, they are not].  Play acting.  That is the point some snicker in the pews or from the vantage point of other Lutheran parishes when they watch a Lutheran who takes the liturgy seriously and our confessional insistence that the mass is better kept among us than Rome. 

For whatever reason, when I was installed into my first parish on August 24, 1980, my bishop, District President Ronald F. Fink, walked out into the woods surrounding the church building and came back with a piece of pine.  It is rough and stained and not too pretty but he thrust that staff into my hands when he bade me to watch faithfully over the flock to which the Holy Spirit had made me bishop (overseer for those who don't like the catholic terminology).  I still carry it in the procession on Good Shepherd Sunday and a few other times during the year.  Once, a visiting Lutheran cleric chided me for acting Catholic and, in particular, for presuming to be a bishop.  He had a grand smile on his face like a parent who had caught a child play acting some adult role.  Gotcha!!!

But that is precisely the point.  Lutherans are not play acting at being Catholic; we are deadly serious in our insistence that we are catholic!  “The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith,” so Melanchthon declares in the Augsburg Confession presented to define the position of the Reformers. “There is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church, or from the Roman Church, insofar as we can tell from its writers.”  This was and remains our affirmation in spite of those more comfortable with a Protestant face to their Lutheran identity.

Writing in the last century, Herman Sasse, hardly a friend of medieval Roman Catholicism, insisted that this was and remains not only the claim but the essential identity of the Church of the Augsburg Confession: “It was no mere ecclesiastico-political diplomacy which dictated the emphatic assertion in the Augsburg Confession that the teachings of the Evangelicals were identical with those of the orthodox Catholic Church of all ages...” and “The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Ireneaus once belonged.”

I love how Matthew Block put it:  I’m too damn Catholic to be Catholic.  That might sound flippant or even nonsensical. It isn’t intended to be. “But what does it even mean?” you ask. I’ll explain, but before I do, let me explain what I do not mean: I do not mean to say that I think Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism are similar enough that I can simply “act” Catholic while remaining Lutheran.

The first Lutherans saw no disagreement between their faith and the faith of the Catholic Church down through the ages. They write, “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers” (AC 21:5). They believed themselves to be faithful to the historic Church’s teachings even as they rejected theologically errant innovation that had arisen in their own time. “Our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic,” they write, “but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons” (AC 21:10).

“Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation” (LW 52:39-40).

This is the Catholic Church. This is the Universal Church—the company of believers. I will not abide any visible church drawing the broad boundaries of the invisible Church more tightly than does God. The dogmata of the Roman Church do just that, and so I reject them; I’m too damn Catholic to be Catholic.

Lutherans being Lutheran may appear to be acting Catholic but they are really being catholic -- the catholics we insist we are in our Confessions.  That is exactly the problem.  The people most unnerved by Lutherans being authentically Lutheran are those who are afraid of the catholic identity that Lutherans claim.  To see a Pastor in Eucharistic vestments, to hear the sound of chanting, to smell the sweet smoke of incense, to witness genuflection, kneeling, and bowing, to hear the sound of the sanctus bell, to adore the Sacrament in the Agnus Dei before we are bidden to eat and drink, to see through the light of candles than are not there for ambiance, to worship according to the ancient form of the mass, etc... -- the shock of these things is not that someone has found a Lutheran Pastor who likes to act Roman Catholic but that this is exactly the evangelical and catholic face of Lutheranism that the Confessions insist is the only authentic identity for the Church of the Augsburg Confession.  This is what we fear admitting -- not that somebody likes to play act what he is not but that he just maybe correct in identifying who Lutherans really are!  Evangelical and catholic!!


Anonymous said...

AMEN! Deo gratias!

Carl Vehse said...

Articles that appear to play games of equivocation with the word, "[C/c]atholic," do not help to promote confessional Lutheranism.

When Lutherans talk about "catholic," or "catholicity" they should clearly state up front they are referring to the understanding of the Lutheran Confessions, which include the Creeds. Here, for example, in German, Latin, and English:

Apostles Creed: " eine heilige christliche Kirche", "sanctum ecclesiam catholicam", "the holy Christian [or catholic] Church"

Nicene Creed: "eine einige, heilige, christliche, apostolische Kirche", "sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam", "one holy Christian [or catholic] and apostolic Church"

Athanasian Creed: "Das ist der rechte christliche Glaube", "Haec est fides catholica", "This is the Christian [or catholic] faith"

Smalcald Articles, Part III, XII: Denn also beten die Kinder: "Ich glaube eine heilige christliche Kirche."

Sic enim orant pueri: "Credo sanctam ecclesiam catholicam sive Christianam."

"For, thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy [catholic or] Christian Church."

Elsewhere Lutherans sometimes also refer to the "holy catholic Church" as the "invisible Church". One should not use "[C/c]atholic" as a congruent term describing visible church organizations (e.g., the Roman church). Even within visible Lutheran churches there are also hypocrites, who are not part of the communion of saints.

Anonymous said...

So, why is it that we confuse the issue by having members recite the creeds and use the phrase "holy catholic church" instead of, as pointed out earlier, the translation "holy Christian church?" The creeds as posted in the room where cathechism is taught at Grace Lutheran has it as "holy Christian church," the hymnal has it as "holy Christian church" and every Luther's small cathechism that I can find has the creeds as "holy Christian church."
I may be overly simplistic, but if I am a follower of Christ, I would much rather be considered a member of the "holy Christian church" as opposed to a member of the "holy catholic church."

Call me stubborn.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters sounds rather Protestant to me in this article, particularly when he speaks of, "... had made me bishop..."

The Church catholic has long recognized Holy Orders in three distinct grades: Deacon, Presbyter, and Bishop. It seems that Pastor Peters is blurring the line between Presbyter and Bishop. That is what most Protestants tend to do.

(a Presbyter, not a Bishop)
Anglican Priest

ErnestO said...

"Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

I am a member of the one true Church of Christ, a Churchman in the sight of God. I know the Holy Spirit has witnessed to my spirit that I am one with Christ, and Christ with me. I the chief of sinners will end this post with the words of a hymn:
"Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Your blood was shed for me,
And that You bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come."

Anonymous said...

Quote: I would much rather be considered a member of the "holy Christian church" as opposed to a member of the "holy catholic church."

Response: Is it possible to be one without the other? Alot of fuss over a later term Christian used long before Luther and the Lutherans made it a rallying cry and especially when the original term is catholic. If Lutherans want to be considered people who have their origins in the Scriptures and the early church, they had better get used to the term catholic OR they should just shut up and act like the Protestants who were born in the 16th century like the rest of those who are called Protestant.

David Gray said...

1. I understand why some modern Lutherans flee the term Protestant but it is futile, they are Protestant as Lutherans historically recognized.

2. Many Protestants don't have a problem with the word "catholic" in the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed.

Pr. H. R. said...

Lutherans don't blur the line between Presbyter and Episkopos: they forthrightly confess that there is no line! These are different titles for the same office in the Scriptures. Through time certain functions of the One Office tended to be centralized for the sake of good order. But this does not negate the essential facts of the NT Office of the Ministry. A relic of this understanding even exists in the formula for the announcement of the election of a pope (of all places!): "such and such, a prebyterem of the Catholic Church, has been elected..."

The best short introduction to this is A.C. Piepkorn's essay in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Ministry, "A Lutheran View of the Validity of Lutheran Orders."


William Weedon said...

Also worth noting to those who object to the word "catholic" in the Creed that for some centuries post Reformation the Lutherans continued to sing the Nicene Creed in the Divine Service in Latin and they invariably sang "catholicam" where that occured. Even the venerable and much loved book, The Lutheran Hymnal, retained "catholic" in its translation of the Athanasian Creed.

William Weedon said...

P.S. The Athanasian is also invaluable for anyone getting what catholic means: "and the catholic faith is this that we worship one God in trinity and trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance." Only those who hold to such a catholic faith are saved, as we also confess in the same.

David Gray said...

I did wonder how "catholic" survived in the TLH Athanasian Creed but not in the Apostle's or Nicene.

William Weedon said...

16th century German used "Christliche" whether you were Roman or Lutheran. It predates Reformation and continued for a while afterward. Lutheran liturgy using "Christian" in English is carrying forward that linguistic usage. It was never intended to mean anything other than catholic (i.e., Trinity worshipping!).

William Weedon said...

P.S. Of course Lutherans are Protestants. We are the only ones who really are! But we are also Catholic. And Orthodox. And Evangelical.

Joseph Bragg said...

I guess if you repeat something enough people will believe it is so.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pr. H.R.,

You said, "Lutherans don't blur the line between Presbyter and Episkopos: they forthrightly confess that there is no line! These are different titles for the same office in the Scriptures. Through time certain functions of the One Office tended to be centralized for the sake of good order. But this does not negate the essential facts of the NT Office of the Ministry."

How do you explain the fact that both the Romans and the Orthodox see these as separate offices, and both of those are far older (and more hide-bound) than Lutheranism? Bishops are designated as successors to the Apostles, but Presbyters are not; they are extensions of their respective bishops, essentially the Bishop's representatives when he is not present.

You also note, "A relic of this understanding even exists in the formula for the announcement of the election of a pope (of all places!): "such and such, a prebyterem of the Catholic Church, has been elected...", as though this supports your position; it does not. It simply states that the usual procedure for electing a Bishop (the selection of a Presbyter to become a Bishop) has been followed. The Pope is first of all, Bishop of Rome, before he makes claim to universal jurisdiction.

Yes, there is a line between Bishops and Presbyters. All Bishops are Presbyters, but few Presbyters are also Bishops.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Lutheran Lurker said...

The distinction between bishop and priest, while helpful and useful, is one made by the church and not the Bible. The earliest of Christian history shows that the terms were not so exclusive as they are now. Lutherans in their Confessions are acknowledging this even though they ALSO acknowledge that bishops distinct from priests can be helpful and useful but the Roman bishops were not. Germany did not have the same benefit of bishops who became Lutheran as well as priests the way Sweden did.

Anonymous said...

Lutherans may have been Protestants once but not the way the term is used today.

Anonymous said...

Lutherans are "Protest"-ants, yet they are Catholic. So they are still protesting Catholics? If not, and they really are Catholics, then why aren't they attending 'C'atholic churches? You are or you aren't. Can you really have it both ways?

Anonymous said...

I am Catholic, but married in the Lutheran Church a Catholic priest was needed to be present to validate the marriage in the Catholic Church, so....hum. We are all Catholic?? but need both sides present to make it righteous?

Pr. H. R. said...

Dear Anglican Priest,

If you are really interested in learning about the warrant for the Lutheran position, have at the Piepkorn article:


Schütz said...

After years trying to work out what 'catholic' really meant, or what it really meant to be 'catholic', I realised that there was no meaningful sense of the word that did not include communion with the Bishop of Rome. A remarkably clarifying thought when it all comes down to it.

Carl Vehse said...

The distinction between the Church Catholic and the Roman [Catholic] Church has been discussed previously.

Also noted by Matthew Block are the statements from AC.XXI.5:

English translation: This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics.

From the 1580 and 1584 versions of the Book of Concord:

1580 German: Dies ist fast die Summe der Lehre, welche in unseren Kirchen zu rechtem christlichem Unterricht und Trost der Gewissen, auch zu Besserung der Gläubigen gepredigt und gelehrt ist; wie wir denn unsere eigene Seele und Gewissen je nicht gerne wollten vor Gott mit Mißbrauch göttliches Namens oder Worts in die höchste Gefahr setzen oder auf unsere Kinder und Nachkommen eine andere Lehre als die dem reinen göttlichen Wort und christlicher Wahrheit gemäß, fällen oder erben. So denn dieselbige in heiliger Schrift klar gegründet und dazu auch gemeiner christlicher, ja, römischer Kirche, so viel aus der Väter Schriften zu vermerken, nicht zuwider noch entgegen ist: so achten wir auch, unsere Widersacher können in obangezeigten Artikeln nicht uneinig mit uns sein.

1584 Latin: Haec fere summa est doctrinae apud nos, in qua cerni potest nihil inesse, quod discrepet a Scripturis, vel ab ecclesia catholica, vel ab ecclesia Romana, quatenus ex scriptoribus nota est. Quod quum ita sit, inclementer iudicant isti, qui nostros pro hereticis haberi postulant.\

Note that the English translation is based more on the 1584 Latin, rather than the German 1580 Book of Concord version. As explained in The creeds of Christendom : with a history and critical notes, Vol. 1, Philip Schaff (New York:Harper and Brothers, 1919, p. 238) (Footnote 439):

"The Latin text of [the Augsburg Confession in] the Book of Concord is substantially from Melanchthon's quarto edition of 1531, and was supposed to correspond entirely with an imaginary Latin manuscript in Mayence [Mainz, Germany]. The German text purports to be a true copy of the original manuscript in Mayence, but is derived from a secondary source, viz., the printed text in the Corpus Brandenburgicum, 1572, which, again, was based upon a carelessly written copy of the Confession before its final revision. Chancellor Pfaff, of Tübingen, first discovered at Mayence that the original German copy was lost long ago, and he published, in 1730, what was regarded as a true copy of the original; but he was fiercely assailed by Adami, Feuerlin, and others, and his discovery traced to a Jesuitical lie. In 1781 Georg Gottlieb Weber, chief pastor at Weimar, was allowed to make a thorough search in the archives of Mayence, and found to his surprise that the copy shown him as the original was the printed German octavo edition of 1540, bearing on the title-page the words 'Wittenberg, M.D.X.L.' He published the results of his patient investigation in his Kritische Geschichte der Augsb. Confession aus archival. Nachrichten, Frankf. a. M. 1783-4, 2 vols."

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I added a comment, but formatting and placement changed after hitting send. The comment made no sense in the new format, so I deleted it.

Eric said...

"Catholic" is not just short for "Roman Catholic," it's also a credal descriptor that far predates the Reformation. So Lutherans are not _Roman_ Catholic (of course), but since our claim is to be the Church of the Scriptures and the Creeds in a purer way than Rome, no one should be surprised that we claim to be Catholic in the much older, non-abbreviated sense of the word.

David Gray said...

I tend to use the lower case "catholic" to distinguish between catholic and Roman Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Fr. D, the Greek words presbyteros and episkopos are used in the New Testament to mean the same office of the Holy Ministry. As the Church continued to grow then there was a distinction between priest and bishop. Anglicans have always taught that Episcopacy was an ancient and desirable polity. Lutheran understanding that priest and bishop were in the NT the same Office of the Holy Ministry is correct, but very early in Church history some priests became overseers of clergy and congregations probably before the death of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Bishop Ignatius writes about the three orders of ministry as firmly established by his time.

Anglican priest R

Eric said...

"Catholic" with a capital-C is the proper name of the Church of the Creeds. "Catholic" with a lower-case-c is a generic adjective.