Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What the Pope cannot do. . .

Francis is good at the photo op, gives all sorts of interesting answers off the cuff, and likes to use symbolism.  While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis knelt to receive the blessing of a Protestant minister.  Last year, he seemed to give hope to an Italian Lutheran woman that if her conscience permitted it, she should commune with her Roman Catholic husband at a Roman altar.   He presented a crozier (staff to the uninformed) to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has told Lutherans to be better Lutherans and that it would be best if we all overlooked doctrine and worked to make the world a better pace.  He went to Sweden to join Swedish Lutherans remembering the Reformation.  In an article Bishop Kenney, one of the chief movers and shakers in the dialogs Rome has had with Lutherans, suggests that this Pope may indeed be contemplating a gesture towards sharing communion.

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 Luther rightly noted, the Mass is the place where these claims meet the road, so to speak, for the daily life of Roman Catholics.  The whole system of purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, the treasury of merits, and the authority of the Pope to issue indulgencies (not a Reformation antiquity but something modern Popes continue to do) are all tied together.  To let go of one is to let go of them all.  As much as the current Pope likes to provide photos, rambling remarks, symbolic gestures, etc..., he cannot and will not give legitimacy to Lutheran sacraments nor will he open the Roman altars to Lutheran communicants unless and until Lutherans agree to the papal claims.  For to open the altars to Lutherans or to give validity to Lutheran orders and sacraments is to empty the papal claims that constitute Roman identity.

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.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

In my view, there can be no reconciliation between Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church, only cooperation and civility, with mutual respect but not agreement in our beliefs. Catholicism has made no promises to change, and certainly Lutherans cannot return to the expression of faith by Papal decree, the worship of Mary and dead saints, and the idea of purgatory. No compromise. No reconciliation. We as Christians are called to truth, not to false doctrines.

Padre Dave Poedel said...

A fascinating excerpt from Ut Unum Sent (That they may be one) authored by now St. John Paul II on his role as The Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Universal Church. Pope Francis expresses sentiment on an emotional level, while JPII was an intellectual. Benedict XVI is more to the liking of LCMS Pastors since he is "authentically Roman", hence keeping to himself. I have an affinity for Francis because he has the heart of a parish pastor, as I do.

the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also "vicars and ambassadors of Christ".[153] The Bishop of Rome is a member of the "College", and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry.

Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy. As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present Encyclical Letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God's faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. For a whole millennium Christians were united in "a brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life . . . If disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator".[154]

In this way the primacy exercised its office of unity. When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios I, I acknowledged my awareness that "for a great variety of reasons, and against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But . . . it is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry . . . I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek- together, of course-the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned".[155]

96. This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea "that they may all be one . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)?

Ted Badje said...

Patient and fraternal dialogue, great, but there is no compromise on justification by faith in the works of Christ.