Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Where we agree and where we do not. . .

 I did not say it.  I wish I had.  But it is a more than a pithy saying.  It embodies great truth. It is not possible to be Catholic without being catholic.  We Lutherans are not afraid of such a statement.  Catholicity is not simply an occasional virtue of the faith but an essential characteristic.  Indeed, we confess at the end of our most primal confession, the Augustana, that Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches. Unlike reformers who viewed the past with suspicion, the Lutherans rejoiced to affirm the faith of our fathers with at least as much zeal as they did to affirm their faith was Biblical.  Rome and Lutherans both agree with the basic truth that it is not possible to be Catholic without being catholic.  Where we disagree is when this statement is reversed.  

Rome's contention is that it is not possible to be catholic without be [Roman] Catholic.  For whatever friendly advances Rome has made in the past years since Vatican II, the basic position of Rome has not changed much.  Rome is the true visible Church on earth.  Period.  While it might be true that there are Christians outside of Rome, they rush to be in communion with the Pope once they realize their faith.  Now someone will surely bring up the Orthodox, but Rome has an uneasy theological relationship with the Eastern churches and one that is beyond the purview of this particular meandering thought.  Lutherans worth their salt do not surrender their claim to catholicity but they dispute to their very core the idea that this catholicity implies or requires reunion with Rome.

From Newman's suggestion that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant to the strange looks of those who encounter Lutheran claims to catholicity, the presumption is that being catholic automatically leads to being Roman Catholic.  In this, both Rome and some Lutherans agree.  For Lutherans who remind their peers that Lutherans are not sectarian nor are they Protestant are often quickly dismissed as Romanizers readying themselves to swim the Tiber.  This is an inherent weakness of Lutheranism that taking our confessional, theological, liturgical, and sacramental identity seriously often raises the ire of those who are more content to see Lutheranism as the first Protestant sect.  If you don't believe me, read some of the comments on my blog every time I mention things catholic.

Before the Church was “Catholic” she was already “catholic.  Well of course this is true.  But the contention of the Reformation is that the catholicity of the [Roman] Catholic was surrendered to novelties that were not and are not either catholic or ancient.  Over and over again the Lutherans insisted that the articles of the faith in dispute were later additions and could not nor should they be allowed to bind the conscience of the believer.  Whether or not you agree with the Lutherans, it has long been admitted that at best some of these doctrines existed as pious opinions along the way but became ordinary much later -- many perfected in medieval times.  At worst, they were inventions that proceeded from and existed to support papal supremacy.  Lutherans insist that the papacy is not central to catholicity (and may destroy catholicity) and in this the Orthodox readily agree.

Indeed, the challenge raised by the Lutherans is that what is essentially Roman is troublesome or worse for what is essentially catholic.  Our complaint is not that the Roman Church is too catholic or Catholic but not Catholic or catholic enough.  In this, the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter seems intent upon proving our point for us.  Far from being close to the charge of being Lutheran, Francis shows that what has become the center of Rome (instead of doctrine and practice) is submission to papal authority.  This is what agitates against Rome's claim that to be catholic is to be [Roman] Catholic.  For only in mythology can it be held that the papal office as it is defined and practiced today is supported by the ancient church.  It is not even the development of a doctrine which is rooted in Scripture and tradition but the innovation of something neither Scripture nor the early church ever imagined.

There are many popes we might admire and many whose theological testament we would support but, for the Lutheran, it is a surrender of catholicity to admit that at the helm of the Church catholic lies the Pope. I wish, sometimes, we had a single voice to speak for us and a man to hold us as Lutherans accountable for what we confess and how we would practice that confession.  But we do not.  We have individuals to exercise the episcopal ministry among us (oversight of doctrine and practice) but we do not have an equivalent of the papal office.  The Church is Catholic and catholic not because of the complexion of her many and diverse people but because she holds unwaveringly to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.


Anonymous said...

“The Evangelical Catholic is a glorious Church; it holds and conforms itself chiefly to the Sacraments. The Evangelical Reformed is a glorious Church; it holds and conforms itself chiefly to the Word of God. More glorious than both is the Evangelical Lutheran Church; it holds and conforms itself both to the Sacraments and the Word of God. Into this Lutheran Church both the others are developing, even without the intentional aid of men. But the way of the ungodly shall perish, says David (Ps. 1:6).” (the conclusion of Claus Harms' 95 Theses)

I would encourage anyone interested in Lutheran material culture to check out Andrew Spicer’s Lutheran Churches in Early Modern Europe. $20 on Amazon. Spicer notes that there are in fact two attitudes Lutherans have always held toward residual Catholic material culture. One is drawn from Luther’s attitude towards adiaphora, and the other Luther’s consecration sermon at Torgau. Lutheran adiaphorism allowed most all Catholic elements to remain in Lutheran worship as indifferent, yet interpreted according to Lutheran theology. So, you might have whitewashed churches in Lutheran Hesse alongside the continued Hessian practices of elevation and the sign of the cross. Altarpieces depicting the Virgin Mary were retained but reinterpreted as didactic rather than venerable. As time went on, most of the uniquely Catholic elements dropped away, not out of sectarianism or anti-confessionalism, but because they were by definition indifferent. The onion domes and Baroque facades of Augsburg’s Lutheran churches were designed in relation to current Lutheran architectural trends that were mirrored in secular political architecture, such as Augsburg’s Rathaus, of the 17th century. Likewise, London’s Lutheran architecture mirrored that of contemporary Anglican architecture.

The second attitude, or Torgau attitude, is that of a refusal to recognize sacred space outside of the use of a space during worship. This idea curiously parallels Lutheran dogma concerning the Sacrament, and was largely rejected by the later Lutheran Church, which consecrated churches (and today backpacks) with zeal. For Luther, a church building was a house dedicated to preaching, and was not sacred outside the assembly for worship, which would become a particularly important idea in Pietism. The invisible and visible churches became essentially the same. Lutheran participation in worship was expected as a visible manifestation of the life of the invisible church.

Augsburg also provides us with a clue as to Lutheran sacramental practices. We are all familiar with the Saturday confessional services, which all Sunday communicants were expected to attend. Yet Augsburg’s seven or so Lutheran churches rotated communion Sundays among themselves, and published schedules so that those wanting to commune on a particular Sunday knew which church to attend. It cannot be asserted that traditional Lutheran practice among churches of the Augsburg Confession in Augsburg itself interpreted Article VII as meaning a weekly Hauptgottesdienst at every church.

Carl Vehse said...

"It is not possible to be Catholic without being catholic."

Why the incessant sophistic game of uppercase/lowercase C/c-atholic?!?

It would be laudable if the purpose were to remove or refuse to recognize the term "C/catholic" in any reference to the Roman or papist Church of Rome. And that would have been made clear if, in quoting the Augsburg Confession, the reference had been to AC.XXI.5, which makes this distinction between the "Church Catholic" ("ecclesia catholica") and the "Church of Rome" ("ecclesia Romana").

Or one could have referenced the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (Article VII-VIII, 10-12).

Indeed the C/c-atholic Church is simply a reference to those currently members of the Church Millitant and those members now in the Church Triumphant, that is, all those in the holy, Christian [C/c-atholic] Church. There are no hypocrites in this C/c-atholic (invisible) Church, although there are hypocrites in the visible Church.

Rather than oppose it, Lutheran Protestants are, in fact, in the C/c-atholic Church. What Lutheran Protestants have opposed is the Roman Church's use of "C/c-atholic" along with Rome's pagan dogma especially its "cardinal dogma salvation by works" (as J.T. Mueller referred to it).

Lutheran Lurker said...

Said by anonymous: It cannot be asserted that traditional Lutheran practice among churches of the Augsburg Confession in Augsburg itself interpreted Article VII as meaning a weekly Hauptgottesdienst at every church.

Why not? What does it mean then: every Lord's Day, holy day, and whenever there are communicants who have been examined and who desire to commune?

As far as Augsburg is concerned, how would this work since the communicants had to be examined prior to communing and how would the pastor know if people had been thus examined and absolved if they showed up at different altars every week?

As far as "Spicer notes that there are in fact two attitudes Lutherans have always held toward residual Catholic material culture." it should be noted that Lutherans are not bound to attitudes even of Luther much less of others but to the words of their Confessions which have a different attitude toward ceremonies than some of the practices early or late.

Anonymous said...

I think it was simply an arrangement to provide the Sacrament each Sunday while realizing that there weren’t enough communicants each Sunday to have communion at each church every Sunday. Presumably the same pastor held the Saturday confessional service as held the communion service for that particular Sunday, so he would know who the communicants would be.

The primary criterion for a Lutheran communion service is the presence of communicants. We have two main detailed Calvinist descriptions of early Lutheran worship. One was in Bremen, where the entire congregation communed. The other was in Thuringia, where very few communed. Remember that Catholics communed once per year. Luther’s twice a month was a lot by comparison. The average Lutheran in Bach’s day communed maybe four times per year, which makes sense given a particularly widespread interpretation of Luther. A typical Lutheran in Augsburg would have communed every two months, based on the rotating schedule.

You bring up a good point contrasting confessional and Luther’s practice. This same argument was used by Chemnitz against the Philippists, who claimed to follow the Augustana yet diverged from Luther. Chemnitz argued that Luther was the primary interpreter of the confessions. So his views and interpretive practices are important.