Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Chipping away at a stone mountain. . .

Many years ago there was a partisan cartoon depicting Luther with a chisel and mallet chipping away like a sculptor at a mountain of stone shaped like the Pope.  This is an effective cartoon but not so good with history or theology.

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. . .


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree with your remarks. As a former Catholic who left the church in the 1980's, there was always tension between the progressive and orthodox schools of thought within the body. Many American Catholics, it seemed to me, openly disagreed with the Pope and some teachings, yet they refused to depart or join another church. So there was always grumbling in the pews. Many people, including my own relatives, were "C and E" (Christmas and Easter) Catholics who rarely went to church or confession, and for the most part, were "lapsed Catholics." Becoming a Lutheran was a breath of fresh air, reading and studying the Bible became a lifelong practice from that time on. If Catholics focused on the word of God, and less on the Pope, they might find the simplicity and truth of following Jesus without just complying with man made traditions which inhibit faith rather than strengthen it.

Anonymous said...

Today, America has a majority of Cafeteria Catholics who pick and
choose what they believe about their denomination. They definitely
believe that Pope does not have any authority over them. Whether it
is edicts about birth control or abortion, they do obey the Pope.

James Kellerman said...

This is one reason why swimming the Tiber holds no attraction for me. Ditto, the Bosporus. Rome and the East both claim an unbroken unity, something that must appeal to anybody who sees the divisions within Christendom. But the more one looks, the more one sees that the Reformation didn't cause the divisions within Christendom, but rather the divisions within Christendom caused the Reformation(s). And just saying "the pope, the pope" or "the patriarchs, the patriarchs" doesn't unite the church.