Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Everyone is right. . .

In the great divide between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, it is usually a contest between who is right and who is wrong.  If history is the only arbiter of truth, then the real answer is everyone is right.  And everyone is wrong.
Within the early fathers of the Church, Luther found eloquent support for his position on justification by grace through faith, for the primacy of baptism and the Eucharist, for priestly ordination, for the deuterocanonicals, as well as against indulgences, against purgatory, and against the claims of the papacy.  (Read the citations within the Lutheran Confessions.)  At the same time, Rome also found their eloquent voices in favor of infused grace to which works are added, for the seven (or more) sacraments, for episcopal ordination, for adding the seven books between the testaments to the canon, for indulgences, for purgatory, and for the claims of the papacy (and against Luther). It has been a war of proof texts from Scripture and proof citations from the fathers.  Unfortunately for both sides, the result is not unanimity.

Take the issue of the Apocrypha, or, as named by Sixtus of Siena in 1566, the deuterocanonicals.  St. Jerome put them where Luther did, between the testaments, but did not weight them as he did the Old or the New Testament books.  On the other hand, St. Augustine found them all of equal weight within the canon.  So, if you are searching through the fathers for a definitive answer, you find contradiction with regard to Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1–2 Maccabees and additional portions of Daniel and Esther.  Rome even found that to be a problem and cleared up the confusion after Luther when the Council of Trent defined these books as canonical.

Even in Luther's day, it was not set in stone whether these books belonged in the Bible or not.  All around Luther there were different voices taking different positions and no council (before Trent) decided the matter.  So Luther was not on thin ice when he did what he did.  He was prudent, in the way of St. Jerome.  The East did not accept their canonicity even though they were Greek and even in the West their status was not without question. In the Complutensian Polyglot, a multi-linguistic Bible printed in Spain by Roman Catholic Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros with the approval  of Pope Leo X in 1520, the deuterocanonicals were not within the canon.  In his preface, the good Cardinal Jiménez explains  that they “are books outside the canon which the Church has received more for the edification of the people than for the authoritative confirmation of ecclesiastical dogmas.”

The same could be written about many more issues of substance between Rome and Wittenberg.  So does that mean that everyone IS right?  Well, not exactly.  If early church attestation is the only defining authority, then everyone is correct and everyone is in error.  Line up your fathers like soldiers on the battlefield and have at it.  If proof texting the position and judging truth by how many passages from Scripture one can line up on your side, then perhaps it will not so easily be decided then either.  However, catholicity is not merely a tally of supporters or passages but the context and how it is read, how it has been confessed, and how it has been believed.  Lutherans have insisted that Scripture interprets Scripture.  This means that passages which appear to contradict must be read wrong.  I believe even St. Jerome agrees here in saying that whatever he does not understand is not the fault of God or His Word but of Jerome's own limited and frail mind.  In that position, we all sit.

In this regard Lutherans often have to put up with the intemperance of Luther.  He was outlandish.  His descriptive put downs and his penchant for the extreme statement sold pamphlets and books and made him a celebrity author, to be sure.  But we must not only judge Luther on what he said but what he did.  So Luther followed  St. Jerome with regard to what to do with the deuterocanonicals.  He may have said some shocking things about the value of the Book of James or the Book of Hebrews, for example, but he did not boot them from the canon.  He translated them.  Even though he also left us with some rather tantalizing statements about what he thought about them.

Strangely, Luther's words were rather Protestant but his practice quite Catholic.  Today, we Lutherans find ourselves in the odd position of having our people (on both sides of the equation) practicing quite Protestantly while quietly affirming the Confessions (more Catholic, especially when it comes to such things as liturgy, confession, ministry, etc.).  In this respect, some have suggested that some Lutherans might have a more interesting conversation with Pope Benedict XVI than Francis and other Lutherans the opposite.  In other words, Rome finds itself in much the same boat.  Lots of quotes and lots of passages but still conflict and disagreement.  Which is why it is a good thing for us to remember that the Church belongs to the Lord and not to us.  The structures we know as churches today may or may not survive but the Word of the Lord will and so will His Church.  He is the guarantor of that.


Carl Vehse said...

"In this regard Lutherans often have to put up with the intemperance of Luther."

Not really, since Lutherans only confessionally subscribe to those writings of Luther that are included in the Book of Concord of 1580. And, of course, that includes what Luther and others in the Book of Concord had to say about doctrines of the Roman Church and the pope.

It is non-Lutherans or phoney Lutherans (Lufauxrans) who have to put up with what they regard as intemperant assertions by Luther and others in the Book of Concord.

Lutherans, at their confirmation when they became communicant members of their Lutheran congregation, or pastors at their ordination, publicly subscribe, without claiming to put up with any intemperance to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord.

William Tighe said...

"The East did not accept their canonicity even though they were Greek ..."

Is this wholly accurate? I thought that the Fourth-Century (eastern and local) Council of Laodicea accepted them, or most of them. Much later, the local (but considered by some Orthodox as "quasi-ecumenical") Council of Jerusalem of 1672 dogmatized their canonicity. Certainly, all of them have almost always been included in the OT of Orthodox Bibles, and not only those "deuterocanonical" books, but some books, such as 3 and 4 Maccabees, 3 and 4 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasses, and Psalm 151, which Rome regards as "apocryphal" rather than deuterocanonical.

Chris Jones said...

I believe Prof Tighe to be correct.

I am by no means an expert, but what I was taught as an Orthodox (not just in the parish, but in "night-school seminary" by Fr Alexander Golitzin (now Archbishop Alexander of Dallas)) was that the Septuagint (which includes all of the deutero-canonicals) has always been the official and canonical edition of the OT for the Eastern Church. So my understanding is that the deutero-canonical books are regarded as fully canonical in the Orthodox Church.

Cliff said...
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Cliff said...

Pastor Peters, I always admire your writings and insight and this article brings out an important fact in the reality of disagreement/agreeing on doctrine. Very astute in your observations.

There is a point however, that can result from disagreements, because we know we will never agree 100% on everything. Just put 10 Lutherans in a room and you will have at least 11 or 12 different opinions. Some conservative Lutherans seem to think we need to agree in all matters of faith. That simply is not realistic or practical.

There comes a time when we need to put aside our differences and work together on key biblical issues, such as abortion. We work with many different denominations on this important life issue. I don't agree with their theology, but killing innocent babies is something we need to speak up for together. Beside many Lutherans are apathetic to life issues.

Another reality is that in some rural areas we need to walk three days to find another Lutheran. How are we to deal with that? Stay isolated or heaven forbid, seek support from an evangelical or catholic.

Yes, yes, we need to defend sound doctrine, but can we do it in less abrasive way?

Carl Vehse said...

"Just put 10 Lutherans in a room and you will have at least 11 or 12 different opinions."

That's no problem for opinions, even pious ones.

"Some conservative Lutherans seem to think we need to agree in all matters of faith."

That includes all Lutheran confirmands and pastors who have unconditionially subscribed to hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"That simply is not realistic or practical."

Especially for Lufauxran confirmands who request rainchecks when asked if they "intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it."

Cliff said...

Carl, when I am in a disillusioned mood instead of Lufauxran, I call them Looserans. Lord have Mercy!

Lutheran Lurker said...

It is hard to say about the Apocrypha. WIKI says the Orthodox have more Apocrypha in their canon than Rome (2 books more). The Orthodox Church in America says they have the same canon as Rome. The Greeks and Russians disagree about 1st Esdras and about 4th Maccabees. Russians have also called the extra-canonical. Callistos Ware says they are deutero-canonicals (outside the canon). I am not aware that the Orthodox (like the Lutherans here) have defined the canon one way or another. In any case, Rome did not formally define the Apocrypha into the canon until Trent and after Luther. So the idea of any uniformity with regard to the Greek Canon, remember that no Jews accept the Apocrypha as having the same status as the Old Testament, is a pipe dream. Pastor Peters is correct here.

William Tighe said...
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William Tighe said...

"In any case, Rome did not formally define the Apocrypha into the canon until Trent and after Luther."

This is not the case. It was in the Council of Florence's Decretum pro Jacobitis of 1442 that the Canon was formally defined - perhaps in reaction to some Eastern churches' having additional books beyond the Western deuterocanonicals in their Canon (the decree was a reunion decree of the Catholic Church with some Copts and some Ethiopians) - as including the deuterocanonical books. The Tridentine decree De Canonicis Scripturis of April 1546 merely repeated the same definition, this time against Protestant denials of their canonicity.

Moreover, the word "deuterocanonical" does not mean "outside the canon," bur, rather, "second canon," referring to the now-discredited hypothesis going as far back as the fifth century, but fully developed only in the 18th, that while the Palestinian Jews had one Canon of Scripture, those of Alexandria had a second or more ample Canon, which was that of the Septuagint.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Dr. Tighe

Apparently it was not so well defined that Cardinal Cajetan could disagree about the Apocrypha without recrimination and that was a period in which Luther was making his translation and putting the Apocrypha in its place as a second canon, important thought not equal to the primary canon. In any case, Pastor Peters reference to the Complutensian Polyglot printed with the express approval of Pope Leo X shows that there was fluidity in this matter.