Sunday, January 28, 2018
The Beginning of the ROMAN Catholic Church
What I am not saying is that there were two distinct churches prior to Trent but that the Catholic Church prior to Trent and the one defined by Trent have distinct characteristics and differences worth noting. Though prior to Trent Rome was not exactly in chaos, it could be said that Rome was at least a vast umbrella of theological and liturgical strains that lived side by side under the cover of the papacy. This may be what some call chaos. Perhaps the nature of its life prior to the printing press and following Gutenberg could account for some of this but the job of Trent was not simply to respond to Protestants but to shore up many of the loose ends in the Roman Catholic Church that could have allowed or even encouraged a Luther.
Everyone knows that the monastic houses of Rome often manifested and even encouraged theological distinctions and differences which were reconciled by their uniform fealty to the Roman Pontiff. It was not simply a matter of different orders or disciplines but also different theological emphases and identities. Ask any diocesan bishop of Luther's day and he would complain not only of the indifference of monastic orders to local episcopal jurisdiction but also that they fostered a distinct theological identity -- all in competition with the local authority and, in many cases, in disdain of the local authority. Perhaps it is with reason since secular clergy, especially in rural areas, were too often ill-trained and ill-equipped except to read the mass and perform the functional rituals of the sacraments.
Liturgically there was even less unity than theologically. There was no uniformity either in the layout of missals in the Middle Ages or in their content. Some of those missals began the church year with the Christmass vigil and ended with Advent; others began with Advent and ended with the last Sunday after Trinity. Some did not even include Advent. Others lumped the sanctoral cycle in with the temporal cycle and others kept them distinct. The liturgical colors were not uniform. So the piety fostered by these differences was also different from place to place.
One of the things we should have learned from the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is that it is impossible to look at the Roman Catholic Church today as if it were the same communion that Luther faced. It is just as true that the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church is a distinctly different church than the one Luther knew. Perhaps it could be said that the goal of Rome is to see a seamless unity between the early Church, the medieval Church, and the Roman Church both before and after Trent (as well as into the Vatican II timeframe) while the goal of Lutheranism is to mark those differences because they actually did contribute something to the story begun in 1517.
I am not at all saying that the complaints of Luther are no longer valid or that Rome's complaints of Luther have not changed over the years. Rome has a more nuanced view of Luther today and some of what people think were Luther's big points seem to have been satisfied (mass in the vernacular, is but one example). These are not exactly true. There have been many cosmetic changes in Rome but the core of Luther's complaints still stand -- even with JDDJ and its claim to have solved the justification riddle. Lutherans have forgotten much of what it means to be Lutheran and stand more on their caricatures of Lutheranism than their own Confessions. But under it all, it is simply not possible to look at Rome today and presume that this is the same church Luther faced. Trent is the major factor in this difference but not the only one. Of the Lutheran problems, well, I have written on those before in the hopes that we will recover our theological and liturgical identity more fully from the Augsburg Confession than our dreamy eyes wishing we were evangelicals.