Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Common Man. . .

The movie The Two Popes has a scene in which the new Pope Francis says to the one who brings him the vestments he must don as the Supreme Pontiff "The carnival is over."  With that Jorge pushes aside the red shoes and the red mozetta trimmed in Ermine.  Francis insists that he is a common man.  Whether or not this happened this way, the dramatic license certainly accords with the Pope's decision to cultivate such an image.  No papal palace apartment, no papal kitchen, etc. etc.

Some applaud this and are happy to have a Pope who is more like a common man.  But this is an image and a false one.  No Pope is a common man.  He is by his office uncommon and unique.  He is no democratic idealized ruler of the Roman Catholic Church but more autocratic than many of those who came before him and much more so than his predecessor.  He is no populist man of the people but enjoys his celebrity status and cultivates it with his impromptu sessions with press on airplanes and phone calls late at night and, in particular, with his vague answers to specific questions.  He slaps a woman's hands who holds too long on to His and then apologizes when he fears how it affects his closely guarded image as a common man.  He makes fun of priests who try on vestments and belittles those whose rigidity submits their personal desires to rubrics.  In this he is not common or humble but arrogant.

Now some of you might be wondering what this all has to do with a Lutheran.  Well, we struggle with the same sort of fake humility and the false image some pastors cultivate of a common man.  They refuse to wear any uniform that his historic importance in favor of their own personal preference.  Whether we are talking about clerical collars or vestments, it is not humility that eschews the traditional vesture of the ordained.  It is hubris and pride.  To say "that is not me" is to impose your preference and choice upon the office you bear.  If one does this with such things as clergy shirts and vestments, it is highly likely that the same personality will look at the rubrics of the Divine Service as a series of not so important suggestions that can easily be cast aside and the doctrines of the faith as the same sort of "maybes" that need not be heeded.  That pastor presumes that his preference to depart from the tradition of the fathers is his domain and his prerogative when the reality is that rubrics and creeds and confessions are for the protection of the faithful against the whims of the pastor.

Those who would add to the Divine Service rubrics and rituals once there but lost due to the pressures of authorities in opposition to Lutheranism (like the elevation, for example) or to the fear of things katolisch (chanting, for example) or to the irrational fear of things (the common cup, for example) are not imposing their own preference upon others but restoring what was ours but was lost to us for no good reason.  This is not the same as the pastor who chooses khakis and a polo over a clerical collar or worn jeans and a tee shirt over alb, stole, and chasuble.  The pastor doing this is imposing himself upon the office and insisting that people see him as he wants to be seen rather than through the veil of the office conferred upon him by election and ordination. 

Those who dispense with the creed in favor of their own literary efforts or who omit the creed entirely are imposing upon the faithful a whim of their own preference or arrogance when the creed is there precisely to defend orthodoxy and to give the faithful a voice to confess it in common in the Divine Service.  Those who ditch the liturgy in favor of their own creative efforts are imposing themselves on the very thing that protects the faithful against the whims of those who lead their song of praise.  Those who abandon the hymnody of the ages with its focus upon Christ in favor of contemporary song that appeals to the rhythms of the age or the sound of popular music are imposing preference over the content and substance of the faith that these hymns preserve and profess.

Some believe that pastors who hold to the traditions of the fathers are imposing their own personal preference upon the people and that those who follow the ceremonial of the rubrics are swimmers readying themselves to tackle the Tiber.  They are mistaken.  We have much more to fear from those who cultivate the image of the common man in order to blur the rightful distinction between pastor and people and to avoid the particular responsibilities placed on those who seek the office and on whom the Church confers that office.  Let the Church be warned.  So wake up, Rome, Francis is no common man and wake up, Lutherans, your pastor should not be one either.  They bear offices that require them to be set apart and for them to distance themselves from these offices ought to raise warning bells for the people in the pew. 


Anonymous said...

“Those who would add to the Divine Service rubrics and rituals once there but lost due to the pressures of authorities in opposition to Lutheranism (like the elevation, for example) or to the fear of things katolisch (chanting, for example) or to the irrational fear of things (the common cup, for example) are not imposing their own preference upon others but restoring what was ours but was lost to us for no good reason.“

1. Elevation was not lost due to outside pressure. Chemnitz and Bugenhagen banned it.

2. Chanting was always optional. Early Lutheran Church Orders (see Chemnitz) clearly state, “the pastor sings or says”

3. Fear of the cup is irrelevant to the freedom of Lutheran congregations to establish helpful adiaphora and not be condemned for having different ceremonies. How do we know that individual cups do not communicate the “for you” of the Lord’s Supper more effectively in the mind of the communicant?

Lutheran Lurker said...

From the Lutheran Cyclopedia:

Ceremony of elevating the consecrated elements in the celebration of Holy Communion; may occur several times in a service; the term usually refers to elevation after consecration of each element. The practice was inst. in the 13th–14th c. M. Luther* permitted the practice to continue for the sake of the weak (um der Schwachen willen). because it could have a good meaning (WA 54, 163). In 1542 he did not oppose abolishing elevation in Wittenberg (he did not want to oppose J. Bugenhagen*), though personally he would rather have had it retained (WA 54, 122). In 1544 he favored retention of it as witness against sectarians who denied the Real* Presence (WA 54, 162–167). Many 16th c. orders retained the practice. Today most Luth. chs. do not follow it. Luths. who retain it regard it as a visible witness to the church's faith that the consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. EFP

And from Pastor Weedon:

Where the Lutherans continued the elevation it had the meaning of a confession of the real presence of our Lord's body and blood. Dr. Luther spoke of it this way: "We do not want to abolish the elevation because it goes so well with the German Sanctus and signifies that Christ has commanded us to remember him. For just as the sacrament is bodily elevated, yet Christ's body and blood are not seen in it, so he is also remembered and elevated by the word of the sermon and is confessed and adored in the reception of the Sacrament. In each case he is apprehended only by faith; for we cannot see how Christ gives his body and blood for us and even now daily shows and offers it before God to obtain grace for us." AE 53:82.

The practice was abolished in Wittenberg before Luther's death and he speaks of it differently at different times. Where it really came into force and into its own was in Lutheran Brandenburg, where in the 17th century the prince tried to smuggle in Calvinism. The Lutherans there insisted on the elevation as a vital confession of the real presence of our Lord's Body and Blood and even added some words to the action: "Dear Christian, this is the true body of your Lord, born of Mary, and this is the true blood of Christ, poured out for you upon the cross." This was called the Ostentatio. The Calvinists, of course, screamed bloody murder over the practice.

In our day and age, the elevation with the adoration of the Lord's body and blood, is a fine protest against "receptionism" which would teach that our Lord's almighty words do not effect His presence until the bread and wine are bodily tasted. Rather, the Lutheran Symbols, quoting St. John Chrysostom, speak of our Lord's body resting upon all the altars of Christendom! Thus, we kneel before Him to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, and we confess - as Luther says - that though hidden from our eyes, He is present in His body and blood among us, just as He has promised.

By the way, the practice really isn't ancient, but medieval. It arose in the centuries before the Reformation, where it was regarded as THE high point of the Mass - the moment at which the "sacrifice" was offered to the Father. This explains the Lutheran ambivalence to the practice. If I may put it so, we do not elevate in the Lutheran Church so that the sacrifice is lifted for God to see (Christ presents Himself to the Father ceaselessly as our sacrifice), but so that the people may see, adore, and confess Him who comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine.