Friday, July 29, 2016

Some more off the cuff Pope Francis. . .

Question to the Pope:  Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you. Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.


My Comments:

As with any off the cuff remarks from Pope Francis, there is some good, some bad, some confusion, and some outright mistakes.  I have read some blogs from conservative Roman Catholics who took the remarks as an affront against what they consider to be the open and unacceptable errors of Lutheranism.  I have also read comments from Lutherans who stuck out their chests and insisted they did not need the Pope to tell them about justification or to get their Lutheran house united and in order.

That said, I think there are some hopeful words in the Pope's pastoral meanderings (?!).  On the one hand it is clear from Luther himself and from the Lutheran Confessions that the Reformation was begun with precisely the goal of reforming the Church, recalling the Church from error to the truth of Scripture and the consistent catholic doctrine of the fathers.  No matter that this was the intention, the events did not pan out this way.  Luther's theological heirs only reluctantly set up parallel church structures for the sake of the people who were not being served and a communion that resisted even the discussion of reformation.  It is also clear that the many who claimed kinship with Luther and the Sixteenth Century Reformation in Germany were not kissing cousins but opponents and opposites -- rejecting the liturgy, the sacraments, and all the church usages and ceremonies the Lutheran's affirmed.  That they went where Lutherans refused to go and ended up chastising Luther and his cohorts for failing to go far enough, only underscores the distinction between the Conservative Reformation and the Radical Reformation.

But to blame Luther for those who rejected catholic doctrine and practice is to miss the reason for the Reformation in the first place.  To quote Pope Francis:  There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...  This is the reason why schism took place and this is the only lens by which the Reformation may be legitimately understood.  The backdrop of it all was not Luther's rebellious attitude or willful rejection of truth but the errors, worldliness, greed, and jealous concern for temporal power that provided the catalyst for the foment that gave birth to the Reformation.  Here Francis is spot on.

Now with respect to the grand ecumenical consensus on justification between Rome, Wittenberg, Geneva, and all points in between, I only wish it were so.  The JDDJ document does allow a great amount of wiggle room (as do most ecumenical declarations) and does not do justice to the nuance and difference that can shade the meaning of it all to a great degree.  I am happy for the conversation but it is clear the talking has a long way to go before Francis' declaration of unanimity is true.

No, we do not need the Pope to tell us Lutherans we are a mess, but it is kind of him to be concerned for us.  We should not take any comfort from the fact that most theological houses are a mess (even and especially Rome's) but neither should we let this mess prevent us from dialoging for the truth of the Gospel, for the primacy of the Word, and for the cause of genuine and authentic unity.

Catholicity and Biblical faithfulness are not some mountains to be climbed but fights that must be fought with vigilance and diligence to turn away heresy, clarify confusion, witness to the world, and catechize the faithful.  We are always but a generation away from losing the faith either to error or to indifference.  Only by remembering, reaffirming, and reforming the Church through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) can we be sure that gates of hell will not prevail.  Until the day when Jesus does come again in His glory, the gates of hell will come very close to us and must be fought off without fail or Jesus will not find faith on earth.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

It was not just worldliness, greed, power, corruption and papal abuse which created the need for a Reformation. Luther saw the need, as others who tried earlier, to bring the Bible to the people, and in their own language. The doctrinal differences between Luther and the Pope were even more significant than the corruptions of men which infect Protestantism as well as Catholic teachings. In my view, there can be no resolution of these differences. We can be civil, and we can find some areas of agreement, but the body of teachings which embrace Catholicism cannot be accepted without compromising the spirit and intent of the Reformation. The Catholic Church, having failed to reform itself at the time of Luther, still remains the same church he left so long ago.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

It seems to be a uniquely LCMS characteristic that insists on complete agreement with every jot and tittle. The fact that Francis is thinking in these terms is a genuine excitement for me. If the Church on earth is to come together it must be with an acceptance of "wiggle room" that allows a Roman Catholic to think like a Roman Catholic and a LWF Lutheran to think like a LWF Lutheran and, yes, even a LCMS Lutheran to think in terms of parsing and dissecting and insisting on complete agreement in even the color of the ink used to produce a new document....oh wait....we don't like new documents. Of course I am being facetious, but the only way for me to survive in the LCMS is to be a little assertive and a little bit rebellious because we are not always, or even usually right. We need to learn to receive Christian brothers and sisters as Christian brothers and sisters without requiring a complete conversion! After all, Jesus, Luther and I didn't grow up Lutheran and I bring an irenicism forged on childhood abuse, and I bring a freedom to explore, and end up at the same place our Synod usually lines up.

I'm thankful for the Popes of my lifetime, as they have been a lot more open to us than we have to them.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Padre, I don't think Francis is being open but being oblique. Benedict had far more substantive things to say about Luther and he spoke more directly. A few off hand comments on a plane are not a real opening but a smokescreen and the way Francis works. a Lutheran Lurker

Cliff said...

The subject of unity has many codes or expectations that we all think alike and admit that the other guy is wrong and we are right. Wiggle room is a good term for us to function freely in our convictions as long as we adhere to the fundamental Christian truths such as the trinity and the divine and human nature of Christ along with His death resurrection and thus justifying all sinners.

Three of the main issues facing Christiandom today are abortion/assisted suicide gay marriage and the ordination of woman pastors/priests. We alone (LCMS, LCC Lutherans) stand with the Roman Catholics on this issue. This alone should be reason to celebrate and to respect one another.

David Gray said...

"We alone (LCMS, LCC Lutherans) stand with the Roman Catholics on this issue. "

That has to be one of the most surreal comments I've ever read. That is ignoring Baptists, who markedly outnumber Lutherans of any stripe, and the confessional Reformed denominations.