Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Chipping away at a stone mountain. . .
Luther's issue was not simply with the particular Pope of the moment or even with the papacy itself. Luther's issue was the Gospel, the locus of authority for doctrine and faith (the norma normans or norming norm), and the errors accumulated over time that had cast a shadow of this Gospel in the life of the Church.
But there is something else wrong with that cartoon. That is the idea that the Roman Catholic Church of Luther's day (or of our own) represented a homogenous and cohesive theology or a monolithic church, consistent in time and the same everywhere. In truth, Rome was and is an umbrella church in which the papacy represents the stem in the middle holding it all together with allegiance to the Bishop of Rome. But there was not and is not internal consistency among all Roman Catholics as to all that is believed and confessed. On the one hand, we have the catechisms that, like Lutheran Confessions, are supposed to be not only apt descriptions of what ought to be believed but what is believed. On the other hand, history shows that just as once the Franciscans were a theological party differentiated from the Dominicans and the Jesuits from the Jansenists, etc., so today Rome is suffering from a party spirit that threatens the unity of the Roman Church. The 62 scholars who issued their challenge to Pope Francis on the heels of the Five Dubia of the four cardinals and some 800,000 signatures on a petition are not contending for practice but for what the Roman Church believes and confesses -- a significant challenge not seen in 700 years!
While in the past the pope was generally the arbiter of such disputes, now this pope has made himself a party to the disputes. These different "schools" or parties or theologies are now centered in the papacy or those who have been able to manipulate the Pope (who is not generally regarded as an intellectual heavy weight). This is a oddity because it also appears that Pope Francis seems to be comfortable being the head of a party among those disputing what is Roman Catholic and what is not with regard to marriage and to the communion of those divorced.
Lutherans are not contending with a solid piece of stone but a patchwork of various kinds of stone once cemented together by papal authority but now cracking. . .